The 25 Best Films of 2017 (kinda)
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for this site, part of that is just life getting in the way but most of it has just been not sitting down and trying to write things. Plus now that the Oscars are over and done with the film year is well and truly over. So now its a new year, and in that spirit I’m choosing to look forward by looking back. It has been a really truly great year for film, both when it came to the blockbusters and the smaller movies. While I may not have seen as much as I wish I had,what I did see blew me away. This year saw veterans performing at the top of their games, newcomers making big splashes, a lot of sequels that smashed the idea that sequels can’t be creative, and original ideas that continued to show why film is my favorite artistic medium. The list I’ve put together consists of the 25 movies that were released in 2017 that I enjoyed the most personally. Yes, its possible you won’t agree with me and I know it’s too focused on American movies, which I am going t try to remedy this year, but I hope it can at least serve as a jumping off point for your own thoughts and discussions on the year in movies. So anyway, without further ado, my picks for the 25 best films of the year. Part 1 covering numbers 25 through 11 comes out today with the top 10 coming in a few days.
25. King Charles III
Directed by Rupert Goold
Based off the acclaimed play by Mike Bartlett, who also wrote the film for the BBC, King Charles III tells the story of a possible future in which Charles, Prince of Wales assumes the British throne. Written entirely in blank verse the story deals with the nature of power, political intrigue, and the freedom of the press. Anchored by a captivating performance by Tim Pigott-Smith in the titular role who’s every moment conveys the weight of a thousand years of history and the immense responsibility of the title he holds. Combine that with an excellent score by Jocelyn Pook and an engrossing story lead to a film well worth seeing, even if it was made for TV.
24. Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2
Directed by James Gunn
The sequel to one of my favorite movies of 2014 and one of the best Marvel movies was always going to have its work cut out for it. It was always going to be hard to succeed at capturing the same sense of humor and fun that so defines the first Guardians film. While Volume 2 never quite reaches the same comedic heights of its predecessor what it sacrifices in comedy it makes up for in thematic heft. Writer-director James Gunn manages to craft perhaps this years most affecting exploration of fatherhood and family dynamics, well at least in the context of a film in which there is a talking raccoon. The visuals are spectacular and were it not for another movie on this list, they would be the best in the Marvel universe. Gunn’s writing and solid eye for visuals combined with a standout performance by Michael Rooker as Yondu create a movie that not only builds on the original but can stand on its own as movie well worth seeing.
23. Logan Lucky
Directed by Steve Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh’s NASCAR heist-comedy film is one of those films that managed to sneak under the radar this year, and it’s really too bad. Soderbergh is one of the most interesting filmmakers working in Hollywood today and this movie really shows it. Featuring one of Channing Tatum’s best performances and Daniel Craig is perhaps his funniest role ever, Logan Lucky is at its core just a really fun film. It is entertaining, funny, and at one pivotal moment very emotional. The direction is tight and efficient, and is welcome change of location from the New York City and Los Angeles settings of so many of America’s films. The movie doesn’t quite stick the landing but the ride there is so much fun you probably wont mind.
22. Baby Driver
Directed by Edgar Wright
That this is probably Edgar Wrights worst film as a director says something about how excellent his career has been. But even if it isn’t his best effort this movie is still a blast, it features some of the most creative editing of the year and demonstrates why Wright is one of the most talented visual stylists working in cinema today. The standout performance of the film is Jon Hamm in some of his best film work to date as the villain. Throw in some excellent car chases and the best soundtrack of the year, and you can’t really go wrong. For even more on my thoughts check out my review of it here.
21. Molly’s Game
Directed by Aaron Sorkin
Aaron Sorkin had always said that he had no interest in directing so when he was announced as the director of Molly’s Game I was cautiously optimistic. It turns out Aaron Sorkin is a perfectly competent director, and while his direction doesn’t add much to the film it does the most important thing, it gets out of the way of the writing. This is one of Sorkin’s best scripts, and it is brought to life beautifully by the actors Sorkin has rounded up. Jessica Chastain is incredible in the lead role, bringing a tenacity and fierceness to the role that drives the movie. Idris Alba is also great as Chastain’s sparring partner in some of the best scenes. While it may not be as good as some of what Sorkin has previously penned it does show a lot of promise for what he may do in the future as a director, and hopefully he can build off this very strong debut.
