Jake’s Top Films of 2017: 20-11

By Jacob Wampfler


20. Wheelman

Directed By Jeremy Rush

wheelman

Jeremy Rush’s film debut is nothing short of spectacular. I mentioned the film in out best new directors article and our top shots round-up, but even that seemed hollow to me. To neglect Wheelman as an entire film would be a mistake. It’s a brilliant, economic, heart-pounding thrill ride, and I loved every moment of it’s getaway driver insanity.

Since I’ve already addressed the camera work and direction elsewhere, this is my ode to Frank Grillo. In true getaway driver fashion, we only know Grillo as the titular wheelman. He’s enigmatic, timeless, and he carries the world on his shoulders. Restricted to his car as the primary conceit of the film, Grillo conveys the quiet panic of a man who will protect his family by any means necessary. Wheelman establishes Grillo as a more than capable leading man, and I truly hope that other filmmakers and studios are paying attention. His range in the film is impressive. He goes from sadness to rage to iron resolve on a dime throughout, and he does it all behind the wheel of his BMW. I hope other studios are taking note of this new distribution model set forth by Netflix. Low to mid-budget genre films are on the rise thanks to the streaming giant, and I would love to see more films like Wheelman in the future.

Currently Streaming on Netflix

19. Win it All

Directed By Joe Swanberg

Win it All

As I think back on this film, I can’t help but smile. I love Jake Johnson, and Joe Swanberg gave him the perfect vehicle with Win it All to be the most Jake Johnson-y he has ever been on-screen. Eddie, the recovering gambling addict, is a disheveled, train-wreck of a guy throughout the entire film. But we love him for it. In Eddie, Swanberg gives us someone to root for, someone that we truly hope can get a handle on his addiction. With this film and To the Bone, Netflix gave us two fantastic films in 2017 about what we struggle with as human beings. Win it All has the right balance of levity and honesty, while also leaving us with hope for those who struggle with addiction.

In addition to Johnson, Swanberg pulled out his seemingly endless contact list to get Keegan-Michael Key and Joe Lo Truglio on board as Gene and Ron, Eddie’s sponsor and older brother respectively. As with all of Swanberg’s films, Win it All has a lived-in mumblecore vibe despite it’s top notch cast. We feel the conflict and sheer hilarity of situations in which Eddie puts himself. Yet we also feel his sadness as he goes to a gamblers anonymous meeting and shares his struggles with fellow addicts. Swanberg affords Eddie a humanity that is oddly rare for films about addiction. Eddie is a normal guy, trying to get through the day like the rest of us. With Win it All, Swanberg gave us a hidden gem of 2017 and a delightful optimism sorely needed in our world today.

Currently Streaming on Netflix

18. It Comes at Night

Directed By Trey Edward Shults

It Comes at Night

Words can’t even begin to describe It Comes at Night. I’ve tried to bring myself to re-watch this film a few times since I originally viewed it in 2017. I have it ready to stream, all I need to do is push “play”…and I can’t do it. To watch this film is a descent into darkness I have rarely seen elsewhere. However, it’s a darkness that is all too real in our world. The paranoia and madness with which these characters treat one another is so familiar that it’s nauseating. I’m avoiding plot details for obvious reasons; It Comes at Night is not what you think. Poor marketing is somewhat to blame, but I kind of enjoyed the head-fake with all things considered. However, be warned. This film’s ending is so bleak, so merciless in it’s view of humanity that it left me speechless. Trey Edward Shults is a new director to watch, and It Comes at Night is one hell of a calling card.  

Currently Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

17. Lady Bird

Directed By Greta Gerwig

lady bird

It’s confession time for this Cinema Bro. I wanted to hate Lady Bird. With all the positive buzz and (in my assumption) hipster Greta Gerwig in the director’s chair, the old curmudgeon that resides within me walked into this films with arms crossed. My bad attitude and close-mindedness is precisely why Lady Bird triumphs. It softens even the hardest of hearts, in my estimation, and it shows us a picture of youth that is nearly universal. I laughed and cried throughout, and I am so thankful that this film was made.

