“2017 was a bad year for movies!”
I hear people say this all the time. Well, to that I’ll say you’re just watching the wrong movies. 2017 was revolutionary for many genres, from rom-com in The Big Sick to horror in Get Out. 2017 also showed that, in a world where existing intellectual properties dominated the blockbuster schedule, plenty of original movies rose to the surface, proving once again that creative, authentic art still has a place in our culture.
The close of the year brings another Top 10 list. As usual, this list comes with the caveat that this list is subjective and is limited to only the films that I’ve seen, which isn’t as many as I’d like it to be.
Before I get to my list, I want to highlight my favourite documentary and stand-up comedy special of the year, as my list is only narrative films.
Synopsis: When Bryan Fogel sets out to uncover the truth about doping in sports, a chance meeting with a Russian scientist transforms his story from a personal experiment into a geopolitical thriller involving dirty urine, unexplained death and Olympic Gold-exposing the biggest scandal in sports history.
Imagine being the luckiest documentary director and then times it by a thousand, and you still won’t have the luck of Bryan Fogel. What starts out as a simple documentary about the use of doping in competitive bicycle racing turns into an international espionage with political implications, and Fogel is just along for the ride, giddy that he stumbled into this. There’s no question about it, the original documentary Fogel set out to capture is over 1/3 into Icarus because the story he found is far more interesting. It truly doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of sports, politics, or documentaries, because this is a film that will draw you in with its larger-than-life story and won’t let you go. Icarus also has real, current world implications, playing a key role in events surrounding the Olympics that are occurring in two months. If you have two hours to kill, there are far worse ways to do it. It’s a Netflix exclusive, and I know you all have Netflix, so give this a shot. It has my full support.
Best Stand-Up Comedy Special
Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King
Synopsis: In his first stand-up special, Hasan Minhaj weaves humorous and heartbreaking anecdotes to tell his life story as an Indian-American Muslim. Topics include racism, bullying and meeting the demanding expectations of his immigrant parents.
Hasan’s special is far more of a storyteller special than a comedy special, and for that reason it truly stands out against the hundreds of comedy specials that come out every year. Over the course of an hour and ten minutes, Hasan explores what it’s like to have immigrant parents and pursue the American Dream, and he does so with such grace and class, but also with a righteous anger and critique of the inequalities that many experience. I laughed, I was challenged, and I felt close to an experience I will never have. This special stayed with me long after the last laugh, because it’s important. Minhaj truly has something special in his approach here, and I hope he continues to tell his original stories in the future.
Now, here are my top 10 movies of 2017, with 5 honourable mentions at the end.
Top 10 Movies of the Year
10. Ingrid Goes West
Synopsis: An unhinged social media stalker moves to LA and insinuates herself into the life of an Instagram star.
I feel like this movie was made with me in mind. This is one of the best cast movies of the year, and I love every actor involved in this project. In this scathing, accurate depiction of the Instagram Star’s lifestyle and the thousands of fans wishing to be with them, Aubrey Plaza shines as the stalker of an Instagram model. There were so many great moments in this movie, like a mechanic lying on the ground to take a picture of two girls for their instagram, and in that snapshot commentary, I both laughed and marvelled at one of the best critiques I’ve seen on current culture. Throughout the movie, I questioned what kind of message I would come away with, and I was rewarded at the conclusion of the film. There’s criticism on the glorification of suicide, the willingness to go to extreme measures for five minutes of fame, and the facade of the instagram star’s lifestyle. I loved it, it’s timely, and it’s beautifully acted and directed. And hilarious. Give this a watch.
9. The Florida Project
Synopsis: Set over one summer, the film follows precocious six-year-old Moonee as she courts mischief and adventure with her ragtag playmates and bonds with her rebellious but caring mother, all while living in the shadows of Disney World.
This is my “auteur” pick, as I know lots of people won’t like this one. It’s way more of an experience than an enjoyable movie. But in Sean Baker’s fifth movie, he continues his unique approach to revealing sects of society that are not often highlighted. This “Slice of Americana” showcases the homeless/impoverished Floridians that live minutes from Disney World, is both hard to watch and absolutely gripping. If I had gone into this film blind, not knowing that Baker had directed it, I’d would question whether this was a documentary rather than a narrative film. The performances of the children, and specifically Brooklynn Prince, is that good. They are wholly believable to the point where if someone said Baker just shot random children in Orlando with no direction and somehow pieced together this movie, I would believe them. But that’s not the case. This is a real movie with a real script. Believe me, I’ve read it. This movie is emotional on both sides of the spectrum, and it had me laughing one moment and feeling completely heartbroken the next. Some amazing cinematography is showcased, aided by the beautiful backdrop of Florida and the pink Magic Castle Inn. Willem Defoe shines, and fits perfectly with a cast of unknowns. Despite the controversial ending, which I would say doesn’t pay off, this is still a movie worth watching.
