In addition to written best of lists and movie mashups, this year I recorded an absurdly long podcast with Sam Alcarez and Eric Sweeney where we discuss our favorite movies of the year. At two and a half hours long, it’s just under the runtime of Blade Runner 2049. No podcast should be this long, and yet, here we are.
Monthly Archives: January 2018
Liz and Eric’s Best Movies of 2017
Liz’s Top Five Movies of the Year
2017’s Theme: I’m not crying. You’re crying.
1. Lady Bird – I’m sure many can say that Lady Bird reflected some part of their teenage life, but I’m also pretty sure it reflected MY teenage life so closely I tried not to tear up, especially during every scene between Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf. The misunderstanding between daughter and mother but constant need for love and approval? Check. The desire to move far away for college and apply to schools I couldn’t afford? Check. Falling in love with a cute boy who ended up not feeling the same? Yep. The crying in the car while listening to Dave Matthews Band? Several times check. The film is brimming with emotion and beautifully depicted both tempered and quiet relationships Lady Bird had with everyone in her life. Bonus points for getting to watch little Briony not be a punk while coming of age and completely smash this role.
2. Step – Come for the stepping, stay for the feels. The documentary follows a group of seniors from an all-female high school in Baltimore. These young ladies all find refuge in the step team while battling to make it through school just to graduate. They have a lot standing in their way—from poverty to inner city social injustice—but their families, teachers and friends all stand together to get these women into college. The documentary might be missing a few steps (pun not intended) in the overall story, but it managed to keep me sitting up straight and paying attention to what it takes to get an education when resources are scarce and spent the whole time rooting for them as they found out their futures.
3. Okja – All of the personalities in this movie were as colorful as the costumes they were in, but Okja was the one who really stole the show. I wanted to cry and hug that animated hippo pig as much as I did with Bing Bong. The opening scene where we meet Okja, along with Mija is more heartbreaking to watch a second time through because of the pure innocence the scene encapsulates, knowing what lies ahead for the pair—corporate greed, deception, animal abuse—barely scratches the surface. The dark material may show a very real side to how humans are hungry for blissfully ignorant tasty meats at the expense of how animals and the planet itself are treated, but at the same time there are the little guys (or girls, rather) who fight with all of their heart to keep a little piece of it safe from harm. It gives me hope.
4. The Big Sick – I found myself relating to yet another movie about a strained child/parent relationship. It was even more relatable coming from an Asian background and having the same pressures of what parental expectations were and at the same time trying to find a voice. How many films can one watch as a minority and laugh cry at the exact same conversations I’ve had with my parents that are culturally relevant? Not many. If this movie had come out when I was younger, I would of stole all of Kumail’s comebacks in those conversations. But put that aside and there is the real story. Watching Kumail Nanjiani depict a version of his real life relationship with Emily Gordon—the distress he ends up in trying to figure out what she means to him, meeting her parents for the first time (the exchange between them in the hospital cafeteria is pure gold) and having to choose between a career and family/Emily—all while she is in a coma is well written, hilarious and shows a lot of heart.
5. Get Out – I don’t know what was more creepy. The poetic message of racism and ignorance, which is strongly relevant today in the form of a truly uncomfortable horror film, or watching the whitest white girl do the most white girl thing by eating Fruit Loops one at a time while slowly sipping a tall glass of white milk through a straw … while browsing the internet for her next victim. Not even with Google. Bing. BING. As I watched it was a slow unraveling of terror, as any brilliant horror film would do, but also a perfect blend of truth and comedy in true Jordan Peele fashion.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Apart from the extreme sadness and anger laced throughout the entire story, the moments I latched onto the most were the exchanges between Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson. They showed that even in utter disappointment in another person whom one might even despise down to their very living matter, there was still room for compassion and understanding.
My top five is pretty heavy material so watching Ryan Gosling be really moody and running through a wall in a visually stunning world doesn’t hurt. This slides under the Top 5 because of Jared Leto and whatever performance that was.
Sweeney’s Top 10 Movies
Denis Villenueve continues to be on a roll. Arrival was my #1 last year, and he now has another one atop my list this year. I legit think this is better than the original (which I believe is a bit overloved) and they’ve expanded the universe even further. I want to see more films from this universe.
