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The Best Movies of 2017

January 31, 2018

By John Corrado

This always happens.  I was hoping to put up my list of the best movies of 2017 closer to the end of the year for once, but I ended up spending January playing catch up on films that I had either missed last year, or weren’t even getting wide releases until this month.  But now that I’ve seen all the possible contenders, here are my belated picks for my favourite movies of last year.

It’s hard to deny the fact that 2017 was a pretty bad year for Hollywood.  The news cycle over the past few months has been dominated by countless reports of sexual harassment and abuse, finally pulling back the curtain on the corruption, immorality and abuses of power that have always existed behind the scenes of the movie world, not to mention the celebrity virtue signalling and liberal hypocrisy that has allowed it to go on for so long.

While countless powerful people in the industry, from Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey, have already been taken down by these accusations, I have a bad feeling that what we know right now is still just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the full extent of what is really going on in Hollywood.  But at the same time, 2017 was also a great year for the movies themselves, with many of the best ones not only providing escapes from the real world, but also giving us ways to help us process it.  Both things can be true at once.

This was also a year that blurred lines between big and small films, from blockbusters like Dunkirk, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, It, Logan and War for the Planet of the Apes which also doubled as legitimately great movies, to small gems like The Big Sick and Lady Bird which found life on the festival circuit before connecting with bigger audiences.  This was perhaps best exemplified by the success of Jordan Peele’s Get Out, which was produced on a relatively small budget and released way back near the beginning of 2017, but almost instantly became a massive pop cultural phenomenon, with its searing exploration of racial tensions attracting praise from both critics and general audiences alike.

So it’s fitting that my top ten list, and the ensuing rundown of honourable mentions that either just missed getting a slot or are worthy of attention for their own reasons, is made up of a good mix of big and small films like these ones.  There were a lot of films that I really liked last year, which were spread pretty much evenly between art house theatres, mainstream multiplexes and film festivals, and these were my favourite ones.  Enjoy!

#10: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: This is usually the slot on my list that I end up deliberating over the most, and this spot could have just as easily gone to Get Out, Good Time, mother!, Mudbound or Phantom Thread.  But Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ultimately took it by a hair.  Walking a knife’s edge between pitch black comedy and crime drama, Martin McDonagh’s film plays with a remarkably handled tone, forcing us to have empathy for its broken characters even when they do unlikeable things.  The film follows the unexpected events that are set in motion after Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) posts damning messages on three billboards just outside of town, putting pressure on the local police department to speed up the investigation into the rape and murder of her daughter.  Frances McDormand does a great job of carrying the film with one of her best performances, but also watch for unexpectedly moving work from Woody Harrellson as the conflicted police chief, as well as a stunning performance from Sam Rockwell as a hotheaded and immature cop who has the most challenging and fascinating character arc in the film.

#9: The Shape of Water: Guillermo Del Toro has described The Shape of Water as “Beauty and the Beast where Beauty fucks the Beast,” and this is a crudely apt description of his latest work of art.  The film tells of the unique love between mute cleaner Eliza Esposito (Sally Hawkins) and a mysterious sea monster (Doug Jones) who is being held at the secretive government facility where she works.  Set in 1962, the film plays with an undercurrent of Cold War paranoia, while also providing allegories of the social change that was set to come later in the decade.  The production design and creature work are just as impressive as we have come to expect from Guillermo Del Toro, and the performances are across the board excellent.  This is a beautifully crafted film, providing a loving ode to both old monster movies and classic musicals.

#8: I, Tonya: Before I, Tonya came out, I didn’t even know that we needed a biopic of disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding, and I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Margot Robbie carries the film with a remarkable performance, adding layers of depth to Tonya Harding, and the film is remarkable for the way that it makes us see her in a whole new light.  She is someone who has been stuck in abusive relationships her whole life, first with her mother (Allison Janney) and then her husband (Sebastian Stan), and figure skating is her only source of escape.  What the film does is it actually allows us to have a great deal of sympathy for her, showing that she had no idea that the infamous knee bashing incident, which made her the source of much tabloid fodder, was even going to happen.  The performances keep us gripped to the screen, and the film is equally impressive for the way that it blends pitch black comedy and domestic abuse drama, using a highly inventive mix of mockumentary-style interviews and fourth wall breaking moments to help tell its story.

#7: Logan: Easily the best film in the X-Men series, Logan presents a thrilling and moving swan song to two of the franchise’s most beloved characters.  Logan (Hugh Jackman) is now aging and broken down, taking care of an elderly Professor X (Patrick Stewart), who is succumbing to dementia.  But their world is upended when they have to protect a powerful young mutant (Dafne Keen), who has escaped from a government facility and presents the future of mutantkind.  This is a new kind of comic book movie, more neo-western than it is superhero saga, focusing on a hero who might not even be able to live another day, let alone muster the strength to save it.  The result is a bleak, thrilling and powerfully acted anti-superhero movie, that cuts deep and leaves a bruising impact.

