The best films of 2017


Photos courtesy of IMDB

2017 has been a wonderful year for the silver screen. In fact, I had a tough time narrowing down the list of films that were worthy of further recognition. From unique, existential dramas to quirky, relatable comedies, 2017 provided the movie magic that film-lovers were awaiting in 2016.

If there’s one thing to celebrate during the holiday season, it’s the amazing films that changed and impressed us all the same.

1. “A Ghost Story”

Holding the No. 1 spot for what has been a fantastic year for film is “A Ghost Story.” In many ways, this movie is entirely frustrating. Not only is it frustrating … it’s long, meditative and abstract. Thus, perfectly reflecting the perplexity of the life that we live and leave behind and perfectly using the movie as a vessel to portray dark, tragic themes.

The more I sat back and watched, dumbstruck, as the film took its time and stretched scenes that would, in most films, be only seconds long into 10-minute tearjerkers, the more I came to realize that those scenes were more precisely timed and tuned than most current movies.

Let me explain: The main plot of the movie is that a husband, played by Casey Affleck, dies and comes back to “haunt” his wife as a white sheet-clad spirit. He watches, for eternity, as his wife’s life continues without him. The reason that the film takes such care while dwelling in each particular scene is to display both the enormity of time and the short, fragile existence that we live. Affleck’s ghost is forced to confront the tragic realization that he may not be remembered as he once was when he was alive and that his wife is forced to move on. Due to the painstaking structure of the film, the audience is forced to find this realization alongside Affleck. This is all propelled by an incredibly immersive soundtrack that both compliments the movie’s unique structure and helps to reinforce the emotions that are being portrayed. Affleck and Rooney Mara, as the unnamed wife, both display quite stellar performances and keep the film’s slow pace undeniably engaging.

Lastly, there is the matter of the white sheet. Affleck is shrouded in an almost comically simple white sheet with two holes cut out of it for the majority of the film. It is reminiscent of cartoonish designs for ghosts from shows such as “Scooby Doo.” Despite the seemingly odd contrast that the design has against the otherwise stark and serious tone, the ghoulish cowl works brilliantly to silently emote where a dead Casey Affleck can’t. Not only that, but it allows the audience to hold a deeper appreciation for what once was and what can never be again. Memories, stories, accomplishments, money, entire lives — everything ends. Everything, except time. Ironically this impossibly frustrating theme makes “A Ghost Story” itself, timeless.

2. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is everything a film-lover wants in a movie: engaging, interesting characters, an original, unpredictable story, impressive cinematography, a fitting soundtrack and Francis McDormand. The thing that is so great about the movie — and it’s the element that cements it as one of the most engaging movies of the last decade — is the heart of the film. Its passionate and critical message about learning to move past hate and live your life is both poignant and timeless, and it is expressed perfectly through the delightfully broken characters. McDormand and Sam Rockwell give the standout performances out of the many standout performances of the film, and if they do not receive Oscars, respectively, I may scream. I cannot state enough how full-bodied and well-crafted the characters that make up the film are. Each character has believable struggles, goals and passions, and you believe every word that furiously tumbles from their throats. “Three Billboards” is the kind of film that asks the viewer to ponder its themes and characters far after the lights go up in the theater. The more I think about the movie, the more there is to appreciate, and I feel that there is much, much more to come.

3. “Blade Runner 2049”

Director Denis Villeneuve has a long history of cinematic achievements that have, in my opinion, cemented him as one of the most talented filmmakers in Hollywood. However, I was initially hesitant when I saw that he was going from creating completely independent and original films and moving to the popular course of jumping on the reboot rocket. Thankfully, “Blade Runner 2049” is a worthy sequel to Ridley Scott’s sweepingly original 1982 film and one of the most breathtaking movies in Villeneuve’s filmography. And, when I use the word “breathtaking,” that’s a bit of an understatement.

Director of Photography Roger Deakins flies above and beyond every movie in 2017 with the mesmerizing cinematography of “Blade Runner 2049.” While the creativity and explosive visuals that make up “Blade Runner 2049” are most certainly a plus, the film is far from “style over substance.” The film’s narrative is as complex and full-bodied as the world that it is told within, and characterization of the movie’s hero, Officer K, is placed at the forefront of said narrative. Officer K is played by the ever-charismatic Ryan Gosling, and the multi-faced performance goes a long way in elevating the movie above lesser, spectacle-based sci-fi films. Harrison Ford is, of course, an important factor in the film due to his character from the first movie, and he is used as appropriately as possible in the new film. In other words, if the movie was helmed by a lesser director, Ford would have taken center-stage, and the movie would have turned into “grandpa beats up the much more physically fit bad guys action.”

