Congratulations everyone. We’ve made it through another year. It sure wasn’t easy, but we’ve done it. It’s been a tough year, folks, but I feel like there’s still some hope in the world right now. Things this year have been pretty terrible. I mean, we have literal Nazis in the streets again. But, despite all of that, there’s still an undeniable sense of hope in the world, that we can get through this, and that we can survive. And, as always, I believe that in our darkest times we can rely on the power of stories to help us survive. Luckily for us, 2017 has been a pretty great source of stories. The film-world of 2017 has legitimately been one of the strongest I’ve seen in recent memory, and I can’t tell you how hard it was to narrow my list down to fifteen. Because I’m an obsessive dork, as is demonstrated by this entire website, I’ve kept a running ranking of all the films released this year on my Letterboxd account. I ended up seeing 73 films this year, and honestly the top 40 of that list were all very solid films. But, I suppose it’s a good thing to have an abundance of great cinema, so I’m sure not complaining about having too deep of a bench to pull from. Now, as always, I view this list as my fifteen favorite films of the year, not necessarily the fifteen films that I think were the “best,” whatever that means. This isn’t just a list of fifteen arthouse films that speak to the soul of cinema, these are the films that hit me most on a personal level. These are the films that I most enjoyed, and that I’ll remember 2017 for. So, without further ado, let’s get to the films.
15. Lady Bird
When I first saw Lady Bird, I was very mixed on it. On the one hand, I though that it handled the type of mumblecore, Noah Baumbach films that I’ve never connected with in a way that finally made them enjoyable. But, on the other hand, I wasn’t overly blown away by it. But, over the last couple of months, it’s been sticking with me, and it’s really risen in my estimations. One of the greatest things that a story can do is give a person insight into a life that they know nothing about. True, Lady Bird is still a story about a relatively privileged white person struggling with the complications of growing up, which is a story that’s incredibly familiar to someone like me, but there’s something more to this story. I was initially drawn to the ideas of maturity, and dropping your teenage pretension to realize that the world around you isn’t as cut and dry as you expect when you’re in high-school, and that side of the film still really speaks to me. But, where the film has grown for me is the way that it captures the complicated and erratic relationship between a mother and her daughter. Which is something that I personally don’t know much about, except through other people. But this film is able to take this experience, and relate it in a way that makes it instantly relateable, and in such a subtle way that it managed to creep up on me, getting better the more I thought about it. Which is a rare feat for a film.
Lady Bird was written and directed by Greta Gerwig.
14. Blade Runner 2049
Sequels are almost always hard to pull off. Let alone sequels to beloved films from thirty five years ago. Plus, as I stated in my article about this film, I was never a big fan of the original Blade Runner to begin with. And yet, director Denis Villenueve has accomplished the seemingly impossible. He made me give a crap about a Blade Runner movie. I loved this film. One of the most gorgeously shot movies of the year, Blade Runner 2049 is absolutely swimming in great concepts and visuals, creating a film that demands to be poured over and appreciated. It has some things to say about humanity, class, morality, and the intersection between human beings and the things they create, while also remaining an incredibly enjoyable noir story. I feel like the fact that I was never much of a fan of the original film even enhanced this story for me, because I didn’t have to get held up on any of the weird theories and complaints that fans of the first film had to deal with. I was able to slip into this world without any strong preconceived opinions, and get absolutely swept up in the story and world that Villenueve and crew were giving us. And it was a glorious ride.
Blade Runner 2049 was written by Hampton Fancer and Michael Green and directed by Denis Villenueve.
13. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
2017 was a pretty great year for superhero fiction. We got several truly wonderful superhero tales on the big screen this year, but only one of them made it onto this list. The genre really does seem to be evolving, reaching the point where now we’re able to get superhero stories that actually have something on their mind, and aren’t just fun but archetypal stories where good guys fight bad guys. Now some nuance is allowed in, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the film from 2017 that I think had some of the most surprising and compelling thoughts to share with us. It’s a film full of colorful and inventive visuals, terrific humor, and another delightful soundtrack. But it’s also a film about the surrogate families we create for ourselves over the course of our lives. It’s a film about the cycle of abuse. It’s a film about finding your purpose in life, and what lengths you’d go to achieve that purpose. And it’s a film about the realization that maybe you’re worth being loved by someone. These are heady topics for any film to tackle well, let alone one where one of the protagonists is a surly talking raccoon. And yet, they pull it off, creating a superhero movie that makes me laugh, cry, and cheer. It’s a real treat.
