RANKINGS SERIES: MOVIES OF THE DECADE (2010s) #8 - TOP TEN BEST MOVIES OF 2017
As we begin to approach the end of my first ever Rankings Series, we start to see a more personalized understanding of how film works in its subjectivity. There are entries on this list that have come to mean more to me in the past few years than I ever thought they might, some which I would now consider overrated, and at least one which now finds itself sitting comfortably at #10 in my top 10 movies of all time, something I never expected to be cracked only a few years into my film journey. 2017 also marks the first of these lists for which I may have otherwise removed an entry entirely, if not for the rules I set up at the beginning of this journey (for those confused: after 2014, these lists have not been altered from their original published forms, 2014 being the last year in the 2010s when I did not have a fully published Top 10 list, thus qualifying for change). Of course, there are also certain films on this list that I would move around, given the opportunity, but rules are rules, and the list as written here will appear as originally published. This entry into Movies of the Decade (2010s) has been the most difficult to start writing on, because truthfully, what can be said about these films that hasn’t already been said by more qualified people in far more analytical circles? Regardless, the series continues, and it is now time to re-discuss, re-evaluate, and (for some of you) reveal my Top 10 Movies of 2017!
10. Phantom Thread
Paul Thomas Anderson is, without question, one of the finest directors ever to do the job, regardless of how his films generally land in relation to individual sensibilities, bringing world-class performances out of all manner of actors, such as Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, and even Adam Sandler. Three-time Best Actor winner Daniel Day-Lewis, likewise, may be the finest actor ever to grace the screen (recently having called Sandler himself to congratulate the actor on his performance in Uncut Gems), having won his second Oscar for Anderson’s own renowned oil drama, There Will Be Blood. Pairing these two creative forces would have been a dream in any situation, but Phantom Thread, in particular, was a special occasion, as it was to be the final time Day-Lewis would act on screen before retiring from the craft, and my, what a legacy he left behind. Playing an dressmaker so consumed by his art that it overtakes his entire being, going so far as to affect his personal life in a myriad of ways (in case you’re wondering how the method actor got into character), Day-Lewis is a viper with a magnificent bite through every word of the script, and the fact that relative newcomer Vicky Krieps matches him step-for-step across their marvelously idiosyncratic romance is just the butter on the poorly prepared asparagus dish. Lesley Manville, too, is fantastic in the film, and though one may not be sure whether to like the ending or not in its immediate aftermath, there is no denying its impact, nor the staying power it has had years after its final curtain in cinemas.
9. War for the Planet of the Apes
If you had told me back in 2010 that each entry in a new Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy would make one of my Top 10 lists for each year they were released, let alone that that trilogy in and of itself would become one of the most celebrated, yet under-discussed motion picture trilogies of all time, I may not have believed you (even if I clearly didn’t know enough about film at the time to justify that disbelief). And yet, despite one of the most misleading marketing campaigns in action blockbuster history, Matt Reeves’ closing chapter (his second go at the franchise) to Caesar’s journey with the apes we met way back in 2011 is a poignant, powerful look at revenge, ambition, and how psychological warfare can take a toll on the mind of those consumed by both. While there really is no genuine war in the movie, the still jaw-dropping visual effects and performances by Woody Harrelson and the motion-captured Andy Serkis, as well as the scene-stealing Steve Zahn, are more than enough to make up for the lack of actual fighting apart from the final battle. It may not be the strongest entry in the trilogy on the whole (for me, Dawn still squeaks by with the win), but it comes very close to rounding it out in near-perfect fashion, giving the story of Caesar the emotionally resonant end it needed to solidify this prequel trilogy as one of the absolute best not just of the 2010s, but in the history of motion pictures.
8. The Big Sick
How do you take the rom-com, the most worn-out, hard-to-stick-the-landing genre that’s not horror, and make audiences fall in love with it all over again, despite some key signifiers of the genre being taken out of play early on? Well, if you’re Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, you write a hilarious script based off of your actual love story, and go a rather unconventional route with it, removing the love interest after the first act, and forcing the protagonist of the film to interact in increasingly heartwarming and hilarious fashion with characters that don’t often get much of the focus except in how they affect the main love story: the parents. Most rom-coms, even the good ones (Silver Linings Playbook comes to mind) hardly afford the parents of either main party any agency of their own apart from how they affect those characters’ interactions with each other, but Michael Showalter’s endlessly charming direction and Nanjiani and his wife’s marvelous script (which was nominated for an Original Screenplay Oscar) allow us to understand that these characters have lived a life full of dimensionality and imperfection, yet still they continue to stick together and learn to forgive each other through impossibly difficult circumstances. There was a lot of chatter for a while that Holly Hunter might be nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar for this role, and she would have deserved a spot, but all the other performances in this film, from Nanjiani to co-star Zoe Kazan to Ray Romano, and everyone else is pitch-perfect, and if you’ve never checked it out, now is the perfect time to grace yourself with this fantastic surprise of a film.
