Better late than never. Plus, the Oscars are this weekend so I’m technically still allowed to put this list out. Before the list of ten, here is the quick list of other films that I loved in 2017, but didn’t quite hit me in the feels the same way the Top 10 did. Lots of solid cinema!

Honorable mentions: 
Dunkirk, Logan, Wonder Woman, Girls Trip, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Shape of Water, Logan Lucky, The Florida Project, Lady Macbeth, The Lost City of Z

10. BABY DRIVER

10. BABY DRIVER

10. BABY DRIVER

Edgar Wright has been my favorite comedy director for the past decade (putting out classics such as Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgram vs. the World). He’s an editor’s director in the sense that his scenes are choreographed to perfection without hindering the comedy or drama. And with Baby Driver, Edgar steps into the dramatic-thriller genre while still keeping his trademark style intact. The film is a ton of fun, the story is unique, it looks gorgeous, and the actors were perfectly cast. Yes, Kevin Spacey is part of the ensemble, but this was obviously before his story broke. He’s unfortunately involved in a handful of great films and his personal troubles don’t negate the fact that American Beauty, LA Confidential, or The Unusual Suspects are great pieces of cinema. Same goes for Baby Driver. One last thing: some of my silly friends think that no other character in the history of cinema can be named Baby after Dirty Dancing. Edgar Wright not only proved them wrong, he created a film more worthy of the very common (wink wink) nickname. For those who have seen the film (heavy spoilers ahead), here’s a supercut of all the times the word Baby is said during the film.

9. IT

9. IT

9. IT

I chose the picture of the young ensemble because that was a key element of why I loved this horror film. The kids were all perfect in their respective roles: funny, empathetic, genuine, and all incredible actors. I never saw the mini-series or read the book, but I can appreciate Stephen King’s narrative genius and this adaptation did not disappoint. The direction and cinematography were both spot on. And the horror elements got under my skin in the best way possible. They did resort to a few cheesy/modern scare tactics (and bad CGI). But overall, the use of Hitchcockian suspense and weaving together the psychological and mythological plot-points lifted this film above the modern horror clichés. Bill Skarsgård’s creepy/drooling clown aside, there were lovely dramatic moments and two scenes in particular (the yearbook signing and the goodbye) delivered more heart than some entire Disney movies can muster. If you can stomach the genre, I highly recommend this horror flick from the crazy mind of Mr. King.

8. THE BIG SICK

8. THE BIG SICK

8. THE BIG SICK

What a great love story. The fact that it’s based on true events from the star/co-writer and his co-writer, real-life wife makes it that much better! I’ve been a fan of Kumail Nanjiani’s standup and his scene-stealing, guest roles on various shows (like this one from Portlandia) for a few years. Kumail takes his talents to a new level with The Big Sick by injecting his comedic brilliance into a script that takes an honest look at the conflict between his Pakistani roots and his relationship with a girl (and her family) who fall outside his family’s culture. The film is a seamless mixture of warm, funny, heart-breaking, and hopeful. With big franchise films getting the most money and attention from studios nowadays, I’m glad little dramas like The Big Sick are still being made. More please and thank you!

7. MA VIE DE COURGETTE

7. MA VIE DE COURGETTE

7. MA VIE DE COURGETTE

The English title for this Swiss-French stop motion animation is My Life as a Zucchini. If you watch it on Netflix or another streaming service, please do so with the original voice actors in French and not the dubbed English version. Like all foreign films, the original version is always the best. I’ve been a fan of the stop motion technique since I first saw Wallace and Gromit as a wee lad (I know that’s technically a Scottish idiom, not English). But, even though Courgette is about kids, it’s certainly intended for an older audience with its adult/serious themes of orphans dealing with neglect. But the story is handled in such a way that your pity towards the characters turns to admiration. By the end of this whimsical film, you forget you are watching hand-made puppets and realize you are completed invested in the lives of these brave characters. Plus, any film that celebrates adoption in a realistic and honest way gets bonus points from me!

6. BLADE RUNNER 2049

6. BLADE RUNNER 2049

6. BLADE RUNNER 2049

To be completely honest, I was never a huge fan of the Ridley Scott film from 30 years ago. There were some impressive effects for the time and it had some good material for a young, brooding Harrison Ford. But the over-the-top symbolism and slow-motion doves just did not age well, in my humble opinion. The overlying sci-fi mythology, however, was always ripe for future exploration. And I’m glad the task fell into the capable, French-Canadian hands of Denis Villeneuve (Arrival). Every frame looks like a futuristic painting thanks to his collaboration with legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. The plot is clever with enough twists to satisfy any nerd. It’s also great to see Harrison Ford again in a role that isn’t just a pandering disappointment (I’m looking at you Force Awakens). I’m just sad that an intelligent sci-fi film like Blade Runner 2049 failed at the box office (the production company is expected to lose close to $80 million on it). Hopefully this won’t stop studios from trusting Villeneuve with more stylized productions in the future.

