The Best and Worst Films of 2017
By Danny Minton
2017 was truly a tough year for Hollywood. We suffered from one of the worst summer box offices in history (mostly due to a plethora of really bad films) and then came the sex scandals. Many of the most powerful men in Hollywood fell due to sins in their past that it seems everyone seemed to know about for years. But to make lemonade out of lemons, women in Hollywood found their voice and while we will most likely see more once-powerful figures crumble, the dark secrets that have plagued Tinseltown for years, for the most part, should start to become a disease of the past. This year in particular has been tough for formulating a top 10 list. My two favorite films, for instance, both took significant fire for who was in them and who produced them. I thought seriously about dismissing them, but then I remembered that a film is more than just one person. Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey might be a blight, but movies are made by hundreds of people, some of whom had to suffer while working with the monsters that are starting to be exposed. So I am choosing to honor them, along with some other really great films, by keeping them at the top of my list. Without further ado…
1) Baby Driver (On Blu-ray and DVD). Until 2017, writer/director Edgar Wright has delivered some really great quirky comedies (Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) but he has been largely unproven in the drama and action genres. But boy did he pull off a doozy with this pic about a young car thief (Ansel Elgort) who is forced to be a getaway driver in order to pay off a debt to a bank-robbing crime boss played by Kevin Spacey. The film is chalked with great performances by both new talent and some perennial favorites (Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm are both equally scary and terrific) and the storytelling is top notch. This movie works at all levels and is absolutely the most entertaining picture released this year.
2) Wind River (on Blu-ray and DVD). Had Harvey Weinstein not become the poster child for sexual assault in Hollywood, his marketing machine might have turned this crime thriller into a top Oscar candidate. While they were quick to drop Weinstein Company from the project, there is still zero buzz behind its chances – but don’t let that fool you. This is one great movie and you need to see it. Written and directed by Hell or High Water and Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan, the story follows a young but competent FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) who teams with local game tracker (Jeremy Renner) to investigate the murder of a young girl on an Indian reservation in Wyoming. Every minute is riveting and the story crafting is masterful.
3) Dunkirk (on DVD and Blu-ray). Christopher Nolan’s epic war film about the evacuation of Dunkirk at the beginning of WWII is truly one of his best motion pictures and could be the movie to win him his first well-deserved Oscar. This visionary project tells the story from the points of view of the air battles, the beached military trying to escape as well as the civilians risking their lives on their small watercraft as they attempt to rescue the British soldiers from certain German annihilation. So few Americans have ever even heard of this important event (the Americans hadn’t entered the war yet so it doesn’t make it into most of our history books) but 2017 sheds wonderful new light with Darkest Hour, which tells the story leading to the evacuation, and then Dunkirk which actually gives you a window as to what it could have been like to be there.
4) Coco (in theaters). While we’ve had a few decent animated films this year, for the most part, this genre saw a downturn in 2017. But while Coco will easily win the Oscar for best animated film, don’t let the lack of quality competitors taint your opinion. This is an exceptional film showing that while Pixar doesn’t always hit them out of the park, they certainly still have the ability. The story follows a young Mexican boy who disobeys his living family by entering the world of the dead to find the grandfather he has never met in order to gain his blessing for him and his music – which he is not allowed to play in the world of the living. Great story and mesmerizing animation make this an inspired project and easily the best family film of the year.
5) Logan (on DVD and Blu-ray). Going into the theater to see Logan, I honestly thought the big deal was that I was going to see a R-rated Wolverine film. And while that might be technically true, that is just scratching the surface as to its importance. In a year with some really great super hero films (Wonder Woman, Thor: Ragnarok) Logan proves to be something special indeed. Hugh Jackman plays a hero at the end of his life, running from the law which would like to see him and all other mutants dead. He has lived a long life, but facing mortality is new for him and when he discovers he has a daughter with similar abilities, he pulls himself together to try to do the right thing by her. This is a dark, powerful film with an emotional punch rarely seen in this genre.
