THE TEN BEST WRITTEN MOVIES OF 2017
It’s time for my list of the ten best-written movies of last year! Keep in mind, this is a list of the best written movies, not necessarily the best movies or my favorite movies. The best example of this distinction this year is The Shape of Water – it has a lot that I liked in performance, production design, and tone, but the screenplay was the weakest component, so it doesn't make the list. My usual disclaimers apply: I see a lot of movies, but I haven’t seen everything. This year I haven’t yet seen Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Call Me by Your Name; Molly’s Game; or Coco – all of which look to have the potential to bump something off this list. Also, some movies age better than others, and because most of these are awards season movies, I’ve seen many of them pretty recently. My opinions could cool over time – though looking back at last year’s list, everything holds up pretty well. And though I’m happy to hear your opinions in the comments, this is my list. If you don’t like it, you’re welcome to make your own! Looking at 2017 as a whole is encouraging. There are a lot of really great movies on the list. I could shuffle the order of the top four at random and be perfectly happy with the results. I’m also encouraged at how many of these are original stories, and how many have performed well at the box office. So without further ado, here is my list of the best-written movies of 2017: 1. Get Out (written by Jordan Peele) – If you want to deliver a message, wrap it in entertainment. Get Out is billed as a horror movie (though it’s more accurately a suspense thriller) and it delivers the genre goods. But it also delivers thought-provoking perspective on modern race relations that goes a lot deeper than the typical, “racism is bad,” message. On top of that, it has a clockwork plot and provides a master class in using planting and payoff to build twists and tension. 2. I, Tonya (written by Steven Rogers) – Some of the press materials suggested this movie was an attempt to correct the historical record. It’s not really. It’s about class and celebrity, and what happens when the American dream runs into the American mythmaking machine. But more than that, it’s wildly entertaining, salacious and funnier than I expected, populated with crazy, complex, flawed characters that you both love and hate – sometimes within the same scene. 3. The Big Sick (written by Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani) – Like Get Out, The Big Sick used a traditional genre structure (this time romantic comedy) to explore deeper themes. It delivered in both regards: the characters are warm and funny, the romance tugs at the heart, and the culture clashes are thought provoking. Particularly noteworthy are the excellent minor characters – Emily’s parents, Kamail’s family, and the poor women with whom Kamail’s mother tries to arrange a marriage. Each is dimensional and real with legitimate personal reasons for their point of view. 4. Lady Bird (written by Greta Gerwig) – This was a hilarious crowd-pleaser of a coming-of-age story. While it doesn’t exactly break new ground, the specificity and complexity of the characters really illuminated the challenges of mother-daughter relationships. (And what a great character was Lady Bird’s mother!) It feels entirely real and entirely entertaining at the same time. 5. Logan (story by James Mangold, screenplay by Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green) – This is an excellent character-driven action script with deep (and dark) themes for a superhero movie. You really feel for these characters, the set pieces are fresh and compelling, and the structure is tight as a drum. 6. The Disaster Artist (screenplay by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber) – Some of the humor may be a little “inside baseball,” but this is a wonderful, nutty, hilarious screenplay with a lot of heart – based on a wonderful, nutty, hilarious true story. 7. Battle of the Sexes (written by Simon Beaufoy) – By digging deep into the complicated characters and relating their personal struggles to the social context of the time, Beaufoy achieves a powerful, complex, emotionally moving story with what could have been a simplistic, straightforward morality fable. 8. Wonder Woman (screenplay by Allan Heinberg, story by Zack Snyder & Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs) – As the last few years have amply demonstrated, it is not so easy to craft a fun, adventurous superhero movie. Despite an overly long ending and some muddy thematic elements, Wonder Woman delivers a good time with humor and heart – and strikes a blow for the viability of female-lead action movies. 9. Blade Runner 2049 (story by Hampton Fancher, screenplay by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green) – Though it wasn’t commercially successful, this is a worthy sequel to the original that captures much of the same thematic and emotional complexity and elaborates on it in new and interesting ways. 10. Good Time (written by Ronald Bronstein & Josh Safdie) – This script is tragic and thrilling and funny, and manages to be both over-the-top and grounded in gritty reality. We buy every bad choice the characters make even while cringing at their foolishness. Close on the heels of these ten are Detroit, Baby Driver, and Dunkirk, all very good screenplays that might have made the list in other years. In the past, I’ve picked a “worst written” movie of the year. Though there were lots of candidates for that slot this year, I’m giving up the tradition. I’d rather celebrate the successes, and the failures have mostly had enough scorn piled on them.