2017 may have been the greatest year for movies in a long, long time. The quality of content was above and beyond both in terms of large-scale blockbusters and smaller quieter indie movies. It was a banner year without a doubt, but only 10 can be crowned the best movies of the year.
First, some Honorable Mentions: “War for the Planet of the Apes,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Kedi,” “Baby Driver,” “Mudbound,” “Logan Lucky,” “Call Me By Your Name,” “Coco,” “The Disaster Artist,” and “mother!”
Movies I was unable to see: “I, Tonya,” “The Shape of Water,” “Phantom Thread,” “Faces Places,” and “Molly’s Game”
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema
Composer: Hans Zimmer
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, and Tom Hardy
Christopher Nolan is our modern-day king of film. His works continue to surprise and reach new heights as he tries his hand at new genres while constantly sticking to his trademark styles and tropes that quintessentially define his filmmaking.
He’s not a favorite filmmaker of mine by any means, but some of his films are my absolute favorites. “Dunkirk” tells the story of the fateful beach rescue made during the early years of World War II after the fall of France to Nazi forces. Three stories happen concurrently on the land, air, and beach (very similar to a speech made by Winston Churchill at the time) but with an interesting twist.
Each section takes place over a different period of time, but the film plays out like things are happening concurrently. The air section takes place over the period of an hour while the sea section happens over a period of a full day, so we see reference to things in the air section happen before we see them in the sea section, but we don’t get the context of those events until the sea portion.
It’s a bold an interesting way to handle the timeline of a war film. As chaotic and confusing as the actual events of Dunkirk itself. The real draw of “Dunkirk” is its visual spectacle. It’s the sort of thing that needs to be seen on a massive screen as planes duck and weave through the air and people cross vast ocean to make a daring rescue.
“Dunkirk” is the kind of wonderfully paced war film that praises the heroism not in fighting, but in simply surviving. Another feather in Nolan’s cap.
9. “Rat Film”
Director: Theo Anthony
Writer: Theo Anthony
Cinematography: Theo Anthony
Composer: Dan Deacon
Starring: Theo Anthony
Theo Anthony’s debut film is not really about rats. Well it is, but it isn’t. “Rat Film” is a documentary about human’s relationship to rats in the city of Baltimore. The skittering, worm-tailed rodents have been an issue to Maryland’s largest city for quite some time now, but “Rat Film” isn’t content in simply informing viewers of this infestation. The film goes into more abstract territory, relating this infestation of rats to Baltimore’s relationship to racism since the founding of the city. How the city’s enforcement of segregation through both laws, and when that was declared unconstitutional, the private sector bred the rat problem by forcing black people into slum-like neighborhoods with poorly controlled infrastructure and living conditions that bred conditions that rats thrive in. It’s a thriving case study that pulls in people’s relationship to the rodent’s not only in comparison to its theory of racism, but also in its exploration of the cities rat hunters and people who love rats. The concept is subtle but also straightforward. Humans don’t act so different from their rodent ancestors. Our lives are just as filled with danger, chaos, and claustrophobia as the life of a rat, and our hatred for rats draws many parallels to how society often treats some of our less fortunate citizens. “There’s never been a rat problem in Baltimore, it’s always been a people problem.”
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Writer: Nacho Vigalondo
Cinematography: Eric Kress
Composer: Bear McCreary
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, and Tim Blake Nelson
Nacho Vigalondo is a really interesting, but weird director. His ability to seamlessly combine sci-fi with other more accessible genres is what makes him such a unique voice in the world of film today. “Colossal” is his best movie to date. Gloria (Anne Hathaway) retreats to her old family home in a slump after losing her job and reunites with an old high school friend (Jason Sudeikis). He begins to help her through this depressing time in her life, but things get odd when she discovers that a mysterious gigantic creature that has been terrorizing Seoul is actually controlled by her.
“Colossal” is a delightful and distraught dramady. It is equal parts hilarious, but also distressing. Without revealing too much about its second-act twist, which the film’s marketing hides brilliantly well, the movie has a lot to say about how we view ourselves in our lowest points and how our fear of destroying our personal lives often pushes us to act out in really awful ways.
It’s an interesting way of presenting depression of self-loathing through gigantic monsters, and when the twist hits, and it hits hard, the entire framework of the movie adapts. The movie becomes less about self-loathing and more about overcoming abuse and the spiteful loneliness at the heart of toxic masculinity. Within this framework is where “Colossal” really shines.
