This was a truly great year for cinema, and I struggled over this list, especially since horror is my favorite film genre and it has seen a massive resurgence of quality in the last decade. 2017 was one of the strongest years in this trend so far.
That includes the massive critical and blockbuster successes of “Get Out” and the first installment of “It,” as well as M. Night Shyamalan’s return to form with his excellent “Unbreakable” spinoff “Split.” We also saw three excellent Batman films (“Justice League” not included) and three awesome Kaiju films, with more on the way.
We had a bold, epic, and controversial new Star Wars, two follow-ups to legendary films by Ridley Scott that didn’t stink, as they almost certainly should have, two Wonder Woman movies, an epic end to the excellent Planet of the Apes trilogy, and some amazing stuff on Netflix! Ticket sales may be down, but cinema’s vitals are strong.
So here is where I finally came down on the top 10 movies from 2017.
1. ‘Batman and Bill’
I flipped and flopped over this because I know it wasn’t actually the best film that came out this year. But it might be the most important, and it was certainly my favorite.
We live in an era where “facts” are supposedly up for debate, where news is suspect and partisan. But in the midst of all this nonsense there was a tiny flicker of truly bipartisan journalism. It was the myth-busting Hulu documentary “Batman and Bill,” the best Batman film ever made.
“The Dark Knight” and “Mask of the Phantasm” are better adaptations of the character, but this film tells the true origin story of the greatest superhero ever. Bob Kane has always been credited as the man behind the bat, but his sordid tale makes Charles Foster Kane look like Brian Gumble.
The true Batman’s name was Bill Finger. While fans like me have known the truth for a long time, it took the dogged guts of Marc Tyler Nobleman to finally bring the truth into the gloriously tragic light. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for his journalistic work on this deep, dark secret. The truth really is more amazing than fiction. We had to say goodbye to one Batman this year (Adam West), and thanks to Nobleman millions have gotten to know a Batman they didn’t even know existed.
2. ‘Get Out’
“Get Out” was hands down the best fictional film of the year—and not because it tries to be “woke.” This is the best film of the year because every aspect of it was Hitchcockian perfection. Like Hitch and all his best horror disciples, this film breaks free of mere genre appeal. It works very well as a horror movie, but even better as a film.
One of the strongest directorial debuts ever, it deserves to win every single award it gets nominated for, and oodles more. Identity politics be darned, Jordan Peele was the best filmmaker of 2017, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
“Logan” was easily the best superhero film since “The Dark Knight,” and one of the best Westerns made so far in the twenty-first century. Fox’s 10 X-men films have seen wildly mixed results over the years, but this last “pre Disney” outing was by far the best. Like “Get Out,” this film effortlessly exceeded its genre limits by focusing on near-poetic film craft.
Its use of the classic western “Shane” as a framing motif gives a beautiful messianic shade to Wolverine as the man of “sin” who must leave society to save it. Lord willing, Hugh Jackman still has a long career ahead of him, but when all is said and done this may be his pinnacle.
4. ‘The Blackcoat’s Daughter’
In terms of sheer terror and suspense-building, this was the best film of the year and the most truly horrific film of 2017. Technically, it is a film from 2015, but wasn’t released until this year. In the vein of 2016’s “The Witch,” this is supernatural horror at its darkest and most joylessly powerful. Every cast member turns in truly creepy, nuanced performances, and the script as well as direction are remarkably disciplined. The viewer is taken into an emotional hell.
I can’t really recommend this film to very many people because it is truly disturbing and frightening, but not in a cheap or exploitative way. The darkness in this film is entirely craft. This debut by Oz Perkins as writer/director may have outdone Robert Eggers’ masterful “The Witch.” To be fair, he may have a slight genetic advantage on every other contemporary horror filmmaker, because his first acting role was in the very underappreciated “Psycho II” as young Norman Bates. And he landed that role through beautiful nepotism since his father is Anthony Perkins, a.k.a. Norman Bates, in the four Psycho films.
