Jacob's Top 15 Favorite Films of 2017
Man, 2017 had a lot of killer movies.
I'll be honest, I saw more movies in theaters this year than I have in any previous year. Part of that was because I've been closer to some art house theaters than I anticipated The bigger reason though is that I felt more compelled to seek out movies this year because there were a ton I wanted to see. That doesn't always happen every year, so 2017 is pretty exceptional in that regard.
With that in mind, I couldn't narrow down a list to just 10 movies, so I just threw my hands up and decided to expand the list to 15 movies.
But another thing is that despite having 15 movies I really want to talk about, there were a lot of movies I didn't get around to seeing before the end of 2017, movies that I really wanted to see. The reason I'm putting this up first is to preemptively answer any questions along the lines of "Why isn't ____ on your list?" In alphabetical order, here's that list of films I didn't see:
- The Big Sick
- Blade of the Immortal
- Brawl in Cell Block 99
- Call Me By Your Name
- The Florida Project
- I, Tonya
- It Comes At Night
- Lady Bird
- Logan Lucky
- Phantom Thread
- The Shape of Water
I want to see all of these films eventually, but I just couldn't see them in time for the writing of this list. But enough about movies I didn't see. Without further ado, here's my Top 15 Favorite Films of 2017.
15. Kong: Skull Island
For the caliber of films that have made this list, this might seem like an odd entry. And I'm not going to deny that it is an odd entry on the list. The writing isn't that great, the characters are paper thin archetypes brought to life by actors better than the material, and it dives headfirst into every Vietnam film cliche you can think of. Despite all of that (and maybe actually because of all of that), Kong: Skull Island is an absolute blast of a monster movie. With a rapid fire pace and some truly awesome monster-based set pieces, it manages to land a spot on my list because of my deep love for monster movies like this.
But it also lands on the list for something else: Its blatant disregard for human life. That's an odd selling point to be sure, but it's strange how the film seems to embrace its paper thin characters by savagely murdering them. To be entirely fair, it's not the only anti-human blockbuster with a CGI-rendered ape on this list, but it's definitely the fun anti-human blockbuster with a CGI-rendered ape on this list.
Plus, John C. Reilly just kills in this movie. He's legitimately great and steals the movie completely. And if you're a fan of movie monsters, stick around after the credits...
14. Thor: Ragnarok
It's worth saying that I didn't see Spider-Man: Homecoming this year, so the only other Marvel Cinematic Universe film I saw was Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, a movie that I thought was just fine. If anything seeing Guardians reminded me of how fatigued by the genre I had become, but Thor: Ragnarok reminded me just how ridiculously funny and unique the Marvel movies can be.
I'm still shocked by how much I genuinely loved Thor: Ragnarok's jokes and humor. I give all the credit in the world (and then some) to director Taika Waititi for absolutely running away with this film and making it his own. For a cinematic universe that gets criticized for sticking to a formula, Thor: Ragnarok lives in a space just outside of that formula and works wonders with its material. And I can't emphasize enough, this movie is hilarious, with legitimately gut-busting laughs, and saying anything more about those jokes would be a crime if you haven't seen the movie.
Most of all though, it was the way that Thor: Ragnarok actually shakes up the Marvel Universe that surprised me the most. For all of the gut-busting laughs to be had, the consequences of this film feel real and immediate in a way that a Marvel movie hasn't in a long time. All of that combined lands Thor: Ragnarok a slot on the list.
13. Wonder Woman
The DC film experiment has had decidedly mixed results over the past several years, but Wonder Woman definitely doesn't fall into the mixed reception category. Wonder Woman is a killer superhero origin film, boosted by some incredible action, a solid script, and some casting choices that elevated the film as a whole. If this was a list based on "Best Sequences of the Year," Wonder Woman's "No Man's Land" sequence would be at least number two or three on the list.
Gal Gadot's performance as Wonder Woman is going to go down in history. Maybe not as iconic as Christopher Reeves or another actor that will eventually appear on this list, but it could become that with a few more films. She's a commanding presence and plays the naiveté of her character well, but her transformation throughout the film is what truly cements her as a force to be reckoned.
