After publishing my list on the Worst Hit Singles of 2017, I set up a poll on Twitter to decide which 2017-themed list I should work on next. While I didn’t get too many votes, nearly half of the votes I did get suggested that I should talk about my favorite films of the year. It makes sense, since my social media persona and this website itself did start off as being mainly film-oriented. From about 2010-2015, I watched hundreds and hundreds of films per year, eager to discover stuff from as many different filmmakers, genres, countries, and eras as possible. Some things have changed since then, mainly that I’ve now got a full-time job and my interests currently lie more in music than movies, hence the total shift in direction this site has gotten. I want to be clear, though: I love movies. There are few things in the world I love more than movies. And even when life pulls me away from the silver screen for a little while – as it has been doing as of late – the desire to watch as many films as possible has never left, and the rush I get from sitting in a movie theater or starting up my own flick at home is as exhilarating as when I fell in love with the medium all those years ago.
So, here we are now. Listing off some of my favorite releases from the past year. I’ve got to be honest, though: compared to some years in the recent past, I haven’t watched nearly as much as I would have liked to. In some ways, this is for the better, as it means I am able to prioritize the stuff I really want to watch, as well as emphasize releases by women and filmmakers of color. In other words, expect some more offbeat stuff to appear here, the kind of stuff that probably won’t be found in other “best films of 2017” lists out there. Even though I used to make these lists as a countdown from 25 to 1, this time it will just be an unranked collection of the films that I consider some of the strongest and most memorable of the year. The reasons for this are two-fold: 1) there are several strong contenders for this list that I still haven’t watched yet and would like to potentially add here when I get to them; and 2) I always find that, after looking back on these ranked lists after some time has passed, I tend to regret some of the choices I made in placing certain films above or below others. 2017 was weird for a number of reasons, so I’d like to alleviate some of the pressure in ranking these films, if only for my own sake.
So here we go: my UNRANKED TOP FILMS OF 2017
I’ll start this one off with a pretty obvious pick. Get Out, is one of the sharpest, funniest, realest depictions of what it means to be a person of color in America. After first watching the trailer in late 2016, it quickly became my most anticipated film of 2017. Even though it’s been almost a whole year since I watched the film (I’m so overdue for a rewatch!), there are so many moments from this that seem to be absolutely seared into my brain. Though Jordan Peele primarily has a background in comedy and there are quite a few effectively comedic moments in Get Out, at its core it is a horror film and certainly one of the scariest I have come across in recent years. The many different angles of white America’s relationship with its Black citizens (from appropriation, to aggression, to incarceration) is all presented here in clear, unflinching detail. Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, and Betty Gabriel all give exceptional performances, helping to make this a film of genuine substance and relevancy, instead of the jump-scare laden mess that too many horror films of the day tend to be. It’s an instant classic for sure, and the kind of film that will only become all the more important with the passing of time.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Logan Lucky; for the most part, Soderbergh tends to be very hit-or-miss for me. Nonetheless, I am falling more and more in love with Channing Tatum with each passing day, and it didn’t hurt that Riley Keough is in this one as well! Turns out, though, that this is actually a pretty sharp, funny, overall well-executed heist film and I wasn’t bored for a single second. Even though the film primarily features culture that could only really be attributed to the white American South – NASCAR, primarily – it does a brilliant job at lampooning this very same culture while it weaves in and out the action of the story. It also doesn’t hurt that there’s a really sweet family-centric story at its core, which always pulls me in. To top it all off, it’s got perhaps my favorite usage of John Denver’s music in 2017 movies (yes, there were multiple). I’m still relatively lukewarm on Soderbergh, but this is one that I would gladly revisit with time.
In 2017, I made another attempt at the 52 Films By Women challenge I initially completed in 2016 – only this time, my goal was for 100 films by women. In the end, I didn’t succeed with 100, but the 73 I did watch did bring about some pretty interesting gems, both from last year and in others. One of the first I watched in theaters was Kedi, a documentary from Ceyda Torun which examined the life and culture of the cats that freely prowl around the streets of Istanbul. The most amazing aspect of this film is the way it is shot. The scenes that aren’t talking head-style interviews of citizens’ relationships with these cats are filled with shots of recording the felines at eye-level, sometimes on the streets, sometimes on rooftops, and in a bunch of other places. The amount of patience, skill, and dedication it must have taken to pull off a feat is incomprehensible to me, but the filmmakers do so magnificently. We learn about the lives of these creatures, and by the end it’s almost like we’ve befriended the lot of them. It’s such a graceful and loving little film, and I’ve discovered recently that just looking at cats in all their fluffy glory is so soothing to me. I would imagine that its comforting qualities would be true even if it was on mute – it’s that good!
