In 2017, I had a huge drop off in the number of films I saw. I still got to 90ish new releases, but that is quite low from recent years and my re-watches dropped significantly as well. For that reason, I feel maybe a little less confident in how solid this list order is, but I believe in the films themselves.
I think this is a strong year in film, with two films getting an A+ grade from me, which was the same as last year, but the depth of A to A-’s is a little less so than last. Maybe that is because I saw less films than I would have liked, but there were a lot of B+’s out there this year too. I’m happy with a strong B+!
Let’s get into it!
Best Scene of the Year: Rey and Kylo Go Back to Back in The Last Jedi
Last year I gave this title to a Star Wars movie, this year is no different. When Rey and Kylo decide to team up in Snoke’s throne room in the middle of The Last Jedi, I lost my shit. I was bouncing in my seat, laughing giddily, and so excited that my prediction about these two after Force Awakens was coming true; until it wasn’t. But, for a few amazing minutes we get the best lightsaber battle yet in a Star Wars film, and lightsabers never even cross. I can’t wait to see how the relationship between these two plays out in Episode 9, and I hope J.J. finds a way to top this amazing sequence. Watch some below!
Honorable Mentions: The Gorilla Performance in The Square, Pick a John Wick 2 Action Scene, Trimming the Lady Parts in Raw, David and Walter in Alien: Covenant, Pick a Fight in Brawl in Cell Block 99, The Final Shootout in Wind River, Willoughby Says Goodbye in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Thor Meets the Grandmaster, Maureen Gets Texts in Personal Shopper, Getting Out in Get Out, The Breakthroughs in The Work, Alma Makes Dinner for Woodcock in Phantom Thread, Remember Me Coco in Coco, Lady Bird Auditions in Lady Bird, The Final Decision in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Saving Yourself in Lady Macbeth, Nobody Leaves in It Comes At Night, Baby Groot (but not) Dances to Mr. Blue Sky. Presenting the Baby in mother!, Eating the Pie in A Ghost Story, Poe Dameron vs. a Dreadnaught, The Drive to Prom in Spider-Man: Homecoming
Most Underrated Film: A Cure For Wellness
A Cure For Wellness isn’t an amazing film by any means, but it deserved a lot better shake than it got last year. Gore Verbinski made one of the year’s most beautiful films, no surprise there, and created a twisted thriller that should have had a bigger audience. Dane DeHaan is maybe not the best casting choice for this smarmy part, but he holds his ground well enough and takes us through this funhouse of bizarreness. Plus, that fucking ending is going for it!
Best Score: Phantom Thread by Jonny Greenwood
Jonny Greenwood has collaborated with PTA for four films now, and this is his best work yet in their partnership; and that is saying something. The score carries the film through from nearly start to finish, with beautiful orchestrations that help you waltz through this twisted romance. I’ve listened to this score a lot already outside of the film, and it is just as compelling. Great writing music.
Special Don’t Know Where To Put It Award:
World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts
World of Tomorrow, the original film from Don Hertzfeldt, I put into my list a couple of years ago, but for some reason I am keeping this one out of it. This sequel isn’t as good as the original, but it ain’t that far behind. It is great to revisit this world and these characters, but I feel like it doesn’t explore the existential thought experiments of the first. That said, it is still very funny, with brilliant animation and ideas, and lives up to its title. If you haven’t seen the World of Tomorrow films, seek them out, as Episode Two lives up to the original.
To The List:
The Also Rans:
Split, Okja, Personal Shopper (wish I got a rewatch!), Free Fire, Landline, Casting Jonbenet, Mommy Dead and Dearest, Detroit
Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or winner took on the art scene and creates a wonderful satire of the pretension that can come along with it. It also has a good laugh playing with our lead’s masculinity and putting him in one awkward situation after another. The film is a bit long, but when it is on, it is on. Plus, Terry Notary’s exhibition performance is one of the most mesmerizing things you will ever see.
Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut doesn’t surpass his two writing efforts, but this film still builds and builds to a crazy great final act. Jeremy Renner is perfect for this lone wolf hero, with Elizabeth Olsen being a great counterpart into their investigation of a girl’s death. The film also does a great job of subverting your expectations with a late flashback, proving Sheridan is no joke as a writer; lets just hope he grows as a director in his next effort.
Brawl On Cell Block 99
S. Craig Zahler’s latest is a brutal and episodic trip down one man’s path to protect his family. Vince Vaughn stars as a guy with a rough past, trying to make a bright future, and it all goes to hell; then gets even worse. He literally has to fight his way deeper into prison to save his wife’s life, and the brawls along the way are intense and brutal. The fight choreography is great, Vaughn is entirely believable in the physicality of the role, and the gore is over the top. The film’s pacing is a bit off at times, and the plot is pretty shaggy, but Zahler is just interested in keeping this premise of brawl, after brawl alive. I’m not complaining.
Happy Death Day
Groundhog Day meets a slasher movie, this film knows exactly what it is and executes it about as well as one good hope. Jessica Rothe is having so much fun in the lead, and the film is just that, fun, from start to finish. There isn’t a lot of jump scares, and I didn’t guess the final twist, but the film is able to have it both ways, with a couple of good scares mixed in with a number of great laughs. I love when a film knows what it wants to be and is able to pull it off, and fans of both the horror and comedy genres should be checking this one out.
The lowest an Edgar Wright film has ever ended up on my list, this one fell from the high of the first viewing when the re-watch exposed the romance to just not work. That said, a lot still really works in this film. All of the villains are great, the soundtrack is great, the action is great, but that romance. Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx are having a blast in their parts, the editing is marvelous, and Wright’s confidence is everywhere, but it’s still my least favorite of his films. That doesn’t make it bad, as Wright has pumped out A quality movies every time out, but it was still a bit disappointing.
Call Me By Your Name
A caveat to my thoughts on Call Me By Your Name, the night I saw this was followed by a crazy experience involving a bike flying off into a highway, but I know my opinion of it was solid, without reaching greatness. Luca Guadagnino’s film last year was in my Top 5, so I was excited for this, and he gets great performances out of everyone, but I didn’t fall head over heels like the two protagonists in the film. Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer are great, Michael Stuhlbarg is probably even better, the Italian countryside might be best, but I wasn’t moved the way many viewers were by this film. Still, nothing is bad here, in fact, it’s all quite good, I just wonder where this would have grown in my mind had I been able to keep thinking about it after the death of my bike. A re-watch might help this one quite a bit in the future.
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut took everyone to a place they didn’t expect, the horror/thriller genre, and the results were pretty good. Another re-watch candidate, I didn’t know what to expect from this, but the social commentary and the performances inside it are top-notch. Peele keeps you guessing until it is too late and finds some great injections of humor that are unsettling in one place and slowly building a hero in another. Daniel Kaluuya is great as the film’s rock at the center of this world wind, with Katherine Keener and Bradley Whitford perfectly executing their parts at every turn. There is a lot of build up, and it all comes together wonderfully in the end, but I remember feeling like I wanted something a bit more out of the film until we got to the great finale. Can’t wait to check out again.
Steven Soderbergh is back from retirement, with a new business model, his current go to guy Channing Tatum and a crime caper in the vein of his Ocean’s films. Add in Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, and you have a team ready to rob a Motor Speedway. Soderbergh fills the film with his style, speed and sense of humor, with a plot that has plenty of twist and turns to keep you on your caper loving toes. It’s Soderbergh, it’s really good, what are you waiting for?
I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
Macon Blair makes his directorial debut with this film and he is able to create his own tone and style that doesn’t feel all that unfamiliar from his work with Jeremy Saulnier. Less bleak, he gets great performances out of his leads, Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood, as they go down the rabbit hole into shit they don’t expect to get into. Random flashes of violence, constantly peppered with humor, Blair makes a great debut and is instantly someone to watch behind the camera; let’s hope he keeps popping in front of it too.
