Film is a polarizing topic in the Sauers' household. There's no denying that both Emily and I love going to the movies or finding ourselves wrapped up in a Redbox or Netflix find while kicking back on the couch. It's clear: both of us love movies. However, the way we watch movies and the specifics of what we're both looking for in a movie are typically as different as can be. For Emily, she's looking for a movie to get lost in. She wants the spectacle and enchantment of a journey that finds the audience in front of a happy ending after 90-120 minutes. If all goes properly, she'll have forgotten about her cares for a bit and have a pleasant memory to go with it. As usual, I'm the strange one. I'm the one who dives in face first and finds analysis and symbolism enticing. Consider a trip to the movies, with me, like the rare English classes in high school where the TV was wheeled in. Yes, you got to watch a movie -- but you know there's some sort of conversation about motifs and parallel structure just waiting around the corner. That being said -- I always make a Top 10 Films of the Year blog (or at least I have for the last 4-5 years years). So we thought we'd pull you into our world as we take a look at the past year of Cinema.
This film caught me off guard in the same way About Time caught me off guard, a few years ago. For those of you who know me, About Time is one of my favorite films of all-time, so comparison, in any way, is high praise. That being said, Gifted is a fantastic film, but I wouldn’t lift it quite to that level of greatness. McKenna Grace absolutely steals the spotlight throughout the film. Her precociousness is infectious and the chemistry she is able to create with legitimate stars (like Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer) is worthy of praise.
Where Gifted earns its place on this list is the ability to take an overplayed storyline and keep the audience invested. The turns and tangles of the plot rely on the chemistry of Grace and Evans quite frequently but they contain pivots and outcomes that are fresh enough to prevent the audience apathy. On the flipside, the development of Frank Adler (played by Evans) was surprisingly lacking. It’s honestly one of my only knocks on the entire film -- but I felt the motivation/history did not drive his actions in a way that was entirely believable. Don’t let that keep you from this film, though, as Evans’ performance is still well above that needed to make this a good one.
Jake Gyllenhaal tends to put in one or two award-caliber performances per year and in 2017, that was his role as Jeff Bauman, a survivor of the Boston Marathon Bombing and the eventual banner-man for the #BostonStrong movement. This film is not an easy watch. Most of the characters will make at least one decision that will cause visceral hate to come their way from the audience. Tatiana Maslany, from Orphan Black fame, puts in a performance that easily rivals that of Gyllenhaal. The two bring realism and emotion in such full force that their relationship frustrates in a way that mimics real life.
David Gordon Green’s direction shows his ability to tell powerful stories and bring meaning to the characters on screen. His vision in Stronger shows why he’s been tapped for the new Halloween installment as well as the Seth Rogen-led Newsflash, centering around Walter Cronkite’s reporting on the JFK assassination. His intensity and ability to elevate flawed characters is a huge plus. Stronger is more than the typical Hollywood Nationalism flick -- it’s a dynamic character drama with weight.
8. Ingrid Goes West (August 25, 2017 | Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr.) -
I’ve been a fan of Aubrey Plaza for a while now -- she’s clearly best known for her role of April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation, but my first realization of her talent was in her role from the 2012 film, Safety Not Guaranteed. Plaza has this charm about her that just cements her characters in our reality as opposed to the reality of the role she’s playing. This acts as a bridge between the world we see and the world we live, essentially pulling us into the world being built on screen. In Parks and Rec we see this as her sarcasm and pessimism effectively balances Leslie’s optimism and views the shenanigans around her with the same skepticism that the viewer likely has. Plaza’s portrayal of the film’s title character is her best performance yet. The earnestness that Plaza infuses into Ingrid Thorburn balances out the sociopathy and callousness that the character lets drive her actions. This is also, in part, due to the exceptional writing of David Branson Smith and Matt Spicer, as they build Ingrid’s character and mythos with thoughtfulness and care. I’d be remiss if I mentioned this film without praising O’Shea Jackson Jr. in his role of Dan Pinto (who is one of my favorite film characters of the year).
The parallelism of Dan’s obsession with Batman and Ingrid’s obsession of social media drives home such a beautiful picture (how Dan’s obsession over something, clearly fake [the character of Batman] is healthier and leads him in almost every positive action he takes throughout the film than Ingrid’s obsession over something she [and many others] perceive to be real [the glamour of individuals on social media], which leads her in her downward spiral. There is so much to dissect with this context, but there are too many films left to discuss to spend time here. So, on we go.
