Every year, I work towards one thing: my year end film list. I love celebrating the best that film has to offer in any given year and it’s an exciting retrospective on everything that I love about film. Now, I haven’t seen every film this year, plus there are some films that distributors are releasing in December, but are not showing to Charlotte until after the new year, the biggest films being “I, Tonya” and “Phantom Thread,” so their absence on this list is simply due to their unavailability in the area. To some films, if you aren’t in New York or Los Angeles, you don’t really exist. Some films on the list don’t have full reviews posted yet due to Charlotte review embargoes that don’t lift until release. This all being said, this doesn’t mean that there haven’t been some truly incredible films this year that deserve all the praise I can give them.
The “Almost Made-its”: “The Lost City of Z,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “It Comes at Night,” “Past Life,” “Baby Driver,” “My Friend Dahmer,” “Girls Trip,” “Brigsby Bear,” “Logan Lucky,” “Only the Brave,” “All the Money in the World.”
Honorable mention (films that are technically disqualified from gracing the list, but are still notable):
“Silence” is, by all technicality, a film of 2016, but Paramount’s rush job of a release meant, in the same vein of “Phantom Thread,” led to it not being shown to Charlotte critics until mid-January. Still, nearly a year later, Martin Scorsese’s Japanese faith-based horror (yes, it is horror) film is everything a harrowing, horrifying account of cruelty should be. It’s a torturous experiment in audience resilience, one that’s as moving as it is harrowing. It’s an admirable execution from Scorsese, who proves that, even in his mid-70s, he still can take risks and reinvent himself as a filmmaker.
Not many people knew that James Cameron’s 1991 classic, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” was re-released into theaters this year, let alone in 3D, much like Cameron’s 1997 epic, “Titanic” was in 2012. Without a major studio behind the film, the release was short-lived and relegated to AMC theaters exclusively, but it doesn’t mean that it was any less epic. Of course, as the film was released in 1991, it can’t grace my actual list, as it would displace many of the other deserving titles on this list, but to see this classic on the big screen in the stereoscopic format was a stunning experience that only reinforced my love for this film.
Ironic that I mention “Titanic” and its 3D release from 2012 talking about “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” because “Titanic,” however also small, was re-released into Dolby Vision and Dolby Cinema theaters at AMC theaters earlier this month. While I still cherish the IMAX 3D experience of “Titanic” above all else, seeing the film lovingly restored into the best 2D format a film can be seen in was a treat unto itself. Again, having been released in 1997, it’s not on my actual list, as it would top the list easily. “Titanic” is one of the best films of all time and I’ll take any chance ever to see it on the big screen in any format.
And now, the actual list.
25. “Get Out”
I know, I know, I probably should have “Get Out” higher on my list than it already is here, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t an absolutely genius horror film of the newest variety. Jordan Peele’s debut film is as intelligently crafted as it is horrifying and thrilling. From its genius writing that echoes many funny elements (but it is NOT a comedy, no matter what the Golden Globes says), to some of the more disturbing scenes seen on film in recent memory. Topped off with great performances all around, and “Get Out” is an original, unique, timely, genius little movie that deserves every good thing that comes its way.
24. “Atomic Blonde”
There was a big rift this year when “Atomic Blonde” came out, with many people taking sides in a “‘John Wick’ vs. ‘Atomic Blonde'” fight, due to both of the film’s similar tones. Unbeknownst to many people in this fight, “Atomic Blonde” was directed by David Leitch, one of the co-directors of the first “John Wick” film, who went on to direct this, while his co-director, Chad Stahelski, went on to direct “John Wick: Chapter 2.” In the battle of this, “Atomic Blonde” held me with its style, attitude and soundtrack above all else, with Charlize Theron giving one of her best performances to date as Lorraine Broughton, a British intelligence agent investigating a data breach in Cold War-era Berlin. This is a stylish, expertly crafted action film that, unlike most action films, holds wonderful rewatch value.
