OnScreen Chief Film Critic
20. Wind River
In the year of the #MeToo movement, this is the first of at least four films to make my list that have a strong female lead and deal with some of the issues that came up this year. It’s also perhaps ironic that this film is from the Weinstein Company, where this welcome avalanche of change and upheaval originated. Wind River is the directorial debut of Taylor Sheridan, the writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water. Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner ditch their Avengers costumes for great performances in this procedural thriller about processing grief and finding redemption while looking for the killer of a young local woman. As I said in my review, if the MCU is your only exposure to these two actors, you’re not doing movies right.
This Netflix release pulls at the heartstrings while also delivering a powerful socioeconomic and moral statement. You don’t have to become a vegan after seeing this film to appreciate it. It’s business satire, harrowing rescue adventure, and a beautiful story of friendship all rolled into one. The friendship between Mija, the little girl, and Okja, the lab-created creature that is more than just a pet, was one of the most emotionally satisfying depictions of anything on screen in 2017. Another unique Bong Joon-ho concoction.
Wonderstruck was one of the more pleasant surprises of the year for me. Todd Haynes’ follow-up to Carol came and went way too quietly at the box office. It is the kind of family-friendly story that more parents should demand for their children from filmmakers. The story spans generations and focuses on two young kids searching for family answers in New York City. It was a great year for child actors, and maybe no young actor’s face captured the attention of the camera quite like Millicent Simmonds, a young, deaf actress who plays a young, deaf girl in 1920s New York City. Her scenes are played like a silent film era movie, and the ending features an extended miniatures flashback that is gorgeous; a creative delight.
Another family-friendly film featuring terrific child acting performances in a strong year for young acting, Wonder tells the tale of an extraordinary kid named Auggie who has facial deformities and his experience during his first year in a public school setting, 5th grade. Jacob Tremblay is terrific as Auggie, but what makes Wonder really stand out not just Auggie, but the care and attention that the film gives to all of the surrounding people in his life, including his parents, his sister, his sister’s best friend, and his best friend. It’s impressive how well-rounded the movie is.
16. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
After her daughter is raped and brutally murdered, a grieving mother goes to war with the local authorities when no progress is made in the case. Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell give terrific and unsympathetic performances as the opposing forces in this film from Martin McDonagh. McDonagh’s films are always darkly comedic, but this is the darkest one yet, and least comedic. It would make for an interesting double feature with Wind River, because they both come at the subject of grief and rage over a murder from different places. Also, I love the game of chess between McDormand and Harrelson.
15. A Ghost Story
It’s not weird that I couldn’t get the movie where Casey Affleck walks around in a ghost sheet for most of the movie out of my head. It’s weird if you saw A Ghost Story and didn’t have the same reaction. This meditative little film is intimate and yet somehow finds a way to span the entirety of time. There’s a memorable, almost unbearable, scene where Rooney Mara grief-eats an entire pie uninterrupted. And yes, it is Affleck under the sheet for most of the movie. Powerful and poignant; and the scene where two ghosts communicate is one of the most heartbreaking moments of the year. And “I Get Overwhelmed” by Dark Rooms is a perfectly haunting and melancholy song.
14. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Spider-Man has been a favorite fictional character of mine ever since I was a child in the 80s, so the last decade has been rough for me beginning with Spider-Man 3. Spider-Man: Homecoming brought the friend neighborhood web-slinger back to prominence in a big way, planting the story in the middle of a John Hughes high school movie. Tom Holland was perfectly cast as Peter Parker, and so was Michael Keaton as Vulture. Marvel had a lot of heavy lifting to do with this and the nailed almost everything they set out to do with this movie.
This film might have been my favorite genre mashup and head-fake movie of the year. Colossal combines the “girl goes back to her hometown” rom-com premise with a sci-fi Kaiju movie, with Anne Hathaway somehow causing a giant monster to appear halfway around the world in Seoul, South Korea. What I love most about Colossal, though, is that it completely subverts the expectations that people have for films like this, instead going for a darker and more interesting place. Jason Sudekis get to show some range, Anne Hathaway definitely played against type, and the film ended up being very timely given the prominent storylines of 2017 regarding treatment of women.
Pixar does it again. It could be so easy to take Pixar for granted, and yet nearly every time they come out with a new movie they still manage to wow audiences and outdo themselves. Coco is the best animated film of the year and the best family movie of the year. The whole movie is about the importance of family, culture, and tradition and it is a wonderful depiction of a culture that is not mainstream in American society. And the visuals, particularly in the spirit world where Miguel interacts with his deceased ancestors, are remarkable and vibrant in color. And the theater got dusty at the end for me, no small thing.
11. Wonder Woman
DC and Warner Bros finally broke out of their superhero slump with Wonder Woman. It’s probably no coincidence that they did so by handing the reins of the film over to a different director, Patty Jenkins. Jenkins and her lead, Gal Gadot, hit it out of the park, creating a great story set during World War I and establishing an instantly iconic female hero figure for young girls to look up to. While Gadot perfectly embodied the role, it’s not hard to see the opening scenes of Diana as a child, mimicking being a warrior, and not imagine countless little girls around the world doing the same thing while watching this awesome blockbuster.
Part 2 Coming Soon.