I believe that “Blade Runner 2049” is an improvement in almost every way from its predecessor, “Blade Runner.” It’s a reboot that builds on the world of the original without relying on it. “Blade Runner 2049” is a sci-fi odyssey for a new generation, and it allows Villeneuve to do what he does best: crafting originality where most cannot find it.

4. “The Square”

Ah, how does one describe “The Square?” It means everything, and it also means nothing, which is essentially the point. Let me, once again, explain. The movie is centered around a prestigious art gallery director, who basically is just living his life … and that’s it. There’s no grand plot. There’s no central call-to-action. It’s sort of a slice-of-life look into a very flawed and self-centered man’s life and career.

The film can be interpreted in many different ways. One could see the film as a way to convey the hollowness and self-serving nature of modern man. However, one could also, in tune with the pretentious art that is found within the film, view all the “themes” as a means to satirize the very idea of an “art-house” film. However you take “The Square,” it is still an impressively made and finely-tuned movie that prompts laughter as much as it prompts rigorous ideation.

The actor, Claes Bang, who portrays the main character of the film does an excellent job of depicting a man who is both charismatic and incredibly shallow. All of the supporting cast is excellent as well, allowing the world around Bang to come alive in spectacular fashion. There are also quite a few impressive ways that scenes play out within the film. I won’t spoil anything, but I have to say that the “man-ape” scene is definitely a film highlight of 2017.

5. “The Killing of A Sacred Deer”

I cannot get “The Killing of A Sacred Deer” out of my head. And, that’s a good thing. Disturbing. Unnatural. Surreal. All of these descriptors fit the film well. Crafted by Yorgos Lanthimos, the director of “The Lobster,” the movie aims to make the viewer uneasy in just the right way. The movie is centered around a father, played excellently by Collin Farrell, who has to make a devastating decision about his family. The film’s soundtrack and very purposeful cinematography go a long way in creating the unique tone that Lanthimos strives for. I don’t like using the term, “like nothing you have ever seen before,” but this movie basically fits the bill. Lanthimos is able to craft a mystifying and disturbing tone that deftly balances thrilling paranoia and awkward humor. It’s an odd mix, to say the least, but it is, somehow, pulled off masterfully. Lanthimos also has a unique and fascinating style of directing his actors. Most of the characters speak as if they’re aliens and interact with a cold, to-the-point demeanor. Fortunately, all of these elements are expertly calculated and add to the uneasy feeling that sat in my gut during the entirety of the movie.

6. “Baby Driver”

“Baby Driver” is truly an achievement in directing. Edgar Wright’s precise and incredibly stylish hand in the film transcended “Baby Driver” beyond the modern action-comedy. I can literally not emphasize enough how truly impressive Wright’s direction is in the film. The movie uses music to “remix” action sequences into a kind of rhythmic dance that is carefully choreographed to create an other-worldly, on-screen phenomenon. Each scene is expertly crafted and benefits from the impressive cinematography, charismatic performances and, of course, the toe-tapping, scene-stealing soundtrack.

On a story-telling level, the film is also extremely driven, pardon the pun. Scenes are constructed in a way that they speed by fast enough to keep the audience on their toes but not fast enough to leave any important elements in the dust. Throughout his career, Wright has always had a propensity to make — what would otherwise be mundane — scenes interesting and inventive, and “Baby Driver” is certainly no exception. The writer-director seizes every opportunity to make the film his own and tells a story worth telling in a way that nobody else could.

7. “It Comes At Night”

While many audience members reported feeling disappointed after their viewing of “It Comes At Night” due to its misleading trailer, I certainly got my money’s worth. The movie is not the “boo, there’s a spooky monster” show that the trailer may imply. It’s actually so much more. The real monster, not to get too late-night-dorm-room on you, is paranoia, lust, greed and fear, and the movie never shies away from themes that may make some viewers uncomfortable. Not only is it impeccably shot, but “It Comes At Night” is also expertly paced and insanely tense. It carries the tone and dread of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” throughout the movie, and it never lets up. The story is as mysterious as the characters, and, sometimes, when information is purposefully left out of movies, it makes it feel that much more tense and that much more real. When information, such as where the characters come from, who they are and what their motives are, is left out, the audience is left in the same paranoid and foreign setting that the characters are left in. What’s the only thing scarier than spooky horror-movie monsters? Human beings and their animalistic desires.

