Wednesday, Jan 17, 2018
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Blade critic Kirk Baird picks the best of 2017

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    This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Ryan Gosling in a scene from "Blade Runner 2049."

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  • Lady-Bird-Saoirse-Ronan

    This file image released by A24 Films shows Saoirse Ronan, left, and Beanie Feldstein in a scene from "Lady Bird."

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    This file image released by Lucasfilm shows Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi."

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A critically praised Star Wars film that has divided fans.

An intense historical drama that boldly re-creates a defining moment in World War II.

A gritty juxtaposition of those struggling in the shadow of the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

A stirring reminder of the importance of a free press.

Powerful stories of revenge, love, loss, hope, and what it means to be human.

These are my top films of 2017, listed in alphabetical order:

Blade Runner: 2049

In a world set three decades from the original Blade Runner, the separation between humans and replicants is almost indistinguishable.

Then a by-the-book Blade Runner named K (Ryan Gosling) makes a haunting discovery while pursing a replicant that changes everything. Ridley Scott’s epochal Blade Runner was so visionary and profoundly unique when released in 1982 that it baffled and flopped. Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s brilliant sequel fared slightly better with audiences and critics, though it feels like a full appreciation for and understanding of his bigger and bolder genre template, itself a visual and science-fiction feast, is still years away.

Call Me By Your Name

A university graduate assistant visits his professor and family in Italy for a summer of work in the early 1980s and forges a relationship with the 17-year-old son that will change their lives.

A classic love story with non-traditional leads, Call My By Your Name is a moving, sweet, tender, and poignant story of connection and romance, as the closeted grad student (Armie Hammer, who has never been better) grapples with being himself, while the teen (Timothée Chalamet, a revelation) on the cusp of adulthood discovers who he is. Written decades ago by Oscar winner James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name is a moving story about love, courage, and acceptance.

Dunkirk

The unbelievably true World War II story of hundreds of thousands of British and Allied troops surrounded by German forces on the beaches of Dunkirk in northern France, only 50 miles from the shores of England, and the miracle that saved them (and England).

Writer-director Christopher Nolan's minimalist war epic resonates with lengthy passages of wordless despair and anxious intensity, punctuated by the hum of Hans Zimmer's unrelenting score. Harrowing and moving, Dunkirk is a war film about odds (as in survival) rather than battlefield action. It’s an absolute triumph in every sense of the word.

The Florida Project

Walt Disney World exists as an unobtainable paradise to those struggling in a nearby Orlando project in director and co-writer Sean Baker’s (Tangerine) riveting, terrifying, and moving spotlight on this place of have-nots.

In this juxtaposition, a young girl named Moonee (Brooklynn Prince in one of several terrific performances by unknown actors) creates her own happiness in the shadow of the Happiest Place on Earth, and gets into trouble, as she’s raised by a single mother (Bria Vinaite) who in many ways is a child herself. A wonderfully understated Willem Dafoe is the film’s soul as the kindhearted manager of the residence.

Lady Bird

Alienated. Awkward. Rebellious. Delicate. Fierce. Independent.

The titular character of Greta Gerwig's directorial debut, a 17-year-old high school senior (Saoirse Ronan) at odds with almost everyone and everything in her life, is a collection of contradictions, much like that Bob Dylan song about women. For example: The one who understands Lady Bird the most, her mother (Laurie Metcalf), is the one she fights the most. This coming-of-age comedy-drama is personal and often painful, with rich performances by Ronan and Metcalf and an emotionally honest screenplay by Gerwig.

Phantom Thread

The ordered life of renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock in 1950s London is disrupted and upended by the rebellious young woman he falls for.

In acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson’s exploration of the heart, love is an intoxicating drug, a blunt-force weapon, a cure-all medicine, a poison, and a bright star by which to navigate. Daniel Day-Lewis is a towering and graceful force as Woodcock and Vicky Krieps his screen equal as the muse-turned heartbreaker, while Anderson's script lays in wait with menacing truths — and twists — about what the heart wants and does.

The Post

Led by editor in crusader Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), the Washington Post takes its freedom of the press battle against President Nixon to the Supreme Court in 1971 to publish government documents (the Pentagon Papers) revealing a decades-old cover-up, with the paper's owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) fighting a battle of her own: acceptance.

Director Steven Spielberg's tight and precise historical drama was deliberately made for these times of “fake news” accusations. While the cast is uniformly excellent, The Post's purposeful and poignant reminder of the importance and necessity of a free press is the standout.

Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi

The Resistance is struggling, the First Order is growing, and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) refuses to join the fight at the behest of Jedi-in-training Rey (Daisy Ridley). And no, The Last Jedi doesn't go the way you think, unlike the familiar-to-a-fault The Force Awakens.

Writer-director Rian Johnson's fresh and bold vision for this galaxy of old and new heroes and villains deftly challenges decades of expectations and myths in many ways that are uncomfortable, but necessary (and liberating) for the saga’s future. The result is that rare blockbuster that flouts convention even as it subtly adheres to it.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

A single mother (Frances McDormand) grieving her murdered teenage daughter, channels her rage and anguish by publicly questioning the town's sheriff (Woody Harrelson).

McDormand is alternately stormy and still, Harrelson a calming and wise voice, and Sam Rockwell, as a troubled and troublesome deputy with mother issues, a powerful contrast to both. Oscar-winning writer-director Martin McDonagh beguiles with a surprising amount of wicked humor, and then darkens this searing drama with angry despair and unrepentant vengeance, which leads to hard-earned redemption.

Wind River

A young FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) partners with a skilled tracker (Jeremy Renner in his best performance since 2008's The Hurt Locker) to solve the murder case of a young woman on a wintry Native American reservation.

Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water), Wind River is a superbly paced drama that serves its justice cold, delivers its suspense in bursts, enriches its flawed heroes with memorable histories and motivations, and makes the time for quiet social commentary.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.

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