- OnScreen Chief Film Critic
10. Thor: Ragnarok
Thor: Ragnarok was the most purely enjoyable blockbuster of the year and one of the funniest movies of the year. Full of self-aware jokes and a cast that clearly was having a blast making it, this third installment in the Thor series is easily the best, thanks to the creativity and energy of director Taika Waititi, whose star is definitely on the rise after this. Also, it was great to see Cate Blanchett relish her villainous role; when a serious actor gets to let loose it’s almost always an enjoyable to see.
9. Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner is a classic sci-fi film that I appreciate more than love, recognizing its importance to the genre overall more than enjoying the experience of watching it. Blade Runner 2049 is more accessible while burrowing down deeper into the themes explored in the original. Director Denis Villeneuve’s return to this world created by Ridley Scott is a visual achievement if nothing else, except that it is so much more. So many movies have gone down the “what does it mean to be human?” trail in sci-fi before, but Villeneuve made it fresh and timelier to today than a lot of this film’s contemporaries. It’s narratively rich and I hope it’s the film that finally nets cinematographer Roger Deakins an Oscar. I still can’t get the Vegas section of this film out of my head.
8. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Surprisingly divisive among fans but praised by critics, Rian Johnson’s entry into the new Star Wars trilogy takes the story in interesting and bold new places. I’ll admit to having some reservations about the film upon leaving the theater after my initial viewing, but seeing it a second time made a lot more of it work for me and solidified its stature for me. The meta conversation the movie seems to be having with the audience about how to grapple with the past while carving out your own destiny is very interesting to me, and while a lot of people were disappointed with the arc of Luke’s story, it made sense to me. I also loved the fact that the film was less interested in questions raised by the audience (OMG! Who are Rey’s parents!?!?!? WTF? Who is Snoke!?!?!?) than doing its own thing.
7. The Big Sick
The best romcom of the year is an anti-romcom in a lot of ways. The Big Sick is based of the real-life story of star Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon. This comedy is not all about the relationship, especially as Emily is hospitalized in a coma for most of the movie. Rather, it’s about the characters and the important, real-life decisions that characters have to make, with Kumail deciding what kind of person he is going to be and what kind of life he wants to lead, with his family pulling one way and his heart pulling another. The stand-up scene where Kumail loses is on stage is one of the best, rawest scenes of the year.
6. The Shape of Water
A beautiful modern fairy tale from Guillermo del Toro, one of the best storyteller directors working right now, The Shape of Water is arguably his best film, right up there with Pan’s Labyrinth. A Beaty and the Beast story where the Beast does not change into a man, it’s a wonderful story of love. Sally Hawkins as the mute Elisa fills the screen with an Amelie-level amount of heart. And Michael Shannon is outstanding as the real monster of the film. A terrific all-around cast to go with some awesome creature effects.
5. Baby Driver
Baby Driver is an action movie that has taken up residence in my mind for most of year ever since I saw it. It is a ballet of action, music, and bullets expertly choreographed by British filmmaker Edgar Wright. Everything about this movie is working in perfect harmony together. The bullets fly and the engine revs in perfect synchrony with the soundtrack. The film has the misfortune of having the stain of Kevin Spacey on it, which initially knocked it down a few spots for me, but I changed by mind and refused to ding the movie for something it has no control over. It’s just bravura filmmaking.
Some people were turned off by Christopher Nolan’s decision to monkey around with the three timelines in Dunkirk and have the progress at different speeds through the movie, telling a story of land, sea, and air. But when the end of the film comes and all of the stories reach their climactic peak at the same time, it is thrilling and epic filmmaking. Nobody does big spectacle films like Nolan. Dunkirk is another masterpiece from him. It’s a big movie that deserved to be seen on the big screen; really, on the biggest screens possible. For me, it’s a more immersive experience than 99% of all 3D movies can hope to achieve. You feel the bullets fly by; you feel like you are in the cockpit during the dogfights.
3. Get Out
Get Out was probably the most talked about movie of the year. First time director Jordan Peele has made a horror film that continues the grand tradition of using horror as social satire and social commentary. It’s The Stepford Wives for Black Lives Matter and race relations in the country. Peele, who is a comedian, shows a deft understanding for the horror genre. The film achieved cultural significance almost immediately, with “the sunken place” entering the public lexicon very quickly.
2. The Florida Project
Moonee & Co are some of my favorite characters of the year. Drawing inspiration from The Little Rascals, director Sean Baker casts a judgment-free eye at young Moonee, her mother Halley, and the other long-term residents of these budget motels just outside of Disney World. What could be a harrowing tale of the unseen homeless in America is instead about a summer in a magical world seen through the perspective of Monee and her friends who run around carefree, sometimes getting into trouble, and almost always causing agitation for Bobby, the motel manager, played by Willem Dafoe in an Oscar-worthy performance. Dafoe is one of the few professional actors in the film and he is terrific, but the film belongs to young Brooklynn Prince, who is so natural on screen. I have not shaken this film, especially the ending. See it and then read fellow OnScreen contributor Noah Golden’s review of it.
1. Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical directorial debut is far better than anyone’s directorial debut has any business being. Her voice in Lady Bird is unmistakable, a loving ode to her hometown of Sacramento, CA. She comes through in Saoirse Ronan’s performance most clearly, as the teenager from a middle class family who wants to escape to the East Coast where “culture” exists. The film follows Lady Bird’s senior year of high school and the adventures in love and friendship she goes through, as well as the tumultuous navigation of her relationship with her mother, portrayed wonderfully by Laurie Metcalf, who deserves the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Coming-of-Age stories have been done to death, but this one stands apart. Lady Bird is such a smart, funny, and warm movie that is in love with its characters and its location. And the mother-daughter relationship is the heart of the story.