The Best Films of 2017

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As I write this, it is the final day in December, therefore it is the final day in 2017. It’s been a painful year, in terms of what’s been going on in the news, but its personally been a very painful and difficult year for this writer. As I begin life in my 20s (I’ve been doing this thing since I was 12), I’m recognizing that my peers were correct in this being one of the hardest, strangest, scariest, and most difficult years of my young life so far. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and I’ve also learned a lot about the world and others around me. I’ve accomplished a lot but I still strive for more, even when it feels like the odds might be stacked against me. And boy, have they felt that way many a times this year. But as I look back on the year, it was a transformative year for me personally, for better than worst. It made me realize that course that I need to take in life, and I’ve used the advice and guidance I’ve gained from this year to better myself, both as a writer, a citizen, a man, and a human being.

I open this year’s Best of 2017 article with that paragraph because there were films that I saw this year that helped with that personal journey that I’ve been on all year, and some of these films moved me in ways that I had to forget being a “film critic” (or whatever that means) and take the film in as an audience member, and a human being. There were many great films that I saw this year, and there are a great number of films that I’m hoping to see after this list is published (as always, I’m not able to catch every single film I wanted to, but expect reviews of many of those films that I might’ve missed before the Academy Awards air in the coming months. With that in mind, I’ve listed 20 films that I feel are really exceptional, and I hope you enjoy this list.  Let’s start with 20-11, as usual. Here goes nothing.

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(Photo via A24)

20. The Disaster Artist

I saw James Franco‘s The Disaster Artist back at SXSW in March, and I found the film to be an unexpected but pleasant surprise. Based on Greg Sestero’s hilarious and heartfelt memoir of the same name, Franco perfectly captures the friendship between Sestero (Dave Franco) and Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), the man behind the cult classic The Room. I don’t think you need to see The Room beforehand to appreciate this heartfelt, funny, and surprisingly beautiful sendup to one of the best worst movies of all time. It’s this generation’s Ed Wood. The Disaster Artist is now playing in theaters.

 

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(Photo via Netflix)

19. Nobody Speaks: Trials of the Free Press

Another film from SXSW (you’ll be seeing a lot of those on this list), director Brian Knappenberger tells the story of attempts to undermine the free press, and how some have succeeded in doing so. The stories highlighted in this documentary are the Bollea v. Gawker court case (The Hulk Hogan sex tape), Peter Thiel’s relationship to that case, Sheldon Adelson buying a major newspaper in Las Vegas, and how all of this has to do with Donald Trump, and his never-ending crusade against a free press. The film might be blowing the dog whistle a bit too much at times, but it’s a fascinating and informative documentary about a subject matter that affects all of us, and what we can do as citizens to make sure we hold powerful people accountable going forward. Nobody Speaks is now streaming on Netflix.

 

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(Photo via Hulu)

18. Becoming Bond

Hulu produced a really fun and heartfelt documentary on a subject that I’m a huge fan of, 007. Josh Greenbaum‘s documentary takes the Drunk History approach to telling the story of George Lazenby, the only actor to have played James Bond for just one film, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (one of my favorite Bond films of all time). While Lazenby tells the story of his wild career, reenactments are acted out, with Josh Lawson from House of Lies playing Lazenby in the reenactments. The film was a helluva a good time, and almost as much fun as getting to meet/interview Lazenby himself in advance of the film’s premiere back at SXSW this year. This is a really wonderful little movie, and I hope you get the time to stream this one on Hulu.

 

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(Photo via Showtime)

17. Disgraced

One of the great true crime docs of 2017, Pat Kondelis‘s film describing the events leading up to the murder of Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy, and the cover-up that was attempted by then-Baylor basketball head coach Dave Bliss is nothing short of fascinating. It’s a story that continues to have an impact all the way in 2017 (shortly after the film premiered, Dave Bliss resigned from his coaching gig at a small college outside Oklahoma City). If you dig the true crime format, and you continue to be fascinated by Baylor University (especially with the fallout the school continues to face over the sexual assault scandal), Disgraced is a film to check out. You can find it on Demand via Showtime.

