2017 has been mostly trash, you know this so I won’t belabor the point. Fortunately the one place things have been as good ever, is at the movies. It’s been an especially strong year for women both in front of and behind the camera. So many phenomenal female characters and performances, and amazing films from female directors. In fact, it’s been such a good year that I couldn’t keep my list to the usual 15.
The order of this list is mostly meaningless, but the most favorites did find themselves toward the bottom.
Enough talk, here are my 17 favorite movies of the year.
One of the most genuinely unsettling horror films of recent memory, that also manages to be surprisingly inspiring. Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel – that was long considered unadaptable – is his best film yet. Flanagan does a remarkable job making the largely internal novel work as a 2-hour movie, but it’s Carla Gugino’s powerhouse performance that makes the film truly great. Gerald’s Game is a panic attack of a movie that I’d happily subject myself to again… in a few years.
Ben Wheatley is one of the most fascinating director’s working today, each film is entirely different than the last yet his style is unmistakable. Free Fire is his most accessible film to date and his most purely entertaining, but it’s no less vicious than his other work. He and his writing partner Amy Jump crafted spitfire dialogue in this hilarious but unforgiving takedown of gun culture. The cast is made up of so many personal favorites, from Brie Larson to Cillian Murphy to Armie Hammer, that it feels assembled just for me. This is a film that is destined to become a cult classic.
One of the best theatrical horror experiences of my life, if not the best. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is also the most important film released in 2017. This often funny, but always dread filled movie is a powerful allegory for cultural appropriation and liberal racism. I’m really not in a position to explore the true power and importance of the film, but this article from Ira Madison is one of the best things I have read on the movie. What I can speak to is how overwhelmingly impressive Peele’s work is on the page and as a director. It’s one of the best debuts of the 21st Century. The movie is anchored by Daniel Kaluuya, who gives one of the best performances of the year. Get Out will be studied for decades.
Another masterpiece from Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho, Okja is a film unlike any other released last year. It’s the satirical, violent version of a Hayao Miyazki movie I never knew I wanted. It strikes a remarkable balance between heartwarming sincerity and biting satire, in a way few people could pull of as well as Bong does. The movie is a potent screed against animal cruelty but it is still entertaining. It features fantastic performances from Tilda Swinton and Paul Dano, plus whatever Jake Gyllenhaal is doing, but the MVPs are Steven Yeun and the amazing young actress Ahn See-hyun.
Okja is available now on Netflix.
Not only is Logan the best film in the X-Men series by a mile, it’s one of the greatest superhero films ever. Beyond that, it’s an incredible achievement on its own terms. James Mangold and Hugh Jackman came together once again to say goodbye to this iconic version of Wolverine. It’s the rare superhero film that truly makes you feel the effects of violence, and not just because the film is extremely violent for a tentpole. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart both give arguably their best performances, and newcomer Dafne Keen more than holds her own against the veteran actors in an incredibly nuanced turn. It’s a viscerally exciting, deeply sad, and ultimately hopeful story, and a fitting tribute to Jackman’s career thus far.
Loganis available now on HBO.
Edgar Wright dreamt up the idea for a car chase movie completely timed to music 20 years ago, and with Baby Driver he finally brought that dream to life. While not his best film overall (that honor belongs to The World’s End), it is certainly his most impressively crafted film yet. In many ways, it’s the ultimate Wright movie. Every moment being synced to music is just as fantastic as that sounds. The car chases in this film are some of the very best of the 21st Century, but the best sequence is actually the climactic foot chase set to Focus’ “Hocus Pocus” – in fact, it is tied for my favorite scene in any movie this year.
It took Hollywood over 75 years to finally make a movie about the first female superhero, but thanks to Patty Jenkins it was more than worth the wait. Wonder Woman is a magnificently inspiring film and among the very best examples of pure superhero fiction. Gal Gadot’s turn as Diana is instantly my favorite live-action superhero performance ever. The way she brings out the inherent goodness, fierce loyalty, and true heroism of the character is something to special. It’s also the kind of rip-roaring classical adventure movie we don’t get nearly enough of anymore.
Christopher Nolan’s latest feels like the culmination of his career to this point. Like the experimental structure of his earlier films Memento, Inception, and Interstellar have been practice for Dunkirk which sees the purest form of his kind of storytelling. The connections of the three timeframes in the film – one week on the beach, one day on the sea, and one hour in the air – are at first hard to see, but when they finally come together… well there were few more satisfying and powerful moments this year. I haven’t seen nearly enough World War 2 movies for this to mean much but this is my favorite of any of seen. It shows the horror of war without needing to show constant carnage, and it’s even more effective because of it. Hans Zimmer’s pulsing and relentless score is one of his best. It’s a remarkable masterpiece.
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
James Gunn’s second film featuring everyone’s favorite intergalactic a-holes is my favorite movie in the MCU, and it’s right up there as one of the best. There was no movie released last year that made me laugh as hard or as often, but Guardians, Vol. 2 tells an emotional and complex about the family you choose. The soundtrack is even better than the first, the standouts being “The Chain”, “Come A Little Bit Closer”, and a devastating use of “Father and Son”. And I’ll never listen to “Brandy” the same way again. Kurt Russell’s Ego is one of the very best villains of the MCU, he gives a typically charming scoundrel performance that he effectively chips away into menace. I’ve already watched this movie eight times, but just writing this has made me excited to watch it again.
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is available now on Netflix.
