10 BEST FILMS OF 2017
By Nathan Evans
*Warning: Spoilers to follow for all films on this list. You have been warned!
Let me begin this list by saying something most of the best of the year lists won’t tell you: this list will change. 2017 was a year jam packed with fantastic movies, so much so that I’m actually having trouble developing my worst of the year list (a problem I didn’t have in 2016). With that said, not only were there a bunch of films I did see that I had to painstakingly consider and weigh against each other, there’s also a ton of films I haven’t seen, that I probably won’t have time to see, that could’ve potentially made this list. I was initially going to wait to create this list until I caught up, but if I’m being real, I’m a father of two with a full time job— I’m never going to completely catch up; at least not in time for this list to be relevant. Last year I attempted to push off my list and ultimately ended up halfheartedly shoehorning it in with my Oscar picks and predictions.
I didn’t want to do that this year. The films were just too damn good.
So as you read this list please keep in mind I was unable to consider some of the picks you’ll probably see on other critics lists. Films like ‘Wind River’, ‘The Shape of Water’, ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri’, etc. I’ve been hearing nothing but great things about them, and hope to eventually see them all.
With that out of the way, we turn to the films I did see. The films I loved. As I previously stated, 2017 was a fantastic year for film. Specifically and surprisingly genre films. We got comic book films that surpassed the genre, returning sci-fi favorites, and even a couple of original action and (most shocking for me) horror films that surpassed all of my expectations. Not only were these films a great time at the movies, many of them will go down alongside films like ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘Indiana Jones’ as nerd classics (especially my number 1).
So without further ado here they are: Nerd on Film’s top ten movies of 2017:
10: AMERICAN MADE
Unfortunately ‘American Made’ was one of the films I saw, but never had time to actually sit down and review (well, I got halfway through it and was forced to abandon it to catch up with current releases), but don’t allow yourself to think that means it isn’t a great movie.
The film, directed by ‘The Bourne Identity’ helmer Doug Liman is the true story of Barry Seal: an accomplished commercial airline pilot that was recruited by the CIA to run guns to various insurgencies across South America in the 1980’s. It isn’t long before Seal, a seemingly well meaning man with a dubious sense of right and wrong, finds himself running drugs for infamous drug kingpin Pablo Escobar as well. ‘American Made’ chronicles Barry’s rise and fall at the hands of both the authorities and the murderous cartel he was eventually forced to inform on.
If you’ve seen any of Liman’s previous films (ranging from early work like ‘Go’ to his more recent blockbuster fare like ‘Edge of Tomorrow’), then you’re aware of the kind of energy this eccentric director can bring to a project (we’re not gonna bother bringing up his one misfire ‘Jumper’ by the way). Liman takes what could’ve been a standard biopic and elevates it into a kinetic thrill ride that never stops being fun; even when the film dips into some of the more lurid details of Seal’s career.
Though it appears that his name is toxic to a healthy box office lately, Tom Cruise continues to prove why he became a huge star in the first place. This is the second project Cruise has appeared in with Liman at the helm, and it’s the second project that finds him playing against type: Cruise is very distinctly not a hero in this movie. Seal may not have gotten his hands dirty in the same way the people he worked for did, and he may have performed much of the work genuinely believing he was operating for the good guys, but ultimately he threw his morals away on thrill seeking and a lavish lifestyle; two things a guy known for strapping himself to the sides of planes and partying in the gold encrusted halls of an elite cult’s various banquets might relate to.
All joking aside (seriously, Scientology’s fucked and needs to be shut down), ‘American Made’ is a film that did not get the love it deserved upon release. Even if you’re turned off by Maverick’s wide, toothy grin, you owe it to yourself to look past it and give this flick an honest shot.
9: IT COMES AT NIGHT
‘It Comes at Night’ came out in the summer, which I think was a misstep, because if it had come out later in the year I believe it would’ve received some awards attention. As it is, the film was released when people were expecting to be entertained by blockbuster tentpoles, not simmering, thought provoking thrillers. A24’s marketing of the film, which made the movie appear to be a more traditional horror flick, didn’t help matters much either. The push wasn’t quite large enough to capture the attention of a wide audience, and many of those that did see it were let down when it didn’t turn out to be the ‘Insidious’ type of film they were expecting.
