Here they are. Of all the 2017 releases I was able to catch, these are my favorites. Also, this is a perfectly sane date to release a list like this.
As always, I never make a claim to pick the best movies of a given year, just my favorite.
In part, this is because there are far too many films I missed — see below — and the gaps in my film knowledge and technical understanding of cinema are far too vast for me to pretend this list is in any way exhaustive or academic. But more, it is because I think “best” and “worst” are words used far, far, far too often by writers and critics and whatnot.
Honorable mentions (I’ll probably decide some of these should have been included after all): Ingrid Goes West, Free Fire, Spiderman: Homecoming, The Meyerwitz Stories (New and Selected), I Am Not Your Negro, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Okja, Colossal, War for the Planet of the Apes, The Red Turtle
The depressingly long list of major omissions from my year’s film-going, in no particular order: The Florida Project, Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, The Post, Phantom Thread, Blade Runner 2049, Personal Shopper, Coco, The Disaster Artist, All the Money in the World, The Killing of the Sacred Deer, The Square, mother!, Good Time, A Ghost Story, Kedi, Brigsby Bear, Lady Macbeth, Detroit, Menashe, Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, Super Dark Times, It Comes at Night. If I didn’t mention one of your favs, please include them in the comments!
On with the list! Here are the favorites, in no particular order:
One major thing Dunkirk illustrates is that plot isn’t necessarily… necessary. Throwing out plot because you’re a hack is obviously bad writing. Throwing away plot because you are using a different sort of storytelling can be remarkable, and Dunkirk is remarkable.
The technical precision of this film never detracts from the tension. At a lean and well-earned two hours, the movie is an experience, but without the bombast and melodrama one normally finds front and center in a movie described as such. In spite of its July 21 release date, this is not an experience in the summer blockbuster sense. Instead, the film is harrowing; it is a simultaneously sobering and life-affirming glimpse at the horror and beauty of humanity that never glorifies war.
Not only was the story itself thrilling, but the perfection of the craft Nolan exhibits is equally electrifying. The three overlapping durations of time that weave together into one seamless, moving denouement is some of the most impressive storytelling I’ve ever seen.
This is a visually beautiful war film that I’m really glad I got to see in 70mm. I actually wish I had this one fresher in my mind so I could point out more of the beautiful technical aspects. I guess it’s time to watch it again!
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
On the shortlist of all-time underrated actors, Frances McDormand is in bold letters, and circled twice. At least up until the current awards season.
It’s not that she doesn’t get praise — for example, her performance in Fargo is appropriately revered — it’s just that she hasn’t been the household name she deserves to be.
As dumb as I think most awards are, I’m glad she won the Golden Globe this week. To quote Sam Rockwell, “She’s a badass, she’s a force of nature.” Her turn in Three Billboards is the sort of performance that deserves to be marked in some lasting way. Future generations should look back and take it in.
It’s an impressive win, as this year’s pool of best actress performances looks more like required viewing for the syllabus in a masterclass exploring the power and possibilities of great acting.
McDormand’s performance is obviously no surprise, she’s that kind of actress. For that matter, none of the great performances in this movie come as a surprise. It’s packed to the brim with underrated performers. For instance, I’ve made no secret of my firm belief that Sam Rockwell is a national treasure — another Golden Globe I was actually excited about.
I love that this film is never straightforward, that it is a story about how messy it is to live together. I love the way it engages the destructive and consuming power of anger, even the most righteous and understandable anger. It’s not the clear-cut ‘citizen against the lazy police to get justice’ story, it’s not the ‘blue lives matter, cops are all heroes’ sort of story. To be honest, it’s a Martin McDonagh sort of story — although, it’s really a McDonagh brothers sort of story, because it felt like a bit of a cross between Martin’s work and the work of his brother, John Michael McDonagh.
If you haven’t seen their work, you should definitely take the time to check it out, after Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri, I’d go with In Bruges, then The Guard and Calvary. And don’t forget Seven Psychopaths at the end there.
I already went into significant detail about my love for Baby Driver with this post.
To quote myself briefly: “This is peak Edgar Wright. While a definite shift in tone and location for the director, like all of his films it is an invitation into a world shaped by his deep love of cinema — this time, set to music! … The well-deserved time has finally come. Edgar Wright will no longer be an underrated genius, just a genius.”
I need cinema that is thoughtful, that explores the emotional landscape of what it means to be human. I also need well-made movies that are first and foremost a great fucking time, made by film-loving geniuses for the pure love and joy of cinema. Nobody is better at that than Edgar Wright, and I’m so glad his time has come to experience broader appreciation.
