2017 has been a year full of great and memorable films; on this year end list we have compiled 30 films that the BTC Staff has chosen as the best. It is not ranked but in alphabetical order to reflect the diversity of the tastes of our writers.
BABY DRIVER (DIRECTED BY EDGAR WRIGHT)
Ken: Baby Driver follows Ansel Elgort as “Baby”, a young getaway driver suffering from tinnitus whose only solace comes from music, collecting various playlists in which the very songs play a role from his everyday activities to the dangerous heists he pulls.
When you go into a film born from the mind of Edgar Wright, arguably one of the best action-comedy directors working today, you are practically guaranteed a fun time at the movies with plenty of laughs and action to spare. Whether it’s from the hysterical Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy to the energetic comic-book/video-game love letter Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010), Wright delivers pure entertainment to the screen through smart writing, seamless blending of genres, and a distinct directing and editing style all his own. All the while pushing himself to give audiences something truly original, Wright once again succeeds in creating an infectiously fun blockbuster with callbacks to 70s heist films and set to nearly perfect synchronicity with its killer retro-styled diegetic soundtrack and truly excellent action and driving scenes shot with truly incredible cinematography. Along for the ride come a slew of excellent performances from its ensemble cast with a compelling romance between Baby and local waitress Debora (Lily James), and unique side characters from enigmatic kingpin “Doc” (Kevin Spacey), hot-headed enforcer “Bats” (Jamie Foxx) and shady romantic criminal duo “Darling” & “Buddy” (Eiza González & Jon Hamm). In a filmography more than deserving of repeated viewings, Baby Driver stands as not only one of Edgar Wright’s very best but as yet another of 2017’s progressive action flicks that takes chances and always leave audiences asking for more.
BLADE RUNNER 2049 (DIRECTED BY DENIS VILLENEUVE)
Nate: Following up a sci-fi classic like 1982’s Blade Runner is an unenviable task simply due to the sheer amount of expectation placed upon its shoulders on title alone. Thankfully Denis Villeneuve succeeds in delivering a follow up worthy of its namesake behind gorgeous cinematography from Roger Deakins and an entertaining narrative anchored by Ryan Gosling and newcomer Ana De Armas. Gosling cements himself as one of Hollywood’s premiere leading men gracefully taking the torch from Harrison Ford. With any beloved piece of pop culture there will be detractors proclaiming anything except an exact replica (get it?) to be inferior but don’t let that discourage you from seeking 2049 out. If nothing else, this should be the film that scores Deakins his long overdue Oscar for cinematography as some of this film’s shots are worthy of being framed and placed in a museum of modern art.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (DIRECTED BY LUCA GUADAGNINO)
Nate: I’m not sure if there was a scene quite as emotionally heartbreaking as the one that plays over Call Me By Your Name’s end credits? Luca Guadagnino’s film about a fleeting summer romance is as emotionally charged as any made this year. Beautifully capturing the highs and lows of first love, Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer have electric chemistry with one another that allow this film to flow as effortlessly as it does. In a year that has featured great movie parents from Lady Bird to Florida Project, Michael Stuhlbarg makes a case for parent of the year. In a rousing speech that brings the whole film together – his words, Sufjan Steven’s score and Chalamet’s face over the crackling fire will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
Ethan: Chalamet is clearly a really special talent and undoubtedly has a big career ahead of him. This final shot is a perfect showcase of how expressive and enchanting he can be when alone and close-up to a camera.
Nate: Also Armie Hammer’s dance skills rivals that of Oscar Issac’s in Ex Machina in terms of just sheer fun.
COCO (DIRECTED BY LEE UNKRICH)
Michael: Pixar Studio’s output speaks for themselves, yet still their 2017 release Coco stands out gloriously. The animation is phenomenal as usual but its truly mature story and celebration of Mexican culture elevate it tremendously. On the themes of family, life, and death, Coco has created a tribute not just to Mexico but to the importance of remembrance. Among the Pixar films, it’s certainly one of the most emotionally complex and mature. It tackles these morals with great heart, wondrous animation, and soaring music.
