After watching more than 100 movies in 2017, these are my 10 favorites and five most hated films of the year so far. I’ve yet to see a few awards contenders (“The Shape of Water” and “Darkest Hour” foremost among them), but will catch up in time for Oscar predictions. My 10 favorites:
1) “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” This quiet but intense film is both a riveting mystery and a poetically truthful look at despair, forgiveness, empathy and the ability to find redemption from one’s past. Starring Frances McDormand as a mother who posts challenging messages to her small-town sheriff in an attempt to provoke him to find her daughter’s killer, the movie blends sadness and dark humor so expertly it feels like a great lost sequel to “Fargo.” Will be up for a slew of Oscars and could very well win.
2) “Get Out.” The year’s biggest surprise came early, when Jordan Peele — previously known only as one half of the Comedy Central sketch show “Key and Peele” — came out with this brilliant horror satire of race relations and liberal elitism. Blending Hitchcock-level suspense with huge laughs and big scares, this rocked the box office more than $175 million domestically and another $78 million worldwide, unheard of numbers for a film starring an unknown British actor (Daniel Kaluuya, in a breakout role that might earn him a Best Actor nod).
3) “Lady Bird.” Greta Gerwig has been one of indie film’s brightest rising stars for the past decade, and her writing-directing debut was one of the arthouse hits of the year. A coming-of-age tale based on her senior year at a Catholic high school depicts young love and the rollercoaster relationship of a mother and daughter with grace, wit and a great deal of heart.
4) “Molly’s Game.” Ace writer Aaron Sorkin made his directing debut with this riveting true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI agent. No one writes dialogue better than Sorkin, and Jessica Chastain brings it to electric life in a certain Oscar-nominated role.
5) “The Disaster Artist.” James Franco has been notoriously all over the map in Hollywood, directing endless indie films no one watches between popping out enough acting hits to maintain his iconoclastic career. He blended both sides of his career together expertly here in depicting the madhouse atmosphere and surprisingly touching friendship behind the making of “The Room,” widely considered the worst movie ever made. By the end, it’s “Rocky” for Hollywood dreamers.
6) “Baby Driver.” Another cult-favorite director, Edgar Wright, also made his mainstream breakthrough with this smash-hit heist film that combined a stunning soundtrack with some of the greatest car chases ever committed to celluloid. Scandal-plagued Kevin Spacey might have had his last hit movie here, hamming it up as a wisecracking crime boss.
7) “Wonder Woman.” Comics powerhouse DC has long struggled to make a film that connects with audiences at the same level as Marvel, but director Patty Jenkins kicked usual DC hack director Zack Snyder to the curb and indeed worked wonders with the story of the greatest female superhero. Terrific action buttressed by subtly powerful comments on the futility of war made this a film that had meaning to go with its might.
8) “The Big Sick.” Next to “Get Out,” this was the year’s most unlikely success, as it rested on relative unknown comic actor Kumail Nanjiani in the first major American film ever to star a Middle Eastern actor. Co-written with his wife Emily Gordon, “Sick” recounts the story of their cross-cultural romance and the tests they endured when Emily fell into a coma. Holly Hunter is a lock for a Best Supporting Actress nom as Emily’s mom, with her best role in over a decade, in a film that reset the standard for modern romantic comedies.
9) “Kong: Skull Island.” Featuring an eclectically oddball cast that included Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly and last year’s Best Actress winner Brie Larson, this was a throwback to old-fashioned monster movie fun, as a team of scientists and soldiers took on a cornucopia of creepy creatures en route to a showdown with the biggest beast of all. Non-stop fun from start to finish with terrific special effects.
10) “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Writer-director Rian Johnson (“Looper”) stepped behind the controls of the latest “Star Wars” saga and delivered a game-changing entry that upended plenty of series traditions (to the dismay of some fans) and was a vast improvement in every way on 2015’s “The Force Awakens.” Adam Driver exudes conflicted menace as the villain Kylo Ren, while Mark Hamill shows viewers a dark new side of Luke Skywalker.
And my five most hated movies of 2017:
1) “Free Fire.” Utterly nihilistic garbage centered around a one-night battle royale between two gangs of robbers in 1976 Boston who all double and triple cross each other over a stolen fortune. Non-stop swearing, shooting and buckets of blood added up to a big nothing.
2) “Baywatch.” An utter insult to anyone who suffered a viewing, this utterly dreadful “comedy” thankfully bombed, with stars Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron later rebounding with the new “Jumanji” and “The Greatest Showman.” Hopefully they learned their lesson permanently: it pays to make movies that aren’t total hack garbage.
3) “Father Figures.” It’s been five years since Owen Wilson or Ed Helms had a comedy hit, and their losing streak became even worse when they teamed up together. Painfully boring, it’s an attempt at raunchy R-rated comedy that pulls way too many punches.
4) “John Wick 2.” This sequel to Keanu Reeves’ surprise 2015 hit about a hitman seeking revenge for the death of his wife and dog featured more of the same: relentless, hateful, nonstop violence that defiles the human spirit.
5) “Suburbia.” George Clooney directed a script that the Coen Brothers wrote years ago but couldn’t get made. Attempting to be a dark satire on 1950s suburbia and race relations, it features Matt Damon in a horribly miscast starring turn. Just ugly.