In a year where the news cycle seemed to be an unending cycle of terribleness, the need for escapism seemed more important than ever. Luckily, with Peak TV in full swing, and a swarth of absolutely brilliant films to hit theaters, we had no shortage of options. With that, here are all the TV and film moments that shaped 2017.
Most Creative Use Of Music: Baby Driver
When writer/director Edgar Wright debuted his high-octane heist movie at SXSW, it blew the doors off the theater. Afterwards, he explained to the audience his painstaking process in putting it together, that he had all the songs pre-selected, and would orchestrate each scene to meticulously match the temp of the music. With the character of Baby (Ansel Elgort) was a quiet kid who spent the movie lost in his iPods, it seemed to reveal Wright’s own obsession with music on a whole.
Best Use Of Color: The Shape Of Water
A retread of both monster movies and garish romances from Hollywood’s golden age, writer/director Guillermo Del Toro kept his usual penchant for lush set design and impeccable artistic direction. For his cinematic dreamscape The Shape Of Water, he chose the color green to help tell his story. From the candy that Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) munched on, to the color of his car, to the color of Jell-O in an advertisement, to the film’s most iconic image, green was the dominate color on Del Toro’s storytelling palate.
Most Claustrophobic Experience: Axis
The directorial debut for actor Aisha Tyler, Axis was funded on Kickstarter, and shot over a week’s time for a mere $200,000. Embellishing the creative limitation, Tyler’s film is set almost entirely inside a single car ride, with only actor/screenwriter Emmett Hughes appearing on camera. While it could’ve been written off as a simple gimmick, Tyler embraced the limitation, which added to the film’s tense, unsettling, and anxiety-ridden claustrophobia.
Best Opening Scene: Lady Bird
Writer/director Greta Gerwig tells the story of Christine (Saoirse Ronan), a high school senior in Sacramento who insists on being called Lady Bird, much to the ire of her mother (Laurie Metcalf). The relationship between the two characters helped define the film, which was presented on screen in the film’s opening minutes. When a conversation about her college goals quickly devolves into a fight between the two, Lady Bird exits her mother’s car — while it’s still driving. It set the stage for their entire on-screen relationships, and one of the best movies to come out this year.
Most Thoughtful Deconstruction Of Home: Mr. Roosevelt
While Gerwig’s Lady Bird meditated on the notion of home, Noël Wells’ Mr. Roosevelt dissected the concept through the story of Emily (Wells, who also wrote and directed), a struggling performer out in L.A. who has to fly back to Austin to deal with her recently deceased cat — along with her ex-boyfriend, Eric (Nick Thune), and his new girlfriend, Celeste (Britt Lower). Finding herself a guest in the home she once lived in, Emily’s forced to reckon with who she is, who she wants to be, and where she’ll end up belonging.
Best War Between Fanboys: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Squabbling about Star Wars has been a past time of fans pretty much since it debuted 40 years ago in the summer of 1977. When J.J. Abrams revived the saga in 2015, he played it pretty safe, mirroring the story of A New Hope to indoctrinate new fans while placating the existing fanbase. This year, for the follow-up, director Rian Johnson upended just about everything.
Fan theories brewing for the past two years were undone, reckless bravado was presented with devastating consequence, and the once-noble hero Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) was shown to be a bitter hermit who’d chosen to live with his guilt for the rest of his days. It was bold, shocking, and completely left fans completely divided somewhere between this being the best installment since The Empire Strikes Back and petitioning the film to be stricken from canon. Some things never change.
Most Necessary Genre Update For The Digital Age: Ingrid Goes West
Stalker films have been a staple of cinema for decades, and in an era where we can track just about anyone on the planet with a device that fits in our pocket, the genre was more than due for an update. Lucky for us, Ingrid Goes West delivered on that big time. The story of Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), a disturbed woman who defines her existence through who she follows on Instagram, was dark, unsettling, and scathingly funny look at how we see ourselves through our phones’ front-facing camera.
Biggest Disappointment: Blade Runner 2049
In an era of phoned-in sequels, prequels, spin-offs, off-shoots, and revisitations, going back to the world of Blade Runner seemed risky at best. Especially considering the ambiguous ending that left viewers questioning the nature of Deckard’s (Harrison Ford) existence — depending on which version you consider to be the “true” Blade Runner. Still, with Denis Villeneuve at the helm, it seemed that we’d at least be getting a visually satisfying experience.
Turns out, that’s all it was. With a story so thin and utterly devoid of anything remotely compelling, the film completely collapsed on itself by the third act, making it little more than a glorified nostalgia trip with improved CGI.
Best Use Of Symbolism: Get Out
When Jordan Peele, best known as half of the Peabody-winning comedy duo Key & Peele, announced he’d be making a horror film, no one knew what to expect. What happened was he made one of the most relevant films of 2017 (or any year, for that matter). Aside from the sobering metaphor he put on screen about the state of race relations, Peele layered the film with nuanced symbolism. Deer heads, teacups, cellphone cameras, milk, and cotton all proved intricate aspects to the story, while doubling as metaphors for the racist underbelly dwelling just beneath the surface.
Peele himself has even stated that ‘the sunken place’ is a metaphor for the mass incarceration of black people in America — a continuation of the practice of slavery well into the 21st century.
Best Character: Kumail Nanjiani: The Big Sick
Sure, Kumail Nanjiani is playing himself here, but he does so in one of the most personal cinematic autobiographies since Richard Pryor bared his soul in JoJo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling. Written by Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon about their unconventional courtship, he pulls no punches when portraying himself, instead showing the world who he is (or, at least was) warts and all.
