Top 10 Films of 2017

BEST17

It’s hard to believe it’s that time again – the time of the year where critics and bloggers throw together lists of the movies they felt shined the brightest during the past year. Sure, some turn their noses at these things, but I’ve always enjoyed them. Why not take time to promote the movies you feel were the real treats of the past 365 days. So here we go, reflecting back on 2017 and sharing my picks from what the year had to offer (At least out of what I’ve seen. Sadly, frustrating release schedules means some much anticipated films have yet to open near me. “Phantom Thread”, “Hostiles” and “The Post” head that list).

As always I’ll begin by showing some love to the fine movies that just missed my top 10. Here are my #11 – 20 picks:

  • #20 – “Pilgrimage”
  • #19 – “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”
  • #18 – “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
  • #17 – “The Bachelors”
  • #16 – “Lady Bird”
  • #15 – “Frantz”
  • #14 – “Wonderstruck”
  • #13 – “Molly’s Game”
  • #12 – “The Beguiled”
  • #11 – “Maudie”

And now my Top 10 films of 2017..

1922#10 – “1922” There were plenty of surprises in 2017. In fact it was the surprises that saved the movie year for me. Perhaps the biggest one came in the small psychological horror film “1922” based on a Stephen King short story. Thomas Jane (in what may be my favorite performance of the year) plays a struggling Nebraska farmer at odds with his wife over keeping their land or moving to the city. Writer/director Zak Hilditch crafts a movie that gets under your skin and maintains a menacing vibe from start to finish without ever relying on overused genre gimmickry. It may be a tad too slow for some, but its steady sense of discomfort and dread had me hooked. What a year for Netflix.

 

UNKNOWN GIRL#9 – “The Unknown Girl” The Belgian sibling duo of Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne have become some of my favorite filmmakers. There is an unvarnished naturalism in their handling of their characters, their circumstances, and the moral quandaries they face. All hold true in “The Unknown Girl”, a mesmerizing drama and personal journey veiled as a murder mystery. The Dardenne’s focus their real-world lens on a young doctor played with a magnetic measured intensity by Adèle Haenel. Her striking performance is almost Bressonian in its quiet authenticity – a perfect match for the Dardenne’s style.

 

GHOST#8 – “A Ghost Story” David Lowery’s meditative supernatural drama was unlike anything else I saw in 2017. There is nothing conventional or routine about Lowery’s film or his approach to storytelling and that’s part of its allure. “A Ghost Story” surprises at so many levels. It may be the seismic yet effective narrative shift midway through the movie. Or maybe the amount of emotion we get from Casey Affleck under a bedsheet. Or Rooney Mara’s soulful, evocative performance despite having little dialogue. I found it all to be both beautiful and tragic. Its story is patient and personal; its presentation audacious and impressionistic. It all had me under the film’s spell from the start.

 

FIRST#7  – “First They Killed My Father” Through four films Angelina Jolie has shown a sharp awareness of technique but has never quite hit her stride. That changes with her fifth film, “First They Killed My Father”. It’s a heart-wrenching true story of a young girl growing up during the Khmer Rouge reign in 1970s Cambodia. Jolie’s commitment to authenticity pays off. The movie was shot in Cambodia, with Cambodian performers, and uses the Khmer language. Also many films have told their story from a child’s perspective, but few have done it as well as Jolie does here. The true story in incredible, Jolie’s pacing is perfect, and the cinematography is stunning. It’s a difficult movie to watch but it’s an absolute must-see.

 

CITYZ#6 – “The Lost City of Z” James Gray’s masterful biographical adventure “The Lost City of Z” didn’t get a ton of buzz, but it is a film that has stuck with me since my first viewing. Its story of British officer, geographer, and eventual South American explorer Percy Fawcett is fascinating on its own, but Gray’s storytelling is just as absorbing.  You can’t help but see light shades of Herzog’s “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” and “Fitzcarraldo”. Even touches of John Huston come to mind. Yet remarkably James Gray has created a movie that feels completely of itself. It’s his best film. It’s Charlie Hunnam’s best performance to date. It’s easily one of my favorite movies of the year.

