2017 Yearbook: The Wall of Fame

Chase and David share who contributed the most to their 2017.

Imagine if you had a wall in your living room that showed off the people who matter most in your own personal cinematic universe. It’s a testament to the actors and directors who get you excited about movies and television, even if the rest of the world may not quite agree with your tastes. There will be plenty of time to talk about the best work of the year as we move into awards season over the next few months, but the Wall of Fame is something different. It’s something more akin to who we think won the year, who took us by surprise, made a cultural impact, took their career in an exciting new direction, or cemented their place as one of the greats in 2017. Don’t take it too seriously. This is just for fun, and entirely subjective. That’s what the Wall of Fame is all about.

James Franco

CHASE: After five years wandering in the desert of his self-fashioned artistic pretensions, 2017 was the year we finally had to take James Franco seriously again. It’s amazing how good an actor Franco can be when he sets his sights on a straightforward role. Well, as straightforward as playing twin brothers and Tommy Wiseau can be, anyway. First came The Deuce with Franco in the dual role of Tommy and Vinnie Martino, twins running a mob-backed bar in David Simon’s examination of 1970s Times Square. But The Deuce was only an appetizer for Franco’s latest feast. The Disaster Artist is the perfect mixture of his oddball tendencies and mainstream potential, telling the behind-the-scenes story of The Room, the greatest bad movie of all time. The Room’s writer/director/star Tommy Wiseau is either one of the weirdest humans to ever walk the earth or just a space alien imitating such, and Franco manages to find depth and complexity in what easily could have been a one-note performance. The Disaster Artist, which Franco also directed, is hilarious, and Franco is probably going to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. As David said in his review, “if Tommy Wiseau was put on this planet to make The Room, then James Franco was born to make The Disaster Artist.” Tommy Wiseau, meet James Franco. Bizarre hubris, meet yourself — but with talent.

Adam Driver

DAVID: Of the many excellent things in the new Star Wars trilogy, Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren might be the best. It’s not just that, as written, the erstwhile Ben Solo is the most complex blockbuster villain this decade, but the 34-year-old Driver’s portrayal matches it in complexity; in The Last Jedi, he’s by turns menacing, petulant, and droll. You can feel his longing for meaning just as palpably as his rage. Driver has sneakily had a great year – he wrapped up Girls in the spring, a series that has always been polarizing, but never for his performance; he was perfectly winning in Steven Sodebergh’s Logan Lucky, where he played Channing Tatum’s one-armed brother; he even helped Terry Gilliam achieve the impossible, as in 2018 – barring a meteor or supernatural event – we will see him in the formerly cursed The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. I’ve had my eye on him for a while, of course. I loved him last year in Silence, Midnight Special, and Paterson (consider this partially a make-up for not doing this feature in 2016). But for millions, he will always be Kylo Ren, and that’s the rare franchise tag that accurately reflects his skill.

Gal Gadot

CHASE: If 2017 is remembered for the #MeToo movement and crusading women breaking their silence on sexual misconduct, Wonder Woman will be the year’s cinematic symbol. The DC Comics Cinematic Universe remains stuck in a quagmire of bleak storytelling and ugly CGI that, despite throwing hundreds of millions of dollars and one Joss Whedon at the problem, they haven’t seemed capable of solving. Enter Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot, whose properly female-helmed take on comics’ brightest feminist symbol was a critical and cultural smash. Gal Godot is just so damn delightful as Diana Prince, equal parts badass warrior and statuesque beauty (in that order), who injects the DC universe with a desperately needed dose of optimism and levity. Gadot spent the rest of the year hosting SNL and appearing on every talk show known to man, quickly becoming the biggest star that DC has, and winning cultural love by the truckload. Try watching the dozens of YouTube videos of young girls flocking to her at press events without shedding a tear. It simply can’t be done. Tying the two stories together, Gadot reportedly used her newfound power to force producer Brett Ratner’s removal from future installments of the series after accusations of sexual misconduct. She’s the hero we need, and Wonder Woman 2 can’t come soon enough.

