This year I saw over one hundred films, and of all the films I saw this year, these are the best of the bunch. This year’s film where funny, surprising, exciting, emotional, saddening, and inspiring.
As always, it’s hard for me to see everything, as films such as The Post have not yet screened in my area, and I was unable to watch Twin Peaks: The Return prior to the end of the year. There’s also films such as Silence, Paterson, A Monster Calls, and Patriot’s Day, which were 2016 films that I was unable to see until 2017 and do not qualify for my list.
The most shocking thing about this year is the fact that I could easily make a top fifty list of the year’s best films. There was such a magnitude of great quality, but I narrowed it down to ten. Here are the forty runners up for the best of the year, listed in no particular order.
Honorable Mentions- The Top Forty Runners Up
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes
The Lost City of Z
John Wick: Chapter 2
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
The Florida Project
The Shape of Water
A Ghost Story
The Big Sick
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Goodbye Christopher Robin
The Disaster Artist
The Greatest Showman
It Comes at Night
Battle of the Sexes
All the Money in the World
Win It All
Jumani: Welcome to the Jungle
These are the top ten best film of 2017.
- Darkest Hour
Telling the story of one of history’s greatest leaders is a daunting task, and Darkest Hour is a much more thoughtful look at Winston Churchill than one might expect. Its historical electricity is apparent from the beginning, conveying a sense of urgency from the beginning, and giving a multilayered look at the different struggles that Churchill faced, from political squabbles and the threat of losing office to the potential domination of Europe by the Nazis. Darkest Hour feels like an electric thriller without having to show the conflict, yet it still legitimizes all sides of Britain’s leadership.
Yet, the greatest strength is naturally Churchill himself, and Gary Oldman simultaneously humanizes Churchill as a man while also establishing the reasons for his legacy. Oldman nails Churchill’s mannerisms, giving rousing speeches and outbursts, yet also having time to have a thoughtful moment with a crowd of citizens or his young secretary, played by a remarkable Lily James. There’s also a humor and wit to Churchill, and the film understands the importance of giving those moments of humility and vulnerability to his character. Darkest Hour is perhaps the best onscreen representation of Churchill ever, and Oldman has rarely ever been more convicting.
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a movie that generates empathy, a beautiful compromise between gritty realism and a Fargo-inspired quirkiness that generates moments of beauty amidst an otherwise unforgiving world. It’s a tragic two-parter, following Frances McDormand as a grieving mother who channels her frustration and hatred into a peculiar form of activism, and Sam Rockwell’s prejudiced and utterly pathetic police officer trying to find meaning, and perhaps redemption, in his life.
It’s a beautiful story, mixed with a fair share of dark humor and memorably odd moments, with an ending that ends the film on a perfectly ambiguous note that never compromises the film’s moral arguments about justice and law. It walks a fine line between being too dreary or insensitive in the material it presents, but Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a memorable and rewarding experience that offers insight into where we’re at, and what we might become.
- I, Tonya
I, Tonya is about the media scandal that rocked ‘90s America, but it’s about so much more than the shocking true story of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. It’s a film about a woman suffering all types of abuse- physical, mental, and psychological, and in 2017 the film makes Tonya Harding into a strange sort of tragic character. It’s as black as comedies get, detailing how a woman’s life was ruined by her obsessive mother and the world’s dumbest criminals, and the use of voiceover and an incredible soundtrack both highlight the incredible things that actually happen and dampen the pain of seeing these event unfold.
Margot Robbie has proven to be a force of charisma, but has never gotten a role as dynamic as this. Robbie finds the tragedy in the situation, but also never makes the character fully likeable despite the in depth exploration of her upbringing. Sebastian Stan and Allison Janney are both brilliant as completely despicable scumbags, and the film makes sure that we’re laughing at them, not with them. I, Tonya is the type of biopic that engages with ideas more than events, and delivers a thorough character study of all the players in a media scandal that would seem minor in 2017.
Logan is the best comic book film since 2008’s The Dark Knight, a perfect end to Hugh Jackman’s seventeen-year odyssey as Wolverine. The brilliance of Logan is that it tells the superhero story that you never see, which is the end of the story, the acceptance of fate, and living with consequences of actions. These are questions that comic book films rarely ask, and director James Mangold wears his western influences on his sleeve, drawing form Unforgiven and True Grit to create a gritty, post-apocalyptic future that’s stripped of the formula and cleanliness of modern blockbusters.
When the violence comes, it’s brutal and to a point, and while the villains facing Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine may leave something to be desired, Wolverine’s villain here is himself, his uncompromising nature, and his past, and Hugh Jackman gives the character a heartbreaking sense of loss, be it his literal friends or his sense of purpose. Logan is the best sort of standalone film, with the stakes being personal, and a third act consisting of trying to save a little girl’s fate, not stopping a CGI villain from taking over the world. Despite its stylistic differences, the franchise has never done the character of Wolverine better, and Logan is the comic book film that transcends its label and becomes a great film period.
- Last Flag Flying
Richard Linklater’s film adopt a quality in which they feel like they are a product of their characters’ perspective; Dazed in Confused sees the world through the eyes of a teenager, Everybody Wants Some does the same from the perspective of a college freshman, as does the Before films for a couple in different stages of their relationship. Last Flag Flying is perhaps his most mature film to date, and the story of three veterans who’ve gone their separate ways yet still haunted by their service is both enlightening and quietly meditative.