It also helps a whole lot that Chris Pine is there for her to bounce off of. They share a chemistry here that keeps the film moving at all times, even when it does move into its predictable third act (and a third act that, if I'm being honest, is the thing keeping it from moving way WAY up this list). Of any DC project on the way, a sequel to Wonder Woman is easily at the top of my most anticipated list.
12. The Lego Batman Movie
Ranking this ahead of Wonder Woman might seem like a joke, but I'm completely serious when I say that The Lego Batman Movie is one of the best DC film projects since The Dark Knight. It turns out that literally deconstructing Batman to his core components was a really good idea, and it was an even better idea to rip Batman out of the darkness he has been saddled with for nearly a decade of film. The Lego Batman Movie might not retain the heart of The Lego Movie, but it still manages to reach an emotionally poignant message.
But it's also straight up hilarious. The jokes are rapid fire, and with rare exceptions, incredibly funny, with the film's opening scene in particular being fantastically funny and breathlessly entertaining. I was worried that only having Christopher Miller and Philip Lord on as producers would put The Lego Batman Movie in a potentially dicey place, but I'm happy to be wrong about this one.
And that Suicide Squad callout is one of the best jokes of the entire year. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that Suicide Squad joke might have landed this movie on the list. It's that good.
11. The Disaster Artist
It should say a lot about a year in movies that when I write a review for a film and say that it has one of the best third acts of the entire year and that movie lands in the eleventh slot, that it's a fiercely competitive year for films. The Disaster Artist's last third is a howling and hilarious testament to rebirth by failure, all wrapped around a film premiere. As a fan of seeing The Room in midnight showings, I had a great time with this film.
People hoping for a one-to-one adaptation of the book are going to be disappointed, and the film does lack the emotional depth you might be hoping for if you're an outsider to the material. For the initiated though, it's a blast. James Franco really knocked this out of the park in a way that I never saw coming, in front of and behind the camera, and the rest of the star-studded cast dominates the material they've been given. One of the most surprising films of the year.
Mainstream horror films are never this good, especially at this budget, and especially if they're Stephen King adaptations. But Pennywise the Dancing Clown came out in full force this year as if to teach other horror filmmakers working with large scale scares how to do this right. It is one of the true zeitgeist films of the year, and that zeitgeist is one of the primary reasons I've put the film on the list.
To tell you the truth, I thought It was a super solid horror film. Not a ton more, but definitely not less than that. But I still hear people quoting this movie in December, whether it's Richie's foulmouthed lines or one of Pennywise's creepy quotes. The sheer impact this film has had on the filmgoing public this year deserves to be mentioned, but It also deserves to be championed. Going to the movies is the art of voting with your wallet to indicate what films you want to see more of in the future, and if giving It accolades along with money is what we have to do as an audience to get more horror films like this, then I'm game.
9. Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi
I want to talk about so much here, but I'm still going to avoid spoilers on my list (and especially seeing that this film came out less than two weeks ago). I'll keep this brief: Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi is a great blockbuster sci-fi film about failure that deserves to be picked apart and carefully considered. It's one of the best Star Wars movies out there, and while it's not flawless, it's so admirably ambitious that I love it all the same. And to talk more about that, I'd have to spoil huge portions of the film, so I'll just cut this entry short and move on.
8. War For the Planet of the Apes
The anti-human blockbuster that 2017 deserves came from the place that absolutely should deliver that very concept. The Planet of the Apes franchise has been built on a foundation of dark ideas from the beginning, and it's been completely remarkable seeing how the modern trilogy has harnessed those dark ideas in modern ways. What's been downright amazing though is how those ideas serve as a backdrop to the incredible character arc that Caesar goes through.
War For the Planet of the Apes isn't just a great bleak blockbuster, it's the end of the most unlikely trilogy in modern cinema. In a landscape filled with cities being destroyed by gods and monsters alike, seeing three movies that essentially function as a prison escape film, a diplomacy gone wrong film, and a prisoner of war film as part of a blockbuster trilogy involving Planet of the Apes sounds like something out of a fever dream. The fact that it's real, that I've seen it, and it's great still blows my mind.
