Don’s Top 10 Films of 2017

The end of the year brings grading and reflection points for both the school teacher in me and the film critic.  Looking at the online Trapper Keeper portfolio called Every Movie has a Lesson, I published 126 full film reviews in 2017, topping last year’s 114 and setting a new high mark.  When I did my website’s first “10 Best” year-end list in 2011, that number was 53.  Humming along with press credentials, festival access, and being part of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle as a recognized awards-voting body, I can’t even remember what 53 feels like.

Even at 126, I feel like I left plenty of opportunities on the table living in a big market with a great reach of films.  For the purposes of a proper “10 Best” list, short of not making it to The Disaster ArtistMudbound, and Molly’s Game quite yet, I feel sound about 2017 and have no problem calling it a fair to middling year.  By this teacher’s math and reflection, 2017 < 2016 < 2015.  Give me the likes of SicarioCreedBrooklynSpotlightRoomLa La LandJackieMoonlightA Monster Calls, and more compared to most of the 20 films listed below.

Focusing back to now, only three of my “so far” picks from this past June made the final ten this year.  Here’s my definitive list.  True to my website’s specialty, each film will be paired with its best life lesson.  Enjoy!

THE 10 BEST FILMS OF 2017 AND THEIR LESSONS

1. LADY BIRD

This was like watching a no-doubt home run off the bat of a muscle-bound slugger fly over the stands and out of the park.  Like that home run crack, Lady Bird’s effect was unmistakable.  I knew it as soon as film made contact.  From that opening car ride argument between surefire future Oscar nominees (if not eventual winners) Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird was going for something reinvigorated conventions and oxymoronic cadences with the coming-of-age film framework.  (full review)

BEST LESSON: PUNCHY WHIMSY— All of Lady Bird’s conflicts and clashes build to swelling peaks of emotion and legitimate feels.  Gerwig’s film is one heck of a debut and shows that a good cry and awkward laughs do go together when assembled with truth and care.  When it hits, my goodness, it hits.  When it charms, by golly, it charms.  Few films this year can tout such towering achievements of writing and performance to create such a genuinely satisfying experience.


2. I, TONYA

In a fierce performance, Margot Robbie proves without a shadow of a doubt that she is a talented actress beyond her bombshell looks.  From the director of Lars and the Real Girl and the writer of Stepmom (I know right?), the dark comedy, pushed often by Allison Janney’s Oscar-worthy rants, fuels an unconventional sports film and true story American dream saga with kinetic sizzle.  It’s the wildest and brashest film I saw this year.  (full review)

BEST LESSON: EVERYONE MIGHT BE TELLING THEIR TRUTH, BUT NO ONE IS TELLING THE REAL TRUTH–The true merriment of I, Tonya is the trying to sniff out the bullsh-it.  Many of us remember witnessing the tabloid history unfold on television before our very shocked and captivated eyes in a era before the 24-hour news cycle.  Even know the fate of the characters, this film’s spin of such events will glue you to the screen preparing for the suspense of possibly observing a few chapters of “what really happened.”  Who’s right and who is full of it?


3. WONDERSTRUCK

From what I can tell viewing the year-end lists of fellow critics, this one is going to be a unconventional choice and I don’t care.  I see a great deal of perfection in the whimsy and introspection of Wonderstruck.  Artful to no end, I cannot help but compliment the care and consideration given to the Brain Selznick source material from a skilled filmmaker like Todd Haynes stepping into PG material in a manner as impressive as Scorsese doing Hugo.  In a landscape where people are craving rich and compelling films for family audiences instead of mindless animated entertainment, I adored what this film accomplished. (full review)

BEST LESSON: THE MAJESTY OF MUSEUMS— Both in the novel and in film form, Wonderstruck is a love letter to museums, their history, and their continuing presence as authentic experiences.  It starts with one person gathering a collection of interest, a “cabinet of wonder” if you will be that in a single room or an expansive complex, and deciding to share it with a larger audience.  In the present-day of Google, Wikipedia, content apps, and innumerable virtual experiences, there should always be a place for the tangible and real wonders right before our eyes in museums.  Calling them magical is not enough and calling them antiquated should be a compliment and not a slight.


4. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

The closing chapter of what has quietly become one of the best film trilogies of all-time (it’s that good as a sum total) elevated the impressive soaring themes, blockbuster action, and the performance-capture brilliance of Andy Serkis that have enraptured myself and many others.  Serkis, present and emoting in every scene behind the finished special effects, deserves the Oscar for Best Actor even if he doesn’t stand a chance against the stigmas towards the technology.  No film this year hit me the full roller coaster of feels like this one, from heart-stopping thrills to blubbering tears.  (full review)

BEST LESSON: APES AND HUMANS HAVE MORE SIMILARITIES THAN WE ALL REALIZE— Due to the increases in peril and consequences, this is a repeated lesson from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes that is cemented even further in this third film.  Both primate species love their families, cling to their homes, and possess tangible feelings and emotions that drive their actions and personalities.  “Humanity” doesn’t have exclusivity to those behaviors in this fictional world anymore.


5. THE BIG SICK

The Big Sick, written and inspired by the real-life duo of Emily V. Gordon and leading man Kumail Nanjiani, offers wide hopes that smart romantic comedies are still possible since their 1990s hey-day and that they don’t require man-child actors and full-on toilet humor.  When people have asked me this past year for a no-doubt winning movie suggestion or hidden gem to entertain them for any occasion, The Big Sick has been my top recommendation for its maturity and humor while still carrying the right heft of drama to keep it honest.  In my eyes, this was the best screenplay of the year and I hope the Oscars notice.  (full review)

BEST LESSON: FIND SOMEONE YOU CAN BE OVERWHELMED BY— This lesson is going to sound like one of those “find someone who looks at you the way so-and-so looks at such-and-such” memes, but captivating ga-ga devotion is a real draw.  The film uses the word “overwhelm” when it talks about measuring such love and it couldn’t be more spot-on advice.  Love has its own rules and it’s just as hard to keep as it is to earn.


6. LUCKY

The directorial debut of character actor John Carroll Lynch stands on this list as the “Little Engine That Could.”  Far from a blockbuster and puffed with zero muscles for Oscar bait on the 90-year-old frame of its star Harry Dean Stanton, Lucky is a straight-shooter of writing and performance brilliance to make cantankerous endearing.  In different hands, this would be a Coen brothers quirk-fest or a Grumpy Old Men farce.  Instead, Lucky plainly might have the most heart of any film on this list, and that’s saying something.  (full review)

BEST LESSON: ACCEPTING MORTALITY— Nothing is permanent and the biggest truth to be told is the finality of the human condition.  No matter the level of your faith or depth of character, misgivings about your own ephemerality are inevitable feelings we all share.  We would all be so “lucky” to reach our nineties to have that revelation.


DF-13002 – Hugh Jackman stars as Logan/Wolverine in LOGAN. Photo Credit: Ben Rothstein.

7. LOGAN

Sharply shrinking the comic book genre’s towering current scale down to the marrow inside of its bones, James Mangold’s Logan nails the western motifs to make one of the best comic book films of all-time.  For me, this movie is like what young songstress Ella Mae Brown did to slow down with Bonnie Tyler’s 80s classic “Holding Out for a Hero” a few years ago.  This is energy boiled down to bold substance, making something rightly stoic as the conclusion for Hugh Jackman’s lovable anti-hero.  (full review)

BEST LESSON: THE POWERFUL NEED FOR FATHER FIGURES— Loganopenly creates a parallel with 1953’s seminal western classic Shane and it is an ideal thematic pairing.  Alan Ladd’s reluctant gunfighter and Jackman’s Wolverine embody the fight for the defenseless as well as the influential father figure role of this lesson.  Laura is another Little Joe and but one more person Logan leaves a positive mark on in his world.  Tales may be written on the actions of heroes, but the personal connections they build and leave behind are where the real legend lies.


8. THE FLORIDA PROJECT

Sean Baker’s sprightly dose of youthful fantasy mixing with socioeconomic reality was one of the few times I’ve ever gone back to a review and changed my rating after some thoughtful reflection.  This film went from a four-star film to a five-star one on the strength of the impact of that aforementioned storytelling and emotional mix.  The level of empathy stoked by this film’s fire is off the charts and I cannot help but respect that.  (full review)

BEST LESSON: THE CAPACITY TO FEEL EMPATHY— The crucial emotional response The Florida Project demands of its viewers is empathy.  If you can’t find that, if you turn your nose, close your eyes, and refuse to accept that this kind of American lifestyle exists, you are missing the hard truths, the teachable moments, and the larger points being presented.  Become compassionate enough to remove the negative prefixes from Mother Teresa’s quote of “unwanted, unloved and uncared for” when it comes to addressing poverty.  Take her advice and start in your own home and community.


