An undeniably strong year in film, 2017 had a little something for everyone. Horror aficionados got theirs with films like Get Out, It and It Comes At Night, indie junkies got their fix with Lady Bird, Columbus, A Ghost Story and Personal Shopper, and superhero fans were given perhaps the best year for superhero films of all time with Logan, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok. As the year finally comes to its close, its time for me to reflect back on 2017 and take a look at my personal favorites to come out of that year. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get around to watching every film this year so there will be some notable exclusions (Blade Runner 2049, Lady Bird, The Florida Project, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) that I hope to get around to watching before the Oscars.
10. Wind River (dir. Tayler Sheridan)
An excellent screenwriter with multiple Oscar nominations under his belt (Sicario, Hell or High Water), 2017 saw Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut Wind River hit theaters in August. A success on almost every level, not only does the film fire on all cylinders, it cements Sheridan as one of the most talented people in Hollywood today. The film has a morose, desolate atmosphere about it, constantly showing you vasts landscapes of the barren and frosty Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. Our characters are made to feel dwarfed in the vast awesomeness of their surroundings. Borrowing techniques from his other screenplays, Sheridan manages to make the landscapes and setting into a character of its own, influencing and progressing the story as much as the characters themselves do.
9. A Ghost Story (dir. David Lowery)
The most ambitious film of 2017, David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is quite different from the other films on this list, and from most of the other films released this year for that matter. A deliberately slow film, A Ghost Story is a deep meditation on life, death, and time. An appreciation of the mundane. A thought-provoking drama that focuses on the smallest, most (seemingly) insignificant parts of one’s life after the loss of a loved one. A difficult film to describe and recommend, the film feels somewhat like a dream. It has a dreamy sort of atmosphere throughout its run-time that loans to the message and its appeal. A Ghost Story is unlike anything else this year, and while it certainly might be divisive amongst viewers, any film that can make a nine-minute-long scene of Kate Mara eating pie beautiful and thought-provoking deserves a spot somewhere on this list.
8. Baby Driver (dir. Edgar Wright)
Frantic. High-paced. Tightly edited. Killer soundtrack. Great performances. My favorite of Edgar Wright’s films, Baby Driver is non-stop joy from start to finish. From the opening car chase to the end credits and all the twists and turns in between, Baby Driver left a smile on my face like no other film this year could. There’s a certain charm that envelopes the film, in part by the atmosphere the movie creates, the wonderful music that plays throughout and the performances by the actors that all comes together to make Baby Driver feel somewhat like a modern-day fairytale.
7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (dir. Rian Johnson)
Easily the film on this list I’ve thought the most about after my initial viewing, I must admit it took some time for me to warm up on The Last Jedi. A Star Wars fanboy since childhood, the franchise has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember, so any new Star Wars film is an event and something I’m very much invested in. I was not expecting to have the franchise I’ve loved for so long be flipped on its head (insert “a surprise to be sure” prequel meme). It took some time to think about and meditate on the film after my initial lukewarm reception on opening night (after the hype had died down, of course), but I’ve finally come to grips with the fact that this is, in my opinion, one of the four best Star Wars films ever made. Not often does a film take an entire franchise and completely shake up everything we’ve previously known about it. Rian Johnson continues the stories of Rey, Luke, Kylo, the Resistance and the First Order in ways that affect not only future films, but the original and prequel trilogies as well. Certainly a character-driven film rather than a plot-driven one, the film is about failure and grooming that failure into lessons for success. Director Rian Johnson gives our new characters like Rey, Kylo, Finn and Poe time to grow and develop, while still paying homage to the original trilogy and advancing Luke’s story and Leia’s story with some surprising character development. Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, is cemented as one of the best Star Wars characters of all time, and the film does an excellent job expanding the lore and the importance of the force for the first time since Empire Strikes Back. While it has some problems here and there, the film has some of the best moments in Star Wars history. The Last Jedi is certainly a film that gets better with each re-watch, and all the twists and turns Rian Johnson takes gives Star Wars a new and interesting breath of fresh air.
6. John Wick: Chapter 2 (dir. Chad Stahelski)
The John Wick franchise is the best in the industry when it comes to balls-to-the-wall, stylized action with crisp camera work and fantastic fight choreography. Director Chad Stahelski and star Keanu Reeves clearly have a deep love for the character and the genre and have put an immense amount of passion and care into the world they’ve created. John Wick: Chapter 2 builds on the world that the first film set up, furthering the lore of the Continental, International League of Assassins and the Baba Yaga himself, as well as considerably upping the stakes from the previous film, while still keeping it somewhat grounded and realistic in the world the film takes place in.
5. The Big Sick (dir. Michael Showalter)
Based the real story of Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, The Big Sick is the most touching, charming, heartfelt and lovely rom-com in the last several years. The film is one of the most incredibly magnetic, with some of the most charming characters put on screen this year delivering some of the best jokes in a screenplay this year. The film feels incredibly authentic, with characters interacting and developing in ways that feel realistic, all while keeping a sweet and melancholy atmosphere throughout. The four actors (Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) do an incredible job playing their characters, allowing the audience to connect with all of them through their relationships with one another and their individual growths.
