Hospital romances, interstellar plots, mothers lording it over their daughters, sunken places, celebrity poker tables, and the forbidden love of an amphibious man — all these things could be found in theaters in 2017. Luke Skywalker and Wonder Woman snag the headlines, but the story of the year in movies isn't written on the marquee. The films that last are the ones that tell the best stories. These were my favorites this year.
10. Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi
Directed by Rian Johnson
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro
It was a good year for blockbusters. Of The Last Jedi, War for the Planet of the Apes, Valerian, Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians 2, Spidey: Homecoming, Justice League, and Wonder Woman, I'll take The Last Jedi 10 times out of 10. The technical brilliance is par for the course. All the above movies look fantastic. For me, it's about the world-building. I love the galaxy far, far away and Rian Johnson's new installment takes you there like no other. It also has a great villain, something the Marvel movies need desperately.
9. Wind River
Directed by Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner, Jon Bernthal, Gil Birmingham
The best murder mystery of 2017 is this snowbound thriller that begins with a girl running barefoot in the woods to her death. The rest of the film discovers the truth of her murder, slowly opening every small town Wyoming door until everything is out in the open. The directorial debut of writer Taylor Sheridan, who's written standouts Sicario and Hell or High Water in the last few years, Wind River is another old-school story set in an America that time forgot. And will someone get Gil Birmingham a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, please?
8. Get Out
Directed by Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones
Stephen Root, Lakeith Stanfield, Catherine Keener
Not for the wicked satire and gut-punch ending, though both are sorely needed in this age of Baywatch retreads, but for its ambition. Jordan Peele shocked me with his creation of the Sunken Place. There is true horror in Get Out. Forgettable title, but amazing movie.
7. The Beguiled
Directed by Sofia Coppola
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning
Wong Kar-Wai used to be the easy choice for the filmmaker known best for visualizing romance. But the mantle has passed. Sofia Coppola and her soft lenses can turn any frame into a dreamy memory you never want to wake up from. The difference in The Beguiled is Coppola juxtaposes those sensibilities with the macabre, and the result is beautiful horror.
6. The Lost City of Z
Directed by James Gray
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland
I consider James Gray a modern master and it's only a matter of time until he's popularly recognized. His latest is a mouth-watering trip into the Amazon where cannibals await. This is a kind of dream marriage of master and material for me so The Lost City of Z could do little wrong from the outset. Thankfully, it fulfills expectations as a thrilling, authentic, restrained, gorgeous period film that tells a faithful true story.
5. Lady Bird
Directed by Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Lois Smith
Gerwig is another filmmaker I've long admired. She's completely uninhibited in front of the camera and she writes the same way. Her last movie, Mistress America, was one of my favorites of 2015, and Lady Bird is even better. Gerwig's look at mothers and daughters and growing up and money problems and life has something for everyone to relate to. We're watching a filmmaker get better before our eyes with each new movie.
4. Lady Macbeth
Directed by William Oldroyd
Starring: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie
It's the next evolutionary step after 2015's The Witch, one of the great horror films of the past 20 years. Lady Macbeth may owe some of its existence to that movie, which proved a modern thriller could look like an old Jan Troell epic. Lady Macbeth is tactile, humble, set in 1865 where terrible things should never happen. Focused on a young woman trapped in a Puritanical, loveless marriage, the film presents shocking scenario after shocking scenario as she begins a reckless affair. It's a fearless debut from Oldroyd, and Pugh will be moving on to bigger things, although she'll be hard-pressed to find better.
3. The Shape of Water
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer
This is the one we've been waiting for from Del Toro. We glimpsed his full potential with Pan's Labyrinth in 2006, but he's failed to find that sweet spot again... until now. The Shape of Water contains that thrilling mix of fantasy and danger that made Pan's such an absorbing experience. Del Toro's latest has great performances, the filmmaker's signature creature designs, exceptional period details, but it also has romance, and it ain't between humans. How the film makes you believe says it all. Movies like this are hard to find.
2. The Florida Project
Directed by Sean Baker
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones
It has that Beasts of the Southern Wild feeling of documentary-style authenticity, as if the cameras are simply part of the atmosphere. There's no acting here. Sean Baker proved he had the pulse of the street with his first film, Tangerine, which was set in Los Angeles. The Florida Project takes us across the country to the land of motels, the Sunshine State, where a little girl named Moonee runs wild. It's bright, dark, sad, lonely, uproarious, infuriating, and a thousand other things. In a world of sequels and remakes, Baker is making original American movies and telling original stories.
1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Directed by Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges, Caleb Landry Jones
The Coen brothers didn't make a movie this year so I had to settle for a Martin McDonagh submission as my favorite. Poor me. The writing in Three Billboards is alarmingly wicked, the performances spot-on, and the feeling of "never end" washed over me in waves more than once while in attendance.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the kind of rich, character-driven yarn McDonagh (and his brother, John Michael, by the way) is fast becoming famous for. The former playwright is fully one of the best filmmakers in the business, and he only seems to be getting better. Three Billboards marks another step up, and he has his amazing cast to thank for it. Frances McDormand is the boulder against which the other characters crash, an unmovable, grief-stricken object in the performance of the year.
Honorable mentions: Good Time, Okja, Dunkirk, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Disaster Artist, Blade Runner 2049, The Big Sick, Brigsby Bear, Raw, The Transfiguration, The Survivalist, Logan, Hounds of Love
Best documentaries: Wormwood, Jane, The Vietnam War, Dawson City: Frozen Time, Brimstone & Glory, Dina, Dawson City: Frozen Time, Faces Places, City of Ghosts
Forgive me, I haven't seen: Phantom Thread, You Were Never Really Here, Call Me By Your Name, Hostiles, The Post