Scott Menzel’s Picks for the 17 Best Films of 2017 with 7 Honorable Mentions
It’s almost hard to believe that 2017 is already over. In my humble opinion, 2017 was a great year for film but it wasn’t nearly as incredible as 2016. The most interesting thing to note about the films of 2017 is that a lot of major studio releases were a lot better than in previous years. There were a ton of good films in 2017 but for me, there weren’t as many where I walked out of a theater and felt blown away by.
2017 was a year of quality filmmaking where the good to great films were sprinkled throughout the year instead of all at once. I feel like every month that went by, I saw at least one film that really stuck with me for the rest of the year. It’s interesting to note this change because typically this isn’t how best of the year picks work. There are generally one or two films released early in the year that end up remaining strong until award season but usually the biggest chunk of “great films” aka “award-worthy films” are typically released at the Venice Film Festival, Telluride, and Toronto International Film Festival in early September and open during November and December.
With that being said, there is no denying that November and December is still home to a big chunk of great films but there are a lot of others releases that have generated a lot of buzz from early on and are still being discussed. Some of those films might be on my list and some of them might not. It is also important to point out that there are a few films released that I did miss which got positive buzz. These films include Thank You For Your Service, The Lovers, Good Time, Maudie, BPM, The Pirates of Somalia, Loveless, and Happy End.
Now, without further delay, here are my personal picks for the 17 Best Films of 2017 starting with 7 honorable mentions.
7. Tragedy Girls
Tragedy Girls was my favorite film from SXSW back in March. I rewatched the film in October and it still held up and was a ton of fun. The film is about two teenage girls who go on a killing spree as a way to build their social media following. Tragedy Girls isn’t just a wonderful social satire but an entertaining and well-made indie horror that pays tribute to several beloved horror classics. If you are a fan of social satires and horror comedies, Tragedy Girls is one of the best in quite some time.
6. A Ghost Story
David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is not a film for everyone but as someone who appreciates art house films that dare to be different while being complex, I couldn’t help but love this film. This isn’t a film that you can watch over and over again but if you embrace the story and themes, it will stick with you for days, if not, months after seeing it. This is a true indie film and one that has a lot to say. The film tackles love, loss, loneliness, and how as human beings we learn for attention and affection from others. Lowery goes deep with this film and if you are someone that can appreciate a story that takes its time building into something deep and thought-provoking, then A Ghost Story is one of 2017’s must-see indie films.
5. Baby Driver
My favorite Edgar Wright film is Scott Pilgrim vs The World. I love that film because it is hilarious, entertaining, and just plain fun. Baby Driver is a music inspired action film and one that is a blast to watch from beginning to end. Every single song adds something to the film and perfectly fits into the scene the audience is watching unfold. Ansel Elgort continues to amaze me by playing Baby, a role that is unlike anything we have seen from him before. Also, this is probably the last time for a very long time, that we will be able to say we saw and liked a Kevin Spacey performance. Baby Driver is a creative action film that stands out because it feels unique and different. Bravo Edgar Wright on adding yet another great film to your already incredible filmography.
4. Their Finest
Their Finest was an independent dramedy starring Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, and several others. The film generated no buzz whatsoever but was a wonderful little film that celebrated female empowerment while poking fun at the government-funded propaganda films. Lone Scherfig has crafted an overlooked little gem that is a must-see for anyone that loves film and acting. The scenes with Jake Lacy’s character where he is trying to say his lines without being stiff are hilarious. The film is also incredibly moving and heartfelt. This film is all about the characters and their interaction with one another. I highly recommend you seek this one out if you haven’t seen it. Their Finest is currently on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Wonder is the type of film that sticks with you. We need more films like this one because it reminds the world to be kind to one another. It celebrates being different while also showcasing the hard times that come with being an outcast. The film highlights Jacob Tremblay’s finest performance since ROOM and will easily connect with anyone who has a pulse. In my review, I called Wonder, the feel-good film of the year and two months later, I still feel the same. It is so refreshing to see an amazing family film that isn’t animated and still manages to tell a great story with heartfelt performances from everyone in the film.
