Sam’s Top Films of 2017: 20-11

By Sam Wampfler


20. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Directed by Martin McDonagh

Three Billboards may not be my favorite Martin McDonagh film, but I still felt that it had to make it onto my top 20. It is a wonderful piece of satire that delves right into so many societal issues that our world is facing, such as racism, sexism, and basic prejudice. It doesn’t handle all of these matters perfectly, but the mere fact that it is trying to comment on them sets it above many other films.

What really makes Three Billboards great are its fabulous performances. Frances McDormand, always fantastic, excels in her role as Mildred, a mother trying to get justice for her murdered child. She is downright hilarious in some scenes, especially when she is screaming in righteous anger at the idiots on the news covering her story, but it is in her moments of mourning her daughter that she obtains her most heartbreaking and poignant moments. Sam Rockwell is also notable as the racist cop who starts off as a problem for Mildred and ends up as her only supporter. He also spans the spectrum between hilarity and sadness, giving one of the best performances of his career. Three Billboards can be a rough watch at times, but it remains a relevant and entertaining film.

Currently In Theaters

19. Brigsby Bear

Directed By Dave McCary

Brigsby Bear was the last film I watched from 2017 and I am extremely glad I was able to fit it in. The plot of this film is super quirky as it deals with the uniquely millennial issue of pop culture addiction. No other generation has obsessed as much over different forms of media and this is expertly portrayed through James’ (SNL’s Kyle Mooney) love for his childhood TV show, Brigsby Bear. Mooney does a great job in his first big film acting role and really brings a heartwarming quality to the character.

Director Dave McCary’s greatest accomplishment in the film is creating the world of the Brigsby Bear show. We see clips from the original episodes of Brigsby Bear that are complete with a retro VHS effect. These clips are brilliant and have great voice acting moments by Mark Hamill. We then see James’ updated final episode of Brigsby Bear and it is a sight to behold. It contains some of the best shots of the entire film, including some paying homage to shows of the past including Star Wars and Star Trek. For his first feature film, McCary definitely created a lovely and visually entertaining tale.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

18. I, Tonya

Directed by Craig Gillespie

I, Tonya reminded me a lot of The Big Short. They have the same frenetic energy and they both tell a not so happy true story in a comedic and lighthearted way. I knew next to nothing about Tonya Harding before this film and I found the whole story completely fascinating. It took its source material, conflicting interviews, to heart and really showed all of the sides of the story without demonizing any of the characters.

What really makes this film work is the amazing performances by Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. Robbie was perfect for the role of Tonya Harding. She played Tonya during multiple stages in her life and she nailed every age perfectly. Janney, who plays Harding’s mother, completely transforms herself. Her performance is wonderful and you often find yourself laughing at many of her lines, even the terrible ones that you shouldn’t find funny. Her mother was a terrible person and Janney really leans into the role. The rest of the cast is great as well and they all help to make I, Tonya a truly delightful biopic.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

17. The Shape of Water

Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro has a knack for creating fantastical worlds that dazzle the minds of viewers. The world in The Shape of Water is no exception. On the surface it is merely a quaint 1960’s town, but, besides the fish man that we are introduced to, there is a particular sense of magic that the town exudes. It has a certain glow to it that makes you believe that anything could happen. This glow also seems to emanate from the main character Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute maid at a secret government facility. Hawkins plays Elisa brilliantly. She is absolutely charming and completely elevates an already incredible film.

Two of the most impressive technical aspects of The Shape of Water are the design of Doug Jones’ fish man and the underwater scenes. The makeup artists that created the fish man design and completely transformed Jones deserve much more credit than they have received. Jones himself is and always has been great at bringing his non-human parts to life in a very unique way, and the Shape of Water is no exception. Visually, the underwater scenes are phenomenal because most weren’t shot in water at all. It is uncanny how perfectly they captured how the character’s hair and clothes would flow underwater. The Shape of Water is definitely a technical and visual masterpiece.

Currently In Theaters

16. Blade Runner 2049

Directed By Dennis Villeneuve

Blade Runner 2049 is a long but film but it never feels long. Every shot and every scene is so enthralling, which is partially due to some amazing visual effects and production design and partially due to the terrific performances of an amazing cast. Ryan Gosling, as usual, gives a wonderful performance. It may even be one of the best of his career. Harrison Ford is also great, giving his signature grumpy old man performance, as he reprises his role as Rick Deckard.

