Tis the season to make year end lists. You have probably run across dozens of top ten movie lists for 2017. Why should mine be any different? It shouldn’t be but it is. Instead of limiting myself to the small pool of 2017 releases, I add all of the other movies I’ve seen this year, regardless of the year it was released. My top ten list is from the 153 movies I’ve watched this year. Three 2017 releases are on my list, along with a late 2016 release. The remaining six are movies that I first watched over fifteen years ago but took another bite of this year.
Here we go starting at the top:
- Casablanca (1943). I watched this with my son on Christmas night. It is one of those rare studio movies that still connects with a younger generation. I think Roger Ebert, in his Great Movie review of the film, states it well. “Seeing the film over and over again, year after year, I find it never grows over-familiar. It plays like a favorite musical album; the more I know it, the more I like it. The black-and-white cinematography has not aged as color would. The dialogue is so spare and cynical it has not grown old-fashioned. ” I wouldn’t presume to say it better than Roger. Here’s looking at you kid.
- Lady Bird (2017). Saoirse Ronan communicates more with her eyes than most actors communicate with their speech. At the age of 23 she is one of the great actors of our day. Combine that acting talent with Greta Gerwig’s genuine and fresh vision of the “coming of age” story and you end up with one of the best reviewed movies in the history of Rotten Tomatoes. Like Casablanca, Lady Bird tells its story in less than one hour and forty five minutes. Both are good examples of how sometimes less is more.
- Beauty and the Beast (2017). Although The Last Jedi is likely to become the number one worldwide Box Office champion for 2017, as of today, that distinction goes to Beauty and the Beast. Despite that success, I didn’t find much love for the film in the year end top ten lists. For me, it is the most fun I’ve had at the movie theatre in 2017. I also believe that Emma Watson provided us with one of the most under-appreciated acting performances of the year.
- A Beautiful Mind (2002). This is one of my not seen in fifteen year movies. When I wait fifteen years for a movie that I’m seeing for just the second time, it feels like the first time. A Beautiful Mind was better the second time around than the first. I don’t believe that I appreciated the first time how effectively Ron Howard tells a story on the screen that takes place most of the time in the mind of John Nash.
- Molly’s Game (2017). This movie has been getting second tier awards buzz. In other words, not Best Picture worthy, but a contender for supporting awards. I went to see it in the theatre because Aaron Sorkin is my favorite screenwriter. This movie blew me away with how good it was. Jessica Chastain chews up Sorkin’s screenplay and provides a performance for the ages. Idris Elba is Oscar-worthy in a Supporting Role. Molly’s Game did not get a Golden Globe nomination for Best Drama. With the exception of Dunkirk, I haven’t seen the other four nominees. They will be hard pressed to be better than Molly’s Game.
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002). In my opinion, this is the greatest movie trilogy of all time. Like Tolkien’s three books, you can’t separate one of the three movies from the whole. They are one long form story. Similar to the Star Wars trilogies, the second movie sets up the premise that it is always darkest before the dawn.
- The Deer Hunter (1979). This is a three hour movie that doesn’t feel like three hours. I watched it for the third time this year and it doesn’t lose its powerful anti-war message in the retelling. Meryl Streep is likely to earn her twenty first Oscar nomination this year. Her supporting role in The Deer Hunter produced her first nomination.
- Black Hawk Down (2002). Another fifteen year movie that surprised me the second time around. This is a movie about mission creep and the chaos of modern warfare. I felt like I understood this movie better the second time around. Maybe the War on Terror that has filled the intervening fifteen years has made me more attuned to what is going on in this film. For whatever reason, this movie communicates the chaos that can arise in the fog of war better now than it did fifteen years ago.
- Cool Hand Luke (1967). Some actors have a charismatic presence that is bigger than the films they appear in. The movies become a “Jack Nicholson” movie or a “John Wayne” movie. Cool Hand Luke is a “Paul Newman” movie at the height of his charisma. In the first half of his career he was a star. In the second half of his career many would argue he became an actor. This is probably the fourth time I’ve seen this movie. Newman dominates the film and he never fails to communicate that he is a star.
- Hacksaw Ridge (2016). This is the fourth war movie on my list, if you consider Casablanca a war movie, which I do. It is the only one of the four that is about unadulterated heroism. What makes this movie unique is that it isn’t the heroism of a John Wayne war movie and its theme of righteous killing. It is the true story of a conscientious objector, Desmond Doss, who earns the Medal of Honor without firing a single shot at an enemy. It is a compelling story with an Oscar nominated performance from Andrew Garfield.
Of the 153 movies I saw in 2017, all but 11 were at least “really like” movies. These ten movies just happen to be the best. Starting next Monday we begin compiling a new list of “really love” movies.