The Florida Project

The Best of the Best in Film 2017, Part 1

Well, folks, we did it. 2017 is over. We survived. It wasn’t easy. At times, it felt like nothing but horrible things happened for a solid 12 months. Heroes died, scandals rocked the entertainment community, American politics turned into Reality TV, the Cold War got a sequel. Damn, it was tough. Well, except for one place. 2017 was actually quite a good year for movies (in terms of the art; it was a rough year for the industry). It was so good, in fact, that one Best of the Year article ain’t gonna cut it for me this time.

As per annual tradition, I’ll give out my annual film awards on behalf of High-Def Digest. It should be noted that no one who wins an award will be given any sort of prize. In fact, they’re unlikely to even be notified. This isn’t about that. It’s about bestowing a remarkably important honor onto films and filmmakers who deserve it. Obviously, everyone who receives one of these awards will be humbled by the recognition.

Actually, no one will care. This is all about me, which is why this first Best of the Best in Film 2017 article will be the traditional Big Five™ awards categories followed swiftly by a second list of weird and, in some cases, deeply unnecessary secondary awards that allow me to honor favourite films that didn’t make it to the big five. It’s an indulgence, sure, but it’s the holidays.

Without further ado, on with the pointless awards!

Best Picture

The Florida Project

After a great deal of humming and hawing and deep, painful internal struggle, Best Picture must go to Sean Baker’s remarkable ‘The Florida Project’. In a year filled with masterful works of cinema of all varieties of genre and purpose, only one moved me this profoundly. ‘The Florida Project’ is deceptively simple, following around a collection of wayward children in the bizarre burned-out tourist trap district of Orlando. For a while, the movie seems structureless as Baker follows his eccentric cast (mostly non-actors, plus Willem Dafoe at his best) through oddly surreal, yet sadly real locations. Then somewhere in the last forty minutes, Baker starts pulling the pieces together. It becomes clear he had a plan all along and the results are devastating, leading toward the single most memorable and magical ending of any film this year.

‘The Florida Project’ is a movie that touches on many vital themes percolating in the air right now, but truly connects because it’s such a beautifully empathetic view of humanity. There was no other film like it this year and it’s unlikely even Sean Baker will make one like it again. Just beautiful and brilliant stuff.

Runners Up: ‘Dunkirk’, ‘The Shape of Water’, ‘Phantom Thread’, ‘Get Out’, ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’, ‘Lady Bird’, ‘The Bick Sick’, ‘Call Me by Your Name’, ‘I, Tonya’, ‘T2: Trainspotting’, ‘Blade Runner 2049’, ‘Brad’s Status’, ‘The Disaster Artist’.

Best Actor

James Franco, ‘The Disaster Artist

To clarify this decision, let’s clear a few things up. Were there deeper and more dramatically challenging performances in 2017 than James Franco’s take on Tommy Wiseau? Certainly. Was it a noble or necessary cause for Franco to play the trash culture icon? Absolutely not. However, was there a more unexpected, committed, or amusing performance by any other actor this year? Nope.

Franco took a mysterious cult figure who almost everyone can do an impression of and somehow found the humanity within the punchline. He turned Tommy Wiseau into a tragic hero and a noble artist. Plus he did it all with that accent, that hair, and those belts. It was a pretty spectacular feat of acting and goddamn funny as well just to sweeten the deal. If nothing else, there was no performance of 2017 that I’m likely to go back and watch as often. That’s gotta be worth something. Great work, James, and congratulations, Tommy.

Runners Up: Daniel Day-Lewis (‘Phantom Thread’), Gary Oldman (‘Darkest Hour’), Denzel Washington (‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’), Timothée Chalamet (‘Call Me by Your Name’), James McAvoy (‘Split’), Daniel Kaluuya (‘Get Out’), Hugh Jackman (‘Logan’), Ewan McGregor (‘T2: Trainspotting’), Andy Serkis (‘War for the Planet of the Apes’).

Best Actress

Frances McDormand, ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

21 years after she won an Oscar for ‘Fargo’ and delivered a career-defining character, Frances McDormand has returned with a powerhouse performance that just might top it. As the angry woman at the center of Martin McDonagh’s angry film about the dangers of anger and hate (as well as their unfortunately unavoidable space in the human condition), McDormand charges through the screen and dominates. She spits out beautifully profane dialogue and pulls off emotionally devastating sequences that easily could have toppled lesser performers. There are many reasons to love ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’, but nothing tops watching McDormand chew through the scenery and her cast mates. Bless.

Runners Up: Sally Hawkins (‘The Shape of Water’), Brooklynn Prince (‘The Florida Project’), Margot Robbie (‘I, Tonya’), Saoirse Ronan (‘Lady Bird’), Rebecca Hall (‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’), Meryl Streep (‘The Post’), Annette Bening (‘Films Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’), Anne Hathaway (‘Colossal’), Florence Pugh (‘Lady Macbeth’), Vicky Krieps (‘Phantom Thread’), Gal Gadot (‘Wonder Woman’).

