My Highly Subjective List of the Best Films of ’17

In my first talk with Joe Reda, the prosthetist at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, he asked about my goals. One of very few that I mentioned, back in December 2016, was regaining the ability to walk to my local movie theater. I achieved that goal by the spring, and also used Uber/Lyft and the kindness of friends to reach different cinemas. (My fave spot, the Clairidge in Montclair, is too expensive a ride share, and logistically ridiculous via public transport, so I regretfully only got there once.) All that considered, my overall movie-going was way down compared to earlier years. And yet, I’m still compelled to do a top-10 list — hey, it’s my website and I’ll do what I wanna!

10) Obit. A documentary about the New York Times obituaries desk? Rarely has a film been so squarely up my alley. This was a highly entertaining and illuminating look at both the process of honoring the dead — famous and otherwise — and also the rapidly changing face of newspapers.

9) Suburbicon Many of my faves involved in this one: Coen Bros. (writing), Clooney (directing), stars Damon and Julianne Moore, and in a small role, Oscar Isaac. It’s a noir semi-comedy of a scheme spinning way out of control in the not-as-perfect-as-they-seem suburbs. The civil rights subplot works less well.

8) Brad’s Status Mike White delivers a sharp, gently funny exploration of the middle-age mind. The set-up here is a dad (an excellent Ben Stiller) taking his son on a college tour of Boston, and all the memories, regrets, and missed opportunities this dredges up for him.

7) The Killing of a Sacred Deer The Greek dudes behind The Lobster (and the even better Dogtooth) return with another dark, dark tale. Colin Farrell is very good as the surgeon dad, struggling to keep his crumbling family together, and creepy mystery teen Barry Keoghan isn’t helping. A psychological thriller and morality play with an undercurrent of twisted absurdity.

6) Mother! Like an Edward Albee play gone bonkers, Darren Aronofsky takes us on a real head trip in this one, with a bravura lead performance from Jennifer Lawrence. You might despise this movie and I wouldn’t blame you. But Mother! had the best ending I saw all year, and it suddenly all came together for me.

5) Wonder Wheel Another film with a stage-drama feel. Late-era Woody Allen comes through yet again in a philosophically charged powder keg revolving around a husband (Jim Belushi), wife (Kate Winslet), husband’s daughter (Juno Temple), and wife’s/daughter’s lover (Justin Timberlake). The early 1950s Coney Island setting is absolutely stunning, thanks to production designer Santo Loquasto and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. But the film belongs to Winslet, longing for happier days, while current circumstances bring out her worst qualities.

4) IT The Stephen King adaptation deservedly became part of our pop-culture zeitgeist. Yes, it was ridiculously scary and fun, but also had significantly more depth than I anticipated, thanks to the charming and realistic friendship among the misfit kids. Bill Skarsgård is terrifying as Pennywise the clown, but the real star is young Sophia Lillis, kind, strong, scared, and vulnerable. Keep an eye on her.

3) Star Wars: The Last Jedi The Force Awakens was incredibly entertaining and satisfying, though if it had a flaw, it was an over-reliance on the plot, not to mention bet-hedging OG characters, from A New Hope. Despite the strong presence of Luke Skywalker in this installment, the story really had to survive on its own merits — and genuinely succeeds. The universe’s new characters, Rey, Poe, Finn, and Kylo Ren, grew in complexity while facing many internal conflicts. Plus it’s Star Wars so there’s a bunch of light sabers and X-Wings and pew-pew-pew-pew! Awesome.

2) Lady Bird A second Woody Allen film in the countdown? No, this was written and directed by his devoted acolyte Greta Gerwig. Despite heaps of praise and publicity for Lady Bird, I think the best way to view it is as a small film. It’s a coming-of-age tale, a hilarious comedy, a love letter to a hometown (Sacramento, not Manhattan), and a spotlight on hard-won love within families, especially moms and daughters. In the title role, Saoirse Ronan is a totally realistic American teen and she is a marvel. And did I mention that the movie bursts at the seams with sweetness and heart? Super good.

1) The Shape of Water The movie starts out as an homage to the monster flicks of the early ’60s, and I was certainly enjoying the proceedings. But as the film slowly reveals its true self as an amazing love story, it reached a whole other level, and totally grabbed hold of my imagination. Director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro returns to the fairy-tale magic he so beautifully employed in Pan’s Labyrinth, but here creates something completely new. Sally Hawkins’ mute cleaning person is a wonder of loneliness, seriousness, whimsy, and hard-nosed dedication. The most surprising, delightful, romantic movie of the year, and in my estimation, also the best.

Honorable mentions: Atomic Blonde, Blade Runner 2049, Alien: Convenant

New releases I saw in a theater this year: 22

My best-of lists from: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009

You can check out all my movie reviews by clicking here.

What about 2016? I only saw 16 movies in the theater that year, including three 2015 releases and a collection of Oscar-nominated animated shorts. But if you’re interested, here’s my belated top-five:
5) Maggie’s Plan
4) Everybody Wants Some!!
3) Where To Invade Next
2) The Boy and the Beast
1) The Lobster

Worst movie of 2016: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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