JFC, what a year this was! It felt like the news never stopped in 2017, like any given day had the potential to end in either nuclear catastrophe or the dawning of a new era of awakened human consciousness - take your pick. Given the volatility in our culture right now, perhaps it's not surprising that this was an extremely interesting year at the movies, particularly for horror fans. Even some of the movies I didn't particularly care for - like The Killing of a Sacred Deer, It Comes at Night, and mother! - lingered in my mind, inspiring plenty of thought and conversation and illustrating just how far horror has come since the lean years of the late '90s and early '00s.
Without further ado, here are a few of my filmic favorites:
Best of 2017: H O R R O R
- Get Out. What's left to say about Get Out at the end of 2017? This was basically the undisputed movie of the year, and I'm pretty sure you've seen it by now. Those who weren't familiar with writer-director Jordan Peele going in might have been surprised by this super inventive, intelligent, incisive horror film coming from a guy best known for sketch comedy, but I think it's totally in line with the surreal, disturbing tone of the best Key & Peele sketches. Despite the Stepford Wives-meets-Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? heaviness of the subject matter, this movie was also funny, cathartic, surprising, and the best experience I had in a crowded theater all year, thanks to the audience reactions. Get Out stands alone as a movie that could function equally well as a good group watch at a party or as part of the syllabus for any number of academic courses, from film studies to sociology. Its legacy is already cemented.
- It. This was the other Big One this year - the film that, along with Get Out, inspired a million think pieces on the Great Horror Revival of 2017™ and the oceans of money that said revival has generated in the past 12 months. This was a mainstream horror movie based on a well-known and previously adapted novel starring a bunch of kids, and it STILL MANAGED TO BE AWESOME. Bill Skarsgård offers a terrifying new take on Pennywise that sits comfortably alongside Tim Curry's iconic creation without stepping on any toes. The whole thing felt like Stand by Me but with a token girl and, you know, a sewer-dwelling clown that consumes children. Sick!
- The Shape of Water. A film that asks - and answers - the provocative question, "What if the Gill Man was hot?" In all honesty, this is my favorite from Guillermo Del Toro - sad, beautiful, and romantic, like if Amélie found herself in a Universal monster movie.
- The Lure. Another poignant tale of aquatic monsters in love, but this time it's fishy mermaid babes and they end up working in a Polish nightclub in the '80s, and oh yeah, this is a musical, and also there are subtitles. A fairytale with (actual, literal) teeth. I wasn't at all sure how I felt about this one at first, but it's been months since I first watched it and I still think about it from time to time, so it definitely made an impression. Personally I think it would be a great double feature with The Shape of Water.
- Happy Death Day. What if Groundhog Day was a horror flick? That's what it looked like from the trailers, and yes, it's exactly that. But it's also exactly that much fun. This may not be a movie that's going to change anyone's life, but it's a really enjoyable way to spend 96 minutes.
- 78/52. A documentary about the shower scene in Hitchcock's Psycho - arguably the first proper slasher scene in film history, and inarguably one of the most stunning, innovative and influential sequences of all time. Psycho is one of my all-time favorites and I loved this deep dive into such a specific and pivotal moment. Felt like attending the film class of my dreams.
- The Blackcoat's Daughter. Speaking of Psycho, did you know that Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates himself) had two sons, and one of them wrote and directed this creepy AF slow-burn horror that takes the demonic possession trope in completely new and surprising directions? Oz Perkins also wrote and directed the similarly glacial-paced and ineffably eerie I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, which is available on Netflix and would have made this list save for the fact that it came out in 2016 (even though technically The Blackcoat's Daughter was completed first, it wasn't widely distributed until this year). If you like super-slow, engrossing, atmospheric, female-led horror that would do Shirley Jackson proud, I promise you'll love the films of Oz Perkins. (Fun fact: Perkins' other son, Elvis, provided the film's haunting score.)
I'm reserving this spot not for titles that didn't "make the cut," but rather for a handful of my favorite non-2017 horror movies that I watched for the first time this year:
- WNUF Halloween Special. I know I talked about this one already, but I need to mention it again in my year-end wrap-up. It is an absolute delight of '80s nostalgia and has been added to my annual watchlist of Halloween favorites. The TV special you always wished you'd seen as a kid.
- Hell House LLC. Another Halloween-set gem, this underseen and underrated little creeper proves that there is still true terror to be mined from the found footage genre. Apologies to Pennywise, but these were the scariest clowns I saw all year.
- Grave Encounters. Answers the question, "What if shit got real on Ghost Adventures?"
- The Autopsy of Jane Doe. I slept on this in 2016, but I finally got around to it and I just want to say that y'all were right about it. Creepy, surprising, efficient, and original.
Best of 2017: N O N - H O R R O R
I do watch other kinds of movies, you know. And it was a good year for those too. Here are a few that I loved:
- The Disaster Artist. I thought this was so funny and charming and strange. I absolutely love The Room and am semi-obsessed with unraveling the mystery that is Tommy Wiseau. James Franco nails it, as does the rest of the cast (Ari Graynor as Lisa! Josh Hutcherson as Denny! Zac Efron as Chris-R!!!!). I've seen this twice and laughed myself to tears both times, then got really sentimental afterwards thinking about the value of expression and how art is neither good nor bad, and what is "success" anyway? Watch this, read the book, see The Room.
- Blade Runner 2049. I thought this was beautifully shot and a lovely continuation of the first film, plus I found Ryan Gosling hot for the first time in my life (I think it was the coat). I feel so engaged with popular culture!
- Wonder Woman. Didn't realize how much we, as a society, needed a proper female-directed Wonder Woman feature film until I saw this one with a theater full of quietly weeping women. It felt fitting that this came out the same year as the Women's March.
- Trainspotting 2. I thought this was going to suck but I was sorely mistaken. I loved it. Instead of feeling like a cash grab it felt like a totally natural continuation of the story from the first film, and I surprised myself by how happy I was to check in with these characters, especially Ewan McGregor's Mark Renton, with whom I fell in love all over again. Could've used a little more Kelly Macdonald though.
- Atomic Blonde. Somewhere along the way, Charlize Theron became our best action star. This movie was fucking rad and almost no one I know saw it, so get on that.
- Dunkirk. Usually war movies bore me; this one didn't. Captures the chaos and confusion of battle, with very little dialogue and an unconventional structure. Also makes an incredible companion piece to Darkest Hour, which is much more straightforward but does boast the inimitable Gary Oldman (Dracula! Sid Vicious! Sirius Black!) as Winston Churchill and is therefore highly recommended.