Ken: Just as Michael says, Pixar continues to excel in almost every project they produce with Coco once again no exception, delivering an emotional and compelling journey very much in tune to Inside Out and Up. It cannot be understated as well on the excellent performances the film provides, from such greats as Benjamin Bratt and Gael García Bernal, in addition to a fantastic feature debut for young newcomer Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel, and exposure to lesser-known talents such as the underrated singer/actress Alanna Ubach as Imelda Rivera. Michael Giacchino’s score is once again superb, joined beautifully with songs penned by Germaine Franco, Adrian Molina, Robert Lopez, and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, from the emotionally driving theme of “Remember Me” to the infectiously catchy tune of “Un Poco Loco”.
COLUMBUS (DIRECTED BY KOGONADA)
Nate: Kogonada has long been known in the online film community for his astute observations on film art in his acclaimed video essays. So when he made the jump from observer to filmmaker was anyone really surprised that it turned out to be excellent? His stellar debut feature Columbus sees two lost souls (John Cho & Haley Lu Richardson) connect over shared obligations to their respective families. As expected from someone who has studied the art form for so many years, Columbus is a gorgeous visual composition. Many of the shots are immaculately framed as we take in the architecture while simultaneously connecting to the feeling of being alone, lost and searching for direction. In line with the likes of Coppola’s Lost in Translation or Linklater’s Before Trilogy, Columbus is built on raw emotion and the nuance of human connection.
Ethan: A personal lack of appreciation for the architecture on display perhaps hinders the effect of the slow, contemplative cinematography, but much like Jin, enthusiasm is injected after hearing not information on the historical context of these buildings, but the emotional responses they garner from Casey (Richardson), providing her with some comfort in dark times and allowing her to fall in love with the city as much as the filmmaker appears to have done. Much like the beams supporting the illustrious structures in Columbus, the film is held up by two strong, sensitive performances from Cho and Richardson, with a touching chemistry that makes them one of the year’s best acting partnerships.
DARKEST HOUR (DIRECTED BY JOE WRIGHT)
Michael: Winston Churchill has been portrayed numerous times in both film and television, and while Darkest Hour may not provide a new story, it is its telling of that story that is excellent. Gary Oldman shines prominently as the British Prime Minister (even compared to others who have stepped into the role of Churchill) and deserves any major awards, while the film takes its historical backdrop and uses it to draw important parallels to our present day. This is a work of great political theatre that is totally electrifying; its viewpoint on wartime remains ever pertinent and its respectful tribute to the giant Winston Churchill makes it eternally relevant. It’s one of the best of 2017, but it will be sure to be the best of any year.
DUNKIRK (DIRECTED BY CHRISTOPHER NOLAN)
Ethan: With a sparse screenplay limited in dialogue, Dunkirk relies on visual storytelling harkening back to Hollywood’s silent era. The film is so exhilarating and immersive that it places the viewer directly on the beach in Dunkirk, with the threat of death looming from every direction. It is an incredible feat for such a huge blockbuster to take such risks and retain the integrity of its subject matter, but this is what Nolan does time and time again, and this could well be his greatest achievement to date.
Nate: In the age of streaming and uber convenient home video, the cinematic experience of actually sitting in a theatre watching a film unfold has cheapened but Dunkirk is one of the few films that is truly meant to be experienced on the big screen. A visual marvel, the visceral feeling of war in its urgency, in its chaos and in its violence is on full display here perhaps better depicted than we’ve ever seen it put on film.
THE FLORIDA PROJECT (DIRECTED BY SEAN BAKER)
Nate: Sean Baker tackled the marginalized members of American society with his breakout film Tangerine, his latest film The Florida Project does the same. This time his subject is those living pay cheque to pay cheque in one of the many strip motels that line Orlando Florida. Just a few miles away from Disney World, the happiest place on earth; the world that exists in its shadow is significantly less glamorous. Framing much of the film through 6-year-old actress Brooklynn Prince’s eyes, however, it could be argued that the two are just as fun. That is part of the whimsical charm that is The Florida Project but Baker is careful not to romanticize their circumstance. As Willem Dafoe and first-time actress Bria Vinae demonstrate the real world is full of sacrifice and struggle wherein making it to next week with enough to survive is a blessing in itself.