 

MUDBOUND.png#5 – “Mudbound” Over the past few years there have been several movies willing to deal with slavery and the racial aftermath that reverberated for decades. “Mudbound” is the best of them. Set in the Mississippi delta during the 1940s, “Mudbound” tells the story of two families bound by the rugged farmland they work. Co-writer and director Dee Rees brilliantly portrays the harshness of the period setting while her shrewd handling of the racial climate is powerful and authentic. “Mudbound” is a devastating movie with a bold perspective, great performances throughout, and a young filmmaker with an incredible eye and great understanding of her material. The results are superb.

 

WONDER#4 – “Wonder Woman” DC’s attempts to match Marvel in the superhero genre haven’t been warmly received (sometimes unfairly but I’ll leave that be). “Wonder Woman” was the injection their shared universe needed. Director Patty Jenkins brings a fresh sensibility and perspective to the genre while still capturing what makes these comics-to-screen adventures so much fun. And of course there is Gal Gadot who not only makes Wonder Woman her own, but gives her more depth than I expected. And that’s what made this film one of the best of its genre – a protagonist with powers that leave us in awe but genuine emotions we can relate to.

 

COLUMBUS#3 – “Columbus” One of the great surprises of 2017 was “Columbus” and its first-time feature filmmaker Kogonada. Rarely does a first film feature such a deft handling of story and visual technique. Set among the modernist architecture of Columbus, Indiana, Kogonada elegantly and meticulously composes shot after shot that are stunning but never without purpose. They always serve the beautiful but quietly devastating story of two wounded souls played by John Cho (who is fantastic) and Haley Lu Richardson who turns out to be a true revelation. It all melds into one of the most soulful experiences of the year and one of the strongest filmmaking debuts in decades.

 

PHANTOM#2 – “Phantom Thread” While I’ve always appreciated Paul Thomas Anderson’s talents as a filmmaker I often find myself mixed on his movies (“There Will Be Blood” aside). That’s certainly not the case with “Phantom Thread”, a masterful mixture of story and craft from a filmmaker perfectly in tune with his vision. Add in three superb performances led by the always spellbinding Daniel Day-Lewis (supposedly his last performance). The camerawork is exquisite, Jonny Greenwood’s score is intoxicating, the costume design is breathtaking and Anderson’s script is both beautiful and wildly unpredictable. Whether you’re an Anderson fan or not, “Phantom Thread” shows why he is considered among the great American directors.

 

DUNKIRK#1 – “Dunkirk” In my mind Christopher Nolan has established himself as the premier big budget filmmaker of our time. Time and time again he has delivered fascinating cinematic experiences that make their own rules. “Dunkirk” is one of his best. This World War II action film honors an incredible true story by creating some of the most harrowing war sequences ever put to film. It fluidly moves between land, air, and sea campaigns while also using time in clever unexpected ways. But perhaps the most surprising element to “Dunkirk” is the emotional punch it packs. It’s not delivered through backstory or heavy plotting. The emotion builds through the intense visceral experience we share with the characters. The vividness of Nolan’s presentation puts us on that beach, aboard the boats, or in the planes. It’s a masterclass of filmmaking and storytelling.

Now it’s your turn. What did I get right? Where did I go horribly wrong? Please share your thoughts and your picks in the comments section below.

106 thoughts on “Top 10 Films of 2017

  1. Interesting that The Lost City of Z sits so highly. I actually overlooked that, thinking it looked rubbish.

    Also, just caught up with Dunkirk and I have to be honest, I was disappointed, man. I expected much more from it.

    • I thought Z was tremendous. Brought back thoughts of Herzog’s “Aquirre” and “Fitzcarraldo”. It’s a sweeping story that surprised me with how unconventional it was.

      Disappointed in Dunkirk? Oh man I saw it twice on the big screen and was exhilarated throughout. I felt it to be so immersive. What didn’t you like about it?

      • For me the connection with the characters was strictly experiential. There was no backstory or character development to speak of. For me it was the shared experience on the beaches, on the boats, and in the air. I was sucked in to all of those which is what gave it such an emotional punch. I felt I was there with those guys. I know that’s not a great description, but I can see it not being as effective if you didn’t have that feeling.

      • Yeah, I get that Nolan intentionally made the characters pretty much non-descript but it didn’t work for me. I much preferred the emotional involvement I had with Spielberg’s characters in Private Ryan. I was quite impressed with some of the visuals but overall the triptych approach didn’t grab me either. The film felt disjointed to me. I have a review going up later tonight and I’m really saddened it didn’t work as well as it did for others. I really wanted to love it.

      • Oh I respect your take on it. I know several people that didn’t respond to it like I did. Nolan is interesting. He more or less plays by his own rules and it often provokes different responses.

      • Yeah, I suppose it’s had the same response that Interstellar had. I was amazed with that (like yourself, if I remember correctly?) while others had a lot of issues with it. Dammit I wish I was in the positive camp again this time.

      • Oh yes I loved Interstellar. In fact I’m pretty sure it was my favorite film that year. But you’re right, there was a pretty sizable group who didn’t go for it. It’s one I’ve been aching to see again.

    • I bout the 4k version and I’m anxious to see it again. I can’t imagine it would have the same effect but I bet it’ll be close. Man the big screen presentation was spectacular.

  2. Interesting list and the majority would all place high on my list except Dunkirk would be much lower , just not a fan of Nolan , which loads of people think I’m nuts but he never connects with me emotionally . Wasn’t a big fan of Maudie either , well made but for me it was meh . As was 1922 . Well acted but didn’t engage me . The one movie missing on your list which is one of my favs of the year was War for the Planet of the Apes. Could be my fav of the year, once I really sit down and think what I have seen . But that’s the fun with making list , no one is going to agree and that is why having a passion for movies and talking about them is fun.

    Look forward to the new year and reading your insights come next year . Hope the Christmas season was a blessing and you have a happy New Year .

    • Thanks so much for reading. Dunkirk didn’t resonate with everyone. I remember when I reviewed it some people commented who respected it’s technical accomplishments but didn’t have any emotional attachment to it. I actually had tears in my eyes at the end. I felt so much a part of those men’s experiences. For me Nolan’s ability to pull me down to that beach, or on those boats, or in the air was extremely effective.

      I really liked War/Apes and it just missed my Top 20. I really wanted to include it but too much good stuff.

      What about Columbus? It seems few people have even seen that movie.

    • Wait, you haven’t seen Dunkirk? Oh you must! Mudbound and Wonder Woman could have swapped places on the list. Both are tremendous.

      Logan was fine but Get Out…I thought it was incredibly mediocre. I know I’m in the minority, but I thought it had big ideas but so-so execution. I just don’t get the incredible love it gets.

  3. I really want to see Columbus. I hope that comes out near me soon so it can be a contender for my top 10. Otherwise we only have one match (on my prelim list so far) and that’s Dunkirk. Excellent film.

    • Columbus is so good. I’ve seen it twice and find captivating. It’s so usual but it has such a striking emotional rhythm. Sadly I’m afraid many people weren’t given an opportunity to see it.

  4. Wow! Surprised Dunkirk was number 1 for you. It would have been in my 11-20. But hey, it’s subjective and that’s what’s fun about these lists. The Lost City of Z I saw and there were parts of it that were impressive like the storyline. I think Pattinson was amazing. I couldn’t recognize him. I look forward to Columbus because of your review and I’d like to see “The Unknown Girl” and “Maudie”.

    • Dunkirk has been my #1 since my first viewing. I was blown away with how it swept me up. Pattinson is VERY good in Z. He has really shown himself to be fine actor. I think you would really appreciate Maudie. It’s an unconventional biopic and a story that will crush you. So good! And Columbus…oh how I wish more people could see it.

  5. I have Dunkirk currently at #1 as of today as I’m trying to catch up on some 2017 releases though I doubt I will make an official list though I will post an unofficial and unfinished list on New Year’s Day.

    • Thanks Andrea! I really like Wind River and certainly don’t mean to slight it. I saw a ton this year and so much was good. There were several I hated to leave off the list. And it’s funny, I found the smaller stuff outdid the big budget movies of 2017.

      • Oh yes, Get Out. I am so in the minority with that movie. I love some of its ideas but really think Peele only partially pulls it all off. I admit I’m amazed at the near universal love for it. I’m on my own lonely island with it. 😂

  6. That is a wonderful, eclectic list. I am really intrigued by Maudie, and am really pleased so it on your list both A Ghost Story and First They Killed My Father. They really deserve their high places. I am still to see The Lost City of Z, but you make it sound very interesting.