Griffin McElroy

DAVID: Sweet Baby Brother, 30 Under 30 Media Luminary, and Dungeon Master Griffin McElroy has had, by any account, a year. In fact, I came within a shrimp’s antennae of crowning him king of all Twenty-Serpentine (Zag on ’em!™); cooler heads prevailed, but I’m still allotting myself 200 words here. I have to start, of course, with The Adventure Zone, the long-running podcast co-starring the rest of the McElroy clan (older brothers Justin and Travis, and daddy Clint). What began as a lark, an excuse to goof off playing Dungeons and Dragons, steadily evolved over the past few years into one of the greatest storytelling achievements of the modern age — a brilliant serialized saga with heart, gut-busting humor, a rich mythology, and phantom unicorns, all with Griffin at the helm. Its final episodes were some of the most rewarding hours I spent with any medium, all year. If that wasn’t enough, Griffin co-hosted a short-lived TV version of My Brother, My Brother, and Me (on the now-defunct Seeso), turned the MMOG upside down with his hysterical web series Peacecraft, and ate an unpeeled banana on camera for reasons I don’t think he understands, either. Hail Griffin.

Denis Villeneuve

CHASE: What kind of madman decides to make a sequel to one of the greatest cult classics and sci-fi films of all time and actually succeeds? Denis Villeneuve, that’s who. You can (and I would) make the case that Villeneuve has been the best director of the decade with three straight masterworks in Sicario, Arrival, and now Blade Runner 2049. Here, he eschews the fan service that has marred other attempts to revisit classics, instead making a surprisingly quiet and thoughtful film that honors its source material while boldly pushing forward into new frontiers with screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. Blade Runner 2049 isn’t content with just technical wizardry, wanting to explore philosophical ideas about the nature of humanity just like its predecessor. Blade Runner 2049 was not the box office hit that the studio was hoping for, but that’s probably what’s best for the film. Audiences will get the opportunity to delve into its meditations on consciousness in repeated home viewings and make it a cult classic in its own right. With Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 Villeneuve has already staked his place as the go-to director for adult-oriented, thoughtful science-fiction films, with only Alex Garland within shouting distance. If he actually manages to pull off his take on Frank Herbert’s notoriously un-filmable novel Dune, we’ll have to dispense with this Wall nonsense and build the man a statue.

Greta Gerwig

DAVID: If Greta Gerwig doesn’t land a Best Director nomination for Lady Bird, there will be riots in the streets. I’ve already waxed nonsensically about her feature debut’s brilliance, how it finds extraordinary in the ordinary, its profound specificity and sense of place, and how Gerwig marshals star-making performances from Saoirse Ronan, Beanie Feldstein, and Laurie Metcalf, so I won’t belabor the point. Well, any more than I did just now. Gerwig has shone brightly for years as a writer/actress — her work with Noah Baumbach, especially 2012’s Frances Ha, is exemplary, adding a coat of polish to the “mumblecore” style of her mid-aughts indies without losing sight of her characters’ heart for the world. Lady Bird, which you could almost see as a prequel to the deeply personal Frances, elevates her into truly rarified critical air, sporting the best Rotten Tomatoes score of all time (if that matters to you) with a slew of Oscar nominations sure to follow. It’s the work of a confident storyteller, who has been in and around films her entire adult life, simply taking that next, natural step behind the camera. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Robert Pattinson

