Ben Pearson's Top 10 Movies Of 2017

As 2017 slowly disappears in our rear-view windows (good riddance!), the /Film staff is looking back on our favorite movies of last year. The year itself was awful in an almost incalculable number of ways, but at least we had a ton of fantastic movies to distract us from the constant barrage against truth and decency. Thankfully, many of last year's movies were overflowing with those qualities, and I was able to get a steady diet of them amid heart-stopping set pieces, complex characters, and emotionally cathartic cinematic experiences. These were my top 10 movies of 2017.

War For the Planet of the Apes sequel

10. War for the Planet of the Apes

It's a bit odd that one of the films last year with the most humanity on display tells the story of a group of apes, but director Matt Reeves' trilogy-capping War for the Planet of the Apes is like a concussion grenade of empathy, one that bowled me over with its handling of how to respond when your back is against the wall and everything you've ever loved has been ripped from your grasp. Andy Serkis's performance as Caesar, the conflicted leader of an ape colony fighting for survival, is one of the year's best, and I'm still holding out hope that he receives some sort of official recognition for the astounding work he did here. Reeves is at the top of his game as a director, imbuing this film with Biblical allegories and exploring grounded, relatable emotions through an unlikely group of protagonists. Months after its release, this movie stands as one of the best blockbusters of 2017.

pennywise and his balloon

9. It

Maybe it's because I finished reading Stephen King's massive novel right before the first trailer was released, but I spent much of last year getting hyped for Andy Muschietti's adaptation (technically a half-adaptation, since It: Chapter 2 is coming out in 2019) and he delivered on my excitement in the best way. At first, I thought it'd be a mistake to only tell the kids' side of the story, but phenomenal casting and Muschietti's eerie sensibilities totally justified the notion of letting this story breath a little and telling it in two parts. There weren't as many truly scary moments as I hoped (again, maybe it's because I'd already read the book), but since I'm normally not a huge horror fan, that was fine by me in the end. Bill Skarsgard brought a wonderfully threatening physicality to Pennywise, making it feel as if he could rip the Losers Club kids to shreds at any time, but the film's best moments echo the ones from the book: spending time with a lovable group of misfits and being along for the ride as their bonds strengthen in the face of unimaginable terror. I can't wait for the sequel.

Get Out Alternate Ending

8. Get Out

Every once in a while, a filmmaker who bursts on the scene with a debut so impressive that it heralds the arrival of a major talent. Jordan Peele snagged that title early in 2017 with Get Out, his social horror thriller that explores the black experience in America in a way no other movie has. This movie gave a voice to an underserved audience at a time when their existence was continually devalued by people in power, and the rich metaphors of this film provide multiple layers to dig into beyond its surface appeal. There's something to say for coming up with an A+ premise and then nailing the execution, and Get Out feels like the work of a seasoned filmmaker instead of a debut effort from an up-and-coming director. Jordan Peele has arrived, and Hollywood better get used to him because he's going to be around for a long time to come.


7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

I'm a longtime fan of writer/director Martin McDonagh because his movies often feel "written" in the best possible way, with a wonderful mixture of flawed characters, heartbreaking loss, and laugh out loud comedy. Three Billboards exemplifies all of those qualities and more, led by a fearsome powerhouse of a performance from Frances McDormand that feels very much in line with the frustration and boiling rage many of us (but especially women) felt last year. And I'm always a sucker for Sam Rockwell, who plays wildly against type in this one as a detestable human being whom the film asks us to sympathize with as it unfolds. This is a challenging movie, but despite a critical backlash that's sprouted in the past month or so, it's a film I found to be a rewarding and satisfying entry into McDonagh's oeuvre.

the shape of water footage

6. The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro returned to the realm of fairy tales and delivered this lyrical, beautiful love story of the overlooked and the voiceless. The premise is out there (a mute woman falls for a fish man), but as usual, del Toro goes all out on the production design and sucks you into a world where that seems like a plausible and natural thing that could happen. While many found that love story to be compelling and emotional, it's telling that I liked this movie as much as I did even though I wasn't fully on board for that relationship. For me, the aspect that takes the film to the next level is Richard Jenkins' supporting performance – Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones are fantastic, but Jenkins' subplot was more moving to me than the "will they, won't they" of a woman and the fish man. And though the director had been working on this story for years, its treatment of fragile masculinity (embodied by Michael Shannon's All-American government operative) feels totally aligned with 2017. Coming from somebody who has a deep appreciation for Pan's Labyrinth, I think this may be del Toro's best movie.

the disaster artist review

5. The Disaster Artist

While the behind-the-scenes aspects of making 2003's infamously terrible cult film The Room are undoubtedly entertaining (especially for those who are familiar with that movie), the reason James Franco's The Disaster Artist is elevated above mere nudging and winking is because of the co-dependent relationship at the center of the movie. The way James Franco's Tommy Wiseau and Dave Franco's Greg Sestero support each other's million-to-one dream of making it in Hollywood when no one else will is inspiring...until it turns toxic. The Francos are both excellent, but Dave, in particular, deserves praise for totally nailing the straight man part as James' far more flamboyant performance earns a lot of attention. And while its dramatic aspects might make more people pay attention to it come awards time, the movie is also a comedy – and it earns its laughs. I think I cracked up more here than in anything else last year.

