Well, 2017 was a shit-wallowing clusterfuck, but hey! At least while we screamed through the apocalypse, we could also distract ourselves with some phenomenal movies! There were a bunch of great ones this year, from blockbusters to arthouse: Battle of the Sexes, Dunkirk, Free Fire, Logan, I Am Not Your Negro, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Thor: Ragnarok, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri....

Sponsored
The Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing (PCCEP) September Full Board Meeting
Join the PCCEP Tue 9/28 for the committee board meeting from 5-8p to discuss Strategic Plan, Codification, Citizen Review Committee and more!

But instead of trying to rank 2017’s best films, your beloved and trusted Portland Mercury Super Cinema Strike Force™ decided to highlight our favorite movies of the year. These aren’t necessarily the best films of 2017 (though many of them are). Rather, they’re the ones we thought hit the hardest, surprised the most, or were the smartest, funniest, weirdest, or creepiest. If you haven’t seen these yet, get on it—and keep your fingers crossed that in 2018, we’ll be as lucky as we were this year. Cinematically speaking. —Erik Henriksen, Film Editor


Blade Runner 2049

(dir. Denis Villeneuve; available digitally Dec 26 and on Blu-ray Jan 16)

This year brought us some astonishing science fiction films, but none felt more real and lived-in than the existential Blade Runner 2049, directed by Arrival’s Denis Villeneuve. Impressive for its scale on all levels—from the booming yet sparse score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, to the looming cinematography of Roger Deakins, to the class and equality metaphors that hammer Officer K (Ryan Gosling)—it’s tragic that 2049 was considered a flop for failing to recoup its similarly monumental budget. (Anytime you hear someone blaming 2049’s financial failure on its being “too cerebral,” keep in mind that’s code for “audiences are stupid.”) The contrast between rave reviews and middling attendance led to a lot of hand-wringing over the future of daring, big-budget sci-fi, but don’t forget the bust-to-boom trajectory of the original Blade Runner, which went from bomb to cult favorite to classic. Like the first Blade Runner, 2049 will endure. SUZETTE SMITH


Brigsby Bear

(dir. Dave McCary; available digitally and on Blu-ray)

I grew up in the era of the VHS tape. Everything was fuzzy and nothing had chapter menus and the TVs we watched them on were small and square and inexplicably heavy. But there’s a quality to what was on some of those tapes—a post-green screen, pre-internet desire for total radness and earnest sentimentality—that Brigsby Bear captures perfectly. Brigsby follows a group of friends trying to recreate a fake ’80s kids show about an animatronic space bear, and it’s my favorite film of the year because they don’t do it to change the world or get famous. That stuff comes later—maybe. First you have to make something you like, that speaks to you, even if it’s kinda dumb. Sometimes that means grabbing a camera and a couple of friends and making a totally rad, earnestly sentimental movie about an animatronic space bear. BEN COLEMAN


Creep 2

(dir. Patrick Brice; available digitally and on DVD)

Patrick Brice’s 2014 cult film Creep follows Josef (Mark Duplass), a serial killer who finds aspiring videographers on Craigslist and lures them to secluded cabins with the promise of well-paid work. It’s one of the best and most unsettling examples of found footage horror I’ve ever seen—despite plenty of red flags (an ax lodged in a tree stump, a terrifying wolf mask called “Peachfuzz”), Josef and his flavor of the week, Aaron (played by Brice), bond at the outset, moving through mutual cycles of trust and manipulation. Brice and Duplass returned this year with the hilarious Creep 2, which finds Josef deep in a midlife crisis—he’s about to turn 40 and can’t access his murderous inspiration. Enter Sara (Desiree Akhavan), an adventurous young vlogger who responds to an ad seeking filmmakers who like Interview with the Vampire. Josef introduces himself as “Aaron” and immediately reveals his profession to Sara, who can’t tell whether or not he’s bluffing. It’s claustrophobic and captivating, and you’re always left wondering whether they’re about to fuck or kill each other. Bonus: unexpected comic relief from Josef’s diva moments, kale smoothies, and passion for jam bands. CIARA DOLAN


Gaga: Five Foot Two

(dir. Chris Moukarbel; available on Netflix)

