Well, we made it through another year, and doesn't it just seem more and more unusual whenever that happens? Regardless, you know what that means: It's time for my exhaustive annual breakdown of the best and worst in movies, music, and TV!
Since I decided this year to not review current movies (that lasted about 11 months, because the world can't keep me down), this might be the first time you hear my opinions on some of these flicks, and I'm a little excited about that. Who knows where my lists will lead? Well you do now, because here they are!
Also, this year I'm aiming to be a little more positive, so I've restructured my lists a little bit. I'm still going to mention what I think are some of the worst movies, etc. of the year, but I urge you to remember that this is just my opinion. Different movies appeal to all of us, and these ones didn't strike me. That doesn't mean they're worthless, just that you should steer clear of them if you tend to share my opinions on movies.
Also, I've cut out my "Worst Actor/Actress" categories. While I feel like it's totally fine to diss a movie, an ad hominem attack just feels mean, especially considering how much editing and directing can affect the perception of a performance.
Also, considering the charged environment that Hollywood is currently dealing with in terms of the sexual harassment and abuse of women, I've decided to tip the scales of my "Pretty People" segment toward men only. This world doesn't need more objectification of women in the industry, and I've never been particularly good at it, anyway. Dudes are fair game though, so buckle in.
One more thing to remember: I only talk about movies I've seen this year. I've seen a lot, certainly more than the average (read: sane) human being, but if your favorite isn't on here, I probably just haven't seen it. Or you have terrible taste.
I hope you enjoy my list, and please let me know if any of your favorites do or don't match up with mine in the comments below!
The Ten Best Films of 2017
#10 Spider-Man: Homecoming
Can I justify the fact that this is the third iteration of Spider-Man in a century that's not yet 17 years deep? Hell no. But the integration of Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe went off with hardly a hitch (other than the fact that they had to lean too hard on Jon Favreau as their biggest link), breathing new life into the character by actually having him be a believable high school student and making normal teenage routines and fears a major part of the fabric of the narrative and its comedy.
#9 The Boss Baby
Look, I'm just as surprised as you that this is on here. I was all set to hate what looked like the dumbest entry in this year's family movie canon (that title probably ended up passing on to The Emoji Movie), and even though I'll never like the mystifying, generation-defying joke "cookies are for closers," - seriously, who is that joke for? - my heart grew three sizes when I realized that the bizarre conceit is a metaphor for an imaginative older brother feeling like his parents' attention is being domineered by a new baby brother. It's a visually kinetic experience that brings one young boy's creativity to life in a variety of eye-popping landscapes that just shouldn't be as good as they are.
Never forget that The Book of Life came out years ago and had the exact same concept (in fact, it was my #7 of 2014, take that), but there is room in my heart for two animated films based on the incredible designs that come from Mexico's Dia de Los Muertos holiday. Coco is not gold standard Pixar, but if you approach it as what it secretly is (a tried and true Disney animated musical), it's a solid emotional ride that celebrates a culture that doesn't get a fair shake in Hollywood with specificity and beauty. And the songs really are very good.
#7 Cult of Chucky
Don Mancini, who wrote every Child's Play movie and directed the most recent three entries, has really come into his own as a director. He has always shepherded this franchise into unique and fascinating directions, and Cult of Chucky is no exception. It's perhaps ten minutes too long and the place this entry leaves off doesn't make me too excited for the next sequel, but as a part 7 in an 80's slasher franchise, this is an unparalleled success. The glorious overdesign of the sets hearkens back to classic Universal horror, the humor is as scalpel sharp as ever, and a handful of the kills are some of the most gleefully gross things you'll see this year.
#6 Get Out
I think the press surrounding Jordan Peele's directorial feature Get Out got a wee bit carried away proclaiming it as the horror movie of the decade or whatever, but there's no denying that it's an incredibly strong entry in the modern genre canon. Blumhouse has really been knocking it out of the park with original horror this year, but Get Out was a risk with a huge reward, extrapolating a chilling tale out of the racial microaggressions that come from the interactions between an upper class white family and their daughter's black boyfriend. The ending might get a little silly, but it's a satisfying and cathartic allegory for the biggest social problems in modern America.
