2017 was not the strongest year for films, but there were still some pretty fantastic movies that dropped this year! Here’s my list in an order I’m still pretty confident about. Looking back over my list, I’m astounded just how many of these movies feel singular.
I know. Fight me. mother! was billed as Darren Aronofsky’s horror film, and it had the misfortune to drop at the same time as true horror blockbuster It. mother! is a lot of things, but traditional horror film it is not. The third act of mother! is probably the most amazing sequence I’ve ever seen on film. It displays Aronofsky’s mythic sensibilities and his mastery of tonal control. I’ve been haunted by this film since it released, and of all the movies this year, I suspect it will continue to haunt me the most.
2. Get Out
Years from now, Get Out is going to be remembered as a genre-shifting film – one that changed the horror landscape forever. It’s the most profitable film of 2017, and Jordan Peele (of Key & Peele)’s directorial debut. The monster of this movie is white liberal racism, and it succeeds so well at putting us in the shoes of black men in America that, when the Golden Globes announced it was being considered for “Best Picture – Musical or Comedy”, Jordan Peele tweeted out, “Get Out is a documentary”.
3. War for the Planet of the Apes
Planet of the Apes movies aren’t supposed to be this good. But the closing chapter of this rebooted trilogy that began with Rise of the Planet of the Apes is master-filmmaking. Andy Serkis and the digital effects team are so good that there’s talk of creating a new category of Best Actor for awards season: Best Digital Character or something like that. This third film hits all the right finale bits, pulling together themes from the first two films and doing something new at the same time. It’s a beautiful, tense and harrowing film that leaves you breathless, heartbroken and hopeful.
4. I, Tonya
You remember Tonya Harding, the figure-skating punchline who broke her rival Nancy Kerrigan’s knee in the 1994 Olympics. What else do you remember about that story? I, Tonya is a docu-drama-style film based on the “wildly contradictory” accounts of both Ms. Harding and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly. The film is funny, shocking and deeply heartfelt. Ultimately, it’s an indictment of all of us who demanded a villain. Did we create Tonya Harding? Did her mother? Was it her own fault? We may never know the answer, but I, Tonya asks us to take a hard look at ourselves.
5. Wonder Woman
Hey, DC finally made a superhero movie that wasn’t terrible! Wonder Woman shattered record after record at the box office this year, proving that women have what it takes to make big budget movies and inspire us better than the boys. Though this is technically her second film, Wonder Woman is an origin story that’s actually not terrible and boring. The trench sequence, where Diana finally comes into her own in the world of men will be remembered as possibly the greatest introduction of a superhero ever.
6. My Friend Dahmer
I read this graphic novel when it first came out in 2012; it’s remained one of my favorite books since then (and a huge influence on Empathy for the Devil). It’s written by a cartoonist who was probably the closest thing to a friend Jeffrey Dahmer had in high school. Based on the author’s own recollections, as well as research and interviews with Dahmer himself, My Friend Dahmer is a heartbreaking tragedy. The film recreates the late 70s and Dahmer’s later high school years excellently. And Disney channel star Ross Lynch is amazing as Dahmer himself. Ultimately, this film asks the question, “What if one person had truly seen him?” Would it have made a difference?
7. The Disaster Artist
The Room has become known as the “Citizen Kane of bad movies”. How can someone make something so bad while convinced it’s so good? This is the question The Disaster Artist asks. Directed by James Franco, who also stars as enigmatic Tommy Wiseau (who wrote, directed, produced and starred in The Room), The Disaster Artist is one of those so-funny-it’s-hard-to-believe-it’s-true stories. The movie is packed with cameos (Zac Effron?!) and manages to marvel at Tommy’s insanity without mocking it. It’s a strange film, and refreshingly original for a biopic.
8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MO
The newest film from Martin McDonaugh has plenty of flaws, which is why it didn’t land higher on my list. But Three BIllboards is McDonaugh’s take on a Southern Gothic (in case that’s not clear, one character is reading a Flannery O’Conner novel in an early scene). What initially seems to be a straightforward tale of resistance to police incompetence quickly gives way to something much more complicated and powerful. It’s a funny, brutal and challenging film.
9. A Ghost Story
Look, A Ghost Story isn’t for everyone. It’s probably not even for most people. But it worked for me. My monthly horror movie club went to see the Texas premier of this film (thinking it was a horror film, and because the director is from Dallas). It is not. It’s a meditation on loss, memory and the things that haunt us. There is a brutal scene involving a pie that’s one of the strangest and most audacious things I’ve ever seen in a film.
10. Molly’s Game
This was a surprise last-minute addition to my list. The new Aaron Sorkin film tells the story of Molly Bloom, a former championship skiier who ended up running some of the most exclusive poker games in the US… until she was arrested. The script is sharp, the acting is impeccable and compelling. And who doesn’t love a poker movie? No one I know of.
11. The Big Sick
If Get Out was proof that we need more black writers and directors making horror, The Big Sick is proof we need more everyone telling love stories. Based on the true story of how writer/star Kumail Nanjiani (of Silicon Valley fame) met his wife, Emily. While it hits many of the beats of a traditional romantic comedy, the fact of Nanjiani’s Pakistani family adds a layer of depth that’s totally absent from most rom-com fare.
12. The Last Jedi
Apparently the latest Star Wars movie either works for you or it doesn’t. Boy, did it work for me. It’s my second-favorite film, after Empire, which tells you a lot about how I like my Star Wars (i.e., dark). The Last Jedi deconstructs the Star Wars universe in ways that feel obvious in retrospect and long overdue. Director Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick) sets the stage for an Episode IX that truly takes the galaxy where it’s never been before. Plus, this is just the most beautiful Star Wars movie ever. By parsecs.
13. Baby Driver
Possibly the most fun I had at the movies this year was watching Baby Driver. Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) delivered a slick, cool movie that’s firing on all cylinders and has a killer soundtrack. At the end of the day, it’s slight. And neither of the two whole women in the film have anything to do other than inspire their men. Plus anything with Kevin Spacey in it is harder for me to watch now.
We have the success of Deadpool to thank for the existence of Logan. Director James Mangold got to make an R-rated Wolverine movie, and he did it with aplomb, giving us a dark elseworlds tale featuring a version of Old Man Logan who finds it in himself to be a hero one more time. It’s allegedly Jackman’s swan song for the character he brought to life over ten movies, and it’s hard to ask for a better goodbye. Sir Patrick Stewart is breathtakingly fantastic as a tormented Professor X, and newcomer Dafne Keen is wonderful as the young Laura.
15. Kong: Skull Island
I don’t know what I expected from a King Kong movie (not much, after that 3 plus hour snooze-fest that Peter Jackson released in 2005). But Kong: Skull Island delivered everything I never realized I wanted in a kaiju film. Amazing creatures, hilarious one-liners, thrilling action and more. It’s far from a perfect movie, but it was definitely among the most thrilling theatrical experiences I had this year. This is one cinematic universe I am fully behind. And if the rumored cross-over with the Pacific Rim universe are true, then it’s conclusive proof there’s a God who loves us.