2017 was such a hit-or-miss year. Large franchises mostly flailed, North American box office numbers dropped to a two decade low, and original indie content actually dominated.
A few notes, this by no means quantifies the best films of the year. While it’s sometimes possible to have a plurality who truly believe that one movie is the best movie in any given year—when ranking—it’s full-hearty to believe that you can rank multiple films by objective quality. Films are great because they’re naturally subjective.
This list is a list of my 15 favorite films, movies that made me want to go back and re-watch immediately, films that have stuck with me, films that have said something about my life and how I view the world (which is when film making is at it’s “best”).
If you had asked me my most anticipated movie of the year, without hesitation I would have said Dunkirk. The film has an exceptional cast, among them Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, Barry Keoghan, and surprisingly, Harry Styles. That cast mixed with Christopher Nolan’s genius for scale, makes it something we rarely get, an epic. At times, Dunkirk does feel a little too dry, exhibiting very little character development, and not accurately representing the other nationalities of soldiers who were trapped on that beach, but I do love that it takes the risk of never using Churchill, and damn if Tom Hardy’s gliding scene wasn’t the most bad ass moment of the year.
14. Wonder Woman
I still don’t believe this movie exists. A good DC film!?!? Gee whiz
Batman Wonder Woman! Gal Gadot’s turn as the Amazonian Princess took some hits over the summer because of Gadot’s politics, but it also gave little girls across the world an example of a strong character who isn’t dependent on the males around her. I’d probably make the case that Wonder Woman, next to Logan, is the best superhero film of the year, beating out Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, and Justice League. The chemistry between Gadot and Chris Pine was golden, the fight scenes were crisp, and the humor was awkward. It combined the best parts of Thor and Captain America in one. Here’s hoping the Wonder Woman franchise continues to rise above the dirt of its larger universe!
13. Logan Lucky
Audiences are always right. Maybe there were issues with the marketing, the trailer, the weird title, or whatever, but they sure got it wrong with Logan Lucky. Barely making its money back, this caper about a father deciding to rob a NASCAR race to support his daughter was a more light hearted Hell of High Water. Adam Driver and Channing Tatum both are hilarious as two southern brothers who look nothing alike. Daniel Craig is surprisingly convincing, though his southern accent is cliche. The film adeptly balances comedy with sentimentality. I would have liked Logan Lucky to have fared far better. Sometimes audiences complain about the lack of original content, yet decide to skip a gem like this. If you haven’t seen Logan Lucky, which judging by its box office you haven’t, then definitely take a bit of time to see it.
12. Call Me By Your Name
I’m going to be honest, Call Me By Your Name is here for only three reasons. 1. I love the storytelling. The inclusion of mundane extended scenes of bike riding may seem boring or inconsequential to some, but to me, they’re perfect mirrors into what a budding romance looks like. A romance isn’t a “one day we just fell in love” deal. It ebbs and flows, with one moment rarely defining it. 2. The use of apricots as a sexual and sensual object is a nice and unique device. 3. Michael Stulhbarg’s father and son speech. The more I think of it, the more I believe that if I watch it again I’ll cry. His speech jumps from love, to heartbreak, to aging and death, to our worst fears, our deepest regrets, and our best hopes.
11. The Big Sick
Kumail Nanjiani’s near autobiographical tale of meeting his wife is the funniest film of the year. Even with the insanity of it not garnering a Golden Globe nomination, Nanjiani still took it in stride, pretending that Spielberg had taken over his Twitter. That stunt represents what makes The Big Sick special, it’s the outsider appeal. The Pakistan-born comedian’s journey of “assimilating” to American culture, while trying to remain loyal to his family and the woman he loves pushes political correctness in the best vehicle possible, satire. I don’t think there’s a single movie that will give you more laughs than The Big Sick, and Holly Hunter and Ray Ramano are probably the cutest couple of the year. Hopefully, it will garner an Oscar nomination when the time comes.