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 was written and directed by James Gunn.
12. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
I don’t think that there was a film from 2017 that I wrestled with the most in my mind other than Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. This was a film that elicited a strong emotional response in me, and legitimately left me shaken for a whole day after viewing it. And I’m still not quite sure what to think about it. It’s a harrowing tale of the distinction between justice and vengeance, and what you’ll do to yourself and those around you to get some peace of mind. It’s about grief, and how we cope with the loss of those close to use. And, it’s about forgiveness. Which is one of the sticking points with this film. I’ve seen this film taken to task for its failings in race, which is something that I have to step back and admit isn’t something I’m equipped to discuss, and something that I need to trust those who know what they’re talking about. I’ve also seen people react against the idea that it seeks out forgiveness for some characters who commit some very heinous acts over the course of the story, and the question of if everyone is truly redeemable. And I think those are complicated issues that really need to be discussed. But the fact that this film was able to leave me in such a daze, and leave me pondering what I would do if put in such a position, and the absolutely tremendous performances from Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, give me no hesitation in considering this one of my favorite films of the year. It’s difficult, and it’s ugly at times, but those aren’t bad things.
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri was written and directed by Martin McDonagh.
11. Wind River
I’ve noticed a real theme in the films that I gravitated to during 2017. Perseverance and how people cope with grief. We’ve had a rough year, and there’s few people who haven’t had to experience some sort of loss. And yet, we can’t give up. Wind River is a film that looks at the horrible pain that comes with loss, and tells us the truth. It doesn’t sugar-coat things. It doesn’t wrap everything up in a nice Hollywood bow. It tells us, explicitly, that loss is something you have to live with. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt like hell. And, it may never stop hurting. But, you can survive. You can make things better, and you can share you experiences with those around you, and help them. Grief doesn’t have to be a selfish thing. It’s something that we can all share in, and help each other with. Carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders will crush us, and it’s with friends, family, and community that we will survive.
Wind River was written and directed by Taylor Sheridan.
10. John Wick, Chapter 2
This list isn’t just going to be about dramas that challenged my worldview and made me think though. Because sometimes you just want a movie that’s fun as hell. And we got one of the most fun movies I’ve ever seen this year in John Wick, Chapter 2. Now, I know this film became a little divided, with some people seeming to really dislike it. But I loved it. Honestly, I like it more than John Wick. And I think one of the primary reasons that this one edged out its predecessor is the reason that a lot of other people didn’t like it. It’s so weird. The first John Wick is one of the most ridiculous and satisfying revenge-based action films of the last decade, and around its periphery was an utterly unique and bizarre world full of criminals and assassins. This film still manages to have an absurd amount of action, while jumping head first into that weird and wonderful world-building, and I loved it for that. This film builds such a wonderful mythology, and I legitimately would love tv shows, books, and comics set in the world, further fleshing out the insane reality that it lives in. Not to mention it’s gorgeous, funny, and full of truly great action.
John Wick Chapter 2 was written by Derek Kohlstad and directed by Chad Stahelski.
9. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The past couple of weeks have been somewhat of a baffling experience in regards to this film. When I went in I couldn’t have been more excited, and when I left the theater I knew that I’d seen something very special. I loved the Last Jedi, and the more I think about it the higher it goes up in my esteem. But, then I look at the confounding reaction that it’s getting from a certain loud fanbase, and I cannot for the life of me understand it. The Last Jedi was a Star Wars film that really meant something, and has a beautiful message. It’s a film that tries to get several ideas across, and I think it does it wonderfully. Stories are important, and are for everyone. The power of myth. The idea that if you’re slavishly devoted to recreating the past you’re doomed to repeat it. The troublesome effect of machismo. The Last Jedi takes all of these ideas and puts them in a wonderfully fun adventure. It’s a film whose narrative shows us that the paths that these characters have been on for seven films will inevitably lead to ruin, unless they change how they think. And that thread becomes a meta contextual one, reminding us that this series needs to change and adapt or else it’s just going to be stuck in a rut, travelling over the same well-tread ground over and over. Star Wars needs to evolve. It’s not just some weird artifact that needs to be controlled and belonged to some weird nerdy cult, it’s for everyone now, and it needs to become something different. I suppose I can see why that’s upsetting so many people who don’t want change, and who want the past to remain the past, but this is a film that shows that it could be so much more if we let it change, and change along with it.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi was written and directed by Rian Johnson.