Steve Carrell gives a truly heartbreaking performance not seen since Casey Affleck’s turn in Manchester by the Sea, and while the film has some of the most difficult to watch scenes of the year to watch, the breaks in tension filled with pure, unfiltered comedy are truly hilarious in an uncomfortably honest way. The film’s meditations on the meaning of war are pointed yet subtle, and the dramatic conclusions are emotional while not evoking any feeling other than investment in the story. It’s a quiet and unflashy portrayal of war, giving light to those felt abandoned and those seeking more.
Christopher Nolan has made better films than Dunkirk, but he’s never been more in his element than he is with this. The film evokes excitement, fear, and emotion with little to no words, showcasing a visceral level of brutality and beauty that few war films manage to reach. Hans Zimmer’s beautiful score highlights the confusion and conflict of one of history’s largest military operations, never breaking into a cliché or inaccuracy; there’s no scene of soldiers sitting around a campfire talking about their lives, nor is there a moment that feels added to evoke an emotion not felt by those who served on that fateful day in the 1940s.
Nolan has been unfairly criticized for his characterization, yet Dunkirk shows his ability to make emotionally satisfying moments through visual storytelling. Moments like watching the civilian boats arrive on Dunkirk harbor, or watching Kenneth Branagh’s General wait on the dock for the French soldiers to escape are more powerful without words, and Nolan understands that there are moments that only the medium of film can produce. As the film concludes with Tom Hardy’s pilot descending through the sky and landing behind enemy lines, Zimmer’s score surrounds the beautiful sunlight on the beach where thousands died. It’s a wonderful moment in a film full of wonderful moments, and one of the most complete and immersive war films ever made.
- Call Me By Your Name
Summer love and forbidden desires have never felt purer than they do in Call Me By Your Name, an exquisite portrait of passion and time, set in the scenic Italy of summer 1983. It’s a film fueled not by dramatic confrontations or over exaggerated emotions, but reflections on the passing of time seen through simple storytelling. It’s not the physical events here, but the subtle nuances in the actors’ performances and the use of musical cues that string together the film’s character development.
Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer have chemistry to spare; Chalamet is vulnerable and understated in a way that few young actors, or actors period, allow themselves to be, and Hammer brings his standard charisma to a character of challenging qualities. It’s a bittersweet, often touching, and emotionally exhausting experience, and Call Me By Your Name doesn’t just encourage that the variety of emotions felt are important, but they are the essence of youth that we all desperately strive for.
- Lady Bird
Being a teenager really sucks, and Lady Bird understands that better than most. It’s not only one of the more accurate portrayals of parental relationships, teenage love, and college searching, but it’s also really damn funny, finding all of the awkward, weird, and shocking moments in a teenager’s final year of high school. Greta Gerwig doesn’t miss any moments of the teenage experience, and the specific nature of a young girl at a Catholic high school is obviously personal, and feels all the more disarmingly accurate because it feels so auto-biographical.
Of course, none of this would work in any way without the work by Saoirse Ronan. Ronan feels like somebody that everyone knew or were in high school, and her earnest yet active performance is full of moments of pure accuracy, from receiving her college letters to her continuously ridiculous romantic entanglements. Each character, while filling out a stereotype, elevates their role to remind you of someone you once knew, and each performance goes beneath the skin level, from the boy in the band to the strict teacher. It’s a movie that celebrates real people, finding the wit in the highlights of a particularly interesting, but not unique experience.
- Baby Driver
Baby Driver is a full blown celebration of cinema that’s so earnest and creative that it feels almost shocking that it was made in 2017. The film has a lot of great jokes, but the film itself isn’t; after years of brilliant genre parodies, Edgar Wright created his sincerest movie to date, combining moments of simple, yet effective emotional resonance with a self-confidence in the film’s own idiosyncratic qualities. It’s a merging of the elemental character archetypes that Marlon Brando and Audrey Hepburn might have played seventy years ago, with the most well drawn out and perfectly synced set pieces of the year.
There’s a joy to how perfect the film’s composition is, with each moment perfectly choreographed to evoke and awe and entertainment. The soundtrack could’ve easily been a gimmick, but it’s so perfectly incorporated into the film’s unrelenting pace that it feels so critical to its identity. Beyond the Twin Peaks inspired romance of Ansel Elgort and Lily James, each character is full of wonderful and tender moments, from Jon Hamm’s unstable hitman to Kevin Spacey Christopher Plummer’s big-hearted gangster. It’s refreshing to see a film so classically charming yet so refreshingly modern, and there’s something quite moving about seeing old and new Hollywood sensibilities brought together by one of cinema’s modern geniuses.
- Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner 2049 did the impossible- it topped perfect. The impact of 1982’s sci-fi noir Blade Runner cannot be overstated, but Denis Villenueve’s sequel elevates every quality that the original possessed and expands the immersive world of replicants and humans. The noir element is evermore present, channeling old Hollywood mystery elements alongside Hans Zimmer’s experimental and powerful score with the cinematography of Roger Deakins, which may very well be the greatest to ever grace the silver screen.
Yet, Blade Runner 2049’s best quality is also the original deepest flaw, which is its wonderful characters and emotional climaxes. Everything, from Ana de Armas’s first time in the rain to Ryan Gosling’s constant wrestling with his identity, is impactful and compelling, and the constant discussion of what life means and the way it impacts each character is a conversation the film never finishes- nor should it. The film’s moments with Harrison Ford at the denouement of the story are emotional on a level that I didn’t know films could reach, and for all of its groundbreaking technical achievements, the look on Ford’s face is the most significant byproduct of its own perfection.