This is my favorite of the three new Star Wars films. This one looks the best, has the most meaningful character arcs and plots, and includes some of the best sequences ever filmed for Star Wars. It really shakes up what was an already-derivative story, meaning I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next installment and I find that exciting and refreshing.
3. Baby Driver
Edgar Wright doesn’t make bad films. This is stylish and funny from start-to-end, and I wish he wouldn’t take so long between films.
4. War for the Planet of the Apes
The final film in a surprisingly-good trilogy is probably my favorite of the three. Has to be one of the best trilogies of all time too.
Nolan takes a simple war story and applies his unique take on it, creating three timelines (at different lengths) and weaving through them until they all meet at an exhilarating climax.
6. Wind River
A well-made mystery set in the Wyoming wilderness, from the guy that wrote Sicario and Hell Or High Water.
7. Get Out
A horror film with social commentary laced into it. I really hope this gets some Oscar nominations because it’s a great script and directorial debut by Jordan Peele.
Had a lot of fun with this, which was not the case with the first two Thor movies. Taiki Watiti (had my #2 movie last year) brings his comedic chops to the Marvel universe with great success.
9. Molly’s Game
I’m a sucker for Sorkin, so there was no way I wouldn’t enjoy this movie. And of course I loved it. This is his directorial debut, and he directs the way he writes – with style and speed.
10. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Dark but funny, which is where Martin McDonaugh wants to be with his films that I all love. Tho I’m not sure how I feel about the resolution of the main mystery in this one.
The Big Sick, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Logan Lucky, Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Split, Wonder Woman, Kong: Skull Island, John Wick: Chapter 2, It
Still Haven’t Seen
The Beguiled, Okja, mother!, Phantom Thread, The Post, Lady Bird, Columbus, The Florida Project, A Ghost Story
Most Looking Forward To In 2017
The 15:17 To Paris – Clint Eastwood true story film, starring the actual people who lived it.
Annihilation – Didn’t like the book but love the concept and the director
Avengers: Infinity War – Gonna be a huge film with a lot of surprises
Black Panther – Trailers have made it look like something we haven’t seen before in a Marvel film
First Man – Neil Armstrong’s life story, as told by the La La Land guy
Incredibles 2 – Sequel to one of my favorite Pixar films
Isle of Dogs – Wes Anderson returns!
Mute – A return to grounded sci-fi for Duncan Jones
The Predator – Shane Black takes on the franchise he helped start 30 years ago
Ready Player One – Book is fun but not well-written – Spielberg’s first big tentpole in awhile and I hope he has fun with it
Roma – Alfonso Cuaron’s follow-up to Gravity
Sicario 2: Soldado – Loved the first, but I wish they just called it Soldado. This one features Benicio more.
Solo: A Star Wars Story – They haven’t made a bad star wars film, so this could be good, but I don’t have high hopes. Still, it’s a Star Wars movie so I’ll see it.
Best Movies of 2017
This is my Favorite Movies of 2017 list (along with a second opinion from Liz and Eric Sweeney). As all lists are, this list is highly subjective and probably has a few dumb movies on it. What can I say? It’s a sickness. Even then, there are still quite a few movies that I haven’t gotten around to seeing yet (Baby Driver was in my top ten until Kevin Spacey was outed as a predator, so I’m bumping it off as a result). Also, all this year’s favorite movies are in movie montage mashup form if that’s your preferred manner of taking in best of lists.
1. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri – With as rough as 2017 was, you’d figure escapism would be the way to go, but why not go with a movie that steamrolls through all the year’s relevant issues. Racism? Check. Sexual Assault? Check. Police Brutality? Check. Homophobia? Check. Three Billboards confronts it all. There’s no denying this is a tough movie to watch at times, but it’s absolutely worth seeing. Even with its fairly deflating ending, this darkly comic take on tragedy, anger and empathy is my favorite movie of the year.
