Film Feature: Carrie’s Top 10 Films of 2017

by Carrie Kahn on December 31, 2017

If you didn’t get out to the movies as much as you’d hoped in 2017, it’s not too late to catch up on these worthy titles!

Spinning Platters Film Editor Carrie Kahn shares her ten favorite films of 2017, presented in descending rank order. You can also check out her list from last year here

10.) Wind River

Writer Taylor Sheridan, who penned last year’s Best Picture nominee Hell or High Water, made his directorial debut this year with another of his Western-set screenplays. A murder mystery that unfolds in the unforgiving, snowy winter landscapes of the Wyoming mountains, the film follows U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory (Jeremy Renner) and neophyte FBI agent Jane (Elizabeth Olsen) as they try to solve the brutal murder of a young woman on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Sheridan, whose respect and understanding of the inhabitants of remote western environs is always evident, crafts a taut, smart thriller populated by complex, flawed, and sharply-drawn characters, whose sense of compassion and justice never wavers. (You can also read my original capsule review from its Sundance Film Festival premiere here.)

9.) Get Out 

The teacup industry probably isn’t sending any thanks Jordan Peele’s way, since the comedian’s first film presents us with a brand new meaning to the previously simple act of stirring tea. A horror movie that turns horror movie tropes upside down, Peele’s film about a young white woman (Allison Williams) who brings her African-American boyfriend (a terrific Daniel Kaluuya) home to meet her parents is a wholly original, edge-of-your seat shocker that’s also a biting social satire of race relations in America. Peele expertly juggles comedic edge, genuine, unexpected scares, and quiet, chilling menace to create one of the most unforgettable and slyly clever pictures ever made. (You can also read my original full-length review here.)

8.) The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin 

A biography of one of the Bay Area’s favorite adopted sons, filmmaker Jennifer Kroot’s documentary about writer Armistead Maupin was a film festival favorite (it took the Audience Award at South by Southwest) that deserves to be seen by a wide audience for its engaging and perceptive exploration of universal themes. Born into a storied conservative family in North Carolina, Maupin diligently tried to uphold the expectations of his family, serving in the Navy and working for Jesse Helms, all while struggling with the secret of his sexuality. As Maupin’s indisputably absorbing tale unfolds (the picture takes its name from Maupin’s most famous work, Tales of the City, which started as a serial in the San Francisco Chronicle and later was made into a PBS miniseries), we gain insight not only into a complicated and unique man, but also into the equally complicated history of the U.S., the Bay Area, and the LBGQT community. Featuring interviews with a range of Maupin’s colleagues and friends — from Laura Linney (who played Mary Ann in Tales) to Jonathan Groff, Neil Gaiman, and Amy Tan — Kroot’s documentary is a keen and emotionally resonant look at the personal and the political, arts and letters, and, to use a phrase Maupin coins, the benefits of creating a “logical family.”

7.) Walking Out  

Nominated for the Grand Jury prize at Sundance, Walking Out is a superbly crafted battling-the-elements survival story that will haunt you long after the credits roll. Twin brothers Andrew J. Smith and Alex Smith direct Matt Bomer and Josh Wiggins, as a young father and his estranged teenage son, respectively, to nuanced and impeccable performances that anchor an already arresting tale of fear and love in the Montana wilderness. Beautifully shot by cinematographer Todd McMullen and based on a short story by writer David Quammen, the film follows young David (Wiggins) as he valiantly tries to find help after his father (Bomer) is accidentally injured while the pair are hunting deep in the wintry Montana mountains. The Smith brothers here create an emotional and physical chill so palpable that a down jacket and ski gloves should be required attire for viewing their film.

6.) The Big Sick  

Another film festival darling, The Big Sick made headlines upon its Sundance premiere when it sold for a record $12 million to Amazon. But the risk Amazon took was well worth it: the film more than lives up to its hype, deserving all the award nominations and accolades that have so far come its way. Based on the true story of co-writer Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s courtship, in which culture clash (Kumail’s traditional Pakistani family disapproves of his relationship with the American Emily) and illness play a part (Emily is in a coma for much of the film), the picture mines both situations for heartfelt laughs and raw, authentic feeling. Holly Hunter and the criminally underrated Ray Romano nearly steal the picture from the excellent Nanjiani (as himself) and Zoe Kazan (as Emily) as Emily’s parents, whose own complex relationship is given as much attention and importance as Kumail and Emily’s. Director Michael Showalter deftly and sensitively balances moments of comedic levity and affecting emotion to give us one of the year’s funniest, smartest, and touching films. (You can also read my original capsule review from its Sundance Film Festival premiere here.)

