As I cobbled together a list of my favorite or best of the year that was 2017, I couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that it’s been a weird year for that thing that we call the cinema.
Confronted with a myriad of social issues and industry wide distribution issues it was hard enough to really decide what even qualifies as a movie any more. Being Toronto based I had to go with my core and focus on anything that got a proper release on a theatrical screen in the city before it rolled out wide to audiences across the country. However on top of juggling the ramifications of the recent #metoo movement and wondering if any recent films involving anyone who has had a light shined on them for any recent misgivings (there are a couple) there’s also the ever changing landscape of theatrical distribution and the death of any trackable awards seasons make it harder and harder for documentaries, independent films and anything a little off center to every really see the light of day coupled with the increasing importance of VOD and streaming services like Netflix that allow filmmakers to get their films in front of audiences as many ways as they can.
It’s important to balance all these elements and also embrace the fact that not only from a personal (but also professional) level that the film critics job of seeing everything is just damn near impossible and I can only stress the importance of being active and making sure that the art form not only survives, but actually thrives. We here at In The Seats believe that can happen, as long as we keep watching as much as we possibly can.
I could rant and rave some more…but to hell with it…on with the list hope you enjoy the curveballs in this edition. They are posted in descending order of preference, with my no.1 at the bottom, but numbering them all felt a little silly.
Colossal: It’s not often that a monster movie makes you smile, but this story of Gloria (Anne Hathaway) a burnt out party girl looking for a fresh start rekindles some old friendships in her old hometown and finds the kinds of meaningful connections that she never would have expected. Writer/Director Nacho Vigalondo is an inspiration to all the gonzo storytellers out there.
Shot Caller: A clear example of how sometimes stuff can fall through the cracks. With only a limited theatrical release in the US and none here in Canada, Shot Caller is an intense prison drama that shows how one mistake can have a rippling effect through the lives of countless people as a father has to navigate and survival the world of maximum security prison that stays with people long after they serve their time. Check this one out where ever you can as it is easily one of the most underrated gems of the year.The Final Year (Opens Fri Jan. 19th): This chronicle of the final year of the presidency of Barack Obama is a truly fascinating thing on so many levels since it not only shows us the lives and the emotions of the people working so hard to make change and get something done in their time in political office. Yet it also reminds us of how finite that time can truly be sometimes in a political system that sometimes ends up defeating any sociological good intentions that get formed along the way.Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond-Featuring A Very Special Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton: Best seen as a companion piece to Man In The Moon; the Andy Kaufman bio pic starring Jim Carrey. With scads of unseen footage from behind the scenes and the making of the film, we get a unique glimpse which is basically narrated by Carrey himself on how the process of the getting into the role truly changed him as a human being and his outlook on life. It’s funny, maddening and kind of brilliant and serves as an ever constant reminder of how underappreciated Carrey was in the role and throughout his entire career.Logan Lucky: Sure it’s basically Ocean’s 7/11 as we track a group of loveable redneck misfits looking to rob the Daytona 500, but this return to the silver screen for Steven Soderbergh fits him like a comfortable slipper that you can’t help but slide into and enjoy. Bonus points to Daniel Craig for chewing the scenery in this one as the unhinged demolition’s expert Joe Bang.
Wonder Woman: It’s nice to see a comic book movie franchise get a win as the DC Universe had been sputtering up until this outing. Gal Gadot brings the star power and punch back to the source material and serves as a salient reminder that the ladies can kick all kinds of ass, especially when you’ve got a piece of work that is not only strongly written but well directed as Patty Jenkins announces herself as a storytelling force to be reckoned with. Superman and Batman can sit these adventures out now because for the first time in the comic book movie realm, it’s time for the ladies to take over.All The Money In The World: Surrounded by turmoil and controversy after the last minute replacement of Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in the role of J Paul Getty and it worked out better than expected. Reassembled in undoubtedly record time this tale around the kidnapping of Getty’s grandson in 1973 was more dark and powerful then initially expected.War Of The Planet Of The Apes: The new trilogy wraps itself up in a brutal bow as the inspirational level of scope and action by director Matt Reeves in concert with a story about the death yet survival of everything humanity holds dear manages to wind itself up into one hell of a spectacle driven action film.