7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
This entry has certainly fallen the farthest out of my graces since I first saw it two years ago, but the fact remains that when I saw it, the (Oscar-winning) performances of Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell impressed me so much that I mostly didn’t notice the movie’s problematic thematic core. I didn’t notice that the message of “anger just begets greater anger” isn’t exactly a stone-solid defense of the inherent racism and needless police brutality in Rockwell’s character or the lack of action among the police force in attempting to capture the man that raped and mutilated McDormand’s daughter, but since having seen it for the first time, the notion of Martin McDonagh’s near-Best-Picture-winning, overlong-titled film positing that type of stance against anger which finds its roots in righteous causes has caused me to wish I could remove this film entirely from this list and replace it with something else. Remember, this was, at one point, a favorite to win Best Picture over a later entry in this list; now, almost no one talks about it or even mentions it in their reflections on the Oscars looking back. Still, the comedy here is easily the strongest element McDonagh brings to the table, and the performances that help sell it sort of fooled most of us into thinking this was a really good movie…for a while.
6. Get Out
Many critics circles and various film pundits have already listed Jordan Peele’s directorial debut feature to be not just one of the best horror films ever made, but the absolute best of the decade for the genre, and while I do have my own personal preferences, I won’t try to fight them on this stance. Get Out was an absolute beast of a film for which no one was prepared, tackling liberal racism and other systemic problems in the public American consciousness through a distinctly black lens full of great comedic sensibilities and simultaneously terrifying imagery/scenes with such powerful thematic depth, that it became the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture since The Sixth Sense in 1999, and a heavy favorite to win if the award weren’t going to the movie that actually did win (though it did not go home empty-handed, as Jordan Peele did win Original Screenplay that year). Each time I watch this film, I notice something entirely new about it, from the brilliant way it’s shot, to new layers in its thematic underpinnings, to the severely underrated performance of Allison Williams as Rose Armitage. This is also the movie that introduced most of us who hadn’t watched Black Mirror at the time to the brilliance of Best Actor nominee Daniel Kaluuya (who’s only put in great work since then in Steve McQueen’s Widows and Melena Matsoukas’ indie film Queen & Slim), and any movie that does that deserves to be on this list.
5. Call Me By Your Name
The way Call Me By Your Name sneaks up on you is subtle, even if its exploration of homosexuality and taboo love in 1980’s Italy is far less so, and while the more explicit nature of the scenes may feel jarring at first, movie critics and viewers of all circles should look back on this entry into the top 10 as a pioneer of its day; never before had homosexuality been so fully expressed on screen, and yet, Luca Guadagnino’s period romance gives it such a distinct flavor through the sights and sounds captured within his camera. We can feel what being in this movie is like, the cold, the warmth, the sweat, the sounds; it all comes together in a slowly overpowering way until we realize that all we’ve really been doing is watching Armie Hammer flirt with Timothée Chalamet for two hours and have barely let out a breath. You can’t mention “the peach scene” to someone who’s seen this movie without them experiencing a flashback to the first time they ever saw it, and you can’t think of the best supporting performances of 2017 without bringing up Michael Stuhlbarg’s banner year, which included his final monologue from this very film as one of the finest few minutes of acting the entire year. For what it’s worth, I don’t know if would have personally given this film Best Picture, but I would not have been disappointed in the least if they called the award by this movie’s name.
