As we approach New Year’s Day, we thought it would be fun to look back on 2017 and pick our favorite films of the year. The five of us had to take our “best of” lists and whittle them down to just two. The picks are in!
Sr. Helena’s 2017 Favorites
One of my favorite "films" of 2017 is not a film, but a Netflix series. If you're looking for a binge-worthy Netflix series, look no further than the fine Australian thriller, Glitch. Several people in the same town, in the same cemetery crawl out of their graves. Before you groan and think "ANOTHER zombie story,” hear me out.
It’s exciting to discover what connection, if any, all these returning bodies and souls have with each other. Why were they chosen to come back? Do they even know? Some lived a couple of centuries ago, which makes it all the more fascinating.
The acting is superb and utterly believable. One character from a long-faded past is an unlikeable Irish fellow, an estate owner who treats Aborigines as his slaves. His backstory and role are incredibly rich. What if you got to come back and meet your descendants, several generations into the future? Glitch avoids the trope of the dead coming back to right wrongs or finish something. Rather, it's more about the sacramental act of reconciliation.
Several philosophical and bioethical questions are raised and answered beautifully in the series. The solid first season sets us up for an even better second season. May I add that this outstanding series has a woman writer and a woman director? In film school (UCLA), it was mentioned that Australian productions are "life-affirming," which I have always found to be the case. Glitch is no exception. Even though there is not explicit show or support of religion in the series, God is not absent. In fact, God, I believe, is present and somehow embodied in the consciousness of the filmmakers and actors. In my estimation, Glitch is one of the best Netflix series ever.
The movie adaptation of the best-selling-and-now-neo-classic novel, "The Shack," was, surprisingly, one of my favorite films of 2017. I wasn't sure this amazing book should ever have been made into a film, but somehow it worked. The book, "The Shack" was written by a Christian man who needed to wrestle with the perennial "problem of evil" question and experience healing in his own life.
I have heard accusations that The Shack (the film) is New Age. I disagree. It is Christian. The book and film boldly take on the task of depicting the Holy Trinity and somehow it works. This is not a literal “here's exactly what God looks like" kind of thing. It's rather a “what if I got to have a long conversation with God face-to-face?” What if I got to ask why things happen? The beauty of the story is that the answers come about relationally. There are no answers outside of relationship. In fact, nothing exists in God's Creation outside of relationship. God Himself is pure relationship.
Mack (Sam Worthington), the troubled husband and father of three, is summoned by "Papa" (God the Father, played by Octavia Spencer and Graham Greene) to meet Him and Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush) and the Holy Spirit (Sumire) in a shack in the woods. Sound corny? It really isn't. Especially if you read the book first. Actually, if you read the book first, anything potentially corny or even offensive will have its edge taken off.
For me, one big problem with the film was that Sam Worthington (whom I really enjoy as an actor) is terribly miscast (and he's the main character). He doesn't seem to know what to do with the part. He adopts a strange, husky, whispery tone for most of the film, and doesn't seem like he has suffered or knows what to do with such a pathos-filled role.
Having said that, the film seems to have had a real influence on people. Reports are that people are weeping in cinemas. Tears of healing. Perhaps today in our literal, visual society, people DO need things spelled out for them, perhaps they need to SEE a little something. May The Shack do much good to people who need family/relationship/tragedy healing to get over their frozen anger at God and others, and gain a better understanding of reality.
Sr. Marie Paul’s 2017 Favorites
The Florida Project
The Florida Project draws its audience into the oft-ignored pathos of the women and children standing outside peering in to one of the wealthiest societies in the world. Creatively daring and endearing, The Florida Project gives us the point of view of six-year-old Moonee (Brooklyn Prince), quietly revealing the heartbreaking hopelessness that traps families in poverty. With its unresolved ending, the film is a call for every viewer to take action in time to save the most vulnerable in our society.
Willem Dafoe and Brooklyn Prince in "The Florida Project" (A24)
I don’t have a second pick for the year, but I would like to note that 2017 has been an unusually good year for overtly Christian films. The Shack, All Saints, The Case for Christ, and The Star are all films produced on a budget, yet with solid production values. None of them are an artistic masterpiece that I would single out, but each film is compelling in its own way, offering insight into faith and the human struggle to face suffering, loss, and failure.
Sr. Rose’s 2017 favorites
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Of the more than 60 films I have seen this year writer/director Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards tops the list. Notice the subtle signs and action of grace. It begins with a beetle struggling to right itself, flipped over so it will live by a grieving mother, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand). Grace continues to manifest itself in the book that the billboard owner is reading when Mildred walks into his office: Flannery O'Connor's 1953 "A Good Man is Hard to Find." This film captures Southern Gothic genre at its best: disturbing, violent, darkly comedic, populated with eccentric and deeply flawed characters and (if you’re paying attention) filled with moments of grace. It will not be for everyone, perhaps, but to me this film matters because because grace and love matter.
