Aside from a remarkable crop of films by first-time directors, 2017 didn’t have any unifying theme running through it that I could spot. The content and trends of the year were overshadowed by the biggest film story of 2017—the downfall of mega-producer Harvey Weinstein and the national reckoning with sexual harassment and gender-related power dynamics that followed. Late in this year the New York Times and the New Yorker reported that more than a dozen women had accused Weinstein of sexually harassing or raping them. The women’s accounts, documented in these articles, were part of a wave of sexual abuse allegations made during the year across multiple industries.
One could say it all began with the previous year’s presidential campaign, in which Donald Trump was accused of harassment or assault by multiple women and caught on tape bragging about grabbing women by the pussy. These allegations did not sink Trump, who went on to win the presidency. In response, his victory galvanized victims of sexual abuse and their allies. In the wake of this election, many came forward to challenge an entrenched assumption: that making claims against a powerful man would hurt the accuser more than the accused. Fox News host Bill O'Reilly and that network’s chairman and CEO Roger Ailes were the first high-profile men to lose their jobs, after it was made public that they had spent over fifty million dollars to settle sexual harassment lawsuits out of court. But the ouster of Weinstein from the company he founded with his brother Bob (and the subsequent expulsion from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of the man who practically invented Oscar campaigning) was the clear tipping point. Weinstein’s downfall led directly to the "#MeToo" and “#Times Up” social media campaigns and to many similar sexual abuse allegations against, and dismissals of, powerful men in entertainment, politics, journalism, the performing arts, and several other fields.
Stories about Weinstein were nothing new. His reputation as a womanizer and keeper of the “casting-couch” tradition was a running joke at award shows and other Hollywood functions. That exploitative tradition, dating back to Jack L. Warner and most of the other old studio bosses, meant that the careers of beautiful, talented, and often naïve, young actresses were made or broken based on how willing they were to have sex with fat, ugly, cigar-chomping Hollywood power players. But the detailed public airing of Weinstein’s conduct, coupled with the broken silence of many of his victims, including those who’d escaped or rejected his advances, encouraged a wave of women to share their own stories of sexual misconduct. “Me Too,” a phrase first coined by civil rights activist Tarana Burke in 2006, spread virally in 2017 when actress Alyssa Milano made it a hashtag and encouraged women to tweet it throughout all social media platforms. The goal was to make the world finally understand the rampant, near-universal extent of sexual abuse and harassment, especially in the workplace. It worked.
Because of the visibility of high-profile actresses, and the outpouring of distain expressed towards Weinstein (who found few of his former friends or colleagues coming to his defense), the #MeToo movement was big news at the outset. After that, it was the vast reach of this and other social media campaigns that gave it traction, omnipresence, and longevity, as well as minimizing the inevitable backlash against and dismissal of the wealthy, mostly white, actresses who were the first public faces of what came to be known as “The Weinstein Effect.”
#MeToo and the #TimesUp legal defense fund—created January 1, 2018, to support people with less money and less access to media platforms than celebrities—enabled a huge wave of individuals to speak up about sexual harassment and changed the dialogue around gender and power dynamics within and outside of the US. It is clearly a movement, not a moment. Whether it can radically change long-held, oppressive conventions and “topple the patriarchy,” as writer/director Jill Soloway has called for, remains to be seen. But there is no question that the reckoning that occurred post-Weinstein led to major changes in the acknowledgement of these issues and the empowerment of women inside and outside of Hollywood.
It may not be coincidence that so many of new voices who emerged in 2017 with their first features were not straight white men—including every one of my top 5 début films of the year. The directorial débuts of writer/sketch comic Jordan Peele (Get Out) and writer/actress Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) were far more impressive and impactful than either writer Taylor Sheridan’s directorial début, Wind River, or uber-writer and TV-show-runner Aaron Sorkin’s directorial début, Molly’s Game. Terrific first features also came from lesser-known actresses Ana Asensio (Most Beautiful Island), Noël Wells (Mr. Roosevelt), and Michelle Morgan (It Happened in L.A.). The academic-turned-filmmaker Kogonada delivered one of the smallest but most exquisite first films in Columbus. And the African American, first-time documentarian Yance Ford became the first transgender director nominated for an Academy Award for Strong Island. These are just a few examples of the important new cinematic voices that arrived on the scene this year.
Other than Best Début Feature and Best Supporting Actress, of which there were also many to choose from, my picks for the best work of 2017 were easy to keep within a limit of five.
Jordan Peele - GET OUT
Sean Baker - THE FLORIDA PROJECT
Luca Guadagnino - CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms - SMALL TOWN CRIME
Ana Asensio - MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND
Guillermo del Toro - THE SHAPE OF WATER
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
Jordan Peele - GET OUT
Martin McDonagh - THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
Robin Campillo and Philippe Mangeot - BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE)
Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon - THE BIG SICK
Joseph Cedar - NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER
Timothée Chalamet - CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Richard Gere - NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER
John Boyega - DETROIT
Armie Hammer - CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Kamel El Basha - THE INSULT
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
Willem Dafoe - THE FLORIDA PROJECT
Jason Mitchell - MUDBOUND
Garrett Hedlund - MUDBOUND
Michael Stuhlbarg - CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Bob Odenkirk - THE POST
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Laurie Metcalf - LADY BIRD
Valeria Cotto - THE FLORIDA PROJECT
Lesley Manville - PHANTOM THREAD
Holly Hunter - THE BIG SICK
Betty Gabriel - GET OUT
Sean Baker - THE FLORIDA PROJECT
Amy Foote - THE WORK
Robin Campillo, Stephanie Leger, and Anita Roth - BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE)
Lawrence Lerew - THE FORCE
Traton Lee - SMALL TOWN CRIME
Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul - THE GREATEST SHOWMAN
Jonny Greenwood - PHANTOM THREAD
Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch - BLADE RUNNER 2049
Oneohtrix Point Never - GOOD TIME
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis - WIND RIVER
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
BEST YEAR OVERALL:
Jordan Peele: The successful comedian turned consummate filmmaker can pretty much write his own ticket after the runaway success of his début feature. Will his stick with horror, go back to comedy, or surprise us with something entirely new? I hope that later. I have faith he won’t go off and make a superhero movie.
Michael Stuhlbarg: Few filmmakers have known what to do with the great, but often overlooked, everyman actor since his breakthrough as the lead in The Coen Brother’s A Serious Man (2009). But this year between The Shape of Water, The Post, the Fargo TV series, and especially Call Me By Your Name, he's found the recognition he deserves.
Caleb Landry Jones: Appearing in all of my top three picture —as well as American Made, Viena and the Fantomes and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks the Return – this was THE year of oddball actor Caleb Landry Jones.