5.) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

Anglo-Irish writer/director (and playwright) Martin McDonagh’s blistering tale of revenge, redemption and grace in the American south is a showcase for some of the best actors working in the industry today. Frances McDormand, as a grieving mother whose daughter’s vicious rape and murder remains unsolved, Woody Harrelson, as the police chief stymied by the cold case, and Sam Rockwell, as a junior officer consumed with anger and hostility, masterfully bring McDonagh’s brilliant story to vivid life. Ultimately a story about love and forgiveness, McDonagh’s picture proves that not all characters have to be noble to be worthy of attention, and that we are all capable of finding reserves of compassion and love, even if they’ve long been buried under the weight of a cruel world. (You can also read my original full-length review here.)

4.) Lady Bird 

The coming-of-age film can be tricky to get right – the best ones avoid clichés and maudlin sentimentality to bring a fresh perspective to a shared human experience. This year, first time filmmaker Greta Gerwig can count herself among those who have succeeded in the genre with Lady Bird, her semi-autobiographical, fictionalized account of growing up in nearby Sacramento in the early 2000s (and local alumni, take note: UC Davis gets a shout out or two). Gerwig’s stand in here is Christine (or, as she dubs herself, Lady Bird), played with absolute fearlessness by the remarkable Saoirse Ronan. Gerwig’s portrayal of the joy and pain of growing up — from being jealous of more well off classmates, to yearning for success, independence, and adventure while still needing parental acceptance — is so well conveyed that memories of your own high school days will no doubt come flooding back as you watch Lady Bird’s story progress. Gerwig also gives us an unflinching look at the often fraught mother-daughter relationship; Laurie Metcalf, as Lady Bird’s overworked but loving mother, goes toe-to-toe with Ronan in some of the film’s best and most heartrending scenes. Bittersweet, poignant, and always achingly truthful, Gerwig’s picture is not only one of the best of the year, but one of the best of its kind.

3.) The Post 

“The way they lied… those days have to be over,” proclaims Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) in director Steven Spielberg’s First Amendment political thriller. That Bradlee’s nearly 40-year-old admonition of the government remains just as relevant today makes Spielberg’s Pentagon Papers docudrama feel both vital and fresh. As a historical drama, an ode to the power of journalistic integrity, and as a portrait of a woman (Post publisher Katharine Graham, splendidly played by Meryl Streep) holding her own in an era of rampant sexism, The Post works on many levels, all of which coalesce into one of the finest and most suspenseful movies about journalism since 2015’s Spotlight. (You can also read my original full-length review here.)

2.) California Typewriter  

If you’re a regular Spinning Platters reader, chances are you probably live in the Bay Area, which means you’re fortunate enough to be able to stop by California Typewriter on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley, something you should do ASAP if you haven’t already. Documentarian Doug Nichol’s film is about the small, family-run business, as well as the aficionados of all things typewriter, but it’s also about so, so much more. A clear-eyed look at a changing Bay Area, a love letter to the joys of a simpler era, a portrait of a struggling but dedicated local business, a celebration of quirky collectors, a testament to the power of art and the creative spirit, and, perhaps most importantly, a tribute to the enduring strength of friendship and family, California Typewriter covers all these elements with respect, good humor, and insight. Interviews with the likes of Tom Hanks, Sam Shepard, David McCullough, and singer John Mayer are given equal weight to those with California Typewriter owner Herb Permillion, master repairman Ken Alexander, collector Martin Howard, the Boston Typewriter Orchestra (yes, it’s a thing) and Oakland artist Jeremy Mayer, who creates anatomical sculptures out of old typewriter parts. The local angle aside, though, Nichol’s film more than stands on its own as one of cinema’s most charming documentaries.

1.) Call Me By Your Name 

As this list proves, 2017 was an outstanding year for quality film, but no other picture this year even comes close to matching this superlative film by Italian director Luca Guadagnino. Working from a script by James Ivory based on the novel by André Aciman, Guadagnino immerses us so fully in the sensuous delights of early ‘80s northern Italy that we can almost taste the peach juice on our tongues, feel the cool water of a swimming hole on our arms, and hear the beating of our hearts as someone we are drawn to finally touches us. The blossoming attraction and young love that develop between 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and his father’s 20-something graduate assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer) shouldn’t be categorized as a gay love story; it’s a story that, in Guadagnino’s skilled hands, is so universal and so profoundly human that it transcends labels. Anyone who watches this film will be transported, transfixed, and moved beyond measure. Chalamet also here gives what is hands down the best performance of the year (he’s my pick for the Best Actor Oscar), and no one who watches him in the final moments of this film will ever forget how he holds the screen, and our hearts. 

Honorable MentionsDean, Battle of the Sexes, Mudbound, I, Tonya, and Wonder Woman

Carrie Kahn

Moving from the arthouse to the multiplex with grace, ease, and only the occasional eye roll. Proud new member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mitch Tropila January 6, 2018 at 10:06 am

I look forward to this Top 10 post every year. Thanks, Carrie. You never disappoint!


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