Posted January 25, 2018 | Updated February 5, 2018

Making these lists every year is hard. 

Damn hard. 

I derive so much giddy enjoyment when penning my annual WORST FILMS OF THE YEAR blogs, mostly because they allow me the opportunity to get my final critical jabs at some very deserving films of decidedly low worth.  By comparison, these TEN BEST FILMS OF THE YEAR blogs feel oddly more like work, seeing as I have to distil all of the great films that I saw in the year that was down to a manageable list of ten.  It's during the compilation of these lists that procrastination cascades over me in an awesome wave; I have such a difficult time in disseminating which films to include, which ones to exclude, and ultimately what was the single best film of the year that's come and gone.  Complicating matters for me this go around was that - by the mid-way point of 2017 - I didn't have enough entries to make a workable Top 10.  Thankfully, the latter part of the year brought to us some truly lasting and worthy films that I had no problem selecting for the final ten film cut.  The final four months in particular were as strong as any final four months of any recent year. 

As I aim for with every year, I strive to make my TOP 10 lists as personal as possible.  This list is designed to appease me...and no one else.  I'm not going to put, say, DUNKIRK at the top of the class because it was a critical darling; I'm not out to placate popular critical and/or audience tastes.  Every entry highlighted below spoke to me on some intimate level and lingered with me with well after I saw them.  Another rationale I have with my picks is asking myself just how these films either (a) transcended the medium and their respective genres or (b) were the best possible examples of their respective genres, adding newfound vitality to regurgitated formulas and conventions.  Lastly, I aim for variety on these lists and try to showcase as broad of a cross section of films as possible.  I think my TEN BEST FILMS of 2017 displays a strong breadth of choices: There's a coming of age and small town drama, a super hero action film, a horror thriller (two, actually), a murder mystery thriller, a historical/political thriller, a western, a fact based crime drama, and an inspirational true life story.   

One final note: Saskatoon is notoriously late when it comes to screening end of the year potential Oscar hopefuls.  As of the posting of this blog I have yet to see I, TONYA, PHANTOM THREAD, THE SHAPE OF WATER, and CALL ME BY YOUR NAME.  Once I screen them all and believe that their inclusion here is warranted, then I'll promptly alter the list below.
 

 
 

1.   THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

 
 

Martin McDonagh's THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI was a film of such profound simplicity and economy, yet it spoke profoundly to the fragility of the flawed human condition.  It also represented the upper echelon of the playwright-turned-filmmaker's career, whom previously made IN BRUGES and the underrated SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS, both of which walked a fine line between side-splitting comedy and dramatic pathos.  THREE BILLBOARDS achieved such a tricky dichotomy and revealed McDonagh as a shrewd writer with a voice as poetic as a David Mamet and as colorful as a Quentin Tarantino. 

The ultimate reason why this film stuck me with - and deserves the highest placement on this list - is that it was such a thoroughly enthralling portrait of damaged souls and their desperate attempts to mend for the better.  It followed the small town tale of a grieving, but battle hardened and acid tongued mother (played in a performance of delicious ferocity by Francis McDormand) that uses some rather unorthodox methods to call out the inability of her local police department to solve the murder of her daughter.  The brilliance of THREE BILLBOARDS was not only its narrative unpredictability, but also in the manner that it found redemptive arcs for some of its characters that would otherwise be toxically irredeemable in weaker films.  Less a police procedural and more of an examination of the darkness that resides in angry people while dealing with life altering crisis,  McDonagh's film was as potent and searing of a character drama as they come. 
 

2.  LADY BIRD

LADY BIRD represented one of the finest directorial debuts in an awfully long time for Greta Gerwig, whom previously carved out a niche for herself as a hard working actress on the indie circuit.  Using her own upbringing as a source of inspiration, the film dealt with a rather troubled young girl as she tries to make it through her final year of Catholic high school.  Based on that simplistic description, it would be easy to write off LADY BIRD as a TV movie of the week melodrama, but the genius of Gerwig's approach here - she served as writer and director - to this semi-autobiographical material was that she wisely avoided stale and overused young adult and coming of age genre conventions.  Much like the criminally under-seen THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN, LADY BIRD was a film of rich observational honesty that dived headfirst into the uncompromising truths about how young and impressionable people try to eek out their lives as they journey towards adulthood.  Featuring Oscar caliber performances of staggering nuance by Saorise Ronan and Laurie Metcalfe, Gerwig's hilarious and moving portrait of adolescent life unequivocally proved that humbly scaled films can still pack lasting dramatic punches. 

