Chuck Koplinski: My top 10 movies and scenes of 2017

Chuck Koplinski: My top 10 movies and scenes of 2017

While I wouldn't call 2017 a great year at the movies (that distinction goes to 1939 or 1968), it was a very, very, very good year — one of surprises, diversity and a sense of steadiness, as there seemed to be something worthwhile to see most of the time. It was a year in which Marvel Films dominated the box office, Warner Bros. proved it could make a great superhero movie ("Wonder Woman") while continuing to appear befuddled as to how to handle their other characters ("Justice League") and independent films scored big at the box office and gave critics less to grouse about.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of 2017 was that it was a dismal year where animation was concerned. Coming off 2016, which in the future may be seen as the last year of the great animated renaissance of the 21st century with a glut of impressive products (14 features in all, "Zootopia" and "Moana" among them), there was nothing of note where the major studios were concerned. "Despicable Me 3," "Ferdinand" and "Coco" were passable but hardly groundbreaking. Only "Loving Vincent" broke new ground and is likely to be the only animated feature from the year that will be remembered in years to come.

One positive movement that built upon 2016 was the continued release of sophisticated or art-house horror features. Jordan Peele's bracing examination of racism, "Get Out," the French coming-of-age cannibal film "Raw," Darren Aronofsky's flawed but captivating "Mother," the supernatural love story "A Ghost Story" and the paranoid thriller "It Comes at Night," a parable for living in the Trump era if there ever was one, provided adventurous viewers with films that had their finger on the pulse of the unsettling times we live in. What with the horror genre often offering up subversive social criticism, look for movies of this sort to continue to flourish until 2020 ... at least.

If there was a recurring theme throughout the movies of 2017, it was the sense of uncertainty that was so prevalent, the feeling that we are on shaky ground as a society. In addition to the horror films listed above, "The Big Sick," "Blade Runner 2049," "Darkest Hour," "The Shape of Water" and others tapped into the prevailing sense of unease.

2017 will also be regarded as the year in which the #MeToo movement had major ramifications on two big films, saw the termination of various actors from television programs and, hopefully, proved to be a sea change in Hollywood culture.

On the eve of the release of the independent feature "I Love You, Daddy," the New York Times broke a story containing allegations of sexual abuse concerning its star, director and producer, Louis CK. The film's release was canceled and it has gone unseen except by those who got a DVD screener of it in the mail (count yours truly among them). Ridley Scott was forced to use some digital trickery and a good old-fashioned sense of determination to erase Kevin Spacey from his feature, "All the Money in the World," and replace him with Christopher Plummer. Needless to say, the ripple effect caused by this movement has yet to reach its endpoint as this story is far from over.

There were films I liked that you didn't ("Logan Lucky," "Rings," "Ghost in the Shell," "The Mummy," "Mother," "American Assassin," "American Made," "Only the Brave," "Wonder Wheel"); movies you liked that I didn't ("Split," "Fifty Shades Darker," "The Boss Baby," "The Fate of the Furious," "The Hitman's Bodyguard," "Thor: Ragnarok"); and those no one liked ("Monster Trucks," "Sleepless," "The Great Wall," "Table 19," "The Circle," "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword," "Snatched," "The House," "The Snowman," "Just Getting Started").

Compiling this year's top 10 List was a difficult chore as there were so many worthy films that during a normal year would have made the list without a problem. However, as is always the case, what helped me determine those that would make the cut were the ones that moved me in one way or another.

Each of the movies listed below did just that to one degree or another, reminding me once more of the medium's ability to transcend its limitations and touch those viewers open enough to receive its bounty.

Top 10 most memorable movies of 2017

'LADY BIRD'

There's really nothing original at all in Greta Gerwig's directorial debut. The title character (beautifully realized by Saoirse Ronan) is a misfit high school senior stuck in a Catholic school who's anxious to flee Sacramento, Calif., and her critical mother (Laurie Metcalf). You've heard it before, but what makes this film special is the genuine, sincere nature of the story, the humanistic performances from the entire cast and I think a yearning to see a normal family of today survive and truly love one another despite their differences. There are many lessons to be learned from this film, but I think seeing the title character begin to thrive after a tumultuous, formative year is the secret to its success, as her perseverance is something we can hold on to in these perilous times.

'THE SHAPE OF WATER'

Director Guillermo del Toro's take on "Creature from the Black Lagoon" is a parable for our times. A group of alienated people — a poor mute woman (Sally Hawkins), a closeted homosexual (Richard Jenkins), a black woman (Octavia Spencer), an ignored man-of-science (Michael Stuhlberg) — and one gill creature (Doug Jones) are the band of marginalized outsiders who come together to take on the cold-hearted government (personified by the tightly wound Michael Shannon) in this Cold War tale. The film is one of the most visually gorgeous and dynamic of the year, but its examination of the vagaries of prejudice and the desperate need for inclusion couldn't be more timely.