The only rain on the parade is that it turns out Kevin Spacey is a monster. Fuck.
The Big Sick
The best romantic comedies — which are very few and far between — are the ones that make it impossible not to fall in love with the romantic leads. The Big Sick somehow gets the audience to fall in love not only with the two leads, but two entire families.
Full of charm and warmth, Nanjiani and Gordon delivered a film that made me smile and helped remind me that people are capable of being good to each other, even in the midst of all the bullshit that gets in the way. That’s no small task at the moment.
There are several movies on this list that seem to have come around at exactly the right cultural moment, and this is one of them.
Between Edgar Wright, Kumail Nanjiani, and Taika Waititi, this was a good year for personal favorites making good on a massive scale. It would have been difficult for me to keep this movie off of my list even if the only thing to love was that it thrust Waititi into the international limelight. Fortunately, there was so much more to love.
This clusterfuck of a year called for heaping portions of clever silliness, and I knew Taika was just the man for the job. Ragnarok ended up even more bonkers than I’d dared to hope. The movie combined frenetic improvisational energy, an irreverant approach to the characters, and solid filmmaking. The result is a film that rejected and transcended both superhero tropes and stale line-o-rama comedies.
In short, Thor: Ragnarok was as much fun as I had at the theater this year.
After totally blowing it with Edgar Wright, Marvel Studios seems to have course-corrected and now continues to expand the color palette of their films visually, tonally, and emotionally.
Korg for intergalactic president!
At the end of the day, this movie wasn’t made for me — but I sure did love it anyway.
We all knew Jordan Peele was talented, but I’m not sure we knew just how immense that talent was until now. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Get Out is a funny, troubling, tense mindfuck that succeeds on every level. It proves that you can find an audience for original and interesting content. This is smart, thoughtful, inventive storytelling that made loads of cash on a tiny budget.
Hey Hollywood, much more innovative storytelling, please!
Most writers and directors given space and resources to tell stories are straight white dudes. Fairness and representation are good enough reasons for everyone else to have the same space and resources to tell their stories, but it’s also a win-win for film lovers. It’s important because it’s justice, it also happens to result in better storytelling and a more interesting film landscape.
I never would have anticipated having a movie about figure skating anywhere near my list of favorite films, but here you go. Although, I suppose I, Tonya is about as subversive as a sports movie can get. Whatever the genre, there wasn’t a more engaging film released in 2017.
This film speaks directly to some of the darkest parts of our culture, and perhaps even our humanity. The pressure created by our cultural darkness has the power, from time to time, to make something beautiful, but it will then quickly destroy and consume that beauty more often than not. The same suffering that helped transform Harding’s athletic brilliance into a feat no woman had ever accomplished before also contributed to the destruction of her vocation, which was the only thing she truly loved at that point in her life.
While bartending the other night, some customers described the way the film would get them to laugh, after which they would immediately feel guilty for what they had just laughed at. This is entirely by design. I, Tonya pulls the audience in and makes us complicit in her abuse and downfall. Or, more accurately, the film reveals that we have been complicit all along.
Every performance in this movie is great, but Margot Robbie and Allison Janney are the forces that elevate the film to a different level. The writing and direction are fantastic, but it required the work done by these remarkably talented actresses to stick the landing.
The Shape of Water
After being thoroughly disappointed with Crimson Peak, I was really pulling for this to remind me why I roll with Team GDT, and did it ever!
The Shape of Water is the culmination of everything Guillermo del Toro has done to this point. It’s a story about outsiders and beautiful monsters. The lack of a child as the focal point around which all the violence and magic happens was the only common del Toro trope missing. In reality, what del Toro and cowriter Vanessa Taylor did was create a more complex avatar for that childlike innocence in an adult character, played to perfection by Sally Hawkins. It’s one of the unexpected ways this film actually transcends del Toro’s previous work for me.
It takes everything that del Toro is known for to the next level. Most notably, the reversal in which we find a human being the true monster and a monster full of sympathetic humanity is starker than ever, as in escalating to an outright consummated interspecies romance.
GDT also leans all the way into his love of cinema, while fully embracing the beauty and danger of movies. They can be the light in the darkness, a link to humanity, or they can be the thing we use to distract us and drown out what is really happening in the world to the extent that we never try to make it better. There is meaning and beauty to be found, and there are also cartoonish, whitewashed, oversaturated and oversimplified biblical epics. The one side cannot cancel out the other, and there is goodness hidden everywhere.
Side note: Michael Shannon is one of the fucking best. His use of pacing and vocal nuance to pack power and intensity into even his quietest performances — this was not one of those on the quieter side — gets me every time.