For me, Lady Bird is also very personal. I graduated from high school in 2005, and the entire film takes place in the early 2000’s. As Lady Bird tries to use the dial-up internet she also sees images of the war in Iraq on her TV screen and hears Justin Timberlake’s music at a party. Both sadness and hopefulness permeate the entire run-time of the film, and Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother hit close to home for me. Laurie Metcalf’s performance, especially in a scene toward the end of the film, cut right to my heart. Friendship, hope for the future, and teenage bitterness are conveyed with the accuracy of someone for whom these experiences are still fresh and real. Gerwig has established herself as a fantastic young talent, and Saoirse Ronan delivers yet another fantastic performance in one of the most wonderfully joyful films of 2017.

Currently in Theaters

16. Lady Macbeth

Directed By William Oldroyd

Lady Macbeth - Still 1

It occurred to me after watching Lady Macbeth that this film is 2017’s version of The Witch. Indie studio A24 specializes in delivering these dark, twisted tales that are hardly what they seem at first glance. Lady Macbeth does not disappoint in this respect, and it adds another complicated layer to the story of a young woman pushing back against those who oppress her.

Director William Oldroyd has a significant background in stage production, and he exercises that to great effect in Lady Macbeth. The camera is static and the estate in which Katherine lives is maddeningly creaky and old. Oldroyd uses this to his advantage though, and he makes it clear that Katherine’s activities in and around the mansion do not go unnoticed. No matter to Lady Katherine though. She doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks of her. As such, Florence Pugh gives a startling performance as the lead, so much so that she eclipses nearly every other performance in the film. This is by design however; Katherine’s dominance is the central theme of the film and she will not let anyone stand in her way. This period piece left a lasting impression on me, and I simply cannot wait to see what Oldroyd and Pugh do next.  

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

15. Good Time

Directed By Benny and Josh Safdie

Good Time

I would be hard pressed to describe precisely why Good Time resonated with me so much when I watched it last year. It’s an exceedingly rare film, one that defies genre in some respects and also features only a couple actors that you’ve ever seen before. It’s certainly not fun viewing either. After all the film is about a young man, Connie, who brings his developmentally disabled brother with him to rob a bank. As the story unfolds, however, this becomes more than your average New York crime film. There’s philosophical depth to its message, and the Safdie brothers set out to highlight societal issues while also not letting Connie off the hook.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Robert Pattinson’s performance in the film. It’s honestly the glue that makes everything stick together. It would be very easy for a film like this to unravel quickly without a strong, anchoring central performance. Pattinson gives us that anchor and then some as he cons his way through the seedy New York City nighttime. As he desperately tries to rescue his brother, Nick, from prison we quickly realize that he will do anything and use anyone to accomplish his endgame. Pattison’s performance combined with an audacious visual aesthetic and pulsing score make Good Time a rare cinematic experience, one that I will be sure to revisit in the near future.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

14. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Directed By Martin McDonagh

Three Billboards

When I found out this film was being made over a year ago, I knew it would make my year-end list in whatever year it was released. I am an unabashed film disciple of Martin McDonagh (and his brother, John Michael) and I love nearly all of their films. When I first saw Three Billboards, I knew that it was certainly the most ambitious film I had seen from either of the McDonaghs. That’s actually somewhat impressive given that Martin’s previous film, Seven Psychopaths changed my definition of the term “meta” and made me look at film and storytelling  differently than ever before. Fantastic performances set aside, I truly believe that Three Billboards is a flawed, zealous masterclass in storytelling, and I hope it might be looked upon with a bit more grace as time goes on.

It’s no secret that Three Billboards has been embroiled in controversy since it started receiving awards. The two main criticisms are it’s treatment of the racist police officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), and the lack of agency given to the film’s characters of color. I won’t defend those things outright, because those concerns are valid. There are certainly problematic elements contained within this film. However, I will propose that McDonagh actually created the film to be problematic on multiple levels. Recently breaking his silence on the critical backlash to Three Billboards, he said outright, “It’s supposed to be a deliberately messy and difficult film….” McDonagh has never been a filmmaker to care much about his audience’s feelings, and he continues that trend with Three Billboards. Is it offensive? Absolutely. However, it’s in this offensive, messy tale of an enraged mother and a racist police officer that we see bridges built and old wounds being healed. Forgiveness is possible in McDonagh’s Ebbing, Missouri and it doesn’t mean you have to forget the damage that came before it.