FREE FIRE (DIRECTED BY BEN WHEATLEY)
Ken: From the husband and wife team of British director Ben Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump, action-comedy Free Fire is the latest feature from the creators of such works as High Rise (2015), A Field in England (2013) and Sightseers (2012). Free Fire follows a group of criminals on a single night, of what should have been a simple arms deal, gone very very wrong and erupting into the eponymous shoot-out between all involved. What follows is a ticking time bomb of a film filled with intense bullet-flying action, witty to cruel repartee between characters, as loyalties become tested and shifted; and all balanced with a dark sense of humour in tune with Wheatley and Jump’s past work but showcased with an additional level of slapstick that delivers legitimate laughs even while you’re cringing from the sheer brutality on screen. In addition, the film also provides a strong subversion of tropes commonly found within the action genre, specifically in its realistic depiction of what would likely occur in even the most stylized of fire-fights despite whatever fantasy certain characters attempt to project into it. Shot with excellent hand-held cinematography by Laurie Rose among simple yet effective production design, the film is further supported with its engaging cast hitting all the right notes with Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Jack Reynor to the almost show-stealing insane performance from Sharlto Copley as Vernon. And if nothing else, the film possibly has the most over-the-top and yet highly effective use of John Denver’s Annie’s Song in a soundtrack to date.
GET OUT (DIRECTED BY JORDAN PEELE)
Ethan: Perhaps the defining film of 2017, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut was made for under $5,000,000 and took the world by storm, generating an unbelievable amount of profit at the international box office. The terrifying story of a black man visiting his white girlfriend’s middle-class family tells a tale that is both spine-chilling and disturbingly familiar to many Americans. “I would have voted for Obama for a third term if I could.” This phrase is an example of the seemingly harmless but rapidly escalating liberal racism that drives the film forwards, and while jaw-dropping extremities are reached, nothing that happens in the movie is as far-fetched as one would hope, acting as a fair and semi-realistic depiction of the African-American experience in the USA today.
Nate: The only film that made all of our top 10 lists, the scariest thing about Get Out as Ethan mentioned is how pertinent the themes are to life in 2017 / 2018. A throwback to Hitchcock – esque style suspense building, Get Out is a horror film that stands apart from many of its peers for being psychologically thrilling. So many horror films these days are aimed at setting up jump scares, these while effective in the moment (especially in a crowded theatre) rarely stick with you for an extended period of time. Get Out does; striking at the audience’s psychological core which is why it is so effective as both a horror film and an indictment on social injustice.
A GHOST STORY (DIRECTED BY DAVID LOWERY)
Nate: A forgotten gem released earlier in the year, David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is a meditation on grief and the process of moving on. Few movies have the power to capture you the way this film does forcing you to alter your perspective, making you feel woefully insignificant yet vitally important to the grand passage of time. In direct opposition to the loud and explosive nature that dominates many a movie-going experience, A Ghost Story thrives in times of mute contemplation.
Ethan: No image has been quite as striking this year as the ghostly figure in A Ghost Story, the image of a man draped in bedsheets with eye-holes cut out. This should on paper be frivolous and whimsical, but due to sad, subtle body movements and the positioning of the figure both in the frame and at the side of rooms, the final effect is haunting and bizarrely moving. Daniel Hart’s score is easily one of the best of the year, accentuating the mesmerizing highs and desperate lows smattered across the film’s fleeting narrative structure.
