2017 films, ranked

I saw more movies this year than I ever have before, which has made ranking them more of a labor and resulted in this belated “product.” I’ve still missed a lot. And I’ll get to them all in the next few months.

The movies are like church. It’s a chance sit in a dark place, turn off your phone, and not talk to anyone. Painting broadly, it’s a chance to escape, though that’s not really the best allusion. This year, I escaped to dreams and nightmares, history and fantasy, Charlotte Motor Speedway, and imagined futures of hope and despair. In a lot of ways, I go to the movies to get out of my own head–to not worry about … Do I read enough? Do I have enough friends? Do I have enough food for the weekend?Movies are a chance to live in someone else’s head for a few hours, and when it really works, they end up sticking in your end for a few days, maybe weeks, and in rare cases, you never quite lose them. Movies are like friends. I made a lot of friends this year.

So here’s a ranking, but first, here’s what I missed this year (and will see soon!).

mother!, Good Time, Florida Project, Baby Driver, Ingrid Goes West, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, War for the Planet of the Apes, The Beguiled, A Ghost Story, and really lot, lots more.

32. Baywatch

31. Justice League

Steppenwolf was the worst idea of 2017. Making people see Baywatch with me probably means I’m a bad person and the Fun Police probably have a warrant out for my arrest. 


30. Murder on the Orient Express

29. Table 19

28. War Machine

27. Their Finest

26. Incredible Jessica James

These movies are like popcorn. They’re not inherently bad, but you’ll still be hungry after, and you’ll forget that you ever ate/saw em.


25. Power Rangers

24. Lego Batman

Like, they’re not bad. Power Rangers is definitely not bad. (I’ve seen this movie three times!) RJ Cyler (blue!) and Naomi Scott (pink!) are really good. (I’m here for the Angel Grove extended universe). The first joke in Power Rangers is about a guy who thinks he’s milked a cow, but it wasn’t a female cow. (This isn’t your older brother’s Power Rangers!)


23. Landline

22. Spider-Man: Homecoming

It seems like every summer, there’s an indie film with B-level material but A-level performances. Really, there’s like twelve of these movies every summer. Landline is just the one I happened to catch. From Gillian Robespierre (Obvious Child), Landline is a middle class, Manhattan family drama circa 1995. Jenny Slate and Abby Quinn are great as sisters. Edie Falco and John Turturro are better in a compromised marriage. Robespierre crafts a film where it’s impossible to root against anyone and therefore, impossible to root for anyone. It’s complicated! 

On the other end here, you know who you’re rooting for in Marvel’s incarnation of the teenaged webslinger. Rooting for Tom Holland comes as naturally as Luke against The Empire, Buffalo Bills against the Patriots. Holland oozes charm. Much was made–in that Marvel way–that this is a “superhero meets John Hughes” type movie. Like most of Marvel’s claims of that sort, Spider-Man: Homecoming is mostly a Marvel movie. But it’s best when it’s a Spider-Man story–when it draws out that tension between Peter Parker and Spider-Man, when it’s asking questions like … can Peter Parker be an adjusted, functioning teenager/member of society while also being Spider-Man (and you know, saving society).  

I’m thinking of the scene when Peter goes to pick up Liz for the dance, and her dad ends up being Michael Keaton/The Vulture. It’s this wonderful tangle of teenage and superhero tropes. Your date’s dad always feels like a supervillain when you’re in high school. And so Peter has to choose between this normal American life where he gets to go to dances and doesn’t have to {WHAM! BAM!} his girlfriend’s dad in jaw versus life as Spider-Man living with “responsibility.” It’s why Spider-Man is awesome.

In Atomic Blonde, Style gives Plot and Character the ol’ karate chop.

21. Atomic Blonde

20. Band Aid

Written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones (New Girl!), Band Aid is about a couple (Lister-Jones and Adam Pally) who fight a lot, so they start a band. The sing about arguing and arguing about doing the dishes. Lister-Jones should definitely make more movies. Band Aid is pleasant and stirring enough, though it’s Fred Armisen as their neighbor/drummer also battling a sex addiction that gives this film some sizzle.

I couldn’t then and can’t now understand the plot of Atomic Blonde. But I guess it’s not about plot or story or character. This is about Charlize Theron beating dudes up in a Cold War haze. And boy, does she.


19. Darkest Hour

18. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I read the first-quarter-of-the-second-volume of The Last Lion this summer. So I have a soft spot for accurate portrayals of Winston Churchill. Darkest Hour (much like England in the film) rests on Gary Oldman’s shoulders. And he’s great!

Stallone, though, is bad. GG2 is good. Everybody loves tunes. Pratt is fine. Baby Groot is great, though not as good as Gary Oldman.


17. The Meyerowitz Stories

16. The Lost City of Z

On the one hand, “these are the movies we don’t make anymore” or so we say. What we really mean, once we shave off the alarmist slant to that take is that–at glance, these are the kinds of movies superhero/Big IP properties have elbowed out of the multiplex. And so these two films that masterfully ramp up emotional stakes without compromising on entertainment have “generously” got picked up by the Big Streamers. In this case, it’s Netflix picking up Noah Baumbach’s hilarious and heartbreaking family dramedy exploring fatherhood but from the perspective of two sons. They call that “sonhood” but it’s quite awkward to type and say.   

Amazon Studios backed James Gray’s literal exploration of the jungle, a true-life tale of early 20th century British explorer Col. Percival Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who three times dove into the Amazon looking for a lost city. You’ll want to dip out after the first 90 minutes, but the last 15 more than makes up for the final 45. 

They still make these kinds of films. I just wish I could’ve seen them in the theater.


15. It

14. Big Sick

Both these films are about nightmares. One’s about an evil clown. If you don’t like clowns, you won’t like It. In the other film, a boy meets a girl. They kind of fall in love. Wooh! She finds his box of Pakistani women. Not a good look! She leaves. Time passes. He lies to a doctor so they can put her into a medically induced coma. Yikes! Get a lawyer! He hangs out with his ex-girlfirneds parents in the waiting room. I still think they have a case in court, which would be a waking nightmare for Kumail.

Gal freaking Gadot guys.

13. Thor: Ragnarok

12. Logan

11. Wonder-Woman

10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I’ve bunched the best of Hero-IP here. Thor is a delightful space odyssey and one of the funniest movies of the year. Logan felt brutal and cathartic in ways superhero films have never been. Wonder Woman, though, is the best case to date why superheroes are still relevant. And Star Wars: The Last Jedi is like a New Testament to our current pop cultural religion. Taking something old and making it new is not an easy task (ie: iOS updates). All these films did it, but it’s hardest to do in a galaxy far, far away.

Denis Villeneuve’s film runs nearly three hours and it’s actually not long enough.

9. John Wick: Chapter 2

8. Blade Runner 2049

John Wick 2 isn’t as lean as the original holy text, but it’s still amazing. Whatever the heck Jared Leto is doing in Blade Runner 2049 holds it back. But like any Gosling movie, it’s got the jackets and Gosling brings out the best in Ford. Their fight as a holographic Elvis struts around the stage is a top five movie moment of the year. But more than its style (and why it’s begrudgingly ahead of John Wick and the Hero-IP) is that Villeneuve (with photography by the god Roger Deakins) made a pop/blockbuster film explicitly centered on what it means to be human. It’s a vision of pop art with equal measure brain and heart. 


7. Wind River

6. Get Out

How to explain Wind River? When Taylor Sheridan’s film goes there, it goes there. No, that’s no good. When Wind River turns the dials from 2 to 11 about halfway through the film, you can’t breathe. You’re sitting there like Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) in that comfy recliner, hypnotized as blood splatters on snow.

“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

5. Dunkirk

4. Columbus

You can watch these movies with the sound off and be firmly transfixed. Tom Hardy gliding over the beach in Dunkirk then lighting his craft on fire was one of the best sequences in film this year. And I have to thank Dunkirk for reminding me Harry Styles is one of the most important and distinguished artists of our time (and for being 90 minutes).

Like Nolan’s war film, Columbus pleases a part of your brain that loves right angles. It’s working with a different visual language than any other movie released this year. But the structure is quite simple. This is a walk-and-talk movie. The wonderful Haley Lu Richardson (Casey) gives John Cho (Jin) a tour through Columbus, Indiana–the apparent secret architectural mecca of America. Jin’s father (a famous architect) has fallen ill, and Jin’s not sure if he’ll get better. Casey is an bright architectural obsessive with feeling, stuck in this small town by her own choosing. The two walk and talk and you enter a sort of trance, loose track of time, and walk out of the theater in a warm glow.

Brigsby Bear is a legit low-key kickback.

3. Brigsby Bear

2. Lady Bird

These films will make you smile. Both remind you it’s okay–more than okay–to love the things you love, whether that’s Dave Matthews Band and your hometown or a children’s show (the fictional Brigsby Bear) literally no one else has ever seen and your captor/dad made for you.

I wrote about Lady Bird here. I’ve mentioned before in this list it’s impossible to not root for Luke against the Empire and to not root for Tom Holland in all things. Well, it’s impossible to see Lady Bird and not immediately call your mom. 

Kyle Mooney has been a legend (in our hearts) since the toast. Watching Kyle sometimes feels like bone scraping across pavement, in a good way. But in Brigsby Bear, Mooney matches his raw act with an equal measure of sentiment. Brigsby Bear also has the best makeout scene of the year.

