The Dolphin

Top Ten Films of 2017

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Photo+Courtesy+of+A24.
Photo Courtesy of A24.

Photo Courtesy of A24.

Photo Courtesy of A24.

 

  1. The Florida Project: Sean Baker’s follow-up to 2015’s superb Tangerine has been somewhat forgotten by now, which is truly a shame. Taking place on the outskirts of Disney World, at a rundown motel, The Florida Project is one of the best films about childhood ever made. Willem Dafoe gives a career-best performance as the worn-down, but compassionate, hotel manager [playing beautifully against type] and seven-year old Brooklyn Prince makes her screen debut playing the mischievous Moonee. Moonee, who lives with her mom at the motel, spends the summer causing trouble around the motel with her friends. Baker knows how to capture childlike amazement even in the little things and the tragedy of how a child handles crisis. It balances comedy and drama in the best possible way because, for most of the film, the two can’t really be divided.
  2. Lady Bird: Greta Gerwig’s first time behind the camera ended up being one of the best comedies of the century. Saoirse Ronan plays a thinly-veiled version of Gerwig as a senior in high school and reminds everybody how strong she is in comedy. Playing the titular Lady Bird, Ronan gives her character all the ridiculousness, selfishness, kindness, and humor needed to anchor the movie. A quirky character like Lady Bird could easily be irritating, but Gerwig and Ronan won’t have any of that. She is often at odds with her mother, played by a show-stealing Laurie Metcalf. Although it is really about Lady Bird and her mother, the entire cast is great, including Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein, and Lucas Hedges.
  3. Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan, the genius that he is, manages to turn an oft-forgotten World War II event of crushing defeat into a triumph. He is not rewriting history, but he is delving deep into the experience of the soldiers stranded at Dunkirk and the people trying to rescue them. Nolan, unsurprisingly, can’t resist complex storytelling as the film is shown in three-different timelines. Tom Hardy, barely saying ten words, steals the show as a pilot coming to accept that he won’t be making it back. The somber feeling of loss hangs closely above, but Dunkirk is surprisingly moving.
  4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Irish playwright-turned-filmmaker, Martin McDonagh, is a master of pitch-black comedy, with his In Bruges (2008) being the shining example. Three Billboards is by no means humorless, but there is a seriousness that is almost alarming upon first viewing. Frances McDormand plays a grieving mother who puts up billboards to put pressure on her local police force regarding the violent rape and murder of her daughter. The cast is all-around great, finding sympathy for every deeply flawed character. McDormand makes her character often frustratingly stubborn, but always redeems herself. Sam Rockwell plays the dim-witted, racist cop who eventually redeems himself, too, while Woody Harrelson plays the sheriff being humiliated by the town.  
  5. The Shape of Water: Guillermo del Toro proves once again why he is so highly regarded as a director and storyteller. The Shape of Water is a story about a mute janitor in a government laboratory [the reliably terrific Sally Hawkins] who falls in love with a sea creature and decides to save it from torture and killing. Themes of racism and homophobia are also apparent throughout the film and only someone as gifted as del Toro could make something like this work. The supporting cast consists of greats such as Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, and Michael Stuhlbarg. Like Pan’s Labyrinth before it, The Shape of Water has its own dreamlike world with the doom of reality bursting through.
  6. The Killing of a Sacred Deer: Last year’s The Lobster was a wonderfully absurd black comedy and, thankfully, Yorgos Lanthimos didn’t take long to return. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is pure horror, with jump scares being replaced with constant dread. Based on the Greek play Iphigenia at Aulis, it follows a surgeon who takes a boy under his wing out of guilt for killing his father, a patient, due to negligence. He soon finds the boy, through use of supernatural powers, is slowly killing his wife and two kids, giving him the option to kill one himself or letting them all die, as a form of justice. Colin Farrell provides the doctor with the kind of muted anguish that defines Lanthimos’ films. The real-star, however, is Barry Keoghan, who always has something inexplicably off about him in the film; even before you know his disturbing motives.
  7. I, Tonya: Margot Robbie finally gets the role she deserves, playing disgraced figure-skater Tonya Harding. Robbie, often reduced to a character whose sole purpose is sex appeal, provides a soul to someone that history has branded as a psychopathic hillbilly. A black comedy, the film sifts through contradicting accounts of what happened when competing figure skater Nancy Kerrigan had her leg broken during her Olympic training. One thing the film makes clear, however, is that Harding was not aware of the plan. Allison Janney co-stars as Harding’s abusive mother, who Janney plays with ruthless humor. Sebastian Stan also stars as Harding’s abusive husband. I, Tonya is Robbie’s movie, providing insight into how the court of public opinion ruined Harding’s life.
  8. Call Me By Your Name: Timothee Chalamet is one of the breakouts of the year, playing a teenager spending the summer in Italy while his father [Michael Stuhlbarg] does research for the university he works at. He falls in love with his father’s grad student and the two begin a torrid affair. Luca Guadagnino, a director who is finally getting his due recognition, shoots the Italian countryside with such intimacy that it seems like the couple’s own secret fortress, often unknown to anyone else. Sufjan Stevens provides songs with the perfect tone for the film, tender and heartbreaking.
  9. Phantom Thread: Paul Thomas Anderson returns with the story of a strange, obsessive, and temperamental fashion designer and his partner, who desperately seeks his approval. His sister has long been his voice of reason and a struggle of control ensues between the two women. Lesley Manville plays his sister with cryptic perfection and Vicky Krieps is another breakout who has all the humanity necessary to keep us on her side when she does anything to get her lover’s attention. It is no surprise that Daniel Day-Lewis, one of the greatest actors of all-time, gives the standout performance, giving his character monstrous disgust and petulance. If the rumors of retirement are true, then this is a great way to bow out.
  10. Detroit: Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s telling of the Algiers Motel incident during the Detroit riot of 1967 is timely and a forgotten piece of history about police brutality. The film’s tension, about a group of black men held by police looking for a weapon that does not exist, begins almost immediately. After the bloodshed, when the police try to cover their tracks, the lone voice of truth, played by John Boyega, struggles to be heard. It is a bleak and devastating film, shot by Bigelow almost like a documentary. Bigelow and Boal, both white, sparked controversy regarding whether this moment in black history should be told by white people. However, this film was clearly a passion project and an event that is so relevant today, despite being in danger of getting lost in history, it’s a miracle it was told at all.

 

 

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Top Ten Films of 2017