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"Good Old JR" Jim Rutkowski weighs in with his picks for the TOP 10 films of 2017

2017-Pigs, kids, cannibals & ghosts top a strong year at the movies.

(012618) A turbulent year, both socially and politically. It’s been a 12-month season marked by historic division in the West. With social upheaval cropping up in everything from the bloodied arena of politics to the supposedly saintlier realm of sports, it has left many bitter and despondent. However, things are never quite so bleak as they first appear. For instance, the revolt at the shameful acts committed in the shadows of the entertainment industry has given way to a therapeutic and cultural purge heard around the world. As the #MeTo movement cleanses industries from coast to coast, and of every economic background, already 2017 is offering a promise for a better tomorrow. And within the confines of entertainment alone, we’ve witnessed a series of phenomenal films. Whatever issues the biggest franchises and blockbusters might’ve faced in 2017, smaller and more intelligent fare has been rewarded at the specialty box office—and by breaking into the mainstream like thunder. More importantly still though, many of the movies are good. Really good. Some escapist and others thoughtful. It's been a very good year for cinema. I know this when I have a difficult time whittling my list down to just ten. Before we get to Top Ten, here are some of the films that fall just below the cream of this years the crop:

Baby Driver: Got knocked off the top ten at the eleventh hour by Phantom Thread. Edgar Wright's newest plays like a Busby Berkeley musical with cars.

Blade Runner 2049: The rare sequel that bests its original.

The Shape of Water: Guillermo Del Toro's best work since Pan's Labyrinth.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: No hate from this fan. May be the best Star Wars film since Empire.

Personal Shopper: The years second best Ghost Story with a thoughtful performance from Kristin Stewart.

War for the Planet of the Apes: This sequel slipped through the cracks for audiences this past summer. Too bad. It's a great one.

Wonder Woman: Director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot bring real humanity to the classic character.

Logan  The years best comic book movie. With an incredibly emotional ending.

The Beguiled: Sofia Coppola's remake brings a feminists touch to what was originally fairly sexist and exploitative material.

The Lost City of Z: Hearkens back to classic exploration epics, and Charlie Hunnam turns in a great performance as its complex protagonist.

Mudbound: Offers a well-acted, finely detailed snapshot of American history whose scenes of rural class struggle resonate far beyond their period setting.

The Post: Steven Spielberg's latest about the Pentagon Papers. With an all star cast. Misses the top 10 only because it randomly veers into Hollywood hokum.

And now (drum roll please) my Top Ten films for 2017....

With A Ghost Story, acclaimed director David Lowery returns with a singular exploration of legacy, loss, and the essential human longing for meaning and connection. Recently deceased, a white-sheeted ghost (Casey Affleck) returns to his suburban home to console his bereft wife ( Rooney Mara), only to find that in his spectral state he has become unstuck in time, forced to watch passively as the life he knew and the woman he loves slowly slip away. Increasingly unmoored, the ghost embarks on a cosmic journey through memory and history, confronting life's ineffable questions and the enormity of existence. An unforgettable meditation on love and grief, A Ghost Story emerges ecstatic and surreal - a wholly unique experience that lingers long after the credits roll. A lot of Ghost Story reviews end with unclever jokes about how seeing this film is a “haunting” experience. But that play on words, hackneyed though it may be, conveys a visceral truth. This movie has remained with me for months now, not only its images (many of which are indelible) but also its ideas. I find myself puzzling out the temporal relationship between one stretch of the story and another, wondering about the “rules” of the afterlife that Lowery’s script establishes, and even thinking about the successive generations of people who will eventually occupy my own home. After seeing A Ghost Story, being the unwitting occupant of a haunted house no longer seems like such a scary fate. Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, there’s no real alternative to learning to live with your ghosts. I could go on writing about this film for pages. However, there’s a simplicity to this 87-minute wraith of a movie that seems to demand bare-bones description rather than lavish praise. So officially my review is: see it!

The movie transpires in Kissimmee, Florida, in the shadow of Walt Disney World, where a seemingly endless array of garish extended-stay motels provide a cheap alternative to the high-end luxury of upscale resorts. In this low-rent fairytale land of $35/night, there are as many long-term residents as there are weeklong visitors. Moonee, a six-year old girl, spends her endless summer days running around the grounds with her friends, Scooty and Jancey. They do the kinds of things most kids do but their “innocent” mischief occasionally takes dark turns. They have little or no adult supervision. Scooty’s mother works full-time as a waitress (the kids sometimes show up at the diner’s backdoor for free food) and Halley, Moonee’s mother, has little more stability and emotional maturity than her daughter. The only one who seems to keep an eye on the kids is hotel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe as we've never seen him: warm and sweet ), and that’s as much to keep them from damaging the motel as to protect them from creeps and predators. It offers a colorfully empathetic look at an underrepresented part of the population that proves absorbing even as it raises sobering questions about modern America. Many movies can rightfully be called dramatic, or funny, or scary, or whatever. Few legitimately earn the designation “humane.” This is one of them. The Florida Project is a potent exploration of economic hardship, broken dreams, and a way of life where the only true goal is figuring out how to survive today. Directed by: Sean Baker

In Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig reveals herself to be a bold new cinematic voice with her directorial debut, excavating both the humor and pathos in the turbulent bond between a mother and her teenage daughter. Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) fights against but is exactly like her wildly loving, deeply opinionated and strong-willed mom (Laurie Metcalf), a nurse working tirelessly to keep her family afloat after Lady Bird's father (Tracy Letts) loses his job. Set in Sacramento, California in 2002, amidst a rapidly shifting American economic landscape, Lady Bird is an affecting look at the relationships that shape us, the beliefs that define us, and the unmatched beauty of a place called home. There’s no epic spread of plot, just moments over the course of a year that brilliantly detail psychological ups and down, shaping complete personalities, boosted by outstanding, deeply refined performances, especially from Ronan and Metcalf (their argumentative but loving interplay is sure to trigger PTSD from most female viewers). “Lady Bird” is such a beautiful, genuine creation, launching Gerwig’s directorial career on a blindingly bright note, promising sharp, searching humanist efforts to come. Directed by: Greta Gerwig

Now that Chris (Daniel Kaluuya ) and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams ), have reached the meet-the-parents milestone of dating, she invites him for a weekend getaway upstate with Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford. At first, Chris reads the family's overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter's interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he could have never imagined. Funny, scary, and thought-provoking, Get Out seamlessly weaves its trenchant social critiques into a brilliantly effective and entertaining horror/comedy thrill ride. But don't get me wrong. Get Out is much more then a thrill ride. As a keenly observed portrayal of the African-American experience, it seems every bit as important a film as Moonlight is. We can pretend that racism and hatred are either eradicated or pushed to the fringes of the world, that here in “polite society” such ancient demons could never exist.

But they do. And the more we deny their existence the more powerful they become. Get Out teaches us to be ever-vigilant and aware and that’s not being paranoid, that’s just sad, bitter common sense. Directed by: Jordan Peele

Set in the glamour of 1950's post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock's life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love. With his latest film, Paul Thomas Anderson paints an illuminating portrait both of an artist on a creative journey, and the women who keep his world running. Phantom Thread is Anderson's eighth movie, and his second collaboration with Day-Lewis.

Being an Anderson movie—a gorgeous, gothic, edgy one at that—we know that something odd, perhaps cataclysmic, is going to happen between them. It does, and it turns on an action as simple as the eating of an omelet, which makes the movie feel, at least on the surface, a world apart from There Will Be Blood and The Master. The outcome is gorgeous, wickedly funny and weirdly romantic. With Anderson’s woozily beautiful cinematography and melancholy, chilly, swoony Bernard Herrmann-esque strings courtesy of a fabulous score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Phantom Thread resonates with images, moods, textures and themes that evoke the darkest romances of Alfred Hitchcock–Rebecca, Vertigo and Marnie spring to mind.vTime will tell, of course, but right now, Phantom Thread feels like a masterwork. Imagine Anderson crossed with du Maurier crossed with Hitchcock crossed with Ibsen. It’s that rich and strange.

This World War II thriller about the evacuation of Allied troops from the French city of Dunkirk before Nazi forces can take hold. Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance co-star.. Dunkirk serves up emotionally satisfying spectacle, delivered by a writer-director in full command of his craft and brought to life by a gifted ensemble cast that honors the fact-based story. This is not a war film of inspirational speeches, digressions about loved ones back home or hopes for the future. No, it's all about the here and now and matters at hand under conditions that demand both endless waiting and split-second responses. Dunkirk doesn’t dwell on the horror of war but instead successfully conveys the sheer terror of it all through both small, human acts and deafening scenes of conflict. This isn’t a war story that leads to victory – that’s not what the story of Dunkirk is about – it was a retreat, an inglorious defeat. The war would continue for five more years. But through its miraculous events, Nolan and an outstanding cast of both young unknowns and veterans are able to depict not only the overwhelming, inhuman forces in play but the power of small acts of decency and bravery. Directed by: Chrisptopher Nolan

