Ryan’s Top Ten Films of 2017

Making a list for the midpoint of the year (which I did for Dan and Garrett’s podcast I Like 2 Movie Movie) was a far easier exercise. At that point in the year there were a bunch of films I liked a lot, but not too many where I had a large list to cull. The second half of 2017 seemed to explode with lovable movies, making this end of year task much more difficult. And there’s a bunch of movies I want to see (at least 16, and I think of those, Columbus is probably the one that could have changed this list significantly).

Anyway, to narrow down my focus, I decided to enforce some rules for myself:

  1. I could only give 20% of my list to franchise films (that’s two spots! I’m doing the math for you!). While this was a great year for franchise filmmaking, including Alien: Covenant, Wonder Woman, Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, it feels wrong for those films to take the place of equally deserving films that are just as impressive, but without the benefit of big names to pull in theatergoers.
  2. The list should comprise films that I either want to revisit over and over, or at least stuck with me in some other way. The hardest cuts here for me were Okja, The Lure, Paterson, Personal Shopper, and The Florida Project.
  3. Did you just realize I used these rules to throw some honorable mentions out there?

Anyway anyway, because of all of those factors, treat this list as I have, a snapshot of the films I really dug this year looking back as I think of them in this moment.

10. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (dir. Luc Besson)

It pains me that this will likely be the only Valerian film we see from Luc Besson. There is an unbridled joy and sense of wonder that we rarely get in high concept summer films, and this one delivered in spades. From my original review:

The effect of these designs is that Valerian feels more immersive than any spectacle-driven science fiction film of the past few years. There is so much to look at and experience within the film which just wouldn’t have been possible in earlier filmmaking eras. Yes, there is a digital sheen over everything, but Besson and his designers embrace that as an aesthetic choice. Everything here looks like a cartoon come to life, and is the first film since the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer to fully embrace the unreal possibilities of digital worlds.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the kind of film that Spielberg-lovers like J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird think they are making with their original science fiction work.

9. Colossal (dir. Nacho Vigalondo)

Leave it to Nacho Vigalondo to take another super familiar genre and come at it from a unique angle. Kaiju films are great fun, but they tend to follow a very narrow formula. Colossal gives it a unique spin that turns the genre’s greatest weakness (human emotion tends to be its lowest priority) into this film’s greatest strength. Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis both give great performances that are unexpectedly nuanced. This is one of those movies where, upon initial viewing, what feels like the climax is actually the third act twist. And while it would have made this list regardless, in a year of terrible men, this film feels extra relevant.

8. The Disaster Artist (dir. James Franco)

Acting is the part of filmmaking that remains most mysterious to me. I just don’t understand how it works, and as a skill set is probably completely beyond me. Sometimes I feel like I don’t do a good job giving actors credit for performances, as my ideal performance is typically one that is so naturalistic that it can almost pass by unnoticed.

James Franco as Tommy Wiseau is the opposite of that. And the character demands it, given that Wiseau himself is a larger-than-life, impossible-to-reconcile-with-reality figure. But Franco nails it. He brings Tommy to life in a way that is simultaneously baffling, infuriating, and empathetic. I was mesmerized anytime he was on screen.

And the rest of the film is also amazing. Dan Scully nailed it in his review for this site that the friendship between Tommy and Greg (Dave Franco) is the main character of this film, and it provides a strong foundation for what the film has to say about eccentricity, acceptance, and dreamers.

7. Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

The more I think about it, the more I like this film over the original. While Ridley Scott’s film marries mood to theme, 2049 adds story and character to that. It is as melancholic as Scott’s film, but is even more beautiful. Roger Deakins stages shots that are simply jaw-dropping, expanding the world of Blade Runner while never losing focus on the tight story. Everything about this film uses nostalgia as a jumping off point rather than trying to recapture it.

Additionally, Harrison Ford is in top form here, using his crusty persona to even greater effect than in The Force Awakens. Deckard in this film is a man/robot only capable of surviving and not much else, and there are few things more interesting to watch than someone who lacks purpose.

6. Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)

The more I think about this film, the more I like it. Watching it induces more anxiety than outright terror, but I think that’s part of the point. From the film’s point of view, being a minority in a world full of white people means that you must constantly be on guard, behaving in a specific way that validates their ideas about that minority group. Enduring their feeble attempts to acknowledge or ignore race at exactly the wrong times. It feels exhausting and isolating.

It is something I rarely experience in my own life, and Peele’s brilliant writing and structure, as well as a mastery of editing and other filmmaking techniques drive that home. This film is only as effective as it is because of how well made it is.

