When I turned in my ballot for the best movies of the year, the top line read “Patron Saint of No Logan on the Best of 2017 List.”
There are three superhero movies on the Best Movies of 2017 List for Unwinnable. I tell you this because there are no saints in 2017, only disappointment and god-like creatures who hurl lightning from on high. Your prayers will go unanswered.
2017 was not a good year for movies. This list will try to make a case for why you should be excited about the movies that came out this year, but it is written by those among us with optimism about the state of such things. Indeed, the real star of the show here will be the critical claim that three movies about superpowered individuals fighting for their own form of justice are the top movies of the year, ready to stand alongside movies about all the golden English lads who fought in World War 2 and a sequel to a movie from 35 years ago.
There’s an easy, elitist joke here about how 2018 will not be a year to look forward to with it’s LootCrate Special Edition sort of line up of movies like Ready Player One, Jurassic World 2 and Avengers Infinity War. But I have already been a sourpuss, and at the end of the day the truth is this: here are ten movies that, for whatever reason, the writers at Unwinnable found to be their favorites. In ten years we may not remember them as fondly, they may sit like that bad haircut we got in middle school or the boy we dated in college, but for today at least they are the best.
Full disclosure; I run hot and cold with X-Men, especially when it comes to Wolverine. This however, is much more than just another Wolverine movie; it’s a movie about loss, sacrifice, love and fighting for the future.
Logan is a sonofabitch, but it’s warranted. All he does is live on while those around him get old and die and Hugh Jackman, who has been manning the claws for 17 years, isn’t getting any younger; this is his swan song right along with Patrick Stewart as Xavier.
It makes me wonder what the future of the character holds now that it seems the X-Men are coming soon to an MCU near you; will the thought of going “SNIKT!” next to RDJ’s Ironman spark Jackman to be Logan one more time? Only time will tell, but this is a fine and brutal ending for his time as Wolverine.
You can read more about Logan from our writers here.
Anyone who underestimates Kristen Stewart at this point is willfully deluded. With Personal Shopper, she and director Olivier Assayas reconstruct the premonitory cinema of Lucio Fulci and Michelangelo Antonioni as a ballet of small gestures. Stewart relays waves of sheer emotion in the way she tries on a pair of shoes or slips into a dress; longing, dysphoria and loss all jolt through her performance. For his part Assayas wisely lets his star run the show, to the point where the film seems to stretch into infinity during a galvanizing set piece consisting of little more than Stewart, some text messages that may or may not be from a ghost and several train rides. The film’s unpredictable generic torsions (or “tonal shifts,” if you like) threw a lot of critics, but surely you’re made of stronger stuff. If a movie leaves you in the same place it picked you up, did you really see anything?
Dunkirk plays as one long crescendo. Christopher Nolan cuts his usual impulses to the bone and in the space of an hour and forty-five minutes crosscuts three disparate time frames into one cohesive whole as they inevitably collide on a cold beach in France. It’s at times overpowering, cacophonous and all too much; but Nolan wrestles it all together and when the timelines, joined at first solely through emotionally matching cuts, align, the effect is undeniably powerful.
Shot predominantly in the IMAX format, the film aims to tower over viewers and, while its images are striking when seen on a stories tall screen, the sound design is what truly sets the film apart. Scenes depicting a harrowing dogfight between English and German pilots hum with electricity and gasoline as the small airships struggle to outmaneuver one another. The dialogue, sparse as it is already, fades away and the rhythm of the fight is all that remains. Engulfing and shocking the viewer in turn.
It’s Nolan at his most efficient, clever and exciting. Dunkirk is audacious in concept and ambition, but simple in effect. It pulls viewers in, builds in intensity slowly and methodically and, ultimately, explodes in grief, anguish and beauty. That simplicity animates Dunkirk, for all its technical wizardry, it never forgets that the core of its story is one of human perseverance and it uses those emotional stakes as its guiding principle. Never letting the pomp or formal tricks overshadow its story of human perseverance.
The Judd Apatow format film seems best done now when the writing/directing teams break from Apatow. I want more two-hour heartbreaking comedies and I want them from young, new voices. Kumail and team knock this out of the park, but beyond finally doing the movie about stand-up that Apatow wanted to make a decade ago in Funny People, they also set a new standard for how to do a comedy where every single character gets a challenging and fulfilling arc. The greatest triumph of The Big Sick is in the relationship her parents have and how the generational and geographical distance between these types of people can be bridged, and the film made its point in such a way that even my parents love it and understand it. Also, it dismantles honest but stupid moves that men of my generation make, but that are based on ideas that previous rom-coms beat into us. Watching Kumail glare at his love interest, unblinking, while watching her watch a movie – only to be met with a knowing yawn – is the most brutally honest scene of 2017.
The first time I saw a Wonder Woman trailer, I cried when the heroine tells the hero, “What I do is not up to you.” Seeing Gal Gadot brushing men off and fucking shit up felt like a heavenly balm in this Year of Our Dark Lord 2017. Still, the movie managed levity within its heavy plotlines about World War I, angry gods and men trespassing in women’s spaces (German soldiers invade the all-female island of Themyscira). I loved seeing Wonder Woman deflect bullets, but watching her back Chris Pine into awkward conversational corners brought me equal joy. And Lucy Davis, playing Gadot’s comedic foil, stole a number of scenes – more of her, please. Honestly, I’d have happily spent two hours watching Robin Wright and Ann Ogbomo just ride around Themyscira. Wonder Woman‘s fight scenes were well-choreographed and, frankly, awesome, but nothing beats a matriarchal island utopia.
A Dark Song
I saw A Dark Song months ago and still think about it almost daily.
