2017The temptation is to say that it was a terrible year. Whether it’s clinging to what didn’t go your way, or being beaten down by the bad things in the world at-large, it’s fashionable to say that 2017 was a twelve month shitshow that we’d all like to lock in a box and drop into very deep water.

If we all close our eyes and really think though, I’d wager there was more joy this year than anyone wants to admit.

Perhaps it was a new friend, or rekindling the connection with friends from long ago. It might have been about going somewhere you’ve never been before, or going back home after much time away.

In a macro sense, this year might have seemed extremely trying. In a micro sense, we all get a lot of tiny victories that add up when we look at them all together.

At the movies, things were pretty joyous. For all the hand-wringing about how broad our blockbusters are trying to play, there were more than enough cinematic offerings to open our minds and soothe our weary souls. There were lovely films about ugly things, simple things, tragic things, and silly things. It all just came down to what you hold tight to, and how you look at it all.

Most of what hit hardest for me were stories about people in search of truth – be it justice, love, or how they fit into it all. Make of that what you will – I truly hope for more of it in the new year.

Ryan’s Top Five Films of 2017

CMBYN#5. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

There are films we all wish we could live out – movies that create moments so lush and scenes so sexy, we like to believe that we could experience them in the flesh. Director Luca Guadagnino excels at that, and may have hit his sexy and lush peak with CALL ME BY YOUR NAME.

We all have that moment in time we’d like to go back to – that one “endless summer”. Such ideas aren’t new, and even pose a threat when they encourage moments of nostalgia or longing. Spend too long aching for the past, and you stand to lose your footing on the present.

But what if the value of these moments isn’t about us, but the generation that follows? What if it helped us encourage them to see the joy in being young and beautiful? In allowing themselves to feel pain with enough time on the clock for that pain to mend? What if it’s about enabling them to live in ways that will soon start to slip away. What if, in witnessing their vibrance and vitality, we are reminded of our own – if only for a moment?

This film is special not just because of the relationship at its centre, but because of all the relationships around it that help make that a reality.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME sits next to us while we look into the fire. It  encourages some to be as unpredictable and bright as those flames, and the rest to be as warm and enduring as the embers below.

(Full CALL ME BY YOUR NAME review here)

AGS#4. A GHOST STORY

If the concept of a movie where one of its stars spends the bulk of the runtime walking here and there under a sheet sounds absurd…well…it is. But most of the special effects bonanzas we watch nowadays are absurd for starters, so why not get a little existentialism for our money?

We spend much of our existence thinking that death is “the end”. For at least one soul, it’s where the story concludes. For many others, it is “the beginning” of the next chapter…however long or short that chapter may be.

What if we’ve got it all wrong? What if death and life are far more interwoven, to the point where we can’t entirely differentiate beginning from end? The souls of many who have come before us play a deep hand in writing the story we know as our own, and our impact on others will continue for a good while after we go. When it comes to illustrating that, what imaginative visuals best exemplify it? What spoken bits of dialogue?

Perhaps its best exemplified by a silent spectre under a white sheet.

We don’t want to be patient with our films, don’t want to spend long stretches in the dark being introspective. Perhaps we’re afraid of how we might feel, or afraid of what we might see. The results could be upsetting…or bitter…or depressing…or beautiful. We might sit in the dark and see nothing, or we might see something beautifully terrifying.

For me, A GHOST STORY was the latter.

(Full GHOST STORY review here)

3BOEM#3. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Every year as TIFF plays itself out, there is much chatter that goes on about what might take people’s choice. This past year there was talk of CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, LADY BIRD, and THE SHAPE OF WATER…but when the dust settled, this title took the prize. It was an interesting selection, and one that gave me a little bit higher expectations.

I’m happy to report those expectations were met.

I like to believe that people learn from their mistakes. I hope that things aren’t set, and that we are all capable of doing better when we put our minds to it, not matter our age and experience.

With that in mind, is it possible that the rich and nuanced character of Mildred Hayes is Martin McDonagh trying to atone for his horrible treatment of women in SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS? Might he have looked at what, by most measures, is a very good movie, and asked himself where it was lacking? Where he might have been able to do better? Might he have looked at a story where the two lead actresses were either arm candy or a nag and said “not good enough”? Perhaps. That’s my hope, anyway.