Lady Gaga’s talents as a singer/songwriter/actress/dancer are undeniable, but Chris Moukarbel’s documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two effectively humanizes Stefani Germanotta, the woman behind the iconic moniker. From her relationships to her family history to her feelings about her body, Gaga nearly bares it all. There’s an emotional phone call with a friend fighting cancer; there’s Gaga suffering through painful body spasms caused by a prior hip injury; there’s some brief discussion about that Madonna beef; there’s Gaga talking about growing into her best self and having less of a tolerance for bullshit from men. The star doesn’t come off as an eccentric artist, but rather a creative genius who also happens to be a fairly normal-ass person. Gaga continues to demonstrate creative control and masterful musicianship that, when mixed with her insane charisma, can evoke an emotional response from her audience. In other words, I found myself crying at least once. JENNI MOORE


Get Out

(dir. Jordan Peele; available digitally and on Blu-ray)

Although first-time writer/director Jordan Peele is known primarily as a sketch comedian, Get Out is not a comedy. After the film was nominated as one for a Golden Globe, film writers started a little Twitter brushfire over whether or not the nomination made sense (it doesn’t), prompting Peele to respond: “At the end of the day, call Get Out horror, comedy, drama, action, or documentary, I don’t care. Whatever you call it, just know it’s our truth.” While Get Out is frequently funny in a gallows humor sort of way, it’s not a comedy. It’s not a doc either, despite being built on the undeniable truth that America has never stopped fearing, fetishizing, and commodifying Black people. And even if the film’s plot didn’t steer hard into metaphysical sci-fi grotesquery—crashing into unnerving surreality like a stray deer darting into the road—the truth that anchors Get Out lends its scares both potency and resonance. It’s not only a full-blown horror film, but one of the genre’s all-time best. BOBBY ROBERTS


The Girl with All the Gifts

(dir. Colm McCarthy;
available digitally and on Blu-ray)

You know how half the movies now are based on young adult novels about adolescent girls in post-apocalyptic wastelands, and the other half are about zombies? The Girl with All the Gifts is both! It’s a clever improvement on the genres, too—set several years after society was decimated by a cannibalism-inducing contagion, and focused on an infected child, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), who’s ravenous when she smells human flesh but perfectly ordinary when she doesn’t. Melanie, her sympathetic teacher (Gemma Arterton), an unsympathetic soldier (Paddy Considine), and an indifferent doctor (Glenn Close) must escape the “hungries” to find safety, leading us into familiar zombie territory—but the film consistently finds new ways to address familiar tropes with horror, humor, and humanity. ERIC D. SNIDER


Lady Bird

(dir. Greta Gerwig; currently in theaters)

With the exception of the 1994 version of Little Women, very few movies can make cry for a sustained hour and a half. But Lady Bird is one of them. For ladies of a certain age (let’s say “old millennials,” aged 29-31, ballpark) who grew up with dial-up and flip phones and theater camp—but not Instagram—Greta Gerwig’s portrait of what it’s like to be young and smart and stubborn and mean to your mom because you love her so much is a painful, cathartic exercise in the shock of recognition. (After the credits rolled and I stopped crying, I texted my mom and told her to go see it.) As for Gerwig, I didn’t think she could make a more relatable movie after Frances Ha, but Lady Bird is proof that Noah Baumbach was, AMAZINGLY, the weaker link in that collaboration. I have decided that Greta Gerwig is the voice of my generation, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. MEGAN BURBANK


Logan Lucky

(dir. Steven Soderbergh;
available digitally and on Blu-ray)

There’s a giddy, freewheeling sense of fun in just about every frame of Stephen Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky, which is a damn near perfect heist flick and a damn near perfect comedy. With fantastically deadpan performances from Channing Tatum and Adam Driver—who, as blue-collar Southern brothers Jimmy and Clyde Logan, make the dubious decision to rob a NASCAR stadium—the gleefully clever Logan Lucky never lets up. Just under the hood, there’s a surprisingly affecting story about family and class in America, but Soderbergh never loses sight of his characters’ rambunctious, rebellious charms—nor the fact that they might be in over their heads. “I know this attempt to be organized is a big step for you,” says Clyde, after spotting a handwritten list on Jimmy’s fridge: “TOP TEN RULES FOR ROBBING A BANK.” Step one: “DECIDE TO ROB A BANK.” ERIK HENRIKSEN


No Man’s Land and Priced Out

(No Man’s Land: dir. David Byars; available digitally.
Priced Out: dir. Cornelius Swart;
check the
Mercury’s film listings for future screenings)

