Cinema Knife Fight proudly presents:
THE BEST MOVIES OF 2017
As Presented by LL Soares & Michael Arruda
(LS and MA step from behind a curtain to applause as, dressed in tuxedos, they approach a podium)
MA: It’s time again for our choices for the best movies of the year!
LS: 2017 was actually a pretty good year for movies, so we had a lot to choose from.
MA: It really was. There were a bunch of movies this year that I really liked. In fact, there were so many good movies that some of them didn’t even make my Top 10 List.
LS: What we’ll be doing is listing our Top 5 choices for the best movies of the year, as we always do, explaining why we chose them, and then at the end, each give our complete Top 10 lists.
MA: I’ll start. My choice for the Fifth Best Movie of 2017 is…WIND RIVER.
And the main reason why is Taylor Sheridan, who’s one of my favorite screenwriters working today. He wrote SICARIO, my favorite film of 2015, and he followed that up with HELL OR HIGH WATER, one of the best films of 2016. WIND RIVER is every bit as good as his previous two films, and this time Sheridan directs as well.
The story takes place in Wind River, Wyoming, a beautiful expanse of land that looks like a winter paradise with its snow-covered mountains and icy rivers. But looks can be deceiving. A young woman is brutally murdered, and FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is on the case, assisted by hunter and tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner). WIND RIVER is much more than just a straightforward thriller. Taylor Sheridan takes us inside the minds and hearts of the Native Americans on the reservation where the murder occurred. They are a depressed lot, feeling they have little to live for, surrounded by snow and silence. The film also points out that statistics are not kept on the disappearances of Native American women, and no one really knows how many Native American women have gone missing over the years.
With WIND RIVER, Taylor Sheridan proves to be every bit as talented behind the camera as he is writing screenplays. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
LS: I still need to see WIND RIVER, but I like Taylor Sheridan a lot, too.
My choice for Number Five is the Stephen King adaptation, IT. I thought this was one of the best horror movies of 2017. The cast, mostly made up of child performers, is really good, and I enjoyed the way the story unfolded. I’m a big fan of the original IT TV-movie, starring Tim Curry as the evil clown, Pennywise, but I liked this version even better, especially without the restrictions imposed on it by network television. I also liked that Bill Skarsgard didn’t try to imitate Curry’s classic performance, but instead went for something more child-like, and actually more monstrous. The direction by Andy Muschietti is top-notch. I really liked this one.
MA: I liked IT, too, but less than you did, and it didn’t make my Top 10 List.
LS: My Number Four choice is a tie, between THOR: RAGNAROK and JUSTICE LEAGUE, two very different superhero films that both left me feeling good afterwards. THOR: RAGNAROK is the obvious choice here, since Taiki Waititi delivered easily the best THOR movie yet, and a Marvel film that dared to be a lot of fun from beginning to end. And it had the Hulk in it, too, in a meaty part. JUSTICE LEAGUE may not be as obvious, but in a different way, I really enjoyed this one, too. I liked the characters a lot, especially newcomers The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. I thought the movie was a great introduction to these characters and I wanted to know more about them. With solo movies of THE FLASH and AQUAMAN due out in 2018, I’ll get that wish, but I would be just as eager to see a CYBORG film, and I hope that still gets made, since Cyborg seemed like the character with the most potential, and the most mystery. I’m not a huge fan of Ben Affleck’s Batman, but he was fine in the role. I still think Henry Cavill is the best Superman so far, and while I loved his scenes, I wish there had been more of them. And Gal Gadot dominates the screen every time she shows up as Wonder Woman, the mightiest of them all (Superman might be stronger physically, but she’s got them all beat charisma-wise).
MA: I liked both these movies as well, but again, neither one made my Top 10 List. As we said, there were a lot of good movies this year.
My Number Four is THE FOUNDER, the biopic of McDonalds “founder” Ray Kroc, with Michael Keaton in the lead role. The slant in this movie is that Kroc worked so hard that he eventually claimed the title of “McDonalds Founder” even though he didn’t originate the model. Keaton is outstanding as Kroc, seen here as a frenetic salesman who, after one rough time after another, sees McDonalds as his opportunity to finally make it big after years of failure. When he realizes that his success has suddenly given him more power than he ever thought he would have, he decides to use that power to go after everything he wants because he knows he can get it. In a lesser actor’s hands, Kroc may have lost all sympathy at this point, but as played by Michael Keaton, the role becomes a natural extension of Kroc’s personality and the circumstances he finds himself in. In other words, it doesn’t come off as if he was a weasel in the making, just waiting for his chance to make it big, but rather, as a man who worked hard to be a success and then suddenly realized he had the clout and influence to get whatever he wanted.
