My Favorite Films of 2017

This year I started keeping a list of films I watched so that I’d be able to do a proper review at the end of the year. As of today, I watched 116 films – which includes older films on video and a few things that I’ve watched more than once.

How things have changed. In the early 80s when I worked in a video rental store, I must have watched 2 or 3 movies a day, and probably 500 or more per year. Of course a lot of my “watching” time is now devoted to TV series. This is a true golden age of television and I’m finding a lot of the things there that are missing from films in recent years.

That being said, here are the films I loved, liked and hated from 2017.

Top 10 recommendations (somewhat random order):

Wind River – I put this first, not because it was my favorite film of the year, but because it was my favorite film that you probably haven’t seen and you should see it. I put this on with low expectations. I didn’t expect to watch it for more than ten minutes. It blew me away.

Dunkirk – Yeah, it’s not historically accurate. It’s not a documentary and it’s not meant to be one. This is a tremendous technical achievement – in particular the photography, the editing and the score – that had me on the edge of my seat for its entire running time. I’m probably going to watch this again tonight.

Get Out – Wow. I never watched Key and Peele so this film written and directed by (but not starring) Jordan Peele was a huge surprise. Funny, scary, topical as hell. A low budget film that has proven to be a huge international hit. By the way, there is a bizarre fan theory that this movie is a sequel to “Inside John Malkovich” and Peele has said he’s quite okay with that.

The Big Sick – If you only know Kumail Nanjiani from Silicon Valley (as I did), this mostly true film that he co-wrote with his wife and stars in (alongside Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) is funny and moving without ever being cloying.

Blade Runner 2049 – It took me years, if not decades to appreciate the original Blade Runner. My initial reaction to it was completely negative because so much had been changed from the book. Over time, I’ve learned to appreciate the film as a separate work, though I love elements of it more than the film as a whole. If someone had to make a sequel, I don’t think it could have been done any better than this. I’ll watch it again.

Arrival – I like science fiction films that are about ideas, and I like director Denis Villeneuve. And I loved this.

mother! – This is not an easy film to sit through, not by any means. It took me a long time to figure out what was going on, perhaps you’ll catch on sooner than I did. It’s a bold personal work and perhaps the most mind-blowing aspect of it is that it was released by a major studio. It was both cheered and booed at Cannes and I can understand both reactions. I could just as easily have put it on the list of films I hated this year – and for that reason alone it deserves a prominent place here.

Detroit – This is a film that I watched fully prepared to hate. I think it was the whole concept of yet another film about blacks being oppressed and directed by a white woman. But Kathryn Bigelow is one of our great filmmakers and she didn’t let me down here. Intense, angry, painful, important.

Moonlight – Wonderful from beginning to end. Reportedly the budget on this was well under $2 million. We need more films like this.

Fences – Denzel directs and stars in an adaptation of an August Wilson play that originally won him a Tony award. It’s a measure of how strong and confident Denzel is that he eventually allows Viola Davis to run away with the film.

 

16 more movies I liked (again, in random order):

War on Everyone – A film from John Michael McDonagh, it’s basically two idiot cops who break every rule in the book in order to get rich. It’s profane, it’s stupid, it’s the kind of thing I love. So far everything from John and his brother Martin (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, have not seen 3 Billboards yet) has been two big thumbs up for me.

La La Land – I’ll admit it. I had to watch this a second time to “get” it. Oh sure, the gorgeous photography and amazing set pieces appealed to me right away, but the film didn’t really register with me until the second viewing.

Hidden Figures – To some extent this is film making by the numbers. We’ve seen this type of film hundreds of times. There’s nothing exceptionally remarkable about the execution, but it’s a great story competently told, well acted and worth seeing.

Weiner – The documentary about Anthony Weiner, a New York city liberal hero brought down by his sexual compulsions. Just the fact that he allowed this to be made tells you a lot about how delusional he was.

Patriots Day – A lot of this is just average, but there’s a sequence about 2/3rds of the way in, a shoot out with the terrorists, that is outstanding.

Logan – A very bold move for Marvel, a film that takes risks from a studio that seems to rarely take risks. Mostly it works.

War Machine – Based on the story of the U.S. general in Afghanistan who got fired after saying a bit too much to Rolling Stone magazine, this is not a film for the ages by any means but I enjoyed it.

The Lost City of Z – Epic film making in the tradition of David Lean.

Baby Driver – There’s so much creativity, energy and joy in the first half of the film, it’s too bad that Edgar Wright couldn’t sustain that all the way through. I watched it twice, my wife got bored and walked out of the room halfway through it.

I have to add this clip from Baby Driver as it’s the best sequence in the film and it’s on Youtube …

War For the Planet of the Apes – I really liked the first two films in this rebooted series but watched this with low expectations. It took me until about halfway through the film to start to enjoy it and realize that it’s the equal of the two previous installments.

Atomic Blonde – Switch your brain off and enjoy some fantastic action sequences including an extended sequence that appears to be a single shot.

Long Strange Trip – If you think that 4 hours is too long to spend on a Grateful Dead documentary, I think it ends up not being long enough. Amir Bar-Lev’s documentary is never dull or boring and also shines a spotlight on the forces that led to Jerry Garcia’s premature death.

Rules Don’t Apply – Odds are that this will be Warren Beatty’s final film. He stars as Howard Hughes, but most of the film is really about two youngsters trying to make it big in Hollywood and falling in love. I enjoyed it but it’s quite old school stuff.

Wonder Woman – It’s been a long time since there was a decent film made from a DC comics source. Director Patty Jenkins finds just the right balance and I suspect Gal Gadot is going to be with us for a long time. Really good until the final obligatory CGI-save-the-entire-world sequence.

Blade of the Immortal – Takashi Miike’s 100th film, and every bit as batshit crazy as his other 99. I think Miike really shines when he’s tackling samurai films. This one, about a rogue samurai who cannot be killed is bloody as hell, goes on for far too long, and has some brilliant sequences.

Thor: Ragnarok – A major change of direction here for Thor and, to some extent, for Marvel. Waititi actually does manage to maintain the tone almost up until the inevitable Marvel CGI battle to save the planet/universe/mankind and Hemsworth really seems to come into his own with this lighter material (and shorter hair).

 

These are the films I saw in theaters in 2017, mostly big special effects spectacle type things that I figured would work better on a large screen: Star Wars Rogue One, Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Alien: Covenant, Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok.

These are the worst movies I watched this year, many of them so bad that I never made it to the end: Why Him, Jack Reacher Never Go Back, Assassin’s Creed, Keanu (not necessarily bad, I just couldn’t get in the mood for this), Blood Ties, Brimstone, A Cure for Wellness, Batman v Superman, Ghost in the Shell, Fist Fight, King Arthur Legend of the Sword, Gold, Baywatch, The Mummy, Death Note, Mindhorn, Ghost Story, Message From the King, Catfight, Security,

And a sampling of older movies that I re-watched when I just couldn’t find anything new that I wanted to put on: The Chase, One-Eyed Jacks, Belle De Jour, Judgment at Nuremberg, Friends of Eddie Coyle, Goodfellas, Tampopo, Trainspotting, Seven Days in May, Lady From Shanghai, Burn After Reading, Hail Caesar!, Our Man in Havana, Seven Psychopaths