A kaiju movie that looks beyond its silly premise to explore something more grounded in reality. A painful, virulent reality that isn’t meant to be endured and dealt with, but destroyed and crushed.
Director: James Mangold
Writers: Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green
Cinematography: John Mathieson
Composer: Marco Beltrami
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, and Dafne Keen
In the annals of history, “Logan” will certainly go down as one of the best comic-book films of all time. There’s even a decent case to be made that it is the greatest comic book movie ever made. This is all due to its incredibly unique flare.
2017 is the year that blockbusters went through the shredder and “Logan” is no different. The movie is exceedingly violent, giving the character of Wolverine the viciousness his powers have always deserved, but his broken body and weakened healing factor make him into a much more reserved, frightened and sympathetic character than he’s ever been before.
This goes for the other characters too as we see Sir Patrick Stewart give his best performance as Professor Xavier ever, turning the character into the vision of hope of the film while also turning the character on his head as he is addled by seizures and Alzheimer’s.
The breakout performance of “Logan” is Dafne Keen, who plays the young Laura, a mutant whose powers are very similar to Logan’s. Keen’s Laura is brooding and filled with rage, but her determination and offish attitude masks a young girl desperate for a place where she can feel peace, something she has never had.
“Logan” is equal parts guilt and hope, it’s all about regaining your humanity in a world plagued and thirsting off violence. While violence is necessary in the world “Logan” places itself in, the entire movie focuses on getting to a place of peace. This story of passing the torch from an older mentor to a young girl is one of the most entertaining, but emotionally-rich superhero movies of all time.
6. “Lady Bird”
Director: Greta Gerwig
Writer: Greta Gerwig
Cinematography: Sam Levy
Composer: Jon Brion
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothee Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, and Jordan Rodrigues
”Lady Bird” is a fantastic coming-of-age film. Filled with fantastic humor, quirky characters, and the lovely setting of Sacramento, “Lady Bird” is already a fantastic movie just based on those individual merits alone, but add in Greta Gerwig in her directorial debut and somehow “Lady Bird” becomes something else entirely.
“Lady Bird” is enriched by the gaze of female director, massively improved by her eye for what makes Lady Bird’s (Saoirse Ronan) story so important and moving. The film also is subtly based on Gerwig’s relationship with her mother when she was growing up.
“Lady Bird” is all about growing pains and specifically focuses on the relationship of children to parents. Lady Bird and her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) are in a constant battle with each other to understand the other’s point of view, but their ability to scream at each other and then embrace feels like the symbol of parent-child relationships that so many other movies fail to capture.
The pains of heartbreak, failure and self-discovery are all at play in “Lady Bird,” but Gerwig is able to balance so much of it as being never too funny and never too dismal. An early break-up is easily one of the funniest sight gags in the movie due to its shock, but is just as sad when you see how betrayed Lady Bird feels. This is a sign not only of good things to come from Gerwig, but hopefully from the industry as a whole in the hopes we can see more directorial work from women to see how their voices can improve the art of film.
5. “The Florida Project”
Director: Sean Baker
Writers: Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch
Cinematography: Alexis Zabe
Composer: Lorne Balfe
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Brooklyn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, and Caleb Landry Jones
The spirit and joy of a child is indestructible, no matter what life they’re forced into. This is the main force driving “The Florida Project,” the newest project from writer-director Sean Baker. Set in the outskirts of Walt Disney World, the film tells the story of Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her friend’s adventures during summer vacation. “The Florida Project” holds within it all the joy and spirit needed to bring 2017 out of the absolute slump of real life.
All this is thanks to the genuine performances of the children in the movie who feel so real that “The Florida Project” may as well be considered a documentary. They are filled with spirit, passion and a constant sense of adventure even despite the difficulty of their impoverished lives. Not to mention the film also has an incredible performance from Willem Dafoe, who embodies the character of Bobby as though he was born into it.
Bobby is the perfect example of a truly selfless person, he consistently goes out of his way to protect the guests of his motel even when he gets very little credit, or he is hated for it. Towards the end the film is less about the joy of children’s spirits and more about their capacity for resilience in the face of adversity and their capacity for strength that some adults aren’t even capable of conjuring. If there’s anything we needed in 2017, it’s a reminder that the downtrodden are too often ignored, that even the smallest moments of joy should be cherished and that kindness will always prevail.