#5 The Big Sick
#4 Happy Death Day
It's been a hell of a long time since there's been a slasher worth talking about in theaters. And Happy Death Day had every opportunity not to break that trend, being a PG-13 horror flick from the teen wing of Blumhouse. But the slasher movie Groundhog Day conceit is a compelling one, and it dodges a lot of the pitfalls of not being particularly gory by the very nature of its construction. I can't say I've ever seen a movie where a single character is both the Final Girl and the body count, but it's a fun comic riff on the genre that takes its low stakes premise and builds a frothy teen romp out of it.
#3 Lady Bird
I was all ready to dismiss Lady Bird as a bland mumblecore flick, but it's so much more than that. It's an infinitely relatable, loosely plotted high school coming-of-age story that explores great heights both comedically and dramatically with some spectacularly well-observed characters and a keen sense of its own setting. It's low key, but it's marvelous.
I've never been a huge fan of Wolverine. Obviously he's the breakout star of the X-Men films, but his solo outings and numerous late-period cameos kind of left me cold. It turns out all you had to do was dump him into a sci-fi dystopia, tart up his character with some Western archetypes, and run him through a superpowered road trip movie. Logan is a triumph of franchise moviemaking, completely changing the context of the character without taking anything away from the myth the other movies have built around him, using the relationship he's built with audiences for over a decade to deliver an emotional, harrowing gut punch of a not-so-super superhero movie.
#1 Baby Driver
Once again, my favorite movie of the year is a musical, but Baby Driver completely warps what that term even means. Music is woven into the very fabric of the movie, plot, and characters, but rather than bursting into song every five minutes, the editing and motion react to a never-ending fabric of choice cuts from Edgar Wright's deliciously deep retro playlist. It's an exhilarating action movie, a beautiful sonic tapestry, and an hilarious, unforgettable entry in the genre movie canon that uses Wright's favorite tropes without so obviously foregrounding them like his other films, which have all been one kind of genre pastiche or other.
The Five Worst Films of 2017
#5 The Circle
There's nothing worse than wasted potential. The Circle was shaping up to be a satisfying techno-thriller, but then they had to get tangled up in subtext they didn't understand, be the first movie of the year to totally waste John Boyega, and give a major role to Boyhood's Ellar Coltrane, who proves that being friends with Richard Linklater doesn't necessarily preclude the need for acting classes.
#4 The Book of Henry
This really is every bit the spectacular failure the rumors implied it to be. It wasn't quite as fun-bad as I was hoping, but you really can't beat "ultra-smart genius child convinces idiot Naomi Watts to assassinate a neighbor" for Worst Of list eligibility.
#3 The Bye Bye Man
2017 has been a great year for the horror genre (It, Get Out, Split, Happy Death Day, and Annabelle: Creation all hit number one at the box office), but you wouldn't know it two weekends in. Genre audiences had already suffered through Underworld: Blood Wars, and then The Bye Bye Man swooped in like a sledgehammer to the face. There are some unambiguously hilarious moments on display here (like the scenes where the Bye Bye Man causes a dude to have a hallucination of Carrie-Anne Moss winking at him, or where Faye Dunaway straight-up hands the lead a gun and casually tells him to murder his friends), but everything else fails on a spectacular level. The titular villain has both a name too silly to take seriously and a surplus of calling cards that are inconsistent and nonsensical, including a ghost dog, a magic coin, a nightstand, and a ghost train (?). A more thorough failure has not been seen in theaters this decade.
#2 The Great Wall
My qualms with this have nothing to do with the "white savior" complex that people had problems with earlier this year. This movie was made by the Chinese, who chose to hire certain white actors to sell in America (a refreshing twist on the usual formula), and Matt Damon's character isn't really that great at saving the world. No, my qualms have to do with the soul-suckingly crappy CGI monsters and the unending, choppily edited boredom of the dialogue scenes in between their appearances. The costumes are beautiful, and the Eisensteinian focus on groups of people rather than specific protagonists is an interesting technique in the modern era, but God, sitting through this was just punishing.
