Chris Evangelista’s Top 10 Movies of 2017

blade runner 2049 top 10

5. Blade Runner 2049

Some folks may not agree, but Blade Runner 2049 is proof that even big studio tentpoles can turn into works of art. It would’ve been very easy for Denis Villeneuve to make his Blade Runner sequel into a more commercial, easily-digestible blockbuster. Instead, the Arrival director opted to create a brooding tone poem; a huge film with unique ideas about what it means to be human. When I say this film is huge, I mean it in the literal sense – Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins render the world of Blade Runner 2049 in big, bold, dizzying strokes, creating a landscape populated by imposing, brutalistic structures that loom and threaten like elder gods. It’s easy to get lost in all the spectacle on display here, but beneath the film’s unique, gorgeous appearance are quiet, dramatic moments – for instance, who knew that a Blade Runner sequel would offer up one of the best performances of Harrison Ford’s career? With few words and knowing, hang-dog expressions, Ford is able to deliver something that stands-out from the rest of his lengthy body of work.

the post top 10

4. The Post

Democracy dies in darkness, and Steven Spielberg’s whiz-bang, monumentally important meditation on the vitality off a free press couldn’t come at a more opportune time. Is Spielberg’s take on the story of the Washington Post’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers a little on-the-nose? Sure, but maybe these are times that call for less subtlety and more bluntness, especially when this topic is concerned. And here’s the thing: even if The Post weren’t an important film for 2017 dealing with important issues, it’s also one hell of an entertaining flick. With a crackerjack cast lead by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, The Post is one of the most fast-paced films of Spielberg’s career, with a narrative that moves quickly yet never feels rushed. As I said in my review, “This is perhaps the breeziest film of Spielberg’s career. At a lighting fast 1 hour and 55 minutes, there’s almost no fat on The Post, save for a prologue set in Vietnam which could’ve been excised. Pacing has never really been a problem for Spielberg, but with The Post he has crafted a film that carries its audience along at breakneck speed, turning what easily could’ve been a stuffy chamber room drama into a exhilarating thrill-ride. Editors Sarah Broshar and Michael Kahn know just where to cut to keep scenes snappy and impactful. The end result is a narrative that punches fast and hard, like so many typewriter keys against a blank sheet of paper.”

phantom thread top 10

3. Phantom Thread

Don’t let the trailers fool you – Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is one of the funniest films of 2017. With Phantom Thread, Anderson has created a sly, deceptive, kinky pitch-black romantic comedy about two domineering, destructive individuals who may have been made for each other. As the film begins, it looks like Thread will be another example of the “tortured artist who is also an asshole trope,” with Daniel Day-Lewis playing a rude-yet-talented fashion designer who does not suffer others lightly. When Day-Lewis falls into a relationship with a timid-seeming waitress, played to perfection by Vicky Krieps, we think we know exactly where this is going. And we’re wrong! Instead, Anderson takes his audience for a ride that might catch more than a few completely off-guard – several people at the screening I attended didn’t quite seem to get that what was happening on screen was supposed to be funny (albeit funny in a decidedly twisted fashion). As I said in my review, “Phantom Thread is a niche film for Anderson. It doesn’t fit neatly into any specific category, and it lacks the more mainstream appeal of something like Boogie Nights. Yet it’s one of the finest films he’s ever made, and one of the best of the year. Like the flowing gowns, ruffled capes and high-collared necklines that Reynolds obsessively crafts, it’s a true sight to behold. It will leave you stunned, but don’t be shocked if you find yourself grinning as you leave the theater.”

shape of water top 10
2. The Shape of Water

Leave it to Guillermo del Toro to make one of the most romantic movies of the year, and also have it be about a woman who falls for a fish-man. The Shape of Water is a lovely little Cold War fairytale; a film brimming with ideas, and defiant of fitting nicely into any one particular genre. Violent, charming, and yes, even sexy, The Shape of Water is as fluid as its title suggests, able to change and shift at will. It’s also a wonderful celebration of individuals who are traditionally labeled as societal outcasts. Overall, The Shape of Water is unlike any other film this year; that it exists at all seems like a minor miracle. From my review: “The Shape of Water unfolds with a dreamy grace, full of moments that will have you uttering blissful sighs of content. Alexandre Desplat’s score is lush and romantic, perfectly underscoring the film’s tone, and the cinematography courtesy of Dan Laustsen recalls the look of films from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Del Toro conjures up one gorgeous moment after the next, including a show-stopping scene that turns into something out of a classic musical. It’s the type of thing only del Toro could create.”

The Florida Project top 10

1. The Florida Project

In The Florida Project, director Sean Baker brings his camera down low to the ground, better putting the audience in the eye-line of a child. This one simple decision effectively transports us into the film’s world – a world of run-down motels, abandoned properties, and souvenir stands, all nestled within miles of Walt Disney World. That Magic Kingdom colors nearly every element of this film; it’s a dream, not-too-distant yet worlds away, that looms over the lives of the people here struggling to get by. Baker’s film doesn’t glamorize poverty, nor does it cast judgement. Instead, it presents a less-than-desirable way of live through the eyes of children, who are blissfully unaware of whatever financial means their families lack, and instead are wholly engaged in a world where some magic is still very much a reality. Newcomer Brooklynn Prince delivers a performance so real, no natural, that it makes actors three times her age seem almost amateurish. Prince barrels through this film like a force of nature, unconcerned with the potential problems that plague her down-and-out mother (Bria Vinaite). On the sidelines of it all is kind, well-meaning, but ultimately frustrated motel owner played by Willem Dafoe. As I said of Dafoe’s performance in my review, “Dafoe is an acclaimed actor with an impressive career, yet it cannot be overstated how phenomenal he is in this movie. There’s an unmitigated goodness to Bobby, a weary but kind soul who wants to do the right thing. A character like this would be easy to cheapen and turn maudlin, but Baker’s script and Dafoe’s performance never performs this disservice. It’s a quiet performance, and much of the power comes from the somewhat sad, knowing glances Dafoe gives to the world around him. But just as often there’s kindness – Bobby can grow frustrated with the kid’s shenanigans, yet he’s always willing to give them a second chance.” In a film landscape increasingly populated by blockbusters, sequels and high-concept, The Florida Project stands tall above the rest – a reminder that movie magic need not come as the result of spectacle, but rather from stories that dare to focus on flawed-yet-real people.

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