3.  WONDER WOMAN

When I was growing up I worshipped at the alter of Richard Donner's seminal comic book extravaganza SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, which single handledly jump started the cinematic super hero genre that's still alive and thriving to this day.  Watching the Man of Steel come lovingly and thrillingly to life on celluloid I remember sensations of limitless awe, wonder, and joy that rained over me.  For the first time ever I marveled at the exploits of a comic book character on the silver screen, and considering his extraterrestrial nature and godlike powers, Christopher's Reeve's Superman felt wholly real to me.   

WONDER WOMAN - the fourth film in the DC Extended Universe and easily its best offering - was arguably the only comic book film from 2017 (or any other recent year, for that matter) that made me feel how SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE did decades ago.  And, yes, Gal Gadot's triumphantly winning and endlessly charming performance as the William Moulton created female super hero certainly did contain echoes of what made Reeve's portrayal of the Last Son of Krypton so inviting and infectious.  Directed with a sure fire confidence by Patti Jenkins, WONDER WOMAN never wallowed in being a preachy feminist movie.  Yes, its message of female empowerment was most definitely there, but Gadot's fierce Amazonian warrior was shown as a leader that banded men and women together for the mutual good of battling evil in the world (the film's WWI settings were crucial, seeing as we get to witness the titular character try to influence a world that hasn't even given women the right to vote yet).  With a strong thematic undercurrent tied to its exemplarily realized historical setting, WONDER WOMAN emerged as a stupendously realized entertainment, filled with joyous optimism, gallant heroism, and boisterous energy that, when all was said and done, undoubtedly inspired a new generation of young girls - and hopefully some boys. 

4.  A GHOST STORY

B

It would have been deceptively easy for me in my original review to label David Lowery's ultra low budget $100,000 indie effort A GHOST STORY as a horror/thriller.  The title definitely hints at that, but the resulting film was more of a hypnotically haunting tone poem than it was a violent and terrifying film. 

That's what precisely made it so mesmerizing.  At its most basic level, A GHOST STORY contained a deep slow burn narrative about the purgatory-like existence of a recently deceased man (Casey Affleck) as his bed sheet covered spirit sadly and pathetically observes the life of the woman he left behind (Rooney Mara) while being stuck in a nightmarish in-between purgatory state on a journey towards what we assume is heaven.  Using a spare, yet evocative Academy ratio of 1.33:1 throughout, static camera setups, long takes, and unnerving sound design and silence, A GHOST STORY was both deeply melancholic and disturbing to experience as it delved into themes of isolation, hopelessness, and how people - in various forms - refuse to simply let go of what they've lost.  Lowery's film, no doubt, tested the patience of many filmgoers last year, but for those that were willing to tackle its grand mental jigsaw puzzle of a narrative it fully revealed itself to be a minimalist masterpiece worth investing in.  

5.  IT COMES AT NIGHT

Now, as far as truly scary horror thrillers go, IT COMES AT NIGHT was uncompromisingly suspenseful and gripping as a purely visceral experience.  Like the greatest examples of the genre, this one encapsulated the inherent power of sadistically eerie atmosphere and a tone of undulating dread that suffocates both its characters and viewers.  There was very little bloodshed and gore in IT COMES AT NIGHT, mostly because it was so steeped in paranoia and that paralyzing human frailty of having obsessive suspicions of others we're unfamiliar with; that's what made it so bloody traumatizing to endure. 

The sophomore directorial effort of Houston-born Trey Edwards Shults, IT COMES AT NIGHT was also a most welcoming antidote to the relative horror genre fatigue that's been gripping Hollywood year in and year out.  It defied basic descriptions and rarely submerged itself in overused troupes as a post-apocalyptic tale of survival that never went down the brow beaten path.  It was also a pseudo-zombie survival thriller that never had zombies, per se, in it.  Ultimately, it was one of the rare breeds of modern horror thrillers - like IT FOLLOWS and THE WITCH - that placed more stock in eliciting endless feelings of unease in audience members, especially in a relative movie age when far too many torture porn horror flicks bombard us with shock and awe gore and cheaply engineered mayhem.  I screened IT COMES AT NIGHT mostly through my fingers...which is perhaps the best compliment that I could give it.  It was as chillingly taut as any film from 2017.  