Best Supporting Actor

Sam Rockwell, ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’

Speaking of reasons to love ‘Three Billboards’, here’s another biggie. For years, Sam Rockwell has been on the cusp of either becoming a movie star or an award-winning actor. Neither have panned out, but since the 1990s he’s slowly built a reputation as one of the finest character actors in the business. Thankfully, Martin McDonagh noticed and wrote Rockwell a role that only he could play, a character both loathsomely hateful and adorably lost. He’s a grown child struggling to play the role of an adult and a cop, regularly fucking up in horrible ways yet somehow still showing a heart beneath it all. No one but Rockwell could have played the role and hopefully the fact that he crushed it so thoroughly will earn him the adoration and attention that he’s deserved for decades.

Runners Up: Willem Dafoe (‘The Florida Project’), Michael Shannon (‘The Shape of Water’), Armie Hammer (‘Call Me by Your Name’), Ewan Bremner (‘T2: Trainspotting’), Patrick Stewart (‘Logan’), Woody Harrelson (‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’), Jeff Goldblum (‘Thor: Ragnarok’), Buddy Duress (‘Good Time’), Ray Romano (‘The Big Sick’), John C. Reilly (‘Kong: Skull Island’), Barry Keoghan (‘Killing of a Sacred Deer’), Robert Carlyle (‘T2: Trainspotting’), Mark Hamill (‘Brigsby Bear’/’Star Wars: The Last Jedi’).

Best Supporting Actress

Laurie Metcalf, ‘Lady Bird

Oh, are we celebrating underrated thespians now? Then let’s talk Laurie Metcalf. Forever remembered for her consistently brilliant work on ‘Roseanne’, Metcalf feels like someone who has been underused and underrated for her entire career. Thankfully, Greta Gerwig noticed and wrote her the incredible maternal role in ‘Lady Bird’. Metcalf plays a mother like few who have ever appeared on screen. She spends the entire movie criticizing and tearing down her teenage daughter. The thing is that she also does it out of a strange form of love as she struggles to let go and watch her daughter grow up. Not that any of that made it in to the dialogue, of course. No one who actually behaves that way would ever say it. However, through Metcalf’s beautifully humane performance, it’s always abundantly clear just how much love she has for her daughter. She just doesn’t know where to put it. No actress could have pulled off this role like Metcalf, and kudos to Gerwig for being the only filmmaker who would give her the role. With a little luck, this just might lead to some sort of Metcalfessance!

Runners Up: Betty Gabriel (‘Get Out’), Alisson Janney (‘I, Tonya’)
Lesley Manville (‘Phantom Thread’), Holly Hunter (‘The Big Sick’), Jennifer Jason Leigh (‘Good Time’), Bria Vinaite (‘The Florida Project’), Kirsten Dunst (‘The Beguiled’), Elle Fanning (‘The Beguiled’), Catherine Keener (‘Get Out’), Laura Dern (‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’), Lucy Davis (‘Wonder Woman’), Tessa Thompson (‘Thor: Ragnarok’), Pom Klementieff (‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’)

Best Director

Paul Thomas Anderson ‘Phantom Thread

On certain level, this award is going to Anderson for being the best damn director alive and working these days. He is an absolute master of his craft, creating films with a level of technical precision and artistic freedom that no one else even comes close to equalling. ‘Phantom Thread’ might not be PTA’s best, but only because the standard is so high. He directed the hell out of this completely unique and deeply perverse love story. Every moment is so carefully crafted and conceived, every performer and craftsman so perfectly utilized. ‘Phantom Thread’ is a masterclass of filmmaking, all in service of one of the strangest and sickest jokes of the year. The only downside to ‘Phantom Thread’ is knowing that it’ll be another few long and painful years before the next P.T. Anderson picture. Sigh…

Runners Up: Christopher Nolan (‘Dunkirk’), Guillermo del Toro (‘The Shape of Water’), Jordan Peele (‘Get Out’), Greta Gerwig (‘Lady Bird’), Sean Baker (‘The Florida Project’), Danny Boyle (‘T2: Trainspotting’), Martin McDonagh (‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’), Denis Villenuve (‘Blade Runner 2049’), Edgar Wright (‘Baby Driver’), Luca Guadagnino (‘Call Me by Your Name’), James Franco (‘The Disaster Artist’), Steven Spielberg (‘The Post’), Craig Gillespie (‘I, Tonya’), Richard Linklater (‘Last Flag Flying’), Sofia Coppola (‘The Beguiled’), Rian Johnson (‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’), Taika Waititi (‘Thor: Ragnarok’)

Best Screenplay

Jordan Peele, ‘Get Out

It’s not often that a horror movie gets consideration in screenplay award categories, but then again it’s not as if movies like ‘Get Out’ come along every day. Comedian Jordan Peele made his genre debut with a film that will be remembered for decades – an instantly iconic thought experiment horror fantasy that crammed an entire master’s thesis worth of contemporary race relations into a ripping genre yarn that stings. The film’s depiction of a certain strain of racism is captured so perfectly and purely that it will be part of the cultural lexicon for years to come.

