Before we get to the runners up, I just want to take a few moments to recognize some things that don't fit into the categories that make up my "best of" lists. I also want to note some of the movies that I wasn't able to see prior to making my lists, which might have changed the rankings: Call Me By Your Name, A Fantastic Woman, Faces Places, BPM (Beats Per Minute), Wonderstruck, Novitiate, The Square, and God's Own Country.
Perhaps the most purely, gleefully entertaining movie of the year, I still kind of can't believe that a movie this weird was made with a superhero-level production and marketing budget. All praise to Marvel for stepping back and letting Taika Waititi do his thing.
The first trailer for Atomic Blonde felt like it came out of nowhere and got everyone talking (not that that would ultimately lead to box office success, as the film only took just over $50 million domestic). The second trailer promises everything that the film will ultimately deliver - bone-crunching action, high style, and a great soundtrack. Although the song itself doesn't feature in the film, the trailer's use of Kanye's "Black Skinhead" is an inspired choice, particularly once it's mashed up with Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus."
Love it or hate it, there's a lot going on in mother!. It wears a lot of its themes on its sleeve, which makes it the kind of film that's easier to write about for people just starting to learn how to write about films, but it's also ambiguous enough that there's no one or simple answer to what it's trying to do, so just about any theory about what it "means" could be advanced if argued well enough.
The whole sequence is just gorgeously shot, like a painting come to life.
I'm not saying that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a great movie. But it's not the abomination the reviews might have you believe and it's actually pretty fun to watch. A shame we're not going to get any of the intended sequels.
Praise for Cynthia Nixon's turn as Emily Dickinson, I understand. Love for the actual movie around that performance, not so much. I found it overly mannered and kind of boring.
This movie is trying waaaaaaay too hard to be cool and ends up being tedious.
The Tom Cruise vehicle American Made isn't one of the best movies of 2017 (though it's a perfectly good one and terrifically entertaining), but it contains one of the best scenes of the year. This happens when Cruise's character, fleeing from the government in an aerial pursuit, takes the measure of his situation and decides that his best bet is to land his plane in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. The landing isn't as smooth as he'd hope and he crashes, emerging from the cockpit in a cloud of cocaine and then taking off on a little kid's bike. Cruise isn't an actor usually noted for his comedic chops, but this is scene is hilarious.
Best line reading of the year. This is the moment when Meryl Streep's Katharine Graham decides that she's had enough and she's not going to be pushed aside anymore and treated like she doesn't matter. It's a moment that opens the floodgates for the character, who goes on to demonstrate that despite everyone (including herself, because years of being treated like a child have decimated her confidence) thinking otherwise, she actually does know exactly what she's talking about. It's a great moment in which the character realizes what she can do and then runs with it, and it's one of those moments that will remind you of exactly why Streep is the revered icon of her field that she is.
Christopher Plummer is a great actor generally, but it's nevertheless amazing to see what kind of performance he's capable of on such short notice. Sight unseen you might be inclined to cut him a little slack if the performance is a bit undercooked, but that turns out to be unnecessary as he delivers a fully realized performance as Jean Paul Getty, a megalomaniac who appears to believe that having more than everyone else will somehow allow him to cheat death. The character is cruel and selfish but also, in a way, worthy of pity. In building up his wall of money and possessions, he's cut himself off from everyone else completely, and the vulnerability of that position comes through in Plummer's performance.
As one of the ordinary citizens to heed the call to assist in the rescue at the beaches of Dunkirk, Mark Rylance delivers Dunkirk's best performance. It's not flashy in any way, it's as unassuming as the man himself, but that's what makes it so memorable. He's a man with a job to do and he's going to do it without fuss, even in the face of danger. In Rylance's hands, the character doesn't even need to say anything to make an impact, as one of the film's best moments is one in which he shares a silent look with his son which confirms that, in some circumstances, telling a lie is the kindest thing you can do for someone.
Jessica Chastain is one of the best actresses of her generation, though more often than not she seems to end up on the outside when it comes to awards and nominations. Maybe it's because she's so good at playing hard, uncompromising characters, characters who give the impression that they neither need nor want anyone's approval. Her character in Molly's Game is one of those characters, a smart and driven woman who builds an empire (twice) and then has to live with the consequences when it all comes crashing down around her. The perfect kind of actor for Aaron Sorkin's rapid fire dialogue, Chastain runs circles through this film as a woman dealing with both the very specific problems of her circumstance and the general bullshit that women put up with every day.
As the mother of the kidnapping victim in All the Money in the World, Michelle Williams does more than just play "the mother," that standard issue character that, along with wife/girlfriend, functions to do little more help flesh out the male protagonist. Here her character really is the protagonist, the character who, by being an active part of the story, propels it forward and the narrative moves on the strength of her determination and desperation to find her son. Williams is excellent, turning her character into a woman caught between two worlds, targeted because of her last name but without the advantages that people assume that last name brings, and making her so much more than just a woman who waits on the sidelines.
The Disaster Artist is one of the funniest movies I saw in 2017, but what makes it so good is the way it manages to balance finding humor in its subject (the making of the oft called "worst movie of all time") and having compassion for the fact that none of this was supposed to be funny. As I said in my original review, this could have easily ended up being a mean-spirited movie in which a bunch of rich, successful people made fun of a bunch of unsuccessful people. Instead it's a film that manages to both mock the pretensions of a grandiose personality while at the same time acknowledging that making art and putting it out there for consumption requires a certain amount of bravery. The Disaster Artist is a relentlessly funny movie, but it's also one with a heart.
James Gray's labor of love about explorer Percy Fawcett is one of the most beautiful looking films from 2017 and that last shot - in which Fawcett's wife descends a set of stairs and then wanders into the jungle, signifying that she will spend the rest of her life metaphorically wandering through that jungle in which her husband and son were lost - is one of the year's most evocative. A sprawling story of adventure, obsession, and mystery that features a great supporting performance by an almost unrecognizable Robert Pattinson, The Lost City of Z is a film that will be worth revisiting.