6.  WIND RIVER

Taylor Sheridan's stupendous feature film directorial debut WIND RIVER was arguably the best film of 2017 that was the most forgotten by filmgoers and many a critic.  It was the unfortunate victim of poor release scheduling, coming out near the tail end of the blockbuster heavy summer film season.  For those that did see it - myself obviously included - WIND RIVER served as a soulful companion piece to Sheridan's previous two films (which he served as screenwriter, SICARIO and HELL OR HIGH WATER), and all of them share his impeccable observational skills at focusing on deeply flawed personas dealing with their own personal demons and insecurities. 

WIND RIVER offered up a thoroughly intoxicating murder/mystery yarn, set in a northern Indian reserve and featuring the manhunt for the murderer of a local woman that's spearheaded by a wildlife service agent (a never been better Jeremy Renner) who's assisted by an in-over-her-head FBI agent (Renner's AVENGER's co-star Elizabeth Olsen).  Beyond being a gripping police procedural, WIND RIVER - like HELL OR HIGH WATER before it - had the spirit of a mythical western set in contemporary society while exploring remote and troubled regions of the world that virtually never get explored in American cinema.  Existing as both as a sobering wakeup call to the hellish conditions of secluded Native American reservation life and a wonderfully delineated character drama, Sheridan's film displayed his knack for poetically lean and hard hitting dialogue, which in turn was married to sensationally well rounded and gritty performances.  And Renner served up one of the most crushingly heart breaking monologues of any character in any film from 2017 that showcased why his quietly powerful performance was one of the year's most overlooked.  
 

7.  HOSTILES

Writer/director Scott Copper (CRAZY HEART, OUT OF THE FURNACE, and BLACK MASS) has made a relatively strong career out of helming soul searching dramas about tortured characters seeking some form of redemption.  His latest effort in 2017 was the brutally harsh, yet beautifully acted and shot HOSTILES, an American period western that dealt with a toxically racist soldier (Christian Bale, in a tightly wound internalized performance of pure rage and pain) that's tasked with serving as a guide and protector to his sworn native enemy (Wes Studi) while taking him home to safety so the terminally ill chief can die on his land.  Not only did Cooper make a western of classic and old school painterly beauty, but he also crafted one in a revisionist tone that rightfully showcased 19th Century New Mexico as a place of uncompromising bleakness.  That, and HOSTILES was a western that generated nail biting tension via the nagging aura of unease that looms over Bale's ferociously bigoted soldier that's forced to protect another man that - through years of violence and bloodshed with him and his kind  - he has been programmed to loathe on sight.   

HOSTILES was sickeningly difficult to sit through at times, but by its conclusion there was an aura of hope in the air for its characters when it seemed impossible when the film began.  And the fact that its spiritual salvation arc never felt forced or manipulative was a testament to Cooper's authoritative skills as a filmmaker; he lovingly forged one of the finest and most thematically challenging westerns in years.

8.  I, TONYA

Tonya Harding's name became most synonymous with scandal over twenty years ago.  And, as a result, her name also became a running joke.  She's probably less remembered for, say, being a two-time Olympic figure skater and the very first woman to achieve a successful and impossibly hard triple axel in competition than she is for being associated to certain members of her family that perpetrated a very public attack on fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan before the 1994 Winter Olympics.  That deplorable incident caught the media by storm and eventually led to Harding's banishment from the sport forever.

Now, Harding is no saint.  Even though she didn't - by her own claim - plan and unleash the attack on Kerrigan, she nevertheless had intimate ties to those that did.  Yet, Craig Gillespie's I, TONYA was not a smear campaign of a movie against the disgraced athlete.  Rather compellingly and refreshingly, it made attempts to humanize Harding as a deeply flawed and troubled young woman that was dealt a hellishly raw upbringing in life, and she faced ample hardships on the path to achieving skating excellence because of her impoverished and abuse heavy background.  Employing a talking heads mockumentary format, Gillespie chronicled Harding's rise and fall in the sport, and his film ultimately emerged as being not only an unexpectedly penetrating character study, but also a pointed satire and commentary on working glass grief, athletic ambition run amok, and, well, extremely dump people perpetrating unforgivably dumb crimes.  Mixing heartfelt drama and black comedy in a tricky mixture (alongside its renegade, rock and roll infused energy), I, TONYA emerged as one of the most infectiously entertaining biopics of 2017.  It's also a rare breed of film that walks a difficult line between mocking its subjects and displaying genuine understanding and sympathy for them.  And that's hard to pull off. 