#1 47 Meters Down
If you're looking to be bored at the movies, look no further. Mandy Moore and sharks seemed like the recipe for a perfect aquatic horror gem, but this film was so dull we literally skipped a half hour in the middle and not one thing changed. This film's pedigree should have given away some of its flaws (it was actually released direct-to-DVD under a different title, then pulled and repackaged after the success of The Shallows), but the color scheme (while probably accurate) is devastatingly ugly and gloomy, with grating neon colors scraping up against the black sludge that smothers the rest of the frame, made even more annoying because there's literally nothing else to look at.
Best Worst Movie: Fifty Shades Darker
Fifty Shades Darker gave me everything that Fifty Shades of Grey promised and failed to deliver. A frothy, trashy delight that's actually a little bit kinky (on the sliding scale of big budget Hollywood fare), Darker is a bubbling mash of inexplicable plot pivots that come out of nowhere, surprisingly dark backstories that creep in from all corners, and that aggressive lack of chemistry that marks the central romance. Also, Dakota Johnson is still unreasonably terrific, giving it that little bit of quality that takes the edge off the effervescent badness.
Most Underrated: Ingrid Goes West
Ingrid Goes West hardly made a blip on anybody's radar, but this twisted, darkly comic tale of how social media obfuscates one's identity features a powerhouse performance from Aubrey Plaza, turning her deadpan character into a heartbreaking psychological profile for the ages.
Most Overrated: The Disaster Artist
Like, it's funny. But a Golden Globe nomination? Oscar buzz? People are seeing something that isn't there in this boilerplate, sub-Apatow comedy. James Franco's Wiseau impression is excellent, but there's not really much to offer beyond that.
Biggest Surprise: Jane Levy in Monster Trucks
I know Jane Levy from appearing in horror flicks like the remake of Evil Dead and Don't Breathe, so it was very surprising to see her playing a high school student in this year's runner-up bad-good gem Monster Trucks. It's even more surprising that her character was maybe the funniest of the year: a nerdy girl who is taken on a grand adventure who tries to repress how much she gets off on the crimes she's committing. It's an unexpected turn, to be sure, and she's incredibly hilarious in the role.
Biggest Disappointment: Split
I did like Split, but I didn't love it, and the general consensus of the world at large seemed to be that it was a movie worthy of emphatic love. I'm glad it made Blumhouse money, but I'm also glad that Get Out had a strong showing so they don't just churn out a bunch of movies modeled after the lumpy pacing, non-closure, and ridiculous twist of Split.
Best 2016 Film I Missed: Other People
I think a lot of the best comedies are also a little bit sad, and Other People is a lot bit sad. The story of a deadbeat son caring for his mother while she struggles with cancer, it's a sharp, probing look at the quiet humor of the tragedy of the human condition. Molly Shannon gives a terrific, show-stopping performance, and the movie balances its dueling tones so well that the comedy doesn't feel ghoulish and the tragedy doesn't feel treacly. It's perfectly understated, hilarious, and devastating.
Worst 2016 Film I Missed: Why Him?
Zoey Deutch deserves so much better. Megan Mulally deserves so much better. James Franco thinks he deserves so much better. And I don't blame Bryan Cranston for anything here, but he's certainly switched back into sitcom mode, and his mugging doesn't really redeem any of the flailing script's dysfunctionality.
Best Dramatic Actor: Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out, Death Note)
Lakeith Stanfield is a national treasure. He only has a small role in Get Out, but along with his equally excellent cohort Betty Gabriel, he is integral to maintaining the off-kilter atmosphere of the film. And he's far and away the best thing in Death Note, bringing a weird manic energy to his character that didn't work for everyone, but I found incredibly compelling. Keep giving this guy work, Hollywood!
Best Comedic Actor: Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok)
The best parts of Thor: Ragnarok were the moments it slowed down for a little bit of director Taika Waititi's signature Kiwi comedy (probably because those were the moments you could forget you were watching a Thor movie), and that comedy was dominated by the rock monster Korg, who was played by - of all people - Waititi himself. Based on the Maori bouncers he's met, Korg has the gentlest, quietest voice emanating from his gruff exterior, but that's just the tip of the comedy iceberg. Everything out of this character's mouth is a piece of mad genius, expertly delivered by one of the great modern comic filmmakers, who just can't seem to do anything wrong right now.
