Unoriginal opening sentence wherein I express the belief that 2017 was a fantastic year for cinema. Standard-issue follow-up statement relaying how this overwhelming number of great films made it difficult to narrow down my favorite titles into a manageable list of 10. Vaguely patronizing mention of the self-imposed "rule" that was applied during the creation of said list ("Must be titles that most people would have had a chance to see in a theater, not just at a film festival"). Paragraph closes with a bit of whinging about how I've not yet seen Call Me By Your Name, Phantom Thread or Lady Bird, and am thus unable to factor them into the list below*.
Now that that's out of the way, let's get started.
10. XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE
When they announced XXX: Return Of Xander Cage, I couldn't believe my goddamn ears. What audience was this movie for? Exactly what segment of the film geek population was demanding a return to the XXX universe? Was one high-octane franchise really not enough for Vin Diesel? Like many of you, I rolled my eyes and LOL'd and went about my business, certain I'd never bother with such a thing. Well, here we are, nearly a year after the arrival of XXX: Return Of Xander Cage, and DJ Caruso's exxxtreme action spectacle has earned itself a place on my year-end top 10 list. I was wrong and I'm sorry.
There will be people who roll their eyes at my decision to include it here, and I am prepared to suffer the cluck-clucking of their tongues. XXX: Return Of Xander Cage is a big, dumb, eager-to-please Golden Retriever of a movie (seriously: it cannot be overstated how stupid this movie is, but it should be stressed that it's the good kind of stupid), and the in-theater experience I had while watching it ranks among the very best I had this year.
Bring me XXX: Xander Cage 4evR right this instant.
9. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2
Here's another one I suspect I'll be sniffed at for including on this list (reminder: this isn't a "Best Of" list, it's a "Favorites" list, and no, it features no Predator), but those people are again cordially invited to fuck themselves into a coma.
John Wick: Chapter 2 provided everything I could have possibly wanted from a John Wick sequel - more weirdo mythology, more headshots, a scene where Keanu Reeves harpoons a guy on the end of a shotgun, loads the shotgun, racks the shotgun and then shoots the guy while the shotgun barrel is still embedded in his chest - and it even left out the puppy murder that kept me away from the original for so long. It's gorgeously shot, deliriously violent, crisply written and endlessly watchable.
I might even like it more than the first one.
8. ALIEN: COVENANT
OK, look, we're at the point in the list where I suspect people may think I'm just trolling, but I assure you I'm not. I genuinely love Alien: Covenant, I genuinely think it died an unfair death at the box office, and I genuinely hope that Ridley Scott - out there kickin' more ass than almost anyone else in Hollywood at the ripe old age of 80 - gets to make a sequel (which will, of course, finish off the new Alien trilogy he started back in 2012, with Prometheus).
From the bizarro set piece involving Michael Fassbender teaching a clone of himself to play a recorder, to the all-timer shot of a Neomorph standing stock still upon encountering a synthetic being for the first time; from the take-no-prisoners ending, to the eyepopping sequence wherein Fassbender's David takes out an entire planet of Engineers in one fell swoop, Alien: Covenant is a jaw-dropping piece of blockbuster entertainment (note: it was not a blockbuster).
Expect this one to get a critical reevaluation somewhere up the road.
7. MOTHER! / THE DISASTER ARTIST (TIE)
Darren Aronofsky's Mother! came out of nowhere, made almost no one happy, and may well end being the ballsiest thing Aronofsky ever puts into theaters (indeed, the entire thing feels like some kind of kamikaze run). Mother! gets under your skin and stays there thanks to the go-for-broke performances from the cast (Lawrence is on fire here), a screenplay that careens wildly between being totally unknowable and thuddingly obvious, and one of the most shocking acts of violence I've ever seen in a major studio movie. This was a gamble that paid off. Not for most people, maybe, but it definitely worked for me.
The Disaster Artist was another gamble, albeit a comparatively safer one. On paper, it seemed like it'd never work. And yet, somehow James Franco and company pulled it off (well, I'm saying "somehow", but we know how: he and his cast treat the people involved like actual people, bringing a much-needed dose of humanity to what very easily could have been two straight hours of hipster comedian-types dragging Tommy Wiseau). The Disaster Artist is a movie about passion and friendship and seeing your dreams through to the bitter end, and - as shocked as I am to be saying this - it deserves to be recognized come awards season.
Real talk: I spent a lot of time dragging Andy Muschietti's IT before it arrived (I did, in fact, inadvertently launch an entire meme around it), and I was very wrong to have done so. Yes, that first image of dat boi Pennywise peeking around the corner of his Pipe was objectively terrible, and yes - out of context, that frilly get-up he had on seemed absolutely ridiculous. But credit where credit's due: against all odds, Muschietti and company knocked this adaptation out of the park. I love IT.