4. “The Big Sick”
Director: Michael Showalter
Writers: Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani
Cinematography: Brian Burgoyne
Composer: Michael Andrews
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupham Kher, and Zenobia Shroff
Kumail Nanjiani is one of our best comedic performers today, but “The Big Sick” proves his incredible range as he tackles the difficulties of interracial dating.
Based on the actual story of the early years of his relationship with his current wife, Nanjiani and Gordon (his wife) have immortalized their fascinating and heartwarming story on the big screen. “The Big Sick” is so good because it shows how a tired and easily forgettable genre, like romantic comedy, can be revitalized when provided with a new cultural viewpoint to stem off of.
Many of the film’s best parts come from how difficult it is for Nanjiani to commit to the relationship because of his family’s thoughts on how marriage is supposed to be. “The Big Sick” is not just about the struggles of falling in love, but also the ways in which we disappoint our parents, but how their love for us never really dies. “The Big Sick” is all about our relationships and how they define us, but from a cultural perspective that puts it in a class all its own.
3. “Blade Runner 2049”
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Hampton Fancher and Michael Green
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Composers: Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Dave Bautista, and Jared Leto
Villeneuve is already known as a master filmmaker and Roger Deakins is already considered the best cinematographer of all time. So it’s really no surprise that “Blade Runner 2049” is a technical marvel filled to the brim with visual spectacles the likes of which you’ve never seen before.
It’s characters are quiet and diminutive while also commanding and carrying scenes. The movie brings up questions of humanity and the soul not just in the role of its robot characters, but in the form of artificial intelligence as well. It’s about the way our dreams define us and our roles in society.
“Blade Runner 2049” is blockbuster film-making as high art. It’s not content to fill our screens and entice our eyes with simple action, but goes for truly arresting imagery. “2049” isn’t interested in tying the loose ends of its 1982 predecessor, but instead focuses on a story of modern day times. A story of people lost in the slog of their lonely, daily lives. More than anything “2049” is about the power of choices and how it doesn’t really matter if something has a soul, its ability to choose is all that matters, and that the ability to choose against what you’ve been ordered to do is the most human thing of all.
“Blade Runner 2049” is the kind of movie that not only offers up a thrilling narrative, but is also visually beautiful for almost every frame of its run-time and asks really impressive philosophical questions. It’s the kind of film that needs championing because we deserve more blockbusters that strive to be at this level of quality.
2. “Your Name”
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Writer: Makoto Shinkai
Cinematography: Makoto Shinkai
Starring: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi, Masami Nagasawa, Etsuko Ichihara, Ryo Narita, Aoi Yuki, and Kanon Tani
Makoto Shinkai is the next Hayao Miyazaki and his newest film, “Your Name,” is evidence of that. “Your Name” is a quirky little movie about two high school students from different parts of Japan who find they are inexplicably switching bodies every day. The film lulls you into a false sense of security before its consequences explode and the movie becomes something else entirely. “Your Name” is so much more than a beautifully animated version of “Freaky Friday.” It’s a film about love, gender, heroism, the irreversible pain of tragedy, and the importance of appreciating ritual. The strength is in its message about love and how some love is so powerful that nothing in the world can tear you apart, but it also dips a bit into how men could sometimes benefit if we let our more feminine side take over and vice versa. This message of love and cooperation makes “Your Name” one of the most exciting, beautiful, and hopeful stories of 2017. Shinkai certainly has what it takes to be the next king of anime.
1. “Get Out”
Director: Jordan Peele
Writer: Jordan Peele
Cinematography: Toby Oliver
Composer: Michael Abels
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Catherine Keener, Lakeith Stanfield, and Lil Rel Howery
”Get Out” is the movie of 2017. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is a delicious mix of horror, satire and psychological thriller. It’s a movie so influential that just its concepts are now part of the national conversation, especially the term of The Sunken Place.
Peele takes the uncomfortable small instances of racism that black people experience when in a group of white people by showing how it hides a deeper, darker side of both obsession and hate. “Get Out” is less about a backwoods KKK kind of racist and more about the uppercrust racists. The type of people who publicly love black people, but only the ones that fall in line with their rules. Only if they act white.
This metaphor makes for a delightfully terrifying movie, but one that has much more to say about the status of our world that other movies of its kind. “Get Out” uses these social issues to create a piece of visual storytelling that is both easy to follow but is filled to the brim with a mythos all its own. In a political climate plagued by fascism and neo-nazism, “Get Out” feels like the movie designed to call out the evil and transgressive nature behind even the smallest and most unrecognized acts of racism. “Get Out” is not only one of the brightest horror movies of 2017, but of all time.