Thank you to the directors and writers of the Planet of the Apes trilogy for your hard work, but a special thank you to Andy Serkis and the motion capture animators that brought one of modern cinema's great protagonists to life. I'm sad to see it end, but I'm glad that it exists at all.
I'm honestly surprised to see Dunkirk on this list as I write about it. Christopher Nolan's last two movies left me feeling cold, but the idea of Nolan tackling a war film sounded like a step in the right direction. I'm still blown away by how great Dunkirk really is, a truly unique voice in blockbuster filmmaking. Visually stunning at every turn, this was one of the few movies I saw all year that felt like it was truly custom made for IMAX. The film feels massive in a way that no other film on this list does. It's also nice to hear a Hans Zimmer score that feels like a physical assault on your body. In a good way.
The most surprising part about Dunkirk though is its emotional resonance. When I wrote my review for Dunkirk back in July, I had only seen the film once. I've seen it twice now, and I'm stunned by how well it holds up on repeat viewings and how it even improves on repeat viewings. When you know the film's fractured timeline going in, the whole story feels even more alive. The film's emotional last ten minutes still resonated with me too, and I cried again watching this beast, something I never thought a Christopher Nolan movie was going to do to me. Here's to hoping that Nolan continues to surprise me in the future.
6. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
If this list was based on "The Film That Made Me Want to Curl Up in a Ball and Die," The Killing of a Sacred Deer would easily take the top slot. I'm going to keep this entry brief only because it's hard to talk about the particular nature of this film without giving it away, but Yorgos Lanthimos is an incredibly talented filmmaker and I hope he gets to continue making absurdist nightmares with Colin Farrell until the sun explodes because he's dialed into my film sensibilities so hard that I'm not sure he's just taking information directly out of my brain. With one of the most disturbing film moments of the year, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a surrealist thriller I'm not going to forget anytime soon.
If 2017 was defined by a blockbuster (it wasn't, it was defined by a horror film, but we'll get to that later), that blockbuster would be Logan. A film that literally reflects on the failures of the past, clawing through rubble to get a dying look at a hopeful future, Logan is the R-rated superhero movie that the whole genre has been building towards for decades. While the legacy of the X-Men films veer all over the place, Hugh Jackman was Wolverine for a generation of filmgoers, and I am one of them.
I still remember the first time I saw Jackman as Wolverine when I was literally five years old and I never forgot him. That deep nostalgia isn't the only reason Logan makes the list though. It makes the list because it's a hardcore neo-western with some of the most brutal violence ever shown in a superhero film. But that violence is nothing compared to the emotional turmoil that Logan brings down like hellfire on its audience.
And in all of that darkness, there is still light. The closest to light that the movie manages to manifest is Dafne Keen as Laura, a.k.a. X-23, and one of the most important parts of the entire movie. She's amazing, and considering she has to hold her own against Jackman and Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier, she's a performer to keep an eye on. One of the most punishing and satisfying films of the entire year, and easily one of the best comic book films of all time, Logan is the end of an era, and what an end it is.
4. Good Time
I feel like I've been shouting about this movie from the rooftops for months now. I understand that plenty of people didn't see Good Time, and I even understand why plenty of people didn't see Good Time, beyond the fact that it got a limited release. Even with Robert Pattinson in the film, it's not an easy sell. When your movie's pitch is literally "a con man and his mentally challenged brother rob a bank," you might expect a rude and crude comedy, and Good Time has no interest in being that.
Good Time is a grimy, neon-soaked vision of Queens, New York that descends into the depths of horrible decision making and terrible consequences. Any comedy in Good Time is of the dark variety, but that's only background noise to the film's steady escalation of insanity. The script here is tight, but the miracle is how the actors are all fantastic, and I mean all of them. Even literal non-actors who make their film debuts here perform well, but no one dominates this movie as much as Robert Pattinson himself. This is his best performance, hands down, the kind of transformations most actors dream of having but can never achieve.