They nailed just about everything here. Pennywise is legit frightening (my eyeballs popped out of my skull when his face transformed for the first time), every last member of the Losers' Club was masterfully cast (special shout-outs to Wyatt Oleff, Sofia Lillis and Jeremy Ray Taylor for being the best of the bunch), and - perhaps most crucially - they pulled zero punches adapting King's material for the screen.
OK, maybe one punch.
5. THE BIG SICK
I expected to like The Big Sick because I enjoy the work of virtually everyone involved, and I have long wished to see Kumail Nanjiani headlining a feature film (for the love of all that is holy, make sure you've seen Nanjiani's standup special, Beta Male). I did not expect to love The Big Sick as much as I did, nor did I expect to feel compelled to spend so much time in the months that followed pointing people in its direction. Among friends, I'm not sure I campaigned harder for anything else this year. It's so goddamn good.
Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan crush it in their lead roles, but the performance that's stuck with me the most is Holly Hunter's. She's a force of nature in this thing, the foul-mouthed, big-hearted mom we all wish we'd had. Even Ray Romano (an actor who's historically resided on my Do Not Watch list) turns in an awards-worthy performance. The Big Sick is the year's best rom-com by a wide margin, and - like anything else in my top five this year - you should consider it mandatory viewing.
You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll want to get Pakistani food immediately afterwards.
4. A GHOST STORY
I've been thinking about A Ghost Story for months now. A week doesn't go by where I don't find myself staring off into space, contemplating some aspect or another from David Lowery's film. It is a monolithic, staggeringly beautiful piece of filmmaking, and one I suspect I'll be revisiting for many years. No movie made me feel smaller or more inspired this year, and no movie made me cry like this one (that final moment - and you know exactly the one I'm talking about - wrecked me).
Also, good news for anyone who can no longer stand to look at Casey Affleck: dude wears a sheet over his head for 90% of the movie.
3. GET OUT
Jordan Peele's directorial debut turned out to be a miracle movie. It was scarier than anyone expected, funnier than anyone predicted, and it came along at precisely the right moment. How often do you see a first-timer deliver like this, right out of the gate? Get Out is astonishing for many reasons, but I think it's important that we not let that aspect get lost in the larger conversation: Peele arrived fully-formed and with zero time to play games. He absolutely crushed it.
I've seen Get Out probably five times over the course of the past year, and it has yet to lose any of its power. This is a primal scream of a movie, one we'll be measuring other horror films against for years to come, and one suspects we'll find many of them wanting. I cannot wait to see what Peele's next "socially-conscious horror" joint looks like. I'll be there on day one.
Side note: Peele's director's commentary on the Get Out Blu-ray is a must-listen. It's one of the most entertaining I've ever heard, and the best I came across this year. Do not sleep on that.
2. BLADE RUNNER 2049
Even now, "a sequel to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner" is an objectively terrible idea. That classic bombed upon release, never needed a follow-up, and was all but certain to fail in making die-hard fans of the original happy. When Denis Villeneuve was announced as Blade Runner 2049's director, superfans (it me) tried to keep hope alive, but even the director's staunchest allies had to admit that he was playing with fire in a big way. I was hopeful, but I secretly pegged 2049's chances for success no higher than 40%. It was just too damn risky.
As such, you can imagine how delighted I was when Villeneuve turned in a film that not only honored the original, but expanded upon it while also telling an intriguing mystery. I caught Blade Runner 2049 three times in theaters (most people decided against seeing it even once, forever cementing this franchise as a non-starter at the box office), and each time I found myself under its sway. Virtually every element of Villeneuve's film comes together with laser precision - the cinematography (from Roger Deakins, who goddamn well better win an Oscar for his work here), the script (twisty, ponderous, unexpectedly witty), the acting (even Jared Leto kills it). Here's a movie I have zero complaints about.
Scratch that: a Blade Runner sequel I have zero complaints about. Incredible.
1. THE BOOK OF HENRY
Hahaha, just joshing ya!
1. THE SHAPE OF WATER
The Shape Of Water isn't just Guillermo del Toro's best film: it's my favorite movie of the year, a lush, romantic, jaw-dropping ode to the outsider that broke my heart and inspired me in equal measure. Here's a film that feels custom-designed towards my specific kinks - you've got Michael Shannon in full bug-eyed weirdo mode, a misunderstood fish man, Richard Jenkins stealing every scene he's in, a scene wherein (REDACTED) and another one where (REDACTED), stunning set designs (it's a period piece!), top of the line creature effects, and an absolutely killer final sequence that's left me overwhelmed with emotion each time I've seen it.
But then, every single moment of this movie worked for me. Halfway through my first screening I realized The Shape Of Water was a film I'll be watching for the rest of my life. In a year that's often felt soul-crushing and hopeless, The Shape Of Water was a concentrated blast of much-needed beauty and love and hope. All hail Guillermo del Toro, and all hail The Shape Of Water.
* = Opening paragraph will remain unremarked upon because no one actually reads the opening paragraph of a top 10 list; everyone just wants to see how their favorites compare to the writer's. Basically: an annual confirmation bias ritual. Nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone does it.