As the 2017 year comes to a close, I always like to reflect on different facets of the year. This year I decided to look back at the movies I saw this year and engage in one of my favorite hobbies: ranking things. Now these are not all the films I saw this year, but simply the ones that were released in 2017 that I saw. There are still 2017 pictures that I didn’t get to see for a variety of reasons (I will discuss that at the end), but among the ones I did see, here is a list of them, from worst to best. Full disclosure: I don’t see trash movies, so none of these are bad in anyway, and being ranked #13 out of 13 simply means you were the least of the best. Also, while I justify the rankings using details, I include no spoilers, so feel free to read this regardless of whether you’ve seen the movies or not.
13. Wonder Woman
I, for one, am tired of superhero movies at this point. I’ve never been a big superhero fan in the first place, but when done well, I can really like them (see: Nolan Batman movies). However, we’ve reached a point of just constant bombardment, oversaturation and I just can’t take it anymore. Just this year, we had this movie, a new Spiderman, a new Guardians of the Galaxy, a new Thor, Justice League, and Logan. I could only see two of those and Wonder Woman was one of them. A lot of beautiful angles and shots and I really liked Chris Pine’s performance, and Gal Gadot was solid as well. The World War I reenactment scenes were arguably the best part of the movie and the most impressive film-making. That said, the story runs a bit dry at times, but there are just enough ties to other Justice League characters to make the audience want to see another appearance from WW, which they inevitably gave us a few months later. Overall, this movie is a good, but not great superhero film. There are a lot of worse superhero movies, but it’s also not one that I’d rewatch.
12. Darkest Hour
Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill lives up to the hype, but the film as a whole is lacking. Let’s start with Oldman. He captures Churchill perfectly, with the mannerisms being excellent, his mumbling and line delivery culminating in a booming oration is brilliant, but he brings another side to Churchill. His emotional side around the King and his wife is also very well done. But boy, if this were not Oldman, then this film might be a 5, because it really has some issues. For one, there is remarkably little character development despite being a BIOPIC. The fact that it’s set over a one-month period constrains its ability to dive deeper into the past and enrich the plot. Additionally, there were a handful of strange and unexplored elements, and parts that just felt sloppy. Overall, a subpar movie that is carried by a masterful leading performance.
11. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
A very similar film to the first, GOTG2 brings back the same lovable characters and interpersonal relationships we came to like in the first film. The soundtrack is just as stellar as in Vol. 1, and I appreciated the inclusion of Looking Glass’s one hit wonder, Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl). That said, the use of it as a major plot point felt forced. Yet, despite the increase in plot holes when compared to the first, the emotional content is more real and Vol. 2 is a funnier film. Not much else to say. A quality sequel, which in film, is often tough to accomplish. Good but not near great.
10. Battle of the Sexes
The tale of Billie Jean King’s famous match against Bobby Riggs, it does a good job of recreating the match and the surrounding pressures. It could have done more to develop the characters involved, but I felt that Steve Carell and Emma Stone both did terrific jobs transforming into the parts they were playing. Some critics of this film felt it didn’t do enough to look into King’s backstory, but I think it had the right balance between the two main players and certainly shed light onto Bobby Riggs, which we don’t normally get. It’s a good but not great movie. Definitely not a waste of time, but not one that I would tell you that you have to see.
9. Baby Driver
On the outside, this movie looks like another boring and bland Fast and Furious type. Guns, explosions, cars, loud music. But it's actually story is much deeper and more intriguing than face value. Like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, this movie is carried in part by its excellent soundtrack, with each track fitting the scene of the moment. The actual action scenes are everything you want from an action movie, with the explosions, blood, weaponry, crime, and cool driving stunts. The heists are fun, the getaway scenes are great. Put simply, it’s a fun movie. The romance aspect could’ve been slightly better, but the directors deserve credit for taking a tired old type of movie (action/cars/crime) and making it original. In the end, there’s not much to dislike about this movie but not much to love either.
HERE WE GO. I know some people are going to come and badger me about this ranking, but I want to start by saying that I’m a big admirer of Christopher Nolan’s work. His decision to shoot on film as opposed to digital video is one I have a lot of respect for and he makes beautiful movies, and Dunkirk is one of those. I’m a big fan of his Batman movies (especially The Dark Knight), I loved Inception, and Interstellar was good but too long. All of that said, this isn’t one of his greatest works. As with most of his movies, Dunkirk lacks extensive character development and that fact is particularly revealing when it comes to a war film. We follow several characters around through the whole movie, yet lean literally nothing about them. I give him credit for taking a new angle on an old theme, but we should know more about the characters involved than we do. But, the creation of the movie is excellent, with breathtaking shots and realism. Not the gory realism of Saving Private Ryan, but fabulous all the same. The use of the ticking in the background was also a savvy brilliant move and these aspects make up for a timeline that’s tough to follow and lack of characters to some degree. If you want to know what the Battle of Dunkirk looked like, watch this movie. If you want to learn about the struggle of soldiers in wartime, don’t watch this movie. A good war film, but not one that can rival those in the pantheon.
7. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
My childhood was pretty much devoted to being a Star Wars superfan, and thus it’s been hard for me to rank Star Wars movies as objective movies. But, I’ll try to do my best here. Personally, I liked The Last Jedi more than The Force Awakens, particularly because it was far more creative (though still not as much as I want). That said, it was about 20 minutes too long and left a lot of questions unanswered. But the CGI work is fabulous as always, John Williams provides his always stellar score, and it is a beautiful movie to watch. There are no unwatchable scenes, e.g., some of the Anakin and Padme scenes in Attack of the Clones, and overall, as an objective movie, it’s good. As a Star Wars movie, I have a lot of nitpicks and issues.
