SPECIAL: The Best Movies of 2017 So Far

Image: Warner Bros.

Chris Luckett

Reserving judgments on how 2017 will ultimately look once the crop of awards movies and late-year blockbusters are out is easier for me this year, as I haven’t seen or reviewed quite as much as in previous years.

Oh, sure, I saw Rings, David Brent: Life on the Road, Logan, Kong: Skull Island, Beauty and the Beast, The Fate of the Furious, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, Alien: Covenant, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Wonder Woman, The Mummy, and Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

But I also Split, John Wick, Chapter 2, Get Out, The Circle, Okja, Baby Driver, Valerian and the city of a Thousand Planets, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Dunkirk, Atomic Blonde, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Logan Lucky, and It, not one of which got a review. To say nothing of the fact that by this point in recent years, I’d have typically seen twice as many movies or even close to 100.

Still, I’ve been judicious about the ones I chose to see. So while I may not be choosing from as many overall films as in past years, these ten are still all well worth checking out and do 2017 proud.


10. JOHN WICK, CHAPTER 2

Image: Summit Entertainment

Whenever a movie is directed by two debuting directors — in John Wick‘s case Chad Stahelski and David Leitch — you can never know for sure who really directed the movie. (A ship can only have one captain, after all.) Leitch went off to direct the disappointing Atomic Blonde; Stahelski returned to direct this sequel, which manages to match the original in pretty much every way. Point: Leitch.


9. OKJA

Image: Netflix

Director Bong Joon-ho is often compared to Steven Spielberg for his deftness at weaving very human stories amidst fantastical action. A worthy follow-up to post-apocalyptic Snowpiercer and monster movie The Host, Okja tells the tale of a genetically modified “super pig” by a meat-processing corporation and the Korean girl who named him Okja and raised him over the last decade. Drawing from influences as varied as Miyazaki, Bertolucci, and the Wachowski sisters, Okja is a visual wonder with topics of real importance to raise. Just don’t the kids watch.


8. ALIEN: COVENANT

Image: Twentieth Century Fox

It’s not the best movie in the soon-to-be-seven-long series, and to be fair, it’s got some insanely great movies to follow in the footsteps of. But while Alien: Covenant may not be quite the masterpiece Alien, Aliens, or Prometheus were, what it does it does really well. Ridley Scott still clearly loves this universe and Michael Fassbender achieves wondrous things once in again in not just one mechanical role but two.

(Read my full review here.)


7. IT

Image: New Line Cinema

While the narrative of one of Stephen King’s biggest (and longest) novels suffers a bit from being halved, with this volume focussing on seven kids fighting an eternal demon before 2019’s adult conclusion, It still deftly delivers the scariest movie of the year. What helps it most is the exceptionally strong relationship development among the seven children coming of age, with comparisons to King’s own Stand By Me easy and accurate to make.


6. KONG: SKULL ISLAND

Image: Warner Bros.

It shouldn’t have been so good. Who expected it would be so good? A profit-driven reboot of King Kong to help populate Legendary’s “MonsterVerse” connected universe, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ (whose only previous credit was The Kings of Summer) spectacular eye for a gorgeous shot combines beautifully with his sense of dynamic energy to create one of the best action movies of the year. John C. Reilly also steals every scene he’s in.

(Read my full review here.)


5. VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF
A THOUSAND PLANETS

Image: EuropaCorp

The more bonkers director Luc Besson gets as time goes on, the more divided audiences and critics are over his movies. For instance, some (like yours truly) thought 2014’s Lucy was a near-masterpiece; to many others, it was ludicrous nonsense. Valerian, a tale of two special operatives in the future (Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne) on a mission to uncover an interstellar conspiracy, could just as easily be labelled ludicrous nonsense. But when it has the most stunning visuals of the year wrapped around a rousing-in-an-original-trilogy-Star-Wars-way sense of adventure, it’s hard to care.


4. WONDER WOMAN

Image: Warner Bros.

For the last five years, DC struggled in vain to copy the magic Marvel has conjured over the past ten. It turns out the problem was just Zack Snyder. Once the director of Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was left out of the chair to make room for Monster‘s Patty Jenkins, something wonderful happened. Against all odds, DC made a movie better than all but two or three best of Marvel’s 16 so far, thanks in no small part to a star-making turn from Gal Gadot. Wonder Woman is very arguably the greatest superhero origin movie, creating complex characters and a tension normally reserved for the first sequel while still finding time to raise contemporary social issues.

(Read my full review here.)


3. LOGAN

Image: Twentieth Century Fox

When Deadpool showed R-rated superhero movies could thrive at the box office, every studio began greenlighting things they never would have considered before 2016. In Logan‘s case: making the final bow of Hugh Jackman as the grizzled, past-his-prime Wolverine, in a post-apocalyptic future where almost all humans are dead, Professor X (Patrick Stewart) is almost dead himself, and Wolverine spends his nights driving limousines. And when the adamantium claws ultimately come out, the savagery and violence that results, which would normally be cut away from, injects more gravity and tragedy into Logan than any X-Men movie has ever come close to. It’s the best Western of the year and the best superhero movie, too.

(Read my full review here.)


2. BABY DRIVER

Image: TriStar Pictures

Even in a stronger summer, Baby Driver would have been a brilliant fusion of action and song. It’s a musical fed through a car engine. Getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) has tinnitus, which he drowns out by always listening to music. What makes Baby the best, though, is how he choreographs his action scenes in perfect synchronization with car chases, footraces, and shoot-outs. (The insanely good soundtrack doesn’t hurt, either.) The cast is spectacular, from Horrible Bosses alumni Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx to Jon Hamm and Lily James. Director Edgar Wright worked for twenty years to get Baby Driver made, and it’s a brilliant testament to that drive.


1. DUNKIRK

Image: Warner Bros.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan are the only two major directors nowadays fighting for film over celluloid: they also both have an oeuvre of almost all masterpieces, which really is a rare thing nowadays. In a career that includes Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception, and Interstellar, Dunkirk just may be the greatest one. It’s a spectacular picture, covering soldiers on the beaches of Dunkirk (in one week), sailors shuttling soldiers back to Britain (in one day), and pilots flying Spitfires over the English Channel (in one hour), all coalescing in a climax with more tension than any film in this critic’s recent memory. From the opening scene, the action starts suddenly and refuses to let up for 90 straight minutes. Even more impressive, though… I felt terror watching it. The true, incapacitating, primal emotion of terror, feeling like I couldn’t even catch my breath. It is an incredibly rare movie that can get you there with skill rather than scares, and Dunkirk is unequivocally that movie.


Of course, we’re only three-quarters through the year. We’ve still got most of the buzzworthy awards contenders like Darkest Hour, The Shape of Water, and Battle of the Sexes — to say nothing of studio blockbusters like Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok, Murder on the Orient Express, Coco, and The Last Jedi. And a lot can change in three months.

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