Here we are! Here I get to do one of the most enjoyable lists of the year, one of the most fun sorts of lists to do: my movie top list, my favorite films of 2017. In addition, Academy Award nominees are announced Tuesday, January 23rd, and I’d like to get in on some of that discussion, at least discussion of this year’s best films. First, I’ll do my top ten films, then my honorable mentions, then some thoughts on the movies I’ll be cheering onward to be nominated for and win Oscars.
Look, 2017 was a pretty good year for movies, despite what some have said. I’ve heard a few people, at least, say that 2017 was pretty weak, but I don’t know where that opinion comes from, unless those people just happened to see an oddly tepid selection of 2017’s output. I found 2017 one of the best – and, to my delight, one of the most risk-taking – years for film in recent memory! Sure, there were stinkers, and a good portion of meh material. Yet indie films had another good year, for the second year in a row. The horror genre saw a few more stellar installments released. Series that had been too self-serious and dull got a nice kick in the pants. Big blockbusters got more creative and inventive. . . For what more could we ask?
As a result, I naturally have many releases I’d love to include in my top list. However, I will limit myself to only ten favorite movies, ranked, with my honorable mentions below, my honorable mentions only being films that were in very serious consideration for a spot.
To be further clear, this is my top favorites list. These are the flicks I most enjoyed or appreciated in 2017, especially works that struck some kind of nerve in me, to which I felt I could relate, or that did something I’d specifically been wanting to see, not necessarily the works released I thought were objectively the best. As a result, you will see movies here to which I assigned a variety of grades. When I give grades, I try to be a bit objective. The grade is partially my feelings about the art, but it’s also much of how good I think that art actually is. When I make a list of favorites, that’s completely my feelings on the art. In addition, this past year has been full of David and I playing around with our grading system to see what works best. Not to worry, though, as I think we have figured out our grading system, and my 2018 grades should be more consistent.
For my movie top lists, I go by the movie’s wide release date, not its limited release date, to determine in what year the film belongs. So you’ll see La La Land and Silence here, since La La Land went fully wide January 6, 2017, and Silence went wide January 12, 2017, despite both those movies eligibility in the Academy Awards for 2016 films. Yes, I know most people don’t do that, but I don’t live in a city where I can see limited releases, and if I put off top ten lists until I see all the end-of-year, limited release, awards-bait releases and such, I’d never get it done!
Anyway, without further ado, let’s dive in!
My Top 10 Favorite Films of 2017
10. Thor: Ragnarok
Of all the movies I saw this year, Thor: Ragnarok gave me the most fun and enjoyment. Is it one of the top ten most well-made films? No, probably not. Yet what Taika Waititi – the director of my favorite comedy of the 21st century thus far, What We Do in the Shadows – was able to do with this movie excited me. It was also exciting to see Marvel give a director a fair bit of autonomy. Ragnarok is a glam rock fantasy dream of a strange superhero comedy action-adventure, colorful, hilarious, infused with an ’80s style aesthetic, and a welcome injection of energy into the Thor series. Oh, and it contains the single best use of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” ever. It’s both the funniest Marvel movie to date and the one with the most stakes and potential consequences, yet the two together worked really well for me.
I’m still puzzled by Star Wars fan reactions to The Last Jedi, and all the animosity coming from Star Wars fans is enough to make me second guess being a Star Wars fan, though it’s also good to see the discussions. However, I think I’ve come to grips with all that. That’s not what we’re here to discuss, though. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, especially when it comes to art and entertainment. My opinion on The Last Jedi is this: It’s bold and unexpected in ways most blockbusters aren’t, and it gave me everything I wanted from a sequel to The Force Awakens, exploring areas and ideas I wanted to see in Star Wars but never thought I would. It’s my favorite Star Wars flick since Return of the Jedi. Is it flawed? Yes. Every Star Wars film except The Empire Strikes Back is quite flawed. But The Last Jedi is also very well done.
8. War for the Planet of the Apes
This current Planet of the Apes series, which started with Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011, is, for my money, one of the best things in 21st Century science-fiction, even if the films do have embarrassingly unwieldy titles (two prepositions in your title are two too many). They have been an entertaining and interesting mix of good stories, intriguing and relevant ideas, and revolutionary special effects. I think it can be difficult for some in the audience to latch onto and relate to a story where artificially evolved animals are slowly replacing actual humans, yet if you can get past that, the series is great, and War is a wonderful end to the trilogy, even if its marketing and title are pretty deceptive.