Best Dramatic Actress: Salma Hayek (Beatriz at Dinner)
I'm not gonna go around calling this performance "brave," because normal middle-aged women look like normal middle-aged women every day. It's not like you need a suit of armor and a sword to do that. But balancing the tone of this pitch black comedy about a Mexican faith healer who finds herself plunged into a white one-percenter dinner party and forcing them to interact face to face with the culture they're exploiting is a delicate task. The movie doesn't quite accomplish it, but everything good about it is encapsulating in Hayek's excellent performance, which is like Amélie as translated through forty years of hardship and heartbreak.
Best Comedic Actress: Christine Baranski (A Bad Moms Christmas)
A Bad Moms Christmas was a movie that should never have existed, and yet I'm kind of glad it happened. In between all the exhausting boilerplate plotting, there are some sparkling jokes that finally made good use of its vastly overqualified cast. Newcomer Justin Hartley also adds a lot (partially because none of his scenes have anything to do with the annoying sitcom Christmas special drama), but nothing could ever compare to Baranski, who swoops in on this movie like Gordon Ramsey dead set on resuscitating a franchise on the fast track to Hell.
Best Breakout: Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip)
Obviously Tiffany Haddish has been in the game for quite some time. But such is the way of the diversity-anemic Hollywood model that she didn't hit the big time until the genuinely delightful summer comedy Girls Trip. That movie was mostly a boilerplate modern debauchery comedy, but Haddish is something special here, dominating every scene she's in, and provoking huge laughs with one of the most vulgar, lewd, hilarious acts ever committed to film in a hotel kitchen. She commits one hundred percent to everything this one-note character does, and her energy and dedication allow her to empower the film to go further instead of dragging it down with repetitive antics.
Best Child Actress: Dafne Keen (Logan)
And now for the annual segment of "holy crap, I didn't know a child could do that!" And I'm not talking about the bloody violence or the stunts. Dafne Keen embodies this pure animal id of a child while still remaining completely sympathetic, plays off Hugh Jackman like she was born to do it, and all while either not speaking a word or spouting a bilingual waterfall of Spanish and English at rapid speed. This girl is a PRO and I hope we get to see her in more things soon.
Best Child Actor: Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver)
All joking aside, I do think this performance elevates Ansel Elgort from the teen weepie elites to actual bona fide actor. I was nervous about an Edgar Wright film being anchored by a mostly untested star like this, but he rose to the occasion with aplomb.
Best Villain: Julianne Moore as Poppy (Kingsman: The Golden Circle)
A spy movie villain that's essentially just a parody of every 50's housewife role Julianne Moore has been saddled with? Yes, please!
Best Hero: Lego Batman
Although the movie was ugly and overstuffed as all hell, aesthetics can't ruin comedy, and this is the best Batman in decades.
Best Cameo: Chris Meloni (Snatched)
Chris Meloni is probably the reason I finished Snatched, because boy howdy was I not feeling compelled to suffer through one more minute. Then suddenly in the late second act, in comes any cameo-friendly comedy movie's saving grace. Meloni is always hilarious, but this character (an Indiana Jones-esque figure who might not be as capable as he seems) is especially compelling, an oasis of comedy in a movie that really had every opportunity to be better.
Worst Cameo: Elton John (Kingsman: The Golden Circle)
Elton John and his wooden acting (let's not blame him for this, the man never claimed to be a thespian) would have been excruciating in a small dose, but he might as well be third billed for all the totally unnecessary screentime he gets here. I think he's literally onscreen more than Channing Tatum, who plays a major role in the film. Or maybe it would have been easier to stomach if they didn't just have him drop F-bombs as if we'd be amused by the vulgarity, rapping granny style.
Best Fight: Atomic Blonde
For being one of the only movie fight scenes to depict just how exhausting fighting actually is, having its participants drunkenly flail at one another while barely being able to stand up straight, Atomic Blonde is damn incredible. It's a flawless injection of realism and humor into an over-the-top action movie, and it's powerfully effective. If only the plot made a lick of sense.
Best Kiss: Two Michael Fassbenders (Alien: Covenant)
I'm not even the most hardcore Michael Fassbender fan, but come on. This scene was something I never thought I'd see in a movie. Thank heavens for CGI, because this scene is the exact reason cinema was created.
