[Artwork by Anthony Bauer]
2017 was a strong year for film. There were a ton of emotional indie films that broke out at film festivals, as well as the big budget comic book movies that did their job and entertained the masses. Too often, I see lists that lean all the way one way or the other. To me, the beauty of cinema is seeing the worth of every film and going into each one with a fresh pair of eyes and an open mind.
To some, a top 50 list may seem excessive. Maybe it is. But considering how many new films I saw in 2017, the fact that I would gladly put on any of these to watch again says it all.
Anyway, here are 50 movies that I enjoyed in and consider to be among the best films of 2017:
50. Brad’s Status
49. Donald Cried
44. The Beguiled
41. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
40. Ingrid Goes West
39. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
36. Thor: Ragnarok
35. Brawl In Cell Block 99
29. Super Dark Times
27. Last Flag Flying
25. Molly’s Game
24. The Disaster Artist
22. The Post
21. I, Tonya
20. Logan Lucky
Steven Soderbergh made his return to cinema with Logan Lucky, a film starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Daniel Craig embarking on a whacky heist, amusingly deemed by the film itself as “Oceans 7/11.” It’s every bit as fun, goofy and enjoyable as that concept sounds, made with extra passion and care by Soderbergh and elevated by the chemistry shared between its leads. A rare film that actually delivers every bit on the promise of its premise and then some.
A striking debut by Kogonada, Columbus is a thoughtful film that channels Linklater in the way its characters engage in deep conversations about the past, present, and future. There are no big dramatic scenes or “traditional Hollywood moments,” this is a solemn meditation on life, death, and love, anchored by the career-best performances from both John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson. Not to mention, some beautiful cinematography that encapsulates its many themes, as well the architectural beauty of Columbus, Indiana.
18. Wind River
Wind River is a heck of a directorial debut from Taylor Sheridan, who (of course) also wrote the script, carrying over the spirit felt in both of his previous scripts. Anchored by a stunning lead performance from Jeremy Renner in a role practically written for him, this is a surprisingly thoughtful film, full of plenty of tense thrills and violence that constantly keep you on the edge of your seat.
17. The Big Sick
It wasn’t until my second viewing that I really came around to appreciate The Big Sick even more. Upon first viewing, I found it funny and charming, but it wasn’t until my second round with it that I was able to appreciate the little details that it captures so well. What became even clearer was just how much the film benefits from the great supporting performances from both Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. This has all the ingredients of what a good romantic comedy can be when it’s firing on all cylinders.
This is how you say goodbye to a beloved comic book character. James Mangold gives us a gritty and bleak vision for Logan’s final run and what a ride it is. Not only does it give us all the hard R rated violence that the series has always deserved, but there are actual stakes at play and a ton of emotion and heart built around this surprisingly intimate story. The fact that this is Hugh Jackman’s final go-around playing Wolverine after two decades, gives Logan a special layer of connectivity that resonates in a unique fashion.
All people could talk about upon its release was Blade Runner 2049’s mediocre box office results. What a shame. When you take a step back, it’s amazing that we got a thoughtful sequel of this caliber. Blade Runner 2049 not only holds up to its predecessor, but many can make a case that it’s even better (I’ll let the diehards debate on that). The unstoppable Denis Villeneuve made a sci-fi epic that dives even deeper into the themes from the original, while also pushing the boundaries even further. Some may find it a bit too long, or the pace too laborious, however, it’s this meditative process that allows it to work its magic and show off the extraordinary cinematography of Roger Deakins, who should finally be taking that long overdue Oscar home next month.
Not that Pixar ever went away, but they’re truly back to form with Coco. I don’t know the last screening I attended where I heard so many people openly weeping during a film. But with an ending as universal and touching as Coco’s, it’s understandable. Of course, one moment doesn’t necessarily make a movie great; it’s in large part due to the wondrous sequences and thoughtful build-up that came before that allows its ending to land as well as it does. Not only is Coco a visual treat that’s full of great music and humor, it’s got plenty of heart and soul that allows it to overcome some of its more predictable elements, connecting with audiences in only the way that great Pixar films can.
The Last Jedi provides just enough fan service mixed with a bit of risk-taking. Ironically, all those who were whining about The Force Awakens just being a rehash of A New Hope are now upset that Johnson tried to do something new here. You can’t please everyone, especially as rabid of a diehard fanbase as Star Wars has. Credit to Johnson for putting all that aside while taking the biggest film franchise in the world on his shoulders and doing what he felt was right. I predict in a few years fans will come around on The Last Jedi, realizing that just because their own fan theories weren’t proven true, doesn’t make it a bad movie. It was great to see the series try some new things, while also giving us epic sequences such as Luke’s “farewell,” which gave me the feeling of goosebumps that only the finest Star Wars moments can.