6) Get Out (on DVD and Blu-ray). Who would have thought from watching Key and Peele on Comedy Central that Jordan Peele would be able to churn out one of the most talked-about films of the year and possibly even a top Oscar contender – all with a horror film? The whole scenario is sort of mind-blowing. But once you are watching, you realize that this is no typical genre project and its themes point a flashlight on our current culture and its evolved thoughts and fears concerning race in the United States. Yes it’s scary. But it’s also funny, thought-provoking and insanely good.
7) The Big Sick (on DVD and Blu-ray). One of the biggest surprises of the year comes from this autobiographical tale from Kumail Nanjiani, who stars in the story of his life of a young Pakistani comedian whose white girlfriend slips into a coma while he is dealing with a family that will not accept anything for him but a Pakistani bride. Rocking out some really great performances here are Zoe Kazan as the comatose girlfriend and Ray Romano and Holly Hunter who play her parents, desperately trying to accept Kumail while worrying feverishly about their daughter. This film will have you laughing and crying in equal measure as you attempt to empathize with such a lovable, but flawed, real-life character.
8) Lady Bird (in theaters). This inconspicuous hit has officially been named by Rotten Tomatoes as the best-reviewed him ever, although try to get someone to tell you what its about without thinking “that sounds boring.” Hard to describe effectively it is, but it is also extremely easy to enjoy. Saorise Ronan stars as a bold young high school girl trying to figure her life out, being overly confident in things she shouldn’t be and under-confident in areas where she’s nailing it. Again – its hard to describe but so much fun to take in. It’s an unexpected gift from the movie gods, from an unexpected source, which allows us to get into the head of a teenage girl for two hours without forcing us to regret the ride afterward.
9) The Square (coming soon on DVD and Blu-ray). Winner of many awards this year including the Palme D’Or at Cannes is this Swedish social comedy about a curator who hires a marketing firm to promote his modern art museum in Stockholm, Sweden. Through the many adventures and happenings, the curator finds himself put in compromising and uncomfortable situations where the audience only slightly feels safety and security from remembering that its only a movie. While very funny at times (the film has possibly the funniest and unsexiest sex scenes ever put to film, aided by American actress Elisabeth Moss), the quirks speak loudly to the problems wealthy society has with dealing with the majority of the world around them. It is an intoxicating and memorable picture that many of you for years will no doubt pull out when discussing with your friends about which foreign films you’ve seen recently as you try to impress them. The good news is that if they watch it because of you, you will get a big thank you on the back end.
10) The Florida Project (coming soon to DVD and Bu-ray). When many of us think about hotels in Orlando, we imagine where we stay when going to Disney or Universal Studios. But many of the hotels which were built to attract tourists are actually home to low-income society, trying to keep a roof over their head and doing whatever it takes to support their families. In this story, a young girl fills her days with fun and trouble-making with her friends, while her mother struggles to survive. While the movie takes a while to get going, it wallops you over the head once it does, leaving you not with a bad taste in your mouth, but at least a very different one than you could imagine going in. The highlight for me was Willem Dafoe’s performance, which is my favorite performance of any actor this year. While I will most certainly be trying to predict who will win awards, Dafoe will be a contender I will actually be cheering for.
Honorable Mention: Bladerunner 2049; Darkest Hour; I, Tonya; It; Jane; Loving Vincent; Maudie; Mudbound; The Post; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; The Shape of Water; Trainspotting 2
1) CHIPS. He may be a good comedic actor, but Dax Shepard attempts and fails to connect as writer and director in this absolutely unfunny wreck.
2) Baywatch. Even The Rock and Zac Efron couldn’t give CPR to this disastrous attempt to bring beach cops to the big screen.
3) Fist Fight. Charlie Day and Ice Cube embarrass themselves in this lame and mean-spirited comedy about two teachers who commit themselves to an after-school brawl.
4) The Mummy. Tom Cruise and Universal have every desire to revive the classic monster movies, but that can’t be easy with this horrible script and a film that collapses under the weight of its own ambition.
5) The Great Wall. Zhang Yimou is still one of cinema’s great directors, but this Matt Damon starrer about a white guy who helps the Chinese fend off a dinosaur attack is just silly nonsense.