2017 has been an excellent year in film, offering a combination of new franchise installments that enriched what came before and original films that challenge genre norms through innovative storytelling. There were inevitably films that I missed, but many of the ones I saw this year inspired me both as a writer and film fan. While it was difficult to narrow down and rank my favorites of this year, I put together a list of what I believe to be the best films of 2017.
Honorable Mentions: “Thor Ragnarok,” “Dunkirk,” “War for the Planet of the Apes,” “Wind River,” The Shape of Water,” “Get Out”
10. “The Disaster Artist”
Oh, hai Franco brothers. This film, directed by James Franco, is one of the funniest and most poignant pictures to come out of this year, detailing the story of how Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) made one of the worst films of all time, “The Room.” I first saw “The Disaster Artist” at South By Southwest in Texas this year without knowing what to expect. I had never even seen “The Room” before. Regardless, the Franco brothers offer great chemistry on screen, delivering the comedic beats one would expect from them, but some surprising emotional depth as well. While I have since seen “The Room,” you certainly don’t need to watch that to enjoy “The Disaster Artist.”
Horror isn’t exactly my preferred genre, but “It” was a pleasant (can a horror movie be pleasant?) surprise. The film follows a group of misfits as they face off against a demonic clown, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), terrorizing their town. “It” is just as much a coming of age story as it is a horror flick, bringing to light the familiar struggles of growing up and facing one’s fears — the latter of which in a literal sense. To top it off, the film is also funny which, if you’re like me, offers reprieve from the creepy nature of Pennywise. With great performances from Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis and Skarsgård, “It” was my most unexpected favorite of the year.
Greta Gerwig makes her directorial debut with “Lady Bird,” which follows Saoirse Ronan’s Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a vivacious teenager enduring her senior year at a Catholic high school in Sacramento, California. The film takes an unconventional approach to the coming of age story arc, focusing on Lady Bird’s deteriorating relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), and what that means for her as she prepares to leave home for college. Ronan and Metcalf are mesmerizing, bringing to life their equally loving and devastating mother-daughter relationship. Gerwig, through both her direction and scripted dialogue, crafts a sense of personal realism to her film, as though these were real people having real experiences in Sacramento; Gerwig herself is from there, so maybe that’s where it stems from. Either way, this film stuck with me after I left the theater; the more I thought about it, the more it resonated with me, and still does now.
Truthfully, this film snuck onto my list right at the end; while the film was released back in January, I didn’t get a chance to see it until recently, and I am so glad I did. M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split” floored me. The story focuses on a man with 23 different personalities (James McAvoy) who kidnaps three girls. McAvoy gives one of the best and most underrated performances of the year, effortlessly switching from one personality to the other with horrifying realism. Anya Taylor-Joy also shines as Casey Cook, one of the kidnapped girls with a traumatic past; she externalizes her character’s emotions and thought processes often through facial expressions alone, drawing me to her character just as much as I was to McAvoy’s “characters.” With meticulous pacing, speeding up and slowing down in a way that never let me catch my breath until the very end, Shyamalan has proven he’s back in full force as a director and storyteller.
I love superhero movies, and I love the “X-Men” franchise, but I’ve never seen a superhero movie quite like “Logan.” Directed by James Mangold, “Logan” sees Hugh Jackman’s last run as the Wolverine, a role he’s had since 2000’s “X-Men,” only this time, he’s much older and unable to heal himself from his injuries. He embarks on a final mission with the mutant X-23 (Dafne Keen) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Mangold injects elements of a western into this story, and the result is a refreshing take on the superhero genre. Jackman is arguably the best he’s ever been as the iconic character, grounding Logan through gritty, and sometimes violent, realism and emotional (as well as physical) punches that left me with tears in my eyes when the credits rolled. “Logan” is not only one of the best movies of the year; it’s one of the best superhero movies ever made.
