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Best movies of 2017

From Get Out to Thor: Ragnarok


Polygon is kicking off its best of entertainment series, which will run through the end of December and beginning of January, coming to a close just before the 2017 Golden Globes. These personal essays will examine the best, most important and weirdest moments that occurred in television, film, streaming and YouTube/Twitch in 2017. Each will examine why the author believes that moment to be one of 2017’s most extraordinary. The series will end with Polygon’s Best of TV and Best of Movies pieces.

2017 was dominated by independent darlings, many of which surprised me upon release.

There was Get Out, the horror movie that subverted everything the genre stood for, and Lady Bird, a coming-of-age story that helped us see what it’s like to raise a teen from a mother’s perspective. Call Me By Your Name gave us the romantic, queer tale I’ve been waiting years to see and The Big Sick made me fall in love with Emily Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani’s relationship again and again.

There were so many amazing independent movies in 2017 that Marvel and Warner Bros.’ biggest blockbusters felt like a cherry on top. Spider-Man: Homecoming, Wonder Woman and Thor: Ragnarok all made a mark on the genre in their own right. Thor: Ragnarok redefined what the franchise looked like in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Wonder Woman saved the DC Cinematic Universe from, well, itself.

With so many good movies, it’s nearly impossible to narrow down the very best of the year, but here are the 10 films that helped define cinema in 2017.

Justin Lubin

Get Out

I saw Get Out three times in theaters, and it still wasn’t enough. I gabbed about it to anyone who would listen and praised the brilliance of Jordan Peele’s ability to turn a horror movie into the most important movie about racism and prejudice of 2017.

Get Out wasn’t the only movie that subverted the genre to send a message about racism and politics in 2017, but it was one of the few that didn’t sacrifice entertainment for it. Peele, a master of comedy, beautifully wove the message of facing prejudices we may hold into the seams of the film, only to focus on the most important message of how dangerous not addressing those beliefs can truly be at the very end of the movie.

Get Out may have been an uncomfortable viewing for some, but it’s because Peele doesn’t shy away from depicting prejudice once it’s out in the open. Even if people think they live in a post-racism world, Peele reiterates that racism is still alive, and forces the viewer to confront that in a horror movie.

Polygon’s Allegra Frank called Get Out one of her favorite movies this year:

Get Out is searing in its politics, which are remain painfully relevant almost 12 months later; but the film is also pure fun. There’s no tighter film of 2017, with every scene serving a purpose, every character perfectly defined and every cut or music cue creating a perfect amount of tension. Peele plays with the conventions of horror — shrieking strings punctuating characters’ surprise entrances, and slow zoom-outs revealing a villainous plot in the process. (The scene in which we discover that Chris, our hero, is up for auction by his girlfriend’s white parents and their friends continues to shock.)

Get Out is nominated for two Golden Globes, including Best Comedy. While Get Out is far from a comedy, I’m glad Peele’s not-so-subtle masterpiece is getting attention. He is one of my favorite comedians, and I’m excited that he’s now one of my favorite directors.

Spider-Man: Homecoming - Ned and Peter Chuck Zlotnick/Sony Pictures

Spider-Man: Homecoming

A week ago I called Spider-Man: Homecoming my favorite superhero movie of 2017. In the piece, I wrote:

For the first time since superhero movies started becoming a cultural phenomenon, Homecoming ushered in a refreshing age of normalcy within a genre where normalcy is the enemy. Spider-Man: Homecoming felt more like a teen movie at times than it did a superhero romp, and that’s what makes it the best superhero movie of 2017.

Homecoming isn’t just a good superhero movie, it’s one of the most fun. 2017 was the year superhero movies remembered how silly their core concepts are, and directors played around with that self-realization. Homecoming brought back the awkward teenage Peter Parker we fell in love with in the comic books, but somehow lost along the way in film.

This wasn’t the charming Peter Parker from the Amazing Spider-Man movies, played by Andrew Garfield, and this wasn’t the much older version played by Tobey Maguire in the original Spider-Man movies. Tom Holland was the quintessential Peter Parker, and brought a rediscovered energy with him to the franchise.

When Homecoming first came out, I wrote about my love for the version of Spider-Man we got, noting:

For the longest time, Spider-Man felt stale and the stand-alone movies didn’t feel like they were doing any justice to his character. But for the first time in over a decade, I am excited for another Spider-Man movie. Perhaps even better, though, is that I’ve rekindled my love for Spider-Man as a character on screen.

I can’t wait to see Holland’s followup in the next stand-alone Spider-Man movie — that’s something I’ve never said before.

Diaster Artist A24

The Disaster Artist

James Franco is a perfect example of an actor who’s hit or miss. In the past few years, it’s felt like he’s phoned in most of his parts. The Interview marked one of Franco’s worst performances, but roles where he flared his comedic chops, in shows like The Deuce and Angie Tribeca, reminded us that Franco is successful for a reason.

