If nothing else, 2017 was a year that warranted some escapism. Luckily, in a time where real life seemed more dark and cynical by the day, the world of cinema flourished. I was fortunate to spend the year on a journey with Story Screen that allowed me to immerse myself in film discussion. Enjoying dozens of excellent flicks with good friends was a ray of positivity in an otherwise troubling year. I think I’ve seen more new movies this year than any other previous, which I can attribute almost entirely to my participation in the Story Screen family’s podcasts, Story Screen Presents. I’ve managed to narrow down a huge list of favorites to ten movies that really spoke to me. I should stress here, that by no means do I think these are the “best” movies of 2017, but instead the ones that really left an impression on me. So without further ado, I present ten movies listed in order from my tenth favoritest to my most favoritest.
10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
When Rian Johnson was announced as the writer and director of Star Wars: Episode VIII, I was ecstatic. His 2005 high school noir Brick still ranks in my all time favorites. Needless to say, I had fully bought in on the hype, as The Last Jedi was probably my most anticipated film of the year. Johnson managed to exceed my expectations, with a film that deconstructs everything Star Wars is and has ever been, then pieces it all back together to create a fresh and modern new direction for the series. I loved its exploration on themes of failure, loss, and legacy. I really loved the new interpretation of the Force, and the film’s criticism of its fundamentally binary nature. Not to mention it is gorgeous, thrilling, and surprisingly funny. The more time and thought I give it, the more I appreciate The Last Jedi, and I can’t wait to see what Johnson does next with the franchise.
Comic book movies have come a very, very long way in the last ten years, but few have done as much to push the genre as Logan. It’s fitting that the series send-off of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine does as much to influence the medium as the original X-Men did way back in 2000. Director James Mangold dials back the bombastic world-ending stakes of typical superhero films to deliver a deeply personal and human tale. Rather than dwelling on the now convoluted canon of previous X-Men entries, Mangold focuses the story on the relationship that Logan and Professor X have developed over so many years. Logan is an examination of everything that has brought these characters here, allowing them a chance to reflect upon their accomplishments and regrets. It’s not only an exceptional comic book movie, but also an exceptional film by any standard.
8. Buster’s Mal Heart
Part of my appreciation for Buster’s Mal Heart came from seeing Rami Malek as its lead. Malek’s performance as Elliot Alderson on Mr. Robot is consistently creepy, yet disarmingly charming, and one of my current personal favorites on TV. Buster’s Mal Heart gives Malek an opportunity to go full weird on the big screen. The film’s trippy story and surrealist atmosphere revolves perfectly around Malek’s performance as the titular Buster. The nonlinear structure portrays Buster simultaneously as a family man working nights at a lonely hotel, and a heavily bearded drifter on the run from the police. As it progresses, the two halves of Buster’s personality converge and reveal the mystery of his fate. Buster’s Mal Heart brings a unique brand of quirk and earnestness that is definitely worth checking out for anyone who may have missed it.
7. A Ghost Story
This movie made me cry. A lot. Not only during its myriad of melancholy tableaus, but also in the time I spent in quiet reflection after the credits rolled. A Ghost Story follows Casey Affleck’s character “C” on a posthumous journey of reflection. It’s a metaphysical story of life and death, touching upon both deeply personal moments of loss, and far more grandiose ponderings of existence. A Ghost Story could have very easily been overly pretentious, but instead, it achieves a balance that is ultimately tender and sweet. Plus, it has probably the saddest pie-eating scene ever filmed.
6. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
When I described Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster on my list of favorites from 2016, I mentioned how it almost seemed to challenge viewers to enjoy themselves. With The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Lanthimos applies that sensibility to psychological horror. His unique brand of cold, matter-of-fact dialogue fits the genre perfectly, slowly building tension with few moments of relief. It’s also mercilessly bleak and impeccably shot. There’s a starkly clean, clinical style to the visuals that align thematically with the story. Barry Keoghan’s quietly menacing performance as Martin is disturbingly ruthless, and the relatively young and up and coming actor easily holds his own among greats, Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman. True to Lanthimos’ style, The Killing of a Sacred Deer ends on a note so dark that I left the theater speechless.
5. War for the Planet of the Apes
The modern reboot of The Planet of the Apes franchise has been a pleasant surprise and consistently great. This year’s War takes the series to a new level and was instantly my favorite of the bunch. The trilogy’s finale ditches human protagonists entirely, giving the lead role firmly to the titular simians. Andy Serkis’ performance has been excellent throughout the series, and achieves new heights in War. In the majority of modern blockbusters, CGI often works to supplement the story and action. With War, computer generated artistry is essential to the story. The animation work here is stunning, lending personality and individuality to each ape, and allowing them to emote in ways that communicate a moving narrative almost entirely wordlessly. The film is gorgeous, gripping, and heartfelt, and presents a new high bar for blockbuster visual storytelling.
