Movies & TV / Columns

The Best Movies of 2017: Blade Runner 2049, It, Wonder Woman, More

March 6, 2018 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard
Ryan Gosling Blade Runner 2049

This is Aaron Hubbard writing. You may know me from my retrospective weekly column Dissecting the Classics. Or you may not. Anyway, I don’t just like old movies. In fact, I thought 2017 was an excellent year for film, and I didn’t even catch everything that I wanted to see. But I did catch most everything, and I wanted to highlight twelve of my favorite movies.

Honorable Mentions: 2017 was an exceptional year for films across the board, and I had trouble narrowing this down to my twelve favorites. Some other movies that I loved but didn’t quite make the cut include Wind River, The Big Sick, and I, Tonya. Some other films that I thought were very good but didn’t quite resonate with me on an emotional level include Dunkirk, The Post and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I also want to call some attention to mother!, Logan Lucky and Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, three films that I feel are generally being underrated.

These movies are presented in alphabetical order to avoid pointless bickering about placement on a list. If you want to see where they rank for me, I have a list on my Letterboxed.

Blade Runner 2049
Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s science fiction masterpiece was easily my most anticipated film of 2017. Villeneuve is one of the best directors working today, compiling arguably the best filmography of the decade. That credibility was enough to assuage any worry I had about this movie. Much like the original, Blade Runner 2049 is a movie that grows on you as you have time to contemplate it and rewatch it. The question of what makes us human is given further consideration while Villeneuve guides us through a compelling mystery. Roger Deakins’ cinematography and gorgeous special effects make this easily the most gorgeous film of the year, while Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas and even Jared Leto give compelling performances. The sequel lived up to the legacy.

Pixar is far from the consistent hit maker they were in the 2000s, as their 2010s has seen mostly middling and sometimes outright poor films. But there are still a few gems, like 2015’s Inside Out and this film, one of the most surprising movies of the year for me. I was always going to see Coco, but it far exceeded my expectations and had me shedding quite a few tears by the end of it. Miguel’s journey to the land of the dead, where he learns how to embrace the legacy of his family while pursuing his own dreams is one of the best versions of the Disney formula I’ve seen in a long while. The character design, color palette and authenticity of Mexican culture was simply astonishing. I can also safely say I never expected to see El Santo referenced in a Pixar movie. This was easily the best animated movie I saw this year and one of the best of the decade.

The Florida Project
So I don’t get too up in arms about Oscar nominees or winners, but I do think it’s genuinely criminal that a movie as good as The Florida Project is barely represented. Sean Baker captures America’s hidden homeless through the eyes of children, presenting the world through low angles and gorgeous colors even as he shows us things most of want to pretend doesn’t exist. Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince play a mother and daughter who do whatever they can to scrape by and stay positive about it. Bria’s Halley is a fascinating look at young motherhood; in many ways she’s still a child herself and not at all suited for the task, but she’s trying her hardest and it’s obvious that Mooney isn’t suffering for it. And Willem Dafoe portrays the character I related to most this year, a hotel manager trying to do what he can to help people but only able to do so much. The Florida Project captivated me for its entire runtime and its ending will haunt me for a very long time. Do not miss this one.

Get Out
Perhaps no other movie truly captured the zeitgeist of 2017 more than Jordan Peele’s Get Out, a horror-thriller rife with social commentary. Equal parts Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and The Stepford Wives, Get Out follows Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris as he visits his girlfriend’s parents and tries to navigate their casual racism, only to find something truly sinister beneath it all. Peele pulls no punches; he’s not interested in tackling overt racism, but instead the smug liberal brand of racism that leads “well-meaning” white people to talking about their black best friends and how much they love black celebrities. But it’s also a perfectly effective horror movie even without that insightful discussion. This set the bar pretty high for the year, and even if Peele never directs another movie this good, he’s definitely proved that he has more than comedy chops.

I was not inclined to enjoy It, as I had no pre-existing affection for the material. But when it became obvious this was going to be one of the biggest hits of the year, I decided to drag myself to the theater and see what the fuss was about. What I got was one of my favorite movies of the year, a horror movie that is also a coming of age film with a spectacular cast of young actors. Pennywise is an effective monster on his own merit, but what I really loved about him was how he was an extension of more grounded fears. The Losers Club all have different reasons for being isolated and vulnerable to this demon clown, but by coming together, sharing their experiences and validating each other, they find strength to fight It together. Compulsively watchable and genuinely horrifying, this movie crept up on me and became one of my favorites. I’ll definitely be looking forward to the sequel.

Lady Bird
I don’t know if I enjoyed watching any movie more this year than Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut. Lady Bird just made me happy; Saoirse Ronan is magnetic as the title character, Laurie Metcalf is fantastic as her mother, and the low stakes, slice of life dramedy is just so fun to watch unfold. The script is one of my favorites of the year, with dialogue that is sharp and insightful but also feels authentic. It’s also just refreshing to see a teenage coming of age movie with such a uniquely feminine perspective. This is probably too “inconsequential” to get many awards, as our culture isn’t exactly enamored with the drama of teenage girls. But I adored this movie and would gladly watch another ninety minutes if they existed.