[added February 5]

 9.  THE POST

Steven Spielberg returned to fine form in 2017 with his thoroughly gripping and handsomely mounted historical/political thriller THE POST, which dealt with the true story of how journalists from The Washington Post and New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, classified documents that detailed previously undisclosed information about U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War as far back as the Truman administration.  The papers exposed that the government systematically lied to both Congress and the American people about enlarging the war effort in Vietnam, despite knowing that it was a lost cause.  Angering the sleeping giant that was the Nixon White House, The Post and Times were nearly shut down with their reporters facing imprisonment.  

Thankfully, justice prevailed.

THE POST was one of Spielberg's most stylistically retrained films, and thankfully so, seeing as his understated approach to the material allowed for the narrative and stalwart performances (quarterbacked by the always reliable Tom Hanks and the impactfully low key Meryl Streep) do the talking.  Taking a page out of iconic whistleblower potboilers like ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, THE POST was film that showed great reverence for the inherently arduous work that journalists engage in to provide the public with the truth, not to mention that it rightfully propped up these dedicated and brave professional newsmen and women as positive conduits of influential change.  And considering the current era of the Trump administration that takes to social media to lambaste the press and step on their First Amendment rights, THE POST served as a sobering and cautionary reminder as to how the government tried to suppress the media decades ago and how not much has changed in the subsequent years. 

10.  MOLLY'S GAME

The relative timing of the release of MOLLY'S GAME could not have been any better in the latter stages of 2017, seeing as this reality based crime drama came out during the post-Harvey Weinstein scandal fallout and almost served as a meta commentary on the struggles of career minded women that are desperately trying to gain power in an ego-driven, male dominated industry.  Based on the true story of Molly Bloom, whom became a major power player in the underground poker circuit in L.A. and New York (which attracted many famous A-lister celebs) writer Aaron Sorkin (also making his directorial debut) handled his character, themes and his trademark rapid fire dialogue with predictable razor sharp precision in this utterly absorbing film of a powerful woman that develops power over powerful men.  Complimenting Sorkin's unmistakable voice was the fiery presence of Jessica Chastain as Bloom, who not only championed her writer's rat-ta-tat dialogue with remarkable fluency and potency, but she also imbued in this memorable character a raw tenacity and gritty determination that made her such an oddly inspiring figure of interest.

Most impressively, MOLLY'S GAME was one of those highly rare breed of Hollywood films that generates ample suspense and forward momentum not by action, but rather by the flow of dialogue.  Sorkin has written some of the finest scripts of the last several years in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, STEVE JOBS and MONEYBALL, but in 2017 he added accomplished director to his already respected resume. 
  ...and now to round off my TEN BEST FILMS OF 2017 with my selections from 11-25:  
 

11. STRONGER:  Jake Gyllenhaal deserved an Oscar nomination for his searing work in this true story drama about a survivor of the Boston Marathon Bombings. 

12. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES: The final entry in the superlative PLANET OF THE APES reboot trilogy delivered on all possible levels of blockbuster entertainment. 

13. BABY DRIVER:  Writer/director Edgar Wright made arguably the most stylish and fiendishly inventive film of his stellar career in this heist/action film. 

14. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2: Whoa! This positively superb follow-up to the already masterful original was one of the slickest and well oiled action film sequels ever made. 

15. LOGAN: James Mangold's rough, rugged, and very appropriately R-rated Wolverine film just happened to be the finest X-MEN centric outing yet. 

16. THE BIG SICK:  The most undeniably crowd winning and pleasing romcom of 2017 also was one that balanced laughs and pathos with impeccable precision. 

17. DETROIT:  Terribly overlooked fact based drama that dealt with one of the city's most polarizing and devastating race riots;  director Kathyrn Bigelow was totally in her element.

18. THE DISASTER ARTIST:  James Franco pulled triple duty as star, director and producer of this infectiously enjoyable re-telling of the making of one of the worst films ever committed to celluloid.

 

19. THE BEGUILED:  After a series of creative missteps, director Sofia Coppola returned to assured form in this remake of the classic 1971 Don Siegel directed and Clint Eastwood starring original.

 

20. DARKEST HOUR:  Gary Oldman's uncannily authentic performance as Winston Churchill made this WWII drama so intriguingly effective.  

