Samantha’s Top 10 Films of 2017

Samantha DeNinno, Assistant Entertainment Editor

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Disclaimer:

Films I Wanted to See but Did Not in Time: “Coco,” “Killing of the Sacred Deer,” “Logan Lucky,” “Thor: Ragnarok,” “I,Tonya,” “Ingrid Goes West,” “Stronger,” “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” “Detroit,” “120 BPM (Beats Per Minute),” “Una Mujer Fantastica,” “Last Flag Flying,” “Faces Places,” “In God’s Country,” “Wind River”

 

Runner Ups: “Big Sick,” “Dunkirk,” “Columbus,” “Wonder Woman,” “Spiderman: Homecoming,” “Atomic Blonde,” “Greatest Showman,” “Logan,” “Moana”

 

 

  • “Florida Project”

 

      • Reviewing this movie was my first ever piece for the Torch, I am so glad it was and I’m sorry if any of this sounds familiar. The stylistic choice to heighten the colors and sound, in replication of a childhood memory, combined with the pure delight and joy felt through the screen by the child actors made this a film that dazzles in its simplicity. The film does a masterful job of highlighting the poverty that exists on the outskirts of the Disney World theme park in Orlando, Florida. Many of the motels that were built for the “Florida Project” (Disney World)’s tourists are now homes for many small impoverished families. Director Sean Baker turns an perceptive eye on these families without ever creating the feeling of exploitation or preachiness. Instead, the film lets the audience see their lives through the characters’ own eyes. This realness could be also attributed to the casting of little-known (excluding Willem DaFoe) actors and actresses. Finally, the final image of this film is my favorite final image of this year. I can’t reveal it without spoiling it unfortunately, but it is something that will remain with you long after the credits have rolled.

 

  • “Get Out”

 

      • Jordan Peele, Jordan Peele, Jordan Peele. “Get Out” was one of the most talked about films of 2017 and shoved Jordan Peele outside of the Comedy Central household and into the lives and conversations of horror and film audiences everywhere. What makes “Get Out” such a good film? It is intelligent. It doesn’t ever at any point believe its audience can not understand and instead trusts we can not only follow along but also catch the sheer multipute of nuances that can be found through multiple viewings. Director Peele captured a complex social issue of the overexploitation and festization of African Americans and their culture and the simultaneously degradation and dehumanization of the people themselves, in the simple (pre-plot twists) summary of a boyfriend meeting his girlfriend’s all-white family. A fantastic and memorable performance by Daniel Kaluuya cemented this horror flick into the film hall of fame.

 

  • “Mudbound”

 

    • “Mudbound” is centered around two families, the white McAllens and the African-American Jacksons in Mississippi after World War II. While each family member of each family had their own distinctive storylines and voice-over narrations, I found the relationship at the center of it all, the relationship between Jamie McAllen (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), the most interesting. Even more important was the emphasis on PTSD, that was largely ignored during the time, and the regressive position that many African Americans encountered when they returned home from the war and the countries in which they were heroes to a home where they could not use the front door to enter the county store. Many have sung the praises of Mary J. Blige’s performance as Florence Jackson, and deservedly so. She truly brings a warmth to a character that in the wrong hands might have reduced the character to a simple mother figure. Instead, she shines as the complex matriarch of the Jackson family. Her song “Mighty River” from the film’s soundtrack is also worth a listen. Director Dee Rees truly gifted all when she partnered with Netflix to create “Mudbound” and distribute it across the world and it is a shame, in my opinion, that she is not getting more recognized in the directing categories of this award season.

 

  • “Call Me By Your Name”

 

    • I’ll be honest, I was wary going into this film because of the implications of a romantic, sexual relationship between a 17 year old and a 24 year old. In today’s climate of calling out such relationships (especially when the woman is the minor), it felt odd that such a relationship was getting this much attention. And I do not want to say that I “got over it” while watching the film, but the pure chemistry between Armie Hammer’s Oliver and Timothee Chalamet’s Elio made their summer romance heartrending, electric and poetic in its moments of silence and dialogue. While Chalamet’s Elio and Mr. Perlman’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) ending speech are notably getting a lot of attention (deservedly), I found the setting/production design just as magnetic and symbolic of the core relationship. Hazy summer heat, the sound of nature through the constantly open doors and windows, bare feet against cool tiles and the pure laziness of their summers made Italy a character in its own right and embodying the visceral, raw vitality that courses through summers there. We watch this languid romance develop in the same way, to conclude in a beautifully acting final shot of Elio in front of the fireplace. It was the perfect backdrop to the quintessential rare, once-in-a-lifetime summer romance.

