Looking Back: Adam Frazier's Picks for the Top 10 Best Films of 2017
by Adam Frazier
December 29, 2017
Over the last 12 months, I've seen more than 100 new releases — that's over eight days of time in total spent watching new movies — and I'm happy to report that it's been another incredible year at the cinema, despite claims that "film is dead." This year, I was lucky enough to see vital new work by visionary filmmakers like Denis Villeneuve, Guillermo del Toro, Steven Spielberg, and Darren Aronofsky. I witnessed soul-stirring performances by Frances McDormand, Timothee Chalamet, Mary J. Blige, Willem Dafoe, Sally Hawkins, and Michael Stuhlbarg. And I was thoroughly entertained by emotionally engaging, visually impressive blockbusters like War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonder Woman, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Blade Runner 2049. So which films did I enjoy the most? Which are my favorites? Let's find out.
Below are my picks for the Top 10 Films of 2017, but it could just have easily have been ten completely different movies on this list. The formidable list of honorable mentions (found at the end of the post below) reflects just how strong of a year it was for cinema. These are the ten films from this past year, however, that moved me most of all — the ones that inspired me, filled me with hope, and reinvigorated my sense of purpose while the world threatened to crush it with cynicism and negativity.
Director Andy Muschietti nails the tone of Stephen King's seminal 1986 novel, delivering heart, humor, and horror in equal measure. The screenplay, written by Chase Palmer & Cary Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation) and Gary Dauberman (Annabelle: Creation), stays true to the core of King's story and its characters, exploring themes of childhood trauma and the ugliness lurking behind small-town quaintness. Like the kids in Stand By Me (based on King's novella, The Body), The Sandlot, and The Goonies, the Losers find strength in being together. Each young actor shines in their role, with Finn Wolfhard (from "Stranger Things"), Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Sophia Lillis emerging as standouts. Another strong performance comes from Bill Skarsgård, who takes the role of Pennywise in a different direction – a mix of Robert Englund's Freddy Krueger and Heath Ledger's Joker – exploring the character's psychotic theatricality while making him a dead-serious threat. It is the rare horror blockbuster that influences the mainstream, and I can't wait to see what Muschietti has in store for us with Chapter 2.
#9. I, Tonya
Led by an amazing performance by the very talented Margot Robbie, I, Tonya is a wildly entertaining black comedy and biopic of American figure skater Tonya Harding, a former U.S. Champion best known for her involvement in a 1994 incident in which fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked at the Cobo Arena with a police baton. Written by Steven Rogers and directed by Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl), the film features some fantastic character work by Allison Janney, Sebastian Stan (as Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly), and Paul Walter Hauser. What's so great about Gillespie's film is how it takes a story you think you know and changes your perception of it. By the end of this hilarious and fascinating movie, you will respect Tonya Harding and maybe even root for her, thanks to Rogers' tongue-in-cheek writing and Robbie's tenacious turn as the redneck figure skater turned American icon. In a year with Darkest Hour, The Lost City of Z, and Battle of the Sexes, I, Tonya is 2017's must-see biopic.
Hugh Jackman first played the character of Wolverine back in 2000 in the film that launched the modern day, comic book blockbuster - Bryan Singer's X-Men. Now 17 years later, the Academy Award-nominated actor has inhabited the character an unprecedented nine times on the big screen. With Logan, Jackman and director James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma, The Wolverine) craft an intimate, character-driven film that is brutal, beautiful, and profoundly affecting. Mangold's film isn't concerned with saving the world from the apocalypse; nor is it the kind of action-packed sci-fi adventure the X-Men franchise is known for. Instead, it's a very personal story — a road movie where the apocalypse has already happened, in which Logan, a deteriorating Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart in a wonderful supporting role), and mutant test subject Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen) are outlaws on the run, traveling across a barren landscape in search of their own paradise. 2017 has been a landmark year for superhero cinema, with amazing films including Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, The LEGO Batman Movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Thor: Ragnarok, but Logan is a true masterwork – a powerful elegy dedicated to a character that a generation of moviegoers have grown up with, and a role that we'll be hard-pressed to replace.
#7. Call Me By Your Name
Based on the 2007 novel by André Aciman, Call Me By Your Name is a romantic coming-of-age drama directed by Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash, the upcoming Suspiria remake) and written by James Ivory, of Merchant Ivory Productions (Howards End, The Remains of the Day). Set in Northern Italy in 1983, the film chronicles the romantic relationship between 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and his father's American protégé, Oliver (Armie Hammer). The film is a melancholic but empathetic portrait of first love — a delicately crafted piece that is as nuanced as it is affecting. Chalamet, who you've also seen in other 2017 films like Hostiles and Lady Bird, delivers a beautiful performance as a young man attempting to make sense of his feelings while Armie Hammer shows new depth as the charismatic but vulnerable Oliver. Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Elio's father, turns in one of the year's finest supporting turns and his monologue at the end of the film is some of the most moving work I've seen all year.
#6. Lady Bird
Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, Ladybird is the coming-of-age story of a high-school student and her turbulent relationship with her mother. Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is a senior at a Catholic high school in Sacramento, in 2002. The film deals with Lady Bird's strained relationship with her parents (Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts) as she struggles to figure out who she is and what she wants to do with her life. The film is exceptionally written — every line of dialogue sounds like something a person might actually say and, as someone who was a high school senior in 2002, it felt so authentic that I thought I was watching a documentary about my generation's coming-of-age instead of a comedy-drama from the co-writer of Frances Ha and Mistress America. As well-written and directed as Gerwig's film is, the responsive, human performances by Ronan and Metcalf, along with supporting turns by Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, and Beanie Feldstein, are the main attraction here. Heartfelt and hilarious, Lady Bird is this year's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a movie that celebrates the trial-and-error of adolescence with fondness and urges understanding and acceptance.
