Jenna's Top Ten Movies of 2017
If I had to sum up 2017 I'd use the word "dread." And cinema, a mirror of humanity as it were, sure seemed to reflect that sentiment. You saw it on every level of movie – I was a big fan of Get Out, Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049 as far as the existential dread popcorn flicks went. Arthouse dread showed up in the form of mother!, Raw, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and The Beguiled remake. And for those who wanted their dread more reality-based: I Am Not Your Negro, Wind River and My Friend Dahmer sure covered that. Want some comedic dread? Look no further than Dean, The Big Sick, or Landline. It was everywhere!
But on the other hand, 2017 also brought us a handful of heartfelt, tender love stories that really helped to balance out the year – such as Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, and Coco.
I didn't get to see everything I had wanted to, despite the fact that I watched 183 movies this year (here's a full breakdown via Letterboxd if you really want to know). But no matter: here's my top ten list of the year, various forms of dread and love. You might notice some of the foreign movies are technically 2016, but if it came out in 2017 in the US then that's good enough for me. So deal with it. Anyhow:
1) Endless Poetry (dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky)
This emphasis on self-acceptance and inner peace has always been Jodorowsky's raison d'être, but never before has he been this straight-forward about it. Endless Poetry is still full of classic Jodorowsky themes and icons – such as overt symbolism, religious iconography, amputees, dwarfs, equal opportunity nudity, spirituality, humor – but this time his storytelling is not only grounded but also surprisingly personal.
Wonderfully directed, staged, and acted, Endless Poetry wins out as my favorite of the year largely for its uniqueness, emotional honesty and relentless optimism. And (not to toot my own horn too loud here but) I was also thrilled to have Alejandro Jodorwosky re-tweet my full review of his film earlier this year as well. Lifetime achievement unlocked!
2) Call Me By Your Name (dir. Luca Guadagnino)
This is the type of movie that reminds you how it feels to fall in love when you're a teenager. Butterflies in stomach, longing for touch, erotic awakenings, newfound excitement in old rooms and places, the type of day-old memories that keep playing out in front of your eyes like a film. Call Me By Your Name is a sensual movie in the least pretentious meaning of the word – a love story told through touch, smells, taste and warm feelings. And eventually tears.
Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer have such a great chemistry, and I adored the always charming Michael Stuhlbarg, who really makes the whole film with a poignant tearjerker of a monologue at the end. Between the beautiful camerawork and direction that transports you to Italy in the summer, and an enchanting soundtrack of classically arranged music mixed with '80s Italian pop and modern day Sufjan Stevens, this movie really floored me.
3) Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)
Hot damn! This is why I don't trust the suburbs. Or white people. Get Out is an intelligent throwback to Twilight Zone-styled social-commentary horror, with a modern comedic kick that really cements its place at the top of the list. Personally, I'm so glad this did so well because this is exactly what I want to see more of in the genre. I can't wait to see more from Peele, and I'm just hoping that the slew of knock-offs the popularity of this movie spawns will be as thoughtful, poignant and skillfully done. (Well, a girl can dream.)
We've known Jordan Peele is a national treasure – look no further than Key and Peele and the underrated Keanu – but Get Out also brought us knockout performances by Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield and Betty Gabriel. Also a big nod to the catchy soundtrack here as well.
4) Marjorie Prime (dir. Michael Almereyda)
While Marjorie Prime is an imperfect movie – it's long-winded and slow, plus it's static presentation makes it clear it was adapted from a stage play – its plot and the strength of the acting really stayed with me longer than I expected. I wrote a full review earlier this year musing on its themes, but I feel the need to reiterate how wonderful Lois Smith was in this movie. Yeah sure, she plays a cool nun in Lady Bird, but her subtle and affecting performance in Marjorie Prime as an elderly woman afflicted by dementia drifting in and out of her own life's memories was truly moving.
I really can't remember the last time I cried so hard at a movie about people just sitting in a room talking to computers. In a lot of ways, Marjorie Prime was the more emotionally affecting version of Blade Runner 2049 – and perhaps Blade Runner 2049 had the skilled direction that could have made Marjorie a cinematic classic. Alas!
