The Top 10 Films of 2017

My work is never done getting to all the most buzzed-about films in a given year, which is why I allow myself until right before the Oscars to publish this list each year, and even then I didn’t get to some in time (“Call Me By Your Name,” “Phantom Thread,” “Coco,” “I, Tonya,” “The Post”) are currently among my biggest misses from 2017.

This year, I found myself a little more drawn to comedy than usual. The year’s more heavily dramatic offerings just didn’t quite wow me in the way some of the more humorous endeavors did. Maybe I needed that this year. Chances are you did too. Here’s the list.


10. Raw

I’m actually quite surprised a film such as “Raw,” a gutsy horror-drama from France, made my top 10 list. In truth, there’s not much separating “Raw” from the handful of films that finished below it, but Julia Ducournau’s feature debut (which premiered at Cannes in 2016) is the least forgettable of the bunch. About a young woman beginning veterinary school who develops an unusual taste for meat despite being raised vegetarian, “Raw” is in essence a coming-of-age story built on a stomach-churning metaphor. This is not a film for the squeamish, as Ducournau works hard to unsettle her audience and demonstrates a masterful control in doing so. “Raw” neither tips over into B-movie gory chaos nor drowns in Hollywood horror cliches. It’s smart and artfully crafted in spite of its darkness. (Read my review)


9. Mudbound

Netflix did audiences a disservice burying “Mudbound” on its platform with a streaming-only release. Dee Rees’ (“Pariah”) latest, about a white family on a farm in pre- and post-WWII Mississippi and the black family working for them, deserved a big screen opportunity and a chance to be a larger part of the Best Picture conversation. At least it earned a healthy four Oscar nominations. The film is a throwback to a more traditional awards-caliber picture in its storytelling, though the visuals really make it stand out above the 2017 pack. Also worth noting is that while it’s a difficult film to watch in terms of racial conflict, there’s something distinctly hopeful about it and that really felt resonant and necessary. Take a break from your usual Netflix programming and bump this up your queue this one up. (Read my review)


8. Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic about Operation Dynamo and the evacuation of British troops at Dunkirk in 1940 makes my list for its towering technical achievements. That Nolan accomplished this feat comes as zero surprise to anyone, that he did it with a straightforward, twist-less plot of three interweaving storylines of survival and (occasional) heroism definitely is. The film is a sensory experience that transports us into the story and allows us to identify with and feel for the characters in spite of the script’s minimal dialogue and lack of war film hallmarks. It’s also something I’d hesitate to watch again without a big screen and surround sound. (Read my review)


7. The Shape of Water

I absolutely loved (and badly need to revisit) Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and was beyond excited to see del Toro return to historical fantasy. “The Shape of Water” did not disappoint, even if it wasn’t quite as imaginative or powerfully dramatic as that 2006 film. The production values, as one expects of del Toro, are exquisite, and the odd collection of lovable outcasts at the film’s center is undoubtedly part of what has propelled it into the driver’s seat for this year’s Academy Awards. And while it is a fairy tale with a very classic film vibe, it also delights in being for mature audiences only. (Read my review)


6. Get Out

Maybe not the best film of 2017, but easily the most relevant and most important film of the year. I wouldn’t criticize anyone who felt Jordan Peele’s debut horror-satire was the year’s absolute best. Peele’s blending of horror and mystery tension with racial tension is a stroke of genius, and the way the film manages to be both pulse-pounding and thought-provoking at the same time has few equals. That the cast contains the likes of Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford is no accident, plus Daniel Kaluuya gives a rightfully career-launching performance as Chris, the main character caught navigating politeness and obvious signs of danger. Adding “the sunken place” to our lexicon is probably reason enough to count “Get Out” among the most valuable films of the 2010s. (Read my review)


5. Wind River

There is little doubt in my mind that Taylor Sheridan’s latest film (he wrote “Sicario” and last year’s “Hell or High Water”) would be in the Oscar conversation this year had it not been picked up for distribution by the now-disgraced Weinstein Company. Ironically, the film, about a game tracker (Jeremy Renner) and FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) teaming up to investigate a young woman’s murder, speaks to sexual violence against women and calls attention to a very real issue regarding crimes on Native American reservations. True to Sheridan’s form, the film is atmospheric and brutal, wielding violence with such blunt effectiveness it will leave you shaken to the core. Renner and Olsen are outstanding too in a story also devoted to processing grief. It’s the kind of film that should been seen and talked about, even if its backers don’t deserve the praise by association. If I had the time, I’d write an entire article about this movie as having been the most horribly overlooked in 2017. (Read my review)


4. A Ghost Story

David Lowery’s tiny, self-financed portrait of grief and time is not for everyone. The film demands patience of its audience. But if you can pass the film’s “pie test,” (watching Rooney Mara’s character interminably eating pie and feeling moved by it) then, like me, you’ll love it. Mara and Casey Affleck play a young couple who’ve built a life together in an old house when Affleck’s character dies suddenly, returning as a ghost in a white sheet to observe how his wife copes and also what happens to his house beyond that. Lowery plays with time a lot in the film, and establishes deeply moving frames and moments that invite us to meditate on ideas of love, loss and legacy. It’s a haunting film that is anything but a traditional ghost story. (Read my review)


3. The Florida Project

One of the films I caught up with most recently, Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” — about the goings on at a low-rent motel in Orlando — keeps climbing up my list. Baker created a similar almost documentary-like film about barely seen and often marginalized people (trans prostitutes of color) in 2015’s “Tangerine” and this film is even better. Although it consciously avoids a traditional plot in a way that will make some audiences antsy, these day-to-day, week-by-week snippets of 6-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), her friends, her troubled young mom (Bria Vinaite) and the quirky but caring motel manager (Willem Dafoe) eventually start to weave their own magic in the shadow of Disney World. What Baker does so well in this film (and “Tangerine”) is tell the characters’ stories in a way that passes no judgment and avoids melodramatic spectacle, allowing us to really feel along with the characters rather than judge their circumstances from a distance. (Read my review)


2. The Big Sick

Normally the year’s best comedies fall toward the bottom of my end-of-year lists — if they’re even good enough to even make the top 10 — but “The Big Sick” might be my favorite “traditional” comedy of the decade. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s adaptation of their own love story packs both comedic and dramatic punches, but above all else, it does what so many of the best films and TV shows connecting with young adults today do — speaks from a place of utmost sincerity and authenticity. “The Big Sick” depicts the good and the bad, the funny and the challenging. Then, after playing out as a comedy between unlikely lovers from different cultures, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano get tagged in and take the film to another level. The film expertly navigates the hysterical and the seriousness, and it can do so because of its commitment to honesty. (Read my review)


1. Lady Bird

No film in 2017 was as funny and moving and perfectly packaged as “Lady Bird.” At the outset, Greta Gerwig appeared to have just made another very good coming-of-age film, but her astute debut is so much more and earns a place among film’s all-time greatest coming-of-age stories. At the very least, teens of the late ’90s and early 2000s had yet to be this well-spoken for until now. For one, her script uses only the prime cuts of Lady Bird’s story, achieving the rare feat of making every scene feel essential. The film’s editing is tight, allowing Gerwig to pack so much into a short runtime, and she uses it to create so many instances of great comedic timing. Most importantly, the film’s themes of everyone having a side that people don’t see, and of what it means to reinvent yourself, pervade all its subplots and deepest corners. If nothing else, the relationship between Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf’s characters (and their performances) creates a monumentally staggering reflection of how moms and daughters experience each other. (Read my review)


Check out my expanded list of top 25 films of 2017 over on letterboxd.

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