4. The Disaster Artist (dir. James Franco)
One of the films I was looking forward to the most this year, The Disaster Artist first piqued my interest back when it was announced that Franco would direct and star back in 2014. Optimistic but nervous about the film, I was worried about the direction in which Franco would take The Disaster Artist. The story of Tommy Wiseau and the making of The Room could so easily have been played for laughs, making fun of Tommy’s vision and alienating him as this foreign weirdo. With someone with less respect and less fondness for the source material than Franco, the movie could have very well been a malicious attack on Tommy’s character, and I was more than pleasantly surprised to see Franco’s sensitive, humanizing take on the mystery behind Tommy and The Room. The Disaster Artist is a much deeper film than I expected it to be, and surprisingly sensitive. Made with passion and heart, the film leans away from painting Tommy as the caricature that the media and society portray him as, instead opting for a more humanizing and layered look at the man behind the madness.
3. Coco (dir. Lee Unkrich)
Pixar’s newest classic. Coco is, in my opinion, the best Pixar film since 2010’s Toy Story 3 and among the upper-echelon of Pixar’s films, reminding everyone that Pixar still indeed “does have it.” A beautifully constructed narrative bound to tug at your heartstrings, coupled with absolutely gorgeous visuals and an equally impressive soundtrack, Coco is a momentous achievement in Hispanic film culture.
2. Dunkirk (dir. Christopher Nolan)
As I stated in my review for Dunkirk earlier this year, I must admit that I’m not Christopher Nolan’s biggest fan. Very critical of his work, I recognize his talents behind the camera and his ability to construct wonderfully layered narratives, but I find many of his films to feel emotionally distant and rather cold (Interstellar being the outlier) and many of his characters (mainly supporting characters) to be under-developed or one-dimensional. Recognizing his flaws, I still manage to enjoy Nolan’s films. He has a knack to really grab the audience’s attention with his ideas and really getting people to invest emotionally in his films. No film of his has ever done that like Dunkirk has. An incredibly beautiful and emotional experience, Dunkirk is much more than a war movie – its a film of humanity, survival, hope, bravery and spirit. A culmination of Nolan’s filmography, everything he’s ever learned and done as a director is prominent in this film. Listening to all his prior criticisms and his own directorial prowess, Dunkirk is Nolan’s masterpiece.
1. Logan (dir. James Mangold)
The most intimate and personal superhero film we’ve gotten in a long, long time, Logan proves you can tell an interesting superhero story with much smaller stakes than Hollywood blockbusters tend to have today. A beautiful film with heartbreaking moments, Logan is a much more mature take on the superhero genre, dealing with loss, mental illness and emotional desolation. Keeping the narrative grounded and “realistic” allows the audience to connect with the main characters in ways that other superhero films fail to do so (I’m looking at you, BvS and Justice League), helping us truly connect with the direness of their situation and becoming much more emotionally invested. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart give excellent, heart-wrenching performances in their swan-song performances as Wolverine and Professor Xavier, and newcomer Dafne Keen provides one of the best child actor performances in recent years. Brutally violent one moment and tear-jerking the next, Logan is a beautiful final installment of an iconic character and franchise. A perfect bookend.
Movies that were in consideration at some point of the year, but didn’t make the final cut.
- Spider-Man: Homecoming
- Get Out
- War for the Planet of the Apes
Favorite Scene of the Year
In such a strong year for film, it was particularly difficult trying to single out a single “scene of the year.” Logan provided a particularly powerful option with the final scene of the film. Dunkirk provided stiff competition with the scene of Tom Hardy’s character gliding over his English countrymen over the beaches. Baby Driver hit a home-run with the film’s opening car chase. The Disaster Artist‘s rendition of the premiere of The Room was surprisingly inspirational and emotional. I could go on and on, but none of these films had a scene that captured me and had me as engrossed as Coco.
The mixture of the music, the striking visuals and the emotion that came with seeing Miguel playing in front of his idol hit me harder than I expected. As a child, I found my escape in playing guitar as well, and even though I haven’t touched one in years, Coco brought me back to my younger years. The nostalgia hit me like a ton of bricks, and the accompanying “Much Needed Advice” track playing over the scene helped push me overboard. No scene in cinema this year has me coming back to it as much as this.
Biggest Disappointment of the Year
An easy choice for this would be Justice League, but I’d be lying if I said I was excited for it in any way shape or form after Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, so that rules out the obvious. A huge Michael Fassbender fan myself, I must admit that The Snowman had piqued my interest since the first trailer dropped. I’m a sucker for crime and mystery films, so throw in one of my favorite actors currently working and you have my full attention. Wow, it was bad. Uninteresting and boring, coupled with a horrendous narrative and editing, the film is a disaster from start to finish. Seeing Fassbender’s recent track record with films, I should have tempered my expectations, but the promise the film showed won me over.
Seriously, don’t watch this.
Favorite Performance of the Year
This goes to none other than James Franco in The Disaster Artist, who played Tommy Wiseau so well I forgot I was watching someone else mimic him.
Shout-out to Hugh Jackman in Logan, Ray Romano in The Big Sick and Adam Driver in The Last Jedi for providing stiff competition and making me second-guess myself constantly. Bigger shout-out to Tommy Wiseau for existing.
As 2017 comes to a close, everyone at Backlot wishes everyone a happy new year as we turn towards 2018 and the incredible films that’ll come with it. See you at the movies!