The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Ten Best Films of 2017

This may be my favorite Ten Best list ever. 2017 was one of the most rewarding years for movies since The Aisle Seat was established in 1995. Best of all, there were exemplary films in every genre. That's what I love about this list; it has a bit of everything.

A number of great films didn't quite make the cut, meaning that deletions were painful. Ranking those that did was even tougher than leaving some out. This wasn't a year where one movie stood head and shoulders above all the others. Instead, the best pictures were generally close together in their quality levels. Don't take the rankings too seriously. I picked my #1 movie because it seemed the most well-suited to this year. It could have been several of the others.

After the list, I'll unveil my choice for the best documentary of the year, plus have a special note.

And now, here are my choices for the Ten (actually eleven, because there's a tie) Best Films of 2017:

10. Coco - Pixar once again broke boundaries with their culturally rich tale of a young Mexican boy who hopes his journey through the afterlife will persuade his family to allow him to play music. Visually breathtaking and containing a heartwarming message about the importance of recognizing one's ancestors, Coco is 2017's finest animated feature.

9. It -The first half of Stephen King's mammoth novel was brought chillingly to life by director Andy Muschietti. Pennywise the clown, played with an excess of menace by Bill Skarsgard, is a definite highlight. However, it's the Goonies/Stand By Me/E.T. vibe that gives the movie its biggest kick. Because the tone is designed to be reminiscent of those '80s classics so many of us grew up on, It allows Pennywise to practically terrorize our youth.

8. Blade Runner 2019 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (tie) - Two of the best science-fiction movies ever made got visually stunning sequels that expanded upon the themes established in the originals. Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 examines the long-term ramifications of “replicants” and what the next step in their evolution might be. Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi intriguingly deconstructs ideas of the Force and heroism that we've unknowingly grown complacent with over the course of the series. I loved both movies for the same reasons, so I've tied them here.

7. The Disaster Artist - Tommy Wiseau's The Room is quite possibly the worst movie ever made, but its unrelenting sincerity shines through anyway. That's why it has become a cult classic. The Disaster Artist director/star James Franco hilariously captures the craziness of both that all-time turkey and its creator, while simultaneously delivering a touching tale of friendship between Wiseau and his pal/co-star Greg Sestero, on whose book the film is based.

6. Baby Driver - Edgar Wright had already established himself as a high-energy, stylistically-inventive director, but his 2017 car chase thriller was the one where he pulled all his skills together and shot them through the roof. From its dazzling music-driven opening sequence to the Is it real or a fantasy? ending, Baby Driver puts the pedal to the floor and keeps it there.

5. I, Tonya - Margot Robbie gives the female performance of the year as ice skater Tonya Harding, and Allison Janney is every bit her equal as Harding's gruff, unforgiving mother. Taking a dark comedic approach to the material was the right choice. I, Tonya makes you laugh like a fiend while still feeling a bit of empathy for its subject. The film cannily suggests that Harding's dream of Olympic glory was foiled because she didn't realize how deeply stupid all the people around her were.

4. Wind River - Taylor Sheridan's murder mystery, set on a Native American reservation, unfolds in such a way that you forget about the world around you and become fully immersed. Jeremy Renner is outstanding as a professional game tracker looking to exorcise his own demons by helping the FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) sent in to investigate. Aside from being an engrossing mystery, Wind River is a profound meditation on grief and guilt.

3. The Big Sick - Most romantic comedies are contrived, often shamelessly. The Big Sick is real. Literally. Star Kumail Nanjiani co-wrote it with his wife, Emily Gordon, based on their own unusual romance – an event that, among other things, saw her placed into a medically-induced coma following a health problem. Mining their personal lives for material gives the movie a heartfelt, authentic quality that pulls you right in. Plus, it's hysterically funny. The old adage “write what you know” once again proves to be impeccable advice.

2. The Florida Project - Sometimes a movie really sticks with me. That's what happened with Sean Baker's The Florida Project. I knew it would be on this list somewhere as soon as I saw it, but the penultimate position is not where I expected it would land. I can't stop thinking about it, though. Cast with non-professional actors – aside from the great Willem Dafoe – and shot with a documentary-like feel, the picture captures the lives and struggles of homeless and financially-destitute parents/children shacking up at a Florida motel. Baker turns in a potent exploration of economic hardship, broken dreams, and a way of life where the only true goal is figuring out how to survive today.

And my choice for the Best Film of 2017 is:

The Post

1. The Post - Like I said at the top, several movies could have landed in the #1 slot this year. I'm choosing Steven Spielberg's journalism drama because it's a legitimately great piece of filmmaking, but also because no other film better summed up where we're at in 2017. By depicting the events that led Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and owner Katherine Graham to publish the Pentagon Papers -- knowing full well Richard Nixon might try to retaliate -- The Post speaks to the crucial need for a free press, especially when our elected officials have to be held accountable. Stars Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep are typically sublime, and Spielberg gives the film a taut pace that generates suspense, despite us knowing the outcome in advance. The Post is exceedingly well-made and absolutely vital in its subject matter.

Runners Up: Battle of the Sexes, Dunkirk, Gerald's Game, Get Out, Lady Bird, mother!, The Shape of Water, Stronger, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The Work

Best Documentary of 2017: The Work - Because they are achieved in different ways and have different goals, I decided a few years ago to stop mixing documentary and fictional films together. Sometimes I make a separate list of the year's best docs. For this year, I just want to single out one specific movie that is not only the best non-fiction film of 2017, but one of the best I've ever seen. The Work looks at a four-day group therapy session at Folsom Prison. A few civilians attend, along with the most hardcore convicts imaginable. What happens is intensely powerful, challenging your view of the prisoners and forcing you to see them not just as criminals but as people struggling with pain and sorrow. You can't take your eyes off it. The Work, it should be stressed, is every bit as good as any of the fictional films on the list above.

Special note: Sony Pictures Classics did a one-week awards-qualifying run for the Chilean drama A Fantastic Woman, which contains a mesmerizing performance from transgender actress Daniela Vega. I strongly considered including it on this list. However, the official release date isn't until February 2018. After much internal debate, I decided that it didn't quite meet my criteria for a 2017 release. I'll run my 4-star review when it formally opens.

Other special note: Don't forget to check out my list of The Ten Worst Films of 2017.

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