8. War for the Planet of the Apes
Synopsis: After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.
This concludes one of the best trilogies of my lifetime, right up there with The Lord of the Rings, Toy Story and the Bourne series. Though the title depicts a different movie, War is a beautiful, quiet film about the struggle between leadership and pride. Once again, Andy Serkis shines alongside an equally gifted motion-capture cast. The film draws inspiration from Biblical stories such as the Exodus, the Crucifixion, and more recent historicals like the Holocaust and The Revenant storyline, portraying an original epic. This is the only true blockbuster on my list, and yet it might be the most deep and complex in narrative. Though it was released in the summer, this film probably would have felt more at home in a November/December release in the heart of Oscar season, because it truly is one. This isn’t your average popcorn-munching summer movie. There are layers to this film that truly benefit from repeated viewings. At the heart of the film, writer-director Matt Reeves is dealing with souls. Who has one, what it means, etc. Not your average summer movie content. If you, like many, dismissed this movie because it didn’t deliver on the “war” aspect of the name, I encourage you to visit it again and watch the film for what it is, rather than lament for what it isn’t. We have enough explosions for the year. Watch a superhero movie if that’s what you’re after. But please, give this movie the chance it deserves.
7. Get Out
Synopsis: It’s time for a young African-American to meet with his white girlfriend’s parents for a weekend in their secluded estate in the woods, but before long, the friendly and polite ambience will give way to a nightmare.
Get Out might be the most successfully financial movies of the year. On a budget of 4.5 million, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut brought in a little over 254 million. That’s more than 56 times the budget. It’s ludicrous. But there’s a reason Get Out was so popular. It comments on race, injects life into a nearly-dead horror genre that relies almost exclusively on jump scares and screeching violins. I’m not a big horror fan, but Get Out blew my mind. My palms have never been as sweaty as the scene with the keys. The relatively unknown cast absolutely nailed it in their respective roles, and writer-director Peele was able to execute his vision to perfection. I mean, a horror film and is both a commentary on the horror genre and racial politics, while also being one of the most successful horror movies of the year itself is an unbelievable feat. There are subtleties to this film that left me chilled to the bone. Cotton was his saviour. Cellphone footage shed the first light on the situation for Chris. This film is rife with them. This film is a great time on the surface, but has so much more to glean underneath, and that’s the sign of a great movie.
6. It Comes At Night
Synopsis: Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, a man has established a tenuous domestic order with his wife and son. Then a desperate young family arrives seeking refuge.
A lot of people hated this movie. A lot. And if you’re looking for a half-baked, jump-scare horror movie, this isn’t the film you should watch. I’ll admit, this movie was poorly marketed, and that’s a large reason why so many people were disappointed. I, however, was not one of those people. When the credits rolled, I had to just sit for a while and truly soak in everything I saw. This movie wrecked me. It takes the phrase “How far would you go for your families safety” to the absolute extreme, and it left me an emotional puddle. It’s quiet, it keeps everything simmering just under the surface, and I loved every moment of it. The unease of this movie is what makes a true great horror movie in my mind. Great writing, great acting, and haunting cinematography and direction. Are we seeing the resurrection of the horror genre with this, Get Out, It, The Witch and It Follows? Count me in.
5. Good Time
Synopsis: After a heist goes awry, a bank robber spends a night trying to free his mentally ill brother from being sent to Riker’s Island prison.
My third and final A24 film on my list is Good Time. A24 is quickly becoming the saviour of indie film in Hollywood, and I’m all for it. Good Time was the most balls to the wall, non-stop movie I’ve seen this year. As the credits rolled, I realized I’d been holding my breath for quite some time. Though he’s been doing it for a few years, this movie 100% cements Rob Pattinson as a great actor, just as Personal Shopper has done with Kristen Stewart, proving that Twilight was bad, despite all the great actors, not because of them. This movie contained serious emotion, and watching the arc of Ben Safdie’s special-needs character (brilliantly acted) left me baffled. This movie is so original, there was nothing else like this in 2017, and I’m amazed that people continue to have original ideas and are able to execute them so effectively. The soundtrack stayed with me for a long time. The acting is haunting. I had a good time watching this movie. Okay bad joke, but it’s a great film.
