Cinematic Celebration: My favorite films from 2017
(KUTV) It's that time of year again where someone asks me what my favorite movie is and I stare back blankly as my mind tries to process the overflow of information swirling around in my mind.
Here are 15 films that captivated me this year and an additional 20 titles that were part of the conversation. They’re listed in alphabetical order, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be “A Ghost Story,” “The Big Sick” or “The Shape of Water.” Then again, there’s nothing quite like being taken back to your childhood, which is exactly what “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” did. Then again, so did “Blade Runner 2049,” but that’s a different story altogether
The Big Sick
One of the big misconceptions about film critics is that they actively despise certain genres of movies like horror films and romantic comedies. I’m as apt to enjoy a good romance or a good scare as anyone else. “The Big Sick” is a fantastic film that explores the complicated minefield of modern romance. It is honest, funny and was a complete surprise. The film tells the true story of Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani. Nanijani stars as himself with Zoe Kazan taking Gordon’s role. The film explores racial identity, failure, forgiveness and rising to the occasion when given a second chance. I called "The Big Sick" the best romantic comedy of the decade. I stand by that.
Blade Runner 2049
Few films can claim to be as influential as Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” 1982’s loose adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Combining noir and sci-fi elements, “Blade Runner” redefined what the future would look like.
Some 25 years later director Denis Villeneuve returns to the world Dick and Scott envisioned. Harrison Ford’s Decker, a replicant (slave labor robot) bounty hunter known as a blade runner, returns, but is a secondary character. This time the focus is on “K” (Ryan Gosling), a blade runner who comes across a bit of information that could radically change the way replicants are viewed by human society.
“Blade Runner” is one of my favorite films and while “Blade Runner 2049” doesn’t quite reach masterpiece status (its lacking an antagonist remotely as engaging as Ruger Hauer’s Roy Batty) it does entertain with an incredibly different narrative that still retains just enough of the original film’s style to evoke a sense of familiarity in a world that has continued to decay.
"Coco" tells the story of Miguel, a young boy aspires to be a musician. Sadly, music is forbidden in his family. During the annual Day of the Dead celebration, Miguel travels to the Land of the Dead where he meets his ancestors and discovers their family’s rich history of music.
Leave it to Pixar to make a film that makes doing your family history look like an exciting adventure. While not quite on the level of “Up” or “Inside Out,” “Coco” is a beautiful film that manages to sneak in the classic Pixar moment that leaves the audience in tears.
The fact that it will teach you a thing or two about Mexican culture is an added bonus.
I’ve been a fan of director Christopher Nolan since I saw “Memento” in 2000. I’ve loved most of his work, but even I must admit that often there has been a sense of cold detachment that exists between his characters. With “Dunkirk,” a World War II film that is far more experimental in its structure and themes, Nolan discovers a deeper sense of what it is to be human. Those expecting a traditional war film with excessive patriotic rhetoric or chest thumping will soon discover that “Dunkirk” is a film about chaos, indecision and the sort of bravery that gives an entire country the sort of bravery to stand up against an unimaginable threat.
Despite being rated “PG-13,” “Dunkirk” feels vicious, vital and ultimately unforgettable.
A Ghost Story
When I walked out of a Sundance Film Festival screening of "A Ghost Story" I was high on the adrenaline of having seen something uniquely wonderful. David Lowey directs Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck in this magical film about a man who is unable to move on when he is killed in a car accident. Affleck spends most of the movie under a sheet. Were it not for a rather laborious pie scene, I’d be tempted to call the film perfect.
Not perfect for everyone. I suspect that there are many who would find the film to be too esoteric. It is a film that asks you to give something to it. There is inherent meaning in the narrative, but personal experience will color the way you connect with the story.
The Utah Film Critics Association, of which I am a member, voted it as Best Picture of 2017. I was a little surprised, not because it was undeserved, but because I didn’t realize how far the film could reach.
In 1988, I was 12 years old, approximately the same age as the pack of misfits that populate the main narrative of “It,” 2017’s massive horror hit adapted from the first half of Stephen King’s book of the same name. As such, it was very easy to put myself in their shoes, get inside their heads. Not that I needed to be reminded that the horrors of being a teen outweigh the horror of being tormented by a shapeshifting clown. Hopefully Sophia Lillis is as good in future projects as she is here. Plus, I absolutely love the unusual use of The Cure’s “Six Different Ways.”
It Comes at Night
“It Comes at Night,” a psychological thriller set in a desolate future, was far better received by critics than it was by audiences. This is partly due to the fact that the film’s trailer sold the movie as a traditional horror picture; which it isn’t. The problem with the horror genre is that audiences have certain expectations and if you stray from that path, regardless of how effective the wandering away from the standard tropes might be, you’re likely to upset the masses.
“It Comes at Night” doesn’t feature numerous jump scares or gratuitous amounts of carnage. It does feature some fantastic performances, a believable tale of paranoia and denial. Would pair well with the overlooked gem “Z for Zachariah.”
