First, let me apologize for the lateness of this list, but between my summer spinal surgery and the resultant amount of work required to get back financially, I’ve had less time than usual to go to the movies. As such, I have not yet seen several films, including (alphabetically): “All the Money in the World,” “I, Tonya,” “Phantom Thread,” and “1945.” Any of those movies might still make the list, once I get to see them.
If you know me and/or have read my list before, you probably know a few things about my movie preferences:
· My favorite movies have both a good plot and well-developed characters.
· I don’t like movies about nasty people doing awful things to each other.
· I enjoy movies that either entertain me and/or in some way uplift me.
· I don’t watch a lot of animated films, although occasionally, one might make the list.
· I don’t include documentaries on my list.
· I tend to like films where the script is fresh and interesting.
· I’m not invited to free movie screenings, nor do I get to meet the casts or directors.
· I am not a film "critic," and as such, I don’t write negative reviews. I respect most filmmakers for trying to produce their art, so if a well-known or well-regarded film is not listed above or below, it’s quite possible that I saw it but did not like it enough to recommend it.
So, with that, below is my list of the Best Movies of 2017, in inverse order. Also, at the end, I’ll provide a few awards that you won’t see at the Oscars.
Co-written and directed by Joon-ho Bong and starring Tilda Swinton, Seo-Hyun Ahn, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Giancarlo Esposito, this is a cautionary fable about a Korean girl (Ahn) who raises a giant, genetically modified pig and the corporation, headed by Swinton’s character, that wants to take it and others like it to be slaughtered for food, while being battled by an animal rights group headed by Dano’s character. After watching this touching film, you may have trouble sitting down to a meat-based dinner again.
22. “Kong, Skull Island”
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly, from a book by John Gatins, this star-studded film is not another remake of King Kong, but rather an alternative story about the giant ape and the people who visit his island. Packed with adventure, revenge, and intrigue, it stars Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, and John Goodman, and represents a return to old-style action coupled with the wonders of modern special effects.
21. “Good Time”
Directors Benny and Josh Safdie revitalized Robert Pattinson’s acting career with this gritty story about a bank robbery that goes awry and the resultant series of misadventures taken by Pattinson’s character. Written by Ronald Bronstein and Josh Safdie, the film is a roller coaster ride of how one unpleasant circumstance can lead to another. With excellent supporting performances by Jennifer Jason Lee, Benny Safdie, and Taliah Webster, you keep wondering how much deeper into trouble one man can get.
20. “Girls Trip”
The best way to describe this is a female, African American version of “The Hangover.” As such, it is much better than it probably deserves to be, thanks to effective direction by Malcolm D. Lee, a screenplay by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver, and an outstanding cast that includes Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, and a hilarious performance by Tiffany Haddish. This is one of those movies that causes you to laugh while simultaneously being surprised you are laughing. It ends up being the flat-out funniest movie of the year.
19. “Spiderman: Homecoming”
There were a whole bunch of superhero movies this year, but what makes the latest version of Spiderman so likeable is its littleness. Director Jon Watts and a team of screenwriters went out of their way to make the lead, played by Tom Holland, into “your friendly neighborhood” superhero. Throw in outstanding supporting performances by Michael Keaton, Robert Downey, Jr. (playing Tony Stark again), Marissa Tomei, and Donald Glover, and you have a movie that eschews Marvel’s typical seriousness and, as a result, is sure to bring a smile to your face.
18. “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2”
I actually like this movie better than the 2014 original because it seems to follow a more connected story arc while still providing fun-filled, sci-fi, action/adventure. Written and directed by James Gunn, it features reprised roles by Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel (voice), Bradley Cooper (voice), and Michael Rooker, while adding in a few action actors like Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell. It all adds up to a fun night (or day) at the movies.
This film’s advertising people did it a disservice by portraying it as a comedy…it is not. It is a very odd social satire about curing overpopulation by shrinking people to about 5 inches tall, so they can live at a fraction of the cost, consume a fraction of the food, and produce a fraction of the waste of full-sized people. However, the lead character, played by Matt Damon, soon learns that shrinking people doesn’t eliminate their problems any more than it ends differences caused by class, income, and social standing. Directed by Alexander Payne and written by Payne and Jim Taylor, the film also features excellent performances by Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, and Kristen Wiig.
The year’s best pure horror film is from a book by Stephen King and a screenplay by Case Palmer, Cary Joji Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman. Unlike the ponderous 1990 miniseries which was also based on this book, director Andy Muschietti keeps us on the edge of our seats as a group of generally unpopular and troubled teenagers take on the evil clown, Pennywise, who has been preying on a small Maine town for decades. If you like horror/suspense and are not too weirded out by evil clowns, you should see this well-constructed film.
15. “Call Me By Your Name”
There’s no denying the genuine feelings evoked in this film about a 17-year-old, Jewish American (excellently played by Timothee Chalamet), who spends summers in Italy with his parents, and explores his sexuality, first with an Italian girl and then, with a thirtysomething, male research assistant, played by Armie Hammer, that the boy’s father (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) has brought to live with them. Screenwriter James Ivory and director Luca Gardagnino sensitively explore this second relationship, which blossoms into love in the 1980s, when such relationships were much less open than they might be today. What stopped me from placing this movie much higher on the list was the pacing, which at times was incredibly slow. However, that shouldn’t stop you from seeing this excellent film.