A masterwork from one of our greatest – and certainly one of our most ambitious – current filmmakers, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk attempts, quite successfully, to place us, the audience, in the midst of the claustrophobic, intense situation that occurred at Dunkirk in the late Spring of 1940. Instead of going the traditional war movie route (which, to be honest, has become rather rote and tiring at this point, with few exceptions) where every strategy is clearly explained and we get a few, or maybe several, fleshed out but kind of cliché characters, Nolan follows just a few characters in different situations and different timelines of the same event, and we know as little about them as we would if we were there with them in those actual moments. In other words, we’re shown, not told. Some people found Dunkirk boring or stressful. I found it brilliant.
6. La La Land
La La Land is so great and connects with so many people because it works on several levels and is effective at each of them. It’s a gorgeous tribute to American and French musicals (some of the French ones of which used non-singing actors too) of a bygone era. It’s a beautiful love story that ends up more nuanced and more realistic than the vast majority of onscreen love stories. It’s both a scathing and an adoring look at LA culture and the current state of jazz. And it resonated especially with me in the way it shows sometimes people are a part of our lives, a significant part even, but can’t necessarily follow us into our next phase, yet we can cherish the time we had with those people. That was not time lost.
A science-fiction film hasn’t impressed me this much since . . . well, Villeneuve’s last film, Arrival, in 2016. OK, so it hasn’t been that long then, but these two last movies from Villeneuve are, in my opinion, some of the best sci-fi you’ll find in the last ten years. Does Blade Runner 2049 draw from themes that already exist in the original Blade Runner, a handful of Star Trek episodes, Her, and Westworld? Yes. It isn’t as original as Arrival. Yet, for my tastes, Villeneuve mines those concepts more effectually and displays them more entertainingly. I just can’t stop thinking about this film, which also has some of the very best cinematography and set design of the year. Perhaps it’s heresy to say, but Blade Runner 2049 may even be better than the original.
4. Baby Driver
If you love music, especially a wide range of genres, car stunts, and crime films, there is no better movie for you in 2017, and there has been no better movie for you in a long while. This movie has my favorite film editing of 2017, with the unique way Edgar Wright choreographs everything happening onscreen to the music Baby is listening to at that moment. The car stunts, practically done, all very real, may be the best I’ve ever seen in a film. And the movie features “Brighton Rock” by Queen, so there’s that. Baby Driver has an unstoppable energy and rhythm, and I ate it up. Plus, it presents Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx in two of my favorite performances of their careers thus far.
The character of Logan, a.k.a. The Wolverine, deserved this movie. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart deserved this movie. We who love the X-Men series deserved this movie. And it’s a fitting end to the Wolverine saga, as well as a sad, almost haunting end to the story of Professor Xavier. Logan is also now one of my favorite superhero films of all time. In addition, it’s a neo-Western that is beautifully filmed, skillfully helmed, and wonderfully acted. It was obviously a passion project for Jackman, who gave up some of his paycheck to get it rated R, not necessarily just to be gory and profane but to give everyone the freedom to make the movie they wanted to make, to tell the story they wanted to tell. Even if you’re not a fan of the X-Men movie series, Logan is a great film and story.
Three Billboards is the movie 2017 needed, and I hope it wins Best Picture at the Oscars. Three Billboard‘s theme is the wise sentiment that hate and bitterness only breed hate and bitterness, and the only way to break that vicious cycle is kindness, or, as Harrelson’s character puts it, love. Yet it presents this in the least cliché, least hokey, least heavy-handed way I’ve ever seen this theme explored. The movie is highly effective for me. I loved it. Some people won’t, though. If you read the synopsis, you might think it’s a mystery crime drama, but it’s not. It’s a human drama, really, with bits of black comedy used to excellent effect. It’s dark at times, it truly is, and the ending will leave some unsatisfied (I found it perfect), but Three Billboards also shows humanity as extremely flawed, even inherently bad, yet still redeemable and worth redeeming.
