The Best Films of 2017: A Different Point of View
'I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.'
-- Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), "Wonder Woman"
The world of cinema has never been as vivacious, diverse and personal as it was in 2017. Don't let the mainstream media fool you, film is alive and well and thriving in the era of Trump, Brexit and #MeToo.
From Wonder Woman to Get Out to Personal Shopper to The Big Sick to the Coco, it was a game changing year for film. A visit to the cinema reflected more of our intriguing world than we have been accustomed to seeing but more importantly, these characters helped our hearts soar. Every possible genre moved me this year and in the end, we are left with an abundance of great films that could make up a third of a best-of-decade list, let alone one year. It goes without saying that there are a lot of films that fail to make an impression and many disappoint. However, 2017 may be the strongest year of cinema in decades. Many films in my top fifty easily could have been a top ten contender in years past. Women and minorities soared on screen this year and mainstream audiences followed their every move; we cheered them on, looked to them for leadership, asked for guidance in the ways of love, friendship and parenting. Cinema takes exposes us to different cultures, highlight their beauty and value to our world reminding us we've all been strangers in strange lands at some point in our existence.
Each and every day is an experience and what film does it amplify our compassion. It has the power to make us confront our feelings and fears but more significantly, the visceral images force us to walk-a-mile in the heroes and anti-heroes we encounter. If you don't think cinema has the power to then look no further than me. It opened emotional doors for me I didn't know were possible at a time in my life when I needed it the most and it's never left me. Every year there are a few dozen films that force me to look at the bigger world, its people, the issues and how to right the ills of society. There are times where the world seems to be breaking at its seams, but as I watched hundreds of characters fight for what is right on the screen, I have hope for a better tomorrow. These are complicated humans trying to make sense of the chaos that has invaded their world.
* Every year is a good year for film; the key is to know where to look and what to watch. Every genre has A-grade films released every year but with each passing year, filmmakers are expanding their canvases to broad emotional rollercoasters compelling us to bring that inspiration to the world where we can strong-arm change.
*Pay less attention to the rankings and simply make it a goal to view all of them.
*The top fifty here all were contenders for the top ten list. One may not hold a film a genre film like Power Rangers or the emotionally gripping animated Your Name, but they're made with incredible love, dedication and find the filmmakers utilizing the best use of their talents.
#1 Personal Shopper
Director Olivier Assayas previously worked with Kristin Stewart on The Clouds of Sils Maria, but Personal Shopper is the film I can't escape. While I'm shocked that it didn't receive a single Oscar nomination, it ultimately doesn't matter, because it should grow in stature in coming years. The first time I watched the film, I was absorbed by Stewart's medium capacity in search of a sign from her dead brother. The second time, I was captivated by the mechanical precision she brings to her job as a personal shopper for a model. The third time, I was struck by the way technology was utilized onscreen advancing the narrative and mysteries of the film. I watched Personal Shopper more than any other film in 2017 and the Blu-ray released by the Criterion Collection helps reveal some of the films mysteries, but each viewing inspires me to watch it again.
Kristen Stewart has grown into an actress capable of great subtlety. If you only know her from the Twilight movies, then you've only glimpsed at what she's capable of. She disappears into the role of Maureen and brings a sense of unease to it. Her character seems lost, seeking closure and delaying her life until she finds it. It serves as a warning to many of us that closure doesn't often come in the form we expect. Maureen is someone understanding her talents, her powers and her beauty through interactions with others. It's a voyeuristic journey that doesn't always provide satisfactory answers, but will never leave you.
Next to Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan is quite possibly the second best living filmmaker in the world. Nolan's World War II action packed drama around the evacuation of Dunkirk in June 1990 is another magnum opus for Nolan, his third this decade. Dunkirk was one of the most heart-thumping experiences I've ever had in a movie theater and my Blu-ray experience was every bit as shattering. While the film is packed with name actors (Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance), it's Nolan deft craft that elevates this film. The greatest achievement of Dunkirk is the Nazi's are nearly invisible. It's the threat of them, their evil and the impending doom permeates the film with a sense of dread. It's possible the world as we know it would not exist if not for the miracle of Dunkirk and Nolan brings this weight to the screen with meticulous pacing and sound editing. My blood pressure still hasn't recovered.
