After 112 films and too many weeks waiting for “The Shape of Water” to play in the Inland Northwest, it’s finally time to commit to an official Best Movies of 2017 list.
Making a comprehensive best-of list at the start of the year is a challenge, as North Idaho typically receives the last of the major contenders after pretty much everywhere else in the country.
It was another solid year for movies though, and for probably the first time I can remember, my favorite movie of the year was released all the way back in the first quarter of the year in review.
1. Get Out
Much of the conversation around “Get Out” focuses on the subtext of director Jordan Peele’s brilliant script. The film makes a bold statement about racial intolerance without ever feeling like a capital-M Message. “Get Out”makes some provocative statements, but more importantly, it’s extremely entertaining.
Peele’s premise begins with a relatable, awkward situation - a guy spends the weekend meeting his girlfriend’s parents. “Get Out” careens from there, injecting traditional horror thrills into a story about an African-American man surrounded by some seriously unsettling white folks. It also scores more laughs than most straight comedies in 2017.
Movies often try to be either important or entertaining, but rarely both. Peele’s movie manages to do so seamlessly. Creative, ambitious and relentlessly exciting, “Get Out” announces a new and exciting voice in cinema. Available on home video.
2. The Florida Project
Sean Baker’s unforgettable “The Florida Project” follows a group of young children (including standout Brooklyn Prince) living in a rundown motel just outside of Disney World in Orlando. They spend their summer vacation running around the complex unsupervised, and the film depicts a series of often-unrelated moments of the kids finding trouble and making fun out anything they can get their hands on. Mostly, they terrorize the motel manager (Willem Dafoe, in a career best performance), who looks after them anyway, because, well, who else will?
“The Florida Project” is a beautiful portrait of a lifestyle often demonized in pop culture. Some, I suppose, will rush to judgment watching these kids and how their parents choose to support them, but Baker’s film refuses to look down on its subjects. These are disregarded people, ignored by the rest of us while we’re waiting in line at Splash Mountain.
3. The Big Sick
Based on their real-life courtship, screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”) and Emily V. Gordon craft one of the best romantic comedies in years from a story in which one of the two leads spends most of the movie in a coma.
Led by a charismatic performance by Nanjiani, “The Big Sick” builds humor and drama out of honed and believable character conflict. The movie doesn’t stop to tell jokes or force itself into contrived dramatic knots. Available on Amazon Prime streaming.
A giant monster ravages South Korea while, across the world, an unemployed woman (Anne Hathaway) fumbles around a playground after an evening of hard drinking and self-loathing.
For those in search of the typical kaiju-related destruction, look elsewhere. Marvel instead at where “Colossal” takes the relationship between Gloria and her old childhood friend played by Jason Sudeikis. What begins as a fairly conventional metaphor on the destructive tendencies of casual alcoholism morphs into a bold examination of a prevalent and terrifying form of male behavior. Available on Hulu streaming.
5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
“Three Billboards” contains the single best performance of 2017 in Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes, a name that will likely be remembered down the road as much as Marge Gunderson. As the acid-tongued (mostly antagonistic) protagonist of “Three Billboards,” McDormand tackles the film’s dark humor and devastating drama with equal aplomb.
Martin McDonagh’s film doesn’t avoid sensitive topics, and the depiction of Sam Rockwell’s racist cop has made “Three Billboards” a divisive awards contender. The very conversation surrounding his character and “Three Billboards” in general speaks to the nerve McDonagh has split open with his film. The conversation is valuable, but apart from that, the film remains an entertaining and original piece of storytelling. Now in theaters.
6. A Ghost Story
Scoff at the premise if you want - A ghost (Casey Affleck in a mostly wordless performance), depicted as a towering figure under a white sheet with two holes cut out for eyes, watches his grieving wife (Rooney Mara) in their old house.
In its stillness, “A Ghost Story” becomes a profound examination of loss and the meaning of existence itself. Writer/director David Lowery’s film won’t be for the everyone (especially those who demand more active plot from their movies), but I was left shaken by “A Ghost Story,” especially in its ambitious and stunning final act. Available on Amazon Prime streaming.
7. Lady Bird
A richly funny and rewarding coming-of-age tale from writer/director Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird” achieves its warm relatability by focusing on the specificity of its flawed characters in Sacramento, circa 2001. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf play a combative daughter and mother, and their love (and disdain) plays like a personal, even autobiographical story from Gerwig’s life. In doing so, it dramatizes a universal truth of how teenagers and parents can only understand each other with time. Now in theaters.
8. Your Name
This adventurous Japanese anime by Makoto Shinkai begins as a standard body swap comedy, with a city-living teenage boy switching places with a teen girl living in rural Japan. Time travel and a falling comet eventually come into play, and “Your Name” takes one compelling turn after another. If only more American blockbusters could handle such scope with this kind of rich character work and visual panache. Available on home video.
9. I, Tonya
Those expecting “the truth” about disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding won’t find it here, as “I, Tonya” openly acknowledges how its narrative depends on contradictory accounts of history. The film is more interested in perception, and how people focus on personal flaws while judging others based on limited information. “I, Tonya” creates a broader picture of who Harding was beyond her media coverage, and Margot Robbie astonishes in the role by balancing her rough edges with vulnerability and humanity. Now in theaters.
