The Best Movies of 2017
For film critics, creating a top 10 list is a painful annual ritual, like getting a yearly physical or flossing. Every year, good or bad, there are dozens of excellent movies. Narrowing that shortlist down to just 10 “winners” means that many more good titles get unfairly categorized as “losers.” But many years ago, someone made this rule: If you’re a film critic, you have to make a top 10 list. No exceptions. So here we are.
It’s a brutal process, and this year I found it harder than most. Personally, I had a very clear top tier of three or four movies, and then about 30 more titles to juggle to fill out the rest. That’s why you’ll see a list of 10 more very worthy honorable mentions at the bottom of this post. If I published this list last week or next week, any of those honorable mentions could have made it onto my top 10 or vice versa. This is just what it looks like today. My advice? See all 20.
10. Get Out
Directed by Jordan Peele
Few writer/directors have made a bigger impact with their directorial debut than Jordan Peele. He turned one of the most clever horror premises in recent memory into an ingenious satire about life in modern America. Daniel Kaluuya leads an outstanding cast as Chris, who goes home to meet his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family for the first time with disastrous results. The film only gets better on repeat viewing too, as you see all of the layers of meaning, symbolism, and foreshadowing Peele embedded into his screenplay.
Read our full review of Get Out.
9. Faces Places
Directed by Agnes Varda and JR
In this irresistible documentary, New Wave Hall of Famer Agnes Varda and photographer JR travel the French countryside, visiting small towns and documenting the people they encounter by erecting enormous photographic murals in their honor. The mood is light but the subtext, about trying to build monuments to people and places that will soon be gone from this Earth, is beautifully melancholic. You don’t need to know anything about either artist’s work to appreciate Faces Places; just a sincere curiosity about society and the way it is rapidly changing before our eyes.
8. Phantom Thread
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Daniel Day-Lewis drops the mic on a legendary career with this amazing piece of self-examination disguised as a historical drama about a great but temperamental fashion designer. Even with DDL at the top of his game as haute couture master Reynolds Woodcock, he may still be the weakest link among the trio of magnificent lead performances in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. He’s consistently upstaged by Vicky Krieps as Reynolds’ strong-willed muse and Lesley Manville as Cyril, Reynolds’ sister and business manager, who looks at him with disbelieving stares so withering they could kill an entire redwood forest. No other 2017 movie kept me so pleasantly off-balance; every time I thought I had this movie figured out, PTA would dart off in a new direction. There are some obvious inspirations for the film, but its mix of romance, thriller, and intimate chamber piece is wholly unique.
Read our full review of Phantom Thread.
7. The Florida Project
Directed by Sean Baker
I only just now noticed there are marks visible on the floor beneath Willem Dafoe and Brooklynn Prince in this publicity shot for The Florida Project. They took me by surprise; not because photographers usually frame them out but because I couldn’t believe a movie this loose and gorgeously naturalistic used old-fashioned tools like marks. Credit to director Sean Baker for crafting a movie with the authenticity of a good documentary and the stylization (particularly visually) of great fiction. The Florida Project gives us a child’s-eye-view of life in a shabby Orlando motel; little Moonee (Prince) believes she lives in her own magical kingdom. Slowly, we’re made aware there’s a darker reality to her life. Dafoe, as the motel’s manager, will break your heart and give you reason to believe there’s still good in the world all at once.
Read our full review of The Florida Project.
6. The Work
Directed by Jairus McLeary
This astonishing documentary is set almost entirely in one room over the course of four days, as a small group of men — both convicts in a maximum security prison and men from the outside who’ve volunteered to be there — take part in an intense group therapy session where the roots of their trauma will be exposed and, hopefully, expunged. Claustrophobic but intensely cathartic, The Work brings you inside this circle, to reconsider what you think you know about people who commit heinous crimes — and those that don’t. There couldn’t be a more timely or more piercing film for a year when the behavior of abusive men was rightfully put under a microscope.
5. The Big Sick
Directed by Michael Showalter
The cure for the 2017 blues, at least for a couple hours, was this boundlessly likable romantic comedy about a struggling standup comic (Kumail Nanjiani) who falls in love with a young woman named Emily (Zoe Kazan) he meets at one of his shows. When Emily suddenly falls ill, Kumail has to juggle life with two sets of parents: Emily’s (the award-worthy Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), who fly in from out of town to care for their sick daughter, and his own (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff) who refuse to accept their Muslim son marrying a white woman. The traditional rom-com is one of the phoniest Hollywood genres; The Big Sick, based on Nanjiani’s courtship with his (SPOILER ALERT) real-life wife Emily V. Gordon, offered a welcome alternative, filled with honesty, empathy, and warmth.
Read our full review of The Big Sick.
4. Blade Runner 2049
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
The best big movie of the year achieved something that, on paper, looked impossible: Continue the story of one of the most beloved science-fiction stories in history without resolving any of the ambiguity that made the original film so popular in the first place. Denis Villeneuve’s ambitious, gorgeous expansion of Ridley Scott’s treatise on life in a ruined future also managed to update its dystopia’s technology while staying true to the look of the first film. And it featured a surprisingly moving performance — his best in at least 10 years — by Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard. Ford’s comeback in Blade Runner 2049 feels like an extension of one of the movie’s most powerful themes: Even in bleak times, it’s never too late to do something good.
Read our full review of Blade Runner 2049.
3. A Ghost Story
Directed by David Lowery
David Lowery’s epic yet intimate consideration of grief, love, and death has haunted my 2017, ever since I saw it back in January at the Sundance Film Festival. In Park City I was stunned by its unexpected twists, and its audacious decision to follow Casey Affleck’s sheeted ghost on a swirling trip through the afterlife. Watching it again only increased my admiration, as I saw just how intricately Lowery plotted this story and its slippery depiction of time. If mankind still exists in the distant future after the last bit of the natural world has been paved over with looming skyscrapers haunted by the souls of the dead, people will still look to A Ghost Story for spiritual guidance.
Read our full review of A Ghost Story.
2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Directed by Martin McDonagh
If Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon hadn’t already claimed it, this movie could have been called The Big Sick. Martin McDonagh’s pitch-black comedy is about how anger spreads like a virus, consuming everything and everyone in its path. Almost everyone in Ebbing, Missouri has the big sick, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) worst of all. Desperate to find an outlet for her rage, she rents three billboards near her home, and pastes up signs goading the town’s honorable but ineffective chief of police (Woody Harrelson) into finding her daughter’s killer. McDonagh’s movies have always had terrific dialogue, but Three Billboards is his first film as director where his dexterity with words is matched by his deftness with camera, music, and editing. Early reviews of Three Billboards out of the Toronto Film Festival (including mine) were rapturous. A second wave of reactions was much more measured; a few were downright negative. To me, that feels right. Only a polarizing film could perfectly capture the mood of a polarized era.
Read our full review of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
1. Lady Bird
Directed by Greta Gerwig
The coming-of-age movie comes of age in Lady Bird, which brings impressive maturity and insight to one of the most clichéd film genres. Sacramento teen Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Lady Bird’s her “given” name, in that she gave it to herself) dreams of going to college on the East Coast. But her grades aren’t great and her mother (Laurie Metcalf) thinks she’s better off staying closer to home. Writer/director Greta Gerwig portrays Lady Bird’s senior year with sly humor and cringe-inducing accuracy. (Admit it, you used to sing Dave Matthews Band’ “Crash Into Me” in the car too.) As co-writer or co-director, Gerwig has helped to create some very good movies in the past. But she outdid herself in her first solo outing, the best film I saw in 2017.
Read our full review of Lady Bird.
Honorable Mentions (In Alphabetical Order): Coco, Darkest Hour, The Girl With All the Gifts, Kedi, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Okja, The Post, A Quiet Passion, The Shape of Water, T2 Trainspotting.
Gallery - The Best Movie Posters of 2017