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The 15 Best Films of 2017

The most important question that any film must ask itself and that any filmgoer must ask themselves is “Why?” Why tell this story in this way? Why did I leave my house to go see this specific story being told? Why did I like that, why did I find that important to my life, why did I keep thinking about it? Why this film, this year?

For 2017, I had a fairly simple criteria. The “why” had to be “Because no one else could tell this story.” I looked for films that felt unique and exceptional. I looked for films that went above and tried to reach beyond what is to what could be. I looked for escapism in fantastic worlds, intense thoughts, and deep emotions. I looked for films to transport me to another world, to another mind. I looked for films that took a swing to land among the stars. These 15 did that.

15) Brigsby Bear

Creativity can and should be an act of kindness. Sharing some part of ourselves with the world around us is both asking for empathy and attempting to provide it. It’s a way of understanding the world and trying to work out our part in it, it’s that core belief that undergirds Brigsby Bear and makes it such a wonderfully remarkable little achievement.

Your mileage will of course depend on how much of writer/star Kyle Mooney’s anti-comedy shtick you can bear. There’s an awkwardness that feels genuine to every part of his interaction, a knowledge of how those truly isolated from society feel trying to interact with it, but it can be painful to watch someone on screen going through those growing pains.

But that’s what works about the film. It understands those growing pains as universal and finds the specificity in its bizarre little alternate world. The titular Brigsby Bear is a work of surprising cleverness and its steady outward growth and development provides a constant delight. It’s also rare that a year can boast two great Mark Hamill performances, but that’s what this film is good enough to give us.

Brigsby Bear is for people who don’t quite fit in anywhere but want to show people where they do.

14) Your Name.

The next Miyazaki is kind of a reductive term in Japanese animation (like calling anyone the next Disney), but let’s just say that I think Makoto Shinkai at least deserves the chance to carve the same path that Miyazaki had.

While he’s well into his career by now (and has made many great piece of animation), Your Name is the first movie that really stands to prove the great future potential of Shinkai. A fully realized and gorgeous work that feels like an old genre (body swap) made wholly original (now that would be telling), you see clearly why this film was the smash in Japan that it was.

It’s a rare accomplishment to write a story that goes from the intimate to the truly epic without ever feeling like it’s taking a wrong step. A tale across space and time that never loses sight of what’s on the ground, the snapshot of a time in your life where every possibility lays before you and you have no idea, where you uncover a world that’s larger than you could ever imagine.

Your Name tells a story we all feel on a scale we could only imagine.

13) Personal Shopper

Grief is an ever-changing process. It is something that no one can move through the same way, that no one has the same experience, but it is something that we must move through.

Personal Shopper shows one process of grief. Yours may not involve texting with a hostile-ish ghost, beautiful designer dresses, or being a medium. But Olivier Assayas’ haunting meditation is deeply recognizable in raw experience, in trying to move past something that has its claws dug into you, how to understand a loss that you haven’t reconciled with.

It helps that it has an all-timer of a performance by Kristen Stewart at its core. It’s important to never forget how much she’s turned her career around since the awkward early-20 something years to develop into one of our finest actresses. There’s an envelopment of the character, an internalization that she moves through in her own specific way to create something dazzling. She’s not creating the character, she is the character.

Personal Shopper moves through grieving in a way that makes us all understand.

12) Logan

America is heading towards collapse. We imagine it’ll look like The Road or maybe Escape from New York, but I know we won’t be that lucky. It’s more horrifying to imagine a world where things get steadily worse, but history keeps moving on. Humanity gets replaced, things get more desperate, the tentacles of control seize us without us knowing, the marginalized are shoved off.

Perhaps that’s the ultimate darkness at the core of Logan that has made it so resonant. James Mangold’s sweaty, fever-dream send-off to Hugh Jackman’s defining character posits a future where technology has increased late-capitalist desperation and where our own prejudice ends up swallowing up society whole. Jackman wears the weight of all that and the decades of violence that he has committed into his best performance, every moment and motion is a new agony informed by old pains.

