Sunday, 21 January 2018

Vic's Top Fifteen Films of 2017

Based on the number of four-star reviews (from me), 2017 was not as good a year for film as the last three years, but it was an exceptional year for women involved in filmmaking (and for women in general). In 2017, I watched far more films which were written and/or directed by women and/or had a female protagonist than in any previous year. This is reflected in the list below. I have never before had a top-ten or top-fifteen list that contained more than one film directed by a woman. This year, my list contains no less than four films written and directed by women and twelve films with a female protagonist. Remarkable! I just hope it’s a sign that a fundamental and permanent change is taking place.

Other observations about my list:
  1. Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve has his fourth straight film on my list, just missing the number one spot this year. Jim Jarmusch has his second straight film in my top four, and Andrey Zvyagintsev has his second straight film in my top six.
  2. I have not yet been able to see Phantom Thread, which I am almost sure would have been on my list (maybe next year).
  3. I have not had the opportunity to watch Call Me By Your Name a second time. I have a hunch that I might like this extraordinary film more on a second viewing and that it would then make my list (it just misses my list now, as does A Ghost Story).
  4. Not making my list, but coming close and worthy of mention, are two sequel films that pleasantly surprised me: War for the Planet of the Apes, which had my favourite score of the year, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which was much better than The Force Awakens and is the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back in 1980).
  5. It was a great year for films that are unlike anything I have seen before. About half of the films on my list are there because they are so original and imaginative.
  6. Since I watched well over 100 films in 2017 (perhaps the most ever), I have taken the liberty of allowing for a tie in the number fifteen spot, which means I actually have sixteen films on my list this year. Here’s the list, counting down from fifteen:
15. The Shape of Water - With its breathtaking cinematography, its 50’s sci-fi feel and the terrific performance by Sally Hawkins (who plays a mute janitor at a secret research facility), this magical original film about love and how we view ‘the other’ could have been much higher on my list. Unfortunately, Guillermo del Toro saw fit to throw in a couple of unimaginative graphically-violent scenes that almost kept The Shape of Water off my list altogether. 

15. Beatriz at Dinner - Miguel Arteta’s film about Beatriz (Salma Hayek), a Mexican immigrant and New Age healer who gets accidentally invited to a dinner with Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), a billionaire real estate mogul, has wonderful nuanced performances from the two stars along with brilliant dialogue that asks all the right questions, keeping me engaged from start to finish. 

14. Loving Vincent - The only animated film on my list, Loving Vincent contains 65,000 paintings (one for each frame) based on130 masterworks by Vincent Van Gogh. The paintings are used as backdrops for an intriguing tale about Amand Roulin’s (voiced by Douglas Booth) investigation into Van Gogh’s life and mysterious death, told in a film noir style. This gorgeous mesmerizing masterpiece was written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman. 

13. Their Finest - As I celebrate the role of women in filmmaking in 2017, it’s appropriate to include a film about the role of women in filmmaking (and about the role of women in WWII Britain generally). Written by Gaby Chiappe and directed by Lone Scherfig, Their Finest stars Gemma Arterton as a screenwriter for a 1940 propaganda film about the retreat from Dunkirk. It’s much more fun, and more insightful, than Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

12. Novitiate - This low-budget indie film from Margaret Betts looks and feels like a major production. It follows the trials of Cathleen (Margaret Qualley), a young woman training to become a nun in the early 1960’s who faces the stern discipline of the conservative Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo) during the stressful days of the Second Vatican Council. Great acting, beautiful cinematography and an excellent screenplay.

11. Molly’s Game - Aaron Sorkin is, in my opinion, the best screenwriter out there. This time he also directs. Even without a subject that interests me or a particularly sympathetic protagonist, Sorkin won me over with this riveting, fast-paced and intelligent film. Based on true events, Molly’s Game stars Jessica Chastain in a terrific performance as Molly Bloom, a woman arrested by the FBI for running an illegal gambling establishment. Idris Elba, also terrific, plays Charlie Jaffey, the only lawyer willing to take her case. 

