What may I say? The title says it best – check out my picks for the best movies we could see in 2017.
Note: The films that could land a spot on the list were the ones that had at least one screening in Poland (could be a film festival too or streaming platform) and were produced in 2017 or 2016. I haven’t seen some of the hottest titles, because they were not simply available or not technically in distribution in 2017 (as well as I couldn’t find them in any of the festivals).
HONORABLE MENTION – Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves (2016)
Dir. Mathieu Denis, Simon Lavoie
Very rarely does it happen that a film unleashes such a raw energy of untamed creativity like this Canadian arthouse piece. Trying to categorize “Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves” is an idle task.
The two directors that I had the honour to meet and talk with – Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie – tell a story of several students from Quebec who slowly turn into terrorists. The film’s narrative is divided into multiple parts, with spaces, where for 10 minutes we observe a black screen, in order to prepare for the spectacle. It’s an amazing experience and definitely a film that should have way more recognition.
Dir. Flying Lotus
I realize that putting “Kuso” – the most frequently criticized film of this year’s Sundance Film Festival – in the top of the year ranking is a risky endeavour. However, I whole-heartedly believe that Stephen Ellison’s crazy collage of random stories, depicting life after an earthquake in Los Angeles, is a monumental example of pushing the cinema borders.
“Kuso” has its obvious ups and downs. At times, its hideousness is both unprejudiced and unbearable – like in a scene where a man is having sex with a talking lump on his girlfriend’s neck.
In these moments, it is more than expected to throw cans and popcorn at the screen. However, under the surface of abominable short stories, there’s a far more complex observation. Flying Lotus’ film demands from the viewer to look a bit deeper, at least sometimes. Sometimes, it is just a ridiculously sick acid trip, but it has its brilliant moments. If you consider yourself a fan of surrealism, “Kuso” is the modern definition of it.
Dir. Janus Metz
Tennis has never been a very “film” sport, at least not until “Borg/McEnroe”. The film focuses on two titular players – played by Sverrir Gudnasson and Shia LaBeouf respectively – who thrilled the world in 1980 as they clashed in the final of Wimbledon.
Biographic dramas often suffer from either over-simplicity or too much complexity. Luckily, “Borg/McEnroe” strikes a balance between painting the political picture behind the match and the actual game and its intensity on the field as well as outside of it. The two leading roles are very convincing, however favoring the Swedish, rather curt player screentime-wise at the expense of LaBeouf’s far more entertaining role, was not the best course of action. However, the film’s excellent pacing of the narration, as well as intricately weaved-in, genuine soundtrack, imbue “Borg/McEnroe” with a unique kind of absorbing filmmaking that glues to the screen.
Dir. M. Night Shyamalan
M.Night Shyamanalan’s career was supposed to be only skyrocketing. His love for twist endings was praised, whilst the peculiar manner of direction, slowcoach pacing of narrative style became his trademarks. But, as we all know, the Indian-descent director has directed his career rather downwards lately.
“Split” is his comeback. James McAvoy embraces the extremely diversified leading role as a man suffering from a severe identity disorder. The role is meaty, full of nuances as the British actor dives into his character’s madness. Shyamalan skillfully sustains the disturbing atmosphere too, making “Split” a hypnotizing piece of modern thriller. Inadvertently or not, the master of plot twists is back in the game.
Dir. James Mangold
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine has not only starred in a plethora of films, but most importantly – he’s gone through various stages of the X-Men franchise. Yet, none of the previous installments were so intricately non-superhero, but at the same stylish and entertaining as “Logan”.
James Mangold has meticulously studied what some audiences are craving. Instead of following the steps of “Avengers”, the filmmaker has bet his odds on a mixture of “The Dark Knight” and “Deadpool”. His “Logan” is what a retired superhero’s life looks like – Jackman ends up as an Uber driver and when the last thing to breathe life into his miserable vegetation shows up, he knows it’s going to be his last run. There’s a great deal of disturbing realism in “Logan”, as the film often feels like a drama about senility and vanity of existence. Although it sometimes reaches to the good ol’ superhero festivities, Mangold’s film is undeniably one of the most original films in this blockbuster genre up-to-date.
11. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Dir. Martin McDonagh
To be fair, I am not an ardent fan of Martin McDonagh’s entire work, but I appreciate some of its layers. The story of a woman desperate to learn truth about her daughter’s disappearance has its highs and lows, but let’s not be cruel and mention the positives, shall we?
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a great acting spectacle, with Sam Rockwell shining brighter than ever. His take on a kinda hillbilly cop in a rural area is a great caricature of narrow-minded, racist jerks that you can probably spot in a great number throughout America (and not only.) There is also Frances McDormand, whose towering performance as an independent, hardened woman deserves praise as well. It’s also a well-written story, providing a bitter look at the most saddening side of unnecessary human hatred.
10. The Florida Project
Dir. Sean Baker
If characters from last year’s “American Honey” were to found their place on Earth, it would be the purple-ish motel managed by Willem Defoe.
Sean Baker’s film has charmed me with its astoundingly beautiful camerawork. Set in the shadow of Disneyland, the motel is a fairytale place, but life there is no paradise. Baker paints a picture of the marginalized America, without purpose in life, almost scavenging dollars to make ends meet. The director makes use of its child protagonists too – we observe the tragedy of the borderline young generation from the eyes of their children. “The Florida Project” is both beautiful and tragic and although it is not a flawless film (I would love to forget that kitschy ending…), Baker merits the place among best of 2017.
9. The Square
Dir. Ruben Ostlund
Most of the years, the winners of the prestigious Cannes Palme d’Or are a kind of mystery to me – take Jacques Audiard mediocre “Dheepan” from 2015 as an example. Fortunately, Ruben Ostlund’s “The Square” is by no means an average film.
It’s a witty satire on modern society’s most ridiculous flaws – our 24/7 connectivity to the Internet, world full of pompatous words that fall short in the everyday routine. There are scenes that out front criticise the artsy world (the whole film is set in a museum of modern art), which constitute an intelligent, light-heart fun. On the other hand, Ostlund finds ways to shock the viewer – the “human monkey” scene will probably jump to most iconic scenes of 2017.
Dir. Dee Rees
Movies that touch racial topics are trendy, but the line between overused cliche and an insightful look into the problem is blurry.
“Mudbound”, set in the before-during-post war Mississippi, manages to paint a picture of period racial disparities in a skillful manner. It takes under scrutiny two families – a white one, which moves out of the city to lead a peaceful, farmland life and a black one, which works on the property. The film is rich in well-written characters and stand-out performances (especially kudos to Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell), with picturesque landscapes of the rural America and great eye for details. It’s a kind of slow-burn period drama, but due to its fine execution, should be regarded to as a rarity in the days of Snapchat filmmaking.
7. Wind River
Dir. Taylor Sheridan
This depressing drama, set in the desolate Indian reserves, is the unofficial ending of Taylor Sheridan’s American trilogy and a very official debut of the filmmaker. When a body is found in the blistering cold in the Northern America, an animal hunter Cory (Jeremy Renner) joins forces with an FBI agent Jane (Elizabeth Olsen) in order to solve the mystery that haunts the locals.
Although “Wind River” plays quite a lot of classic crime/thriller chords, it’s not a follow-the-scheme kind of entertainment. Not only does it live up to two previous stories written by Sheridan – “Sicario” and “Hell Or High Water” – but also constitutes a meaningful ending to the trilogy. The director delves into another forgotten realm of the American reality, painting the picture of the natives as the unwanted burden for the modern society. It’s backed up by a very solid performance of Jeremy Renner, whose minimalist portrayal of Cory serves as a continuation of previous characters in Sheridan’s scripts. As the topping of the cake comes the soundtrack – a lovely, eerie and haunting theme composed with choirs and poetry is one of Nick Cave’s & Warren Ellis’ best.