Many things in the masterful horror romp had to go right for that to be the case, but it all started with Jordan Peele’s remarkable screenplay. The concept is so strong that it instantly struck a chord, and it’s executed with style, humor, and enough tension to make buttholes clench in neighboring theaters. ‘Get Out’ is already a genre classic. Time will tell as to whether or not the concepts of other films from 2017 will continue to resonate, but it’s already clear that ‘Get Out’ will be part of pop culture for as long as America has issues with race relations (i.e. forever).

Runners Up: ‘Phantom Thread’ (Paul Thomas Anderson), ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ (Martin McDonagh), ‘Lady Bird’ (Greta Gerwig), ‘T2: Trainspotting’ (John Hodge), ‘The Shape of Water’ (Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor), ‘The Big Sick’ (Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani), ‘The Florida Project’ (Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch). ‘Brad’s Status’ (Mike White), ‘I, Tonya’ (Steven Rogers), ‘Last Flag Flying’ (Richard Linklater and Darryl Ponicsan), ‘The Disaster Artist’ (Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber), ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ (Rian Johnson).

That’s it for now. Come back tomorrow for even more movie awards given out in increasingly obscure categories so that I can selfishly name check all of my favorite flicks of 2017!

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  1. Surprisingly, I never saw ‘The Room’. I’ve always known of it, but i just knew of it as an example of a badly made movie. Frankly, I never even heard of it as a “so bad it’s good” movie to warrant a cult following, just “the worst movie”.

    So, with no familiarity with scenes in ‘The Room’, and thus no real appreciation for the accuracy with which Franco emulates scenes in the original movie, would his performance feel like “Best Actor” material?

    • Bolo

      I haven’t seen ‘Disaster Artist’ yet (going this weekend), but Tommy Wiseau is one of those people you wouldn’t believe could exist if he were just dreamt up as a fictional character. Knowing he’s a real guy is probably vital to the film working. I’m sure that if you can gauge the accuracy of Franco’s performance, it would deepen your appreciation for what you’re seeing, but just knowing that this stuff really happened is probably the important part.

  2. Just saw Three Billboards yesterday. Not very funny, nor dramatic. McDormand was annoying. Abrasive to the point I wondered how no one had killed her character yet. Woody is the best thing about it, once he’s gone there isn’t much left with which to connect.
    Still got a few to see, buy my number 1 is still Get Out.
    Franco I 100% agree with. He was great. Metcalf as well. Those races are finished as far as I’m concerned, just give them all the awards and be done with it.
    Not sure about supporting actor and actress yet. I really loved Richard Jenkins in Shape Of Water.
    Maybe I’ll start a write-in campaign for Kristen Stewart in Personal Shopper.

  3. Terry

    When you put a movie in like Star Wars ep 8 into a Best anything for this year it makes you feel like William Defoe in the middle of Vietnam on your knees raising your hands in the sky screaming WHY!!!

  4. Clark

    I find it disturbing that “Get Out” and “Call Me By Your Name” are so well-regarded. I feel like people are only praising these movies because they want to end racism and homophobia, because, as movies, they are not that great. “Get Out” is not even remotely scary (and I don’t know anyone who has truly liked it here in Brazil), while “Call Me By Your Name” is just boring and too long, just as “I Am Love” was. And that speech by Michael Stuhlbarg in the end… Geez, that was just the opposite of subtle and moving!
    I still have to see “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards”, as these only open here in February.

    • I put off watching “Get Out”, because I didn’t feel like watching a horror movie with a “message”. I felt it was one of the best constructed, best filmed, best written horror movies in a long time. I don’t know how the premise will hold up in 30 years, but it felt like 20% message/80% horror movie, and I’ve been recommending it to anyone else who has put off seeing it.

    • Bolo

      I thought ‘Get Out’ was quite clever. Its tonal shifts from humour to horror were handled with a very deft hand. The commentary on race relations had enough complexity to make it interesting instead of some smug simplistic message.

      Any modern horror film seems to face a double-edged sword. If it doesn’t go for constant kills and jump-scares it gets detracted as “not that scary” (for example ‘The Witch’), if does for that splatter stuff it gets detracted as “cheap and exploitive”.

    • Matt

      Have to strongly disagree. Get Out was masterful, and Call Me By Your Name wrecked me. It was brilliant. Boring? Not moving? The vast majority disagree.

    • Nestor P.

      I agree with you on Get Out. I enjoyed Get Out, particularly the comedic aspects of it. The best part of the movie were Lil Rel Howery as TSA agent Rod Williams and the last 10 to 15 minutes of the movie.

      I never quite understood all the praised that it received, especially all of the “one of the year’s best” type of hype.

      The movie was entertaining, but it wasn’t THAT great.

  5. I just watched “Get Out” for the first time last night and enjoyed it quite a bit – although I fear (pardon the pun) it’s been undeservingly lumped into the “horror” genre when it’s more of a satiric thriller. Nevertheless, I thought it was really well made.

  6. Watchman

    We watched The Florida Project yesterday and I have to say that there was nothing in it, except William Dafoe, that even remotely deserves to be considered anything ‘best of’. Horribly behaving people including a 6 year old that live a shitty life and Don’t do anything to make it better. If you want to feel really down watch this.

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