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Kicking the Seat's Top 17 Films of 2017!

It's as hard to nail down a theme for the films of 2017 as it is to pick a favorite, so let's not bother. Look for a common thread in my choices for the year's "best" movies, and you'll wind up sorting through a brightly colored fistful of mismatched yarn. There's more horror here than I'd expected, along with two documentaries about musicians, and a heaping helping of dramas confronting existential dread. There are as many films featuring accused sex offenders as there are pictures that may never see the light of day (for very different reasons).

But there's hope here, too.

This won't look like a lot of other Year End lists you're likely to read. Nothing new there. I didn't see everything 2017 had to offer (Phantom Thread, The Post, All the Money in the World). And much of the buzzed-about marquee stuff I did see registered only as half-decent swings and misses (Wonder Woman, Get Out, The Big SickCall Me By Your Name).

The only connective tissue is purely subjective: these seventeen films, plus the honorable mentions that follow, knocked me out and provided, to varying degrees, unparalleled movie-watching experiences. They challenged me. They made me re-think life, death, art, and criticism. Above all, they led to some unforgettable conversations, which are linked to in the hyperlinked titles of each blurb. 

Seek these out, and be enriched. Or confused and pissed off. There's little difference.

Before watching Colin Hay: Waiting for My Real Life, I knew very little about the Men at Work front man. This documentary by Nate Gowtham and Aaron Faulls follows Hay's magnificent second act as a humbled, soul-searching road musician whose journey from pop powerhouse to lyrical shaman serves as both cautionary tale and inspiration. Hay is a master storyteller whose wistful and often humorous tales of heartache electrify venues all over the world, from sold-out clubs to sparsely populated, middle-of-nowhere dive bars.

Character actor John Carroll Lynch makes one of the warmest directorial debuts in recent memory, helming a movie about an aged atheist (Harry Dean Stanton) grappling with an existential crisis. Lucky asks the Big Questions, and doesn't let the audience or its characters off the hook. I was so shaken by Stanton's performance, and by the words of writers Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja, that I've neither reviewed nor revisited the film since seeing it this summer--hence my first resolution of 2018.


The year's biggest "event movie" involved neither comic-book characters nor Jedi, and released in January. Woody Harrelson's Lost in London was a truly one-night-only experience, live-streamed to theatres across the country in a single-take, multi-location performance that has yet to play again or hit home video. Technical difficulties, actor gaffes, and a sunrise-skirting climax were minor hiccups in Harrelson's semi-autobiographical narrative comedy. There's rarely anything new under the marquee these days, and it was refreshing to spend two hours on the edge of my seat.

It's not fair to bag on comic-book movies, especially especially when they're as oddball and surprisingly moving as Guardians of the Galaxy Volume Two. James Gunn's follow-up has more heart, brains, and laughs than its pop culture-regurgitating predecessor, and even the Empire Strikes Back-aping themes are expanded upon instead of merely presented for laughs of recognition. All hail Kurt Russell as Star Lord's (Chris Pratt) celestial-god dad. And can we get Michael Rooker some kind of award for making us give a shit about Yondu?

While we're sucking off the Mouse, let's look at Disney's other gargantuan 2017 blockbuster. With Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson deconstructs forty years of beloved mythos as only a true fanboy could. Ironically, the Internet wants his head. Between petitions to have Episode 8 stricken from canon and the contradictory claim that Disney has "played it safe" by letting Johnson "destroy" Star Wars, it's clear that the writer/director has struck a nerve. Unclear the future is. Giddy about this am I.


You could easily mistake Ana Lily Amirpour's The Bad Batch for a half-dozen other Post-Apocalypse movies, but don't be fooled by the aesthetics. This trippy, unforgiving, and oh-so-imaginative trek through desert wastelands controlled by cannibals and zen messiahs doesn't hold a mirror up to a society that could be--but to one that, in many ways, already is. As a bonus, you get the big-screen Jason Momoa acting showcase that failed to materialize in Justice League!


Speaking of acting showcases, who knew that Parks and Recreation's Jim O'Heir was such a dark and twisted dude? Friend and collaborator Ned Crowley, apparently, who put O'Heir front and center in Middle Man, a black-comedy/horror road trip about an aspiring comedian who picks up the wrong hitchhiker while driving to Vegas. Powered by tragicomic turns from O'Heir, Anne Dudek, and Andrew J. West, this supernatural spin on The King of Comedy offers a devilish critique of show-business and the seemingly endless procession of bodies eager to feed it.

