The Best Movies of 2017

Brian reflects on the year in film, with a year end list of the Best Movies of 2017 that includes “Baby Driver,” “Dunkirk,” “Detroit,” and more.

Men Standing Looking Serious

I have no interest in making a year end list that speaks to life under Donald Trump or that reflects the cultural consciousness of 2017.

These are among the more tiring of critical, shorthand cliches for summing up the year in movies. And bold-faced political films like “Get Out” and Americana rich dramas like “Three Billboards” and “The Florida Project” all perform very well in that context. But I don’t want to read the analysis for what “The Shape of Water” has to say about healthcare any more than I want to pretend as though that’s how I shaped my list.

The other cliche is the critic who wants to recommend as much as possible. News flash: there are a lot of good movies readily available at your fingertips, but you know as well as I do that there are only so many hours in the day. Critics often bemoan these lists as pointless and would rather devote their column inches to movies that won’t appear elsewhere. But if I can be the umpteenth person to say you should really see “Lady Bird,” hey, maybe you should really see “Lady Bird.”

So here’s what I’ve come up with instead: the movies on my Best of the Year List are ranked based on what I’d most want to watch again right now. And in my book, there are about 18 truly great movies I saw in 2017 that stand above the rest. These are the ones I’ve most wanted to tell people to see, the ones that have lingered in my mind for weeks and months and have made me want to revisit them. Isn’t that enough?

  1. “Baby Driver”Baby Driver Poster

There’s nothing quite like tapping into the perfect song for any moment. “Baby Driver” captures that sensation in how dialed in each heist and action sequence is with Edgar Wright’s eclectic soundtrack. But “Baby Driver” isn’t simply an empty adrenaline, sugar rush of music and comedy. To see Ansel Elgort strut down the street with his white earbuds and drugstore sunglasses, you see that Wright isn’t afraid to look silly. It’s confidently in love with itself and every song change even if it doesn’t look classically cool. In that sense, “Baby Driver” is an inspiring personal statement for what could be Wright’s masterpiece.

  1. “Dunkirk”Dunkirk Poster

I know what purgatory feels like, because Christopher Nolan has taken us there. By making the most of its engrossing IMAX aspect ratio, deafening sound and disorienting, non-linear screenplay, “Dunkirk” envelops its audience in a sensation of hopelessness. It’s bleak, constantly tense and sobering to watch the 400,000 men on Dunkirk’s shores forever trapped as they wait for their deliverance.

  1. “Detroit”Detroit Poster

We should’ve never expected Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal to speak for black people by making a prescient movie about racial oppression. But “Detroit” is documentary realism as a Sam Peckinpah home invasion horror story. The early depictions of the 1967 Detroit riots resemble an apocalypse we’re all just living in, and before long we find ourselves held hostage in a hateful, monstrous nightmare that never seems to end. “Detroit” isn’t explicitly a ripped-from-the-headlines statement about 2017, but it embodies how devastating and hopeless things can feel these days.

  1. “The Red Turtle”The Red Turtle Poster

In just 80 minutes and with absolutely no dialogue at all, the incredibly beautiful animated fable “The Red Turtle” runs the gamut of humanity’s life experience and evokes the presence of God watching over our us. A man washes up on a deserted island, explores in desperation and is thwarted by a red turtle in each of his escape attempts. What happens from there is a breathtaking metaphor for the choices and events that shape who we are.

  1. (tie) “Call Me By Your Name” and “The Shape of Water”

Call Me By Your Name Shape of Water“Call me by your name,” Armie Hammer says to Timothee Chalamet. “You are everywhere,” Richard Jenkins’ narrator says to close out “The Shape of Water.” Luca Guadagnino and Guillermo Del Toro could not have made two more different films. Guadagnino made an intellectual portrait of two young men sizing up one another’s masculinity set in a lush Italian countryside, and Del Toro made an elegant, old fashioned, adult fairy tale set in a noirish cityscape. But at their core, these are two love stories about seeing yourself in someone else. Together they make an enchanting coming of age.

  1. “Blade Runner 2049”Blade Runner 2049 Poster

Ridley Scott’s original “Blade Runner” has an incomplete, ambiguous, illusory beauty to everything on screen. In Denis Villeneuve’s new “Blade Runner 2049,” the world has been filled in, and the questions of how people live in this futuristic society have been answered. Villeneuve molds Ryan Gosling’s blank canvas into an emotional and existential journey through what it means to be human, to have memories or to feel connected to others. The ambiguity is gone from Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner,” but it still invokes so much elegant, captivating mystery in every frame.