Best CGI Creation: Superman's Upper Lip (Justice League)
I don't know if I would have even noticed that they CGI-ed out Henry Cavill's Mission Impossible mustache during reshoots for Justice League, but knowing what I did, this beautiful disaster kept me occupied during the entirety of that boring, overserious film. Instead of having to think about the plot, I was occupied with thoughts ranging from "Is that his real lip?" and "That has to be a reshoot," to "Dear God, what hast thou wrought?"
Worst CGI Creation: Ghost Dog (The Bye Bye Man)
Just look at that monstrosity. Why not just cut these scenes? The Bye Bye Man has too much going on, anyway.
Best Monster: The Scarecrow (Annabelle: Creation)
Speaking of evil beings that manifest in too many ways, Annabelle: Creation was a little all-over-the-place with its scares (it's about a haunted doll, but I think she's onscreen less than twenty percent of the movie). But how could you complain when one of those manifestations is this creepy-ass scarecrow, who provides most of the best sequences in the film?
Worst Monster: The Beast (Beauty and the Beast)
I'm supposed to fall in love with this?
Biggest Laugh: The Hero Shot (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
The obligatory Marvel hero group shot is particularly majestic in Guardians, but [SPOILERS] it's immediately undercut by Mantis being hit with a massive boulder, an unexpected development that cracked me up both times I saw this movie.
Biggest Cry: Literally Anything Richard Jenkins Does in The Shape of Water
I found the central love story of The Shape of Water to be a little underwhelming, but Richard Jenkins is what ties the whole thing together. His side story of being an aging gay man in the 60's is a beautiful portrait of alienation and loneliness, and he commits so deeply to the role that I'm gonna tear up just thinking about it.
Biggest Scream: The Storm Drain (It)
Maybe I just wasn't scared by most movies this year, because I can't say this scene gave me nightmares or anything. But this scene - while never eclipsing Tim Curry's iconic performance in the original TV movie - proves the film's worth as its own feature and goes the extra mile with some gore and child death that is truly shocking.
Best Title: Coco
At first glance, the title of the film doesn't seem like anything special, but the beauty of it is that it takes on a whole new meaning once you finish the film. That's the best kind of title, one that actually makes you think about how it interacts with the theme of the film itself and turns you into an active participant in the story.
Worst Title: Baby Driver
Don't get me wrong, I loved the movie. But if I have to sit through one more conversation with people who think I'm talking about some sort of Boss Baby spin-off, I will hit the gas pedal and drive away from them until I run out of gas. I get that it's a Simon and Garfunkel reference, but not everybody has the same Mariana Trench depth of musical knowledge as you, Edgar Wright. You gotta work with us plebs, here.
Best Line: [STAR WARS SPOILERS, SORTA] "Hi, I'm Poe." - Poe Dameron (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)
At the end of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron introduces himself to Daisy Ridley's Rey, revealing the fact that they've never actually met during the preceding 276 minutes of Star Wars they've been in together. It's a reveal on par with the moment in Season 4 of Arrested Development when you realize that George Michael has never actually been onscreen with Liza Minnelli's Lucille Austero before.
Worst Line: "Hold up, you dig on multiverses?" - Ryan Hui (Wish Upon)
For being the single lamest line of dialogue in a film that was wall to wall lame teen dialogue.
Best Poster: A Cure for Wellness
One thing a poster needs to do is capture a bit of the movie's essence, and this one does it perfectly: A Cure for Wellness is a film where aesthetics trump all, providing exquisitely beautiful and creepy imagery at the expense of things like narrative momentum or logic or a reasonable run time.
Worst Poster: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
If you had never seen Jumani and only had this poster to judge it from, you might think it's a dark psychological thriller in which one woman must face the hardship that comes with having skin made out of plastic.
Best Poster For a Bad Movie: Book of Henry
I'm not even going to pretend it was difficult to make this poster, because all they did was rip off Drew Struzan's style, but damn if that doesn't work every time.
Worst Poster For a Good Movie: The Big Sick
Is this a 90's horror movie? Why is the entire cast just lined up chockablock in front of a boring background? They're clearly not even posing together, it's just a series of Photoshop cutouts. Also, where the hell are they standing where the skyline is behind them? Are they in one of those action movie shipyards where drug deals always happen? This poster is a disaster and I hate it, probably disproportionately because the movie was in fact extremely lovely.
