Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017 Year In Movies: Shawn's Supersized Best List (PART ONE)

Well, we're two days into 2018, so I guess there is no time than now to reflect upon 2017 and the movies that came with it.

I've been kind of dreading writing this list. Not because no good movies came out, not because I am afraid of what people will think. I'm only afraid because I am not sure I can fully explain this year in movies as a whole. I am not sure I can accurately articulate how this year in film affected me and why its so hard for me to let go.

Make no mistake folks, I am sincerely sorry to say goodbye to 2017.

Maybe its because I had such a great personal year. I married the girl of my dreams, but even before that, we moved into our first house together. Then in October, I found out that I am going to be a dad. So yes, its true, lots of stuff went my way this year. Maybe it's because I attended my first film festival. Due to my membership with Chicago International Film, I also saw a bunch of movies early this year. Or perhaps it was just that 2017 was a damn fine year in film. A year when blockbusters, foreign films, Oscar hopefuls and independent films all aligned in a perfect sync. It was a year full of surprises, where you didn't expect films to be as good as they were. A year where people I wasn't such a big fan of blindsided me completely.

It was one of those years, so I've decided to bump my best of list from 10 to 25. Yep, a year this great deserves a list that accurately examines why this year meant so much to me. Roger Ebert once said that a best list should be "a celebration of wonderful films, not a chopping process," so when 2017 was so great, why not have a bigger list than usual? I know I sure liked a whole lot of movies this year. I liked so many movies that even a longer list can't handle all the gems we were given this year. I mean, damn. The films that didn't make my list? I am a little surprised to be honest. I wish I had room for "Get Out," "Charleston," "Darkest Hour," "What Happened To Monday," "Wonder Woman," "A Cure For Wellness," "The LEGO Batman Movie," "John Wick: Chapter Two," "Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol II," "First They Killed My Father," "Spiderman: Homecoming," "Okja," "IT," "Thor: Ragnarok," "I Am Jane Doe," "Gerald's Game" and "T2: Trainspotting." I love each and every one of those movies. I will own them all, if I don't already and I am sure I will watch them multiple times.

As always when formulating my lists, I listened to my heart. The following 25 films defined the year for me. How does one decide which films make a Best-of-the-year list? Is it a movie you feel you need to watch all the time? I have put movies on my year end lists that I watch frequently, and I have put movies on these lists that I watch maybe once a year. What these movies have in common is that they remind me of my love of movies, remind me why I became so obsessed with this art form at such a young age. It doesn't matter how often I watch them, they instantly remind me of my love of cinema each and every time I watch them. My favorites of each year are magic, lightening in a bottle, and I think you had a long, weekend marathon with all 25 of these movies, you'd be reminded why movies are so great in the first place too.

I will break this list into two parts. The first ten today, the last fourteen tomorrow. Let's get started.

25. Split
I am sure many of you can't believe I put "Split" on this list over "Get Out," for as far as horror films are concerned. But after re-watching this movie a few weeks ago, I was reminded of just how powerful a filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan is and how badly I've missed him when he's at the top of his game. After over a decade of cinematic bombs, I never thought I'd be speaking of M. Night Shyamalan in such a high regard. But, he's completely turned his career around in one fell swoop. He was able to get one of the best performances out of James McAvoy. Best of all, he proved why he was in league with Spielberg in his early days. We can only hope he is making films of this caliber in the future. Welcome back, Mr. Shyamalan, we missed you.

24. Wind River
Taylor Sheridan has already made a name for himself in the world of gritty crime movies, a new-wave artist in the neo noir genre. But I don't think anything can compare or prepare the audience for "Wind River." It's a little bit murder mystery, and a little bit "Fargo." But there isn't much a of sense of humor. Instead there is something very important on its mind. When our ancestors came to America, we stole something from the Native Americans who lived there, and all these years later, even though we speak as if we've learned tolerance. The world stays the same, and sometimes nothing ever truly changes. I think as people continue to discover this hidden gem, its interior message will shine through for many years to come.

23. Sleight
The year 2017 was another year filled to the brim with superheroes and comic book movies. Yes, I enjoyed pretty much all of them, but as more and more of these superhero movies get released, the more their cliches shine through. I have to give the edge this year to the films that are starting to bend the rules of the superhero genre, and redefine what we have come to expect from the genre. I am not totally sure "Sleight" is an all-around superhero movie. But it certainly has fun playing with some of the tropes, while also telling an engaging, quasi-uplifting story anybody could relate to.

speaking of superheroes...

