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Friday, November 9, 2018

The Top 17 Best Films of 2017

17) Molly's Game
Starring: Jessica Chastain
Written and Directed By:  Aaron Sorkin
STARS:  3 out of 4

Brief Description: Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut is neither perfect, nor earth-shattering, but his own words and dialogue make for an automatically compelling story. Based on the interesting book and real life of Molly Bloom, a former Olympic skier turned underground Poker game runner, Molly's Game is a solid movie that is worth a rental. The floor of any Aaron Sorkin project is so high that he's turning everything he touches into Must-See entertainment.

16) The Greatest Showman
Starring: Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron
Directed By: Michael Gracey
STARS: 3 out of 4

Brief Description: My enjoyment of this film comes down to two things: 1) I'm familiar enough with the real P.T. Barnum to know what a terrible person he was to the point where Hugh Jackson's portrayal of the man was an outright lie more than viewing him through rose-colored glasses and 2) I'm a sucker for catchy music. I really enjoyed La La Land, and the same people behind that film come back with a vengeance with The Greatest Showman. The songs are so catchy I had to pause in the middle of this description to go watch some scenes on YouTube.

15) Spielberg
Starring: Steven Spielberg
Directed By: Susan Lacy
STARS: 3 out of 4

Brief Description: You can't be as big of a movie fan as I am and not enjoy one or ten Steven Spielberg films. Heck, you can't even be a casual movie goer and not enjoy a handful of his films. Despite the obviously slant towards this being a puff piece, I really enjoyed the look back on Steven Spielberg's life and career and just how much he's influenced everything. It's also weird because the film made me respect the director a lot less. He was widely (and rightfully IMHO) criticized early in his career for not being able to make a good, serious, prestigious film. Spielberg tried to prove everyone wrong (mainly with Schindler's List), but after revisiting many of those films, like List, I've to believe that argument more and more.

14) The Big Sick
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Holly Hunter, and Ray Romano
Directed By: Michael Showwalter
STARS: 3 out of 4

Brief Description: It feels rare for a romantic comedy to actually be legitimately funny, but all it takes is for one of the best stand ups in the world right now to make a story about the courtship of his now wife- who just happened to be in a coma for much of it. The script by husband and wife Nanjiani and Emily V Gordan is both heartwarming and hilarious and everyone's performance, from Hunter and Romano, to Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff, who play Kumail's parents in the film, are Oscar-worthy. It also makes you wonder why Aziz Ansari cast his own parents in Master of None who obviously can't act when this film has Kher and Shroff sitting right there for the taking.

13) The Disaster Artist
Starring: James Franco and Dave Franco
Directed By: James Franco
STARS: 3 out of 4

Brief Description: While I did not enjoy The Disaster Artist as much as my drunken night with my friends as we watched The Room, I do really enjoy this film. I love what a meta commentary this entire story is for James Franco's life and his creativity. The film starts James as misunderstood genius Tommy Wiseau alongside Dave Franco who plays Wiseau's friend (and at times feels like his little brother) Greg Sistero who spends much his time with Greg's girlfriend, played by Dave Franco's real life wife Alison Brie. As Tommy Wiseau spends much of his time getting The Room shot and produced, Franco the director explores the nature of what it means to create your vision when its being nay-sayed by the people you love.

12) Logan
Starring: Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart
Directed By: James Mangold
STARS: 3 out of 4

Brief Description: Outside of the pure joy and fun that Marvel films are cranking out, Logan is exactly what I want out of superhero films nowadays- IP that used as a vehicle to Trojan Horse actual themes, motifs, and movie-making. Logan is basically a good ol' fashioned Western that has the bright glossy veneer of a superhero film. Sure we have fight sequence which lead to a hug battle to conclude the Third Act, but we also have love, loss, hurt, pain, and so much more. There's a reason Logan earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay, because it found a way to transcend the genre.

11) Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond
Starring: Jim Carrey
Directed By: Chris Smith
STARS: 3 out of 4

Brief Description: I love films about movie-making and the creative process, and none show more, let's call it creativity, than what Jim Carrey was doing on the set while filming Man on the Moon, the Andy Kaufman biopic. Shown largely through lots of archival footage (footage meant for the behind-the-scenes extra of the DVD and a For Your Consideration reel that were immediately scrapped by the Studio at the time because they knew it made made Jim Carrey look like, in their words, an asshole) and two hours longs interview with Carrey himself, the Netflix film really gives you an all-access look at what Jim Carrey did to make this film great. Man on the Moon was an ambitious film that just missed the mark, but Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond is an extraordinary film that's worth the stream.

10) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Starring: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, & Woody Harrelson
Written and Directed By: Martin McDonagh
STARS: 3 out of 4

Brief Description: My initial thoughts on this film are well-documented. I was really pumped to see it, saw it in the theaters, was really disappointed in it, and bashed it all throughout Awards Season. However, I gave the film a second look, and look at that, it ended up in my Top 10 of the year. My main issue with the film initially was it didn't seem to come to a resolution and I focused too much on the plot (the investigation into McDomand's character murdered and raped daughter), but once you realize the film is about people coping with anger and grief, the plot is just a mechanism for the characters, you realize why Three Billboards was an Oscar front runner for the longest time.

9) Battle of the Sexes
Starring: Emma Stone & Steve Carrel
Directed By: Valrie Faris and Jonathon Dayton
STARS: 3 out of 4

Brief Description: I was a big fan of Faris and Dayton after they directed a film I love, Little Miss Sunshine, and my hype for Battle of the Sexes did not let me down. Centered around self-proclaimed male chauvinist Bobby Riggs (Carrel) and female tennis superstar Billie Jean King (Stone), the film takes a look at their careers and their lives leading up to the famous eponymous 1973 tennis match between the two players. I love Faris and Dayton's touch as they tackle sexism in both sports and society while Billie jean King comes to terms with her sexuality. Battle of the Sexes could have been a cliche, paint-by-numbers sports film, but it's so good that it makes you wonder why the Academy Awards didn't take notice.

8) The Shape of Water
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, & Richard Jenkins
Co-Written and Directed By: Guillermo del Toro
STARS: 3 out of 4

Brief Description: Was The Shape of Water the best film and best directed film of 2018? Absolutely not. Not even close. Is The Shape of Water good? Absolutely. It might be hard to put your preconceived notions about the film aside, but if you do, you'll be swept away by just how charming the film is. It's easy to joke that The Shape of Water is the "fish sex" movie, but it tells a harrowing adventure and fantasy story about becoming comfortable in your own skin and being yourself. Before The Shape of Water, it was a legitimate question about how good del Toro was as a director and if he was just coating off of one great film (Pan's Labrynth). But after Water, del Toro has cemented his legacy.

7) War for the Planet of the Apes
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, & Steve Zahn
Directed By: Matt Reeves
STARS: 3.5 out of 4

Brief Description: The reboot of the Planet of the Apes series is quite the interest franchise. I think the franchise as a whole might be the best franchise we have in this Marvel-era of films (excellent original, solid sequel, excellent bookend film). They're smart and visually dazzling, but seemingly more forgotten from the zeitgeist than Avatar. It's a shame because I think it's that "smart" aspect of these films that has scared people away. Each of these Planet of the Apes films tells their own unique story within this universe that's been created versus a different antagonist which makes for a super creative and compelling movie-going experience. I cannot recommend this franchise highly enough.

6) Spider-Man: Homecoming
Starring: Tom Holland & Michael Keaton
Co-Written and Directed By: Jon Watts
STARS: 3.5 out of 4

Brief Description: I was 15 when the original Tobey Maguire Spider-Man was released. Since then, I got an additional 4 Spider-Man movies (with Spider-Man 2 considered one of the best superhero films ever made) and now two reboots of the franchise. I needed another Spider-Man movie like I needed another hole in my butt. But hot damn, if  Marvel hasn't perfected these movies by now because I love Spider-Man: Homecoming. While I enjoy a smart franchise like the Planet of the Apes, sometimes I love a good ol' fashioned action comedy, Marvel style. Just pure fun. I especially enjoyed Michael Keaton as The Vulture. Not only for the meta-ness of it after he played Batman and then Birdman and now a bird-like creature in a superhero movie, but the quick five minute scene of getting to know his background instantly made him one of the best superhero villains since Dr. Ock in Spiderman II.

