Shea’s Top 10 Movies of 2017

At the start of 2017, I made a promise to myself that I would watch more movies. I used to stay up-to-date on the biggest releases from both a mass-market and artistic perspective, and I made a point to see every film nominated for a major Oscar. Well, life got in the way and I fell back into only attending the theatre for tentpole superhero or fantasy releases. Netflix and Redbox were reserved for watching movies that were already a few years old. I wanted to make 2017 different.

Don’t get me wrong, I still wasted time and money watching some absolute schlock in 2017, but by and large, I was smarter about my choices. While I didn’t watch every single film I wanted to see this year, it was a marked improvement, and I feel great about my top 10 films.

Here’s every movie I saw in 2017. Note: Reviews are linked.

American Assassin
American Made
Atomic Blonde
Baby Driver
Battle of the Sexes
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049
Cars 3
Darkest Hour
Fist Fight
Get Out
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
I, Tonya
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond
Justice League
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Lady Bird
Murder on the Orient Express
Power Rangers
Spider-Man Homecoming
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
The Disaster Artist
The Florida Project
The Founder
The Great Wall
The Hitman’s Bodyguard
The Lost City of Z
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
The Shape of Water
Thor Ragnarok
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Win It All
Wind River
Wonder Woman

A note on methodology: Any film that released in 2017 is eligible for this list. I don’t follow the Academy’s timeline of February-ish to February-ish because that’s stupid. Because of that, you might see some movies on here that were at the Oscars last year, and you might not see some movies that were at the Oscars this year (Call Me By Your Name, for example). Who really cares about the opinions of a bunch of old white dudes, anyway?

Honorable Mentions:

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The Disaster Artist
The Florida Project
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)


10. Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049’s sounds and visuals are hands down the best of the year. Thankfully, the Academy felt the same way, with the film earning nominations in multiple audio categories and two wins for cinematography and visual effects. That sex scene was one of the weirdest, sexiest, most emotional, cool-ass sex scenes I’ve ever watched. And almost every shot in the film is filled with drama and style, which is only enhanced by the dark, sci-fi musical themes.

I’d say the story of the film is merely average, but it does a great job of building on the world and themes established in the original. Ryan Gosling is fantastic as the understated “K,” and Ana de Armas brings deep humanity to the virtual “Joi.” The only performance I didn’t care for was Jared Leto as Niander Wallace. He seemed to be more concerned with being weird than with being an interesting character. Harrison Ford’s inclusion makes sense from a story perspective, but he isn’t in the film nearly as much as the trailers would have you believe. I think that’s for the best, and if the movie ended in a different way, I’d be clamoring for a sequel.


9. Logan

Man, Logan sure as hell outdid my expectations. Seeing the trailers, it seemed like an X-Men take on The Last of Us, which admittedly sounded cool. But Fox had been handling the X-Men universe so poorly that it was hard to believe they could actually execute on something so meaningful and deep as this final story for Hugh Jackman’s Logan. The film isn’t perfect, and suffers from some needless narrative bloating in the second act, but it absolutely stands as one of the best X-Men films to date — and certainly the most artistic and introspective.

The film truly feels like a last goodbye for Hugh Jackman, as his Logan yet again deals with inner demons and finding his place in the universe that doesn’t want him. Dafne Keen shines as Laura (aka X-23), and it’s a beautiful, sad thing to watch the relationship between Laura and Logan grow over the course of the story. Patrick Stewart also brings his dramatic expertise to bear as a completely different kind of Charles Xavier, one who has done terrible things and is losing his grip on reality. Logan is a sad film, but it’s also the perfect way to end Logan’s story. I can only hope Disney and Marvel Studios let the character breathe before trying to inject a new actor into the role.


8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards just seems like a movie that I would love. It’s directed by Martin McDonagh, a phenomenal playwright, screenwriter, and director. It stars Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, who I think are two of the most underrated working actors out there. And it’s delightfully bizarre in its tone and events. For me, though, it doesn’t totally nail what it’s aiming for — despite some amazingly subtle (and not-so-subtle) performances.

