Three Billboards

How I Composed The Top Films of 2017

Every year movie fans (myself included) try to rank what they deem the best, or of just their favorite, movies released from January till December of the previous year. Traditionally it comes in that neat “Top 10 of..” form. It’s easy to compose, fun to read, and provides enough fuel to last a thousand lifetimes. 

For this year however I’m taking a different approach. My main reason is that I noticed that I don’t feel strongly about the rankings even just a couple of months after making the list. A secondary, quite crucial, reason is that we subconsciously forget about adding documentaries & foreign (read: non-English) language films because of the overexposure to movies promoted by the various awards ceremonies, especially the Oscars. So I did what I usually do in my spare time... orchestrate a (slightly) convoluted alternative to the tried and true method.

First, highlighted 5 movies in three different categories: 

  • Awards Darlings: movies showered with praise from the major awards ceremonies.
  • Commercial Favorites: movies that cracked the never-ending puzzle of appealing to the masses AND the critical consencious.
  • The Underdogs:  movies severely overlooked by almost everyone. Some makes sense, and some baffle me as to why. 

You’ll notice a couple of movies that intersect with 2 of the categories mentioned above. For example, there are some film being awarded at the independent awards circuit that I would’ve LOVED to include within the Awards Darlings ranks. Unfortunately those are far and few between and not in the public’s conscious. Hell even some movie lovers who haven’t even heard of them! And there movies who were a hit with the general audience that are also scoring big at the Oscars. I’ve given each of them considerable thought, and I’ve included them in the categories in which they’ll be remembered for. 

Second, I’ve added two additional categories:

  • Documentary of the Year. 
  • Foriegn Film of the Year

 I noticed that I don’t watch many Docs or Non-English Films. I do try and watch as many as I can (when I remember). The reason I included them in a separate list is because I don’t think they fit any of the categories. Besides, I’d love to give them their own recognition. 

If you’ve reached this far, thank you for traveling this far, and I hope my list pushed you to watch a movie or two that you haven’t already. Cheers!  

Aziz’s Top Films of 2017

Come one.. Come all! Feast your eyes on the most important “Top of..” list in this entire blogosphere!

... not really, but I hope you’ll have a fun ride going through these as much as I had compiling them!  The categories are as follows:

  • The Top 5 Awards Darlings
  • The Top 5 Commercial Favorites
  • The Top 5 Underdogs
  • Documentary of the Year
  • Foreign Film of the Year

These are all ranked alphabetically as I think each film has brought its own merit to the table. 

(You’re gonna see me cheat a couple of times here. Bear with me, I’m just human!) 

And here we.. Go! 

AWARDS DARLINGS

Dunkirk

IMG_1168.JPG

Dunkirk shocks us all by being not only the shortest Nolan movie to date, but the first story he’s adapted from a source material other than his own noggin (after the mess of a plot in both The Dark Knight Rises & Interstellar, it’s a good change of pace for the auteur). It’s also the first PG-13 rated WWII movie. Which was a breath of fresh air, especially after the escalating gore porn that was Hacksaw Ridge. That rating allowed Nolan to focus on what I think was the important element of the film: the rising tension trying to survive long enough until help arrives.. in the form of civilian fishing boats no less!

And of course it can’t be a Nolan movie without a convoluted plot structure, having three different stories each taking place during varying time frames (A week, a day, and an hour). However, it all comes together just *beautifully* in the last third culminating in saving most of the soldier we formed a connection with onscreen. 

Also it has one of the best Hans Zimmer scores I’ve heard in a DECADE!  

Get Out

IMG_1179.JPG

Wow. 

Just... wow.  

From the mind of half of the defunct comedy duo Key Peele comes one of the greatest modern psychological thrillers that’s been nominated for 4 Oscars. 

Go back 5 years into the past and say that exact phrase and you’ll be labeled as a certified loony.

