By Dwight Brown, NNPA Newswire Film Critic
As we look back on the highest caliber films of 2017, the array is diverse, the talent is strong and the entertainment value is solid.
These are the films that will make you laugh, cry, think, hug someone or wish you had super powers.
The following films opened in 2017, are still at a theater near you or will be on a streaming service shortly. Enjoy.
Battle of the Sexes (***1/2) In the 1970s, Grand Slam tennis champion Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and over-the-hill tennis pro Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) duke it out in the pivotal tennis match of the century. Their battle is stil socially relevant today. Stone brings King’s raw courage to life and the dawning of her new sexual identity is profound. Carell gives Riggs the right dose of bluster. Well directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valarie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine).
Coco (****) This American-made animated film shows such great respect for Mexican culture. It takes you to unimaginable places where humans and spooky creatures collide all synched around the holiday Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos). Rich palette of colors. Lively musical score. Firmly and affectionately voiced by Anthony Gonzalez, Benjamin Bratt, Gael García Bernal and Renée Victor. Co-directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina. A joy to watch.
Crown Heights (***1/2) Everyday heroes are on view in this simple yet courageous story about two friends whose bond is stronger than a crooked Brooklyn District Attorney. In the wake of misguided films like “Detroit,” “Crown Heights” is a godsend. Director/writer Matt Ruskin’s understated style makes the film seem real. Lakeith Stanfield shines in the lead as a wrongfully convicted suspect. Nnamdi Asomugha plays the friend who never gives up on him. Pure inspiration.
Darkest Hour (****) Sure, Gary Oldman chews up the scenery as the stalwart Winston Churchill in this World War II film about Germany’s impending invasion of Britain. He deserves an Oscar for his interpretation and so does his makeup man who turns the slim actor into the stout world leader. Brilliant direction by Joe Wright. Smart script by Anthony McCarten. Superb cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel.
Get Out (***) It’s quite surprising and fresh that in his first outing as a filmmaker, Comedy Central star Jordan Peele gets so much right about the art of making a drama/horror movie. Aptly he captures that insular foreign feeling black people have when they are in a room full of awkward-acting whites. Then he cranks the horror up a notch to a high crazy/weird decibel. Daniel Kaluuya is the face of the common man. Milton “Lil Rel” Howery is his hysterical wingman. Best First Film of the year, hands down.
Girls Trip (****) This hilarious and relentlessly bawdy take on a girls’ weekend reunion in New Orleans is a cross between Bridesmaids and The Hangover, only more outrageous. Praise to screenwriters Kenya Barris (TV’s Black-ish) and Tracy Oliver and director Malcolm Lee. Rain accolades on Tiffany Haddish for her impressive comedy chops and equal doses of love to Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah for giving us a great laugh. Best Comedy of the Year.
In the Fade (****) A mother (Diane Kruger) loses her child and husband in a bombing in Germany and she seeks justice and revenge. The sociopolitical aspects of the racist attack against her Kurdish-born husband are so topical it’s as if the movie was ripped from a newspaper headline. Director Fatih Akin also wrote the screen adaptation of a novel by Hark Bohm. Riveting from beginning to end.
Lady Bird (****) A precocious high-school student, Christine (Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn), goes by the name Lady Bird and is in a constant verbal battle with her pessimistic mother (Laurie Metcalf, TV’s Roseanne). Teen angst colors her relationships with her first boyfriend (Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea) and second lover (Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name) Hilarious. Heartwarming. Written and directed by actress Greta Gerwig (Jackie) and based on her life.
Stars Wars: The Last Jedi (****) Wow. This is the event movie of the year. So much action. So much haunting drama and raw emotion. And it doesn’t just build to one climax. It crescendos up to climax, after climax, after climax… The mix of the old generation, with Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), with the new warriors, like Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega), is seamless. The surprising plotlines by writer/director Rian Johnson and the astonishing art direction, production design, costumes and cinematography make this saga a fun experience with lots of eye candy.
Wonder Woman (****) Best comic book hero turned action film movie of the year. Director Patty Jenkins, with Gal Gadot as her muse elevates the legendary Amazon warrior way above the current tepid Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill) to an upper stratosphere. Perfect blend of beauty and strength. Great special effects. Tight script by Allan Heinberg. Robin Wright and Chris Pine co-star.
Joe Wright — Darkest Hour
Dee Rees — Mudbound
Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk
Rian Johnson — Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Patty Jenkins — Wonder Woman
Best First Films
Get Out, Patti Cake$, Thank You for Your Service, Novitiate, Menashe
Best Foreign Language Films
In the Fade, The Insult, First They Killed My Father, Felicité, The Square
I Called Him Morgan, Last Men in Aleppo, Whose Streets, Step, Quest
Gary Oldman—Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington—Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Daniel Kaluuya—Get Out
Josh O’Connor—God’s Own Country
Annette Bening—Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Sally Hawkins—Maudie/The Shape of the Water
Diane Kruger—In the Fade
Charlize Theron—Atomic Blonde
Emma Stone—Battle of the Sexes
Best Supporting Actors
Ian Hart—God’s Own Country
Michael Shannon—The Shape of Water
Idris Elba—Molly’s Game
Best Supporting Actresses
Tiffany Haddish—Girls Trip
Laurie Metcalf—Lady Bird
Mary J. Blige—Mudbound
The Shape of Water—Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Girls Trip—Kenya Barris, Tracy Oliver
Get Out—Jordan Peele
God’s Own Country—Frances Lee
The Big Sick—Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani
Dunkirk—Hoyte Van Hoytema
The Shape of Water—Dan Lausten
First They Killed My Father—Anthony Dod Mantle
Darkest Hour—Bruno Delbonnel
Coco, Loving Vincent, Despicable Me 3
Other Great Films
Atomic Blonde, Baby Driver, The Big Sick, Dunkirk, Call Me by Your Name, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, God’s Own Country, “I, Tonya,” The Lost City of Z, Lowriders, Maudie, Mudbound, The Post, The Shape of Water, Stronger, War for Planet of the Apes, Wind River
CHiPS, Detroit, Downsizing, Mother, The Mummy, Suburbicon, Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween