Movies & TV / Columns

The Movies/TV 8 Ball: The Top 8 Films of 2017

February 13, 2018 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Logan

Top 8 Films of 2017

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!

Two weeks ago (sorry for the unavoidable delay), we began our look at the best films of 2017 with numbers sixteen through nine. This week the 8 Ball Year in Review finishes up with the top eight. 2018 saw some great films as superhero movies went in unexpected directions, comedies got dark, sci-fi aimed high and more. With that said, let’s just get right down to it and explore the best movies of the year.

Caveat: If the film had its domestic theatrical release this year, it was eligible. I have yet to seen everything that was released in 2017, as much as I always try. The films that I missed that could have possibly qualified based on reputation are Marshall, The Florida Project, and Wonder. Other than those, I feel reasonably confident I would have seen every movie that would have likely made the list. For those curious, I saw a total of 139 films that were released in 2017 (down from last year’s 168).

Just Missing The Cut

Professor Marston & the Wonder Women
Molly’s Game
I, Tonya
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
John Wick: Chapter 2

The First Eight

16: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
15: It
14: The Big Sick
13: The Disaster Artist
12: Dunkirk
11: Wonder Woman
10: Get Out
9: Wind River

#8: Thor: Ragnarok

Top Films of 2017 Thor: Ragnarok

There are times where it feels like the Marvel Cinematic Universe can do no wrong. But let’s be honest; that’s not really the case. I enjoy the first two Thor movies for what they are, but they’re both flawed films which don’t utilize the characters to any level approaching their potential. Simply put, the Thor franchise has been the weakest of the solo series to date. That’s part of what makes Thor: Ragnarok’s success such a heady thing. With director Taika Waititi taking the franchise in a new, cosmic direction, the series not only hit a high for Thor movies, it made for one of the most enjoyable MCU films yet.

On its face, Ragnarok could be viewed as an attempt for the series to hitch a ride on Guardians of the Galaxy’s coattails. There’s more to it than that, though. Certainly, Thor’s leap into cosmic territory is very similar to Guardians’ motif. The dive into a more humorous tone also feels similar. But there’s more to Waititi’s method than this. The comedy director adds his own quirky touches to the film and does a stellar job of continuing the characters’ journeys from The Dark World. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are as good as they’ve ever been, while Mark Ruffalo fits in well as Bruce Banner/The Hulk.

While the comedy and colorful 1970s style leads the way, Ragnarok also benefits from an improved villain in Cate Blanchett’s Hela. While Hela isn’t as well-developed as she could be, there’s more to her than many other MCU villains. It helps that Blanchett makes it work, striking the right one of panache and gravitas. With strong supporting work from Tessa Thompson and others, plus a willingness to tear apart the world for the sake of the plot, Thor Ragnarok is a great time and one of the MCU’s best films yet.

#7: Lady Bird

Top Films of 2017 Lady Bird

The coming of age film genre is a popular one, to say the least. There’s no shortage of films that tell the story of men and women crossing the threshold from adolescence into adulthood. They often lead the way among the best that cinema has to offer, from Boyhood and Almost Famous to Call Me By Your Name and Juno. And Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird deserves a place among those rarefied best of the genre. In her directorial debut, Gerwig displays maturity as a filmmaker that many have failed to achieve after years in the game. And as the writer, she pens a resonant story about a young woman who is desperately trying to figure out her place in the world.

There aren’t enough good things that can be said about Gerwig’s screenplay. It feels real and authentic, with fraught but loving relationship between Lady Bird and her mother Marion anchoring the whole thing. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are cast to perfection as mother and daughter; their chemistry is palpable. The supporting cast holds up their end nicely, allowing Gerwig to unfold the tale in a low-key style which complements the story. It’s an emotional, funny, awkward film that doesn’t hold back on presenting life in the most genuine way it can. It’s not the flashiest film of 2017, but it is undoubtedly one of the best.