4. Lady Bird
Referencing “period drama” is becoming an increasingly tricky thing to discuss as it relates to film. What makes it “period?” Is it meant to take place in an olden time, a long-forgotten stretch of history, or is it more bound by the attention to detail within each setting, rather than the setting itself? This is the sort of crossroads at which I find myself when discussing Greta Gerwig’s 2002-set directorial debut, Lady Bird, and how fitting to have this feeling when discussing a movie about a crossroads in one’s adolescent life. Anyone who saw Brooklyn back in 2015 knew that Saoirse Ronan is a rarified kind of actress, but her mastery of the San Fransisco dialect, as well as the perfect performances shared between her and Laurie Metcalf (who plays her mother) nonetheless blew us away who were sitting in a theater and watching it all unfold for the first time. Gerwig seems to understand “coming of age” in a single feature better than most directors ever do who even attempt to make a story like this come to life, and her direction is palpable through every frame; she cares for the character enough to let Ronan channel her on her own, but knows enough about her that she knows when a little push is necessary. This is one of the most astounding debuts of the 2010s and Gerwig has a very long career behind the camera ahead of her. (She reunites with her leading muse for this year’s Little Women remake, and if the results are anything as special as this one, we’re all in for a real treat.)
3. The Shape of Water
I had absolute no idea what to expect when I drove all the way to Louisville (from Lexington) to go see this for the first time. I had seen the trailers, and I liked them well enough, but I figured perhaps Del Toro’s dark take on Beauty and the Beast meets Creature from the Black Lagoon might be too weird to really stick with me long-term, regardless of how visually incredible it was sure to look. Yet, exiting the theater that night, I could not help but have fallen in love with the care and caress of every element in this movie, and the fairy tale swept me away. Sally Hawkins delivers a near-wordless performance in this film that easily could have won Best Actress in a less competitive year, Richard Jenkins as her older best friend turns in magnificent work, Michael Shannon’s Strickland is one of the most harrowing villains in the whole of Del Toro’s catalogue, and Alexandre Desplat’s marvelously sweet original score remains one of my all-time favorites to this very day. I had never seen Pan’s Labyrinth before this, and even though I liked Pacific Rim a lot, Crimson Peak was kind of a letdown for me, so I didn’t know why everyone loved Guillermo Del Toro so much, even though I was sure he probably deserved it; after viewing The Shape of Water for the first time, I never wondered again.
The X-Men franchise has had a pretty rocky tenure under the banner of 20th Century Fox (even putting out its second-worst entry this year in Dark Phoenix), but for the most part, they’ve ranged from mostly pretty good to outright masterpieces, and James Mangold’s second outing with this titular character marks the highest point of that tenure. This film perfectly bids farewell to both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart (who I still contend could have won Best Supporting Actor that year) in the roles that defined much of their careers, especially in the case of the former, and if the franchise had ended hear, it would have been a miracle how perfect that ending was. We can feel that Logan’s time is coming to an end, that his membership in the old guard of the X-Men has cost him dearly, and that he’s just…tired, and wants to rest. Yet he is doomed to be a hero even unto his permanent demise, and his personal journey of caring for an ailing Xavier and protecting his new young daughter is such a powerful journey for him to have in his final run. Whenever they do re-cast the role of Wolverine for the MCU (and they will; he’s the character everyone knows now), it will be an unlucky day for the actor having to live up to Jackman’s iconic X-Men legacy.
1. Blade Runner 2049
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will recognize that I often use this film as a punchline to any variety of memes, jokes, etc. But through all of those quips I make comes a sincere love of this film and the way it was so meticulously crafted that there’s not a single frame out of place, nor a single note of performance missed by any of its magnificent cast. Roger Deakins won his first cinematography Oscar after thirteen nominations (thirteen!) for this film, and no one has deserved that win more than he did. But Blade Runner 2049 is more than just one of the most beautiful-looking movies ever made; it’s also one of the best movies/sequels ever made, period. This is a film that challenges the original whilst caring for its place in cinema, opening up a massive world of possibilities for this cyberpunk dystopia, and creating a sweeping epic of intimacy in which both leads Gosling and Ford turn out some of their best performances, and we’re introduced to the goddess that is Ana De Armas. This movie is so good it managed to sit itself at #10 in my top 10 films of all time, and it managed to do that by being the sequel I never even knew I needed, enhancing the original film whilst providing a new direction for the “franchise” to go in, despite its tragic flop at the box office. Blade Runner 2049 does everything a great sequel should do the best way that any movie can do it, and it was the second year in a row that Denis Villeneuve topped my Best of the Year list.
And those are my Top 10 Movies of 2017! What are some of your favorites from 2017? Are there any on here you would remove? Any you think I missed? Let me know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan
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Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time.