'BLADE RUNNER 2049'

I was dubious when this sequel was announced, as I thought it was just another entry in the nostalgia-reboot subgenre of the past couple of years. I couldn't have been more wrong, as director Denis Villeneuve's follow-up to the cult classic improves on the original. Ryan Gosling, who has the titular job, is a replicant that undergoes an existential crisis as he investigates a 20-year-old murder. Whereas the 1982 cult classic was visually groundbreaking, it had a cool feel to it that prevented viewers from engaging with it on an emotional level. However, Gosling's search for identity and purpose is heartbreaking and all too relatable, as Villeneuve finds the heart in this machine and brings it to the forefront.

'LOGAN LUCKY'

The best movie no one saw in 2017, Steven Soderbergh's return from his truncated retirement seems a more modest take on his version of "Ocean's 11." Yes, there is a heist pulled off by a diverse crew — a beleaguered dad (Channing Tatum), a wounded vet (Adam Driver) and a hillbilly explosive expert (a superb Daniel Craig) — but there's far more at play here as the director takes a subversive approach in criticizing the financial inequalities in our country and showing how good, decent people are pushed to extreme measures to survive. It's all great, disposable fun, but its message sticks with you in unexpected ways.

'THE DISASTER ARTIST'

James Franco directs and stars in this tribute to the creative spirit as he gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the worst movie ever produced, "The Room." Franco completely immerses himself in the role of Tommy Wiseau, the mumbling, delusional filmmaker, providing an abundance of laughs. Yet the high-wire act he pulls off here in giving us a man we can laugh at but still maintain a sense of respect for is remarkable. An acknowledgement of all those who struggle to make their dreams come true, this speaks to the underdog in all of us.

'LADY MACBETH'

This little-seen stunner from England is based on the book by Russian novelist Nikolai Leskov and concerns a young woman (Florence Pugh) in the 1880s trapped in an arranged marriage and the efforts she employs to free herself. Unintentionally prescient of the #MeToo movement, the film is a shocking tragedy from which its characters cannot escape and shows how one's morals can be hopelessly perverted when feelings of entrapment and hopelessness take hold. Seek this one out, as you won't soon forget it.

'BABY DRIVER'

Like "Lady Bird," there's little original, narratively speaking, in Edgar Wright's bank-robbery feature. But what makes it distinctive is the sympathetic performance from Ansel Elgort, the roster of character actors used to bring to life its rogue gallery (Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal) and its innovative integration of music. As Baby careens around Atlanta, we're privy to the music he's listening to on his headphones and each chase is choreographed to the beat of those tunes. It's great, great fun, and Wright proves you can energize that which is cliched to great results.

'NORMAN'

Richard Gere gives his finest performance as the titular character, a low-level wheeler-dealer who's constantly on the outside looking in until fate brings him in contact with an Isreali diplomat, a meeting that will unexpectedly change his life. The actor has built his career by portraying ambitious, well-put-together men, so it is a revelation when we see him so movingly plumb the depths of this man's despair. Norman's efforts to succeed at all costs result in the loss of his identity, something we all should be weary of.

'THE BIG SICK'

Threading the needle where comedy and drama are concerned is a perilous exercise, yet stand-up comic Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon succeed in pulling of this difficult feat with their screenplay based on their own experiences. He plays himself — a struggling comedian — and Zoe Kazan is Emily, the woman he loves, loses and then tries to win back after she slips into a coma. As her parents, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, accurately bring to life the sense of anxiety and fear that would plague anyone in their situation, while Kazan and Nanjiani's chemistry has you pulling for them from the start. Touching and funny, this is the best romantic comedy in years.

'IT COMES AT NIGHT'

Trey Edward Shults' paranoid thriller takes place in the near future, where a mysterious plague has swept the country, killing many and wiping out our infrastructure to the point that people are now living in isolation. When a family (Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo and Kelvin Harrison Jr.) takes a young couple (Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough) and their baby into their home, what begins as a benevolent gesture turns into a nightmare as distrust grows between them in very cramped quarters. Self-preservation is the driving force behind the film, one that couldn't be more on topic as it points out that this mind-set can often lead to impulsive actions, irrational fear and irreversible actions.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Darren Aronofsky's shocking "MOTHER" ... Jordan Peele's powerful cautionary tale, "GET OUT" ... David Lowery's oddly effecting romance tale "A GHOST STORY" ... James Gray's gripping old-fashioned adventure "THE LOST CITY OF Z" ... James Mangold's powerful swan song for Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), "LOGAN" ... the poignant look at grief and redemption, "Frantz" ... the surprisingly moving biography of poet Emily Dickinson "A QUIET PASSION" ... Patty Jenkins' glorious tale of empowerment "WONDER WOMAN" ... the darkly comic cautionary tale "I, TONYA," ... and Sean Baker's devastating look at modern poverty, "THE FLORIDA PROJECT."

Top 10 most memorable scenes of 2017

Movies are about moments — big moments that erase our cynicism about cinema and remind us of its capacity to dazzle as well as touch us. This happens in a way only possible with a medium that seamlessly combines so many other art forms. There are instances that prompt us to consider things in a different light, encourage us to think about issues from a different perspective and empathize with others in a way we could never expect.

