Here it is. Our hardest post of the year. Our picks for the best movies of 2017. After we polish the scuffs, wipe up the blood, and serve the list, it’s hard to see just how hard fought these rankings can be. Wars are fought over these collective lists. Factions are developed, stands are made, friends are betrayed. But in the end, while collecting a loose consensus might prove to have a negative social effect on our team, the entire process stands in testimony to just how strong this year’s film contributions have been.
We feel very strongly about these films because in every case, each of these films has earned our passionate affection. Maybe it isn’t a definitive order or even a definitive list, but our love for every entry is definitive, and as we close out what has been a very difficult year in every measure, we would like for our list to serve as a reflection of how grateful we are to have seen these films and how lucky we are to be able to discuss them with one another and you. Thank you, all!
25. Wonder Woman
It’s hard to imagine any film released in 2017 carried more anticipation and faced more scrutiny than Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, a female-lead superhero film decades overdue and an almost unprecedented woman-directed blockbuster released on the heels of the relative critical failures of its shared universe’s recent tent-pole releases. At its strongest chapters, the DCEU succeeds on the faith of its filmmakers’ vision, and Wonder Woman is now the consensus favorite of those moments. It is impossible to measure Wonder Woman de-contextualized from its social and industrial ties, position, and influence, but given its triumphant success through self-assured execution, we should always remember the weight that Jenkins and Gadot carried across the finish line. -David Shreve, Jr.
24. The Lost City of Z
The Lost City of Z is a visually stunning exploration of the obsession, fascination, and wonder that 20th-century Europe found with the non-Western world, and the complicated cultural mindset that accompanied that period of time.
British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is similarly complex, a man whose motivations are both indicative of the culture from which he comes but whose point of view is outside of orthodox orientalist conceptions of non-Western cultures. Some of his motivations are professional, but many are grounded in more personal, sympathetic desires; he longs for reconciliation with his eldest son, to restore the glory of his family name, and to find some proof despite what his colleagues believe that his beliefs about humankind is correct.
Lost City of Z finds a balance between Fawcett’s individual motivations and the larger, existential concerns of the culture in which this film is set, unafraid to touch upon the mindset from which the idea of the “noble savage” and the movements of orientalism and primitivism sprout. There is tragedy and hope throughout, misguided goals and noble ideals in the hunt for Fawcett’s lost city, and this complexity provides a bittersweet and moving experience that leaves an impression. – Christina Tucker
23. Patti Cake$
Patti Cake$ had all the potential to be a cringe-worthy, uninspiring drama. Often when we’re forced to watch films about kids wanting to become rappers, it’s easy for the actor in question to be miscast; looks are prioritised over how they sound. Danielle Macdonald is both unconventional in appearance when it comes to these types of films, yet she also sounds incredible. Her flow, cadence and delivery gave many pause when she first opened her mouth. This helps the film chug along at stellar pace, the audience waiting in anticipation for Patti to start rapping out of nowhere. The family drama intertwines with the lyrics to give us a movie packed to the brim with heart. While trope-filled and certainly by-the-numbers, that doesn’t mean that a movie should be discounted immediately. Most definitely not Patti Cake$. The mother-daughter relationship is heartbreaking and redeeming, the friendships are beautiful and empowering and one certain sex scene speaks volumes to the inclusivity of the film. Geremy Jasper’s ear for music separates our #23 from the many movies it is similar to. This is a film for those who love underdog stories, rap and potent family dramas. – Nathanael Hood
One of the year’s best directorial debuts also features one of the year’s most underrated lead performances. Video essayist Kogonada tells us a well-worn story—guy travels to care after family member, meets woman during abbreviated stay—but gives us much more than we’ve come to expect from the trope. Both main characters, Jin (John Cho) and Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), are given the time and room to explore their emotions, particularly how their pasts and parental relationships have boxed them in in some way. Architecture—beauty, structure, symmetry—play a major role visually and thematically. But it’s Richardson who stands out the most, giving one of the great performances of the year. It would’ve been understandable for Richardson or other young actresses to steer too close to Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory, but Richardson gives Casey a level of humanity and introspection rarely seen in roles like this.
