I have been holding off making this list for some time with some hope that films like Call Me by My Name and Phantom Thread would be released in theaters near me by now (as I am currently home for the holidays and not in Chicago). But alas! They have yet to arrive! So, with that in mind, there are still a few movies I need to see for 2017 that won’t appear on this list (that perhaps should or could). This year I will be tackling my “best of” list a little differently. Unlike other years, I am not limiting my list to ten films. There were many great films released in 2017 and I don’t see why I should leave any out when celebrating my favorites of the year. Also considering that I have not seen a few high profile films that are receiving critical acclaim yet I will update this list (if necessary).
Before I go any further, a little insight into the ranking and criteria for this list is needed. The ordering of this list is somewhat vague. Many of these films could flip-flop different numbers and different spots quite easily. It isn’t until we reach my top five is there more of a “hard list” so to speak. I also have put films on here that aren’t exactly the greatest films but ones that gave me a lot of joy and fun (ones that make it fun to go to the movies every year in the first place). I see no reason why movies like this don’t deserve a spot on the list next to more artistic driven films. So without further ado, let’s jump into the list.
This is a film that would rank higher on the list if it wasn’t for the Finn and Rose storyline that really dragged out the runtime and felt tonally inconsistent with the rest of the film. Despite that, most everything about The Last Jedi works. This film deepens characters, both old and new, challenges us as Star Wars fans, and throws in many surprises that most won’t see coming. Despite the loud negative reaction by a group of Star Wars fans, I believe this film to be the best Star Wars film that Disney/Lucasfilm has put out to date. It doesn’t play it safer like The Force Awakens and is a better character piece than Rogue One (both of which I enjoyed as well). I have seen the film three times in theaters thus far and have enjoyed it more and more with each viewing. Director Rian Johnson has crafted a smart film and makes me more than happy to be a Star Wars fan.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is one of the films this year that gave me pure joy and fun as a moviegoer. This isn’t the most daring film artistically, but the level of action craft can’t be denied. Chapter 2 took everything that was great about the first John Wick and turned it up to 11. Everything feels more refined from the choreography of fight scenes to the gun battles, to even the gorgeous production designs. Keanu Reeves showcases why he is one of the best action stars, doing a lot with his character from saying very little. From almost start to finish I had a smile on my face. This is the modern action film that others should aspire to.
Recently I’ve noticed a bit of an uptick in the quality of horror films than what we are used to seeing. Last year gave us films like Don’t Breathe, The Conjuring 2, and The Witch. This year we’ve seen quite a few good horror movies as well, such as Get Out, Split (if you consider it horror), and even Annabelle: Creation. The one that rose above all others though was one of the latest Stephan King adaptations, It. Directed by Andy Muschietti, this horror films deftly blends together horror, comedy, and the coming of age dramas from the 80s like Stand by Me. This hit nearly every emotion you can think of and features some great child acting (even if a few of the kids got a little less character development than others). This has some of the best horror sequences of the past few years (poor Georgie) and has a terrifying performance from Bill Skarsgård. It is one of the movies that make it fun to be in a movie theater with a large group of people.
13-The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Much like The Lobster before it, you’re probably either going to be on broad with the movie’s unique style and tone or you’re simply not. Sacred Deer, while at times a little overbearing, is a memorable and well done artistic thriller (and in many ways should probably be considered a horror film). The dry and awkward tone adds to the uncomfortable and unsettling nature of director Yorgos Lanthimos’s vision. Colin Farrell continues his recent hot streak of picking interesting roles and projects with great supporting work from Nicole Kidman and Barry Keoghan. This movie is not for everyone, but you will for sure remember it long after the credits are done rolling.
It saddens me that this movie isn’t getting more praise and attention than it is currently getting. Not only is the “gimmick” of the movie amazing, but Loving Vincent tells a wonderful story of a man searching for meaning in the loss of someone great. Some have chosen to mischaracterize this movie as a murder investigation, which is a disservice to the actual story of the movie. Loving Vincent is a beautiful and emotional story. Not only that, Loving Vincent might be the most startling achievement in animation since Pixar’s Toy Story. Animating the movie with all paintings never felt gimmicky at all and it makes every frame of the movie truly a work of art.
Pixar is no stranger to making incredible films (even if recently they have put out a few more films of lesser quality than we’re used to seeing). But, much like Inside Out, Coco reminds us all just of how much talent there is working at Pixar Animation Studios. Coco is one of the best films they have put out this decade. Not only is Coco funny and entertaining for kids, but it has the emotional depth and resonance for everyone else. The music is memorable, and this is the most tear educing Pixar films since Up and Toy Story 3. This is a movie that seems to do justice to the culture it is portraying and has some of the best animation the studio has ever produced.
10- Baby Driver
If there ever was an artful action film, it would be Edger Wright’s Baby Driver. One of the most infinitely watchable movies of the year, this action film is both stylish and full of substance. Baby Driver on the surface is a movie we’ve seen before. However, what sets this apart from other heist movies is it executes all the familiar cues and tropes the way they are supposed to be executed while adding a fresh new coat of paint on top of it all, Edger Wright’s directorial style. The car chases are breathtaking to watch and all the actors are completely on point with this ride. One of the most fun and enjoyable action experiences of the year. As an added bonus this has an awesome soundtrack.