The Disaster Artist
James Franco delivers his best work, both in front of and behind the camera, as he tells the story of the “Worst Film Ever Made”, The Room. Franco assembles a brilliant comedy cast, but the key to this story of Tommy Wiseau is the humanity and sadness he brings out of the whole situation. Sure, there are plenty of laughs and some insanity centered around this insane production, but it’s Tommy’s journey and lifestyle that compels you through the film. He’s a tragic character that finds success, through failure, and you can’t help but root for the weirdo.
120 BPM (Beats per Minute)
A few years ago, How to Survive a Plague, was one of my favorite films, and while that was a brilliant documentary of the Act Up movement in the U.S., 120 BPM is a dramatization of the same movement in France. The first two-thirds is an energetic and endlessly compelling activist drama, with a great ensemble cast being driven ahead by director Robin Campillo, while the final act of the film focuses in on a more personal toll of the AIDS crisis. I wasn’t as compelled by the final act of the film, it slows down with our protagonist’s sickness, and the tonal shift caught me off guard a bit. That said, the film is still a wonderful telling of the movement in France, and does a great job of getting inside the inner workings of the organization.
At its core, Thelma is a coming of age/going to college story, about a girl who is being exposed to a world outside her insular religious upbringing, and that element of the film would be good enough. But there is another layer thrown on top of Joachim Trier’s drama, as our titular Thelma is more than meets the eye, but she’s not quite sure what is going on. She starts investigating a series of seizures that lead to an interesting family past and the film leaves you with some really dark and interesting questions lingering.
At its core, Raw is a coming of age/going to college story…hey wait a second. Raw and Thelma have some similar themes, and both delve into genre filmmaking, but Raw wears that badge much more on its sleeve. From French filmmaker Julia Ducournau, it is a confident and propulsive debut that isn’t afraid to pull any punches. The film has a dark sense of humor running through it, shocking scenes of gore flash across the screen, with some great world building lifting it all up as the film moves along towards its finale. The film is also a crazy look into the hazing week of the prestigious Veterinary schools in France. Genre fans who missed out on this and the previous entry should definitely seek them out.
Sofia Coppola is one of my favorite directors, and her latest entry is a wicked little film set in a ladies finishing school set in the heart of the South in the middle of the Civil War. Seems right up her alley. She brings back Kirsten Dunst, finds a Fanning, and recruits the always great Kidman to lead this film of fractured expectations after the women find a runaway injured soldier and take him on the mend. Colin Farrell is great as the soldier, and the whole story unfolds with a couple of great twists and turns. The filmmaking is also top-notch, but I’m not going to lie, I missed the pop songs.
Peter Parker was brought into the MCU with Captain America: Civil War, and here gets his own entry into the franchise, a John Hughesian throw back to high school films of old, with another great turn by Tom Holland and a fantastic young ensemble. Oh, and a great Michael Keaton. Yeah, the final feet is a bit weak, but everything with the kids is very funny and a lot of fun. This film doesn’t even need any of the superhero bits, but it manages to have a couple standout set pieces regardless. The only dynamic I want changed for the sequel is Shuri, from Black Panther, to show up to school undercover as the new Iron Man! Also, most awkward prom car ride ever.
The Top 20:
20. John Wick: Chapter 2
Keanu Reeves’ recent resurgence in this action franchise was welcomed by this viewer, and this sequel picks things up right where the last one left off. Both literally and spiritually. The action might be better, the body count is definitely higher, and director Chad Stahelski mixes each action scene up so the viewer never feels like we are watching the same thing over and over. I wish we got a bit more mythology, the hobos I’m not entirely sold on, but I will watch the TV show for that I guess. SHOW ME JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3!