 

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(Photo via Bleeker Street)

16. Logan Lucky 

Steven Soderbergh‘s return to filmmaking was an exciting and hilarious heist film set in Appalachia, a blue collar Ocean’s 11 if you will. Featuring a winning cast of Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, and so on, the real star of the film is Daniel Craig, who steals the show and abandons his James Bond persona as an explosives expert named Joe Bang, who’s tatted up and rocks the Appalachian accent like a champ. This was a fun ride at the movies this year, and its a shame that none of you went to go see this film in the theater. Hopefully you can make up for it by renting the film through iTunes this holiday season.

 

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(Image via Netflix)

15. The Meyerowitz Stories 

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Noah Baumbach‘s films, but I thought his most recent film The Meyerowitz Stories is one of his very best. The film feels like old school Woody Allen, as it deals with the children of a renowned New York artist (Dustin Hoffman) and how their lives have been affected because of growing up with that standard. Those children are played by Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel, and Adam Sandler, who give some of the best performances of their respected careers in this film. Sandler’s performance is particularly noteworthy here, as the recently divorced son who moves back in with his father. It’s the best performance of the comedian’s career, and a performance that I hope will continue to inspire Sandler to make more films like The Meyerowitz Stories and less films like The Ridiculous Six for Netflix (which is where you can find The Meyerowitz Stories).

 

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(Image via Warner Bros. Pictures)

14. Blade Runner 2049

Denis Villeneuve‘s absolutely brilliant sci-fi sequel is not only one of the best of this year, but one of the best science fiction films of the decade. The film takes a lot of the great ideas that Ridley Scott used for the first Blade Runner, builds on those ideas and even improves on them to create 2049. It could be argued that Blade Runner 2049 is a better film than the first Blade Runner, which is saying something. Ryan Gosling does some great work as the stoic Officer K, and Harrison Ford gives some of his career best (despite his limited screentime) returning in this sequel as Deckard. Also, the film is just absolutely gorgeous to look at, with Roger Deakins behind the camera shooting this stunning sci-fi picture. Hopefully that’s enough to win Deakins that Academy Award in March. Blade Runner 2049 is now available to purchase.

 

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(Image via Annapurna Pictures)

13. Detroit 

Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal‘s latest film, Detroit, has mysteriously been left out of the conversation of a lot of best of lists this year, which I find to be a little puzzling. Because the film, which chronicles the 1967 Detroit riots, is just as compelling and fascinating to watch as the duo’s last two films, The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. John Boyega appears in the film as a security guard during the riots who gets caught up in the mess, but the best performance of the film lies in Will Poulter‘s performance as a racist cop. The sequence inside that motel is probably the scariest and most tense of any film sequence I saw in 2017. It’s an important and timely historical film to watch, and I hope many of you get around to seeing it.

 

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(Image via Warner Bros. Pictures)

12. Dunkirk 

Speaking of historical epics, Christopher Nolan‘s interpretation of the Dunkirk rescue in World War II might be his best film to date as a filmmaker. What makes Dunkirk such an exhilarating ride to sit through is that it’s Nolan’s first film where he finally realizes his strengths as a filmmaker and puts all his emphasis on that side, which is the visual spectacle of it all. There is a story and characters to this story of course, but the story being told is the action and the heroism of the situation, while in-depth character development takes a bit of a backseat in this film. I’d recommend going to see Dunkirk, but if you’re going to see it there’s really only one way you can see it, which is on an IMAX screen. It’s how Nolan wanted the film to be presented (he shot most of the film with IMAX cameras) and that’s how it should be seen.

 

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(Image via Sony Pictures)

11. Baby Driver

Edgar Wright‘s latest film is his best work outside of the Cornetto Trilogy. An old school car film that also acts as a musical in how Wright incorporates music within the picture, Baby Driver is an absolute delight to sit through from beginning to end. Ansel Elgort is great as the titular Baby, as is Lily James as Baby’s love interest Deborah. The film also features some great performances within the crew that Baby is apart of, with Jon Hamm, Eliza Gonzalez and Jamie Foxx having a lot of fun with the material in the film. It’s a great film, an exciting screenplay, and a killer soundtrack, and not to mention it’s Edgar Wright’s highest grossing film to date, which is pretty sweet. Baby Driver is now streaming/available on iTunes.

