American cinema in 2017 had plenty to offer. We’ve witnessed a raft of delightful blockbusters, unforgettable social, family dramas, and deeply philosophical visions. Some of this year’s marvelous works came from unlikely places and from directors few had heard. Quickly then, let’s get around to listing the best Hollywood movies of 2017 (ordered alphabetically):
1. A Ghost Story
David Lowery’s deeply reflective drama belongs to the category of slow cinema, which may seem pretentious to general movie-goers. Lowery, who previously made studio blockbuster Pete’s Dragon, audaciously embarked on this indie project with a 30-page script. The two-member cast includes Hollywood’s A-list actors Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. A Ghost Story is an indelibly creative take on our existential dread. It uses a specter – bedsheet ghost – to earnestly express humanity’s collective despair. (By Arun Kumar)
2. Blade Runner 2049
Denis Villeneuve’s awe-inspiring sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 dystopian sci-fi deeply probes into themes of memory, identity, and reality. Riddled with high-brow pop-culture references, Blade Runner 2049 is a complex and non-conventional exploration of artificial intelligence. Villeneuve-Roger Deakins combo once again proves their mastery at crafting distinct atmosphere. They visually expand the canvas for contemporary sci-fi flicks, delineating the horrors and wonders humanity and technology can conjure. (By Arun Kumar)
3. Baby Driver
Most filmmakers make the movie first, then edit it, and then at the end, hand it over to a composer to add the background score. Not Edgar Wright. Wright filmed — to meticulous detail — his entire film (which took him about 22 years to put together, nbd) to music. That means every shot, every take, every turn, every brake, every single frame was made to fit the music accompanying it. And the best part is — this story about a young man who reluctantly drives criminals to and from their ‘work’ — is so entertaining that you don’t even notice that within the first five minutes, you’re tapping your feet, and you don’t stop until the credits roll. (By Lakshya Datta)
Form plays a more dominant part than content in Kogonada’s surprisingly great debut feature Columbus. It’s set in Columbus, Indiana, a mid-western American town known as the ‘Mecca of Modernist Architecture’. The narrative revolves around an undramatic friendship/companionship between the smart 19-year old Casey and middle-aged Korean guy Jin. Depsite a very simple storyline, Columbus’ unmitigated beauty lies in Kogonada’s sublime aesthetic language. The narrative’s emotional weight is further elevated by Haley Lu Richardson’s subtle, heartwarming performance. Altogether, it’s one of the most deeply expressive films of the year. (By Arun Kumar)
5. Call Me By Your Name
Can a film be so sensual and erotic that it arouses you, yet so sensitive and emotional that it makes you cry? Call Me By Your Name is unabashedly sex positive, but is tender enough to let you feel the emotional depth of love. This is a summer romance between a visiting intern and a precocious teenager, where both know they can’t be together yet they can’t stop falling for each other like two magnets destined to be together. Every kiss feels like a regret, every pleasure like a pain. Summer has never been so devastatingly beautiful. (By Yashvardhan Singh)
One of the rare movies to get an A+ CinemaScore this year, this animated musical from Pixar is a heartwarming tale about family and love. The film about the adventures of a 12-year old boy Miguel who is accidently transported to the Land of the Dead gives us an authentic peek into Mexican culture, with everything from costumes to production design done right. Filled with vivid colors and enchanting music, this smartly written script is sure to make your heart melt and your eyes moist. (By Yashvardhan Singh)
Katheryn Bigelow’s historical drama re-tells the bloody chapter of civil rights movement. Frustrated by centuries of ostracism, African-Americans of Detroit engage in a 5-day riot, sparked by a violent showdown by the law enforcement. The paranoia and arrogance of the local police force eventually lead to the riding of Algiers Hotel. Through the horrific happenings in the hotel, Bigelow tries to weave a holistic tale of police brutality and racial inequality. (By Arun Kumar)
Many critics and fans have hailed Christopher Nolan as this generation’s Stanley Kubrick. Nolan’s films don’t fit genre. They create them. With Dunkirk, he set out to make the ‘survival’ war movie. But one where you never see the bad guys, and that is why you, the viewer, become as frightened as the young soldiers the story focuses on. Add to that a clever and engaging style of non-linear storytelling, and you have the most visually stunning and equally emotionally resonant summer blockbuster. (By Lakshya Datta)
9. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
James Gunn’s sequel to the 2014 Marvel blockbuster brings back ragtag band of super-heroes for a disarmingly wacky adventure. This time the Guardians, running from an alien race called The Sovereign, receive unexpected help from Ego. He is an ancient being and a living planet who claims to be protagonist Quill’s long-lost father. Barring few missteps in the third-act, the sequel perfectly doubles up on the fun and action. All in all, it’s an irreverently funny and appealing MCU entertainer. (By Arun Kumar)
10. Good Time
Safdie brothers’ energetic crime thriller runs over the course of two days and one night, following good-for-naught Connie’s misadventures. The film opens with a well-staged bank robbery scene, committed by Connie and his mentally challenged younger brother. However, when the brother falls under police trap, Connie cooks up a string of wild schemes. The Safdies’ peculiar and intense visual style puts a fresh spin on the otherwise generic structure. They brilliantly concoct an atmosphere of mayhem and chaos. Robert Pattinson offers an electrifying performance as Connie.
