Now that a particularly divisive year in film has ended, it’s time to assemble a list of the best and worst films of 2017. Last year was brimming with flicks more appropriately considered works of art than simple movies, though by “divisive” I mean there were plenty of stinkers as well.
Without further adieu, here are my favorite films of 2017:
- I, Tonya
The true story of Tonya Harding told in a cleverly patterned, mockumentary style, this film balances a self-aware wit with raw, unfettered emotions of the real interviews the film portrays. Bouncing between the tempestuous journey of Tonya’s skating career and hilariously candid interviews, I, Tonya flows seamlessly back and forth with sharp storytelling and genuine performances from both Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. Aside from the atrociously photoshopped scenes of Robbie skating, the film is an intuitive and crass riot.
- Thor: Ragnarok
Back to the jovial side of superhero films, Thor: Ragnarok brings sharp, relentless wit to the table at the caliber of The Emperor’s New Groove. With director Taika Waititi (Moana, What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt For the Wilderpeople) at the helm, Ragnarok carries itself with an incessant droll, developing Thor and even The Hulk into absurd caricatures. With arguably Jeff Goldblum’s most Jeff Goldblum-y role to date, Ragnarok soars to the top of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most accomplished and downright fun film.
- The Darkest Hour
Through dialogue alone, The Darkest Hour imbues a stark sense of dread and unease that lasts. How long it lasts depends on the person, though I was enthralled by its suspense for days after watching it. Alongside the eerie film-noir style cinematography, Gary Oldman transforms to fully personify Winston Churchill to perfection, never once falling out of character or conviction and winning the hearts of both the audience and the cast of characters with dry quips and relatable apprehensions.
- Phantom Thread
Charming and regal in appearance and delivery, Daniel Day Lewis steers this tense ship to its well-deserved acclaim. Saturated with emotional strife and a quiet intensity, Phantom Thread enriches its narrative with anevocative script powered by the performances of both leads and the artistic vision of Paul Thomas Anderson. Cinematographically—wow, that’s an actual word—exquisite, the symbolism of gender roles and power is only made more ingenious through the direction of the camerawork. A bewildering romance that captivates till the end.
A gruesome yet sentimental superhero movie that defies the fundamental “family-friendly” nature of most previous super-flicks. The final chapter of the fabled Wolverine is depicted through a grisly lens where laughter and relaxation are scarce but gore and morbidity dominate. Abandon your expectations of what superhero movies are and experience Logan with an open mind and a box of tissues.
An imaginative and original premise portraying the struggles of alcoholism and the literal monster it breeds. Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis’ star power and screen chemistry turn this inventive story into an immaculately directed metaphor for self control. Sudeikis is impressively natural as the antagonist.
Pixar’s newest movie is rich with cultural relevance and provides a delightful representation of the Mexican tradition of Dia De Los Muertos. The vibrant color palette ensure there’s never a dull moment on screen, whilst the heartfelt music and lyrics ensure there’s never a dry moment in the viewer’s eyes. Boasting effervescent music and visuals, along with an engaging narrative deeply invested in family, Coco promptly fit itself in my top five Pixar films.
- Spiderman: Homecoming
The most relaxing superhero film I’ve seen since Sky High, portraying Peter Parker the way the comics intended: a smart, reserved, nerdy high school kid who is suddenly endowed with super powers. The manner with which the film guides Parker in discovery of his new abilities is loose and childish, allowing for a rookie-superhero flick that doubles as a coming-of-age film. Homecoming also includes a hilarious facet not many superhero films use that compliments its refreshing immaturity: a friend to share the super-experience with. With the help of a realistic, non-world threatening villain in Michael Keaton, Homecoming nails the young superhero vibe with flying colors.
- Lady Bird
Surpassing Moonlight as A24 Studio’s most prolific film, Lady Bird is a shoo-in for Oscar nominations. Another modestly budgeted coming-of-age film chock-full of emotion and societal pressures, the narrative’s eloquence coupled with profound performances by actors Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf speak to the film’s humble perfection.
- The Big Sick
Initially feigning the facade of a light rom-calm (a-thank you), The Big Sick evolves into both a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of unrequited love and the precariousness of following your dreams against the wishes of those who love you. Somber as it is morbidly hilarious, the poignant and comically sarcastic Kumail Nanjiani leads the way through The Big Sick’s genuine and banter-filled love story.
- Baby Driver
The most meticulously edited film I’ve ever seen, Baby Driver began with a soundtrack and built from there, syncing every action with the music throughout the film. Every click of the gun, spin of the wheels, bump of the car, dialogue, movement, transition, you name it; it’s all on beat. While the principal ‘heist/lovestory’ narrative may not push any envelopes, the novel and methodical integration of music synchronized into film doesn’t just push the envelope, it created a new envelope, then pushed that envelope into a new mailbox. As an extra bonus, you can witness Kevin Spacey’s final role of his career, pre-controversy.
- Wind River
While the setting may be bright from the snow, the story is unbearably dark. Inspired by the real atrocities on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, Wind River leaves no macabre stone unturned. The film is a depressing account of a seemingly hopeless crime investigation, powered by an unbelievably candid performance by Elizabeth Olson and Taylor Sheridan’s austere direction.
- Call Me By Your Name
An elegant blend of both Sufjan Steven’s emotive musical composition and the affectionate romance between two young men. Beautiful and naturalistic, the film forsakes countless tropes regarding homosexuality in cinema, instead refreshingly committing its narrative to the very real and passionate love the characters have for each other. The relationship is expressed with such warmth and artistry that the final act, not to mention Michael Stuhlbarg’s monologue—most impactful monologue of 2017—cuts deep in the hearts of all, no matter the sexual orientation. Needless to say, Timothee Chalamet has soared to the top of my man-crush list, while Armie Hammer has already been for a while.