23. “Molly’s Game”
It’s a bit of a cliché to think that Aaron Sorkin is one of the best screenwriters in Hollywood, but it’s simply undeniable that he holds a weight and fluidity in his writing that is unique to himself in a way that no other screenwriter can replicate properly, with “Molly’s Game” being no exception. “Molly’s Game” is the directorial debut of Sorkin, as well, who displays a great amount of filmic heft, but it’s the pairing of Sorkin and main star Jessica Chastain that brings the true magic out of “Molly’s Game.” Detailing the rise and fall of “poker princess” Molly Bloom, who ran illegal poker games across the country over the span of a few years, this is a thrilling film that relies only on its wits to achieve its effect, which Sorkin, more so than anyone, can do wonderfully.
“Personal Shopper” was not a film that hit me super hard when I first saw it. I liked it a lot, but I wasn’t sure how much I did at the time, but as time went on, I began to realize just how unique and hard-hitting Olivier Assayas’ ghost drama was. If there was any doubt that Kristen Stewart isn’t one of the best actresses of her generation, it’s absolved here, as she gives one of the best performances of the year here as Maureen, an American personal shopper living in Paris, attempting to contact her dead brother. This is a quiet, strange, wholly original film that’s worth every second of its time.
When the trailer for “It” dropped back in March, I knew it was going to be a special film. Andy Muschietti’s adaption of the first half of Stephen King’s classic horror epic is a wonderfully nuanced, incredibly funny and quite horrifying horror film that makes the best of everything it has under its belt. Not just from Bill Skaragård’s terrifying turn as Pennywise the Clown, but with the entirety of the child cast members as the incredibly memorable Losers Club. Having become the highest-grossing horror film of all time in a short matter of time, this sensation proved to be more than just its success, in being one of the more iconic feeling horror films to hit theaters in the past year. The end effect is truly chilling.
20. “Before I Fall”
I absolutely did not know what to expect going into “Before I Fall,” but what I got was perhaps the best “teen movie” of the decade so far. At the center of this is Zoey Deutch, who also gives one of the better performances of the year, especially from her age group, as Samantha Kingston, a senior in high school who gets to learn of her place in all things by reliving the same day over and over again, with each night leading to her untimely death in a car accident. This is a film that gets surprisingly deep into the mechanics of teen angst and doesn’t look to dismiss it by any means, but explore what it means to be a young adult in today’s society, and the effect it has on our personalities and behavior. Top this off with stunning direction from Ry Russo-Young, and it earns a spot very deserved on this list.
19. “Thor: Ragnarok”
Disney is seemingly on top of the world, whether it be from their mainline brand, LucasFilm for “Star Wars,” Pixar for animated films, Fox (more recently) for adult-oriented films or Marvel Studios for their comic-book films, they seem to be on top of everything they touch. This was no more apparent this year than in “Thor: Ragnarok,” the best of the Marvel Studios films to hit theaters this year, which in itself is a great bar to beat. Thanks to director Taika Waititi injecting the formerly “lesser” Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) property with much needed life, humor and color, this is a acid-laced fever dream that’s as hilarious as it is thrilling, with wonderful new turns from Tessa Thompson and Cate Blanchett.
This is a film that I’m really not sure why it hasn’t picked up more traction than it already has. Sure, it has a 29% on Rotten Tomatoes and only made $217,644 in its entire run in over 283 theaters, but I really think had other critics given this film the time of day it deserved, it could’ve been more well-received. Marc Forster’s dramatic thriller with Blake Lively and Jason Clarke is a daring, trippy, thrilling film that tries many new things not seen in a film of its kind before. Whether or not you agree with what the film is selling is up to you, but you cannot deny the ballsy, dark directions “All I See Is You” went in, with one of Blake Lively’s best performances to date at the center of everything wonderful about this film.
