We’re two weeks away from the Oscars, and before the Academy crowns best picture, I’m looking back at 2017 and ranking my personal top ten films of the year. With so many highs (and a surprising amount of lows — namely The Snowman and The Book of Henry), there was no shortage of films to choose from when making this list; on any given day you could ask me which film I liked more, and depending on my mood, the rankings would fluctuate, but we’re living in the now and as of this moment these are the ten that I feel are the best. So without further ado, let’s dive right into it.
10. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017)
I recently praised Phantom Thread in my review, but the short of it is that P.T. Anderson has crafted another classic that is as exacting in its creation as the character it portrays. The work seems to be very reflective and personal to Anderson as he tells the methodical nature of a true artist and the conditions those around him are subjected to. The relation between artist and artistry is so profoundly depicted in this film, and you can see how the romance between Woodcock and Alma is completely toxic, but also entirely necessary for one another. Wonderfully shot on 70mm, a terrific score by Johnny Greenwood, and another slam dunk performance by Daniel Day-Lewis round out this beautiful film that is peak auteurism.
9. I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie, 2017)
Three years ago, I was shown an ESPN 30 for 30 about the Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan feud that cemented my condemnation for the former. Fast forward to 2017 and Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya accomplishes the impossible task of making me sympathize with Tonya Harding while challenging society’s narrative of who Tonya Harding was. It doesn’t entirely absolve Harding of her own faults, but it does successfully turn the tables on the audience and points the finger at them for their compliance in Tonya’s suffering and downfall. It’s a captivating biopic that makes you question tabloid journalism and the narratives that are spun out of celebrities’ personal lives.
8. A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017)
If you ever wanted a film that would make you think about it long after you left the theater, then look no further. David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is a cryptic think piece about existence, the impacts someone makes during their life, and the lasting legacy (or lack there of) they have when they’re gone. The film aims to pose enormous questions about life in a short hour thirty run time, and it does so with very few words, leaving the film open to a wide variety of interpretations and postulations. It has a potent message that makes you reflect on your own life (as it did with mine) and while it’s enigmatic scenes can leave you wondering what you just saw, the final message will leave a long and lasting impression. You can read more about it in my SIFF 2016 Round Up if you so desire.
7. Five Came Back (Laurent Bouzereau, 2017)
Based on the book of the same name, Five Came Back is a three part series on Netflix depicting the contributions of five infamous Golden-Age Hollywood directors (John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens) who put a hold on their careers to film World War II and support the war effort. What makes this film great is its ability to show the profound impact and shear power that cinema has; this includes not only moving us and make us feel emotionally, but how it can be used to mobilize society as a form of propaganda (for both good and evil). The romanticized patriotism exhibited by these directors set across the most clear cut division of good versus evil in history drives home how important cinema is on a cultural level. It is a sentiment that is as impactful today as it was over seventy years ago and it made me fall in love with movies all over again.
6. Columbus (Kogonada, 2017)
Columbus is perhaps the most tranquil theatrical experience I’ve ever have. Hailey Lou-Richardson and John Cho give subtle performances that speaks volumes about the division within their characters, while first time director Kogonada shows how much control he has over each scene, using downtempo pacing to match the contemplative nature of the film. It’ a delightful piece that has so much to offer if you surrender yourself to its esthetic, plus it has an abundance of perfect shots that are just too good not to note. If you want to read a slightly more expanded explanation of my appreciation for this film, check out my SIFF 2017 Round Up here.
5. Raw (Julia Ducournau, 2017)
What makes Raw so amazing is in large part due to it’s premise. It follows Justine, a young vegetarian who is starting her freshman year at veterinary school. In an effort to fit in, she endures a rigorous initiation that causes her to eat meat for the first time and makes her realize her true identity when she slowly begins to show cannibal tendencies. It conveys the same lessons of self discovery like other coming of age films, but differentiates itself by creating a hyper-realized scenario that uses sensual, erotic, horror-based elements to shock and astound you. It’s a little extreme to show at club, but it can be found on Netflix, so if you can withstand its squeamish content, I think you’ll be more than satisfied with this French foreign-language film.
4. Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017)
At this point in his career, Christopher Nolan seems as if he can do no wrong. With his latest feature, he used all his cache and convinced Warner Bros to give him $150 million to create his least mass appeal film since Memento (in terms of narrative structure), granting us a film that is nothing short of a visual spectacle. The main appeal is how Nolan weaves three nonlinear narratives (which I would reckon is far more convoluted than even Inception) to depict the shear tension that comes from merely surviving to fight another day. Land, sea, and air warfare has never looked so good thanks to Hoyte Van Hoytema’s superb DP work with IMAX cameras, and an absolutely nerve racking score from Hans Zimmer will put you on the edge of your seat as it serves as an ever-present reminder that the Germans are closing in. For over the last decade Nolan has continued to produce theatrical masterpieces and Dunkirk continues that trend.
3. Lady Bird (Gretta Gerwig, 2017)
Break out the tissues and pull out the high school year book because Lady Bird joins the ranks of the greatest coming of age films of all time. Gerwig’s directorial debut is a home run that captures so many formative moments, memories, and details of our teen years and bottles them up into a 93 minute feature that resonates with anyone who has lived through the teenage wasteland that is high school. The film is honest about these experiences without seeming overly critical of them and puts them in a sincere light that accepts them for what they are rather than casting them out. It’s a sensational depiction of youth that will make you tear up and realize that the cringe worthy moments of your past are what made you the person you are today.
2. Baby Driver (Edgar Wright, 2017)
Baby Driver was a movie that that I was not impressed with on first viewing, however, after four subsequent watches, all holdouts have since vanished. Wright has taken a concept (a getaway driver who listens to music to drown out his tinnitus) that had so much potential to fail and crafted a marvelous action heist film that perfectly executes on the concept it promises while still upholding the tenants of a quality action film. It never sacrifices its narrative for the sake of its ‘gimmick’ and it knows when and what to play at certain moments that only draws the audience in for more. Throw in some sharp editing, some superb action choreography, and underpin it all with a romance that holds the film together, and you have the makings of a toe-tapping action film that is emphatically unique. Plus, who can deny how incredible the opening scene is?
1. IT (Andy Muschietti, 2017)
Director Andy Muschietti throws Hitchcock’s “less is more” theory out the window with the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s IT. Rather than withholding Pennywise, the latest adaptation plunges the audience in head first, giving them all they can bear with this monster icon and creating a visual horror the likes of which I have never seen. Whether it be the ominous chill of Bill Skargaard’s performance or the sinister nature of IT, everything about the film’s titular monster is horrifying. But we don’t just get a great monster movie because we also get a fantastic 80s coming of age film that harkens back to Stand By Me and The Goonies. The Losers Club’s perilous journey in Derry, Maine gives a new and profound take on the loss of innocence, and the film’s central theme of over coming one’s fears never feels derivative, but rather holistically unique. We’ll never know what Cary Fukunaga’s IT would of been like (and my god, how much darker it would have been) or how much of his script remains in the final version, but it’s safe to say I’m okay with the outcome. This film is horrifying, it is beautiful, and it is my favorite film of 2017.
You can check out my entire 2017 Ranked List here to see where the Book of Henry ranks (spoiler – not very high)!