Wonderstruck: Director Todd Haynes takes a turn into the delightfully lyrical with some great results as the end results of Wonderstruck are a beautiful exploration of the pains of life & death as seen through the eyes of a young people with ideas of their own but still far too inexperience to truly understand how the world in front of them works.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer: A bent and twisted affair from director Yorgos Lanthimos, this is psychological horror at its most aggressively foul as this tale of a doctor (Colin Farrell) who can only watch as a creepy and unnerving teen (Barry Keoghan in one of the more underrated performances of the year) curses and ultimately breaks down the existence of his entire family. You’ll never be all that sure where a story like this is going but you’ll be enthralled with the journey that gets you there.Get Out: The savvy and skill on display here in Jordan Peele’s directorial debut here in simply frightening. Rarely do filmmakers capture something so timely and in-tune with the social ethos and it speaks to him as a storyteller to be able give us a satire that is so damn brilliant that you can help but laugh while being terrified at the exact same time. It’s easy to see why he was chosen to helm the reboot of The Twilight Zone franchise and I can’t wait to see what he does next.The Disaster Artist: Falling firmly into the category of something that shouldn’t have been nearly as good as it was, this love letter to the making of The Room which is widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made, is just littered with charm and genuine emotion for all of its subjects. Director and star James Franco breaks out of the box as much more than a filmmaker who just plays in the experimental layers but gives us a film that is genuinely likeable with characters that either delusional or just a little inspirational for anyone who has ever wanted to follow their dreams and not take no for an answer.
The Girl With All The Gifts: Yet another one that has been floating around the festival circuit for awhile but only had its theatrical run this year, this is easily one of the smartest films to come around in a genre that has been beaten to death. Director Colm McCarthy; a TV veteran in only his second feature outing crafts a strong and intelligent affair that stays true to the genre without leaning on any tired tropes and anchored by solid performances from Gemma Arterton and newcomer Senna Nanua we get a vital entry into the zombie movie canon.78/52: This one is for the film nerds out there as 78 camera setups and 52 edits make up one of, if not the most iconic scene in cinema history that changed how we as audiences absorb and accept violence in cinema. As director Alexandre O. Philippe breaks it all down frame by frame it makes for one of the most thrilling rides into an ever evolving history of the moving image that we have ever seen.
Brawl In Cell Block 99: Grindhouse doesn’t get much grimier then this as Vince Vaughn’s Bradley hits a cross roads in his life and is thrust into a life of crime where his temper and propensity for violence that he has been suppressing all these years thrusts him into a brutal battleground where it’s all about his fists and he has to hurt anyone and everyone in his way so that his loved ones have a chance at survival. Writer/Director S. Craig Zahler follows up his visceral Bone Tomahawk with a ride that you just have to strap in for in order to truly appreciate it.Spider-Man: Homecoming: Mark it, this was the year that comic book movies actually got to have fun again, as this chronicle of the our favorite neighborhood web slinger wasn’t faced with trying to save the universe but instead was learning life lessons on how to be a man and someone who COULD save the universe if need be. It marks a fantastic coming out performance for Tom Holland who settles into the mask with ease and aplomb.After The Storm: Master filmmaker Kore-eda Hirokazu makes heartfelt beautiful movies about as easily as the sun rises and sets and with After The Storm things are no different. Drawing deep from his own family and personal experiences this story of Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) a failed writer who ends up spending an unexpected night with his son, ex-wife and aging mother during a typhoon shows how universal issues of family truly are. No matter what language you speak the emotion that comes out in a film like this can’t be more obvious.
Girls Trip: There’s no movie that I had lower expectations for then this…and believe it or not at the other end of it all I was laughing so hard that I was crying with joy at the hilarity that unfolded as these women renewed their sisterhood on a trip to New Orleans. It’s a genuine comedic breakout moment for Tiffany Haddish and easily one of the funniest movies of the year.
