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The Best Movies of 2017

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"Three Billboard Outside Ebbing Missouri" is just one of the many excellent movies to come out in 2017.

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"Three Billboard Outside Ebbing Missouri" is just one of the many excellent movies to come out in 2017.

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2017 was a very good year for movies.  I originally thought this list would only be the top 10 movies of the year, but after watching so many good ones, I realized it needed to be the top 25.  A movie may not be on this list because I either didn’t like it including “Personal Shopper” and “Call Me By Your Name, didn’t see it like “Phantom Thread”, and “The Darkest Hour”, or it was good but just missed the cut like “Blade Runner 2049”, “Wonder Woman”, and “It”.  Don’t worry about spoilers, as I will only go into a brief synopsis of these films that could have been easily discerned from the trailers, and I will also mention just some of the major themes discussed in the films.  With all that out of the way, here is the list in reverse order:

 

  1.   “Dunkirk”

What Christopher Nolan’s war epic, “Dunkirk”, lacks in character development and pacing, it makes up for in visual perfection, which allows it to squeeze onto this list.  This is the best looking movie of the year with an impressive score and strong direction.  It perfectly captures the feeling of claustrophobia that is necessary to tell the intriguing story of the Allied Troops desperately trying to escape the beaches of Dunkirk with the Germans on their heels.  

  1. “Mother!”

This year’s most controversial film, “Mother!”, tells the story of a couple whose rural life begins to slowly be intruded upon by strangers as chaos quickly ensues.  While the movie feels quite messy at times, it manages to succeed both as an eerie and tense thriller/horror and as a impactful political and biblical allegory navigating themes such as the dangers of fame, environmental degradation, self-obsession.  

  1. “Stronger”

“Stronger”, the story of Jeff Bauman who lost both his legs in the Boston Bombing, is a strong based on real life movie anchored by a moving lead performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and an excellent supporting turn from Tatiana Maslany as Bauman’s girlfriend.  The film explores Bauman’s struggles with adapting to his new life, both physically and mentally.  While the storytelling is relatively traditional and straight forward, Director David Gordon Green explores some atypical effects of such a traumatic story while still managing to squeeze out all of its emotional weight, making for a gripping tale.  

  1. “Marshall”

“Marshall” takes a look at a time early in former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s career as he defends a black man accused of rape by a white woman.  The movie features a powerful Chadwick Boseman performance as the titular character, and it serves as both an effective, poignant legal drama and an impactful retelling of this real life story.  I appreciated how the movie put a fresh spin on the biopic genre by keeping its story contained to a smaller event in Marshall’s life, while still subtly hinting at his potential for greatness.

  1. “Spiderman: Homecoming”

Funny, bright, and exciting: “Spiderman: Homecoming” is the perfect summer movie.  Tom Holland captures Spiderman’s signature mix of awkward teenage angst and relatable hero, clearly proving his terrific work in “Captain America: Civil War” was not a fluke.  Michael Keaton is one of Marvel’s best villains as Vulture, delivering a strong performance with an engaging character arch.  

  1. “The Disaster Artist”

“The Disaster Artist” tells the story of the making of “The Room”, which is arguably the worst movie ever made.  James Franco’s performance is easily the best part of the movie as he perfectly captures the essence of Tommy Wiseau.  While the movie is as expected very funny, it also serves as an ode to cult and indie filmmaking and a surprisingly insightful tale about passion and friendship.  

  1. “Baby Driver”

Edgar Wright continues to shine, as his movie, “Baby Driver”, is one of the slickest looking and best directed movies of the year.  The story follows Baby, who drives getaway cars for a living but wants out of the business after things begin to escalate. The driving action scenes are some of the most exciting scenes of the year: they are expertly choreographed and perfectly paced to coincide with the tone and sound of an excellent, modern soundtrack that blasts out of the headphones Baby constantly wears.  This movie was filled with an all-star cast (that unfortunately includes Kevin Spacey), and Ansel Elgort and Jon Hamm shine as Baby and the movie’s antagonist, Buddy, respectively.