Franco’s performance in The Disaster Artist at the end of 2017 proved he is one of the best actors of his generation. As the infamous actor/writer/director Tommy Wiseau, Franco helped tell the behind-the-scenes story of how The Room, a genuine attempt to make a classic Hollywood movie that became a cult favorite movie for just how awful it was, came to be.

Franco earned a Golden Globe nomination for his role, and it will be surprising if he doesn’t get an Oscar nomination at the end of the month. Vox’s review says Franco, “with long hair and colored contact lenses, captures Wiseau perfectly: As a character in The Disaster Artist, he’s is played for laughs, of course, but there’s something so empathetic in Franco’s portrayal that you understand him as a person.”

I wasn’t expecting much from The Disaster Artist because, truthfully, I wasn’t expecting much from James Franco. I was delightfully surprised by his performance and the warmth the movie had for Wiseau, a beloved figure in cinema.

The Disaster Artist is one of the few movies I want to watch again and again and again; I don’t think I’ll ever get bored with it.

The Big Sick Photo: Amazon Studios

The Big Sick

There were few movies in 2017 that I cried and laughed through as much as The Big Sick.

The movie tells the true story of how comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani met his wife, Emily Gordon. After starting a casual relationship with Gordon, Nanjiani goes through one of the most traumatizing experiences of his life as she becomes seriously ill. Their relationship survives the illness, but it’s the story of helping a loved one through the worst part of their life and fighting for a relationship that really got me.

Nanjiani’s performance as himself is a tear-jerker and it’s magical watching him perform in a more dramatic role. Although we know Nanjiani best for his role in Silicon Valley and his career as a stand-up comedian, it’s in The Big Sick that we can see the full range of his ability as an actor.

Like many of the other movies on this list, Nanjiani is able to subvert the traditional elements of the romantic-comedy genre. The result is one of the most heartwarming and beautiful movies of 2017, and one that too few people saw.

If there’s one movie you’re thinking of watching after the Golden Globes, make it this one.

The Post 20th Century Fox

The Post

Few movies felt as timely and necessary as The Post did.

The Post tells the story of the leaked Pentagon Papers in the early 1970s and the first big battle of the press against the Nixon administration. Watching as newspapers, specifically The New York Times and The Washington Post, risk their existences to print the truth about a corrupt government, it’s impossible to not think about our current political atmosphere.

When I first watched The Post, I tweeted that the events it shows aren’t just a reminder of the importance and power of journalism, but the incredible bravery some journalists and publishers carry with them in the face of certain persecution. We live in a scary, turbulent time that we’re only beginning to process because of their strength.

In an era when death threats are a norm for many journalists, The Post reminds us why we need to support freedom of the press now more than ever.

There’s a quote, attributed to George Orwell but isn’t proven to be his, that journalism “is printing what someone else does not want written; everything else is public relations.” The Post, an entertaining and inspiring movie, acts as a two-and-a-half hour reminder of that sentiment.

Image: A24 Films

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story is a tale about trying to find closure in an ever-shifting world, and the fear of being forgotten after we die.

The movie stars Casey Affleck, who spends the majority of the movie walking around under a white sheet as a ghost, watching as the world slowly forgets about his existence following his death. He’s chained to the house where he lived with his wife, unable to move on as he longs for someone to connect to in the afterlife. He mopes as the world changes and people live their own lives, unable to regard the ghost floating around.

A Ghost Story is all at once sad and hopeful; death is an unavoidable part of our lives, and the best we can do is hope we made an impression on someone long enough for them to carry the memory of us after we’re gone.

There isn’t much dialogue in A Ghost Story, but there doesn’t have to be. The film finds its captivation in the subtle physical acts between the past and the future, as people overlap with one another and never actually realize it.

I fell in love with A Ghost Story the first time I watched it, declaring it my favorite movie of 2017. Not much has changed since then and I still find myself thinking about it at night. It’s rare a film leaves an imprint of that size on me, but A Ghost Story never left my mind.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - Mildred Hayes on phone Fox Searchlight Pictures

Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri

Unless you’re a fan of Martin McDonagh, there’s good chance you haven’t heard of Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri until just now.

McDonagh is my favorite director. I devour all of his work, boasting about Seven Psychopaths and In Bruges to anyone who will listen. Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri is one of McDonagh’s most controversial movies — and for good reason. The film is incredibly problematic. The casual racism and misogyny the movie throws around makes for an uncomfortable watch, despite the cast’s best effort to make it less so.

Why, then, is such a problematic film on my list of the 10 best? Simple: Frances McDormand.

McDormand plays the role of a seething mother, trying to get justice for the violent rape and murder of her teenage daughter. When the police seem to just drop the case, McDormand’s character takes out an ad across three billboards shaming them.

McDormand’s character represents the hope, strength and perseverance of all women. She is the face of social inequality and resilience; the unbeatable figure that women desperately needed in 2017.

