Sam Russell: It’s been said by many: 2017 was a crazy year! It was also a year in which I saw many movies. It’s almost that time when we change the 4-digit number we use to identify the unit of time we’re experiencing, so Chris and I are gonna rank the films we saw. Overall I thought it was a pretty good year for movies.
Christopher Maher: I’d say it was a pretty awesome year for movies all told, but that being said I’ve also seen a whole lot more movies than I think I’ve ever seen in theaters before. Last year when I was faced with making a top five list there were so many films I hadn’t seen I felt under qualified – what if one of the films I hadn’t seen was phenomenal and would easily edge out one of the films I had seen? Not that the case is radically different this year – I saw way more movies but there are still approximately one-zillion I still need to see.
Which is to say it was indeed a good year for movies! But, before we get to the good stuff, here are my “still have to see, flicks”: A Ghost Story, Good Time, Big Sick, Colossal, Lady Macbeth, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Columbus, Coco, Call Me By Your Name, Winter’s Bone, The Florida Project, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri, The Shape of Water, and Phantom Thread.
SR: I also have a few films I still want to watch, some of which I’m sure are excellent. Their exclusion from my list is not because they are not excellent, but just because I have not had the chance to view them yet. Those films are: Coco, mother!, Call Me By Your Name, Good Time, I am Not Your Negro, The Boss Baby, Personal Shopper, Killing of a Sacred Deer, Colossal, Columbus, and Phantom Thread.
CM: And, my top 10 favorites:
9. Baby Driver
6. Lady Bird
I loved watching a huge number of movies in theaters this year, but the ones that made my top ten and specifically top five are the ones that have grown on me the more I’ve sat on them. While movies like It, Dunkirk and Baby Driver were well crafted they didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. Meyerowitz Stories is, as I wrote in my initial review, a series of wonderfully crafted moments. I don’t often find myself thinking of the larger plot, but do often find particular moments (especially those acted by Elizabeth Marvel) popping into my head.
I was originally drawn to this movie after hearing it involved some near magic realism elements, but it exceeded those simple expectations. Not that the magic realism is superfluous. Every element of this film feels meticulously crafted and inventive. The strange double feature structure, the near non-existent plot are inventive and thought provoking, but the more traditional elements are superb too: Kim Min-Hee’s performance is wounded, subdued, funny and electrifying, sometimes changing line to line. The movie is haunting and ultimately hopeful and will, like the affair it centers on, stick with you for a long time as you reflect and dissect its many complex elements.
For a long time this movie was bucking for top contender, and I’ll admit upfront it’s odds may have been hurt a little by how long ago I saw it. But I recall being mesmerized, as I believe the movie wanted me to be. Great performances buoy hypnotic cinematography and score, and it is easy to get lost in the Amazon especially as the movie so strongly aligns you with the passionate Charlie Hunnam.
I recently rewatched Logan and, boy does it hold up. I don’t know if there’s anything else that can be said about it. It’s action sequences are exhilarating while still being brutal, it’s story maintains both the bleakness and heart of the best westerns, it looks fantastic, sounds fantastic, and it capitalizes on a franchise without being trapped by it. It’s never mean-spirited towards its characters but it holds them accountable and allows horrible things to happen to them. Stephen Merchant’s Caliban is one of my favorite performances of the year, with one of my favorite final line readings. “Beware of the light”.
Like Sam I am not a huge huge fan of the original Blade Runner, no matter how many times I watch it and will myself to enjoy it. I appreciate it, but I just can’t list it up there as one of my favorites. Which I why I was so happy to find everything about Blade Runner: 2049 was done right. It had more plot, but still not too much plot. It still evoked a specific and melancholy feeling. It never, ever, got too big (a syndrome nearly all sequels, made one year or twenty years later, often fall prey to). It felt like a mirror image to the first film, commenting and expanding on themes without too much retread. And even more than the first it lingered in my mind. It’s maybe not the perfect film, but like the first it’s jagged edges are what make it compelling. I think we need more, better, messy, daring films.
SR: My favorites are:
10. The Big Sick
8. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
I really liked Tangerine. It got a lot of attention for being shot on iPhones, but it’s real achievement was its social realist storytelling. Writer-director Sean Baker refined and perfected some of the same ideas in The Florida Project. Like Tangerine, it depicts a life of poverty and hardship, without othering or exotifying the characters. It fully humanizes the characters, and makes their exceptionally dour circumstances relatable, rather than sensational. The Florida Project is some of the most compassionate filmmaking of the year.
4. Lady Bird
Not unlike guest-blogger Christine Stemmer, I found this movie profoundly relatable. And not just because I too went to a Catholic high school. Greta Gerwig perfectly, poignantly captures the experience of being a teenager. A lot of movies about high school seem to forget what was, and what felt, important to us at that time in our lives. Lady Bird remembers vividly.
Not only does Logan transcend the 12-film franchise it belongs to, it leverages the fact of those films to maximum effect. Not all of them are great, or even good. But Logan doesn’t jettison the bad stuff, and cherry pick the good. Instead it uses the franchise as history, as context. It takes ideas that have always existed in the X-Men films, and pushes them to their logical conclusion.
It’s about the consequences of violence (in a genre where there often are none), it’s about aging and reckoning with mortality, it’s about the responsibility we have to one another. All these ideas are gracefully packaged in a masterfully designed, shot, and choreographed genre film.
2. Blade Runner: 2049
I’ve never been a huge fan of the original Blade Runner. I always knew I was supposed to like it, but if I’m being honest I’ve always found it to be boring, and never really got much out of it. Blade Runner 2049 was a hypnotic, moving cinematic experience. Like Logan did for the X-Men films, it takes the ideas of the original Blade Runner and expands on them, pushes them further. For me, 2049 makes the original a better film. It’s an aesthetic and thematic masterpiece, about consciousness, our relationship to technology, and how technology shapes our relationship to one another.
David Lowery’s previous directorial effort Pete’s Dragon made came in at number 2 of my “best of 2016” list. If that film was Lowery’s uniquely understated take on a Disney family flick, this one is his uniquely understated take on all his wildest existential thoughts. This massively epic and intimately miniscule all at once. It’s about the passage of time in the grandest sense, but it’s also about not wanting to move out of a house you’ve grown attached to. It’s minimalist, quiet, and slow, without ever being boring or pretentious. It’s charming, funny, and self aware, without undercutting its sincerity. I’m also just a sucker for good 4:3 cinematography.
CM: Well, much more overlap than last time around, in which we had absolutely zero of the same favorite films. Smell ya later, Sam, and happy 2017. I’m leaving for your place soon hopefully the B44 isn’t too much of a zoo tonight.