I think you could make the case for Logan being one of the 3 best superhero films of all-time. It was that much of a genre breaker. After an unbelievable 17 years, Logan was the final appearance as Wolverine for Hugh Jackman. Playing a worn down, lonely, and jaded character, the film marks an appropriate end for Wolverine/Logan as he’s tasked with saving X-23, a younger female version of himself. The film is also notable for Patrick Stewart, in his last performance as Professor X. Stewart plays Professor X as vulnerable, crude, and scared. He’s everything we don’t expect from our heroes. Next to the Dark Knight, there’s no darker comic book film, and possibly no better.
9. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Yorgos Lanthimos’s follow-up to The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the establishment of a new genre of creepy. Years from now we’re going to be using Lanthimos’s name as an adjective to describe films that rely on the psychological, the eerily fantastical, and the darkest use of irony. Detailing the story of a father whose family comes down life threatening unexplained illnesses at the hands of a young boy, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is off putting because it’s familiar, it’s not in a dark cabin or a dystopian climate, it could happen down the street at your local hospital. Colin Farrell should hold onto Lanthimos and never let go because the director is able to bring out the undercurrent of Farrell’s sarcastic and dark humor. The mix of fish-eyed voyeurism and voodoo gets to the little kink of your spine that never seems to leave.
8. The Post
Alright, I cheated. I saw The Post on January 4th, 2018, but since it “officially” came out in 2017, it’s getting a spot on this list. I will admit, to a point, The Post is Spielberg by the numbers. There are so many common stylistic Spielberg-isms, it’s hard to count. However, in The Post these isms don’t seem tired, but familiar. They’re part of the film milieu, and fit like a glove. The same could be said of both Hanks and Streep, who both push each other in a game of performance chess. But most all, I love The Post because I believe movies should say something about our moment. In a year filled with examinations of race, the role of women, the state of poverty, and the eternal question of what it means to be human, we were only missing a film about the news. The Post aptly fills that void.
7. Get Out
This was actually one of the final additions to this list. I know it was released in February, but I only recently got around to seeing it. Get Out was the surprise hit of the year. It might have even been a surprise to its creator Jordan Peele. In terms of an ensemble’s acting performance, I thought it was one of the five strongest of the year, and it also produced a breakout star in Daniel Kaluuya. Mostly I love it because it draws on the familiar (a different familiar from The Killing of a Sacred Deer). Often, the best comedy and stories with the most impact draw upon our everyday experiences and the hilarity and fear that’s hidden within. Why is a black person being pulled over be funny and scary at the same time? Why is a black guy dating a white girl be normal, but still taboo? Get Out pushes these questions and more, and offers a mirrored image of our own world, if only we’d see it.
6. The Last Jedi
Oh yea, I’m going for the jugular. The Last Jedi is probably the most divisive film of the year next to Get Out and Mother, and I loved it. I’m not saying that TLJ was a perfect film, but I do think that it was one of the best films. It was certainly the most visually stunning next to Blade Runner 2049. It certainly had one of the best soundtracks, somehow John Williams continues to find new movements in an ode he wrote decades ago. Also, when I first saw TLJ, I knew I wanted to see it again. When I saw TLJ a second time, I knew I wanted to see it a third. Last year only one movie pushed me to watch it three times: Moonlight. I’m not saying that TLJ is as good as Moonlight, but TLJ created passionate arguments, created new fans, was ambitious, and reinvented an old franchise. If we’re not going to the theater to see those types of movies, then why are we going to the movies at all? Plus, I honestly believe that there will be a major reevaluation on the part of fans because historically, when a movie is highly divisive, the positive side tends to win out and often the harshest critics become the biggest advocates.