I was totally surprised with how much I actually enjoyed Band Aid, Zoe Lister-Jones’s debut. It’s really nothing more than a silly little comedy about a quarreling couple who decide to form a band with original songs as a form of catharsis. None of the jokes really work, the songs are relatively forgettable, and… yeah, there’s way too much Fred Armisen in here for my liking. But still, I placed it on this list! I just think that there should always be at least a little bit of wiggle room for films that require the least amount of thinking, the kind of film that one could put on to watch in their pajamas and just feel warm, cozy, and comfy while doing so. Arguably, there are other films later in this list that could more better fit this definition – but fuck it, this was cute! Also, this movie was shot with an all-female crew, a fact that was used for probably little more than mere publicity cred, but is still very important.
Okay, so Atomic Blonde may not have been among the absolute greatest of the year. Still, it hits a lot of buttons for me, as far as things I love seeing in stylish action movies. Timely historical metaphors? Check. Kickass ladies with guns? Check. Awesome lighting? Check. Even more awesome usage of contemporary pop music? Double check! Sure the direction could be better and the plot holes are gaping – but Charlize Theron is so beautiful and remarkable in this one, I almost don’t even care. Super kudos to the 9-minute single-take staircase action sequence and the apartment fight scene set to the tune of George Michael’s “Father Figure”.
This movie killed me the first time I watched it. In particular, the extended scene of Rooney Mara sitting on the floor eating a pie resonated jarringly – because that’s exactly how I eat when I’m overcome with depression (when I do eat). Simply put, A Ghost Story is a film about the crippling, sudden loss of a loved one – the nameless shock when hit with the fact that they are “gone”, the ramifications at what this may mean, and (most painfully) the process of letting go and moving on. Sure, it’s so very languid and slow-paced, with moments that don’t seem to fit in quite so well with much of its major themes and messages. For these reasons, I still need to ponder this one a bit – I definitely need a second viewing, that’s for sure. At its greatest moments, though, it really touches upon some of my most concrete feelings of depression and loneliness in ways that few films from 2017 really have. And yes, I am sidestepping the elephant in the room (or shall I say, the sheet-ghost in the room) for reasons that I hope are pretty clear. I really can’t help but be so moved by this dreary little film.
Early last year, I got a promotion in my theater job and transferred to one that is profoundly different, not just in size and in the work environment, but also in the types of films they would play. The most significant difference between the two – which I would soon be pleased to discover – is that this theater plays a lot more films directed by women. In particular, we play a good number of independently-funded documentaries, many of which just happen to be directed by women. Of the many of these I watched this past year, one of my absolute favorite would have to be Rumble: the Indians Who Rocked the World. I watched it at a pretty crucial time when I was making the transition to researching and writing about popular music, and this is an excellent supplementary source about musicians of a particular demographic that gets largely ignored in any corresponding discourse. It not only covered some pretty outspoken artists of Native descent (such as Buffy Sainte-Marie and members of the band Redbone), but also some other musicians whose names I either didn’t recognize (Mildred Bailey and Randy Castillo, for example) as well as rather famous musicians who, for various reasons, were obliged to keep their identity hidden, like Jimi Hendrix, Taboo of the Black-Eyed Peas, and Link Wray, whose instrumental “Rumble” is the centerpiece of this loving celebration. This film really opened my eyes to the many ways that indigenous artists are often not given the recognition they deserve and leaves it up to viewers to figure out ways they could emphasize the importance and validity of these folks.
And now for yet another painfully obvious pick. So much has already been said about Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut by so many others who are much better writers and speakers then I am, but I’d like to reiterate the much-spoken fact that Lady Bird is fantastic. I was absolutely taken aback with Saoirse Ronan’s performance in her previous major film Brooklyn, and she once again demonstrates her absolutely electrifying presence as the titular teen clumsily inching toward adulthood. I also couldn’t forget to mention Laurie Metcalf’s staggering contributions, providing the second half to the tumultuous mother-daughter relationship to which so many women can relate. What astounded me even more was how much I connected with the lead character despite how little she and I really had on common on the surface. While Lady Bird/Christine is a white, straight-presenting young woman from Northern California who turned eighteen soon after 9/11, I am a queer Latinx femme from Southern California who turned eighteen at the fringe of the Obama era. Yet there were so many moments here that I related to on such a deep level, especially with scenes dedicated to her relationships with others – friends, family, boyfriends. That’s not even touching upon the ramifications of her growing up in a Catholic environment, which notoriously prohibits the freedom of expression of women; these parts, I know all too well. One day, I’ll write more about how much of a spiritual connection I felt for this film. For now, though, I’d be pretty confident in stating this to be my favorite film of the year – at least for now.