CHASE: Your eyes are not deceiving you. Yes, that Robert Pattinson. Of Twilight fame. Pattinson has quietly reinvented himself in his post-vampire years, and he’s become a wonderful character actor. That transformation is on full display in two excellent, but underseen, films: The Lost City of Z and Good Time. In Good Time Pattinson plays a street hoodlum and bank robber intent on supporting his mentally disabled brother on his own. Pattinson, like the film he’s staring in, is a manic ball of energy, captivating the camera’s attention and refusing to let it go with a thick Queens accent and increasing hints of psychological disturbance. It’s the kind of physical, obvious performance that critics eat up at awards time, but it still pales in comparison to Pattinson’s other work. I’m not going to mince words: I think Pattinson should get an Oscar nomination for his performance as Corporal Henry Costin in The Lost City of Z. It’s the exact opposite of his work in Good Time as Pattinson embodies the quiet, subtle, and mannered British explorer who aided Percy Fawcett’s explorations into the Amazon rainforest. I literally did not recognize Pattinson until the end of the film, and I was stunned to realize that he was the actor whose performance I’d been fawning over. If this is the career path that he’s has chosen for his future, consider me well on board.

Ted Danson

DAVID: Comedy God Ted Danson. It just rolls off the tongue. He’s our greatest living comedic television actor (that does not roll off the tongue), standing alongside Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the hallowed pantheon. And 2017, featuring his non-stop brilliance on NBC’s The Good Place, was all the reminder we needed of why. Michael, the architect of this pun-happy, secretly diabolical world who is himself trying to learn how to be “good,” is the perfect vehicle for Danson’s natural gifts in befuddlement, cheerful malevolence, and specific pronunciation of the name “Eleanor,” and each twist in the story provides him with a few new colors to play with. This season, as the rest of the talented ensemble — shouts especially to Manny Jacinto and D’Arcy Carden — become household names (in the cool houses, at least), Danson’s suffered a full-blown existential crisis, gleefully posed a viscera-spraying “trolley problem,” and had heartfelt interactions with his robot (seriously, watch the show). It feels like so long ago now, but the Season 1 finale that aired in January threw down the gauntlet, and we’ve just been riding in the wake of this laugh ever since.

Jude Law

CHASE: Don Draper’s legendary burn “I don’t think about you at all” essentially describes my ambivalence towards pre-2017 Jude Law, but then he dropped the single greatest performance of the year as Pope Pius XIII, the first American Pope, in Paolo Sorrentino’s masterful The Young Pope. Law’s domineering and maniacal take on the former Lenny Belardo (Pope Lenny!) in The Young Pope’s early episodes was the perfect, if accidental, analogue for how millions of people were feeling about their regressive new president, and a stark reminder that, at least once every few years, subtlety can be overrated. Law was completely at home in Sorrentino’s Bizarro World Vatican, effortlessly holding the viewer’s eyes even as other peculiarities fought for their attention. His monologue to the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel is eight minutes of riveting intensity. But Law is equally as good in The Young Pope’s second half when Pius XIII performs an honest-to-God miracle, and shifts the series from political intrigue to theological mysteries. How could this man be chosen by God? Law is what makes it all work. His lack of an Emmy nomination this year was the real, ahem, hypocrisy. Add to that the announcement that Law will be playing Dumbledore in the Fantastic Beasts series (read: The Young Dumbledore), and he’s quickly made himself an actor who I suddenly can’t stop thinking about.

Aubrey Plaza

DAVID: Aubrey Plaza is nuts. That’s how her collaborators describe her, and that’s what comes across on screen. As her role on Parks and Recreation evolved from “bored and sarcastic intern” to “death-obsessed Janet Snakehole alter ego,” it was Plaza’s natural kookiness that most informed the character. And when she landed the role of Lenny on Noah Hawley’s Don’t-Call-it-X-Men series Legion, she only had one demand: don’t change a single line of dialogue for who was originally written as a man. The result is the performance of several lifetimes: brazen and alien, with a swaggering physicality and a terrifying rictus grin. Lenny was human, once, but now she lives in Dan Stevens’s head, torturing him, pushing him to unspeakable destruction, consuming his power as her own. For years, like in recent minor-key indies Ingrid Goes West and The Little Hours, Plaza has weaponized her bone-dry sociopathy for comedic gain, but on Legion — when she played her crookedness absolutely straight — she was terrifying. Look at that picture and tell me she wouldn’t slay in a Beetlejuice reboot.

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