Hollywood’s not in the best of states lately. It seems like every day brings forth a new accusation, and a new revelation that one of our favorite actors is in fact a sleazy scumbag. (To use the family-friendly terms.) The industry seems rattled like never before, and we’re all left wondering where all the chaos will lead.
But in the meantime, it can be healthy to ignore the chaos in the film industry, and focus instead on… um, the film industry.
Hollywood’s in a pretty good state lately. This past year saw a slew of great films, from a hearty spring to a thrilling summer to an Oscar-fied fall and winter. 2016 was an uneven year for film, but 2017 made up for it in spades.
What follows are my 10 favorite films of the year. It should not necessarily be viewed as a fully comprehensive list – there were plenty of acclaimed films this year that I haven’t yet watched (including such late-year hitters as Lady Bird, Mudbound, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). But of the films I have seen, these were the ones that most made me laugh, and cry, and think about how great Hollywood can be when it isn’t being Hollywood.
10. The Lego Batman Movie
The infectiously entertaining follow-up to 2014’s The Lego Movie leaved even more heavily on humor than its predecessor, with enough in-jokes to make even the hardiest of Bat-fans squeal with joy. But it balanced the humor with a uniquely compelling look at the Dark Knight, one which satirized his crime-noir roots while also honoring them. Though it grew somewhat frantic in its second half, as producers tried to cram in as many famous villains as copyright law would allow, Lego Batman stands as my favorite animated film of the year.
Bong Joon-Ho’s bilingual action-adventure comedy channeled many genres and messages – most notably through its scathing sendup of the fast-food industry – but at its heart, it was an honest story about human-animal friendship. The connection between Mija and the skillfully-computerized superpig Okja was a joy to watch, as was Tilda Swinton as the film’s eccentric villain. A shame this Netflix original seems to have gotten lost in the site’s current streaming deluge.
8. The Disaster Artist
The story behind “the best bad movie ever” unfolds in James Franco’s funny and resonant biopic. Though the film initially seems to treat Wiseau as the butt (at one point literally!) of every joke, it ultimately works as a critique of his cinematic pretensions – and, by extension, of abusive Hollywood filmmakers as a whole. A great story told with a terrific comedy cast, and probably more timely than its makers anticipated.
7. Blade Runner 2049
I was lukewarm on the original Blade Runner, which often felt more interested in spouting ideas about moral humanism than in crafting a good story. But Dennis Villeneuve’s sequel hit every right note, challenging audiences with even more complex questions about humanity vs. autonomy, while at the same time delivering a rich mystery in a bleakly beautiful future. Ryan Gosling did fine work as the lead, and Harrison Ford revived yet another of his iconic 1980s roles with growling gusto.
6. War for the Planet of the Apes
One of the 21st century’s best trilogies drew to a close this year, ending with perhaps its deepest and most riveting installment. Though it features very little onscreen “war” to speak of, the final chapter of the Apes saga tackles heady themes of life and loss, and features some show-stopping action at its climax. And the motion-capture work by Andy Serkis, as ape leader and series conscience Caesar, remains outstanding.
5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
It’s been only a few short days since I saw the latest chapter in the Star Wars saga, yet I already feel compelled to revisit it. The scale and scope of Rian Johnson’s Force Awakens follow-up feel even grander than its cinematic predecessor, and the characterizations are fittingly deeper. There’s been no shortage of controversy surrounding some of the film’s storytelling decisions, but if the world is just, Star Wars fans will someday hold this film in the same esteem as The Empire Strikes Back.
4. Get Out
I had some quibbles with the climax of this film, which threatened to regress the story to the standard blood-and-gore thrills of the horror genre. But for every horror cliché that Get Out embraced, it overturned five or six others. Daniel Kaluuya was excellent as the unsuspecting black man whose white girlfriend invites over to meet her family, and the film builds tension without resorting to cheap or manipulative scares. Most tellingly, its exploration of racism is unique in pop culture, noting that bigotry can exist even in the mildest and most unexpected of places.
3. Spider-Man: Homecoming
It was a great year for superhero films, as hits like Wonder Woman and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 showed just how versatile the genre has become. But no superhero flick conveyed quite as much versatile energy as the latest Spider-Man, a coming-of-age high school comedy masquerading as an action yarn. With its peppy tone and witty one-liners fondly recalling the comic book’s 1960s roots, and with Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, and an able supporting cast crackling onscreen, the film stands as one of the finest in the MCU. Even after six films and two reboots, Spidey still has plenty of spring in his webs.
Stephen King’s famous “monstrous clown” story (filmed previously as a miniseries in 1990) finally received wide cinematic treatment, in the engaging first half of a proposed two-film adaptation. Drawing upon ‘80s nostalgia, and paying tribute to multiple classic genre tropes of the era (think Stranger Things, except shorter and better), the new IT was an intriguing exploration of childhood fears and foibles, featuring plenty of scares and anchored by a stellar young cast. And yes, that clown still haunts my every nightmare.
1. Baby Driver
Summer blockbusters often get derided as mindless cash-ins. Sometimes the criticisms are well-deserved, but it’s important to recognize the ones that rise above the curve. And no film – blockbuster or otherwise – rose higher in my estimation this year than Baby Driver.
No question, this one has it all: A great script, a wonderful cast, terrific action, engaging humor, and an epic soundtrack. Edgar Wright’s latest offering is a slam-bang action-comedy that (much like Ansel Elgort’s lead) keeps the pedal to the floor and never runs out of gas. Gripping from its opening minutes, and with inspired and original ideas at every turn, Baby Driver is a blast from start to finish. An easy pick for my favorite film of 2017.
Atomic Blonde, The Big Sick, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, Coco, Dunkirk, Logan, The Lost City of Z, Split, Wonder, Wonder Woman