It helps that Good Time also has one of the best original music scores of the year, and the only film soundtrack I bought this year. Good Time is the complete package of a film, top to bottom, and one of my top five films of the entire year.
3. Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner 2049 would have made the list on principle if it was even marginally better than Tron Legacy, a film that also decided to be a sequel to a film from 1982 after decades of silence. Tron Legacy brought the aesthetic, but it didn't bring a whole lot else, and I was afraid that Blade Runner 2049 would end up falling into the same trap. Thankfully, it didn't, so it lands on the list.
The part where it's my third favorite film of the entire year is what stuns me. I'm still in awe of the fact that in 2017, we got a worthy sequel to Blade Runner, a sequel that feels like a legitimate expansion of the original film's ideas and story while finding its own visual language and concepts. I can't believe how great Ryan Gosling is as the new lead, Agent K. I can't believe that Harrison Ford put as much effort and pain into his reprisal of Deckard. I can't believe they still used miniature photography to achieve its effects. The only thing that doesn't shock me is how beautiful the film is, considering that its directed by Denis Villeneuve with cinematography by Roger Deakins.
What lands the movie on the third slot though is that it literally has a scene I've never seen in a film. I won't go into detail about it here, but a romance scene in this film is skin-crawlingly dark and weird in a way that has to be seen to believed. It's easy to describe, but the amount of work put into the scene is just incredible. What an amazing science fiction film.
2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Of all the movies on this list, this is the one I want to re-watch the least, even less than The Killing of a Sacred Deer. That's not a knock against Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but to illustrate a point. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is profoundly and emotionally devastating in a way that few movies dare to be. It has some questionable politics, but in terms of brutal character dynamics, there's almost nothing like it.
This film features two of the best performances of the entire year in the form of Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, but the film's script is what lands it so high on the list. I haven't seen a film set in the U.S. that was so truly dark and complex. There are no easy answers in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and that's all I have to say about it at this point. There are films far more violent on this list, but none of those films made violence feel the way that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri did, especially in a long take scene that's so brutal and perfect in its execution that I'm not sure I didn't just imagine it.
Above all though, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is uncompromising in its vision of hatred, clouding and destroying everything in its path. Even when these characters feel justified in their rage, you just want them to stop. But you know they can't, and you understand that they can't. That understanding is what separates good writing from great writing, and what takes a film like this to my second favorite film of 2017.
1. Get Out
I'll be honest, the first time I saw Get Out, I thought it was pretty great. Definitely a top five kind of movie, but not the best of the year. It wasn't until I saw the film a second time that it really sank in: Get Out is the film that defines 2017 in America, and it deserves that distinction just for how incredibly well made it is from top to bottom. If Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has one of the most emotionally resonant scripts of the year, Get Out has the best script of the year from a technical level. The script is near air-tight at a level that horror thrillers almost never are, even some of the best in the genre.
If Get Out was just a super solid Stepford Wives riff but from the perspective of Black America, that would have been pretty cool. But Get Out has something even nastier up its sleeve, something so creepy and awesome that even as a horror fan I didn't see it coming. Get Out's big twist is incredible for a lot of reasons, but I'll narrow it down to two major reasons. One, it completely changes the second viewing. Get Out is the rare horror film that improves the second time through, and the twist is absolutely the reason that it does.
But the second reason is the more important reason the twist works. The biggest problem that horror films face with making a huge reveal is that the reveal rarely can live up to what your imagination can come up with. Not only does Get Out surpass your imagination, its twist also functions as an allegory so clear and laser focused that its intentions can't be misinterpreted or ignored. I love Get Out's ambition, but that it delivers on its ambition, all while being a pretty kick ass horror movie with incredible acting, all from a director's debut film, is beyond amazing.
Jordan Peele has delivered the film of 2017. I'm willing to bet that in ten, even twenty years, this will be the film from 2017 we talk the most about, in terms of American film history in particular. It's a not just a modern horror classic, it's a modern classic. I love Get Out, and it's easily my favorite film of 2017.