The Best Movies Of 2017

It’s always tempting to try to draw some State Of The Movies judgments when considering the best films of the year. But, honestly, 2017 was such a chaotic year — in the world and at the movies — that it might be best to stay away from that impulse. 2017 at the movies was all about superheroes and Jedi except when it was about coming of age stories in Sacramento or Northern Italy. Horror movies never get acclaim, except this year saw the release of one of an instant classic that also doubled as a comment on the state of race relations as the Obama era gave way to the age of Trump. And on and on. So let’s just say this: it’s probably too soon to draw any conclusions about 2017 beyond noting that it saw the release of some great movies. Here are our collective picks for the best movies of 2017, as chosen by Vince Mancini, Mike Ryan, Amy Nicholson, and Keith Phipps. (Some of us will be offering individual lists down the line as well.)

1. Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig has written and directed a love letter to her hometown of Sacramento through the lens of just how much she hated it there before she left. Or, at least, how much she thought she hated it. Lady Bird is such a personal movie, but it’s filled with universal truths. We hate our hometowns until we leave. We fight with our parents until we realize their side of it all. Set in 2002 and based on Gerwig’s own experiences, the film follows a year in the life of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan). She’s not enjoying her senior year at her Catholic high school and is applying to colleges across the country in an effort to get as far away from home as she possibly can. But during the journey to that moment (it’s not a surprise that, yes, Gerwig did eventually leave Sacramento) Lady Bird starts to discover more about about who she is, where’s she’s from, and where she’s going. It’s the time a lot of people look back on and recognize as the moment they became who they were going to become – but of course it’s impossible to realize then. —Mike Ryan

2. The Florida Project

The last scene of this movie is devastating. If you’ve seen The Florida Project, then you know what this is referring to and are probably nodding your head in agreement. If you have seen this scene and are not nodding your head, there’s a good chance you are dead inside. (Actually, the last scene of The Florida Project could be used during medical studies to discover if someone still has emotions or not.) Set in Orlando, in the grimy shadow of Disney World, the film focuses on the lives of people staying at a downtrodden motel. Most are not guests, residing there on a somewhat permanent basis, often having to switch rooms every few weeks to skirt residency laws. The children there become friends, but often come and go due to the whole temporary aspect of everyone’s living conditions. Willem Dafoe’s Bobby Hicks (Dafoe is so great) does the best he can as the motel manager, but everything is just a sad state of affairs – as the kids (led by hellraiser Moonee, played by Brooklyn Prince) just go on about their days like any kid would, oblivious to the scarred surroundings they live in. The Florida Project is one of the best movies made about America, circa 2017. — Mike Ryan

3. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri

Don’t call Mildred Hayes an avenging angel. Martin McDonagh never writes characters that easy, not even when they’re the mother of a murdered girl. Frances McDormand’s Mildred is furious, sure. But she’s also flawed and maddening, isolated in her anger, and wrong even when she’s right. Her daughter deserves justice. The problem — or problems — is that no one in Ebbing agrees on what justice is: Attacking the police? Defending their boss? Protecting free speech? Or even just maintaining civility in a small town where people can’t help bumping into each other, making Mildred’s surviving son dread going to high school. As McDonagh’s quick-patter quips and zingers stack up like kindling, Mildred faces off against good ol’ boy cop Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) and prepares to burn it all down. In most revenge flicks, the audience would cheer. But Three Billboards steadily, and bitterly, insists that life doesn’t offer movie-sized solutions. Instead, it gives us a confusing and wonderful mix of rage, empathy, and charred catharsis that feels very 2017, and at the end of all this pain, a cooling trickle of hope. — Amy Nicholson

4. Get Out

To watch a horror movie in the last few years usually meant experiencing a painful missed opportunity — the genre is simultaneously the last bastion of purely cinematic suspense-building of the kind Hitchcock popularized (where framing and composition count for more than anything else), while also being the most narratively confined (99% of the movies are about a haunted house or a creepy little kid, etc). It’s reminiscent of modern country music, where no matter how good the music is, the genre itself is basically defined by hack imagery. Like if the lyrics aren’t lame clichés it doesn’t count as country. Get Out masterfully explores horror’s possibilities, putting that suspense-building and creeping dread towards something real — a dawning recognition of racism. Horror movies are usually about escapism. You get to be pretend scared about ghosts and zombies to distract from your real existential fears of death and cosmic meaninglessness. Get Out is both real and not. The horror comes from real feelings and the escapism from the genre itself. It defanged real fears with fake fangs, in a way. If Keanu was a little disappointing for Key & Peele fans, Jordan Peele’s Get Out felt like it finally came through on the promise of their more biting, social commentary-laced sketches. — Vince Mancini

5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Walking out of Star Wars: The Force Awakens two years ago, it was easy to be overwhelmed by a sense of relief that, given how much could have gone wrong, they didn’t blow it. Instead, J.J. Abrams carefully reassembled the pieces of the Star Wars universe to continue the story beyond the events of Return of the Jedi. The movie that reunited viewers with old friends while introducing a new cast of memorable characters. It was also nicely done. It was also a little bit safe. With The Last Jedi, writer/director Rian Johnson didn’t so much smash those carefully reassembled pieces as arrange them into new configurations that no one had considered before, bringing in visual devices, moral ambiguity, and narrative zig-zags that bent Star Wars tradition without breaking it. As the old cast continued to take their last bows — including Mark Hammil in his best-ever performance as an aged, embittered Luke Skywalker — the new characters grew deeper and more conflicted, and the stakes mount as Johnson leaves our heroes in an even more desperate spot than they found themselves in at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Johnson took chances, and has gotten some blowback from some quarters for it. But if Star Wars is going to continue to matter, it’s going to need to take just these sort of risks. — Keith Phipps

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