Dee Rees’ Mudbound takes a novelistic approach to the deep-South during and after World War II, casting a wide net around the racial lines that create stark divisions and connections between two families contending with poverty and the inability to let go of a past that’s in the very soil they build their lives on. Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell both turn out measured and heartbreaking performances as two veterans who find commonality and friendship in their battered post-War states. Supported by Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jonathan Banks, Rob Morgan, and Mary J. Blige, Mudbound never feels lacking of a unique perspective through which to view the state of America in the early 20th century, a state that we haven’t come very far from at all. With her wide scope and the aid of cinematographer Rachel Morrison’s textured look, Rees borrows shades of John Ford and Victor Fleming for a dust-beaten American epic stripped of its romanticism. There was never a great American South, and in coming to terms with this, Dee Rees managed to make the first truly great Netflix Original Film, one that brings all the beauty and emotion of widescreen cinema to your television screen. – Richard Newby
20. A Ghost Story
Not much actually happens in David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, nor is much required to execute its somewhat cutesy conceit. Really, just a long sheet, two A-list actors filming in relative secret over a couple of days, a striking monologue from a folk music hero, and one pie. And yet A Ghost Story ends up being and meaning so much, an ethereal, simple sentence cinematic poem with an infinity of meaning earned through specificity and abstraction. -David Shreve, Jr.
Have you noticed that there are far fewer M. Night Shayamalan jokes these days? After The Visit and this year’s Split, there has been a measurable drop in those commentators who are quick to dismiss the cinematic folksinger’s control of his camera’s vocabulary and, after the sucker punch final scene in Split, it is especially noticeable that no one wants to criticize his twist endings. Split will be remembered as the unlikely continuation of a beloved franchise, but it operates as so much more than that- namely, a humanizing look at mental illness anchored by a performance from James McAvoy, whose absence from late-in-the-year awards buzz can only be explained by his film’s early release. -David Shreve, Jr.
Logan landed as the perfect cure for superhero fatigue. James Mangold’s inspired and fresh transposition of known comic book property within a Western genre template yielded perhaps the best superhero film on this side of Nolan’s Dark Knight series. With both larger comic universes stuck in a never-ending cycle of interpersonal stakes being diluted by increasingly apocalyptic conflicts, Mangold provided a reminder of the value of smaller, personal stories revealing the humanity of superhumans, and incidentally gave one of the most beloved figures in comic lore the cinematic exercise he’s always deserved. -David Shreve, Jr.
17. Personal Shopper
Director Olivier Assayas and his new muse Kristen Stewart returned for a deeply textured and layered film, about, among other things, the nature of grief. And thank goodness for the trust he places in his star. Stewart, quickly becoming one of our best actresses is rarely off screen, and, if anything, she somehow leaves us wanting even more. She absolutely owns the screen, portraying more with her body and facial expressions than most could with elongated monologues. Assayas lingers on her, and we feel every moment through her eyses Her performance, along with Assayas’ fabulous direction makes even the mundane pregnant with tension. These two have done the impossible, which is to make the reading of text messages the most suspenseful scene of the year. Personal Shopper may stand as Stewart’s best performance to date and continues to cement her and Assayas as a tandem to look forward to in the coming years. -David Hart
16. The Shape of Water
Every time I watch a Guillermo del Toro film, I immediately say to myself “That’s one of the best genre films I have ever seen.” And the truth is, I’m always right. The Shape of Water feels both elegiac and like a pronouncement of life, an adoring reflection of a lost form of film and an adjusted and inspired rebirth of that same form. Monster movies have always sought humanity within their creatures, but The Shape of Water distributes that humanity in previously unexplored directions, ultimately reading as a love letter LGBT+ and persons with disabilities while simultaneously highlighting (through use of a Russian spy, no less) the monstrosity of the toxic masculine hero of yesteryear. -David Shreve, Jr.
15. Logan Lucky
Since this movie obtained most of its publicity because of how it was [mis]marketed, many filmgoers missed a fantastic night out at the theater. Logan Lucky, much more than a redneck Oceans 11, is a story of family, class, and heart. Sodebergh directs yet another crowd pleaser featuring memorable performances from Adam Driver, the up-and-coming Riley Keough, and especially Daniel Craig as Joe Bang in a comedic role for which you are woefully unprepared. Logan Lucky could have easily been a simple retread. But instead, it perfectly aligned itself within the heist genre, while never being boring or predictable. The Logan boys are certainly not the smartest in the room, but dang it, they give us the little guys to root for! -David Hart
14. Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner 2049, like its predecessor, will age incredibly well. Denis Villeneuve takes the helm of Ridley Scott’s decades-old ship and steers into cold existential waters in the most deliberately paced and beautifully shot young director’s already stellar filmography. 2049 is a sci-fi standout, daring psychological exploration that elevates the greatest films in the broad genre while playing fair to the source material and drawing new boundaries to a classic story. -David Shreve, Jr.
