I’m not going to waste much time here, since I have a lot of film to talk about, but let me just say something about 2017: it was absolutely god-damn ridiculous. No joke, this might be one of the best years for movies I’ve ever lived through or, at the very least, seen since I started writing about the medium on the internet. The amount of absolutely great (many all-time great) movies released in the last 12 months verged on the insane, and made the formation of such a Top 10 list seem like such a foolish endeavor. I could have had a Top 30 list and still not had enough room to fit everything I loved. That’s how good this year was.
But, hey, I love needless list-making, and I’m a stickler for set rules. Plus I’m lazy, and don’t really want to put the work into writing blurbs for 30 films (though I might publish a separate list of honorable mentions in the coming days — we shall see.) So, instead, I had to go about the painstaking process of whittling down my list to only 10 movies, the cream of the cream of the cream of the crop’s cream, as it were. And by initiating the doctrine of “No Givesies Backsies,” these 10 choices will now remain set in stone. Without further ado, here is my finalized list of the Top 10 films of 2017.
10. The Florida Project
Logic would dictate that the hardest position to decide on a Top 10 list would be the #1 spot…but in my near-decade of writing these lists, I’ve never found that to be the case. No, the hardest one for me has always been the number 10 spot — and that’s never been truer than in my Top 10 movies of 2017 list. There’s literally a dozen (if not more!) films all fighting for inclusion on the list, and the number 10 spot serves as the big gateway to it. For that reason, I think I’ve changed my number 10 pick every week for the past two months. There’s just too many good films.
But, ultimately? I went with Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, a beautiful and devastating drama about life on the poorest end of the poor. A premise like that would seem to lead itself to mawkishness, but it speaks to Baker’s skill as a filmmaker that everything in The Florida Project felt true-to-life, and achingly real in a way that lends itself to the stunning filmmaking at play. The acting from the two unknowns is absolutely unbelievable (especially young Brooklynn Prince in a star-making turn), and Willem Dafoe brings to life one of my favorite film characters in recent years. The Florida Project is a film that destroyed me emotionally, but only in ways that a powerful drama can. And, on that note, the ending is very good and fits the film well — I don’t care what any of you say!
9. War for the Planet of the Apes
Guys. Just…guys. This new Planet of the Apes trilogy is crazy. Never in a million years did I expect a rebooted Planet of the Apes to end my favorite trilogy of the 21st Century so far — but I think it just might be it. Really, the whole thing is a marvel — how director Matt Reeves managed to steer this thing into a deeply powerful, action-packed, wholly cinematic sci-fi masterpiece is beyond me. But with his one-two punch of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes, I completely believe he has. And even though the latter film isn’t quite up to the level of greatness that Dawn was, it’s still bloody great and, more than anything, more ambitious than I ever thought possible. I still can’t believe that Fox gave money to Matt Reeves to make his weird-ass quasi-western mood poem starring Andy Serkis pretending to be a primate. It’s unbelievable that this movie exists, and more unbelievable that it absolutely worked. War for the Planet of the Apes was as fitting an end to this trilogy as I could possibly imagine, and very much cements its status as a blockbuster series we’ll be talking about for decades to come. Plus, Bad Ape. Gotta love that Bad Ape.
8. John Wick: Chapter 2
A good action movie is surprisingly hard to come by these days, what with the world of blockbusters eating up the genre and spitting it back up torn to pieces. The 80’s this is not, and to find a straight-laced, balls-to-the-wall action movie that doesn’t involve someone with superhero powers or magical abilities is, well, quite the challenging task. Except for in February 2017, in which a man by the name of John Wick came to remind us all how invigorating the genre can be. Encapsulating everything a good action movie should be (and a good sequel, for that matter), John Wick’s second turn-at-bat outdid the first in every way. More explosive, dynamic action. A faster-paced plot that never slowed down for even a second. And even more of the batty, silly, but ultimately commendable world-building that makes this entire franchise so unique, even amongst other action movies. John Wick: Chapter 2 is a high water mark for the genre I haven’t seen since the likes of The Raid, and with a more engrossing story to boot. If the original John Wick was the birth of a new action franchise, then John Wick: Chapter 2 served as proof that he was very much here to stay. Bring on John Wick: Chapter 3 — 2019 can’t come fast enough.
