Say what you will about 2017, but it did deliver many excellent films. Critically it was one of the most fascinating years in recent memory. Instead of only drooling over the usual Oscar-bait, critics praised superhero movies like Wonder Woman while many upheld the horror-comedy Get Out as the best film of the year. As a result, the interests of yours truly actually aligned with many of the critics this year. While it was a refreshing change of pace, certain movies did or didn’t resonate with me like they did with the critics. Here are my top 10 favorite movies released in 2017 (minor spoilers ahead for some films):
10. Thor: Ragnarok
Director Taika Waititi reshaped the narrative around Thor films through his bizarre, quirky, improvisational style. Despite the change in approach, Loki still stole the show with his charm, sarcasm and intricate character development. Tom Hiddleston’s approach to the character somehow works every time he appears, but all the other actors clearly got on board with Waititi’s vision as well and made it a reality. The movie finally embraced the cosmos outside Earth and Asgard through the weirdness of Sakaar, complemented by the hilarious Korg and Jeff Goldblum’s callous Grandmaster.
The movie didn’t live up to its complete potential, though, as it sometimes sacrificed important plot points or character moments for laughs. Important information about Surtur and Ragnarok is eclipsed in the beginning by Thor making dumb jokes. Beneath the humor, the film contained an intriguing theme about whitewashing history. Hela’s motivations and backstory relied heavily on this theme and the fascinating revelation that she and Odin built the empire of Asgard off the blood of other worlds before Odin banished Hela and changed the narrative. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t dive into this theme enough. But Waititi’s fresh approach works well overall, and provides excellent development for Thor, Bruce Banner/Hulk, Loki, and Valkyrie heading into Avengers: Infinity War.
9. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Following the sensational success of Wonder Woman, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women shares the fascinating tale of creation behind the iconic and more popular than ever superhero. The relationships between Professor William Marston, his wife Elizabeth, and their protégé Olive are deeply moving. Their story demonstrates the raw beauty of human love when stigmas are lifted. Audiences care about their relationships on a personal level, and seeing how their dynamics and personalities shape core elements of Wonder Woman allows audiences to care about these characters even further. Amidst their relationships, academia, feminism, BDSM, and the invention of the lie detector all play integral roles in creating Wonder Woman.
One narrative drawback in the film is that it feels like audiences are shown that William loves Elizabeth and Olive, Elizabeth loves William and Olive, and that Olive loves Elizabeth. However, the audience is really only told that Olive comes to love William and never shown this. This makes their dynamics and relationship less believable, but it ultimately doesn’t detract too much from the film’s many strong elements.
After a few sub-par entries in recent years, Pixar showed they were back on their game with Coco. The imaginative story delivers a celebration of culture, family, and music. The Land of the Dead is a visually breathtaking setting. Creative, meaningful concepts like the customs area and rules of who can and can’t pass over root the Land of the Dead in stellar world-building. Against this backdrop, Pixar brings the family-friendly humor but also explores deeper concepts like the role collective memory plays in shaping legacies and the identity of future generations. But there’s just as much emphasis on the impact of an individual’s memories on legacy and identity. There’s also a pretty shocking, dark twist in the film’s third act that directly influences the film’s exploration of memory. Above all the film is a diverse celebration of culture, family, and music and the healing power of these elements on memory.
7. Beauty and the Beast
Disney’s live-action remake acts as a homage to the 1991 animated film while incorporating a variety of fresh elements. One of the best examples is how a key bonding point between Belle and the Beast is their love for reading. This was touching in the 1991 film when Belle teaches Beast how to read and as he embraces the wonders of reading the two characters find another meaningful bond with each other. This is made even better in the new film through their shared, intellectual passions as already voracious readers. Scenes in the library, where they both read independently or to each other at the dinner table and on the castle grounds honor the previous film while adding new, rich layers to the current story.
Emma Watson plays Belle perfectly through sharp intellect, charm, and fierce bravery. Characters like LeFou and Maurice become more nuanced instead of just existing as caricatures. Luke Evans is the perfect individual we never knew should play Gaston, capturing the character through the strongest singing performance in the film. The likes of Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, and Dan Stevens provide mesmerizing voices that help to bring the beloved characters and classic story to life like never before.
6. Get Out
Get Out is the rare movie that has a strong idea behind it while the execution of that idea in the film is just as strong. The idea that we don’t live in a post-racial world isn’t mind-blowing, but it is an essential truth that needs to be explored. Jordan Peele’s horror-comedy delves into the facade of a post-racial world, and the ugliness lurking behind such lies. The delightful blend of thrilling, creepy, and hilarious elements make Peele’s approach to tackling these ideas equally entertaining and thought-provoking. Through the gradual buildup, arguably the most shocking film twist in 2017, and the violent ending, the suspense never falters. It’s a movie that’s completely engaging from start to finish, and will stick with audiences long after they see the film.
5. War for the Planet of the Apes
By developing character and theme instead of spectacle, this science-fiction prequel trilogy always seemed to be way better than it had any right to be. The concluding chapter in the trilogy continued this success with perhaps the strongest entry yet. Instead of a drawn-out explosive fight between apes and humans, the movie hones in on Caesar’s misguided revenge plot. Like a tragic Shakespearean figure, Caesar is a brilliant, now broken leader, seeking revenge with the futile hope it will heal his many losses. The film particularly excels in quiet moments of beauty and tragedy, all asking the audience what it truly means to be human. The moment in which the mute human child Nova asks Maurice if she is an ape is both poignant and uplifting. The final, wordless confrontation between Caesar and Woody Harrelson’s villain exposes the thin line between their two species and provides insight into what humanity really looks like. It’s heavy stuff, made a little lighter by Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape.
