Favorite Films of 2017

I had planned to have this post go up at the end of January, yet I find myself finalizing this list the Thursday before Oscars night. Great.

I won’t go too much into why this is going up so late, but it came down to two things. First off, I had to catch up on a good amount of movies before feeling like I could even make the list, and secondly, making it just a top ten was extremely difficult. It was going to be a top fifteen at one point, then a top twenty, and the order has changed about a hundred times. Lastly, I'm just gonna take this time to plug my letterboxd account. Follow me to keep up with all the movie related stuff! https://letterboxd.com/mwurttele/ 

DISCLAIMER: Despite my best efforts, a few of the great movies of 2017 did go unseen, including, but not limited to: Phantom Thread, Coco, Wind River, Paddington 2, Blade Runner 2049

Anyway let’s get on with this list.

10 – The Killing of a Sacred Deer

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer is your typical Yorgos Lanthimos movie: dark, disturbing, metaphorical, and strangely beautiful. I say this only having seen only one other of his films (The Lobster, 2015), but his style is apparent in both, and as far as I can tell, it’s present in Dogtooth as well. Ultimately, The Killing of a Sacred Deer made it on this list because of its complicated way of telling a quite simple story. It’s a puzzle from the start, and I found myself trying to piece it together the entire time. At first, the questions are big, yet simple. Who is Martin, why is he so creepy, and why is Steven humoring him? The questions then get deeper and complicated. What’s happened to Bob? What exactly are the characters’ motives? Who’s responsible? The story gets darker and twisted as not only you, but also characters Anna (Nicole Kidman) and Steven (Colin Farrell) are trying to figure out what’s going on as the story unfolds.  It’s a toned-down-thriller/mystery, some might even call it horror. The five main actors give great performances in that they’re all creepily robotic (trust me, it works), the imagery and look of the movie is well suited, and the soundtrack (and lack thereof in certain scenes) is one of my favorites of the year.

 

9 – Mother!

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I’m already overwhelmed at the prospect of having to write a few sentences about this movie. I guess we’ll start there. Mother! is completely overwhelming – an intentional and signature move from director Darren Aronofsky. You’re completely immersed in the film from the get go, and the movie has a way of driving up your blood pressure. I felt more and more anxious as the film escalated at an exponential rate and Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) becomes more disoriented as her wants and needs are ignored and she is taken advantage of. I won’t speak too much on this, but obviously the film is just one big allegory about religion. What I loved about it was that you could also see commentary about global warming (how we treat the earth), mental illness, violence towards women, idolization (of celebrities), and more. You can really make it what you want it to be, if you wish to do so. 

 

8 – Call Me By Your Name

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Absolutely heartbreaking. Let’s begin with the fact that this film was aesthetically beautiful. It takes place romantic Italian countryside in the early 80’s, a perfect setting to explore love, sexuality and one’s self. This was one of my most anticipated movies of the year, and one of the last I watched. Everyone will be able to relate to Elio’s almost desperate want for Oliver, and the ebb and flow of their summer romance. It is an emotional and intimate film, full of beauty, heartbreak, youthfulness, and love. I’m a sucker for Italian cinema, and while this technically doesn’t fall under that category, it gets real dang close thanks to director Luca Guadagnino.

 

7 – I, Tonya

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I, Tonya was such a pleasant surprise! Not that I thought it would be a bad movie, I just didn’t really have any expectations for it. So when I found myself laughing out loud, having sympathy for Tonya Harding (wonderfully played by Margot Robbie), and even rooting for her, I realized this movie had to be in my top ten. The film opens with Robbie as Tonya being interviewed about her story. It’s set up as a documentary and goes through Tonya’s life and how she became an unlikely candidate for the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics, only unlikely because of her background, as she certainly did not lack skill. The infamous story of Nancy Kerrigan’s attack unfolds, and you’re left wondering just how much Tonya was actually involved in. The judge and the media are convinced she and her husband knew all along but it’s quite possible she couldn’t have known. Was the judge’s ruling fair? It’s a sad story when you see how her abusive mother and husband shaped Tonya as a child, teen, and adult. People loved to hate her in the nineties because of her personality and upbringing, but exactly how much of that was her fault?

 

6 – Thor: Ragnarok

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I, too, am surprised this made it on to my top ten. Honestly, though, how could it not? I’ve always been a big fan of the Marvel Universe. I love the theatrics mixed in with the fact that the movies are usually very aware of themselves and therefore don’t take themselves too seriously. This is particularly the case in Thor: Ragnarok. Taika Waititi is a great choice for these kinds of movies and I seriously can’t wait to see him do more for Marvel. His comedic style shines through the film; it’s as much a comedy as it is an adventure/action/typical Marvel superhero movie.

 

5 – The Shape of Water

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I try to go into movies not knowing much, as it usually leaves me free of any expectations. However, I had read a little bit about The Shape of Water and had even seen the trailer, and I just didn’t know how to feel about it. The main reason this is on my list is because of how stunningly gorgeous the whole movie was. A+ for production quality: costumes, set, music, cinematography, and color grade. It all tied together so well! At times it felt like I was watching a Disney movie, which also plays in to what everyone’s been saying about The Shape of Water – it feels like an adult fairytale. That’s really the best way to put it. It’s a fantasy film where romance is at the forefront. The movie isn’t afraid to break out of stereotypes, exploring role reversals, disability and sexuality.