Films about films are some of Hollywood’s favorite stories to tell, but most of the time they typically detail the triumphs of the film industry, not its downfalls. “The Disaster Artist” seeks to shed light on perhaps the biggest downfall that ever came to light from a single film: “The Room.” Written, produced, directed and starring Tommy Wiseau, lovingly played by James Franco here, “The Room” was an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions, but “The Disaster Artist” doesn’t seek to put down “The Room” for its faults, but to examine the sequence of events that could’ve led to a film like this being produced. It’s a hilarious and surprisingly sincere look inside one of the worst films of all time, with Franco’s performance ranking as one of the absolute best of the year.
There have been a lot of batshit crazy films this year, but none of which have been as joyously fun as “Colossal,” an indie monster film of the most uplifting variety. Down on her luck Gloria, played by Anne Hathaway, is an alcoholic New Yorker out of a job and relationship, and moves home to her hometown. When she discovers that a giant monster is attacking Seoul, she soon makes the discovery that she is the one controlling the monster remotely when she’s drunk at the playground, to which she ends up there every night after binge drinking. This is an ingenious little film that reinvents Hathaway’s image, provides two tons of fun in its devilishly original premise, and makes the most of its small budget, often looking like a major Hollywood film above all else. This is true movie magic.
15. “Gerald’s Game”
At the start of this year, I wouldn’t have guessed that I would give a Netflix original film the time of day to grace this list, but here we are. It’s not that I disliked Netflix’s content, but I wholly disagreed with the way in which they market them. Streaming really is the future, but people can’t watch your stuff if you don’t market it. Luckily, Netflix took the time to market three films this year (out of their incredible amount of releases), “Okja,” “Mudbound” and “Gerald’s Game,” the latter of which is an absolutely stunning minimalist achievement in tactile tension, gut-wrenching gore and emotional heft in horror. Adapted from Stephen King’s novel by horror auteur Mike Flanagan, this is an absolutely terrifying film built from a simple concept, bolstered by Flanagan’s love of horror and star Carla Gugino’s willingness to throw herself into her role like she’s never done before. It’s an experience, to say the least.
Like “Personal Shopper,” Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” is not a film I initially loved upon the end of my first watch, but time and subsequent re-watches have revealed a touching, heartbreaking and stunning film underneath the difficult grit and grime that Baker wants to show in his depiction of a marginalized group of kids living in a motel in Central Florida. It’s a tough film to approach, but a fulfilling one about the wonder of childhood and the ways in which the modern world is swooping in to ruin the innocence of it all. Thanks to Baker’s colorfully bleak direction and a marvelous supporting performance from Willem Dafoe, this is a small-scale miracle of the most crushing variety.
13. “Lady Bird”
“Lady Bird” made quite a stir being Rotten Tomatoes’ highest-rated film of all time, until writer Cole Smithey decided to reclassify his mildly positive review to a negative one to simply make a point in the server. Whether or not you agree with this is not the point, what is the point is that “Lady Bird” is an unconscionably sweet film that has all the elements of a classic in place. Greta Gerwig’s incredibly sincere love story to adolescence through the eyes of a young girl, played by Saoirse Ronan, pining to get away from her monotonous existence in Sacramento, is one of true heart and character. It’s unique and quirky without being in your face about it, with a wondrous performance from Ronan that might just win her an Oscar come March.
My, my, I didn’t see this one being as controversial as it actually is, but I make no apologies. I think “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is a wonderful achievement for the series moving forward thanks to director Rian Johnson’s daring and less-than-obvious decisions in how the series would progress after “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Those expecting a classic “Star Wars” film are sure to be disappointed in how the series progresses here, but I found the more intimate approach of it all, focusing on character developments and side jobs to set up for the final chapter, to be a rousing and slow-burn experience from start to finish that was stunning and incredibly fun from start to finish.