Penned and directed by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), this story follows Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother who erects a series of billboards damming the local police for her daughter’s unsolved rape and murder. Like his previous efforts, McDonagh’s third film has razor sharp dialogue and a pitch black underbelly, but the real allure of this story is that it’s ultimately about forgiveness. That’s perhaps the great divide I feel with McDonagh’s kindred spirit, Quentin Tarantino, whose movies similarly feature extreme bloodshed and stylized banter, but often devolve into pastiches of nihilistic violence that leave me feeling empty by the time the credits roll. Tarantino is a skilled filmmaker, but I need a bit more heart. And for all their faults, McDonagh’s characters have heart to them. Especially the film’s hardened protagonist, Mildred, played to perfection by Francis McDormand. Everyone should stay home this year, because Francis McDormand deserves to win all the awards. All of them! (Trailer)
Best Scene: Dixon reads his letter
Watch This If You Like: In Bruges, Calvary, Dark comedy, Sam Rockwell dancing
2. Wind River – Wind River is haunting. A stark, Cormac McCarthy inspired thriller set on the frozen plains of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. I’ll be honest, Wind River may not be the best script Taylor Sheridan has written (Sicario and Hell or High Water being his other two) and its first hour may be a little on the slow and methodical side, but man, do the last forty minutes just sear themselves into your brain. What a great ending, especially the film’s final exchange, which, while heavy with sadness, has small slivers of hope present. Like Three Billboards, this film doesn’t shy away from grisly and relevant subject matter. The story feels timely and important. And while I’m not a huge Jeremy Renner fan, I think this may be his best role yet, playing a sort of cold weather Gary Cooper for the 21st century. Elizabeth Olsen, tasked with the Clarice Starling archetype, also performs admirably. I urge everyone to see Wind River and read more about the grim events it’s based on. This movie will sneak up on you. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Tie – Are You Flanking Me?/How Far Can You Run?/Death Face
Watch This If You Like: Hell or High Water, Winter’s Bone, Cormac McCarthy
3. Dunkirk – Dunkirk is easily the most technically impressive film I saw this year, a somber WWII masterpiece that favors its stunning visuals above coddling any of its shellshocked characters. Presented as an oddly shaped narrative puzzle, this steely take on the evacuation of Dunkirk is an edge of your seat experience from the very first frame. Once again, Christopher Nolan cruelly muzzles Tom Hardy behind a mask, and Hardy still finds ways to make his performance compelling as the heroic, but slightly Bane-garbled Spitfire pilot Farrier. I know this film has been divisive amongst viewers, some calling it an empty, exhausting experience, but I think the assault on your senses is intentional. I don’t think war movies should leave you feeling comfortable, or even satisfied for that matter. They should leave you a bit dazed and unsettled. And Dunkirk does that. I especially love what the end of the film has to say about its characters, too. One character who displayed varying levels of cowardice (understandable cowardice, but cowardice all the same) throughout the film is given a hero’s welcome at home, while the closest thing the movie has to an actual hero is left stranded on a beach behind enemy lines. How fitting. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Convergence at Open Sea
Watch This If You Like: Thin Red Line, Bane Planes, Piece of Cake,
One Direction, Aviation photography, deafeningly loud audio tracks
4. Logan – With Disney’s recent acquisition of Fox, Logan will more than likely stand as the best X-Men movie of all time. Mostly because I can’t see Disney putting out a misery seminar like this ever again. Logan is a movie about growing old and dementia and immigrants and swearing at children. You know, the cornerstones of the Disney empire. It’s subversive to the genre, a camouflaged road movie/western that parades itself around as summer blockbuster fare for the masses. And even though it can’t escape its comic trappings in the third act, I wouldn’t change anything about this movie. Especially the film’s closing image. I’m not crying, you’re crying! (Trailer)
Best Scene: So This is What it Feels Like (single tear)
Watch This If You Like: Westerns, Grim feelings, Shane, The Last of Us
5. Get Out – Despite being listed as a comedy for the upcoming Golden Globes, further proving that we can’t have nice things, this sociopolitical thriller cuts right to the bone on issues of race and prejudice. It’s cleverly scripted, thoughtfully constructed and perfectly executed. When asked how he would classify his own movie, writer/director Jordan Peele called it a “documentary”. All credit to him for producing something this smart and subtle, fresh off his broader and sillier sketch comedy days. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Getting Out
Watch This If You Like: Satirical horror, well written scripts, Social issues that need addressing, the Get Out challenge
6. Blade Runner 2049 – Blade Runner 2049 is a Jared Leto appearance away from being a masterpiece (I continue to fail my New Year’s resolution to be nicer to Jared Leto). Whereas Dunkirk was the most impressive “what can we strap a two hundred and forty pound IMAX camera to and still fly?” achievement, Blade Runner 2049 is the year’s best example of pure mood. Roger Deakins may be the greatest living cinematographer, Denis Villeneuve may be the most underrated genre director working and Harrison Ford actually tried in this movie. That’s a lethal combination. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Fuck You, Wall
Watch This If You Like: Phillip K. Dick, Sci-fi, Harrison Ford not phoning it in
7. It – The horror in the reboot of Stephen King’s clown terror classic may be a bit straightforward and even clunky at times, but the core of the movie, the kids that make up the Losers’ Club, are fantastic. Their strong and believable bond far outweighs any of the film’s underwhelming aspects. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (The Handmaiden, Oldboy) once again produces some distinctly grim visuals, Bill Skarsgard’s take on Pennywise is effectively unsettling while avoiding any sort of imitation or mimicry and the script is legitimately funny at times (that placebo line killed in our theater). I mean, what more do you want? (Trailer)
Best Scene: Losers’ Club Unite/Rock Fight/”These are Gazebos!”