The first time I watched Girls Trip was in a theater that was about a quarter-full of mostly Black and Latina women, the former of which is definitely this film’s target audience. This particular viewing is probably one of my favorite theater-going experiences I’ve ever had. All of the absurd, vulgar slapstick humor strewn generously throughout was met with loud, uproarious laughter from the audience. The scenes where the protagonist’s husband asks for forgiveness for his wrongdoings were met with a flurry of vocal reactions from numerous individuals in the theater (“*sigh* Girl, no… don’t you do it…”). I usually dislike talking during films, but for this particular film with this particular audience, it was perfect. Even though I was sitting alone, I soon found myself joining along… which brings us to the theme that runs front and center in this otherwise pretty raunchy comedy: solidarity. Despite all the jokes about dicks and vaginas, at its core it’s a film about Black women and for Black women, and it’s so loving in its call for girl friends to stick together in spite of what might threaten to pull them apart. The second time I watched this was with my partner, and I laughed just as much as I did the first time, giving me hope that this could actually be the one dirty comedy in a million to stand the test of time. All four leading ladies are terrific, but my favorite performance is, of course, Tiffany Haddish. I am so happy that she has lately been getting the recognition she so rightfully deserves; her fiery presence is so sorely needed in trying times as these.
I am such a huge fan of animation, but this past year has been pretty miserable in terms of the output of American animation (with notable exception). It seems that Japanese animation, as always, seems to be the saving grace in that category, even though I’ve admittedly seen very little from 2017 – but I’m catching up! For now, I’ll further emphasize the amazingness of Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name., which finally made its way to a theater in my area early last year. I definitely need to watch it a second time to truly digest what the hell is going on here, but I can honestly say that it was the first film I saw last year that had me fully engrossed throughout every second and left me speechless by the end. The animation is beautiful and the body-swap/time-travel narratives are some of the most unique and original takes on the ideas I’ve seen in sci-fi. Once again, there’s not much else I can say with much confidence at this juncture, but I’d urge any and all fellow animation freaks to check this one out – if you haven’t already, that is.
Emily Dickinson is frankly not among my favorite poets of all time, as she is with so many others, but the mythos surrounding her life (and her death) has always been pretty fascinating to read about – if only to attempt to grasp on how lonely she must have been. Thankfully, A Quiet Passion seems to refuse the temptation to canonize her as some sort of gothic martyr of sadness and instead humanize her is such inexplicably beautiful ways. Like all Terence Davies films, every shot of this is breathtaking, but even more importantly this does not take the typical biopic route that one would expect with being “the Emily Dickinson movie”. Each scene is played out moment by moment, and brilliantly so. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the film is also quite funny, echoing the sly bits of humor that Dickinson herself often incorporated in her own writing from time to time. But in the end, the heart of this movie lies with Cynthia Nixon’s sympathetic portrayal of the troubled poet, in a performance that will gladly put this film in the books as one of the best demonstrations of how pull someone from a mythic perspective and carefully build them up, piece by piece, into a multi-dimensional human being.
The most common complaint I’ve heard about Landline, Gillian Robespierre’s sophomore film, is that it does not quite measure up to the brilliance of her debut Obvious Child. While it’s definitely true that Landline is less subversive and experimental than its predecessor and relies on more formulaic narrative turns, I also think that the push for women directors these days (more than ever before) also, unfortunately, puts a lot more pressure on women to never make a bad or even average film. There’s still so much bias against female filmmakers, who often get so much more flak for not making a critical darling, much of which even ends careers. I for one found very little to dislike about Landline. My crush on Jenny Slate grows all the more stronger here, but also great is Abby Quinn in her debut role as her rebellious teenage sister. The relationship between the two sisters, alongside their own struggles with their parents and Slate’s significant other, creates some of my most favorite dimensional dynamics in film this year. Besides being very funny, though, this film also has a lot of heart and heartbreak. There was a scene somewhere in the final third that hit particularly close to home; although I wish I would have watched this film in theaters, I also had had the privilege of rewinding this same scene four or five times and sobbing throughout. And sure, once again, Obvious Child is obviously the better film of the two, but the strength of Landline as its own standalone film just further convinces me to not totally write off Robespierre just yet.