#3 Call Me By Your Name
In Call Me By Your Name, the father (Michael Stuhlbarg) of a young son gives a speech to him that is so affecting, delicate and moving, it broke my heart in half. Stuhlbarg brought such humanity to his role as a father of a seventeen year old teen finding his way in the world. Unbeknownst to most of the audience, it is the final film in Guadagnino's thematic Desire trilogy, following I Am Love and A Bigger Splash. All three films are driven by passionate and mad love, but Name being the gentlest and ultimately most heartbreaking of the three. The script, written by the legendary James Ivory, makes us yearn for a lost love, for a unspoken love and for a life where we aren't afraid to take chances.
#4 Wonder Woman
Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins created the first DC Universe film that will take your breath away. Most of the other films have had a decision-by-committee feel to them (Suicide Squad, Batman Vs Superman) but Wonder Woman was the first to be brave, beautiful and bold. It's impossible to watch this film without feeling inspired. When Wonder Woman took her first steps onto a World War I battlefield, I had shivers go down my spine.
#5 The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro made the year's most peculiar film. Masterfully weaving sci-fi, politics and a love story together into a perfect package The Shape of Water invites the audience to familiar stories and characters, but who have never been melded together into such a faultless creation like this one. Sally Hawkins, playing a mute, ascends to a higher plane with her performance while Richard Jenkins once again proves to be one of our greatest character actors. In many ways, Water is an old fashioned love story, just with a one-of-a-kind water creature.
#6 Wind River
Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen bring their A-game as they investigate the death of a young Native American woman. How it happened, why it happened and by whom envelopes the film with a sense of dread. The depth of despair in Renner and Olsen can be felt deep within. Taylor Sheridan who wrote Sicario and Hell or High Water in recent years gets his turn behind the camera and he doesn't disappoint. Each scene unfolds into a new mystery with a cloud of dread and heartache hanging over the characters and film like a Alaskan winter. It's broader commentary about our treatment of Native Americans and how we don't even view them as statistics.
#7 Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig has made a lot of admirable work that I've enjoyed, but her direction and screenplay for Lady Bird is the first film she's been associated with that I outright love. Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedge and Timothée Chalamet (from Call Me By Your Name) all deliver knockout performances where they disappear into their roles. Gerwig encapsulates all of the emotions that go along being a senior in high school, in a family under financial turmoil and the burning desire to leave home.
#8 The Big Sick
Never underestimate the power of laughter. Kumail Nanjiani, best known for his work on HBO's Silicon Valley, co-wrote a script with his wife about how they met. Their love story isn't atypical and features quite a few twists and turns making for a truly heartwarming and original film.
#9 T2: Trainspotting
Ewan Bremmer steals the film from Ewan McGregor and Johnny Miller. The sequel two decades in the making hits of many of the same beats as the original, returns our favorite junkies to some of the same locations for new glories, but it doesn't glamorize the past in any way. It doesn't repeat itself and takes these characters on new journey's I loved watching unfold. Unlike the original, there's a glimmer of hope in this one, especially around Spud's storyline which may make the sequel less edgy than the original, but ultimately more rewarding.
#10 Phantom Thread
Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread follows the life of dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock played with relish by Daniel Day-Lewis, but it's not his performance that has remained with me. Vicky Krieps and Leslie Manville give soaring performances and that are the foundation of the film. Nothing about this film was what I anticipated, from breakfast obsessions, to control issues to a mutual understanding of how to tiptoe around a brilliant genius. There's a lot to unpack here and you'll need more than one viewing to unpack this provocative film.
#11 Their Finest
I'll champion this film for years to come. It will make a remarkable triple feature with Dunkirk and Darkest Hour. The themes are universal and maybe they are more pronounced in 2017 than at any other time this century. How do you boost morale for a country already at war? You take the events of Dunkirk and dramatize them into a film that will inspire them and provide a glimmer of hope. Gemma Arterton is sublime in her role as one of the film's writers and Bill Nighy gives one of his best performances as a washed up actor who reluctantly takes the role of a drunken father, but who in turn winds up inspiring those around him and who also pulls someone back from the brink of despair. As I mentioned in my introduction, film takes us places and forces us to see things from a different point of view. Director Lone Scherfig balances the comedic flair with the heavier dramatic elements with grace into a film that many may dismiss as fluff, but the emotional core of the film, notably with Arterton and Nighy's characters elevates the film. Nearly a year after seeing it for the first time, I still think about it and plan on making a triple feature in the coming months with Darkest Hour and Dunkirk. Their Finest is currently streaming on Hulu.
#12 Atomic Blonde
This Cold War thriller is all Charlize Theron. Playing an undercover MI6 agent, sent to Berlin to investigate the murder of a fellow agent, she gives a gritty performance that is ready-made for repeat viewings. She's smart and when she's not fighting men with her fists, she's slyly seducing them with her mind. Director David Leitch composes his scene with high intensity, much like John Wick which he co-directed and a top tier soundtrack from New Wave artists which paints a chilling picture. Atomic Blonde deserved a larger audience and one can hope it finds one via streaming and Blu-ray sales. The character of Lorraine Broughton is one I yearn to see light up a movie screen again.
#13 Get Out
Jordan Peele has created a horror film about unspoken sins of our society. You've never seen a film like this and once you do, it won't let you go. Beneath the political commentary on America, is a pure horror film. One that will make you jump out of your seat and make your eyes pop.
Christian Bale plays a man who has spent his career killing Indians and his last order before retirement is to take a man he imprisoned back to his home. Two men from two different worlds find themselves in turbulent situations that help forge a new relationship. Rosamund Pike shines in her role as a grieving widow. Hostiles was under the radar with a Oscar qualifying run in late 2017, which is a shame, because it's a gripping western thriller.
We need to be inclusive of each other, celebrate other cultures, and embrace these differences, because in the end, it's a kaleidoscope world we live in and the more we embrace it, the richer it becomes. An overflowing visual stunner, Coco reminds us the entire world has a lot to offer us as long as our hearts and minds are open to it.
#16 Thor: Ragnarok
No movie should be this fun. I've always found the Thor films to be a bit campy and I've adored them, but critical consensus didn't occur until Thor: Ragnarok which hits every note perfectly making it one of the best standalone Marvel films to date. The humor, wit and over-the-top action scenes are pitch perfect with new and old characters that you'll wish you could spend more time with. The chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston is my favorite in the entire Marvel universe and to add Cate Blanchett to this one is pure heaven.
#17 Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Rain Johnson is a gifted filmmaker who took Star Wars and challenged audiences in a way that jostled the fan base. What we thought it would be, it wasn't. Everything that we felt was safe wasn't. Characters, themes and situations unfolded in a way that divided many. I think it's the bravest of all Star Wars films since The Empire Strikes Back and years from now, it will be heralded as one of the bravest of the series. Minor concerns I had on my initial viewing disappeared after my second. The character arc for Luke Skywalker wasn't what we were expecting or wanted, but it was what we needed.
I'll never subscribe to the criticisms that comic book films are why Hollywood it rotting. The Oscar nominated Logan takes a hero we've watched throughout 18 years and 7 films (more if you count cameos) and have him a heroic sendoff. Jackman gives his grittiest performance as the aging superhero Wolverine. It's a perfect sendoff for one of our favorite comic heroes from the last two decades.
#19 John Wick Chapter 2
Both John Wick films are dazzling action operas. The way the world of Wick works is what makes it so attractive. Chad Stahelski jolts the audience with intense action sequences, gun fights and a tightly wound script that has introduced us to a world I never want to leave with codes that shouldn't be broken, ciphers that need to be honored and dogs that need to be walked.
#20 I, Tonya
I, Tonya is the Spinal Tap of competitive skating. Margot Robbie and Alison Janney give mouth gaping performances they disappear into as Tonya Harding and her mother. So much could have gone wrong with this film. It could have been a bad Lifetime movie, but it's wry and dark humor elevates it.
#21 Blade Runner 2049
This is a film that never should have been made. More than three decades after the original, I never felt would see the light of day, but director Denis Villeneuve has crafted this stunning sequel with great care. Watching its visuals unfold on screen is one of the greatest moments I've had in a theater this decade.
#22 The Disaster Artist
This is a wonderful piece of pulp art. Don't judge the subject matter if the film, but rather the way Franco and team executed it. There's a genius in making a movie about the worse movie ever made. Make sure you watch all of the credits until the end.
#23 Darkest Hour
The third movie of 2017 about Dunkirk is all about Gary Oldman's towering performance as Winston Churchill. Tightly written, edited and directed, the film unfolds with heart racing scenes and inspirational monologues at a time when they are needed more than ever.
It is one of the greatest of Stephen King adaptations for the big screen. The opening ten minutes with Pennywise are amongst the most terrorizing ever committed to celluloid but what makes It are the bonds and friendships that develop onscreen. They've provided characters fully developed that the audience can relate to and see themselves in. The Losers Club have been brought to life with a lot of heart and soul.
#25 I, Daniel Blake
A holdover from 2016 I did not see until this year and one that ripped out a piece of my soul. If there has ever been a film that shows the importance of state welfare systems, it is I, Daniel Blake. It is gut wrenching and eye-opening. If you know someone who believes that those on unemployment or welfare are takers, show them this film and it may sway them.
#26 Logan Lucky
Stephen Soderbergh's return to filmmaking will one day be a red state classic. A smart heist film with a top tier cast, it's a joy to watch unfold.
#27 Molly's Game
Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut with razor sharp dialogue from Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, plus Kevin Costner shows up for a few emotionally gut punching scenes.
M. Night Shyamalan had a series of films (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs) that heralded a new master we thought would be on par with Spielberg. Then he went into a decade-long slump making you question the greatness of his earlier work. Split demonstrates those earlier films were not flukes in a psychological thriller about a man with nearly two-dozen personalities. James McAvoy relishes the role, but it's the pacing and beats that make this a nail biter.
#29 Baby Driver
The best use of music in a movie goes to Baby Driver that will hopefully bring resurgence to the iPod Classic.
#30 The Florida Project
I am not sure you can watch this film and not have a piece of your soul wrangled from you in the process. Willem Dafoe anchors the film as one of the few adults who embrace responsibility. Brooklynn Prince as the six-year-old is a revelation showing us innocence, love and humor in the shadow of Disney World highlighting the culture divide that is America.
#31 War of the Planet of the Apes
The brilliant finale of Cesar's trilogy with the humans and apes once again at odds with one another, highlighted by Woody Harrelson and Andy Serkis (as Cesar), providing an emotionally satisfying ending to one of the great cinematic stories of the decade.
Harry Dean Stanton's film is a quiet and subtle reflection of a man nearing the end of his life who finally confronts fear for the first time. Characters like this don't pop up on television or film nearly enough and Stanton brings the humanity to the forefront.
This is a must see streaming exclusively on Netflix. Director Bong Joon-ho, best known for directing the socially relevant Snowpiercer returns with another social commentary on big corporations, the pillaging of animals, and how big business plays into a genetically modified super pigs that compete against one another. The South Korean pig, Okja, wins and its owner begins a heroic journey to save them. This isn't the film you think it is and with Tilda Swinton in dual roles, how can you go wrong?
Mudbound is a $10-million film that looks like it cost $40-million. A limited theatrical run was followed by a Netflix release where the racial tensions of World War II in the American south come to a boiling point with an expressively absorbing performance by Mary J. Blige. Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund also shine as war veterans who see beyond the color of their skins and rather as survivors of the war.
Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudekis appear to be responsible for catastrophic events occurring Seoul, halfway across the world. Old friends, abusive relationships, lack of motivation and male dominance all come to the forefront in this wholly original film where Hathaway tackles demons in a way that isn't like any other film you've ever seen. There's an uncomfortable subplot about male aggression and dominance that needs to be discussed, debated and reconciled.
Stephen Chbosky is one of my favorite working directors. He got behind the camera for the first time with The Perks of Being a Wallflower, possibly the best film about being a teen since John Hughes at his peak, and he returns with Wonder based on the best-selling book of a fifth grader with facial scars. This is a film that easily could have drifted into melodramatic manipulation, but doesn't. Every tear you shed is earned by the dramatic arc, editing and top tier performances across the board, notably Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts as the parents.
#37 The Lego Batman Movie
Remove the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy, and you have the best Batman film ever.
Ethan Hawke and Sally Hawkins embody real life characters in this story of a Canadian artist, Maud Lewis, who fought against odds to have her work heralded and even purchased by a American president. Both actors are effortless in their delivery giving stunning performances. Some scenes may hit a little too close to home for some, but beneath the turmoil is a passion for life and in the end, a love that couldn't be extinguished.
#39 Your Name
An animated film from Japan about two teenagers who switch places one night when they sleep, it traces their ability to communicate with one another when they return to their everyday lives. It's complicated by time sequences and questions not easily answered. It's a beautiful maze worth exploring and finding dead ends, because the journey is the reward.
#40 Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Unlike John Wick 2 or Atomic Blonde, the Kingsman films live in a tongue-in-cheek world of absurdity that works within the context of their world. Add in Channing Tatum, Julianne Moore, Halle Berry and Elton John take this one to the next level of absurdity and I loved every last second of it.
#41 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards is the most controversial film of the year. I've had more dialogue about this film than any other in 2017. I'm in the middle of the debate, as I found director Martin McDonagh created a film about a small town in America that may or may not exist depending on whom you speak to. Race, forgiveness, quirkiness, sharp wit and long standing prejudices all come to the forefront of the film and whether you love it or hate it, it's well-crafted and superbly acted.
