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Saturday, February 3, 2018

My Top Ten Films of 2017

            And now, at long last!  You know what film scores I liked most.  You know which action scenes I think topped the year.  Now we wrap up my final look-back at the year-that-was with the best of the best- my top ten favorite films of 2017.  

            For all new readers, the rules- I consider eligible for my list any film that either screened at a film festival OR had at least a brief theatrical run in either the US or Germany, even if it was originally produced in a previous year.  And as always, what films end up being my favorite is purely subjective- a lot of the films I saw this year were excellent, but for one reason or another didn’t affect me on a personal level, so absence from this list is in no way meant as a diss.  Agreements, disagreements, and comments are, as always, more than welcome in the comments below! 

Honorable Mentions: Wonder Woman, Boys For Sale, Tiger Girl, Your Name, mother!, Valley of the Saints
10. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)

            This film was soaked in the evocative atmosphere of a lazy, otherworldly summer in the European countryside, where time stretches out indefinitely….until suddenly, it doesn’t.  This perfectly-cast movie will hopefully be remembered as a watershed in film treatment of non-heterosexual romances on the big screen, where they are granted the same space and peace to just become what they were meant to become as “normal” romances have always been given.  As excellent as Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg are (and they are excellent), Chalamet’s final scene during the start of the credits was one of the most powerful visual and acting experiences of the year, one that may yet make him the youngest Best Actor winner in Oscar history. 

            The latest entry into the new Star Wars universe did not do what I had wanted it to, or develop its characters the way I’d hoped.  And the more I thought about that, the more I realized that’s exactly what I, other fans, and this whole franchise needed- something that, for all its parallels to the original trilogy, breaks out on its own when it really counts.  This was highlighted for me by Mark Hamill’s incredible performance and the challenging way the film tackles the person and legacy of Luke Skywalker.  Yes, the past must always be viewed with a skeptical eye, but we can’t help but need grand legends to inspire us to be better, and that not’s necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, it can make all the difference in the world in terms of whether hope lives or dies. 

8. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)

            I am madly in love with both Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan, so my expectations for the former’s directorial debut starring the latter could only have been higher if they’d somehow managed to rope the John Goodman into the project.  Not only did the film meet those expectations, it surpassed them with aplomb.  This is about as point-perfect as coming-of-age films get, with the indelible sense of time and place this sort of film hinges on.  I was a bit behind Lady Bird in 2002/2003, still two years away from Catholic high school, but I’ve been to those dances.  I’ve said the pledge of allegiance to the flag followed immediately by the Lord’s Prayer to the crucifix right next to it, and been dogged by an inescapable sense that I have to get far away from where I’m from to find myself.  I’ve followed through on it, only to realize after the fact that maybe my hometown meant more to me than I realized.  This is the stuff that growing up is made of. 

7. A Ghost Story (David Lowery)

            A film based on this premise- a man dies and haunts his house under a literal bedsheet with eyeholes while Rooney Mara chugs a pie in real time- could so easily have ended up being a pretentious, overindulgent, head-up-its-own-ass, unwatchable piece of experimental indie bullshit. 

            A Ghost Story is not only decidedly NOT that, it’s one of the deepest, most provocative films of the year.  Its visual style deliberately feels like the movie consists of old, square home videos, lending us a voyeuristic perspective similar to the ghost’s as we wander back and forth through, seemingly, all of time, forcing us to reckon up-front with our own mortality and transience.  The final moment of the film provided one of the year’s best and most challenging endings, perfectly encapsulating what makes this film so indescribably special. 

6. Paradise (Andrei Konchalovsky)  

            A combination of this film’s unique style, its underplayed acting, and stark black-and-white visuals stayed with me throughout the year, even though it came out fairly early.  Here is a film that doesn’t so much try to grasp for a universal explanation or overview of the Holocaust.  Instead, it simply observes one corner of it through the lives of three individuals- one French, one German, and one Russian- and how ideology and circumstance warp and twist them.  The Russian woman’s reflection on how starkly the promise of steady food changes what you are and aren’t willing to risk and the German Nazi officer’s encounter with ghostly apparitions (which may or may not be real) outside a concentration camp were two of my favorite scenes in any movie from last year.  Sometimes, you don’t need to over-explain why bad things happen.  You don’t need graphic violence to convey the horror of something.  You just need to look in someone’s eyes and see how deeply (or shallowly) it’s affected them. 

5. Thor: Ragnarok (Taika Waititi)

            As much as I thoroughly enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy 2, this was the movie I laughed the hardest at in all of 2017.  Every line lands with such precision.  Every shot is crammed with so much astounding visual design.  Every casting choice was perfectly suited to each character.  The Marvel movies have long started to feel rather samey for me, their generally high quality notwithstanding, but with this one I finally have a breakout favorite that I will always be able to go back to whenever I need to get a smile back on my face. 

4. Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan)

            Christopher Nolan remains one of my all-time favorite directors, so after both The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar proved relative disappointments, I was really pulling for him to knock one back out of the park in his next big film.  And with Dunkirk, he delivered, making one of the best and most original WWII movies to come out in years.  This is very much Nolan’s sort of movie, one that both lets him play around with his twin obsessions of time and our perceptions and memory of it, while also letting him and his team show off their unparalleled technical skills in making big-budgeted, impeccably crafted visual experiences that manage to be both groundbreaking and crowd-pleasing. 

3. Human Flow (Ai Weiwei)

            This film takes on the monumental (and essential) task of trying to take a comprehensive approach to the current global refugee crisis and provide a literal bird’s eye view of how human society and the planet itself will continue to shape and be shaped by this for decades to come.  There is a debate to be had about whether or not the film does itself a disservice by trying to go so broad and big, thus potentially losing some of its punch, but I strongly argue that the film couldn’t approach the subject matter any other way that would have justified the title.  This is a staggering, heartbreaking, and yet still beautiful and moving work tackling one of the most pressing issues in the world today, one that, like climate change, is not being taken nearly seriously enough by most people. 

2. A Silent Voice (Naoko Yamada)

            Once again, Japanese animation proves itself to be the lord of just about everything.  Naoko Yamada’s masterful adaptation of the popular manga of the same name is one of the best film’s I’ve yet seen in how it tackles mental illness and its long-term, lingering effects.  It’s characters are tenderly managed, their flaws fitting right alongside their virtues, and it had the single best ending scene of any movie I saw this year, one that grabbed right in the most personal part of my heart. 

            And my #1 film of 2017 is….

1. Get Out (Jordan Peele)

            Key and Peele proved to be one of the smartest comedy duos of recent years over the course of their show Key and Peele, but there was always a darkness, a hard edge, lurking behind many of their strongest and most affecting skits.  With Peele, at least, we now have a glimpse of just how deep that darkness goes, and just how powerfully relevant what he has to say is.  Get Out was one of the best horror films to come out in years, certainly, but it reached far beyond the bounds of its genre.  Every bit of the writing, directing, editing, sound design, and acting is perfectly pitched for maximum impact, as Peele takes aim straight at one of the beating hearts of systemic American racism.  This is that rare film that is both about something AND a masterpiece of genuinely fresh and (hopefully) influential filmmaking.  For far too long, most white Americans have sought to ignore their stake in America’s racial past so as to blind themselves to its continued existence.  Get Out was one of the best films of the year, AND the one we needed most. 

-Noah Franc 

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