Okay, so I didn’t quite love Eliza Hittman’s debut feature It Felt Like Love as much as others seemed to… but Beach Rats has now become the film to convince me to keep her on my radar. This is an absolutely staggering portrayal of a young man coming to terms with his queer sexuality amongst a toxic environment of hypermasculinity, further stretching upon It Felt Like Love‘s main theme of the darkness surrounding coming-of-age narratives. Harris Dickinson gives a terrific lead performance, and the photography throughout this one is stunningly gritty, bitter reminders of the prejudice always bubbling below the surface of the protagonist’s everyday interactions. I really don’t want to say too much about this one, as I think that this has to taken in with little to no preconceptions. So yeah… hang tight and watch this one.
So, you know how I mentioned when talking about Your Name. that there are notable exceptions to the argument that 2017 animated features were pretty bad? Yep, Coco is the exception. Having been raised in a Mexican-American family, I was honestly pretty wary about how Disney would tackle these many aspects of our culture that they’ve loosely incorporated in their advertising for the film. Thankfully, I was pleased to find that they did them pretty good justice. Besides being probably the most morbid feature in the Pixar canon (the whole film is about death!), there was a plethora of references that called out specifically to Mexican culture, some humorous and others straight-forward. The moment where the grandma takes off her sandal to shoo away some chickens totally spoke to me, as did the side characters explicitly based on Frida Kahlo, Cantinflas, Pedro Infante, and Dolores Del Río, as did all the wonderful history and imagery of Day of the Dead strewn throughout. The cool thing is, though, that these are only the references I recognize – my own grandmother watched this film soon afterwards and loved it, and I’m sure she connected with a bunch of other tidbits that I don’t immediately recognize. The dialogue in this film is peppered with countless colloquialisms distinctly drawn from Mexican-American culture, which further elevates the utmost importance of having brown folks play lead roles in the writing and voice-acting processes. On top of all this, the animation here is just stunning, certainly some of the best I’ve seen from Pixar, a studio already renown for their great-looking films. This is one I’ll be showing my kids, shall I ever have any.
Yeah, it’s true that The Beguiled doesn’t quite hit me as an “instant classic” the way that other films in Sofia Coppola’s catalogue have, such as Lost in Translation or Marie Antoinette. But like her best films, it utilizes the everyday role of girls and young women in such remarkable ways. A ton of praise has been given to Kristen Dunst and Nicole Kidman in their roles, and deservedly so, but I’m especially looking at Elle Fanning and young Oona Laurence for crafting performances for perhaps two of the most interesting characters in the film. Typical of Coppola’s films, the costumes and set designs here are beautiful, fitting the look and feel of the whole picture exceptionally well. I have never seen the 1971 original (and I don’t have much desire to, honestly), but the way that the tension in this film quietly builds and builds to its eventual climax is quite a sight to behold. Once again, I’d hesitate to call this among the filmmaker’s best works, but there’s a whole lot to love here nonetheless.
This is quite possibly the most important film to have come out this year. Sabaah Folayan’s documentary Whose Streets? compiles a large collection of footage taken of the Ferguson riots during the immediate aftermath of Michael Brown’s killing by officer Darren Wilson. Although it’s so tempting to take for granted the large amount of raw video readily available all throughout social media, what is truly fascinating about Whose Streets? is the purely objective stance taken by Folayan, who pretty much just lets the camera do all the talking. From the candid footage of the protests and looting done by the angry citizens of Ferguson, to more up-close and personal interviews with a select number of activists involved in these protests, the perspective is taken from both inside and outside the situation, creating a more nuanced and multidimensional picture of the issue of police violence against Black people. Just as importantly, though, the film also examines the staggering amount of racial and class-based bias so easily peddled by mainstream media’s depiction of the events as they unfold. It urges viewers not to take such representations at face value and, instead, opt for a stance that prioritizes justice and humanization above all else. This, I think, is the most vital aspect of this film, and why the long-form documentation of this part of our history so needs to be preserved for the sake of future generations, as well as our current one.
