As 2017 takes its final bow and 2018 gets ready to enter the stage, we reflect on our moviegoing experiences from the past year and share our favorite films. Brenden lists his Top 5 films released in 2017, and Michael lists his Top 5 films covered on the FCC podcast in 2017. Join us for the Year In Review episode of the Finding Christ In Cinema podcast.
For your convenience you will find each podcast segment at the time referenced below:
- 00:00:00 – Introduction and Previous Episode Recap
- 00:03:54 – Brenden’s Top 5 Films Released in 2017
- 00:27:58 – Listener Feedback and 5 More Top Films
- 00:57:52 – Michael’s Top 5 Films from Finding Christ In Cinema in 2017
Brenden’s Top 5 Films Released in 2017
My (Brenden’s) list is purely subjective. These are the films of 2017 that I happened to catch in theatre ranked in an order of personal preference and affinity. If anyone’s interested, I try to keep a list going year-round here on my Letterboxd page. Follow me there or on Twitter at @LeviTheBeliever, and we’ll have a chat.
5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rated PG-13)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is an epic story told intimately. Yes, there are big space fights with all the lasers and pew-pews one can stand, but what really endears me to this film is its execution of the quiet scenes. Whether its Leia or Holdo trying to assuage Dameron from costing the Rebellion more casualties or Rey trying to convince Kylo to resolve himself to the light side of the Force, this film thrives on its intimate moments.
Performances are top-notch, as per usual, but I just want to give a special nod to Adam Driver as Kylo Ren and Domnhall Gleeson as General Hux. These are some nasty characters, and these two actors do well to express that fallen state in every single scene. Of course, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega return with gusto as Rey and Finn.
It’s the only Star Wars film that I’ve immensely enjoyed upon first viewing (and listeners of the podcast know how earth-shattering that assessment is). That’s probably because it isn’t like any other Star Wars movie out there (at least that’s what the Internet tells me).
4. IT (Rated R)
My decision to watch the 2017 remake of IT was an expression of faith in Stephen King’s storytelling. The man’s a genius (or has genius, to use the term like an Ancient Greek guy), and there’s no denying that. Therefore, I reasoned correctly, there would be nothing flippant in his story. Nothing would be shown in the movie that didn’t have some sort of poetic or rhetorical effect to follow. We don’t have to watch the movie to know how tight-knit the story is, though; we can get that from the book.
What makes this cinematic iteration relevant, though (and by “relevant,” I mean better than the two-part miniseries that came out in 1990), is its exclusive focus on the kids and their relationships with each other and the world around them. Where the miniseries jumps back and forth between the characters’ childhoods and adulthoods, this film stays on the kids as kids. The effect, then, is that it not only stirs nostalgia for that kind of filmmaking, but it also holds the audience in that perspective for the duration of the film.
3. Logan Lucky (Rated PG-13)
Chances are you didn’t even hear about this one when it was in theatres, but Logan Lucky has definitely earned its spot as my Number 3 film of the year. It’s pretty much like a redneck version of Ocean’s Eleven (the remake, not the original); it was even directed and produced by Steven Soderbergh, who also directed the Ocean’s Eleven franchise (the remake, not the original). But it’s so much more than a family of alledgedly “cursed” hillbillies robbing a NASCAR race; it’s a fast-paced country-fried caper with a lot of comedy and a lot more heart.
Channing Tatum and Adam Driver star as Jimmy and Clyde Logan, the brothers on the business end of an unshakeable family curse of not leaving the small town after high school when they had the chance. Jimmy ended up as a construction worker, and Clyde runs the local watering hole. But when Jimmy is laid off, he risks losing visiting rights for his daughter Sadie. The only way he can get the money to have a fighting chance in court is, of course, robbing NASCAR.
2. Wonder Woman (Rated PG-13)
Michael and I have cannot dote on Wonder Woman enough (he’ll even do it a little more later in the episode). It’s my Number 2 pick from the year, and not without switching back and forth with what ended up in the Number 1 slot. Honestly, there isn’t much else that can be said about Wonder Woman that we haven’t already said before. The complex story, the excellent performances, the all-around epicness – you know what we mean.
What makes this film for me is the character of Wonder Woman herself. She’s a true hero in that she exhibits both grace and truth. Most superheroes (especially from DC) are all about stopping the bad guy and nothing else. It’s a very toxic form of tunnel-vision, and it can lead to some desperate situations. Diana Prince, however, doesn’t shut off anyone. She helps people who need help when they need help. She doesn’t shuffle through the crowd on a mission. She makes the whole world her mission; that’s why she so good at saving it.
1. Baby Driver (Rated R)
Yes, Baby Driver is my Number 1 pick for the entire year. To be honest, it was a tie between this and Wonder Woman, but in the end, Baby Driver came out on top. To put it as simply as I can, it’s a fast-paced, action-packed, finely choreographed, quasi-expressionist melodrama with the gravitational catharsis of a Greek tragedy.
Baby is a getaway driver for a big-time crime boss, and it’s Baby’s job to ensure the safety of the mission. When he tried stealing a car with some loot from Doc (the crime boss), Doc forces Baby to be his driver until he can pay for the damaged goods. Once Baby gets square with Doc, however, the boss coerces him back into the game, but this time, Baby has people he loves to lose.