  1. “I Tonya”

“I Tonya” tells the famous story of the 1994 Winter Olympics Figure Skating Scandal revolving around Tonya Harding, played by Margot Robbie.  This movie has some of the best character work/performances of the year with Robbie, and even more noteworthy, Allison Janney as her fierce, cruel mother.  The movie, told effectively through almost documentary esque storytelling, is a thrilling biopic and enthralling black comedy that still manages to touch on poignant themes of abuse, obsession, and betrayal.  

  1. “Okja”

“Okja” is one of the most unique and creative films of the year.  It tells a story that is difficult to summarize briefly here, but that shouldn’t be a problem since this is a movie best seen without knowing much about it.  The movie is a harrowing, chilling, and jarring look at the problems with corporate capitalism, mass food production, and fame.  It works as both this piercing social commentary and a touching coming of age story for Mija, the main character played excellently by a great child actress, Seo-Hyeon Ahn (although it does sometimes struggle to balance between the two threads).

  1.   “The Post”

Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” tells a captivating story of The Washington Post’s internal struggle deciding whether or not to publish The Pentagon Papers, which were top secret government documents from the Vietnam War.  The film is a well written, surprisingly fresh look at this particular event surrounding the Vietnam War (an overused era in movies generally), and it is filled with powerful and outstanding performances from a star-studded cast that includes Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham, owner of the newspaper and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee, the paper’s editor-in-chief. The movie does telegraph its main theme a bit too bluntly, but nonetheless it still holds a powerful lesson on the importance of freedom of the press for government accountability and free speech generally, something that remains relevant in today’s political climate.  

  1. “War for the Planet of the Apes”

“War for the Planet of the Apes” serves as a fitting end to a fantastic trilogy of thoughtful and engrossing summer films.  The apes as usual look excellent thanks to stunning visual effects, and Andy Serkis continues to perfectly capture their fierce leader, Caesar.  While I do think that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a better movie, this one still provides a captivating yet darker look at the nature of the relationship between humans and apes, and the lengths at which both sides will go to protect their kind.  

  1.   “Logan”

A gritty, emotionally-moving, and unique character piece is not what you usually get with most comic book fare, but that is exactly what “Logan” is: a breath of fresh air in an oversaturated field of comic book movies.  This movie sees Wolverine (Logan), weakened by his decaying body, alcoholism and old age, forced to help X-23, a new mutant with similar physical attributes to him, defend from those who would like to use this girl for their own gain.  Hugh Jackman turns in his best performance as the character, and the film carefully explores Logan’s struggle to deal with his evaporating invincibility while also creating a truly touching bond between Logan and X-23.

  1.   “The Big Sick”

A funny and heartfelt look at relationships, cultural differences, and sickness: “The Big Sick” is an excellent story loosely based around its talented star Kumail Nanjiani’s real life struggles with cultural divides in America and his wife’s disease.  Holly Hunter, Zoe Kazan, and Ray Romano turn in excellent supporting performances, while Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon write a terrific screenplay that packs an emotional punch.  

  1. “Molly’s Game”

Aaron Sorkin is one of the best writer working today, and his directorial debut (which he also wrote) “Molly’s Game” has one of the best scripts of the year, delivered heavily through narration that usually would be off putting, but works really well here.  The biopic tells the intriguing story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier who, after an injury, turns to running high stakes poker games.   Bloom is played excellently by Jessica Chastain, with an equally great supporting role from Idris Elba as her lawyer (who has the best monologue in the movie).  While the story could have benefitted from jumping around the timeline of Bloom’s life less, it benefits from having one of the most interesting real life stories to work off of in recent memory, and it more than makes up for this minor flaw with some of the best scenes of the year (The last scene that takes place in a courtroom, the negotiations with the prosecutors, and the scene on the bench at the ice skating rink with Bloom and her father).

  1.   “Thor: Ragnarok”

Comical, fun, and colorful:  “Thor: Ragnarok” is my favorite of the comic book movies that came out this year, and one of the best Marvel movies to date.  The movie can be described as an easy watch, and while that can often seem like an insult, I think that this is exactly what the movie is trying to be, and there is nothing wrong with that, especially when it is so well executed by Director Taika Waititi.  (Full Review Here)

  1.   “Ladybird”

“Ladybird”, Greta Gerwig’s stunning directorial debut, is a moving and humorous look at a girl named Christine’s (Ladybird) senior year of high school and her struggles to deal with what becomes an increasingly turbulent relationship with her mother.  The movie is remarkably realistic, and while watching, you almost feel like you are there with Ladybird experiencing these events in her life.  I think this is largely due to brilliant performances from Saoirse Ronan as Ladybird and Laurie Metcalf as her mother.  They both carry the film, turning a somewhat straightforward coming of age story into a more complex, emotional, and riveting film.  