5) Lady Bird
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, & Lucas Hedges
Written and Directed By: Greta Gerwig
STARS: 3.5 out of 4

Brief Description: Lady Bird is not the first, and certainly will not be the last coming-of-age film we'll see, but it's one of the best thanks to Gerwig's perspective behind the camera. We've seen ten million young boys trying to come of age, but rarely girls, and rarely females telling these stories. It's that little unique twist that makes all the difference. Between the realism of the mother/daughter relationship between Ronan's and Metcalf's character, to her experience of growing up poor in Sacramento, Greta Gerwig's version and a retelling of her experiences makes Lady Bird one of the best films of the year. Bonus: Laurie Metcalf is spectacular in the film and her Oscar loss is a damn travesty.

4) Dunkirk
Starring: Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, & Tom Hardy
Written and Directed By: Christopher Nolan
STARS: 3.5 out of 4

Brief Description: Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception) is my all-time favorite filmmaker, so it's no surprise that his most Nolan-iest film is a film I absolutely adore. I saw Dunkirk in an IMAX theater and walked out completely blown away. I've soured a tad on the film since, but will always champion it. I think it's a technical marvel the way all Christopher Nolan films are. I can't speak for the actual personality of the man, but Christopher Nolan films are at their best when their heartless and cold, but filled with compelling action. That's exactly what Dunkirk is. You're immediately thrown into action by following a group on English soldiers wander through an empty French town when they're immediately ambushed. The film starts right out of the gate putting its foot on the gas and never letting go. The actual Dunkirk situation was an untenable and dire situation for the English during WWII, and Dunkirk lets you feel that dread from beginning to end.

3) The Florida Project
Starring: Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, & Willem Dafoe
Co-Written and Directed By: Sean Baker
STARS: 3.5 out of 4

Brief Description: The Florida Project will certainly not be for everyone. Even throughout the first hour of my initial watch of the film, I found it to be meandering at best. But when all is said and done, this film dug int's claws way into me and never let go. Based on the name Disney called its project while building EPCOT/Disneyland, The Florida Project could not be a more apt name for this film. Set in a motel in the shadows of the theme park, it's  slice of life movie about growing up poor set against the backdrop of "The Happiest Place on Earth". By using mostly non-actors like Prince and Vinaite as the daughter/mother team trying to get by, its feels more like a documentary than a film. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

2) Baby Driver
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, & Jon Hamm
Written and Directed By: Edgar Wright
STARS: 3.5 out of 4

Brief Description: As I alluded to with Spider-Man: Homecoming, sometimes you just want a fun movie. What I personally want is a fun, original movie (not based on any preexisting Intellectual Property) and Baby Driver delivers that and then some. By marrying a light-hearted heist movie with a James Gunn-esque soundtrack, you get not only one of the best movies of the summer, but one of the best movies of the year. The film kicks off with one of the best scenes of the year: a heist/car chase set to "Bellbottoms" by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion ends it with "Radar Love" by Golden Earring and then fills the film with great classics you didn't know you wanted along the way. Baby Driver is exactly the type of film I want Hollywood to be making, and with its success, I hope these types of fun experiences continue.

1) Get Out
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Alison Williams, & Bradley Whitford
Written and Directed By: Jordan Peele
STARS: 4 out of 4

Brief Description: When we look back on the 2018 Oscars, we are all going to wonder why the hell did Get Out not win everything. The little horror film that nobody said could get any Oscar nominations would up being the pick we all wish the Oscars had made. I saw Get Out 3 times in 2017 and each time the film became more brilliant. It's really interesting to watch the film for the first time because you don't know where its going until its complete, but even better the second time around when you pick up on new things you didn't know you were looking for. That's the sign of a great film, where it gets even better with age and multiple viewings. Like any good horror/thriller film, there's a deeper meaning, and the points its makes about the racism of White Liberals (of which I consider myself) it's refreshing and nothing short of genius.