By David Ferguson
For movie lovers, it was truly the year of “wonder”. Not only did the new releases include WONDER WOMAN, WONDER WHEEL, WONDERSTRUCK, WONDER, and PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN, but also we were left wondering how so many powerful industry men could have such little respect for women. This is not an article about the rampant (and sometimes criminal) misconduct reported over the past few months, although the topic has already impacted current and future projects, as well as the structure and approach of movie-making. Instead, this is my annual celebration and recap of the films I loved, those I liked, and those that disappointed.
Lack of originality is a constant complaint levied against the movie industry, and the final Box Office numbers for 2017 show the top eleven highest grossing films were some mixture of sequel, remake, and/or superhero movie. With that level of ticket sales, is there any wonder why the studios continue to focus on these big budget tentpoles?
I’m a believer that any movie is a good one if it makes you think, or if you learn something, or if you are simply entertained. With the high number of films I see (234 new releases last year), I feel a responsibility to make recommendations to those who aren’t as fortunate – or as addicted. The cinematic art form has much to offer, but sadly, many really excellent film projects slide through undetected by the general public. Because of this, following my BEST OF 2017 list, you will find some recommendations that might have eluded your movie radar this year.
Even if you missed the theatrical run, given the multitude of streaming options available these days, you should be able to find something here that fits your tastes … or maybe even expands your interests a bit! Just keep in mind that these are based on my personal opinion, and not on other critics’ lists or box office revenue.
The Top 3 of 2017
These were my top 3 movies of 2017, and there was simply no way I could pick a single favorite. Each of these represent filmmaking and story-telling at the highest level … while utilizing quite different styles:
Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece focuses on a critical turning point in WWII. It’s a triptych told from 3 different viewpoints and with minimal dialogue. The will to survive has never before been showcased in this manner, and neither has courage. It’s a history lesson where Nazis are barely shown and the actual battle scenes take a backseat to individual circumstance. The challenging structure was a turn off for some viewers, but if it clicks for you, it’s a revelation in movie-watching.
Turning a creature-feature into a romantic work of art could only be accomplished by Guillermo del Toro. This is a gorgeous film to watch with a story and characters that will likely touch you. Commentary on our society inspires much post-viewing discussion, but it’s also a very intimate look at the strength of misfits and outcasts in a world that tries to ignore them. You’ve never seen a film like this one. It’s a blend of fantasy, sci-fi, romance, and paranoia taking place during the Cold War.
Racism and grief clash in this difficult-to-label film from the brilliant Martin McDonagh. Small town life and big emotional pain drive one woman to fight back and stand strong. It’s part dark-comedy and part personal and family drama, as various characters seek their own form of justice. Exceptionally well-written and acted, the film serves as a harsh reminder that, no matter how much we wish otherwise, life simply isn’t fair.
*** LATE ADDITION***
PHANTOM THREAD – since I saw this one after the BEST OF 2017 list had been published, I’m creating a special spot for it on the list (after the fact). This is exquisite filmmaking from Paul Thomas Anderson, and features what is supposedly the final screen role for the all-time great Daniel Day-Lewis. It’s an odd film and significantly funnier than you might guess. It also features a wonderful score from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood.
10 Next Best
COCO – Yet another Pixar gem. This one is the most colorful and musical to date, and it introduces us to cultural and religious differences, while showing that finding one’s own identity may require a bit of fortitude.
THE BIG SICK – A remarkable true story told in humorous fashion. It leaves us laughing and crying. It makes us comfortable and uneasy. It’s grounded in reality which makes the situation all the more disquieting.
BIG SONIA (doc) – Look no further for an inspirational true story of a Holocaust survivor. Sonia is someone we can look up to, admire, and bring your alterations. Never forgetting her tragedy, she fills her days with a vibrant life.
ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL (doc) – The true story of integrity and fighting when you know you are right … even when bullied by the government. The review is from my Day 10 recap of the 2017 Dallas International Film Festival
BABY DRIVER (the wildest ride of the year), THE LOST CITY OF Z (a terrific adventure story), WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (the best and last of the recent trilogy), THOR: RAGNAROK (also one of the funniest of the year), WONDER WOMAN (the No-Man’s Land scene alone makes it worth watching), BLADE RUNNER 2049 (a worthy follow-up except to those who refuse to accept it), STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (a wonderful film except for those who wanted only what they wanted)
COLUMBUS (thoughtful film), MUDBOUND (hardship defined), THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (oddest film of the year), MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (entertaining remake), LAST FLAG FLYING (touching and frustrating story), THE BEGUILED (horror film for men), GOOD TIME (very creative story), WIND RIVER (snow-covered detective work), MEAN DREAMS (Bill Paxton’s final film), KATIE SAYS GOODBYE (small town kindness goes awry)
BIOPIC (based on true story) (10)
I, TONYA (the Tonya Harding story you don’t know), MOLLY’S GAME (underground poker and high stakes), ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD (the Getty kidnapping), DARKEST HOUR (Churchill’s decision), BATTLE OF THE SEXES (Billie Jean King vs Bobby Riggs), STRONGER (surviving the Boston bombing), MAUDIE (the heart of an artist), CHUCK (boxer Chuck Wepner’s story), A QUIET PASSION (a not so quiet Emily Dickinson), FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL (Gloria Grahame near the end)
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (northern Italy and summer lust), BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (extremely entertaining live-action re-make)
BRAD’S STATUS (teaching your dad), MENASHE (inside the Jewish community), BRIGSBY BEAR (oddball comedy with a heart), BAND AID (musical marriage therapy), WAKEFIELD (running away nearby), UNLEASHED (bizarro dog and cat), FREE FIRE (probably the funniest film I saw this year), MR ROOSEVELT (burying a loved one and the past)
IT (Pennywise the dancing clown), A GHOST STORY (not really horror, but it has ghosts), PERSONAL SHOPPER (again, not a true horror, but ghosts play a role), SPLIT (creepy and frightening), GET OUT (horrific in that it’s social commentary)
FOR US OLD GEEZERS: (2)
THE HERO (Sam Elliott as Sam Elliott), LUCKY (a fitting finale for the late, great Harry Dean Stanton)
MOST DIVISIVE FILM OF THE YEAR: mother! (Many hated it while others loved it. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed pointing out the flaws in the argument of the other side)
WORLD CINEMA (8)
THE WOMEN’S BALCONY (ISRAEL)
I, OLGA HEPNAROVA (CZECH REPUBLIC)
CITY OF GHOSTS
WAIT FOR YOUR LAUGH (Rose Marie RIP)
WASTED! THE STORY OF FOOD WASTE
ELLA BRENNAN: COMMANDING THE TABLE
HELL ON EARTH: THE FALL OF SYRIA AND THE RISE OF ISIS
KIM DOTCOM: CAUGHT IN THE WEB
78/52 HITCHCOCK’S SHOWER SCENE
TAKE EVERY WAVE: THE LIFE OF LAIRD HAMILTON
IT’S NOT YET DARK
TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE
THE FREEDOM TO MARRY
JEREMIAH TOWER: THE LAST MAGNIFICENT
LIVING ON SOUL
MOST DISAPPOINTING (not necessarily the worst, just wasted opportunity)
CHIPS – somehow this re-cycled movie version fails to reach the level of a mediocre 70’s-80’s TV show.
HOME AGAIN – Reese Witherspoon proving again that it takes more than a cast of cute actors and actresses to make a movie watchable
LIFE – lackluster ALIEN knock-off proving again that it takes more than a cast of cute actors and actresses to make a movie watchable (I feel as if I’m repeating myself)
LOGAN LUCKY – back from retirement Soderbergh delivers some moments, but overall leaves us feeling not so lucky
THE DINNER – horrible parents and horrible people making horrible conversation over a horribly over-priced dinner
THE MUMMY – the film that was supposed to restart the monster mania of yesteryear, might have just buried it for good.
It is my hope that you found something on this list that intrigues you to the point that you’ll give it a shot. Of course, you can always find my full reviews at https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/ Feel free to pass this along to any fellow movie lover, and let me know your favorite movies of 2017 … and what you are excited to see in 2018.
SEE YOU AT THE MOVIES!