Watch This If You Like: Stranger Things, Stephen King, Child actors being traumatized, On point New Kids on the Block references
8. Coco – Coco is Pixar’s gorgeous and culturally rich film about family, music and personal drive. The animation is breathtaking, the songs are impossibly catchy and the film floats with an emotional vibrancy in every scene. It’s a shame that tone deaf 22 minute Frozen short film about Olaf pulling a series of home invasions on Christmas played before Coco, but it did emphasize how great Coco is compared to schlock like that. Even ol’ Olaf couldn’t ruin this wonderful Pixar gem. And if you don’t find yourself misty-eyed in the last twenty minutes, then you’re a monster. Plain and simple. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Remember Me
Watch This If You Like: Crying in front of children, Pixar, Family, Celebrating life
9. Lady Bird– The strength of Lady Bird is that it feels like lived in material. Everything feels genuine and authentic. I don’t think there is a single misstep in the film. I know writer/director Greta Gerwig claimed this coming of age tale is semi-autobiographical, but I do wonder if this wasn’t her teenage years beat for beat, because I felt like I was watching someone’s life. It almost felt like an intrusion at times. I remember a similar effect while watching Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Unlike Boyhood’s sprawl though, Lady Bird is presented in a series of choppy vignettes, effectively emulating the teenage attention span and gifting us a scattershot of Lady Bird’s formidable senior year. It’s sad, it’s bittersweet, it’s familiar, it’s elating. Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan are superb as the film’s bullheaded mother daughter combo, a pair that sees far too much of themselves in each other, echoed by the film’s opening image, a portrait of the two lying in bed together, a near reflection of one another. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Trip to the Airport
Watch This If You Like: Boyhood, Coming of age stories, Linklater vibes
10. Ingrid Goes West – Only Aubrey Plaza can make a character like Ingrid, a deranged social media stalker who moves west to insert herself into the life of her Instagram obsession, somewhat sympathetic (Plaza’s Ingrid is a sort of kindred spirit to Bryce Dallas Howard’s painfully insecure character in the Black Mirror episode ‘Nosedive‘). The movie is peppered with uncomfortable laughs akin to a millennial’s version of The Office, but I thought it was great. It’s a scathing examination of social media obsession (the influencers and the obsessors are both taken to task) and I’m bummed more people didn’t see it. On a side note, there is a scene where Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen, who plays the object of Plaza’s obsession, are singing K-Ci and Jojo’s ‘All My Life’ (the best slow jam of all time) in the car. Unable to contain herself at the prospect of their budding friendship, Plaza drops her guard for just a few seconds when she’s singing the chorus and all the darkness comes pouring out. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it exchange, but it’s one of my favorite movie moments of the year. Aubrey Plaza is so good in this movie. (Trailer)
Best Scene: K-Ci and Jojo Karaoke
Watch This if You Like: Black Mirror, Single White Female for the 2010s, uncomfortable comedy, K-Ci and Jojo
11. War for the Planet of the Apes – Bad Ape is my favorite character of 2017. Yes, a goofy Steve Zahn voiced CG ape who wears a puffy vest is the pinnacle cinematic creation of 2017 for me. I dismissed him as pure comic relief at first, but there’s something deeply tragic about him. It’s a little devastating to watch him. I’m serious. Go back and watch Bad Ape’s introduction. It’s heartbreaking. Most of the people I’ve talked to implied Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is still the best of the trilogy, but I think I preferred War’s strange ‘The Great Escape‘ meets ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai‘ inspired story. I really feared this would be a retread of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes with more chaotic war scenes woven in, but it did an effective job distancing itself from its predecessor. This isn’t really a war movie at all. If anything, it’s an escape movie, with apes. It’s the Ape Escape movie you never thought you’d get (or want?). (Trailer)
Best Scene: Prison Break
Watch This If You Like: The Great Escape, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Chicken Run, Bad Ape
12. Thor: Ragnorok – This year’s equally well made Thor, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman and Guardians of the Galaxy entries seemed almost interchangeable at times, despite each film stamping their product in discernible ways. Thor is the weakest of the four by dramatic standards, which would usually bump it down the list for me, but it’s also the funniest of the four, and in a year of bleak cinema and bleak everything, I suppose laughter wins out this time. Ragnorok also has Jeff Goldblum, a surprisingly funky soundtrack and more of director Taika Waititi‘s dry Kiwi humor that was so great in last year’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople. All that is missing in Ragorok is a Ricky Baker appearance (do not despair though, look for Ricky Baker and his skux life in 2018’s Deadpool 2). (Trailer)
Best Scene: Get Help!