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

I am a huge fan of Rian Johnson (Brothers Bloom, Brick), and I’ve connected with each of his films on a deep level. So I was eagerly anticipating Last Jedi as both the next entry in my beloved Star Wars saga as well as the newest Rian Johnson film. And Last Jedi delivers. It keeps that ambiguous but ever-important “Star Wars feeling” while moving the franchise in a bold new direction.

While it did take multiple viewings for me to fully appreciate how the plots dovetail with the themes of the film, its structure becomes more impressive when you aren’t waiting for the next snap-hiss of a laser sword. Johnson (who also wrote the film) reemphasizes what the Rebellion stands for as a political ideology, as well as the differences between leadership, heroism, and legend. But the reason I placed it so high on this list is because Johnson doesn’t use the eight previous Star Wars films as primary inspiration. He draws on his own cinematic influences, including Akira Kurosawa, Westerns, and war films. There’s even a very specific reference to the first Best Picture winner, Wings. It is a stylish film that keeps character at its center, and makes it the best Star Wars film of my lifetime.

4. Your Name. (dir. Makoto Shinkai)

This film is one of the best-looking animated films of all time, but that is only one of the reasons it absolutely floored me. The plot, which involves a teenage girl from a small town periodically switching bodies with a teenage boy from Tokyo, is dense and twisty. Makoto Shinkai is as much concerned with the mechanics of how the characters deal with this problem (which has clever ideas for communication between the two) as how it impacts who they are becoming as young adults. It sounds completely unapproachable, but within this fantastical setup is one of the most grounded and emotionally rich coming of age films this decade.

3. The Post (dir. Steven Spielberg)

The third film in Spielberg’s informal trilogy of “the Republic in crisis” films (after Lincoln and Bridge of Spies) is a worthy addition. The Post focuses on the decision faced by The Washington Post whether or not to publish material from the Pentagon Papers even after the Nixon Administration bars the New York Times from doing so.

Meryl Streep’s performance as Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham is astounding, as she contends with the moral, ethical, and business responsibilities of supporting journalism while being a Washington Insider. The rest of the large ensemble cast, from Hanks on down, is also stellar.

But it is impossible not to think of this as a film made for today. America has been going through a crisis of institutions (government, faith, media, culture) since the 1960s, with trust in these institutions at an all time low. The Pentagon Papers were a huge turning point in this, and The Post acts as a reminder as to the importance of the free press.

2. Lady Bird (dir. Greta Gerwig)

I’m still really proud of my review of this one, so here’s an excerpt:

Teenage rebellion, yearning for adulthood, and the exploration of the self are all staples of this genre, but Gerwig’s vision makes a few modifications that have a profound impact on the feel of the film. For one, this is told from a female perspective. The 400 Blows, Rushmore (Lady Bird has a poster for the later in her bedroom), and plenty of other films bring are male-centric versions of this story. And while there have been more female-focused high school films in recent years (Easy A, Edge of Seventeen), the relationship between mother and daughter is not the focus.

Ronan and Metcalf portray characters that are so similar to each other, yet vibrate at slightly different frequencies brings to mind so many memories of the arguments I had with my own parents before I left for college. Both of them are strong-willed and strive for independence, yet are acutely aware that they are out of step with the mainstream without even trying to be. Marion gives her daughter straight talk constantly, whether it is about her clothes or the state of the family. It comes from a place of love, but it lands as not being supportive. In all of her relationships, from her family, to friends, teachers, and romantic partners, Lady Bird feels pressured to act in certain ways, and it feels like everyone wants to put her in a neat little box. And her small-scale rebellions are a way to fight that pressure.

1. Dunkirk (dir. Christopher Nolan)

Nolan is one of my favorite filmmakers, as his visual style and his perfectly constructed ideas always speak to me. Interstellar was a brave attempt at capturing the human element that sometimes seems to be backgrounded in his films. But Dunkirk excels at it.

While being primarily a film about time, I find Dunkirk most effective in showing the choices that are made by individuals during war. Although it is easy to think of war as something impersonal, where soldiers are given orders to follow, there is a lot of room for interpretation and personal choice. Ultimately, Dunkirk is about the choice of putting duty ahead of one’s own survival.

And to tell that story, Nolan creates the most immersive cinematic experience I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. Every aspect of filmmaking is used for maximum effect, creating a symphony of sights and sounds that put me in the headspace of those who lived these events.

Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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