Joe’s Top Ten of 2017

| January 9, 2018

I feel like every year I’m blown away by the quality of films that I saw.  This is partly because we find ourselves living in a golden age of film, and it’s mostly because I refuse to see things that I know will be garbage.  I tend to trust my instincts over critical or box office response, which lead to me recently enjoying such maligned films as The Dark Tower and The Circle, but I remain confident that they’re not going to suddenly know how to make a good Transformers movie so I keep my distance.

This list ended up being extremely difficult to put together as I saw a ton of great movies this year despite the epic disappointments of the likes of Dunkirk, Atomic Blonde, and Alien: Covenant, but even with those I still saw way more good films than bad films this year, only giving my trademark #MinimumEffort review to about a dozen 2017 movies.  Cutting the rest down to these ten was a Herculean task, and I expect statues in my honor to begin erection any minute now.

Honorable Mention. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Dir. Jon Watts
My expectations for Spidey’s debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe were impossibly high and Captain America: Civil War delivered, making my expectations for Homecoming even impossibler.  I wasn’t in love with the film the first time I saw it.  I enjoyed it, but was a bit annoyed at how undeveloped Peter was as a superhero, but now I’ve seen it 3 times and it is quickly becoming one of my favorite MCU films.  The villain is amazing, the themes are strong, and the promise of a John Hughes style Spider-Man movie was delivered in spades.  Now I’m just excited to see Spider-Man grow in this universe and realize his full potential.

#10. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Dir. Rian Johnson
Since Disney bought Lucasfilm and announced that Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) was going to be making a Star Wars film, I predicted it would be my favorite of the series, and I was not disappointed.  Unlike J.J. Abrams’ fan-servicey remake of A New Hope 2 years ago, Johnson made his installment in the series something completely different.  The lines between good and evil become beautifully blurred as themes of choice and temptation unfold in a host of amazing characters both carried over from The Force Awakens and introduced here fresh.  This has to be the least predictably movie I saw this year; throughout the entire film I had no idea what anyone was going to do, how the rebels could possibly prevail, and who would live and die.  In the end, we got a film that is about hope in the face of crippling hopelessness.  No one in the film has any reason to think they’re going to survive the day, and yet they fight, and it’s awesome.

#9. Baby Driver
Dir. Edgar Wright
This was much higher on my list until I rewatched it and simply didn’t have as much fun upon multiple viewings.  It’s visually stunning, the characters are great, it’s funny and tragic and everything I want from a film, but so little of the story was surprising to me, and some of the character motivations throughout are downright baffling.  I enjoy the film a lot and will rewatch it from time to time, but it is my least favorite Edgar Wright movie.

#8. The Disaster Artist
Dir. James Franco
I’ve been obsessed with Tommy Wiseau’s The Room for years, and when Greg Sestero published his book about meeting Tommy and making the film, I inhaled every page.  It’s completely and utterly fascinating, and The Disaster Artist could have pretty easily been my favorite film of the year except it feels very safe; it feels like it was made to win awards, when I was hoping it would be more in the style of The Room itself with absurd plot holes and changes in character motivation and characters getting re-cast halfway through.  That would have made this probably one of my favorite films of the decade, but what we’re left with is a perfectly good film where James Franco absolutely disappears into his performance of Tommy Wiseau.  After a brief adjustment period, Franco becomes Tommy and it’s delightful to watch.  Less compelling is Dave Franco’s portrayal of Greg Sestero, who comes across a bit more sycophantic and naïve than he portrays himself in the book.

#7. Table 19
Dir. Jeffrey Blitz
Written by the Duplass brothers, Table 19 is a little gem you might not be aware of, and according to Rotten Tomatoes, if you did see it, odds are you didn’t like it, but I’ve grown to really adore Mark and Jay Duplass and the way they put films together.  This is actually one of the more straight-forward ones I’ve seen from them as they tend to play with more surreal elements that are somehow grounded in reality.  I’m also a huge fan of the cast, including Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow, Stephen Merchant, and the incomparable June Squibb.  They all make up the leftovers table at a wedding, the guests that don’t really fit at any of the important tables, and form this great bond as a group that may never see each other again.  It’s charming, delightful, theatrical, and all around good fun.