GOOD TIME (DIRECTED BY JOSHUA & BEN SAFDIE)
Ethan: A neon New York is the background for this thrilling heist movie featuring a frenetic performance from the excellent Robert Pattinson. When Connie Nikas’s (Pattinson) mentally challenged brother Nick (played by co-director Benny Safdie) is imprisoned after a bank robbery gone wrong, Connie will go to any means necessary to extract his brother before anything bad happens to him. Subtly criticizing white-privilege and the treatment of the mentally ill in America, the Safdie Brothers deliver a no holds barred acid-trip across a beautifully shot NYC, drenched in fluorescent colors more frequently associated with night-time Tokyo.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2 (DIRECTED BY JAMES GUNN)
Ken: It’s almost become a cliche at this point to say that Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has “had a good year” given the amount of success that each past film has accumulated. But even 2017 has proven to be no different with its 3 joint release of films Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok; each of which set to the task of reinventing, reinvigorating and evolving the eponymous characters and their worlds from how we have seen them before all the while setting the stage for further stories. And with all three it’s been nothing short of complete success. But among the films that seemed to stand out as the best of this year, it would have to come down to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which serves as not only one of the best sequels among the franchise but also as one of the best and most progressive blockbusters of the summer in its balance of comedy, action and legitimate drama in its allegorical portrayals of psychological and familial issues. But while able to demonstrate its serious chops, Vol. 2 never oversteps to the level of being cynical as it knows full well in how to take audiences on a fun and exciting adventure that an epic space opera featuring a talking raccoon and baby tree can provide. Supported with its returning cast, all the more comfortable in their roles, the film sports excellent performances all keeping overall absurdity grounded among spectacular setpieces, additionally acting perfectly off of newcomers to the franchise. Showcasing an excellent thematic soundtrack on par with its predecessor, gorgeous production design and perhaps the most tear-inducing conclusion of any film in the MCU, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 helped to set new standards of what followed in the following year and all the more for the future.
INGRID GOES WEST (DIRECTED BY MATT SPICER)
Ken: While arguably a redundant observation, social media is all around us and, whether we know or it or not, recent years have demonstrated that it has and likely always will play a permanent role in our lives. For Ingrid Thorburn (played in a career-best performance by Aubrey Plaza), however, social media is her only life; in which the simple act of a “like” is mistaken for a meaningful relationship and that the number of followers you have is the end-all-be-all of personal existence. To that end, Ingrid Goes West (marking the feature film debut of Matt Spicer) follows her as she embarks on a self-obsessed journey in integrating herself into the assumedly perfect bohemian life of Instagram “influencer” Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) leading to one of the year’s more cutting modern satires. Offering a darkly-comic and uncomfortable look at social media, asking very real questions on the role it plays in our lives but all the while delivering a compelling and empathetic character study on one’s need to connect to others but incapable of connecting with themselves; preferring to live within the fantasy than reality.
IT (DIRECTED BY ANDY MUSCHIETTI)
Michael: An adaptation of the 1986 Stephen King novel and the 1990 TV miniseries, IT brings together a talented young cast to deliver genuine scares and even laughs. The “Losers Club” of young teenagers are quite relatable to us with their banter, sex jokes and general tomfoolery and the overarching theme of childhood innocence is explored nicely. As for the demon clown Pennywise (in a commendable performance from Bill Skaarsgard) he’s menacingly physical and simultaneously silly. Against great comparisons to Tim Curry, Skaarsgard creates his own Pennywise that is terrifying in its own way. IT delivers the characteristic Stephen King narrative charm with a promising up and coming cast of actors, and a frightening and fun time at the movies.
Ken: It also serves a testament to the directing talents of Andy Muschietti, who prior to this had only helmed one other feature film project (the Guillermo Del Toro produced Mama), who seems to demonstrates a clear understanding in the horror genre with the gifts of delivering thrills but also with a haunted-house sense of fun. In some ways, the film is also an excellent throwback to the era in which it is set in, with more than a few aesthetic ties to early Craven, Carpenter, Amblin Productions, and more.
LADY BIRD (DIRECTED BY GRETA GERWIG)
Nate: Greta Gerwig’s debut feature Lady Bird is a delightful coming of age tale that is equal parts gracefully as it is poignant. Channeling shades of Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach, Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical tale succeeds because the first time director recognizes that her characters are fallible imperfect constructs. Her star Saoirse Ronan, who plays the eponymous Lady Bird gets that note and thus plays the character with all her flaws to see. Lady Bird (nee Christine) wants to be an adult, feels restricted by her overbearing mother (Laurie Metcalf) and seeks refuge on the east coast far from her home in Sacramento California. But what she has to come to terms with is her own shortcomings which is what gives Lady Bird it’s authenticity. A fresh voice on the scene (both in age – being one of the first to accurately capture the millennial coming of age story – and in gender – as one of the few prominent female filmmakers out there) Gerwig injects newfound life in the stale coming of age genre.
