2017 Ten Best List


     2017’s film offerings provided audiences an endless array of interesting on screen relationships, historical perspectives, and eye popping visuals, as well as the usual glut of blockbuster entertainment.  Most of all though, 2017 will be remembered as the year of the woman, as more notable titles than ever featured female centric stories anchored by standout performances from female leads and created with the vision of female directors.  It’s baffling to me as to why women have been ignored within the Hollywood studio system for so long, but perhaps this past year will prove once and for all that gender does not, and should not, be a barometer for talent or inclusion.  Everyone should be given the opportunity to tell their stories regardless of their race, gender, or background.  Allowing membership to only a select few does disservice to the art of filmmaking and buries a potential treasure trove of imaginative filmmakers who have compelling things to say.

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     As the summer box office moved into high gear, Patty Jenkin’s “Wonder Woman” exploded to the top of the charts, delivering the best DC Extended Universe film to date, and a universally praised and awards worthy film that excited both audiences and critics.  Perhaps the biggest snub within the recently announced Academy Awards nominations was the absence of a single nod to “Wonder Woman”, which earned a massive $412 million at the domestic box office and was lauded for Gal Gadot’s lead performance, as well as its stylistic World War 1 set narrative and emotional core.  And regardless of what the Academy thought of the film, the fact remains “Wonder Woman” will be one of the few films from 2017 that will still endure decades from now.

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     There was likely no task more daunting in 2017 than the one taken on by director Denis Villeneuve in creating a sequel to “Blade Runner” some 30 years after the original first premiered in theaters.  Armed with the impeccable cinematography of Roger Deakins and strong performances by Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford, Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049" pulls of the difficult trick of utilizing the style and mood that made the first film a classic, while expounding on already established ideas and exploring new ones.  Like its predecessor, “Blade Runner 2049” is the kind of film that needs to sit with you for a few months, maybe along with a repeat viewing, before you come to realize the profound meaning of it all.  And while its technical brilliance cannot be denied, the story of Agent K reminds us just how small we all really are in a world where everything is so much bigger than just ourselves.

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     Rian Johnson’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was that rare film in which all expectations were abandoned early, as audiences soon realized the director had other things in mind when writing the story, creating one of the most original and thought provoking “Star Wars” episodes to date.  And the difficulty of such a feat cannot be understated, given the framework of the story Johnson was given to work with from J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, as well as the fervent fanboy culture who apparently wants to enter the theater knowing how each film will end.  Nonetheless, Johnson delivered a film filled with well earned emotional moments, bombastic and thrilling action sequences, plenty of light hearted humor, and enough sharp turns in its plotting to keep those aforementioned theorists busy for another two years until the ninth and final installment is released.

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     By far the funniest film of 2017 was James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist”, which chronicled the untold story of the making of 2003’s “The Room”, which owns the dubious distinction of being the worst film ever made.  As writer, director, and star Tommy Wiseau, Franco directs himself and gives the best performance of his career portraying one of those larger than life characters that only come along once in a generation.  To a certain extent, director Greta Gerwig’s coming of age story “Lady Bird”, also provides similar  doses of comic banter, though the proceedings are set in a far more serious situation.  In another Academy Award nominated performance, Saoirse Ronan portrays Christine McPherson, a senior at a Catholic high school with big dreams that are often not supported by her hard nosed mother who maintains the balancing act of trying to keep her daughter’s expectations about life in perspective.  There are moments in the film we can all relate to, and there are also plenty of things that remind us of ourselves at that age.  Things we often look back on and laugh at.

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     There may have been no film more emotionallly compelling to me in 2017 than director Dee Rees’ “Mudbound”, the story of two men returning home after serving their country in World War 2.  There should be nothing that seperates Jamie McAllan and Ronsel Jackson from their brave and heroic accomplishments in the war.  One returns as a decorated fighter pilot, while the other led a tank crew into battle against heavily fortified German troops, but in late 1940s Mississippi, one of them will not be treated like the hero he is and deserves to be.  Jamie is white and Ronsel is black, meaning Ronsel returns to a country filled with hatred and people who do not see the merits of his service the way they do Jamie’s.  “Mudbound” is a heartfelt story of the comradery between fellow service members where the only color that matters is the one your uniform.  And in addition to Rees fine work, the film also features the first ever woman, Rachel Morrison, to be nominated for an Oscar in Cinematography.

