These are the best films of 2017.
John Wick: Chapter 2 (Dir. Chad Stahelski, Summit Entertainment)
More operatic and brutal than its predecessor—and with a more hopeful outcome for dog lovers—this frenetic sequel solves the pacing issues of its predecessor and somehow oozes even more style. Forget plot; director Chad Stahelski, a former stuntman, largely strips his bloody cinema down to magnificent set pieces, features for brutally choreographed car chases, hand-to-hand combat, and gunplay that gets increasingly cartoonish but never loses its grip on a balletic hyper-reality that transforms the crime drama into a series of heightened fever dreams. Dialogue is at a minimum in a world were communication is mainly achieved through hot metal–and, oddly, rotary phones and typewritten missives, which help establish an insular cinematic world that suggests an alternate planet. Derek Kolstad’s script has an austere humor and a surprising muse in Keanu Reeves, an unlikely action hero who has developed a mid-career knack for delivering morally appalling lines with dry hilarity. In The Neon Demon it was “Real Lolita shit.” Here it’s simply, “I’ll kill them all!” The first John Wick was the best action movie of the year; this one’s even better. I can’t wait to see him kill everybody all over again in another year or two. — Pat Padua
Lady Bird (Dir. Greta Gerwig, A24)
As Frances Ha illustrated, Greta Gerwig has a knack for capturing snapshots of life’s peculiar moments. There, it was Frances’ seemingly directionless, untethered 20s. In Lady Bird, however, she’s tackled an outsider’s high school years. Whereas the former was comprised of vignettes held together by the protagonist and her lack of ambition, for her debut feature behind the camera Gerwig uses a larger canvas and a more traditional narrative structure. Films about a teen girl’s practical high school education have been made before, but while many feed into the me-centric teen perspective by having their protagonists be the sane ones surrounded by ill-equipped parents and teachers, Lady Bird levels the story. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is your typical rebellious girl with lofty dreams, but the mother (Laurie Metcalf) that she sees as controlling and uninterested in those dreams is given equal footing in the narrative, such that audiences are forced to recognize the truth in both perspectives. The result is a film about teenage life that doesn’t cater to i’s subjects, yet appeals to all. For anyone who believed their mom “just didn’t understand” and was out to crush their dreams, for all parents who have had to dole out a healthy dose of realism and been labelled the bad guy, Lady Bird is shockingly true to life, especially when it comes to the even stickier question of loving children that you don’t exactly like. Gerwig’s script is honest, sometimes brutally so, yet still ultimately warm and uplifting. By speaking truthfully to even the darker side of mother-daughter relationships, it makes them less sources of regret or shame and allows for redemption amidst fierce arguments. — Katherine Springer
Logan (Dir. James Mangold, 20th Century Fox)
Conjuring a proper send off for Hugh Jackman’s nearly two decade tenure as Wolverine, director James Mangold happened to make the best X-Men film. It’s not the biggest or the loudest, but it’s the lone film in Fox’s extended franchise that understands the source material as more than just summer blockbuster fodder. Grafting the social commentary and mythology of the mutant conundrum to a lean, grounded neo-noir/western hybrid, Logan is a big reminder that every single one of the Bryan Singer films went too far down the wrong path. Taking a step back from the chromed out spectacle of those bloated outings allows Mangold to get back to basic things like character and pathos.
Jackman is a revelation. He finally gets the meaty material he’s longed for after years of grunting exposition and pithy one-liners, but Patrick Stewart is every inch his equal, if not his better. The relationship between Logan and this wounded, fading Xavier calls to mind a lost age of X-Men adventures lost to the sands of time. It’s a vision of the future more depressing and likely than the overt bombast of Days of Future Past. This is a world where the mutants lose not with a big, CGI bang, but with a eugenically induced whimper. The film takes characters we’ve known and love for years, strips them of any vestiges of hope, then trots the possibility that they won’t be the last mutants alive in front of their faces, lighting an aspirational fire into this old dog one last time. It’s the kind of X-Men film we’re not likely to see again once the Mouse has fully acquired Fox, which somehow makes it all the sweeter. – Dom Griffin
Nocturama (Dir. Betrand Bonello, Grasshopper Films)
Stylish and provocative, politically-edged yet often deliberately obtuse, Nocturama hits hard and sticks in the system. Many of its images, themes and ideas are nostalgic call-backs to ‘60s New Wave and edgy ‘70s cinema, but the film is also one of the most timely of the year.