Even though its subject, Ray Kroc, is a controversial figure, THE FOUNDER is not that dark a movie. Director John Lee Hancock films this one with bright tones that capture both the 1950s and McDonalds restaurants. The screenplay by Robert D. Siegel also keeps things light. The movie plays like an offbeat, quirky drama as opposed to an ominous piece on the ruthlessness of cutthroat business tactics. And with Keaton in the lead, it’s entertaining from start to finish.
And coming in at Number Three is WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES.
The new PLANET OF THE APES series keeps getting better and better. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, the third film in the rebooted series, is a thoroughly engrossing tale that is equal parts futuristic science fiction, epic adventure, and prisoner-of-war drama. All three parts work well to comprise a story that is captivating from start to finish, so much so, that this third film is clearly the best entry of the series thus far.
Director Matt Reeves, who also directed DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014), is one of the more talented directors working today. Andy Serkis returns as (ape leader) Caesar in another impressive CGI motion-capture performance. Woody Harrelson plays the human villain, an evil Colonel. It contains superior special effects. The apes look phenomenal. They’re so good, it’s easy to forget that nearly every character in this movie is a CGI creation. With lots of nods to the original series, WAR is an extremely satisfying chapter in the APES saga. One of the best, if not the best, genre film of the year.
LS: I liked WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, but not enough to make it on my list.
My Number Three choice is another superhero film, LOGAN. This is supposed to be the last time Hugh Jackman will play the X-Man Wolverine, and it’s a very poignant end to his run. Despite the fact that he’s too tall and not crazy enough, I thought Jackman made the role his own in numerous X-related films, and I’ll be sorry to see him go. But I really liked the dark tone of LOGAN, and the fact that it was rated R, which makes perfect sense, since Wolverine’s main offensive power is razor-sharp adamantium claws that can cut anything apart. When your main power is slicing and dicing, it’s kind of hard to do it justice in a PG-13 film. I also really liked Patrick Stewart as a Professor X, on the verge of dementia, and occasionally losing control of his formidable powers. A dark, violent, wonderful film, I loved this one, and it’s easily my favorite of all the X-MEN movies (and spin-offs) so far.
My Number Two movie is another tie, this time it’s GET OUT and THE SHAPE OF WATER, two very different genres films that stood out in 2017. GET OUT was released earlier in the year and was an incredibly fresh kind of horror movie, using the genre to comment on race and society. It’s not like the potential wasn’t always there, it was that nobody was using horror in such an innovative way. Jordon Peele breathed new life into the genre, and created a movie that will endure as a classic in the future. THE SHAPE OF WATER is a love story about two outsiders: a mute woman who is treated as invisible by many people she comes in contact with, and an “Amphibian Man” who is being tortured in the name of science and security by the military. When the woman helps the monster escape, it’s a matter of the heart. Guillermo del Toro does a great job making such a fantastic story believable, and Sally Hawkins turns in one of the best performances of the year, without saying a word.
MA: I loved GET OUT, and I have yet to see THE SHAPE OF WATER.
My Number Two is GOOD TIME, which was one of the more intense, energetic, and insane thrillers of the year. It’s the story of two brothers, Connie (Robert Pattinson) and mentally challenged Nick (Benny Safdie) who rob a bank and then botch the escape. Connie eludes the police, but Nick is arrested. Connie spends the rest of the movie trying to break his brother out of the hospital where he’s being held, and what follows is a roller coaster ride of a night as Connie faces one obstacle after another, and the film treats its audience to one twist after another.
GOOD TIME was expertly directed by brothers Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie. Benny also plays Nick in the film, while Josh co-wrote the screenplay with Ronald Bronstein. It’s an excellent script with realistic dialogue and vibrant, living characters. Nearly every character who appears in this movie is interesting, a testament both to the acting and to the superior writing.