Yet despite all that sorrow, Logan is at its best in the moments where it slows down. The moments of family, where Logan and Stewart’s Xavier get to just talk or enjoy a moment with Laura, Logan’s ersatz daughter. It’s a movie of atmosphere, willing to wear the weight of generations on its sweat-soaked shoulders.

Logan is a look into a future that we can prevent and a goodbye to the past we can learn from.

11) Colossal

It’s kind of rare that a movie ages well within the year it comes out. But as Hollywood had its dark underbelly turned up, Colossal‘s story of male entitlement and putting the pieces back together loomed larger and larger, much like the monsters contained within its movie.

Now, it is safe to say that no movie handled the Me Too moment (or pre-handled the moment) with more off-kilter wit or fun than Colossal did. Writer/Director Nacho Vigolando reamed a lot of bizarre humor out of Anne Hathaway’s exemplary performance and the increasingly strange situation she finds herself in. He manages to explore the actual sci-fi ramifications (she did technically kill people!) without ever feeling like it’s getting too lost in though, a deft handling of a difficult tone.

It’s that ability to handle tone that becomes more and more important as the film goes on, as Sudekis’ Oscar begins to become a more sinister presence and the film becomes a good v. evil story where one side is every dude who ever said the phrase “ethics in gaming journalism.”

Colossal is a story just a few months ahead of its time that’s funnier and weirder than it has any right to be.

10) Baby Driver

As a resident of Atlanta, I spend SO much time these days watching my city play anything but itself. It’s New York, it’s L.A., it’s Lagos. It’s hard to ignore that the Chinese restaurant that was down the street from me for 3 years has suddenly picked up and moved to Portland, Oregon. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you Edgar Wright for letting Atlanta be fucking Atlanta and showing the whole world why this is the coolest city.

Of course, it helps that the rest of Baby Driver is about as cool as movies get. Edgar Wright has carved a breathless blast of high-energy cinema, slick as a 70s Steve McQueen and singular as 60s French auteur. Baby Driver has every beat of film cut to a perfectly curated soundtrack, every bit of action designed like fine clockwork.

No film this year felt so alive and exciting and like a shot in the arm for popular cinema. Elgort’s Baby is gonna be in the heads of every young film fan getting behind the wheel for the first time.

Baby Driver is the kind of film that makes it a little more dangerous to drive down I-85, blasting “Bellbottoms” and trying not to get caught by the law.

9) The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro probably has done more for my love of film than anyone else. There’s a part of me that will always be the kid meeting him during the promotion for Hellboy in awe and just a little confusion.

But it’s the slow delve into his filmography and his love of monsters that pushed me forward. Del Toro is a filmmaker of supreme empathy, seeing the good and the beautiful in the grotesque. The Shape of Water is in someways the ultimate fulfillment of this, a movie where the outcast and the monster is the object of empathy and the beautiful lover and the man of society is the twisted murderer.

A film borne of a young boy wondering why Creature from the Black Lagoon didn’t end up with the damsel ending up with the monster, The Shape of Water certainly makes some bold choices (including the one you’re wondering about). But the magic of the film is that it helps you understand all of those choices, believe in them, and become enveloped in them.

The Shape of Water believes in the good of monsters and the beauty of their love.


The Worst and, more importantly, THE BEST of 2017, so far

So, as I am the grand arbiter of all things film, I’m officially calling the summer movie season at its close. Alas Logan Lucky, The Glass Castle, or Annabelle: Creation, you’re all part of the fall movie season. However will you survive?

And at the close of summer movie season, we’re essentially halfway through the movie year. I know we’re more than halfway through the calendar year, but trust me, that back half is always as packed as it gets. There’ll end up being things that are Oscar nominees that aren’t even on our radar right now. The worst movie of the year is likely still yet to come (though it’s hard to imagine right now).

But since I’m a fiend for lists, let’s make one, shall we? Let’s give a few check-ins and see where we are, starting with the worst (because it gets the attention) before taking a full celebration of the best.

