This is a list of my top 10 films released in 2017. It should be noted: a couple of these films technically came out in 2016, but only saw an American/Global release this year, so I’m including them here.
You might notice that some of your favorite films are missing. Let me state that this list only represents my opinion, and that I missed a lot of films this year. There are some films that probably would’ve made it here otherwise, like Logan Lucky, Get Out, Loving Vincent, 3 Billboards, Wonder Woman, COLOSSAL, and The Shape of Water – but I wasn’t lucky enough to catch them.
When I saw the trailer for Okja, I was pretty certain it would be memorable, but had no idea whether it’d be any good. After the fact, I still can’t say that Okja is a great movie. It’s actually three or four unique movies, some enjoyable and the rest captivating or bizarre, all stitched together by a fairly simple story of a young girl trying to save her pet. It’s definitely the sort of film you’d expect from Bong Joon-ho, director of Snowpiercer, and the film is good about highlighting societal issues through a powerful use of subtext – but it’s not quite as subtle or as well integrated as his last film. Okja is weird, like really weird, and I think at the end of the day it’s a little too disorganized to gracefully entertain or inform, but it’s still one of the most unique films that came out this year. It can be watched anytime on Netflix.
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
Whether or not you thought The Last Jedi was any good (as per my review, I thought it was “okay”), it was fascinating to see how staunch a quarrel the film created within the fanbase. I think it’s warranted, since the film we got was intended both to disappoint current expectations of the franchise and drastically reinvent the future of Star Wars moving forward. The film isn’t outstanding on its own merits, but it definitely succeeds at laying a new groundwork and opening possible creative space that until now was sorely lacking in the Star Wars universe.
#10 - THOR RAGNAROK & LOGAN
2017 was arguably one of the best recent years for superhero movies, at least for everything outside of Justice League. We got some solid films like Lego Batman and Spider-man: Homecoming, but my favorites of the year were the ones that subvert the genre in unexpected places (outside of Wonder Woman because, again, haven’t seen it). For this spot, I was completely split down the middle between Logan’s excellent deconstruction (and attempted reconstruction) of the genre and Thor: Ragnarok’s stark commentary about its own material and how it needs to be approached. Both compete in weird ways: Logan might be a better movie, but Thor: Ragnarok is the one I’d rather watch again. Regardless, each offers a touchstone for superhero movies to compete with moving forward, despite neither one being my favorite superhero film of the year (more on that later). Logan is available for home release, and Thor: Ragnarok will likely follow suit soon.
#9 - WAR MACHINE
Brad Pitt plays an idiosyncratic general assigned to the United States’ counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan, curiously taking place during Obama’s presidency rather than Bush Junior’s, which changes the very nature of the narrative in unique ways. War Machine is largely a somewhat caustic approach to the military mentality regarding our involvement in the Middle East, and it’s fascinating to watch General Stanley’s group of specialists so completely fail to diffuse the situation while executing that mentality. The film is decidedly smart and occasionally razor sharp, but overall a bit too unfocused and maybe a little too long. Still, pretty solid as satire goes and you can catch it on Netflix.
#8 - DUNKIRK
Not much to say that I haven’t said already. I still can’t remember a single character’s name or all of the plot’s details, but I think it says something that I do remember how I felt in the theater during each moment of impact. Time is harrowingly handled in Dunkirk, and it wields atmosphere like David a does slingshot, patiently waiting to slay Goliath. Dunkirk is a movie I’ll always recommend, if for no other reason than how it rocks that atmosphere.
#7 - BABY DRIVER
Every time Edgar Wright gets behind the wheel, you know it’s gonna be a fun ride. Baby Driver is a crazy roll of a film – with an unmistakably talented director – that delivers on a very “film-like” vision. It’s sleek and masterfully handled, and Wright’s use of sound and editing shows an inherently strong understanding of diegesis. While Baby Driver is probably the least impressive of Wright’s films, it’s still one of the most uniquely executed films of the year and definitely worth a watch.
#6 - GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2
As much as I enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok, I did find it a bit too reliant on the current Marvel environment in the sense that you really need to have seen some of the other films in the cinematic universe to grasp it. It’s a decent film on its own merit, but it’s only a great film when held within the context of Marvel’s mighty engine, both diegetically and metatexturally. Part of why I so thoroughly enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was that it not only exists in a very healthy state on its own terms, but it manages to use the source material to tell a really cool story about parenthood. Video essayist Lindsey Ellis explains this type of subtext far better than I ever could, but needless to say I found that the framing significantly bolsters the cinematic experience: ultimately, it’s the most satisfying and structurally layered superhero film of the year.
