Putting together a top 10 list for 2017 has proven harder than any other year that I’ve been doing these lists. Filmgoers and genre fans were absolutely inundated with great movies this year. The Dramedy had a strong showing this year, horror across budgets big and small hit hard with scares and thought provoking themes, Superhero movies continued to show us something new, action movies brought the exciting thrills, dramas brought history and emotion to wrecnhing life and Sci-Fi continued to be the go-to genre for a combination of thrills and new ideas. There was truly something for everyone this year, so I decided to cheat and share with you my top 25 films of 2017, because I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least tip my hat to so many wonderful films I saw this year. But before we get to the good, let’s go over some bad!
The Worst of the Year: These are the most irredeemably bad films I watched this year:
1) mother! – A pretentious director indulging his worst pretentious instincts. While you’ll leave the theatre with something to talk about, this is a boring unfocused mess of bible references and mother nature allegories that go absolutely nowhere. Many great performances are wasted on this plotless nonsense.
2) Justice League – A testament to everything that’s wrong with big budget studio blockbuster filmmaking. A forgettable story, rushed plotting, bored performances and appallingly bad CGI and special effects make this trash feel like the great Wonder Woman was a total fluke. I didn’t see the latest Transformers abomination, so Justice League takes this spot by default.
3) Impossible Horror – Far be it from me to shit on a small independent film that was clearly made my passionate filmmakers just starting out their careers. While the film shows some stylistic promise, this bizarre mish-mash of style over substance goes absolutely nowhere and makes no sense. A glorified demo reel for the filmmakers that somehow got made into a feature length music video and secured a festival release. Nearly unwatchable.
Most Disappointing: These films aren’t necessarily bad with a capital B, but fell victim to dishonest or overly revealing marketing and some baffling decisions by the filmmakers. These films still have things to recommend about them, and are actually worth seeing with your expectations in check.
1) Alien Covenant – As an unabashed Alien fanboy, I wanted to so love this movie, and left the theatre with mixed feelings questioning why Ridley Scott would make some of the ridiculous decisions he made with this film. Far too much of the plot hinges on the carelessness and silly decisions made by an inept crew. It is thrilling, packed with cool set pieces, and beautiful to look at, but the doubling down of Prometheus’ fortune cookie philosophy also drags the pacing down. Also, why the hell are crucial plot scenes only available on YouTube instead of the actual film?
2) Atomic Blonde – Some incredible action sequences can’t save this convoluted and boring mess of a spy thriller that emphasizes far too much style over substance. Want to see some female action hero ass kicking? Check out number 8 on my top 10 instead!
3) Beauty and the Beast – Creepy looking CGI characters, musical performances that are worse than the original, and poor acting? This film is a mess that will just make you wish you were watching the original animated film instead. Completely unnecessary.
4) The Darkest Hour – Gary Oldman’s performance in this film was absolutely spectacular (he’s going to likely win an Oscar for it) and the film is stylish enough, but the dry pacing and lack of real insight makes it at best a companion piece to Christopher Nolan’s far superior Dunkirk.
5) Good Time – The best of the films on this particular list, Robert Pattinson gives the best performance of his career in this crime thriller modeled after other “everything is going wrong” thrillers like Dog Day Afternoon. It’s just a shame that the pacing is slow, the story doesn’t really go anywhere, and the characters are all irredeemable and unsympathetic scumbags. You can make a great crime thriller with these elements of course, but this one disappointingly settles into barely “good” when it clearly aspires to be more.
And now… The best of the year!
25) Thor Ragnarok – A fun but ultimately inconsequential addition to the Marvel Canon, made better by Taika Waititi’s comic sensibilities. Fantastic soundtrack.
24) Trench 11 – A tiny little indie that I saw at Toronto After Dark. Set in a barricaded underground trench in World War I, this creepy and effective thriller sees our heroes and villains battle a viral monster with shades of John Carpenter’s The Thing. Tense, claustrophobic, with a sharp and dark sense of humor.
23) Split – James McAvoy completely and utterly knocks it out of the park in this compelling thriller that signals the comeback of M. Night Shyamalan. Just weird enough to be off-putting, smart enough to not insult your intelligence, and fun enough to be pretty unforgettable. That twist at the end was spectacular!
22) Happy Death Day – A clever subversion of horror tropes through the lens of a repeating Groundhog Day style plot framework. Loads of fun and unpredictable.
21) War for the Planet of the Apes – Doesn’t quite live up to the genius that was the previous “Dawn”, but “War” remains a very well-acted and emotionally affecting action/drama. Still the standard bearer for CGI acting performances, especially Andy Serkis’ astonishing work as Caesar.
20) Blade Runner 2049 – The intellectual themes of the film somewhat exceed its grasp, and the film is bogged down with far too much sluggish pacing and shots of Ryan Gosling longingly staring at things. On the flip side, when it hits, it hits hard, supported by excellent peformances, set design, and a satisfying plot line. This would have been ten spots higher with 20 unnecessary minutes trimmed out.
19) Wonder Woman – Loads of fun anchored by a fantastic Gal Gadot performance, Wonder Woman nevertheless stumbles at the end with a cliché and weightless CGI battle against a generic villain. The journey to get there is the most fun a DC movie has been in ages.
18) Star Wars The Last Jedi – Much like Blade Runner, this film was a highly anticipated Sci-Fi fantasy that in its attempts to please everyone, stretched itself too thin at the expense of its pacing and succinct storytelling. Certainly a good film that promises an exciting direction to come for the series, I simply wished it was more focused on fewer plot threads.
17) John Wick Chapter 2 – A simply superb and thrilling action film that would be guaranteed a spot in my top 10 any other year. Keanu Reeves in his 50s has officially cemented himself as one of the all-time great action heroes.
16) Lady Bird – Here’s where things go from really good to truly excellent. Saoirse Ronan gives a spectacular performance as a high school senior just starting to find her place in the world and amongst her own family. Anyone who remembers the highs and lows of being a teenager will relate to this touching and funny tale.
15) The Big Sick – An equally hilarious and touching tale about falling in love and how difficult that can prove to be when the realities and trials of real life get in the way. The humor straight from the Judd Apatow factory blends together with searing drama to tell a small but affecting true life story about the obstacles we must overcome to find love.
14) Spider-Man Homecoming – Yes, it’s “just” another Marvel movie, but this one reaches some of the greatest heights by dialing back the story to a smaller, digestible scale and a tighter focus. Tom Holland is great as a teenage Peter Parker, but Michael Keaton steals the show as the best villain in the MCU yet. Robert Downey Jr. keeps the external universe building light and palatable. After a detour into mediocre-town with the “Amazing Spider-Man” series, it’s great to have our favorite web-slinger back.
13) Wind River – A searing and powerful drama about a murdered aboriginal woman and the joint investigation between the FBI and the local reserve police will have you balling your fists with rage while pondering real life issues faced by Native Americans today. Only thing that keeps it form being higher on my list are some valid criticisms about the storytelling being centered more around the white investigators than the actual victims.
12) Brawl in Cell Block 99 – Vince Vaughn convincingly sheds his goofy frat boy persona in this rough and tumble drama with its thumb firmly in the exploitation film pie. The intense gore and somber tone may put some off, but this thriller from the director of the equally sublime “Bone Tomahawk” will hit you in the gut with its bone crunching violence, affecting story, and super dark sense of humor. The opening scene where Vaughn trashes a car with his bare hands shows you what you’re truly in for here, originality and horrific violence.
11) The Disaster Artist – Absolutely hilarious and one of the best movies about making movies to come around in a very long time. James and Dave Franco give astonishing performances, as Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero respectively, as they explore the motivations of one of the most peculiar film making figures of our time as they produce one of the worst films ever made.
10) The Florida Project – No straight drama hit me harder than this pensive and meandering portrait of poverty, set only a mile away from Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Florida. Willem Dafoe absolutely knocks it out of the park as a sympathetic property manager who does what he can to help his impoverished residents while still protecting the property and interests of the building. However, the film truly belongs to the child actors who continually and joyfully find adventures to go on and reasons to smile as they feast on the scraps of the wealthy tourists passing through, even as the world crumbles around their adult counterparts. It’s a life-affirming gut punch of a movie.
9) It – The best straight Stephen King horror adaptation since The Mist. It’s nice to see big budget horror make a come-back after conceding so much ground to the indies over the past few years. Excellent performances abound in this rock-solid adaptation of half a book that juggles tones of child-like wonder, growing pains, and sheer visceral terror.
8) The Villainess – In a year where Atomic Blonde and John Wick were competing for the action movie crown, leave it to these Korean filmmakers to make them both seem like slow paced dramas about picking blueberries in a vineyard. This bombastic and kinetic action film goes leaps beyond by hiding a complex, emotional and affecting drama at its core. The hyper-energetic editing could have easily tipped over into cheesy territory, but the film manages to keep you in suspense with both its story and its insane long-take action sequences.