Only Guillermo del Toro could make a film about a woman falling in love with an Amphibian Man and make it work. The Shape Of Water is a modern fairy tale, a beautiful achievement that is elegantly constructed, built with a loving sense of detail that lit up the screen with every passing moment. On top of the lush production design, cinematography and score, it has so much love for cinema that you can’t help but be swept up by it all. In many ways, it all rides on the back of the astonishing performance from Sally Hawkins, who doesn’t even need to say a damn word to have you with her all the way. Not to mention a typically fierce turn from Michael Shannon and a touching performance by Richard Jenkins. This is a film that has it all and sweeps you straight off your feet if you let it.
It’s sad that The Lost City Of Z was so overlooked in 2017, as it’s one of the finest crafted films of the year. I first caught it at NYFF in 2016 and was blown away by how it felt like a film from a bygone era, made with loving passion by James Gray. With repeat viewings, my adoration for the film grew tenfold. It’s a lengthy and patient ride, but a rich and rewarding one at that. Not only does it give actors such as Charlie Hunnam and an almost unrecognizable Robert Pattinson the chance to offer some of the best work of their career, but it’s a timeless cinematic experience built on hushed quiet moments that are purely cinematic. I am still left haunted by its final shot, one that Gray somehow framed in a way that’s both harrowing, yet beautiful. It’s something that has stuck with me ever since my first viewing in 2016 and will continue to linger in my mind in the future.
10. Get Out
Was there a more astonishing success story in 2017 than Get Out? A horror/thriller serving as the directorial debut from a comedic presence such as Jordan Peele, slated for a February release date. This isn’t the sort of film you’d expect to be a critical darling, a smash hit at the box office and a potential Oscar nominee, but that’s the beauty of Get Out. It’s a brilliant concept and a worthwhile commentary about modern times that’s so smartly written. You’re constantly left on the edge of your seat, with somewhat of an inkling about where it’s heading, yet still not quite sure how it will all play out. Peele crafted Get Out so that you will pick up on all the little details with repeat viewings, leaving you surprised and ashamed at just how many obvious things he laid out there for us that we totally glossed over.
It happened folks, we got another Paul Thomas Anderson film starring Daniel Day-Lewis. While a film about Day-Lewis as a 1950s fashion icon may not have been quite what fans were expecting, that’s part of the fun. It’s a narrative that keeps you guessing every step of the way, trying to figure out just what is off about the relationship shared between Day-Lewis’ Reynolds Woodcock and Vicky Krieps’ as his muse, Alma. PTA constantly subverts your expectations and the two performances are ever-bit as commanding as you’d expect. I was caught off-guard by how funny the interactions between the two are, especially in such a darkly comedic fashion. Between the extravagant set pieces and Jonny Greenwood’s lush score, Phantom Thread is constructed in a manner that would make even Reynolds Woodcock proud.
8. Good Time
2017 was quietly the year of Robert Pattinson. Along with the previously mentioned The Lost City Of Z, Pattinson delivers yet another unrecognizable performance in Good Time as a sleazy con man who experiences a hellish night in lesser-seen parts of New York (in cinema), captured with a neon-tinted vision by the Safdie Brothers. They fully live up to their promise with Good Time, a film that shows us a wild night from the perspective of Pattinson’s Connie Nikas. Pattinson is incredible here and is equally matched by newcomer Buddy Duress, who not only holds his own against Pattinson but nearly steals the show. Oneohtrix Point Never’s synth-score perfectly captures the tone of the film, acting as a character of its own, giving it an even greater sense of griminess and urgency along the way.
Christopher Nolan could’ve just made another bloody war movie that was familiar and safe, but thankfully that’s not how he operates. Nolan does something very different with the construction of Dunkirk, which allows it to stand out and embody the unique vision that the director had in his mind. Told through three different acts, all happening at different time frames yet surely set to collide, in many ways Dunkirk is an experimental film that relies on sight and sound rather than dialogue to tell its story. A risky move that probably upset those expecting a Saving Private Ryan war film of sorts, Nolan deserves credit for going with his gut, allowing Dunkirk to stand out as a result.
A Ghost Story is as singular a cinematic experience as any on the list. Director David Lowery crafted an unconventional film that surely isn’t for everyone, but his vision deeply resonated with me in a way not many films have. He orchestrates it all in a quiet melancholic manner that calls for some patience with its slow start. But soon enough I found myself left completely in awe by the way it operates and was hooked by every passing frame. In the months since I saw it, the film has stuck with me, causing me to come back upon reflection after experiencing a loss of my own. It offers a thoughtful meditative look at losing someone you love and dealing with the grief in a manner that is unlike anything else that I saw on the big screen last year.
