2017 was a dark and challenging year in the real world, but some of the best films of the year (Lady Bird, The Florida Project) countered that despair with touching stories of unexpected relationships and the bonds we form with those we choose as our family. On the flip side, Blade Runner 2049 posited an all too believable future dystopia where our sexual needs and desires are taken care of in a virtual landscape, and Mother! threw all notions of good taste out the window to deliver one of the strangest, most gut-wrenching theatre experiences in years. Oh, and there was a new Star Wars film that was the best entry in the franchise in over 3 decades.
Below is our entirely subjective list of our favourite films from 2017. Many recent releases are only actually opening in Montreal in January, so we’ve relegated those to next year’s list. How did we do with our choices? Did The Last Jedi ruin your childhood heroes for good? Let us know what you thought of the year in film in the comments below, or via our Facebook page.
Mother! is easily the most audacious movie of the year. Director Darren Aronofsky begins his allegory-heavy film as a brooding comedy of manners, before descending into complete and utter madness during its highly-divisive backend. That first half is what redeems the movie — Jennifer Lawrence plays the titular role of Mother (her actual title in the credits), a pregnant woman who spends her days restoring the old family home of her husband, a moody writer referred to in the credits only as Him (Javier Bardem). One night the couple is visited upon by a mysterious man (Ed Harris), who is then promptly joined by his overbearing wife (Michelle Pfeiffer). As their new house guests set about making themselves at home, things get creepy pretty quickly — Mother begins having visions of a heart beating within the walls of the house, and her unease around the new visitors is playing havoc with her relationship with her husband.
Saying any more would ruin the series of surprises Aronofsky has in store, as the film builds from a creepy home invasion thriller into one of the most bonkers endings of any film ever released by a major studio. Mother! is by no means a perfect film, and the various religious / environmental / personal metaphors can often be stifling, but such an over-the-top leap into the abyss deserves to be commended.
9. All the Money in the World
Ridley Scott’s latest was nearly overshadowed by the Kevin Spacey sexual assault allegations that began to surface after the film had already wrapped. Faced with the notion of releasing a film with a lead no one wanted to see, Ridley made an astounding choice — mere weeks ahead of the film’s release, he decided to recast and completely re-shoot Spacey’s role with the great Christopher Plummer, bringing back his cast and crew to help re-shape the film at the 11th hour. Somewhat surprisingly, All the Money in the World shows no signs of all the behind-the-scenes drama. Plummer is at his best here as the real-life tycoon J. Paul Getty, who famously refused to pay the ransom when his grandson John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) was kidnapped while traveling in Italy in 1973.
Scott treats the entire incident and back and forth with the kidnappers as a nail-bitter of a thriller, with teenage John’s mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) desperately trying to convince her father-in-law to pay to release her son as the kidnappers’ threats become more and more ominous. With the senior Getty’s assistant (Mark Wahlberg) as her go-between, Gail becomes the focus of intense media scrutiny as the story of her abducted son and the ultra-wealthy grandfather who refuses to pay the ransom becomes tabloid fodder.
The film retains the grimy vibe of the 70’s setting, with beautiful cinematography by Dariusz Wolski that highlights the wealth and luxury of the senior Getty’s estate, which despite its collection of priceless artwork and antiques still ends up feeling more like a tomb than a true home. A sly meditation on money and power, this is a film that feels just as timely today as it was back when the junior Getty was first whisked off in that van.
8. Blade Runner 2049
This film deserves to be on the list based on sheer ambition alone. Director Dennis Villeneuve’s decision to re-visit the world of Ridley Scott’s cult classic some 35 years after the fact was a monumental task, made even more difficult by the slow-paced, brooding tone Villeneuve was after. Audiences turned away in droves, but the original Blade Runner was also a box-office failure at first — it took years for Scott’s dark vision of the future to be recognized as a sci-fi classic, which will likely also be the case with Villeneuve’s sequel.