The creation of Hayes – and the exquisite way Frances McDormand brings her to life – would be enough to celebrate on its own. That she sits at the centre of such an engaging and multi-faceted story is an embarrassment of riches. THREE BILLBOARDS  is a direct challenge to the teams and tribes we have come to associate ourselves with. It’s here to say that there are left tendencies within the right, and right qualities within the left. It’s here to say that in every crisis personal and public, there are few easy answers.

Bad people aren’t beyond redemption, and good people will screw-up. The point is to be open to both possibilities, and not be blinded by loyalties.

That’s how we all might learn, how we might step beyond age and experience and embrace the world as it truly is.

(Full THREE BILLBOARDS review here)

LB#2. LADY BIRD

I used to always say that there were few things in life that brought me as much joy as Great Gerwig seemed to get from dancing. Now I fear that few things in life will bring me as much joy as Gerwig gets from directing.

It’s seldom that we see “real life” up on screen. Rare that we see clothes that aren’t designer, hair that isn’t carefully styled, skin that isn’t perfect, or families that aren’t lower-working-class. What we tend to come across is so-called “real life” that is actually stylized high above its intended station, or poverty that is so down on its luck that it might as well be called “sadness porn”. Life, for most of us, exists somewhere in-between.

Life, for most of us, also involves making silly mistakes, trying to face our own limitations, trying to make ends meet, trying to be good role models, awkwardly fumbling through relationships, and wondering when we might get any of it right. In short, if there’s a film that does depict “real life”, LADY BIRD is it.

It looks at the life of one girl with a recognition that teenagers spend most of their time trying on personalities like overcoats in the desperate hope that one will eventually fit and flatter. It likewise recognizes that the parents of these teenagers can stand by and watch their children try on personality after personality, but are largely only there to pay the clerk. Compliments and critiques can be offered on how “this one suits” or “that one sits badly”, but at the end of the day – it’s the youth that will decide when they are ready to try a different cut.

This is real life in all its frustration, angst, brilliance, and beauty. It really sucks sometimes, but other times we wouldn’t trade it for all the world…and LADY BIRD illustrates why.

(Full LADY BIRD review here)

GO#1. GET OUT

Some movies grow in our eyes as the year unfolds around them. Seldom has that been more the case for me than it was this year with my top pick.

Some movies cut us viciously the moment they are over. The wound is undeniable, and might leave a mark, but it’s treatable with balm and bandages. Other movies tear at our joints, bruise our bones, and gnaw at our tendons. They might not feel too bad in the moment, but they will leave lasting wounds that we will feel for a long time after, and will take ages to properly get over…if we ever do.

GET OUT is the latter.

It brings together commentary and thrills in a way that shows just how powerful satire can be when it’s at its best. It holds up a funhouse mirror to white people at a time when many of us don’t want to look at ourselves in the mirror. It lures us in with clever lines and promises of thrilling sequences, then goes about asking us hard questions about why we’re really there.

White folk don’t want to consider our biases and preconceptions. We want to believe that we aren’t as brazen as the party guests who spout the most inappropriate questions. We want to believe that just because we listen to black music and vote for black candidates, we’re “good”…we’re “woke”. We all want to sit passively and stir our teacups, unconcerned with the violence we are contributing to.

The thoughts and attitudes and underline the story of GET OUT didn’t begin in 2017 (perish the thought), but they did seem to find a whole new level. White folk might like to act aghast, but we really have no right to. We let the crazy white man into the house…we gave the crazy white man the knife and the rope. And now we’re trying to act surprised when the crazy white man holds up his invitation.

Are you surprised? Get out.

(Full GET OUT review here)

Other films on my shortlist for 2017 include THE BEGUILED, THE BIG SICK, BRIMSTONE AND GLORY, CERTAIN WOMEN, COCO, COLOSSAL, DUNKIRK, EX-LIBRIS, THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER, LADY MACBETH, LOGAN, MOTHER!, PERSONAL SHOPPER, THE POST, THE RIDER, THE SHAPE OF WATER, SONG TO SONG, STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI, WIND RIVER, WONDER WOMAN .

What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts on the list, and your own selections for the best films of 2017.