8. Call Me By Your Name
I did a better job this year making sure that most every film I saw in the theater got an article written about it. And this year there’s only two on the list that I never had anything up about, and this is one of them. I just saw Call Me By Your Name last week, and it’s a movie that I wasn’t quite sure if I had anything to say about. I’ve let it simmer in my mind for the last week, and I’m continuously blown away by it. It’s one of the most passionate films of the year, and does a phenomenal job at demonstrating that weird, confusing time that is adolescence. The impossible to define feelings of love, longing, and desire, vividly painted across the screen by this film are truly heartbreaking. But, it was the final few scenes that really pushed this movie over the edge for me. A lot has been said of Michael Stuhlbarg’s monologue near the end of this film, but it really shows why this movie is so engaging. It’s a story about love, and the idea that even if it hurts, it’s worth it. So few people open themselves up to true emotion, and that vulnerability comes with risks. But they’re worth it. A life lived safely isn’t a life led well, and we all need to be more open to experiencing life for what it really is. Messy.
Call Me By Your Name was written by James Ivory and directed by Luca Guadagnino.
7. War for the Planet of the Apes
I am continuously blown away by the feat that this new trilogy of Apes films has pulled off. They’ve somehow become better and better as the series went on, and they were capped off with one of the most powerful and moving films of the year. Somehow a film populated by CGI apes became one of the most human movies of the year, a story about the things that grief will make us do, and the futility of war. It’s a travesty that most awards don’t consider motion-capture performances to be of the same caliber as other roles, because Andy Serkis gives a captivating and moving performance as Caesar, an ape pushed to his limits. He loses everything that’s important to him, and though he’s tempted, he ends up remaining resolute in the end. Fury, revenge, loss, and purpose are all dealt with in this film, and it remains one of the most emotionally charged and affecting films I saw all year.
War for the Planet of the Apes was written by Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves and directed by Matt Reeves.
I don’t think there was a single film from 2017 that surprised me as much as Colossal did. I went in expecting a goofy little movie about a woman who somehow controlled a giant monster in South Korea. And, while the film certainly delivered on that, it also ended up becoming something far more. This film has honestly gotten better as this year has gone on, as we’ve gotten to see several examples of men who have been put up on pedestals as decent people revealed to be monsters underneath. Because this is a film all about hiding the ugly sides of our personalities, the darker instincts that we think we keep hidden, but end up causing massive amounts of damage in our lives. It doesn’t always culminate in giant duels between monsters and robots, but the damage is there nevertheless.
Colossal was written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo.
5. The Disaster Artist
I have no idea how this movie exists, but the fact that it does brings me endless joy. The idea that one of my favorite films of the year would be about the making of one of the worst films ever made is silly enough, but then to have it be almost exclusively cast with comedic actors, and led by the Franco brothers, it truly fascinating. This films could have been just a silly little comedy. A goofy story about a weirdo who just couldn’t understand why no one thought the movie he was making was bad. But instead this film takes us on a deep dive into the mind of a person who just wants to create. And it ended up really speaking to me. The ability to be creative, and to make something that other people will enjoy is a true gift, and this ends up being a story about someone who wants that gift more than anything else in the world, and lets it destroy him. And, against all odds, they do end up creating something that gives people joy, just not in the way that he expected. I’m always going to be a sucker for stories about stories and creation, but this is one that really went at it from a unique perspective, and succeeded in every way that its subject matter never could.
The Disaster Artist was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber and directed by James Franco.
4. The Shape of Water
This year really was an extravaganza of incredibly strange concepts that ended up working beautifully. Case in point, the Shape of Water. It’s a love story masquerading as a 1960’s creature feature where a woman falls in love with an amphibious creature. I had assumed that I was going to enjoy this film, as I have with essentially every other Guillermo del Toro film, but I was not expecting to love it quite the way that I did. Because this is an amazing film. Its a story full of passion, both in the story and in the production. Every story that Guillermo del Toro has given us has clearly been incredibly personal to him, and this fable about a group of people on an eternal quest to find happiness and ways to make their lives feel complete and well-lived is certainly one of his most. It’s clearly full of everything that del Toro loves, and that affection and genuine enthusiasm for the story shines through every frame of this film, creating a story that transports you to a magical world, while also reminding you of what really matters in life.
