The unlikeliest great movie of the year was The Disaster Artist (#5 on my top 20), James Franco’s dramatization of the making of “the Citizen Kane of bad films,” 2003’s The Room. I caught up with that bizarre film as homework for this one, and it is certainly worthy of the cult following it has amassed. Writer/director/star Tommy Wiseau is a uniquely fascinating character, and Franco captures him in one of the year’s best performances, nailing not just Wiseau’s otherworldly accent but his focused spaciness and hostile earnestness.
The Disaster Artist is very funny but also sweet and strangely uplifting, celebrating one man’s passion and determination even in the absence of talent.
Today’s Song of the Day plays in the The Disaster Artist‘s trailer.
One of my happiest surprises of 2017 was Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick (#8), a film co-written by husband and wife team Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon about their unlikely love story (which involved her spending more than a week in a medically-induced coma). Nanjiani, so good on Silicon Valley, plays himself with great humor and vulnerability and Zoe Kazan grounds her usual quirk and really sells the romance — this isn’t one of those movies where you aren’t sure why the main characters love each other.
Best of all are Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Kazan’s parents. It’s a shame this film came out so early in the year, getting in the way of a lot more award season attention for them.
Pixar’s new faster-paced schedule saw them release two films this year, Cars 3 (which I have not yet seen) and Coco (#13), a charming, beautifully animated fairy tale set around the Mexican Day of the Dead. Shockingly, this is the first Pixar film with a non-white lead character, and the film pays lovely tribute to its Mexican origins. It doesn’t quite live up to Pixar’s greatest work, but it is their best film since Inside Out.
If you haven’t seen The Trip, The Trip to Italy or this year’s The Trip to Spain (#16), please put down your mouse and remedy that immediately. Not since Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy has a trio of films about two people having conversations in beautiful locales been so thoroughly enjoyable. In the latest chapter, Director Michael Winterbottom follows actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (playing versions of themselves) on an eating tour through Spain, where the men talk about their work, their lives and their mortality but mostly just try to make each other laugh. It’s travel porn, food porn and comic brilliance rolled into a sumptuous 2-hour package.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (#18) is a late edition to this list. A modern-day follow-up to the 1995 Robin Williams family classic, the film puts its teenage protagonists into a video game rather than a board game this time around, and serves up a marvelous excuse to once again pair up Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. Jack Black turns in the film’s best performance, as a self-absorbed teen girl trapped in the body of, well, Jack Black. And Karen Gillan, Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy, shows great comic chops without being covered in blue paint. A clever premise that consistently delivers big laughs.
Steven Soderbergh emerged from a 4-year “retirement” to deliver the charming Logan Lucky (#19), a blue-collar twist on his Ocean’s Eleven formula (the film itself includes a throwaway line calling the heist “Ocean’s 7-11”). Channing Tatum heads up the cast as an injured construction worker who aims to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Compared to the Oceans films, Soderbergh operates at a much more leisurely pace here, appropriate to the southern setting, and he shows tremendous affection for the people and place.
Finally, while Girls Trip just missed my top 20, I can’t talk about the year in comedy without shining a light on Tiffany Haddish’s star-making performance as that film’s wildest character. Haddish made just as big a splash on the interview circuit, where her infectious personality and gift for storytelling endeared her to hosts and audiences alike. I’d love to see her land a Supporting Actress nomination, but either way she’s headed for big things.