This movie has charisma. Patti Cake$ is filled with mostly unknown actors/actresses and is, writer/director, Geremy Jasper’s first feature length film. Patti, played by Danielle Macdonald, is the sole reason this film stands as tall as it does. There’s a believability that’s so evident in her character and a combination of just genuine hope and inexperience. The film has surprisingly catchy and impressive original music and past the slight twinge of corniness you can see the heart of this film is way more than a one-note drama. There’s humor, there’s devastation, and there’s a fun undertone in this movie that hammers home the fact that hustle is half the battle.
Siddharth Dhananjay’s character is infectious. Sure to draw comparisons between himself and Aziz Ansari’s Parks & Rec character Tom Haverford (for reasons beyond ethnicity), the character is seen as the ultimate ride-or-die friend that all of us wish we’ve had. Movies that genuinely stir up feelings of frustration or anger always prove that there’s a strong tie to reality, and this one doesn’t disappoint. It’s a fun watch, it’s a ride, but more importantly it’s a strong indie film with a lot of heart.
It is rare for me to include superhero/comic book movies on my top-films-of lists. It’s hard because I have a hard time disassociating and separating films that are substantial and worthy of film praise and films that are great romps and a fun way to spend two hours. Some may say that those two aspects are one-in-the same, but I think the difference is imperative in finding the best-of-the-best. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok, this year; I just don’t think they did enough to transcend their genre. Logan, though. Logan was a game-changer. From the get-go, hearing that the world would get an R-rated Wolverine movie was an indicator that this would not be your average comic-book adaptation. The film tapped James Mangold (previously of Walk the Line and Girl, Interrupted) to write and direct and a better choice could not have been made. The presence and feeling in this film were obvious from the opening scene and the cinematography captivated the audience for its duration.
In a similar vein as Gifted, the performance of the film’s young actress (Dafne Keen) and her chemistry with the leading man (Hugh Jackman) really did the heavy lifting for this film. The fact that we were allowed to witness the deterioration of Logan, as a character, a hero, and a man, was a privilege that we’re often not afforded in the genre and it was truly a spectacle to see. It exposed the driving force and the humanity within the character and was more telling and emotionally profound than many expected. For those reasons, Logan finds itself on this list.
5. Dunkirk (July 21, 2017 | Starring Fionn Whitehead, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance)
Dunkirk is one gigantic flexing of muscles by writer/director Christopher Nolan (previously of The Dark Knight, Inception). I say that because of the perfection with which he’s able to capture the brutality and chaos of war with such a minimalistic premise and take. Dunkirk (in IMAX) gave me a headache in the best of ways -- there was so much visual stimulation and disorder that was unfolding on screen, it was hard to take. However, the tightly-wound narrative that Nolan slowly unreels is absolutely beautiful. In a way that hasn’t been seen since Saving Private Ryan, I feel Nolan was able to capture the full spectrum of feelings and emotions of soldiers in war in a way that calls into question the very essence of war.
In an uncommon approach to most great films, Dunkirk’s story is not character-driven in a traditional sense. All of the acting is absolutely stellar, however, the film has 10-12 characters that are consistent throughout but with the commotion happening (particularly on the beach/town scenes) it is very difficult to keep everyone organized and separated in your head. A lot of their shared experiences muddle together to form a cloudy picture -- one that I feel was deliberate by Nolan to illustrate the confusion and chaos. The punches that Nolan hits with are strong and calculated, just like with his other films. Dunkirk is a must-see for any that enjoy films on war and history.
I had to deliberate on the Glass Castle for a bit because I wanted to make sure I enjoyed it even beyond my love for Brie Larson. It holds up for a few reasons, but the rest of the ensemble is what proved to me that the film shines even beyond its leading lady. Based on a true story, this film gives us a glimpse into the coming of age of Jeannette Walls (played by Larson). Wall’s father (played by Woody Harrelson) being at the center of this story as alcoholic and the piece of Jeanette’s upbringing that has been a stumbling block in reconciling with her past and present.
