2017, that's a wrap! Here are my Top 15 favorite movies of the past year...
1. Get Out
Chris, a black photographer played by Daniel Kaluuya, travels with his white girlfriend to meet her parents, who live in a luxurious country home in upstate New York. Get Out, the directorial debut from Jordan Peele, who achieved fame with his sketches on Comedy Central, initially unfolds like a present-day update of the 1967 film, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, but the amusing moments of forced discomfort are laced with an insidious edge, and, after a methodically-paced first hour, where Chris senses that these idyllic country suburbs hide a sinister secret, this movie goes in for the kill with an intense and genuinely terrifying buildup that leads to a violent finale. The result is, hands down, the most fun that I've had at a movie theater this year. Peele has a genuine love of horror cinema, and he effectively blends the scares with well-timed humor and social commentary. This one gets better with each subsequent viewing, and the final hour is a rollercoaster ride for the ages.
2. Blade Runner 2049
As a lifelong fan of the original 1982 Ridley Scott movie, I was initially resistant to the notion of a sequel, and I wanted filmmakers to leave well enough alone. Much to my pleasant surprise, however, Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 is a masterwork that not only captures the brilliantly understated aesthetic of its predecessor, but also stands proudly among the great sequels in cinema history, such as The Godfather Part II, Aliens, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Most importantly, it even functions well as a stand-alone story. This is a visual wonder, where every still frame is a work of art in and of itself, but it also provides plentiful food for thought to go with the eye candy.
Andy Muschietti's adaptation of Stephen King's IT takes liberties with the novel, but, like Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, it somehow captures the spirit of its literary source far better than a more faithful screen version would. I had a blast following the adventures of the Losers' Club, and I was blown away by Bill Skarsgård's Pennywise. Like my number one film of the year, Get Out, this one brings good-natured fun back into horror cinema in a way that recalls the glorious 1980s movies, like The Lost Boys, Fright Night, or An American Werewolf in London. In a way, IT is a lot like the real world. There is violence, hate, brutality, insecurity, and horror, but there is also fun, laughter, love, camaraderie, and courage. This is a tremendous film.
4. Baby Driver
I realize that many of you have no desire to be entertained by Kevin Spacey right now. Baby Driver is one of the most exciting and kinetic movies in quite a while, though, and it deserves a better fate than being shoved under the rug by peripheral tabloid culture. The getaway driver, Baby, played by Ansel Elgort, speedily transports us into a near-perfect modern-day film noir, where that “one last job” never ends well. This movie was filmed in here in Atlanta and also takes place in Atlanta, so local moviegoers have the added thrill of seeing heists, gunfights, and fast car chases on familiar ground. Baby's entire world is meticulously soundtracked, and the music dictates his everyday mannerisms. Edgar Wright, who previously directed Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, uses the music to depict Baby's daily life and Baby's hazardous criminal occupation with an electrifying cadence that is a joy to watch on the screen.
5. A Ghost Story
A changing landscape viewed from the perspective of a ghost covered in a bedsheet, with two holes for its eyes, is the simple springboard that director David Lowery uses to explore how humans define their place in the world and whether or not they leave lasting legacies behind after their passing. A Ghost Story is a leisurely-paced film, even considering its 92-minute run time, but it rewards the patient viewer with an eternity of haunting heartbreak. After seeing this movie, you'll probably never look at old dilapidated vacant houses in the same way ever again, because, at some point in time, people moved into those houses, people dreamed of the future in those houses, and people loved one another in those houses.
6. Good Time
Robert Pattinson stars as a scummy and unkempt crook who is driven to desperate measures to protect his mentally-challenged brother from the brutality of a prison environment. His quest to save the day takes him on a harrowing series of misadventures through New York City neighborhoods. Good Time, which takes its documentary-style visual cues from the television show, COPS, and from gritty 1970s movies, is a nail-bitingly intense crime drama that places us right in the middle of the action by way of uncomfortably twitchy close-ups and aerial photography. I am always impressed when I find myself nervous and worried about a cinematic character whom I would not want to be around at all in real life, and this is why I consider this to be one of the best films of 2017. It's tough to reveal too many details without giving away secrets, so my best advice is to go blindly into this movie and to fasten your seatbelt for a wild and crazy ride.
7. Atomic Blonde
Charlize Theron, at her absolute sexiest, plays a MI6 agent who is sent to Berlin just days before the collapse of the Wall in 1989 to retrieve a list of top secret British operatives and to crack down on the persons responsible for the death of a fellow undercover agent. Like the James Bond 007 films that influenced it, Atomic Blonde is less concerned with plot mechanics and more interested in style and cinematic presence. Even if you walk out of this film not remembering who betrayed who or who stole whose secret plans, you will likely never forget Theron, who commands awe and attention with her icy glares, her sleek body language, and her physical ferocity. The centerpiece is a brilliant eight-minute stairwell fight scene that leaves the title character barely able to walk. As an added bonus, the 1980s music soundtrack is a win.