Watch This If You Like: Guardians of the Galaxy, Hunt For the Wilderpeople, Dry Kiwi humor
13. The Red Turtle – I still don’t really know what to say about the Red Turtle, a nearly dialogue free film from Japanese animated powerhouse Studio Ghibli. I didn’t always understand it, but it nonetheless felt deeply profound to me. And when I finished it, I just sat there for a long time, went for a walk and ruminated on life. It sounds corny, but it happened. I suppose at the heart of the escapism and comfort film offers us, we secretly yearn for experiences like this. Something that shakes us from our stupors. The Red Turtle is a film I’m sure I’ll revisit more and more over the years and appreciate exponentially the I older become. It might be a little slow for most, but I would still encourage people to seek it out. I especially like Mike Figures’ comment about the film’s universal appeal, “Once sound and language was developed, film became culture specific and lost its universality, and what this film does is reclaim that universality as there is no spoken language.” (Trailer)
Best Scene: The Circle of Life
Watch This If You Like: Castaway, Tin Tin, Ghibli movies, contemplating life
14. The Villainess – The Villainess is an absurd, violent marriage of La Femme Nikita and Kill Bill on bath salts. Whereas this year’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle and Atomic Blonde had superb fight choreography and jarring blasts of stylized violence, there is something in this Korean action thriller that feels far superior in its raw and kinetic bloodshed. There’s no sheen to it. The film’s bursts of adrenaline leave you breathless and concerned for the stunt crew. This is the sort of madness I wanted from Atomic Blonde, and while there were admirable elements to that Charlize Theron vehicle, I think you have to get out of Hollywood to find something this batshit crazy these days. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Opening Raid/Bus Fight
Watch This if You Liked: La Femme Nikita, Oldboy, I Saw the Devil, Kill Bill, Korean action thrillers
15. Star Wars: The Last Jedi – It seems like a requirement these days that hyperbole be assigned to anything Star Wars related, but the truth is, I don’t have any brash things to say about this movie. It was a bit of a mixed bag for me. It subverted expectations in a way that was refreshing, but also signaled a clear lack of communication for the trilogy’s overall structure, something Rian Johnson himself confirmed. And while I like smart, subversive sci-fi, Star Wars is far too nostalgic for me, leaving me with a stubbornly strong attachment to traditional arcs and the hero’s journey in the Star Wars universe. Ultimately, Last Jedi felt more like an episode of Battlestar Galactica than a Star Wars film, which is perfectly fine, but it does take some getting used to. There is still quite a lot I liked about it though. Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are all great. Anytime they’re onscreen, the film is at its best. The Star Destroyer ramming sequence is also a stunning piece of visual filmmaking and Porgs are okay in my book. (Trailer)
Best Scene: “See you around, kid.”
Worst Offense: Space Witch Leia/Misuse of Benicio Del Toro
Watch This If You Like: Battlestar Galactica, plot subversion, Anti-Star Wars movies, Porgs
2017 Movie Mashup
These are my favorite movies of 2017 edited into a quick movie supercut/mashup. Enjoy!