Bottom 5 Films of 2017 So Far

5) The Dark Tower

Idris Elba

Ahh, The Dark Tower. The best franchise that will never quite be. Based on Stephen King’s series of epic fantasy western Lovecraftian meta-novels, some much smarter studio could have had a new Game of Thrones on its hands. Alas, it was in the hands of Sony and they instead produced a fall flat on its face. A mess of bad studio production, The Dark Tower wastes its actors, murders its pacing, and takes all the material and tosses it out the window for a mid-90s adaptation premise. Any film that features Matthew McConaughey saying “I see you’re still impervious to my magicks” with a straight face has an uphill battle. The Dark Tower doesn’t win it.

4) The Circle


A bland mess of technophobia, I really just feel bad for the people involved here. The Circle is Black Mirror without the brains or heart, an aesthetic rip-off by a huge number of people who should be able to make some better stamp. Staring a pitch-perfect satire of late capitalism in the face, The Circle is content to shake its fist at social media and ultimately end up going nowhere.

3) Transformers: The Last Knight


Look, who the living fuck expects anything out of this franchise at this point? The best Transformers has ever been able to aspire to is Bay’s weird hypercompetencies managing to shine through the material. But when they don’t, it’s the same thing that happens every goddamned time: A mess of story with awful design with a runtime that lasts for aeons.

2) Ghost in the Shell


A pile-up of decisions so bad that you’re more baffled that it ever happened than mad that someone chose to do it. That all said, this is a film that was never going to be great and still manages to enrage far above its station. A messy script, terrible direction, and boring setpieces would sink any movie, but a movie that white-washes like this one does deserves all the ire that can be thrown. When your material is so fertile with intellect, you can’t be this fucking stupid in putting it together.

1) The Book of Henry


Colin Trevorrow is a rare sort of filmmaker, one who in a past era would have perhaps been run out of town after town after the people found out his snake oil elixirs just weren’t working. The Book of Henry is his raw nerve put on screen. Excessively manipulative, baffling in every plot point put on screen, and a masterpiece of inhuman behavior, seemingly put together by a man who’s never met a human but is fairly certain he knows how they work. Fuck this movie.

Colossal is a brilliant movie where the monster is man

For everyone who’s ever knocked a few things over trying to get into bed after that last ill-advised shot, Colossal may stand in all too stark of a reality. A witty and deeply relatable movie that takes its indie movie premise and bends it so far that it runs joyously into originality, Colossal has so much on its mind that perhaps its greatest pleasure is simply seeing the layers here unfold.

Colossal has functionally two separate films (in the best way) unfurl in its runtime. The first is the story of Gloria (Anne Hathaway), an “internet writer” who breaks up with her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens), due to her excessive drinking and party lifestyle after a  and moves back to her small hometown. She reconnects with childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudekis), starts working in Oscar’s bar, and generally tries to get her life together.

During this time, she discovers that at 8:05 every morning, she can take control of a giant monster that manifests itself over Seoul and has generally wrecked up the place. You know, as you do.

In this, the monster becomes a literalizing metaphor for the destructiveness of Gloria’s alcoholism. I mean, that much is obvious, one of the first things you learn about literature is that the monster is always metaphor.

Yet it’s still a potent idea for precisely reasons that Colossal demonstrates. There’s a power in the way it addresses Gloria’s connection to the monster, turning it into the avatar of the lives that she’s wrecked. Writer/Director Nacho Vigolando handles it gracefully, never overblowing or underselling, but equivocating, using the same emotions.

That sense of learning what you did from others later, the hoping that you didn’t cause that much devastation. Vigolando handles these things extremely well, making them connect enough for even the person who’s maybe blacked out once to understand those darker worries of those who fall into the consistent habit.

It also helps that he has Anne Hathaway as Gloria. No stranger to public scorn that seems completely out of her control, Colossal feels personal for her, taking some of that darkness that she has demonstrated a penchant for before (think Rachel Getting Married, wherein she gives one of the finest caustic sniping performances on film) and makes it empathetic, understanding what a rough time of things does to people. Hathaway is phenomenal here, showing off the absolute and total performative control that makes her an actress worth talking about.