I’ve seen enough locally made documentaries over the years to know that “heartfelt” and “homegrown” don’t automatically make a movie great. But a couple of Oregon-made nonfiction flicks stood out in 2017, each of them viewing a national issue through a Northwest lens. No Man’s Land was shot during the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon in early 2016, which proved to be only the prelude to a spasm of right-wing white rage that has transformed America. Director David Byars manages to present a human portrait of the occupiers without making any excuses for their behavior. A bit closer to home, Cornelius Swart’s Priced Out takes a scathing look at the consequences of gentrification in North and Northeast Portland, a topic he first covered in the 2002 film Northeast Passage: The Inner City and the American Dream. Spoiler alert: Things have changed a lot. MARC MOHAN


Okja

(dir. Bong Joon-ho; available on Netflix)

Netflix presents the adventures of an iron-willed little girl and her gargantuan, galumphing mutant super pig, from the director of The Host and Snowpiercer. The results are even weirder than the previous sentence suggests. Bong Joon-ho’s latest multi-leveled achievement somehow manages to resist pretty much any classification thrown its way, drifting at will between honestly earned sentiment, WTF slapstick, and some genuinely scary moments of eco-horror, all anchored by a CGI title character that feels like a truly special effect. (To quote a classic: “That’s some pig.”) A gloriously messy and intoxicatingly odd movie, Okja features a canvas large enough to contain passages of silent My Neighbor Totoro-ish beauty, uncomfortably pointed satire, and whatever the hell it is that Jake Gyllenhaal is doing. Whenever you think peak wonderment has been reached, in swoops Tilda Swinton. ANDREW WRIGHT


The Problem with Apu

(dir. Michael Melamedoff; available on TruTV)

After 30 years, the most controversy The Simpsons stirs up anymore is about whether it should still be on the air. But lately, the chatter about the animated series is a little more heated thanks to The Problem with Apu, a fascinating, funny documentary from comedian Hari Kondabolu. Kondabolu takes The Simpsons to task for its character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the blatantly stereotypical Kwik-E-Mart manager—and the fact that he’s voiced by Hank Azaria, a white dude. The bulk of the film concerns Kondabolu’s attempts to interview Azaria, but its most compelling moments come from his conversations with his fellow East Asian actors like Aziz Ansari and Sakina Jaffrey, about what Apu represents to their community, and a prickly chat with Simpsons writer Dana Gould, who doesn’t seem to get what the problem is. Maybe this documentary will help change his mind. ROBERT HAM

Support The Portland Mercury


Wind River

(dir. Taylor Sheridan; available digitally and on Blu-ray)

We already knew Taylor Sheridan could write good movies (Sicario, Hell or High Water), but Wind River proves he can direct them as well. Set on the titular reservation in Wyoming, Sheridan’s film is as spare, cruel, and beautiful as the snowy landscape in which it unfolds. The movie works just great as a pulp-adjacent thriller, in which Jeremy Renner’s wildlife tracker and Elizabeth Olsen’s FBI special agent figure out what happened to a Native teen whose frozen, bloody body is found miles away from civilization. But Sheridan’s interested the bigger picture, and sheds light on the thousands of undocumented sexual assaults on our country’s reservations—and white people’s role in them. When the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, Sheridan demanded that the Weinstein Company erase its name from the film, and the company’s share of the profits are now being directed to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. NED LANNAMANN


Wonder Woman

(dir. Patty Jenkins; available digitally and on Blu-ray)

The first 20 minutes of Wonder Woman were my favorite 20 minutes of any movie I’ve ever seen. I can’t think of another chunk of a major motion picture—a major comic book motion picture, no less—with NO men. None! It was just a bunch of women being amazing together, supporting one another, learning from one another, and having a happy existence that was in no way hindered by men. This was a breath of fresh air I hadn’t realized I desperately needed, and Wonder Woman’s box-office domination shows that the rest of the moviegoing public felt the same way. Minus, of course, a handful of whiny men who were outraged that they were excluded from something for the first time in their lives... which really only added to my love for Wonder Woman not only as a film, but as representative of a moment in American life that might be the start of the Fall of Men. Pass the popcorn; I could watch this forever. ELINOR JONES

Sponsored
SLAY Film Fest
In person at the Clinton St. Theater 10/29 & 10/30