  1. mother!mother Poster

However you choose to read “mother!,” just see it. No movie this year was as polarizing as Darren Aronofsky’s bat-shit crazy black satire and allegory that puts uninvited party guests sitting on your countertop on the same level as cannibalizing a newborn baby. Yes, really. This movie is that nuts, and you wouldn’t be wrong for hating it.

  1. “Columbus”

Columbus PosterIf Yasujiro Ozu ever made a movie set in Indiana, it might look something like “Columbus.” Director Kogonada’s thoughtful and meditative film has heart and intimacy far beyond its film theory pretentions and shot construction. Haley Lu Richardson gives one of the finest performances of the year as a local tour guide who can speak to the lovely architecture in her hometown as structures that can give you a sense of understanding and peace. “Columbus” shares Richardson’s contemplative, comforting and profound outlooks on life.

  1. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”Three Billboards Poster

Bluntly political, hilariously profane, bitterly angry and operatically staged, Martin McDonagh’s “Three Billboards” succeeds as a portrait of justice and redemption rich with Americana. Frances McDormand gives a ruthless performance as a woman who earns the wrath of the local police when she buys ads demanding to know the fate of her raped and killed daughter. Sam Rockwell too is arresting as a bumbling and racist cop who isn’t beneath his own redemption.

  1. “BPM (Beats Per Minute)”BPM Poster

“Parade my corpse with whistles and torches,” a gay man dying from AIDS says in “BPM.” This incredible French drama crackles with urgency and feels as pressing today as when the AIDS crisis was at its peak where this film is set. It starts focusing on activist group Act Up Paris with lively, intellectual scenes of students arguing about how to develop a slogan that will “wake up the queens.” But it gradually evolves into a sobering and intimate love story between people who suffer but always persevere.

  1. Get Out Poster“Get Out”

Jordan Peele said on Twitter that “Get Out” isn’t a comedy or a horror; it’s a documentary. His film lays out the racial micro-aggressions and coded language white people use everyday in 2017 with scary and hilarious honesty. But “Get Out” so perfectly captured the pulse of the year because Peele stages everything with a mastery over genre filmmaking, blending tension with humor to get a squirm-inducing blend of both.

  1. “Logan”Logan Poster

Don’t be fooled into thinking the superhero movie was saved by an R-rating. “Logan” is not just bloody but heavy. Wolverine was long an invincible figure, but as Logan, director James Mangold and Hugh Jackman tapped into the tortured, beaten down husk of a man that made for a superhero story with genuine stakes and drama.

13. “Phantom Thread”

Phantom-Thread-Teaser-PosterLike every other Paul Thomas Anderson film and like none of them. “Phantom Thread” starts as if it were made by Ernst Lubitsch, so sumptuous and elegant, thanks in part to Daniel Day-Lewis’s regal posture, Jonny Greenwood’s waltzing, yet dreamily out of time piano score, and the film’s painterly pastels in every frame. But PTA slowly turns the screws to surreal, madness inducing levels about male and female power dynamics in a relationship. I almost liken it to what Darren Aronofsky did with “mother!,” only instead of strangers trying to paint Jennifer Lawrence’s house, it’s Day-Lewis displaying the “gallantry” to eat his wife’s asparagus cooked with butter instead of oil and salt. Both films are comically absurd at times, but it’s “Phantom Thread” that has the delicious twist in which its female protagonist wins some power back .

  1. 14. “The Florida Project”

The Florida Project PosterThe young Brooklynn Prince is a revelation in Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project.” She slouches and pouts with no cares in the world, She gleefully swears and schemes, but she always puts on an innocent, childlike face. What started as a colorful, anecdotal portrait of an unseen corner of Orlando just outside Disney World transforms into a touching, even dangerous drama about how our economic surroundings affect our behavior, our relationships and our opportunities.

15. “Lady Bird”

Lady Bird PosterGreta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” is a coming-of-age story that feels like so many other films and none of them. Gerwig’s directorial debut already demonstrates an incredible sense of self, resisting clichés and quirks while serving as a relatable slice of life in countless ways. Saoirse Ronan, almost unrecognizable compared to her work in “Brooklyn,” has an innate chemistry with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), illuminating the constant push and pull between mother and daughter that few films have ever illustrated so well.