19. Thor: Ragnarok
I enjoyed the two previous Thor entries, and Thor in the Avengers films, but I was apparently in the minority; especially when it comes to The Dark World. Ragnarok had far fewer critics, as Hemsworth gets to embrace his inner comedian and the MCU brought a great director in Taika Waititi. Add in a fun Cate Blanchett, the Hulk, Loki and the instantly great Tessa Thompson and you have a winner. Plus, there is never enough Jeff Goldblum in your life, ever. Like the MCU film above, the ending could be stronger, but the comedy is great, Korg is a treasure, and the Hulk vs. Thor fight is an iconic battle for the franchise. Did I mention Korg? Taika Waititi stars as the film’s funniest and most memorable character, that’s why you know he is a great director, right?
18. Alien: Covenant
Ridley Scott’s follow-up to Prometheus is just as good as a whole, even though it might not be as awe inspiring as the first 2/3 of the original prequel to Alien. The Xenomorph is back, as is the origin of it, and that brings us to David, everyone’s favorite cyborg, played by Michael Fassbender. David carries over from Prometheus, but he also plays a newer version of his product in Walter. Walter is with the crew of the Covenant, a colony ship that is searching for a new planet to call home; they find David. Or does David find them. Either way, I think Scott creates a fun Alien movie for the first half, but gets into what he is really interested in once David and Walter get together. Fassbender gives one of the best performances of the year and I really hope Scott gets to make one more of these and complete his trilogy.
17. Blade Runner 2049
Ridley Scott did not direct the follow up to his original Blade Runner, but he handed the reins over to Denis Villeneuve who more than capably brings this sequel to the screen. 2/3 of the film is spent without any connections to the original, besides replicants, and he and his screenwriting team create a compelling look at humanity through the eyes of characters who are anything but. When Deckard gets involved in the film, Villeneuve successfully pulls it all together, and does so by not embracing a gigantic finale. The conclusion to this story is small, and Ryan Gosling made the journey compelling every step of the way. Might be a bit slow for some, but the film is constantly engaging, and a great sequel to the original classic.
16. Song to Song
Terrence Malick sets his latest against the Austin music scene, and at its heart is just a romance among a number of individuals. It has all of the current Malick tropes, but is much more successful than his previous two efforts. Part of that has to do with the fact that the film has more dialogue than those films, plus the core four of the cast are all excellent. Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman and Rooney Mara are all great, and they get a story across in the minimalist approach Malick has become known for, but it is Michael Fassbender who steals the show. The guy is just so damn good and he is just as good here as he ever has been. Malick isn’t for everyone, but I think this is his most accessible film in ages, even if it isn’t quite his best.
15. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
James Gunn’s sequel is the saddest superhero movie you will ever see, and I think that is pretty remarkable. Everyone is grumpy, depressed and angry here, with plenty of shit to work out now that they have found a pseudo-family in each other as the Guardians of the Galaxy. Michael Rooker is excellent as Yondu and he and Gunn create a character that was a side note in the original and has you crying about him by the end. Gunn’s set pieces are also quite excellent across the film and the MCU gets one of its best villains in Kurt Russell’s Ego. Also, Baby Groot was great and was used to perfect effect across the film. I look forward to seeing these guys enter Earth’s orbit in Infinity War and hopefully keep giving us great adventures from there.
14. The Work
This documentary takes you inside a three-day group therapy session that is held between outsiders and inmates at Folsom Prison and the footage is remarkable and heartbreaking. Every breakthrough in the film, at least among the inmates, was emotional to watch and I would have preferred to have just watched those guys face their demons and not deal with the citizen subjects of the film. The public subjects just aren’t as compelling, nor feel as authentic, but I think the filmmakers realized this and appropriately sideline them as much as possible. A look at just the prisoners might have taken this film higher on this list, but it is an essential documentary nonetheless.
13. The Florida Project
Sean Baker got a lot attention with his last film because he shot it on an iPhone, and it looked great, but The Florida Project is shot on film and the beauty it brings is one of its strengths. Especially juxtaposed against these lower-income individuals that live among these hotels the film takes place in, just outside Disney World. Following a mother and daughter as they navigate getting through the boredom of the day and making enough money to survive the week, The Florida Project compels by just filling the frame with energy coming off its first time stars, Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite. Prince is endlessly watchable as she plays around with the local kids and every time she runs into Willem Dafoe the two have a memorable interaction. The Florida Project feels alive and that is Baker’s greatest achievement behind the camera.