  1.   “Mudbound”

“Mudbound” is a unique, thought-provoking, and emotionally powerful story that deals with racial tensions in a time period, 1940’s during WWII, rarely seen in this subgenre.  The movie deftly handles its look at racial resentment of the time period, while also weaving in other engaging threads on the struggle of rural living, class divides, and the effects of the war on these families (which is captured in another contender for best scene of the year with Ronsel and Jamie talking in the car about the things they saw overseas).  Dee Rees does an amazing job directing this movie. She keeps the lighting dark and the pacing tense, creating a feeling of desperation that hangs around these families who are trapped in a miserable rural life without any financial security.  The cast as a whole does some of the best collective work of the year with particularly good performances from Jason Mitchell as Ronsel, Garrett Hedlund as Jamie, Marie J. Blige as Florence, and Jason Clarke as Henry.  The movie is certainly a slow burn without much of a “happy ending”, which means it won’t appeal to everyone, but with an unbelievably good third act, an excellent cast, and an engaging story, “Mudbound” is worth taking a look at.   

  1.   “The Florida Project”

The “Florida Project” is a simple but powerful film that mainly follows a small group of kids during summer break as they explore the decrepit Orlando motel they all live in near Disney World.  It is the best movie this year that has very little in the way of plot or traditional three act structure (this often doesn’t go right, I’m looking at you Call Me By Your Name).  Instead, it simply shows realistic characters living their everyday lives in a movie that is funny, profane, and joyful (largely thanks to the truly hilarious children).  However, this doesn’t make the movie a “light” film as it still manages to tackle intense themes of people’s struggles with poverty and abusive relationships in a way that felt remarkably fresh, given how often movies touch on these topics.  The movie also works as a deep, well-written character piece for some of its main characters, Mooney, Halley, and Bobby, who are played by Brooklynn Prince (a child actress who is a star in the making), Bria Vinaite, and the always excellent Willem Dafoe, respectively.  

  1.   “Wind River”

“Wind River” is a thrilling rural crime drama that tells the story of a Department of Fish and Wildlife hunter and FBI agent teaming up to solve a rape/murder investigation on a Native American Reservation.  The movie offers an excellent portrayal of the frigid and brutal conditions of rural Wyoming in this beautifully shot film.  The hunter, Cory, is one of the best characters put to screen this, as his careful growth as a character and intrinsic connection to the details of the case are both captured perfectly by Jeremy Renner, while Elizabeth Olsen offers up another excellent performance as the FBI Agent, Jane.  The movie expertly explores tensions between people on Native Reservations and the surrounding areas, while also tackling the struggles of rural life generally, especially in the freezing winter, and the difficulty of coping with the loss of loved ones.  Overall, Wind River is an well-written, emotional journey that is worth the ride.  

  1.   “Wonder”

Witty, charming, sweet, and heartwarming: “Wonder” tells the story of Auggie, a boy with facial differences, who must navigate his way through going to school for the first time in the 5th grade.  I appreciated Director Stephen Chbosky’s decision to tell the story in chapters from different characters’ perspectives, as this increased the depth of the supporting cast (who are all excellent, especially Julia Roberts as Auggie’s mother), while also showing that the problems Auggie faces have an impact on more people than just him.  I know many people may be surprised to see this movie so high when compared to some of the critically acclaimed films above and below it, but I truly thought this was one of the year’s best. (Full Review Here)

  1. “Shape of Water”

“The Shape of Water” tells the story of a mute woman, Elisa, who begins to develop feelings for mysterious creature at a top-secret government lab where she is a cleaning lady.  While this description sounds strange and the movie itself is honestly a bit strange, I found this to be a beautiful, emotionally riveting film that was certainly the best movie centered around some sort of romance this year.   Sally Hawkins is extraordinary as Elisa, as she manages to convey every ounce of her grief, love, and joy without using spoken dialogue.  The movie is one of the best looking and best directed movies of the year, thanks to its almost noir look and impeccable direction from Guillermo del Toro that not only makes every scene visually pop, but also ensures the movie moves at a surprisingly exhilarating pace, maintaining a feeling that “stakes were high” even when the film slowed down and took its time to carefully build the moving relationship between this creature and Elisa.  