I really dig Sean Baker as a filmmaker. In his past films, with both Starlet and Tangerine, he takes on the role of a sympathetic outsider, placing subjects whose identities and everyday lived experience is so exponentially different from his. The Florida Project is the first film of his that ventures outside of his usual setting of downtown Los Angeles all the way to the other side of the country; having lived my entire life in California and grown up an hour from L.A., this was new territory for myself as well. What we got was a purely episodic documentation of a collection of broken families and even more broken individuals living in a motel during one of Orlando’s hottest summers. Placed aside the very real struggles of the adults barely scraping by are more innocent, naive scenes of their children befriending one another and going on adventures, usually in places they shouldn’t wander in. Every shot in the film is filled with bright, warm colors, preventing the work as a whole from seeming too grim to handle – and in some moments, it’s certainly needed. We played it at my own movie theater for a couple weeks during the end of its run, and I’m not lying when I say that just glancing at those famous final moments in passing got me a little choked up every single time. Much has been said about Willem Dafoe’s performance (and deservedly so), but I think the real shining beacon here is Brooklynn Prince, who feels so much like any little kid I’ve known and loved throughout my life – making the urge to protect and comfort her all the greater.
All too often, queer love stories get some sort of tragic ending – as if our lives weren’t already fill with enough tragedy as it is. God’s Own Country, however, offers the wonderful alternative of an actual, honest-to-god happy ending. And if that is too much of a spoiler… well, apologies. But let it also be known that the entirety of the story leading up to this conclusion is also just as wonderful. This has probably the least amount of extraneous dialogue of any movie I watched this year, yet the relationship on display here is so raw and real. The shots of the Northern English countryside are just so beautiful, offering a terrific complement to the story of growth and self-discovery and the unexpected love story that lies parallel to it all. I’ve heard this film being compared numerous times to Brokeback Mountain, but it feels so much more real and honest than that film ever felt to me (even before I realized I was queer). Every scene is so sumptuous, yet often highly visceral in its presentation of gay love. This film is just so great and everyone should watch it!
This next film left me practically unable to speak for minutes after the credits finished rolling. A couple years ago, I watched and fell in love with Dee Rees’s debut feature Pariah and have since been anxiously awaiting her follow-up. When Mudbound debuted at Sundance last year to high appraisal, I became even more excited to watch it and it became one of my most anticipated for the year. My theater became one of the few in the country to offer a theatrical run for the film, and I’m so glad I caught it on a big screen as opposed to simply watching it on Netflix in the comfort of my home. The photography in this one is so unbelievably gorgeous, replete with sets and costumes that feel so unique to its time and place. Additionally, the impact of the film’s overarching message was so much stronger than I imagine I’d get from sitting at home in a bright room full of distractions. At its core, Mudbound exposes the hypocrisy of our country’s willingness to accept only a certain kind of people as upstanding citizens and strong military veterans – namely, those that are white men. It is a deeply harrowing portrait of America, and probably one of the best we are gonna get as long as long as capitalism and white supremacy remain the law of the land. Jason Mitchell and Mary J. Blige’s performances are especially exceptional, but the film as a whole is an absolute must-see.
Who would have thought that a movie featuring Kristen Stewart trying on a bunch of fancy, fashionable clothes would turn out to be one of the most terrifying films of the year? One thing’s for sure: Personal Shopper pretty much perfected the art of the on-screen text message technique, one that so many movies have tried before yet so many films could do right. One of the most crucial elements incorporated with this technique here is the art of real-time, which flawlessly melds with the polished aesthetics of iPhone technology and creates a tension that is absolutely effective at being oh so unsettling. Stewart’s performance here is great, further proving that she’s on some kind of artistic peak and is only destined for great things in the near future. Honestly, this is the kind of film that should be seen with as little expectations as possible – I swear you won’t regret it!
As of the date that this post was published, I, Tonya is my most latest viewing of 2017 films I need to catch up on – I just watched it earlier this afternoon! First and foremost, Margot Robbie is absolutely amazing in this one, and it has got to be my favorite performance of hers to date. I was too young to remember “the incident” as it occurred in real life, but I had gotten a pretty skewed interpretation of the events via word-of-mouth and television specials I had consumed through the years. Thus, it was remarkably refreshing to see a perspective that was sympathetic to Tonya Harding’s upbringing and the harmful relationships she had accumulated through the years to bring her to this situation that ended up spiraling way beyond her control. I have yet to really examine as to how true-to-life many of these events are, but one thing is certain: she did not deserve to have her lifeblood stripped away from her so bluntly and mercilessly. In a life so defined by a series of losses and abrasions (often at the hands of others), she found her refuge in a sport that needed her energy, despite what everyone else told her. And that triple axel – my god. In all honesty, this film made me really emotional – I’m not sure if it will hold up through the test of time, but for right now, right now is all that matters.