2017 has been a great year for movies. With many major releases I still haven’t seen (War Of The Planet Of The Apes, The Big Sick, The Beguiled, A Ghost Story, Spiderman: Homecoming), a trend that I have nevertheless noticed is that nothing is certain. Big blockbusters are receiving as much critical acclaim as small indies, while genre horror films are not only cleaning up at the box office, but also topping best-of lists. Sequels are matching (if not bettering) their original counterparts. Netflix is premiering movies at Cannes, and there’s a Transformers movie that is also apparently about King Arthur and Merlin. Oh, and one of the best reviewed, top earning films of the year is a super hero movie that passes the Bechdel test called Wonder Woman. We are only seven months into the year, but already 2017 has been gleefully full of surprises. Let’s hope that continues into the fall!
So for now, my favorite movies of the year.
5. I Am Michael (dir. Justin Kelly)
As someone who did a lot of social and political activism in college, and still engages with it here and there, I am usually drawn to films about the subject. One aspect of the subject that is, I think, underexplored, is the psychological drive of an activist. What motivates them internally, aside from the obvious desire to make the world a better place? Justin Kelly’s biopic of former gay activist turned ex-gay pastor Michael Glatze, does just that. James Franco gives a career highlight performance as Glatze, whose passion for change and growth is at war with his need for safety and easy answers. Zachary Quinto, Emma Roberts and Charlie Carver turn in great supporting roles in this quietly great, but subtly devastating indie flick.
4. A Quiet Passion (dir. Terence Davies)
I knew nothing about Emily Dickinson before I watched this film, even thinking she was an English poet (she was from Massachusetts). Often the movies I expect the least from end up surprising me the most, so I ended up loving A Quiet Passion. The constant quippy dialogue is a word symphony for the ears and mind, and Cynthia Nixon follows up her standout performance in 2015’s James White as Dickinson, suggesting more and more that she is one of the better actresses working today.
3. John Wick Chapter Two (dir. Chad Stahelski)
The first John Wick was a great action movie, and its sequel is even better. Taking all of the exciting action of the first film, and brilliantly expanding on the world of secret assassins it built in the first, it does everything a good sequel should do. Common ends up being the perfect compliment to Keanu, as a bodyguard protecting Keanu’s first assignment- in a fight scene that could one day rival They Live in the movie canon, and a subway shootout that is somehow also the funniest movie scene of the year.
2. The Lost City Of Z (dir. James Gray)
James Gray spent the first twenty years of his career paying tribute to the 70’s New York films of Sidney Lumet- but lately the underrated auteur has been going back in time, in a fascination with the early 20th Century. The Lost City Of Z is my favorite film of his, telling the story of English adventurer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) who made a series of trips to the Amazon in search of a lost city he was sure existed- and if discovered could change the understanding of civilization as they knew it. Gray managed to put me right in Fawcett’s shoes- by the end of the movie my insides felt like a cup running over with wonder, awe, and fear of the unknown, what I imagine Fawcett himself must have felt.
1. Logan (dir. James Mangold)
I don’t think a superhero has ever made my top ten films of the year list- but Logan could very well change all of that. With the freedom of an R rating, James Mangold made a superhero movie for adults, where the superhero stuff works in service of a much bigger story about a world going down the tubes fast. Set in the near future, so much about this world is believable. From an increasingly violent and contentious border, widespread corporate control of food, water and GMO’s, automated cars and the eradication of work…it’s all here in this world that Logan, A.K.A. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman in his final performance as the character) must traverse to bring a mysterious young mutant named Laura (Daphne Keen) to safety. When the movie was over, I saw our world a lot differently than I did before- and I was equal parts disturbed and hopeful.
Honorable mentions: Raw, Get Out, I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman.