This year’s best and worst films
Abounding remakes aside, cinema brought us clear winners and stinkers
Only one of the ten highest-grossing films of 2017 was not a remake, a sequel or part of an extended comic-book universe. That film: the 1980s nostalgia-obsessed It, based on the 1980s bestseller by Stephen King, a movie that waits until the final credits to inform the audience that they just watched “Chapter One” (“Chapter Two” comes out in 2019). Mainstream cinema might be more presold than ever, but film critics Daniel Barnes and Jim Lane weren’t buying. Instead, they dug deeper to find the brightest cinematic gems of 2017:
Daniel’s Top 10 Films
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Bone-crunching nirvana, with a legitimately intimidating Vince Vaughn maiming his way through an underground prison network to save his pregnant wife.
The Florida Project
While 2017 saw blockbuster cinema nudge ever further up the endless asshole of nostalgia, a path that can only lead to suffocation and death, Sean Baker’s absorbing story of impoverished children running wild in the shadow of Walt Disney World felt more alive than anything in years.
Jordan Peele’s scathing and satisfying horror movie only grows richer with a second viewing, capturing the terror of being the other in a world run by morally perverse white people. Behold the Coagula!
A Ghost Story
It’s easy to dismiss something as sincere as A Ghost Story, and slinging feces at David Lowery’s immaculate telling of a white-sheeted spirit waiting out eternity has predictably become a sport for film Twitter baboons. I remain firmly in the corner of this graceful film about the timelessness of grief.
Robert Pattinson’s coolly ferocious con man leaves a trail of damaged lives in his wake in Josh and Benny Safdie’s outrageous urban nightmare, a film that manages to match the relentlessness of its protagonist.
A great Sacramento movie, capturing both our low-key beauty and our high-key inferiority complex, but also a great movie about growing up, with honest performances from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.
The visceral moviegoing experience of the year, a stupendously tense and disturbing piece of cinema from Darren Aronofsky. If mother! made more money, Michelle Pfeiffer would be collecting wheelbarrows of awards for her devilish supporting performance.
The overhyped likes of Margot Robbie and Emma Stone might win the awards, but Kristen Stewart is still the best young actress working today. Her Clouds of Sils Maria collaborator Olivier Assayas directs this entrancing story of a medium struggling to connect with her deceased twin.
Sumptuous yet surprisingly intimate, a mix of meticulous design and messy emotions, with powerful lead performances from Daniel Day-Lewis as a hyper-controlling fashion designer and Vicky Krieps as the woman who refuses to join his assembly line of ex-girlfriends.
In a year filled with films that successfully cohabited honest humanity with elements of the supernatural, animator Makoto Shinkai’s metaphysical teenage mind-scrambler rises above the crowd.
Daniel’s Bottom 5 Films
Other films were more offensive or more pretentious, but perhaps no other film in cinema history failed to clear a lower bar of expectations.
The Book of Henry
The magical treehouse was bad enough, but when a midpoint twist flips The Book of Henry into a Manic Pixie Rape Revenge movie, it exposes an ugly core utterly at odds with the film’s apple-cheeked exterior.
All the hollow ponderousness of The Revenant without the technical exuberance. Christian Bale gruffly mutters like sleepy Batman, but it’s Rosamund Pike who delivers the most embarrassing performance of the year.
I Do…Until I Don’t
Writer / director / producer / star Lake Bell leads a shrill ensemble through this shockingly unfunny death march of clichés about love and marriage.
The Last Face
Dental hygiene foreplay! A sex scene set to the Red Hot Chili Peppers! Wait, what was Sean Penn’s sermonizing stinker about again? African genocide or something?
Jim Lane’s Top 10 Films
Writer-director Christopher Nolan gave us a harrowing, riveting and inspiring ground-and-sea-level recounting of the evacuation that saved the British Army and the Allied cause in the early days of World War II.
A Ghost Story
David Lowery’s visual tone-poem following the spirit of a young musician (Casey Affleck) through untold centuries back and forth in time was unlike any movie of the year—or any ever made. “Haunting” in the truest sense: profound, deeply moving, unforgettable.
Goodbye Christopher Robin
In the debased genre of stories-behind-childhood-classics (see, or rather don’t, The Man Who Invented Christmas, which almost made my worst list), Simon Curtis’ story of Winnie-the-Pooh was a redeeming gem, highlighted by the amazing Will Tilston as an 8-year-old Christopher Robin.
Are Sacramento audiences being a little overindulgent of native daughter Greta Gerwig’s affectionate story of coming of age in River City? Well, maybe. But everybody else loved it, too—even New Yorkers and San Franciscans.
Last Flag Flying
Perennially fascinating filmmaker Richard Linklater did it again in this story (from Darryl Ponicsan’s novel) of three Vietnam-era brothers-in-arms (Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne) reuniting to bury the son of one of them.
In a year overflowing with atrocious animated features, this one shamed them all: a British/Polish co-production examining van Gogh’s life, death and art in the style of one of his paintings come to life.
The Only Living Boy in New York
Echoes of 1967’s The Graduate (even the title was from Simon and Garfunkel) enriched this tale of an aimless grad (Callum Turner) carrying on with the mistress (Kate Beckinsale) of his upper-crust father (Pierce Brosnan). A fine cast (also Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Nixon, Kiersey Clemons) sensitively directed by Marc Webb ( (500) Days of Summer).
Only the Brave
Firefighting never looked more immediate, terrifying or heroic than in director Joseph Kosinski’s wrenching tribute to the 19 men lost in a 2013 Arizona wildfire. Miles Teller and Josh Brolin stood out first and second among equals.
Actually a 2016 release, Martin Scorsese’s film of Catholic missionaries in 17th century Japan didn’t play here until this year. Alas, it didn’t play anywhere very long, but it was the work of a master at the height of his powers, a mature examination of faith under persecution—out of step with its time, perhaps, but also ahead of it.
The Zookeeper’s Wife
Another Sacramento native, the astonishingly versatile Jessica Chastain, added to her considerable laurels as a Polish woman under the Nazis struggling to protect the animals and covertly hidden Jews in the Warsaw Zoo throughout World War II. A movie of surprising beauty, despite its grim story.
Jim Lane’s Bottom 5 Films
A Bad Moms Christmas
Garbage of the worst and most disgusting kind. Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn and Mila Kunis will need a dozen Oscars between them before they can ever be forgiven.
The Belko Experiment
A soulless, grisly murderfest that made the Saw movies look like Little Women, created and populated by nobodies desperate to earn a paycheck.
Just Getting Started
Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones, writer-director Ron Shelton and others all added the worst-ever credit to their résumés.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
There will always be room for Guy Ritchie on this list; here he actually found a subject—the Arthurian Legend—about which he knows even less than he does about making decent movies.
There should always be at least one piece of pretentious artsy-fartsy crap on a worst list. This was 2017’s: an incoherent, off-putting mess that won no fans for any of its estimable actors (Michael Fassbender, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, et al.) or director Tomas Alfredson.