11. Get Out
Jordan Peele’s Get Out tries to blend horror elements with sharp social commentary. Using a tinge of dark humor, Peele indicts the terrors of White liberal racism. The plot setting is a bit similar to Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967). Talented African-American photographer Chris goes on a weekend trip with girlfriend Rose Armitage to meet her rich parents. Rose’ parents seem to be well-mannered, rarely exhibiting the good-old racial awkwardness. Yet Chris feels a dark conspiratorial vibe, especially after the arrival of a few wealthy guests.
Director Peele finds good balance between satirical moments and unsettling horror. Get Out explores the strain of racism not often seen in films. The racism Chris encounters is tinged with flattery. From passing comments on ‘genetic makeup’ to assumed sexual prowess, the crowd treats Chris as an exotic object rather than perceive him as their equal. Apart from the damning social commentary, the director offers some interesting genre thrills. (By Arun Kumar)
Andy Muschietti’s much anticipated adaptation of seminal Stephen King novel neither delves deep nor is it very scary. However, it’s a lot better than the 1990 mini-series, relatively. It chronicles the terrorizing presence of a demonic, otherworldly clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) in a small town Maine. The narrative revolves around seven pre-teen characters. Chief among them is Bill whose little brother Georgie has gone missing for over a year. The group of misfits vow to find out what happened to little Georgie. Their search and research makes them stumble upon the town’s long history of mysterious child disappearances. Director Muschietti’s imagery doesn’t quite crackle with tension like King’s spine-chilling prose. Nevertheless, he dutifully provides well-crafted jump scares and a cathartic, effect-heavy finale. The performances of the young heroes are quite engaging and Skarksgard brings menacing physicality to his evil clown role. (By Arun Kumar)
13. I, Tonya
Craig Gillespe’s wickedly enjoyable biopic tells the true, infamous story of figure skater Tonya Harding. Margot Robbie delectably plays the problematic heroine and Allison Janney is fantastic as Tonya’s passive-aggressive mother. I, Tonya serve as an acerbic examination of patriarchal system that relentlessly pits women against each other. Gillespe and writer Steven Rogers impeccably brings the feel of a Coens’ film.
The incredibly talented James Mangold (who directed the terrific 2007 western film 3:10 to Yuma) gave Hugh Jackman, the actor and his character a farewell it deserved. Entirely deconstructing the comic book genre, Mangold gives us the best superhero movie in recent times. He prioritizes on delivering a story first, spectacle second. There are some genuine shocks and surprises which are best left unspoiled. But to the director’s credit, it has been a while since I’ve seen an action scene with stakes so high that I strongly wished for a happier culmination. Overall, Logan earns its R-rating. It is a mature film that successfully permeates first-rate action amidst melancholia and (relatively) low budget.