Synopsis: Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German Army, and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.
I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for Christopher Nolan. But even if I wasn’t this film would still be a masterpiece. The editing is so creative, and makes this movie rise above the rest. I cannot recommend this movie enough, as it depicts war in a way we haven’t seen before. The french soldier, who is one of the main people in the movie, doesn’t have a name. That’s how faceless Nolan wants to depict the soldiers. This is a film about the rescue of thousands, and in that, the characters are one of many. The split of three timelines, taking place over three different time periods, is one of the best things I’ve seen in a film, and them coming all together in the end was beautiful. This movie is relentless. The soundtrack (by the fabulous Hans Zimmer) is literally constant ticking, creating a subconscious anxiety for the viewer. This entire ceaseless anxiety concludes in a beautiful moment of silence, probably the first in the entire movie. If you ever have a chance, see this movie in 70mm Imax. It’s a decision I will never regret. This movie was so beautiful, so fully engaging, and without a doubt one of the best of the year.
3. Wind River
Synopsis: A veteran tracker with the Fish and Wildlife Service helps to investigate the murder of a young Native American woman, and uses the case as a means of seeking redemption for an earlier act of irresponsibility which ended in tragedy.
It’s official. Taylor Sheridan is my favourite screenwriter. Between this, Sicario and Hell or High Water, Sheridan has made some of my favourite movies of the past three years. Though definitely not perfect, I love this movie for what it is, not what it isn’t. I’ve toyed with writing a movie about the disappearing Native women, and Sheridan tackled this incredibly complex issue without show and pomp, treating it as the tragedy that it truly is. All the actors are great in this, especially Jon Bernthal. In Sheridan’s directorial debut, he is able to treat violence in the opposite way that Tarantino treats it: without show. The violence is real, and it hurts. There’s very little rejoicing in the violence, even when the “bad guys get what they deserve.” This movie also contains the most palm-sweaty gun showdown I’ve ever seen. And the last scene made me cry. Legit tears. I love this movie.
2. The Big Sick
Synopsis: Pakistan-born comedian Kumail Nanjiani and grad student Emily Gardner fall in love but struggle as their cultures clash. When Emily contracts a mysterious illness, Kumail finds himself forced to face her feisty parents, his family’s expectations, and his true feelings.
This is the revival of romantic comedies! It’s here! Kumail and Emily’s real-life story is given the silver screen treatment by them, and it’s beautiful. Helmed by Michael Showalter of all people, this beautiful, touching movie showcases the immigrant struggles, commentary of typical romantic-comedy tropes, and delivers the best pair of on-screen parents 2017 has seen in Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. This film is charming, heartwarming and without a doubt worth your time. I made my whole family watch it because it’s that good. I can’t say enough good things about this movie. You wanna feel good? Watch this. You wanna cry? Watch this. You think film sucks? Watch this. It will remedy all of those feelings.
1. Baby Driver
Synopsis: After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.
Okay, so this isn’t the most perfect movie of 2017. And this movie will probably be remembered more for Kevin Spacey’s last movie than the amazing achievement that it is. But the beauty of making my own list is I can put an imperfect movie at the top of the list. If you disagree, make your own list, and then we can compare. But despite its faults and flaws, I love Baby Driver wholeheartedly. Shootouts in time with music. The best car chase I’ve ever seen. An incredible soundtrack. Heart. This film has it all, and I fully support it. After Edgar Wright got kicked off of Ant-Man due to creative differences (it still kills me that I’ll never see the Wright cut to that movie), Edgar went off to make this movie. Many say this is his “I give up on the corporate Hollywood regime and I’m making the movie I want to make whether it makes money or not” film. This movie is 100% his vision, and it’s so beautiful. I love the editing, I love the soundtrack, I love the action, I love the comedy, I love the cast, and though the third act feels cut short, I love this movie with undying devotion. If you’re on the fence about this movie, don’t be. Just watch it. You’ll love it. My parents don’t.
Honourable Mentions: Lady Macbeth, The Lost City of Z, Thor: Ragnarok, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, Atomic Blonde
What were your favourite movies of 2017? Let me know what other movies I should check out!