10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Rian Johnson’s ambitious and rousing interpretation of “Star Wars” inspired a shocking amount of division among fans. Consider me in the camp of ranking it as one of the franchise’s best.
“The Last Jedi” delivers the excitement and visual scope of what I expect from a “Star Wars” entry, but I admire how hard Johnson works to upend expectations and push characters into complicated decisions. The movie tosses the “good vs. evil” routine for something a little more representative of human nature. Even goody-goody Luke Skywalker has turned into a jaded son-of-a-sith.
Making a movie as big as “Star Wars” is hard… maybe the toughest task in the industry. The fact that “The Last Jedi” routinely steers away from the franchise’s safety net to deliver its thrills is something to celebrate. Now in theaters.
11. The Disaster Artist
As surface-level entertainment, “The Disaster Artist” delivers hilarious anecdotes from the making of the best-worst movie of all time. It also captures the appeal and adoration for “The Room” and its one-of-a-kind creator, Tommy Wiseau. I’ve met the real Tommy, and even I think James Franco makes a better Tommy than Tommy.
Making “The Room” resulted in many heinous, surreal on-set moments, but something unpredictable and amazing came out of Wiseau’s passion. “The Disaster Artist,” in its surprisingly emotional climax, manages to effectively dramatize the joy of creation.
12. The Post
Some moviegoers will knock Steven Spielberg’s newspaper drama for being too earnest about the modern-day parallels to the Washington Post’s decision to print “The Pentagon Papers” in 1971. Being a little corny, however, doesn’t make the message wrong.
Spielberg, a master of populous-but-thoughtful filmmaking, understands the mechanizations of efficient storytelling, and “The Post” musters a surprising amount of suspense out of a well-known result. It helps to have Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in charismatic roles, and the movie adds a rich gender analysis to its rah-rah celebration of a free press. Now in theaters.
13. Baby Driver
Nobody makes movies like writer/director Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”), and this part-musical/part-car chase extravaganza looks and feels like something wholly original, even as it leans into references and the comforts of genre familiarity. The opening car chase, expertly timed to the beats of “Bellbottoms,” is worthy of this list by itself. Available on home video.
14. (tie) Coco and The Lego Batman Movie
With “Coco,” Pixar delivers another beautifully-rendered adventure that will make grown adults bawl their eyes out. The movie takes an uncomfortable subject and weaves a magical tale about legacy. Now in theaters.
As for “The Lego Batman Movie,” it’s almost impossible to quantify the film against my own bias. As a lifelong Dark Knight fan, I felt like every reference and gag was put in the movie just for me. Available on home video.
There probably isn’t a more hated movie this year than “mother!,” Darren Aronofsky’s insane spiral into social and Biblical allegory that pits Jennifer Lawrence against a house full of… well, let’s not spoil the surprise. The third act is so crazy I watched several people walk out of the screening. Still, if you know not to take the movie on its initial face value, “mother!” can be a transformative experience. Available on home video.
16. Personal Shopper
Kristen Stewart plays a woman haunted by the death of her twin brother… and by someone/something who keeps texting her. This genre-twisting little drama dances around supernatural ideas but keeps the character’s emotional turmoil in the real world. Stewart is terrific, and the movie builds more suspense with text messages than the “Fate of the Furious” tried to do with cars, explosions and a $200 million budget. Available on home video.
17. Thor: Ragnarok
Just a rip-roaring good time at the movies, brought to you by director Taika Waititi (“What We Do in the Shadows”) Forget about the timeline of other Marvel and “Thor” movies - “Ragnarok” is a hilarious and exciting adventure that works (well-enough) as a standalone. Now in theaters.
18. Logan Lucky
After a brief non-retirement, director Steven Soderbergh (the “Ocean’s” trilogy) makes an efficient and entertaining return to the heist genre, this time sending a bunch of smart Southern boys (Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and a scene-stealing Daniel Craig) out to rob a NASCAR race. Available on home video.
19. Brigsby Bear
“Saturday Night Live” player Kyle Mooney plays a man obsessed with a bizarre children’s show (the reason is surprising, and it involves another solid Mark Hamill performance). “Brigsby Bear” never panders for cheap laughs, and it makes a compelling case for the soul-enriching power of nostalgia. Available on home video.
20. Ingrid Goes West
While “Brigsby Bear” takes a compassionate look at an aspect of millennial culture, “Ingrid Goes West” aims to expose the shallowness of a generation too obsessed with their own social perception. Aubrey Plaza plays a young woman who changes everything about herself so she can become best friends with a hipster social media guru (Elizabeth Olsen) in real life. Twisted, funny and probably a little uncomfortable for anyone who spends too much time on Instagram. Available on home video.
Honorable Mentions (reviewed in five words or less):
“Call Me By Your Name” - Gorgeous film, powerful final scene.
“Molly’s Game” - Killer Sorkin dialogue, Chastain performance.
“Lady Macbeth” - Check your food for poison.
“Wonder Woman” - DC made a good movie!
“Blade Runner 2049” - Maybe a classic. Then again...