Christopher Nolan’s powerhouse film has some real guts. This is not just speaking of the bravery of the men portrayed, but also of Nolan’s directorial choices. His decision to create three separate narratives, operating at different rates, with very little guidance offered to the audience, is definitely a brave one. Combine this with a heart palpitating score, fantastic near-silent performances, and Nolan’s signature phenomenal camerawork, and we have a film that will not leave your brain for some time after you stagger out of the theater. Much has been made of how one should see this film, but it is worth watching on every size screen! -David Hart
12. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Perhaps the most hotly contested film on our list, Three Billboards split the Audiences Everywhere staff right down the middle, with over half of our voting body rating it as the highest of the year and outliers placing it as one of the lowest rated. Three Billboards is a challenging and complex film (though, its detractors would hate that distinction) whose narrative and characters are done a disservice by strict moral measurement. Martin McDonagh’s script is cynically convenient, but his thematic ambitions–a map of hurt people hurting people, perhaps under the influence of a terrifyingly nihilistic Old Testament God–seek no easy answers. There is perhaps required of the viewer a disassociation of known narrative principles; what matters isn’t if characters are redeemed or if they earn the redemption, but if redemption is different than damnation in a cold nihilistic existence where we must find the will to be kind on our own. -David Shreve, Jr.
11. Gerald’s Game
Gerald’s Game saw Mike Flanagan’s proficiency in genre filmmaking continue, this time creating his horror and stashing it in one location throughout the entirety of the film – save a few flashbacks and flashforwards. Powered by an intense Carla Gugino performance, and peppered with stunning moments of hallucination and dream sequences, Flanagan once again proved why he’s so highly revered by horror and film enthusiasts alike. While the film’s ending caused some uproar amongst viewers, Gerald’s Game is comfortably one of the finest Stephen King adaptations on the big screen and yet another Netflix triumph in the canon of cinema. It’ll take a while for that eclipse scene to escape the mind of this writer. – Christopher Aguiar
10. John Wick: Chapter 2
A gorgeous, elegant, high-octane action flick. Its mythology is glorious and doubles down on the promise left behind by the first film, particularly in expand the lore of the Continental Hotel. Keanu Reeves is in career-best mode; the man continues to be a gift to the genre – the closest thing Western shores have to a bonafide Gun-Fu action star. Stahelski arranges his cast in such a manner that every hit, every emptied clip, is palpable and powerful. With Common and Ruby Rose joining Reeves in carrying out their own stunts, the cinematography allows us to take in the breathtaking choreography rather than be forced to hide every single hit with a choppy edit. It’s not often that an action film is this subtextually layered, every image either providing context to the scene or foreshadowing a potential event. -Christopher Aguiar
Lee Unkrich’s second directing gig at Pixar is far from a sophomore slump. Telling a story about Dia de Muertos, honoring culture and legacy with lush visuals and a rousing adventure story, Coco is one of Pixar’s finest achievements. Owing to a rough table group of Mexican artists and creative advisors, the film brings an authentic slice of life from Mexican history. This is why it’s important to give people voices when you want to make a film about another culture. –Diego Crespo
8. Killing of a Sacred Deer
Yorgos Lanthimos’ uncomfortably humorous sensibilities traverse a narrative that reveals a sick and twisted revenge tale straight out of a Greek tragedy. A nightmare of moral claustrophobia and inevitability, it may be the furthest Lanthimos has delved into full on genre fare but never loses sight of his trademark black comedy. The metaphors are heavy but the technical precision softens what could be absurdity and counters it all with a jet black sensibility that viewers may have trouble shaking off long after. -Diego Crespo
7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Rian Johnson’s sweeping character epic is not just a summation of the original trilogy, but the entire Star Wars series up to this point. The Last Jedi takes the classic conceit that “War does not make one great” and turns it into a two plus hour narrative about failure being the greatest teacher. Furthermore, Johnson’s story solidifies the tragedy of the series as one of generational failures, each with their own struggles and victories in light of an enclosing darkness. Most of all, it reminds us to continue fighting through the night even when you can’t see the sun. -Diego Crespo
6. Lady Bird
This year’s indie darling is no fluke. Greta Gerwig, in her solo directorial debut, digs deep into her own past to give us Lady Bird. Armed with a stellar cast, including Saoirse Ronan in the title role, Laurie Metcalf, and Beanie Feldstein, Lady Bird goes for the jugular emotionally speaking and never really lets go. Most of this is due to Gerwig, who manages, in about 90 minutes, to create complete characters who are all worth the time spent. Anyone who has had a troubled relationship with a parent will connect instantly with Lady Bird. For all of us who as teenagers could not wait to leave the roost, this film gives us second thoughts and that sweet nostalgic pain for our hometowns, no matter how lame they seemed. -David Hart