It would seem that ‘It Comes at Night’ was a film destined to fall through the cracks. Which is unfortunate because the film from director Trey Edward Shults is a tense exploration of what people can do to one another when faced with the paranoia of an external threat that may or may not even exist. The film’s initial build is deceptively slow, so that when the movie comes to its heartbreaking conclusion, you’ll find yourself as bereft as the characters onscreen.
The movie stars Joel Edgerton, who, like the film itself, seems destined to never get the attention he deserves as an actor and filmmaker. While he’s clearly respected in critical and professional circles, that regard hasn’t seemed to translate to success with audiences. Though I haven’t actually seen ‘Bright’ yet, I find it depressing that that’s the film he’ll receive the most attention for from the mainstream set.
8: GET OUT
There’s nothing I can write about ‘Get Out’ that you haven’t already read elsewhere, but that’s not going to keep me from trying. By this point we all know the film is almost universally praised, but what we’re all forgetting is that it really shouldn’t have been. I remember seeing the trailers prior to the film’s release proudly declaring it was a film from Jordan Peele; one half of Comedy Central’s breakout comedy duo ‘Key & Peele’. I immediately assumed it was going to be a comedy, and when it turned out it wasn’t, I figured there was no chance the film would be even halfway decent; especially with a premise that could so easily go sideways.
I was wrong, and not just a little bit— I was completely and utterly wrong.
‘Get Out’ may be Peele’s feature length debut, but it’s clear the man was honing his skills the entire time he was working on ‘Key & Peele’. The movie’s shot with the confidence of a much more experienced filmmaker, and the script bears the mark of a true craftsman; someone who’s thought through every detail of his product. Not only has Peele examined and braced his work from every angle, but he’s also infused it with something missing from a lot of mainstream releases— a voice; a voice that’s sadly all too topical in today’s trash fire of a social and political landscape.
The film plays out like a nightmarish version of ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’. Only, rather than our African-American protagonist, Chris, being spurned by his Caucasian girlfriend, Rose’s, parents, he’s welcomed warmly by them… a little too warmly. Any similarities to the Sidney Poitier classic end there, though, when Chris slowly begins to realize that Rose’s family may have some sinister plans for him; plans that they may have already enacted on other African-American victims.
Admittedly, the premise sounds silly until you realize its used in the same way all great genre premises are used: to shed light on an actual societal ill. Chris, and the time he spends in what we come to know as ‘The Sunken Place’, serves as a metaphor for the diminished voice many minorities in America feel saddled with. The micro-aggressions Chris endures at the hands of Rose’s parents and their friends mimics the otherness many people of color feel in their day to day. The villains’ nefarious plot reeks of the cultural appropriation minorities face from the same society that attempts to silence them where it counts.
These are all heady topics for anyone to tackle, but Peele takes them all head on. The result is a film that couldn’t have been produced by anyone else. A film that’s as hilarious as it is terrifying. A film that defies easy categorization; something the ‘Golden Globes’ unfortunately learned the hard way.
7: THOR: RAGNAROK
If you’ve followed this website at all, or personally know me even a little bit, then you know I’m a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Unfortunately, given my level of fandom, many people assume I’m automatically going to love everything Marvel Studios mastermind, Kevin Fiege, spits out. That’s most definitely not the case. While I think the MCU has an impressive track record, it’s not flawless. I’d consider ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ and ‘Iron Man 3’ to be out and out bad movies, and a couple of their films have been little more than middling, namely ‘Ant-Man’ and ‘Thor: The Dark World’. Hell, you don’t even have to look that far back to my review of ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ (a film I ultimately liked) to see that I have no problem pointing out flaws in what Marvel produces.
I preface this entry in the list with that disclaimer, because I want you to know that if I place a Marvel Studios film in my top ten, there’s a reason its there (spoilers: this won’t be the only MCU film to make this list, just so you know). Fortunately, with ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ director, Taika Waititi’s, ’Thor: Ragnarok’ there are a bunch of reasons.
‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is that rare third film in a trilogy to actually be the best film in the trilogy. I imagine half of you are scoffing to yourself, saying that’s a low bar to clear, but I actually really dug Kenneth Branagh’s original ‘Thor’. It’s a film that makes Thor, a character that I never thought could be adapted to live action, palatable for mainstream audiences by planting its tongue firmly in its cheek.
Waititi, a director I knew of but hadn’t engaged with prior to this film, stands confidently shoulder to shoulder with Branagh and the MCU’s stable of other visionary directors that include Jon Favreau, the Russo brothers, James Gunn, and Joss Whedon (Yes, internet, I know it’s fashionable to hate on him now because he cheated on his wife constantly, but you know you ate up every second of his ‘Avengers’ films).
The perspective Waititi brings to ‘Ragnarok’ is lodged firmly in the vein of some of the 80’s trippiest candy coated genre offerings, films like ‘Flash Gordon’ and ‘Heavy Metal’. It’s a perspective that nobody else would’ve thought to bring to Thor, but Waititi did, and the unique trappings meld perfectly with the intergalactic take on Norse mythology that is the Thor universe.
That sense of style isn’t the only thing Waititi managed to bring to the table. He also did something that’s become increasingly difficult to do in the MCU: he crafted a film that can stand on its own. Of course ‘Ragnarok’ has ties to the films that came before it, and it does a bit of heavy lifting to set things up for the films to follow, but ultimately it can be enjoyed on its own merit; something that can’t be said for many MCU films (for instance, I love ‘Captain America: Civil War’, but I don’t think it’d be possible for a newbie to join the series with that film). Most impressively Waititi makes it all look effortless by throwing in an irreverent joke in almost every scene of the film. Many people have called ‘Ragnarok’ Marvel’s first comedy, and while I don’t fully agree with that statement, there’s no doubt that the film is very funny throughout.
While ‘Ragnarok’ doesn’t engender the kind of passion necessary to put it even higher on this list, it’s an excellent film that’s earned its place. It’s the first ‘Thor’ film that feels truly definitive, especially in regards to cementing Chris Hemsworth as the character (at least for the time being). Best of all, it turned me on to Waititi’s previous film, ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’, that I liked even more than ‘Ragnarok’. So if you enjoyed Waititi’s MCU effort, you owe it to yourself to follow the travails of the overweight menace to society, Ricky Baker, in ‘Wilderpeople’.
Considering I’m a big fat pu$#y when it comes to being scared, I’m as shocked as you are that not one, not two, but three horror films made my top ten list (in the case of ‘It Comes at Night, horror-ish films), but here we are.
Andy Muschetti’s adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘It’ is the most pure horror film to make this list. ‘Get Out’ has a wicked sense of humor that takes the bite out of some of the horror, ‘It Comes at Night’ may feature some horrific imagery, but ultimately it preys on your nerves rather than your fears. Pennywise, the dreadful dancing clown and antagonist of ‘It’, is your fears; every last one of them.
The ninth Skarsgard brother, Bill (I may be exaggerating, but c’mon, they’re basically the Norwegian version of the Wayans brothers), is the one that ultimately realizes Pennywise, and his performance is one of the strongest of the year (I’m kind of actually shocked it hasn’t been talked about more in critical circles). His Pennywise is the most memorable killer clown since Heath Ledger’s Joker, and a huge step up from Tim Curry’s performance in the ‘It’ television mini-series from the 90’s (I’m not knocking Curry by the way. He did what he could on a television budget, but we’re in the big leagues now and Skarsgard does his thing).
Aiding Skarsgard’s performance greatly is the artistry from Muschetti. Rather than tread over worn horror movie tropes (though, admittedly, there are some of those in the film) Muschetti throws out the playbook and follows a different path. Instead of shrouding the subject of his scares in shadow, Muschetti shines a light on them, often to the point of recklessness. I marveled at one scene in particular: one that involved one of our child protagonists confronting a leper in broad daylight. The makeup effects were so obvious, the distortions to the leper’s body so cartoonish, that it shouldn’t have worked, but the sheer ridiculousness of the situation, and Muschetti’s claustrophobic camera sold the scare.