 

4 – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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Another highly anticipated film for me. I enjoy Martin McDonagh’s work and was curious to see what he would bring to the table with Three Billboards. The film seemed timely, with promise of topics such as protest, police abusing power, and how these things play out specifically in the south. While the movie is by no means perfect, what really did it for me was Chief Willoughby’s subplot (if you can call it that), and overall how dynamic the leads were. Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), and Offier Dixon (Sam Rockwell) are all deeply flawed people. At times you hate them, at times you can understand the nature of their actions. McDonagh did a stellar job showing the protagonist’s biases and mistakes and giving the audience a chance to humanize and even empathize with the antagonist. You’re able to explore the duality and complexity of situations like these and the people involved in them. The film seems straightforward as can be – Mildred Hayes vs. Chief Willoughby – but it quickly entangles into so much more than that, bringing morality, human flaw, deep emotions of grief, guilt, and anger into play. McDormand is a strong contender for the Best Actress academy award as a female lead that isn’t afraid to explore rage, ferocity, relentlessness, and who is unafraid to break past the patriarchy.

 

3 – The Florida Project

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My favorite movie of 2016 was Moonlight, and this had so many parallels to it that it was hard not to fall in love with it. It may be something about the familiarity of these two films that makes it deeply emotional for me. I grew up in Miami and saw communities like these, knew people who were struggling financially. Both films do such a stellar job of capturing life in Florida: the vastness, openness, and flat humid land. But let’s focus back on The Florida Project. Told through the lens of six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), life at the Magic Castle is full of adventure, friends, and fun. The heartbreaking reality is that Moonee and her mother are practically homeless. Struggling to pay for her stay at the Magic Castle motel, mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) isn’t around most of the time, and when she is, she’s off with Moonee trying to scam tourists and prostituting herself. Bobby Hicks, wonderfully played by Willem Dafoe, is the motel manager who fills the void of father figure to not only Moonee, but Halley, too. It’s clear she’s immature – a young mother who doesn’t have anyone but Moonee, she makes reckless decisions in the name of fun and youth. I found myself sobbing through the last 15 minutes of the movie. Reality sets in, and hard; Halley is helpless, yet defiant, Moonee is scared and confused. Though throughout the film you catch glimpses of Moonee almost understanding the reality of her dire situation, once Halley has to drop the act, you see not one, but two children who have to face a reality that many have the privilege to never have to think about. I’ll lastly mention just how powerful the juxtaposition of the setting is – a beat down motel full of nearly homeless people right on the outskirts of the real Magic Kingdom. I’m deeply disappointed that this didn’t get a Best Picture nomination.

 

2 – Lady Bird

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Sobbed through the whole thing, collected myself, and when someone asked me how the film was and all I could muster to say was, “I miss my mom,” I sobbed some more. If you’re a mother or a daughter, or know a mother or a daughter, this film is for you. Lady Bird hit home as a wonderful exploration of the dynamics of middle-class life, leaving the nest, and coming into your own. It’s incredible how familiar it all felt to me, as if the story being told was my own. What’s even more incredible is how many people felt that way, too. Greta Gerwig’s debut as a director is stellar, as she has managed to make a film so damn relatable to so many people. But the star of the show here is Saoirse Ronan. She plays Lady Bird with such ease, a young woman who needs independence even though she may not be quite ready for it. She wants all her decisions to be her own, yet still seeks her mother’s approval. Who hasn’t been there? It’s clear she wants to fly free, she’s ready to start shaping her life with her rules. She wants to leave for college, experience different friends, have sex, and truly learn who she is. Lady Bird does a fantastic job at recognizing the triviality of all these things, but doesn’t hold back from just how emotional and grand the trivial moments are in that last year at home. The mother-daughter relationship is complex; they obviously love each other but also want to strangle one another. Laurie Metcalf did such a beautiful job portraying Marion (Lady Bird’s mom). You can see she’s tortured between feeling deeply sad that her daughter is so eager to get away and feeling proud and happy for her accomplishments. This comes out as naggy, overprotective, and she ends up clashing with Lady Bird so much so that they stop speaking at one point. I remember being there. I couldn’t stand my mom, it felt like I was being suffocated, which only made me want to leave more! But as a 25-year-old I want to shake 18-year-old me and say, “Don’t you see what you’re doing? You’re leaving the person in your life who loves you the most and you’re not even showing any sign of remorse. She’s heartbroken, you dummy!” It’s clear both my mom and Marion had a hard time processing that and who wouldn’t?

 

1 – Baby Driver

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I know. I wasn’t expecting this either. This was hands down the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in recent years. It’s such a cool take on an action movie! I love Edgar Wright’s style and the way he nonchalantly brings elements of cool and fun into his movies. Baby Driver just didn’t take itself too seriously, yet still managed to tell a complex story about love, loss, obsession, and even crime and cars, I suppose. The car chases are a blast, and have you at the edge of your seat, rooting for Baby and the crew he works for. We can’t leave out the music, as it is the star of the show. Everything is perfectly choreographed and synchronized to a flawless soundtrack. Steps, moves, camera, gunshots, cars – it’s theatrical and over the top, and it WORKS. I won’t say much more about this movie except that it’s my favorite of the year and will appeal to all audiences. Go see it.

 

Okay so now the one’s who didn’t make top ten. I just couldn’t narrow this post down to only ten movies so here are three runner up’s.

Get Out – topical, terrifying, just freaking good.

Good Time – edge of your seat, anxiety inducing, unconditional-love-will-drive-you-to-do-crazy-shit story.

A Ghost Story – for all you art house cinema nerds, a story about loss and love, and existentialism

 

AND five movies you need to see if you haven’t already:

-       Lucky

-       Beatriz at Dinner

-       Spider-Man: Homecoming

-       It Comes At Night

-       Okja