Year in Recap: Best of 2017

The year that is about to end was a year of change. On January the 1st, I found myself in a strange town, emotionally hurt and surrounded by people I did not want to be surrounded by. It was the least auspicious beginning to a year that I can remember.

Fortunately, life has a way of sneaking up on you, for good and bad, and less than two months later I welcomed a new person in my life that has made me rediscover love, and regain the hope that happiness is not only attainable, but that it has always been within my reach should I dare to make some changes.

Unfortunately, the world did not seem interested in positive change during 2017. The seeds of extremism seem to be spreading. We have a nuclear North Korea, crumbling democracies, terrorism, the reigniting of fascism, a divided European Union, a buffoon in the White House and my country, Venezuela, is in a desperate and tragic state of ruin.

In all of the uncertainty and in all of our continued unwillingness to reach our true potential as a species, the movies continue to thrive, if not at the box office, at least it terms of quality, quantity and greater diversity. Amidst the greatest scandal in Hollywood since the Cold War (sexual abuse allegations against important figures of the medium), filmmaking has stood the test with more female-driven offerings and unprecedented decisions, such as the last-minute replacement of the disgraced Kevin Spacey from Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, or the widespread condemnation of long-time sexual predators by once-fearful victims.

In what is now a tradition of mine, I have decided to skip making a best of the year list of films and, instead, offer a list of the best feature films watched in 2017, regardless of when they were released. In addition, I will also share the best 5 blindspots I managed to watch, the 5 most memorable performances and the best new television shows I watched on the year.

This year, I managed to outdo myself in terms of quantity. After years barely scratching 100 total films watched, this time, as of December 26th, I have seen 123 films, with an average rating just above 3.2 out of 5.

10 BEST NEW-TO-ME FILMS WATCHED IN 2017

LA LA LAND (2016)

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An ode to the Hollywood musical that feels both nostalgic and modern. A beautifully realized piece of cinema that reminded me just how powerful going to the movie theater can be. A masterpiece.

DUNKIRK (2017)

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One of the best war films ever made. Beautifully shot on location in 70mm, Dunkirk was the most visceral experience I had in a theater all year. An innovative genre film that manages to feel both epic and small, telling a human tale in the midst of a great tragedy that turned out to be, in hindsight, a great triumph that was key to the success of the Allies during WWII. Perhaps Christopher Nolan’s best film yet.

GET OUT (2017)

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The most exciting and provocative horror film by a first-time director in years. Get Out was, at the time of its release, the perfect pairing of great filmmaking meeting the cultural zeitgeist.

What is most impressive about the film is how boldly it pursues its vision through cinematic splendor, feeling like a collage of horror references and camera tricks.

A crowning achievement.

RELATOS SALVAJES (2014)

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Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the year. Relatos Salvajes, or “Wild Tales”, is one of the most wonderfully tragicomic films I will ever get to see. This Argentinian creation is a compendium of six short films that are all linked by absurdity. Its brilliance is that within the constant hyperbole I was able to find a larger statement about what would happen if we succumb to our worst animalistic and violent impulses.

A MONSTER CALLS (2016)

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The only film of the year that was able to move me to tears.

Though it may seem like an overwhelmingly tragic experience to some, I found the last act wholly surprising in what it dares to say about dealing with grief at an early age. Find my full review here.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016)

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The disarming thing about Kenneth Lonergan’s latest piece is that it doesn’t feel as if we’re watching actors playing roles in a film. These all feel like real people, with genuine and intense feelings that, every once a while, are able to surprise us due to their unpredictable humanity.

Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges all deliver truly incredible performances.

THE PRESTIGE (2006)

More than any other film in Christopher Nolan’s oeuvre, The Prestige, feels like a natural extension of the great film maker. His work, after all, can be equated to that of a magician: revealing only a particular point of view so as to deliver spectacle and wonderful twists that are perfectly calculated.

MOTHER! (2017)

No other film on this recap owes as much to the singular vision of one man: writer-director Darren Aronofsky. A horror film so claustrophobic and filled with paranoia that it demanded the talent of a great director to make it all come together. A wonderful experiment in filmmaking.

CAROL (2015)

Few films have explored the vicisitudes of love, the pure and irrational kind, with so much simplicity, making even the faintest of gestures mean so much.

Carol is also about navigating social expectations in New York City in the 1950s, about finding a way to live with one’s choices, and about finding happiness by realizing that not everything can always be the way we want.

Carol also offers two stupendous lead performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, a beautiful cinematography and exquisite costume and set designs.

THE BIG SICK (2017)

Unlike most romantic comedies, where leads find obstacles to their love through silly and often unimportant issues, The Big Sick grows in heart the moment one of the lovebirds lays in a hospital, fighting to stay alive.

Meanwhile, the film remains utterly charming and lovable, using humor smartly and with great sense of timing.

OTHER NOTABLE FILMS (Rating of 4 out of 5)

JACKIE (2016), BEATRIZ AT DINNER (2017), BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017), LOUDER THAN BOMBS (2016), THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016), HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (2016), LION (2016), TOWER (2016), LEGEND (2015), FENCES (2016), HIDDEN FIGURES (2016), BABY DRIVER (2017), THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017), THE RED TURTLE (2017), 13th (2016), THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017), COCO (2017)

5 BEST BLINDSPOTS WATCHED

Of the more than 120 films I watched in 2017, only about 12 to 15 were older than 5 years. This happened for no other reason that I tend to myself interested in a lot of the current offerings, giving time to older films only sporadically. I intend to do better in 2018.