1. Logan Lucky

Adam Driver deserves a lot of praise for a lot of the little choices he makes when fleshing out a character. (Slapping his stomach-wound in Force Awakens, for example). But I’ve thought about the way his character (one armed bartender Clyde Logan) says “arm” and “cauliflower” every week since seeing Logan Lucky this summer. Steven Soderbergh’s film is more than Ocean’s Eleven in the North Carolina. Well, maybe it’s really not. But it made me laugh a lot. (It’s also written by Rebecca Blunt, which is a pseudonym and that’s exciting.) 

I think Logan Lucky is a perfect movie. It helps that a heist is the most cinematic thing there is. But Soderberg knows exactly where the jokes are, while treating the Logans and the rest–ostensibly white trash–with empathy. They say things like “I looked it up on the google” and “I know all there is to know about computers. All the Twitters. I know em.” And somehow, you’re not laughing at them. Maybe that’s because it’s Channing Tatum and Daniel Craig saying some of this.

The Logans are the folks responsible for the way 2017 played out. And already in 2018, things don’t feel much different. When someone tweets how big their nuclear button is, that can ruin your week. It’s not rocket science–like who knew you can make a bomb with gummy bears–who the Logans might’ve voted for. So more than just being the best time I had at the movies this year, I think Logan Lucky is doing the most important work films can do–empathy. Empathy for folks who felt like they got left behind and then got duped.

“Love Is Dead” –University of Michigan

Greatest HIMYM Moment

By Ryan Dowd

So, stick with me as I bury the lede here. I’m inclined to click on any article/list that includes any of the following: romantic comedies, cliches, beliefs, ect. Because I’ve seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall(500) Days of Summer, and Wedding Crashers about 30 times combined.

So a couple weeks ago I came across this little gem. In a nut shell, “University of Michigan researchers found that participants who claimed to be big fans of rom-coms and marriage-based reality shows also agree with sentiments about love at first sight and finding “The One.” So if you religiously watch the bachelor or cry during Pretty Woman, then you’re someone who looks on doe-eyed at a black red and white, cupid ruled world.

And…”On the opposite end of the spectrum, those who regularly watch sitcoms such as How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory shared those shows’ slightly more cynical view of love as a troublesome subplot, to be greeted by the canned, mocking laughter of God’s studio audience.” True love is a farce. Disney is evil. We’ll all die alone. You can throw fans of (500) Days of Summer in there as well, and I guess consequently fans of indie music videos with these grizzled, gray eyed wanderers.

Much like The New York Times‘s yearly insistence that “college students/generation Y have a whole lot of casual sex and we should probably talk about this” and studies from NYU like this one, I take this apparent revelation from the University of Michigan with a pot of salt. I’m intrigued to learn that years spent watching How I Met Your Mother and listening to The Temper Trap has led me down a path of bleak romantic dissonance, but I think that at the sharp age of 20 there’s still some magic out there for me, and if I’ve indeed become this disillusioned romantic nihilist as the study suggests, than real world experience has led me down that path, not Ted Mosby.

I think the lede, now that I’ve found it, is that maybe we take romantic comedies a bit too seriously. Maybe romantic comedies haven’t really taught us anything, excpet that some of us really like watching attractive people fall in and out of love. Those who write about pop culture, and I’m guilty of this in my marginal, artificially constructed corner, make a bigger deal out of some art than it deserves. There’s a notion that art tells all, and sometimes that’s just not the case. Sometimes Zoey Deschanel’s eyes are just really, really blue. And the Mathew McConaughey’s abs are just abs.

Love is a fantasy (sob)
Love is a fantasy (sob)

Another aspect that our friends over there in Ann Arbor may have overlooked is the slow, somehow quiet recession of the romantic comedy. Sure we have romances, tear jerking affairs like The Fault in Our Stars. And we have comedies, like Neighbors and 22 Jumpstreet. The only straight romantic comedy coming out this summer will be Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight (with Emma Stone by the way), and Woody Allen will be making romantic comedies til the perv finally drops dead so I don’t think it really counts. We’ve reached the end of the “friends with benefits” rom-com run. The Apatow machine has moved away as well.  Then there’s They Came Together, the cheeky parody starring Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd.

Comical parodies are often indicators that a genre is reaching its twilight, not that you won’t see some form of romantic comedies in theaters in 2020, but they’ll be different, just like When Harry Met Sally… is different from old screwball comedies and Forgetting Sarah Marshall is different from Harry Met Sally. The form changes, sure, but our desire for these stories never really changes, because well, desire never changes.

The reason for this aparent lack of feature romantic comedies is probably the emergence of the television rom com–shows like How I Met Your MotherNew GirlThe Mindy Project have taken over that particular corner of the market. And they’ve done it better than enjoyable yet bland films like Friends With Benefits and Crazy, Stupid, Love. People ascribe to Jess and Nick, Ted and bimbos, Mindy and whoever (I don’t actually watch this show). Maybe their rocky, episodic stories feel more real to us. Maybe it’s the form, watching at home, that gives us the feels. Maybe a new study from our pals up in Michigan might give us the answer.