4. Blade Runner 2049
It’s difficult to continue the story of a classic, especially after garnering thirty years of critical acclaim. Blade Runner 2049 manages to not only act as a worthy sequel, but it provides compelling world-building and further enhances the overall narrative. Through visually stunning cinematography and a soundtrack that perfectly captures the mood, the film explores the question of what it really means to be human. Building on the original Blade Runner, Replicants tend to act more humane than humans, leaving the audience to ponder what genuine humanity is at all. Ryan Gosling’s character K has rich development that subverts the “chosen one” trope. His relationship with Joi acts as a poignant and sometimes amusing insight into the relationships modern day individuals share with their prized technological devices. Harrison Ford’s Deckard is used the perfect amount, providing depth and a redemptive arc that enriches his overall character. There are more twists than in the original film, though the sequel lacks some of its predecessor’s rich ambiguity. This is partly rooted in Jared Leto’s performance as the underdeveloped villain Niander Wallace. But overall the core themes and characters are thought-provoking enough and the film beautifully made to outweigh such drawbacks.
3. Wonder Woman
Blending together elements of mythology, history, and superhero origin stories, Wonder Woman became one of the most entertaining and important movies of the year. Gal Gadot’s sensational performance nailed all aspects of the character, along with an inspired supporting cast. Audiences finally got to experience a female-led superhero movie brimming with heart, humor, and epic sequences. The emphasis on mythology and the World War I setting gave the film a unique feel that is grounded with traditional elements of a superhero origin story. It is a refreshing break from the brooding angst of recent superhero films, particularly in the DCEU. In an age where darkness and cynicism often reign both in entertainment and reality, Wonder Woman is an uplifting breath of fresh air.
X-Men films are often constrained by their massive ensembles, leaving many compelling characters unexplored in a race to an explosive battle in the third act. Logan prevented this issue by focusing on the characters of Logan, Charles Xavier, and Laura. The character-driven story leads to the best X-Men film of all time as the three protagonists and their relationships are explored in-depth. Logan and Charles struggle to find their places in a world that has moved on from mutants, haunted by the sins of their pasts. Both men find purpose through Laura, a mutant child who is fierce with her powers, but in desperate need of guidance and companionship. They form a kind of dysfunctional family as Laura learns what it means to not just survive, but to embrace the gift of life.
This journey with Laura allows Charles and Logan to not only find purpose, but to finally confront their demons and complete their incredible character arcs in service to the future represented by Laura and her young mutant friends. The brutal fight scenes, the dysfunction between Logan and Caliban and a dementia-plagued Charles, and the quieter scenes between Logan and Charles and Laura all play equally well. Ultimately, the film exemplifies the beautiful and chaotic mess of life that Logan, Charles, and Laura all learn to embrace in different ways.
1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The core reason The Last Jedi is so divisive among fans is the very reason the film should be applauded. Rian Johnson dared to make bold choices and take substantial risks with his approach to the film. He deconstructed what audiences should expect from a Star Wars film. Instead of seeing constraints placed by the existing films and canon, he saw opportunities to expand the universe and test the characters in refreshing ways. This doesn’t just mean shocking twists. It means challenging the misconception from both characters and audiences that Luke Skywalker is a perfect legend. It means challenging the idea that Rey’s destiny relies on her lineage. It means characters figuring out how to resolve a situation when their desperate, half-baked plans fail to save the day. It means pushing the boundaries of the abilities wielded by Force-sensitive individuals, and the beliefs that govern their decisions.
Carrie Fisher delivers one of her all-time best performances in what will tragically be her final appearance as Leia. Her steadfast leadership in impossible situations, wry humor, palpable spirit, and an overdue use of a certain power serve as a beautiful testament to both Leia and Carrie Fisher herself. Mark Hamill sells Luke’s complex and ultimately satisfying journey, an arc that doesn’t destroy the character but that challenges his core identity when he feels like he’s failed the galaxy and the people he cares about most. Learning from his mistakes and with the help of an old friend, Luke experiences some of his greatest development yet with the decisions he makes in the film’s final act.
Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are fantastic as well, selling the unlikely bond that forms between Rey and Kylo Ren as they channel their raw power and struggle to find their place and purpose in the galaxy. They are equally as compelling at portraying how their characters grapple with the mind-blowing consequences of the bond they sought for different reasons. Of the brand new characters, Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo is the standout. Soft-spoken and reserved and appearing more feminine than other Resistance members, she challenges both characters like Poe and the audience to rethink what makes a true leader and hero. This is a lesson that both audiences and characters need as there’s far more to successful heroism and leadership than jumping in an X-Wing and blowing stuff up. With the aid of lightspeed, Holdo also owns one of the film’s most epic moments.
The movie isn’t perfect—such as Captain Phasma being wasted again—but overall The Last Jedi is the most captivating and bold movie of 2017 from start to finish.
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What’s your favorite movie of 2017? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Top Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios/Lucasfilm