2017 was a difficult year for many, yet through it all we were treated to one of the finest set of films in ages. This was a year for bold big-budget filmmaking and powerful indies from some the industry’s very best. I’ve never struggled this much with picking only 10 films to highlight — any of the hereinafter movies would be Top 10 or 5 any other year, and those within the Top 5 could all be named #1. But the quality this year was sensational and I’d argue we may very well look back on 2017 as the best of the decade.
The Rest of the Best: Baby Driver / The Big Sick / Call Me By Your Name / Darkest Hour / Get Out / It / Lady Bird / Molly’s Game / Thor: Ragnarok / Wonder Woman
Best Performance: (TIE) Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water / Andy Serkis, War for the Planet of the Apes
Biggest Surprise: It
Visual Knockout Award: Blade Runner 2049
Best Scene: Throne Room Fight, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Biggest OMG Moment: Laura Reveals Her Powers, Logan
10. Phantom Thread
Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson
Coming out of Phantom Thread, it took me a little while to gather my thoughts on it. Was this a film I admired, more than I liked? Did I like or enjoy other movies a bit more this year? The answer could very well be Yes. However as the days went by, it became a film that was difficult to shake. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Daniel Day Lewis is as brilliant and captivating as ever. Somehow watching him being fussy over how he likes his asparagus cooked was riveting drama. Paul Thomas Anderson has often said he’s more interested in how a movie feels rather than satisfying plot mechanics and this is a film you feel to your bone. It feels like a long-forgotten buried treasure unearthed from a bygone era of cinema. The design, visuals, and an incredible score by Johnny Greenwood fully transports you into its world and into a particular brand of filmmaking that you don’t see anymore. Already it feels like it belongs in a museum to be adored by generations to come.
9. War for the Planet of the Apes
Directed By Matt Reeves
Matt Reeves’ follow-up to his excellent Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and the final installment in this particular segment of the ever-sprawling Apes franchise, is a bit of Trojan Horse. The title and marketing would certainly lead you to believe that the climax of Caesar’s story will be an all-out action extravaganza, but Reeves has more interesting ideas on his mind. Instead we are given a solemn meditation on the nature of war and how it darkens even the most inspiring of souls. This is an epic very much in the vein of David Lean with some of the most stunning visual effects ever put to screen. You forget you are watching an effect, these apes are real, and much of the credit must be given to the wizard effects team but we must also appreciate just how much Andy Serkis has changed cinema. Serkis’ Gollum in The Lord of the Rings was a breakthrough, marrying performance and effects in a way we’d never seen before. His work as Caesar throughout these three Apes films tops it and then some. Going toe-to-toe with a brilliantly mad Woody Harrelson, Serkis embodies his character with such empathy, darkness, and nuance that his realization of Caesar is the main attraction and it doesn’t disappoint.
Directed By Christopher Nolan
After making his name with complex mind-bending spectacles and reaching the apex of superhero storytelling, a straight-forward war movie from Christopher Nolan was a bit of a head-scratcher. Was this just his attempt at Saving Private Ryan to finally get that damn Oscar? The incredible true story of Dunkirk is certainly worthy of cinematic exploration (apart from a brilliant sequence in Joe Wright’s 2007 film Atonement), but how was this going to be a Christopher Nolan film? As is often his forte, Nolan plays with time to construct a narrative that keeps you on the edge of your seat trying to fit the story pieces together. Told across three different timelines and locations (Beach – 1 week, Sea – 1 day, Air – 1 hour), Nolan deploys his usual non-linear tricks while also showcasing a spectacle of technical bravado, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the golden age of Hollywood where there were no computer-enhanced shortcuts. Nolan does things the hard way and we all benefit for it, becoming completely immersed in one of the most pivotal events of the 20th century. The result is one of the most distinctive war films in recent memory, if not all-time.
7. The Post
Directed By Steven Spielberg
There may be no better cinematic storyteller than Steven Spielberg. No matter the subject matter, his mastery of the craft and complete control of the visual language can turn almost anything into compelling (nevertheless entertaining) drama and The Post is no different. Telling the story of Katherine Graham wrestling with a decision on whether or not to publish the classified Pentagon Papers could have been as dry as they come, but Spielberg and his magnificent stable of actors turn it into riveting entertainment. It’s almost impossible to believe that at this point neither Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep had ever worked together, but The Post proves it was worth the wait. Together they are an absolute dynamite on-screen pair and Streep gives one of the finest performances in her long and illustrious career. The Post and its unflinching belief in the freedom of the press and the public’s right to the truth hits very close to home in 2017 (and 2018 and beyond) and the filmmakers don’t try hard to hide the point they’re making and who they’re making it to. The Post may be the most important film to come out of 2017 but it’s also a damn good time at the movies in the hands of some of our best professionals.