Fame and horror went to prom in 2017, chaperoned by Tyler MacIntyre's brilliant horror comedy, Tragedy Girls. With seductively savage performances from Alexandra Shipp and Brianna Hildebrand and a wry, uncompromising script by MacIntyre, Chris Lee Hill, and Justin Olson, this story of social-media-obsessed high school psychos belongs in the pantheon of relentless teen-angst masterpieces like Scream an Heathers.


High school horror makes another appearance on the "Best of" list, but don't look to My Friend Dahmer to deliver the kind of lurid thrills implicit in its title. Marc Meyers' adaptation of John "Derf" Backderf's graphic novel presents Jeffrey Dahmer's teen years as the kind of overwhelmingly sad experience that might turn some to suicide, and others to murder. In a star-making lead performance, Ross Lynch creates a troubled youth who you may even root for--until the final moments when Dahmer crosses the point of no return. Tragic. Real. Unforgettable.

Speaking of real, I have seen few contemporary filmmakers as keenly observant of the human condition as Michael Glover Smith. Mercury in Retrograde follows three couples during a wooded weekend retreat that puts their friendships and romances to the test. Smith pushes his cast, script, and budget to the very limit, delivering the kind of polished, literate, and heartfelt drama that cinephiles and film critics crave whenever the house lights come down--and which mainstream audiences would likely devour, if given the chance.

In my ideal world, multiplexes would play Mercury in Retrograde on a double bill with Columbus. Kogonada's walkabout drama centers on the son of a famous architect (John Cho) who gets sidelined in the titular Indiana town after his dad suffers a stroke. He meets a local girl (Haley Lu Richardson) whose ambitions have been stifled by time and circumstance. Their chats are deep, their emotions are complicated, and their path is unconventional by Hollywood standards. By the time the credits roll, you'll swear you've visited Columbus and met its top misfits.

I'd never thought of Sammy Davis, Jr. as a misfit until watching Samuel D. Pollard's eye-opening documentary: Sammy Davis, Jr.: I've Gotta Be Me. This intimate look at Davis as artist, activist, and cultural icon always tap-dancing between the shifting plates of pop taste is guaranteed to create a new generation of fans. And I promise you won't be able to shake "Mr. Bojangles" out of your ears for at least a week afterwards; its significance has haunted me for months.


We turn now from mid-century social unrest to the barely contained madness of modern-day business. Joe Lynch's Mayhem is the better of the two "Battle Royale in the Workplace" thrillers that came out this year. Samara Weaving's performance will imprint on your soul, as will the unstoppable momentum with which director Joe Lynch propels Matias Caruso's deranged screenplay. Steven Yuen stars as a lawyer locked down with the rest of his firm during a viral outbreak that sets everyone's darkest impulses free. Mayhem smashes skulls while keeping brains and hearts intact.

Edgar Wright ignited a different kind of powder keg with Baby Driver, which also tackles shady business with a violent flourish. This unconventional musical/heist flick/car-fetish extravaganza reminds us why practical stunts will always reign supreme, and why it's a goddamned tragedy Kevin Spacey turned out to be a an accused sex criminal. I didn't think the phrase "Ansel Elgort has never been cooler" would have reason to exist in 2017. But, well, here we are.


Speaking of fallen geniuses, Louis C.K.'S I Love You, Daddy is an overlooked victim of the 2017 sex scandals that began with Harvey Weinstein and ended with [INSERT NAME AT THE END OF TIME]. This funny, thoughtful, and indefinitely shelved look at creativity, fame, and ego is the product of so many layers of id that psychologists could spend a century breaking it apart. C.K. plays a Woody Allen-esque dad whose teen daughter falls for a septuagenarian director accused of inappropriate behavior. Confession? Contrition? You decide--if you ever get to see it.

The Tiger Hunter is an antidote to perversion, as well as a brainier alternative to The Big Sick. Lena Khan's disarming family comedy stars Danny Pudi as Sami, a young Indian immigrant hoping to find success in America in the 1970s. Where The Big Sick treated Kumail Nanjiani's Pakistani heritage as both a gimmick and questionable point of self-loathing, Khan presents Sami as a character who is eager to elevate himself, his friends, and his family, as well as the country that welcomes him.

We close out the year with the mother! of all movies: Darren Aronofsky's gonzo Biblical allegory/asshole-artist confession. Whether you read this film as a modern reworking of Christian mythos; as a treatise on environmentalism; or simply as Jennifer Lawrence going nuts in a country house because her husband (Javier Bardem) keeps opening the door to chaos, it's impossible to watch mother! all the way through without appreciating the unflinching vision of a twisted master at play. In a year of singular moviegoing experiences, this shook me to the core.

Also Not to Be Missed:

Emerald City

Lady Bird

My Egg Boy


Princess Cyd

Band Aid

A Ghost Story

A Quiet Passion

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