By the author’s own admission, Stephen King’s work is exceptionally difficult to adapt to the big screen (see the ‘Children of the Corn’ excerpt from his book ‘Stephen King Goes to the Movies’ to back that factoid up), but Muschetti hit it out of the park with ‘It’. Rather than rely on gore and cheap jump scares to entertain his audience, the Spanish director actually took the time to develop his characters, so that when the horror starts, it’s even more terrifying because we’re concerned for the band of misfits the film focuses on. Upon its release I didn’t think ‘It’ would hold up against the likes of ‘Get Out’ and ‘It Comes at Night’, and though I haven’t seen it since that initial viewing in the theater, it is the film that stands out most in my memory, leaving me with little choice but to put it ahead of the other two.
Speaking as an admitted novice to the genre, ‘It’ might just be the best (contemporary) horror film I’ve ever seen.
5: JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2
Yeah, this will probably be the only top ten list you see that features ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’, but I’m a sucker for good action movies, and for pure, straight up action it didn’t get any better than John Wick in 2017.
Former stuntman turned director Chad Stahelski goes it alone for the sequel to the original John Wick, following the departure of his co-director on that film, David Leitch (Leitch went on to direct his own film ‘Atomic Blonde’, a film that, unfortunately, may or may not turn up on this list’s less desirable companion piece). The more singular vision serves Chapter 2 very well, resulting in a sequel that’s actually better than the original (I was initially going to write “rare sequel that’s better than the original”, but c’mon, there are plenty of sequels that are better than their original films).
One of the strongest aspects of the first ‘John Wick’ was the living breathing world it built around its revenge narrative. One of the strongest aspects of ‘Chapter 2’ is its expansion of that world. Rather than simply repeat what the first film did, Stahelski just takes us deeper, bringing new aspects like the High Table and the Bowery King into the fold in an organic way (the Bowery King being a welcome addition despite Laurence Fishburne’s occasional penchant for overacting).
With that said, don’t think that the film’s solely about world building. Sure we get a couple of expositional scenes near the beginning of the film that set the table, but once Keanu Reeve’s Wick starts killing, he doesn’t stop. The sheer amount of mayhem in the movie rivals that of George Miller’s ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, and I can’t think of a more able and athletic fifty something actor than Reeves to carry the picture (Tom Cruise comes close, but ultimately he falls just short… get it… because he’s only 5’ 7’’? Never mind).
Every action set piece in the film is relentless. Many filmgoers and critics have even gone so far as to claim the film is repetitive, and to those naysayers I say this, “Yeah— that’s why it’s awesome”. Think of ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ as a musical, only, instead of dance sequences it’s Keanu Reeves murdering the fuck out of people. The action IS the art, and when it comes to action Stahelski is Michelangelo and Reeves is his David.
Oh, and Stahelski manages to fit in my favorite final scene of a film since Reeve’s last great ending in ‘The Matrix: Reloaded’.
P.S. I like cliffhangers (The Empire Strikes Back, Back to the Future: Part 2, The Dark Knight, etc.)
P.P.S. I’m not defending the ‘Matrix’ sequels, I’m just saying the second one had a damn good ending.
P.P.S. Even so, the ‘Matrix’ sequels really are underrated.
4: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOLUME 2
‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2’ came in at number one on my ‘Best of the Year So Far’ list back in June. It’s also my favorite comic book movie to come out all year. That’s saying something considering 2017 was filled to the brim with excellent comic book pictures. (I’m sure that many reading this think I’m crazy for putting it ahead of ‘Logan’, but if you look back on that review (https://nerdonfilm.com/blog/2017/3/8/logan?rq=logan) I outline some of the problems I had that kept that film from even making this list).
