I watched over 200 movies in 2017, and all and all it was a pretty solid year…
The Worst Movie of 2017: “Get Out”…Just like I chose last year’s “Hacksaw Ridge” as the worst movie more for its ideological bent than because it was technically worse than any other movie, I’m choosing “Get Out” because it’s the greatest cinematic bamboozle of 2017. A film that was clearly conceived, written, and made during the Obama administration, but was reappropriated as especially “prescient” and “relevant” in the Trump era. Well, critics seemed to miss that this was a film Trumpers would likely love since its real targets are Obama-loving white liberals (who both this film and Trump fans view as phonies) and especially black men/white woman couples. For once, this wasn’t a completely terrible year for black/white couples at the movies, but what does it say when this thing makes more money than “Everything Everything,” “The Mountain Between Us,” “The Incredible Jessica James,” “Ingrid Goes West,” and “A United Kingdom” combined? And not to mention is more critically acclaimed by a mile? You almost feel Jordan Peele is trolling us, getting people to reveal their real feelings about black men dating white women by tricking critics into giving this film near-orgasmic praise. Of course, it wasn’t quite the only one…
Runner-Up Worst Film of 2017: “Lady MacBeth”…If I told you there was a movie where a white woman commits run-of-the-mill horrific murders for the first half before escalating that evil into the brutal murder of a young bi-racial boy and eventually framing a tortured black maid for that crime, getting away with it completely, and you said “That sounds awesome!” I wouldn’t want to know you. The fact that so many critics were fooled by this film is even more questionable than “Get Out,” as this is actually the most joyless, nasty, suffocating (no pun intended) movie of 2017–the Sofia Coppolla version of a Russian tragedy, minus any type of moral point. If “Get Out” weren’t so much more successful and noteworthy, this would easily have been my pick for “Worst Film of the Year,” and probably is worse, just more of a blip on the cultural radar.
201. xXx The Return of Xander Cage: F…I wonder if Vin Diesel was embarassed making Chinese propaganda or even was aware he was doing it.
200. Geostorm: F+…The slightly more enjoyable Chinese-propaganda film, this one starring Gerard Butler over Diesel.
199. Naked: F+…Another anti-interracial couple movie in which Marlon Wayans’s wedding to a black woman is compromised by her evil white ex-boyfriend and his evil white ex-girlfriend/hook-up. You may be sensing a pattern here, but this film stands out by being legitimately terrible on a technical level.
198. Trainspotting 2: D…It’s not easy being the year’s worst sequel, but somehow Danny Boyle pulled it off.
197. The Great Wall: D…More Chinese propaganda, this time ensnaring poor Matt Damon, who didn’t have a great 2017, although I did enjoy “Downsizing” more than most critics, as you’ll see.
196. The Bad Batch: D…A hollow, poser-ish dud that’s like David Lynch-meets-“Mad Max” except not nearly as awesome as that should’ve been.
195. The Dinner: D…Steve Coogan’s worst performance in one of the longest dinner parties you’ll ever sit through.
194. Diary of a Wimpy Kid 4: D…Its heart is in the right place, but that should tell you how staggeringly bad the execution is that it’s ranked this low.
193. Trumped: The Greatest Upset in Political History: D…A political documentary that’s really just B-roll footage of 2016 campaign highlights you’ve all seen dozens of times.
192. The Snowman: D
191. Transformers: The Last Knight: D
190. Coin Heist: D+
189. Underworld 5: D+
188. It Comes at Night: D+…Now there’s a contrarian opinion that this film was unfairly ignored at the box office and it’ll probably become a cult sleeper, because God forbid 2017 let one movie that dumps on black/white couples get by without being a hit.
187. Kingsman 2: D+
186. Vincent N Roxxy: D+…Another film where a black/white romance is headed for tragedy. Predictable
185. Song to Song: D+
184. Table 19: D+
183. Dark Tower: D+
182. How to Be a Latin Lover: D+
181. Justice League: D+…And I’m no Marvel paid-off critic (as you’ll see), so I really was rooting for this movie, that–to me–wound up being worse than “Batman Vs. Superman.”
180. The Fate of the Furious: C-
179. Band-Aid: C-
178. Risk: C-
177. The Beguiled: C-
176. Gerald’s Game: C-…Although I didn’t enjoy sitting through this or “The Beguiled,” at least this film had the courage of its convictions and actually pushed the envelope (and maybe your lunch out of your stomach).