The best aspect of the film, though, is how it not only continues the Blade Runner story but also updates it. It is the same world, but much has changed since the original. The most fascinating elements are the scenes where we see the cityscapes from the original now abandoned and surrounded by pollution. The society of the world has also changed, and not for the better, even though film’s antagonist would have you think so. Parallels can be made to our own world in this way. Blade Runner 2049 is not only a work of art, but also a great piece of social commentary.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

15. Thor: Ragnarok

Directed By Taika Waititi

It is rather astounding that it took three tries to get a good Thor film, but it finally happened. With Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi gave us a funny, epic, and visually stunning comic book tale. One of his best moves was finally letting Chris Hemsworth unleash his comedic wit as the God of Thunder. Past films had him acting all grim and straight faced for much of their runtime. In Thor: Ragnarok he becomes one of the main driving comedic forces, along with Waititi’s ability to subvert audience expectation to a hilarious degree.

This is also one of the most visually stunning films that Marvel has released. Two scenes in particular stand out as exceptional. One is an homage to Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, where in Thor is driven through a psychedelic tunnel, and the other is a flashback of Hela versus the Valkyries. The Valkyrie scene may be the most brilliant footage ever to come out of a comic book movie. Thor: Ragnarok is more proof that Marvel knows how to craft high quality entertaining films.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

14. Logan Lucky

Directed By Steven Soderbergh

 

Steven Soderbergh’s directing credits are somewhat all over the place. He has made dramas like Traffic, documentaries like Gray’s Anatomy, and more comedic fare like Magic Mike. For most mainstream moviegoers though he is best known for the Ocean’s Eleven series. With Logan Lucky he asks “What if they robbed NASCAR instead of Vegas?” It turns out that this was a question that had a hilarious answer.

Most notable for their comedic performances in the film are Adam Driver and Daniel Craig. Both of them transform themselves for their roles and give incredible performances. Besides being hilarious though, Logan Lucky also takes times to slow its pace and get in some very heartwarming character development. Some of this is between the two Logan brothers played by Driver and Channing Tatum, but the best example is the building of the relationship between Tatum’s character and his daughter. It is a running theme that he is not always around for her but the two care a great deal for each other. The opening scene is simply a conversation between father and daughter about their favorite country songs and the daughter’s upcoming pageant. It is a lovely moment and completely sets Logan Lucky a step above most traditional comedies.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

13. John Wick: Chapter 2

Directed By Chad Stahelski

The first John Wick was incredible in many ways. It had some of the most incredible action sequences ever put to film and Keanu Reeves as one of the most badass action stars of all time. It was hard to say if the second chapter would be able to live up to its predecessor, but it absolutely did in every way possible. The guns are bigger, the fights are more intense, and the cast includes some even bigger names, including Laurence Fishburne and Common (who gets in an epic physical brawl with Reeves).

John Wick Chapter 2’s most important addition is its world building. In the first film we are introduced to a hotel where no hits are allowed to go down. In this new chapter we find out there is a whole organization of hitmen with distinct rules, a weapon sommelier, and a group of phone operators all dressed in pink that are able to to put out hits with the touch of a button. In a sense we find out that this is a world that may be inhabited entirely by hitmen. It is a wonderful premise that really builds up a lot of excitement for the third chapter.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

12. Dunkirk

Directed By Christopher Nolan

Dunkirk is exceptional as a war film because, unlike others of its kind, it does not rely on a lot of normal war film tropes. There aren’t any sprawling battlefields. There are just soldiers on a beach. You barely even see the enemy forces. Dunkirk instead relies on its non-linear timeline, intense and driving score, and powerful performances to immerse the viewer in the experience of thousands of soldiers who were stranded in enemy territory waiting for what seemed like an almost impossible rescue.

Dunkirk’s non-linear timeline was confusing at first, but when it started to make sense it also became its most genius aspect. At this point, there have to have been hundreds of war films made and without a doubt Dunkirk is one of the most creative and moving of all of them. We get the stories of the men on the beach, the civilian boat owners, and the pilots trying to protect all of them at different yet interlocking speeds. All while a watch ticking effect accompanies the score and drives the action and the tension. It is truly one of Nolan’s most breathtaking achievements.

Currently Available on VOD & Blu-ray/DVD

11. Colossal

Directed By Nacho Vigalondo

Normally, films that involve giant monsters attacking cities don’t delve into any deep and emotional themes. Colossal goes against the norm and jumps straight into some very impressive commentary on addiction and abuse, both verbal and physical. Even with these dark themes, the film still remains funny, witty, and thoroughly enjoyable. Much of this is due to excellent performances by Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis.

Hathaway, in particular, is extremely intriguing as the main character Gloria. She wholly transforms herself for the role and she is the main source of both the comedic and dramatic moments in the film. Her progression through the stages of addiction are hard to watch at times, but there is a unique charm to her performance that really make you feel for her. She also has some of the most hilarious moments when she discovers how she is linked to the monster in Seoul, South Korea. Colossal is a wonderful example of how you can take a common film genre and transform it into something meaningful, fun, and new.  

Currently Streaming on Hulu

 

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

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