What passes for a plot here is relatively threadbare, but Blade Runner 2049 is an absolute stunner on the visual level, opening up the sci-fi film noir aspects of the original and expanding on them dramatically. This is a future dystopia that actually looks possible, especially on the virtual reality front, with the complex relationship between Ryan Gosling’s K and his computerized companion Joi (Ana de Armas) providing the true emotional backbone to the film.
If there was ever a case for splurging on a high-end theatre ticket, this is it — Blade Runner 2049 begs to be seen on the largest screen possible, with a sound system that can truly do justice to Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s bone-rattling score. Hopefully this sequel will eventually attain the cult status of the original and still be playing in theatres for years to come. Read our full review of Blade Runner 2049 here.
7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
If the mixed reception to The Last Jedi has taught us anything, it’s that diehard Star Wars fans are afraid of change. Writer / director Rian Johnson was clearly aware of the shake-up he was causing with this film, and nonetheless plowed through to create one of the most unexpectedly moving installments of the franchise. With strong performances all around and some of the most striking images in any Star Wars film to date, Johnson has essentially wrapped up the Skywalker saga with this film, which leaves audiences with no idea where J.J. Abrams will go with Episode IX, the expected conclusion of this set of trilogies. That notion should be a truly exciting prospect for any true Star Wars fan. Read our full review of The Last Jedi here.
6. A Ghost Story
As the title implies, David Lowery’s A Ghost Story distills the supernatural down to its bare basics — the presence in the film is simply a figure in a sheet, complete with the cut-out eye holes from the standard childhood costume. Casey Affleck is beneath the sheet, struck down in the opening moments of the film, and left to wander his home through time and space, watching as his wife (Rooney Mara) copes with his death.
A sparse, atmospheric look at grieving and loss, A Ghost Story is far from your average horror fare, but packs an emotional wallop, even more impressive given that we never see the protagonist’s face after the film’s opening moments. Coupled with a haunting (sorry) score by Daniel Hart, A Ghost Story is one of the most unexpectedly moving films of the year. Read our interview with writer / director David Lowery here.
5. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow up to 2015’s The Lobster is a deranged masterpiece, an incredibly dark and over-the-top look at grief. Lanthimos reunites with his Lobster star Collin Farrell who plays Steven, a successful open heart surgeon who appears to be carrying on a secret sort of mentorship with an awkward teenager named Martin (Barry Keoghan), the son of a man who died during an operation Steve was performing.
As Steven’s two teenage children come down with a strange illness, Steven and his frazzled wife (Nicole Kidman) have to reckon with how far they will go to save their family, with Lanthimos ramping up the dread and suspense to anxiety-inducing levels. Beautifully shot and featuring some stunning Kubrickian roving camera work, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is one of the most gorgeous movies of the year, a claustrophobic and completely disturbing horror film that is destined to provoke a visceral response from the audience. Check out our full review of The Killing of a Sacred Deerhere.
4. Get Out
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut re-affirmed the power of the horror film as a means to tackle social issues by placing them in a fantastical setting. Daniel Kaluuya stars as Chris, a black man who agrees to visit the apparently Liberal parents of his white girlfriend (Allison Williams). Once there, Chris is confronted by a number of black servants who seem to be hiding something, along with his girlfriends’ parents (played with gusto by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keene), who also appear to be repressing something under their genteel, WASPy veneer.
As the truth finally emerges, Peele hones in on the fears of young black men and makes them relatable to a wider audience, while also skewing the vapid “I don’t see colour,” sentiments of the white Liberal crowd. Featuring stellar performances, including a star-making assist from Lil Rel Howery, Get Out manages to succeed both as a satirical black comedy about race relations and stereotypes, as well as a top-notch horror thriller.
3. The Big Sick
Few romantic comedies ever get the comedy quotient of the equation down, but The Big Sick manages to be a touching film about a relationship, while also succeeding as an outright comedy. Co-written by real-life partners Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, and based on their experiences as a couple, the film traces the early stages of their relationship and Gordon’s life-threatening illness that nearly tears it apart.