Sean Baker’s The Florida Project feels so raw in the way that it captures life on this impoverished hotel community situated on the outskirts of Disney World. It’s far from “The Happiest Place On Earth,” yet it’s the humanity that Baker captures from the inhabitants that give it a joyful spirit. He incredibly puts it all in the hands of two newcomers with Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite, who are both able to hold their own against Willem Dafoe, giving one of the finest performances of his career. The Florida Project never looks down on its subjects, treating them with all the humanity that they deserve. It’s a refreshingly simple film that’s all about humanity and compassion and finding hope even where there may not be much to hold onto.
4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Martin McDonagh’s latest is full of the dark humor and wit that one would expect from the Irish playwright turned writer-director. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is firing on all cylinders with a sharp script that provides plenty for it’s stacked cast to work their magic. Frances McDormand is perfectly suited for McDonagh’s sharp writing, furiously diving into the understandable rage and fury of Mildred Hayes. Her rage is perfectly timed for today’s world, one where all of us are tired of being screwed over and let down by those who are supposed to be helping us, or keeping us safe. The film features some rather stunning turns from it’s supporting cast, mainly a terrific Sam Rockwell and an equally game Woody Harrelson. While it’s ending may baffle some, for me, it worked into the theme of its characters constantly evolving and changing their ways, contemplating what is right and what is wrong in a world that is getting more grey by the minute.
3. Baby Driver
I’ll admit, I may be a bit biased as a huge fan of Edgar Wright’s work, but Baby Driver is a pure cinematic delight that is just about as entertaining as anything I saw all year. From the first frame to the very last, Baby Driver is bristling with a bright youthful energy that never wanes. Wright has always had a great ear for music and he puts it to perfect use here. The soundtrack not only fits the film but is coordinated almost like a dance to help the ebb and flow of the story, acting as an action-musical of sorts. It’s far and away the best performance of Ansel Elgort’s young career and his chemistry with the lovely Lily James was enough for me to buy into their romance. Jamie Foxx is totally riveting in a villainous role, as is Jon Hamm who finally finds a post-Mad Men role that gives him something interesting to do. Too much of the film world takes itself way too seriously. There’s nothing wrong with a film being pure, fun, entertainment. That’s not to say that Baby Driver doesn’t have its emotional scenes; Baby’s farewell to his guardian played by CJ Jones was a beautiful moment. It goes all in on its idea and totally knocks it out of the park in memorable fashion.
2. Call Me By Your Name
The one issue with the festival circuit is there’s so much damn hype around certain films that by the time you get to it, it’s unfairly raised to a position that is nearly impossible for it to live up to. Now that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy Call Me By Your Name when I caught it this fall at the New York Film Festival. However, I will admit that I don’t know if it quite reached the levels that I expected after hearing non-stop praise since it’s debut at Sundance. Yet, in the passing weeks, since I saw it, it was a film that stuck in my mind. By the time I caught it again, I was able to just watch the film as if I was watching it for the first time again. I found myself really appreciating the thoughtful pace and the slow blossoming of this love affair, as it totally captures that lazy moment-to-moment feel that a lazy summer can have. Love is complicated and a constant learning experience all throughout life. The soon-to-be-legendary monologue by Michael Stuhlbarg wonderfully summarizes the crushing feeling of realizing that a fleeting love has passed, but he passes on some important lessons about letting your grief do its thing, but not to let it swallow you whole. The way in which it makes you recall your own first love and consequently that first heartbreak, cut deep within me, leaving me feeling every bit of the pain that Elio was feeling in the moment, stuck staring into the flame.
1. Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig pours every bit of herself into Lady Bird, a film that works on every level. From its very first frame, it radiates with an infectious energy that never lets up. At 94-minutes Lady Bird operates at a brisk pace that tells its story in a compact and effective manner, proving that a film doesn’t need to be over two hours to have an impact. You didn’t have to be a high schooler in post-9/11 America to find a connective thread to this charmer of a coming of age film that packs just as many laughs as it does genuine moments of heart and soul that feel like its pulled directly from one’s past life.
It’s amazing to see how accomplished a debut this is from Gerwig, whose personality is all over the airtight script, performed to perfection by everyone involved. Saoirse Ronan proves why she’s considered by many to be one of the best actors of our generation, as she goes toe-to-toe with Laurie Metcalf who is equally as great. We can’t forget the great supporting work from the likes of Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet and Beanie Feldstein, who all have plenty of moments to shine. This is the sort of film where each viewing (I am already up to four myself) will bring a new scene to standout, from Patrick’s tearful breakdown, to Lady’s Bird’s memorable outburst about paying back all the money that it costs to raise her so she will never have to speak to her mom, to that sublime last scene where Lady Bird leaves a beautiful message to her mom, realizing in that moment how much her relationship with her mom and Sacramento were things she took for granted. All of these moments were crucial to her being in New York at that very moment, about to begin the next chapter of her life.
It doesn’t matter what age or gender you are, but Lady Bird resonates on many levels and was quite handily my favorite film of the entire year.