The title is a little misleading (or at the very least the marketing was), you would be forgiven if you thought there was going to be some epic Lord of the Rings style final battle in War for the Planet of the Apes. Once you get past that, you will find not just a great conclusion to one of the best recent trilogies, but also a great character piece. At the center of this film is arguably Andy Serkis’ best performance of his character Caesar, taking the character to new emotional depths. With allusions to Spartacus to Unforgiven to The Ten Commandments, this is an epic and ambitious science fiction film. The ending is the perfect conclusion to the three film series that surprised us all. Trilogies are hard to pull off, we only have a handful of great ones…we have one more now.
8- Wind River
The directorial debut of screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (who also wrote the critically acclaimed screenplays for Sicario and Hell or High Water) might be his best work to date. Wind River is a dark and emotional crime drama that explores issues that Native Americans face to this day and features Jeremy Renner’s best performance since The Town. This quiet neo-western slowly unpacks the tension and leads to an unbelievable climax. This is a gorgeously shot movie and makes me wish that Taylor Sheridan was helming the Sicario follow up. Wind River is a must see.
7- The Big Sick
Comedies have been a bit hit or miss lately (at least some of the studio comedies have been). It has been a while since a comedy (not named Deadpool) has made my favorite films of the year, but the Michael Showalter directed and Kumail Nanjiani/Emily V Gordon scripted comedy/drama has accomplished just that. The Big Sick is more than just another funny flick about relationships. The Big Sick is a movie about family and different cultures, which explores it all in a funny and heartfelt manner. This is consistently funny throughout, has moments of genuine drama, and really good performances from the cast. The Big Sick transcends typical romantic comedies.
Guillermo Del Toro is a highly imaginative filmmaker giving us films like Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, and also films that are more fun and spectacular like Pacific Rim. Del Toro is a filmmaker of unparalleled imagination and once again demonstrates why with The Shape of Water. The Shape of Water is a powerful, romantic and startling love story set against the backdrop of the Cold War. Water blends together fantasy, period drama, and monster movies to create something wholly unique and something completely Del Toro. A movie like The Shape of Water is the answer to those saying there is no original story in Hollywood anymore. This is the modern fairytale of our times and is a nice companion piece to Pan’s Labyrinth.
5- Blade Runner 2049
It isn’t easy making a sequel to what is now considered one of the greatest science fiction films ever made some 35 years later. Blade Runner’s place in film history is cemented and many film fans preferred it as a standalone story. On paper, this movie probably shouldn’t work, but under the direction of master filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, this is not only a worthy sequel but a sequel that rivals its original film. Blade Runner 2049 is a nearly 3-hour sci-fi epic that makes complete use of its runtime with asking the big science fiction questions we expect, holding back on answers from the original, and features some truly orgasmic cinematography from the master Roger Deakins. This is a movie that works with or without the brilliant original film. Whether you’re a science fiction fan or just a fan of thought-provoking storytelling, this will give you your fill.
4- Lady Bird
Lady Bird is a special indie film. It is the type of indie film that is strongly written, impeccably balanced with comedy and drama, and above all writes to teenagers well. Lady Bird ran for only an hour and a half but it was the type of film I could watch for another two hours. The characters were likable, a joy to be around and the story is deep and affecting. Whether you’re in high school or not is irrelevant. Saoirse Ronan continues to shine as one of the industry’s top young actresses. This is quite the calling card for first-time solo director Greta Gerwig. It reminded me of the feeling I got watching Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, and for me, that is a great thing.
Superhero films are currently the top dog in Hollywood, which is far from where they have come from. Superhero films have been showing moments of greatness even before their explosion from Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie to Tim Burton’s stylized Batman. Now, in the midst of the superhero movie craze, there seems to be pushback from some cinema fans that don’t believe them to be smart enough or even good. Whether you like superhero films or not, James Mangold’s cross blending genre film, Logan, will impress you none the less. Logan is a film that deconstructs what the superhero film can be and reaches a level of quality that we haven’t seen since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Logan both transcends the genre and also embraces it. The movie features unforgettable performances from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart while exploring some mature and dark subject matter. There are many good superhero movies, some okay ones and maybe a few great ones, but Logan is a masterful one.
Martin McDonagh has been quietly racking up quite the career. With his two previous films, (In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths) being underrated and overlooked, McDonagh has finally broken the gates wide open with his dark comedy-drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. This is among the funniest experiences of the year, but it is also among the most emotional and complex. With rich, colorful, and memorable characters, Three Billboards has a shortage of things not to love or revisit. This has some of the best performances this year with Francis McDormand at her best since Fargo and Sam Rockwell giving perhaps his best performance. Three Billboards is truly a special little film.
Some may accuse me of simply being a Christopher Nolan fanboy by placing this movie at the top of my list, but I simply felt I had no other place to put it. Dunkirk is one of the finest war films of recent memory. Nolan has truly crafted a film and constructed a story that made for one of the most intense and stress-inducing experiences I have ever had in the theater. A film that was made for the big screen, Dunkirk is a unique and unconventional war film that is among the most skillful and artful of the genre. With very little dialogue and using visual storytelling to mold a few characters, Nolan introduces to us. Dunkirk could very well be a landmark of its genre and is a full signal to us all that Nolan still has plenty to offer us in his post-Dark Knight days.
These are thus far my favorite films of 2017. Hopefully once a few more of the smaller indie films get wider releases I’ll be able to add them to this list! What were your favorite films of 2017?