Horror movies are known for their subtle (sometimes overly so) societal parallels. Substitute zombies for droning capitalist masses, and vampires for scaaaaary foriegners and you got yourself a recipe for a delicious bowl of under the surface condemnation of the status quo. THIS movie however throws all of that off the table and puts its “hidden” message front and center. What initially looked like a hilariously terrifying twist on Who’s Coming to Dinner , is a new fresh perspective and a surprisingly (to me at least) relevant commentary on the modern relationship between a minority population and the majority’s (unhealthy) obsession with them.

Lady Bird

IMG_1180.JPG

It’s hard for you all who just LOVED this movie, but... Lady Bird is probably my least favorite of the bunch. 

It’s not a knock against the film, far from it. I thought Greta Gertwig just *nailed* the tone and atmosphere, and the cast played their respective characters to a tee. I just thought the sum of the parts were greater than the movie as a whole. I do find it funny how me and the public have the reverse opinion regarding this movie and Brooklyn, another Saoirse Ronan movie from two years ago. 

But I will end this entry on a high note: Laurie Metcalf is the best supporting character of any nominee (including the male candidates), and I hope she gets her deserved time in the spotlight.  

The Shape of Water

FullSizeRender.jpg

It’s taken over 12 freaking years, but Del Toro is finally an Oscar favorite again! I did think the CRIMINALLY under-looked Crimson Peak has more bite to it, but The Shape of Water doesn’t need a similar edge. It’s just.. beautiful. The music, the performances, each slight movement of the camera is there to lull you into a sense of awe and wonder. 

Related to what I said a few entries ago, this “Fairy Tail” is BRIMMED with multiple microscopical looks at troublesome attitudes within a society. It’s not a coincidence that’s it’s set during the “America is Great!” decade of the 1950s: having the White Male Authority Figure asserting his unfair dominance over the other demographics. Thank god it’s not happening anymore. Nope. Not. At. All.

I’d also like to point out how the movie subverts both the damsel in distress and the innocent disabled tropes in Sally Hawken’s character, with her taking agency in every scene.

Del Toro deserves his eventual Director Oscar win, and for a good reason. 

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

IMG_1182.JPG

Following the public’s reaction to this movie is as interesting as the events unfolding in the film itself. What we thought was gonna be a Tarantino-esque revenge plot condemning the police force’s incompetence turned out to be a thoughtful look at an incredibly rough grieving process for a caring, albeit flawed, mother and her toxic relationship with an understanding, and also flawed, authority figure.

Whatever you think of the movie’s characterization of a certain character, its success makes me happy on two different level: the fact that Frances McDormand is finally getting her Career Oscar™️ for one of the most complicated roles that she handled in while, AND the other fact that Martin McDonough (who made In Bruges, one of my favorite movies of all time) is now considered a serious director in the public’s eyes. 

Because of the aforementioned In Bruges and his sophomore effort, Seven Psychopaths, I came into this movie thinking it would similarly be a bloody dark comedy. Not only did it subvert my expectations, but it is now a serious contender to topple In Bruges as my favorite McDonough flick. 

COMMERCIAL FAVORITES

Baby Driver

FullSizeRender.jpg

Edgar Wright’s self proclaimed magnum opus! Although, I personally don’t think it’s his best movie (that honoUr, as the brits would incorrectly write, belongs to Hot Fuzz), but it’s a very close second. 

After a decade of critically beloved but commercially underperforming films, the filmmaker is (thankfully) back again with a bang!

What I love most in Baby Driver is that, unlike in other movies, the soundtrack here serves as a plot AND structural device. Giving us one of the more unique movies to come out in the last few years.

The only issue I have is that Lily James only functions as a basic love interest. However the other side characters, most notably Jon Hamm in a role I’ve never seen him do before, more than make up for it.

(Also this movie had a theme from a Danger Mouse/Run the Jewels collaboration which is freaking awesome!!!)