7. The Shape of Water
I like Guillermo del Toro a lot, and find most of his movies to be very good (except Hellboy II, which was very fucking great), but he’s not a director that often inspires much passion for me. I can certainly recognize his talents, and appreciate his love of the medium, but even his best stuff (Pan’s Labyrinth, probably) often fails to get an emotional rise out of me. But that very much changes with The Shape of Water, his monster movie love story that is 100% perfect, unfiltered Del Toro. And I pretty much loved it completely. A mesmerizing, magical experience, The Shape of Water is a delight from start to finish. Featuring a whole cast giving fantastic performances (special shout-out to Richard Jenkins, proving how essential he is to any movie he becomes a part of) and boasting some amazing effects (you can always count on Del Toro for that, at least), The Shape of Water has a lot going for it. But like all wonderful movies, it’s how everything coalesces that makes the movie so damn great. And very few movies coalesce as well as The Shape of Water does. It’s my favorite of Del Toro’s work, and a high watermark for his career so far (just let me have that pun, okay? I’m very proud of myself for it.)
6. Your Name
If you want to get technical about it, Your Name is actually a 2016 release, with its initial blockbuster launch occurring all over the world then, including theaters in Los Angeles and New York (for last year’s Oscar qualifications, naturally.) Usually, I’m a stickler for such rules when it comes to making my list…but you know what? Fuck it, Your Name is so fantastic I’m throwing my rules to the side this time around. Regardless of if it is a 2016 or 2017 release, Your Name is a treasure. Funny, exciting, heartwarming, thought-provoking, and absolutely beautiful — Your Name manages to be all these things without even breaking a sweat. And considering how much plot the film ultimately goes through, that’s pretty much a marvel. Your Name is like if Charlie Kaufman decided he wanted to make an anime and, trust me, that’s quite the high compliment. The whole world fell in love with this movie (its made hundreds of millions of dollars, after all), but of course silly Americans and their aversion to Japanese animation failed to pay it much attention. But, hey, their lost. Your Name is a new anime classic, and absolutely should not be missed.
5. The Big Sick
I see a lot of great movies in any given year, but very few of them are so great that they leave me seething with jealousy. A happy seething, mind you (a gleething?), but still just pure, uncut jealousy. Because the only thing I could think about after watching The Big Sick was how Kumali Nanjiani, Emily Gordon, and Michael Showalter just made the perfect modern romantic comedy, and exactly the type of movie I could only dream of making. It’s rare for a filmmaker to so heavily tap into what drives me as a creative, but The Big Sick managed to do that…in addition to being gut-bustingly funny and emotionally satisfying to boot. The Big Sick really has it all, and I can only hope that its success will lead to more films like it down the line. It’s the best Judd Apatow-ian film in years, and that’s including like a decade of the directors own work. And, please, Hollywood — don’t skip on making Kumali Nanjiani a star. After he solidified his talents with this film, the ball is very much in the industry’s court.
4. Lady Bird
A lot of what I wrote above can also be applied to Lady Bird — if not slightly more so, what with the film scoring a rank higher on the list. Lady Bird made me laugh, it made me emotional, it made me awestruck, and most importantly in the film’s favor, it made me reflect on my own life in a way that only a deeply personal, impactful film can. The magic of Lady Bird isn’t in its fabulous performances (though, wow, everyone in that cast) or in its fantastic script (though, wow, Greta Gerwig) or in its great direction (what the fuck were you thinking with that snub shit, Golden Globes?), but in how it manages to impact every single person who sees it. Like every good coming-of-age film, there’s a mix of relatability and nostalgia at play that can elevate the genre at the best of times. I am not a teenage girl from Sacramento who attended a Catholic high school, nor have I ever been one (pretty sure.) But I didn’t have to be in order to find Lady Bird’s story to be achingly, awkwardly, beautifully real. In many ways, I was Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson. Hell, weren’t we all at one point? Many films fail to connect with their viewer in such a powerful way, but Lady Bird does it with ease. And, for that, is one of the best coming-of-age stories ever told.
