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Top 25 Movies of 2017

It's been a strange year full of killer clowns, musical cars, and sad kids

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    It’s been a weird year to like movies. Art in general, really. But the film industry has been the near epicenter of what many hope will be a genuine and lasting sea change within American culture. Power structures were challenged at a historic level. Darlings had to be killed. A few deeply unfortunate and untimely films were released. Some of the movies you used to like have become a challenge, in a way you might have hoped they wouldn’t, but now have to be. Victims, from recent years and decades alike, came forward in a world that at once questioned them in vicious ways and upheld their absolute right to be heard.

    But in a year where a number of films became lightning rods for so many shifting dialogues about art and culture and inequalities of all sorts, it was sometimes difficult (and arguably, just a shade less relevant) to focus on the fact that 2017 was an exceptional year for filmmaking. Studio movies got weird and challenging, whether successful or not. Newly growing distributors revived a space in the moviegoing market for odder and more challenging stories. Fresh voices broke out while established directors achieved career highs. Film challenged biases, recast old franchises in striking new lights, and reached out to our troubled past in an effort to explain the tumultuous present. As a kind of fever gripped the world, our pop entertainment became part of the landscape, and a new wave of directors told their stories with greater purpose.

    In so many words, it’s been a great year at the movies, from the ones you watched on your couch to the ones you caught in one of those perfectly loud Dolby theaters with the rumbling seats. It’s been a pretty difficult year for a lot of people, progress being made through so much pain being exposed on a constant basis. But as the emeritus film critic Roger Ebert once famously put it, “The movies are like a machine that generates empathy.” This world needs more of that these days, and at their best, we can look to the movies to speak to and show a path for our better nature. We can also look to them for compelling stories involving cannibals, killer ancient clowns, fish men, and superheroes of both the mega-budget and everyday varieties.

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    In 2017, the movies were hilarious and painful, sometimes all at once. So was everything else. Maybe a few of the films we chose below meant something to you or hopefully will. We could all use more things to love right about now.

    –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
    Film Editor


    25. It

    Who’s In It? Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    Pennywise is back

    This is what childhood looks like

    Needed more Bowers

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    You Gotta See This: Hype was high after the trailer for Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 masterpiece broke YouTube, but the film itself did the unthinkable by delivering an honest-to-god crowd-pleaser. Sure, the CGI is overdone and Skarsgård’s Pennywise is a touch too chatty, but Muschietti succeeds where it truly matters — his Losers are charismatic, funny, and heart-swellingly relatable, their natural bonds forming a tender core to a story cast in so much caked, blood-splattered makeup. Fingers crossed they stick the landing.

    Extra! Extra! Read Michael Roffman’s full review here.

    –Randall Colburn


    24. Lucky

    Who’s In It? Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ed Begley Jr., Beth Grant, Tom Skerritt

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    Death’s just out of frame

    as we live our messy lives

    A lovely farewell

    You Gotta See This: There’s much to praise in Lucky, but let’s not beat around the bush. In his feature-length directorial debut, renowned character actor John Carroll Lynch showcases another world-class performer, granting us the perfect final note in the long and remarkable career of Harry Dean Stanton. With Stanton’s death, this lovely posthumous release becomes an epilogue of sorts, but even if he were still with us, this performance, and a scene with a mariachi band in particular, would be both beautiful and bittersweet. What an artist. What a film. What a life.

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    Extra! Extra! Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review here.

    –Allison Shoemaker


    23. Wonder Woman

    Who’s In It? Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Bielsen, David Thewlis

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    Amazonian

    Check out that Lasso of Truth

    Gal Gadot is god?

    You Gotta See This: Wonder Woman was such a win in so many ways. It had a breakout lead in Gal Gadot, showing off a hero you’d love to adventure with. It was vengeance for Patty Jenkins after Marvel blew her off with Thor: The Dark World. It also made us forget about the state of DC. It gave audiences the leading heroine they’d been yearning for. It blended action and romance and spectacle in the Donner-esque manner that screamed “verisimilitude.” But above all – it delivered on the “wonder” it promised in the title.

    Extra! Extra! Read Alison Shoemaker’s full review here.