14. “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore”
Macon Blair wrote and directed this excellent movie about a woman (played by Melanie Linskey) whose home is burglarized, and, after getting no satisfaction through normal, legal channels, attempts to solve the crime herself, with the help of a nerdy neighbor (played by Elijah Wood). The story spirals out of control, leading to a climactic scene at a rural house and its surrounding woods. In some ways, this film is an embodiment of the lack of control we sometimes feel over our own lives.
13. “Logan Lucky”
After making several polished heist films like the Ocean’s series, director Stephen Soderbergh took a left turn with this unpolished heist film starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes, Riley Keough, Katherine Waterston, and Seth McFarlane. The result is a very good film, written by Rebecca Blunt, that examines family dynamics, self-fulfilling curses, and peculiar acts of redemption. It pleasantly surprises you at many turns and ends up being smarter and more heartwarming than many of Soderbergh’s slicker offerings.
12. “Wonder Woman”
In a year when many women are finding their voices, I was happy with the artistic and commercial success of this film, directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins) about a strong, female superhero, played excellently by Gal Gadot. Despite the sexual misconduct accusations against Zack Snyder, who co-wrote the screenplay, I was glad to see so many women of all ages enjoying this excellent film and its outstanding supporting performances by Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, and David Thewlis.
In 1967, race riots broke out in Detroit, with people looting and pillaging their own neighborhoods. The police stepped in, but were untrained to work with this kind of situation. Some officers made things much worse through their own brutality. This movie, written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, tells that story, brilliantly and tensely. Starring John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, and Algee Smith, it will keep you uncomfortably riveted and leave you with the feeling that we haven’t come so far as we wish we had.
10. “The Big Sick”
This movie, which begins as a comedy before taking a darker turn, is the true story of the relationship between Kumal Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, from a screenplay which they wrote. Directed by Michael Showalter, it stars Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan (playing Gordon’s role), with excellent supporting performances from Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. It is funny, touching, and poignant, without becoming Hallmark-channel melodramatic, and it is a wonderful film about family and love.
9. “Molly’s Game”
This has all the characteristics of an Aaron Sorkin movie, because that’s what it is. His fast-paced, informative dialogue blends perfectly with the tautness of Jessica Chastain’s acting in a movie about the perils of success and the world of gambling. With outstanding supporting performances from Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, and Michael Cera, it tells the real-life story of Molly Bloom, who wrote the book on which it is based, and who rose to prominence in a profession dominated by men.
8. “Battle of the Sexes”
In 1973, while I was at UMass Amherst, there was a tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs that was dubbed. “The Battle of the Sexes.” Of course, anyone who knew anything about sports understood that King was a much better tennis player than Riggs, who was way past his prime and had been reduced to the role of loudmouth sideshow. But most of the male world didn’t realize how important this match was to women everywhere, and when King won the match, UMass exploded; I spent the next few hours interviewing women for the lead article in the next day’s Massachusetts Daily Collegian. While the match was indeed important, what was more important were the events leading up to it on which this movie is based. Not only did King (played expertly by Emma Stone) have to battle for pay equality, but she had to do it while confronting her own sexuality as a lesbian in the 1970s. With a cast that includes Steve Carell (as Riggs), Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Sarah Silverman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, and Bill Pullman (a UMass classmate), this movie, written by Simon Beaufoy and directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, confronts a wide range of issues and does it extremely well.
7. “Baby Driver”
Written and directed by Edgar Wright, this stylistic film is about a young man (played by Ansel Elgort) who, as a result of tinnitus, wears earbuds and constantly listens to music. He is also an expert getaway driver who performs this trade for an evil character, played by Kevin Spacey, who puts together crews to perform heists. As each heist becomes more dangerous, and he meets the woman of his dreams (played by Lily James), the young man begins to consider his options. With supporting performances from Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, Sky Ferreira, and Eiza Gonzalez, this film is a visual, aural, and visceral treat.
6. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
An amazing script by director Martin McDonagh, combined with world-class acting by Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell, combine to make this odd, quirky movie a real treat. Nobody in the film is really likeable, but neither are they detestable. It’s just a story about a troubled town with a difficult past, a few of the characters that inhabit it, and the difficult choices they have to make. It’s one of those movies where the script made me laugh, but the subject matter is so painful that I felt bad for laughing.
Dunkirk is a little movie about a big topic. It tells the true WWII story of when thousands of allied soldiers, from Britain, France, and Belgium, were stranded on a beach as the German air force bombarded them and hundreds of British boats, mostly manned by civilians, rushed to save them. But instead of focusing on the battle or the magnitude of the rescue, writer/director Chistopher Nolan tells the stories of a few people, the difficulties they faced and the trauma they endured. Starring Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Barry Keoghan, Aneurin Barnard, and Kenneth Branagh, this is an expertly crafted, personal movie about heroism and survival.
