Best of 2017: The Unconventional Categories Part 1

The 2017 film year had its fair share of highs and lows. Both from the cinematic standpoint, bleeding over to the personal and political climate that sieges upon America.  For some, one has nothing to do with the other. However, the way you are interpreting the world at the moment results in the way you infer the cinematic wonders of the movies.

The question that seems to be currently debated the most is, was 2017 a good or bad year for film? Hindsight is always 20/20 and as we’ve ventured through many different years that have included Oscar winners like “Braveheart,” “Crash,” and “The Artist,” time tends not to be kind. While not going as far to call the 2017 year a “failure,” I’d be remiss to say it seemed to lack passion. If you pay attention to social media, you can argue there is plenty of passion for films like “Call Me by Your Name,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Get Out,” and about a dozen others.

What I’ll say is that passion usually bleeds into more than one film. Going back to years like 2006 and 2013, in which I awarded the most four stars (Awards Circuit’s highest critical rating), I can look back fondly and admire so many films, performances, and aspects of those respective years. I can’t predict how I’ll look back at 2017, but if I were to venture a guess, there’s a handful of things I’ll reminisce about with my colleagues. However, I’m unsure if we were collectively delivered an “all-timer.” The key word being “collectively.”

The film is subjective, and you can decipher the differences between a year, film, or performance any way you choose. No person sets out to create a “bad” film or “bad” performance, but often audiences and critics interpret it so. It’s with the lens of sincerity that they embrace their craft, venturing out to create something new and exciting. As someone who watches the final products, we must remain honest and unbiased about what is being presented. Just as you’d expect excellence from us (often we fall short of those expectations as well), we must continue to push each other to be better and never settle, forcing us all to deliver more.

With that, the first half of the unconventional citations are in the gallery.  Click through to see them all:


The Beguiled” (Focus Features)
Dir. Sofia Coppola

If this year proved anything, it was that the critical masses that adored and revered certain filmmakers for decades seemed to have missed the boat on their most accomplished works. In this instance, Sofia Coppola is someone that never quite connected with me as she did for others with “Lost in Translation” and “The Bling Ring.” However, all the dots connected with her remake of the underseen film “The Beguiled.” Assembling an impeccable cast that includes standouts Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning, Coppola creates a film full of atmosphere and tension, enamoring one another in a game of seduction ping-pong. The precursors and guilds have all seemed to overlook the movie with the year-end notices, but this is one that is eagerly revisited and lusciously experienced.


The New York Film Festival kicked things off with the heartfelt “Last Flag Flying” from Amazon Studios, giving Richard Linklater a platform to deliver his type of war movie. While expertly executed, Maggie Betts’ intoxicating “Novitiate” became somewhat of an unconventional companion piece to any Catholic film that features nuns. Finally, it’s never uncool to cite a film in which heart and soul are buried within the information given, as Evgeny Afineevsky shows in his masterful “Cries from Syria.”


Kelly Macdonald, “Goodbye Christopher Robin” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
(Fox Searchlight Pictures)

There’s an interesting approach in which Simon Curtis highlights the inspiration behind the beloved “Winnie the Pooh” books. Unfortunately, it’s also bogged down by a clunky script and insipid moments. The talents of Kelly Macdonald are too great to be held back by such things as she echoes a woman of courage and earnestness that livens up the tale.  We can only hope that snubbed performer of “No Country for Old Men” finds a vehicle shortly where her talents can be challenged and harnessed in a director’s vision.


There’s plenty to not like about “Murder on the Orient Express,” but Michelle Pfeiffer’s entertaining turn as one of the train’s suspects, and ultimate “heroes” is an additional notch on her thespian belt. In a film sulking in its exaggerated and “larger than life” questions, Lois Smith’s riveting work in “Marjorie Prime” can’t be understated. Finally, in the land of “Unneeded Remakes,” “Beauty and the Beast” reigned supreme in 2017, but Josh Gad’s scene-stealing turn did more than turn a few heads.