 

Onto 10-1.

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10. Ramblin’ Freak

Parker Smith‘s directorial debut is one of the most unexpected films of 2017. The film at first sounds like a quirky microbudget documentary of a man (and his cat named Cat) going on a cross-country to meet an over-the-top body builder for the hell of it, but Parker has a reason for that journey, and it’s a heartbreaking one. The film is an emotional gut punch at times, and will force you to break down at times while Parker is coming to terms with this unimaginable loss in the film, and how he and his family are able to cope with it. It’s a hearbreaking, poignant, funny, and emotional ride, and I’m happy that I was able to witness this journey at SXSW. For that reason, Ramblin’ Freak is one of the very best films of 2017, and I’m happy to include it in my top ten this year. Ramblin’ Freak is now available to buy/rent wherever you buy/rent films nowadays.

 

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(Image via Amazon Studios)

9. Last Flag Flying

Richard Linklater‘s latest film is not getting the love it deserves, which is a shame, really. The film, which serves as a sequel to The Last Detail (both the book and the film), is one of the strongest films that Linklater has ever made. The film features some career-best work from Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, and Lawrence Fishburne, and a terrific screenplay by both Mr. Linklater and Daryl Ponicsan, who wrote the book Last Flag Flying and The Last Detail. Set in 2003, the film has a lot to say about the state of the world back then when the Iraq War was still waging on, and it could be argued that it has a lot to say about our current times. Richard Linklater finally gets political in his filmmaking, and it’s a trend that I hope he continues with in these current times.

 

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8. Dawson City: Frozen Time

Dawson City: Frozen Time was one the more fascinating pieces of work I’ve seen this year, or any year for that matter. Director Bill Morrison tells the story of how hundreds of film prints were discovered at the bottom of an abandoned ice rink in the small Yukon town that was once very prosperous at the turn of the century. The film prints tell the story of early silent-era Hollywood, along with the story of this little mountain town, and the connection with Hollywood that the town once had. It also features film footage that tells the story of America, some of which had never been seen before the film was released. It’s a haunting, beautiful and fascinating time capsule of a movie to sit through, and I hope you get the chance to check this film out someday (it’s available to rent/buy anywhere).

 

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(Image via Universal Pictures)

7. Get Out

I never formally reviewed Get Out on this website, mainly because I waited so damn long to see Jordan Peele‘s directorial debut. And my God, what a debut this was. Get Out is one of the spookiest and funniest films of 2017, and a terrific commentary/rebuttal to Guess Who’s Coming Home For Dinner and how the idea of race continues to be a relevant issue in America in 2017. The cast is great, the screenplay by Peele is wacky and hilarious, and the film is just a blast to sit through. I’m kicking myself for having waited this long to see the film, but I’m happy that I got around to seeing this one. Get Out is available to stream on HBO.

 

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(Image via Netflix)

6. Master of None: Season 2 

Yes, Master of None was a television show and not a film, I’m aware of this. But dammit, this latest season by Aziz Ansari was so good, so funny, and so heartbreaking, that I’d be a fool not to include it with the very best films of 2017. Also, certain pretentious outlets are putting the Twin Peaks revival on their best films of the year list, so I think I’m okay putting Master of None on here (and my television choice is less pretentious than choosing that Twin Peaks revival). Anyhow, each vignette of this new season is just as beautiful and brilliant as the one before, with the “Thanksgiving” episode being one of the greatest half-hours of material produced this year (There’s a reason Lena Waithe won an Emmy for writing that episode, which was inspired by her own experiences). Aziz Ansari is one of this generation’s greatest storytellers, and I look forward to seeing whatever the multi-talented artist does next. Master of None is currently streaming on Netflix.