    • Maudie is fantastic and one of many small movies that seemed to pass by with hardly any attention. You definitely should see it. I was really surprised at City of Z. It was much more than I expected it to be. Have you seen Columbus? Talk about a gem!

      • I have not seen Columbus either, but it is totally my cup of tea.”A devastating story about two wounded souls”? It goes at the very top of my to-watch-films list, many thanks!

      • Awesome! It’s kind of hard to find. In fact I don’t think it even has a dvd release yet. One of the only places I’ve found it is on iTunes. Weird.

    • John Wick 2 was a lot of fun. It was definitely on the short list. I’m amazed at how they it opened up that series by revealing a mythology to the world. Anxious to see where it goes next.

  7. The Unkown Girl is a movie that I saw in 2016 and I thought it was just OK. I will revisit it based on your review. 1922 is one I will see because Gerald’s Game was a good adaptation of a King novel I didn’t think could be adaptable

    • Unknown Girl finally opened here in 2017. Having to wait was frustrating. I (obviously) loved it. I always go for the Dardenne’s approach. And 1922 is really good. I’ve heard several say it was too slow but I loved the patient pacing. And Thomas Jane’s performance! Wow!

    • Great to hear. Dunkirk had no real rivals for me. It was an easy choice. Have you seen it on the small screen yet? I’m curious to how the experience may differ.

  8. Nice post Keith. it was fun to read.
    I haven’t seen many of the films on your list but I saw Dunkirk recently on pay per view. When it ended, it felt like the best film I had seen this year. However, on further thought, it was the cinematography and sound that was perfect. My only issue with the movie is one – while watching it, I couldn’t connect the three stories very well and had trouble folllowing exactly where they linked.
    That aside, I thought it was masterful film making and also engaging. Ps. Have you seen Blade runner 2049?

    • Thanks so much. Dunkirk amazes on so many levels. The three-story structure is a bit tricky. I remember seeing it a second time and being amazed at how effective it is. Blade Runner is a really ambitious movie. It’s one I wanted to revisit before doing this list but just couldn’t find the time.

  9. This is why I love your lists, Keith – so many films that I haven’t seen, or haven’t even heard of, and certainly films that I won’t find on many other lists! I’m putting these on my watchlist, immediately. I have yet to see everything I wanted to see from this year before I can start my list, but I can say with confidence that Dunkirk will have a spot on there, somewhere!

    • Glad to hear the enthusiasm for Dunkirk. What an experience and an expert bit of filmmaking. Nolan never disappoints. And really great to hear that you’ll be seeking out these other movies. Columbus is one I really feel strong about. Not nearly enough people have seen that movie. I found it beautiful, devastating, and hypnotic all at once. Have you heard of it by chance?

      • I have heard of Columbus; I actually have the like to rent it on Amazon saved to my computer as we speak. I’d imagine I’ll get around to seeing it very soon. Not many people are talking about it, but the ones who are, yourself included, speak very highly of it. I can’t wait.

  10. Admittedly there weren’t too many films from 2017 that I really liked, but you did mention many of my faves, including A Ghost Story and Dunkirk. I’d recommend checking out Good Time, The Square, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer if you haven’t yet, all great features.

    • I did like Good Time and Deer to a slightly lesser degree. Never had a chance to see The Square. Phantom Thread and Hostiles are the two I’m most angry about. Neither have opened here and I desperately want to see them both. Happens every year though. I know I’m asking everyone this but have you seen Columbus?

      • Not yet, one I still have to catch up on. Planning on seeing PT soon in 70mm, I’m very excited about that, PTA can do no wrong in my book.

      • I think we’ve shared some good conversations on PTA a few times. Congrats on getting to see it. Simply never opened up anywhere in my state (yet). It’s infuriating. Such a high ‘must-see’ movie for me. As for Columbus, it’s a very low-key movie but is has such a hypnotic rhythm to it. And Haley Lu Richardson blew me away. She’s a young actress to watch!

    • Thanks so much. Appreciate you checking it out. For me 2017 was a year of surprises. Some movies I knew absolutely nothing about turned out to be some of my favorites.

