Combustible Celluloid

2017: The Year in Review

What Happened to Me in the Dark

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It was a largely miserable year, difficult to find hope every day while slogging through the constantly unbelievable news, and yet there was hope to be had. Good people still showed up to do good things. They helped. They smiled. Good music played. Good books were read. Good food was prepared. And good movies were made and seen. Here is my list of the best, followed up runners-up, favorite DVDs and Blu-rays, "Guilty Pleasures and Little Treasures," and... the Worst.

- The Top Ten -

1. Faces Places
I didn't have a clear winner this year, so I went with the latest by an international treasure, and a film that I enjoyed at least as much as any other film this year. Made with photographer JR, Agnes Varda's Faces Places (a.k.a. Visages Villages, great title, that) is a look at the lives of others, curious and gentle, but, like all of Varda's best essay films (The Gleaners & I, The Beaches of Agnes), it's a self-examination as well, exploring her relationship with the younger man and what it all means. There might not be any clear answers, but that's fine so long as the asking remains so fascinating and moving.

2. The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography
The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography was a return to Errol Morris's early days, his thoughtful explorations of weirdos and outcasts. Like those films (Gates of Heaven, Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, etc.), I found a profound and thoughtful rumination on life itself within its simple, seemingly unimportant little story. It's a touching, darling movie, full of sadness and wonder, and it was a puzzle to me how seemingly nobody else saw it.

3. Detroit
Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit — her third collaboration with writer Mark Boal, which also yielded the masterpieces The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty — received the good reviews it deserved, but somehow its summertime release slot (the 50th anniversary of the riots) killed it. Paying customers did not show up, and critics could not remember it through the winter months. It stayed with me. As with Bigelow's other films, it's a masterful exploration of violence as a thing both attractive and repellent; the movie shows how this could have happened as well as explaining why it shouldn't have happened.

4. Wonderstruck
Todd Haynes's Wonderstruck is, like his great films Far from Heaven and I'm Not There, an essay-like exploration of cinema and sound as well as a moving story of those people involved in it. Not to mention that it's a glorious imaginarium of a movie, deserving of a space alongside Scorsese's Hugo (both adapted from books by Brian Selznick). Yet, like so many other movies on this list, it somehow received an unexpectedly lukewarm greeting from critics (perhaps due to an overall bizarre year). I have faith that it will be re-discovered.

5. Last Flag Flying
Richard Linklater's last five movies have all placed on my year-end ten-best lists, indicating that he's a contender for the best filmmaker working today, or at least someone who is seriously on a roll. However, unlike the last four movies, for which I had company, I am seemingly alone in my admiration for Last Flag Flying, which was, simply, the most I have both laughed and cried at a single movie this year.

6. The Shape of Water
Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water does in fact seem to be getting the admiration it deserves. For me, this beautiful, heartfelt film is a keeper because it shows Del Toro at his tenderest, his most vulnerable. He's a man who grew up in an uncertain world, feeling outcast but finding comfort in monsters. His vision of horror as part of the human condition is the purest since Tod Browning or James Whale.

7. Get Out
I would have loved Jordan Peele's Get Out in any case, but I'm not sure it would be a ten-best movie if not for last year's election and how terrifyingly relevant the movie suddenly became last February, just a handful of months after the unthinkable happened. As with the best genre films, it has its finger on the pulse of now, exploring racism in a way that's both supernatural but also sympathetic. It's also an expertly-constructed thriller, worthy of Polanski, and very much worth several viewings. Even though it's the supreme movie of the moment, it's good enough to hold up a decade from now.

8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Based on his earlier films, I would not have expected Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to make my list this year. But aside from the usual clever dialogue and colorful characters, this film simply has so many moments that suddenly veer into greatness, moments that deal in sorrow and loss in ways that movies usually just don't get. Some have chided it for its outsider's view of the south, or for its depiction of racists, but it's complex and nuanced enough to remain ambiguous.

9. Logan
I love superhero movies, but they rarely make it this far on my ten-best list. James Mangold's Logan is something else. It's the superhero movie equivalent of Frank Miller's classic graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, a final, fatalistic tale of wasted landscapes and lost epilogues. Passing through massive, rusted, blasted-out spaces, it's like a great Western or a road trip, nearly out of hope but with the tiniest seed of it to guide the way.

10. The Post
Steven Spielberg's The Post seems to have been made quickly, passionately, and directly in response to the current administration and its open disdain for the free press. But in addition to delivering its righteous message, this is also a cracking good film, taking roomfuls of men and women feverishly sorting through papers and making it dynamic, terrifying, and exciting. Maybe it's all hopelessly old-fashioned, but finding the truth and holding power accountable will never go out of style.

Ten Runners up (in alphabetical order):

Great Performances

  • Jim Carrey, The Bad Batch
  • Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
  • Anne Hathaway, Colossal
  • Ben Mendelsohn, Darkest Hour
  • Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
  • James Franco, The Disaster Artist
  • Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
  • Rob Pattinson, Good Time
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh, Good Time
  • Melanie Lynsky, I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore
  • Allison Janney, I, Tonya
  • Steve Carell, Last Flag Flying
  • Bryan Cranston, Last Flag Flying
  • Hugh Jackman, Logan
  • Patrick Stewart, Logan
  • Harry Dean Stanton, Lucky
  • Chadwick Boseman, Marshall
  • Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
  • Kristen Stewart, Personal Shopper
  • Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
  • Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water
  • Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Woody Harrelson, War for the Planet of the Apes
  • Andy Serkis, War for the Planet of the Apes

  • Great DVD and Blu-ray Releases

    I no longer review DVDs and Blu-rays with the same regularity that I once did, and there were several worthy releases this year that I did not get a chance to see. This list, while not comprehensive, comprises my favorites of the ones I did see.

    Guilty Pleasures & Little Treasures

    The Year's Worst Films
    One in first (worst) place, and ten more, in alphabetical order.

    1. The Last Face

    Thanks for reading! Sending best wishes and prayers for a better 2018! -- JMA

    Movies Unlimtied