16. “Coco”

Coco PosterIf “Inside Out” was Pixar’s masterful attempt at offering children a framework and image for why people feel emotions, “Coco” is a guide to coping with death. It’s at once hilarious and heartbreaking as a movie that celebrates Latin music and culture while illustrating a view of the afterlife filled with the same traditions, bureaucracy and people you encounter every day. Only Pixar could concoct a lesson about cherishing family bonds and remembering those we lose within a musical comedy with such madcap spice and energy.

17. “War for the Planet of the Apes”

War For the Planet of the ApesThe stunning conclusion to this consistently surprising and impressive prequel trilogy is the rare blockbuster filmmaking that packs a genuine emotional wallop. Watching “War” is like watching “Apocalypse Now.” The madness, despair and intensity of warfare is all contained in Caesar’s eyes, in what is still such an underrated motion capture performance by Andy Serkis. And the visuals on display evoke “the horror” that most blockbusters overlook in their attempts to be “fun.”

Runners up: “The Big Sick,” “Okja,” “Tramps,” “John Wick 2,” “Split,” “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”

6 thoughts on “The Best Movies of 2017”

  1. haven’t seen the STAR WARS film yet, nor PHANTOM THREAD (pleez, pleez open at a theater near moi before the year’s end!) * and congrats for including MOTHER! in your list–are we the only ones doing that? * (not often we get a film where most of the consequential action takes place out of focus in the background–talk about paranoia inducing!–as the camera swirls and tracks, swirls and tracks, around its quasi-articulate lumpenprole heroine: “HEY! … HEY! …”) * as for my own 2017 list, chastened by your antipathy for interminably lonnnnng ones, i offer you the following:
    1. WONDERSTRUCK, Todd Haynes, USA
    2. A QUIET PASSION, Terence Davies, UK/Netherlands
    3. SONG TO SONG, Terrence Malick, USA
    4. FACES PLACES, Agnes Varda and JR, France
    5. BEFORE WE VANISH, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan
    6. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, Luca Guadagnino, Italy/France
    7. A GHOST STORY, David Lowery, USA
    8. YOUR NAME, Makoto Shinkai, Japan
    9. THE RED TURTLE, Michael Dudok de Wit, France/Japan/Belgium
    10. THE SQUARE, Ruben Östlund, Sweden/Germany
    11. MOTHER!, Darren Aronofsky, USA
    12. THE DEATH OF LOUIS XIV, Albert Serra, France/Portugal
    13. CLOSENESS, Kantemir Balagov, Russia
    14. PERSONAL SHOPPER, Olivier Assayas, France
    15. THE FLORIDA PROJECT, Sean Baker, USA
    16. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER, Yorgos Lanthimos, UK/Ireland
    17. SCARY MOTHER, Ana Urushadze, Georgia/Estonia
    18. ON THE BEACH AT NIGHT ALONE, Hong Sang-soo, S. Korea
    19. A MAN OF INTEGRITY, Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran
    20. LET THE SUNSHINE IN, Claire Denis, France
    21. LADY MACBETH, William Oldroyd, UK
    22. THE ORNITHOLOGIST, João Pedro Rodrigues, Portugal
    23. THE LOST CITY OF Z, James Gray, USA
    24. LADY BIRD, Greta Gerwig, USA
    25. BABY DRIVER, Edgar Wright, USA
    umm, yeah, obviously it’s STILL long, but had to get your own numero uno in there, brian–did pretty well “like” it, just not as much as yourself!

    1. I actually still need to see 1-5 on your list. Saw YOUR NAME in 2016, but that would’ve been a contender for my list this year. I have mixed feelings about A Ghost Story, The Square and Killing of a Sacred Deer, and I wish I found more time to write about all these.

  2. small revision, though actually large–and actually a surprise: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI now comes in at number 17 or 18 * pretty remarkable–i mean, who’da thunk it? * not meeeeeeeeeeee! … albeit with rian johnson at the helm (superior track record in an inevitable junk context), gotta trust the guy–or learn too * a superior movie-movie intelligence …

    1. Thanks Pat! I have to check out a bunch of these on your list. I’m way behind. I haven’t seen anyone put Wonderstruck as their #1. Glad you could squeeze Baby Driver on there. I love it, and it’s just everything I feel like I want in a movie. As for Last Jedi, I was honestly lukewarm about it but want to see it again. I’ve talked about it a ton, and whereas that movie is growing on me on an intellectual level, it was almost the opposite with Force Awakens. I liked that movie less the more I talked with people about it, but watching it again recently I was so swept up by it emotionally, and more so than Last Jedi. Surprised (or maybe I shouldn’t be) to see it creep into your top 20.