11. “Lady Macbeth”
When it comes to period pieces, most of them play it relatively safe in execution, focusing more on the fabulous sets and costumes than any sort of narrative heft much of the time. “Lady Macbeth” doesn’t seek to do that, stripping itself down to the bare minimum to tell its dark and twisted story without any fluff between the lines. William Oldroyd’s period thriller is everything a film of this nature should be: daring, dark, unafraid, brutal, sexy and everything in between. Florence Pugh gives one of the most ferocious performances this year as Katherine, a scorned wife hatching a plan of betrayal and murder with her newfound lover. This isn’t your typical PG-13 revenge tale, but an R-rated farce of the bleakest kind, which is really what the period drama really needed at this moment in time.
This has been one hell of a year for superhero films, and “Logan” is easily the most daring of the bunch. Ending Hugh Jackman’s 17-year stint as Logan aka Wolverine after appearing in eight X-Men movies as the iconic character. Wading into dystopian, R-rated, depressing territory, “Logan” gives Jackman the chance to hone the acting craft of this character more than any actor has done in a superhero role before. This is an absolutely core-shaking film through-and-through that hits harder than any other superhero film has ever done emotionally and viscerally. It’s a brutal goodbye for the character, but one that’s masterful and grittily beautiful in execution.
Keeping in the category of “Completely devastating blockbuster films” is the trilogy capstone to the revamped “Planet of the Apes” series. If there was ever a case for a Best Actor candidate from a solely motion capture performance, Andy Serkis is it as Caesar, the leader of the ape rebel group fighting against the tyranny of humans against the evolved apes. Matt Reeves has crafted a slyly timely, stark, emotional, gut-wrenching action film that fires on every cylinder it looks upon. Ending on its own terns, “War for the Planet of the Apes” is a perfect ending to a series that built itself up on the best of terms, and never played by anyone’s rules but its own.
When you think of coming-of-age stores in 2017, other films might come to mind other than “Raw,” like “Lady Bird” or “Call Me By Your Name” (which is not left off this list by accident), but more than any, the Belgian “Raw” hit closest to home than any of the straightforward coming-of-age stories this year. Focusing on a timid vegetarian girl who comes into her own confidence and sexuality through her newfound craving of raw meat, specifically human meat, “Raw” is a distinctly feminine story that’s as gruesome as it is moving. It’s a strange, emotional, engaging, funny horror film that does its best to make the audience feel Justine’s uncomfortable existence through the introduction of uncomfortable and sometimes terrifying means. It’s brutal, hilarious, weird and completely wondrous.
7. “Wind River”
Taylor Sheridan has always found ways of telling stories about a forgotten America through “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water,” but he hit a high with “Wind River,” to which he made his directorial debut with, too. “Wind River” finds perhaps one of the most discarded areas of the country on the Wind River Indian Reservation when a young girl is mysteriously murdered. Focusing on a game hunter and FBI agent’s hunt for the killer on the reservation, this is a stark, captivating thriller that makes the absolute most out of both Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, while also establishing Sheridan as a new powerhouse to be reckoned with in the industry, if he wasn’t before. “Wind River” is a fabulous thriller and then some. It’s a shame it was brought down in the whole scandal involving The Weinstein Company, and while Sheridan was able to scrub the film of the Weinstein name, I still feel some people are unfairly holding grudges on the indie film by association.
I hated “Justice League.” I’m sorry if you liked it, but I sure as hell didn’t. Perhaps it was because I didn’t like the characterizations, or the bad visual effects, or the obvious patching together of two separate stories, or maybe it’s because Patty Jenkins showed us everything the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) could be in “Wonder Woman.” Lovingly crafting the world surrounding Diana of Themyscira like her own child, Jenkins focuses on world building before she takes on anything else surrounding the story. This is a rousing, fun, expertly crafted film that shows us that DC has every capability of being just as good, if not better than other brands of comic book films. Bolstered by a charismatic, star-making performance from Gal Gadot and wondrously rich direction from Jenkins, “Wonder Woman” is a true Amazon prime.