22. Logan
All my life, I have been waiting for a Wolverine movie to blow my mind, something that would force me to point at the screen and say, "yep, that's Wolverine all right." So far, the Wolverine movies ranged from terrible to good, and I thought we'd never see the real Wolverine on the big screen. Sure enough, in 2017, the real Wolverine reveals itself. Yes, it's vulgar and yes, its bloody. But, many of Wolverine's solo adventures were just that. It's a hard world he lives in, and haunted man can never catch a break, no matter where he goes. I love that this is a movie that plays with genres as well as our expectations. If this is truly the last time Hugh Jackman decides to break out his metal claws, then this was an astounding finale, indeed.

21. Mudbound
Movies featuring all-star casts which tackle the 1940's and the racism and prejudice that gripped the nation at the time feel like a dime a dozen. It takes something very special to make a mark in an already worn out sub-genre. "Mudbound" is that specialty. Tackling such subjects as PTSD and norms of the time. "Mudbound" has a delicate and important voice, and tells its story tenderly. Featuring some masterful performances by Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige, Carey Mulligan, Jonathon Banks (in one of his scarest roles ever) and Rob Morgan, "Mudbound" blows away cliche and reinvents art entirely.

20. Raw
Some may categorize this as a horror movie. But believe it or not, I am not so sure. This is a maddening descent into the world of a woman who starts her journey as one person, then emerges as somebody totally different. When a woman who is a vegan suddenly becomes a cannibal, it isn't a plotless shocker moment. The film is calm and cool as it slowly but surely reveals why this particular person decides to eat raw meat, and why it fills her up with life. Not to mention it pushes the audience past a breaking point as far as shocking imagery goes. Like the slow push of a knife, "Raw" hurts, but its so beautiful at the same time.

19. "Brad's Status"
Sometimes, when you recommend a movie, you are recommending something about it. In this case, Ben Stiller is the main reason to see "Brad's Status." Simply put, Stiller has just given us his best performance, the most prized possession on his entire filmography. Not only that, but the rest of the movie is pretty great. Telling a sincere story of letting go as an adult, helping our future, and being happy with the life you are given.

18. I, Tonya
Yes, its true, Margot Robbie is a force to be reckoned with. Yes, its true, all women even thinking about going for a award win should look out for Robbie this year. This is the single best performance by a woman in any type of role, in any type of movie. If the Golden Globes and the Academy chose not to solidify that, that's on them, not the audience. It also helps that the style and substance go hand-in-hand for this dark little chest of comedic wonders. But its the great performances by the cast all around that transform this film from fun to fascinating.

17. The Big Sick
Romantic comedies aren't my favorite. It's a genre of film that never feels like it wants to be anything more but a simple set of cliches smitten with unfunny dialogue. But that seemed to change with "The Big Sick." This is a thoughtful, heartfelt and even smart romance. The laughs are organic, surprising, clever and actually land. Every emotion you'll feel watching this movie will feel earned. And as the film also dissecting responsibility, tradition, family values, dynamics of religion and slight prejudice, its even more amazing how all of it feels like it matters.

16. War of the Planet of the Apes
If you went back in time to say, 2010 and told me that one of my favorite modern trilogies was going to be a prequel trilogy to none other than "Planet of the Apes," I would have laughed hysterically in your face, not even trying to believe a word of your message. This is a prime example of a trilogy that was MUCH better than it needed to be, and this last chapter solidifies the trilogy as one of Hollywood's all-time greats. Whether you want to talk about the cutting-edge way that the apes are brought to life with the best of special effects, or how they are treated as characters instead of mere animals. Or you could discuss Woody Harrelson and the other humans and how it affects them that time is running out on Earth. I love that Matt Reeves has given us two films that give the audience something to think about, while also meshing in the explosions and the spectacle. For a franchise that had to get pushed through the studio system, it's a miracle when we get something this bracing.

15. Dunkirk
If there is anybody merging out of Hollywood who can truly do whatever they want at any given moment, it's Christopher Nolan. He acts as if he's a hungry 20-something who is finally getting his big break in the business, even though he's been film making for years. Each new movie he makes feels like a statement more than mere entertainment, a personal challenge to see what he can pull off next, and how accurately he can do so. That seems to be the reason why Nolan's films are so exciting. Playing in the world of WWII, Nolan captures every complex feeling, every threat of death, every emotion, and every powerful detail of being trapped on a beach, where every second could be your last. In war, there are several nameless faces who don't show up in the history books, but who made all the difference in keeping our freedoms intact, and heroes of war don't always wear uniforms. "Dunkirk" is a masterful treat, and it is a reminder that, despite his best efforts, we may not have seen Nolan's masterpiece yet. But when we do, are minds will be changed forever.

That's all for tonight, hope you are enjoying so far, we will finish the list tomorrow!

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