Alison Willmore at Buzzfeed wrote about McDormand’s character, Mildred, and poetically captured the essence of why her character matters:

Mildred, whom McDormand plays with a resplendent wrath and heartsick grief, is perfectly positioned to be the fictional patron saint of our current cultural moment. She is a woman who refuses to let the act of brutal sexual violence that tore her family apart be forgotten, to let it slide into the realm of regrettable but normalized tragedy. She insists on writing what happened in 20-foot-high type: “RAPED WHILE DYING. STILL NO ARRESTS. HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?” Her singularly feminine rage glows so brightly that you could hold your hands up to the screen and warm yourself by its furious glow. Anger is destroying her life, but it’s also liberated her in a way that — on the heels of the first year of the Trump presidency and the continuing, Weinstein-fueled revelations of harassment and assault — is incredibly cathartic.

Three Billboards is problematic, but Mildred is a newfound patron saint.

dawn of the planet of the apes screenshot

War for the Planet of the Apes

War for the Planet of the Apes is a Shakespearean tragedy that didn’t quite get the attention it deserved upon release.

The final movie in one of cinema’s most impressive trilogies to date, War for the Planet of the Apes is less about an actual war and more about the fight to live openly without fear of persecution. Much like Get Out, War for the Planet of the Apes subverts the blockbuster, sci-fi genre it belongs to in order to weave a story about the absolute corruption of power and living in constant fear.

When the movie first came out, I wrote in my review about how important the film was for us in 2017, as we tried to cope with and understand what was happening in our world.

War for the Planet of the Apes is a high-strung, emotional story of personal tragedy, vengeance and the fight for survival when everything is working against you. It’s a story of perseverance and the fight for equality — to live among family and friends without the fear of persecution. It’s a warning of what can happen when decisions based on uninformed fears are made by those with a lack of moral conscience and complete power.

War for the Planet of the Apes reminds us that our enemies, more often than not, live among a group of elite we’re supposed to respect. The fighters, the rebellion, are not always the monsters people in power make them out to be. In War for the Planet of the Apes, it’s not the apes who are the problem, but the humans, who refuse to let go of their prejudice and fear, or try to live together peacefully.

War for the Planet of the Apes is about the controlling power fear has over us — and how we must learn to let that fear go.

Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, looking at his helmet. Image: Lucasfilm/Disney

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

If you had told me two years ago that a new Star Wars movie would cause strife across the internet, dividing people into camps, I would have rolled my eyes and said, “Obviously.”

But I wasn’t expecting what we saw with The Last Jedi.

I respect there are people who didn’t like The Last Jedi for legitimate reasons, and I can see what those criticisms are, but I was absolutely enamored with The Last Jedi. Director Rian Johnson managed to tell a Star Wars story that didn’t feel like a traditional Star Wars story, bringing a newfound voice and identity to the Star Wars universe.

Although I loved what J.J. Abrams did with The Force Awakens, it felt too similar to the approach George Lucas took with the original trilogy. The Force Awakens felt like a continuation from that, with little room for deviation and room to explore.

The Last Jedi takes those jumps with the characters, setting and identity we associate with Star Wars — and landed those risky leaps. Kylo Ren immediately became my favorite Star Wars villain, and the grey area between villains and heroes became more prominent. Johnson, more so than any other director, tackled the ambiguity and confusion war brings with it, not painting anyone as inherently evil or heroic; he found the true story of how humans operate in war.

The Last Jedi is a perfect example of how someone can take a beloved franchise, make a few tweaks, and earn enormous success. Johnson tried something new and, for me, it worked.

Johnson created one of my favorite Star Wars movies of all time, and I’m left with excitement over what the next generation of Star Wars movies under his direction will play out.

Thor and Hulk jump into the air to smash each other in Thor: Ragnarok Image: Marvel Studios

Thor: Ragnarok

No movie managed to surprise me more than Thor: Ragnarok, a film that redefined the dying Thor franchise and made me care about the Asgardian god for the first time.

Directed by Taika Waititi, Ragnarok plays up all the strengths of Thor that previous installments didn’t. Actor Chris Hemsworth is allowed to be funny, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is more charming than ever and Waititi points out just how ridiculous the notion of these movies are while also cultivating moments of genuine sincerity between characters. Add in a top-notch arc for the Hulk and voila, the best Thor movie of all time has arrived.

Ragnarok turns Thor into the thunderous god he always could have been, but never quite evolved into. He wasn’t just treated as a Shakespearean tragedy or a boring, dimwitted figure. Thor was charming, smart, brave and, in all sense of the word, a true rockstar. It’s a character he could have only become under the guidance of Waititi, and I’m thankful Marvel let a director like him redefine one of its franchises desperately in need of saving.

Thor: Ragnarok is fun — it’s so damn fun, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted from a Thor movie.


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