5. “The Big Sick”
One of the best crafted stories of the year, “The Big Sick” depicts the real-life story of how Kumail Nanjiani (as himself) met his wife, Emily V. Gordon (Zoe Kazan). This relationship grows more complicated when Emily becomes sick and is placed in a medically induced coma, leaving Kumail to question what he wants in life. As both a comedy and a drama, this film could have easily struggled with tonal inconsistencies, but “The Big Sick” balances these elements beautifully, weaving in larger themes of race, discrimination, belief and love while still incorporating wit and charm. Responsibility for that goes largely to Nanjiani and Gordon, who wrote the script together and make the dialogue feel organic and the story intimate. “The Big Sick” is one of the funniest and most heartfelt films of the year.
4. “Baby Driver”
“Baby Driver,” in my opinion, is Edgar Wright’s best directorial effort, and has consistently been one of my favorites of 2017 since I saw it. The film stars Ansel Elgort — in a breakthrough performance — as Baby, a getaway driver who constantly listens to music to drown out his tinnitus. It bears mentioning that the film does feature Kevin Spacey, an actor with a disgraceful past, and I condemn him and his actions. That being said, Wright’s accomplishments in this film should be recognized. The biggest feat Wright pulled off in “Baby Driver” is not the exciting car chases — although those are entertaining — but the music he incorporates into the action itself; each step, move and action that the actors make times out perfectly with the soundtrack of the film, as though the music itself was a character. Elgort in particular makes this element shine, using his theater background to dance and step to the beat of the music blasting through his headphones. This provides the movie with a pulse that propels the viewers forward from start to finish.
3. “Wonder Woman”
It is rare that I leave the theater with a feeling of awe and inspiration that sticks with me long after I’ve watched the film, but director Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” did that for me. Gal Gadot stars as Diana Prince, an Amazonian warrior who decides enter the fight in World War I after an American pilot named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands on their island. Gadot and Jenkins bring to life a compelling superhero and an empowering female lead — one I didn’t realize how much I needed until I saw “Wonder Woman.” Gadot combines physicality with delicate charm, offering a character who is smart and strong, beautiful and formidable, not to mention her and Pine’s electric chemistry. Jenkins crafts one of the best action sequences ever choreographed with the “No Man’s Land,” a sequence that marks Diana’s transformation into Wonder Woman. This was a good year for superhero films, but none surpassed “Wonder Woman” for me.
2. “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi”
Director Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” was my most anticipated movie of the year; I was practically rocking with exciting while sitting in the theater. However, when I first saw it, I didn’t know how I felt about it. I knew I liked the movie overall, but I felt there were some pacing issues and story arcs that felt out of place, particularly with Finn and newcomer Rose. Yet, I couldn’t stop thinking about the movie. Having seen it a second time, I can say that most of those issues were diminished, and that I honestly love “The Last Jedi.” No “Star Wars” movie that has come before it has made me think as much about the characters or the overall story of the Saga films, including the Originals and Prequels. Rey, Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker’s respective arcs in this film are arguably the most compelling narrative threads in the entire franchise, and each reveal is as thought-provoking as it is shocking. For that reason, Johnson’s film is divisive among viewers and fans. This may not have been the story we wanted, but I think it’s the story we needed to push “Star Wars” forward. I believe “The Last Jedi” is the smartest film in the franchise, and one of its best.
1. “Blade Runner 2049”
“Blade Runner 2049” is the best film of the year in my eyes, from its jaw-dropping visuals to its intelligent narrative. Denis Villeneuve —who coincidentally directed my favorite film of last year, “Arrival” — directs this sequel to Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” which stars Ryan Gosling as Officer K, a Blade Runner who uncovers a troubling secret that leads him to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the protagonist of the original film. Gosling’s stoic portrayal of K anchors the film, making me hang onto his every word and action so that when he does break form, it makes K as a character feel that much more real. Roger Deakins’ cinematography captures a fully realized world; every frame drips with gorgeous visuals, making “Blade Runner 2049” the most visually stunning of the year as well. Much like his previous films, Villeneuve moves this film forward slowly, and for some, the pacing may drag the film down. However, each story beat builds upon the next in a “slow burn” that leads to a satisfying and emotionally resonant climax. More than that though, “Blade Runner 2049” explores what it means to be human, what it means to have a soul. The questions posed in this film still linger in my mind now. With flooring performances, visuals, direction and score, “Blade Runner 2049” is a technical and storytelling masterpiece, and the best film of 2017.