John Krasinski, “Detroit” (Annapurna Pictures)
(Annapurna Pictures)

The fiery and vibrant passion that Kathryn Bigelow exudes with “Detroit is one of the year’s most exceptional efforts. However, it seems to stop dead in its tracks as John Krasinski’s very particular type of acting ability didn’t have the chops to transcend space and time as the slimy lawyer. Some fault can be blamed on Mark Boal’s solid yet flawed third act construction, but Krasinski’s everyday man is as ill-placed as his combover.


Likely to go down as one of the millennium’s greatest movie trilogies, the “Planet of the Apes” came to a devastating and satisfying end with “War for the Planet of the Apes.” However, it seemed to frolic into “Jar Jar Binks” territory when “Bad Ape” played by the able Steve Zahn distracts at almost every turn. Also, Elizabeth Olsen can’t muster much out of her very incompetent law official who miscarries empathy and capacity in “Wind River.” Finally, not taking the advice of many here at Awards Circuit, Mark Wahlberg attempts once again, to play the “smartest guy in the room” in Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World,” becoming a cinematic wallpaper to great turns by his co-stars.


The Square” (Magnolia Pictures)
Dir. Ruben Östlund

The buzz out of Cannes can be palpable for contenders, and this year Ruben Östlund’s film about art in Europe was the strongest contender. In what can only be described as an acid trip of bewilderment, the quirky and bloated story doesn’t live up to the words “masterpiece” and “thought-provoking” as described by some of our colleagues. This doesn’t take away that when the film is on, it’s truly on, but they’re so few and far in between, that you can’t forgive the massive gaps. (what’s so few and far in between? I’m not sure what’s being discussed here.)


Snapshots of America are appreciated when taken correctly, and so is recognizing that you might be in the minority and not always agree with the majority. In this instance, “The Florida Project” is so full of unlikable characters (including children) that the raw nature of the story can’t transcend its false leap into a likable experience. Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba are good enough but “Molly’s Game” as a whole feels as stale as a pretzel sitting in a bowl by the poker chips.  Pretentious is a second language as Michael Almereyda’s “Marjorie Prime” thinks its far more clever than it is.


Ryan Gosling and Ana de Armas in “Blade Runner 2049” (Warner Bros.)

Intimacy is more than touch as seen by the relationship between a man and a hologram in Denis Villeneuve’s masterfully constructed sci-fi sequel. Ryan Gosling’s deeply affected Blade Runner is searching for his greater purpose, but the occasional discussions with his only “Joi” can’t be treasured enough. On the surface, their “love” seems artificial, but the real and shared nature of their existence presents a far deeper connection than computer code and memory chips.


Adult fantasy takes on new meaning when Sally Hawkins falls for the mysterious Doug Jones’ “Asset” in Guillermo del Toro’s beautiful The Shape of Water. The forbidden love that spans the age difference between Annette Bening and Jamie Bell in Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool is palpable and authentic. While 2017 will always be the year of “Wonder Woman,” there’s a real connection between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine in Patty Jenkins’ superhero film.


Callum Turner and Kate Beckinsale in “The Only Living Boy in New York” (Amazon Studios)

Not since Jon Favreau decided to give himself Sofia Vergara as a love interest in “Chef” have two people felt less associated than in “The Only Living Boy in New York.” Callum Turner’s cranky and nerdy 20-something consistently complains about the culture of New York City being lost, and somehow, he manages to hook up with the gorgeous Kate Beckinsale for no other reason than “trying things out.”  By the way, he’s playing the son of Pierce Brosnan. We’re calling bullshit.


More tongue-in-cheek than anything else, but who can deny that Javier Bardem very much undervalues Jennifer Lawrence and their baby in “mother!” (a film by Darren Aronofsky)? Agatha Christie’s words can’t translate successfully enough for Daisy Ridley and Leslie Odom Jr’s prohibited love in “Murder on the Orient Express” to have any weight. The husband’s depressed and the wife is an asshole. That just about sums up the thoughts on Domhnall Gleeson and Margot Robbie’s marriage in “Goodbye Christopher Robin” where abandoning your child is an Olympic sport.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of the Unconventional Citations.  Thursday will bring about the Personal Oscar Ballot of the year before the Top 10 is announced.

Share your own “Unconventional” citations in the comments below.

What do you think?


Written by Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times,, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.


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