Twenty Don’t-Miss Films from 2017
By Jordan Staggs
Here’s the thing: I love movies. I always have, but my taste might not include every critically acclaimed or Oscar-nominated film. It would be impossible to do an objective “top movies of 2017” roundup that pleases everyone (and I haven’t seen them all yet), but here are twenty movies that I think are worthy of the list. The titles of my picks are in bold. I hope at least some of these flicks will have you ready to snuggle up on the sofa with your favorite snacks!
The Year of the Superhero
It’s no secret the box office is dominated by superheroes these days. Rather than lump all my favorites into one category, you’ll see more sprinkled throughout this list, but here are a few straight-up heroic highlights for the year.
In the current Marvel versus DC Comics movies war, I usually side with the former, but I have to give credit where it's due: Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins might have saved the Justice League film franchise with this installment. Gadot’s powerhouse performance as Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman, made up for disappointing plot points and character shortfalls in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. DC and Warner Bros. hit a winner with this film. It’s empowering and entertaining, with something for fans of comic books, World War I, and mythology alike. More importantly, it got fans excited for Justice League, which debuted in November and brought Cyborg, the Flash, and Aquaman into the fold, the last of which will be the next hero to get a solo film, coming in December this year.
Another Spider-Man reboot might have seemed like a risky move, but after actor Tom Holland was introduced as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War, fans couldn’t wait to see more of him in the role, and Spider-Man: Homecoming did not disappoint. Meanwhile, Thor: Ragnarok marked the seventeenth—yes, seventeenth—installment in the Marvel cinematic universe. Director Taika Waititi took on a lighter note than predecessors, which poised the god of thunder to team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy in this year’s Avengers: Infinity War.
It was a great year for family films, with both animated and live action crowd-pleasers that parents will love just as much as their children do for years to come!
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
This might be the most divisive film on the list when it comes to fan reaction. It seemed that most viewers either loved or hated the latest episode in the Star Wars saga. First, let me state for the record that I am a die-hard Star Wars fan and love all the films—even the “bad” ones. Directed by Rian Johnson, The Last Jedi picked up where The Force Awakens left off in 2015 and contains echoes of The Empire Strikes Back while also continuing the new journey of heroes such as Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron—plus spunky newcomer Rose Tico—as well as the tragically antagonistic Sith apprentice Kylo Ren. After the saddening loss of actress Carrie Fisher last year, The Last Jedi also paid homage to her with her final performance as princess-turned-general Leia Organa, and the return of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker is a must-see.
Disney pleased audiences worldwide with the live-action remake of the beloved musical Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, while its new Disney/Pixar animated feature Coco charmed viewers with the story of Miguel, a young guitarist who must travel through the Land of the Dead to seek wisdom from his grandfather, a legendary musician. The film marks a breakthrough in mainstream depiction and storytelling of Latin American culture and features a nearly all-Latino voice cast. Parents, especially those in corporate office jobs, will get chuckles from DreamWorks’ The Boss Baby, in which Alec Baldwin voices an infantile, suit-wearing yuppie on a mission. The Warner Bros. LEGO movie franchise held strong in 2017 with two big-screen additions, with Will Arnett reprising his hilarious voice-over role as the Dark Knight in The LEGO Batman Movie.
With series such as Game of Thrones, The Crown, and The Last Tycoon dominating small screens, the box office hasn’t seen as many period films as in years past, but there were a few standouts in theaters last year.
Murder on the Orient Express
The intriguing characters of Agatha Christie’s famed novel come to life in this murder mystery whose impressive cast includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Dame Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Josh Gad, Leslie Odom Jr., Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Derek Jacobi, Johnny Depp, and Kenneth Branagh, who plays the illustrious detective Hercule Poirot. This classic whodunit takes many twists and turns as the passengers of the Orient Express lie, sneak, and accuse their way to discovering who killed Edward Ratchett (Depp) as the train becomes derailed during an avalanche.
Inarguably a film that will receive multiple award nods this season, Dunkirk is writer/producer/director Christopher Nolan’s riveting tribute to the Allied soldiers of Belgium, France, and the British Empire who were pinned down by German forces at the Battle of Dunkirk in World War II. Stunning visuals from the perspective of the soldiers on land, at sea, and in the air, with little dialogue, made this one of the more cinematic and compelling pieces of 2017.
So Much Drama
Even if we hate when our own lives get dramatic, we can all admit that watching someone else’s drama unfold makes for good entertainment.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
First of all, if you were expecting a movie about Wonder Woman when you went to see this one, you were only half-right—but Gal Gadot is not in this movie. The ever-sexy Luke Evans, who also costarred in Beauty and the Beast last year as the macho villain Gaston, stars as this film’s title character alongside the talented and alluring Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote. This semi-true story of the creator of Wonder Woman comics, William Moulton Marston, chronicles the love-triangle-turned-polyamorous-relationship between William and his wife, Elizabeth Marston, as they both fall for their psychology student, Olive Byrne. Themes of free love, open marriage, and fetishism might be controversial today—so one can only imagine the stir they caused in the late 1920s and 1930s. It’s not for everyone, but the underlying psychological commentary, superb acting, and cinematography make this film worth a watch.