As a history nerd and a lifelong Michigander, when I heard we were getting a movie about the ‘67 Riots, I was enthused. Then the reviews started rolling in and they were all over the place, which is understandable for a movie with as clear of a statement about politics and history as this movie has. The wounds of the riots are still present in today’s society and in our political discourse and so the controversy makes sense. However, just viewing the movie as a movie, a presentation of events, it is hard to turn away. It’s intense and brutal and seeing it in the theater very much helps the experience. Like with Dunkirk, you are transported into a place and time in history. Kathryn Bigelow whips up an incredibly vivid and realistic image of what it was like both in the riots and specifically the Algiers Motel incident. It is a biting and searing commentary on the injustices in the criminal justice system relating to police brutality and also race relations in the United States. That alone will make it controversial. Your stance on that issue will color the way you see this film, but it’s hard to deny that it’s a movie that makes you think and makes you ask questions. There were some parts that dragged and I’m not sure I liked the ending, but it’s very much worth the watch.
5. The Big Sick
A cute and touching movie. It explores the true meaning of family, but also the ideals of responsibility and self determination within life. It’s genuinely funny and heartwarming, and the type of story that would almost be cliche if not based on a true one. It serves as a good examination of cross-cultural relationships, but also the diverse America and world that exists within the 21st century. A very strong comedy that tugs at the heart, yet never lets itself become too deep. All of that said, this is a very solid rom-com. Not trashy, and one with a deeper meaning, but also not an all time classic. Worth the 2 hours of your time.
4. Get Out
A very well done picture. At its core, it’s a well above average horror movie. But then you have to add in the fact that it has the obvious racial undertones, which elevates it even higher. The beginning half of the movie is not a horror film, it’s a Hitchcockian thriller, with a sense of dread and eeriness going on the entire time. Just enough jolts to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. But by the end of the film, it has become full-blown horror. There are some parts which I would say are a tad too unrealistic, but I was never fully jerked out. Besides the obvious comparisons to slavery, the Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner aspect of racial relationships is intriguing. Enthralling until the last minute, it effectively uses humor to break tension before escalating, which is common for the genre. That said, it was both well done, but also wasn’t funny enough for me to call it comedy as a sub genre. It can be seen as a commentary but also as just a plain horror/thriller movie. It has a strong musical accompaniment, and excellent acting to back it up, especially from Daniel Kaluuya. It doesn’t need excessive gore to cement its place as a good horror movie, but gives you just enough to round out an overall stellar film.
3. The Disaster Artist
A great modern comedy, The Disaster Artist manages to also have deeper meaning as well. The film is absolutely as ridiculous as The Room, which it is based on. It becomes hilarious because of how bizarre it is at times but also has lessons on friendship, and we grow a strange and sad connection to Tommy, especially when the movie fails yet becomes revived. It develops and constructs deep images of the characters and the pressures leading up to the making of The Room. I give it the edge over Get Out because of technical aspects, particularly how the filmmaking crew reshot entire scenes from The Room with near perfection. Additionally, Franco completely transforms to take over his role as Wiseau and should get Academy Award consideration for that performance. Definitely worth the watch, as it’s funny and engrossing while painting a legitimate story.
2. Lady Bird
This was unquestionably the hardest decision on the list. Of these 13 movies, 11 were in one category, and these two were in another. Picking one over the other was extremely difficult. But my best guess places the #1 film a tiny bit ahead of Lady Bird. That said, this is a phenomenal film and it’s hard to stop gushing about it. It’s funny, relatable, enthralling, emotional, beautiful, and deep, with a near perfect ending. It also explores a mammoth amount of themes, including friendship, love, parental pressure, religion, homosexuality, income/social status, and college. It offers a commentary on the joys and trials of life. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf both have terrific performances that should earn them Academy Award nominations. I’ve spoken to many people who have seen this film and have yet to encounter any who dislike it. A truly great picture.
1. The Florida Project
As is always the case with some of the best movies in a given year, The Florida Project never made it to the big theaters in Ann Arbor and was only at the Michigan Theater for a short time. Luckily, I was able to see it and it did not disappoint in the least. Sean Baker has constructed a true tour de force that is heartbreaking, thought provoking, elegant, agonizing, and beautiful. The harsh story of a young single mother and her daughter in Orlando, it is a masterfully crafted plot to make a message, with great acting by Willem Dafoe, worthy of the awards he will likely receive. Realistic and humanistic, it has some breathtaking shots and camera work that are truly the cherry on top. It makes you think and ask questions, leaving you both painfully aware of the struggles of humanity but also hopeful for the promise of youth. The ending almost certainly ruffles some feathers and it did for me at the time, but it has grown on me over time. This film swept the Detroit Film Critics Society, winning Best Film, Best Director, and netting Dafoe the Best Supporting Actor, which from what I have seen so far, it is totally worthy. If you can see this picture, then do it. And then it will make you want to watch it over and over again.
2017 movies that I haven’t seen yet but want to
Of course, due to various factors, I haven’t gotten to see all the 2017 movies that I wanted to see and that’s what this section is for. There’s a few of the Oscar bait ones that I haven’t seen simply because they aren’t out in Real America yet. These include I, Tonya, The Post, Phantom Thread, and Call Me By Your Name. Most of those will be released here in Ann Arbor in mid-January, but I plan to see all of those. As for other ones I missed, I would like to see Blade Runner 2049 at some point, but I haven’t seen the original, so that’s probably best saved for a summer binge of both films. I might see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Shape of Water at some point but I’m not sure if I’ll get around to it. Lastly, while it didn’t get great reviews, I am compelled to see LBJ just to see how Woody Harrelson plays the complex and flawed President.