We're officially in the early stages of awards season for acclaimed films that have been (and those that have yet to be) released in 2017. As usual, there are the arthouse favorites among critics from this year's film festivals, as well as those that are released at the end of the year--and which sometimes overshadow releases from as far back as February.
The following is not so much a list of what I think are the best films of the year (though there are some exceptions), but rather an overview and understanding of some of the films that have been released, and those that have yet to be this year. Now, I haven't seen all of these movies, nor every film that's not included in this list. And I don't plan to. And yet, I do believe, as a film buff and writer, that it's important (especially for film buffs) to be involved in the conversation, and to bring forth discernment and understanding of where the culture, the film community, and of course the world, is at. I also believe that films still have the ability to inspire and to challenge, especially if they're done for the right reasons.
Two questions we can ask in the conversation include, what exactly do these films stand for? And are they actually worth seeing?
Director Denis Villeneuve's mind-blowing follow-up to Ridley Scott's iconic sci-fi film from the 80s centers on a futuristic cop (Ryan Gosling) tracking down a missing Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). At least, that's what the plot seems like. An ambiguous story bursting with mystery and VFX throughout, many believe that cinematographer Roger Deakins might as well be given a long-overdue Oscar for his visual work here.
Following the success of Barry Jenkins' Moonlight last year, this film is the latest LGBT romance, centered on a young student who falls for an intern in the Italian countryside in the early-1980s. Stars Armie Hammer and breakout star Timothee Chalamet (who also co-stars in Lady Bird).
Biopic from director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) of newly-elected British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during early-WWII. Stars Gary Oldman in what many are calling a stellar and incredible performance. (Opens December 22.)
Outrageous-but-true story behind the making of 2003's The Room, which many consider "the worst movie ever made". James Franco (who also directed) plays the real-life Tommy Wiseau in what is already being hailed as a career-defining performance. This is one of the most interesting and strangest films I've seen in recent years.
Director Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants) goes big-scale with the story of a community of people that shrinks down for the sake of economical and environmental progression. Matt Damon is one of the many citizens who goes through with it. (Opens December 22.)
Dramedy about a precocious six-year-old girl who has mischievous and fun adventures with her friends and her loving-but-irresponsible mother in cheap motel outskirts of Florida near Disney World. Willem Dafoe humbly and terrifically plays the hotel manager, while irresistible newcomer Brooklyn Prince nearly steals the show. An equally-irresistible charm doesn't change the fact that the film enters into disturbing and sad territory.
Wild true story of the infamous scandal involving disgraced Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, and attempts to show multiple perspectives--er, the key players' "own truth" about what happened. Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan and Allison Janney star. (Opens December 8.)
Directorial debut of indie actress Greta Gerwig (who also wrote the script) about a rebellious teenage girl in a post-9/11 America, as she explores social status, sex, drugs, and Dave Matthews music. Gerwig's script is quirky and insightful (as well as existential and troubling), with believable performances from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.
Reportedly Daniel Day-Lewis's final role, director Paul Thomas Anderson's latest chronicles a renowned dressmaker in 1950's London. (Opens December 25.)
Steven Spielberg directs Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in this true story of the Washington Post unraveling the cover-up, of the Vietnam War, that spanned four U.S. Presidencies. The National Board of Review recently named this the best film of 2017. (In limited release December 22, opens nationwide January 12.)
Guillermo del Toro's latest fantasy-thriller is set during the Cold War, as a mute cleaning lady discovers (and falls hard for) a mysterious sea creature. The winner of the "Golden Lion award" (the equivalent of the Best Picture Oscar) at the 2017 Venice Film Festival, this looks impeccably designed and executed (not to mention acted, with an endearing Sally Hawkins), but there's questionable sensuality involved. (Opens December 8.)
True story of Boston Marathon survivor Jeff Bauman and his ongoing recovery and inspiration. Pulls no punches when it comes to raw emotion, for better and for worse. Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslanay and Miranda Richardson give some of the year's best performances.
Dark and violent comic drama about a single mother who rents three billboards to deliver a provocative message to the supposedly unconcerned police nine months after her daughter's murder. Third feature film from English playwright Martin McDonaugh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths), with hard-as-nails performances, especially from Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell. An angry and maddening film.
It's easy to see why critics would be raving over these kinds of films. But what about the other films that came out earlier in the year? Well, here are a few that critics are still talking about from then, or, in some cases, should.
Edgar Wright's ode to all things music, iPods, and fast car chases. Breakout Ansel Elgort leads an impeccable cast (although it is hard to think about this film in light of co-star Kevin Spacey's recent allegations), and a diverse range of tunes forms a killer soundtrack. (Read my review here.)
Sofia Coppola's haunting period drama-thriller is about a girls school in Virginia (led by Nicole Kidman), during the American Civil War, who take in a mysterious Union soldier (Colin Farrell).
Writers (and real-life couple) Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon autobiographically recount their romance, her unexpected medical condition, and his relationships with his Pakistani family and her parents, respectfully.
Christopher Nolan's groundbreaking war epic chronicles various perspectives of Operation Dynamo during early-WWII, complete with impressive IMAX footage and a fully-immersive cast. (Read my review here.)
Comedian Jordan Peele's directorial debut is an intriguing and creepy horror-thriller, as well as social commentary on race relations, as an young black man goes with his Caucasian girlfriend to visit her parents for the weekend. Of course, things get weird from there, and then some. (Read my review here.)
The Lego movie universe expands into a spinoff of everyone's favorite Caped Crusader (in toy brick form). Both a parody and arguably a balance between the campy comedy and dark characteristics of the character, the film succeeds. (Read my review here.)
The famed X-Men character Wolverine goes out with a big bang in James Mangold's violent, bruising, and compelling western-esque drama of a lost man (Hugh Jackman's final outing as the clawed mutant), his ailing mentor (Patrick Stewart's final outing, too, as Charles Xavier), and a mysterious young girl with similar abilities. (Read my review here.)
Continuing where Dawn left off (in 2014 film), War showcases the surviving ape colonies against the last threat of humanity--in this case, totalitarian and cold-hearted military leaders. Motion capture technology hits another high point, and it really pays off with emotional range, courtesy director Matt Reeves and mocap veteran Andy Serkis.
Kudos to director Patty Jenkins and breakout star Gal Gadot for so many things Wonder Woman. Not only is this the highest-grossing female-led action movie of all-time, but it's also the first DC universe film to get it right. If anything, this film, more than any other this year, challenges the notion of whether the world and people are worth saving, despite their/our shortcomings and failures. As one character says, "It's not about 'deserve.' It's about what you believe." (Read my review here.)