  3. let’s say my WONDERSTRUCK is equivalent to your BABY DRIVER, and some of our reasons for “liking” each have nothing to do with film per se–e.g., for you it’s edgar wright’s pop music choices, for me todd haynes’s vision of deafness, his very original–actually unprecedented, at least to my knowledge–take on it * of course with the haynes it helps to be hearing impaired, to get the full impact of what’s going on * not that there aren’t nits to pick–somehow ALL my top films for 2017 share this “defect”–and my brother (who’s profoundly deaf, as more and more am i) as well as his deaf friends have found a lot: the sign language isn’t correct, the silent-era girl’s not believable, etc, etc * but, i mean, C’MON!–nobody’s ever DONE this sort of thing before, certainly not commercially * a couple of years ago we had ukraine’s THE TRIBE, which was shocking enough: all that aggressive signing, and NO SUBTITLES to help you along; you had to parse it all out from the body language, the action, the attitudes–a view from the outside looking in, in other words, a BEHAVIORAL point of entry … * but WONDERSTRUCK does the opposite, even if the level of aggression contra the viewer is much, much lower: this is what it actually FEELS like to be deaf, the view from the inside looking OUT * one scene especially, in the actress mother’s (julianna moore’s) dressing room, where the deaf daughter VERY FAINTLY HEARS (or at least the audience does) what the mother’s upbraiding her for * even my life’s partner didn’t catch this: she thought the scene was playing silent–but it wasn’t, and, almost paradoxically, i caught it … largely because i’ve become ATTUNED to this sort of thing, the slightest hints of sound, those shreds of possible interpretation, every one of ’em precious, something to be savored, treasured … * and that the filmmakers would apparently UNDERSTAND this, that “this is what deafness is like,” i thought astonishing! remarkable! more adjectives, in fact, than i can find exclamation points for * not that this is all: there’s the long bronx museum set piece (absolutely wonderful–spatially, metaphorically, every which way), julianna moore and tommy noonan’s signing together in a bookshop (pace my brother and his pals–these are ACTORS, fercrissake; they had to pick up this stuff on the fly!), and all the longueurs–and there ARE at least a handful, even for me (e.g., the natural history museum sequence)–simply go by the boards * a phenomenal piece of insight, just bowled me over … which is all i can say on it for now

    on the other hand we have THE LAST JEDI versus THE FORCE AWAKENED–which of course i hated * at least i THINK it was THE FORCE: haven’t been able to tell lately, those prequels cum sequels somehow seem to overlap … * but LAST JEDI’s different, and every shot (well, ALMOST every shot) seems managed, caressed, incised: “attention must be paid,” and it was, very very decisively * even carrie fisher (no disrespect for the dead intended) seemed to have a purpose, beyond the nostalgic reference: her iconography was shaped, meticulously, and played out as something beee-YOOOO-tifully * even laura dern, looking all the refugee from a david lynch film, had her own kind of quirky indelibility … and for the first time in the series, i didn’t object to the hand puppets–i mean, CREEEAtures * previously, at least in my opinion, they haven’t meshed with the real-time human performers, but here it finally doesn’t matter: that banquet gala’s so sleek and luscious, who CARES about “integration”? * so much chaff to cut through, and rian johnson does it all * so kudos all ’round!

  4. also before i forget, a few words in defense of A GHOST STORY: just a GREAT STUNT–correx: GREAT GREAT STUNT, the best stunt of the year, down to the shadow creases in the specter’s white sheet (which isn’t at all spectral, but still …) * yet lowery goes at it straight, this idiotic, LUDICROUS idea … a premise that’s completely indefensible, but nonetheless a GREAT GREAT STUNT * plus the individual frames are often beautiful, meticulously put together, very very hard to fault the film this way * still, the thing to remember is: it’s a STUNT … i mean, a GREAT STUNT … i mean, a GREAT GREAT STUNT–that’s been treated with utter, straight-ahead seriousness * call it pere ubu revisited, or the new pataphysics for our century … * in any case, eat your heart out donald trump!

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