While sometimes memories of the overall plot of a film or its minute details may escape us, certain scenes stand out like a beacon in a bland cinematic landscape. What follows is a list of the 10 best scenes from the movies in 2017. While some of the films they're from might not have been completely successful, during these moments perfection was achieved and they've proven powerful enough to stay with this viewer long after the credits have rolled and the lights have come up.

'WONDER WOMAN'

Confused about the violent world she finds herself in and dumbfounded over man's hesitance to help others, PRINCESS DIANA (Gal Gadot) climbs out of the Allied Forces' trenches to venture across No Man's Land toward the German forces, serving as a symbol of inspiration that prompts others to join the fight. As lensed by director Patty Jenkins, the scene begins in slow motion, steadily building to a crescendo in which the character's act of self-sacrifice is not only stirring but powerfully moving as well.
 

'LOGAN LUCKY'

Making sure to get back from a complex heist of the Charlotte Motor Speedway in order to see his daughter in a beauty contest, LOGAN (Channing Tatum) makes it just in time to witness his lovely daughter (Farrah Mackenzie) reward his loyalty and express her love by singing his favorite song, John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads," instead of Rihanna's inappropriate-for-an-8-year-old "Umbrella." This unexpectedly moving moment proves even more surprising as it comes out of left field amidst the caper hijinks that have just ensued. But more than anything, it reminds the characters, and us, of what is truly important and worth fighting for.
 

'GET OUT'

Uneasy about visiting the home of his white girlfriend's parents, CHRIS (Daniel Kaluuya) sits down for an uncomfortable, impromptu therapy session with MISSY (Catherine Kenner), an encounter that causes him to hallucinate as he imagines himself falling into a dark abyss, unable to save himself or even cry for help. This is a shocking, powerful metaphor for the African-American experience many are grappling with today and may be the most powerful political statement made in an American movie this year.
 

'THE BIG SICK'

Distraught after being ostracized from his family and having just found out that his girlfriend's medical situation is heading toward a fatal conclusion, stand-up comic Kumail Nanjiani breaks down on stage while trying to do a set, revealing his anguish over being unable to help the woman he loves. The film shifts gears dramatically at this point and while it is serious at times, this moment grounds the story in an unexpected and powerful manner, making the film's conclusion all the more meaningful.
 

'NORMAN'

Desperate to make an impression on an Isreali diplomat he's happened to run into, would-be wheeler-dealer NORMAN OPPENHEIMER (Richard Gere) buys his new friend a pair of shoes that, to his shock when he gets the receipt, cost $1,200. The comic timing of this scene is priceless and the wide range of emotions Gere brings to the fore in these brief moments are surprisingly human, reminding us of what an underrated actor he is.
 

'THE SHAPE OF WATER'

ELISA (Sally Hawkins) has acted rashly in kidnapping (fishnapping?) a gill man from the government facility where she works. To make matters worse, she's fallen in love with the thing and in order to keep him alive, she fills her bathroom with water from ceiling to floor. Perverse yet romantic, this visual knockout of a scene shows director Guillermo del Toro's imagination in full bloom as he produces a wonderful visual metaphor for the feeling of euphoria one feels when in love.
 

'LOGAN'

WOLVERINE (Hugh Jackman) is headed cross-country to a mythical refuge with his ailing mentor, aging telepath PROFESSOR XAVIER (Patrick Stewart) in tow. Having been left in a hotel room by himself, the old man has a seizure that violently disrupts the brain waves of those around him. Our hero struggles mightily to save him in this tense, exciting sequence that underscores the unspoken love the mutant has for his mentor and serves as a reminder that our gifts, whatever they be, can come back to haunt us.
 

'LADY BIRD'

Having applied to and been accepted to an East Coast college without telling her mother (Laurie Metcalf), CHRISTINE (Saorise Ronan) desperately tries to apologize to her, the woman remaining silent and ignoring her regretful daughter as she calmly does household chores. Painful to watch, this scene brilliantly brings to life the complexities of the relationship that exists between parents and their children and how anger and disappointment can emerge though both are working toward the same goal but through different means.
 

'THE FLORIDA PROJECT'

MOONNEE (Brooklyn Prince) has just found out that she is going to be taken away from her mother by a group of social workers. Desperate, she goes to find her best friend JANCEY (Valeria Cotto) and convinces her to help her run away. They head toward Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, moving toward Cinderella's Castle as fast as they can. This devastating sequence brilliantly underscores the futility of Moonee and others living on the fringe as they futilely move toward a goal they'll never achieve.
 

'ATOMIC BLONDE'

Having been ambushed and severely beaten, MI6 agent LORRAINE BROUGHTON (Charlize Theron) hijacks a car and throws the wounded SPYGLASS (Eddie Marsan), the target she's been sent to protect in the passenger's seat. What ensues is an elaborate chase done in one unbroken take, a 10-minute digital-camera tour de force from director David Leitch that takes the duo from rundown tenements, crowded streets and finally into a canal where they're captured. Invigorating and innovative, this was a highlight in action cinema this year.

 

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