My 10 Favorite Movies of 2017 (out of what I’ve seen)

(in alphabetical order, and with spoilers)

Alien: Covenant

In Covenant‘s opening scene, we witness android David’s first moments in a ridiculously well-acted scene between him and his creator, Peter Weyland. We are shown the source of David’s curiosity, and of his contempt for humanity. This scene alone would have clarified every action David takes in Prometheus, but is thankfully a perfect opening for Covenant.

Covenant is a story about the responsibilities and dangers of creation. There is a reason why the main human characters are colonists, not the scientists of Prometheus. Their mission is to create a new home for humanity. David’s goal is to create new life, and to destroy anyone or anything that gets in his way, especially the race that created him to be a servant.

Other things I loved about Covenant were the believably stupid (to me) crew of the Covenant, Waterston and McBride breathing life into their characters, the unabashedly gothic vibe of the whole film, and Fassbender getting to play two androids in multiple scenes. Particularly a certain scene involving a flute that contains one of my favorite double entendres I’ve ever heard in a movie.

Despite its many detractors, Covenant is well worth your time, especially if you were disappointed by Prometheus.

Baby Driver

Here’s my review. My take remains the same. I adore this movie.

The Big Sick

It’s one of the best romantic movies I’ve seen in ages, it depicts the challenges of being raised with one culture and experiencing another with sincerity, and also perfectly portrays the monotonous anxiety of being unable to help a loved one who is sick. The Big Sick is an incredibly personal story told with such evident love and care by those who experienced it, and by the performers portraying it. When those real-life photos show at the end credits, it’s difficult not to feel joy for the real-life couple, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, that this movie tells the story of.

Call Me By Your Name

This is one of those movies that I want to live in. Set in the Italian countryside, Call Me By Your Name depicts a love affair between teenage Elio and grad student Oliver. This film, like the 1983 summer it depicts, moves slowly and allows the relationship between these two to just unfold. By the end of the movie, you wish that it didn’t have to end. It’s also one of a couple 2017 films I saw that is unabashedly sexual, even though there are no full sex scenes.

Get Out

Jordan Peele has said that Get Out, a horror movie that effectively portrays and satirizes the various forms of racism still present todayis best experienced with an audience. I was fortunate enough to have that experience with a packed Friday night showing of this movie, weeks after it came out.

One way to communicate the greatness of this movie is describing the audience’s reaction to the ending. There was the expected excitement and cheers for Chris escaping the house and defeating the Armitages. But then those sirens are heard. The entire audience gasped, winced, and shouted “no!”. Everyone felt the horror of this moment, because everyone in this theater knew what happens in real life to black people in this situation. Then that car door opened, and out came Rod. The relief and joy that everyone in this theater felt had to have been audible from the next theater.

Jordan Peele is a born filmmaker, and knows exactly how to play with the audience’s anxieties and expectations. I can’t wait to see everything he does after this.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 feels more like a character piece than its predecessor, to the point that halfway through the movie, I realized that I actually did not know what the story was building to, or if there was a proper villain. The exploration of parenting and family that Vol. 2 offers is heavy-handed at times, but always earned. Nebula and Gamora delving into the abuse that they suffered as daughters of Thanos is impressively mature material for a blockbuster like this. Also impressive is a sequence where three of our leads joyfully slaughter an entire crew of Ravagers, and we the audience are completely on board with this. For a movie that is technically a Disney production, Vol. 2 manages to get some surprisingly dark material in there.

Whether or not the more sentimental material worked for viewers seems to vary, based on those I’ve discussed the movie with. But I felt that Vol. 2 earned those moments, and that ending: a raccoon shedding a tear for a lost friend, and the knowledge that he hasn’t pushed away the ones he still has.

The Post

One of the easiest ways to annoy me is to tell me that Steven Spielberg is overrated, or is out of his prime as a filmmaker. I am unable to agree with or comprehend such an opinion with Spielberg’s output over the last few years. The Post may appear to be an Oscar-bait film, but I can assure you that it isn’t. It’s a film that calmly draws you into the world and dilemma of its titular newspaper, and the key figures behind it. It builds and builds to a conclusion both satisfying and terrifyingly relevant. Throughout the film, we hear snippets of Nixon and his reactions to the exposure of the U.S. government’s involvement in Vietnam. By the end of the movie, hearing Nixon’s anger at the Post and press for publishing the Pentagon Papers should induce chills due to our current president’s treatment of the press. It’s very clear why Spielberg fast-tracked making this movie. He remains one of our very best filmmakers, and The Post is one of my favorites of his movies.