175. King Arthur: C-
174. Might Morphin Power Rangers: C-…When it comes to unnecessary reboots involving kids in detention, I think “Jumanji 2” is more enjoyable.
173. Fist Fight: C-
172. Beauty and the Beast: C-
171. War on Everyone: C-…This is the best of the C-minuses because of a sweet romance between Tessa Thompson and Alexander Skaarsgaard, and Theo James’s aristocratic villain.
170. Drone: C
169. Message From the King: C
168. Rough Night: C
167. Valerian and the 1000 Planets: C
166. The Belko Experiment: C
165. The Shack: C
164. Before I Fall: C
163. The Promise: C
162. Deidra & Laney Rob a Train: C
161. Suburbicon: C…A tough year for Matt Damon and 50’s/60’s America (portrayed as a hellscape-wonderland of conformity with evil lurking right beneath the surface in this, “The Shape of Water,” and anything else with that time period for a setting), but Damon-ites may want to check out his rare villainous performance here.
160. Bad Moms Christmas: C
159. Whose Streets: C
158. A Gray State: C
157. Worlds Apart: C
156. Fifty Shades Darker: C
155. The Zookeeper’s Wife: C
154. Columbus: C
153. Once Upon a Time in Venice: C
152. Spider-Man: Homecoming: C
151. The Greatest Showman: C
150. Sleepless: C
149. Thor: Ragnarok: C…In which Tessa Thompson’s black love interest is heralded in marketing for the film, but in actuality demoted to the friend zone inside the actual movie, not unlike both of “Spider-Man: Homecoming”‘s black love interests.
148. Abacus: Small Enough to Jail: C
147. The House: C
146. Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two: C+
145. Alien: Covenant: C+
144. Small Crimes: C+
143. Baby Driver: C+…One of the year’s most overrated films despite a strong opening car chase and Jamie Foxx’s lively work as a villain. [Perhaps also noteworthy for possibly being the last film we’ll see Kevin Spacey in.]
142. Lowriders: C+
141. Sandcastle: C+
140. Little Hours: C+
139. Death Note: C+
138. Thank You For Your Service: C+
137. Murder on the Orient Express: C+
136. Daddy’s Home Two: C+
135. First They Killed My Father: C+
134. The Mummy: C+
133. Colossal: C+
132. The Comedian: C+
131. Jumani 2: C+
130. The Darkest Hour: C+
129. Just Getting Started: C+
128. Phantom Thread: C+
127. Despicable Me 3: C+
126. War Machine: C+
125. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson: B-
124. Boss Baby: B-
123. My Cousin Rachel: B-
122. IBoy: B-
121. Hunter Gatherer: B-
12o. Pirates of the Caribbean 5: Dead Men Tell No Tales: B-
119. Split: B-
118. Life: B-
117. Guardians of the Galaxy 2: B-
116. Unforgettable: B-
115. Gifted: B-
114. Sandy Wexler: B-
113. The Circle: B-…What made this film disappointing was reading the excellent source novel, but it would be a solid film if I hadn’t.
112. The Foreigner: B-
111. Snatched: B-
110. Star Wars: The Last Jedi: B-
109. Score: B-
108. Personal Shopper: B-
107. The Farthest: Voyager in Space: B-
106. Bright: B-
105. Saving Capitalism: B-…For a better, more thorough take on this same material check out Robert Reich’s other documentary “Inequality for All.”
104. Captain Underpants: B-
103. Wheelman: B-
102. American Assassin: B-
101. War for the Planet of the Apes: B-…After some thrilling early scenes in the jungle, the second half becomes a ridiculously serious prison tale (they do know this is a movie about talking apes right?), and I feel like there was a superior ape movie this year, as you’ll see…
100. All the Money in the World: B-
99. Roman J. Israel, Esq: B-
98. American Jihad: B-
97. Boomtown: B-
96. Sleight: B
95. Atomic Blonde: B
94. To the Bone: B
93. The Wizard of Lies: B
92. CHiPs: B…I wanted to like this movie less than I did, but it’s arguably more fun and off-kilter than it has any right to be.