2017 was better for the superhero genre than 2016, with only Justice League falling completely flat. A big reason for that is this movie. Hugh Jackman’s seventeen year run as Wolverine came to a dramatic end in a movie nobody would think to call a superhero movie if it didn’t have one of the most recognizable characters in the genre. Jackman, Patrick Stewart and newcomer Dafne Keen all give strong performances as a makeshift family trying to survive in a dystopian future where mutants are nearly extinct. Director James Mangold uses the western genre to understand and critique the superhero genre, showing that it is stuck in a rut and either needs to evolve or die. But it doesn’t go totally into nihilism; the ending is a triumphant final run for Logan, showing that the legend of Wolverine can still inspire even when Logan the man is broken down and ready to die. For me, it’s a top three film in the genre and one of the few good arguments that the superhero genre can be more than what it just blockbuster entertainment.

Phantom Thread
Daniel Day-Lewis stars in a Paul Thomas Anderson movie about a perfectionist artist trying to reconcile his meticulous nature with a woman who is both a muse for his art and possibly the love of his life. So yeah, this is pretty phenomenal. Phantom Thread is not a movie that is going to excite everyone and I admittedly do not love the movie the same way I love most of the films on this list. But the artistry on display is simply sublime; every aspect of filmmaking is just excellent here. Mark Bridges’ costume design, Jonny Greenwood’s score, the collaborative cinematography, Anderson’s writing and directing and the performances by Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps are all some of the best that 2017 has to offer. It’s a movie that works its way into the brain and sticks with you long after you’ve seen it. While I recommend this for true cinephiles only, the true cinephiles are going to love it.

The Shape of Water
Guillermo Del Toro is one of our best working directors, able to elevate material that shouldn’t be in anything other than a B-Movie and somehow make genuine pieces of art out of it. The Shape of Water is a fairy tale for grown ups, telling the tried and true Beauty and the Beast narrative with a mute woman and a monster-God straight out of Creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s also a 1950’s period piece concerned with cold war paranoia and even more concerned with the social oppression of people of color, LGBTQ+ and the differently abled. Del Toro is taking the subtext fears of those Universal monster movies and making them the text of his film, while also recontextualizing it in his own way. Very few movies cater more to my tastes than The Shape of Water, and while I’m not convinced that it’s walking with Best Picture, I will be thrilled if it does. I can’t wait to see it again.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Was there a more divisive tentpole film this year than Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi? I don’t think so, and I know I spent time debating the merits of most of Marvel’s movies. While not everything about the seventh episode of Star Wars works, the bulk of it does and how it chooses to go about telling its story is so refreshing and different that it makes up for the missteps. I expect some will disagree with me, that’s normal, but I truly loved Luke Skywalker’s evolution into a bitter, guilty old man dealing with past sins. I also loved how deconstructive the movie was with its take on the Jedi, pointing out the hypocrisy that has been evident to me for a very long time. Add in compelling complimentary arcs for Rey and Kylo Ren, some genuinely shocking terms and possibly the single greatest action scene in franchise history, and you have a movie that’s worth watching more than once. In fact, it gets better on rewatches.

Thor: Ragnarok
All things considered, Marvel Studios was a bit of a letdown for me last year. Don’t get me wrong, they are still the most consistent supplier of quality superhero fare. But between their Netflix shows mostly sucking, Inhumans crashing hard and two out of three theatrical releases being more “okay” than “good”, it was a bit of a down year for them. Thankfully, it ended on a high note with Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok. Finally giving us a great Thor movie, Waititi’s mix of brazenly silly comedy, subtle commentary on colonialism and embrace of comic book weirdness was just the perfect mixture for me. No, this doesn’t have the gravitas of The Winter Soldier or Black Panther, but as pure blockbuster entertainment this was one of Marvel’s true gems and one of the best times I had at the movies last year. And oh yeah, you can add Hulk vs. Thor to the “superhero fights that are much better than Batman vs. Superman” if you’re keeping track of that sort of thing.

Wonder Woman
So I didn’t intend for the last three movies to be lightweight blockbusters, but that’s what I get for alphabetizing. Patty Jenkins’ take on the most popular super heroine of all time only barely squeaks by into this list if I’m honest, as it ends on a pretty bad note that almost makes me want to exclude it. But personal bias and cultural impact win out here. Diana is my favorite character in comics and I was elated to see her done justice, both by Gal Gadot’s performance and the story. More importantly, it’s clear the world was waiting for a blockbuster like this and Wonder Woman is a symbol of female power, compassion and decency in a time when many people are looking for one. The DCEU is a slow motion trainwreck potential only one wrong turn from falling off the rails completely, but at least we got this gem out of it. And if I had to pinpoint my favorite stretch of film this year, it probably would be Diana’s No Man’s Land charge. That’s how you do sincere superhero fare correctly.

That wraps this up. Want to know why one of the honorable mentions didn’t make the cut? Something missing you want to discuss? That’s what the comments are for. Have a ball.