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Top 10 absurdly specific, unabashedly biased movie recommendations of 2017

POSTED December 21, 2017 7:10 a.m.
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As I look back at the 200-some-odd movies I covered in 2017 (which still represents only a fraction of what was out there), my first reaction is that we’ve seen better years at the theater. But even if it will take a while to put the whole year in perfect perspective, I can still come up with a number of absurdly specific, unabashedly biased, warts-and-all recommendations from 2017’s collective effort (along with runner-up alternatives — just because I care).

1. 'Thor: Ragnarok' (PG-13) — Best comic book movie

This year has given us plenty of comic book movies to choose from — and there were several good ones. Fans were thrilled to see the Guardians of the Galaxy return to the big screen, and “Wonder Woman” marked the first big screen female superhero to anchor her own film (and brought hope to the much-maligned DC lineup in general). But I can’t pick against “Thor: Ragnarok,” which took a mediocre Marvel solo series and slapped it with the unmistakable comic style of New Zealand director Taika Waititi. Runner-up: "Spider-Man: Homecoming" (PG-13)

2. 'Wonder' (PG) — Best tear-jerker family drama that’s based on a popular book

Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of R.J. Palacio’s book tells the story of a young boy with facial deformities. But rather than keep a single, focused and sympathetic perspective, “Wonder” takes the time to consider all the different sides of its moving story, elevating it into something well beyond what we’ve come to expect from this kind of a drama. Runner-up: "The Glass Castle" (PG-13)

3. 'A Ghost Story' (R) — Best movie with a title that makes it sound scary, even though it isn’t

People who see “A Ghost Story” are bound to either love it or hate it, and I chose door No. 1. This low-key, melancholy film about death, time and letting go is scant on dialogue and high on long, meditating creepy visuals (its R rating is also highly debatable). If you like movies that are a little out of the ordinary, David Lowery’s effort should be one of your must-sees for 2017. Runner-up: "A Monster Calls" (PG-13)

4. 'Dealt' (not rated, but likely PG for scattered profanity) — Best documentary that didn’t settle for the easy story

When you’re getting tired of the sequels and the prequels and the remakes, you can always count on a good documentary to get your brain engaged again. This year gave us powerful documentaries with stunning visuals (“Human Flow”), fantastic music (“Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World”) and charming friendships (“Faces Places”). But my favorite was “Dealt,” the story of a blind "card mechanic” named Richard Turner. Rather than sit back and amaze us with Turner’s remarkable gift, which would be entertaining enough on its own, “Dealt” presents a story that’s still in progress, as we discover that learning to live with a disability is only part of the journey. Runner-up: "Human Flow" (PG-13)

5. 'Baby Driver' (R) — Best soundtrack-driven zany caper comedy

Films in 2017 came with a wealth of great soundtracks — from the expected (“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”) to the unexpected (“Logan Lucky”). But no movie integrated a killer soundtrack more effectively and fluidly than “Baby Driver,” Edgar Wright’s romantic caper comedy about a gifted getaway driver who always keeps his music playing. The opening chase, set to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms," will hook you right away. Runner-up: "Logan Lucky" (PG-13) (a good non-R-rated alternative)

6. 'Only the Brave' (PG-13) — Best based-on-a-true-story action-drama

For a good chunk of its running time, this based-on-a-true-story account of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and their tragic encounter at 2013’s Yarnell Hill Fire feels pretty routine and lets its great cast do the heavy lifting. Then the third act comes along to rip your breath away and by the closing credits, you’re left with one of the most moving tributes to selfless public service to come along in some time. Runner-up: "Dunkirk" (PG-13)

7. 'Coco' (PG) — Best animation for families

It’s been a weak year for family animation. The two Lego movies were pretty good, but often, family outings were given the choice of tired sequels (“Despicable Me 3”) or inferior productions (“The Emoji Movie”). But even in a solid year, Pixar’s “Coco,” with its vivid animation and moving family-centered message, would be an easy recommendation. Runner-up: "The Lego Batman Movie" (PG)

8. 'Loving Vincent' (PG-13) — Best animation for grownups

One of 2017’s most unique productions, “Loving Vincent” was built out of 65,000 individual oil paintings, rendered in the impressionist style of artist Vincent Van Gogh. The story, which follows the mysterious circumstances surrounding the artist's death, feels like it takes place in one of Van Gogh’s paintings. Runner-up: "Your Name" (PG)

9. 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri' (R) — Best obligatory serious movie that will get Oscar consideration

In some ways, I’m still wrestling with Martin McDonagh’s “Three Billboards” — a gut-wrenching story about three deeply flawed characters in rural Missouri trying to cope with the aftermath of a deadly assault. At times, the characters are truly ugly, the profanity feels excessive and the story keeps threatening to go places you desperately wish it wouldn’t. But by the time things close, you begin to understand where McDonagh is going. I didn’t always enjoy “Three Billboards’” journey, but I have to admit: This one is going to stick with me. Runner-up: "Wind River" (R)

10. 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' (PG-13) — Best science-fiction movie from a beloved existing franchise

Chalk this up to the unrepentant bias of your friendly neighborhood movie critic, who has been watching Star Wars movies since his infancy. Or just nod in agreement, because “The Last Jedi” is another classic example of the pure cinematic spectacle that George Lucas birthed in 1977. A new Star Wars movie is an event, and even though it took a while for “Last Jedi” to get up to speed, it delivered two or three moments that reminded me why I’ve loved this franchise for so long, and why even in a down year, we’ll always love going to the movies. Runner-up: "Blade Runner 2049" (R)

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