Christopher Nolan's narrative, which drops us directly into the evacuation of Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, France between May 26 and June 4, 1940 with little exposition, is told from the three different vantage points, each with a different timeline. Dunkirk chillingly conveys the terror and insanity of being on the ground or in the ocean while targeted by mostly unopposed air attacks. I have rarely felt this helpless while watching a movie, and, during my first viewing, I eventually reached a point where the noises from the surround-sound theater speakers had me nervously glancing up at the ceiling.
9. Brawl in Cell Block 99
In order to save his pregnant wife, a imprisoned convict played by Vince Vaughn, must get himself purposely thrown into a maximum security prison so that he can track down and kill an inmate. The result is an intense limb-snapping, bone-crushing, and skull-cracking action film that recalls the scrappy and hyperviolent “grindhouse” movies of the 1970s. Amidst the plentiful bloodshed, however, director S. Craig Zahler shows a genuine gift for subtly warmhearted dialogue interactions. Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a must-see, because, although it does not shy away from showing complete and total wreckage of the human body, its heart remains gloriously intact.
10. Ingrid Goes West
Aubrey Plaza plays Ingrid, an emotionally unbalanced woman with a habit of latching on to strangers on social media and misinterpreting their approval of her likes or comments as genuine friendship. When she discovers Elizabeth Olsen's Taylor, a beautiful Instagram celebrity whose profile is a constant onslaught of sunlit selfies, beach poses, photos of avocado toast breakfast dishes, stylish restaurants, cute dog pictures, and #soblessed bliss, Ingrid travels to California to ingratiate herself into Taylor's life. Ingrid Goes West is the best movie ever made about social media, and its blend of hilarity and uneasiness shines a revealing light on a contemporary culture where many of us can barely remember what life was like before Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Most of you will love laughing at Ingrid and Taylor, but the offbeat charm of the proceedings never let you forget that you may be laughing at yourself as well.
11. Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi
Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi subverts the franchise mythology and turns it upside down without betraying the core essence that made those older movies great. “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.” This is the cinematic equivalent of burning an agricultural field to the ground so that it will grow better crops next time, and, while it is not the movie that we longtime Star Wars fans were expecting, it's probably the movie that we need for the future of this elaborate fictional universe, and it may truly have the sparks that will light a fire.
Okay, okay, I'll admit that I'm putting this one into my top 15 mainly because I love the “light saber in the face” scene.
12. Thor: Ragnarok
Thor: Ragnarok proudly wears the influence of the 1980 sci-fi film, Flash Gordon, on its sleeve, and, like that film, it delivers a good-natured story with a visually spectacular kaleidoscope of colors, a rousing use of rock music, and just the right blend of humor and earnestness. This is the type of movie where the filmmakers seem to have thrown anything and everything against the wall to see what sticks, while still somehow creating a coherent and fast-paced work that flies by despite its 130-minute run time. The result is, interestingly enough, the funniest comedy of 2017 and one of the most intense action films of the year. Also, Cate Blanchett has never been hotter.
13. It Comes at Night
After a mysterious epidemic has apparently taken its toll on the outside world, causing the remaining survivors to roam the land in search of food and water, a family has barricaded themselves against possible contamination by staying hidden inside their wilderness home. When they reluctantly decide to take in another family in and allow them to live in the house as well, horrific consequences ensue. It Comes at Night could be a social observation of the current atmosphere of our country, where people, many of whom own guns, are increasingly suspicious of strangers because they are informed unreliable news sources, and where even the slightest instances of road rage or animosity could result in shootings. I prefer, however, just to think of it as a tautly written work of eerie mystery that combines Alfred Hitchcock's brand of suspense with the foreboding dread of classic stories like Edgar Allan Poe's “The Masque of the Red Death.”
Darren Aronofsky's mother! is a work of steadily escalating unease that ultimately erupts into a shockingly audacious storm that mixes themes about celebrity, creative demands, religion, birth, death, and mob mentality. This may be the most divisive movie on my year-end list, but my admiration goes to Aronofsky simply because he was able to get this insane work released in theaters by a major studio. I enjoy movies that compel me to feel an emotion, even if that emotion happens to be disgust. Be forewarned that this movie presents an introvert's worst nightmare, but the amazing cinematography is worth the price of admission. When visiting a friend, most of us would go out of our way to treat that friend's home with respect, but it's a shame that we do not treat Mother Nature and Earth with more respect during our short stay here.
15. Lady Bird
Coming-of-age movies are a dime a dozen, but Lady Bird rises above what could have been a mediocre quirky movie at the hands of a lesser filmmaker and succeeds as a universally-relatable tale that takes all of us back to our own tormented teen years when we were making that transition from self-absorbed daydreams to acknowledgements of how our actions and words affect others. Whether it's the nitpicking arguments with our parents and siblings during our high school days, the rollercoaster of teenage friendships, the alienation caused by hurt feelings, the mundanities of after-school jobs, or the exuberant joy of camaraderie in the company of like-minded others, this film, by way of drably sunlit cinematography, recalls things that most of us never imagined in a million years that we would someday miss. I would love to see Academy Awards given to both Saoirse Ronan, who plays the title character, and Laurie Metcalf, who plays the beleaguered mother.
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