7) Logan – The perfect sendoff to one of the most iconic superheroes in film today. The hard-edged pulp approach to Wolverine’s final adventure as we know him was truly the right path to take when you consider that people who were children when Hugh Jackman first donned his Wolverine claws would be pushing 30 and having children of their own. Logan trails only The Dark Knight for emotionally charged superhero action for adults. This is Unforgiven starring mutants, and both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart provide career best performances.
6) Baby Driver – No film this year gave music a more important role and no movie was more fun and exciting to watch than Edgar Wright’s love letter to action films, motown, and crime thrillers. There’s never been anything quite like this, and you’d be letting yourself down to miss it. Some of the best car chases ever put to film sure don’t hurt either. If there was ever a DJ set masquerading as a great movie, this is that movie, humming along both visually and acoustically to the beat of its incredible soundtrack.
5) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri – In a year where so many movies successfully juggled comedic tones with harsh and affecting drama, no film quite juggled those tones better than Three Billboards. Frances McDormand gives her best performance in a career full of them in this film where no character is one dimensional, no motivation is unsympathetic, and there are no easy resolutions to difficult problems. Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell provide rock solid supporting performances that would have collapsed the film in lesser hands.
4) The Shape of Water – What I love about director Guillermo Del Toro is how much he loves his films, characters, and settings. That energy proves infectious in this superbly acted fantasy film for adults, where every last frame pops from the screen and permanently into the viewers mind. Borrowing the uber-dark whimsy from Pan’s Labyrinth, this unique story of an unlikely friendship between a mute janitor and a captive fish-man would likely be the best film of the year if I was making this list any other year. This just might be Del Toro’s masterpiece.
3) Get Out – It’s creepy, it’s hilarious, it’s superbly acted, and few films had more on their mind than this year’s indie darling. A terrifying horror movie that can be digested by those who don’t like horror. Racially charged humor that is not meant to offend, but provoke thought. A simple story at its core that will have you questioning your own position and actions in a world where the lines of race are getting blurred and the right thing to do isn’t always apparent. Jordan Peele has arrived as a fully formed filmmaker right off the starting gate, and Get Out is one of the best movies, horror or otherwise, in years.
2) Coco – It’s Pixar. Is it any surprise that they’ve provided more human characters than any live action film this year? Is it a surprise that the visuals are absolutely stunning? Is it a surprise that they’ve given us a story to inspire joy and sadness in children and adults alike? Is it a surprise that you’ll laugh and cry in equal measure? No, none of those are surprises. What IS surprising is how with over 20 years of producing feature length films, they continue to bring out the most original films time and time again that play the audience’s emotions like a finally tuned Mariachi guitar. Coco is their best since Wall-E and Toy Story 3 and this is the only film that outright squeezed a tear out of my eye this year. A stone-cold masterpiece.
1) Dunkirk – My personal favorite movie of the year because no other film quite combined bold storytelling decisions, historical accuracy, sheer technical film making on a huge scale, and ego-less performances into such a satisfying and thrilling package. Less a linear story and more a collection of chronologically scrambled vignettes that show that even in the face of overwhelming defeat, a combination of small acts of heroism across a broad spectrum of roles can result in a moral victory and the ability to fight another day. Dunkirk posits the theory that victory in war isn’t measured by gained inches on a battlefield, but in working together for survival. Christopher Nolan has always liked playing with time and space with his stories, and nowhere is that tendency more potent than this brilliantly edited and scored masterpiece that juggles a week in the eyes of the soldiers on the beach, a day on the deck of a civilian boat tasked with rescuing the stranded soldiers, and an hour in the cockpits of the brave pilots who provided air cover for the previous two. Nolan is one of the few filmmakers with the talent and clout to take on whatever stories he wants with the budgets they need, and Dunkirk is the culmination of a career of big budget filmmaking done right. This is Nolan’s best film in a career full of masterpieces, and in a great year filled with excellent movies, this was an easy choice for my best film of the year.
Some filmes I have yet to see from this year: The Post, Mudbound, A Ghost Story, Okja, I, Tonya, Molly’s Game, Call me by my Name, Killing of a Sacred Deer, Phantom Thread, Detroit, Battle of the Sexes, Maudie.