Darkest Hour: This one is all about Gary Oldman in a scene stealing performance as Winston Churchill that fills up the frame and just might win him his very first Oscar.
Buster’s Mal Heart: Yet another entry of some truly original and bent filmmaking as writer/director Sarah Adina Smith announces herself as force to be reckoned with in this dark yet boldly funny thriller about a desperately obsessed drifter desperate to avoid ‘The Inversion’. It also engrains Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) as a leading man to be reckoned with for years to come.I Called Him Morgan: An intense look into the life Lee Morgan, a visionary in the world of jazz whose light was extinguished far too soon after being shot by his own wife. It’s a unique look at the jazz scene in that unique time and a portrait of how these actions still resonate with those who knew them both even today. It’s an unsung and unique little glimpse into jazz history which also reflects on the nation that gave birth to the beautiful musical art form.Star Wars: The Last Jedi: I really liked it and its shift in direction was not only refreshing, but actually pretty fitting…but I digress as the internet has already debated this one to death…moving on.Abacus Small Enough To Jail: Documentarian Steve James returns with a bang as his look at the small independent financial institution which was the only one to be brought up on criminal charges during the mortgage crisis of 2008 is scary enough to make your toes curl as the corruption that money brings is in full display.
Mudbound: While not without some pacing flaws in material that has been explored before, writer/director Dee Rees tackles these issues of race in the wake of World War II with such a simmering sense of humanity and realism to them that you can’t help but watch it all unfold. Kudos as well to a loaded ensemble cast who have a firm grasp of the material and let it all play exactly as it should as it is easily one of the best ensemble performances of the year.Detroit: It’s a hard watch that you’ve probably missed out on, but director Kathryn Bigelow recapping of the Detroit riots in the 1960’s that turned the city into a war zone is one of those efforts that will make you cringe and squirm even though you know you can’t look away. This is the epitome of difficult yet truly important historical cinema that needs to be checked out.
Good Time: While hardly a ‘Good Time’ by the strictest definition of the words, acclaimed filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie unfurl a frenetic crime thriller with Robert Pattinson as Connie on twisted odyssey that plays out in the shadows on the New York underworld as he tries to get his brother out of jail. It’s a gritty day-glow trip down the rabbit hole as Pattinson sheds the stigma of the Twilight series and makes Connie into a horrible yet likeable hero getting deeper and deeper into a mess that he won’t be able to fix.Ingrid Goes West: It’s the obsession of the 21st century encapsulated in movie form as Aubrey Plaza goes all out as she inserts herself into the life of the woman that she has been stalking on social media. It’s hilarious and flat out upsetting all at the same time.In This Corner of the World: Based on an award winning manga, this is a sweet and heartbreaking animated story about the highs and lows of love and life in a time rife with war and uncertainty. From director Sunao Katabuchi this is one of those little gems that deserve an audience in a time when other animated and big studio efforts are drowning out the quiet and truly beautiful pieces of storytelling that we’ve seen this year.The Lost City of Z: Based on the incredible true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett and his journeys into the Amazon on the brink of the 20th century, discovering ruins never before thought of and changing the landscape of the shared human history as we know it. Consistently underrated writer/director James Gray gives a yarn that is equal in scope and scale as it is in humanity thanks to an excellent leading performance from Charlie Hunnam.In The Fade (Opens Jan 19th): A gripping piece of cinema from writer/director Fatih Akin as we see the real tolls that hatred can place on a community and an individual as star Diane Kruger gives an award caliber performance as a mother whose life is irrevocably changed in the wake of a terrorist explosion that takes the life of her entire family.Lucky: In a swan song for the ages, the iconic Harry Dean Stanton saddles up as Lucky in a role written for a man who has experienced just about everything that life has to offer and is stuck wondering why the hell he’s actually still around. From first time director John Carroll Lynch (a well regarded character actor in his own right) who has now shown the chops to be able to direct great performances out of those working around him.
