I like to put together annual lists of my favorite (not “best”) movies from the past year. It’s an interesting way to take stock of the year, I’m a HUGE consumer of media, and it’s also fun to look back at previous lists and see what’s held up. This year I felt like “Oscar season” was a little weak, with most of the strongest films coming out early in the year, or very late. But when I look at what I loved in 2017, it’s surprisingly uplifting, especially compared to last year’s darker picks.
FAVORITE MOVIES OF 2017
My rankings are reflected in the list below, but the graphic above is not in any particular order. Seven out of my fourteen picks made me weep, they all were life-affirming, not sad, cries. (Can you guess which ones?)
- The Big Sick, dir. Michael Showalter // I have a special place in my heart for the romantic comedy genre, and I don’t think it gets enough critical respect, in general. The good ones are so good, and this is a great one. It’s heart-warming and very funny, with excellent supporting performances from Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, as well as super lovable leads Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan. Inspired by the true love story of its writers, it’s really moving. I honestly think it’s deserving of a Best Picture Oscar. Now streaming on Amazon Prime.
- Call Me By Your Name, dir. Luca Guadagnino // I have two love stories topping my list! This one comes from Luca Guadagnino, whose sumptuous thriller A Bigger Splash made my favorites list last year–but this is a very different film. It’s also stylish and sexy, capturing dreamy Italian landscapes in a magical way, but it’s a true, straight-ahead romance, where the stakes are simply heartbreak. There is a really life-affirming message about love and pain and youth in a single scene that brings the whole film incredible meaning. And the two original songs by Sufjan Stevens are so, so beautiful.
- Wonder Woman, dir. Patty Jenkins // This movie was such a pleasant surprise, given my super hero movie fatigue and the crap that DC has been spitting out over the past few years, but it feels especially important for 2017. Patty Jenkins seems to have perfected the hero origin story, building from character, and making Wonder Woman a dynamic protagonist worth rooting for. Gal Gadot is so charismatic, and she gets some fun things to do, including charming interplay with love interest Chris Pine. The action is so well directed, and produces some downright iconic feminist and #resist imagery. I cried multiple times at beautiful shots of women fighting–it’s amazing when that happens spontaneously and you realize how rare it is to see something like that. Rentable on Amazon.
- Lady Bird, dir. Greta Gerwig // This is a nostalgic, sweet film about how hard it is to appreciate things you have to say goodbye to (friendships, parents, places). Saoirse Ronan is brilliant as a Sacramento teen with big college dreams, navigating her way through Catholic school, family financial struggles, and first boyfriends, and I would not be surprised if Laurie Metcalf snagged an Oscar for her supporting role as Lady Bird’s mom. The jokes and references will ring nostalgic to anyone who came of age in the 2000s, and the pacing feels like a real slice-of-life.
- Thor: Ragnarok, dir. Taika Waititi // I just genuinely enjoyed this one. As I mentioned here last week, my husband, roomie, and I spent the last couple months watching EVERY SINGLE Marvel Cinematic Universe film, so having that kind of context probably made it extra special. Most of the MCU movies aren’t great, but this one had a strong buddy comedy plot, a solid central dramatic need, and was super stylish and funny. Jeff Goldblum and Cate Blanchett make hilarious and campy villains, Tessa Thompson was a welcome new addition to the franchise, and Chris Hemsworth has never been better. I also like to take every possible opportunity to tell people to go watch Boy (also a Taika Waititi film) on Netflix. Do it!
- Get Out, dir. Jordan Peele // Such a fun and thoughtful thriller about race in America. Daniel Kaluuya’s performance is Oscar-worthy, and the storytelling really puts you in his perspective in a genius way. It’s more horror than comedy, but the horror comes more from disturbing plot than cheap gross-outs or jump scares. Now streaming on HBO Go.
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, dir. James Gunn // I’m surprising myself by ranking another superhero movie this high, but I recently re-watched this and I really do think it’s a strong film. The number of jokes per minute is out of control, and it makes the more dramatic moments that could easily skew cheesy hit home. The action is so creative, doing things much more uniquely than your average Marvel flick. Chris Pratt rises to the higher dramatic needs in this follow-up to the original, and I found the father-son story really successful. (That “Mary Poppins” line!) Now streaming on Netflix.
- Dunkirk, dir. Christopher Nolan // I think this is a true masterpiece–and I don’t use that word lightly–of craft, and such an effective drama. The tension created through sound and editing is so skillful. I would probably rank it higher if I thought it had more re-watch value, but truthfully, I’m much more likely to reach for one of Nolan’s other movies if I’m in a Nolan mood. I’m also guessing this is best seen in a (great) theater, because it’s such a sensory experience. Rentable on YouTube.
- Icarus, dir. Bryan Fogel // I didn’t catch too many documentaries this year, but I’m so glad I watched this on a whim. An amateur cyclist explores exactly how easy it is to dope while passing drug tests, forming a strange bond with Grigory Rodchenkov, former director of Russia’s national antidoping laboratory. I won’t spoil too much, but it’s incredibly insightful about how people will willfully resist unsavory truths even in the face of mountains of evidence–and it’s frightfully representative of the US’s current relationship with Russia overall. Now streaming on Netflix.