Blade Runner 2049
If you told me that the 30-years-later sequel to Blade Runner, a movie that I respect but don’t really like, would be in my Top 10 I would have called you a liar. I suppose it’s the power of Denis Villeneuve, then, that it’s here. 2049 is kind of a miracle, as it’s rare for sequels this far out to be good let alone legitimate masterpieces. In terms of craftsmanship alone, it is one of the most impressive sci-fi films I’ve ever seen. The scale and complexity of this world are mind-blowing. Roger Deakins has long wanted to work in this genre, and he does not disappoint. This is one of the best photographed films of the century. The story told here is also just as impressive as the visuals. Ryan Gosling is the emotional core of the piece and gives his best performance yet. The work of Villeneuve, his cast, and writers Green and Fancher were able to engage me emotionally in a way the original never managed.
Five Came Back
This documentary adaption of Mark Harris’ non-fiction book – about five legendary American directors who made films about, and even during, the second World War – is one of the best films about the power of filmmaking I’ve ever seen. It’s three hours of World War 2 history, film history, and film analysis from some of the best directors around, so it’s kind of a nerd’s dream come true. Fortunately the film doesn’t sand over the troubling nature of some of the work done by the directors which makes the film all the more effective. I’m honestly having trouble describing just how impactful this doc is, but I could not recommend it more. It’s also a fantastic resource for movie recommendations from that era.
Five Came Back is available now on Netflix.
Darren Aronofsky is one of the finest auteurs working today, his films are wholly original and incredibly unique – even from one another. While mother! is his smallest film in scale, it’s one of his biggest in terms of thematic scope. Most clearly, it’s a story about humanity’s abusive relationship with nature with Jennifer Lawrence’s character representing the latter. It’s a full meal of a film though, as it also deals with themes of toxic masculinity, the price of fame, and spousal abuse to name just a few. Lawrence gives the finest performance of her career, and she needed to to make the film work since the camera is on her for virtually the entire runtime. Aronofsky slowly builds the tension until the film is boiling over with controlled chaos. I’m only just beginning to understand this challenging work of art, and that is very exciting.
The Lost City of Z
James Gray is a director whose work I’m not very familiar with, so I honestly did not know what to expect from his newest film. Expectations aside, The Lost City of Z is the most impressive film I have seen this year and one that I have not stopped thinking about since the credits rolled. It’s a poetic, intentionally paced, and visually ravishing film. Charlie Hunnam has never been better as the real-life explorer Percy Fawcett, who went searching for proof of civilization in the Amazon. A fascinating character study that is as complex as it is gorgeous. I honestly believe that this film will enter the pantheon of the greatest films ever made, that’s how great it is.
The Lost City of Z is now available on Amazon Prime.
War for the Planet of the Apes
The best of the modern tentpole franchises stuck the landing – to say the least – with Matt Reeves’ sci-fi masterpiece. While most directors would thing to make the conclusion to a trilogy the biggest yet, but the best thing Reeves did with this film was to make it smaller in scale than Dawn. It allows the film to focus on character, specifically that of Caesar, and theme. Andy Serkis’ performance is without a doubt the best male performance of the year. He injects decades of loss and struggle in every expression and movement. While it’s called War, the movie is actually more of a Western in most regards, and when it resembles a war film it’s more The Great Escape or Bridge on the River Kwai than Apocalypse Now. Regardless of what category it falls under, it’s a thrilling and emotionally mature film with some of the most bleak imagery I have seen in a studio film. Ultimately though, it’s beautifully optimistic. Truly one of the greatest blockbusters ever made.
And now we have come to my most favorite film of the year, but because it’s my list I’ve decided to name three films my favorite. Each of these three films encapsulate everything I most love about the medium, but in incredibly different ways.
The Shape of Water/The Last Jedi/Lady Bird
The Shape of Water
Guillermo Del Toro is my second favorite director of all time (he’s right behind Steven Spielberg) and The Shape of Water is another masterpiece from the maestro of monsters. This is Del Toro’s achingly romantic love letter, or more accurately, poem to all those who feel unwelcome in society. Whether that feeling of not belonging is based on disability, race, gender, sexuality or – in this case – species. Sally Hawkins gives a performance that can only be described as transcendent. It’s an entirely silent performance, but every sign and every expression says just as much as a dozen lines of dialogue. It’s magical, funny, and sexy, and it’s Guillermo’s best film since Pan’s Labyrinth. It will be loved by many for many years to come.
The Last Jedi
Not much to say about this phenomenal film that I didn’t already say in this piece about it, but Rian Johnson’s subversive and electrifying installment of the Star Wars saga may end up becoming my favorite movie in my favorite universe. It’s the most visually interesting of any of the films and features many things I’ve been waiting for, but nothing I expected. It’s a challenging and special blockbuster, that while divisive now will in time become just as revered as Empire Strikes Back. Search your feelings, you know it to be true.
Greta Gerwig’s first film as a director made me feel every emotion imaginable in a little over 90 minutes, which is just about the best thing a movie can do. It’s a wise picture that’s not as much a coming-of-age story as it is a being-who-you-are story. Every character is beautifully themselves, and no one is perfect or without a redeeming side. The relationship at the center of Lady Bird, between the title character and her mother, is one I can relate to very well. One that’s often heated but deeply loving. They fight because they see so much of themselves in the other person. Saoirse Ronan is staggeringly great, as is Laurie Metcalf. It may be cliched to say they don’t feel like performances, but it’s true. Gerwig is so confident as a director that part of me wonders if history will show that she co-directed Frances Ha and Mistress America. Either way she’s proven herself to be just as talented a director as she is a writer and actor. I can’t wait to see where her career goes next.
Well, that does it for 2017. I seem to have said something to this effect the last two years, but it has been a wonderful and diverse year for movies – 2018 has its work cut out for it.