Rock ‘n Roll Ghost’s Top 10 Films of 2017

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2017 was a rough year. Not just socially/politically (but yeah, mostly for that), but my beloved world of film was a bit of a slog despite so many strong films. I found myself let down more than genuinely upset. Filmmakers I adored made films I just didn’t care much about, despite wanting to. Enough of these were released to be hopeful that 2018 has a slew of surprises. Because right now there isn’t a whole lot I’m both aware of and excited for. Onto the list.

10. The Big Sick (Dir. Michael Showalter)

I wouldn’t have expected that a cast member of Mtv’s The State and one of the co-stars of Silicon Valley would make a film that is both funny and touching in 2017, but here is Showalter and Kumail Nanjiani‘s The Big Sick. Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon co-wrote the script based on the actual beginning of their relationship. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Zoe Kazan‘s parents are a particular delight. The fact that it’s set in Chicago is also a nice change of pace.

 

09. Sweet Viriginia (Dir. Jamie M. Dagg)

I wouldn’t have even known about this film if it hadn’t kicked off the Cinepocalypse festival back in November. Jon Bernthal stars as a former rodeo star with a bum leg running his brother’s motel in Alaska. Christopher Abbott is the hired gun who turns the small town upside down. Abbott is absolutely mesmerizing and terrifying here. Between this and It Comes At Night, Abbott is on a path for big things. The movie is a slow burn, but is reminiscent of those great 70s/80s crime thrillers that used to populate the seedier theaters in town. The fact is, you can see it from the comfort of your own home and that’s a good thing.

08. Thor: Ragnarok (Dir. Taika Waititi)

I don’t think I laughed harder during a film than I did with the 3rd (!!!) Thor film. Director Waititi (What We Do In the Shadows) managed to elevate things by throwing a wild party and inviting the insanely irresistible Jeff Goldblum to the party. Chris Hemsworth needs to focus more on comedy over action, imo. He’s a freaking natural. Tessa Thompson (Creed) is an absolute fierce delight; Tom Hiddleston is back as Loki, as is Mark Ruffalo as Hulk/Bruce Banner (wearing Tony Stark’s tight pants and Duran Duran t-shirt). Ragnarok is a colorful blast of inane fun. In the best possible way. And Cate Blanchett is in it!

 

07. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Dir. Rian Johnson)

If you read my review of this one you may be surprised to see it make my top ten. Well, I saw The Last Jedi a second time and almost all of it clicked into place for me. It’s still damn entertaining, but what director Johnson accomplishes in deconstructing the past to make way for the future (albeit a brief future as Episode IX is presumably the last film to feature the new series’ four leads) is something that requires, in the words of Luke Skywalker, to “let go.” Let go of your assumptions, let go of your theories, let go of your desires for what it was meant to be in your eyes and just let the film be as it is. Episode IX presumably would have been series star Carrie Fisher‘s moment to truly shine, which makes her passing a year ago even sadder.

06. Spider-Man: Homecoming (Dir. Jon Watts)

I’m not a fan of ANY previous Spider-Man film. None of them managed to capture the whole essence of Spider-Man the way that director Watts and star Tom Holland do here. The fact that Marvel was finally involved with this series was a godsend. The decision to root Peter Parker in Queens, real Queens and have him live the life of an actual teenager was the right way to position things. Holland and his co-stars Jacob Batalon (the guy in the chair – haha), Tony Revolori (Flash) and Zendaya (Michelle) feel like teenagers even if some are just shy of the age range. Better that than previous stars Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire who felt like they should be in the actual work force in their films. Oh! And Michael Keaton‘s The Vulture is the best Marvel villain in a long time. How about that?

