While 2017 may have been a crappy year in almost every conceivable aspect (as someone on Reddit pointed out, “2016 was the year your favorite celebrities died, while 2017 was the year your favorite celebrities career’s died”), it seemed as if Hollywood anticipated this downward spiral and upped the amount of movies that reveled in fun, light hearted fare – because God knows, we need escapism now more than ever. As such, there were quite a few movies last year that could have easily made my list but just couldn’t because there simply wasn’t enough room. I know a lot of you will probably cry foul at my exclusion of Baby Driver and Logan, but the ten films on my list just edged them out in terms of what they had to offer. Mind you, I enjoyed the hell out of Edgar Wright’s latest film (the man still has yet to make a movie I didn’t love), and I did like Logan (though, I’d say it was probably the most overrated film of the year by far). But alas, this isn’t a Top 20 list, as much as I’d like to bend the rules. “Top Ten” just sounds better and it forces me to really dial in to what I enjoyed about these films and why they worked so well.
So, without further ado, here’s my sendoff to cinema in 2017…
Honorable Mention: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
While I had issues with the, at times, forced humor throughout (not every single moment has to be punctuated with a joke) the emotional core of this movie really hit me like few other films in 2017. I realize that this may not be a unique take, but Michael Rooker’s relationship with Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill pretty much stole the show and made us feel for Yondu in a way that I doubt anyone in the world saw coming. By the time the credits were rolling, I’ll admit, my eyes were welling up with tears. Kudos to James Gunn for delivering a solid sequel filled with eye-popping visuals and genuine heart.
The film that pushed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 out of my Top Ten; Coco was the last film of 2017 I managed to see before New Year’s, and boy am I glad I did. Despite a less than ideal viewing experience (who takes their unruly kids to a 9:35pm showing?! – Bad Parenting!!!), Pixar’s latest is a triumph of visual design and concept. Coco was a film I knew almost nothing about going in, other than the vague recollection of a boy playing the guitar while a swirl of leaves flew around him. Little did I know that this would be one of Pixar’s more somber films; a story dealing with death, family, and the afterlife – heavy themes for a kids movie, and themes which I’m very glad to say are in no way dumbed down for children. I was surprised how powerfully the idea of family hit home for me, and the rifts that form over different ideologies and paths taken. If you haven’t had a chance to check this one out, I highly recommend taking your chances with a late showing (hopefully the kiddies will be back in school by the time you do) or just renting it when it comes out, as I don’t feel like this particular installment in Pixar’s ever growing catalog of stellar releases really got the attention it deserved in November.
9. War for the Planet of the Apes
I’m still amazed at how excellent these new Apes films have been. It seems like they’re way better than they have any right to be, yet with each new installment they continue to impress, and the conclusion is no different. Taking a Prison-Escape tact with the final installment, we get a film loaded with intense moments, shocking brutality, and a career best performance by Andy Serkis in the role of Ceaser. While it may not be quite as good overall as its predecessor, War is a fantastic send off with solid performances across the board and, once again, state of the art special effects that make you swear that those are real apes running around shooting machine guns.
8. Logan Lucky
If there is any justice in this world, Daniel Craig will be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Award at this year’s Oscars, as his brash, southern bank robber might be his best performance to date. Steven Soderbergh returns with his funniest film since the first Ocean’s Eleven; a movie brimming with wit, hilarious comedic turns from all involved, and some heartfelt emotion thrown in to round out the fun. While the story itself may be familiar (a guy down on his luck decides to become a thief to support his family/child), the NASCAR backdrop and the dynamics between the characters are truly original and give the film a nice and unique flavor that set it apart from other heist films.