Kumail plays a version of himself, a Pakistani-born comedian trying to make a name for himself in Chicago when he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan), a young white woman in the audience at one of his shows. They begin a serious relationship, while Kumail hides her existence from his traditional Pakistani parents, who keep trying to set him up on dates with successful Pakistani women. While Kumail attempts to balance the demands of his traditional upbringing with his own needs and desires, Emily suddenly falls seriously ill, which tests the couple’s relationship while involving both sets of parents in the mix.
A heartfelt love story that manages to remain sympathetic to all of its characters, The Big Sick is also one of the the best portrays of a Muslim family in an American film, clearly showing the love Kumail’s parents have for him even as his life takes him on a different path than they might have hoped for.
Filled with heartfelt and hilarious performances from the ensemble cast, including Oscar-worthy turns from Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily’s well-meaning parents, The Big Sick is the rare romantic comedy that finally gets the genre right.
2. The Florida Project
Eschewing the iPhone he used to shoot 2015’s Tangerine, co-writer and director Sean Baker embraced a strikingly colorful palette for his follow up, the coming-of-age dramedy The Florida Project. The film revolves around Halley (Bria Vinaite), a young mother raising her rambunctious six-year-old daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) in The Magic Castle, a cheap Florida motel just on the outskirts of Disney World. Forced to constantly move rooms in order to get around residency laws, the pair eke out a threadbare existence, scamming free food from fast food restaurants and selling perfume in parking lots. Overlooking the assemblage of colorful guests is motel manager Bobby Hicks (Willem Dafoe), a surrogate father figure to Moonee, who watches in exasperation as she and the other motel children run wild over the property, treating it as their personal playground.
The Florida Project could easily have been a heavy-handed tearjerker about those living below the poverty line in the U.S., but Baker is careful to never take sides here. Despite her circumstances, Moonee seems to have a fulfilling childhood, filled with friendship, love and adventure. Even when Halley turns to much darker avenues to make money, the film is never judgemental, which makes for a more complicated viewing experience. Should we be rooting for Halley? Or should Moonee be taken out of what might ultimately be a dangerous situation? The Florida Project needs hand feeds us the answers — it simply presents these characters and their situations and leaves the audience to make up its own mind. Featuring incredible performances, especially from 7-year-old Brooklyn Prince, The FloridaProject is a moving look at The American Dream, and those struggling in the shadows beneath it.
1. Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is a coming-of-age film where the love story actually lies between a mother and her daughter. The self-named Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) is a teenager from Sacramento, California, who has big dreams of going to an ivy league college on the East Coast, where she can be surrounded by the culture she feels she’s missing from her closed-off suburban life. Her main impediment to that dream (apart from dismal grades and a lack of funds) is her mother (Laurie Metcalf), a no-nonsense woman who wants to keep her daughter grounded, and is only too quick to cut down her dreams of fleeing Sacramento.
Lady Bird features one of the best examples of a mother/daughter relationship ever committed to film, revealing both the love (and cruelty) from each side. Our allegiances often shift throughout the film, and will likely also shift between viewers of different ages. That speaks to the universality of Gerwig’s film — she’s created such rich, flawed characters that they can’t easily be molded into traditional hero/villain roles. That also goes for the great supporting cast as well, including Tracy Letts as Lady Bird’s financially strapped but loving father, and Beanie Feldstein as her loyal best-friend.
Lady Bird manages to be an incredibly emotional (and very funny) film without ever feeling like the sort of Oscar-bait film we’re used to seeing at this time of the year. It has a natural and un-rushed rhythm, with snappy dialogue that never feels forced or too put-upon. The film concludes with a simple and lyrical epilogue, that nonetheless remains one of the most emotionally resonant moments of any film this year. See it with your mother.