2017 films, ranked

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I saw more movies this year than I ever have before, which has made ranking them more of a labor and resulted in this belated “product.” I’ve still missed a lot. And I’ll get to them all in the next few months.

The movies are like church. It’s a chance sit in a dark place, turn off your phone, and not talk to anyone. Painting broadly, it’s a chance to escape, though that’s not really the best allusion. This year, I escaped to dreams and nightmares, history and fantasy, Charlotte Motor Speedway, and imagined futures of hope and despair. In a lot of ways, I go to the movies to get out of my own head–to not worry about … Do I read enough? Do I have enough friends? Do I have enough food for the weekend?Movies are a chance to live in someone else’s head for a few hours, and when it really works, they end up sticking in your end for a few days, maybe weeks, and in rare cases, you never quite lose them. Movies are like friends. I made a lot of friends this year.

So here’s a ranking, but first, here’s what I missed this year (and will see soon!).

mother!, Good Time, Florida Project, Baby Driver, Ingrid Goes West, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, War for the Planet of the Apes, The Beguiled, A Ghost Story, and really lot, lots more.


32. Baywatch

31. Justice League

Steppenwolf was the worst idea of 2017. Making people see Baywatch with me probably means I’m a bad person and the Fun Police probably have a warrant out for my arrest. 

***

30. Murder on the Orient Express

29. Table 19

28. War Machine

27. Their Finest

26. Incredible Jessica James

These movies are like popcorn. They’re not inherently bad, but you’ll still be hungry after, and you’ll forget that you ever ate/saw em.

***

25. Power Rangers

24. Lego Batman

Like, they’re not bad. Power Rangers is definitely not bad. (I’ve seen this movie three times!) RJ Cyler (blue!) and Naomi Scott (pink!) are really good. (I’m here for the Angel Grove extended universe). The first joke in Power Rangers is about a guy who thinks he’s milked a cow, but it wasn’t a female cow. (This isn’t your older brother’s Power Rangers!)

***

23. Landline

22. Spider-Man: Homecoming

It seems like every summer, there’s an indie film with B-level material but A-level performances. Really, there’s like twelve of these movies every summer. Landline is just the one I happened to catch. From Gillian Robespierre (Obvious Child), Landline is a middle class, Manhattan family drama circa 1995. Jenny Slate and Abby Quinn are great as sisters. Edie Falco and John Turturro are better in a compromised marriage. Robespierre crafts a film where it’s impossible to root against anyone and therefore, impossible to root for anyone. It’s complicated! 

On the other end here, you know who you’re rooting for in Marvel’s incarnation of the teenaged webslinger. Rooting for Tom Holland comes as naturally as Luke against The Empire, Buffalo Bills against the Patriots. Holland oozes charm. Much was made–in that Marvel way–that this is a “superhero meets John Hughes” type movie. Like most of Marvel’s claims of that sort, Spider-Man: Homecoming is mostly a Marvel movie. But it’s best when it’s a Spider-Man story–when it draws out that tension between Peter Parker and Spider-Man, when it’s asking questions like … can Peter Parker be an adjusted, functioning teenager/member of society while also being Spider-Man (and you know, saving society).  

I’m thinking of the scene when Peter goes to pick up Liz for the dance, and her dad ends up being Michael Keaton/The Vulture. It’s this wonderful tangle of teenage and superhero tropes. Your date’s dad always feels like a supervillain when you’re in high school. And so Peter has to choose between this normal American life where he gets to go to dances and doesn’t have to {WHAM! BAM!} his girlfriend’s dad in jaw versus life as Spider-Man living with “responsibility.” It’s why Spider-Man is awesome.


In Atomic Blonde, Style gives Plot and Character the ol’ karate chop.

21. Atomic Blonde

20. Band Aid

Written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones (New Girl!), Band Aid is about a couple (Lister-Jones and Adam Pally) who fight a lot, so they start a band. The sing about arguing and arguing about doing the dishes. Lister-Jones should definitely make more movies. Band Aid is pleasant and stirring enough, though it’s Fred Armisen as their neighbor/drummer also battling a sex addiction that gives this film some sizzle.

I couldn’t then and can’t now understand the plot of Atomic Blonde. But I guess it’s not about plot or story or character. This is about Charlize Theron beating dudes up in a Cold War haze. And boy, does she.

***

19. Darkest Hour

18. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I read the first-quarter-of-the-second-volume of The Last Lion this summer. So I have a soft spot for accurate portrayals of Winston Churchill. Darkest Hour (much like England in the film) rests on Gary Oldman’s shoulders. And he’s great!

Stallone, though, is bad. GG2 is good. Everybody loves tunes. Pratt is fine. Baby Groot is great, though not as good as Gary Oldman.

***

17. The Meyerowitz Stories

16. The Lost City of Z

On the one hand, “these are the movies we don’t make anymore” or so we say. What we really mean, once we shave off the alarmist slant to that take is that–at glance, these are the kinds of movies superhero/Big IP properties have elbowed out of the multiplex. And so these two films that masterfully ramp up emotional stakes without compromising on entertainment have “generously” got picked up by the Big Streamers. In this case, it’s Netflix picking up Noah Baumbach’s hilarious and heartbreaking family dramedy exploring fatherhood but from the perspective of two sons. They call that “sonhood” but it’s quite awkward to type and say.   

Amazon Studios backed James Gray’s literal exploration of the jungle, a true-life tale of early 20th century British explorer Col. Percival Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who three times dove into the Amazon looking for a lost city. You’ll want to dip out after the first 90 minutes, but the last 15 more than makes up for the final 45. 

They still make these kinds of films. I just wish I could’ve seen them in the theater.

***

15. It

14. Big Sick

Both these films are about nightmares. One’s about an evil clown. If you don’t like clowns, you won’t like It. In the other film, a boy meets a girl. They kind of fall in love. Wooh! She finds his box of Pakistani women. Not a good look! She leaves. Time passes. He lies to a doctor so they can put her into a medically induced coma. Yikes! Get a lawyer! He hangs out with his ex-girlfirneds parents in the waiting room. I still think they have a case in court, which would be a waking nightmare for Kumail.


Gal freaking Gadot guys.

13. Thor: Ragnarok

12. Logan

11. Wonder-Woman

10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I’ve bunched the best of Hero-IP here. Thor is a delightful space odyssey and one of the funniest movies of the year. Logan felt brutal and cathartic in ways superhero films have never been. Wonder Woman, though, is the best case to date why superheroes are still relevant. And Star Wars: The Last Jedi is like a New Testament to our current pop cultural religion. Taking something old and making it new is not an easy task (ie: iOS updates). All these films did it, but it’s hardest to do in a galaxy far, far away.


Denis Villeneuve’s film runs nearly three hours and it’s actually not long enough.

9. John Wick: Chapter 2

8. Blade Runner 2049

John Wick 2 isn’t as lean as the original holy text, but it’s still amazing. Whatever the heck Jared Leto is doing in Blade Runner 2049 holds it back. But like any Gosling movie, it’s got the jackets and Gosling brings out the best in Ford. Their fight as a holographic Elvis struts around the stage is a top five movie moment of the year. But more than its style (and why it’s begrudgingly ahead of John Wick and the Hero-IP) is that Villeneuve (with photography by the god Roger Deakins) made a pop/blockbuster film explicitly centered on what it means to be human. It’s a vision of pop art with equal measure brain and heart. 

***

7. Wind River

6. Get Out

How to explain Wind River? When Taylor Sheridan’s film goes there, it goes there. No, that’s no good. When Wind River turns the dials from 2 to 11 about halfway through the film, you can’t breathe. You’re sitting there like Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) in that comfy recliner, hypnotized as blood splatters on snow.


“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

5. Dunkirk

4. Columbus

You can watch these movies with the sound off and be firmly transfixed. Tom Hardy gliding over the beach in Dunkirk then lighting his craft on fire was one of the best sequences in film this year. And I have to thank Dunkirk for reminding me Harry Styles is one of the most important and distinguished artists of our time (and for being 90 minutes).

Like Nolan’s war film, Columbus pleases a part of your brain that loves right angles. It’s working with a different visual language than any other movie released this year. But the structure is quite simple. This is a walk-and-talk movie. The wonderful Haley Lu Richardson (Casey) gives John Cho (Jin) a tour through Columbus, Indiana–the apparent secret architectural mecca of America. Jin’s father (a famous architect) has fallen ill, and Jin’s not sure if he’ll get better. Casey is an bright architectural obsessive with feeling, stuck in this small town by her own choosing. The two walk and talk and you enter a sort of trance, loose track of time, and walk out of the theater in a warm glow.


Brigsby Bear is a legit low-key kickback.

3. Brigsby Bear

2. Lady Bird

These films will make you smile. Both remind you it’s okay–more than okay–to love the things you love, whether that’s Dave Matthews Band and your hometown or a children’s show (the fictional Brigsby Bear) literally no one else has ever seen and your captor/dad made for you.

I wrote about Lady Bird here. I’ve mentioned before in this list it’s impossible to not root for Luke against the Empire and to not root for Tom Holland in all things. Well, it’s impossible to see Lady Bird and not immediately call your mom. 

Kyle Mooney has been a legend (in our hearts) since the toast. Watching Kyle sometimes feels like bone scraping across pavement, in a good way. But in Brigsby Bear, Mooney matches his raw act with an equal measure of sentiment. Brigsby Bear also has the best makeout scene of the year.

1. Logan Lucky

Adam Driver deserves a lot of praise for a lot of the little choices he makes when fleshing out a character. (Slapping his stomach-wound in Force Awakens, for example). But I’ve thought about the way his character (one armed bartender Clyde Logan) says “arm” and “cauliflower” every week since seeing Logan Lucky this summer. Steven Soderbergh’s film is more than Ocean’s Eleven in the North Carolina. Well, maybe it’s really not. But it made me laugh a lot. (It’s also written by Rebecca Blunt, which is a pseudonym and that’s exciting.) 

I think Logan Lucky is a perfect movie. It helps that a heist is the most cinematic thing there is. But Soderberg knows exactly where the jokes are, while treating the Logans and the rest–ostensibly white trash–with empathy. They say things like “I looked it up on the google” and “I know all there is to know about computers. All the Twitters. I know em.” And somehow, you’re not laughing at them. Maybe that’s because it’s Channing Tatum and Daniel Craig saying some of this.

The Logans are the folks responsible for the way 2017 played out. And already in 2018, things don’t feel much different. When someone tweets how big their nuclear button is, that can ruin your week. It’s not rocket science–like who knew you can make a bomb with gummy bears–who the Logans might’ve voted for. So more than just being the best time I had at the movies this year, I think Logan Lucky is doing the most important work films can do–empathy. Empathy for folks who felt like they got left behind and then got duped.

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