Whatever the case may be, Eggers and Perkins are wunderkind auteurs that prove discipline and creativity, not money, are the true secrets to great filmmaking. I have it at fourth because I simply liked the first three films on this list better, but in many ways this was the best film of 2017. It is an emotional black hole, so I doubt I’ll rewatch it very often, but it’s hard not to give high praise to two hours of images seamlessly edited together that can make a grown man cover his eyes and wish his wife would leave work four hours early. Horrific perfection.
Christopher Nolan went full epic arthouse with “Dunkirk,” and the result was the first of his films I do not plan on ever buying. I probably will eventually, when it’s $5 at Target or Wal-Mart. This film was visually amazing, but one viewing is enough.
Nolan is my favorite filmmaker, so I was very surprised to feel this way. My second favorite contemporary filmmaker is Darren Aronofsky, and I preordered his bizarre film “Mother!” after watching it on the big screen even though it won’t be appearing on this list. But that oddity demands multiple views. “Dunkirk” simply does not.
“Dunkirk” will probably win best picture, but like many best pictures it will not age well and may eventually become forgotten. Just like in 1979, when the best film to be released was “Alien” and the artistic, pretentious “The Deer Hunter” won best picture, “Get Out” will largely be ignored yet become a cinematic classic. “Dunkirk” was an astounding work of art and will age better than “Deer Hunter,” but like many Oscar-bait films it will most likely be relegated to this auteur’s secondary canon.
6. ‘Wonder Woman’
This film was perfect. It is hard to comprehend just how perfect Gal Gadot is as Wonder Woman. She has an uncanny balance of raw Mediterranean beauty, quirky energy, naive courage, and quiet dignity.
But in many ways, it’s so much simpler than that. In 1979 audiences believed a man could fly because when Christopher Reeves smiled he made us feel like we could fly. Gadot’s smile does the same beautiful thing. God has marked her with unearthly grace. In a world full of confusion and distrust over what men and women are supposed to be and do, she stands there like a beacon of wonder.
But enough about how in love I am with Gal. “Wonder Woman” had a fantastic script and great direction from Patty Jenkins. There is the perfect mix of humor, adventure, and tragedy that makes the best superhero stories such an enduring delight. I hope Patty and Gal get to make Wonder Woman amazing for a very long time.
M. Knight Shyamalan has been wandering in the wilderness for a long time, but he seems to have finally found a home at the house that Blum built. He’s making good films again. And this one was a real stunner. It should not work as well as it does, but James McAvoy really pulled out all the stops for this role of a lifetime. What actor wouldn’t want to see if he could portray 23 different personalities in one character?
But as amazing as he was, in some ways Anya Taylor-Joy, the star of 2016’s “The Witch,” subtly stole the show. This young lady is really going places. She’s already a horror icon without being a “scream queen,” and that is not easy for a lady to do. The viewer never knows where this thriller is headed next, and the journey turned out to be full of surprises. It deals with some very disturbing subject matter but never feels cheap or exploitive. From beginning to end, this film is remarkably compelling.
8. ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’
I’m honestly so burnt out defending this wonderful film from nitwits who seem to believe SW is their personal property that I will just direct you to my review.
9. ‘I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore’
This is a weird, wonderful little film. It’s hard to explain what it is, what it is like, or even what makes it so great. But it is a wonderful, odd little film.
There’s a lot of humor, mostly dark. There’s some action. Some crime. But I think the main appeal comes from the wonderful innocence of Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood as a couple of goofy everypersons who have finally had enough. You can only push people so far before they snap. But this film isn’t really about going crazy as much as it is riding the crazy turns that life takes.
10. Stephen King Adaptations
Yes I know, this is cheating. But I can’t help it. King’s books have been adapted something like 50 times, and the results have been very mixed. From masterworks, like “The Shining,” that ignored their source material to very faithful but poorly done TV mini-series the Kingverse has seen it all. But 2017 saw three spectacular King films—“It,” “Gerald’s Game,” and “1922”—and a fun but mediocre one (“The Dark Tower”).
Additionally the second season of King’s spiritual child, “Stranger Things,” turned out to be very good. I was planning on including “It” and “Gerald’s Game” as their own entries on this list, but when I took stock of the year I realized I needed more space