This might sound a bit off, but the joy of “Lady Bird” is how mundane it all seems on the surface. Saoirse Ronan stars as the title character (be wary of anyone who gives themselves a nickname), a typical teen who isn’t nearly as wise as she seems to think she is. Over the course of the film we feel her sense of disillusionment and disappointment as she discovers that life isn’t what she thought it was.
I really can’t tell you what it is about the character Wolverine that captured my attention. We have little in common and even as a young teen I didn’t aspire to be anything remotely like him. Still, I love Wolverine. I also love Hugh Jackman as the character. Sure, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was a terrible film and the third X-Men film was a dud, but overall, Jackman has been fantastic.
So, when it was announced that Jackman would be hanging up the claws (which is probably the case, but you never know with Deadpool and the Avengers team ups on the table) I hoped against all hope that “Logan” would be the swan song that the actor and character deserved.
It is and so much more.
Built on the frame of a classic western, “Logan” isn’t like any other superhero film out there. It is beautifully shot, acted and written. There are a few outstanding set pieces, but for the most part this is a small and intimate film. The stakes are high, but they feel far more personal than you usually see in a comic book movie.
A French film about a vegetarian who is forced to eat meat and suddenly develops an intense craving for human flesh might not sound like a fantastic way to spend 99 minutes, but if you have any love for genre films that draw outside the lines, then “Raw” is for you. Part horror and part arthouse drama, “Raw” is a hedonistic anti-hazing film for the ages.
The Shape of Water
I’ve always connected with Guillermo del Toro films. His love for classic sci-fi, horror and fantasy mirrors mine (although his knowledge of those genres far exceeds mine). With “The Shape of Water” del Toro channels the classic Universal Horror films where the humans are monsters and the monsters represent “the other” or the “outsider.” The film essentially tells the story of a woman who falls in love with an aquatic monster that is being held at the secret government research facility she works at as a janitor. The monster never transforms into a human; he’s loved for who and what he is.
I’m a little surprised, but absolutely pleased, that it looks like “The Shape of Water” is poised for a massive award season with nominations in numerous categories. It would be unusual to see an adult fairytale win Best Picture, but I’d love to see it happen. Expect a lot of love to be thrown in the direction of Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, composer Alexandre Desplat, cinematographer Dan Laustsen and del Toro.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
As a child who came of age in the 1980s, I was blessed with having the opportunity to grow up during a magical cinematic era, but nothing came close to my love of the Star Wars franchise. I wasn’t nearly as passionate about the prequels, but I also wasn’t among those who claimed that their childhood had been ruined. In fact, I didn’t mind the story itself, it was how it was presented the irked me.
Fast forward a decade to the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” a film that was well received, but in time many found it to be too safe. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has proven to be a bit more controversial among fans; critics have been far more impressed. I found some of the humor to be distracting, but most of the comedy complaints melted away when I saw the film a second time.
Most films, even those I love, have their flaws. There are aspects of even the beloved Star Wars films that don’t exactly hold up to intense scrutiny; I love them anyway. My feelings about “The Last Jedi” are similar to how I feel about “Return of the Jedi,” a film that has infinite meaning to me on a personal level. Count me among those who love the film, particularly that last scene.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a pitch-black comedy that shouldn’t be as remotely approachable as it is. The story follows Mildred, Frances McDormand in a performance that that will have her in the mix for Best Actress at 2018’s Oscars, a mother who in the wake of her daughter’s rape and murder rents three billboards to express her frustration with local police’s inability to find the killer.
Did I mention this is a comedy?
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a film that shouldn’t work and for some it crosses a line, but I found it to be fascinating and a little horrifying in its depiction of racism and our ability to forgive characters (I'm looking at you Sam Rockwell) that don’t deserve our forgiveness.
War for the Planet of the Apes
I love the rebooted Planets of the Apes franchise. All three films have had a unique feel while maintaining a high level of quality. Plus, they’re as entertaining as they are smart. A lot of credit goes to Andy Serkis as Caesar, the leader of the apes, and the strong supporting players that have been brought in to surround him. This film sees Woody Harrelson in an appropriately unhinged role and Steve Zahn brining the humor with his motion-captured performance as Bad Ape.
“War for the Planet of the Apes” isn’t nearly as digestible as the first two films, but its bleak portrayal of war and humanity’s inhumanity make for one of the more thoughtful action films in recent memory.
Going into 2017 there were a lot of questions surrounding the release of “Wonder Woman.” Would anyone show up to see it? Would it be any good?
Fortunately, the film was a fantastic origin story that only slightly stumbled in its final act and the people did turn out in droves. For all the disarray that seemed to be going on behind the scenes at DC regarding their struggling franchises right now, imagine how bad it could have been if “Wonder Woman” did half as well at the box office.
As it stands, Gal Gadot is now the face of the DC and no one can figure out why Patty Jenkins han't been given more films to direct over the course of the past decade (hint: sexism). If this is the new and improved future of Hollywood, then I’m completely on board.
20 Films that were passionately considered, but didn't quite make the final cut.