James Gunn’s sequel follows the 2014 original, bringing back that film’s irreverent sense of humor, but avoiding the mistake of repeating it’s plot structure (something many sequels fall victim to; even the good ones). In fact, ‘GOTG Vol. 2’s’ unique structure is one of the reasons I adored the movie as much as I did. Most adventure films follow a standard pattern, but ‘Volume 2’ thrusts us directly into the action following an enticing prologue, then introduces us to Ego’s planet; a location that basically serves as a sort of hub for the plot, where Gunn sets up and develops several sub-narratives, before bringing them together for the expected, but no less entertaining, bombastic climax. It’s an approach I was surprised to see in a mainstream studio film, but at this point that’s basically what Marvel and Disney do— take insane risks with profitable franchises that other studios would be too timid to even attempt.
Gunn uses the film’s relatively patient pace (for a comic book movie) to delve deeper into his character’s relationships. Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord works out his daddy issues, Gamora and Nebula sort out the wounds of sisterhood, and Rocket learns how to allow others to get close. It’s apparent that Gunn has a deep love for the subjects of his film. It helps the characters to feel like real people (er, aliens in some cases), rather than simple action movie cliches.
While I get the distinct impression that I’m alone in my appreciation for the film, I stand by it. Many will write off ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2’ as a subpar effort, but I think it stands above Gunn’s original movie. Don’t get me wrong: I love that film as well, it holds within it all the energy of a new romance, but ‘Vol. 2’ carries the depth of feeling you can only achieve after knowing someone for awhile (that concludes this awkward analogy).
3: BLADE RUNNER: 2049
‘Blade Runner: 2049’ was my most anticipated film of 2017. As the film’s release drew near, I feared that there was no way the film could possibly live up to the high expectations I had for it (something I try to tamp down as an amateur film critic). Fortunately, ‘2049’ didn’t disappoint, and the result was a film that almost took the top spot on this list (that’s how close the final three films are in regards to my… er, regard for them).
Denis Villaneuve’s sequel comes thirty-five years after Ridley Scott’s original (possibly the longest gap between an original film and its sequel. I don’t know, I’m too lazy to Google it). Despite the chasm between the two films and the two very different perspectives of the directors, ‘2049’ feels like a natural continuation of the original movie; only with the added benefit of incorporating the extended timeframe between films into the narrative.
‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ delved deeper into the world of the original film, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2’ delved deeper into its characters, ‘2049’ chose to focus on an entirely new set of characters; characters that stumble upon a mystery that conveniently ties itself to the developments of the first film. The mystery in question opens up a whole new can of worms that help the film to explore the themes of the original and its comments on racial dynamics and discrimination even further.
Much to my chagrin, ‘Blade Runner: 2049’ didn’t get the attention it deserved at the box office. At the time I was irritated that mainstream audiences weren’t receptive to Villenevue’s continuation of Ridley Scott’s vision of the future. Now I’m kind of relieved. With the film’s lukewarm reception, it’s practically guaranteed that the film’s studio, Warner Bros., won’t attempt to make another sequel. As it stands, the ‘Blade Runner’ franchise is two for two, and that’s just fine with me; especially considering the fact that I initially felt that Scott’s original film (well, the final version of his original film) shouldn’t be touched in the first place.
2: BABY DRIVER
‘Baby Driver’ is getting a lot of love on the various ‘Best Of’ lists I’ve been following— but it’s not getting enough love dammit! While I was definitely impressed with it on my initial viewing, the film has only improved every time I’ve watched it, and I’ve watched it a whole hell of a lot. Like Edgar Wright’s earlier film ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’, ‘Baby Driver’ is so dense, packed so tightly with various visual easter eggs, and so inventive that I’m almost positive I’ll be finding something new in it for years to come.
As far as I know, it’s cinema’s first ever car chase musical. Nearly everything that happens in this movie is choreographed to Wright’s excellent, handpicked soundtrack. A soundtrack that ranges from everything to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s rocking ‘Bellbottoms’ to picks as odd as ‘Egyptian Reggae’ and ‘Tequila’.
