We’ll say this for 2017: We were so lousy with great movies this year, it felt impossible to narrow the very best down to a list of ten.
In fact, truth be told, we’re still not sure that these are the ten very best films of the year. We could name another dozen films as worthy as any on this list (hi there, Wonder Woman and Blade Runner 2049), and a dozen more we missed but suspect could be on this list (sorry, Nocturama).
But the calendar year is finite, and so is the window in which it’s socially acceptable to publish “best of the year” lists. So without further ado, here are 10 favorites from 2017. Please don’t yell at us.
10. xXx: Return of Xander Cage
Yes, seriously. xXx: Return of Xander Cage wasn’t the most profound experience to be found at the movies this year, but it was definitely one of the most entertaining. This movie is exactly what it wants to be, and that is an unabashedly ridiculous action-thriller about impossibly attractive people defying the laws of physics. Think of it as the cinematic equivalent of a Pixy Stix – a shot of pure sugar that’ll have you bouncing off the walls afterward.
9. The Big Sick
The Big Sick is like a soft blanket, or an affectionate hug, or a steaming mug of tea. It warms you to the core. There are big, complex themes in here – about Muslims in America, about cross-cultural difficulties, about immigrant families and the dreams they have for their children – but it all goes down easy thanks to an irresistibly sweet romance and tons of laugh-out-loud funny jokes. This is a film we’ll return to again and again.
8. Alien: Covenant
Alien: Covenant is not the Alien retread the promos are selling. It’s something weirder, darker, more thoughtful, more ambitious – in a word, better. Through David, his malicious android protagonist, Ridley Scott explores themes of creation and destruction, imagines a future that’s evolving past us, and wonders if humans really are all we’re cracked up to be. It doesn’t always work, but damn, it’s thrilling when it does.
In her feature film debut, writer-director Julia Ducournau puts a cannibalistic twist on the standard coming-of-age narrative – and in doing so, captures the agony and the ecstasy of living away from home at the first time. Raw is disturbing and disgusting (a scene involving a hairball is surely one of the most stomach-churning moments of cinema 2017), but maybe its biggest surprise is the spiky sweetness at its core.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Truthfully, almost any of 2017’s superhero movies could’ve taken this slot. This year’s batch was that good. But our hearts are first and foremost with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, a gut-bustingly hilarious, eye-poppingly gorgeous adventure that dug deep into the characters’ souls and came up with surprisingly emotional tale about broken people and the imperfect bonds they form.
5. Lady Bird
In her solo directing debut, Greta Gerwig serves up a clear-eyed portrait of growing up in the early 2000s. Every detail is note-perfect, from the Dave Matthews soundtrack to the floppy disk drives to the Howard Zinn-loving love interest. What makes Lady Bird really special, however, is the way it showers empathy on everyone in its heroine’s orbit, including her loving but difficult mother. Each and every single character feels like the lead of their own movie.
4. Lady Macbeth
Don’t let the pristine compositions and restrained color palette fool you. Lady Macbeth is a wild ride that keeps you guessing and gasping ’til the very end. What starts out as a tale of female oppression spirals into a story of desire and empowerment, and then bursts through the thorny intersections of sex, race, and privilege. Star Florence Pugh gives a slippery performance that’ll keep you guessing throughout – and then haunt you for days afterward.
3. Get Out
This one felt like a classic the moment it opened. The months since then have done nothing to reverse that impression. Filmmaker Jordan Peele used the “Sunken Place” (and everything that comes with it) to explore the unique terrors of being black in America, and turned Daniel Kaluuya into a white-hot star in the process. Call it a comedy, call it a drama, call it a horror movie, or call it a thriller – however you want to categorize it, Get Out was one of the sharpest movies we got this year.
2. Call Me By Your Name
Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name is so sensual, it’s almost tactile. You can practically feel the sun on your shoulders and taste the peach juice on your lips. Armie Hammer has never been better than he is here, playing the blindingly beautiful object of desire. The real breakout, though, is Timothée Chalamet, who is electric in his portrayal of a teenager dizzy with first love. That final shot alone would earn Call Me By Your Name a place on this list.
1. The Shape of Water
Who’d have guessed that one of 2017’s most humane movies would be the one about an inhuman creature? The Shape of Water is an achingly tender fairy tale that celebrates sex, love, art, and empathy; that stands up for the people on the margins; that turns a critical eye toward American hegemony; and that does it all by through a rapturous romance between a woman and a merman. The Shape of Water will heal your soul if you let it.
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