Best of Screen 2017

First off, I watched fewer movies in 2017 than any year since high school. This is a change that I've needed for quite awhile and, even though I required distraction from real life more than ever this year, I am glad it happened. Film fell way down my priority list but it still is a personal passion. All I needed to do was become more purposeful in what I chose to watch and continue to shed my OCD trait of being a "completist". This resulted in less crap consumed and my overall opinion of the past year in film to be extremely favorable.

Here are my Top 20 movies from 2017!

20. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2

This movie should make a "Best Of" list for the Common vs. Keanu scene alone. John Wick movies are just oozing with cool in every way.

19. COLOSSAL

A monster movie made in 2017 that is unique, hilarious, and essentially an independent film is an accomplishment on its own. The fact that it is a good movie overall is a bonus.

18. THOR: RAGNAROK

This is a perfect example for why the Marvel vs DC movie argument is not even close (even though a DC film appears higher on this list). The least interesting member of The Avengers because of unremarkable previous cinematic installments to the Marvel Universe suddenly took a more prominent place on my radar. Why? Because the studio hired a gifted filmmaker with a unique vision and stayed out of his way. Taika Waititi made me enjoy an entire comic book movie. Go see Thor: Ragnarok (and Waititi's other gems like What We Do in the Shadows & Hunt for the Wilderpeople). I guarantee you end your experience with a smile.

17. BRIGSBY BEAR

What is needed in pop culture probably more than anything else? Originality. Especially in film. Almost everything these days is based off of other source material or is just a lazy remake. Original voices and visions need to be heard and seen. Brigsby Bear is that in every way. Co-written by and starring Kyle Mooney (SNL cast member mainly known for the "weird" pre-taped sketches these days), Brigsby Bear tells the story of one obsessive fan of an obscure children's television show. The thing is...he is the only person to ever see the show. No spoilers given here but the journey is one full of surprises and heart.

16. GOOD TIME

Robert Pattinson is nearly unrecognizable in this indie dramatic thriller and that is a good thing. This is not the pale sparkler from Twilight anymore, R. Pat is a legit actor and his range is on full display in this visually stylish ride. 

15. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MO

Martin McDonagh's first film, In Bruges, is one of my favorites of the past 25 years. He's second movie, Seven Psychopaths? Not so much. His latest is a more focused effort that returns to his strength as a renowned playwright, story structure. McDonagh always takes a slanted approach to the idea of a protagonist. Partly because it is not his style and partly because I don't think he thinks they actual exist, his tales are not known for having a hero. Rather, he wants to examine the fact that everyone has weaknesses and shortcomings. It is how we choose to react to them that defines what makes us. Three Billboards is darkly comic without an ounce of feeling good but is an important portrait of modern day (particularly Midwest) American society.

14. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

I really do not understand the hate for this film. A petition to have it removed from official Star Wars canon?! Really?! Look at your life...seriously. This is one of those times where I will speak to you like I am right and you are wrong. (Mainly because you are...) This chapter and Empire will end up being the two best entries to this epic storyline. What is the biggest weakness of the latest installment? That it might be a little too funny. That's it. Jedi is gorgeous to look at, fun to experience, and exciting to live through vicariously. So you don't like the direction (aka choices) a certain character takes? That's what happens when one person handles all creative decisions in a movie and that may or may not match your expectations. That is a good thing! That makes the movie worth watching and worth dissecting. That is art. Appreciate it. (wipes brow and steps off the soapbox.)

13. WONDER WOMAN

Star Wars and now Wonder Woman? NNEEERRRDDDD! 

To that, I say thank you. I am personally giddy that so much cinematic "nerd culture" was good this year. Wonder Woman is more than that, however. It marked the unofficial start to a movement that will hopefully define 2017 in history...the empowerment of women. I'm not going to get into all of that in detail here, mainly because I am a man and it is not my place. But I will say as a son and brother, that I am thrilled to see this conversation getting louder. For way too long, females have been referred to as "the weaker sex". NOTHING could be more opposite of the truth.

Wonder Woman puts on display the strength and beauty of "the greater sex", both on screen (in a dynamic performance from Gal Gadot) and off screen (Patty Jenkin's pitch perfect direction). I am happy this movie exists and I am beyond relieved that it ended up great! This is the only DC property worth paying attention to right now. (This is from one of the biggest Batman fans on the planet) Forget Justice League. Give me sequels!

12. A GHOST STORY

From a bombastic action flick meant for the big screen to one of the quietest films made in recent memory. Both are engaging in an exciting way, just one is more subtle than the other. A Ghost Story is exactly that, a story about a ghost. It is slow and methodical but the image of a sheet-covered Casey Affleck and an emotional performance from the underrated Rooney Mara is just too fascinating to ignore. No jokes, no twists, just an examination of both sides of a relationship ended because of the loss of life. It looks at pain and provides hope. This is one of those movies that remind me what makes the art form so great.

11. LOGAN

The first word said out loud in Logan is "f*ck". Two minutes later we see Hugh Jackman put his long metal claws through the face of a guy by way of under his chin. This is not done to shock the audience but rather to set the tone that this is not the "comic book" movie you are used to experiencing. The color is gone from the world, both literally and figuratively. A well-known hero is made relatable through his fallibility. This film examines what happens when we break through the hard exterior of false strength and get to the weakness that is our core. It is never too late to determine what we will leave behind.

10. BLADE RUNNER 2049

This is one of those cases where a movie is successful because the right (and maybe only) choice for director was put in charge. Denis Villeneuve is the literal epitome of a "visionary" in the sense that his films set the tone with the way they look. Blade Runner let him take creating a world to a whole new level. It is hypnotizing and breathtaking in scope with two leads that do what is required of them perfectly. Ryan Gosling in particular demands our attention while not taking focus away from what is important. This film puts on display all that is great about science fiction.

9. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER

"What the...?!?!"

No phrase has ever left my lips more often in a two hour period. This movie is weird. There is no other way to put it. In look, in performance, in feel, it is unsettling and...weird. Not a drop of joy can be squeezed from this film. The choices it makes, the directions it goes in are mind-boggling. All that said, I was transfixed the entire time watching it. In the same way that people love action movies for the thrills and horror movies to feel scared, Sacred Deer satisfies that sick desire to feel like you don't understand anything.

8. I, TONYA

The best decision that I, Tonya makes is to be a biopic with a question mark after the "biography" part. The film presents the truth...well...the truth according to all the different parties involved. The actual truth is impossible to convey because time and revisionist self-preservation have erased the real facts. This is the case with all biographies but I, Tonya doesn't hide it. In fact, it embraces it and the result is an enjoyable tale of what is a tragic story at its core. Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding is magnificent and ends up portraying her as a sympathetic character. When a "true story" is so ridiculous, it should be told like this rather than as a documentary. Let's enjoy the outrageous nature of life. 

7. THE FLORIDA PROJECT

Sean Baker's look at one summer in the life of a six-year-old girl is poignant and heartbreaking without being in your face. Set right outside the fantasy utopia of Disney World, The Florida Project keeps us entrenched in the reality of the world through the eyes of young Halley and her rebellious mother as they try to make ends meet living at a run-down low income motel. Personally, I have lived close to this area and been there on many occasions. This is as real as a fiction movie gets. Baker is a filmmaker to watch and appreciate as he teaches us (real) life lessons.

6. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

This movie is a true piece of art. It should be on the wall of a museum. It is visually beautiful to the point where the two leads are probably just ancient Roman statues come to life. Love stories between two men is wonderfully not a new thing but to be this accepting in its portrayal is still important. The phrase "love is love is love is love" has been used a lot recently and this film adds another "...is love." to that statement.

5. BABY DRIVER

Edgar Wright is my favorite director working today. Let me say that up front. I have loved every movie he has made (to include Shaun of the DeadHot Fuzz, and more...) and still regret that we will never see his version of Ant-Man. His latest, Baby Driver, is his greatest technical achievement to date. The whole movie is choreographed to the soundtrack, an action-comedy dance number in a sense. Wright has had this idea and dream for over a quarter of a century and that makes this maybe the most personal film on the list. If you can't decide whether to see this or not, I have the perfect solution. Watch the first 6 minutes of the movie below. When it is over, you will know right away if you want to see it or not (my guess...you will). I will surely end up watching Baby Driver more times than any other film on this list. That speaks more than any ranking.

4. THE BIG SICK

(Ladies, I need to talk to the guys for a second. Please don't think me rude but I already know you will love this movie. It is the fellas, especially the real manly men, that I want to address.) 

I get it...the term "Rom Com" makes you want to run for the hills. I am typically not a fan of them myself but The Big Sick transcends that descriptor. This film is for everyone. No matter who you are or where you come from, there will be an aspect of this story that you will relate to and that is what makes it great. Add on top that it is hilarious and authentically loving, The Big Sick will end up on the same hall of fame level as When Harry Met Sally...

3. DUNKIRK

There is not a whole lot to say here. Dunkirk is what it is but it does that thing very, very well. Hearkening back to many of the classic, great war movies like Bridge on the River Kwai, Christopher Nolan has created a modern day epic that we will be talking about and still watching in 30 years.

2. LADY BIRD

Nothing makes a "Best of" list more easily than a coming-of-age movie but most of the time these films fade into obscurity as time goes on. My prediction is the opposite for Greta Gerwig's directorial debut. Lady Bird will only grow in notoriety as the Reluctant Millennial generation discovers this period piece set in the early 2000s. What makes this a great movie is that behind the Dave Matthews and the post 9/11 culture is a mother-daughter relationship story that will impact all demographics of viewers. What Gerwig accomplished here is not a fluke. The indie actress darling has a long and exciting career in front of her. I know I look forward to what comes next.

1. GET OUT

In the same vein as Wonder Woman, there is not a whole lot that I can say here personally because it is not my place...and I think that is one of the main lessons I took from Get Out. Not being a person of color, I do not believe I should have a say to those who are oppressed or feel lesser than. The only proper response is to listen and try to understand as much as possible. 

From the brilliant mind of Jordan Peele (one half of the culturally important comedy team of Key and Peele), comes a horror/comedy/thriller/drama/just plain awesome film about a boyfriend who goes to meet his girlfriend's parents for the first time. The thing is that he is black and she is white but the conflict is not what you expect. I will say no more as to not spoil anything but I will encourage you to get past whatever qualms you may have about this movie and see it. The commentary on race relations is done in an easily consumable fashion while still packing a pretty good punch. The tension is balanced by intelligent humor and if you are someone who "doesn't like horror movies" (I am one of those in a big way), this is not your typical horror movie. No "torture porn" or "jump scares". All frights are psychological and emotional. 

Get Out is an important film and I hope you will take the time to see it. There are rare moments when certain movies should be appreciated on a larger scale and this is one of those times.

There were a couple 2017 releases that I haven't had a chance to catch up with yet that I think would have had a strong chance of making this list. Those include: Phantom ThreadThe Shape of WaterThe Disaster ArtistThe Lost City of Z, and others. I will most likely cover these titles as I see them or during my Oscar coverage, at the latest.

What made your list in 2017? What films surprised you? Which ones let you down? Let's start a discussion!