Harrelson and Larson are absolutely incredible in this film and should not be overlooked, however the true delight that I found was the ensemble of young actors and actresses that played Jeanette and her siblings over the years (including a performance from Sadie Sink, of Stranger Things fame). The cast is tight knit and displayed extraordinary chemistry throughout it all. I felt that this was an improved spiritual successor to Captain Fantastic (2016) and overall proved to be a bright spot for 2017 films. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the fantastic score/soundtrack written and performed by Joel P. West -- seriously, it’s one of my favorites of all-time.
Emily often gives me a hard time about “enjoying” movies. She’s strongly in the camp that movies are meant to be an escape and an experience in which to be enthralled. She wants to enjoy the ride, have fun, and get a chance to duck reality for a few hours. Baby Driver was one of the few films in 2017 that allowed me to do this while also being incredibly well done in doing so. Edgar Wright’s fingerprints are all over this movie -- the wit and brevity that’s interwoven into a smart and sleek script is something to be admired. The synchronization of the music with the visual cues and action within the scenes may be considered gimmicky by some was what drew me into the story and world that he created. Sidenote, if this doesn’t win the Oscar for Sound Editing, color me surprised.
And let me talk about Ansel Elgort -- Ansel… he’s so hot right now -- the kid is a charmer and one of the easiest actors in Hollywood, today, to completely let drive while you enjoy the ride. His presence isn’t that of a huge star that shocks you out of the world he’s in -- but his acting chops are so seamless and impressive. Finally, the wonderful performance by Jon Hamm just solidifies this films spot as an adventurous Summer-romp that is way better than it has any right to be. If you haven’t seen it already, it’s worth the ride.
2. Get Out (February 24, 2017 | Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford)
Think back -- think back all the way back to January of 2017 and I know you’ll remember the buzz on social media about a film that you HAD to see in theaters, with an audience. They were right. Get Out is the ultimate trip in the theater. Going into it with as little background knowledge as possible is always recommended, so if you somehow haven’t seen it by now, you might just want to skip to the next one on this list. Okay -- just people who have seen the film reading with me now? Great.
Jordan Peele. Well done. Wow. This film makes you feel so many emotions and feelings and is an absolute delight. It has set a standard and created a hunger within the film industry for powerful, cosequential, social thrillers and that is a massive feat. Daniel Kaluuya (previously known for the leading role in, the Black Mirror episode, “Fifteen Million Merits”) delivers such a great performance as Chris but LilRel Howery absolutely steals the show as, the comic relief and guardian of the fourth wall, Rod. The terror and suspense that Peele is able to unfold in perfect pacing and with impeccable care is what makes this such a breathtaking first-watch film. But the symbolism and layering that is also found within the movie is what makes its rewatchability an extreme outlier for other films that share the genre. If that’s not enough, what other movie could possibly redeem the TSA? It’s okay, I’ll wait.
1. The Big Sick (July 14, 2017 | Starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter)
I don’t think there was any movie in 2017 that I was more excited to see than “The Big Sick”. You can ask Emily -- I was talking about that film since the first time I’d seen a trailer. The combination of Zoe Kazan (of Ruby Sparks & What If) and Kumail Nanjiani (of Silicon Valley) really piqued my interest and the understated indie release/vibe of the trailer seemed incredibly easy to palette and something that both Emily and I might be able to enjoy in different ways. I had high expectations and The Big Sick dashed every single one of them. Based on the true story of writers Kumail Nanjiani (who plays himself) and Emily Gordon (played by Kazan), this film starts by building flawed, likable characters, and takes your hand as you’re submersed in a heartfelt story about the sticky complications that life throws our way. The film, though produced by Judd Apatow, strives for transparency above comedy while providing both (in great quantity) with ease.
This film has my favorite comedic scene in any film for the year -- it’s the scene in which Kumail joins Emily’s parents (played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter… more on both of them later) for lunch at the hospital on the first day in which Emily is in a coma. The awkward sincerity with which Romano wields this conversation is just charming and cringey in a combination that ignites the screen. Meanwhile, Kumail’s light-hearted earnestness and authenticity in this scene provides the audience with a clear example of how his relationship with the parents is organic and hopeful. The scene can be seen here -- although, fair warning, it’s much better when viewed in the context of the film.
So I liked the leads, I liked the writing, and I liked the humor in this movie but of all of those things, none can best the supporting roles of Romano and Hunter as Emily’s parents. Holly Hunter just smashes her role. The heckling scene and the scene which follows that provides insight into her relationship with Kumail as well as her relationship with her daughter is just beautifully done. Romano’s clunky-dad role is one that he was made for. He meshes with Kumail perfectly and is the right balance of flawed, caring, and goofy for the film’s tone. If you can only see one of the films from 2017, I would implore you to see The Big Sick. It’s earned a spot atop this list and is one of my all-time favorite films.
