Editor's Note: Once upon a time, Big Picture Big Sound was pretty well known for our "High Fives" section. It started way back in 2000, when site founder Joe Lozito decided to round up his "High Five Best American Films of the 1970s (that are not Star Wars or Jaws)". With that admirably wysiwyg title, Joe kicked off a trend among the BPBS critics: it became a regular practice to present end-of-year best lists, as well as rolling up "top" lists from various genres or providing decade-spanning wrap-up lists when warranted. Why did we abandon the "High Fives" section? Who knows - but kudos are in order to Matthew Passantino for reviving the "year's best" custom for 2017. I'm happy to present Matt's Top 10 list for the year below (though I do disagree with his callous dismissal of the "Baywatch" reboot - c'mon, it was fun!).
Top 10 season has always been one of my favorite aspects of film writing. After seeing 100-plus movies a year, it's always the fun challenge to pick out the 10 that were the best. While most films sadly run the gamut of bad-to-passable, there are plenty of treasures within a given year, if you take the time to look for them.
This year was no different. There was plenty of bad - I'm looking directly at you "Baywatch" and "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" - but there were great big films, which transcended their genres into something truly entertaining. There were movies that held a mirror to our times, made us think, and left us wondering about what conversations we should be having. Then there were the movies that packed such an emotional wallop; they were unshakable after the credits rolled.
As it is with most years, it was difficult to arrive at the definitive 10, so before we get into it, here are some honorable mentions, listed in alphabetical order:
"Girls Trip," "Good Time," "Ingrid Goes West," "Mudbound," "Spider-Man: Homecoming," "Step," "Stronger," "Wind River," "Wonder Wheel" and "Wonder Woman"
10.) "The Big Sick"
The script by real-life spouses Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon tells the story of their relationship, which was put through an emotional ringer from the early stages. Nanjiani stars as himself, essentially, playing a standup comedian, who meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) at a club one night. They begin to date but their relationship is met with a clash of cultures and further derailed when Emily goes into a coma. Kumail spends the majority of the film with Emily's parents, played to perfection by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, who aren't always sure of his role in their daughter's life. "The Big Sick" is funny and sweet, earning every laugh and heartfelt moment.
It's shocking that this tiny little movie is the first time Amy Ryan has had a starring role. The previous Oscar nominee ("Gone Baby Gone") delivers the performance of her career as a woman who is trying to protect her family's land after her father passes away. She and her brother disagree on whether or not they should sell the land. Angus MacLachlan's ("Junebug") film is a quiet look on family and legacy, offering poignant and intimate moments between the characters. In a just world, Ryan would be vying for a Best Actress Oscar.
What a joy this documentary is. The legendary Agnès Varda teams up with muralist JR as they travel through France, meeting strangers and learning about their lives. They take pictures of the locals and create giant murals on the sides of buildings, rock, or any other space that will allow. The movie follows the unlikely friendship as JR and Varda reflect upon their work, their lives and death. Varda, who is almost 90 years old, knows this may be her last project and she cherishes every moment. "Faces Places" works as an art film, mismatched buddy comedy, and a medative reflection on life. It's pure cinema.
Luca Guadagnino is a filmmaker who evokes the senses through his movies. His previous films, "I am Love" and "A Bigger Splash," brought us to sun-soaked Italy and his latest in no less transportive. Rising star Timotèe Chalamet plays 17-year-old Elio, who strikes up a relationship with his father's visiting grad student, Oilver (Armie Hammer). Set over the course of the summer of 1983 in Italy, "Call Me by Your Name" follows Elio and Oliver's relationship as it blossoms into something passionate. "Call Me by Your Name" is rarely concerned with sex or orientation but delivers a universal message of first love and heartbreak through its characters. Chalamet delivers a finely calibrated performance as Elio, carrying the weight of his performance in his eyes - he is the film's deep soul and beating heart. Hammer does his best work since "The Social Network" and Michael Stuhlbarg delivers one of the film's most emotional moments as Elio's father.
I first saw "Personal Shopper" at the Toronto Film Festival in 2016 and found it just as great upon its theatrical release this year. Kristen Stewart continues to pave her path in independent cinema with her performance as Maureen, a personal shopper in France, who is also a medium trying to make contact with her recently deceased brother. Things get truly weird when Maureen starts receiving contact from an unknown number, which leads her to believe it's her brother trying to make contact. Director Olivier Assayas' movie blends tones and genres at the risk of being a mess but ends up being something truly beautiful and haunting.
As a social commentary, Jordan Peele's "Get Out" is one of the most important films to come out this year. As a horror-thriller-comedy hybrid, the movie is something completely rad. Daniel Kaluuya is one of the great breakouts of the year as Chris, a black man, who goes to his white girlfriend's (Allison Williams) family's house for a weekend only to find things aren't as tranquil as they seem. As "Get Out" unfolds, Peele offers subtleties and surprises at every turn. Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener star as the girlfriend's parents and offer chilling supporting turns. "Get Out" is one of the most audacious debuts in quite some time.
Martin McDonagh's previous films ("In Bruges" and "Seven Psychopaths") have been deliciously dark outings and while his latest is just as dark it's also his most complete. "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" is a twisted tale of revenge and anger with Frances McDormand in the lead as a brokenhearted mother. She plays Mildred, whose daughter was raped and murdered seven months prior to the film's opening. She is frustrated there has been no movement in the case so she rents three billboards just outside of her town, which shame the police for not making arrests. Woody Harrelson stars as the targeted police chief and Sam Rockwell plays his dimwitted, racist sidekick. A lot of "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri" is played for laughs but there is a grimy sense of lawlessness, which permeates every frame. People get away with things they shouldn't, sadly reflecting a familiar world. We live in angry times and this film is the fiery cocktail that tells us it's okay to be mad (just don't fuel your anger the way some of these characters do). McDormand gives the performance of the year as Mildred, a mother who may not have always said or done the right thing but remains fiercely protective of her daughter's legacy.
This year was tough to pick my number one film. "Three Billboards" was my sole four-star review to come out of 2017 but one movie stayed with me, perplexed me and haunted me for half the year and has gone unseen by the masses. David Lowery's "A Ghost Story" is a singular work of art, which sets up its story with a gimmick to tell something far more profound. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara (reteaming from Lowery's "Ain't Them Bodies Saints") star as C and M, respectively. They are a married couple, who seem content but not without a hint of festering problems. C suddenly dies one day in a car accident and returns as the stereotypical image of a ghost - draped in a white sheet with two eyeholes cut out. The image, which saunters around unbeknownst anyone else, is the conduit to the film's deeper meaning about life, death, time and everything in between. It is impossible to understand "A Ghost Story" after one, two or maybe even five viewings and that is what makes it such a rich experience. The premise seems so silly but it will shake the unshakable into having thoughts about life after death. "A Ghost Story" is a sparse marvel, using its limited plot, settings and characters to great advantage to dig into something utterly profound. The movie has yet to release me from its intoxicating grasp and I know it will be a long time before it does.