There’s a bit of a shock early on in the film. It starts out feeling like a relatively straightforward drama with maybe some dark humor thrown in. But as things progress, it becomes clearer and clearer that Three Billboards is borderline absurdist — some of the events and reactions to said events are so unbelievable that no other genre makes sense. Thankfully, once the style of the film is properly established, it’s easy to dive into the world and let yourself be along for the ride. And it’s a pretty insane ride. I also loved the ambiguous ending and lack of a true conclusion to the story, as both feel appropriate for this exaggerated take on reality.


7. Get Out

In my review of Black Panther, I brought up some of the themes that film shares with Get Out. Topics such as modern and historical racism, how we treat people that are different than ourselves, clashing cultures, and working together despite our differences are all things that are worthy of discussion. The difference between Get Out and Black Panther, though, is that Get Out is a good movie. In fact, it’s one of the best “horror” films I’ve seen in years.

Calling it a horror film is honestly a bit of a misnomer, as I was only frightened by one little jump scare early on. The rest of the story falls more into “suspense” territory — you’re constantly waiting for things to pop off as you learn more about the setting and characters. I already knew the “twist” going in, so it was fun to acknowledge all the little moments of foreshadowing. In retrospect, the reveal is a bit obvious, but it’s hard for me to be objective on that. The final climax of the film is the least interesting part, to me. Things fall back into more traditional “horror” tropes of violence. But Get Out is a fantastic film not only because of its subject material, but because it successfully translates an 80s B-movie concept into something completely appropriate for a modern tale.


6. Baby Driver

Baby Driver is just fun as hell from top to bottom. Edgar Wright completely owns his visual style, and constantly finds new genres and techniques with which to experiment. That’s the mark of a successful auteur. Most of the style in Baby Driver comes from its excellent use of music, as the licensed songs rotate throughout different events and emotional states for Baby. The car chase sequences are pretty rad, too.

Ansel Elgort honestly doesn’t blow me away as “Baby,” as he doesn’t 100 percent own the character in my eyes. It isn’t a huge deal, but he looks uncomfortable in his skin at times and doesn’t completely sell the attitude that’s demanded of him. The rotating chair of bad guys is a tad distracting, and the eventual villain doesn’t take on that role until the third act, but the story isn’t really the draw, here. Baby Driver is definitely a “style over substance” type of movie, but when the style is done this well, that’s more than enough to make it a fantastic movie.


5. Dunkirk

My feelings on Dunkirk have been pretty varied this past year. Immediately walking out of the movie, I appreciated the cinematography and simplistic, tense audio choices, but found the overall “story” to be lacking and unnecessarily confusing. Whenever I speak to someone that didn’t like the movie, though, I find myself vehemently defending it. And I’m not a Christopher Nolan fanboy. I think that’s pretty telling, as I’m often a proponent of more experimental ideas in filmmaking and movies that don’t fit the traditional narrative mold.

There’s a permeating silence throughout Dunkirk that ratchets up the tension even in moments where it feels like the danger has passed. But that’s the thing, the danger never really passes, and the constant ticking in the background doesn’t want you to forget it. I spent the entire time watching the film with my hands clenched and shoulders raised, which I’m sure is exactly what Nolan intended. I think the mixed timeline adds to the tension in that you aren’t always sure when something is happening in relation to everything else. It creates a sense of unease. Would Dunkirk’s story have been more successful if it had told a more straightforward version? Maybe, but then it definitely wouldn’t have been as special.


4. Wind River

Coming out of the theatre after watching Wind River, I knew it was a lock for my top 10 and thought it had an excellent shot at taking the top spot. That just goes to show how opinions change as you watch more things throughout the year. Don’t get me wrong, though, Wind River is an exceptional film in every way and deserved to be the 10th Best Picture nominee at this year’s Academy Awards. Writer Taylor Sheridan has long proven his ability to craft tense stories and engaging, flawed characters — as seen by his writing of Hell or High Water and Sicario. But now I can also say that he’s a pretty damn good director.