If any genre is going to push boundaries, it should be horror. Raw is the perfect example of such an affecting and effective uncomfortable movie. It is a film that demands a rewatch, if you can possibly stomach it. On its surface, Raw is a coming-of-age story of a young woman entering veterinary school. But it is so much more than that. Raw tackles a myriad of themes, including female sexuality, sibling rivalry, experimentation, and maybe even inherited trauma. Director Julia Ducournau and young actress Garance Marillier combine for an unflinching film that takes you on her journey of discovery. But beware, there are no pulled punches here. Raw is a film that makes you want to look away, but forces your gaze onto the screen where it belongs. -David Hart
4. Get Out
With good reason, we as a film culture have mined the social commentary in debut director Jordan Peele’s Get Out rather extensively. And why not? Get Out was released in the opening of the Trump era and landed as one of the most successful wide release horror films of all time, having been authored by a filmmaker of color and dealing directly with questions of black personhood. These are important sociological conversations to be had and the film is an anything-but-discrete essay seeking to inspire those talks. But at some point, we have to assure that we’re also speaking toward the straightforward craftsmanship of Peele’s first effort. Get Out is a perfect horror film, independent of its rich textual layers. Polanski-inspired paranoia in its social architecture and perfectly measured symbolism are underscored by the elemental and stylistic rhythm of horror masters. There’s a lot that needs to be balanced in the discussion of Get Out, and luckily, I expect we’ll be watching, appreciating, and discussing it for decades. -David Shreve, Jr.
Lucky stands out this year as an honest and poignant portrait of life in the face of death. Perhaps no other film was as timely; one of Harry Dean Stanton’s final roles as a man who learns to embrace the end of his life was made bittersweet as he passed later this year. Its 2017 relevance can be found in what it teaches about the meaning of all parts of life and how much that depends on how we frame it-ugly bits and all. For fans, it will remain a fitting farewell to the legendary actor, but it also stands as a beautifully honest film with its own distinct style and a cast that shines from every angle. Watching Lucky makes us feel sweet and warm without omitting the sadness, an effect that takes a skill not every filmmaker and performer has. Lucky not only faces but revels in the only universal human truth: one day we won’t be here anymore, and at some point we have to deal with that information. Here’s hoping we all find Lucky’s kind of peace. –Becky Belzile
2. The Florida Project
In a year marked by horrific divisiveness, exhausted disillusionment towards our national instutitions, and bare-teethed fury towards political adversaries, Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is an extraordinary exercise in societal empathy. Set among an invisible underclass of homeless indigents living in the neon-colored motels found on the outskirts of Walt Disney World, the film is a loose assembly of vignettes surrounding six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), her childhood friends, and her loving yet self-destructive stripper-turned-prostitute mother Halley (Bria Vinaite). The film unspools itself with the casualness of an eternal summer vacation matched with the intense introspection unique to young children for whom the world hasn’t yet lost its magic. And yet there’s also a pervading sense of sorrow that we’re witnessing the final days of an innocent childhood. We know that any day now Moonee will realize that she’s poor, that her mother’s an unstable criminal, that she’s doomed to be labeled white trash by the world. But for now all we can do is watch and laugh and love. Few films so effortlessly summon the full width and breadth of human emotion, and fewer still use it to such noble effect. And I haven’t even mentioned Willem Dafoe’s stirring turn as the put-upon yet compassionate motel manager, the moments of heart-stopping beauty (“I like this tree. You can hear it growing.”), the scenes of ecstatic joy and pitiless cruelty, and perhaps the most catharctic, unexpected finale of 2017 which elevates the film from ethnography to fairy tale. – Nathanael Hood
1. Call Me By Your Name
As more time has passed between when I saw Call Me By Your Name and the present moment, I’m increasingly struck by how deep and complicated a film this is. When I reviewed it, I talked about how fascinated it is with bodies and physical touch, the emotions that touch invokes and how the context of who touches us, and how and when, makes all the difference. That’s all still there. And it’s still, and always will be, a wonderfully-told coming of age love story, backed by a stunningly realized performance by a great young actor. But Call Me By Your Name is also a celebration of beauty, both natural and human, and probably more so, pleasure. That’s a risk, especially in a story that features a romantic relationship in which one of the participants is a minor, but it’s one well-taken by Luca Guadagnino. That the film packs this much in so subtly and beautifully makes me excited to revisit it again and again in the coming years. -Chris Celletti