Meanwhile, here are the five best blindspots I watched, all older than five years:

THE PRESTIGE (2006)

Aside from Nolan’s very first feature film: Knowing; this tale of dueling magicians was the last of the director’s features I had not seen. Per usual, I was not the least bit disappointed. My thoughts above.

TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983)

A stupendous cast does wonders with this story of family and love told over the course of many years. Shirley McClain plays Aurora, a widowed mother with a lot personality whose strong bond to her only daughter, a very good Debra Winger, is challenged by her sudden marriage to a mediocre young teacher played by Jeff Daniels. After many years spent only as a mother, Aurora also ends up finding love with a next-door neighbor who thinks of himself a bachelor, played by Jack Nicholson with the kind of effortless flamboyance he is only capable of.

The film is surprisingly quirky for much of the first hour, which may turn off some, but it slowly becomes rooted in all-too-familiar difficulties and tragedies that lead to a powerful last act that is worth sticking around for.

THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955)

Far from being a flawless film, The Night of the Hunter is remarkable for the artistic liberties it took and for Robert Mitchum’s timeless performance as “The Preacher”, one of cinema’s greatest villains.

It helps that the film is often beautiful to look at, with many beautiful compositions that have the character and the heft of Biblical passages.

DO THE RIGHT THING (1989)

Spike Lee’s revered film explores racism in America set within the microcosm of an entrenched African-American community in the heart of New York City on a very warm and sunny summer day.

The film has the kind of theatrical panache that accompanies much of Lee’s work, while it delivers a stark and unapologetic point of view about racial relations in the United States that still feels timely 28 years later.

SEXO, PUDOR Y LÁGRIMAS (1999)

An irreverent and sexy comedy that doesn’t waste any time trying to aim for plausibility. Instead, it goes all-in when it comes to sex, challenging the notion of faithfulness, monogamy and love, and often opting for unpredictability to keep us laughing and engaged.

Much of the credit for its success goes to a cast that knows how to squeeze a bit of comedy from every bit of screen time.

5 PERFORMANCES TO REMEMBER

CASEY AFFLECK (Manchester by the Sea)

In a recent interview I watched, Nicole Kidman described Affleck’s work in Manchester by the Sea as sublime and virtuous. I couldn’t agree more. His is a performance that is truly heartbreaking because it seems so genuine and so effortless. He does so much with the script and with the silences between the lines.

One of the best I have ever seen.

NATALIE PORTMAN (Jackie)

Natalie Portman manages to embody Jacqueline Kennedy, arguably America’s most famous First Lady, as an interpretation of the person that feels like a valid approximation without it ever feeling like a false impersonation.

Dare I say that this is a performance that rivals her Academy-winning work in Black Swan.

ROBERT MITCHUM (Night of the Hunter)

The performance Mitchum gave as The Preacher is deservedly regarded as one of the standout moments in the history of acting in the big screen. Though it was the kind of performance you’d expect from him, it is one that elevates the film, that we yearn for during the long stretches of film he is not a part of and one that I couldn’t see anyone else doing instead.

DANIEL KALUUYA (Get Out)

I imagine it must have been quite a task for Jordan Peele to find a man that, in the course of two hours of film, could convey all of the fears but also all of the decisiveness of the black man in the United States. At the same time, Daniel needed to give Peele a face for absolute horror, and a face for the African American experience, with all of its baggage and all of its hope.

Daniel also needed to be expressive, physically powerful and capable of facing down his enemies with swagger and conviction.

Daniel Kaluuya was Jordan Peele’s best man for the role…completely.

MICHELLE WILLIAMS (Manchester by the Sea)

We have seen a role like hers before: a disconsolate mother that we first meet having lost everything she held dear. Yet Williams is so raw in Manchester by the Sea that her anguish feels new and unique. Williams, who has carved herself a humble yet beautiful path in Hollywood, once again gives a performance that is immediately disarming, not through the display of sheer grief, but by her failing attempt at containing and concealing it. She is the epitome of impotence and resignation, even if she has new things to feel happy about.

BEST NEW TV SHOWS

MINDHUNTER (2017)

An exquisitely paced and well-crafted psychological thriller created and produced for Netflix by the great David Fincher.

Though it takes a full 10 hours to appreciate the slow but significant character study of a mildly obsessive-compulsive young FBI agent (a career-best performance by Jonathan Groff) and his seasoned partner (an awesome Holt McCallany), the payoff is such that I felt like I knew these people very well, that they were real and palpable.

What the Netflix original series also reveals or reaffirms is that we, as humans, are endlessly fascinated by other humans, especially if they display the kind of unusual behavior that can drive them to become serial killers.

CHEWING GUM (2015-2016)

The two seasons I watched of this British comedy are probably the most fun I had watching anything this year (even more so than the raucous Wild Tales).

The lead actress and creator of the show, Michaela Coen, is a breakthrough British talent that reminds me of comedic forces like Lucille Ball or Carol Burnett. The young Michaela, whose talents extend to poetry and music, oozes joy and charisma, while surrounding herself with a group of characters that seem to be cut from the same cloth.

The most original British comedy I have seen in years.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY!!

One thought on “Year in Recap: Best of 2017

  1. Dunkirk, Get Out & Mother! will probably be in my top 10 of 2017, glad you liked those too. The Prestige is my most rewatched Nolan film.

    I didn’t connect emotionally with La La Land or Blade Runner 2049, but I love the opening song Another Day of Sun from LLL, and BR2049 has beautiful cinematography.

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