 

21. WONDER:  A flawlessly acted and shrewdly written coming of age drama that showed great democratic handling of all its characters.

 

22. THE WALL:  This absolutely forgotten gem from the earlier part of the summer film season showed director Doug Liman at his most economical and brutally efficient.

 

23. AMERICAN MADE:  Yet another Doug Liman effort makes the cut here in this deliriously entertaining Tom Cruise vehicle that chronicled the remarkable true story of an in-over-his-head pilot/drug and weapons smuggler/CIA agent.  

 

24. JIM AND ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND:  One of Netflix's finest offerings of the year was a doc that dealt with Jim Carrey's obsessive method acting while playing Andy Kaufman in the 1999 biopic MAN ON THE MOON.   

 

25. THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE:  Brick for brick, this second major animated feature film based on the massively popular toyline was a worthy follow-up to 2014's THE LEGO MOVIE

 

 
  Beyond my TOP 25, here's a further selection of films that are definitely worth seeing, but just not quite great enough to make the final cut:  
ATOMIC BLONDE:  A wickedly stylish neo-noir 1980's spy espionage thriller from the creative team behind JOHN WICK was a sublime pleasure from start to finish.  

THE FOREIGNER:  Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan gave two of the finest performances of their respective careers in this surprisingly smart and compellingly layered terrorism thriller. 

GET OUT: Writer/director Jordan Peele's horror/comedy/thriller delivered on levels of social satire and anxiety inducing dread. 

LIFE:  Terribly underrated and little seen ALIEN-esque sci-fi thriller that was actually better than Scott's own ALIEN: COVENANT from the same year. 

THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE:   Jessica Chastain rounded off a terrific year of solid performances with this captivating and largely untold story of the Holocaust. 

GIFTED: This Mark Webb helmed drama about a child prodigy thankfully elevated itself above TV movie of the week melodrama.   

MEGAN LEAVEY:  One of the year's more unexpectedly touching fact-based dramas that honored the contributions of its human and non-human characters that gallantly served in times of war.  

DUNKIRK:  Christopher Nolan's WWII drama was somewhat dramatically flaccid and lacking in overall storytelling, but as a visceral work it packed a massive, gut wrenching wallop.  

TO THE BONE:  An absorbing Netflix drama about people suffering from the debilitating effects of eating disorders.   

LOGAN LUCKY:  Although a bit obviously Coen Brothers-esque in its idiosyncratic quirkiness, this Steven Soderbergh directed caper comedy was one of modest pleasures.  

IT:  2017 saw the release of one of the worst Stephen King movie adaptations in THE DARK TOWER, but IT triumphantly emerged a month later as one of his finest.  

KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE: The winning formula that made the first KINGSMAN film such a success was lovingly preserved in its sequel. 

AMERICAN ASSASSIN:  A JASON BOURNE clone that generated serious and compelling mileage out of its spy genre narrative.   

BLADE RUNNER 2049: The 35 years in the making sequel to one of the greatest science fiction films of all time deserved worthy comparisons to its antecedent thanks to inspired direction from Denis Villenueve. 

HAPPY DEATH DAY:  There have been innumerable films that have ripped off GROUNDHOG DAY's premise over the years, but this horror thriller was a devilishly clever rip-off.  

BEFORE I FALL:   The year's other GROUNDHOG DAY inspired film, but the manner in felt dramatically honest with its troubled young characters helped subvert it away from copy cat labels.  

BATTLE OF THE SEXES: This 1970s era drama about one of the most watched tennis watches in history also served as a timely reflection of our current gender inequalities. 

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS:  Kenneth Brangh's luminous adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie whodunit was engaging and well acted. 

JUSTICE LEAGUE:   Despite two cooks being in the creative kitchen in Joss Whedon and Zack Synder (the former who replaced the latter during post production and reshot much of the movie), this long awaited super hero team up flick was reasonably cohesive and injected some much needed fun and color into the DCEU.   

INGRID GOES WEST:  Aubrey Plaza gave the most chillingly committed performance of her career in this timely and cautionary tale of social media obsession.  

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE:  A surprisingly fresh and enjoyable sequel to the 20-plus-year-old original.  

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME:  There was not one wrong or false dramatic moment between stars Timothee Chamalet and Armie Hammer in this exquisitely acted coming of age period drama. [added February 5]

 

 

 

   

 

 
 
 

  H O M E