5. PADDINGTON 2

5. PADDINGTON 2

5. PADDINGTON 2

I had more fun watching Paddington 2 in the theater than any other film this year (or in recent memory). I know the old adage “my face hurt from smiling so much” is overused, but it was the case for this film. It’s so charming and funny. Plus, it really highlights the fact that “family friendly” cinema doesn’t need to be brainless or overly juvenile. Paddington 2 was well written and beautifully directed and even better than its predecessor. Plus, that perfectly British cast was having too much fun with the material, including personal favorites Brendan Gleeson and Sally Hawkins. After the first Paddington came out, people kept urging me to see it. I finally Netflixed it during a lazy Sunday afternoon and realized I’d be happy to spend many more hours in that bear’s fantastical world.

4. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME


120 BATTEMENTS PAR MINUTE

4. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME


120 BATTEMENTS PAR MINUTE

4. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME


120 BATTEMENTS PAR MINUTE

It’s a tie for fourth. I know it seems like cheating to lump the two LGBT-themed films together. But they actually provide important contrast in their styles and themes. One is like a perfect Italian dream while the other is an unflinching account of the AIDS epidemic. The former, Call Me By Your Name, was directed by the Italian auteur Luca Guadagnino. He has the ability to create an ethereal atmosphere through sights, sounds, and even silence (please check out his previous film I Am Love). With the delicate piano score and a star-making performance by Timothée Chalamet, the film transported me to a sun-drenched countryside for an emotional journey about first love. And Michael Stuhlbarg’s final monologue will give you chills (and maybe cause a few tears).

The second film, a French production with the English title 120 Beats Per Minute, won the Grand Prix award at Cannes last year. It’s about a group of activists (Act Up Paris) in early 1990s Paris who demanded action from the government and pharmaceutical companies who used politics to obstruct or slow the research/treatment for AIDS. There were a lot of colorful people with varying approaches to activism in Act Up, and these passionate characters create fiery scenes of debate and action. As the film progresses, it becomes tougher to watch since many of the activists themselves were suffering from the disease. But these events, where governments purposely slowed treatment for their citizens, are important to dramatize and watch.

3. THE POST

3. THE POST

3. THE POST

I love movies about the newspaper business: His Girl Friday, All the President’s Men (the original, duh), and the recent Spotlight. New director Steven Spielberg shows great promise with his own take on drama surrounding the press. He’s going to have an impressive career, I can feel it. All kidding aside, The Post is an important film about freedom of the press. The 1970s-set story, about how a smaller newspaper fought against the US government to release the Pentagon Papers, feels startlingly relevant. And it’s Spielberg’s best film since Munich. The brisk, thriller-esque pace is a joy to watch and the all-star cast delivers the script with enough gusto and conviction to make their real-life counterparts proud. Meryl Streep plays Kay Graham, the country’s first female newspaper publisher, and in one pivotal scene she says, “My decision stands, and I’m going to bed.” May we all strive to be both decisive and well-rested.

2. GET OUT

2. GET OUT

2. GET OUT

My friends Jen & Shane introduced me to good horror films a few years ago. Now I have an appreciation for the genre and Get Out may be my favorite horror film of all time. I would recommend the film to anyone who enjoys thrilling/suspenseful films since the horrific elements of Get Out aren’t marred with the excessive gore of modern Hollywood horror. It’s a slow burn that ratchets up the tension with every successive scene and the ending will have you screaming and jumping out of your seat (in the best way possible). I’ve been a fan of Jordan Peele since the beginning of his visually-impressive and sharp Key & Peele show, so I’m not surprised with this stunning directorial debut. (When you have an Oscar nomination for your first feature, that’s impressive.) Peele also makes some powerful cultural statements in Get Out without sacrificing the narrative excellence or the visual storytelling. I remember seeing the first trailer in the fall of 2016 and thinking, “Damn, this film looks creepy.” I was wrong, it’s so much better than that—it’s a modern horror masterpiece.

1. LADY BIRD

1. LADY BIRD

1. LADY BIRD

Ever since the release of the painfully-quirky Juno, I’ve found that any storyteller with a hint of eccentricity is going to be met with some eye-rolls and visceral judgement. Yes folks, unconventional people do actually exist and they can still make good films. It’s true that quirk is often misused and abused in cinema, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be an authentic character trait. Also, while I’m still on my soapbox, I’ve had to defend my appreciation for this film from people who deem it to be “white mediocrity” or “white feminism.” Good grief. It’s a story, based on the writer and director’s teenage years, in which a white girl wants to escape the WASPy (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) nature of her hometown. Plus, it’s her story. Artists shouldn’t have to check sensitivity boxes in order tell any story, much less their own. As someone who grew up in a working-class family in a midwest town (much like Sacramento), Lady Bird made me both nostalgic and sympathetic. Beyond the subtextual themes, the film itself is incredibly well-written and directed. I love to see female directors hit home runs and Greta Gerwig swung for the fences. I laughed, I teared-up, I cheered, and I wanted to see it again immediately. I can’t end this writeup without talking about Saoirse Ronan, who has been captivating audiences since Atonement. She’s my screen crush and only gets better with each new role. I would love to see another collaboration between Saoirse and Greta!

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