It’s the end of 2017, which means it’s time for the End of Year lists to come rolling out. Just like last year, you won’t be hearing about my top films, but my sticky films. The films which – after seeing them – made me want to watch, rewatch, discuss, and share. While some of my favorite films of the year share some of these traits, they aren’t mutually exclusive.
If you’re curious what my top films of the year are, head over to Letterboxd for my running list of the best films of 2017.
Release date: February 24 2017.
Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Root, and Milton “Lil Rel” Howery.
There was no film quite as unexpected in 2017 as Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out. Peele’s use of the horror genre as a means of exploring racial tension may not seem wholly original at first – he even acknowledges Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Stepford Wives as inspirational material – but it’s his approach to storytelling that made Get Out indisputably unique. It’s challenging, daring, frightful for the right reasons, and hilarious for the wrong ones. Like all great films, there’s always something more to be found upon each new watch, which Get Out requires to get every single nuance of the narrative’s social themes.
Release date: March 3 2017.
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Sir Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Eriq La Salle, and Richard E. Grant.
When you’ve played the same character on-screen for two decades, you’d expect that the ninth appearance would be the worst of the lot as fatigue sets in and narratives grow stale. Such is not the case for Logan, a surprisingly emotional, character-driven film that amazed audiences world-wide. Mostly stripped of his healing factor, the previously unstoppable Wolverine is tasked with protecting father-figure Charles Xavier (Stewart in a mind-blowing performance) and saving a group of mutant children from a secret organization that seeks to weaponize them. By leaning less on spectacle and more on the philosophical journey of the aging Logan, Mangold and his writing team subvert the expectations of the superhero genre – which favors flash over substance – to craft a story that will leave you simultaneously hopeful and heartbroken.
Your Name. (君の名は)
Release date: April 7 2017.
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Cast: Ryûnosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi, Masami Nagasawa, Etsuko Ichihara, Ryo Narita, Aoi Yūki, Kanon Tani, and Masaki Terasoma.
Everywhere I looked in early 2017 I was told to track down the Japanese animated science-fiction drama Your Name. from writer/director Makoto Shinkai. No one would expressly explain why (and I’ll continue that tradition by not telling you either), but the insistence made Your Name. a must watch. Wow, does it deliver. What first seems like a comedic body-swap story as high school girl Mitsuha wakes up to find herself in the body of Taki, a high school boy living miles away in Tokyo, slowly reveals itself to be something unbelievably unexpected and thrilling. Audiences should go into the film as blindly as possible, which is difficult because as soon as you see it, you’ll want to discuss it with everyone you see.
Release date: April 21 2017.
Director: Ben Wheatley
Cast: Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor, Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, and Jack Reynor.
There’s something about a film that dares to go for broke. It doesn’t have to be challenging or reinvent a genre, but a film that boldly tries something is entirely compelling on its own. That’s sums up perfectly Free Fire – the craziest movie I’ve seen this year. Set almost entirely in a dilapidated warehouse, a gun-buy goes down and then goes horribly wrong fast. Each side blames the other, nearly everyone’s armed, and the first to get out can call reinforcements. I frequently describe it as “Clue in a warehouse” because what first seems fairly straight-forward soon becomes more complicated as each side jockeys for the high ground. It’s funny, zany, and with this collection of talent in front of the camera, never ever dull.
Release date: April 21 2017.
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson, and Dan Stevens.
Sold as an American Kaiju film, Anne Hathaway’s Gloria finds herself somehow connected to a monster destroying Seoul, South Korea. While this does describe Colossal, it barely scratches the surface of writer/director Nacho Vigalondo’s exploration of toxic relationships and the unknown damage created by our wake. Dark, comedic, and possessing incredible depth, Colossal explores how our addictions feed our egos, making us believe we’re the heroes of our story, when we may very well be the villain. If not for the richly complex performances from Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis, Colossal would likely fall into the B-movie category, something – I suspect – many audiences expected given the marketing sold the film as a light-hearted, quirky drama, which Colossal is anything but. It’s little surprise that Colossal left theaters quickly and quietly. But for audiences that were willing to give it a shot, Colossal remains a film that they pass around for both viewing and discussion.
Release date: June 28 2017.
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Eliza González, Jamie Foxx, and Jon Bernthal.
