Travis Hopson’s 20 Best Movies Of 2017

Oh thank God 2017 is finally coming to an end. For reasons that have nothing to do with movies this has been a difficult 12 months to endure, which has made escaping into celluloid dreams all the more important. This year I saw fewer movies than usual as I, begrudgingly, allowed others to shoulder a greater reviewing burden. I still saw a ton, as anybody who follows the site already knows, and putting together a top 20 has proven as difficult as ever.

One thing I noticed was a heavier than usual presence of big popcorn movies: Logan, Star Wars, Thor: Ragnarok, and others made it into my list in prominent slots, and I think it goes back to what I was saying about needing that escape from reality. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of hard-hitting, realistic dramas that emerged as favorites, with The Florida Project, Mudbound, and others staying in my memory long after the credits rolled. I caught four of the movies on my list way back at Sundance, further cementing why I go there every year

Criteria? Simple: If I loved it, it’s probably here. Spare me your emails asking where YOUR favorite movie is. It probably sucked and you have terrible taste. I’m kidding (mostly), but just because a film failed to make the list doesn’t mean I hated it. These are just the cream of the crop that spoke to me personally. So here we go, my 20 favorite movies of 2017! Enjoy! And be sure to check out our complete 2017 wrap-up here!

20. Band Aid
Zoe Lister Jones’s indie charmer encourages arguments to stimulate artistic creativity, and recognizes that a good slice of pizza is better than sex. These are things to be championed always and forever.
19. Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig won my heart in front of the camera long before now, but with the enchanting Lady Bird she’s impressed me in a whole new way. Featuring two of the year’s best performances by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, the film depicts with an abundance of heart the joys and pains of the mother/daughter relationship.
18. Brawl in Cell Block 99
I used to hope Vince Vaughn would get his ass kicked in every movie. Now I could watch him smash dudes’ heads into cement walls for hours on end. This is progress, and another gory masterpiece from writer/director S. Craig Zahler.
17. mother!
Is it okay that the more people complain about Darren Aronofsky’s divisive home invasion thriller/religious parable the more I like it? mother! had the entire damn Internet up in arms trying to crack the code of this insane flick, which I think Aronofsky intentionally designed to be polarizing, which makes me appreciate it even more. In a few years I’m certain the narrative will settle on it being the twisted work of a mad genius, fueled by a go-for-broke performance by Jennifer Lawrence. But for now I’m happy giving the side eye to those who dismiss it out of hand.
16. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Acts of kindness? Forget it. In Yorgos Lanthimos’ chilling, scalpel-sharp The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Colin Farrell’s tortured doctor tries to do right by a patient’s son, only to invite into his home a malevolent force the likes of which we haven’t seen. There’s nothing supernatural about it, except maybe in Barry Keoghan’s terrifying performance, but the evil unleashed on this unsuspecting family is unforgettable for the realistic way it’s depicted.
15. The Big Sick
I’ve been dismayed at what seems like a concerted effort to ignore the year’s best comedy and success story. Kumail Nanjiani and his wife/co-writer Emily V. Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan) recount a crucial time in their on again/off again relationship, a life or death situation that thrusts Kumail into the awkward orbit of her parents. This film has so much it demands multiple viewings: part fish out of water story, part rom-com, part family drama, and all centered around a Pakistani male lead. The Big Sick isn’t just hilarious and heartwarming, but I hope it’s just the start of bigger things for Nanjiani.
14. I, Tonya
The heel in me has always been a fan of Tonya Harding. I’m a loyal member of her fan club. Margot Robbie’s performance as the disgraced Olympic skater makes me love her even more. If she wants to go out and bash another skater’s knee, then dammit she has her reasons.
13. Dunkirk
What I recall most about Dunkirk is me, on the edge of my seat, gripping the arms so tight it left imprints in the palms of my hands. A thrilling WWII film, large in scope yet stripped down so you feel every bit of the personal stakes involved, Dunkirk takes the audience across land, sea, and air to show the value of home to a soldier on the battlefield.
12. Wind River
God of the rugged, socially-informed action flick, thy name is Taylor Sheridan. In his directorial debut, Sheridan turns his attention to the mistreatment of Native Americans in this taut crime procedural about a skilled hunter (Jeremy Renner) and an inexperienced federal agent (Elizabeth Olsen) sent to find a murderer in the middle of Wyoming’s brutally cold winter season. Sheridan makes muscular movies about men of action, which is why we love him. I watched Hell or High Water, Sicario, and Wind River in a row and when it was done I had hair in places I didn’t know I had places.
11. Thor: Ragnarok
I can’t tell you what happened in the first two Thor movies they were so damned dull, but Thor: Ragnarok gets it that Asgardian super gods are kinda silly. So why not have fun with it? Long live The Revengers!

10. Baby Driver
A true stylistic achievement, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is a musical opus, a killer heist flick, and a damn sweet love story. How many movies could pull that off? How many directors would dare to try?

9. Get Out
Who can forget it? The first time Catherine Keener banishes a tearful Daniel Kaluuya into the “Sunken Place”? It’s an image that has been seared into our brains and become shorthand for the systemic racism African-Americans  still face on a daily basis. Shit, we have a racist in the damn White House, yo. Get Out is not only painfully relevant and timely, but hilarious and downright scary. If this is what Jordan Peele has to offer in his directorial debut I can’t wait to see the path his career takes.

