Oscar Preview Part I: My 20 favorite films of 2017

 2017 is poised to be one of this decade's best years in film and perhaps one of the best years ever, with dozens of good movies and a bundle of great ones likely to be regarded as classics as time marches on. Even some comic book flicks (Logan, Wonder Woman) and the new Star Wars were truly fantastic. New directors (Greta Gerwig, Jordan Peele, Sean Baker) emerged showcasing immense talent and vision. A burgeoning, transparent class of actors (Lucas Hedges, Timothee Calamet, Caleb Landry Jones, Saoirse Ronan, Daniel Kaluuya, Michael Stuhlbarg, etc) are proliferated among some of the best films in the past few years.

While streaming, the "me too" movement and television's "second golden age" have all been posited as Hollywood's reckoning, the magic of the movies lives on -- be it on screens big or small. Looking to this coming weekend's Academy Awards, I've compiled my list of 2017's best films.

Logan Lucky (Steven Soderbergh)
There wasn't enough NASCAR in this movie, but it was a pretty awesome heist flick that had some Magic Mike spunk to it. 

mother! (Darren Aronofsky)

Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
Lucas Hedges, Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Calamet are all in this. Plus, Laurie Metcalf! I'm sure you heard it's great (it's very fun!) and probably better than the "Roseanne" reboot will be. 

A Ghost Story (David Lowery)
Remember the iconic scene from " Halloween" where The Shape dons the sheet and pretends to be a ghost? That's this entire movie -- except it's Casey Affleck wearing the sheet and he's actually a ghost and no one can see him and it's all art housey. It's also probably a better movie than "Manchester by the Sea." 

Beatriz at Dinner (Miguel Arteta)
The most awkward dinner party you will ever see and you won't be able to look away.  

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Luc Besson)
A space oddity for sure, but a really pretty one. 

All the Money in the World (Ridley Scott)
A tolerable Mark Walhberg + a brilliant Christopher Plummer + a wicked Michelle Williams + a lucid Ridley Scott = a very solid film!

Columbus (Kogonada)
If you like libraries, delicious cinematography and architecture (and people talking about it), then "Columbus" is the film for you. 

The Keepers (Ryan White)
Creepy Netflix docu-series about the unsolved murder of a Baltimore nun in 1969. If you liked "Spotlight" and want something to keep you up at night, skip "The Post" and binge this instead. 

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler)
Vince Vaughn(!) kicks major fucking ass in this "Raid"-style jailhouse thriller. Must be seen to be believed. 
The Lost City of Z (James Gray)
The other great movie from 2017 that Robert Pattinson was in. More of my thoughts on James Gray's "Apocalypse Now" into the jungle can be found in my blog entry from last year. 

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos)
Colin Farrell and Yorgos team up for another bizarre, demented masterpiece about a surgeon who is stalked and tormented by the son of a patient who died in his care. 

The Florida Project (Sean Baker)
A group of rug rats are causing trouble and having fun in the cheap motel district outside Walt Disney World, a place where the American Dream is not doing so well. 

Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagino)
The Dad speech near the end of this film shattered me into pieces. Alone in the movie theater, I just yelled "what the fuck" -- I wish people were that good in real life. 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh)
At this very moment, there are plenty of racist cops cruising around the country in their patrol cars that are just like the Sam Rockwell character in this film -- many of them have been caught on camera. "Three Billboards" is a southern opera of trashy white folk, some lovable, some despicable, none of them perfect -- this is like the "white" Fences, to reference the wonderful Denzel movie from last year that was adapted from the stage and "Three Billboards" is very much  a Shakespearean tragedy. 

Good Time (Ben and Josh Safdie)
"Good Time" features the true best actor performance of year in Robert Pattinson, playing sociopath small-time crook "Connie" Nikas in the best episode of COPS you will ever see. The soundtrack is incredible too. 

120 Beats Per Minute (Robin Campillo)
"120 BPM," about the Paris chapter of Act-Up in the early '90's, could be written-off as another AIDS movie. Don't do that. See this film! "120 BPM" is about fearless activism, pouring every last ounce of passion into making change for the better and love overcoming disease. The ensemble cast is magnificent and Campillo sprinkles style and passion to elevate a story that may have been heard before, but never this good and this real.

Get Out (Jordan Peele)
"Get Out" reminds me of John Carpenter's 1978 horror classic "Halloween," one of my all time favorite films and a movie I'm always down to watch. Both films have a twisted sense of humor and are brilliantly paced. I'm reminded of "Halloween" not because of how scary "Get Out" is -- there are definitely some chills -- but for how clever it is. In his directorial debut Jordan Peele has already mastered the art of filmmaking and possibly shaped its future.

The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro)
I didn't think I would like "The Shape of Water" and in the first couple scenes I was already feeling confirmed. And then the sea creature snatches a hard-boiled egg from mute cleaning lady Elisa (the majestic Sally Hawkins) and I was hooked. Del Toro sweeps you away into the "Mad Men" world of a top-secret government lab, where Stuhlbarg is a doctor/Russian spy with a conscience and Michael Shannon is the sadistic high-level military man who can not see the beauty in the creature he has captured, cruelly torturing it with a cattle prod. The eye of the beholder is Elisa, who sets out to rescue this creature. An early scene in the film finds Elisa watching a movie in the theater below her apartment, later on the creature escapes only to be transfixed in front of the big screen himself  -- it was how I felt watching "The Shape of Water." After becoming intimate with the creature, Elisa is riding the bus, tracing the rain drops and the movie's message is scribbled into my mind, water is without shape and love knows no bounds. 

Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve)
Ryan Gosling needn't utter a word -- he has become a stoic synthesis of Dean and Brando -- watching him navigate the nocturnal skies of futuristic LA in a Peugeot hovercraft is the sci-fi equivalent of "The Wild One." Director Villeneuve overachieved with "2049," surpassing the Ridley Scott original with a dazzling mystery that features the best Harrison Ford performance in decades. Roger Deakins' radiant orange zests for a radioactive Las Vegas and chilly cobalt and syrupy pink neons in the LA Metropolis are visual wet-dreams, each frame a cornea melting climax. "2049" is more than just a feast for the eyes, as the soul searching that Gosling's K embarks upon takes us on a riveting adventure.


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