#6: Coco

Top Films of 2017 Coco

After years of clear dominance in the animated genre, Pixar has settled into a certain groove the last few years. The Disney studio still makes very good films on a whole. However, their slate has become a bit inconsistent as they’ve leaned more into sequels than original stories. Coco will hopefully serve as a reminder of how good their original properties can be. The Lee Unkrich-directed film is their most wholly original movie since 2015’s Inside Out and is all the better for it. The tale of a young boy whose love of music sends him on a journey of his family and culture hits all the trademarked Pixar emotional beats, giving us another animated classic to cherish.

There’s a lot to love in Coco, but it all essentially comes down to the story. Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich’s script delves deeply but respectfully into Mexican culture and explores themes of life, death and family. The voice acting is all quite good, punctuated by some of the better songs in a Disney animated movie in years. Unkrich’s animation team dazzles us with a rich visual palette that pays homage to the Day of the Dead and has fun with the concept for some genuinely funny moments. For a film that takes place in the underworld, it’s remarkably full of life. And that in itself is an embracing of the culture. Coco is the best Pixar film in years, hands down.

#5: Baby Driver

Top Films of 2017 Baby Driver

It’s rare that a low-budget film released in April ranks among the best of the year, but Baby Driver is one of those exceptions. Edgar Wright’s most original film yet sees him reinvent the trope-laden heist film genre in a fresh, exciting way. It’s the same trick he pulled off with zombie films in Shaun of the Dead or buddy cop films in Hot Fuzz. But here, the director outdoes himself and pulls off the reinvention with relative ease.

Heist films often have a tendency to try and balance style and cool against plot logic and narrative credibility. It’s a tricky thing to pull off. Here, Wright foregoes that and instead makes the style, music and cool factor everything about the film. And yet, while it feels outlandish, Baby Driver is rarely eye-rolling. Wright surrounds Ansel Elgort’s A-List turn as in the lead rolewith a cast of incredibly slick actors playing instantly memorable characters. Jon Bernthal and Jamie Foxx play intimidating to the hilt as the two robbers who aren’t quite on board with Baby’s eccentricities. Meanwhile, Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez are the epitome of cool as a Bonnie and Clyde-esque duo.

It’s hard to talk about this movie without addressing Kevin Spacey, and I’m not going to try to. Recent revelations Spacey’s history of sexual assault are abhorrent, and nothing excuses them. He is deservedly a pariah from Hollywood now, and that’s the least of what should happen to him. Speaking specifically about this film, he also happens to be very good as the mastermind behind the robberies. I can be disgusted by the man, but appreciate the performance.

Baby Driver is about more than just the characters though; it’s about style in everything. Wright runs through a score to die for any uses it to assemble an immaculate sound design, while the action scenes are as much fun as films with twice its budget and explosions. Baby Driver is well aware of how awesome it is and that may turn some off, but for everyone else this is a surefire winner and stands among the absolute best films of 2017.

#4: Logan

Top Films of 2017 Logan

You often hear high-minded people complain about superhero films and how they aren’t really art. In the minds of many, Marvel and DC’s films are just well-choreographed popcorn fests designed to bring in huge profits. And sure, there’s some truth to that statement, though there’s also nothing wrong with a film that is just out to entertain. Every now and then, a film comes along to completely shut those arguments down and make the case that a superhero film can absolutely be art. Logan is a classic example of that film.

The Wolverine franchise has had a bumpy road, to say the least. It more than just a great star who cared to make the Wolverine films great; it took the right script and the right director. Logan is the first film to really have both in Michael Green and James Mangold. Mangold helped rehabilitate the series by making The Wolverine miles ahead of X-Men Origins, and Green’s addition was a match made in heaven. Green, Mangold and Jackman helped craft a film that delivers plenty of R-rated thrills, but also touches on some serious themes.

Guilt, loss and redemption have long been a core part of Logan as a character and Jackman’s world-weary performance in the title role is his best work yet. Patrick Stewart also has a blast and delivers as a bitter old Charles Xavier. Dafne Keen is of course the real revelation here as young Laura. Keen makes Laura a force of nature, and captures the ferocity and vulnerability required in a surprisingly difficult role. If this truly is Jackman’s swan song, than he ended on the highest note he possibly could. In 2016, I couldn’t believe that a Fast & Furious film had me exiting a theater with a bit of a misty feeling in my eyes. This year, it was Logan that captured the honor.

#3: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Top Films of 2017 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Sometimes films come along at just the right time. The movie will arrive at the proper moment to capture a rising cultural climate. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is just one of those films. Martin McDonagh’s crime film is just one of those films. The movie about a woman seeking justice for her daughter’s rape and murder arrived just as the #MeToo movement was on the rise. It helped pave the way for the film’s financial success, and has served as a rallying point in some ways. However, the coincidental timing doesn’t take anything away from the fact that it’s a great movie.

McDonagh crafts a strong story here that moves smoothly through humor, heartbreak and rage, never sacrificing one for the other. Frances McDormand is one of the best actresses working, but she outdoes even her best work here. McDormand gives Mildred Hayes a complexity most others would miss out on. She matches up well with Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell as the cops she accuses of dragging their feet. Harrelson does some fine work, but Rockwell truly shines as the corrupt cop who serves as an antagonist early on. The film’s only real flaw is that it mixes a couple of its messages at time. But that doesn’t take away from McDonagh’s ability to explore the complexity of the issue. He’s long been a director capable of great films, but Three Billboards is his best and one of the top three of the year for me.

#2: Blade Runner 2049

Top Films of 2017 Blade Runner 2049

For many, Blade Runner 2049 was one of the most anticipated movies of the year. I can sympathize, because it was one of mine. Ridley Scott’s original is a hallmark of great science fiction cinema, making the bar very high for the follow-up. Improbably, Denis Villenueve beat all expectations to deliver a visually stunning film that expands on the Blade Runner mythos while staying true to the original.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Villenueve pulled this feat off. The man has made some of the best films of the last few years in Arrival and Sicario. However, Blade Runner 2049 sets a new high for Villenueve. That’s thanks to a layered and dense script, fantastic performances across the board and one of the best visual presentations of the year. Ryan Gosling displays new sides of himself as an actor playing K, the replicant who hunts down renegade replicants. He’s matched well in Jared Leto as Wallace CEO Niander Wallace, Robin Wright as his superior Lt. Joshi and Ana de Armas as Joi, the holographic AI that K has dreams for. Harrison Ford comes back in strong form as Rick Deckard. Like the original film, this one isn’t an action thrill-ride from start to finish. Instead it goes in for a more thoughtful approach that feels very much in the spirit of its predecessor. It’s not a film for everyone but for me, this is very nearly the best movie of 2018.

#1: The Shape of Water

Top Films of 2017 Shape of Water

Guillermo Del Toro has been a movie-maker on the cusp of Hollywood’s elite list for years. 2017 was the year that he finally broke through, thanks to The Shape of Water. Del Toro’s fantasy romantic period drama hits every right note throughout its running time, making for a nearly perfect movie. The film tells a story of a mute woman who discovers a marine creature in captivity at the facility she works for. It works on the surface level as an engaging, touching and off-beat sci-fi romance. But it’s the relative subtlety with which the tackles its greater themes where things really excel.

To be clear, I’m not saying that the film’s themes are tough to pick up on. It’s hard not to see what Del Toro was getting at with his story of outsiders being persecuted by men in power. Rather, the subtlety is in how the story is allowed to take the lead, instead of getting buried under the message. That’s possible in large part because of the stellar performances of Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer and Doug Jones, the latter of whom plays the creature. The actors fit perfectly into the story, realizing Del Toro’s vision with exquisite grace. That frees up Del Toro to evoke a beautiful dreamlike mood to the whole thing. The director has called it a “fairy tale for troubled times” and that’s an apt description. The Shape of Water is everything film could aspire to in 2018, which makes it my best film of the year.

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.