In the three years, I’ve meticulously tracked each movie I see and attempted to produce an annual ranking of my favorites; this has been the most difficult. In years past, Sing Street and Mad Max: Fury Road claimed the top spots by a wide margin. This year, there is no such frontrunner.
Nonetheless, the films below represented to me unique achievements in cinema this year that also managed to envelope me in their filmmaker’s imagination. If you pressure me for a number one top film, I’d be tempted to say Lady Bird as it’s the only film on this list that I loved so much I already watched it again. Catch me on another day and I might tell you Coco because it’s the film that made me cry the most. Or War for the Planet of the Apes because it was one that could have most easily been a royal screw up, but stuck the landing with a perfect 10.
All things considered, I present this list of films to you in alphabetical order. There is no ranking among them, but they each get my most earnest endorsement for your viewing pleasure.
All the Money in the World
At the age of 80, director Ridley Scott is still making movies – good ones, too. I’ll see everything he makes until the day he passes because how often do you get to see work from a legend while that work is brand new? All the Money, I think, will be remembered among his other master works long after Scott’s passing. It’s a complex international thriller about the kidnapping of J.P. Getty’s grandson. At the time of this kidnapping, Getty is the richest man in the history of the world. Despite this unprecedented wealth, Getty refuses to pay the ransom required to return his grandson home.
What truly pushed this film onto my list of favorites was the 4th and 20 hail-Mary touchdown pass that Scott pulled off when he replaced Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer. It went down like this:
- October 26, 2017, actor Anthony Rapp accuses Kevin Spacey of making a sexual advance at him when Rapp was 14 years old.
- November 8, 2017, director Ridley Scott announces he will reshoot all of Spacey’s scenes, replacing him with Christopher Plummer.
- November 20-29, 2017, reshoots commence.
- December 25, 2017, All the Money opens on its originally planned release date.
If that’s not movie magic, I don’t know what is.
Years from now when post-Generation Z kids ask me what was cool when I was their age, I’ll say Baby Driver. This film has a rhythm and vibrancy to it that kept my pulse racing from beginning to end. It’s sexy, funny, and flirts with insanity without taking me out of the story. And most of all, John Hamm made me laugh hysterically when he tells Lily James’ character, Debora, “that’s fine darlin’” as she overfills his coffee mug. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out.
The Big Sick
Having watched writer/actor Kumail Nanjiani bring wit and charm in countless TV appearances, nothing warmed my heart than watching his remarkable life story brought to the screen. The Big Sick is the true story of how Kumail and Emily Gordon met and fell in love under the most unlikely circumstances. This tear-jerker doesn’t have a false note or a line of dialogue out of tune. Watch it with a loved one and enjoying watching a good romantic comedy not made by Nora Ephron.
Call Me By Your Name
I was met with great difficulty trying to describe to my wife what I loved so much about this movie. Unlike other Summertime romances, this did not feel like a fling. Unlike other LGBT romances, this one did not feel forbidden. In fact, it was completely void of the archetypal conflicts found in gay romance stories. And most importantly, unlike every other film on this list, I felt like I was there: a fly on the wall. There is a tragic reality to this story’s conclusion that felt earned due to the film’s slow burn toward its emotional climax.
Coco is my favorite of an all-around strong slate from Disney in 2017. What impressed me most is that the climax of this $200M blockbuster extravaganza is a boy singing to his great grandmother. It brought tears to my eyes and is arguably the strongest conclusion of any film on this list. While there are story elements we’ve seen from Pixar before in other films, Coco brings the fun loving humor of old school Pixar with the new school emotional punch of films like Inside Out and Toy Story 3. It’s colorful, memorable, and filled with beautiful characters both living and dead.
Like Wonder Woman and Get Out, Coco is a great film whose message feels hyper-resonant because of the year in which it was released. The film’s delightful portrayal of a Mexican family and a Mexican holiday stand in necessary contrast to President Trump’s rhetoric about drugs, crime, rapists.
This film is sneaky good. I found its trailer to be that of an ordinary PG-13 horror film (i.e. same old paranormal nonsense). Secondly, I was concerned the early hype might be a result of critics wishing to appear as though they don’t have an unconscious bias towards a film written and directed by an African-American about race relations in America. I was led astray by both accounts. Get Out is an unqualified success on every front; it’s incredibly well directed, delightfully original, and impeccably acted.
Molly’s game featured two eye popping performances from Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba. Both are at the top of their game, as is writer (and debut director) Aaron Sorkin for his script. There are only a few screenwriters working today that can consistently juggle characters and stories the way a Sorkin script can. Molly plays much like a Michael Lewis novel – complex concepts cleverly distilled for a general audience, and an over-arching narrative that engages the audience from scene to scene while building to a satisfying finish.
My celebrity crush, Saoirse Ronan, puts on an American accent and wowed me in her Oscar worthy performance as teenager from Sacramento. There are dozens of independent coming of age dramas every year. It seems to be the go-to subgenre for up and coming directors. This one, however, manages to be special without being gimmicky (looking at you, Boyhood). Director Greta Gerwig brings her hometown of Sacramento, CA to life with intimate sequences of mother-daughter tug of war that feels so real you can reach out and touch it.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Arguably the strongest cast assembled in 2017, Three Billboards outside the fictional town of Ebbing, MO is not for the faint of heart. No film this year shocked me like this one. It is brashly anti-PC, exhibits tough love, and laugh out loud funny in its most tense sequences. In other words, this film surprised me from beginning to end; always a good thing.
War of the Planet of the Apes
Normally, the third film in the third reboot cycle sounds like a direct to DVD nightmare. In this case, returning director Matt Reeves has crafted an epic conclusion to my favorite trilogy of this decade. Cesar’s journey from a laboratory experiment to a seat of Mosaic authority and leadership should earn motion capture performer, Andy Serkis, a Special Achievement Oscar – both for Cesar and for his influence and expertise in a technology Hollywood now takes for granted.
And a few Honorable Mentions…
Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
The Florida Project