 

 

  • “Shape of Water”

 

    • Yes, she has sex with a fish. Yes, it’s weird. But by God, is it gorgeous. Guillermo del Toro’s latest venture took us into the Cold War era Baltimore where mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works at a government lab as a cleaning lady. It is there that she meets the creature, discovered in the Amazon, and begins a friendship that leads into something more. Del Toro once again lovingly focuses his attention on the outsiders of society: the mute, the gay man, African-Americans, a otherworldly sea creature that glows. It is in this time of filmmaking that he thrives, in the celebration of the outsiders and “monsters.” Much like “Call Me By Your Name,” the production design of this film is beautiful. With a color scheme of grays and greens (much like the sea creature itself), every scene and setting is alive with its own personality that heightens the magical realism we are witnessing even further. Strong performances by Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, and Octavia Spencer ground the film and add a human element to the already outlandish story. A moment of confrontation between Hawkins’s Elisa and Jenkins’s Giles stands out in particular. So it may take you a while to get over the fact that she is falling in love with a fish but it is so worth it.

 

 

  • “Lady Bird”

 

    • “Lady Bird” left a strong impression on me because it was incredibly relatable. The sometimes tumultuous relationship between mother and daughter, the love for your hometown (under a facade of hatred), the desire to get out and the Catholic private school experience all were things I have experienced before. Even though the movie takes place in 2002 Sacramento, California, I remember going through the similar motions of the title character, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson – ie. going to Mass during school, diner dates after theater productions, fighting with your mother one second and turning around and being fine the next, auditioning for plays with church songs, cowboy-themed dances, anti-abortion talks at school and teachers checking the lengths of your skirt in the morning. “Lady Bird” is one of those films that is incredibly easy to connect to and invest in because we all were “Lady Bird” at some point. This may possibly be a credit to director Greta Gerwig whose screenplay made “Frances Ha” the incredibly relatable movie it was as well. The opening image of this movie was also one of my favorites of the year. Mother and daughter lying close together but unseeing of the other encapsulates the main relationship of the movie and a relationship that many young girls find trouble navigating as they grow up.

 

 

  • “Good Time”

 

    • A film set in you own backyard. In “Good Time,” the Safdie brothers brought to the screen a crime thriller set specifically in Queens, New York. Featuring locations including Flushing, Kew Gardens, Elmhurst, Riker’s Island and Adventureland (Farmingdale) and a rogue Cellino & Barnes commercial, the film follows Robert Pattinson with bleach dyed hair and a perfect Queens accent as Connie. After a bank robbery goes wrong and his brother Nick (Benny Safdie), who has a mental disability, ends up in prison, we watch as Connie manipulates his way through the New York underground in order to find the $15,000 bail money to present to the bail bondsman. Pattinson is brilliant in the role, gifting Connie with a magnetic charisma despite his willingness to use other’s vulnerabilities whenever they suit his needs. His needs in this case are Nick who he genuinely does care for even if he does not ever do what is best for him; we do feel for him because the strength of the familial love at this film’s core. However, the film has also been regarded as tackling white privilege, in particular through Connie’s cocky manner of approaching the world, his disregard for others, and the dependency of his own survival on others, despite his not noticing. Sharp, explosive editing will make this a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

 

  • “Okja”/“Blade Runner 2049” (Tie)
    • The two cinematography nods
    • Okja: My first introduction to director Bong Joon-ho was the stellar “Snowpiercer” so when I heard he was making a movie for Netflix, I was very excited. “Okja” did not disappoint. As with “Snowpiercer,” Joon-ho tackles a social issue of today, in this case capitalism, veganism, vegetarianism and animal rights, and turns it into a complex story ripe with compelling characters. While the film could be seen as a bit more preachy than “Snowpiercer,” it does tell an important message. Joon-ho does not want his audience to leave the film guilty for eating meat. Instead, he wants us to look at where our meat is coming from and practice sustainable ways of eating meat, much like Mija did. We do not need to pass out like the vegan anarchist and we do not need to be as cruel and cold as the meat company CEO. There is an in between. To top it off, “Okja”’s awe-inspiring visuals make this a film to remember.
    • Secondly, “Blade Runner 2049” is a flat-out gorgeous film as well. I have yet to see the first “Blade Runner” but part of what made this two hour and thirty minute (too long) film make the list was that I did not have to for it functioned as its own great stand-alone film. Ryan Gosling shined as the cop, K, who, to simple the plot greatly, has a major identity crisis. We follow him as he slowly uncovers the mystery of the good guys vs. the bad guys; finally culminating in an ending that may leave some happy and some upset. Brought to the front are questions of human identity, machines vs. people, and the humanity and debate of machines having free will. Throughout it all, it’s impossible to take you eyes of the stunning imagery created by DP Roger Deakins and the sci-fi world he and director Denis Villeneuve have created.

