Top 10 Movies of 2017
OK, so I'm ridiculously late to this party. Sue me. It's been a busy few months. Plus it takes a while for some of these to show up in Seattle. Or on Amazon. So let's just get going, shall we?
10. Spider-Man: Homecoming: “Homecoming” does two things most superhero movies don’t. First, you get a real sense of how tough it is to put the “super” in “superhero.” Pete can scale the Washington Monument but it’s hardly effortless—any more than you or I doing wind-sprints up a hill would be effortless. Plus crimes don’t just happen, wah-lah, in front of you. He nabs a bike thief but can’t find the bike’s owner. At one point, with nothing to do, he helps an old lady with directions. The movie also answers the question David Mamet says every playwright/screenwriter needs to ask: What does the guy want? Generally, once a hero becomes super, they have no motivation other than a grand one (stopping crime, saving the world). Supervillains are the ones with schemes; heroes are just trying to stem the tide. Not here. Pete? He desperately wants to be an Avenger. He wants superhero friends. He wants a superhero home.
9. Louis CK 2017: I don't think that titular year turned out the way Louis CK imagined, but that shouldn't stop people from appreciating his brilliance. He's the greatest stand-up comic of the 21st century. He's a truthteller who held onto a dark secret. He begins this concert, which I saw live in Seattle in December 2016, by making comedy out of 1) abortion and 2) ISIS. Think about that. I assume he did it as a dare to himself. Well, it worked. I laughed harder at the ISIS bit than at just about anything in this horrible, horrible year.
8. Get Out: Great premise: Using the tropes of the horror genre to tell the story of a black guy visiting the family of his white girlfriend. It's racial awkwardness as the underlying horror of American society. Good follow-through: the GF is obtuse about race, thinking everyone's cool with everything; the father keeps dropping racial references to show how cool he is; the mother is steely and distant, perpetually stirring her tea. The white neighbors say inappropriate things. They‘re like the neighbors in “Rosemary’s Baby”: Everyone seems off. The third act doesn't undercuts a lot of this or “GO” would‘ve been higher.
7. Phantom Thread: I got a whiff of the serial killer at the outset. A ride in a sports car in the British countryside at night made me flash on Alex and his droogs in Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.” Woodcock peeking through a peephole at how his fashion show is doing made me flash on Norman Bates doing the same with an undressing Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock's “Psycho.” Did Paul Thomas Anderson intend this? There's such a density to his movies. They feel beyond flickering images; they‘re palpable. Daniel Day-Lewis’ Woodcock, a precise, haute couture fashion designer in the 1950s, is heavier than all the CGI monsters in the world.
6. 120 BPM: The personal is political. It's also way more interesting. The first third of the French film “120 BPM” (Beats Per Minute) deals mostly with the comings and goings of ACT UP Paris in the early 1990s—their actions, stridency, the internecine battles between various players. You find yourself siding with this one ... or that one. And maybe sympathizing with that take ... or the other one. It's not until the focus lands on Sean, a radical, insouciant member, and his relationship with newbie Nathan, and then Sean's suddenly quick slide toward death, the thing they‘re all fighting, the thing we’re all fighting, that it hits you in the gut. That's when arguments about politics and tactics go out the door. It reminds you: Death is our greatest villain. It. Takes. Everything.
5. The Square: Writer-director Rebuen Ostlund is interested in cowardice—in what happens when men of the civilized and privileged upper classes face natural forces. In his previous film, “Force Majeur,” it was an avalanche. Here, it’s a thief. Then it’s confronting people with their possible thievery. Then it’s a noisy kid shouting his innocence in your face. It’s everything that’s avoided, and can afford to be avoided. And then when it can‘t.
4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: A movie about small-town police corruption and the battle of one woman, Mildred, to bring the truth to light? That’s how it seems at first, particularly when we meet Deputy Dixon, a dim, small-town bully known for racial profiling. But then Mildred has a tete-a-tete with Chief Willoughby, and the further the scene progresses, the more you feel your sympathies shift. The movie keeps shifting. By the end, it becomes a movie about all of us who are stuck between a desire for revenge and a need to forgive. Ourselves most of all.
3. Lady Bird: She’s a mix of contradictions. She displays confidence but isn’t. She may audition for the school musical, and run for school president, but she painfully aware that she’s a middle-class girl in a rich Catholic school. She’s authentic but pretends to be from richer homes; she pretends to have money. She drops one true friend for a prettier, more popular one. The irony is that once she gets the thing she wants, once she winds up in New York City, she embraces everything she’d previously rejected: her family, her church, California. Even her given name: Christine. She has to fly to let Lady Bird go.
2. The Big Sick: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl goes into coma, boy becomes closer to girl’s parents, girl wakes up and says, “What are you doing here, jerk, you already lost me.” Who knew this would be the recipe for the funniest, truest romantic comedy of the century? And how lovely to get such a round portrait of a Pakistani family, whose dilemmas are both new to the movies and universal. What Kumail goes through with his parents is what Portnoy did with his. The story of America is the story of assimilation, and Kumail's response to his parents is the response of every first-generation son and daughter: “Why did you bring me here if you wanted me to not have an American life? We come here, but we pretend like we‘re still back there?” Oh, and did I mention? It’s fucking funny.
1. Call Me By Your Name: In this impossibly beautiful Italian country home, Oliver is using Elio’s room, and Elio is forced into the smaller room on the other side of a shared bathroom, and the doors are like invitations or refusals. Generally when one is opening the other is closing. It’s red light, green light, keep away. There are little verbal attacks, snarky little bites that confuse the other, and probably the biter. The two men show off and compete, and, for a time, each sublimates his desire with a pretty Italian girl. (Not a bad way.) The point of the love story is to keep the lovers apart, and dramatists often bend over backwards to find ways, but “Call Me By Your Name” reminds us that we do a pretty fine job on our own.
See you next year. Hopefully sooner?
Past top 10s: