The Best and Worst Movies of 2017


So. 2017. How about that? This was the year that I started switching to saying “twenty-seventeen” instead of “two thousand seventeen.” I expect to be fully converted to the “twenty-” system by the end of 2018. What a time to be alive! Anyway, movies.


The big takeaway here is that the letter grades on my reviews are virtually meaningless. Having been promiscuous with the A’s and A-minuses in my younger days, I’ve become stingy with them now, often hedging my bets with a B+. What I’m discovering is that those top three grades — A, A-, B+ — wind up meaning about the same thing, so don’t get too hung up on a B+ movie ranking higher than an A-, it’s just a show, you should really just relax, etc.

1. “Dunkirk”
dunkirk-teaser900This isn’t the first time a Christopher Nolan film has topped my list (hey, “Memento”!), and I doubt it will be the last. With “Dunkirk,” the meticulous Mr. Nolan applies his careful attention and time-bending narrative obsessions to a historical incident, with an emotional impact that sneaks up on you like a sniper. The idea of taking solace in having done your best even though you lost the battle, and of survival being a victory in itself, felt especially resonant this year.

2. “Call Me by Your Name”
cmbyn10I don’t know how I would feel about this movie if I were a completely heterosexual straight opposite-sex-attracted person, but it’s been interesting all year long to see how many un-queer critics have loved it unreservedly. Luca Guadagnino and James Ivory’s adaptation of André Aciman’s novel, while indisputably a Gay Story, transcends labels thanks to its compassionate point of view and sensitive performances. It’s an ode to love in all its forms, to the very idea of Love as an essential part of humanity that we should grab onto whenever it finds us.

3. “Stronger”
stronger10One of the most emotionally sublime moments in a movie this year comes near the end of “Stronger,” when Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes to accept his role as “inspiring public figure” — a position he never asked for and has spent most of the movie bucking against. Gyllenhaal’s performance as a flawed, reluctant hero is anguished and authentic, and director David Gordon Green treats Boston’s traditions, peculiarities, and provincialism with respect.

4. “A Ghost Story”
ghoststory10Parts of David Lowery’s contemplative tone poem about mortality tried my patience (both times I watched it), but nothing else this year matched its haunting, melancholic impact. This was a risky film that could have been an insufferable disaster; instead it provides the unforgettable experience of seeing eternity pass before your eyes. It may also be the best Casey Affleck delivery system: covered in a sheet and barely talking.

5. “mother!”
mother10Here’s another one that could have been a pretentious mess (some people feel it is exactly that) but that I adore for its audacity. Darren Aronofsky’s religious allegory about God — and, uh, Mrs. God? Mother Nature? — follows a nightmare logic that’s compelling to follow even if you don’t entirely “get” it. Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer — big stars, all of ’em — are fully committed to Aronofsky’s weird vision, which makes it all the more fascinating.

6. “Baby Driver”
baby-driverA re-watch confirmed what I thought the first time: Edgar Wright’s toe-tapping heist caper has a mundane plot, but the intricate way that the musical soundtrack is woven into it makes it absurdly, invigoratingly entertaining. While not a “musical” in the sense of characters breaking into song, it’s as carefully constructed and choreographed as one, including well-shot action sequences and clever humor.

7. “Get Out”
getout10The first time I saw this, it struck me as a comedy with expertly used horror elements. The second time, it felt more like a horror film with a significant dose of sharp comedy. Either way, Jordan Peele’s scathing take on liberal racism (the real kind, not the Fox News kind where pointing out racism is racist) suggests Peele has a bright future ahead as a filmmaker in whatever genre(s) he chooses.

8. “Lady Bird”
lady-bird-and-mother-1See, this takes us back to the “Call Me by Your Name” thing. I have never been a teenage girl, nor have I ever had an antagonistic relationship with my mom, and Greta Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical solo directorial debut is full of highly specific details — yet I found something relatable in every minute of it. With Saoirse Ronan as her avatar, Gerwig explores a surprising number of teen-angst threads in a brisk, funny, emotional 93 minutes.

9. “Raw”
raw1Another extraordinary debut from a new filmmaker, “Raw” is Julia Ducournau’s visceral, unsettling, and unexpectedly sweet coming-of-age story about a college freshman raised as a strict vegetarian who samples meat for the first time and develops a craving for flesh. (Not meat. Flesh.) Come for the hint of cannibalism in this unforgettably morbid dramedy; stay for the love.

10. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
threebillboards10Martin McDonagh’s highest-profile film (he also made “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths”) is his grimmest and most morally conflicted one yet, focused on a grieving, angry mother (Frances McDormand) and her extreme efforts to get justice for her murdered daughter. Never one for subtlety, McDonagh asks us to consider things like misogyny, racism, and police violence, and to examine whether it’s revenge or redemption we’re after, all while maintaining a dark sense of humor.

Really Good Movies That Are on My Top 10 List in an Alternate Universe That Is Only Slightly Different from Ours:

“The Big Sick”
“The Florida Project”
“I, Tonya”
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”
“The Lovers”
“The Shape of Water”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“War for the Planet of the Apes”
“Wind River”
“Wonder Woman”

Movies I Haven’t Seen Yet — Due to Portland No Longer Being Considered a “Top Market” for Movies, Don’t Get Me Started — That I’m Led to Understand Are Quite Exceptional:

“Phantom Thread”


Year-end mini-rants about movies I hated don’t appeal to me as much as they used to, but for the record, here are the films I found most odious in 2017, listed alphabetically.

“A Bad Moms Christmas”
“The Belko Experiment”
“The Emoji Movie”
“Fifty Shades Darker”
“Rough Night”
“The Snowman”
“Transformers: The Last Knight”