The Big Sick

FullSizeRender.jpg

Oscar nominated comedian Kumail Nanjiani.

Let me repeat that: OSCAR. NOMINATED. COMEDIAN. KUMAIL. NINJIANI. 

It’s crazier than saying Golden Globe winner Aziz Ansari that’s for sure.  

A dramatization of their true life story, Emily V. Gordan and Kumail crafted a genuine modern romantic comedy that focuses on how the characters dealing with the conflicts inflicted upon instead of navigating around fabricated dumb misunderstandings.

Side note: there is a concern among the Muslim audience (especially South Asian women) that the movie would give a negative impression regarding the courtship process within our traditional practice. I disagree that it was intended to be that way, and if any person comes out thinking that “Arranged Marriages are evil!!!” it’s on them not the movie... BUT I do agree with the notion that their voices should be heard. Escpeially that we’ve had to deal with multiple stories ABOUT them and not FROM them. 

IT

IMG_1188.JPG

Who would’ve thought a (half) remake of the 1989 dramatically cheesy cult hit (featuring Tim Curry in his classic over the top role as Pennywise) would actually be good, let alone one of the top US domestic earners of 2017?!

Some may brush this off as a lesser Stranger Things (they do share a cast member), but to be honest even though I like Stranger Things, IT is a much superior end product AND it has a better core element.. Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise.

Ho. Lee. Shit. Who would’ve thought the least known member of the Scandinavian acting family would’ve been their most talented?! He is terrifying to look at and delightful to watch at the same time.

The set pieces did not disappoint as well. All I gotta say is picture presentation scene and everyone will know what I’m talking about.  

Looking forward to the sequel, which is gonna have Jessica Chastain as the female cast member! (whaaaaa..) 

John Wick: Chapter 2

IMG_1189.JPG

Keanu Reeves was back (with a vengeance!) in the original John Wick. It was sleek, violent, and filled with a surprising amount of unique world building.

Chapter 2 is MORE sleek, MORE violent, and has MORE world building. More antagonists. More dumb fucking stunts that shouldn’t work, BUT THEY DO! More and more and more! 

(Interesting to note that this is another movie with a mute female character that has agency over her actions)

I personally can’t wait for Chapter 3, and the other movies these guys are making (Deadpool 2, and the Highlander reboot).

Logan

IMG_1191.JPG

The film that made me tear up multiple times in theaters wasn’t a glossy flick made by a multiple awards winning filmmaker. No it was a movie starring a comic book character with metallic claws created originally as antagonist to a hulking green monster.

When they first announced the movie’s title simply as “Logan”  I knew (we all knew) that we’re in a treat for something special. A movie that takes its silly mythos as seriously as it takes a character diagnosed with severe dementia. 

This movie will drag you as low as it possibly by showing you that even the best of us can be rotted inside and out by merely growing old. Then it’ll take you so high you’ll start believing in love and hope again.

Logan is not just a movie. Logan is a cinematic experience.  

THE UNDERDOGS

(Most if you probably haven’t seen these movies already, so I suggest you do so IMMEDIATELY)

Brigsby Bear

FullSizeRender.jpg

A movie about accepting who you are, and also MOVING ON from what made you who are at the same time (if that makes sense).

A story about young boy taken away from his loved ones, who took him away from his BIOLOGICAL loved ones. The movie explores what (in this case WHO) shapes our world view, and our initial hesitation to let it go.. even if it’s for the better.

A sincere effort from The Lonely Island guys that takes its subject seriously and doesn’t make fun of it. 

Huh. This year sure is full of surprises. 

The Florida Project

FullSizeRender.jpg

A modern Little Rascals, as the writer/directer succinctly put it. A tale that explores tragic living circumstances through the eyes of the happiest people on earth: children. It has the extra gut punch of being set on the periphery of what is labeled The Happiest Place on Earth™️, Disney World.