That’s movie #1. A “person needs to get stuff together in their hometown” movie that plays so effectively because it isn’t just that. It’s a genre picture that takes that tropes and uses the power of monster as metaphor to give a special punch, a sickening literalization that puts things together in their fullness.

Now, I want to discuss the rest of this movie, but understand that doing so means that I’m spoiling the biggest surprises this movie has to offer. My review isn’t complete without it. So, I’m going to put the trailer here and a recommendation. Colossal is a brilliant, pitch-perfectly put together piece of genre fiction, and is absolutely worth your time. Now, go see it, and then continue below.

Movie #2 is something that has its seeds first sown in the first half. Sudekis’ Oscar seems just a little too aggressively nice. He keeps trying to insert himself into her life, helping her out, being a nice guy. He’s got great friends, but you notice that he won’t stop pushing and pulling them, the ringleader of the group.

Then, one fateful morning, Oscar finds out that he too manifests in Seoul, as a giant robot. There’s a certain perverse joy he takes in that power, as he realizes he can use it to control Gloria, who needs him less and less as she’s getting her demons under control. And as he starts to let his rage and his desire to control come out more and more.

Yes, the real monster here? “Nice guys.”

We know them, those guys who fake kindness to expect returns. Vigolando has made Colossal an all too-modern metaphor, living with the particular phenomenons made apparent by technology and the 21st century. Colossal is not an “internet movie,” but there’s an understanding of what it’s like to live with the people it’s created and enabled.

Colossal has an understanding of masculine rage, of a specific kind of man who’s toxic to his own relationships and the relationships of others. Vigolando here has created a monster movie that effectively gets at how we can be the smallest monsters, of control and abuse and the entitlement to others.

Much of that is from Sudekis, who inverts his nice-guy persona and takes a far far more active role in the second-half. He uses his natural affableness and aloofness and turns it into a dark disconnect with humanity. He makes the slide so perfectly and lays the groundwork so well that it makes you look at him a little differently. That’s a performance.

With Colossal, it ultimately comes down to how incredibly well it tells the stories it tries to sell. Vigolando is a master of tone, wielding his control at every step and letting the story dance along the ridiculousness and the seriousness inherent in the premise. It’s told with such a casual hand that its more serious moments snap all the more into focus. Every element is wedded perfectly to its aims.

Colossal is simply great filmmaking, relevant and thoughtful and eminently enjoyable at every step. Vigolando took on a lot and here it absolutely all snaps into brilliant focus, a story of pain and rage and personal redemption with giant monsters. What more could you want?

Grade: A

A Preview of The Fall Season (Based on the Festivals)

That’s right, it’s every film lover’s favorite time of year. FESTIVAL SEASON. When a whole bunch of people descend on random areas of the world (Toronto, Colorado, Venice, Tribeca) and start to get a look at the movies of prestige. Those that are gonna be in the critical and awards conversations for the end of the year, and that I’m not gonna shut up about. So, let’s prepare for the movies I might be breathing down your neck about seeing, might be flippantly dismissing.


The latest from Sicario director Denis Villenueve, this Amy Adams-starring alien invasion thriller seeks to pitch things in a different way. Amy Adams plays a linguist tasked with figuring out how to communicate with the aliens so that we don’t start a war to end our planet. Early reviews indicate this one is as smart and tightly-shot, but has the depth and surprising emotional connection that was missing in the previous suffocatingly-tense thriller Sicario, which is what may have kept me from loving that one.

Worth thinking about if you like: Sicario, Interstellar, that linguistics class in college



Do you weirdly hate Anne Hathaway? What’s wrong with you? Well, if you do, watch a movie where she hates herself too, and also may be linked mentally to a giant rampaging legally-distinct-from-but-basically-Godzilla on the other side of the world. Director Nacho Vigolando is promising a film about a difficult woman having troubles and dealing with them in the most sci-fi-twisty of ways. Also starring Jason Sudekis and Dan Stevens, early word has been mixed, with some praising the bold weirdness and Hathaway’s performance and others claiming the film doesn’t quite meet its goals. Either way, worth a look.