- Get Out
A dark-humored mystery/thriller so imbued with surreptitious racial tensions that it actively ridicules the ideologies of the white patriarchy. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut unabashedly appropriates American racial inequalities prevalent in our society, employing the tropes of traditional horror and mystery films and aligning them with the prejudices of the common bigot. Get Out is as much a relevant message to the viewers as it is a gripping allegory for racial strife, and Peele has already been nominated for its accomplishment.
Frankly put, mother! is a face-squeezing, fingernail-biting, butt-clenching work of art. From the first moment on-screen, the film is distinctly allegorical, with every faint instance of motion and dialogue pregnant with metaphorical value. Darren Aronofsky’s reiteration of the story of creation permeates with symbolic value in each scene, with Jennifer Lawrence masterfully embodying Mother Earth. While the narrative escalates into absurd cacophony in the later stages, the poignancy of the figurative imagery remains intact. Religious affiliation is not necessary to follow this emblematic roller coaster, though an appreciation of artful films and an understanding of subtext is advised. Albeit enigmatic, mother! is my favorite film of 2017.
Best of 2017 Honorable Mentions
While these films may not sweep the Academy Awards, each touts a unique and undeniable merit. Were I to expand to a Top 20 list, some other highly acclaimed and intriguing films would include:
The Shape of Water – Exceptionally charming in both appearance and delivery, the film’s unconventional romance is facilitated by a band of unconventionally cast roles, all conspiring against the patriarchy of America. Symbolic, beautiful and wet.
It Comes at Night – A grim, bone-chilling horror that’s ambiguous enough to drive viewers mad. The best horror film since The Babadook, and the most engrossing theater experience I’ve ever had. I was literally, not figuratively, on the edge of my seat in the end.
Free Fire – An ironically relaxed shooter film brimming with banter, with a hilarious collection of characters who treat a gunfight like a friendly game of poker.
IT – A crass, hilarious retelling of the original novel. Although over the top at times, IT instills fear but also courage through teamwork and trust. If you’ve read the book, I’ll spoil the fact there’s no prepubescent orgy at the end. Still a good movie, though.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman – A shamelessly sexually charged account of the man who invented the lie detector and the Wonder Woman comics, and his life with two lovers. It’s a light, inconsequential biopic that’s easy to watch, similar to Marshall.
Wonder – A conventionally sound film augmented by stellar performances from Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and Jacob Tremblay, who plays a kind boy with a facial deformity. A well told story of bravery in the face of adversity.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Including the best acting performance of the year from Frances McDormand, Three Billboards is a narrative rich with symbols of inherent sexism and abuse in today’s society.
The Disaster Artist – An ironically inspiring story of the making of the worst movie of all time. You MUST see The Room beforehand, or you will not experience the full impact. And, like Kevin Spacey in Baby Driver, don’t let the sexual abuse allegations dampen your opinion of the film itself.
2017 films that sucked
However impressive the film year may seem when recalling those of high caliber, we must not neglect those that sucked. While many of my least favorite films of the year were legitimately terrible, there were some generally revered that I felt did not hold up to the critics’ high opinion.
Here are my least favorite films of 2017:
The Post – Another mundane, white-washed, inconsequential Spielberg film that feels as though he wrote it on a whim and cast all his favorite white people. Similar to Bridge of Spies, The Post dazzles with its fundamentally sound cinematography but wanes in both subversive dialogue and affecting ideologies, only exercising the most surface-level principles with a hollow script. Not a bad film by any means, but a resoundingly average and trivial film from one of the most overrated directors of all time.
The Circle – Nothing needs to be said. Horribly obvious film with Emma Watson, one of the worst actors in the industry, to make matters worse. Ironic that Tom Hanks played a big role in the worst movie of the year.
Kong: Skull Island – A cheesy, cliche machismo film that was somehow far worse in storytelling and visual effects than a King Kong film that came out 12 years ago. If senseless action is all you crave, this may be right up your alley; just don’t call it a good film.
Life – Another space film that leans on its star cast while forsaking character development and plot. Also another space film where every subsequent scene is caused by a “genius” astronaut making a rash mistake that is likely taught in elementary astronaut school. Just another forgettable space-survival movie.
The Mountain Between Us -The Notebook in the snow, without the logistical lead up into the relationship.
Atomic Blonde – For a film that boasted fast-paced action and thrills, fast-paced action and thrills were scarce. Alongside a horribly disorganized plotline, Charlize Theron’s performance dwindled in intensity as the movie dragged along.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – Jack Sparrow is lost, and Johnny Depp is desperately trying to find him again, embarrassingly to no avail. Just stick with the original two.
Geostorm – One of the most blatantly racist and sexist films of 2017. A half-assed story of global destruction where the only people being decimated were either Latinx, Middle Eastern or Russian, while the white men suffered from getting really stressed out and sad trying to save the world. For reference, in a scene where the beaches of Rio de Janeiro are being frozen, the director elected to feature a scantily clad woman from a low angle as she helplessly and silently scurries away from the perishing thousands. Just…come on.
Plenty of other detestable films have come out this year, though their deficiencies are self-explanatory (for instance, CHIPS, The Snowman, and The Emoji Movie). We can only hope there is a collective boycotting of soft rehashes in 2018, though I’m not sure who’ll send out that email.
There are several acclaimed films of 2017 I have yet to see but am undeniably excited to. In earnest, the trailer for The Florida Project depicted such an emotional story that I teared up just from the preview. And though I willingly steer away from movies starring animals in fear that I will be forever traumatized, Okja is also on top of my to-see list. So to sum up the gist of 2017 film: Superhero movies are only getting better (at least Marvel’s are), biopics are super hot right now and whitewashed films are finally complacent and outdated.