#5. The Post
Set in the 1970s, The Post follows journalists from The Washington Post as they attempt to publish the Pentagon Papers, a classified Department of Defense study of the United States government's involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. Written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer (Spotlight, The West Wing) and directed by the iconic Steven Spielberg, The Post is the legendary filmmaker's best film since 2005's Munich. The ensemble Spielberg and casting director Ellen Lewis have put together here is second-to-none: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, David Cross, Carrie Coon, Pat Healy, Matthew Rhys — the impressive list of actors goes on and on. Despite being set during Nixon's corrupt administration, The Post is as timely and relevant as any film this year, drawing direct parallels to Trump's attacks on the freedom of the press. It's also a flawlessly executed period piece that feels like a prequel to the 1976 film All the President's Men — part of a United States government's shared cinematic universe of coverups, conspiracies, and corruption.
#4. Get Out
Whether it's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Night of the Living Dead, Rosemary's Baby, or Videodrome, the best horror films act as subversive social commentaries, dealing with humanity's fears and offering a communal catharsis. Jordan Peele's Get Out is such a film - a provocative horror-thriller that feels like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner meets The People Under the Stairs. Daniel Kaluuya stars as Chris, a black photographer who is going on a weekend getaway upstate with his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) to meet her parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) for the first time. A series of increasingly bizarre events reveals that Chris is visiting for a much more sinister reason. Jordan Peele, making his directorial debut, has a deep understanding (and appreciation) for the horror genre, as he expertly wields its tropes only to subvert them at every turn. The result is a movie that is not only funny, scary, and flawlessly executed, but one that is as provocative and vital as any of the iconic horror films mentioned here.
#3. War for the Planet of the Apes
The third and final chapter of 20th Century Fox's reboot series, War for the Planet of the Apes is a powerful and poignant climax to one of the greatest cinematic trilogies of all time. Directed by Matt Reeves (of Cloverfield, Let Me In, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), War offers complex characters, beautiful performances, and the most impressive special effects I've ever seen. Blending Kurosawa samurai epics, Clint Eastwood Westerns, and classic war films like The Great Escape, War for the Planet of the Apes is a soul-stirring cinematic experience with an incredible, Best Actor-worthy performance by Andy Serkis as the ape Caesar. This is yet another movie with a strong ensemble: Terry Notary, Karin Konoval, and Michael Adamthwaite push the boundaries of performance capture, and Amiah Miller and Steve Zahn inject the bleak, often gut-wrenching proceedings with a spark of hope and humor. And while Woody Harrelson is receiving much-deserved recognition for his supporting turn in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I found his work here even more nuanced and affecting. Reeves' film is an unparalleled work of blockbuster filmmaking that is thought-provoking and awe-inspiring. Don't miss this one.
#2. Brigsby Bear
Directed by Dave McCary and co-written by Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello, Brigsby Bear stars Mooney as James, a sensitive young adult living in an underground bunker with his over-protective parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams). Sheltered since childhood, James' only connection to the outside world is a VHS-era educational children's show called Brigsby Bear, a very bizarre but endearing amalgamation of Teddy Ruxpin and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. When James discovers that Brigsby Bear isn't real — that it was created by his parents to brainwash him — he's left questioning his entire existence. The superfan decides that he will bring closure to his childhood hero's epic adventure, and his own traumatic past, by writing and directing a new Brigsby Bear movie. In the process, he meets new people and makes the kind of meaningful connections his life has lacked. McCary's movie feels like it was made especially for me — a kindhearted and uplifting examination of the power of storytelling and how embracing your inner-child isn't a sign of immaturity, but an attempt to reclaim some of the innocence lost in adulthood. Mooney is pitch-perfect and I think Hamill, who also delivers a wonderful performance in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, does phenomenal work here, imbuing Ted with a kind of gentle empathy, despite playing a deranged criminal who brainwashed a child with a fabricated TV show. I loved this movie so much, and I hope more people will seek it out because it absolutely deserves more attention than its getting at the moment.
#1. The Shape of Water
Like my #2 pick Brigsby Bear, The Shape of Water speaks directly to my soul. Co-written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (of Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth, Crimson Peak), the fantasy drama about a mute custodian (Sally Hawkins) at a high-security government laboratory who falls in love with a fish-man (Doug Jones) is the culmination of the Mexican filmmaker's career thus far. Like David Fincher's Zodiac, The Shape of Water is the summation of everything del Toro has learned, refined and perfected; the perfect blend of style and substance. Del Toro's unconventional story works as both a Cold War-era Beauty and the Beast, and an epic love poem to cinema — an outpouring of love for empathetic movie monsters like The Creature from the Black Lagoon's iconic Gill-man. With excellent performances by Hawkins, Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, and Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water is an exquisite piece of filmmaking by one of the most imaginative and passionate directors of our time. If I could only show you one movie on this list, one movie that would help you understand who I am, it would be this one. It feels as if Guillermo del Toro has taken a piece of me and put it up on the big screen. I will cherish this film for years to come and can only hope for 2018's lineup of films to move me half as much.
Honorable Mentions: Mudbound, The Disaster Artist, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Thor: Ragnarok, Lucky, Pixar's Coco, Blade Runner 2049, Baby Driver, The Big Sick, Wind River, Spielberg, Wonder Woman, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Gerald's Game, Mother!, Good Time, Logan Lucky, 1922, The Girl With All the Gifts, Hostiles, and The Florida Project.
What do you think of Adam's Top 10 films of 2017? Do you agree or disagree with his picks?