5) Colossal (dir. Nacho Vigalondo)
Colossal completely took me by surprise with a level of depth I had never expected from a movie that was marketed as an alcohol-fueled kaiju movie. In a lot of ways Colossal did for monster/robot movies what Get Out did for comedy-horror this year; it dressed up a genuine societal terror, in this case toxic masculinity, in pop culture clothing in order to lure in unsuspecting viewers. Heck, even if you want to ignore its larger point (not recommended), it's still an engaging and riveting commentary on self-hate and the ravages of addiction. Or even just a really great classic type of superhero story!
Anne Hathaway knocks it out of the park, proving that anybody who hates on her don't know jack. Jason Sudeikis also brings the creepiness, subtly building until he boils over.
6) Wait For Your Laugh (dir. Jason Wise)
I was so sad to hear that Rose Marie died before the end of the year, but I am glad she lived to see this celebration of her life. I went to a screening where director Jason Wise stuck around for an informal Q&A in the lobby after the show and he just gushed about how amazing she was – not only in her almost century of showbiz experience but also as a person he got to know quite well when he decided that this documentary had to be made. It's a sweet, empathetic portrait of an overlooked talent, and anybody who's ever laughed at The Dick Van Dyke Show owes it to themselves to check it out.
7) Free Fire (dir. Ben Wheatley)
This is absolutely Ben Wheatley's most coherent film. Don't get me wrong, I say this as a fan of his, but Free Fire was just such a shift in storytelling for him – from airy surrealism to a straightforward shoot-em-up. And yeehaw, I loved it! This was such a perfectly compact kind of movie, an hour and a half long story told in an hour and a half. Basically everybody dies and yet the world still turns, and it's strangely refreshing.
There's just enough character development to keep you engaged, the twists and the gunfire keep you jumping, and the entire thing is so absurd you can't help but marvel at how god awful and preventable the entire scenario is. It's a love poem to gangster action flicks, low-stakes '70s cinema, and vapid machismo.
8) Wind River (dir. Taylor Sheridan)
The fun intrigue of murder mysteries and horror seem tone deaf when you watch a movie like Wind River that’s not interested in bullshitting you. It’s not about the mystery, it’s not about the FBI or the crime solving, it’s about the disgusting culture of unchecked masculinity. And, more so, it’s about the dead Native American teenagers that, as the end of the movie so brutally points out, don’t even make it to statistics. They’re just forgotten.
Taylor Sheridan brings the pain yet again with this beautifully shot, and wonderfully written script that hammers all of its points home effectively. This one was especially depressing to watch during all of these Hollywood oustings of creepy disgusting men using their power to sexually assault and brutalize people. Get your shit together, men. (Geez, this is like the third movie about this theme in this list alone... Carlo's last line was right!)
9) Beach Rats (dir. Eliza Hittman)
What was truly stand out about Beach Rats was how soft and sensitive it was. It's so rare you see a story about this class of character told in this way (Moonlight being the most obvious choice as far as sensitive blue-collar coming-of-age sexual-confusion stories are concerned), let alone with any sort of variation on the standard clichés. While there's flare up moments of anger and violence, Hittman obviously didn't feel the need to dwell on them as emotional crutches for her characters. Why bother when the moments of intimacy and chance encounters in the dark are really what carries the film so well.
It's refreshing to get two bisexual themed films that don't end in violent misery coming out in the same year! Some truly excellent direction here, Hittman is absolutely one to put on your radar. Plus, as a born and raised Brooklyner myself, I can also attest to the authenticity of the setting and the character types portrayed.
10) Phantom Thread (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
People equate love with the concept of "losing control" – an idea that Paul Thomas Anderson takes and runs with in Phantom Thread. While losing control is fun, it's not always healthy. In the case of Reynolds and Alma it's really quite toxic. Yet it's toxicity seems to breathe life into the two of them, eventually striking a stable balance of excitement and misery. To each his own? Phantom Thread is a weird one, but it creeps up on you. The final scene struck me as strange as it unfolded, but the more I think of it, the more it disturbs me. It reminded me of the final scene of There Will Be Blood, despite it's lack of outright physical violence.
Phantom Thread is beautiful at least. With beautiful clothing, beautiful settings, a beautiful and arresting soundtrack by Jonny Greenwood, and wonderful acting from the three main characters – Reynolds, Alma and Cyril. There's some interesting stuff to chew on about relationships both with people and with passions, but it never gets dark enough, or passionate enough to really push me over the edge in any way. That said, like all Paul Thomas Anderson movies, it's a joy to take the ride anyhow.