#6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Dir. Martin McDonagh
I’ve seen all of Martin McDonath’s films and read most of his play, and while 3 Billboards is his weakest endeavor to date, it’s still brilliant.  I think what brings it down for me a bit is the fact that it doesn’t have the same playful structure as his previous work.  It’s more chaotic and purposeless than the likes of In Bruges or The Pillowman, but the chaos might also represent Mildred’s chaotic mind since losing her daughter.  It works for me, but doesn’t have the same caliber of McDonagh twists I’ve come to expect.  The ending is terrific though, and finishes a fascinating arc for the two lead characters.

#5. Lady Bird
Dir. Greta Gerwig
Anytime a film gets such universal praise as Lady Bird it’s bound to turn some heads, and even though the trailers didn’t look like much, I still went into the screening with pretty high expectations.  Gerwig has clearly learned a lot from her longtime collaborator Noah Baumbach, who makes similarly quirky comedies, but Lady Bird is unique in just how real the characters feel.  In any given scene you might feel yourself siding with Lady Bird, or her mother, or her father, and then in the next scene things will completely change on you.  That complexity of the individual is very difficult to capture in a script and Gerwig does it masterfully and her cast executes it masterfully.

#4. The Big Sick
Dir. Michael Showalter
A great romantic comedy shouldn’t be that difficult to pull off, and yet there are so few.  All the movie has to do is have an emotional appeal, be funny throughout, and subvert expectation.  The Big Sick does this in droves.  It’s hilariously funny, devastatingly tragic, and even though I knew the two characters had to end up together (because it’s based on a true story), as the end approached, I had no idea how they were going to make that happen, which made the ending all the more rewarding.  The cast is awesome, even people I don’t tend to care for like Ray Romano, and I appreciate that they didn’t rush this; the script was in development for the better part of a decade because they really wanted to get it right and they completely did.

#3. Molly’s Game
Dir. Aaron Sorkin
Sorkin is one of my favorite writers working today, and his directorial debut did not disappoint.  I finally got to see this last night and it gave me the confidence I needed to put together my top ten list for 2017.  It’s not perfect, and it’s not my favorite Aaron Sorkin movie, but the story of Molly Bloom going from Olympic skier to running high stakes poker tables was endlessly fascinating to me.  It reminds me of The Social Network in that you’re not meant to fully understand what’s going on, but just care about the characters and let the technical stuff wash over you.  If you don’t know anything about poker, you won’t learn it from watching this, but the poker is just the setting for Molly’s story and arc, and if’s so cool to watch her understand the game on a professional level without ever playing a hand.  Kevin Costner, and Idris Elba are also terrific and it’s criminal that this isn’t getting more rewards recognition.

#2. The Greatest Showman
Dir. Michael Gracey
I always find musicals to be incredibly ambitious.  They tend to be thought of as outdated and obsolete, but it’s hard for me to come up with a quicker way to elicit a desired emotion in a movie than a well-executed musical number.  The Greatest Showman has to be the most spectacular film of the year, and I always have time for a bit of spectacle.  Every song is a show stopper, the metaphors are varied and poignant, and the music has a modern flare that complements the 19th century setting nicely.  I know critics are a bit divided on this, but I would recommend it to anyone with a passing interest in theatre or musicals.

#1. Get Out
Dir. Jordan Peele
When Get Out came out in February, I knew it would be hard to top as my favorite film of the year.  It’s actually one of my favorite films of the past ten years with very few films of this decade coming to mind as better or more enjoyable.  Jordan Peele’s script is amazing as the film somehow manages to function as a legitimately terrifying psychological thriller while maintaining a razor sharp satirical commentary on race in America today.  Like all good satire, it’s funny and devastating at the same time, and while it was written during the “post-racial lie” of the Obama era, the message takes on a disturbing new light in 2017.  Also, like several films on my list, it benefits from multiple viewings, so even if you’ve seen it, I’d highly recommend revisiting to see how Peele sets things up and constantly shifts the focus of his satire in phenomenal ways.

About the Author:

Joe Ketchum Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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