91. Born in China: B
90. Obit: B
89. Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold: B
88. The Drowning: B
87. Kidnap: B
86. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected): B
85. Obey Giant: B
84. Donald Cried: B
83. Buster’s Mal Heart: B
82. Victoria & Abdul: B
81. Monster Trucks: B
80. The Great Beyond: Jim & Andy: B
79. Ghost in the Shell: B
78. Mean Dreams: B
77. Going in Style: B
76. Citizen Jane: B
75. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: B
74. Maudie: B
73. A Ghost Story: B
72. Molly’s Game: B
71. Hostiles: B
70. Shimmer Lake: B+
69. Last Men in Aleppo: B+
68. Burning Sands: B+
67. Detroit: B+
66. A Dark Song: B+
65. Imperial Dreams: B+
64. American Made: B+
63. What Happened to Monday: B+
62. Logan: B+
61. The Discovery: B+
60. Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer: B+
59. A Dog’s Purpose: B+
58. Megan Leavey: B+
57. Aftermath: B+
56. Free Fire: B+
55. Logan Lucky: B+
54. Joshua: Teenager Vs. Superpower: B+…One Hong Kong teenager stands up to China, the type of topics more documentaries should tackle.
53. The Eagle Huntress: B+
52. 47 Meters Down: B+…Is there anything better in a summertime movie theater than a decent shark attack film?
51. The Mountain Between Us: B+
50. Cars 3: B+…I wasn’t crazy that the ending short-changed the rest of the movie’s “old doesn’t mean obsolete” message, but it gets better on repeat viewings, and the “Cars” franchise has always been underrated, taping into a lost Americana that’s incredibly affecting if you let it be.
49. The Glass Castle: B+…Another great Woody Harrelson performance as he practically saves this movie.
48. Stronger: B+
47. Ingrid Goes West: B+
46. Wonder Woman: B+
45. Wilson: B+
44. Oklahoma City: B+
43. LBJ: B+…I still don’t understand why so many films about LBJ exclusively focus on The Civil Rights Act and shortchange his other accomplishments (Medicare, Medicaid, public housing, the social safety net, etc.), but Harrelson is great here too.
42. The Wall: B+…The year’s most frightening villain is never actually seen in this sniper-face-off. Not since the first half of “Jaws” has unseen menace left this big an impact.
41. Icarus: A-…If you needed further proof of Russia’s shadiness, check out this film detailing how they rigged the Olympic blood testing for their athletes.
40. Win it All: A-…Although it spreads the dangerous message that guys who gamble their way into a situation can keep gambling out of it.
39. My Scientology Movie: A-
38. Tickling Giants: A-
37. The Lovers: A-
36. John Wick 2: A-
35. Banking on Bitcoin: A-
34. Tramps: A-
33. Wakefield: A-
32. Coco: A-
31. The Incredible Jessica James: A-
30. The Lost City of Z: A-
29. I Don’t Feel At Home in this World Anymore: A-
28. Bushwick: A-
27. Nobody Speaks: Trials of the Free Press: A-
26. Too Funny to Fail: A-
25. Their Finest: A-
24. Dean: A-
23. Spielberg: A-
22. Get Me Roger Stone: A-
22. Chuck: A-
21. Okja: A-…Although a little uneven tonally (and featuring a rare off-key performance from Jake Gyllenhaal), it’s still an amazing, timely film that’s an allegory for GMOs gone amok.
20. [Tie] Everything Everything and Chasing Coral…Two films that have nothing in common except that I wanted to include them in the “Top 20.” “Everything Everything” is simply the most earnest, thoughtful romance involving teenages I’ve seen in years, not to mention the year’s most positive portrayal of a white man/black woman couple, so, naturally, critics panned it and it died a slow death at the box office. And “Chasing Coral” was the year’s second best environmental documentary, focusing on the issue of coral bleaching which most people (like myself) may not have thought much about before watching this movie.
19. Kong: Skull Island…To me, “War for the Planet of the Apes” was only the second best ape movie, and a lot less fun than this one–which is my pick for the best blockbuster of the year. A Vietnam war allegory in the guise of an immensely entertaining creature feature.
18. Only the Brave…A lot of military-themed movies tried to capture the bonds of male comraderie in a job where your life literally depends on the guy next to you, but the best portrayal was this underrated-forest fire epic. And Josh Brolin and Jennifer Connelly were the mature romance you’ve been waiting for.
17. The Lego Batman Movie…You might laugh but this is my pick for not only the Best Animated movie of the year but the best DC-comics based movie since Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise ended. What transpires here is something I’ve never quite seen before: a scathing psychological takedown of a studio’s most profitable character…by that studio. “Lego Batman Movie” is so slyly subversive people might not even realize it.
16. Mudbound…Dee Rees mud-drenched Southern epic contains one of the year’s most heartbreaking arcs: Jason Mitchell’s WWII veteran who gets treated like a man in war time (and meets the German woman of his dreams too) before returning to a rural South that won’t even let him use the front door of a convenience store. The film is shakier when dealing with the white characters, but it’s one of the best original movies Netflix has yet produced.