  1.   “A Ghost Story”

“Shape of Water” was effective in its use of visual imagery, but that looks like little league when compared to the immaculate visual storytelling that makes up the backbone of this film.  This movie’s strange editing, with sequences that seem to drag on intentionally, and overall slow moving story may be intimidating to some viewers, but these “problems” work perfectly within the context of this film.  The cinematography in this movie is perfect, with beautifully shot, long takes all situated within a curved edge frame surrounding the screen, which amplifies the film by making it seem like you are peering into another world.  The movie perfectly explores themes of love, loss, death, grief, the meaning and purpose of life, the merits of achievements, the value and sentimentality of possessions, and the nature of time.  While these may seem like a lot of topics to handle, the film’s wildly creative and original story finds a way to tie them all together using perfect visual imagery to make its points without overstating them.  I won’t spoil any specific plot details, since this movie is difficult to describe and it is worth seeing without knowing much, but I will say get ready for that pumpkin pie scene cause it’s bananas.  

  1.   “Coco”

“Coco”, one of if not the best Pixar movies to date, tells the story of Miguel, a young boy who dreams of being a musician and journeys to the Land of the Dead to find the famous musician, Ernesto de la Cruz, and reconnect with his family and musical roots.  It is a superb film that excels at everything it tries to do, which includes being a compelling adventure movie, coming of age story, and heart-wrenching look at loss and the importance of family.  The movie is extremely well written, loaded with twists and turns that keep it interesting all the way through.  The soundtrack, while universally excellent, also features the best song in a movie this year, “Remember Me” (this song is a real tearjerker and yes I did indeed cry during the last 15 minutes of this film).  The film is exciting, emotionally touching, and it manages to handle complex adult themes beautifully while still excelling at creating an engaging children’s film filled with wonder and joy through immaculate world building and possibly best of the year visual production design that Pixar has become famous for.  

  1.   “Get Out”

I really struggled to pick a number one between this and the next movie, but I ultimately put “Get Out” in this two slot.  The story follows Chris, a black man, dating a white woman, Rose, as they go for the weekend to Rose’s parents house upstate where things quickly become more and more disturbing. Tense, unsettling, thrilling, and terrifying all at the same time thanks to incredible direction by Jordan Peele, “Get Out” consistently features razor sharp racial satire that makes this movie so much more than a traditional horror/thriller.  The movie specifically goes after the underlying racism that exists in liberal white culture, something that hasn’t been fully explored much in film until now.  This is one of those movies that demands to be re-watched, as there are so many clever little details etched into Peele’s brilliant screenplay that can be missed on the first or even second time around (I’ve seen it three times and twice within 12 hours).  The finale in this movie is absolutely riveting, and the performances are across the board excellent.  “Get Out” is proof that Jordan Peele has so much potential outside of his comedic roots.

  1.   “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri”

This year’s best movie, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri”,  is the best movie in so many different ways.  It is the funniest movie of the year, featuring some of the best dark comedy ever put to screen, with incredibly quotable and memorable lines that will keep you groan-laughing days after you leave the theater. It featured most of the best performances of the year, with the best lead performance of the year easily going to Frances McDormand who plays Mildred Hayes, a woman who puts up billboards demanding action by the police after their investigation surrounding the rape and murder of her daughter fails to make headway.  Additionally, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell turn in the two best supporting performances of the year, as the town’s police chief who must face the brunt of Mildred’s criticism and one of the town’s worst and most violent cops, respectively.  The best screenplay of the year could certainly go to this film or Get Out, but the complexity and depth of the characters here give it a slight clear edge.  Each character displays at one point or the other that they are flawed, and this is one of the main points of the story that resonates perfectly through the impeccable storytelling.  The movie handles themes of death, revenge, violence, and racism with maturity and intelligence, and while it is certainly a slow-burn, you won’t feel bored for a second, as it remains consistently thrilling.  Each of these parts works to make the whole: a cynical and hilarious movie with a fantastic script, unbelievable performances, and a story that will keep viewers engaged and riveted throughout.  

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