Another true tale, I, Tonya, recounts the incidents leading up to the 1994 Winter Olympics, during which time American figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) fought to overcome an abusive relationship and bias from others in her profession. Meanwhile, her husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), and his friend Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) planned a violent attack on Harding’s rival, Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver), in order to give Harding an advantage. I, Tonya received three Golden Globe nominations with Allison Janney winning best supporting actress in a motion picture for her role as Harding’s mother.
Music can make or break a film, and while a good score is key, a soundtrack can be just as compelling, if not more so, for telling some stories.
This action-packed thriller stars Ansel Elgort as Baby, a getaway driver who is indebted to a kingpin crook (Kevin Spacey). Music is everything to Baby, who has tinnitus (ringing in his ears) from a childhood trauma—thus the story is often told through Baby’s headphones or car stereo, featuring throwbacks his mother used to play for him and other obscure tracks that keep his energy up during high-speed chases. “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, “Debra” by Beck, and the Commodores’ favorite “Easy” are just a few highlights in this film’s robust track listing. Antagonist thieves played by Jon Hamm, Eiza González, and Jamie Foxx keep the tension high and the action hot, and Elgort received a Golden Globe Best Actor nom for his part.
The soundtrack to writer/director James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 helped catapult the oddball cosmic superhero team to being some of the new favorites in the Marvel cinematic universe—and catapulted old hits such as “Hooked on a Feeling” and “Come and Get Your Love” back to popularity on the radio. The much-anticipated Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 had a soundtrack that kept the good times rolling with classic rock hits including “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” “Mr. Blue Sky,” “My Sweet Lord,” and many more.
Sometimes a film just looks awesome, period. Whether through incredibly sophisticated visual effects, sweeping shots of settings, or gritty close-ups, the cinematography sets the tone for the story.
Blade Runner 2049
This sequel to the 1982 sci-fi hit Blade Runner brought back Harrison Ford as blade runner Rick Deckard, whose mission in the original was to hunt down human-like androids called replicants and “retire” them before they became too sentient. The original is a bit of a cult classic but was praised for director Ridley Scott’s moody vision and thematic depictions of his gritty dystopian urban landscapes, rich interiors, and film noir–esque character interactions. 2049 follows in those footsteps with Ryan Gosling as the new blade runner on a quest to find the truth about the replicants and himself. Though slow-moving at some moments and running a whopping two hours and forty-four minutes, the sequel is nevertheless a visual masterpiece.
Logan, the latest in Fox’s X-Men franchise (which arguably launched the rebirth of the superhero genre on the big screen in 2000), takes viewers to 2029, when the X-Men themselves have disbanded and mutants are nearly extinct. Hugh Jackman reprised his role as Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine, for this incredibly gritty R-rated sequel. The home release versions of the film include a black-and-white cut, which has received praise from fans and critics alike. The Greatest Showman—a passion project for its producer and star, Hugh Jackman—combines original Broadway-worthy songs with a touching story. The cinematography and costumes, not to mention the talented cast, made for a stunning depiction of P. T. Barnum’s humble beginnings and growth into one of America’s most celebrated showmen.
Oh, the Horror
Love being poised on the edge of your seat, wondering what might be around the next corner? Then these selections could be your next Redbox rentals. (I’ll be honest, though—if Netflix’s Stranger Things 2 were a film instead of a series, it would take the cake here.)
The brainchild of writer and director Jordan Peele (best known for the sketch comedy Key & Peele), this contemporary horror story occurs when African American Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) goes with his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) to meet her parents for the first time at her family’s secluded countryside estate. The family reunion seems to be going well—until Chris starts to notice strange behavior from the estate’s black workers, and his visit soon spirals into a nightmarish experience. The film grossed $245 million worldwide and Peele has received high praise across the board, including some major award nominations.
Perhaps a more highly anticipated horror film of 2017 was the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s It, which seemed to be all anyone could talk about in the month of September. Bill Skarsgård is freakishly good as the villainous Pennywise, a shape-shifting monster who lures in children under the guise of being a friendly clown (though how any kid would go near him in the first place is beyond me). In true Stephen King fashion, there is a psychological component mixed into the horror, and It could leave viewers with more questions than answers, but it’s definitely a must-see for fans of the genre.
Of course, these are just one editor’s picks for the year, and there are many more great films to see. Did your favorites make the list? What are your Academy Awards predictions? Send us an e-mail or comment on social media (@viemagazine) to let us know which 2017 films we should check out!
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