Sean Baker is building himself to be THE go to boots on the ground filmmaker. The way he let the children just.. be, is a genius move on his end and is a lesson to all other directors who fail to bring out even half of the believable performances emitting from each frame.

After Tangerine I thought his naturalistic touch would fade away with a higher budget. I’m glad that it wasn’t, and I’m looking forward to whatever he makes next.

Good Time

FullSizeRender.jpg

What if every decision you made was the wrong one?

What if every decision you made, even with the intention of saving someone, was the wrong one?

What if every decision you made, even with the intention of saving someone, was the wrong one and you know it and you still need to contine that path because it’s the one you’ve chosen? Oh and it’s all occurring in one night?!

Good Time is the journey of a selfish opportunistic individual, who will not hesitate even for a second to achieve the goals he’s set for himself. First robbing a teller, then saving his brother he accidentally left behind.

It’s a movie the likes of which you haven’t seen for a while. It’s the best movie of last year. It’ll set cinematic trends for years to come. 

It’s a movie that you’ll keep thinking about for the rest of your life. 

Ingrid Goes West

FullSizeRender.jpg

Imagine a modern interpretation of Single White Female, but from the perspective of the stalker.

The movie takes that conceit and runs with it, adding clever plotting, well rounded side characters, and a sympathetic look at the protagonist multiple creepy actions.

And it’ll for sure scare you off Instagram for a couple of weeks after watching it.

Wind River

FullSizeRender.jpg

Taylor Sheridan concludes his American Frontier trilogy with Wind River while making it his directorial debut. It doubles down on the running theme of being dumped by the wayside by setting this grisly murder tale in a Native American Reservation camp during a heavy snow storm season. 

While I’m usually wary of the “man takes matter into his own hands” stories, this one feels different. As that method is not followed by choice but by nessecity in order to survive *just barely*. Most importantly, the violence itself is a plot tool and does not feel it was intended to be enjoyed. To that point.. there is no clean happy ending to the film, even after resolving the case. ESPECIALLY after resolving that case  

This movie is more than the bloody path our protagonist embarkes on. It’s the story of the choices we make, and how it haunts it for however long we live. 

DOCUMENTARY OF THE YEAR

Casting Jonbenet

FullSizeRender.jpg

I honestly don’t like that many documetries. Maybe it’s the fact that they set up a narrative and they choose to include all the facts that supports it and exclude the ones that don’t. Maybe it’s the fact that it feels like someone is reciting the Wikipedia entry almost verbatim and I’ve just wasted 90 minutes of my life.

Kitty Green took a different approach. Instead of tackling the tragic incident that took place in Colorado head on, it simply held auditions for a rough recreation of multiple theories on how it occurred and interviewed the actors and asked them: “What do YOU think happened? And how do YOU feel about it?”.

The movie explores the possible toxic relationship we have with sensational news stories, and how often we try to insert our own perspective (or even ourselves!) into the narrative.

It’s an interesting approach to documentary filmmaking, and it held my utmost attention till the very end. 

FORIEGN FILM OF THE YEAR

The Nile Hilton Incident 

IMG_1201.JPG

A neo-noir detective story set in modern Egypt with an asshole protagonist?

Sign me the fuck up. When I saw that there was a Arabic fiction narrative playing at Sundance last year, I couldn’t believe my eyes and had to see it for myself. Just the fact that it was a competent film made me giddy enough, but it also was so good it had me at the edge of my seat waiting to see how its events would unfold.

The Nile Hilton Incident is a triumph to  the Middle Eastern filmmaking scene, and I will celebrate it every movement I get. 

CONCLUSION

The mere fact that you’ve reached this section is a victory for you, and most importantly... for me.  

I do hope that you catch even just one film you haven’t seen already on this list. More so, If you agree (or heaven forbid DISAGREE) with me, you’re more than welcome to start a conversation with my social profiles (twitter: @2wayjerry) at any time. 

And now.. to 2018 and beyond!