Currently in Theaters

13. The Lost City of Z

Directed By James Gray

The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z is an exceedingly special film. It was shot on 35mm film by a filmmaker who revels in old school Hollywood. James Gray began his career with a handful of crime films and then pivoted his attention with The Immigrant to period dramas. The Lost City of Z is said to be his finest film to date, and I can absolutely see why. It’s a sweeping, epic adventure of a day gone by, and one can’t help but get caught up in it’s magical beauty.

When Gray set out to make this film, he had a difficult task in front of him. History tells us that the British explorer Percy Fawcett went on eight expeditions to South America over the course of almost 20 years, 1906-1925. On his final expedition, Fawcett vanished along with his oldest son, Jack. It stands to reason that Gray had to get creative with his script and the way in which he told this story. What unfolds for the viewer is a slow, deliberate tale of a man obsessed with the unknown. Fawcett was after a lost city that he dubbed “Z,” and we will likely never know what became of him after his disappearance.

Charlie Hunnam was brilliantly cast as Fawcett in this film, and Robert Pattinson and Tom Holland log fantastic supporting performances as Fawcett’s fellow explorer and oldest son respectively. Hunnam conveys the determination and loneliness of a man searching for life’s greatest mysteries, and it’s one of the best performances of his career. Sienna Miller also stands out as Fawcett’s long-suffering wife, ultimately left behind a widow. Despite its sheer wonder, the film is tinged with deep sadness throughout. Although we may not know what happened to Fawcett in the end, we can yet hope that he ultimately found that for which he was searching.

Currently Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

12. The Shape of Water

Directed By Guillermo del Toro

The Shape of Water

With The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro has given filmgoers a movie that is desperately needed in multiplexes and art-house theaters everywhere. This film is poignant, intelligent, and heartfelt, and it also addresses a number of societal issues that still plague our culture daily. It’s also a science fiction film – but it’s not a sequel, reboot, rebootquel, or anything of the sort. In addition, it features knockout performances from stellar actors. If you had told me 2017 would give us Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Octavia Spencer in the same film, I would have laughed in your face. Yet here we are. The Shape of Water is currently nominated for thirteen Academy Awards, and if it won all thirteen it would be one of the most deserving films to do so.

And then there is Sally Hawkins. Before The Shape of Water, I had only seen her in a handful of films. Here, she gives one of the best performances of 2017 (if not the last decade), all without saying a word. We feel her longing for love and meaning as she emotes with her eyes and body language. Sometimes she is gleeful and almost childish. At other times she is fierce and determined. All things considered, she makes this film exactly what it is. Del Toro and his screenwriting partner Vanessa Taylor gave their talented cast a wonderful script, and cinematographer Dan Laustsen brings it all together with nothing short of dazzling camerwork. This film is the whole package, and I am supremely glad that Del Toro set out to make this enchanting tale of love and sacrifice.

Currently in Theaters

11. Colossal

Directed By Nacho Vigalondo

Colossal

Colossal is one of my most beloved films of 2017. That may seem odd, given the subject material, but let me explain. It’s defies just about any genre tag you could try to give it. Is it sci-fi, drama, romance…what is it? There is no way this film should actually work, by any stretch of the imagination. Even thinking back on the plot, this becomes immediately apparent to me. An alcoholic woman is kicked out by her boyfriend and moves back to her hometown only to find out that she has a mysterious connection with a kaiju monster terrorizing South Korea…huh?!?!? However, it’s in this sheer insanity of a story about kaiju, addiction, and abusive relationships that we are pulled in and reminded of our own demons. We hurt others and we are wounded by others just the same. Don’t let the skyscraper-sized monsters fool you – this is a film about all of us.

One thing that still sticks with me long after viewing Colossal is Anne Hathaway’s performance as Gloria. She is a complicated, loveable mess who keeps falling into the same destructive patterns over and over again. I’m truly upset that she was never considered for any awards for this performance. She completely and wholly sells Colossal as a serious film about addiction and toxic relationships, and I loved every second of her performance. I won’t say much about Jason Sudeikis as Gloria’s childhood friend Oscar. Let’s just say he plays against type in this film, to say the least. I don’t know how director Nacho Vigalondo got this film made, and quite frankly I don’t care. We need more creative cinema like Colossal, and I truly hope that we see more of the same from Hathaway and Vigalondo very soon.

Currently Streaming on Hulu

 

For Jake’s Top 10 films of 2017, please listen to the Cinema Bros’ Top 10 Podcast HERE

 

 

2 thoughts on “Jake’s Top Films of 2017: 20-11

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s