EDITORIAL: The Best of 2017 (so far)
I'm beginning to love making this annual halfway point list. For me, 2017 has been a year for immense volume. Since January, I've reviewed 64 films, 58 of which were 2017 releases and not carryovers from a late 2016 awards season. Thanks to some film festival and advance press access, you can add 16 short films and four more feature films pending the windows to publish reviews.
All of those numbers are personal half-year highs for this website. I've still, in my eyes, missed plenty of opportunities and films when it comes to building this list. The "to-do list" is never empty. Ahead of a year-end "10 Best," I do a so-far "Top 5." True to my website's hook, I present each film with its best life lesson from my review. Enjoy!
THE BEST FILMS OF 2017 (SO FAR)
1. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES-- For the first time since 2012’s Prometheus, a major studio film tops this website’s halfway list. I’m cheating a little because I’ve been able to see and review it before it’s post-June release, but I don’t care. It’s #1. So far this year, I’ve only given three five-star reviews and no film has impressed me more completely from top to bottom than this trilogy capper. From Michael Giacchino’s score and all of the weighty nuances brimming inside this epic to the masterful and special performance by Andy Serkis, War for the Planet of the Apes carries the highest and best emotionality that actually felt like it mattered. (full review)
BEST LESSON: THE LEVEL OF MERCY WITHIN LEADERSHIP-- The trait within the burden of leadership that manifests itself in the central conflict and dichotomy of this film is mercy. Caesar’s reverence and respect come from compassion and nobility. He is matched against a fractured McCullough (Woody Harrelson) that has lost such capacity for tolerance and quarter. Still, he too acts and commands leadership.
2. LUCKY-- Like Life, Animated and Coming Through the Rye last year, Lucky is the obscure little indie film that I will champion with high placement on my list. This SXSW Film Festival favorite directed by long-time character actor John Carroll Lynch came to Chicago as part of the 5th Chicago Critics Film Festival. What awaits you is a treasure of cantankerous behavior from soon-to-be-91-year-old Harry Dean Stanton sweetly lined with heart. Put this one on your radar. (capsule review, full review coming soon)
BEST LESSON: FACING MORTALITY-- It took a fainting spell north of 90 years old for the main character of this film to realize that his quaint and minor life will someday come to an end. Gruff and cut from a different cloth, Lucky is not the kind of guy to get touchy feely about the subject, but we watch him step out, dare himself more, and shake off some rusty ill will.
3. LOGAN-- Like War for the Planet of the Apes, Logan makes this list because it transcends the genre trappings of science fiction to be built of an inner core of gravity and integrity. Paced and punching like a western, James Mangold’s feature is one of the best comic book films ever and shows what the medium is capable of when character-driven storytelling is given the edge over spectacle. We’ve deserved this version of Hugh Jackman for a long-time and Logan delivered. (full review)
BEST LESSON: PROTECTING THE YOUNG AND DEFENSELESS-- In every X-Men film he’s involved in, Logan has shown a soft spot for women, children, and the oppressed. Bullies are his triggers. As feral and uncouth as he may seem, he has a strong core of moral convictions. As a drifter, he became a surrogate guardian in many battles over the years, generating allegiance and motivation to greater causes.
4. MY EGG BOY-- I’m a sucker for a good romance and I haven’t seen a better one this year than this quirky curveball landing fourth. Screening in Chicago as part of this year’s Asian Pop-Up Cinema slate, My Egg Boy is firmly entrenched in melodrama, yet kissed with delightful fancy, weaving practical magic with fertile (pun intended) imagination. The romantic and symbolistic peaks and valleys built by Tien-Yu Fu are endlessly relatable even when characterized. What begins as whimsy evolves quite affectingly to something rapturously heartfelt. (full review)
BEST LESSON: BIOLOGICAL CLOCKS ARE AWFULLY LOUD IN OUR HEARTS AND MINDS-- The instinctual biological clock of procreation hits women (and plenty of men) in their twenties and thirties. Each imagined minute, hour, and year can stamp a person’s life like the expiration date on a carton of eggs. That corporeal urge can become a strong underlying catalyst for emotions in romantic relationships.
5. GET OUT-- I had a really hard time with this fifth and final spot. If the deciding factor was the capacity for re-watchability, then Baby Driver is the pick by a landslide. However, what Jordan Peele’s Get Out achieved, subverted, challenged, and now stands for is too substantial to dismiss. The film is an 104-minute living embodiment of a slow-burning WTF moment that just keeps growing with every new detail. Peele hints at volumes of issues and topics, enough to fill a zillion editorials from every talking head opinion under the sun, and has funneled them into a sly piece of shock cinema. (full review)
BEST LESSON: DON’T CONFORM TO WHO OR WHAT THE MAJORITY DEEMS YOU NEED TO BE-- When someone or something starts to define what is the “right” thing to say or the “right” way to act, have a clue and act on it. Conforming to be respectful in certain circumstances is fine, but don’t betray your principles to do it. Who are they to determine, interpret, or decide what is deemed acceptable or preferred? Be yourself and not what society tells you you should be.
HONORABLE MENTION (other 2017 four-star reviews in alphabetical order):
Mr. Roosevelt (capsule)
Your Name. (review pending)