#5 - COCO
It’s always a pleasure to see original films come out of Pixar, since they tend to be farther apart than most of us would like, at least recently. Long past is the era of purely unique visions at Pixar, and while I had no major beef with Cars 3 and generally enjoyed Finding Dory, I was aching for something new. Coco was exactly what I was hoping for, exactly what I needed. While I love the film that Pixar created and how they approached the material, I’m more impressed than anything that a massive studio was willing to go all in on a small, intimate and culturally appreciative story, and that tight focus pays off in a big way. Coco is one of Pixar’s strongest films, possibly within their top 5, and I can’t think of any reason not to see it when you get a chance.
#4 - THE RED TURTLE
I...uh, don’t even know where to start with this one. I guess I should start by apologizing; this film technically came out at the tail end of 2016, but didn’t see a US release until January of 2017. I was lucky enough to catch an early screening at CTN and I was not ready for what I saw. Directed by Michael Dudok de Wit and co-produced by Studio Ghibli, The Red Turtle tells the story of a man stranded on a deserted island who, in his attempts to leave the island, is stopped by an elusive and mysterious red turtle. The film is traditionally animated, 80 minutes long, completely free of dialogue and centered primarily around only two characters. That’s a bold choice for a feature length film, and this one performs immaculately with a potent story about soul searching and chronicling the weight and passage of a human lifetime. By all accounts, I can’t believe this movie exists, but it does and it’s definitely worth a watch. However, this movie demands an active audience to really get the most out of it, so keep that in mind.
#3 - THE BREADWINNER
It’s fair to say that most of us in the United States haven’t lived in Afghanistan under the reign of the Taliban, and while I’m incredibly thankful for that I also think it’s important to remember that many people overseas have. The Breadwinner is the story of Padwana, a young girl growing up under those exact conditions whose father was wrongfully arrested. In order to provide for her mother and sister in a place where women have no rights, and to look for her father, she disguises herself as a man. This film was put together by the vastly talented Cartoon Saloon, responsible for other outstanding movies like The Secret of Kells and The Song of the Sea, and continues to showcase the studio’s impressive visual style and powerful storytelling methods. But I don’t think The Breadwinner is just worth celebrating as a good film (though, let me be clear: it’s absolutely fantastic), but rather because it allows people around the world an opportunity to feel something completely foreign, something we would otherwise likely never experience or empathize with firsthand. There are many reasons to laud The Breadwinner as a magnificent film with a strong story and fantastic animation – but if I had to pick one, here in America, I’d say exposure to the film’s world is all too important.
#2 - YOUR NAME
Contrary to popular belief (at least among my friends) I don’t in fact hate anime. It does, however, frustrate me. Japanese animation is often packed with cool ideas, detailed worlds and uniquely iconic visions, but there’s a terrible tendency to favor explaining over exploring with many creators...minus a few exceptions. Directors like Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, Shinichiro Watanabe, and this film’s Makoto Shinkai understand that in order to share a truly creative vision, you need to let the audience see and experience it for what it is, without just telling them outright. Your Name is a wonderful slice of everyday fantasy in which two high school students, one living in Tokyo and the other in the rural Japan, switch bodies each time they wake up. As a premise, Your Name isn’t especially crazy – but it fits a deliberately steady and effective narrative around it like a snug glove. Even without a complete explanation of the phenomenon, the film is able to deeply characterize the predicament and development of these two individuals with poignancy, again with a hard emphasis on exploring the problem rather than explaining it. There’s an incredibly strong story that I really don’t want to spoil, but I will say that Your Name is a remarkable little film about the power of human connections, the sensation of familiarity, and is overall was the most impressive animated story released in US theaters last year.
#1 - BLADE RUNNER 2049
Yeah, I’m just as surprised as you. Blade Runner 2049, a film that was presented as yet another cynical Hollywood cash grab, was the best film of the year, and that’s even despite my absolutely subpar viewing experience. 2049 shouldn’t have been that great of a film to me and my expectations were about as low as could be, but somehow it’s the one film I spent the rest of the year thinking about. Rarely have I seen a film so brilliantly employ themes of humanity and the nature of the soul to tell an unexpectedly potent narrative about the machines that imitate them. Every character’s expression speaks volumes, telling entire stories with heavy eyes. Every moment drips with a slow and silent intensity that inundates the film in this bleak, yet bright future. 2049 forces us to question not just the world and technology we’re creating, but why. There’s so much powerful stuff going on in this film: to the avid moviegoer it is probably one of the most rewarding films not just of 2017 but the decade. For all those reasons and more, Blade Runner 2049 is my top pick.
And that’s my list. Truthfully speaking, it was intensely difficult to get this list down to 10 (11 I guess; sorry for cheating), and that’s even with a lot of missed films on my part. I think that’s probably a great sign that 2017, while maybe not the best year all around, was definitely a great year for film, and the purpose of this list is to celebrate that. It’s my earnest hope that something you see here will encourage you to see some films you might have missed.