20. Wonder Woman
Directed by Patty Jenkins
The only good DC movie also happens to be the only woman lead film from this current superhero movie boom, who would have thought? Wonder Woman shows what happens when you allow differing viewpoints into the superhero genre, creating a hero that succeeds because of her femininity and warmth. Yes the third act could have used some work and it is unfortunate that the ending is yet another boring battle against a CGI enemy but even that isn’t enough to dull my love for this movie. It was so refreshing to see a superhero movie with a female protagonist in a genre that could do with more women. While Chris Pine turns in a strong performance as Steve Trevor this is really Gal Gadot’s film. She is perfect as Diana of Themyscira and turns in a performance so full of power, warmth, and nuance that creates the definitive on screen portrayal of an iconic character. Combined with some strong use of color and very strong direction from director Patty Jenkins this movie was the shot in the arm that the DC film universe needed . I look forward with bated breath for not only the sequel but to what else Jenkins and Gadot do in the future.
19. All The Money In The World
Directed by Ridley Scott
At 80 years old Ridley Scott remains one of the hardest working people in Hollywood releasing 2 films in 2017, including one of his best films in a while. It’s a miracle All The Money In The World was released at all, with reshoots done just weeks before its release to replace Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer after it came out that Spacey was a sexual predator. While having to replace a main character in a movie might have caused the studio to shelve it indefinitely Scott replaced him with Christopher Plummer, who turns in an excellent performance as oil tycoon J.P Getty. However, the real star of the film is Michelle Williams who continues to show why she is one of the best actors in the game today, turning a performance that is at turns heartbreaking, gritty, and inspiring as the mother of the kidnapped John Paul Getty III. Combined with all of the great acting is some of Scott’s most deft directing, taking what could have been a rote based-on-a-true-story movie and turning it into a taut, tightly paced thriller.
18. The Square
Directed by Ruben Östlund
Although this follow up to Force Majeur never quite reaches the same heights, The Square is at its best moments hilarious and insightful. The rare satire on the art world that manages to be funny and thoughtful with out becoming too overbearing and smug. The main reason for that, Claes Bang who stars as the curator of a Stockholm art museum, who’s performance is spectacularly funny as well as delightfully cringe worthy. It helps that he is given excellent sparring partners, especially Elisabeth Moss as a journalist who’s relationship with with Bang becomes more and more complicated as the film goes on. Östlund directs the film with style, executing several tremendous set pieces that flow together brilliantly and lead to some of the most cutting moments in the film. It’s not hard to see why this film won the Palm d’Or at Cannes.
17. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Directed by Jon Watts
The best film made this year that has six credited screenwriters, the more I think about it the more I am shocked that this movie works. While the workman directing of Jon Watts never lets the movie down, it never really elevates it. No, what does make this movie truly work is the two performances at its core, Tom Holland as Spider-Man and Michael Keaton as the Vulture. Holland is perfect as a Peter Parker just getting his start and absolutely crushes it in one of the best turns as the main role in a Spider-Man movie. In Keaton the MCU gets one of its few great villains and his role contributes to the films rather small scope and tone, refreshing in a series which often seems like it can’t figure out how to raise the stakes. Even though the film chronically under uses Marisa Tomei, its endearing tone, smart comedy, and strong performances make this an auspicious debut to a new Spider-Man series. For a deeper dive into my thoughts, check out my review here.
16. The Post
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Yes, it isn’t Spielberg’s best work, and yes it is a bit sentimental but at this time what is there more appropriate to be sentimental about than the First Amendment. I have always considered Spielberg to be one of the best working practitioners of a quintessentially American style of film, and his talent is on display here. It’s so rewarding to watch a movie where everything just works, where everything just fits together perfectly. Spielberg’s directing perfectly compliments the excellent acting from the always perfect Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. This is the rare Spielberg film that features a woman as the lead, and shows that maybe he should be doing it more. It’s not Spielberg’s most ambitious film but even considering that he knocks it out of the park.