LADY MACBETH (DIRECTED BY WILLIAM OLDROYD)
Nate: Sometimes films are great because of the director’s ability or the screenwriter’s way with words. Lady Macbeth is great because Florence Pugh gives a star-making performance as a young woman trapped in a loveless relationship.
Ethan: Pugh’s performance really is one of the best of the year, and could well be my absolute favorite. She expresses so much in every frame, even when mostly expressionless, and her beautifully strong and sturdy resilience against any gender-related injustice is admirable and completely essential in a period of time in which women are gaining the ability to defy misogynistic males and open the world’s eyes to a truth that has been disgustingly overlooked. The film takes this character one step further and unpredictably questions her own morals in a hugely gravitational way while acting as a Hitchcockian thriller that holds a tense and uncomfortable atmosphere.
LOVING VINCENT (DIRECTED BY DOROTA KOBIELA & HUGH WELCHMAN)
Michael: How can one characterize the life of Vincent van Gogh? Troubled, painful and lonely are but some of the descriptors of his 37 years of life. Indeed in life, he was nothing, but in death most tragically he has conquered the world. Loving Vincent is a wondrous tribute to the life and untimely death of this Dutch master, that is in itself a tremendous work of art. The first fully animated “painted” film, each frame is modeled after van Gogh’s painting style with absorbing and fascinating results. It’s a unique visual journey that features the talents of 115 painters and over 65,000 paintings. Never has something of this scale been completed for a feature film and the results are absolutely rewarding. The legacy of Vincent van Gogh will indeed continue to remain immortal, while treasures like this film will continue to inspire for years to come.
MAUDIE (DIRECTED BY AISLING WALSH)
Michael: There are a few films on this list that seem to have been forgotten, yet their importance and quality can’t be overstated. Maudie is one such film that wonderfully spotlights a lesser known Canadian artist and an outstanding human soul. Starring Sally Hawkins as Nova Scotia’s own Maud Lewis (a simple-minded woman with degenerative arthritis), the film paints a tender portrait of art through adversity. Hawkins is excellent in her portrayal and delivers genuine inspiration in embracing this unlikely artistic hero. The film is sweet, comical and emotional and rightfully gives more exposure to the figure of Maud Lewis, a woman who suffered but endured.
MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW & SELECTED) (DIRECTED BY NOAH BAUMBACH)
Ethan: Adam Sandler shines in an astutely-observed family drama that follows a trio of siblings attempting to come to terms with their father’s failings as a parent. Baumbach’s screenplay is as funny and as human as ever, with many memorably hilarious moments balanced with emotional heft and the sadness of guilt and regret. Along with Okja and Mudbound, this year has shown the first signs that Netflix could compete with other major studios, and The Meyerowitz Stories was certainly a great acquisition for the streaming service.
Nate: Leave it to Baumbach to create the best family dramas (The Squid & The Whale is also worthwhile viewing). A disciple of Wes Anderson, you can see faint elements of that same quirk here in The Meyerowitz Stories. Both have a knack for writing strong dialogue and this is a true return to form for Sandler (quietly also for Stiller and Hoffman). If Baumbach can do for Sandler what Anderson did for Bill Murray, I eagerly await their next collaboration #AdamSandlerRenaissance.
MOTHER! (DIRECTED BY DARREN ARONOFSKY)
Ethan: Aronofsky’s claustrophobic home-invasion movie is an overwhelming assault on the senses, opening with unease and escalating into full-blown panic and terror. Spectacular, nauseating, exhilarating, and occasionally traumatizing, the film is a cinematic rollercoaster ride that refuses to relent. While many have criticised the film for being anything but subtle in its metaphorical implications, the film is a visceral, nightmarish experience with cinematographer Matthew Libatique scarcely leaving Jennifer Lawrence’s shoulder, confining us within her experience through tight close-ups and a lurching, disconcerting score.
