Jamie Housen’s Top Ten Films of 2017

It’s only natural to publish your Top Ten Films of 2017 list nearly three months into 2018, am I right? Better late than never, I guess! Before we begin let me give a few honorable mentions to Get Me Roger Stone, Ladybird, Logan Lucky, and War Machine. Now, with that out of the way, let’s get into it:

10. Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017)

Dunkirk lives up to the expectations the term “Christopher Nolan’s war epic” inspires. Like other Nolan films it features complicated characters, engrossing visuals, and truly creative story presentation. Unlike how many other war films feature battle as a cheap accessory for excitement, Nolan employs action to make Dunkirk a cinematic emblem of the “horrors of war.” Combat is a force of nature and a driver of character. In Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan delivers a technically marvelous, beautifully shot, stunningly horrifying depiction of man’s worst pastime.

9. The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017)

Impressively building on style and theme from his mainstream directorial debut Tangerine (2015), Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is an energetic, thoughtful look at class in America through the eyes of a child. Glimpses at the struggles of poverty are disguised by the everyday challenges and adventures of kids. Willem Dafoe’s performance fits perfectly into the world of the film as both subtle and inspiring. At times dreadfully sad, but powerfully heartrending, The Florida Project elicits a spectrum of feelings that run the gamut of emotion.

8. Ingrid Goes West (Matt Spicer, 2017)

Ingrid Goes West is perhaps the most exciting, smart, and hilarious depiction of social media in film yet. Aubrey Plaza perfectly plays psychotic doppelganger Ingrid Bergman to Elizabeth Olsen’s Instagram Influencer Taylor Sloane, as writer and director Matt Spicer weaves many of the trappings of modern life into one outrageous movie. Few millennials will escape unscathed as the film comments with wit on the topical behaviors of today. A combination of humor, vision, and tact make this not only one of the funniest films of the year, but one of the most insightful as well.

7. Icarus (Brian Fogel, 2017)

What begins as an intriguing investigation into the practice of sports doping, Icarus suddenly and spontaneously erupts into a truly inside look at Russia’s state-sanctioned Olympic doping program. Director Brian Fogel expertly creates a vessel for Russian doctor Grigory Rodchenkov to guide the audience through revelation after revelation. The tension and consequence of these discoveries escalate from start to finish as the viewer sees firsthand the evidence that led to Russia’s ban from the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

6. Raw (Julia Ducournau, 2017)

Like Greg, I only have good things to say about Raw. The film’s sensational and visceral imagery is impossible to look away from, but its themes and symbols are just as effective at capturing the audience’s attention. Writer and director Julia Ducournau creates a narrative that carefully and deliberately presents how vices relentlessly threaten to dismantle one’s coming of age. Raw is unlike any other film I saw this year, and leaves an impression difficult to forget.

5. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Noah Baumbach, 2017)

Noah Baumbach continues his streak of funny, swift, and considerate films with The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). Not only does this Netflix Original offer traditional Baumbach flair (or perhaps nuance?) and a few of his favorite actors, it also gifts the audience with Adam Sandler, who consistently impresses in dramatic roles. The film comments on parenthood through countless interactions between children and parents (frequently highlighted by father Dustin Hoffman and son Ben Stiller as well as dad Adam Sandler and daughter Grace Van Patten) without ever feeling tired, trite, or redundant. Witty and emotional, Baumbach has spectacularly fused a whole greater than the sum of its parts in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected).

4. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (James Gunn, 2017)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is in a league of its own compared to other Marvel films (well, besides the first Guardians of the Galaxy I suppose). James Gunn is given the freedom to create a world that is visually and thematically fascinating. Improving on the first film, Gunn manages to give every character greater depth and development while keeping humor laugh out loud and action riveting. The brilliant color motifs Gunn employs are gripping, and unlike anything seen in its contemporaries. The same goes for Kurt Russell as Ego, the living planet, who is more than a super villain, and in fact would make a great villain in any film. The best use of soundtrack in any movie this year (sorry, Baby Driver!), Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chainis the most poignant use of music in the series thus far. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 takes the series to new heights with visuals, character, and story far beyond the range of traditional blockbusters.

3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh, 2017)

The rare combination of caustic and captivating, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri succeeds by the strength of its actors and the weight of the story it tells. Frances McDormand’s  Mildred Hayes is a force to be reckoned with, a performance so intense and yet conversely delicate that the viewer must watch in awe as McDormand elevates the entire cast around her. That is not to say she is not without very talented castmates, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, and Peter Dinklage turn what might be flat stereotypes of Americana into three-dimensional personifications of humanity’s flaws. The film isn’t without its issues (especially when it comes to race), but in part its own flaws are a further reflection of the world of Ebbing, Missouri and our society as a whole. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is writer and director Martin McDonagh’s best work yet. The film’s release at the height of #MeToo was coincidental; however, the film’s story and performances are so impactful it would have succeeded regardless of release date.

2. I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie, 2017)

Funny, painful, and all too real, I, Tonya puts a human face on someone who has been a laughing stock for over 20 years. Margot Robbie’s Tonya Harding is a tour de force, breaking the audience down during heartfelt confessionals and building them back up with amazement during tremendous ice skating routines. Director Craig Gillespie adroitly addresses the problems that have plagued Tonya Harding’s life including poverty and domestic violence without neglectfully patronizing its characters. The film features a fantastic soundtrack (another great use of “The Chain”), excellent athletic sequences, and spot-on performances. I, Tonya challenges the audience not to love Tonya Harding, but to at least treat her like a real human being. For even more thoughts on I, Tonya from yours truly, see my full review here.

 

1. Wind River (Taylor Sheridan, 2017)

Taylor Sheridan takes the director’s helm for the first time with Wind River and completes his trilogy of fantastic neo-western classics (after writing 2015’s Sicario and 2016’s Hell or High Water). In Wind River Sheridan demonstrates his skill as both a director and a writer, crafting a straightforward, small-scale narrative with larger, crushing implications. Like the film itself, the investigation that seeks to solve the murder and rape of a teenage girl on Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation is never flashy, but is instead grounded and wholly emotional throughout. Casting is excellent; Jeremy Renner excels in a role that is perfectly suited for his dramatic skillset, the film features a number of prominent American Indian actors in purposeful roles, and Elizabeth Olsen delivers another strong performance.

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s score is aching, as quiet hums, spoken word, and haunting chords augment the film’s emotional resonance from beginning to end. Cinematographer Ben Richardson’s photography captures the natural beauty of the American West, but frequently frames Wind River’s characters to reconcile that beauty with the harsh realities of its human interaction. A stark portrait of life on reservations, Wind River speaks to the drastic social and physical divisions between those living on and off the land, not confined to what is presented in the film, but with the understanding of greater disorder. Wind River can be slow, agonizing, and even at times appalling, but not without purpose, and not without an appreciation for the strength of its characters. Wind River is a tough, stern, and inspiring film that praises those who survive without while asking why that struggle for survival must remain.