2. The Post
The Post tells a great story and how closely that story resonates with what is currently going on here in the United States is a bit worrisome. Steven Speilberg’s passion for telling this story is clearly presented while Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep act their hearts out. This is an important film and one that is made with a lot of love and attention to detail. I really struggled with my best of year list this year because as I said in my introduction, there have been a lot of great films this year so deciding how to narrow a list down to 17 titles is not always an easy task. The Post is a great film with a story that needs to be told so if you are a fan of history and politics, this one is not to be missed.
1. War for the Planet of the Apes
War for the Planet of the Apes is a powerful ending to a great modern-day trilogy. This is the first time in this new franchise that I cared about the human characters as well as the apes. This film highlights the negative effects of war while displaying some of the most remarkable visuals of the year. Andy Serkis’ Cesear will go down in history as one of the best motion captured performances to ever grace the silver screen. You couldn’t ask for a better final film in a franchise and it is one that will leave you with the feels. War for the Planet of the Apes is a big budget masterwork and one that isn’t a war film but rather a statement about the trials and tribulations of being at war.
The 17 Best Films of 2017
17. Get Out
Jordan Peele’s Get Out is a social satire with horror elements. It is fun, thought-provoking, and entertaining. I saw the film back at the Sundance Midnight Madness Premiere where it received rave reviews. Those positive reviews only continued throughout all of 2017. Get Out is the type of film that sparks a conversation while also entertaining an audience. It is a remarkable debut from Peele and one that sets the bar incredibly high for him, not only a director but also as a screenwriter. While I think it is no surprise that Get Out is one of the most talked about films of the year, it should also be wake up call to major studios. This film proves that you don’t need a huge budget to make a great movie. You just need a great concept and talent in front and behind the camera. Get Out plays homage to horror while also addressing the issue of race that unfortunately still exists not only in the United States but all over the world.
16. The Glass Castle
The Glass Castle was a film that I was very excited about even though there was very little buzz leading up to its release. The film reunites Brie Larson with Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton and once again, the two make beautiful movie magic together. While Cretton didn’t write this film, you can feel his passion for the material in every single scene. I love films where you can tell that the actors, as well as the filmmakers, feel a connection to the material and the story. This is why I believe this film was so incredibly effective. Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, and the entire young supporting cast embrace Jeannette Walls’ story and deliver some of the most incredible performances of the year. Walls’ story is emotionally powerful and incredibly heartbreaking. I can’t remember the last time that a film has resonated with me as much as this one has. The Glass Castle isn’t just one of the best films of 2017 but one of the most overlooked and underrated as well.
15. The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a wonderful gothic fairytale. It is enchanting and beautifully told. The film is easily one of the best films of del Toro’s impressive career thus far and is deserving of all the award season chatter that the film started to receive at Venice Film Festival back in late August. Sally Hawkins delivers one of the best performances of her career and the supporting cast that includes Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, and Michael Stuhlbarg are all equally fantastic in their roles. Del Toro’s love and admiration for cinema cannot be ignored. The Shape of Water is a mesmerizing film that will stick with you for days.
14. Girls Trip
Girls Trip is hands down the funniest film of the year. This hilarious female-driven comedy directed by Malcolm D. Lee was a total surprise. There are a lot of reasons why Girls Trip works but probably the most important reason is the relationship between the four leads actresses. Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish share some of the year’s best on-screen chemistry and each of their characters are given plenty of depth. This is a comedy but one that isn’t afraid to mix in some drama that only adds to the overall effectiveness of the film. Six months later, I can still tell you some of the film’s most hilarious moments including the now notorious grapefruit scene and the zip lie scene. The speech delivered by Regina Hall at the end of the film will continue to put other friendship speeches to shame for years to come.
13. Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman is the best superhero film of 2017. Patty Jenkins has officially restored my faith in the Superhero genre as I was started to become bored and underwhelmed by films that just felt like more of the same. Truth be told, I actually had goosebumps while I watching this film. Gal Gadot is Diana Prince and owns this role. The performance is full of energy and Gadot’s performance mixes humor with drama. When Wonder Woman springs into action in No Man’s Land is easily one of the best cinematic moments of 2017. I am so glad that Jenkins was able to show her male counterparts that she can make a film that is arguably one of the best superhero films of all time.
12. The Big Sick
I didn’t know much about The Big Sick prior to seeing it at Sundance back in January. The film, which is based on the true-life story of how Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani met and the illness that almost took Emily’s life is a film that stuck with me throughout all of 2017. The Big Sick is technically a dramedy but when the laughs do hit, they hit big. As someone who loves Michael Showalter as a director and actor, seeing him direct this film felt like something different for him and he does a great job tell this story. The chemistry and the energy between Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan is spot-on while Ray Romano and Holly Hunter deliver some amazing performances as Emily’s father and mother. Everyone in this film commits to this beautiful, hilarious, and unbelievable story which makes this one of best and most memorable films of the year.
Mother! is a polarizing film and one that since its release has sparked a lot of conversation and debate. It is very rare nowadays for a film to be hailed as one of the best films of the year by certain critics and absolutely despised by others. I had no idea what to expect when the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival but was blown away by how crazy and original the film was. While I can totally understand how some consider this film “too out there,” I appreciate films that aren’t afraid to go against the grain and Darren Aronofsky has made a film that leaves room for conversation. The last 20 minutes of Mother! pushes boundaries and the end result is something that is very bold and jarring. While this film has been clearly overlooked by many, I personally applaud Paramount for letting the Aronofsky do his thing and not try to control his creativity. We complain about the lack of originality in Hollywood and yet a major studio takes a risk with a film like Mother! and it sadly gets criticized for being too “batshit crazy.”
Anyone who knows me knows that I typically hate films that have anything to do with religion. I normally despise religious films regardless of whether or not they are pro or anti-religion but Novitiate hooked me and impressed me. I found myself deeply engrossed in this story about a young girl who was willing to give up her entire life to become a nun. Margaret Qualley’s performance is remarkable and it is a crime that NO ONE is talking about how nutso Melissa Leo’s performance is as Reverend Mother. It is a small tragedy that she has not been nominated for a single award thus far. I don’t know if not enough people saw this film but considering it was at Sundance as well as Toronto, I am shocked by how little Award season chatter there is for this one. I found this to be a riveting tale that is incredibly powerful and poignant.
I loved Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck. I remember watching the film at Telluride at 10:30 pm. I was exhausted but completely fascinated by the film. Newcomer Millicent Simmonds delivers a performance well beyond her years. She is amazing and owns the film whenever she appears on-screen. Oakes Fegley, who I thought was great in Pete’s Dragon is just as terrific here as well. The adult performances by Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams are equally impressive. However, the thing is that really completes this film and makes it stand out is the remarkable direction by Todd Haynes is paired with some of most impressive cinematography of the year. Wonderstruck celebrates the silent era of motion pictures through the eyes of children. It is filled with beauty and imagination. Wonderstruck is Todd Haynes best film to date and one that I can’t wait to revisit again.
8. Personal Shopper
Kristen Stewart is one of the most underrated actresses working today. Stewart has tackled so many different roles throughout her career and each one is better than the next. Stewart’s performance as Maureen Cartwright is haunting and nothing short of spectacular. Personal Shopper is the second time that Stewart has teamed up with writer/director Olivier Assayas and the two working together are a winning combination. This is a ghost story but also a psychological thriller. It isn’t for everyone but is one of the most interesting and thought-provoking films that I have seen all year. It is a real crime that Kristen Stewart has been completely overlooked this award season because this performance should have been nominated for a series of awards.