3. Baby Driver
I am tempted to just insert the “Hocus Focus” foot chase as proof to why Baby Driver is my number 3 film of 2017, but even that I feel wouldn’t do the film enough justice. On my birthday this year, I got the best gift imaginable — Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, a pop-rock action-opera that is unlike anything else I have ever seen in my life, and makes for some of the most magical 113 minutes of film I’ve seen all year. It’s a film that Wright has been working towards his entire career, and encapsulates everything about him that makes him one of the best filmmakers around: the energy, the humor, the creativity, the insane editing — this is all Edgar Wright at his absolute best. I could watch Baby Driver at pretty much any time in my life, and have a complete and utter blast with it the whole way through. Very few films can do that, but having watched the entire thing over half a dozen times at this point, I’m pretty confident that Baby Driver makes the list. Also, seriously though…that “Hocus Pocus” chase.
The fact there’s also, like, a dozen other moments just as amazing just speaks to how wonderful this little action musical is. Thank god for Edgar Wright. The world of film would be a far less fun place without him.
2. Blade Runner 2049
Trust me, I’m surprised to see Blade Runner 2049 this high on my list as you are. Even after coming out of my first viewing of the film and being extremely high on it, I didn’t think it would be able to get this far up on my overall list for the year. But the more I come away from Blade Runner 2049, the more I love it even more. We simply don’t get this kind of huge, thoughtful, beautiful science fiction that often, especially in this day-and-age. I mean, just look at the film’s box office, and you’ll very much see why. But while it’s disappointing to see Blade Runner 2049 fail to find a huge audience, that’s literally the only disappointing thing about it. Literally every other single factor in Blade Runner 2049 is A+ work. The direction, the cinematography, the production design, the acting, the writing, the action, the special effects — seriously, damn near everything. On top of all that, the film has something very interesting to say about the nature of artificial intelligence, and has the time to also provide a useful and throught-provoking twist on the standard hero’s journey. Blade Runner 2049 is everything I could want from a piece of science fiction, and that’s something coming from a guy who doesn’t even love the original. Everyone always says that Blade Runner is a masterpiece, and I’m just left kind of shrugging my shoulders at the concept. But if they say that Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece? I would high-five them effusively, because they are 100% goddamn right.
But, alas, there were TWO masterpieces of film released in 2017…both of which, coincidentally, were co-written by Michael Green (that dude is my MVP of the year, that’s for sure.) But as much as I loved Blade Runner 2049, no film in 2017 had a larger impact on me than James Mangold’s Logan. Which, like Blade Runner 2049, surprised the hell out of me. I liked Mangold’s previous The Wolverine a lot, and thought Logan had a lot of promise in the first trailers, but damn — I never expected to fall head-over-heels in love with the film as I have. It’s the kind of movie that I watch pretty much awe-struck the entire time, absolutely captivated by what is unfolding on the screen in front of me, and mesmerized by how pitch-perfect it all is. The final journey of the X-Men’s flagship character does not deserve to be this incredible, or this unique, or this as emotionally devastating. I was not prepared for how gob-smackingly great Logan would be when I saw it the first time and, after it was done, I just sat in my seat in silence as I took it all in. It was my favorite movie of the year at that point, but of course it was only March — I figured that would change as the weeks went on.
It never did. While my list adjusted wildly on a day-to-day basis (hell, I’ve even made a few switcheroos while writing it right now), Logan never shifted from the top spot of it. Just to make sure I wasn’t inflating my opinion of the film, I rewatched it again (purchasing the $30 Best Buy steelbook version of the Blu-Ray, a rare home video splurge for me that I don’t regret in the slightest.) And I loved it just as much, if not more, the second time. This is everything I love about superhero movies, and apocalyptic stories, and just damn good character dramas. The action is incredible, the writing is incredible, the performances are incredible (goddamn you Academy for ignoring Patrick Stewart’s heartbreaking performance as the dementia-riddled Professor X), and the central relationship at the core of the film is so powerful and true that the final few minutes leaft me a destroyed, emotionally abused mess…in the best way possible, of course. Few pieces of pop culture have left an impact on me as strongly as the ending of Logan did. But it took two hours of other perfect storytelling to get me there, and that alone makes Logan a masterpiece of the superhero genre — and my favorite film of 2017.
But, once again, it was a stacked year, so the competition was fierce for the title. But going into 2018, I can only hope for half as many great films as we got in the past twelve months. Like 2017, we’re going to need it if we hope to make it through another goddamn year of Donald Fucking Trump. Here’s to entertainment in 2018 — may you coddle us all up in a blanket of sweet, sweet comfort for as long as humanly possible.
Also published on Medium.