4. “Darkest Hour”
It’s kind of funny that Dunkirk and Darkest Hour appear after each other on my list, because they tell overlapping stories. In this case, it’s the role of Winston Churchill in the early days of World War II, including the German bombardment of Dunkirk. This movie delves deeply and personally into the difficult decisions of one of the 20th Century’s most important people, and the political games he must play, which he clearly despises. Featuring excellent support from Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, and Lily James, the film, written by Anthony McCarten, is driven by the amazing performance of Gary Oldman, who has cemented himself as one of the best screen actors of our time by the way he inhabits each role, and especially this one. With the help of outstanding makeup and stellar direction by Joe Wright, you actually believe you are watching Winston Churchill, and you are transported to England during its most difficult years.
3. “Get Out”
Anyone who has followed the comedy of Key and Peele realizes that Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are two of the brightest, most insightful people on the planet. So, naturally, when Jordan Peele wrote and directed a movie named “Get Out,” I assumed it was a comedy. While there is certainly humor sprinkled throughout the movie, it is definitely not a comedy. It actually starts out like a modern version of “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner,” and ends up as one of the best suspense/horror films of this or any year. In this case, there are no evil creatures or aliens—only seemingly normal, rich, white people with whom you might interact every day. However, through Peele’s brilliance, these people are exposed as the racist villains they are. I can’t say any more without spoiling the surprises, but rest assured, this film, which stars Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, and Catherine Keener, is deserving of all the praise it is receiving.
2. “The Post”
If you lived through the 1960s and 1970s, when every day seemed to expose new revelations about the Vietnam War, the US Government, and the American Presidency, this movie will strike a familiar chord. However, if you are younger than that, it’s an important movie to see. The depth of this importance is not purely from a historical perspective, but rather from the perspective of the world today and the assault on the press which we are experiencing. In those days, there was no “fake news;” there was only news and commentary, and sometimes they overlapped. In this case, the news focused on Daniel Ellsberg (played by Matthew Rhys) who managed to copy and leak a massive study of the Vietnam War and its underpinnings, that spanned four decades and exposed how every president from Truman to Nixon lied to the American people. Known as the Pentagon Papers, the first of these pages were released in the New York Times, whose publisher, Abe Rosenthal (played by Michael Stuhlbarg), was banned by the US Courts from publishing any more of the pages. The pages then found their way to the Washington Post, whose Editor-in-Chief, Ben Bradlee (played by Tom Hanks), pushed for the paper to publish them. The decision then fell on Katherine “Kay” Graham (played superbly by Meryl Streep) to determine if it was prudent to defy the Times’s court order, publish the pages, and risk losing the newspaper. Add to this the fact that Graham was America’s first female newspaper publisher who was actually a Washington socialite, and the pressure she faced was insurmountable. This film, written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer and directed by Steven Spielberg, features amazing performances by a star-studded cast, including Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, and Alison Brie. It is as good as it is important.
1. “The Shape of Water”
Guillermo del Toro has always made unusual movies that combine fantasy and reality, but this is his best by far, and it features an unlikely relationship between a mute woman (played by the always excellent Sally Hawkins) and an amphibious creature (played by Doug Jones with a massive amount of makeup). Set during the Cold War, the creature is being held in a secret research facility where Hawkins character and a character played by Octavia Spencer work in maintenance. Controlled by Michael Shannon’s character, who uses a cattle prod liberally on the creature, the facility is doing research for the US military, and the creature is eventually deemed expendable. This is all a backdrop for a unique love story that is surprisingly sensuous and heartwarming. Written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, this movie features wonderful supporting performances by Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg. It harkens back to “Beauty and the Beast,” “Splash,” and “ET,” while using music and breathtaking visuals to awaken your senses. If you are the type of moviegoer who can suspend reality and go with the flow for two hours, you will be rewarded with a memorable experience.
So, that’s my list today. It may change tomorrow, which is the beauty of posting it on a blog. Please let me know if there are other movies you feel belong on this list.
The Reid Awards
And now, for the third year, I will present awards based entirely on criteria that only I understand:
· Breakout Actor of the Year: In the past, this award has gone to Alicia Vikander and Mahershala Ali, and this year, it unquestionably belongs to Michael Stuhlbarg, who has already had a decent career in movies and TV, but this year, had important roles in three movies on this list: “Call Me By Your Name,” “The Post,” and “The Shape of Water.”
· The Future Meryl Streep Award for Best Young Actress: Not yet a household name, Lily James is a British actress who shined this year in “Baby Driver” and “Darkest Hour.” She already has three movies coming out including playing the young Donna (Meryl Streep) in the Mama Mia prequel.
· Best Child Actors: Last year, one of the recipients of this award was Jaeden Lieberher, who again was a candidate as the star of “It.” But instead, I will give this year’s award to Sophia Lillis, who played opposite Lieberher in “It.” At 15, this girl exudes star power that will only continue to blossom.
· The Boomers Who Keep Going Award: As a baby-boomer, I feel a certain kinship with over-60 actors who keep making good movies, year after year, and made my list this year (listed alphabetically): Kevin Costner, Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson, Richard Jenkins, Michael Keaton, Bill Pullman, and Meryl Streep.