Hearkening back to the left-wing terrorists of post-’68 Europe, it remains current with allusions to Islamophobia, Black Lives Matter and the sort of off-the-rails consumerism that European sophisticates optimistically label “late capitalism.” Eschewing exposition, director writer-Bertrand Bonello prefers actions to words as he traces a terrorist plot carried out by a diverse coalition of teenagers and tweens in Paris. Their motivations and goals are fully ignored; instead, Bonello focuses on the immediate fallout of their attacks.
Nocturama has two distinct parts; in the second half, conspirators spend the night in a deluxe department store where they give in to the materialist urgings foisted on them by advertisers. But the French security forces are slowly closing in. While the film began as a stylish throwback with characters sharing furtive glances and foreboding gestures towards structures destined for attack, it ends as a tense and tragic chamber drama with increasingly desperate teenagers panicking amidst massive plasma TVs and new-age refrigerators with the price tags still hanging on them. What’s more 2017 than dying pathetically while surrounded by all the shit we wish we could buy? – Ryne Clos
Personal Shopper (Dir. Olivier Assayas, IFC)
Director Olivier Assayas has long been infatuated with the resonant personalities embedded into people’s belongings; from a certain point of view, films like Summer Hours were a form of ghost story. Personal Shopper makes its spectral presence literal, with Kristen Stewart’s Maureen attempting to make contact with her deceased brother and finding other spirits lying in wait. Scenes of Maureen waiting in a haunted chateau at night are genuinely chilling, complete with surprisingly effective jump scares. Yet it is the manner in which Assays extrapolates the ghosts into more abstract ideas on contemporary communication and material identity that the film emerges as one of his most intriguing and far-ranging features. Maureen’s tense text conversations with an unknown, possibly dead person take themes of technological alienation to strange new areas, while her status as a gofer and a proxy clotheshorse for her boss gradually dissolves barriers between the two. Trying on her boss’s clothes, Maureen is imbued with some external sense of self, much the way Maggie Cheung’s fictionalized version of herself in Irma Vep became her film-within-a-film character when wearing a costume. All it’s missing is a subplot about teenage political rebellion—otherwise Personal Shopper would contain nearly all of Assayas’ filmography within 105 minutes. — Jake Cole
The Shape of Water (Dir. Guillermo del Toro, Fox Searchlight)
When it was originally announced, this seemed like little more than expensive fan fiction from Guillermo del Toro, a weird bit of fantasy erotica starring an Abe Sapien doppelganger from his Hellboy films. Even once he professed that its origins had nothing to do with his work on that series, it still seemed like a slight exercise from a man whose love of the Universal monsters bordered on the fetishistic. But in execution, The Shape of Water is so much more than a romantic twist on the creature feature. It’s an accomplished filmmaker leveraging a career’s worth of stylistic preoccupations to say something deeply personal about a difficult time for our society. Dialing the clock back to 1962 and couching his belly fire in an adult fairy tale about a mute cleaning lady falling in love with an amphibian hunk, del Toro says everything he wants to say about 2017 and the disturbing resurgence of a certain kind of fascistic bigotry without having to lens a boring polemic. He’s able to discuss love, otherness, solidarity and compassion in the face of prejudice and malice, all the while course correcting The Creature from the Black Lagoon, so the damsel finally beds the monster, as nature intended. – Dom Griffin
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Dir.: Rian Johnson, Walt Disney Studios)