5. Lady Bird
Typically, there are a few movies every year that captures the teenage spirit. Lady Bird was the film that most stood out in that respect. Whereas other films dealt with looking back, sometimes with longing eyes to the past, Lady Bird is about the present. It’s about trying to find your place in this world. The film continued the amazing run of Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel). It also introduced us to Timothee Chalamet. Laurie Metcalf as Lady Bird’s mother may be the runaway Best Supporting Actress, exemplifying a mother/daughter dynamic that’s fractious at best, yet built on love. However, Saoirse Ronan is still the most underrated actress in Hollywood. She’s well on her way to a third Oscar nomination. All of her performances from Atonement, to Brooklyn, to Lady Bird have been vastly different. Her turn as Lady Bird balances teenage self-doubt, questionable decisions, maturity, and comedy. She’s utterly wonderful. Lastly, the film is another example of the power of gender inclusion in the creative process. Director Greta Gerwig, and hopefully more, will challenge and break the current paradigm.
4. Blade Runner: 2049
Some films need to simmer for a bit, Blade Runner 2049 definitely did. The movie continues Harrison Ford’s turn in extending every legacy film series he has, and it’s the best of those extensions. Blade Runner 2049 is intricately beautiful, featuring the best cinematography of the year. Ryan Gosling as K, a new series of blade runners, sees him in his best role since Drive. I don’t know why 2049 didn’t click with me initially. It might have had to do with the anticipation this film brought (It’s the only film on this list that didn’t initially woo me). There was almost nothing it could have done to match my imagination. However, it does come close. The best films often examine the human condition, but 2049 questions what it means to exist. There’s never a wasted moment. There’s never a wasted shot. 2049, unlike The Last Jedi held less burden to court itself to a fandom, a mythology, and a universe, and it really makes the difference.
3. The Shape of Water
Over time, I have bought more-and-more into The Shape of Water. I applaud Guillermo Del Toro for the ambition and vision behind this film. It’s not every day that you see a major director stick with a concept of a woman making love to an amphibian. Sally Hawkins is this year’s example of “less is more.” Most actors out there won’t be able to remotely create as much emotion or empathy for their character in as many “words” as Hawkins does. The Shape of Water is a film lover’s dream, intricately weaving movie reference after movie reference. It also features an exceptionally talented cast, including Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, and Michael Stuhlbarg. Additionally, Michael Shannon is one of the best villains of the year and delivers one of the best lines, “You were speaking Russian Bob!”
2. I, Tonya
I really didn’t expect I, Tonya to hit me as hard as it did. Maybe it was because of the misconceptions I had about Tonya Harding, but there are few films that show more heart. The camera work throughout is beautiful, well-crafted, and playful. I love when you can tell that a director is having fun, and it looked like Craig Gillespie was certainly having a good time. I, Tonya mixes skating/sports cliches, “mafia-like” hits, and dark comedy. I loved Allison Janney (as everyone should). She’s a show stealer, and very well could be the only person standing between Laurie Metcalf and the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Margot Robbie is equally as stunning in her dedication, hitting a Portland accent, and physically training for skating and boxing. Few films captured the zeitgeist of 2017’s reappraisal of how women are treated by society better than I, Tonya. The most heartbreaking scene of the year might be Harding’s realization that she’ll never skate again.
1. The Florida Project
My god, I can’t describe how much I utterly love this film. The Florida Project was not only my favorite film of the year, but also the best film of the year (I know what I said at the beginning, and I mean this subjectively). Sean Baker’s follow-up to Tangerine featured the best performance of Willem Dafoe’s career, and demanded much of its audience. Following three young children in the shadow of Disney World, it’s a story about abject poverty. There are no winners in The Florida Project, just as there are no bad guys. There are just people, people who are capable of doing good and bad. Brooklynn Prince as Moonee gives one of the best performances of year, period. The film also features the best scene of the year. I would say go see The Florida Project just to watch the “Dafoe pedophile scene.” I think it’s the scene that should net Dafoe the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Lastly, the ending has stuck with me. I’ve turned it over in my head a million times. I still can’t fully grasp Baker’s move and self-homage to feature an iPhone shot as the last images we see, other than to say that it’s an actualization of the dream that so many in the Magic Kingdom hotel are searching for, stability.
Thank you for following 812filmreviews for the year! The movies and you have made this a special year. Though 2018 has begun on the calendar, it’s in full development now.
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