The 10 Best Films of 2017 (Bumbray)

A lot of folks have been complaining about the steady decline of film versus the ascendance of TV, but 2017 is distinctly not a year that could give them any ammunition. From a better-than-average Sundance in January, that saw the debuts of THE BIG SICK, GET OUT and CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, all of which connected to mainstream audiences, through a solid spring that saw the release of smart tent-poles like LOGAN, through the summer and beyond, it’s been a good year. So good in fact, that making my list was harder than usual, and there are dozens of titles left off that would have made it in previous years. Off-screen, there was tons of Hollywood drama, but on the big screen, things were as good as they’ve ever been.

1. Dunkirk

Simply put, no film this year even comes close to Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK in terms of how cutting-edge it is and the way it pushes the craft of cinema. I don’t care how good a TV series like “Game of Thrones” is, no one could ever deliver on the small screen the same kind of visceral experience Nolan delivered here, and he used all the weapons in his arsenal. 70MM film? Check. Hans Zimmer (delivering an avant garde score that’s among his best)? Check. Dialogue? Who needs it! DUNKIRK is one of a kind and a masterpiece.

2. Brawl in Cell Block 99

A good exploitation film done right can be transcendent, and to me the cinema of S. Craig Zahler ranks up there with the best of Nicolas Winding Refn, and marks him as the most legit successor to Quentin Tarantino in years. BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 is at once a gritty seventies-style crime thriller, and a gruesome, no-holds-barred splatter flick. Vince Vaughn completely reinvents himself as Bradley (not Brad) Thomas, and uses his imposing 6”5 physique to make him one of the most convincing big screen tough guys in years. Also – Don Johnson. Don. F***ing Johnson!

3. Call Me by Your Name

Luca Guadagnino’s films always left me cold, with them all being sumptuous to look at, even if they drowned in melodrama and style. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME changed all that for me, with it being his masterpiece – a deeply felt story of first love set against the picturesque Italian countryside circa 1983. Timothée Chalamet owns the screen as a seventeen year old boy fascinated by a new house guest – a 24-year-old grad student played by Armie Hammer, in his best role to date. God I loved this movie.

4. The Shape of Water

2017 seemed to be the year for unconventional love stories, with Guillermo Del Toro’s fable being quite possibly the best film of his career. Sally Hawkins gives what could well be the performance of the year as a mute janitor in sixties-era America working at a top secret lab, who’s fascinated by an amphibious creature that a sadistic spy (Michael Shannon) has captured. Special regard should be given to Richard Jenkins as her kindly gay neighbor; a role that I don’t think is quite getting its due.

5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Martin McDonagh’s THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI is possibly the most urgent film of the year, saying a lot about what’s wrong with people today and how even the worst bastard come sometimes be redeemed through simple acts of kindness. Frances McDormand is cast to perfection as the ornery local woman who publically shames the sheriff’s department for not solving the rape and murder of her daughter by putting up billboards. Sam Rockwell gives a career best performance as the racist, hateful lawman that tries to stop her, with him facing the fallout of his life choices in unpredictable ways.

6. Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a sharp-witted coming-of-age tale, one that I honestly believe ranks with AMERICAN GRAFFITI, DAZED & CONFUSED and ALMOST FAMOUS as the best of the genre. Saoirse Ronan stars as Gerwig’s big-screen doppelganger, who navigates all the teenage milestones with good humor and grace. Laurie Metcalf is excellent as her mother, while 2002-era middle-America is done just right.

7. Baby Driver

What a difference a few months can make, right? If BABY DRIVER hadn’t come out in the summer, Edgar Wright would have had to call in a favor with Christopher Plummer, as a big action movie starring Kevin Spacey isn’t quite as bankable now as it was then. Lucky it was able to avoid all that ugliness, as it’s one of the most pure examples of slam-bang blockbuster filmmaking to come out in years. It’s just fun as hell, with an expertly cast Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Jon Hamm, and yes, Kevin Spacey. And that soundtrack is killer.

