Jeff’s Top Ten Films of 2017

Happy New Year everyone!  While 2017, by and large, was a tumultuous year for, um, Planet Earth, the stories told through cinema this year have been some of the most vital, urgent, and direct responses to what is happening in the “real world” that I can remember.  And while I sometimes enjoy the movies for unadulterated escapism, it has been cathartically satisfying for me to process some of these complex emotions through the great art of film.  So here they are, my Top 10 Films of 2017!

A few points I’d like to make before diving in:

  • There are inevitably movies I have been unable to see yet that may have made this list, specifically The Florida ProjectThe PostMother!, Phantom Thread, Call Me By Your Name, and Okja.
  • As some will remember me controversially including OJ: Made in America on last year’s Top 10 list (it won the Oscar, guys, come on!), I do not discriminate documentaries from narrative features.  If it’s exemplary, it’s on my list.
  • There was a film that came out on December 28th, 2016 that I saw this year when it hit Amazon Prime Video. It was so good, I would kick myself for not mentioning it, despite it not being a 2017 movie.  20th Century Women, streaming now on Amazon Prime, earned an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay, a Golden Globe nomination for Annette Bening, and it would be in my top 5 of the year if I had seen it in 2016.  Check it out!

10. Jim and Andy: The Great BeyondFeaturing a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton (dir. Chris Smith)

Growing up as an actor and simultaneously idolizing Jim Carrey, a documentary about Carrey going method for his portrayal of Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon seemed perfectly constructed for my interests (damn you, Netflix algorithm!).  I was in awe of Jim and Andy, but not because I was entertained.  Conversely, this was actually hard for me to watch.  I sat, mouth agape, as Carrey lived his truth in Andy Kaufman for months on end, much to the dismay of everyone else around him.  His portrayal, as demonstrated in Jim and Andy, was impressive, exhausting, annoying, troubling, and ultimately, effective. The fact that Man on the Moon is not the sum of its parts is irrelevant.  Jim and Andy is most compelling, though, when interviews with present-day Carrey are interjected with behind-the-scenes footage of his behavior back then.  I found Jim’s perspective on life to be bizarre, heart wrenching, nihilistic, and somehow still inspiring.  Jim and Andy altered my thoughts about Jim Carrey and the films that meant so much to me. It even made me contemplate what I want out of life and how to create sustainable happiness by looking for it in the right places.  Pretty powerful stuff.

9. War for the Planet of the Apes (dir. Matt Reeves)

I’ve previously stated that the most recent Planet of the Apes franchise reboot would be one of the great sci-fi trilogies of all time if War was able to stick the landing.  With Matt Reeves returning to the director’s chair for the third film, I was immensely pleased to not have to qualify my statements about this trilogy any longer.  Not the spectacle that its name would imply, War is an internal struggle that is exquisitely acted in the eyes of Andy Serkis’ Ceasar.  I marvel at this film— a $150MM blockbuster that is quiet, meditative, and dark in its themes, built on the efficacy of the bar-raising, benchmark-setting CGI that is so seamless, it suspends our disbelief and makes us forget that we’re literally watching Apes do Shakespeare.  War for the Planet of the Apes is a triumph.

8. Split (dir. M. Night Shyamalan)<

If you would have told me that I would be putting an M. Night Shyamalan movie on my Top 10 list for 2017, I would have ROFL’d right then and there, but here we are.  A taut, suspenseful thriller featuring a phenomenal performance by James McAvoy, Split was a formidable return-to-form for Shyamalan, complete with a twist ending that made me stand up in my living room and shout “YES!” at my television with goosebump’d excitement.  I haven’t had that type of reaction to another movie all year.

7.  Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

The original Blade Runner is one of the most formative and influential science fiction films ever made.  And Blade Runner 2049 is as good, and sometimes better, than its predecessor in almost every way.  Damn.  Blade Runner 2049 creates a more fleshed-out story surrounding a more compelling mystery without sacrificing the tone that the original struck.  Everything from Roger Deakins’ cinematography to Harrison Ford’s performance is top notch. Even at almost 3 hours long, I was still pulled in by every moment in this film. Director Denis Villenueve, whose films consistently make my and others’ Top 10 lists, turns in a sequel here that I didn’t even know I wanted, and one of the most thoughtful, adult, mind-bending sci-fi movies we’ve seen in years.

6.  Star Wars: The Last Jedi (dir. Rian Johnson)

I always feel a bit odd putting a huge blockbuster on my Top 10 list, but The Last Jedi truly earned it.  I’m still grappling with some of the choices The Last Jedi made.  I still have conversations with friends and coworkers about Leia, what The Force can and can’t do (PS— who are we to make that call?), Admiral Holdo’s motivations, everything that happened on Canto Bight, and where Rian Johnson left this story for Episode IX.  And how great is that… that we’re still debating and chewing on these ideas without knowing what is next! I don’t know if the future of Star Wars has ever been so refreshingly wide open.  I also cannot believe that we received one of the more relevant messages of any movie all year… in a Star Wars Movie.  The notion that our heroes will ultimately fail us, but that’s ok, because we have all we need within ourselves to initiate change is a thought we can all consider.  I loved it.  Bravo to Rian Johnson for creating my personal favorite Star Wars movie to date.