Nate: This is one of those movies audiences (including myself) have yet to completely grasp. Like Ethan alluded to it’s one of those thrill rides that picks up so jarringly in the last half hour or so that it is difficult to process. Still, Aronofsky’s unique vision and adept ability in capturing that unsettling feeling through movement and subtext should not be overlooked. The subject matter may prevent it from ever becoming a widespread crowd pleaser but it is undoubtedly the work of a talented craftsman which should become more widely appreciated as time moves on much like Bergman’s more religiously themed works.
NOCTURAMA (DIRECTED BY BERTRAND BONELLO)
Ethan: Nocturama is very much a film of two halves, following a group of teenagers orchestrating a complex terrorist attack on an unexpecting Paris, before the second half is spent holed up in an enormous department store while the police hunt for the culprits. The teenagers” intentions are left ambiguous, but they appear to be liberal rebels protesting the government, and their plot is detailed and elaborate. Despite the subject matter, the film is a lot of fun at times, with Bonello capturing the wild confusion and reckless abandon of youth as these kids run wild, trying on clothes and blasting an array of loud, millennial music. The fun cannot last forever though, and the shocking ending will make your blood run cold.
Nate: The lack of objective or clarity in intent is paramount to how Nocturama builds suspense. In the truest sense of the cliche “actions speak louder than words” the way these young teens act speaks far greater volumes than words ever could. Bonello knows this and appropriately keeps dialogue to a minimum building intrigue and employing Rashomon esque shifts in perspective to keep you on its toes.The grand finale that Ethan refers to works because it surprises you gradually developing beneath the fancy clothes, the music, and the overall excess.
ON THE BEACH AT NIGHT ALONE (DIRECTED BY HONG SANG-SOO)
Nate: The prolific Hong Sang-Soo made three films in 2017, all of which cover similar themes of infidelity and self-discovery. On the Beach At Night Alone is one of those films and in typical Hong fashion, it’s a deeply personal emotionally affecting exploration of human drama. The title of the film draws its name from the self-reflective aspect of a young woman pondering her romantic entanglements but Hong spends very little time in this setting. Instead, the film spends much of its time in group settings where the flow of conversation dictates much of the action. What is said (or not said), how much is the truth (vs a truth we tell ourselves) and how we act in relation to these perceptions holds different implications. But it is when we are alone with our thoughts that we can be the most honest, where through our deconstruction of the self (in the good and the bad) we can evolve. Hong captures this process with painstaking personal detail; an engrossing picture of self-reflection.
THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE (DIRECTED BY AKI KAURISMAKI)
Nate: One of the funniest scenes in 2017 occurs when a hapless Finnish restaurant attempts a sushi night to drum up business in Aki Kaurismaki’s The Other Side Of Hope. It’s a scene that works because Kaurismaki has mastered how to tell a joke in his unique style through years of practicing deadpan comedy. He doesn’t wait for the punchline instead he lets you sit in the awkward absurd nature of the situation. The Other Side of Hope finds a delicate balance between comedy and real human drama. In Kaurismaki’s most politically charged film to date, he tackles the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe as Syrian refugee Khaled (Sherwan Haji) tries to establish new roots in Finland. Facing a broken political system and bigotry from radicals and xenophobes, this task is not easy but it becomes manageable with the help and compassion of others. Kaurismaki’s aesthetic might be dark and dower but within that framework, he still holds faith in humanity.
PERSONAL SHOPPER (DIRECTED BY OLIVIER ASSAYAS)
Ethan: Another film on this list concerned with telling a ghost story, Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper is an elusive and mysterious film that leaves itself open to interpretation and skepticism, exploring desire, a reluctance to let go, and our own ghostly, faceless presences over phones and on the internet.
Nate: Like her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson in Good Time, Kristen Stewart demonstrates a far greater acting ability than those familiar to the pair exclusively through the vampire blockbuster may realize. It has been a quiet rise for Stewart who has become something of a critical darling for her indie work most notably in Clouds of Sils Maria (another Assayas directed film) and now with Personal Shopper. Her performance here is award-worthy once again. Much like Rooney Mara in A Ghost Story, Stewart is able to channel minute emotions in understated yet incredibly effective ways.