What makes this film cook isn’t just the super-simple yet no-less-high-stakes dramatic narrative, the far-above-par performances of each and every actor and actress on screen, nor the passionately curated soundtrack. What makes this film sizzle is that it is all these things coalescing into a stunning piece of high art uncommon to the mainstream.
Michael’s Top 5 Films on FCC in 2017
Michael’s Top 5 list is a little more curated than mine. He ranked his selections based on their combined watchability as a whole set – almost like a movie marathon – to illuminate how biblical compassion works within the world to effect God’s present kingdom more fully. (And let’s be honest: there was just something about 2017 that screamed “HEY! WE NEED MORE COMPASSION!”)
5. A Monster Calls (Rated PG-13)
In A Monster Calls, a little boy named Conor wrestles with the idea of losing his mother to cancer. When a monster emerges from a tree in Conor’s backyard, he claims to come to help Conor get through this tough time. He does so by telling Conor stories which turn out to be more like parables that soften Conor’s heart into accepting a huge truth, thus making it easier for him to come to terms with his passing mother.
One of the preliminary truths that the monster teaches is that “humans are complicated beasts.” In Conor’s world, this answers why his estranged dad, who claims to love Conor, only comes around when he’s in trouble. It also answers how Conor grandmother, a harsh and frigid woman, actually has the capacity for love and mercy.
The crux of the movie, though, isn’t Conor’s mom’s healing but his own. Because of this earth-shattering tragedy, Conor is forced to find the answers to his own big questions. It’s a grueling yet beautiful process. The monster helps Conor realize that he himself is also a complicated beast, and the only way he can survive in a world with other complicated beasts is if he starts being kind and compassionate to and forgiving of himself and others.
4. Midnight Special (PG-13)
In Midnight Special, a father is on the run trying to protect his young, gifted son from a doomsday cult. To say that Alton Meyer (the boy) is only “gifted,” though, would be selling the character short. We don’t really know if he’s completely human or completely alien or (most likely) some mixture of both. Thankfully, though, the story’s focus isn’t on Alton as much as it is on the people who either hunt him or help him.
Keeping him safe from the cult’s mercenaries and the local law enforcement are Alton’s father Roy and Roy’s friend Lucas. Both Roy and Lucas have seen Alton’s gifts at work, and they can’t live like they haven’t. They know the truth that they’ve seen, and they have to live to tell about it.
In a scene with Alton’s mother Sarah, Lucas even describes the moment that he decided to help Lucas and Roy to safety. Alton simply invited Lucas to “come and see,” and when Lucas accepted the invitation, Alton gave him a vision that would become the foundation for Lucas’s service to Roy and Alton.
Essentially, Lucas’s compassion on Roy and Alton was founded on Alton’s gift. Because Lucas knew why he needed to help them, he was ready to give his life for the boy. Neither Roy nor Lucas would be content in giving their life so that Alton could be safe because Alton gave them both a vision to believe in and an example to follow.
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Not Rated…but G)
When Atticus Finch decides to defend properly the innocent Tom Robinson, he decides to empty himself of all his pride and social standing in order to serve his brother. Atticus puts his reputation on the line so that Tom Robinson may go free. Unfortunately, Tom doesn’t make it out of this whole debaucle alive, but other things were at work during this time.
All while he was watching over and defending Tom, Atticus was also showing his children how to follow the Golden Rule and the Royal Law. Jesus said the Golden Rule was “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Atticus had his own spin on it: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
2. Arrival (Rated PG-13)
To further expound on this notion of sympathy and compassion for those not like us, let’s extend the conversation beyond racial differences and into something more extraterrestrial. In Arrival, Dr. Louise Banks uses her communication skills to learn the language of alien ambassadors. It’s a long, drawn-out process that almost ends up cataclysmically because her fellow human scientists keep jumping the proverbial gun (by firing a literal one).
Dr. Banks, however, knows that in order for true communication – and therefore true compassion – to happen, she has to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. When talking with Abbott and Costello (the aliens), she does so on their terms, gives them the courtesy of speaking first, and responds candidly to them so that she can earn their trust. As the narrative plays out, their trust is what ends up saving her life.
1. Wonder Woman (Rated PG-13)
As mentioned before, Wonder Woman (the character) is great because she doesn’t let herself become too focus on the big objective but instead tries to help out anyone and everyone she can. From villagers being ransacked by Nazi soldiers to a world fallen by people wih fell hearts, Diana makes the effort to find who needs help and give them the help they need.
Even when Charlie – the sharpshooter in her group – needs a pick-me-up, Diana is there. Suffering from a crippling form of PSTD, Charlie freezes in the midst of battle. He has his target in sight, but the ghosts of his past fog his vision. Diana clears everything up for him by healing and encouraging him through grace and love.
May it be so with all of us as we venture forth into the new year.
Finding Christ In Cinema is the show where we discover Christian themes in movies past and present. Join us and together we’ll dig deeper into the silver-screen classics of yesteryear as well as the box-office hits of today. Brought to you by the Great Commission Transmission Network. View the complete show notes – including links to articles discussed – by clicking here.
Use the audio player at the top of this article to listen to the podcast, or use the links below for other convenient ways to hear FCC.