- The Disaster Artist, dir. James Franco // You should probably see The Room before this one if you haven’t already, because if you’re not familiar with the terrible cult movie, you won’t appreciate how accurately the cast and crew of The Disaster Artist manages to capture scenes. I also recommend this episode of How Did This Get Made with guest Greg Sestero. (Fun fact: HDTGM inspired this movie, and all the podcast hosts have parts in it). The first half is hilarious, the second half is a bit dark, and I ultimately agree with Kareem Abdul-Jabar’s assessment that this isn’t a movie about following dreams, but much more.
- Good Time, dir. Josh & Benny Safdie // Not unlike Dunkirk, this movie rachets up the tension, and it’s pretty impressive how much it will make you feel, especially given the much lower budget. This is one of the darker movies on the list, a sort of cautionary tale about using your family to justify bad behavior, with really great performances all around and a killer visual style. Coming to Netflix eventually.
- Coco, dir. Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina // It begins a little bit cutesy, but man does it become lovely. It has the goofy laughs and a particularly darling animal friend that you expect from a Pixar movie, and its climax was pretty affecting. It actually reminded me a little of Lady Bird, in how it bridges the gap between following dreams and appreciating family.
- The Beguiled, dir. Sofia Coppola // This one is super slow and super simple, but it’s so beautiful that I have to include it. The sparse dialog, restrained performances, sumptuous cinematography, and gorgeous costume and production design are all really, really well done. The story is subtly horrifying, and it calls to mind this Margaret Atwood quote. Rentable on Amazon.
- Logan Lucky, dir. Steven Soderbergh // This was a last-minute pick, because I literally JUST saw it. Because it opened to mediocre box office, I went in a little skeptical, although I’m a big Soderbergh fan, and I find his holistic approach to filmmaking so impressive. (I read he even did some creative financing on this film to ensure he had total creative control over it). A trio of siblings cursed with bad luck take a stab at a (very creative) heist, and it’s every bit as fun as Ocean’s 11, even surprisingly sweet at times. I really got a kick out of these characters, especially Adam Driver’s Iraq vet bartender, and there’s a hilarious bit about Game of Thrones that makes the whole thing worth watching.
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, dir. Martin McDonagh // Including this as an “honorable mention.” My family was very torn when we saw it together, and I totally understand why some hated it, but it has stayed with me. Frances McDormand is excellent as usual in her role as a foul-mouthed mother trying to get justice for her murdered daughter by putting up billboards in her small town provoking the local police department. I thought the direction was a little strange at times, but I still think it’s a really interesting exploration of grief and the human impulse for violence.
I should note that I have yet to see The Post, Molly’s Game, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Shape of Water, Jumanji (I know, but Jack Black!) and The Florida Project at the time of making this list, but am probably interested in seeing those eventually.
FAVORITE TV OF 2017
In no particular order, here were the shows I loved most in 2017…
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel // This is delightful and full of really strong performances. It’s not light and fluffy (like the logo might suggest), but it won’t leave you feeling depressed, and everyone I’ve recommended it to ended up happily bingeing. Streaming on Amazon.
Planet Earth II // This will blow your mind. It’s incredible how the filmmakers manage to tell stories of such high tension with this kind of photography. SO GOOD. Now streaming on Netflix.
The Keepers // Such a beautifully told documentary series that will break your heart with its subjects’ bravery. It’s true crime in the technical sense, but it expands the genre in the way that it focuses on victims’ trauma and healing. Streaming on Netflix.
Big Little Lies // I was a little blown away by this series, and it wasn’t at all what I expected. I expected something salacious and silly in the vein of Desperate Housewives–and this is certainly referencing that, but it feels more like commentary on it. The performances are great, the direction is great, and it’s so nice to watch so many talented women share the spotlight with well-developed roles. I’m so excited to see what Andrea Arnold brings to season two, and hope that Bonnie will get more of an arc. Streaming on HBO Go.
Big Mouth // This is an endearing and smart cartoon about puberty that still feels relevant to me as an adult. And it has a really great cast. Good to throw on when you’re feeling down. Streaming on Netflix.
The Handmaid’s Tale // Hold onto your butts with this one. It’s one of the most intense shows I’ve ever watched. It holds faithfully to the book while expanding the world of it, using the medium of television in the best possible way–by developing character. Streaming on Hulu.
Dear White People // I thought TV was a much more successful medium for these stories than the film, and I really liked this satirical college dramedy about race. Streaming on Netflix.
Mindhunter // It gets off to a slow start, but I was so compelled by this show about FBI serial killer profilers in the 1970s. The main characters have a great chemistry that makes it worth watching. Streaming on Netflix.
Insecure // I thought Season 2 expanded the world so wonderfully, getting deeper into character growth, and I just love hanging out with these people. Streaming on HBO Go.
America is the Greatest Country in the United States // Judah Friedlander does a really great sort of character who might be active at local government meetings, with all kinds of hilarious observations about politics and social justice at large. It’s a compilation of a lot of sets (ending up being a huge amount of material) and the crowd work is really organic and funny. Streaming on Netflix.
The Real Housewives of New York City (Season 9) and Dallas (Season 2) // I watch many of the Housewives series, and New York is always my favorite, because it’s cast with so many MVPs who have a long history together–only on this show can picking vacation hotel rooms make for a 20-minute sequence that has me laughing tears. But this year Dallas also became quite hilarious and enjoyable. This franchise has some of the funniest editing in reality, and watching women of a certain age and economic/social status is so fascinating to me.