#42 The Lost City of Z
British explorer Percy Fawcett journeys into the Amazon for a film that looks as if it could have been made at any time in the last forty years. In a day and age where CGI can be exhausting, it is refreshing to see a film so alive and primeval on the big screen.
#43 The Post
Steven Spielberg's film about the Pentagon papers and the Washington Post is an important film for this day and age, but it's merely a good film that doesn't resonate as strongly as his best work, even when highlighted by substantial performances by Meryl Streep and Bob Odenkirk.
I never knew Columbus, Indiana existed before this movie when John Cho returns to town to visit his ill father and strikes up a friendship with a young architecture student. They walk, drive and discuss the town's unique architecture, studying its complexity and beauty and finding something out about themselves in the process in this wonderful debut film from director Kogonada.
#45 Murder on the Orient Express
I am partial to anytime Kenneth Branagh gets behind the camera to direct a film. A stupendous cast complements Branagh's vision on the Orient Express train in search of a murderer.
#46 The Beguiled
Sofia Coppola delicately brings to life this remake which she infuses her female leads, notably Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning in a studious Civil War tale about a stranger they take in to help recover from his wounds. This would make a brilliant double feature with Phantom Thread.
#47 Dawson City, Frozen Time
I love silent films, so to find out that more than 500 were lost for half a century until they were discovered beneath a swimming pool in the Yukon Territory, in Dawson City, located about 350 miles south of the Arctic Circle. This is the story about the town, cinema, how films were shown and how they wound up under a pool wrapped up in a fascinating documentary that will surprise you at every turn.
#48 The Greatest Showman
It doesn't matter whether this film is historically accurate or not, the songs make it soar. Is it a great film? No. Is it one of the most entertaining and satisfying theater experiences of the year? Yes. It's purposely over-the-top, but it works in every way imaginable.
#49 Power Rangers
The reboot of Saban's Power Rangers follows five teens through the trials and tribulations of working together as a team. This is A-grade entertainment worthy of your time and one can hope additional films will be given as much love and care as this one.
#50 Loving Vincent
This film has 65,000 frames and every single one of them is hand painted. You have to see it to believe it, it's better than a visit to a museum with a bevy of Van Gogh paintings.
Julia Ducournau has created an penetrating and visceral film about a family of vets whose youngest daughter begins vet school with her older sister. Something is off right from the first scene, but it isn't until the final scene where all the pieces of the puzzle come together. It's currently on Netflix.
#52 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 / #53 Spider Man: Homecoming / #54 Jumanji
Family fun across the board with a solid sequel owned by Baby Groot, a strong reboot for one of our greatest comic heroes and a surprising action packed family film based on Chris Van Allsburg's book.
#55 Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
It's still shocking that after the financial crisis of 2008 that none of the big banks faced legal consequences for their action, but Abacus is the story of the one financial institution the government chose to go after. Steve James dives into the world of Abacus Federal Savings of Chinatown, New York and how and why they were targeted.
#56 Lady Macbeth
Florence Pugh relishes every scene in this tightly wound exploration of morals set in the nineteenth century. The truth is Pugh is terrifying as the lead and the head of the house in a chilling performance that should scare men around the globe to see a woman exude this much confidence.
#57 Beatriz at Dinner
Salma Hayek plays Beatriz, a kind hearted immigrant at a dinner party that also has a selfish billionaire, played with glee by John Lithgow. In the age of Trump, fireworks ignite.
#58 Ingrid Goes West
Aubrey Plaza is obsessed with social media and stalks one of its biggest stars until she enters her life as her best friend. A dazzling moral tale for modern times, it captures the dangers of social media and the seduction of acceptance from strangers and fake friends.
#59 The Hero
Sam Elliott is a treasure in The Hero, a former western star living life as a man providing his voice for commercials while being estranged from an ex-wife and daughter. Based on a visit to his doctor, he takes some dramatic actions that lead to a unexpected career renewal in his life.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing who has to rebuild his life, but it's his loyal girlfriend, played with understated zeal by Tatiana Maslany (best known for Orphan Black) that steals the film. She's the foundation and the emotional core of the film.
#61 - #65 Roman J. Israel, Esq., The Girl with All the Gifts, A Ghost Story, Kong: Skull Island, Victoria & Abdul
#66- #70 The Man Who Invented Christmas, Detroit, Good Time, Pitch Perfect 3, American Made
#71- #75 The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), The Square, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, My Cousin Rachel, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
The Best Films of 2017: A Different Point of View