The year 2017 was, admittedly, a weaker year in film compared to the past few years. At least for me. For instance, last year I gave out fourteen A-grades to films and even gave out one A+. This year, only my top three films even cracked the great A-grade line. That’s not to say 2017 was a bad year for movies. I enjoyed a lot of the films I saw. But I only really loved a handful. And that brings us here: my favorites of the year 2017.
Keep in mind that this list is subjective, but I do encourage people to weigh in on their favorite films of 2017 in the comments section. My list, like every year, will go by official United States release dates; this means the films had to have had a limited or wide release in theaters in the U.S. in the year 2017 to qualify.
I did miss a few well-regarded films this year for one reason or another. You know, life. That’s not to say the films would have made my list, but many other critics have praised them highly so they are worth mentioning. Some of the films I missed were (A-Z): The Beguiled, BPM, Colossal, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, The Square, Wonder, Wonderstruck
15 Honorable Mentions (A-Z):
All the Money in the World
Blade Runner 2049
Call Me by Your Name
City of Ghosts
The Florida Project
Last Flag Flying
Director: Julia Ducournau
Writer: Julia Ducournau
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf
IMDB Plot: When a young vegetarian undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her.
“Raw,” the debut feature of French filmmaker Julia Ducournau, is that rare breed of a movie: a beautiful horror film. Ducournau uses the cannibalism on display as a metaphor for sexual awakening in atmospheric and intelligent ways. Garance Marillier is unforgettable in the lead, making Justine soulful and relatable despite her strange urges. “Raw” never takes any easy horror routes despite having some brutal scenes, instead focusing strongly on character and artistry. Grade: A- (8.7/10)
9. War for the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves
Writers: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval
IMDB Plot: After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.
What a surprisingly excellent trilogy the “Planet of the Apes” prequels turned out to be, led all the way by the brilliant Andy Serkis as Caesar. The thought-provoking finale packs an emotional wallop as it questions the humanity of humans and the creatures that live among them. Woody Harrelson is a welcome presence as a military character with more depth than expected. The visual effects are astonishingly great as well. Grade: A- (8.8/10)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy
IMDB Plot: Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German Army, and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.
It usually annoys me when war films are made for a PG-13 audience, as the material is usually too tame compared to the realities of war. “Dunkirk” is a rare exception. The film may not show the blood and brutality of war, but it nails the tension in the “waiting for the enemy” quietness of war. The film’s structure is interesting but disjointed, but there are enough powerful scenes to propel it through its issues. The aerial sequences are especially dynamite, being among the best-directed action scenes of Christopher Nolan’s filmography. Grade: A- (8.8/10)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Cast: John Boyega, Algee Smith, Anthony Mackie, Will Poulter, Jason Mitchell
IMDB Plot: Fact-based drama set during the 1967 Detroit riots in which a group of rogue police officers respond to a complaint with retribution rather than justice on their minds.
Released in the pit of August, “Detroit” unfortunately didn’t do much at the box office. It’s a shame because the film is expertly made, lighting a fire under your ass as it tells its fact-based historical story of extreme police brutality and racial tensions in America. Sound familiar? Will Poulter may have turned down the role of Pennywise in “It” (2017), but he still managed to turn in a terrifying performance in 2017 with his work here. The film’s urgent style makes sure to leave you gripped from beginning to end. Grade: A- (8.8/10)
6. A Ghost Story
Director: David Lowery
Writer: David Lowery
Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham
IMDB Plot: In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence, a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife.
Quiet and intimate, David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story” is an art-house exploration of lasting moments and feelings that certainly isn’t for all tastes but will will leave quite an impact on many who have experienced great loss. The film’s hazy look, boxed-in aspect ratio, and seamless hard-cut transitions into different time periods all lend to Lowery’s unique yet subtly-handled vision. Not all of it worked for me (some love the “pie scene” but I found it tedious), but much of it left me mesmerized. Grade: A- (8.8/10)
5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director: Martin McDonagh
Writer: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Lucas Hedges
IMDB Plot: A mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit.
No one writes darkly comedic crime dramas quite like Martin McDonagh. While “In Bruges” (2008) remains my favorite film by him, he continues his winning streak with “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” The writing here is sharp and totally unpredictable, with colorful characters who make questionable decisions. The cast is amazing all-around, but it’s Sam Rockwell — who may FINALLY win an Oscar for this role — who stands out as a cop with both reprehensible and redeemable qualities. Grade: A- (8.8/10)
4. The Post
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Liz Hannah, Josh Singer
Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson
IMDB Plot: A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country’s first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between the press and the government.
“The Post” is a thrilling historical drama that managed to glue me to my seat despite me already knowing most of the outcome of its real-life story. The press-versus-the-government story is as timely as ever, and Steven Spielberg and company present it with tremendous skill — including fluid-as-ever camerawork by Janusz Kaminski. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep are great as expected at the center of the cast, but it’s perhaps Bob Odenkirk who turns in the most memorable work. Grade: A- (8.9/10)
3. Get Out
Director: Jordan Peele
Writer: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones
IMDB Plot: It’s time for a young African-American to meet with his white girlfriend’s parents for a weekend in their secluded estate in the woods, but before long, the friendly and polite ambience will give way to a nightmare.
Timely, tense, and masterfully helmed, comedian Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is an eye-opening feature debut and already ranks as a horror-thriller classic. It’s a social satire on race and family in the modern age, with plenty of stinging humor, scary jolts, and food for thought. If Peele keeps his future projects this smart and entertaining, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. Grade: A (9/10)
2. Phantom Thread
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville
IMDB Plot: Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.
Paul Thomas Anderson remains one of the most fascinating American film voices of his generation, with his filmography including masterpieces like “Boogie Nights” (1997) and “There Will Be Blood” (2007). His latest, “Phantom Thread,” is more straightforward structurally than we’re used to from him, but the film still bursts with the artist’s eye for detail and thematic explorations. This time around, Anderson puts a spin on toxic romantic relationships that is hard to forget, even more so due to the magnetic work from Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps. Grade: A (9.2/10)
1. The Shape of Water
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones
IMDB Plot: At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.
Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” is pure movie magic, nodding its head to cinema’s past while also presenting fresh visual and storytelling wonders. The film’s presentation feels like early Spielberg while the script’s more mature themes blend seamlessly in, giving audiences a weird but heartfelt romance that leaves plenty to think about afterwards. The cast is superb all around as well, led by a career-best Sally Hawkins. A couple of subplots feel a bit stretched if I’m nitpicking, but overall “The Shape of Water” is a beautiful big-screen experience that left me in awe. Grade: A (9.2/10)