As 2017 slowly disappears in our rear-view windows (good riddance!), the /Film staff is looking back on our favorite movies of last year. The year itself was awful in an almost incalculable number of ways, but at least we had a ton of fantastic movies to distract us from the constant barrage against truth and decency. Thankfully, many of last year’s movies were overflowing with those qualities, and I was able to get a steady diet of them amid heart-stopping set pieces, complex characters, and emotionally cathartic cinematic experiences. These were my top 10 movies of 2017.
10. War for the Planet of the Apes
It’s a bit odd that one of the films last year with the most humanity on display tells the story of a group of apes, but director Matt Reeves’ trilogy-capping War for the Planet of the Apes is like a concussion grenade of empathy, one that bowled me over with its handling of how to respond when your back is against the wall and everything you’ve ever loved has been ripped from your grasp. Andy Serkis’s performance as Caesar, the conflicted leader of an ape colony fighting for survival, is one of the year’s best, and I’m still holding out hope that he receives some sort of official recognition for the astounding work he did here. Reeves is at the top of his game as a director, imbuing this film with Biblical allegories and exploring grounded, relatable emotions through an unlikely group of protagonists. Months after its release, this movie stands as one of the best blockbusters of 2017.
Maybe it’s because I finished reading Stephen King’s massive novel right before the first trailer was released, but I spent much of last year getting hyped for Andy Muschietti’s adaptation (technically a half-adaptation, since It: Chapter 2 is coming out in 2019) and he delivered on my excitement in the best way. At first, I thought it’d be a mistake to only tell the kids’ side of the story, but phenomenal casting and Muschietti’s eerie sensibilities totally justified the notion of letting this story breath a little and telling it in two parts. There weren’t as many truly scary moments as I hoped (again, maybe it’s because I’d already read the book), but since I’m normally not a huge horror fan, that was fine by me in the end. Bill Skarsgard brought a wonderfully threatening physicality to Pennywise, making it feel as if he could rip the Losers Club kids to shreds at any time, but the film’s best moments echo the ones from the book: spending time with a lovable group of misfits and being along for the ride as their bonds strengthen in the face of unimaginable terror. I can’t wait for the sequel.
8. Get Out
Every once in a while, a filmmaker who bursts on the scene with a debut so impressive that it heralds the arrival of a major talent. Jordan Peele snagged that title early in 2017 with Get Out, his social horror thriller that explores the black experience in America in a way no other movie has. This movie gave a voice to an underserved audience at a time when their existence was continually devalued by people in power, and the rich metaphors of this film provide multiple layers to dig into beyond its surface appeal. There’s something to say for coming up with an A+ premise and then nailing the execution, and Get Out feels like the work of a seasoned filmmaker instead of a debut effort from an up-and-coming director. Jordan Peele has arrived, and Hollywood better get used to him because he’s going to be around for a long time to come.
7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
I’m a longtime fan of writer/director Martin McDonagh because his movies often feel “written” in the best possible way, with a wonderful mixture of flawed characters, heartbreaking loss, and laugh out loud comedy. Three Billboards exemplifies all of those qualities and more, led by a fearsome powerhouse of a performance from Frances McDormand that feels very much in line with the frustration and boiling rage many of us (but especially women) felt last year. And I’m always a sucker for Sam Rockwell, who plays wildly against type in this one as a detestable human being whom the film asks us to sympathize with as it unfolds. This is a challenging movie, but despite a critical backlash that’s sprouted in the past month or so, it’s a film I found to be a rewarding and satisfying entry into McDonagh’s oeuvre.
6. The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro returned to the realm of fairy tales and delivered this lyrical, beautiful love story of the overlooked and the voiceless. The premise is out there (a mute woman falls for a fish man), but as usual, del Toro goes all out on the production design and sucks you into a world where that seems like a plausible and natural thing that could happen. While many found that love story to be compelling and emotional, it’s telling that I liked this movie as much as I did even though I wasn’t fully on board for that relationship. For me, the aspect that takes the film to the next level is Richard Jenkins’ supporting performance – Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones are fantastic, but Jenkins’ subplot was more moving to me than the “will they, won’t they” of a woman and the fish man. And though the director had been working on this story for years, its treatment of fragile masculinity (embodied by Michael Shannon’s All-American government operative) feels totally aligned with 2017. Coming from somebody who has a deep appreciation for Pan’s Labyrinth, I think this may be del Toro’s best movie.