The plot is simple. A grieving mother hires an occultist and the two sequester themselves in an isolated house in order to perform a grueling, month-long magickal ritual to get, well, let’s call it a wish. As they purify and prepare themselves, the border between worlds grows thin and dread seeps in. Yet as much as the movie is about the supernatural, the human heart is the center of the film.
Most of the time, when we see magic on the big screen, it is romanticized or Dungeons & Dragons-ized: flashy, fun, a part of the special effects budget. Here, magic (reflecting the movie’s use of real world magickal systems) is an entry into psyches of the human characters. It strips away their pretensions and leaves them exposed to our gaze. They call to outer forces to grant them their desires, and we, the audience, the spirits they called, bear witness.
You want to talk about one of the greatest scenes in superhero comics adapted to the silver screen? You want to talk about Skurge the Executioner holding the bridge against Hela’s minions with two M-16 machine guns?! ‘cause that shit right there made my year!
Thor: Ragnarok is the third installment of Marvel Studios’ Thor movies and it is by far, the best. Director Taika Waititi starts the film with Thor in a pickle. He’s trapped in chains by Surtur, who is bent on razing Asgard to the ground in the Norse apocalypse known as Ragnarok. In the meantime, Hela, goddess of death (the superb Cate Blanchett), escapes her banishment and has her own plans for ruining Asgard. Waititi proceeds to weave a tale that leaves Asgard in ruins, Thor stranded in an alien gladiator arena with the Hulk, his brother Loki, the badass Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and Jeff Goldblum running at 100 billion Goldblums per hour. Waititi embraces the inherent absurdity of the Marvel Universe while carving out one of the most fun character driven adventures on the silver screen this year.
Oh, and did I mention Karl Urban plays Skurge the Executioner? Did I mention he has two M-16s just like he does in Walt Simonson’s classic Thor comics? ‘cause he does and it’s right out of the comics!
You can read more about Thor: Ragnarok from our writers here.
Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut is one of the best films of 2017. Lady Bird is nothing short of a moving, affecting coming-of-age story that is as much a filmic triumph as it is a narrative and acting one. To understate its beautiful direction, shot composition, acting, dialogue and pacing is to appreciate film in a way I’ve yet to discover.
Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf expertly anchor a film that traverses a full year of emotional highs and lows about a young woman that not only felt as though I had met previously but who I was still learning to understand. Their relationship is sharp, poignant and affecting to the point that I texted my mom afterwards.
Even more stunning about Lady Bird is that it’s clear that Lucas Hedges and Beanie Feldstein can have long, fruitful careers doing more than supporting the established likes of Ronan and Metcalf.
While Lady Bird is far from a perfect film or a “universal one” it’s one that I cannot recommend more to people because of its excellence.
You can read more from our writers on Lady Bird here.
Blade Runner 2049
Being not afeard of spoilery stuff, I read a fair bit of criticism before going to see Blade Runner 2049 and was fully expecting to come away from it lukewarm, if not cold. I certainly was not expecting it to be firmly in my top five movies of the year.
While the criticism against the film’s portrayal of women is not at all unfounded, I found the overt female sexuality on display – and it’s very on display, from holograms to prostitutes (replicant and human alike) to monolithic statuary – to be a natural dystopic endpoint to the society we live in now. Furthermore, I found replicant K’s, holographic companion Joi’s and the other non-human entities’ detached unaffectedness to said sexuality to be frankly touching. It’s believable that’s what we told them a woman was: tits and tongue and sky-high heels on spread legs. It’s sweet they accept it on a surface level but otherwise don’t really give a shit.
Will the love scene between K, Joi, and Mackenzie Davis’ Mariette be gleefully consumed as nothing more than a cool sci-fi threesome by much of the film’s audience? Sure. Did the director and/or producers likely count on that? No doubt. But that scene ended up moving me, too. Two beings yearning to physically connect finally can due to the kindness and surrogacy of a third. It’s a ringing endorsement of the power and potency of sex work, if you ask me, but even throwing that away – it’s unrelentingly, heart-achingly human.
The Best Film of 2017: Get Out
I usually try to measure a film by the level of impact I feel leaving the theater. How successfully a movie manages to drill past my cynical exterior and strike at my emotional core determines how I will remember it, or if I even will. Get Out was at a disadvantage for best of 2017, having come out so early in the year, but, to be honest, I’m still reeling at its poignant unraveling of modern American racial politics. Watching the film as a black man, who often travels in homogeneously white circles, I felt spoken to in a way few films have ever approached. Director, Jordan Peele, understands the allure, the desire to be accepted; to be thought of as cool or hip or exotic. He also wants to break that fantasy apart, to expose its rotten underpinnings. To be exotified is also to be dehumanized and unspoken conversations mean injustice gets free reign.
It’s a powerful film that’s also rich with detail and clever analogy. Paced well and masterfully acted by Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams in particular – though the rest of the cast also deserves mention. Lakeith Stanfield’s stammering fright and Betty Gabriel’s distorted rictus belong to a cadre of stand-out performances that should all get due credit in solidifying a story about the very real historical horror of black bodies being used as kindling to prop-up white society.
And yet, it will be judged as a comedy by the archaic standards of the Golden Globes. And yet, white audiences laugh a bit too loudly while black moviegoers shift uncomfortably in their seats. This halting embrace of the film, despite its mega-popularity is a lesson about the many lessons America is still so reluctant to learn. Why Get Out is so vital, and deserves all its accolades, is that it disarms us with awkwardness and dark comedy before dunking our heads into frigid cold reality – and does so deftly and with poise and clever horror nods at the same time.
It’s an explosive film with a long tail that I will be thinking about for a very long time.