Faithful blog readers! It’s time once again for my list of the best movies I saw in 2017! Why am I yelling?! Just a reminder: These are not the best films released last year. These are the best movies I saw in the last calendar year, whether they were new or old. I saw 72 movies in 2017, or 1 every 5.1 days. I have mentioned in past posts that I screen movies for my lovely wife Jen. See, she has a real job. And a life. I sit through hours of bad filmdom so she doesn’t have to. (When she catches me sitting on the couch munching on dark chocolate M&Ms and watching “Ted 2” at 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, I tell her, “But honey, I’m doing this for you!”)
Actually, I found out that I’ve failed Jen in one crucial aspect this year: I thought I was doing a good job of weeding out the bad films from her life, but one day we were having a casual discussion about the movie “Baywatch.” I was telling her that, other than Zac Efron’s and Dwayne Johnson’s ripped bodies, she didn’t miss much. She said, “Hold up. You are hiding another shirtless Zac Efron movie from me? This is like the fourth one this year! And in most of them, you said he gets fully naked!” (For the record, in the past 2 years, I’ve seen 5 naked-or-nearly-naked Zac Efron films: “Neighbors 2,” “Dirty Grandpa,” “Baywatch,” “That Awkward Moment,” and “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.”) I hadn’t been keeping track, but apparently, she was. So I have learned my lesson: the wife would appreciate a little Troy Bolton with his shirt off. But who wouldn’t, if we’re being honest?
Anyway, the list (sorry Jen, no Zac Efron to be seen in these films):
10. “The Incredible Jessica James,” 2017 romantic comedy directed by Jim Strouse starring Jessica Williams and Chris O’Dowd. Funny, surprising, sarcasm-laced film about a woman coming out of a bad breakup who reluctantly agrees to go on a date with a guy getting over a bad divorce, and the fits and stops their friendship takes. Williams (“People Places Things,” incidentally my favorite film from 2016) runs this flick; when O’Dowd (you’d recognize him as the cop/love interest in “Bridesmaids”) tells her character, “I really like you,” she responds, “Of course you do, everyone does, I’m freaking dope.”
9. “Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru,” 2016 documentary directed by Joe Berlinger starring Tony Robbins. If you’ve ever seen infomercial star/entrepreneur/life coach Anthony Robbins and thought, Who is that giant man with the self-confidence to match his height? (He is 6’7″), this movie is for you. It follows one of Robbins’ “Date With Destiny” 5-day seminars in Boca Raton, FL, where people shell out $5000-plus to learn how they are screwing up their lives and what they can do to fix it. He is brutal, honest, and to the point. Does this come off as a drink-the-Kool-Aid promotional video? At times. But he is very open about his own shortcomings, and it’s fascinating to see someone explain how they got their sh*t together and turned their life around, and to watch others try to do the same. It’s quite emotionally deep, actually.
8. “The King’s Speech,” 2010 historical drama directed by Tom Hooper starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter. The story of King George VI’s unexpected ascension to the throne, his struggles with stuttering (and self-confidence; he should have talked with Tony Robbins), and the speech therapist whose unorthodox methods helped him overcome so much in his life. This deservedly won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay (David Seidler), Best Director (Hooper), and Best Actor (Firth).
7. “Captain Fantastic,” 2016 drama directed by Matt Ross starring Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, and Samantha Isler. Heartbreaking film about a guy struggling to raise his children away from the civilized world after the death of his wife. The trailer made it look more like a comedy; don’t be fooled. Very thought-provoking; watching him butt heads with his in-laws about his wife’s wishes for her burial versus what societal norms would require is tough.
6. “Don’t Think Twice,” 2016 comedy/drama directed by Mike Birbiglia starring Gillian Jacobs, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Birbiglia, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, and Chris Gethard. When does a person give up on their dreams? What if one of their best friends is better than them at something? And how much do we owe our mentors for our successes? This movie follows an improv ensemble as they struggle to pay the bills; when a few of them get a tryout at a “Saturday Night Live”-type variety show, the reactions of the individual members of the group threaten not just their careers but their friendships. Very funny and poignant.
5. “She’s Funny That Way,” 2014 comedy directed by Peter Bogdanovich starring Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Kathryn Hahn, Jennifer Aniston, Will Forte, and Rhys Ifans. This movie was fun. At times it approached farce; like the plays “Noises Off,” “What the Butler Saw,” or “You Never Can Tell,” this movie has love triangles, doors opening and closing while people try to hide their trysts from their partners, and great comic timing. Ifans plays a director whose latest play is upended by the addition of a call girl-turned-actress (Poots).
BREAK FOR ANNUAL STAR WARS MOVIE: I feel as if there should be a special place on my list for all of the Star Wars films that Disney will be releasing annually for the next decade. Last year’s “The Last Jedi” should be on my list, but let’s just assume that I’m going to like it (I did) because I have a blind spot for Star Wars movies and thus am incapable of objective criticism. Moving on:
4. “La La Land,” 2016 musical comedy/drama directed by Damien Chazelle starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and John Legend. There’s always a movie that receives universal praise that I want to dislike. I thought I wouldn’t like this one. A musical? About Hollywood? Where a white guy saves jazz? And did I mention it’s a musical? But I liked it. Gosling and Stone have chemistry, and they make us want to see where they are going. I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s a scene at the end of the movie, no talking, just music and pictures, and it reminds me of the scene in the Disney film “Up” when the old man is thinking about his long relationship with his wife, and…well, you have to see it.
3. “The Fundamentals of Caring,” 2016 comedy/drama directed by Rob Burnett starring Craig Roberts, Paul Rudd, Jennifer Ehle, and Selena Gomez. Rudd plays a struggling writer going through a divorce and trying to get into a new career as a home-health caregiver. He gets hired to take care of a young man (Roberts) who is wheelchair-bound. Turns out the kid’s a smartass (picture Bubble Boy in that episode of “Seinfeld;” he’s pissed that everyone wants to feel sorry for him, so he acts like a jerk). The two guys decide to take a road trip and pick up a few stragglers along the way, including Gomez, who is a wonderful surprise in this film. A very funny and very touching movie; you will laugh and you will cry (unless you’re an unfeeling jerk).
2. “The Edge of Seventeen,” 2016 comedy/drama directed by Kelly Fremon Craig starring Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Kyra Sedgwick, and Woody Harrelson. My God, are all of my favorite movies comedy/dramas? Yes. This hilarious coming-of-age film follows a girl (Steinfeld) whose high-school problems are compounded by the fact that her best friend is now dating her older brother. Her closest confidante is an English teacher (Harrelson) who can barely tolerate her. It reminded me of “Juno.”
1. “The Big Sick,” 2017 comedy/drama directed by Michael Showalter starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, and Ray Romano. This is really three movies in one: a comic romance between Nanjiani’s and Kazan’s characters, a drama about a health scare, and a relationship film between them and each of their parents. Hunter is great, and Romano is way more understated than I expected. Nanjiani, who co-wrote the movie with his wife, carries the film; if you have seen him, it’s probably from “Silicon Valley” or his frequent minor roles in “Portlandia.” This film is like “While You Were Sleeping” if Sandra Bullock was an Uber-driving son of Pakistani immigrant parents who were trying to arrange a marriage for her/him. I feel like I lost the thread there somewhere.
Movies that just missed the cut: “The Last 5 Years,” “Song One,” “Scott Pilgrim Versus the World,” “Bad Moms,” “Hello My Name Is Doris,” “Starter for 10,” “The Martian,” “Good Night and Good Luck,” “Other People,” “Table 19,” “American Teen.”