Star Wars The Last Jedi box office

4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Rian Johnson is one of my favorite working filmmakers, but I must admit that while I was excited to see what he could do with a Star Wars movie, I was a bit apprehensive about the prospect of his sensibilities being neutered while he operated in what might be the world's largest current movie franchise. The Last Jedi proved that I had nothing to worry about. Johnson's style, cinematic influences, and flair for writing come through in full force (you're damn right that pun was intended), resulting in one of the best Star Wars movies ever created and one of last year's most remarkable blockbusters. There's so much movie in The Last Jedi, a film that gleefully takes huge swings left and right – and when one of those swings connects, it delivers like nothing else in the franchise ever has. It's exceedingly clear to me that Johnson has an immense love for these characters and this mythology, and he inserts his beliefs about the franchise into the text of his film: it's important to be inspired by and learn from the past, but it's also imperative to move on and build something new.

The Big Sick Alamo Drafthouse

3. The Big Sick

The true story of the unorthodox courtship between Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, The Big Sick is the smallest movie on this list, but it might have the most soul. Nanjiani is a magnetic screen presence, full of sly smiles and mischievous eyes, until the plot requires a much larger range of emotions from him – and he's totally up for the challenge. It helps that he has great scene partners, from the marvelous Zoe Kazan playing Emily to the sensational pairing of Ray Romano and Holly Hunter in the roles of Emily's parents. And while the key romance encounters a serious obstacle in the middle of this movie, the film is just as much a love story between a man and his parents as it is between a man and his girlfriend. Spending time with Kumail's (often hilarious) family reveals his burden of living with cultural expectations, all handled fairly and humorously by the film without painting one side or the other as being wrong or unreasonable. Relatable, heartbreaking, and laugh out loud funny, this is one of the most purely enjoyable times at the movies I had all year.

music of coco

2. Coco

Don't sleep on Coco. Some of you may have skipped it because it's animated, or because it's just the latest in a long line of Pixar movies. But make no mistake: this is hands-down one of the best films of 2017. The biggest reason for that (surprise surprise) is because the writers took enough time to fine-tune the script, whittling it down to a pitch-perfect piece of storytelling that feels both fresh and classic at the same time. Telling a story from a different cultural perspective than we're used to seeing could easily seem like a calculated cash grab if handled poorly, but it's a testament to the quality of the storytelling that this simply feels like a great movie and not a film that's only meant for one specific culture. Coco is also one of Pixar's most visually dazzling movies; the way co-directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Malina conceived of the underworld is vibrant, lush, and jaw-droppingly beautiful, but the scenes set in "real world" Mexico are also lovely. This may be the most emotional I've been at a movie in years (I was openly weeping during a key moment near the end), and the music is spot-on all the way through. (They even got the finger movements right – as someone who plays the guitar, I'm always paying close attention to technique, and the animators didn't take any shortcuts here.) Decades from now, I think we're going to look back on Coco as one of the high points in Pixar's filmography.

the post featurette

1. The Post

Steven Spielberg does not need any more praise (the guy would live for hundreds of years if he was kept alive only by fanboy accolades), but it is straight-up incredible that he completed The Post as quickly as he did. The film's near-legendary behind the scenes swiftness wouldn't mean a thing if the quality of the movie wasn't up to snuff, though, and hot damn, The Beard pulled off a crackerjack thriller that instantly vaults into the upper echelon of his filmography. The breathless pacing, the stellar cast, and the depressingly relevant subject matter all coalesce into not only a truly great and entertaining movie, but something that stands alongside Get Out as one of the defining films of 2017. I haven't loved a Meryl Streep performance in years, but this one reminds me of how she can make greatness look effortless. And while Tom Hanks is reliably solid (as usual), I hope people remember Bob Odenkirk's work in this one when the dust settles. Political, riveting, and absolutely essential, The Post is Steven Spielberg firing on all cylinders.

Honorable Mentions: Thor: Ragnarok, mother!, Wonder Woman, Baby Driver, Your Name, Logan, John Wick: Chapter 2, I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore