19) Atomic Blonde
A case of style over substance if ever there was one, but what style! One of the most aesthetically complete movies of the year, Atomic Blonde is a neon dream of a Cold War espionage thrill ride. The plot can twist itself in knots a bit, but observe the masterful hallway fight (part of a larger one-shot wonder-sequence) and you’ll understand the film’s priorities. Hopefully Charlize Theron’s ice cool spy Lorraine Broughton can carry the story into a sequel.
18) The Disaster Artist
This chronicle of the making of “the best worst movie ever made” will play differently depending on whether you’ve entered The Room, but regardless, laughs will be had. The Disaster Artist is a brisk and likable comedy, sometimes truly hilarious, propelled by an engine of eccentricity in James Franco’s take on mysterious auteur Tommy Wiseau. Early scenes where Dave Franco’s Greg (and thus the audience) first gets to know Tommy are comedy gold, and actually outshine later scenes of the film production (some sequences require tonal gymnastics that the film isn’t quite limber enough to land). Anyway, how’s your sex life?
17) T2 Trainspotting
Nostalgia sequels are nothing new, but T2 Trainspotting asks, “What if those good ol’ days we’re nostalgic for were actually shit?” This 21-years-on sequel finds the ensemble in various stages of repeating old mistakes and breaking out of old cycles, with a big heart to go along with its old cynicism. Add in a new chill-inducing “choose…” montage, a hilarious musical number, and a bona fide slasher movie finale, and director Danny Boyle has done the film that made his name proud.
16) Battle of the Sexes
For me, this was a wonderful bait-and-switch. Rather than following by rote the titular tennis match between humbly trailblazing feminist Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and showy self-styled misogynist Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), Battle of the Sexes transcends the true-life sports movie by prioritizing the personal. A rose-eyed and bittersweet romance between King and a radiant Andrea Riseborough gives the film its beating heart, even as it still builds to some terrific tennis action for the finale.
When it comes to the updates made by this remake of the beloved animated film, all I see are positives. The romance, the music, the production, it all comes together for something quite elegant – in particular, two of the new songs rule hard. While not flawless, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast is a movie I’ll be revisiting for a while.
14) I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore
There was no main character I liked more this year than Melanie Lynskey’s Ruth Kimke. She’s got more bad days than good, a hilarious sidekick (Elijah Wood), and a vigilante’s sense of moral indignation. The film, like director Macon Blair’s childhood friend Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room before it, feels like it was made to subtly comment on Trump’s America even before it was a reality. This left-of-center indie taps into something primal, even as it ambles down its own path.
Leaning hard on spoofery, if this sequel to one of Marvel’s biggest sleeper hits had its tongue any more firmly in its cheek, it’d eat through the flesh. Free (for better or worse) from the traditional beats of an action movie, writer/director James Gunn digs deep with character (side characters Nebula and Yondu are given golden material here) and makes a grand cosmic daddy issues film – the spectacle has expanded, the focus has contracted. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may laugh at its own jokes a little more than warranted, but its freewheeling nature and stealth emotional gut-punches save the day.
12) Molly’s Game
A movie after my own heart – my favorite actress Jessica Chastain headlining my favorite writer Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut! This engaging believe-it-or-not true-life account of lucrative underground poker has much to recommend it, but I actually prefer last year’s Chastain-starring Sorkin ripoff Miss Sloane (which is really a testament to how good Miss Sloane is rather than an indictment of Molly’s Game!). To an extent Molly’s Game exists now as a screenwriting opus to be revisited on home video, where each of its mile-a-minute witticisms can be extracted and appreciated at one’s own pace.
11) John Wick Chapter 2
It wasn’t enough for the filmmakers behind John Wick Chapter 2 to fill another 90 minutes with gorgeously balletic gun-fu choreography and regularly paced headshots, although they’ve succeeded in that. What makes this sequel special is how it builds out this bizarre world of assassin subcultures and operatic vengeance. The film is an action touchstone while also delighting us with the context for that violence.
10) Wonder Woman
It’s hard to imagine a lower bar to clear than the rest of the current DC cinematic universe, but Wonder Woman is more than just the best (read: only good) movie of the pack, it’s a genuinely great film. The No Man’s Land sequence is the moment of the year, an unironic crystallization so clear of why we as a culture mythologize superheroes that it seems destined to do for this generation what Superman: The Movie did for another.
9) Your Name.
The best animated film of the year, Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name will make your heart feel a great many things. Breathtaking 2D animation comes in service of an evolving story that at first seems like just a silly bodyswap comedy but in due time becomes something mind-expanding. City boy Taki and small town girl Mitsuha are just lines on a page and voices in a stereo mix, but this is the magic of animation, that they become much more.
8) Baby Driver
An audacious technical exercise, a swaggering experiment in formal editing, a jukebox musical heist, a kickass car chase flick, Baby Driver is master filmmaker Edgar Wright’s latest, making us all grateful for the concept of a passion project. Just as Baby (Ansel Elgort) syncs his getaway driving to the songs on his iPod, the film edits to the beats as well. As much a movie to be studied, as it is one to be swept away by while in the passenger seat.
7) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
An unflinchingly funny, vulgar, and emotional small-town saga unfolds when Mildred Hayes (a terrific Frances McDormand) uses three billboards to protest the lack of progress in solving her daughter’s rape/murder case. A great cast (of which Sam Rockwell is the other major highlight) and an unpredictable story make Ebbing, Missouri a darn good place to spend a couple hours.
6) Thor: Ragnarok
Exactly what I wanted out of a Taika Waititi Marvel movie and more, Thor: Ragnarok is an incredible spectacle and a well-rounded blockbuster. Hilarious but not vapid, outrageous but not alienating, the good stuff keeps popping off the screen like fireworks. Uncensored Jeff Goldblum, Chris Hemsworth’s comedy chops unleashed, a sadistic-as-Hel Cate Blanchett, a revelatory performance from Tessa Thompson, musical callbacks to other Marvel movies, bright pastel colors, one of the most exciting finales of the year, and Led Zeppelin!
5) The Post
Going into Steven Spielberg’s The Post I was thinking a lot of its value would come from its lightning-rod topicality as a White House spits on the free press, but I came out pleasantly surprised by its considerable cinematic power. Once it gets in its groove, scene after scene becomes exquisite, quietly powerful drama, as characters come to terms with painful truths about people they considered friends, and the choice between easy hypocrisy and hard idealism. This is a beautiful American movie, and proof that the Beard is not to be underestimated (here’s looking at Ready Player One…?). Also, The Post teases Watergate the way some movies tease Thanos’ invasion of Earth.
How to explain Colossal? Basically, a kaiju devastates Seoul and Anne Hathaway’s Gloria figures out that it mimics her own movements while at a certain location, and that it’s most likely a manifestation of her drinking problems. But you only have the see the movie to know that’s not the whole story at all. Colossal is a thematically rich character study unafraid to go to some dark places, and watching it unfold is one of the most rewarding cinematic journeys of the year.
Between this and a certain other little movie, it sure was a good year for eighth installments in franchises, and the Fast and Furious series shows no signs of slowing down in quality after the turning point of Fast Five. While not without drawbacks, The Fate of the Furious is an immensely entertaining, beautifully edited action extravaganza that pushes the buttons so well it’s hard to imagine how a ninth film will top it. The way things are going, it’ll find a way.
The best blockbuster of the year, bar none, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a thrilling affirmation of everything Star Wars was and is and should be, filled with charismatic performances, sensitive character development, and a great spirit of desperate adventure. And on a technical level, how about gorgeous production design, a wonderful John Williams score, and courtesy of Rian Johnson, the most whip smart direction Star Wars has seen. Send me to the Coruscant insane asylum if you will, but I think The Last Jedi is the most flawless, if not the best, installment in this storied franchise.
1) Get Out
The movie of 2017, the most important movie of the year, etc, etc. Get Out’s depiction of a different class of racism has rightly started a yearlong conversation. But beyond the real sociological concerns animating the film, Get Out is a perfect genre movie, moving from tension to joke to shock like clockwork. An uncannily assured debut feature from Jordan Peele, the film features expert editing, a fiendishly clever screenplay, and a murderer’s row of fantastic performances (Daniel Kaluuya, Catherine Keener, Betty Gabriel, Bradley Whitford, and Lil Rel Howery are all terrific). It takes a special talent to make an instantly iconic movie, but Jordan Peele obviously has a lot to get out of his system, and we should all be glad that he did.