As another year comes to a close, it’s time to look back on the best films of these last 12 months. As usual, there were a number of big awards films that made the list, while there were a few earning big praise that I merely thought were decent ("The Shape of Water," "The Post," "Lady Bird"), but not particularly top ten material. However, there were still plenty of great films to choose from, and I think it's fair to say that the following list shows just how amazing a year of cinema 2017 was, so let's get right to it.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – In a year that saw superhero films range from decent (“Logan”) to “meh” (“Wonder Woman”) to downright awful (“Justice League”), it comes as no surprise that Marvel Studios once again flew to the top of the heap with James Gunn’s highly-anticipated sequel “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” Taking what was so great about the original film, Gunn builds upon the fascinating characters, delving into Peter Quill’s past and his relationship with his father, while still giving fans exactly what they’ve come to expect from this group of heroes: plenty of intense action, a hefty dose of humor, and one of the best soundtracks you’re likely to hear all year. Trying to make a sequel that was going to be as good or feel as fresh as the original “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a near-impossible task, but Gunn has managed to deliver a film that’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch, while also giving it depth and heart to spare, showing exactly why this continues to be the very best franchise Marvel has to offer.
9. The Disaster Artist – This was a project that piqued my interest from the second I heard it announced. A film about the making of what many consider to be the worst film of all time (i.e. Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room”), based on the book by Greg Sestero? How could this not be absolutely incredible, especially with James Franco taking on the role of Wiseau himself? What unfolds is a hilarious, touching, and riveting exploration of the creative process, all complete with a message of never giving up on your dream, no matter how ludicrous it is (or, in Tommy’s case, how ludicrous it becomes). Driven by Franco’s excellent performance, this is a film that will delight fans of “The Room,” while providing great entertainment to those who’ve never even heard of it before (and will undoubtedly make them want to check it out to experience its strangeness for themselves).
8. Blade of the Immortal – This will surely be the one major “Huh?” entry on the list as it’s doubtful most of you reading this have ever even heard of it. However, you may have heard of the film’s legendary director: Takashi Miike, the man who gave us such classics as “Audition,” “Ichi the Killer,” and my personal favorite, “13 Assassins.” Miike returns to the samurai genre to deliver an incredible adventure about an immortal swordsman who agrees to help a young girl avenge the murder of her parents. This 140-minute adventure may be a little on the lengthy side, and has its share of lax portions, but it more than makes up for it with its compelling story and wild spectacle. The opening battle provides just a small taste of what’s to come, specifically when it comes to the absolutely insane climax, which will have you on the edge of your seat with excitement. If you’re a fan of samurai films, or of thrilling adventures in general, “Blade of the Immortal” is sure to satisfy.
7. Baby Driver – When Edgar Wright’s “The World’s End” was released, I was a little disappointed to find that the film had been a bit of a letdown, especially after how incredible his previous works (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) had been. However, four years later, Wright has come back strong with his latest project, “Baby Driver.” The premise is rather simple. A young man named Baby drives cars for robbers and gets a cut of the profits, while paying back the main boss for having stolen some merchandise prior to the events of the film. Baby eventually falls in love with a waitress and simply wants to run away with her, but, of course, he gets forced into doing once last job. The narrative may be a little light, but like “Blade of the Immortal,” “Baby Driver” more than makes up for it with astonishing spectacle that includes insane car/foot chases and other various thrilling stunts, and that’s not to mention a pretty sweet soundtrack to accompany the wild ride. Adrenaline fans will get a kick out of it. Music fans will adore it. Everyone else will just be flat-out entertained by the sheer entertainment value it offers.
6. Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 – At this point, I’m forced to conclude that hardly anyone has bothered to watch John Ridley’s incredible documentary about the events leading up to the L.A. riots of 1992, primarily because it has scarcely been mentioned at all throughout the awards race thus far. So rarely is a documentary this riveting, making a nearly two and a half hour runtime fly by as though it were just a few minutes. Ridley includes a multitude of interviews with the people involved, including police officers, rioters, bystanders, and politicians, weaving the story together from multiple angles in an effort to get the whole truth about what happened during these tumultuous events. Even if you think you know the whole story, “Let It Fall” is most definitely worth seeing just to hear it from those who lived it.