    –Blake Goble


    22. Whose Streets?

    Who’s In It? A cross-section of social activists and Ferguson citizens

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    To make your voice heard

    Use your phone to film and tweet

    Yes, Black Lives Matter

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    You Gotta See This: Taking a street-level view of the days immediately following the killing of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer, Sabaah Folayan’s Whose Streets? not only makes a cogent argument for police reform, but it also offers a powerful call to action for citizens to become activists. The cell phone and the tweet are quickly becoming the most wide-reaching tools for political change, and this film shows the cumulative power of those tools to raise the voices of the marginalized.

    Extra! Extra! Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review here.

    –Clint Worthington


    21. The Square

    Who’s In It? Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Terry Notary

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    Modern art is dumb

    Full of empty descriptions

    And ape men gone wild

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    You Gotta See This: Ruben Östlund’s Palme ‘dOr-winning piss take on the vapid world of top-dollar modern art exhibition and the people who organize it may be blunt in its purpose, but it’s also a singularly abrasive vision of an artistic practice stuck in constant loathing of the money that sustains it. Bang gives a breakout performance as a man who’s at turns contemptible and hilariously pathetic, Moss embodies a certain type of dilletantish obsessive, and Notary stages one of the year’s most terrifying film sequences, as a performance artist who takes the idea of relentless art to its violent, unsettling zenith.

    Extra! Extra! Read Blake Goble’s full review here.

    –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    20. The Meyerowitz Stories

    Who’s In It? Adam Sandler (just keep reading, trust me), Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    “This is my protest”

    Hoffman says to spurn his kids

    “Just like McEnroe”

    You Gotta See This: For the first time since Punch-Drunk Love, Adam Sandler offers a wonderful, give-a-shit performance in Noah Baumbach’s snappy, quick-witted, and intensely relatable ensemble dramedy. While its broadest strokes are far too familiar (shades of Royal Tenenbaums abound), Baumbach’s impeccable, overlapping dialogue is handled perfectly by Sandler and the rest of his ensemble.

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    Extra! Extra! Read Michael Roffman’s full review here.

    –Clint Worthington


    19. Good Time

    Who’s In It? Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Taliah Webster, Jennifer Jason Leigh

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    Robert Pattinson

    You’re gonna have a good time

    Are you feeling this?

    You Gotta See This: After turning New York into a teenage dystopia with 2015’s Heaven Knows What, directors Ben and Josh Safdie return with a similar harrowing chapter in Good Time. Robert Pattinson mesmerizes as pre-imminent fuck-up Connie Nikas, grinning with the selfish confidence of a lovable loser you can’t help but root for, despite his astonishing inabilities as a mindful human being. Good times for all, indeed.

    Extra! Extra! Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review here.

    –Michael Roffman


    18. Columbus

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    Who’s In It? Haley Lu Richardson, John Cho, Parker Posey, Rory Culkin

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    Two lost, lonely souls

    Architectural beauty

    No easy answers

    You Gotta See This: While story is almost always paramount in any, well, storytelling medium, certain films succeed by simply existing. Sure, there’s story in Kogonada’s debut feature, Columbus, but the emergence of stakes and pivotal decisions almost serve to distract from the film’s truest pleasure: Connection, and the simple joy of watching two likable, interesting people open their hearts. It’s like a platonic version of Before Sunrise, a film in which to luxuriate.

    Extra! Extra! Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review here.

    –Randall Colburn


    17. The Lost City of Z

    Who’s In It? Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    Percy Fawcett, ho!

    Bolivian jungle time

    Dangerous beauty

    You Gotta See This: And now for the obligatory mention of a James Gray film in a critics’ Top 25 list, because, come on, we love that guy. Just teasing. This film was daring stuff. Gray saw his scope and scale evolve this year with his epic ode to jungle madness and man’s folly, The Lost City of Z. Blending Herzog, Conrad, and nature photography through prim yet obsessive eyes, Z captured something ethereal, striking, and hypnotic in the heart of it.

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    Extra! Extra! Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review here.

    –Blake Goble


    16. The Disaster Artist

    Who’s In It? James Franco, Dave Franco, Alison Brie, Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, and basically everyone else in the comedy industry

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    Big Hollywood dreams

    You’re tearing me apart, James!