My half-baked analysis of industry movements aside (which you should take with a grain of salt), I don’t really care what the general population gets from romantic comedies. It’s more complicated than optimistic v. pessimistic, naive v. cynical. Romantic comedies are just sort of there to help us figure it out. Romantic comedies aren’t equations that lead to neat, clean answers. There are too many variables. Because what you get from romantic comedies is derived from your real life experience, which is obviously different for each individual. I know that Forgetting Sarah Marshall and (500) Days of Summer means different things to me than they do to you given when, where, and how I experienced them. I’m sure you have your own go to rom-coms, and if you don’t you probably don’t have a soul. But don’t let some grad level researcher (or me) tell you that. You go ahead and do that for yourself.



Man in Love with Operating System, Beautiful?

My phone vibrated while I watched Her and I felt uncomfortable. Caught up in Spike Jonze’s futuristic society of potty mouth video game characters and high wasted pants, I had forgotten about my mere mortal phone that doesn’t care about my secrets, dreams and ambitions. And while my iPhone doesn’t flip open and fold over like Theodore’s, both of our devices are used as physical means to communicate and hold relationships with other people.

Spike Jonze isn’t asking America to toss their smart phones. Her doesn’t want you to question your relationship with your phone, but rather, it forces you to think about how we operate in relationships. This is a love story, one that carefully examines a relationship as it blooms and questions falling in love, who we do it with and the means we do it.

Theodore (Joaquin Pheonix) is a man of the future, in the literal sense. He uses technology to fend off his loneliness and ignores the damages of his divorce. He’d rather spend his nights arguing with a small alien boy in a video game than go home with a girl his friend set up with. In the beginning of the film, Theodore is a broken and lonely man, writing passionate love letters for other’s relationships. Theodore finds (or rather downloads) an operating system who names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) as his loneliness peaks. Samantha comes into Theodore’s life full of curiosity and wonder and seemingly pulls him out of his slump.

The plot seems laughable, like an article you’d read on The Onion, ‘Man in Love with Smartphone.’ You want to elbow the person next to you and say, “What a weido right?” But you don’t, because Jonze’s dialogue is slowly melting your cold, cynical heart. It’s as real as your pal’s college sweetheart.

Theodore doesn’t have some sick psychological obsession with technology.  And Samantha isn’t a mere compilation of set questions and responses. She’s complex. Their relationship is complex. He closes his eyes and let’s her guide him through a crowded amusement park. She reads his letters and discovers what love is. Samantha asks him about his ex and helps him close that door. He brings her to family functions and on double dates with his co-worker and she introduces him to an artificially recreated version of Alan Watts.

They have a real, tangible, passionate relationship. Theodore can’t even follow through with having sex with the surrogate Samantha finds to break their physical gap (Samantha, after all doesn’t have a body) because the surrogate will never understand the special bond between them. When Samantha brings in the surrogate, Theodore can’t follow through with the act because it’s not his Sam. The surrogate will never fully be able to understand the special bond between them. She interferes with their love. She distances them. She’s an imaginary solution to fill the hole in Samantha and Theodore’s relationship.

Theodore doesn’t love a cell phone. He loves Samantha. The phone, computer and earpiece act simply as bridges that connect them and allow their relationship to exist. And isn’t that what we already do with our phones? If your significant other is traveling or just at work, you call or text them to stay with them, to be continually present in their lives.

My phone vibrated from a text from my mom checking what time I’d be back home from the movie. My phone didn’t ask me how that made me feel or if I wanted to respond, and I didn’t want it to. I told Ryan, who sat next to me at the theater, about the text (after the film was over, of course). And if the message had been Lucas telling me about an embarrassing thing Matt did, I would have texted Matt to make fun of him. I don’t have a relationship with my phone. I have one with the people I use the phone to communicate and connect with, and sometimes, just like the surrogate did, it gets in the way. We abuse how simple it has become to connect with our loved ones. We check our texts, emails and tweets while we have dinner with friends. What helps us stay together also creates a barrier.

After Theodore begins sprinting home in a panic because he can’t reach Samantha, he trips, falls, and finds himself watching an overwhelming stream of people absorbed into their phones walking up from the subway. They, as happened to Theodore, are being cheered up, pulled up and brought out of their sadness, loneliness, depression ect. and into a bright and happy world by their relationships with their OS. But as he sits on the steps watching the men and women stuck to their phones, he begins to realize the sacrifices he made, the things he didn’t look at on his way to work, the people he didn’t talk to, just to be continually connected to the person he loved.

Her doesn’t want you to hate your phone (or to fall in love with it). It wants you to think about how we love the people in our lives and the resulting sacrifices we make for them.