As minimalist of a film as Christopher Nolan could make, “Dunkirk” is a surprising accomplishment, especially after the incredible film that was “Interstellar.” Now, “Dunkirk” is most definitely not as creative or ambitious as “Interstellar,” but it is a more wholly thrilling film than any of his previous films, which is saying a lot on its own. Each of Nolan’s film satisfies a different positive aspect of the genre he crafts the film within, and “Dunkirk” is no exception. Rousing, quiet, visceral, impersonal, grandiose, dark, it’s everything that war is as a feeling with an epic, IMAX-scoped action film that’s as seat-rattlingly tense as it is hopefully beautiful.
Guillermo del Toro is an absolute visionary of cinema, having influenced a whole generation of weirdos to wholly embrace their weirdness to the most of their abilities. Yet, it’s “The Shape of Water” where the filmmaker finally hits his groove to 100% of what he aims for. Focusing on the romance between a mute janitor, played by Sally Hawkins, and the humanoid reptilian creature held in the facility she works in (Doug Jones), it’s an incredibly strange concept that’s moving, emotional, thrilling, beautiful and literally everything in between. It’s as if “Amélie,” “Alphaville,” “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “Before Sunrise” and “E.T.” all became one movie, and maintained each of their respective qualities, resulting in something as truly glorious as “The Shape of Water.”
If there was anyone to take on a “Blade Runner” sequel that wasn’t Ridley Scott (who surprisingly knew his place on this one), it definitely was Denis Villeneuve, to the greatest of effects. “Blade Runner 2049” is a gorgeously bleak sci-fi epic that does everything a properly delayed sequel should be. This is a film that plays on nostalgia, but roots itself in growing the universe in its own unique ways. Bigger and longer than its predecessor, it’s also better in nearly every way, which is saying a lot compared to Scott’s 1982 sci-fi cult classic. Boasting some of the most beautiful cinematography seen in any film this year from master Roger Deakins, a haunting score from Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer and great performances from Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks, this is a film that celebrates the best of the old while showcasing everything that the new has to offer for the future of cinema.
When it comes to North Carolina cinema, there isn’t much for us to lean on anymore, but this year brought us a bittersweet feeling in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” only bittersweet in the fact that the one major film shot in North Carolina of the year immediately distinguishes itself as something that does not take place here. That being said, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a masterpiece of southern-fried cinema. Focusing on a woman, played by Frances McDormand, calling out her rural police department for failing to solve the rape and murder of her teenage daughter, Martin McDonagh’s comedy-drama hits nearly every genre of film before it quits. It’s hilarious, heartbreaking, thrilling, sad, beautiful, perplexing, frustrating, occasionally infuriating, liberating, uplifting and depressing all-in-one, and often times can jump from one feeling to another without even the slightest bit of overlap. It’s a wondrous bit of cinema that shows the lengths one can go to to tell an effective story, how a filmmaker can ignore the confides of genre to deliver something truly magical, and just one more excuse to give Frances McDormand a second Oscar.
I can already feel myself being set up for crucifixion for this one (Get it? Crucifixion? Because it’s a biblical allegory.). Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” is a daring, smart and absolutely shell-shocking masterpiece of no compare. It’s an esoteric, depraved, intelligent, gut-wrenching thriller that had me on the edge of my seat even on my subsequent viewings where I even knew what was going to happen. This is the type of film where you leave feeling not only mentally, but also physically changed as a person. It’s everything you don’t expect a studio-produced, A-list starred, early Fall released thriller to be. It’s the most effective horror film I’ve seen in years and one that I can return to again and again and learn something new each time I watch it. Jennifer Lawrence gives a career-making performance, and Michelle Pfeiffer makes a grand return to cinema in full fashion. Deafened by silence, Aronofsky crafts a beautifully bleak and devilishly hopeless film that also ends up with quite a few darkly comedic elements to it as well, only to complement them later with even more truly horrific imagery. This isn’t a slasher or a ghost tearing this house apart, but the threat of the outside world and the effect humanity has on what it touches. A film like this, however polarizing (it garnered a prestigious “F” score from audiences on CinemaScore), comes around only once in a generation.