While a reboot is on its way with a new league of X-Men, and in particular, a new Wolverine, it’s certain that we won’t get another Jackman to fill the shoes. Watch it for him, Mangold’s unwavering approach and the breathless spectacle as our ‘bub’ bids farewell. (By Mayank Nailwal)
15. Logan Lucky
Sometimes, a movie knows exactly what it is — a series of events filmed with full awareness of what they are meant for: entertainment. Steven Soderbergh knows exactly what he wants you to see with every scene — the craftsmanship of making a simple heist movie into something that is the visual counterpart to any piece by Bach or Mozart. If you like Ocean’s 11, you’re going to love Logan Lucky, the self-proclaimed ‘Ocean’s Seven 11’. (By Lakshya Datta)
16. Lady Bird
My favorite film of 2017, Lady Bird is one of the most personal and authentic coming of age stories Hollywood has ever produced. The guilt, the shame, the freedom, the confidence, Greta Gerwig manages to accurately describe every aspect of this teenage girl, while giving us important life lessons on the way. Saoririse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf give two standout performances in this mother-daughter story making it extremely relatable irrespective of gender or race. Hilarious and heartleft at the same time, this tribute to adolescence is a brilliant watch that none of us should miss. (By Yashvardhan Singh)
Darren Arnofsky’s metaphysical and metaphor-rich horror drama Mother! either extracts feelings of reverence or repugnance from its viewers. It doesn’t allow for good deal of middle ground in terms of opinion. Mother! starts off as a straight-up psychological horror, in the vein of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. From biblical references to metaphorizing gender roles, artistic creation to delirious fandom, the filmmaker takes on vast number of themes. Some thrive with idiosyncratic energy, while some appear to be banal. In the end, Mother! is a pretty vicious (self) critique on the artist-muse connection or relationship. Despite the outlandishness and sheer irrationality of it, I liked the film on how it provides the space to project our own experiences onto it. Mother! is a perfectly disquieting roller-coaster of a horror ride. (By Arun Kumar)
Mudbound is an interesting take on racism in midst of human hopes, dreams, love and friendship. The story of a mother’s sacrifice, a soldier’s dreams and a wife’s struggle to raise her kids is a poignant and touching depiction of war and freedom. What remains with you long after the film is over is that sometimes the ugliest battles are fought not on the battlefield but in our own neighborhood. (By Yashvardhan Singh)
Bong Joon-ho’s highly imaginative Eco-fable is an almost-perfect synthesis of humor and horror. The film follows the adventures of a South Korean teen Mija and her genetically modified super-pig named Okja. One of the film’s delights is to observe Bong’s agile directorial skills in moving between different tone and styles. Tilda Swinton dashingly plays the villainous role of a corporate head. Okja is a thoroughly entertaining fare which elegantly incorporates sociopolitical and socioeconomic commentary. (By Arun Kumar)
20. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The Force Awakens had the tough job of rejuvenating the Star Wars saga, and it succeeded quite well, even though some considered it too ‘safe’. That word cannot be used by any critic to describe The Last Jedi. The best word I can think of to sum up this film is ‘cinematic’. Never has a Star Wars film felt so emotional yet groundbreaking. If you don’t walk out of this movie with a smile on your face, you’re doing this whole movie-fan thing wrong. (By Lakshya Datta)
21. The Big Sick
This refreshing take on the typical romcom is a love story between a Pakistani immigrant and an American girl. Tackling themes like racism and parental dissonance, The Big Sick proved to be a rare combination of comedy and emotions. Path breaking for normalizing Muslims which are invariably depicted as terrorists in Hollywood, Kumail Ninjani’s film gave us one of the cleverest depictions of cross cultural romance. (By Yashvardhan Singh)
22. The Florida Project
Story of a 6-year old kid who lives at a motel near Disney World, Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is one of the year’s most effective films that stays with you for a long time. An equally beautiful and devastating snapshot of the modern American life, the film vividly captures the essence of childhood. Baker utilizes the talented cast to full extent with visuals that speak louder than words. Paying attention to small details that convey bigger things, the film is an advanced version of Baker’s vision which we first explored in the iPhone-shot Tangerine. That’s how good he is in telling exuberant stories in a shockingly realistic manner. (By Mayank Nailwal)
23. The Killing of the Sacred Deer
Yorgos Lanthimos’ intensely orchestrated psychological horror opens with the close-up shot of chest cavity. The open heart throbs in tandem with sombre orchestral music while the camera slowly zooms out. The visible undulating heartbeat may be an early indication of the constant dread that throbs throughout the narrative. Lanthimos, the prominent film-maker of Greek New Wave, has previously made profound provocative pieces like Dogtooth and The Lobster. With The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the idiosyncratic film-maker doubles down on weirdness and shock value. Cardiologist Steven and his wife Anna, an ophthalmologist, lead a sophisticated life with their two adorable children. Their ‘normal’ lives are disturbed by Steven’s acquaintance with Martin. Steven takes the lonely teenager Martin under his wing, ever since the boy’s father died at his surgery table. But Martin unleashes a dark force upon Steven’s family.