05. Brawl in Cell Block 99 (Dir. S. Craig Zahler)

Vince Vaughn beats up a car within the first ten minutes of this crazy, balls-out film. I mean, he literally starts beating the shit out of a car. Trust me, even that won’t prepare you for the scene. Honestly, I don’t think anything can prepare you for a Zahler film. His Bone Tomahawk is equally batshit crazy (in the best possible way). Vaughn is in top shape, both physically and as an actor here. He says little, but communicates everything. It’s an incredibly strong, commanding performance in a film that is unflinching in its brutality. There’s no sappiness, no Hollywood bullshit, just pure raw, animal warrior spirit going on here. Zahler’s next film reunites him with Vaughn and co-stars Mel Gibson. I’m there.

04. IT (Dir. Andy Muschietti)

I am generally not a fan of horror films. In particular, the adaptations of Stephen King have been especially awful over the years with few positives (The Mist might be the last good one I can think of). Director Muschietti and Warner Bros. took a chance by splitting the book in two, focusing the first on the children fighting Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). The budget was a miniscule $35 million, but paid off huge with a final box office nearing $700 million. Some say it’s not “horror” enough, but I was unnerved throughout, scared enough. On top of all of that is this impeccably acted/directed tale of a bunch of outsider kids who have pretty much nothing but each other. By zeroing in on the kids’ traumas the film supersedes the formula of the genre, creating an indelible classic.

03. Logan (Dir. James Mangold)

In what will serve as the gold standard of what a superhero film can be, Logan stands pretty much alone. Old, world and war weary, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman finally getting the standalone film he deserved) is down on his luck and in hiding from the US government who are rounding up and/or killing all of the mutants. He tries to protect Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) from the harm of others and from himself and then a little girl with similar powers to his enters his life. Boyd Holbrook is a great addition as Pierce, the man tasked with getting X-23/Laura (Dafne Keen in the fiercest debut of the year) back into custody. The western motif positing Wolverine as a reluctant Gary Cooper mines rich emotional territory here. Superhero films just aren’t made better than this one.

02. Get Out (Dir. Jordan Peele)

I don’t think anything could have prepared me for how deep and how culturally significant the directorial debut of Jordan Peele (Key & Peele, Mad TV) was. The script is as close to perfect as possible. It is the most stunning socio-political film of the year, landing just after the inauguration of our racist-in-chief Donald Trump, during the Black Lives Matter days and before Nazis made their return known to the world here in our own backyards. And all of that suggests that the film is somehow not entertainment, which it most certainly is. It melds the worlds of horror and black comedy (think Dr. Stangelove, not Wayans brothers) into one stunning tour de force. If 2017 had a film equivalent, it was Get Out.

01. Blade Runner 2049 (Dir. Denis Villeneuve)

My top 5 films of all time constantly change in ranking, but the films never drop out. Blade Runner has been in that top since I saw it in 1982. So it was great excitement and also great fear that a sequel had found its way to being. I was originally upset that Ridley Scott wouldn’t be the one shepherding it, but it turns out that having Villeneuve take the reins was the absolute best thing for the film. Working from a spectacular screenplay courtesy of Hampton Fancher and Michael Green (2017’s MVP as he had a hand in this, Logan, Murder on the Orient Express and Alien: Covenant, as well as on Starz’s American Gods).

Blade Runner 2049 is filmmaking at its best. Stunning in scope, beautifully photographed (Roger Deakins should get his much deserved Oscar win for this one), impeccably scored, acted with grace and precision (Ryan Gosling pulls of the most delicate balance here, Harrison Ford revives his Deckard character with rich, emotional pathos, Sylvia Hoeks is terrifying, Robin Wright is tough as nails, Ana de Armas inhabits her virtual reality character with deep emotion, and Jared Leto is…well…very Jared Leto). Pulling it all together is Villeneuve, whose previous work (Sicario, The Arrival) all leads up to what I have consistently called a masterpiece. In 2017 there was not a finer film to be found than this one.

As for 10 other great films that just missed the top 10 mark? Those included: SplitGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, War of the Planet of the ApesMother!, American Made, Lady Bird, Justice League, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing MissouriThe Shape of Water and Wheelman.

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