Lee Unkrich’s latest form Pixar is another stellar entry for the studio, and it’s most beautiful film to date. It also marks the studio’s first foray into a heritage that isn’t white people, monsters, cars or toys, as this film is centered around the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos. Following Miguel, a boy that accidentally finds himself in the land of the dead, a search for a way back to the land of the living turns into a history lesson about his family. Beautiful and touching, filled with great original songs and one of Michael Giacchino’s more original scores, Coco feels like classic Pixar. It might not be in the best of the best, but just below that high bar is still better than most films in a given year.
11. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Noah Baumbach is a director I usually enjoy, sometimes love and I think the Meyerowitz Stories trends closer to the love side of things. Solid throughout, finds laughs and pathos, has perfectly crafted awkward moments, and a comedic cast that is top-notch, there isn’t much more to ask for from Baumbach’s latest. The structure allows for an anthology of stories, yet still tells an overall narrative, while also fully creating a number of characters. The three leads of the film are the three siblings in the Meyerowitz family, with Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler and Elizabeth Marvel all crafting a family that so feel of one piece. Dustin Hoffman is also excellent as the patriarch, with Emma Thompson shining in her few scenes. Grace Van Patten can’t be forgotten either, as she gets some of the films best laughs from the short films her character creates, and she is excellent in. Dumped on the black hole for films that is Netflix, seek this out, you could probably watch it right now!
10. Good Time
The first of FIVE! A24 releases in my Top 10 (6 in the Top 13!) Good Time is my first exposure to the Safdie Brothers, but what an introduction it is. Robert Pattinson stars as this small time crook that gets his mentally handicapped brother into trouble and he spends the rest of the film trying to right his wrong. The film takes us across a number of boroughs in NYC, and has surprise after surprise waiting for us as the film moves through the night. The films tone is also perfectly handled, never getting to serious, nor forgetting the gravity of the situation, all while riding on the edge of being absurd. Pattinson also gives one of the year’s best performances, while the ensemble around him delivers at every turn. An entertaining and exciting little gem that you should check out ASAP.
9. It Comes At Night
Another A24 release, Trey Edward Shults’ second film is a dive into genre filmmaking without giving in to the genre. There is always something sinister slinking on the edges of the frame and our characters’ minds, but Shults finds plenty of horror without ever fully turning his film into a genre picture. It’s a post-apocalyptic drama that finds stakes in the trust that characters develop with one another, in a world where maybe no one should. To call the film bleak would be an understatement, but the filmmaking from the young Shults and the performances across his impressive ensemble will compel and drive you through the picture, until it all goes to hell. The ending is devastating, but this film anoints Shults as one of our great young filmmakers.
8. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Yorgos Lanthimos is no stranger to my list (topping it last year with The Lobster) and he has crafted another bizzare and mesmerizing feature with The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Colin Farrell stars as a doctor and family man who is put in the most devastating of situations by an ex-patient’s son who claims his whole family will become sick and die if he doesn’t murder one of them. Darkly humorous, haha, the film revels in the awkwardness of its characters and treats the supernatural elements of the film as if they were nothing but ordinary. I don’t want to spoil this film anymore than I already have, but if you are looking for a twisted dark comedy, Lanthimos continues to be your guy.
7. The Post
Spielberg makes a movie, you see the Spielberg movie. My podcast co-hosts might not believe in that rule, but I do, as he is probably my #1 filmmaker, and he continues to put out fantastic films. The Post was the quickest film he’s ever made, is just as relevant today as it would have been at the time of the Pentagon Papers, and features an A+ ensemble; everything is also perfectly executed. The camera weaves through the newsroom of The Washington Post with some brilliant single takes, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are Streep and Hanks, and Spielberg finds the perfect tone and entertainment factor at every turn of the film. The guy is a master, the best, and The Post is a relevant call to action to support our journalism in the face of government oppression.
6. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi
When Rian Johnson was announced to direct The Last Jedi, I was most excited about the prospect of his Star Wars film among the announced/working directors in the reboot of the franchise. I wasn’t disappointed. Yes, Canto Bight is the weak link of the film, but I still enjoyed its message and energy. And if you are pointing to that sequence as to why the film isn’t great, you are missing a million other amazing things that happen in this film. The aforementioned, in this list, lightsaber fight, everything with Rey and Kylo, Poe Dameron taking out a Dreadnaught, Yoda, grumpy Luke, Laura Dern, Ahch-To Island, Snoke and I could go on. The film is also a beautiful goodbye to Leia/Carrie Fisher and has a good chance it might jump into the #2 slot on my favorite Star Wars films; currently sitting at #3. J.J. has a high bar to clear with Episode IX.
5. Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut is a fantastic ode to mothers, daughters, Sacramento, high school, Dave Matthews, gay boyfriends, douchey boyfriends, losing your virginity, fighting with your parents, learning you are out of your element, learning you don’t know as much as you think you do, realizing you don’t know what the fuck you are talking about, heading off to college, learning friends are always your best place to go, until their not, to learning Saoirse Ronan is one of our best actors, that Laurie Metcalf is infinitely underrated and that Greta Gerwig is a gift from the movie gods. Why is this 5th? I don’t know, but it might jump higher when I see it again. There is nothing wrong with this film, it’s great.
4. Lady Macbeth
I’ve pitched this film as like watching the origin story for Cersei in Game of Thrones, without the incest, and I stand by that. Florence Pugh stars as the oppressed house wife, forced into marriage to benefit, somebody, but her husband won’t sleep with her and her father-in-law sucks, so she decides to liberate herself. What follows is a gorgeous period drama, with some wicked twists and turns, and a performance from Pugh that I could put up against just about any other this year. This might be the least scene film on this list, let’s change that, people!
3. Phantom Thread
Paul Thomas Anderson might be the best current working filmmaker, at this moment, and he proves that again with the marvelous romance that is Phantom Thread. Supposedly Daniel Day Lewis’ last performance, Anderson puts him up against Vicky Krieps and the two go toe to toe as they jockey for leverage and control in their relationship. Starting as spats, Krieps’ Alma takes things even further, with a final third of the film that I didn’t see coming. Hilarious, beautiful to look and listen to, with some of the years absolute best performances, Phantom Thread is good enough to be a #1 film in another year.
2. A Ghost Story
David Lowery’s exercise on death, time, love and boredom almost broke me in the early going, when Rooney Mara eats a whole pie out of grief in a single take lasting well over five minutes. I was borderline furious. But! This scene is the key to the film, as it puts us in the sheet of a covered Casey Affleck, who well spend decades, maybe millennia, over the course of this film, passively experiencing everything that happens in the boundaries of his former home. The movie is thought provoking, haunting, brilliant and features some of the best filmmaking you’ll ever see, Lowery just somehow got beat in that arena, or else this would have been #1, easily.
Darren Aronofsky is not a stranger to the top of my list, I think three of his previous four films have been in my Top 5, The Fountain topping it’s year, and now he climbs the mountain again with mother! I’ve seen mother! twice in theaters, it held up on a second viewing, but the experience of seeing this film for the first time will always be one of my favorite movie going experiences; I only wish I got to share it with more people! I was clueless about this film, no idea what I was getting into outside weird people coming into Jennifer Lawrence’s house, but what we got was so much more. I know Aronofsky has what he thinks the film was most about, others connect to the biblical structure, but I really resonated with the “it’s the misogyny, dummy” angle of the film, which batters and degrades Jennifer Lawrence’s titular character at every turn. The world is an awful place at times, especially towards women, and I love that mother! just throws that all up on the screen. Plus, the filmmaking on display throughout, and especially in the film’s insane final sequence, woo, Aronofsky is just flexing. A tense and suspenseful plot, constantly raising the stakes, all paired with incredible filmmaking, that is why mother! is my Best Film of 2017.