Silence poses themes and asks questions that I myself have pondered and asked, ones close to my heart. It suggests faith and identity can survive no matter how much they are persecuted or hidden. It asks: How is a person to maintain their faith in the midst of harsh persecution? How should a person respond when others are suffering at his or her expense? What is the cost of really standing for something? How difficult is it to do missionary work in a land where the people’s basic philosophies are completely opposite? And more. At the end it presents its central character with an unbearably difficult choice. Where some people have gone wrong is that Silence does not say its character’s ultimate choice is the right choice. Rather, Scorsese shows us, look, this is a terrible choice, and this is what many in that situation chose. What would we chose?
My Honorable Mentions
I called The Big Sick “the best combination of humor and heart that I’ve seen in a while” when I reviewed it; I still heartily agree with that, because this is one or the best rom-com/drama type movies in a long time, mostly because it’s more than that, more real.
Darkest Hour captures Churchill’s incredible command of the English language alongside his fascinating contradictions and imperfections, all masterfully embodied by Gary Oldman in flawless makeup and surrounded by other top-of-the-line actors, especially Kristen Scott Thomas playing Churchill’s equally lion-willed wife.
Get Out is one of the smartest, most detailed, most carefully crafted horror films in recent years, and though I found weaknesses in it, it’s an excellent one and intriguingly like a feature-length Twilight Zone episode.
The third act unravels a bit and features an annoying fake out, yet, otherwise, this movie really struck a chord with me, giving a voice to some of my own 2017 frustrations, and the characters and the situations they get in are just great.
Ingrid Goes West
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that explores this aspect of technology, especially social media, in the way this movie does, nor anything that explores these particular ideas, authenticity’s value and inauthenticity’s danger, as cutting and effectively, or as successfully for me; plus, Plaza is perfectly casted.
It‘s not a perfect movie, nor did I find it horrifying, yet it’s fun as a fantasy horror flick while also just being a solid film, with a group of kid characters you grow to care about; plus, Skarsgård is simply perfect as the creepy Pennywise.
Hands down, this is the best pure action flick of the year, and it’s probably the best action film, American one at least, since the first John Wick in 2014, and I love the mythos this series is building up.
Lady Bird is one of my favorite edited movies of 2017, only behind Baby Driver and Dunkirk, and it’s a sweet yet realistic story of one teen’s most growing days and her relationship with her mother, her best friend, and the hometown she thinks she wants to leave.
Soderbergh’s directorial return after supposed retirement (filmmakers retire and return as often as Rocky or Brett Favre), Logan Lucky works excellently as a heist film, as a dive into actual hick/hillbilly/redneck culture without punching down, and as a drama about two down-on-their-luck brothers who can’t seem to catch a break.
Wind River isn’t quite as good as Hell or High Water or Sicario, but it’s still a great film, a high recommendation from me, and probably my favorite script of Sheridan’s so far, and it peers into an unfortunately forgotten portion of America.
In a year of awesome comic book flicks, this one stolidly stood its ground and gave us the first quality female-led superhero movie and maybe the best DCEU movie out of the five (I still love Man of Steel), even one of the best DC comics movies ever made.
There it is! My 2017 top movies list. I’m glad I got to do it, and I look forward to doing it every year. One note: for now, I won’t have any ten worst lists because this is only a hobby for me. I have a job. I don’t usually go out and see films I think will suck. As a result, I don’t see enough of those terrible movies that belong in such a list.
Before we close out, I’d like to tell you a few of the movies and people I hope are nominated for and win an Oscar this year:
- Best Actor: Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour
- Best Actress: Frances McDormand in Three Billboards
- Best Supporting Actor: Patrick Stewart in Logan
- Best Supporting Actress: Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird
- Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049
- Best Director: Edgar Wright for Baby Driver
- Best Film Editing: Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss for Baby Driver
- Best Sound Editing: Richard King for Dunkirk
- Best Original Score: Hans Zimmer for Dunkirk
- Best Original Song: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul for “The Greatest Show” from The Greatest Showman
- Best Visual Effects: War for the Planet of the Apes
- Best Original Screenplay (as transformed to the screen, since I haven’t read any of this year’s scripts): Taylor Sheridan for Wind River
- Best Adapted Screenplay: James Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green for Logan
- Best Picture: Three Billboards
What are your favorite films of 2017? And what are your picks in Academy Award categories?