8. “Lady Bird”

“Lady Bird,” crafted by first-time director and actress Greta Gerwig, is a lesson in simplicity and the many charms of blatant reality. Gerwig, who previously starred in movies such as “Francis Ha,” makes the most of the classic coming-of-age tale of a teenage girl finding herself in high school and at home. Gerwig’s aptitude for humor and timing allows “Lady Bird” to truly shine amongst this crowded genre. The movie stars Saoirse Ronan, an actress who is continuing to impress as she builds her filmography. Ronan and the supporting cast are exceptional in creating this realistic tale of girl-meets-world, and Ronan’s propensity for humor and emotional flourishes make the film a joy to watch. There are many tear-jerking moments in the film, but there are also many belly laughs to be had. The humor is extremely natural-feeling and is written in a way that allows for deeper characterization of the film’s cast. To be frank, I never have been a big fan of these types of coming-of-age stories, but “Lady Bird” more than won me over. It’s charming and real. What more could you ask for?

9. “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2”

As someone who was and is a huge fan of the fantastical flourishes of action, emotion and humor that the first movie produced, it was no surprise that writer-director James Gunn was able to, once again, capture everything I loved from the first volume and more in the Marvel sequel. While the movie is less formally structured than the first, its heightened emphasis on the inner-workings of our heroes and their struggles more than compensates for what some could see as a light narrative. The way James Gunn creatively integrated action, music and humor allows us to feel more deeply involved with the characters. The soundtrack, in my opinion, is not quite what it was in the first film, but it is certainly much better integrated in the second film. Every song has a purpose, whether it be comedic, emotional or atmospheric, and, once again, composer Tyler Bates has proved he can almost carry scenes with his impressive use of score. This isn’t an art film. I don’t think I can call it “high-brow.” What I can call it is a fun and entirely satisfying action, adventure film that doesn’t shy away from the side of the main characters that other films in the same genre are not competent enough to explore. Oh, also, Baby Groot.

10. “I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore”

“I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore” is an inventive and suitably quant ride that puts its fully realized characters at the forefront of the strange world the film creates. With a quirky, fascinating story that does enough to distance the film from other modern movies, the movie achieves what many viewers and filmmakers have been starved for: uniqueness and originality. The two leads, played by Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood, are perfect to carry the comedy-thriller through all the twists and turns needed to create its appropriately restrained story. I can’t say exactly what the central purpose of the film is, due to it being entirely up to interpretation, but it does carry many themes — love, loneliness, mortality, greed, self-loathing, etc — that allow different audience members to see the movie in entirely different lights. The characters are lovable, but the world they live in, hence the name, is not.

11. “Get Out”

“Get Out” is one of those yearly movies that wins the hearts and, more importantly, minds of a vast audience. And, fortunately with “Get Out,” it is for good reason. The movie is centered around an African American man who is meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. However, his girlfriend and her parents are white, making the main character uneasy. Playing on and expanding the fears that many African American men and women face every day, the movie creates this almost surreal world that allows for deep-dive into the psyche of casual-racists and their victims. The movie is helmed by first-time director Jorden Peele. It impressed me how well-shot and directed many of the scenes were due to Peele’s minimal experience. There are some extremely impressive camera placements and editing within the film, making the horrific elements of the movie all the more spine-tingling. I also enjoyed how the main actor, Daniel Kaluuya, decided to portray the film’s protagonist. His performance feels very natural and unprompted. Many times, actors fall into the pit of feeling too scripted, which is something that Kaluuya is able to expertly avoid.

12. “The Big Sick”

Modern rom-coms are too often cliched, predictable and sadly unoriginal. Fortunately, “The Big Sick” does not fall under this umbrella. With an incredibly strange true story of a Pakistani man who falls in love with a white girl that falls into a coma after contracting a life-threatening illness, “The Big Sick” is able to juggle real-life social and emotional hurdles with its charming script. Our main character has to deal with being pulled between the age-old traditions of his family and the love of his life. The cast and writing allow the movie to be both heartfelt and funny, yielding belly laughs and sniffles. The performances feel honest, making for an impeccably acted film. What helps to make the movie seem so authentic and honest is the fact that it is written by the two real-life subjects of the story. Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily Gorden, put great care into presenting the story in a way that honored the cultural concerns surrounding the story and opened the doors for further constructive conversation within the narrative. It’s a film that’s funny and productive, and I’ll never be sick of watching it. 

To contact Lifestyles Editor Tayhlor Stephenson, email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

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