#6: Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan’s on the ground look at the attempts to evacuate close to 400,000 allied soldiers from the beaches during the Battle of Dunkirk, Dunkirk is a thrilling and visceral film that works as much as an experience as it does a movie.  The film unfolds on three different timelines, as Hans Zimmer’s propulsive score adds a literal ticking clock to the action, dropping us into the chaos of World War II right from the tense opening scenes.  The film is top notch on a technical level, with Hoyte Van Hoytema’s sweeping cinematography letting us be present witnesses to the action, as Christopher Nolan directs it all with a stunning sense of time and place.  This is brilliant filmmaking in every single way, and a powerful look at the terror, tragedy and sacrifices of war.

#5: War for the Planet of the Apes: Capping off one of the greatest film trilogies of all time, War for the Planet of the Apes is a stunning final chapter in Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) journey.  This is a harrowing and emotionally resonant film that plays with the grandeur of a Biblical epic, and is unafraid of exploring almost uncompromisingly bleak themes about the end of mankind as we know it, and the dawn of a new civilization born out of conflict, where the roles of oppressor and oppressed have been totally flipped on their head.  Andy Serkis carries the film with a powerful motion capture performance, and Woody Harrelson brings remarkable depth to his role as a cruel militant who is filled with a deep sense of existential dread.  This is powerful stuff, a striking and mature film that already ranks as one of the greatest summer blockbusters of all time.

#4: Baby Driver: Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver could be best described as something akin to a car chase musical, cutting every tire screech, every door slam and every gunshot in time to its awesome soundtrack of songs, and if that doesn’t sell you on this film then I don’t know what will.  Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver who suffers from tinnitus and has to wear earbuds in order to block the ringing in his ears, doing every job in time to the songs on his playlist.  But when he falls in love with a waitress (Lilly James), Baby wants out of the crime life.  This was one of the most wildly entertaining films of 2017, and one of the best times I had at a theatre last year, full stop.  Although the presence of Kevin Spacey as the film’s main villain will taint it for some viewers, I think in a lot of ways knowing that the actor has spent years sexually assaulting young men actually makes his character’s domineering, controlling behaviour towards Baby seem even creepier in retrospect.

#3: Coco: Pixar has a long history of delivering deeply felt animated films, with a knack for telling powerful stories that astound on both a technical and emotional level, and Coco is no exception to this rule.  Telling the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a young boy in Mexico who ends up in the Land of the Dead on Dia De Muertos as he tries to undo his family’s long held ban on music, the film touches on grand themes of memory, family bonds and the power of music.  When I went to see the film a second time, I was able to really marvel at just how well the twists are set up, and how precise the storytelling really is.  This is a moving and gorgeously animated story that seems poised to stand the test of time.

#2: Lady Bird: Much praise has already been heaped upon Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut Lady Bird, and I’ve been among the film’s many fans since seeing it at TIFF in September.  This is a lovely coming of age story, carried by an incredible performance from Saoirse Ronan as a teen in Sacramento who clashes with her mother (Laurie Metcalf) while trying to find her own place in the world.  The script sparkles with Greta Gerwig’s acute ear for sharp dialogue, while also touching on some deeper themes of identity, religious faith lost and found, as well as the economic struggles of the middle class in the early 2000s.  The result is a beautifully crafted film that instantly cemented itself as one of the best teen movies of all time, filled with perfectly captured little moments and multiple scenes that ring true, no matter what your background.  I loved this movie, and in another year it likely would have been my number 1 pick, but that slot ultimately went to…

#1: The Florida Project: Sean Baker’s The Florida Project has sat atop this list since I first saw it at the end of the summer, and nothing has shaken it from that spot since then.  The film follows Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), a six-year-old girl who lives with her single mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) in the Magic Castle, a rundown purple motel that stands right in the shadow of Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  Through this, The Florida Project presents a powerful juxtaposition between the carefree nature of being a child and the heartbreak and pain of living in poverty.  The film shows the fringes that exist in the shadow of Disney’s “happiest place on earth,” forcing us to look deeper at people who society has too often overlooked.  The performances by newcomers Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite are phenomenal, and Willem Dafoe brings a deep soul to the film as the endlessly patient motel manager who provides a stern but kind paternal figure for these kids.  As a portrait of the realities of poverty and the “forgotten people” of America, as Donald Trump referred to them during his campaign, The Florida Project is impossible to shake, building toward the best final moments of any film last year.

Honourable Mentions:
The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales
The Big Sick
The Breadwinner
Cars 3
Darkest Hour
The Disaster Artist
Get Out
A Ghost Story
Good Time
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
It: Chapter One
The Lost City of Z
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Personal Shopper
Phantom Thread
Spider-Man: Homecoming
T2 Trainspotting
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