15. Downsizing…Alexander Payne’s already underrated epic may be thoroughly dividing critics and audiences, but that’s okay because those that fall for the film’s wide-open, humanistic pleasures will really love this low-key gem. At first, it seems like it’s going to overdose on Payne’s trademark Midwesterness but when Christoph Waltz and Best Supporting Actress contender Hong Chau show up, the film gets funnier, deeper, and all-around wilder. It keeps zigging where you think it’ll zag, and its sleeper charms left me with the impression I’d watched a 21st century “Gulliver’s Travels.”
14. The Shape of Water…As deeply personal as Guillermo Del Toro gets, this was supposedly a decades-long labor of love, and you can feel that warmth and affection in nearly every frame. It’s been apparent in Del Toro’s work that his sympathies lie more with the monsters than the humans, and he goes all the way with it here, having cinema’s first fully-nude sea monster/human sex scene while Michael Shannon’s brutish G-man grows more physically grotesque throughout. A timeless, mature “Beauty and the Beast” tale.
13. I, Tonya…Kaleidoscopic in its sympathies, this fourth-wall-obliterating biopic gets at the universal truth that there is no universal truth, not claiming to know if Tonya’s ex-husband was abusive or exactly how much he knew about the plot to kneecap Nancy Kerrigan. Margot Robbie is a discovery as Tonya Harding, not since Charlize Theron in “Monster” has an A-list sex symbol so fully transformed into an Oscar-worthy actress.
12. Our Souls at Night…Some might be scratching their heads as to why this film is here, but I’m a sucker for any film that takes its over-60 characters seriously (just check out my #9 film of the year), and this romance between Robert Redford and Jane Fonda is a quiet stunner. Unlike a Nancy Meyers movie, it allows its seasoned characters to feel their years, and reveal their lost hopes and dreams, and cautious optimism for the future. Scenes like Redford lamenting not pursuing a love affair or a career in the arts will make you wish he wasn’t retiring next year (and might receive awards recognition here).
11. Dunkirk…The second most cinematic experience I had at a movie theater this year. I’m not sure this would play half as well at home, but I can still vividly feel those aerial dog fights and sinking ships. Pure, visceral filmmaking that should see Christopher Nolan finally take home an Oscar for Best Director.
10. Blade Runner 2049…Notice how I said “Dunkirk” was the “second” most cinematic experience I had this year? Well, this was the first, a film of such flawless technical skill that I almost didn’t fully appreciate it the first time I watched it. One of the rare science-fiction films that gets better on repeat viewings and stronger the more you think about it. Naturally, it was a commercial disappointment when it came out, but I’m still thinking about certain things and that all-immersive theater mood that overwhelmed me even more on a second viewing. Literally, nothing else mattered outside that theater and what was transpiring onscreen, time unfolding in a universe of its own.
9. The Hero…Out of any film in my top 20, this might raise the most eyebrows, but Sam Elliot’s finest performance (and rare leading one) carries this low-key stunner into greatness. As a numb Western star all but resigned to death, Elliot comes alive after a chance encounter (and shockingly believable romance) with Laura Prepon’s radiant comedienne. Just watch Elliot deliver a schlocky sci-fi monologue as if it were fine-drama or his wordless reaction to Prepon reading him a poem about not giving up in the face of death, and you’ll be moved to tears.
8. A United Kingdom…It makes me sick that while “Get Out” was ripping up the box office and earning critical orgasms, this much more mature, accomplished, emotionally-affecting and beautiful work was all but ignored. Based on the true story of a Botswana prince who fell in love with a white British woman, only to have England block his claim to the throne over it, this is the movie you should’ve watched this year. The ultimate F-U to the alt-right isn’t Peele’s dumping on interracial couples and Obama-loving white liberals, but a film that celebrates the geopolitical-shifting love that England, South Africa, and even the prince’s own uncle tried to tear asunder but just couldn’t.
7. An Inconvenient Sequel…How devastating it must be for Al Gore to negotiate the tricky, historic Paris Climate Accord (without Gore’s wheeling and dealing, India would’ve pulled out) only to see Trump take The White House and quickly abandon it. But we don’t have to guess what that looked like, because this follow-up to Gore’s Oscar-winning “An Inconvenient Truth” shows us in one of the most gut-wrenching scenes I’ve watched in a documentary this year. Where “Truth” was largely just a slideshow presentation, Gore is working with a larger, globe-spanning canvas here, and you can feel the urgency in every frame. It’s as if the increased production values are saying “Let’s pull out all the stops because now it really is the end if we don’t do something.”
