Under the Radar’s Top 25 Films of 2017

Dec 29, 2017
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Looking back at 2017 in film, it’s clear that we’ve had a more divisive year than most. Reviews, as a whole, have been more split than ever before on many of the big movies, and there have been films–such as A Ghost Story, Dunkirk, and The Last Jedi–that were absolutely loved by some members of our staff, while loathed by others. While there haven’t been as many universally loved movies this year as in year’s past, there were movies that our writers were passionate about, and things that have appealed to each one’s individual tastes.

Below, you’ll find Under the Radar’s Top 25 films of 2017, as voted on by our film staff. The biggest downside to year-end lists is that they need to be compiled before the year’s actually ended. With the film release calendar so back-loaded with Awards season contenders, it’s an especially big issue for movie lists. And thus, there are many great 2017 films (Phantom Thread, Disaster Artist, and more) that are probably underrepresented on this list, simply because not all of our staffers have had the chance to see them yet.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments! 

1

Get Out

Ribald satire is hard enough, but Jordan Peele’s impressive film Get Out ups the ante for all other social political satirists: it is one that has emotion and understanding in every bone of its body. For Peele, it is not enough to dismantle, critique, and construct nicety laden white liberalism, with its gauche and microaggressive comments a pathway to more deeply entrenched racism, but he not only gives his lead character, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a three dimensionality, but nearly the entire cast; that only makes the film more penetrating psychologically and emotionally, and scarier to watch. In Get Out, words (“I would have voted for Obama again…”) are reconfigured, recontextualized, and weaponized, and words are only the beginning. By Kyle Turner

2

The Florida Project

Sean Baker's follow-up to Tangerine could have been a misery-ridden movie about poverty and child neglect with no aim past being a didactic morality play. Baker and company instead created a film filled with empathy and understanding without an ounce of finger-pointing or judgment. It's fun and thoughtful, and not a second feels staged or false. Through the eyes of Brooklynn Prince's Moonee, magic is everywhere - you only need the people you care about to find it. Past all that, Willem Dafoe gives what might be a career-best performance. By Jason Wilson

3

Lady Bird

“Yesterday is done,” sings one of the lead characters in Stephen Sondheim’s musical maudit Merrily We Roll Along, its three lead characters looking forward and looking backwards simultaneously, struggling to reconcile past, present, and future like an anxiety ridden Janus. So, too, do the characters of Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, particularly Saoirse Ronan’s assertive, confident protagonist, as well as her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). Between them, they are people, mother and daughter, looking in opposite directions, their temporal gazes flying past one another, but also grazing the skin, resulting in spectacular, achingly honest arguments over minute details (“Pick up your feet,” chastises Marion) to larger questions of class status (“Give me a number,” Lady Bird, pen and pad in hand, demands of her mother, after Marion reiterates how oblivious her daughter is to how costly it is to raise a child). But that slight touch is so important, because it’s still a touch, and the skin is still soft, and the two still matter to one another beyond words. Gerwig, and her cast and crew, have crafted a delicate, beautiful film about love, and time, and (mis)communication, anchored by a wit and honesty that is rare in contemporary filmmaking. By Kyle Turner

4

Baby Driver

The primary gimmick of Edgar Wright’s thrilling crime-comedy is that all of its action scenes are synced to pop music; rather than feel like forced, distracting, over-stylish fluff, they blend in seamlessly with the rest of the film. This may be the film’s biggest testament to Wright’s talent, as a director – that, and the fact that everyone in the cast appears to be having a ridiculous amount of fun. By Austin Trunick

5

Dunkirk

Not one for brevity, Christopher Nolan's last few movies have all clocked in around 150 minutes or more. So it comes as a bit of a shock that he delivered his WWII masterwork (not a genre known for leanness) at a crisp 106 minutes. Time is a key element, as there's a repeated countdown motif as the movie jumps around in its three timelines focusing on the beach, the air, and the water. It's an experience more than a conventional narrative film, and it works almost without the assistance of dialog. While the intensity rarely lets up, it's most pronounced in the dogfighting sequences. If you missed it on the big screen, you did yourself a disservice. By Jason Wilson