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     Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” features a starmaking cast of preschool aged kids, as they make there way through life living in a daily/weekly motel in a less desirable area near Disney World.  Led by an Academy Award nominated performance by Willem Dafoe, the story brings light to the fact that the true difference between people in our country has more to do with class and economic status than it does race.  The kids depicted in the film have virually no likelihood to succeed and are often left behind with little or no opportunities moving forward.  And yet, the children, led by a ferocious performance by 6 year old Brooklynn Prince, still manage to entertain themselves with what they have,  all while traversing the seedy outskirts of the Happiest Place On Earth.

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     Director Guillermo del Toro has always been known for his creative artistry, particularly in creature design and the settings they occupy.  “The Shape of Water” is no exception, boasting 13 Academy Award nominations and the strong likelihood of the long time filmmaker winning his first Best Director Oscar.  The film, set in the Cold War paranoia of the 1960s, tells the tale of a mute woman named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) working as a janitor in a military research facility housing a sea creature thought to be a possible Russian weapon of some kind.  They say love works in mysterious ways and “The Shape of Water” could not be a better example, as Elisa and the creature foster an interesting, yet touching relationship.  What transpires is not only unpredictable, but is truly a sight to behold.  In this love story, it’s what is deep down that matters, and it’s all that every did.

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     “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is one of the best films of the year, managing to infuse the oft explored genre with both main and supporting characters who provide plenty of noteworthy moments throughout.  The writing is spot on and the direction is certainly awards worthy, though the Academy opted not to nominate director Martin McDonagh.  And Frances McDormand has to be considered at this point as the frontrunner to receive her second Best Actress Oscar, as her work in the film has not only created another memorable character, but also one who is multi layered with a hard edged exterior covering for a grieving mom who has lost everything that was important to her.    With the town in a chokehold from the ongoing ramifications of the murder case in question, the story highlights the fact that people both involved and not involved have plenty of their own problems to deal with, leading to the revelation of just how fractured our society really is.

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     Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” isn’t the conventional war film many were expecting in that the narrative is anything but conventional.  Nolan expertly navigates the events that would see over 800 civilain boats sent from England to the French beach of Dunkirk to rescue some 400,000 English and Allied troops  surrounded by Hitler’s German Army in World War 2.  Because of the shallow waters, a larger vessel could not be used, so the approach needed to be grass roots, transporting a small amount of men at a time.  At a point in the war where the U.S. was not yet involved, one can imagine what would’ve happened to England had the Germans eliminated the Brits at Dunkirk and moved closer to complete European dominance.  Nolan doesn’t go the route of telling the story from a lead characters perspective, instead choosing to move around from different supporting players, told from various points of the operation.  The result is a stunning experience, both viscerally and emotionally, where the audience, regardless of their historical knowledge, couldn’t possibly predict exactly how this operation would eventually become one of the most successful in history.  Nolan’s achievement both from a storytelling and technical aspect has created the best film of 2017.  A film that will prove timeless in the way it tells its story on its own terms.   It’s a film made by Hollywood that doesn't feel like Hollywood.  Instead of the emotions coming from the heroics of one person, you will find yourself engulfed in the gravity of the entire situation and what it took to pull off the rescue of the century. 

THE TOP TEN FILMS OF 2017 BY JASON HARNEY

10.  WONDER WOMAN - My Review

9.    BLADE RUNNER 2049 - My Review

8.    THE DISASTER ARTIST - My Review

7.    MUDBOUND - My Review

6.    STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI - My Review

5.    LADY BIRD - My Review

4.    THE FLORIDA PROJECT  - My Review

3.    THE SHAPE OF WATER - My Review

2.    THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI - My Review

1.    DUNKIRK - My Review