Thoughts: This was such a sweet movie. As a teacher, I found this movie very inspiring for teaching kids about acceptance, kindness, and forgiveness. I also appreciated how it brought awareness to Treacher Collins Syndrome.
***I’m going to add a quick disclaimer/spoiler so stop reading if you don’t want to know***
I’m only adding this because I sincerely wished someone would have told me. If scenes where animals die trigger you, here’s your warning.
Favorite Scene: The portion of the movie when it’s from Via’s perspective.
Thoughts: Watching this was like watching a Broadway play from the front row. It was gorgeous—beginning to end. I can’t think of a single person who didn’t love this movie. Everyone loves a good tale as old as time.
Thoughts: S/O to The Big Sick for showing this trailer. If you’re an 8 Mile fan, you’re going to love Patti. She’s B. Rabbit if he was a girl in Jersey. A great underdog story. I don’t want to give too much away from the storyline because I sincerely want you to check it out. (Disclaimer: there’s a heck of a lot of cursing in this movie. So if that’s not your thing I would skip this one)
Favorite Scene: Patti’s entrance into the drug store
Thoughts: Ok, so I’ll be honest. I saw this movie wayyyyy late. I typically don’t do any superhero movies. I certainly don’t judge anyone who loves. I just have a really hard time following the story lines. However, thanks to peer pressure, I finally watched and fell in love with Gal. This movie will leave you wanting to save the world and sign up for the next BodyPump class at the nearest YMCA.
Favorite Scene: When she slow-mo walks out of the trench to kick some German butt and everyone internally screams YASSS QUEEN!
Favorite Character: Wonder Woman, of course!
6. The Shack
Thoughts: Pleeeeease don’t smite me. I know a lot of people disagree with how this movie portrays God, and I understand why. However, I was struggling with deep depression during the time I saw this movie. And it served as a reminder to me of God’s constant presence.
Thoughts: This was an Amazon Video find. I hadn’t even heard of this movie but I’m so glad we gave it a chance. It’s a very modern take on the “do whatever it takes to fit in” cliché. Aubrey Plaza is charmingly cynical as always, and I’ll take any of the Olsen kids any day.
Favorite Scene: Having the gas station worker lay on the ground to take the perfect picture.
Thoughts: Dang y’all. I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Anyone who has seen this I’m sure has the same thoughts. It is absolutely insane. One of the best thrillers I’ve ever seen. I HIGHLY recommend watching this movie at least 2 times. There are so many things you will catch each time you watch it.
Favorite Scene: The Silent Auction. I remember audibly gasping in the theater.
Thoughts: This movie falls in a category I like to call the hewuzrite category. This is one of those “Ugggghhhhh Ethan keeps showing me a trailer for another weird indie movie and I love him so much and he got me Hank so I guess I’ll go see it with him” movies. And then he swears up and down I’m going to love it and I smile and prepare my sassy comeback for when the credits role. And then the credits role and I’m sobbing because it’s precious and DANG IT because hewuzrite….I loved it. This is not at all your typical romance movie, but it’s real cute y’all. A great date night movie. Also I didn’t know of Holly Hunter before this movie but she KILLS this role and she’s now one of my favorite actresses.
Favorite Scene: Ray Romano and Kumail discussing 9/11.
Thoughts: So you have probably seen the movie by now, or everyone you know has seen it and cannot yet fathom why you haven’t seen it. Am I right? This movie is gorgeous. Honestly my favorite part of this movie was the elaborate costumes. The original music is amazing as well. I can’t say you’re going to hate this movie if you hate musicals; but I definitely think it’s worth a chance even if you’re not a musical person. I love a good “marrying your childhood sweetheart” movie. Throw in Zac Efron and a few elephants and I’m sold.
Thoughts: Action movies are typically not my go-to genre. But y'all—this was hands down my favorite movie of the year. The plot. The music. The choreography. The cast is the cherry on top. Lily James is perfection. And Ansel……well……y’all know. This movie is pure fun to watch. It’s mind blowing to me how they perfectly timed the action sounds to the music playing. Definitely my top contender—no competition.