4. Get Out
Get Out was the first 2017 movie I really loved, and one of the first episodes of Hot Takes that Robby and I recorded for Story Screen. I still vividly remember how at a loss for words we both felt when we sat down to record. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is a master class of tension and style. Not only does it serve as a perfect horror movie, but it is also a deeply insightful social commentary. Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris is instantly likeable, and the discomfort he feels as the only black person at his girlfriend’s all-white family party is brilliantly communicated to the audience, even before things go off the rails. Peele creates empathy here regardless of the viewer’s race or ethnicity. It’s a powerful message of how it feels to be othered, and a potent spotlight on society’s pervasive casual racism. Get Out is not only one of the most entertaining films of 2017, but also one of the most important.
3. Brawl in Cell Block 99
Writer and director S. Craig Zahler wowed me last year with his debut feature, Bone Tomahawk. His seamless blending of both horror and western genres was right up my alley, and his sharply written dialogue and striking visuals left me excited for whatever came next. His follow up, Brawl in Cell Block 99, did not disappoint. This time Zahler takes a stab at blending a crime thriller with pure grindhouse, and the result is stylish and brutal. Vince Vaughn steals every scene with his role as a polite southern gentleman gone full apoplectic criminal. The violence here is both over the top, and disturbingly graphic. Vaughn’s character displays a near superhuman aptitude for kicking ass, and some of the scenes of bone snapping and skull stomping had me squirming. But behind the shocking brutality is a compelling story of a man trying to do right by his family, and going to whatever lengths necessary to protect them. In the end, it all comes together to form a flick that I absolutely loved every minute of.
2. It Comes At Night
Sometimes what’s truly frightening is the unknown, the unexplained gaps in the darkness onto which we project our greatest fears. We arm the shadows with our paranoia and our prejudices. Such is the tension that It Comes At Night preys upon. This dark, moody and claustrophobic horror by Trey Edward Shults allows its mysteries to linger until they turn to dread. Shults uses the fear of the unknown, both to torment the viewer and drive the story, as the characters struggle to survive an apparent apocalyptic setting, before their paranoia robs them of their remaining humanity. The use of restraint here may frustrate some viewers, but I found It Comes At Night to be a bold and unique take on a well-trodden genre.
1. Blade Runner 2049
In creating a follow up to a legendary sci-fi classic 35 years after its initial release, Denis Villeneuve had nearly every odd stacked against him. Rather than reboot or reimagine the story, Blade Runner 2049, serves as a direct continuation of Deckard’s story. I personally cannot imagine a more worthy sequel than the one Villeneuve delivered. 2049 is stunningly beautiful and fantastically scored, deftly revisiting and building upon the themes of the original. At this point, most people will probably agree that artificial life made from flesh and blood equally deserves the same rights and freedoms as traditionally born humans, but what if the idea of “life” and “intelligence” was further abstracted? How can we truly define self-awareness and free will? Do experiences that are programmed or predetermined inherently hold less merit than those that are not, so long as those experiences made us feel something? All of the questions that Villeneuve postulates here expertly take up the mantle of Blade Runner and progress it for a modern audience. I positively soaked in every moment of 2049’s moody atmosphere, and even by the end of the film’s nearly three hour run time I didn’t want it to end.
Honorable Mention/Actual Favorite: Twin Peaks: The Return
There’s been a lot of discussion this year as to whether Twin Peaks: The Return is a film or a TV show. Personally, it doesn’t matter to me, because The Return is my favorite piece of media this year regardless of how you classify it. The Return took every expectation I had for a continuation of a show that was wildly progressive over 25 years ago, and threw it out the window. I found myself lost in every intricate mystery that Lynch and Frost created, spending the week following each new episode dissecting and discussing every detail. Had The Return been presented as an 18-part epic released all at once, I would have missed out on the water cooler discussions that I love so much about serialized fiction. The final product is visually stunning, ceaselessly weird, often hilariously funny and probably the most impressive expression of uncompromised creative vision I have ever seen. Twin Peaks deftly transcends mediums, and a list of my favorites from 2017 would be woefully incomplete without it.
Jack makes drugs for a living, but not necessarily the fun kind. He enjoys international travel and discussing music, movies, and games in excruciating detail.