The Shape of Water

It’s Guillermo del Toro getting to make a gloriously romantic and timely sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon. It portrays all of its outsider characters with care and humor. It’s the most positive portrayal of sexuality I’ve seen in an American movie since Magic Mike XXL.

Look, I’m frankly not capable of being objective in any way about this movie. Everything about it, the performances, the production design, the score, the cinematography, is perfection to me. More than any other entry in this list, I recommend seeing it.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

My review. The best Star Wars film, or at least my favorite.

Wonder Woman

The live-action output of DC superhero films since 2013’s Man of Steel has not been great. I’ve written out my thoughts on that film and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. And the less said about Suicide Squad, one of the most embarrassing studio releases ever, the better. Naturally, this led me to worry about Wonder Woman. Even with a good director like Patty Jenkins behind the camera, I was afraid that credited story writer and producer Zack Snyder’s influence would prevent Wonder Woman from feeling like a separate entity from the previous DC films that he had helmed.

Thankfully, Jenkins and co. knocked this out of the park. Diana is the hopeful and idealistic hero that superhero cinema has been missing since Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh portrayed Superman. (yes, despite Bryan Singer and Kevin Spacey being garbage, I still love Superman Returns) Her journey from naive faith in Ares being the cause of World War I, to her acceptance and belief in humanity’s potential for love and good, is everything I could have hoped for from the long-overdue first film with this character.

The No Man’s Land sequence, where Diana shows Steve and the other soldiers what heroism is, remains one of the best action sequences of the year. The theme that Hans Zimmer wrote for Diana in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is developed and earned by Rupert Gregson-Williams’ very excellent score. And also, finally, color is brought to the look of DC on film. Seriously, I cannot emphasize how happy it made me to see a DC superhero movie that made me wonder if the color grading was designed to make the audience feel colorblind.

I love superhero films, but they are very much skewed towards male leads. I’m hoping that the massive success of Wonder Woman helps to change that. I can’t wait to show this movie to my nieces, but I also want more female superheroes for them to look up to.

Honorable Mentions:

Becoming Bond

Blade Runner 2049

Logan

The Mummy (it is the kind of Hollywood trash perfection I adore re: 1994’s The Shadow)

Thor: Ragnarok

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Baby Driver

This is going to be a short review because I don’t have much to say about Baby Driver that isn’t positive. I knew that the combination of this movie’s premise with Edgar Wright as the director would most likely result in an experience of profound joy. As someone who considers their first viewing of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive to be one of the closest things to a religious experience that they’ve ever had, I am already on-board with well-made movies about quirky getaway drivers that like listening to music while they work. But the level at which Wright integrates the music into this movie was something I was truly unprepared for.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World demonstrated Wright’s ability to handle musical moments with both songs and fight sequences, but what Baby Driver does isn’t just a rehash of that movie’s technique. The lead character, “Baby”, picks specific songs to drive/work/escape to during heists. And when those songs start, everything, and I mean EVERYTHING that’s happening in the movie is following the trajectory of the song. Every gunshot, every car movement, every background noise. In Baby Driver, the characters don’t burst into song, the world of the movie does. And it is done with just the right balance of cool and ridiculous, and so seamlessly that it never once becomes annoying or overwhelming.

Part of the reason this works so well is Ansel Elgort’s performance as “Baby”. Elgort’s many moments throughout the film where he joyfully sings and dances along to the music that he loves and needs so much instantly win you over from the very first scene. His sweet romance with Lily James’ character, Debora, is highlighted by him performing songs centered on her name in front of his deaf foster father, Joseph (played by CJ Jones), and their first date in a laundromat, where the camera swirls around them like a dance sequence. Their chemistry is charming, and easily sells a romance centered around two people that just want to escape their respective jobs.

All of the supporting turns from Spacey, Hamm, González, and Foxx are equally fun and menacing, providing further balance to Baby Driver‘s tone. These characters are both exactly what you expect and very surprising in certain scenes.

I have missed Edgar Wright so very much, and I am very happy that he is back with a movie as joyful, musical, and exciting as this.