8. Logan
One of my least favorite Wolverine comics becomes the best Wolverine movie. In his tenth (!!!) performance as the clawed berserker X-Man, Hugh Jackman finally finds the honorable warrior within the feral mutant. James Mangold delivers a violent, R-rated neo-Western that serves as a perfect goodbye to Jackman’s run as Wolverine, while introducing a worthy successor in Dafne Keen’s X-23.

7. Mudbound
Walking out of the Sundance premiere of Dee Rees’ powerful post-WWII drama, the first thing I said was “That film is winning Best Picture.” I may still be proven right on that if Netflix doesn’t fuck it up, but even if it doesn’t Mudbound is a searing look at race and how poverty binds so many of us together. Two poor families, one black and one white, whose lives intersect because of one muddy piece of land and a war their sons (Jason Mitchell, Garrett Hedlund, both amazing) are called on to fight. But the bond that forms between the two soldiers upon their return is one forged of mutual respect that goes beyond race. There’s a harsh reality that comes intruding in on that friendship, and when it does it’s an ugly reminder of how little has actually changed.

6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Beneath Frances McDormand’s firebrand performance and all of the edgy language is a complex, passionate, and even hopeful film about racism and redemption. What struck me most about Martin McDonagh’s script is how he never lets us get comfortable with any one character. There are no good guys or bad guys to be found. Most people in this powder keg of a town, still reeling from the murder of a young girl and her mother’s brazen plea for justice, wind up somewhere in the middle, earning our scorn and admiration in equal measure. It makes for some emotional scenes that can turn around on a dime, but always keep you on your toes.

5. The Shape of Water
Literally flooding over with raw sensual power and Guillermo Del Toro’s gift for the macabre, The Shape of Water is (for now) his crowning achievement. An exotic love story about a mute woman and merman at the height if Cold War tensions is somehow more honest and real than a thousand generic rom-coms. I never thought I’d say that Del Toro should give up on his blockbuster aspirations but every time he does he gives us another masterpiece. Stick with the passion projects!

4. Blade Runner 2049
I never expected Blade Runner 2049 to be some blockbuster smash. It was stupid for anybody to think it would be. But like Ridley Scott’s classic 1982 film, vindication will soon come, for Denis Villeneuve’s robust, breath-taking sequel is superior to the original. As cinematographer Roger Deakins paints one indelible image after another, finding astounding beauty in this ruined future civilization, a haunting neo-noir emerges that touches on themes of loneliness, desire, corruption, and greed, just as its predecessor did, but filled with the hope that humanity always endures even when we least expect it.

3. Columbus
I haven’t had a movie floor me the way Columbus did in a very long time. Going into it with little expectations, actually zero expectations since I heard it was boring, this small-town drama set in the architecturally-rich town of Columbus, Indiana is anything but. Another coming-of-age story following a female lead, it stars Haley Lu Richardson as a brilliant young woman, obsessed with architecture, who longs for an escape to a more exciting place. She connects with a Korean man, played by John Cho, who is stuck in town caring for his ailing father. This is a love story, but not like you would think. The romance here is purely intellectual not physical, as the two relate to one another as equals, learning from each other and becoming better people as a result of their friendship. It may not sound exciting, and trust me I know this film isn’t for everybody, but Kogonda’s gorgeous directorial debut proves as unique and priceless as the buildings he so lovingly captures.

2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Yeah that’s right, Luke. You drink that nasty ass green milk and spit it back at those hatin’ on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. While Mark Hamill himself has expressed misgivings at the ballsy direction Rian Johnson took this long-stale franchise, even he had to admit it was for the best. And he was right. The Last Jedi is the wake-up call these movies desperately needed, shedding the myths and the nostalgia we’ve been clinging to for decades. The Jedi? They fucking suck, yo. George Lucas made an entire trilogy about how badly they suck, so why so angry that Johnson is just hammering the point home? By “killing our darlings” so to speak, Johnson has teed up Episode 9 to go places we never could predict, and frees Star Wars from the shackles of the past.

1. The Florida Project
Admittedly, it took me a while to fall in love with Sean Baker poetic, pastel-colored The Florida Project. The first hour took some getting used to, as Baker trailed behind a group of Little Rascals-esque kids, causing trouble around the long-term housing projects that litter the tourist traps near Disney World in Orlando. The chief brat amongst them is Moonee, played by the energetic Brooklynn Prince, who always has a spirit as bright as the Florida sun beaming down on her. But Baker takes us deeper, exploring the cold reality of her life on the fringes of society. Her mother, Hailee (Bria Vinaite, in a fearless acting debut), is barely more than a child herself and makes all the wrong decisions as a result. It’s a life of shocking poverty and danger, that Moonie is too young to notice until it all comes crashing around her. Fortunately, Baker injects plenty of light into what could have been one sullen ass movie. Willem Dafoe shines as the hotel manager, Bobby, an honest, soulful caretaker who looks out for everyone as best he can. While The Florida Project has its share of darkness, Baker reminds us that good people exist, and there is hope we’ll all get our shot to enter the Magic Kingdom.