7. Get Out
The first great film of 2017, and one of the most unsettling horror movies I’ve seen in quite some time. In fact, I don’t think there was a single second throughout the entirety of Get Out’s third act where my heart wasn’t thumping in my chest. One of my bugaboos is creepy cults/societies, and boy, does this film tap into that fear. For those who haven’t seen the film, I won’t spoil the specifics of what exactly goes down, as the suspense and shock of what you see stems heavily from spoilery revelations throughout, but I will say that I thought I had an idea of where this movie was going, only to find out I was dead wrong. Jordan Peele deserves the highest praise for crafting such a tense and well written thriller, in addition to his cast, lead by Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams, who both turn in Oscar worthy performances. I hadn’t seen either in much prior to Get Out, but they will definitely be on my watchlist in the future. Again, there’s so much I’d love to get into, but to do so would spoil the twists and turns that this movie so deftly provides. Bottom line, if you haven’t seen Get Out, do it now. It’s one of the best, smartly written thrillers in years.
6. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
As I stated on Episode 348, The Last Jedi was a film that I had to stew on for a bit before I could really sum up my feelings towards it. When I left the theater, I knew I liked the movie, but I didn’t know if I was necessarily in love with it like I was its predecessor. I guess I just had to reconcile the fact that I found large parts of the movie (Canto Bight, and pretty much everything that’s not Luke/Rey/Kylo) either uninteresting or seemingly inconsequential to the overall plot (beyond the overarching theme of “the spark of the rebellion”). Mind you, I don’t flat out hate these elements at all, and I will never understand the venomous hate that the internet apparently has for this movie. However, with all of that said, the stuff that does work for me, really works. I can’t imagine a better end for Luke Skywalker’s character than the one we get here. It may not be exactly what some people wanted, but I found it potent and refreshing that they didn’t go the route you’d expect them to take. The same goes for the storyline with Rey and Kylo, the latter of which may just be the most interesting and well-acted character in the entire saga. The Last Jedi may not have been the rollercoaster ride of nostalgia and action that The Force Awakens was, but that’s ok; this movie is doing something different, and despite some jerkiness and less than compelling side plots, I still had a great time with Episode VIII and have a feeling that I’ll enjoy it even more with repeat viewings.
5. Kong: Skull Island
The first big budget blockbuster I saw in 2017, and a movie that really set the bar high for all the other tentpole films to follow; Kong: Skull Island is the King Kong movie for the twelve-year-old kid in all of us. Were you upset about the lack of monster fighting in the last Godzilla movie? Kong has you covered, and then some. This movie wastes no time getting the audience and its characters on the titular island of monsters and goes balls to the wall with its action and visuals for the entirety of the film’s runtime. This movie isn’t trying to be anything but a good time, and it shows, particularly in its characters who, while the majority may be two dimensional cut outs, are nevertheless filled with fun quirks and play well off of each other (John C. Reilly in particular manages to steal the show). Suffice it to say, if you like giant monsters, Samuel L. Jackson, and John C. Reilly cracking jokes, then you’ll have a great time with the latest iteration of The Eighth Wonder of the World.
4. Blade Runner 2049
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is without a doubt a sci-fi classic, at least in terms of its visuals, but in my opinion, story wise, it kind of slogs along (and don’t get me started on Deckard’s rapist tendencies). Nevertheless, I still enjoy watching it from time to time and getting lost in its world. Blade Runner 2049 manages to maintain the original’s visual splendor (compliments of the ever amazing D.P. Roger Deakins) while also having an engaging story and relatable characters (against all odds, this movie manages to redeem Deckard and make him somewhat likable). The story and the visuals do such a good job of sucking me into this world that I forget about the nearly three hour runtime, a sentiment that I’m sure some may take issue with (Ridley Scott being one of them), but never at any point during the film did I feel like it was dragging. It’s a shame that this movie performed so poorly at the box office, but I have to imagine that it will eventually take on the same classic status as its predecessor, as it’s just too damn good to discount.