Frances McDormand in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
This psychological horror film by first time director Jordan Peele took me completely by surprise. It tells of a young black man, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), who goes to meet the parents of his white girlfriend, Rose Ermitage (Allison Williams), at their isolated country estate. The horrific weekend reveals an ongoing psychological experiment on race, race relations, and prejudice perpetrated by Rose's parents and the secret kept by relatives, friends and neighbors. The unexpected effect of the film, as a white person watching it, is that Peele, who is African American, managed to make me suddenly understand and feel something of what it means to be black in America. Get Out is an experience and experiment in understanding, awareness and empathy. It made me examine my conscience, attitudes, and behavior and to walk in the shoes of my brothers and sisters in ways I could never have imagined.
Sr. Hosea’s 2017 Favorites
My favorite films usually center around true stories, stories of real people who have lived, and for whatever reason, have left enough of a footprint on the earth that their stories are made into films years, sometimes decades or centuries, after those events occurred.
The event known as the “Algiers Motel Incident” powerfully comes to life in director Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit. It’s not an easy film to watch but with violence motivated by racial hatred still a contemporary reality, Detroit tells a story we all need to be reminded of.
During riots in the city of Detroit in July of 1967, one night turned deadly for three African-Americans staying at the Algiers. Rousted from their rooms and lined up in a hallway, ten black men and two white women, were terrorized by police, three of whom were killed. Since historical records of what actually happened conflict with each other, Bigelow’s film is a dramatization pieced together from reports and interviews with some of the still-living survivors of the incident.
The film does its job in making the viewer uncomfortable, putting us in the shoes of all the different characters, forcing us to wonder what we would have done in such a situation. As a person of faith watching the film, Detroit drove me to prayer for all suffering that people inflict upon other people.
Wonder had me laughing and crying, practically throughout the whole movie. It’s not the story of a particular real person, but it could be as kids are bullied by other kids for a million different reasons.
In Wonder, Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) goes to a mainstream school for the first time as a 5th grader. He has genetic facial deformities and has been home schooled up until now. It doesn’t take much to imagine how a kid who looks like Auggie will be treated by other kids and, sure enough, the insults start flying the first day of school. The thing is, Auggie’s really smart and he’s funny, easy to like and quick befriend those who are kind to him.
He has an amazing support system at home. His parents, played by Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts, are amazing people who navigate Auggie through the emotional ups and downs he has to face. There’s also his older sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic), who looks out for her kid brother.
What I found most inspiring about Wonder was how all of the main characters, and even some of the supporting characters, had to admit and accept that they needed healing in their lives, not just Auggie. Some were adults and some were kids. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but the saying really applies here: always be kind, you never know what someone else is going through. It’s something that’s really easy to say but much harder to put into practice on a daily basis.
Noah Jupe and Jacob Tremblay in "Wonder" (Lionsgate)
Sr. Nancy’s 2017 Favorites
The Florida Project
This heart-affecting film raises the audience awareness to a social reality that often slips unnoticed from the public eye. Through the eyes of a six-year-old, this film portrays the tragic sweetness of childhood while growing up living in motels. This is my favorite film of 2017 mainly because of the heart with which the story of the hidden homeless is told, but also because of the believability of the young Brooklyn Prince as Moonee facing such a disaffecting life while innocently enjoying the present moment. Willem Dafoe as the motel manager, Bobby, brings a strength and compassion to the story that adds to the power of the message. And that message is one that challenges us to help those most in need, even in the small ways of everyday existence. This story truly offers hope.
Some films just remain with you, in your heart and in your soul. Mully has done this for me. I cannot forget the intensity of the message that love conquers all. A documentary about Charles Mully, a multi-millionaire in Kenya who gave up everything to take care of the children in the slums, shows the power of compassion and care, living out the commandment to love one another. This film challenges me to consider that one life can make a difference in the world, if we only have faith to believe that God is working in and through us. It has strengthened my faith and brought me to trust God in all things, all circumstances and for everything. Charles Mully’s faith is tangible and effusive. His genuineness makes each one of us realize that we can effect change for good in the world, and that’s what makes us truly happy.
Since The Florida Project made it onto two people’s lists, here is a link to both Sr. Nancy’s review and the conversation Sr. Paul and Sr. Hosea had about the film. God’s blessings for a happy, healthy, and holy 2018.