To go along with Wright’s visual and aural mastery, he also rounds his film out with an un-matchable cast. Relative newcomer Ansel Elgort proves himself to be a promising talent as the film’s protagonist, even though he shares the screen with some of the titans of modern cinema. Not only does ‘Baby Driver’ feature the likes of the impossibly handsome Jon Hamm, the impossibly badass Jon Bernthal, and the impossibly lovely Lily James, but the movie’s very nearly stolen by the impossibly talented Jamie Foxx. Oh, and let’s not forget an excellent Kevin Spacey, prior to the world realizing what a horrible pedophilic monster he is! (Is the guy a creep? Absolutely. Does that mean he was bad at his job? No— especially not in this movie. Does that mean he should ever work again? Absolutely not— fuck him).
I’m gonna be honest, ‘Baby Driver’ easily could’ve made the number one spot on this list, but… there is another. Sure, depending on my mood this film’s place may shift ahead, but as of this writing there’s only one film I feel comfortable putting ahead of it. That film is…
1: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
I don’t clap at movies. I think it’s dumb. In fact, I tend to get annoyed when other people do. This isn’t a play; we’re not sitting in front of actors on a stage; no one who made the film can hear you.
I clapped during this movie— I couldn’t help myself.
‘Brick’ and ‘Looper’ director Rian Johnson’s ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ is a near flawless film. Not only is it the best film of 2017, it’s also the best film in the ‘Star Wars’ series. Yes, I’m including the original trilogy.
Let me be clear: I don’t type this lightly. I’ve been a fan of the series since I was ten years old and saw the re-releases in the theater. I had my brain blown out the back of my skull when it was revealed that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father in ‘Empire Strikes Back’ (nobody told me). So when I say ‘The Last Jedi’ is the best film in the series, I truly mean it.
Now, is this film divisive? Sure. There are people out there that don’t like the film because it features a female protagonist and prominent female figures. There are people out there that don’t like the fact that it features minority actors in prominent roles. There are die hard fans that weren’t going to like the film regardless. Yes, there are even contingents of people that don’t like the movie because they actually simply don’t like it.
Those people are wrong.
‘The Last Jedi’ is a bold film. A film that pays its respects to what came before, but kindly, yet firmly declares, “Eh, I’m gonna do my own thing.”
When JJ Abrams’ ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ hit theaters two years ago, the major complaint levied at that film was that it was basically a retread of George Lucas’ original, ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’. It was a fair criticism. One that ‘TLJ’ helmer Rian Johnson clearly took to heart.
‘The Last Jedi’ is the first ‘Star Wars’ film in ages that doesn’t feel like it was made by committee. There’s a singular voice at play throughout the film and everything about the movie feels as if it were carefully crafted by a lifelong fan; because it was. Johnson obviously loves these characters and the films that realized them, but he’s not slavish to them. He could’ve followed in JJ’s footsteps and towed the line, but he didn’t. Instead he pushed the series forward; killing characters you wouldn’t expect him to kill (Snoke), saving characters you expected to die (Princess Leia; Carrie Fisher rest in peace), and having his protagonists fail when they should succeed (Finn and Rose).
The film also managed to improve on aspects of the previous movie. Johnson fully realized Poe Dameron; a character ‘The Force Awakens’ shirked off. He paid off the film’s cliffhanger ending in a shocking and irreverent manner. He even managed to contextualize Kylo Ren’s motivations; transforming him from a Darth Vader wannabe to his own brutal antagonist.
In short, Rian Johnson made that rare mainstream blockbuster that managed to surprise on almost every level. And if we want to get to the root of the film’s divisive nature, that’s where it lies. It wasn’t what we were used to seeing, and anytime that happens there’s almost always an immediate backlash. Eventually cooler heads will prevail and mainstream audiences will realize just how special this film truly is. Until then ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ will remain, not only the best film of 2017, but also one of its most under appreciated ones.
There they are, my picks for the ten best films of 2017. I know this list was a little long in the tooth, but I absolutely had to gush about the one thing from last year that didn’t make me want to crawl into the fetal position— the movies. If you enjoyed the list, please be sure to comment on this site or on my social media pages, and let me know what films you agree with; what films you disagree with (unless it’s ‘The Last Jedi’ (again, you’re wrong)), and your picks for the best of the year. Also, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for my worst of 2017 list which should be coming hot on the heels of this one. I’ve praised the films that should be praised, now I’m going to condemn the ones that stole precious hours of my time. I’ll see you there.
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