3. The Big Sick
The Big Sick was one of those indie darlings that I had heard about when it was making its rounds in the film festival circuits, as well as the various comedy podcasts I listen to on the regular. I knew exactly what it was about going in, and even how it ended, but nevertheless, this movie sucked me in and really pulled at my heartstrings (yes, I shed some tears during this one). The performances come across as very genuine and nothing about the script or the situations seemed over the top or too movie-like. Kumail Nanjiani turns in a great performance, despite this being his first lead role, and Ray Romano and Holly Hunter both provide award worthy work as the complicated husband and wife dealing with an extraordinarily tense and awkward situation. This may technically be considered a “romantic comedy”, but it by no means falls victim to any of that genre’s cheesy tropes. Again, everyone in this movie just seems really genuine, and it’s this trait that elevates this movie above the rest in a genre that’s generally looked down upon by many, myself included.
2. Spiderman: Homecoming
After seeing Tom Holland’s performance as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War, it was a forgone conclusion that I would enjoy Spiderman: Homecoming. Then I saw the first trailer, accompanied by a perfectly chosen MGMT song, and suddenly a forgone conclusion became an absolute certainty. Like no other film in 2017, Spiderman: Homecoming is the absolute epitome of popcorn cinema. The entire movie exudes pure, unadulterated fun, and even manages to boast one of the most relatable and clearly defined villains in a comic book film in years. While some may cry foul that Uncle Ben’s death isn’t explored and that Peter isn’t his usual grieving self as a result, I, personally, love that they took a different approach to the character. Instead of the typical revenge storyline, we get a sophomore aged Peter Parker dealing with the problems associated with trying to get through High School…and criminals dealing in alien weaponry, of course. It’s really bizarre that all of the previous films never mined this treasure trove of awkward situations and character building moments, as Peter’s juggling of school and super heroics has always been a touchtone of Spiderman in the comics, but better late than never, I suppose. In addition to fantastic special effects and top-notch performances, the movie is funny – like, really funny. I never thought I’d be saying that a Spiderman movie was the funniest film I’d seen all year, but here we are. Kudos to everyone involved, as well as to Sony for finally conceding that maybe Spidey would be best served creatively by giving him back (at least partly) to the house that he came from.
1. The Shape of Water
Like Spiderman: Homecoming, my liking The Shape of Water was pretty much a forgone conclusion. I have yet to see a Guillermo Del Toro movie that I didn’t like, and thankfully, his latest is no exception. What I didn’t expect was that the movie would be so good that it would not only become my favorite movie of the year, but it would also claim the title of My Favorite Guillermo Del Toro Film to date. Everything about this movie works. There is literally not one single aspect of the production that isn’t exemplary, be it casting, the wonderful sixties-era set design, or the special effects. It’s really remarkable how much Del Toro and crew were able to squeeze out of their meager twenty million dollar budget, as it ends up looking like a movie that cost three times as much to make.
While I can go on all day about the film’s technical majesty, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how stellar the acting is, led by Sally Hawkins, in what is a beautiful and career defining performance. Playing a mute women who lives a fairly solitary life, with the exception of her friendship with her next door neighbor and co-worker (played wonderfully by Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer, respectively), Hawkins convincingly portrays someone who could realistically fall in love with a fish-man. It’s a delicate thing that Del Toro is asking the audience to accept, but he pulls it off with style and grace. Nothing about this relationship feels contrived or crude, and the love between them feels real. And speaking of love, or more specifically, love-making, Del Toro manages to make these scenes beautiful and not tantalizing in anyway. You’re not supposed to be grossed out or shocked, you’re supposed to feel what the characters are feeling, and that the love between them is perfectly natural and earned.
I honestly can’t say enough good things about this film (I didn’t even mention how perfect Michael Shannon is as the bad guy – he’s worth the price of admission alone). The Shape of Water hit me on almost every level that a movie can; I left feeling shocked, amazed, sad, hopeful – you name it. I really do think that this is Del Toro’s best film to date, and I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already. This movie has so much going for it, and I can’t think of a film more deserving of the top spot on this list.