City of Ghosts: Now more than ever in our modern landscape, social activism has never been more vital. Tracking the efforts of the “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently” movement that reported to the globe after their homeland was taken over by ISIS, this is a deeply personal story of those willing to stand up in the face of unspeakable evils, even at the risk of their own lives in an existence constantly on the run from those who wish to silence them.
The Meyerowitz Stories: New & Selected: When the idea of writer/director Noah Baumbach telling the story of an estranged family gathering together in New York to celebrate the work and artistic life of their father, we really aren’t doing it justice. Baumbach with the help of Adam Sandler (in one of his uniquely special dramatic turns) along with Dustin Hoffman (whose excellent performance might actually be in awards consideration right now if not for the current allegations of sexual impropriety & harassment), Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson & Judd Hirsch craft a uniquely relatable story of how complex and often emotionally confusing it can be to be a member of a family. Currently streaming on the Netflix service, it is easily one of Baumbach’s best films in recent memory…and given his recent pedigree, that’s actually saying something.Logan: Make no mistake, this IS the superhero movie of the year as Hugh Jackman gives this iconic character a final and appropriate brutal ride into the sunset as we get the beautiful essence of the Wolverine on display that shows why we’ve not only fallen in love with this character but Jackman’s irreplaceable portrayal of him.Happy End (Opens Jan 12th): Iconic writer/director Michael Haneke has seemingly done the unexpected as he’s let the humor in his dark and twisted family drama come to light that is set in the backdrop of the European refugee crisis. With frequent contributors like Isabelle Huppert and Jean Louis Trintignant in the lead; Haneke’s trademark style is still there as we reel in the emotional horror of some of these characters but quite realistically and uncomfortably laugh at how they all act out at the same time.A Ghost Story: A subtle yet truly brilliant story about the power of love and the importance of letting go. Writer/Director David Lowery has put together a stunning and simple piece of storytelling that will stay with you long after the story is over at the white sheeted ghosts disappear. It speaks to these emotions on a cosmic and metaphysical level which is entirely entrancing.The Post (Opens Jan 5th): When the likes of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep team up it’s no surprise that the end results are an effortless exercise in high brow entertainment. Tackling the story of Kay Graham and Ben Bradlee as the publisher and editor of the Washington Post during one of the most tumultuous times in American history and the battle between journalist and government still rages on in many ways this very day. Its history informing on our modern times and all involved and unquestionably aware of how important it all is as it unfolds in front of us.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri/The Square (tie): Anchored by an iconic performance from Frances McDormand as the grieving yet stubborn mother of a murder victim, writer/director Martin McDonaugh comes through with a bitingly funny and poignant take on the highs and lows of modern society that plays so very saliently given the current news cycle. While Ruben Ostlund’s The Square plays more as an ensemble piece it is also a deft poke in the side of modern society and behaviour that often gets taken to extremes in the worst of ways. Both films are a little offensive, a little racist but also so emotionally genuine that it is hard to deny it as anything other than completely tuned in and relevant filmmaking.
The Beguiled: Writer/Director Sofia Coppola dives into some classic fair and gives us a gripping mediation on gender relations and sexual tension that play out like a gripping psychological thriller. Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and the constantly surprising Elle Fanning help to weave a yarn that you can’t help but get lost in.The Florida Project: It’s humanity at its rawest nerve and director Sean Baker coming off of his transcendent Tangerine takes us into the lives of some desperate, displaced people that still hold on to a little glimmer of hope, if only through the children that surround them. With some stunning amateur performances anchored by Willem Defoe in what just may be the most humanistic role he’s ever taken on, you’ll get roped into this motel courtyard and see so much genuine emotion and reality play out in front of the screen. It’s the ‘Magic Kingdom’ playing adjacent to the cold hard realities of life, and you’ll never be able to look away.Dunkirk/Blade Runner 2049 (tie): While we historically try to avoid ties, especially in the top ten (this year we’ve got two) it’s been that kind of year as both Dunkirk & Blade Runner 2049 suffer from some slight flaws that would knock them further down the list, they are both films that are just so visually impressive that they demand to be see on as big of a screen as humanly possible. They are both an ever constant reminder that movies were never meant to be watched on our damn iPhones in the first place.