6. A Ghost Story
Directed By David Lowery
A Ghost Story is not for everyone. After about 15 minutes I was sure I was going to hate it. I mean how long can you really watch Rooney Mara eat an entire pie? But David Lowery (director of last year’s wonderful Pete’s Dragon remake) doesn’t care if you can’t sit still. His slow and pondering meditation on life, death, the passage of time, and the nature of being is operating on a level completely and uniquely its own. Casey Affleck wearing a white sheet with holes cut out of it may appear ridiculous and silly, but its simplicity (and that of the “plot”) is what allows A Ghost Story to open a space where it can explore complex themes and ideas in both profound and moving ways. Again, this is not for everyone, but if you are a person who enjoys philosophical explorations on the nature of the universe and the time we spend within it and our spiritual and cosmic connections to one another, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most transcendent film experiences in years (maybe ever).
Directed By Lee Unkrich
Young Miguel’s journey through the land of the dead on Dia de los Muertos is one of the most rich, stunningly gorgeous, and moving pieces of art that Pixar and its animation wizards have come up with. Coco is as entertaining as a kids movie should be, but much like the studio’s last classic, Inside Out, this never loses sight of the emotional power at the heart of the story. The musical numbers are riotous and the exploration of Mexican culture is sorely needed in today’s cinema and Pixar does it with respect, love, and wonder. The themes on the importance of carrying on one’s memory after death pack a wallop just on paper, however the filmmakers’ delicate and thoughtful execution of these ideas make it both an instant classic for the industry’s top animated studio and the genre at large.
4. The Shape of Water
Directed By Guillermo Del Toro
The word “visionary” gets thrown around a lot these days, particularly for movie directors, however there is one filmmaker working today who is an unquestionably visionary artist — and that is Guillermo Del Toro. I could go on ad naseum on how all of Del Toro’s tie together in design, concept, character, and ideas — but then I’d be talking less about how great The Shape of Water is. Like most of his films, Del Toro asks you to go on a journey with him, and if you’re willing, you will be rewarded to a truly special experience. Sally Hawkins is downright incredible as a mute cleaning lady who falls in love with a creature she discovers in the secret government lab in which she works. The film is impeccably designed and crafted, as you’d expect, but Del Toro’s direction flows through the story so seamlessly that it all becomes one magical wave. Performances across the board are outstanding from Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Del Toro regular Doug Jones, and the aforementioned Hawkins. The Shape of Water is thrilling, moving, funny, and as romantic as any film in years. If you let it, it will completely sweep you away.
3. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Directed By Rian Johnson
A piece of criticism from TIME magazine stuck with me once The Force Awakens opened, “[TFA] begins delivering everything we expect, as opposed to those nebulous wonders we didn’t know we wanted.” If there is anything we can all agree on, it’s that The Last Jedi – the most divisive movie since ever it seems – does not deliver what we expect. Rian Johnson’s bold and daring entry into pop culture’s greatest saga stands tall among its franchise brethren specifically because of how it subverts tropes and is thus able to find more depth and meaning than most blockbusters wouldn’t dare dream of. Forget that the film is beautifully photographed, wonderfully performed, and breathlessly exciting, it’s the strength of the story that makes it work so well — giving way to some of the most jaw-dropping and instantly iconic moments in all of Star Wars. This is a film on what it means to fail and persevere, pushing every single character to and beyond the edge. This is what grand, complex, and powerful storytelling does and is why this 8th film in the Skywalker saga is the best in nearly 4 decades.
Directed By James Mangold
Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine through 6 X-Men movies and 3 spin-off movies in total. That’s a lot of time spent playing one character, but no matter the quality of the movie Jackman was in, he always brought everything he had to the role. It was never in doubt that Hugh loved the character just as much as the fans did. In Logan, his quote unquote final turn in the role, he gives what we didn’t know he had left to give. Jackman knows this character through and through and delivers a deeply nuanced portrayal filled with loss, pain, and raw determination. He’s joined by crazy-good newcomer Dafne Keen and a heartbreaking and powerful Patrick Stewart. Both Stewart and Jackman deliver the best work of their careers. Less of a comic book film, and more of hybrid sci-fi western, Logan strips down all of the trappings of the modern superhero genre and delivers an intense bare-knuckle thrill-ride that will wreck you by the end. The boldness of the idea and the commitment in which it is executed allows the film to transcend its roots and become one of the finest comic book films ever made.
1. Blade Runner 2049
Directed By Denis Villeneuve
This was a movie I did not want. Ridley Scott’s 1982 seminal masterpiece, Blade Runner, is not only one of my favorite films of all-time, but is arguably the most influential film in all of science fiction. There’s a lot to live up to with nowhere to go but down… but nobody bothered to tell Blade Runner 2049 that. Set 30 years after the original, Ryan Gosling’s Agent K uncovers a mystery that threatens to upend the entire social order while also leading him to Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard. Denis Villeneuve fully realizes Ridley Scott’s original world and expands it in every right way. From the stunning photography by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins and eye-popping effects, 2049 is one of the most visually dazzling films ever put to screen. Gosling’s haunted performance as K is one his most affecting and Harrison Ford is as good, if not better, than he’s ever been. The film runs long, but it’s not due to an overstuffed and hopelessly convoluted plot, but because Villeneuve has the fortitude and confidence to methodically take you through this journey and world – never letting one precious moment slip through. A sequel to Blade Runner seemed unimaginable, for many good reasons, and yet here we are. Instead of a disaster, we have not only one of the best sequels ever made but one of the finest entries in all of science fiction, proudly standing side-by-side with its predecessor.