15. Thor: Ragnarok
Directed by Taika Waititi
While I enjoyed the first Thor movie, directed by Kenneth Branagh, the second film is widely regarded as a low point in the MCU, a view I agree with. It was with that in mind that I hoped that the third film, directed by New Zealand indie darling Taika Waititi, would mark a new direction for the character. In Ragnarok Taika Waititi embraces the weird and cosmic nature of the hero from the comics and injects psychedelic visuals and whip-smart humor to create a film worthy of the Norse god of thunder. Everyone brings their A-game to this movie, Chris Hemsworth finally gets a film that allows him to demonstrate why he was such a good choice to play Thor. However the best performance belongs to Cate Blanchett who absolutely devours every single scene she is in, so much so that you find yourself wishing that she had even more to do. Visually the film is stunning and any film that features two perfect “Immigrant Song” needle drops is fine by me. Here’s hoping that Waitit gets even more chances to stretch his creative muscles for Marvel in the future.
14. The Shape of Water
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
The Shape of Water is not Guillermo del Toros best film, but it might be his most heartfelt. Building on the entirety of his career, it’s easy to see The Shape of Water as the culmination of all the work he has done before. The story of a mute woman, played brilliantly by Sally Hawkings, who falls in love with a mysterious humanoid amphibian held at a secret government facility during the Cold War is clearly a work of love by del Toro. The film is beautiful with striking sets and lush cinematography. While it is a simple film, a clear allegory told in a fairy tale manner, it is perhaps the best example this year that it’s not just what a film is about but how it is about it. Sally Hawkins is the true core of this film, doing so much acting with merely a look and giving the film its emotional core. She is buoyed by the tremendous supporting roles, with some incredible acting from Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, and Michael Shannon. It’s not my favorite film of the year, but it is a worthy Best Picture winner, and indicative of the great place we are in for films that a strange, small, romantic fantasy film can win Best Picture. I can only hope that this Best Picture win allows del Toro to make even more beautiful, personal films like this.
13. War For The Planet Of The Apes
Directed by Matt Reeves
For all the curve balls that the Planet of the Apes series has thrown at us, the final film throws perhaps the largest, turning the film into a smaller scale, more character driven examination of the effects of war. The Planet of the Apes films have quietly been one of the most consistently great summer blockbuster series and this movie serves the a more than fitting send off to the trilogy. Once again Andy Serkis delivers one of his best performances as Caesar, the leader of the community of apes we have followed throughout this series. The effects are at their best here, with the apes being almost indistinguishable from the real thing. But perhaps the most remarkable thing is the way that Matt Reeves captures the humanity and emotion from all of his characters, even the villains. At its core this is simply a great blockbuster film created by a group of artists all working at the top of their game.
12. The Big Sick
Directed by Michael Showalter
The Big Sick is the rare film that is based on a true story, written by the people who lived that true story, and stars one of those same people that actually manages to be good. Based on Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s real life story of their relationship, including its untimely interruption by Emily falling into a coma. Heartfelt, romantic, funny, and immensely emotional, this a film that depends so much on its brilliant Oscar nominated screenplay from Gordon and Nanjiani. Michael Showalter does the right thing and gets out of the way of the actors and the screenplay, and it’s easy to see why because everyone does such a good job with the excellent material they are given. Between Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter, and of course Kumail Nanjiani himself. This is one of the best romantic comedies in recent memory and the rare Judd Apatow film that doesn’t feel like it over stays its welcome. I genuinely believe this one of the romantic comedies that will stand the test of time, and join several other canonical films in the pantheon of great romantic comedies.
Directed by James Mangold
Logan is a masterpiece, a film that represents some of the heights that are possible in not just comic book movies but also in the blockbuster franchise in general. Building on Hugh Jackman’s 17 year career portraying Wolverine, Logan brings the full force of that history to bear. Right alongside Jackman is Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier who also brings a deep sense of history to the film. Logan is at its core a heavy, dark, and grim film, and yet what helps set it apart from other grim and gritty comic book movies is it’s hope. Logan is a film that finds the hope and humanity in its two main characters amid their own despair and pain. The action is brutal and bloody, and this is contrasted with its small, quiet moments especially those between Wolverine and Dafne Keens’ X-23. It’s only fitting that the last movie to feature Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is probably the best X-men movie. I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to end his tenure as Wolverne. Logan is a genre defining film that will serve as touchstone for comic book films for years to come.
That’s it for now, it’s good to be back. Check back in a few days for part 2 of my top 25 favorite films of 2017.