9. PHANTOM THREAD

Five years ago, after beating my head senseless over the pretentiousness of The Master, if you would have told me I would have a Paul Thomas Anderson film in my “10 Best,” I would have said you were nuts and wondered how the sequel to Boogie Nights could have been achieved.  Yet, here we are and Phantom Thread is the real deal.  Exquisitely crafted and intensely nuanced, I was impressed like I’ve rarely been.  If this the last ride of Daniel Day-Lewis, he leaves us with a gem. (full review)

BEST LESSON: “WHATEVER YOU DO, DO IT CAREFULLY”— This quote from Lewis’s Reynolds, the peak of the film’s trailer, sent in the direction of his new muse could be echoed in dozens of aspects of one’s life.  Mundane activities could become effective and even artful with an extra level of paid care and consideration.  At the same time, there is an unsettling level to that rigidity.  Often there is a missing flexibility to perfectionist who cannot get over themselves or adjust their idiosyncrasies.


10. LOVING VINCENT

In terms of sheer creation of a finished piece, Loving Vincent might be the most miraculous film of the year and greatest technical achievement as the first entire oil-painted feature-length animated film.  125 painters combined their efforts on over 65,000 canvases shot on film to create this incredible achievement.  Beyond the art, the enriching whodunit drama of investigating the final days of Vincent Van Gogh backed by Clint Mansell’s rich musical score create storytelling worthy of all the work. (full review)

BEST LESSON: INTERPRETING AN ARTIST— Subjected to ridicule and criticism from a young age to his last, Van Gogh’s talent and purpose were always questioned before the established reverence that followed his death.  Another Van Gogh quote in the film reads “We cannot speak other than by our paintings.” Sometimes artists are not peaceful souls.  The few people that did realize his greatness in the moment were not enough to save his.


HONORABLE MENTION:

NOT YET

When I can, I dip my toe into the world of short films and I’m beginning to love the art form and the efficiency of its skill.  Merely scratching the surface of this form of film medium, among the handful I saw and reviewed this year, Not Yet was a five-star gem.  Picture one of those expressive and imaginary Pixar shorts that open their films and apply live-action human emotion to it  That will give you a taste of Not Yet.  My full review has a link to the short for you to see for yourself.  I promise nothing but smiles.

BEST LESSON: THE IMMENSE CHALLENGES OF CHEERING SOMEONE UP— Some folks are tough nuts to crack in the cheer department.  Add the physical drain and toll of illness into that equation of happiness and the challenge is even greater.  Self-deprecating humor in this situation often works in spades, but there’s one action that’s even better: Love.  In Not Yet, you have a man that unabashedly loves his wife with every ounce of willingness and companionship.  Love always wins the best cheers.


THE NEXT BEST TEN:

11. Wonder

12. All the Money in the World

13. Get Out

14. The Shape of Water

15. Princess Cyd

16. Baby Driver

17. Wind River

18. Battle of the Sexes

19. Stronger

20. Darkest Hour


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitterMedium, and Creators Media.

What We Learned This Week: October 1-7

LESSON #1: THERE ARE LIKELY MORE SKELETONS IN MORE CLOSETS THAN WE WILL EVER KNOW— Last year, it was the allegations surrounding Casey Affleck.  Last week was the culmination of old indiscretions from Ain’t It Cool News and Alamo Drafthouse.  This week, it’s the unearthed disgusting behavior from mega-producer Harvey Weinstein.  I wish this story would be the last on the topic of unchecked sexual harassment, but I think any law of averages from any statistical measure will tell us this is the tip of an iceberg and not the finale.  I’ll repeat my plea from last week to remove the silence and dish out the overdue consequences.