6

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The latest feature written and directed by Martin McDonagh is crass, violent, and darkly humorous. (Who else would have the audacity to craft a black comedy premised around a ghastly rape-murder, and maintain a running joke about police brutality?) There’s a stunning amount of wit in McDonagh’s expletive-laden script, but it’s the A-team of actors who give life to the dirty words – side characters are handled by such talented actors as John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, and Clarke Peters – and ensure each curse lands with perfect timing. However, potty-mouthed jokes are only one aspect of Three Billboards. There’s a pounding heartbeat throughout the film; every character has superbly-defined desires and pains. By Austin Trunick

7

Logan

When so many of us are hitting superhero movie fatigue, it’s unsurprising that our favorite one of 2017 was the film that felt least like the rest of its capes and tights brethren. Hugh Jackman plays his iconic mutant, Wolverine, as a grizzled warrior with little left to lose. By shrinking the stakes – he has to save a young girl, rather than the entire world – it gives our hero’s mission so much more gravity than had he just had to save the planet from another generic, spinning blue light in the sky, like seemingly every other superhero flick. By Austin Trunick

8

Blade Runner 2049

Yes, the people involved looked impressive on paper, but who seriously thought this return to the world of Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic would work? Taking the helm, Denis Villeneuve managed to confound expectations without compromising on aesthetics, pace, or the general sense of unease. Ryan Gosling takes the lead this time as the replicant police officer still hunting down other replicants. When he stumbles onto something that threatens the fabric of this richly textured and magnificently shot (by Roger Deakins of course) future dystopia, his fall into the mystery drags us all along. This is a return beyond triumphant. By Stephen Mayne

9

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Writer/director Rian Johnson breaks open The Force Awakens' overly nostalgic mold to create an exhilarating and refreshing take on the legendary Star Wars universe. There's a lot to admire in The Last Jedi but Johnson's meditations on the true nature of the Force shine through like a lightsaber in Mos Eisley cantina. Kylo Ren, you have arrived. By J.A. Kordosh

10

A Ghost Story

Casey Affleck haunting Rooney Mara while wearing a white sheet with eye holes cut out sounds like a comedy, or a bad horror movie. David Lowery’s film, despite including the white sheet because the idea amused him, is actually a somber and affecting meditation on loss and moving on. When Affleck’s musician dies in the opening scenes, he returns to the house to watch his partner grapple with the tragedy and eventually move on without him. Other ghosts appear, time twists and bends, stunning imagery floods the screen, and Mara eats an entire pie. It’s a transcendental delight. By Stephen Mayne

11

The Big Sick

A feelgood romantic comedy based around a woman falling into a life-threatening coma doesn’t sound promising. That it works is a credit to Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon who team up on the screenplay to retell their own story with the right combination of pathos and laughs. Nanjiani plays himself, mostly to good effect, while Zoe Kazan does more with a role that sees her comatose for a chunk of the running time then anyone might expect. The dialogue is sharp and funny, and the emotional lows are delivered efficiently. Look out for some Holly Hunter scene-stealing as well. By Stephen Mayne

12

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Marking the friendly neighborhood web slinger’s triumphant solo return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spiderman: Homecoming scales down the world-threatening enormity of the other Avengers films to create something closer to a John Hughes film with superpowers. Pitting Tom Holland as the most believable Peter Parker yet, against Michael Keaton as much deadlier kind of bird man, Homecoming hits the sweet spot between action, laughs and heart. By Stephen Danay

13

Ingrid Goes West

A gender-swapped Taxi Driver for the Instagram generation, Ingrid Goes West gives Aubrey Plaza the starring role she deserves. Her portrait of Ingrid, a toxic blend of insecurity, FOMO and all-consuming desire for validation, anchors a hilarious and horrifying vision of human interaction in the social media age. By Stephen Danay

14

The Disaster Artist

It’s amazing that The Disaster Artist succeeds even among viewers who aren’t megafans of Tommy Wiseau’s infamous cult stinker, The Room. As it’s directed by James Franco, it’s not purely about the making of a well-known cinematic turd, but a story of two friends working toward their dream as they’re told, at every turn, that they can’t do it. What could have been easily played for laughs is instead an unexpectedly encouraging and heartwarming tale. By Austin Trunick

15

Call Me By Your Name

16

Thor: Ragnarok

17

Good Time

18

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

19

I, Tonya

20

Downsizing

21

Okja

22

Wonder Woman

23

Marjorie Prime

24

The Lost City of Z

25

The Shape of Water

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