“All you need is one killer track” – both the tagline for writer/director Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver and the way to describe the film’s inspiration. A project years in the making, Baby Driver is a tribute to caper films remixed to the beat a sublime playlist. It’s got incredible action, stylish baddies, and a seemingly super cool lead that broke through the summertime blockbuster glut to become Wright’s first film to gross (and surpass) $100 Million. Though some will criticize the film for its empty lead and emptier love interest, Baby Driver isn’t a period piece grounded in the laws of physics. It’s a rock show on the road, whose light-hearted frivolity – even when things get dark and serious – will keep you smiling all the way to the end. Those familiar with Wright’s work will pick up on the easter eggs to cinematic and musical history, and those that aren’t – there’s still plenty of brilliant foreshadowing, sound editing, cinematography, and music old and new to keep you engaged. While the revelations of Kevin Spacey’s off-set behavior does cast a gray pallor over everything he’s worked on, his presence is minimal, so it’s fairly easy to cast him aside and enjoy the ride.
Release date: July 28 2017.
Director: Dave McCary
Cast: Klye Mooney, Mark Hamill, Jane Adams, Greg Kinnear, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Ryan Simpkins, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., and Claire Danes.
One of the benefits for geek culture going mainstream is that it’s suddenly safer to outwardly acknowledge the things we’re passionate about. Frequently, the things we’re passionate about aren’t just things – they’re moments, events, songs, toys, or programs that’ve become hardwired into our DNA, a part of our make-up that can’t ever be removed. These are the stories of our youth that guide us into adulthood. This is the very core of Dave McCary and Kyle Mooney’s Brigsby Bear – a little seen Sony Classics picture from this summer – that explored one man’s connection to a fictional series (the aforementioned Brigsby Bear) and how it helps him cope with the transition from boyhood into adulthood. One part abduction drama, one part coming-of-age comedy, and one part journey of the imagination, Brisgby Bear will remind you that it’s ok to embrace the stranger parts of yourself to help you move forward. It also features one of two fantastic Mark Hamill performance from 2017.
Release date: August 4 2017.
Cast: John Cho, Kaley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey, Rory Culkin, and Michelle Forbes.
Of all the films on this list, Kogonada’s directorial debut, Columbus, is the one you’re likely the least familiar with. A character-driven story, Columbus explores the quiet moments amid the constant barrage of noise that surrounds us always, beckoning us to take a moment and observe our surroundings. Since the film is based in Columbus, Indiana, an architectural mecca for the world, Kogonada mindfully incorporates not only the more famous buildings built in the area, but he also stages every single scene to instill increasing and decreasing intimacy between the characters Jin (John Cho) and Casey (Haley lu Richardson) as their intersecting lives grow in significance. Spellbinding from beginning to end, Columbus is a meditative piece whose cast delivers career-high performances and whose director establishes himself as one to watch.
Release date: October 6 2017.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Dave Bautista, Sylvia Hooks, Mackenzie Davis, and Jared Leto.
It’s no secret that I wasn’t enamored with Blade Runner 2049 upon its release, but I think that had to do as much with my expectations as it did with my growing sense of being one-step ahead of Ryan Gosling’s Agent K. As an audience member, I prefer to experience the film with my protagonists rather than waiting for them to catch up. That said, something about this film as gotten under my skin and won’t let go. Roger Deakins’s cinematography is gorgeous; Alessandra Querzola’s sets not only recreate the world introduced in the original Blade Runner, but expand upon them wonderfully; and Renée April’s costumes dazzle with futuristic promise. Everything about the film breathes wonder and fantasy while grounded in dystopian reality. If that weren’t breathtaking enough, the performances from the main cast are largely career-best. What makes me want to revisit 2049 the most: the dynamic between Gosling’s K and Ana de Armas’s Joi. Their relationship is the heart of a largely cold narrative which seeks to expand the discussion of humanity first explored in the original Blade Runner. Without Joi, 2049 would be a lumbering mess without an anchor.
Release date: December 15 2017.
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Andy Serkis, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher.
Getting right down to it: I love this film. I’ve seen it twice in theaters and hope to see it again before it leaves. Director Rian Johnson took concepts set up in J.J. Abrams The Force Awakens and built upon some while absolutely obliterating others. It’s exciting, brash, challenging, and utterly thrilling from beginning to end. The thing I love most – and the thing that most audiences disliked – is how it deconstructs our expectations. Johnson knew audiences were expecting a beat-for-beat remake of The Empire Strikes Back after the seemingly beat-for-beat remake of A New Hope in the form of TFA, so he did the only thing he could do – set up scenes that played into those expectations before going into a completely different direction. The best example of this: nearly every plan our heroes come up with fails – something we’re not accustomed to seeing in a Star Wars film – which is integral to the narrative theme of failure as the greatest teacher. With one more film to go in this new trilogy, I’m impatiently enthusiastic to see what happens in Episode 9.
Okja, War for the Planet of the Apes, The Shape of Water, Thor: Ragnarok, Molly’s Game, Dunkirk, Split, Spider-Man: Homecoming, A Monster Calls, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2.