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Louis Fowler's top films of 2017

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Dave Bald Eagle, Christopher Sweeney, and Richard Ray Whitman in Steven Lewis Simpson's "Neither Wolf Nor Dog."
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Earlier this week, the prestigious Oklahoma Film Critics Circle, of which I am a member, named their top film from 2017 as Jordan Peele’s biting thriller for the BLM generation, Get Out. While it made number three on my own personal top ten list, it’s still a selection that I can wholly get behind in a year that, if you managed to avoid the constant stream superheroes and spaceships, was absolutely filled with films that finally matter or, at the very least, will even more so in the next few years. That being said, here’s my top ten films, presented in numerical order, for 2017. Thanks for reading over the past year. ¡Cómpralo ya!

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1. Neither Wolf Nor Dog (dir. Steven Lewis Simpson)

Based on the bestselling book of the same name by Kent Nerburn, Neither Wolf Nor Dog is an extremely emotional and definitely cathartic trip through the real Indian country, the one they don’t show you in travel brochures or tourism commercials, the one awash in spilled blood and unresolved traumas that seem easier to be swept under the rug than to, as a country, take responsibility for. In a just world, the performance from 96-year-old Chief Dave Bald Eagle would be nominated for every film award possible, especially in regards to his gut-wrenching, mostly improvised monologue about the hunger, humiliation and hate that the U.S. Government had (and still has) for Natives, from the 7th Calvary to boarding schools to modern life on reservations that will leave only the soulless unmoved.

2. The Shape of Water (dir. Guillermo del Toro)

Director Guillermo del Toro’s continuing searched for the obscured beauty in every outcast, beast and demon he’s put on the screen, humanizing the inhuman in a way that few directors are willing to, reaches an artistic apex with this rewriting and revisioning the b-movie square-jawed heroics of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Transformed into a lush, operatic romance that, surprisingly enough, still manages to keep all those beloved exploitative ethos intact, The Shape of Water is a Harlequin novel for the Fangoria set, practically crafting a sub-genre that has never been seen on-screen before.

3. Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)

Truthfully channeling all of these years (decades?) of pent-up fear and racial angst in such a horrifically honest and deliberately pointed way a minority filmmaker really hasn’t done since Melvin van Peebles or Jamaa Fanaka, Jordan Peele’s debut thriller Get Out not only magnifies the horror of the real world that many minorities, especially racial, live with on a daily basis, but also bravely holds a distorted mirror right up to the faces of those that cause it.

4. Beatriz at Dinner (dir. Miguel Arteta)

Few films have truly exemplified the toxic political atmosphere created by the one-percent and their war against the working poor—of all colors, creeds and races—like the acerbic Beatriz at Dinner. As a low-income immigrant who’s invited to an upper-crust dinner hosted by the most elite factions of society, a beautifully stoic Salma Hayek give one of the best performances of her career, a slow-burn master-class that moves from disbelief and hurt to vengeance and rage with a nervous subtlety that’s an uncomfortable but brutally honest watch.

5. Coco (dir. Lee Unkrich)

Coco is as rich in familial love, vibrant colors and pure artistry as it is in its painstaking respect and, more importantly, authentic passion for the celebration of Day of the Dead, offering well-researched Mexican history and thoroughly dignified cultural milieus that are never stereotyped or dumbed-down. The endearing story of a young boy finding his roots when he’s accidentally sent into the lush afterlife can—and will—hit emotionally and without warning, a personalized mixture of love and guilt, sorrow and forced compromise, masterfully crafted into a gorgeously immersive viewing experience, going far deeper than any 3D glasses ever could.

6. Endless Poetry (Poesia Sin Fin) (dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky)

Picking up directly where The Dance of Reality left off, with a young Jodo leaving his childhood behind on a slow boat to Santiago, this hyper-surrealist semi-autobiographical sequel, is rich in Jodorowsky’s beloved panique theatrics and psychedelic visuals, bringing his coming of age full circle as a he follows his passion as a burgeoning poet to colorfully bizarre and oftentimes heartwrenching life during a time of constant upheaval, both dazzlingly personal and unflinchingly political.

7. Lowriders (dir. Ricardo de Montreuil)

Woefully ignored by mainstream filmgoers who were probably expecting a stereotype-driven “barrio novela”—not that there’s anything wrong with those, natch—Lowriders was more of a love-letter to a maligned and often misunderstood artform that is part of a culture few outside of it will ever even bother to explore. Within this scene, however, is the story of a family fractured a dramatically powerful tale of familial honor and paternal redemption, led by a quietly simmering Demian Bichir as an old-school father who has a hard time dealing with the disloyalty of his new-school children, hoping the bonds that the artistry of this highly meticulous car culture can breed will bring them back together.

8. The Big Sick (dir. Michael Showalter)

With a script that admittedly walks the line of cloying hipster rom-com ever so finely, The Big Sick ultimately succeeds thanks to a charmingly disarming lead in comedian Kumail Nanjiani as himself, recounting the story of how he met his wife and how she fell into a coma shortly after they broke up while still in the dating phase.  Many critics have been giving well-deserved accolades to Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as his wife’s humanly flawed parents—and it’s definitely deserved—but I think a special note as well should go to Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff as Kumail’s equally loving parents, torn between tradition and love for their son. (And don’t worry: in-between all of this, The Big Sick also has plenty of laughs, including the funniest one-liner of any film released this year.)

9. Win It All (dir. Joe Swanberg)

While I’ve never been a fan of prolific mumblecore director Joe Swanberg’s output, writer and star Jake Johnson’s dirt-bag backroom cards fable perfectly captures the much-missed feel of so many 70s-era gambling flicks that portrayed the beautiful loser as humanly rich a flawed human as possible, with Johnson’s down on his luck charisma making for an easily likable foil that, throughout the ninety-minute running time, it’s impossible to not only root, but pray for this well-meaning lug to come out on top. And dig that soul nugget soundtrack!

10. A Dog’s Purpose (dir. Lasse Hallström)

A Dog’s Purpose is a film made specifically and unashamedly for those who truly love their canine companions —the cynical might as well not even apply for this cinematic adoption. Even though there is plenty of cuteness abound here, with bouncing puppies chasing balls and whatnot, director Lasse Hallström doesn’t shy away from how hard a dog’s life can unfairly be, especially when we learn that their ultimate purpose here on Earth is just to make us happy, to make us feel loved and to make us feel a little less lonely. Happiness is a warm pup and it doesn’t get more heartwarming than this.

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About the Author

Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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