7. I, Tonya
This was one of the biggest surprises to come out of the Toronto International Film Festival this year. I, Tonya is a mockumentary about Tonya Harding and was one of the most talked about films to come out of TIFF. Margot Robbie’s performance as Tonya Harding is a career best for the talented actresses who disappears and becomes Tonya Harding. Sebastian Stan, who I generally don’t like as an actor, is terrific as Tonya’s abusive husband. While Robbie and Stan both deliver Award-Worthy performances, it is Allison Janney as Tonya’s mother LaVona who steals every scene. This is a fascinating true story that is just as funny as it is heartbreaking. This is another film that I have revisited again recently and has only gotten better on repeat viewings.
6. Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is one of the best coming-of-age films in recent memory. Saoirse Ronan shines while Laurie Metcalf has never been better. Lady Bird is a love letter not only to adolescence but to mother and daughters everywhere. Gerwig’s directorial debut is perfectly crafted and edited. Lady Bird is a winning combination of emotion, laughs, and heart. I feel so lucky that I was among some of the first to see the film at the Telluride Film Festival back in August.
Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo has created a monster movie that revolves around a woman battling her own inner demons. The result is what I consider to be the most original film of the year. Anna Hathaway is terrific and Jason Sudeikis has never been better. This is the type of film that no major studio would ever take a chance on but the end result is something truly special and unique. While this could have been another film about a woman struggling to overcome her addictions to love and alcohol, Vigalondo takes a common concept and turns it on its head. I have watched Colossal at least three times now and it only gets better and better on repeat viewings.
4. Molly’s Game
Aaron Sorkin is one of the best writers in Hollywood and Jessica Chastain is an amazing actress. The two of them working together is a match made in cinema heaven. Chastain’s performance as Molly Bloom is remarkable while Idris Elba’s supporting performance as Charlie Jaffey is one of his finest performances to date. Chastain and Elba deliver Sorkin’s dialogue with such conviction and gusto. This is a fascinating film that is based on a true story. Molly’s Game is one of the most entertaining films of the year and is arguably tied with Three Billboard Outside of Ebbing, Missouri for showcasing some of the best written and delivered dialogue of the year.
3. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was my second favorite film to play at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film, which is written and directed by Martin McDonagh is a dark comedy with three of the most memorable performances of the year. Francis McDormand’s role as Mildred Hayes is easily the best female performance of the year while Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson deliver two of the best supporting performances. This is a film that will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you think. Martin McDonagh has made three terrific films thus far but Three Billboards is in my opinion, the best of the three.
2. Professor Marston and The Wonder Women
Professor Martson and the Wonder Women was my favorite film that I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival. I never knew anything about the origins of Wonder Woman prior to seeing this film so this was an eye-opening and learning experience for me. Angela Robinson did an incredible job retelling the story of Professor William Moulton Marston and the two smart and beautiful women who served as the inspiration for the now beloved comic book character. This is a mature story but one that is handled with such grace and beauty. The relationship between Rebecca Hall, Luke Evans, and Bella Heathcote is the best on-screen relationship that I have seen all year.
1. The Greatest Showman
I didn’t know what to think about The Greatest Showman as I entered the theater. I figured that without the film having any Award Season chatter, it was going to be a mediocre musical but to my surprise, I found myself immediately captivated by the film. The Greatest Showman is a musical masterpiece and one that I haven’t stopped thinking about since I saw the film a little over two weeks ago. While the soundtrack is nothing short of spectacular, the film itself is just a sheer delight from beginning to end. The visuals, the performances, and the direction are all top notch. You can tell that Hugh Jackman and Michael Gracey poured their hearts and souls into this film and that they wanted to make something that felt like a real Broadway production that was being brought to life on the big screen. The Greatest Showman celebrates the imagination as well as those who dare to dream. It is one of the best and most original movie musicals ever made and one that I have been dying to see again. The Greatest Showman is 2017’s answer to La La Land and is my pick for the best film of 2017.