Best Song From a Musical: "The Other Side" The Greatest Showman
The best thing The Greatest Showman had to offer was its showstopping choreography, but interestingly the best single example of this is the smallest setpiece they have on offer. For the first minute and a half or so of this number, Hugh Jackman is just sitting at a barstool, spinning a spectacle out of just his hands, the bar around him, and his voice. It's a beautiful evocation of the theme the plot failed to flesh out: the way that one man can build a captivating show from nothing.
Worst Song From a Musical: "Evermore" Beauty and the Beast
There's a reason this song isn't in the original Beauty and the Beast. It's a tedious, irritating song that deflates the pacing like tire spikes thrown on the road. Also I have no desire to spend time alone with Dan Stevens' digitally manipulated, already not great singing voice. Next time, stick to the Howard and Ashman original script, thank you very much.
Top Five Movie Discoveries
#5 Ghost Writer (2007)
If a Saw movie had a baby with High Fidelity and that baby wrote an off-Broadway play, you'd only be halfway to the bonkers hilarity that is Alan Cumming's directorial debut. Ghost Writer is an experience not to be forgotten, and I'm worried I may be the only person in the world who has seen it, let alone liked it.
#4 Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight
90's horror gets maligned by a lot of fans, but who could possibly dump on the decade with a straight face when it delivered this delightful, campy, gleefully gory gem from the vaults of the world's favorite punmeister?
#3 Bound (1996)
The Wachowskis made their debut with this effortlessly queer crime drama, and boy is it refreshing to see them apply themselves to something that isn't high concept sci-fi. The film sizzles with non-exploitative sexuality, Jennifer Tilly is capital-A Amazing, the central heist is tense as a coiled spring, and the directorial aesthetic is a fizzy delight. One for the ages, certainly.
#2 Cabaret (1972)
Cabaret is a period drama musical that showcases Liza Minnelli's insurmountable talents with a bowler hat, but it's also an outright horror film, depicting how the glitz, glamour, and sexual freedom of Berlin's cabaret scene allowed people to ignore the rise of Nazism in Germany. The movie creates juxtapositions between fabulous musical numbers and extreme violence in a way that's both satisfying for the musical lover and f**king chilling.
#1 What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
I guess I caught up with my queer filmmaking this year, and the ne plus ultra of that vein is the camp classic horror flick What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Although it's maybe a smidge too long, this movie is a fascinating, tense, one-house thriller that explores the fraught emotional relationship between two aged sisters in a terrifying, delightfully over-the-top manner that feels dangerous and unhinged thanks to Bette Davis' total commitment to an ugly, batty performance.
Top Six Pretty Guys
#5 Idris Elba (The Mountain Between Us, The Dark Tower, Thor: Ragnarok)
C'mon. It really doesn't get any better than this. The only reason he's so low on the list is because I haven't actually seen any of the movies he's been in this year besides Thor, and I'm pretty sure he wears tragically bulky, body-obscuring coats in all three of them.
#4 Lucien Laviscount (The Bye Bye Man)
Isn't it nice when the gratuitous nudity in a horror movie is provided by a man? It's the one and only case where The Bye Bye Man has something actually positive to offer to the world.
I don't know how the script got flipped so thoroughly when Baywatch was translated from TV to film, but the boob-jiggling series for red-blooded TV audiences is maybe the gayest thing that hit theaters this year. Marvel has really been making obligatory male objectification a common trope, and this film is the apex of that trend. I hope we keep going from here.
#2 Chris Hemsworth (Thor: Ragnarok)
Finally, Thor gets the haircut he deserves.
#1 Henry Cavill (Justice League)
I don't know whose idea it was to have him fight shirtless and in slow motion for a full ten minutes, but they were a genius and I forgive DC of all its flaws. Bring on the extended universe!
Bonus: Geoffrey Stults (Unforgettable)
You know how some people are character actors? I think this is a character crush. I'm not looking for anyone to agree with me, but of all the actors who played "average" this year (keep in mind that movie star "average" is a civilian "9"), Geoff really stood out to me and I have no idea why. Maybe it's just him being in the orbit of Rosario Dawson, who was unconscionably terrific in this trashy bad mom thriller.