The Best Movies of 2017
The films that stuck with our editors this year
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We love ski porn as much as the next person, but these films won the year by transcending adrenaline. Sure, there are some fun ones in here (Cedar Wright is back!). But a lot of them are serious—mass coral bleaching events, the injustices faced by Native American women—and that feels appropriate for a year that had lots of bleak reminder to keep our eyes open.
Best Climbing Film: (Tie) ‘Break on Through’ and ‘Safety Third’
Break On Through was the most inspiring film of Reel Rock’s 2017 tour, detailing how Margo Hayes became the first woman to climb a 5.15 route. Her passion and drive come across poignantly, and I had to stifle a cheer while watching her top out on La Rambla, even when seeing the film a second time.
Meanwhile, Safety Third proves that, even if you're a serious climber, you can have your donuts and eat them too. Brad Gobright is more relatable than your typical pro, eschewing the pursuit of zero percent body fat for having fun while climbing and embracing his lifestyle but still tackling some of the hardest routes. This profile gave me hope that even those of us with dad bod could be good some day, if not quite at Brad's level.
—Will Egensteiner, senior gear editor
Best Surfing Film: ‘Given’
Given. My wife, the surfer in the family, discovered this overlooked gem while browsing Netflix. Part documentary, part Terrence Malick tone poem, it chronicles a family's 15-country trip around the world in search of perfect waves and a giant, mythical fish. It's entirely narrated by the family's four-year-old son, a conceit that seems doomed on paper but ends up giving the whole film a magical, inspiring quality. And it helps that the imagery throughout is stunning. My whole family loved it.
—Chris Keyes, vice president/editor
Best Drama: ‘Wind River’
The film Wind River gave me chills and a new appreciation for both Jeremy Renner and snowmobiles. It also highlighted the troubling obstacles that too many young Native Americans face in this country.
—Svati Narula, assistant social media manager
Best Nature Film: ‘Chasing Coral’
Yes, this film got tons of attention in 2017 and Oscars buzz for March. But it deserves every bit. Director Jeff Orlowski puts to good use his signature depressing time lapses of disappearing nature (glaciers in Chasing Ice, coral reefs in Chasing Coral). There’s also a fantastic cast of coral nerds, feisty scientists, and the in-over-their-heads film crew who artfully make it clear just how cool coral is, and just how distressed we should be at how much of it we’re losing.
—Erin Berger, associate editor
Best Cycling Film: (Tie) ‘Icarus’ and ‘Ovarian Psycos’
No surprise that the best film about pro cycling this year hit the issue of doping head-on. That is, director Bryan Fogel accidentally stumbles upon the biggest doping revelation of 2016, when whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, former director of Russia’s national antidoping lab, revealed a state-sponsored doping program that has now gotten the country banned from the 2018 Olympics. It’s a fittingly weird way into an even more bizarre story. On the amateur cycling side is a film that’s just as unexpected but equally hard-hitting.
Ovarian Psycos follows a Los Angeles-based cycling brigade of women fighting gender-based violence and discrimination. From the striking images of women riding with ovary bandanas, to how plainly the women speak about making a space for themselves as “runaways and throwaways,” the film is tough and visually memorable, but treats the group with respect and nuance. It’s like nothing we’ve seen before.
Best Dystopian-Horror Wildcard: ‘It Comes at Night’
It Comes at Night is a masterpiece of cabin-in-the-woods psychological horror, somewhere between The Road and The Shining. Much of the film’s relentless sense of dread comes courtesy of the landscape—how the quiet magnifies every sound, the way a flashlight beam doesn’t let you see the forest for the trees—and there’s plenty here to make you jumpy on your next camping trip. But like any good apocalypse in the wilderness: it wouldn’t be hell if it weren’t for other people.
—Aleta Burchyski, senior copy editor
Best Based-on-True-Events Film: ‘Only the Brave’
It gave me insight into what our firefighters are going through in California right now.
—Mary Turner, deputy editor
Best Genre-Defying Film: ‘The Last Honey Hunter’
The Last Honey Hunter finds adventure-filmmakers Ben Knight and Renan Ozturk clinging to the side of a cliff in remote Nepal while a 58-year-old man retrieves honey from thousands of stinging bees. That’s all you need to know to imagine just how striking the story and cinematography are, but it also goes a lot deeper than “Can you believe all those bees?” Mauli Dahn, the honey hunter in question, is hard to forget.