10. mother! - Despised by most viewers and called the “worst movie of the century” by one major critic, Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is another totally original and mind-blowing work of art from this mad filmmaking genius. Jennifer Lawrence is great as the ‘mother’, trying to look after a gorgeous mansion in the middle of nowhere while her husband, the poet (Javier Bardem), allows all kinds of visitors to come mess it up. On the surface, this is a pure horror film, but it’s actually a profound biblical allegory about God and mother Earth. 

9. The Post - Steven Spielberg’s latest film is one of the very few he has made with a female protagonist. With Meryl Streep in the role of Kay Graham, the owner/publisher of the Washington Post who goes up against Nixon’s White House in 1971, Spielberg could hardly go wrong. Having Tom Hanks on board as Ben Bradlee, The Post’s executive editor, doesn’t hurt. The Post is another vital film about the changing role of women in the workplace (not to mention the role of the media in holding governments accountable). 

8. downsizing - Perhaps the most underrated film of the year, Alexander Payne’s downsizing stars Matt Damon as Paul Safranek, a man who decides to try downsizing (to the height of five inches) and moving to an ideal miniaturized community as a way to refresh his stagnant life. He regrets that decision until he meets Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau, who is marvellous). A profound, original and humanizing film about how to live in an unsustainable world. 

7. A Fantastic Woman - Sebasti├ín Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman stars Daniela Vega in a sublime performance as Marina Vidal, a trans woman in Chile who is treated abominably after the sudden death of her boyfriend. Gorgeously-filmed, this timely heartfelt story is told with wisdom and compassion. 

6. Loveless - Another bleak and thought-provoking film by Andrey Zvyagintsev, the director of Leviathan, Loveless offers a commentary on life in Russia today with this tale of parents hunting for their missing 12-year-old son. This haunting, beautiful, brilliantly-acted film focuses on the trials of the mother, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak).

5. Lady Bird - Greta Gerwig wrote and directed this warm, funny and insightful coming-of-age drama about ‘Lady Bird’ (Saoirse Ronan), a headstrong but insecure seventeen-year-old in her last year of high school in Sacramento who is struggling in her relationship with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). Featuring two of the year’s best performances, Lady Bird is full beautifully-drawn and sympathetic characters.

4. Paterson - A 2016 film that didn’t get to Winnipeg until the spring of 2017, thus qualifying for this list. Jim Jarmusch has done it again, making a film unlike any other, this time about an ordinary week in the life of an extraordinary poet (and bus driver) named Paterson (a perfectly-cast Adam Driver) in Paterson, New Jersey. Full of ideas and symbols and empathy and humanization and the joy and necessity of creativity in everyday life, this is inspirational filmmaking at its best.

3. The Florida Project - This gorgeously-shot slice-of-life drama concerns the precocious six-year-old Moonee (Brooklyn Prince, who is amazing) and her struggling young mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), who live day-to-day in a garish motel near Disney World. Willem Dafoe is superb as Bobby, the inspiring motel manager. Sean Baker’s jaw-dropping film is wonderfully humane and humanizing, finding little pieces of beauty in an ugly heartbreaking setting

2. Blade Runner 2049 - Denis Villeneuve continues to impress, making a sequel of one of my all-time-favourite films that is almost as good as the original. This slow-paced, intelligent and captivating sci-fi masterpiece stars Ryan Gosling as K, a replicant (robot) in a post-apocalyptic California whose discovery that replicants can give birth will lead him to Deckard (Harrison Ford) and to questions about what it means to be human. Too much redemptive violence, but such a wonder to watch on the big screen.

1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - Described as the angriest film of the year, Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards is also the most imaginative, humanizing and redemptive film of the year, with one magical and gorgeous scene after another (and some that are hard to watch). Frances McDormand is sensational as Mildred Hayes, a grieving woman who puts pressure on the chief of police (Woody Harrelson) to find her daughter’s killer; and Sam Rockwell is phenomenal as an angry officer who wants to put Mildred behind bars. Three Billboards epitomizes a sentiment found in many of the films listed above: To one degree or another, all of us are flawed, broken and in pain, and yet still worthy of love and respect.

1 comment:

  1. Lots of agreement this year (with the exception of mother! - because everything you say about it just makes me never dream of watching it). My list will be posted tomorrow.