 

 

  • “Baby Driver”

 

    • Director Edgar Wright knows how to make a fun, action-packed film and “Baby Driver” shows that skill more than any of his other films in the past. Wright crafts a tale of adventure and non-stop movement from the beginning, following Baby (Ansel Elgort), a driver for a criminal heist organization that desperately wants out. The supporting characters are unique and oddly heightened to insane levels much like the car sequences the film received ample praise for. Personally for me, the soundtrack is the piece of this film that everyone should be talking about. Every piece of music seems lovingly selected and tailored perfectly to the scenes of this film. My only complaint would have been if the female characters, such as Debbie and Darling, were a tad more fleshed out outside their relationships with men. Nevertheless, it is a fun movie for the whole family.

 

 

  • “Wonderstruck”/“Loving Vincent” (Tie)

 

    • “Wonderstruck” is a fun, celebration of life and the interconnectedness of it all. Written by Brian Selznick (Hugo) and directed by Todd Hayes (Carol), “Wonderstruck” follows two parallel stories. In the 1920s, Rose, who was born deaf, closely follows the life of actress Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore) while in the 1970s, Ben is grieving his mother’s death and is involved in an accident that causes him to lose his hearing. Throughout the course of the movie, both Rose and Ben travel to New York City and the Natural History Museum where they find their storylines interlap. “Wonderstruck” has the same magical, whimsical feel of Selznick’s Hugo and the highlights of the film include Millicent Simmons’s, Oakes Fegley’s and Jaden Michael’s joy and wonder at the discoveries that await them in New York. While the film itself was gorgeous and wonderfully acted, my only point of disappointment was by the time the film ended, there was a feeling of something missing, a moment or climax that would have made the movie even more than it was. Nevertheless, it made this list by the sheer wonder of new discoveries described.
    • “Loving Vincent” is a tour de force in animated filmmaking. Forever known as the first fully painted (and not digitally) animated feature film, “Loving Vincent” turns its own loving eye to the mystery surrounding the death of Vincent Van Gogh. Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), a young man sent by his father, is tasked with delivering a lost letter to Vincent Van Gogh’s brother in the weeks following his death. He returns to the town where it happened and launches his own investigation on the mystery surrounding Van Gogh’s death by interviewing various people throughout the town. Meticulously painting in Van Gogh’s own style, actors were selected with remarkable likeness to various figures in Van Gogh actual art. Booth, Aidan Turner, Chris O’Dowd, and Jerome Flynn, in particular, look remarkably like the figures in those 1800s paintings. Visually stimulating to watch and insanely compelling in its storytelling, “Loving Vincent” will be a hard one to forget.

 

 

  • “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds”

 

    • This may be an odd choice but truth be told, I loved Carrie Fisher and still do to this day. When she passed in December of 2016, the world mourned the loss of their princess. The following death of her mother, Debbie Reynolds, a Hollywood legend, mere days after her daughter’s death was all the more heartbreaking. HBO decided to release this hour and a half documentary about their zany relationship in early January 2017 (originally scheduled for March) and it was the perfect tribute to the dynamic duo. Audiences were able to see into the lives of two of Hollywood’s most beloved figures and into their next door homes (referred to as the “Compound”) with welcoming arms. Audiences watched them banter back and forth and laughed along when Carrie Fisher would throw out an insanely witty line or take us on a tour of her “Star Wars” memorabilia collection, including but not limited to a Princess Leia sex doll. It will be very hard to forget these marvelous women but when memories fade, this documentary will continue to offer a personal, intimate look into their dysfunctionally brillant relationship.
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