I, Tonya: Rarely do bio pics get more in your face and boldly entertaining as this even when navigating into some emotionally complex waters. Margot Robbie announces herself as a force to be reckoned with in a strong and confident performance as Tonya Harding, all the while being backed up with some incredible supporting turns by Sebastian Stan and Alison Janney with director Craig Gillespie firmly at the helm. It could have just been a trashy nonsense bio pic, but it really was such a unique character study of a woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer and rarely gave a fuck about what anybody else thought. It’s bold, brash and most importantly, incredibly entertaining cinema.
John Wick Chapter 2: OK internets…come at me. Every since this got announced I was unofficially deeming the release date at ‘Wick-mas’ and I’ll be damned if they didn’t prove me right. This second installment kicks off right where the first left off and director Chad Stahleski and star Keanu Reeves keep it going as this story of a hitman trying (but unsuccessfully to go clean) is the action franchise of the 21st century. As long as the bullets are flying and the action is this well staged and intense, we won’t be going anywhere.
The Breadwinner: The animated film of the year is a Canadian co-production that you’ve never heard of, yes you heard me right. This story of young Parwana forced to take the role and identity of a boy during the Taliban led years in Afghanistan in order to take care of her family after her father is arrested is both uplifting and heartbreaking all at the same time. Director Nora Twomey whose previous animated credits include lush outings like The Secret of Kelis & Song of the Sea are simply proof positive that more and more quality animation are coming out of places that aren’t based in Southern California.Faces/Places: On its surface the story of Director Agnes Varda and Photographer/Muralist JR should play as nothing more than an interesting art experiment as two creators join forces to make something unique, but it is truly so much more. It’s ode to magic of friendship as we get wrapped up in the magic of these two building a relationship while travelling across France to make a variety of different murals inspired by what they see around them. The visuals are secondary, but seeing those two Faces make such beautiful music together in all these places is the feel good movie of the year.
A Fantastic Woman (Opening Feb. 9th) In an era of confusion, this story of a transgender woman standing up in the face of discrimination while grieving for the death of her older boyfriend is a powerful slice of humanity that reminds us that no matter how any of us identify sexually, we’re all still people and deserve the dignity that goes with that.Phantom Thread (Opens Jan 5th): Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson guides us into the underbelly of London’s high society in a post WWII landscape with such silky ease that you’d think he was actually British. His style of storytelling flows into this setting so well and with some epic performances by Daniel Day Lewis and Vicky Krieps, you’ll be surprised how gloriously insidious and compelling this film truly is.
Call Me By Your Name/The Shape of Water (tie): Two different stories to be sure, as one is set in 1980’s Italy during a summer of sexual discovery by a young and transcendent Timothee Chalamet meeting up with Armie Hammer for a summer that neither one would ever forget, while the other features a mute Sally Hawkins in a 1950’s era fantasy as she falls in love with the Creature From The Black Lagoon who’s just as lonely as she is after she discovers him at government lab she works at. Both directors Luca Guadagnino and Guillermo del Toro are embracing the importance of those moments of pure love that while non traditional are so important to be embraced. Both are incredibly beautiful and both with make you fall in love with the lush nature of the cinema that they produce on the screen.
mother!: This isn’t a movie that falls into any easy kind of explanations, but this opus from Writer/Director Darren Aronofsky is a film that pushes the boundaries of the art form of cinematic storytelling like never before. It’s a small miracle that it was actually made with major studio financing because it is a film that challenges…everything. It’s the kind of film that we as fan of the moving image should really be demanding more of; it’s just that damn special.
Lady Bird: In her solo directorial debut, Greta Gerwig has given audiences a dark, sweet, occasionally combative but always honest slice of family life and growing up that I defy people to not be able to relate to. She’s teamed with Saorise Ronan who is and quite simply will be the best working actress on the planet for as long as she wants to hold the title to craft something so genuine and honest with other brilliant performances from Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts and Beanie Feldstein to make the best cinematic going experience of the entire year.
That’s all she wrote folks…time to get back to work 😉
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