Moving like an unpredictable nightmare, Lanthimos’ unsettling tale has its roots in biblical stories and Greek Tragedy. Lanthimos’ trademark drollness and stunning eye for composition imparts subdued intensity to the proceedings. May be this film doesn’t have the allegorical acuity of Dogtooth or the weirdness seemed more studied, unlike Lobster. Yet, the director puts us in extreme discomfort with his brilliant assemblage of imagery akin to the works of Michael Haneke and Stanley Kubrick. Sacred Deer lacks the emotional weight to work as a tragedy, but succeeds in providing a maddening film experience. (By Arun Kumar)
24. Thor Ragnarok
Taika Waititi, known for indie comedies, is the most unorthodox director hired to shoot a Marvel Universe flick. He certainly brings a breath of fresh air, diffusing his brand of deadpan humor into the action spectacle. Thor: Ragnarok revolves around superhero’s attempts to reclaim his Asgard throne from usurper and Death Goddess Hela. Bolstered by Cate Blanchett’s enjoyably campy villainy, it’s a riotous buddy-comedy and a strong addition to the MCU. (By Arun Kumar)
25. The Meyerowitz Stories
The perils of old age, the angst of parent-child relationships and the beauty of sibling relationships are all explored beautifully in this Netflix dramedy. Headlined by two actors known for their slapstick comedy, it is refreshing to see Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller sink their teeth into a serious role. Also starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, the film is staged like a play with long conversations and is one of the better dysfunctional family dramas this year. (By Yashvardhan Singh)
26. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Anyone who has seen Seven Psychopaths should be well versed with the talent of its auteur. Martin McDonough’s raw and uncompromising Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the year’s biggest surprise. A dark comedy encapsulating multiple themes at once, it’s a dizzying ride. Centered on three prime characters, the film is about their transformation arising due to events best left unspoiled for those who haven’t seen it. Benefiting from terrific acting and stellar writing with plethora of gut-punches peppered throughout its concise running time, it’s an instant classic. (By Mayank Nailwal)
27. War for the Planet of the Apes
Who would have thought that we needed three movies about the journey of an ape becoming a messiah for an entire species? The problem with a lot of big tentpole movies is that sometimes the stars on the screen are way more famous than their characters. But through out this new Apes trilogy, you don’t see Andy Serkis behind that face, or feel cheated by the unrealistic motion capture graphics — what you see and feel is the ape-equivalent of Schindler’s List. (By Lakshya Datta)
Stephen Chbosky’s tear-jerking family drama tells the story of a 10-year-old boy Augie with a congenital facial deformity. Like Peter Bogdanovich’s Mask (1985), Wonder doesn’t exploit disfigurement for a mawkish and manipulative narrative. Jacob Tremblay is brilliant as the delicate, guileless Augie. He was ably supported by Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson who fill in the role of Augie’s parents. Altogether, it’s supremely sensitive and a very honest feel-good film. (By Arun Kumar)
29. Wonder Woman
In a world reeking with misogyny and sexism, Wonder Woman in 2017 was every feminist’s wet dream. A powerful superwoman who made even Justice League tolerable, Wonder Woman is the biggest cultural phenomenon of 2017. While it proved that bravery and justice are not fights reserved for men it also showed how compassion triumphs all. A true classic in the making. (By Yashvardhan Singh)
30. Wind River
Taylor Sheridan’s mystery thriller doubles up as an examination of contemporary native Americans’ lamentable existence. Jeremy Renner plays the lead role of Cory Lambert, an officer of the Fish and Wildlife Service. Cory finds mutilated body of a Native American teenage girl in the frozen woods. The narrative tracks Cory and rookie FBI Agent Jane’s steps to nab the perpetrators in the unpredictably hostile environment. The mystery plotting may seem very economical, but the film boasts deep emotional perspective. (By Arun Kumar)
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Ladybird tops my list.