5. I, Tonya – Who would’ve thought that someone would be able to make a film about the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan incident and have it be this funny, compelling, and entertaining? Somehow that’s exactly what screenwriter Steven Rogers and director Craig Gillespie managed to do, along with an incredible ensemble headed by Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, and Sebastian Stan. Everyone is in top form here as we see the events leading up to and including “the attack,” as well as the aftermath. The film is supposedly based on real interviews, though one has to imagine that Rogers took at least a little artistic license when putting together this whacky telling of the tale. Then again, maybe this is exactly how the entire affair went down. As they say, “Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.”
4. Molly’s Game – As far as I’m concerned, whenever Aaron Sorkin writes another screenplay, it’s a cause for celebration. When I heard he was not only writing, but also directing, his latest feature, it easily became one of my most anticipated films of the year, even more so when I heard that Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba were attached to star. In typical Sorkinian fashion, the dialogue is rapid-fire and right on point, making for a number of riveting conversations as the wild story of Molly Bloom and her poker games unfolds. Bouncing back and forth between the present and the past, Sorkin relays the story with his trademark gusto, making for a highly-entertaining film that, as his works usually do, flies by like no time has passed at all. Chastain is in top form here as the titular Molly, as is Elba as the lawyer trying to get her out of this sticky situation (in addition to a fantastic supporting turn from Kevin Costner as her father). This is another real-life story (based on Bloom’s book) where you have to wonder if there were a few additions from Sorkin, or if everything really happened as shown. Either way, the film is a whirlwind trip through these intriguing events, one that is sure to delight any fan of great writing and performances.
3. Star Wars: The Last Jedi – I’m just as surprised as you are to find this on here. I went into Rian Johnson’s film with somewhat low expectations after being only mildly satisfied with J.J. Abrams’ previous entry (which had basically been a remake of “A New Hope”), so I was completely shocked to find that what Johnson had done was to make a big, bold, and incredibly ambitious entry that pushed boundaries and took many risks. Luckily for all of us, the gamble paid off, resulting in not only the best “Star Wars” film to come along in quite some time, but also one of the very best films of 2017. Johnson manages to take the large cast of characters (Rey, Luke, Leia, Finn, Poe, Kylo Ren, etc.) and give each of them their due, treating each of them with reverence, and showing us that he cares deeply about them, demonstrated most prominently by his emotionally-rich narratives. His deft mixture of heart, humor, action, and above all, originality provides a deeply moving and thrilling experience, one that will hopefully light the way for the franchise’s future.
2. Call Me by Your Name – Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me by Your Name” starts off as a very unsuspecting film, but what blossoms from this deceptively simple tale of a man staying with a family in Italy in order to assist a professor soon blossoms into one of the most deeply-felt romances of the last few years. A relationship forms between the man (Oliver) and the Professor’s 17-year-old son (Elio), changing both of their lives over the course of the summer in 1983. Young Timothee Chalamet is brilliant as Elio, who doesn’t quite know how to handle the new relationship, and yet, finds himself wanting to spend as much time with Oliver as possible. Armie Hammer gives an equally wonderful performance as Oliver (and that’s not to mention a fantastic supporting turn from Michael Stuhlbarg as the Professor). Featuring an excellent screenplay from James Ivory, this is a very heartfelt film that expertly weaves the emotional threads of the relationship between these two individuals together, making for a purely delightful film about young love and the intense impact it can have.
1. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri – Writer/director Martin McDonagh, who brought us the brilliant black comedy “In Bruges,” stumbled a little bit with his follow-up feature “Seven Psychopaths,” but made a brilliant return this year with the darkly-humorous “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri.” The film is a marvelous showcase of outstanding writing, directing, and acting, featuring what is easily the best ensemble of the year. Frances McDormand dominates the film with her incredible performance as a woman trying to get justice for the murder of her daughter by setting up billboards aimed at the local police chief, played by the always-amazing Woody Harrelson. Top that off with excellent supporting turns from Sam Rockwell (who will undoubtedly earn his first long-overdue Oscar nod, and possibly his first win), John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Zeljko Ivanek, and Lucas Hedges, in addition to a sharply-written screenplay, and you get a film that will make you laugh, while tugging at your heartstrings at the same time. From the first time I saw it about a month ago, there seemed little doubt that nothing would be able to top it, and nothing ever did, leaving McDonagh’s latest opus as the very best film of 2017.