LESSON #2: HARRY DEAN STANTON DESERVES TO WIN THE THIRD POSTHUMOUS ACTING OSCAR EVER AWARDED— You can call Lucky a capstone, a eulogy, or whatever you want, but the late Harry Dean Stanton deserved serious Oscar consideration for Best Actor even before his death.  His legend will only grow with the public seeing the film. Starkly present in both the character and the actor himself, every wrinkle hides a layer, a story to be told, or a touchstone to an unseen memory. You cannot stare deep enough into his sullen eyes without being captivated by his plight.

LESSON #3: THE MONEY PEOPLE EARN MAKING A MOVIE— Mark me down as a guy who never knew how much the folks you see listed in the end credits of a film got paid.  We hear about the big paychecks of actors and directors, but rarely the “little people.”  Check out this article from TIME magazine. File this under the “You Learn Something Every Day” department.

LESSON #4: IS THE THEATRICAL PRODUCT GETTING SLOPPY?— I recently enjoyed the perspective written up by Sonny Bunch in The Washington Post.  I found the technical details behind projection, sound, and lights to be fascinating.  The more I think about my theatrical experiences every week, the more I see what Bunch is referring to.  Calling it a “scapegoat” to attendance I think is a little too strong, but discerning fans are right to expect and want better from their premium ticket prices.

LESSON #5: GEORGE CLOONEY IS TOO YOUNG TO BE GETTING LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS— The American Film Institute announced that George Clooney will be receiving their 46th Lifetime Achievement Award next June.  Mr. Clooney is only 56-years-old.  I don’t want to turn into Don “TMasterpiece” Shanahan, but George’s career is far from full or even complete.  Let’s put the “lifetime” in lifetime achievement awards.  The guy could work at the top of his game for another quarter-century.  Come back when the guy is 76 instead of 56.  Next thing you know, Jennifer Lawrence is going to win the thing before she turns 30.  Jeez!


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

The Best Films of 2017 (So Far)

It’s hard to believe we’re halfway through 2017.

Traditionally, the first half of the year is a mixed bag. We must endure the dumping grounds known as January and February, hoping maybe something of note will slip through the cracks.  Summer seems to begin earlier and earlier each year, as some big budget players try to get a jump on the blockbuster season with notable releases in March and April.  And then the popcorn season officially begins in earnest on that first week of May, and the cineplexes fill up with loud explosions, CGI, and cute animated critters.

When looking back on films you’ve enjoyed from January to July, it’s always interesting to think about how many of them will actually land high on your top ten list come year’s end.  Let’s face it, for many of us, some of the best films roll out after October first, either as Oscar bait or holiday blockbusters.  The back half of 2017 is loaded with some serious heavyweights in both regards, so it’ll be fun to see how it all shakes out.

That said, the staff at Feelin’ Film has compiled our individual top three films of the first half of the year, presented for your reading enjoyment below.  We’d love to hear your thoughts on our picks, and invite you to leave your thoughts and own lists in the comments section or on the Facebook page.  Or, if you just want to mock Aaron for his pretentiousness, that’s okay too.

Without further ado….

#3  Steve – Beauty & the Beast

I admit I’m a bit bias here, with having been a slave to the Mouse House for nine years of my existence.  I met my better half at Disney and our first date was actually seeing the animated version in theaters.  Personally, I think this is one of Disney’s best tales, and the live action film was everything I hoped it would be.  Haters gonna hate, but I think Emma Watson was a perfect choice for the role of Belle, and the production value is a high point.

#3  Don – Lucky

In a rare and perfect leading role for his stature, Harry Dean Stanton play the titular nicknamed war veteran, diner regular, and barfly slowly coming to grips with his own quickly approaching mortality.  In “…if it hasn’t killed me yet” fashion, the rough edges of this straight shooter melt away to a warm heart at the core as he looks into himself and his small town connections.  Lucky washes its salty kick with a soft finish, without a wasted spec of storytelling patience.

#3  Patrick – Spider-Man: Homecoming

My man Peter Parker comes swinging onto the big screen once again, but this time I think the filmmakers found the perfect balance of what makes your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man work.  Tom Holland is a great long-term investment, and the deal between Sony and Marvel Studios is a win-win for EVERYONE.  I’m looking forward to seeing how creative both companies will get with this latest and hopefully final iteration of the web-slinger.