 

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5. Wind River

I loved Wind River, even if it wasn’t the feel good movie to sit through in 2017. The film tells the story of two law enforcement agents looking for the killer of a young Native American girl on the Wind River Indian reservation in Wyoming. It’s a film that opens your eyes to a world that many of us unfortunately don’t think much about, and how many young women are killed or go missing on these reservations, and there’s very little that law enforcement can do to investigate these disappearances due to the laws of the reservations. It’s a chilling and crushing film to sit through, but its a damn good one. Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olson give some us some of the best work of their respected careers, and it’s a terrific directorial effort by screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, who along with writing this film wrote two of the best crime films of the decade, Sicario and Hell or High Water. Wind River is now available to buy/rent wherever you do so.

 

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(Image via Beachside)

4. Mr. Roosevelt 

Noël Wells is the breakout artist of 2017, if you had to ask me. Her directorial debut, Mr. Roosevelt, is one for the ages, and the best film to portray Austin, Texas and its laid-back culture since Richard Linklater‘s 1991 debut Slacker. I saw the film back at SXSW and thought it was an absolute delight then, and after seeing the film on Netflix earlier in the week I was reassured in how much I enjoyed this film. A funny and poignant look into how we are able to grow as people, both literally and metaphorically, and what that can feel like when you still have some growing to do while others around you have already done so, is a cord that appears to have struck with me in ways that very few films this year had done. I’ll be first in line for whatever Ms. Wells creates next, and I hope you’re right behind me once you see Mr. Roosevelt, which is now streaming on Netflix.

 

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(Image via Fox Searchlight)

3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonaugh‘s latest film is one of the funniest and very best of 2017. Frances McDormand deserves the Academy Award as Mildred, a grief-stricken woman who decides to egg on the police in her small town through billboards as they continue to neglect investigating the case of her daughter who was brutally raped and murdered. Woody Harrelson plays the police chief and Sam Rockwell plays his sidekick/officer, and the two give maybe the best performances of their respected careers, with particular emphasis on Rockwell’s performance, which features one of the most emotional arcs of any character on film this year. I loved this movie, and I hope that you will to when you get the chance of seeing it before the Oscars are called. Three Billboards is now playing in theaters.

 

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(Image via Amazon Studios)

2. The Big Sick

I loved The Big Sick. I loved it so much that I still can’t describe how much I loved the film. I’m still a little speechless in how much I was blown away by the picture, which tells the real-life story of how Kumail Nanjiani met his wife Emily Gordon (the two of them wrote the screenplay to the film) and the ordeal that Emily (played by Zoe Kazan in the film) goes through in terms of her coma. Kumail plays himself in the film, while Ray Romano and Holly Hunter play Emily’s parents in the film, with the two of them giving career-best performances. Kumail has had a terrific year, and I look forward to continued success for both him and his wife Emily, both personally and professionally. Hilarious and incredibly touching, you’ve done yourself a huge disservice if you didn’t bother seeing The Big Sick this past year. Luckily, the film is available to stream on Amazon Prime, so go do that as soon as you can.

 

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(Image via A24)

1. Lady Bird

As I said in my review of Lady Bird, I cried profusely at the end of this film. I was moved by Greta Gerwig‘s directorial debut in ways that I didn’t think I could be as both a critic and as an audience member, but Lady Bird was able to pull it off. The coming of age tale set in 2002 Sacramento, California is a simple tale but one that feels deeply personal, and that’s where the magic of Lady Bird truly lies. Saoirse Ronan gives the best performance of her young career as the titular Lady Bird, Tracy Letts continues to be one of this generation’s greatest actors as Lady Bird’s father, and Laurie Metcalf should win an Oscar for portraying Lady Bird’s mother, and their relationship is the heart of the film. I don’t think I’ve cried harder in a film recently than I did in Lady Bird, which speaks volumes. Greta Gerwig has made something truly special with Lady Bird, and I really, really hope that you get to witness it soon. Lady Bird is now playing in theaters.

 

Thanks for reading. I’m looking forward to giving you more content in the coming year. Happy New Year.

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One thought on “The Best Films of 2017

  1. Great reviews, Jake Salinas.
    I agree with you on the ones I’ve seen. You inspire me to see the others. Film festivals like SXSW are great venues to film.

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