  11. I’m always excited to see what you have on your best movies list every year 🙂 Loved Wind River, Mudbound, A ghost story and dunkirk as well and glad they made your list! I’ll have to watch La fille inconnue, Maudie and 1922 now I guess! And perhaps The Lost City of Z 😛 It seemed like a pretty run of the mill blockbuster but I guess it’s kind of a sleeper hit and a surprise. Interesting stuff as always!

  12. Hooray for Wonder Woman! Loved that film.

    Besides that, I’ve only seen 3 others that fell into your Top 10, so 4 total. I am aware of everything you chose, but they didn’t interest me much. I’ll seek them out though in the coming year. As for the ones I DID see, I didn’t care for A Ghost Story or The Lost City of Z. You can read my reviews for the reasons why. Dunkirk I enjoyed as an IMAX experience. However as a film I thought it was confusingly edited and lacked a narrative thrust. Still enjoyable, it would have made my Top 30 had I listed that many films.

    • Dunkirk blew me away. I loved everything about it. It’s definitely a big screen showcase. But I recently rewatched it at home and I was shocked by how effective it still was. A Ghost Story is definitely a unique one and I can see if it doesn’t work for others. Same with Z. Very unconventional movie.

  13. Solid list. I need to catch up with a bunch of these (e.g. Columbus, A Ghost Story, 1922, etc). I also completely forgot to add First They Killed My Father to my honourable mentions, I quite liked that film.

    • Columbus is so good and an incredible filmmaking debut. And Haley Lu Richardson gives one of the year’s best performances. I can’t say enough about it. 1922 still amazes me. It’s a movie I just couldn’t see making this list but the more I thought about it (and a second viewing) sealed its spot. Would be interested in hearing your take on it.

  14. Great list, Keith! I have to say that 1922 caught my attention most. You had me at Psychological Thriller. I’m also dying to watch The Unknown Girl. Read so many good things about it. Perhaps I’ll take advantage of our “stormy” weekend to finally check it out. Happy 2018!

    • 1922 is really good. I know some found it too slow but I think that’s a plus. And Thomas Jane’s performance is outstanding. The Unknown Girl may not be the best Dardenne movie but it’s still a really good one. Oh, and see Columbus! It’s a hidden gem that more people need to seek out.

      • I kind of like slow paced films, especial when they are psychological thrillers… that’s when a movie really gets under your skin. Columbus (2017)? Looks like a good one.

      • Columbus is fabulous. It’s a low-key drama but I found myself swept away by it. Unfortunately it didn’t get a big audience and most people missed out on it. I still can’t get it out of my mind. It’s beautiful, hypnotic, and genuinely touching. Really hope you get a chance to see it.

      • Café de Flore? Wait, is that the movie with Vanessa Paradis? If so I remember REALLY wanting to see it but never have an outlet. I eventually forgot about it. If it’s the same movie I’m really glad you mentioned it.

      • Yes it’s the one with Vanessa Paradis 🙂 A great movie! I couldn’t get it out of my mind for a while. Highly recommended and the soundtrack is fantastic.

  15. Good to read your top 20, albeit a bit late (sorry!). I’ve seen twelve of them and of the others I’m very keen to see Columbus and Lady Bird (neither have been released in the UK yet). I watched Dunkirk again recently on the small screen, and while it was not quite as thrilling as the first time in the cinema I still thought it was a fantastic piece of work and was gripped throughout. A Ghost Story will definitely be in my top 10 as well (when I get round to it!), and I also liked Maudie – an understated, slept-on gem with two excellent performances.

    • “an understated, slept-on gem with two excellent performances.” That’s Maudie in a nutshell. I don’t remember anyone talking about that film when it came out and they certainly aren’t talking about it now (awards time). That’s such a shame. Columbus is extraordinary. It too is understated and in the best way. A adore the movie and really wish it could find a bigger audience. Did you happen to see Mudbound?

    • That’s a good comparison. The intensity never lets up. Sounds like you’re also a fan of “1922”? That’s good to hear. It seems to be a dismissed movie by many.

      • I quite enjoy it. Had some nice mood to it. Had you seen the other King film Gerald’s Game? I hadn’t the chance yet and was interested in checking that one out.

      • I only saw about half of it, and for some nutty reason I still haven’t gone back to finish it. I know several people who really like that movie.

  16. Dunkirk is really nice

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