8. The Lost City of Z

One of the best movies of the year was seen by virtually no one, and is now having a quiet run on Amazon Prime. The movie, of course, is THE LOST CITY OF Z, maybe the best film James Gray’s ever done and a remarkable adaptation of (half) the famous book. Charlie Hunnam, who took lots of grief for KING ARTHUR is superb in a role far removed from “Sons of Anarchy”, while he’s ably supported by Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller and Tom Holland.

9. Good Time

Ben and Josh Safdie’s propulsive GOOD TIME was the visceral dose of madness the indie movie scene cried out for this year. A low-down crime flick, it also proved once and for all that Robert Pattinson is no joke, he’s an absolutely terrific leading man when given the right material, and he aces what’s a pretty tough, unlikable role with aplomb. Damn he’s good in it.

10. Wind River

It’s too bad WIND RIVER became collateral damage in the ongoing mess involving the awful human being that is Harvey Weinstein, as TWC or no TWC, Taylor Sheridan’s first nations reserve set thriller is among the best movies of the year. Jeremy Renner is expertly cast as a tracker helping Elizabeth Olson’s rookie FBI agent solve a murder. I’m glad Sheridan and their backers were able to buy it back, as the Weinstein’s don’t deserve to have their names on a movie like this anymore.


11. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI: Incredibly divisive among STAR WARS fans, I'm an unabashed admirer of Rian Johnson's daring take on the material. This definitely wasn't the movie fans wanted or expected, but it was nevertheless a bold, original take with some stunning revelations despite a few obvious flaws (the flying Leia scene being my one big gripe).

12. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES: While Matt Reeves's film might have been a bit too grim for the mainstream, with it being something of a domestic box-office disappointment, this dark, David Lean flavored entry into the series features amazing work by Andy Serkis, and possibly the best CGI I've ever seen.

13. THE DISASTER ARTIST: "Oh hi Mark!" I don't care if you're the biggest fan of THE ROOM in the world, someone who doesn't get it, or simply hasn't seen it, but James Franco's ode to Tommy Wiseau is an affectionate tribute to misfits everywhere - and damn funny to boot.

14. THE BIG SICK: It's been a lean couple of years for the rom-com. Leave it to Kumail Nanjiani and wife/co-screenwriter Emily V. Gordon to mine a deeply personal story for one of the best entries into the genre since WHEN HARRY MET SALLY.

15. WONDER WOMAN: I hoped Patty Jenkins's WONDER WOMAN would be good, but I never expected it would rank among the best modern superhero films. Gal Gadot is iconic in the title role, while Chris Pine is perhaps the most likable he's ever been as Steve Trevor. It helped make up for the hugely disappointing JUSTICE LEAGUE a few months later.

16. GET OUT: I loved this when I saw it at a secret Sundance screening, but I never thought Jordan Peele's movie would capture the public's imagination the way it did. Clearly it tapped into something, and it's arguably the most celebrated horror movie since THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. It deserved the kudos.

17. IT COMES AT NIGHT: Another solid genre entry, but one that proved divisive, with many arguing distributor A24 lied in their advertising to misrepresent it. It's too bad it got tainted that way, as what it was, distinctly NOT a horror film, was a rich psychological thriller, and one I hope people catch up with at some point.

18. BLADE RUNNER 2049: Isn't it odd that perhaps my most disappointing film of the year can still make my top 20? I found Denis Villeneuve's overlong BLADE RUNNER sequel to be a mixed bag, but there was enough that was absolutely brilliant about it to make it an essential watch, if nowhere near the level of the original.

19. I, TONYA: When I heard a Tonya Harding biopic was being made, I expected "American Crime Story" the movie, but instead I got a deeply moving, blackly comic look at perhaps the biggest media scapegoat of our time. Amazing work from Margot Robbie and Allison Janney.

20. AMERICAN MADE: While I'd love to see the rumored longer cut of Doug Liman's Barry Seal biopic, AMERICAN MADE was still one of the most purely entertaining films of the year, with an amazing return to form part for Tom Cruise, who's cast to perfection.

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