It has a brilliant performance by Robert Pattinson as big brother Connie. This is his best performance yet, and he gives Connie a depth not often found in a character like this. There’s also an absolutely frenzied and very effective music score by Daniel Lopatin that really adds a lot to the movie. It reminded me of something John Carpenter would have written.
GOOD TIME doesn’t stop. It’s one of the more frenetic movies of the year, and certainly one of the most satisfying. It’s a ride you definitely do not want to miss.
And the drum roll please—. My pick for the Number 1 movie of 2017: DUNKIRK.
Forget everything you know about traditional storytelling. DUNKIRK , the World War II movie by writer/director Christopher Nolan, changes the rules and then some. In an interview, Nolan described the soldiers’ experiences at Dunkirk in three parts: those on the beach were there a week, the rescue on the water took a day, and the planes in the air had fuel for one hour. To tell this story, Nolan separates it into these three parts—the week on the beach, the day at sea, and the crucial hour in the air—but he does this in a non-linear fashion, meaning all three events are shown happening concurrently and interspersed with each other. Surprisingly, the result isn’t confusing. Instead, this bold use of time generates heightened tension and maximum suspense.
DUNKIRK tells the amazing story of the rescue of 338,000 British soldiers from the French port town of Dunkirk in events that transpired from May 26 – June 4, 1940. The soldiers were surrounded by German forces and the only escape was by sea, which was covered by German planes. In effect, there was no escape. However, in what turned out to be a stroke of genius, instead of sending the navy, the British authorities sent out a call for civilian ships to go to Dunkirk, which they did, and they miraculously rescued the soldiers. Had the British soldiers been captured, Germany would have advanced, most likely on their way to a successful invasion of Great Britain. But the soldiers escaped to fight another day, and Churchill turned the event on its head, claiming a moral victory and using it to espouse the spirit of resistance.
The superb cast, albeit mostly unknowns, deliver first-rate performances. Veteran actors Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Hardy are also excellent. The editing during the climactic sequence is second to none. And it has one of the more suspenseful last acts to a movie I’ve seen in a while. Nolan also makes full use of sound. When the planes attack, the sound effects are loud and harsh.
DUNKIRK tells this improbable story in mind-bending fashion, thanks to the innovative efforts of Christopher Nolan, one of the most talented writer/directors working today.
LS: My Number One movie of 2017 is another World War II-themed film, WONDER WOMAN. After multiple Superman and Batman feature films over the decades, it was about time some of the other DC heroes got their chance to shine, and frankly, none of them shined as much as Wonder Woman did in 2017. It began last year with BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016), a flawed film that had one gemstone just about everyone could agree on—Wonder Woman. With her very cool Hans Zimmer theme song, and played by the perfectly-cast Gal Gadot, she stole the movie every time she appeared onscreen. When she finally got a movie of her own, the hope was that this momentum would continue, but it did more than that. It launched Wonder Woman into the stratosphere! While I think WONDER WOMAN, the movie, has its flaws, these are outweighed by everything it gets right, starting with Gadot and director Patty Jenkins. I think this had the most impact of any superhero film of the year, and I can’t wait to see more from this winning team.
MA: Well, that’s it for another year.
LS: I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2018.
MA: And now we’ll list our Complete Top 10 Lists for 2017:
MICHAEL’S TOP TEN LIST:
- GOOD TIME
- WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
- THE FOUNDER
- WIND RIVER
- THE FLORIDA PROJECT
- BATTLE OF THE SEXES
- THE BICK SICK
LL’S TOP 10 LIST:
2.GET OUT/THE SHAPE OF WATER (TIE)
4. THOR RAGNAROK/JUSTICE LEAGUE (TIE)
6. THE DISASTER ARTIST
7. THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS
8. VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS
NOTE: I’d also like to give a special prize to David Lynch’s Showtime series TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN (2017). It was nominally a TV series, but it transcended the boundaries of television. It seemed more cinematic, but wasn’t made necessarily for the big screen. It was a strange creature all its own, with Lynch doing it all exactly the way he wanted to. So I think it deserves a category of its own. And it’s probably the most enjoyable piece of work, in film or television, that I saw in 2017. – LLS
© Copyright 2017 by LL Soares & Michael Arruda