    Rhythm of the night

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    You Gotta See This: James Franco sheds his boyish looks for the vampirish complexion and weirdo wardrobes of Tommy Wiseau in this inventive adaptation of Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s non-fiction novel of the same name. Although it’s sold as a laugh-out-loud comedy, The Disaster Artist winds up being an affecting homage to all the bizarre dreamers of our world. Still, you’ll want to watch The Room beforehand.

    Extra! Extra! Read Marten Carlson’s full review here.

    –Michael Roffman


    15. The Shape of Water

    Who’s In It? Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer, David Hewlett

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    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    During the Cold War

    Two outsiders find true love

    Yes, the fish man fuuuuuuucks

    You Gotta See This: Guillermo del Toro’s latest phantasmagoria is arguably his best English-language work to date, a darkly funny and unexpectedly sweet love story set within the oppressive trappings of ‘50s Cold War America. With its brilliant ensemble of incredible character actors and a dark fairy tale tone turned up to 11, The Shape of Water is a beautiful tale of outsiders claiming a victory against orthodoxy.

    Extra! Extra! Read Sarah Kurchak’s full review here.

    –Clint Worthington


    14. Raw

    Who’s In It? Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    Two sisters are linked

    By forbidden appetites

    Oh shit, she did NOT

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    You Gotta See This: Julia Ducournau does not fuck around. In the writer-director’s debut feature, a budding superstar veterinary student (yes) undergoes a hazing ritual at her vet school (yes) in which she, a vegetarian, has to eat raw rabbit liver (yes). It unlocks certain cravings within her body, about which she’s alternately goaded and encouraged by her wilder older sister, also a veterinarian-in-training. Yes, this is the cannibalism addiction movie, but it’s also a thoughtful and disturbing piece of coming-of-age body horror, anchored by two stellar performances and positively steeped in gore.

    Extra! Extra! Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review here.

    –Allison Shoemaker


    13. I, Tonya

    Who’s In It? Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, Sebastian Stan, Paul Walter Hauser

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    Tonya Harding skates

    With the very best of them

    ‘Til the Incident

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    You Gotta See This: I, Tonya doesn’t really attempt to answer the question of whether Tonya Harding actually knew about the plot to assault Nancy Kerrigan. Instead, Craig Gillespie’s freewheeling dark comedy serves to humanize Harding in a more honest way. She’s an occasional liar and a bit of a prick, but she was also the best figure skater in the world at one point in time and a figure wholly undeserving of the fate that ultimately befell her. Margot Robbie gives one of the year’s best turns, and Allison Janney another, as Tonya and her vicious mother LaVona, forming the kind of dysfunctional family that hurts each other the way actual dysfunctional families do.

    Extra! Extra! Read Allison Shoemaker’s full review here.

    –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    12. The Big Sick

    Who’s In It? Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    Boy and girl meet-cute

    Boy gets freaked out, girl gets sick

    Boy and girl write script!

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    You Gotta See This: A future classic in a wrongly maligned genre, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s intimate and original romantic comedy takes its story from the complicated courtship of its writers. With that knowledge, viewers can appreciate how nimbly The Big Sick manages to have its cake and eat it, too: on the one hand, that lived experience is the likeliest source for the film’s awkward, honest charms; on the other, the pair (and director Michael Showalter) somehow dodge every single pitfall typical of based-on-a-true stories. Also, Nanjiani lands the punchline of the year with a 9/11 joke. See it.

    Extra! Extra! Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review here.

    –Allison Shoemaker


    11. Jane

    Who’s In It? Jane Goodall, and a colorful cast of chimpanzees, monkeys, and apes-a-poppin’

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    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    Chimpanzee lifestyle

    She Jane, scholar of the apes!

    See Jane bananas

    You Gotta See This: Oh what a wonderful life, and Brett Morgen assembled the footage to prove it. National Geographic’s Jane goes beyond stock biography. From the lusciously saturated 16mm of a young Goodall slowly beginning to learn the way of the chimpanzees, to Phil Glass’ beautiful music of discovery, to Joe Beshenkovsky’s miraculous editing (after being handed essentially scraps from Nat Geo and told, “good luck”), Jane is a new high in documentary filmmaking. If only we all could run away with the monkeys.

    Extra! Extra! Read Sarah Kurchak’s full review here.

    –Blake Goble


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