THE SHAPE OF WATER (DIRECTED BY GUILLERMO DEL TORO)
Michael: Guillermo del Toro returns in triumphant fashion with The Shape of Water, a charming and heartwarming story dressed with all the great visual flair followers have become accustomed to. And yet for all its creativity and inventiveness, Del Toro also follows a classic storytelling trajectory. The movie is timeless in its themes and beautiful in its message of acceptance and hidden beauty; in its design it’s also stunning and wonderful. With an eye-catching color palette and dark shadows, the views in the movie are strikingly effective while the look of the characters ( especially the sea creature) is highly imaginative and still traditional. In balancing the past with a visually wonderful toolbox, Guillermo Del Toro has crafted a brilliantly illuminating modern fairy tale boasting fine lead performances.
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI (DIRECTED BY MARTIN MCDONAGH)
Ken: With one of the best screenplays of the year and supported by one of the best ensemble casts, Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri expertly blends comedy and tragedy together into a truly ugly yet surprisingly poignant and even humorous look into small-town life. Among many excellent performances, Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell give some of the very best of their careers (already beginning to take notice in the coming award season), with Rockwell arguably having the most astounding arc of any character seen this year. The film explores very raw issues in all the ways that tragedy affects people, whether directly connected or otherwise. and all the surprising ways in which such tragedy can result (for good or ill) but all managed to be delivered with legitimate humor even among tears and bloodshed.
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (DIRECTED BY MATT REEVES)
Michael: Surely one of the finest rebooted series of this century, the trio of new Planet of the Apes films have been tremendous works of cinema. 2017’s concluding chapter War for The Planet of the Apes continued the streak of creating visually stunning imagery in tandem with a brilliant, emotional and thought-provoking storyline. This film (and its two companion pieces) is a very intelligent work that delivers a surprising amount of emotional heft and that with a technology that’s never looked better becomes exceptional. Andy Serkis and his fellow ‘apes’ have with the increasingly sophisticated use of motion capture technology created characters very complex and real in their portrayal. War for the Planet of the Apes (like Rise and Dawn) is totally splendid science fiction moviemaking that has great heart, mind and visual wonder. These films are destined to be classics.
WIND RIVER (DIRECTED BY TAYLOR SHERIDAN)
Ken: Following his success with 2014’s Sicario and last year’s Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan takes to the director’s chair this time around with his latest feature Wind River, a tense rural-noir set within mountain ranges of Wyoming and the Wind River Indian Reservation. Starring Jeremy Renner, the films follows veteran Wildlife tracker Cory Lambert, who joins in an FBI investigation (led by Elizabeth Olsen’s Agent Banner) as they work to solve the mysterious death of a young Native American woman found frozen in the wilderness on the outskirts of the reservation. Much like Sheridan’s past work, Wind River pulls no punches in delivering a stark and brutal narrative tied to real-world situations in its exploration of very real issues affecting Native Americans shared seamlessly with the theme of facing horrors from the past still very much alive. In addition, it explores the nature of specific environments, how they practically dictate the ways in which people live even within the simple acts of survival, and the indifference of outside influence even regarding the worst of circumstances.
WONDER WOMAN (DIRECTED BY PATTY JENKINS)
Michael: It was a project many years in the making, but like the old saying goes the wait was certainly worth it. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is not just a brilliant recreation of the iconic heroine but a thrilling action film anchored by an intelligent and emotional storyline. Gal Gadot shines as Diana (Wonder Woman) being beautiful both physically and morally. In fact, the film itself is beautiful from a visual perspective but more so from its philosophical depth. The essence of the human spirit is examined and the nature of good and evil surprises audiences perhaps not expecting to see these themes in a comic book movie. Yet here they are presented in a manner that entertains the viewers and allows us to probe a little further. For its great and thrilling action and its immense intelligence, Wonder Woman is a great triumph and one of the best films of its kind.
Nate: As we saw this year with the poorly received Justice League, Gadot’s Wonder Woman remains the saving (only?) grace of the DCEU. Her triumphant introduction in the now iconic No Man’s Land scene is one of the best scenes of the year announcing her presence on screen to the soldiers at war but off it to massive audiences across the world. Transcending her place as just another hero, Gadot coupled with Jenkins’ direction has made Wonder Woman into a symbol of hope against oppression and a role model for not just for little girls but for everyone.