Worth thinking about if you like: Godzilla (2014), Rachel Getting Married, the surprisingly rare genre of films mixing indie beautiful people angst and giant monsters.

Free Fire

From Ben Wheatley, director of this year’s measured film of chaos High-Rise, comes decidedly less measured chaos. An arms deal gone wrong is an excuse for the premise of a bunch of great actors (and Sharlto Copley) to put on 70s leisure suits and shoot the hell out of each other. Early word suggests that the movie may not be much more than that, but also that you may not care.

Worth thinking about if you like: High-Rise, Reservoir Dogs, leisure suits, truly rampant gun violence

The Girl With All The Gifts

From one of Britain’s best TV directors Colm McCarthy comes The Girl With All The Gifts, an attempt at another different spin on a genre thought dead. A dystopian future where humanity is threatened by a virus that turns people into zombies (called “hungries” because no zombie film can exist in a world where zombies already are a cultural thing) and its only salvation a group of children who are able to straddle the line between zombie and humanity. Early reviews pin this one as thoughtful and surprisingly bold, as well as a necessary diversionary path for a horror genre essentially all but run into the ground at this point.

Worth thinking about if you like: 28 Days Later, The Walking Dead (formerly), YA novels about being special even when you’re a zombie.


In what has quietly become Queen of the Mountain in the Best Actress race, Natalie Portman plays Jackie Kennedy in the wake of JFK’s assassination in a film by Pablo Larrain. Early reviews have not only singled out Portman for a memorable and towering performance, but the film itself as a well-composed and hypnotic mediation on tragedy.

Worth thinking about if you like: Under the Skin and Marie Antoinette (as per critic David Ehrlich), American history, Boston accents from people who just went to Harvard.

La La Land

This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about this one, and I earnestly can’t imagine it’ll be my last. An old-school musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as young lovers trying to make it big in LA, the festival circuit has been ecstatically kind to this one, drawing comparisons to Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which piques my interest in particular. The critical reaction is near universally positive and I’ve been convinced for a while this is going to end up in the final heat for best picture this year.

Worth thinking about if you like: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Whiplash, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, beautiful people doing artistically satisfying things

Manchester By The Sea

Another favorite of the festival circuit, Kenneth Lonergan’s first film since the sprawling Margaret is a story of delicate sadness in the wake of tragedy. Casey Affleck has been singled out for praise, along with Lonergan’s scripting and direction. Another potential favorite for the Oscar voters in the wake of a now wide-open race, this is a film to break out the tissues on.

Worth thinking about if you like: Margaret, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, engaging at an ironic distance with movies about “Sad White People.”

A Monster Calls

This is a film based on a remarkable book. Delicate and tearjerking, Ness’ A Monster Calls is a fantastic book on dealing with grief through storytelling, and the film looks to be much of the same. Made by J.A. Bayona (who’s got a spotty record to this point), the trailers have  seemed to already retain that same power, though I wonder how I’ll feel with Kubo treading the same ground. Early reviews have been decidedly divided, with some calling it one of their favorites of the year and some receiving absolutely nothing from it.

Worth thinking about if you like: Kubo and the Two Strings, The BFG, your stocks in tissue companies


The other film that seems to be getting near-universal La La Land-esque praise is this poetic mediation of black experience by director Barry Jenkins. It follows a young man named Chiron through three stages of his life as he grapples with a broken home, bullies, and his sexuality. Early reviews have called this one impeccably made, emotional and heartbreaking, and incredibly real.

Worth thinking about if you like: Brokeback Mountain, Boyhood, being way ahead of the cinematic curve.

Nocturnal Animals


Fashion magnate Tom Ford proved himself a surprisingly strong director with A Single Man, and he seems to be following it up with yet more skill and phenomenal acting choices with Nocturnal Animals. The story of Amy Adams (again) playing an art gallery owner who’s grappling with the revelations of a book her ex-husband Jake Gylenhaal wrote and sent to her. Early reviews point towards a phenomenal cast gripped in a trashy pulpy epic that might surprise fans of A Single Man. 

Worth thinking about if you like: A Single Man, Nightcrawler, the fact that the movie led to this picture: