My Top Ten Films of 2017
(film comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Once again it is time to pick out what I consider the best of the best films I saw this year and I have to bemoan the fact that I am just not in a position to see all the films that deserve recommendations. I should not call these the top ten films of 2017, but the top ten I have managed to see. It also is not a good idea putting a bunch of these films together and rank ordering them. Last year there were four or five good documentaries wholly or in part about police brutality, race relations, and riots. This year there is at least that many. It was a topic that was very much in the news in 2017. If they were seen separately and months apart they would probably get high ratings. But it is hard to see three in a week and not down-rate them for being so similar and not have that affect my opinion.

Films are rated on a -4 to +4 scale.

This film is based on a true story. Molly Bloom wanted to be an Olympic skier and came very close to making it. Then in an instant she had an accident, was washed out, and had to give up her Olympic dreams. By chance she ended up inheriting the job of organizing the most exclusive weekly poker game in the world. This task brought her some small fame and some major fortune in (honest) tips. MOLLY'S GAME is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin who wrote THE SOCIAL NETWORK, STEVE JOBS, MONEYBALL, and A FEW GOOD MEN. He also did much of the writing for "The West Wing". I will be honest that sports films are not my thing, and poker films are not my thing either. I started this film thinking it was not for me. It took five minutes before I became fascinated by this film and by Molly. Jessica Chastain is captivating as Molly Bloom and Idris Elba is her lawyer. When the two talk they are really convincing as being very, very smart. Much of the film revolves around the fact that Molly has very high scruples. The FBI did not believe that, but I do. This film was a lot of enjoyment and it may well be the most fun I will have at the movies this year. This is a major role for Chastain and I suspect that from now on she will be thought of as a glamorous actress. Rating: +3

Set in 1971, the owner of the Washington Post is faced with a Constitutional issue of whether to publish the contents of the Pentagon papers or to allow the government to gag her newspaper. Meanwhile as the first woman ever to own a newspaper she gets little respect from her own staff. Steven Spielberg directs a good cast led by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. Hanks's character, Streep's editor-in-chief, is pushing for the newspaper to exercise the First Amendment right of the newspaper. But that way leads to a lot of trouble. Rating: +3

This biography of Jane Goodall shows us how by studying chimpanzees she has changed our definition of what is and is not human. We see her in-depth (and continuing) study of chimpanzee behavior. The film is a feast for the eye with its beautiful animal photography. Just how these images became part of the film is actually part of the story. This is certainly one of the year's best documentaries. Rating: +3

This is an epic yet personal story, a memoir of one very young girl. Loung Ung, survived in Cambodia when the violently militant Khmer Rouge controlled much of the populace. The narrative is just as vicious and painful as the title suggests it to be. Angelina Jolie directs from a script by she co-authored with the real Loung Ung. Rating: +3

With an unusual stylistic approach, Christopher Nolan writes and directs his re-creation of one of the most heroic retreats in history. 400,000 British soldiers had been fighting in Europe and now were surrounded by Germans, stranded on the beaches of near the French town of Dunkirk where they were vulnerable to attack from the land, sea, and air. At the same time as he is telling the story, Nolan does some strange experiments with cinematic time that the inattentive viewer (like me perhaps) might easily miss. Rating: +3

This is the story of the lives of a Hollywood couple, Lillian and Harold Michelson, who were the barely-sung heroes of the Hollywood film industry for six decades. Harold had an instinct for how films should look and created pitch-perfect storyboards, often transforming the director's whole vision of the film being shot. Lillian had a huge and astutely collected research library to find authentic visions from around the world, from all of history, and into the future. The story of their private lives is a love story of a perfect marriage. Their visual style and knowledge shaped the look and feel of surprisingly many classic films. This film was written, produced, and directed by Daniel Raim. Rating: low +3

This is based on a true story. Stricken with polio and a prognosis of only three months to live, Robin Cavendish must first overcome his death wish. He then attacks his problem that he must live in hospital with an immovable respirator. With the help of friends he engineers a way to live at home and then to actually move around. His engineering solutions improved the lives of thousands of polio victims. Andy Serkis's directorial debut is a moving paean to the human spirit and the possibilities of engineering. Rating: high +2

After thirty-five years the classic science fiction film BLADE RUNNER gets a sequel directed by Denis Villeneuve and based on a screenplay by Hampton Fancher among others. The story concerns a search for the author of the false memories implanted in replicants. The film is a long 163 minutes starting at a contemplative (not to say "snail's") pace, yet is a little overstuffed with action later in the second half. It is richer in ideas than is the original film, though it lacks the iconic visuals that that first film did so well. Rating: high +2

A police detective stalks a serial killer in Victorian London and tries to connect it to a recent killing. The film feels as if it was dipped in "Victorian atmosphere concentrate." The movie takes itself very serious indeed, but the viewer can look between the lines to see it as something of a romp. Peter Ackroyd's 1994 novel DAN LENO AND THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM is the basis of this dourly fun mystery with a popular London music hall as a background. Juan Carlos Medina directs a screen adaptation by Jane Goldman. The film features the never-fail actor Bill Nighy and Olivia Cooke. The mystery is perhaps not enough mysterious, but the acting and the look and feel are worth the trip. Incidentally, one disappointment is that the plot has virtually nothing to do with golems. Rating: high +2

Dr. Bassem Youssef was a heart surgeon in Cairo who was fascinated by "The Daily Show" and its host Jon Stewart. He quit medicine and started his own satirical daily show, patterning himself after Stewart, but in a country where extremists can be deadly. This documentary, heavily laced with humor and satire, tells the story of Youssef and his send-up show(s) under three dangerous and autocratic presidents of Egypt. Rating: high +2

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2018 Mark R. Leeper