Most Relatable Moment: Dev Shaw, Master Of None
Given that the entirety of Master Of None’s second season was nothing short of astounding, from its black-and-white premiere to the profoundly heartwarming “Thanksgiving,” it was the emotional gut punch of the finale that really resonated. Before Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), the woman he’d spent the season falling in love with, goes back to Italy with her boyfriend, Dev (Aziz Ansari) confessed his feelings for her. Then, with her gone, Dev is beside himself with grief and remorse.
It’s already a powerful moment, underscored by Skeeter Davis’ “Gonna Get Along Without You Now.” But later, when walking the streets of New York and runs into Rachel (Noël Wells), the girl he was in love with throughout the show’s first season, it’s culminates into the perfect anticlimax. A gut-wrenching testimonial to the fickleness of the human heart.
Best Introductory Monologue: Anansi, American Gods
Showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green regularly deviated from Gaiman’s source text when adapting American Gods for Starz, (often to favorable results). However, it was the formal introduction of Anansi (Orlando Bloom) in the bowels of a slave ship that stood out as the season’s most stirring, and quotable, moment. As he tells the unwilling passengers about what awaits for them on the shores of America, along with the centuries of oppression that continue, he tells them unequivocally that “angry gets shit done.”
Honestly, it’s worth watching the entire sequence, which you can do here.
Most Improved Second Season: Preacher
After a disappointing and outright mean-spirited first season, AMC’s Preacher seemed to correct its course right out of the gate in season two. Somewhat more lighthearted and relatively closer to its source material, Jesse (Dominic Cooper), Tulip (Ruth Negga), and Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) find themselves on the road in their quest to find God. While the season ended up proving to be somewhat uneven as it carried on toward its finale, it proved to be a much more rewarding experience in its sophomore year.
Best Character Reintroduction: Gus Fring, Better Call Saul
We all knew Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) would be returning for Better Call Saul’s third season — given all the hype around it, not to mention Esposito’s nonstop promotion — but no one knew exactly how it’d come to be. Then, as Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) goes into a Pollos Hermanos, we see a figure out of focus in the background wearing a distinct looking uniform. But it wasn’t just that. It was his posture, his mannerisms, and the way he carried himself, it was without a doubt ‘The Chicken Man.’ Even though we know his eventual fate, the chance to see Gus Fring rise to power in the Land of Enchantment is sure to be something to behold.
Best Showstopping Performance: Michael McKean, Better Call Saul
Though seeing Fring back in action was what most viewers were hyped for, the performance that Michael McKean gave as Chuck McGill was the gift that kept on giving. Since the first season, McKean injected Chuck, the older brother of the man who would be Saul, with equal parts humanity and villainy. But it wasn’t until Chuck was brought on the stand in “Chicanery” that he absolutely brought the house down. The fact that he was denied an Emmy nomination for his performance will go down as the snub of the year — if not of all time.
Most Long-Awaited Payoff: Drogon’s Attack, Game Of Thrones
When Game Of Thrones started on HBO seven long seasons ago, it hinted at a world populated by dragons and ice zombies. Then, after years of giving little snippets, it finally let loose. As the Lannisters were carrying supplies and gold from the recently conquered Highgarden, an army of Dothraki rode in over the horizon on horseback — which in itself didn’t look good for Westeros’ most powerful house. Then, with Daenerys Targaryan (Emilia Clarke) on his back, Drogon — now the size of a 747 — unleashed his dragon breath and laid to waste the caravan, the army, and, well, pretty much everything.
It was a glorious moment in a season that was more akin to a cliff notes adaptation of A Song Of Ice And Fire. Even Bronn (Jerome Flynn) had no chance of stopping it.
Best Monologue: Wally Brando, Twin Peaks: The Return
David Lynch’s return to the dreary town of Twin Peaks 26 years after its bizarre and unfulfilling second season was a fantastic mix of old characters (some returning as plants) and new faces. The best being Wally Brando (Michael Cera), the son of Andy and Lucy Brennan (Harry Goaz and Kimmy Robertson, respectively), who showed up to do one long, meandering monologue early on about his cross-country adventures on a motorcycle. It was bizarre, incoherent, and seemed to do nothing to further the story along. In other words: it was pitch-perfect Lynch.
Most Emotional Gut Punch: BoJack Horseman
Few shows in the recent era of Peak TV have evolved like Netflix’s BoJack Horseman. What started as a smarmy animated sitcom has grown into a deeply moving show that packs as much emotional weight as it does humor. None more evident than the season four episode “Time’s Arrow,” which takes us into the dementia-ridden mind of Bojack’s (Will Arnett) mother, Beatrice Horseman (Wendie Malick).
The episode spans her entire life, riddled with regret and devastation, which packed more of a wallop in a half-hour than most shows can do in an entire season. It was the episode that broke its viewers, and still managed to give a newfound empathy in understanding who Bojack (Will Arnett) really is.
Best Character: Every Single Puppy from The Puppies Crash Christmas
Finally, this year Hulu gifted us with a half-hour show that featured nothing but a bunch of puppies absolutely destroying an immaculately decorated house. While it was littered with easter eggs that referenced Hulu’s increasingly impressive library of shows, the sheer adorable devastation was the perfect way to end 2017. And it beat the hell out of watching a burning fireplace on TV.
Honorable Mention: Bright
I wasn’t sure which category this would fit in, since it is a movie, but was released exclusively on Netflix. The film, essentially a Dungeons and Dragons mashup with a gritty cop drama, was absolutely hated by critics, but fans seemed to flock to it in droves. Sure it was hackneyed, ham-fisted, and littered with terrible dialogue, but goddamn, it sure was fun as hell.