The Shape of Water was written and directed by Guillermo del Toro.
3. The Big Sick
No film this year hit me quite the way that the Big Sick did. This was a story that I’d heard before, because it’s based on real events, and both Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon are very open about discussing it. And, I think any other time in my life I would have enjoyed it, because it’s a very funny, heart-warming, and emotional film. But, to me personally, this film was a cathartic masterpiece, and exactly what I needed at that moment. I went into this in far more detail in the article that I wrote about the Big Sick, but my wife has been going through some serious health problems over the last couple of years, and we’re to the point where we’ve had to begin discussing brain surgery. It’s a horrifying position to be in, and one where it’s very easy to feel lost and adrift. But, this film is a reminder that you’re not alone. That people struggle through adversity every day, and that it’s possible. It’s hard. It’s possibly the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But you can do it. No one is alone. You aren’t the first person to be in this position. People are there for you, and if you’re willing to ask for help, you will receive it. I really cannot put into words what this film has meant to me over this year, and it’s truly a masterpiece.
The Big Sick was written by Emily V Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani and directed by Michael Showalter.
2. Get Out
I kind of feel terrible that I never ended up writing about this on the website. I saw this film in a temporary lull of a pretty bad stomach flu earlier this year, and ended up being too out of it to get any coherent thoughts together when it was first released. And, by the time I was feeling better, it felt like everyone had already said everything there was to say about this film. But, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, because this is a film that could be endlessly talked about. It’s one of the strongest directorial debuts I’ve ever seen, and it instantly cemented Jordan Peele as a bold new voice in film. He somehow accomplished a seemingly impossible task. He made a comedic horror film that tackled racism, and made every part of that work. It’s funny, it’s scary, and it has some seriously deep thoughts inside it too. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if we really don’t see something from Peele for a couple years, because this film seems to be a real work of love that he must have been working on for years. It’s so intricately made, and upon repeat viewings you’ll pick up countless little elements that help bolster this extraordinary film. It’s a film crafted by a black auteur about the black experience in America, and it doesn’t pull any punches. And the fact that this film was such a massive success, a film that still has people talking about it ten months after it came out, is truly remarkable. It really does feel like a watershed moment, a film that will be remembered for decades to come as the opening salvo in a new type of cinema. And we all should feel lucky to have been around for it.
Get Out was written and directed by Jordan Peele.
1. Baby Driver
It’s a rare experience to leave a film and know it’s going to be one of your favorite films, not only of the year, but possibly of the decade. But that’s how I felt leaving Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. I’ve been a big fan of everything that Wright has made so far, and when I learned he was making a heist film that was often compared to musicals, I was very excited. And this film did not disappoint. There’s of course the unpleasantness of having Kevin Spacey involved with this film, but his presence doesn’t damper an otherwise joyous film. Because this movie is a goddamn blast, from beginning to end. I love every bit of it, and it is without a doubt the most enjoyable film of the year, to me. It clicks so many of my buttons, and while it may not be the deepest film on this list, it’s my favorite. It’s just remarkable to me that Edgar Wright was able to make a film that was able to explain everything he seems to love about America, and American culture. Outlaws, guns, cars, diners, music, and young love. This film is a thesis on the mythologized version of America, and I love every second of it. It’s one of the most original and inventive films I’ve ever seen, and it’s just so clearly a work of love that I feel that it’s impossible not to get swept up in its magic. It’s stories like this that remind me why I love the movies so much.
Baby Driver was written and directed by Edgar Wright.
Well, there you have it. That’s my 2017 in film in a nutshell. It was a truly fantastic year for cinema, and There’s honestly so many other movies that I could highly recommend. Coco, Free Fire, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man Homeccoming, Brawl in Cell Block 99, Good Time, and Lucky Logan were also films I would highly recommend. And there are a couple films that I wasn’t able to see before the end of the year that I’m sure I’ll love, like the Post, Phantom Thread, and Darkest Hour. So, don’t let anyone tell you that they don’t make good movies anymore, because the artform is still providing us with thoroughly enjoyable films, you just need to know where to look.
Categories: Reel Talk