In this age of copycat sequels and insanely faithful remakes and adaptations, director Rian Johnson has done the impossible: he’s made an entry in film’s most famous universe that is surprising, fresh and melancholy. The long anticipated return of original trilogy goodie-two-shoes Luke Skywalker is tinged with darkness, regret and even malice, while his ever-spritely sister Leia (dearly departed Carrie Fisher, perfect in her final role) finally appears tired of fighting the endless battle against evil. And none of the plucky new trio returning from 2015’s excellent The Force Awakens have the expected heroic arcs we’ve come to expect from Star Wars. New trilogy nucleus Rey is deeply connected to bad boy Kylo Ren while sidekick Finn faces down interstellar capitalism and flyboy Poe is firmly put in his place by Leia’s second-in-command Holdo (Laura Dern, making the absolute most of limited screen time). Some fans complain about this film’s quick resolutions to several of The Force Awakens’ biggest mysteries. Yet by answering the question of Rey’s parentage and cutting big bad Supreme Leader Snoke out of the picture, Johnson makes this Star Wars, and these characters, his own. In Johnson’s galaxy far, far away, Daisy Ridley’s compelling Rey is more than a Luke re-tread: she’s a hero because she can see the good in people, not because of the good people see in her. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is a more complicated villain than Darth Vader was because we’re allowed to hope that he can still be saved. In addition to stunning new planets, space beasties (crystal foxes! Porgs!), characters (Rose Tico!) and welcome, surprising returns from many old favorites, this is one of the best Star Wars films and one of the best films of the year. – Mike McClelland
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Dir. Martin McDonagh, Fox Searchlight)
Bitterness runs throughout this movie like an electric current. It’s not like any of the films of Martin McDonagh are soft to the touch, but the wry knowingness of his previous efforts — Seven Psychopaths, In Bruges — made his caustic worldview open and inviting, if not oddly joyous. With Three Billboards, he isn’t pulling any punches. Its characters and situations are bereft of hope: The deeply angry Mildred (Frances McDormand) has lost her teenage daughter to an unsolved rape and murder; Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is the cancer-stricken local sheriff whose failed efforts to locate her daughter’s killer has forced her to erect the title billboards that take him to task; and Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is his fiercely loyal and racist deputy, a pathetic mama’s boy and violent powder keg who somehow presents a pathway to redemption for each of them. As the film unfolds, charting the unique rhythms and considerable talents of its three lead performers, those feelings of bitterness (alongside self-loathing and vengefulness and all the other uniquely human emotions McDonagh renders so vividly and poetically on screen) take on hopeful notes. It’s still bitter, to be sure, but there’s less helplessness, less animosity. Three Billboards is impossibly bleak at nearly every turn until it suddenly isn’t, when opportunities for redemption and forgiveness reveal themselves in deeply funny and marvelous fashion. — Drew Hunt
Wonder Woman (Dir. Patty Jenkins, Warner Bros.)
In a year when the President openly celebrated sexual assault and an unending flood of Hollywood’s most powerful men were outed as habitual predators, we needed a wonder woman to give us the cathartic release to tackle 2017. The story of Princess Diana and the women of Themiscyra was the tonic we deserved. We couldn’t have predicted the impact Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman would have on the zeitgeist, but it’s become the rebel cry for every woman. Gal Gadot’s glowing performance as the Amazonian princess showcased a character whose blind optimism wasn’t undone by her kick-ass, can-do spirit. Watching her single-handedly kick a Nazi ass (okay, they were Nazis in all but name) became the scene we wished would play out on the nightly news. The movie gives us tough ladies working together towards a common goal and Robin Wright showing she wasn’t Princess Buttercup anymore. The movie is just good for the soul. Anytime I felt battered down by this year, I could watch Diana strut across No Man’s Land to Rupert Gregson-Williams’ pounding score, and I’d feel I could take on the world. Thanks, Wonder Woman! — Kristen Lopez