5.  Detroit (dir. Kathryn Bigelow)

A film that is squarely set in 1967 successfully turns a mirror on all of us and asks, “How much has changed?”.  Director Kathryn Bigelow, who has been previously awarded for her depictions of recent historical events like the Iraq War (The Hurt Locker) and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden (Zero Dark Thirty), turns her sensibilities to a much older occurrence that unfortunately echoes scenarios we’re still all too familiar with.  Taking place during the 1967 Detroit riots, on one fateful night, almost entirely in the hallway of a hotel, Detroit centers on a confrontation that occurred when racist police officers responded to a complaint at a hotel.  The ensuing drama is heartbreaking.  John Boyega is stellar as a security guard bystander trying to patiently navigate a perilous and objectively wrong situation without blood shed.  Will Poulter, who many will know from his charmingly innocent role in We’re The Millers, is also remarkable; he creates one of the most menacing performances we saw this year.  Once Detroit got going, I was breathless until the final credits rolled.  It is essential viewing.


4.  Colossal (dir. Nacho Vigalando)

I walked into Colossal not knowing much more than “monster movie starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis”.  Not knowing director Nacho Vigalondo, I did not expect such a bizarre, original vision, with the monster acting as a manifestation of what the film is really about— the collateral damage of self-destructive behavior.  While some of the scenes are a smidge over-the-top and I wish they had cut out the unnecessary explanation for why this is happening, I was generally floored by this bold, unpredictable film. The rules of the circumstances are well established, but Vigalondo does not spell everything out for his audience, and this keeps us on our toes until the somewhat enigmatic ending that demands to be thought about and discussed.  Anne Hathaway is at the top of her game, but it is Jason Sudeikis who steals the show, delivering his best performance to date.  I won’t say more than that; seek out Colossal.

3.  I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (dir. Macon Blair)

I heard of Macon Blair’s directorial debut when it became the darling of Sundance this year, winning the Grand Jury prize and sparking a bidding war for distribution rights that was eventually won by Netflix.  Being a fan of Macon Blair’s acting work in Jeremy Saulnier’s films (see Blue Ruin on Netflix and Green Room on Amazon Prime), and being intrigued by the title, I was excited to check it out.  While Netflix released this in February without much pomp and circumstance, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore became my early favorite film in 2017 and still remains as one of my top 3 films of the year.  To say too much about the plot would spoil the fun, but at a high level, the film follows a depressed woman who, with the help of her eccentric neighbor, takes the law into her own hands when her home is burglarized. Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood are a great pair to follow down this rabbit hole into the criminal underworld, but it is Macon Blair’s writing and direction that set the film apart from anything else you’ve seen.  Simply, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is hilarious, unpredictable, and thrilling.  And it’s free on Netflix!

2.  I, Tonya (dir. Craig Gillespie)

Just when I thought my Top 10 list was pretty much done, I, Tonya skated up to the awards podium, muscled a bunch of other movies out of the way, and held her head high with tears in her eyes, a smile on her face, and lipstick on her teeth.  This story of notorious figure skater Tonya Harding is much more than Goodfellas on ice.  Sure, I, Tonya pulls a page or two out of Scorcese’s filmmaking handbook— tracking shots, voice over, enough vulgarity and violence for two movies— but the film is much more than that.  Smartly focusing on Harding’s background and the why rather than the who and what of the hit on Nancy Kerrigan, I, Tonya reframes Tonya Harding as a tragic character.  This film posits that her story was shaped by her abusive mother, by her abusive boyfriend, and by the story-hungry media, and Tonya had almost no control over the train wreck that her life became.  Margot Robbie is Oscar worthy as Tonya Harding, painting a nuanced picture of a woman who is strong but beaten down, intelligent but uneducated, and hard-working but futile.  Allison Janney is similarly spectacular as Harding’s mother, depicting her as a tornado of swear words with cigarette breath who demands your undivided attention every time she’s onscreen.  I, Tonya brings what could be a heavy story to life without ever being dour; in fact, it’s a (dark) comedy.  I, Tonya is entertaining, brutal, and extremely well-acted.  It’s tied for my favorite movie of the year.

1.  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (dir. Martin McDonagh)

I’ve come to the conclusion that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is actually a better film than writer-director Martin McDonagh’s lauded debut and my previous favorite, In Bruges. Three Billboards is incredibly focused and potent in delivering its message without sacrificing any of McDonagh’s signature, no-holds-barred banter.  Add to that Oscar-worthy performances from Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, as well as the most prescient theme of any film this year— hatred is an addictive, vicious cycle and love, more specifically forgiveness, is the only way to break it— and the result is one of 2017’s best films.  I love that Three Billboardspays off its character arcs while not providing any easy answers or tidy reprieve from its characters’ deeply-rooted ailments.  It also challenges the audience to grow throughout this journey… early on, we praise the protagonist for her badassery and we boo the antagonists at the Ebbing police department for their deplorable behavior.  But we learn that nothing is that simple, and by the end of Three Billboards, we feel guilty for that early bloodlust and we can empathize with our antagonists.  McDonagh accomplishes all of this without hitting us over the head with it.  It’s a cinematic achievement that I believe, along with Jordan Peele’s Get Out, will be looked back upon as one of the representative films of 2017.

Honorable Mentions:
Good Time
Molly’s Game
Ingrid Goes West
Shot Caller
Get Out
The Big Sick
The Shape of Water
The Disaster Artist

Author: Jeff Piotrowski

Jeff Piotrowski is a fanatic movie buff and self-appointed critic living in the Philly suburbs. He enjoys a good beer, a sunny day, and has a beautiful wife whose favorite past time is disagreeing with him. He also hosts the Life + the movies Podcast.

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