6. mother!…Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical allegory may feel a little frivolous after watching the actual end of the world in “An Inconvenient Sequel,” but this wowzer of an indie is like walking into a bank for a routine deposit and discovering you’ve wandered smack into the middle of a robbery. It keeps growing more audacious and jaw-dropping the more you discover what Aronofsky’s up to, a technically flawless shocker that felt like what he wanted to say (but didn’t quite) in his larger-scale Biblical epic “Noah.” I also love that he, Jennifer Lawrence (in a performance so daring, you can’t believe an A-list actress agreed to do it), and Paramount Studios proudly defended the movie after getting one of the worst Cinemascore ratings of all time.
5. The Disaster Artist…In a career-best performance, James Franco is the best bad director since Johnny Depp took on “Ed Wood.” His supremely confident, possibly damaged (it’s mentioned he was injured in a car accident, and there are a few visible scars) Tommy Wiseau sets out to make his dream project after Hollywood won’t cast him anything, but it winds up being the infamously terrible “The Room.” I haven’t actually seen “The Room”–it didn’t take anything away from watching this film–but these “characters” feel flesh-and-blood real enough that it hardly matters. The year’s best biopic and an uplifting message about following your dreams, as Tommy’s disastrous movie is still being enjoyed more than most movies made in that year.
4. Wind River…Ace screenwriter Taylor Sheridan wrote the script for “Sicario” and the best movie of 2016 “Hell or High Water,” and has now made a terrific directorial debut with “Wind River,” the best thriller, action, or suspense film of the year. Jeremy Renner is soulful and smoldering with quiet dignity, impressing with the best role he’s had in years. “High Water”‘s Gil Birmingham is also solid in the role of grieving father to a murdered Native American girl (Kelsey Chow, also making an impression in a startling flashback scene). The action is quick and jolting, but this film is really more about the never-ending ache of loss played out over a symbolic backdrop of a beautiful, snow-soaked Wyoming Indian reservation that looks nearly unlivable.
The Top Three…In an Alabama Liberal first, there is no “Best Film of 2017,” only three great films that are all equally deserving of being seen…
Ladybird…The rare critically beloved film that fully deserves its praise. With the possible exception of “Boyhood,” this is the first true millennial masterpiece, a coming-of-age tale not all that different from my own high school experience. [The story of Ladybird’s prom really is a gender-flipped version of my own.] Saoirse Ronan has been delivering solid performances for years now, and will probably win a deserved Best Actress Award for intrepreting the year’s best character. Credit for that goes to writer/director Greta Gerwig for creating such fully believable, well-rounded people.
The Big Sick…Despite a terrible title, this became the sleeper hit of the summer for a reason: it’s the best romantic comedy in ages, and also the first one I’ve ever seen that so fully involves the parents. Kumail Nanjiani’s character is really falling in love with the girl he’s in love with’s parents (she’s fallen into a coma not long after he jilts her because his tradition-minded Pakistani family keeps trying to foist a Pakistani girl on him), and in a way getting to know her better than he ever could have otherwise. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter are terrific in performances that really should be getting more Awards attention than they are, and it’s nice to see a romantic-comedy where the leads don’t look like they could be cousins.
Beatriz at Dinner…Forget “Get Out,” this unfairly-ignored film is the actual culture-clash suspense dramedy that speaks to our times. Salma Hayek and John Lithgow are sensational as the stand-ins for our leftwing vs. Trump times, and by the time we get to the electrifying final third of the movie, you’re practically foaming at the mouth for these two to go at it. Lithgow’s cynical real estate mogul and polluter extraordinaire is the guest of honor at a dinner party hosted by his sycophantic business associates (who are more like employees), and Salma Hayek (in a career-best performance) is the battered “healer” who may seem ridiculous with her crystal-bracelets and talk of auras, but the movie’s sneaky trick is getting you to dismiss someone who is essentially right in a world gone toxic. By teasing out our sympathies and occasionally shifting them, the film feels like the type of college discourse too few colleges are having now. By the time we get to the movie’s ending—which explains the mysterious opening scene—I felt I watched something that’s brilliance was so subtle, many might miss it. [Just check out that closing shot of the film’s villains lighting those Japanese lanterns, uncaring if they start a deadly forest fire as long as they can have a brief moment of entertainment.]