Produced by Judd Apatow and based on the real-life courtship between Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley)and Emily V. Gordon, it tells the story of Pakistan-born aspiring comedian Kumail (Nanjiani), who connects with grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan) after one of his standup sets. However, what they thought would be just a one-night stand blossoms into the real thing, which complicates the life that is expected of Kumail by his traditional Muslim parents. When Emily is beset with a mystery illness, it forces Kumail to navigate the medical crisis with her parents, Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) who he's never met, while dealing with the emotional tug-of-war between his family and his heart. Funny, heartfelt, and intelligent, The Big Sick uses its appealing leads and cross-cultural themes to prove the standard rom-com formula still has some fresh angles left to explore. A joyous, generous-hearted romantic comedy that, even as it veers into difficult terrain, insists that we just need to keep on laughing. Directed by: Michael Showalter

irector Makoto Shinkai’s achingly gorgeous animated feature was a worldwide smash last year, but it only opened in the States this spring. Shinkai’s strange, poignant body-swap tale—about a city boy and a country girl who are cosmically linked somehow—is as sweet and magical as a first kiss. (A good first kiss, anyway.) This is a beautiful masterpiece about time, the thread of fate, and the hearts of two young souls. High schoolers Mitsuha and Taki are complete strangers living separate lives miles apart. But one night, they suddenly switch places. Mitsuha wakes up in Taki's body, and he in hers. This bizarre occurrence continues to happen randomly, and the two must adjust their lives around each other. Yet, somehow, it works. They build a connection and communicate by leaving notes, messages, and more importantly, an imprint. When a dazzling comet lights up the night's sky, something shifts, and they seek each other out wanting something more-a chance to finally meet. But try as they might, something more daunting than distance prevents them. Is the string of fate between Mitsuha and Taki strong enough to bring them together, or will forces outside their control leave them forever separated?Your Name is wistful and full of wonder, a dreamy tearjerker that is blissfully transporting. If you don’t spend several hours afterwards contemplating the many possible ways in which your life may have been impacted by the life of someone you don’t even know living miles away from you, I don’t know what to tell you.

9.) OJKA
It’s a bonkers corporate satire starring Tilda Swinton, a brave little Korean girl, and a giant superpig. ‘Nough said. Need more? Fine. Okja is a rare breed of movie: It boasts a multi-hemispheric setting and cast, extended use of two languages (Korean and English), and the distinction of combining action, arthouse, and political satire in one funny, biting, disturbing, often kind of adorable package. The movie ruffled some feathers (and resulted in a policy change) as part of a Netflix controversy at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival this year, and it will probably ruffle a few more as it becomes more widely available, since the film is every bit as weird — and, on the whole, as wonderful — as you’d expect from Bong Joon-Ho, the director of Snowpiercer and The Host. At its core, Okja is a movie about the horrors of factory farming, and sometimes it turns into a horror film to make its case. But it’s also skewering the absurd ways in which corporations co-opt the language of environmental and localist movements to reel in consumers. The result is kind of a masterclass in how vocabulary can be twisted for insidious ends.

10.) RAW
Everyone in Justine's family is a vet. And a vegetarian. At sixteen she's a brilliant student starting out at veterinary school where she experiences a decadent, merciless and dangerously seductive world. Desperate to fit in, she strays from her family principles and eats RAW meat for the first time. Justine will soon face the terrible and unexpected consequences as her true self begins to emerge... Raw's lurid violence and sexuality live up to its title, but they're anchored with an immersive atmosphere and deep symbolism that linger long after the provocative visuals fade. Directed by Lulia Ducornau

Meanwhile at the bottom....
Now as for the bottom of the popcorn box, this year had its fair share of stinkers. Here are the major offenders:

Written by the Coen brothers. Directed and starring George Clooney. How could that pedigree possibly go wrong. It did. A major misfire.

The Great Wall
A U.S.- China co-production. A huge budget and a Hollywood star ( Matt Damon ) did nothing to make this just a glorified monster movie. From director Zhang Yimou who has been nominated three times in the past for the best foreign film Oscar, sets his career back about ten years with this film.

The Mummy
Universal's planned Dark Universe franchise is, for all intents and purposes, one and done. If you like incomprehensible collections of things that vaguely resemble other things you might've enjoyed in the past, The Mummy is the movie for you.

Justice League
A great year for comic books movies. Except this one. Dull. Deadly dull. This movie faded from my mind as the houselights were coming up in the theater. No stakes. No plot. No fun.

Hear Bocepheus, Rod Flash and Yours Truly discuss their Top Ten lists (30 films in total) on Episode 58 of The Alternate Reality Podcast....



Discussion of the Top 10 Films of 2017

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