The trailers made Wind River seem more like a muder mystery, and while the characters in the film are definitely out to uncover a killer, that isn’t really the main interest for the viewer. Instead, I was fascinated by Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen’s leads, who are both well-developed and well-acted throughout the film. The desolate setting also takes center stage, and I’m left to wonder why more films don’t highlight this type of remote, hard location that can still be found in the U.S. There’s a pervasive sense of isolation throughout the film that is felt by the characters and viewer. Wind River continues Sheridan’s excellent film-writing track record, and hopefully establishes him as a new directorial voice.


3. Spider-Man Homecoming

Tom Holland is my definitive Spider-Man and I wish he was my best friend — though our eight-year difference in age would probably make me seem lame in his eyes. But in all seriousness, Holland nails everything that I think defines Peter Parker as a character. He’s bright, sarcastic, more than a little geeky, and most important of all, he’s a good person. Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes is also a more interesting villain than we typically get from Marvel movies, though the reasoning behind his actions and the explanation of his capabilities are a bit under-developed. He’s a villain that could have actually earned my pity if he wasn’t such a deplorable dick.

I’m glad Iron Man doesn’t play as large a role as the trailers advertised. While I think the father figure role is a good fit, some of his appearances feel a bit forced and take away from Homecoming feeling like a “boots on the ground” superhero movie. Thankfully, the rest of the movie is overflowing with fun moments and personality. The supporting cast is also outstanding, with all of Peter’s friends getting moments to shine. Homecoming honestly just delivers everything I want from a Spider-Man movie, which is something I can’t say for any of the previous adaptations.


2. Lady Bird

I saw Three Billboards and Lady Bird back to back, which wasn’t a bad way to spend a weekend. I still don’t know if I would have picked Saoirse Ronan over Frances McDormand for Best Actress, but she definitely deserved the nomination. On a surface level, it could be easy to dismiss Lady Bird as yet another coming of age story. To be fair, that is the story. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is a high school rebel trying to find her true self and place in the world. She fights back against her emotionally abusive mother at every turn and often only thinks of herself. But where Lady Bird might lack in uniqueness, it more than makes up for that in realness. It’s easily the most real-to-life story of its kind that I can remember.

Obviously, the transformative performances by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf heighten this, but writer/director Greta Gerwig has firmly planted herself as a new, unique voice in filmmaking. I already can’t wait to see what she does next. Timothée Chalamet and Lucas Hedges also co-star as two of Lady Bird’s boyfriends, and they both bring something unique to the table. As a side note, pretty crazy to see that they were both in two Best Picture nominated films in 2017. I can’t say that I personally identify with any of Lady Bird’s experiences, but I sure do feel like I understand them a little bit, now.


1. Lion

I know, Lion came out in January and was part of the 2017 Oscars, but I’m not following the Academy’s rules for release dates. Lion came out in 2017, so it’s a 2017 movie. And, more importantly, it’s the best movie I saw in 2017. I’ve never been a huge fan of Dev Patel since he first came onto the scene in the criminally overrated Slumdog Millionaire. But man, he blew me away in this one. His adult Saroo is so complicated, and the final scenes of the film had me actively sobbing. But for me, the first half of the film is the standout piece.

The movie follows a young Indian boy that gets separated from his brother and mother. He spends the rest of the movie trying to get back to them, first as a child and then later as an adult — after being adopted by an Australian family. The movie is beautifully shot and takes its time with the seemingly simplistic story. The music is also some of the best of the year and heightens the constant emotional ups and downs for Saroo. Lion tells an absolutely incredible journey of this child with — pardon the pun — the determination of a lion. And to think the whole thing is based on real events.


And there you have it, my 10 favorite movies from 2017! As always, there wasn’t nearly enough time to watch everything I wanted to watch, but I couldn’t wait forever to post this. I’m sure you’ll disagree with at least a few of my choices, so leave your favorites in the comments below and be sure to check out all my movie reviews!

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