2017 in Review: The Best and Worst Movies

It’s no surprise that in a year as polarizing as 2017, the movies this year would be just as divisive. While there was rapturous agreement about my No. 9 and No. 6 picks, people had passionate, disparate reactions to my No. 10 and No. 4 picks. Even a movie that was mostly beloved like my No. 7 engendered wildly different reactions to its ending, to say nothing of the debate No. 5 sparked about whether a movie so free should pan away during its sex scenes. But if there’s a theme that runs through most if not all of these movies, it’s one of hope: hope that we can reconcile, hope that we can start again, hope that we can fight on, hope that we can find connection. In 2017, we needed a lot of that, and we’ll need it again in 2018.

Woody Harrelson and Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
10. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (dir. Martin McDonagh)
A movie as messy and in-your-face as this caustic dramedy deserved to have long conversations about the thought-provoking messages it puts forth. Instead, we got into virtual shouting matches over whether it’s racist or not. Here’s what I do know: the performances are fantastic across the board; the script, while making some clumsy character choices and inexcusable mistakes in how characters are used, is exceptional; and its exploration of grief, forgiveness and redemption is absolutely not meant to say any of the reprehensible things its characters do are justified or should be forgotten. This movie is going to get compared to Crash, which is unfair because it’s better, more incendiary and after far different things. Whatever you may have heard, don’t take that person’s word for it.

Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird
9. Lady Bird (dir. Greta Gerwig)
An exemplary coming-of-age movie that’s remarkably universal despite the fact that very few of us were teenage girls going to a Catholic high school in Sacramento in the early 2000s. But Gerwig’s terrific script and steady hand (her solo debut for both, no less!) has a deep sense of place and catches the misplaced confidence of so many high school seniors, while also tackling contentious parental relationships AND exploring how growing up working-class can affect all your hopes and dreams. That it does all of this, and features three of the best performances of the year – including career-best film work from Laurie Metcalf – takes it up yet another level.

Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund in Mudbound
8. Mudbound (dir. Dee Rees)
Netflix still has a long way to go in promoting its festival acquisitions, which it hoards and then unceremoniously dumps throughout the year. But its best film to date is Dee Rees’ arrival into the big leagues. Adapting Hillary Jordan’s novel with Virgil Williams, she delivers a heartbreaking look at two struggling families – one black and one white – in the Mississippi Delta after World War II. The year’s best ensemble cast acts the hell out of this, nailing every emotion, so that even when you question their characters’ choices, you perfectly understand what led them there. It also deftly explores how little racial progress we’ve made in the last 70 years. It’s a downer to be sure, but one of the most vital films of the year.

Willem Dafoe and Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project
7. The Florida Project (dir. Sean Baker)
Sean Baker’s commitment to documenting the stories of lives we rarely see on-screen, using actors we rarely see on-screen, deserves more credit than I could possibly bestow. An episodic journey of the lives of the barely-hanging-on residents of an extended stay motel outside Orlando, The Florida Project is deeply empathetic to its characters’ plight while never once being preachy. This is the movie that we’ll be showing future generations to show what life was like for a lot of people in 2017.

Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out
6. Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)
Lots and lots and lots of people have said that Get Out seemed to be “the movie of the moment,” yet it would have still been that even if Donald Trump hadn’t won the 2016 election. This is not a movie whose villains are racist rednecks or AR-15-toting Confederate flag-wavers. The horror comes from the people who act like voting for Obama was something heroic, the people who want to be activists without getting their hands dirty, the people who rely on tradition as an excuse for changing nothing. And literally the people who want to use black bodies for their own ends and then dump them the second they’re no longer useful to their agenda. But enough about subtext. This is one of the most confident directorial debuts I’ve ever seen, with a razor-sharp script and pitch-perfect performances from its ensemble cast. That a little $5 million movie from a horror shingle caused a worldwide phenomenon, memes upon memes, and introduced a necessary concept into the lexicon (the Sunken Place) would be cause for celebration. That it’s also a terrific horror-comedy to boot makes it one of the best films of the year.

Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in Call Me by Your Name
5. Call Me by Your Name (dir. Luca Guadagnino)
A rare perfect blend of style and substance, Call Me by Your Name is a movie so beautiful I wanted to live inside it. Yes, it’s about a romance between a 17-year-old European intellectual and a 24-year-old American grad student, but it’s also so much more. Even though it’s something of a self-contained fantasy, where the people of 1983 are more open-minded and forgiving than the people of 2017, this is a movie about real emotion: love, lust and pain. Guadagnino also captures the insatiable appetites of hormonal teenage boys and how the desire to satisfy them can cost more than expected.

Jennifer Lawrence in mother!
4. mother! (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
That so many people can disagree about what its metaphor is, and that so many people have extreme reactions to a work of art like this makes it a true success (not financially, but still). I’m choosing to read it as a retelling of the Book of Genesis, how we sinners constantly tear down the Imago Dei. But if you want to read it as how awful it is to live with a successful artist, or as a home-invasion thriller that makes it up as it goes along, or as a black comedy about how awful it is to be the hostess at a party, you do you. Regardless, more studio releases should have this much nerve.

Holly Hunter, Ray Romano and Kumail Nanjiani in The Big Sick
3. The Big Sick (dir. Michael Showalter)
The best romantic comedy in recent memory that also captures the uncertainty of endless days and nights in the hospital with a sick loved one, this is one of the warmest, truest movies of the year. Kumail Nanjiani tells his own love story with his wife Emily V. Gordon: a Pakistani comedian falls in love with a white grad student (Zoe Kazan). Their relationship takes a turn when she’s placed in a medically induced coma. It’s lovely, sad, funny stuff that gets heightened when he meets her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, both exceptional), breaking the ice with a beast of a 9/11 joke but learning to love them even as his relationship with his own parents is strained. The film also explores what it’s like to be a secular Muslim in the modern world, defying centuries-long traditions. That this script deftly traverses all that while never feeling disjointed is a credit to the writers, knocking it out of the park on their first try.

Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water
2. The Shape of Water (dir. Guillermo del Toro)
A love letter to the freaks and outcasts, Guillermo del Toro has crafted another magnificent film that finds the beauty in the ugliness of the world. This Creature from the Black Lagoon romance is out there, but is it so different from Beauty and the Beast, which made more than $1 billion from audiences this year? Sure, it’s more explicit, but it’s no “affront,” as the film’s villain (Michael Shannon) puts it. Filled with tremendous, human performances, The Shape of Water manages to be both timeless and timely. As lame as this sounds, it’s a movie that makes you open your mind and your heart.

Tom Hardy in Dunkirk
1. Dunkirk (dir. Christopher Nolan)
Seeing this in 70mm in my new town was a theatrical experience I’ll never forget. Christopher Nolan’s latest film eschews some of the tricks that his detractors loathe, creating a tense, grounded war film that’s as exciting as anything he’s ever done. While it may be a bit difficult to connect with any single character, the cumulative effect is overwhelming. Even though we know what’s coming, it’s hard not to be overcome with emotion at the sight of hundreds of civilian ships sailing into danger to help their fellow man. As cinema, it’s exhilarating. As a message of resiliency in dark times, it’s essential.

Honorable Mentions
Baby Driver (dir. Edgar Wright)
Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Last Flag Flying (dir. Richard Linklater)
The LEGO Batman Movie (dir. Chris McKay)
Logan (dir. James Mangold)
The Lost City of Z (dir. James Gray)
The Meyerowitz Stories (dir. Noah Baumbach)
Molly’s Game (dir. Aaron Sorkin)
The Post (dir. Steven Spielberg)
Princess Cyd (dir. Stephen Cone)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (dir. Rian Johnson)
Thor: Ragnarok (dir. Taika Waititi)
War for the Planet of the Apes (dir. Matt Reeves)
Wind River (dir. Taylor Sheridan)
Wonder Woman (dir. Patty Jenkins)

Didn’t See But Probably Would Have Loved
Brad’s Status
Brigsby Bear
Dawson City: Frozen Time
Faces Places
A Ghost Story
Girls Trip
Ingrid Goes West
It Comes at Night
The Little Hours
Oklahoma City
Song to Song
Super Dark Times
The Trip to Spain
The Void

Did not release in time: Phantom Thread

The Worst Films
Assholes (dir. Peter Vack)
Before I Fall (dir. Ry Russo-Young)
It’s Only the End of the World (dir. Xavier Dolan)
Rupture (dir. Steven Shainberg)
Wonder Wheel (dir. Woody Allen)

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