#3  Jeremy – Spider-Man: Homecoming

I didn’t think it would be possible for me to enjoy a comic book film more than I enjoyed Wonder Woman, but Spider-Man proved me wrong.  It’s a perfect combination of cast and story; comedy and drama; thrills and fun.

#3  Aaron – Get Out

This place on my list is extremely competitive.  Personal Shopper, The Beguiled, and The Lego Batman Movie all deserve recognition here.  But the most impactful film of this group was my experience seeing Get Out among a packed, diverse crowd.  Jordan Peele has taken his trademark humor, social commentary, horror, and thriller aspects and reassembled them into one of the most creative, intense, crazy genre-benders I’ve ever seen.  It’s one of those rare films that feels “important” while also being incredibly entertaining, and it’s one film I suggest everyone see.


#2  Patrick – Wonder Woman

In the muck and mire that is the DC criticism, and the reality that is superhero fatigue, I walked out of this movie feeling incredibly encouraged and refreshed about the future of the genre.  Having never been a huge fan of Diana Prince, being able to keep me engaged and wanting more installments of the Amazon goddess says something about director Patty Jenkins, star Gal Gadot, and company.  I’m looking forward to Justice League even more after seeing this one.

#2  Don – The Big Sick

The Big Sick nimbly moves with a constant levity, even when the potential for heavy drama invades.  That jocular wit makes you appreciate any of the lows that sneak up on you because they arrive bearing tissues for your smiling eyes.  It is one of the best romantic comedies of this short century and one of the best films of 2017, period.

#2  Jeremy – Baby Driver

While it’s probably my least favorite Edgar Wright film, Baby Driver is still thrilling enough to be my second favorite film of the year so far.  Heck, if all I got was a blank screen with the soundtrack blasting, it would probably still land as my number three.

#2  Steve – Baby Driver

Edgar Wright continues to expand his unique visual style in this revved up, supercharged action thriller.  The story of a misguided kid getting in too deep with big time criminals might not seem unfamiliar, but with fantastic performances and the soundtrack of the year keeping tempo with the on screen mayhem, Baby Driver is a white knuckle ride of pure adrenaline.

#2  Aaron – A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story is a simple, unique, and poetic film about the fragility of life and passing of time.  Its pacing requires complete dedication and patience from an audience, something that will certainly not appeal to all, and may cause frustration.  However, for those who commit, this is a masterpiece filmmaking effort by the superbly talented David Lowery that will haunt their emotions and thoughts.


#1 Don – War for the Planet of the Apes

So far this year, I’ve only given four five-star reviews, and no film has impressed me more completely from top to bottom that 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.

#1  Aaron – Your Name

This is a story about dreams (and desperately trying not to forget them), time travel, body swaps, natural disaster, coming of age, romance, and deep longing that is emotionally riveting from beginning to end.  Comedic at all the right times, soul-crushingly painful, and yet tender and hopeful.  Your name is an animated masterpiece that goes far beyond its dazzling visuals, and is the film that has most deeply affected me in 2017 so far.  (Note:  This film initially released in Japan in 2016 but did not receive an American release until 2017)

#1  Steve – Wonder Woman

Consider me the chief skeptic when it comes to the DC cinematic universe, but Wonder Woman far surpassed my middling expectations.  It took studios long enough to throw bank at a female fronted superhero film, but man, the wait was worth it.  Director Patty Jenkins handled every nuance with such great care, Gal Gadot owned the role of the princess , Diana, and the importance of what this film manages to accomplish for women everywhere cannot be understated.  Is this not the best cinematic moment of any superhero film ever?

#1  Jeremy – Get Out

Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is both the most important and most thought provoking film I’ve seen this year.  It’s gotten funnier and more intense every time I’ve watched it, even though I’m fully aware of what’s coming.  I’d be shocked if it’s much lower on my list come January.

#1  Patrick – The Lego Batman Movie

I don’t know that I’ve laughed this loud and so many times in a theater in a long time.  Everything about this film made my theater experience incredible.  The story felt original, the callbacks to the past franchises were on point, and the jokes felt perfectly placed.  Walking out, I knew I wanted to own it immediately.

There you have it.  Disagree?  Let us have it.  Share your top films with us.  Hopefully, we’ve added something to your cinematic radar and you’ll all soon be feelin’ these films as well.