10 Best Films of 2017

Narrowing down the best films of the year to just 10 is always a daunting process. There have been so many great movies this year, and I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot more of them than usual as a member of a couple different award committees and, of course, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. For example, I’m going to cheat a little and put the great Israeli drama “Foxtrot” on my list for 2018, when it comes out theatrically, even though it’s getting a quick awards-consideration run at the end of 2017. So I guess this is an 11-best list …? Anyway, please enjoy, and let me know what you’d put on your list.

1. “Call Me by Your Name”

My top pick was an easy one. One of my main criteria for choosing the best film of the year is the way it changes me emotionally, physically. So few films have that power. “Call Me by Your Name” absolutely wrecked me. Luca Guadagnino’s swooningly romantic story of first love in the summer of 1983 is gorgeously rendered, with perfectly calibrated performances from Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer. You will want to luxuriate in the warmth of this place and in the melancholy of knowing that this romance can’t last. Michael Stuhlbarg gives a monologue at the end that’s subtly devastating. See it on the biggest screen you can find, then enjoy the sobbing. You won’t be alone.

Read the review here

2. “Phantom Thread”

This is a very close No. 2 for me, and it’s one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s absolute best. Reteaming with his “There Will Be Blood” star, the great Daniel Day-Lewis, Anderson tells a ravishing tale of twisted love between a meticulous couture designer and his unlikely muse (a sneaky-great Vicky Krieps) in 1950s London. The clothes are to die for, of course, and the Jonny Greenwood score is intoxicating. But what I like best is the way “Phantom Thread” grows steadily bonkers within its refined setting. It’s captivating.

Watch the What the Flick?! review here

3. “I, Tonya”

You probably haven’t thought much about Tonya Harding in recent years, and why would you? She’s a decades-old punchline, her name synonymous with scandal. But “I, Tonya” will make you feel an unexpected sympathy for her and change your perspective on the easy-to-digest tabloid narrative. Craig Gillespie’s film has a propulsive energy as it bounces around between dueling, unreliable narrators — I like to call it “GoodFellas” on ice — and Margot Robbie and Allison Janney absolutely tear it up as the disgraced figure skater and her abusive mother.

Read the review here

4. “Good Time”

I love the choices Robert Pattinson has made post-“Twilight.” He’s parlayed the considerable fame and clout he gained from playing dreamy vampire Edward Cullen to work with directors who specialize in meaty, challenging material, from David Croenberg to the Safdie brothers. Here, he stars alongside Benny Safdie (he and brother Josh both directed) as a con artist who goes on an odyssey through New York City’s underbelly to make things right after a botched bank robbery. It’s a roller-coaster ride through hell, grippingly edited with an intense, synthy score. Pattinson’s work here is reminiscent of a young Al Pacino: He’s tightly coiled and volatile, but he can turn on the charm and be whoever he needs to be from one situation to the next. It’s thrilling to watch.

Watch the What the Flick?! review here

5. “Dunkirk”

Christopher Nolan’s latest epic came out while I was on vacation with my family on the East Coast, so I never actually wrote about it and was gone when my friends taped their What the Flick?! review. But there was no way I was going to miss it, even though I was away. So I dragged my husband and son with me to a 1030pm showing in 70mm the night it opened at the English-language theater in Montreal. I’m so glad I did — we were all blown away, actually. I love the way Nolan plays with time and perspective, upending all your notions of what a historical drama should look and feel like. He puts you on edge from the very beginning and never lets up. And cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema’s images are jaw-droppingly beautiful. “Dunkirk” is masterful all around.

6. “The Florida Project”

Sean Baker has a knack for finding people living on the fringes of society, exploring their world and humanizing them, albeit in startling ways. He did it with “Tangerine,” which was on my list of the best movies of 2015. And he does it again here in telling the story of young families living in poverty in tacky motels on the outskirts of Disney World. The Magic Kingdom is tantalizingly nearby, but the kids of “The Florida Project” make their own magic from day to day in their bubble of squalor as they struggle to survive. As a parent, it’s devastating to watch. But Baker never condescends to his characters in creating this lively, vivid sense of place, and he draws strong performances from his young cast, particularly Brooklynn Prince as the plucky, 6-year-old Moonee.

Watch the What the Flick?! review here

7. “Lady Bird”

How lovely is “Lady Bird”? The feature directing debut from longtime actor and writer Greta Gerwig feels intimate and personal, yet it’s so authentic as it reveals angsty, adolescent truths that it becomes universally relatable. Saoirse Ronan is at her absolute best as the title character, a high-school senior searching to find her place in the world and trying on different personae, which aren’t always the right fit. One of the things I like best about Gerwig’s script is that she doesn’t try to make Lady Bird likable all the time, and the mother-daughter squabbles between the excellent Laurie Metcalf and Ronan give the film both a palpable tension and great poignancy. I can’t wait to see what Gerwig does next.

Watch the What the Flick?! review here

8. “Raw”

It’s French cannibal flick as feminist manifesto, and it’s amazing that this is only the first feature from writer-director Julia Ducournau. What she does here is so thematically ambitious and narratively tricky, but she pulls it off and it’s mesmerizing. Garance Marillier stars as a young medical student who’s been a lifelong vegetarian. When she’s forced to eat meat as part of a hazing ritual, it stirs a primal hunger she never knew she had. This is a gory horror movie through and through; it’s chilling, and you never know where it’s going. But “Raw” is also fundamentally a celebration of female power—of realizing who you are, what you want and how to go after it, albeit with brutally bloody results.

Read the review here

9. “Get Out”

And speaking of dazzlingly ambitious debuts, what a wonder “Get Out” is. It’s also a horror movie, as well as a dark comedy and a potent satire about the state of race relations in America. As both writer and director, longtime comedian Jordan Peele moves seamlessly through various heady ideas while never letting go of the humor or the tension. The balancing act he pulls off here is seriously impressive, and it bodes well for him for a long a fruitful career behind the camera. Daniel Kaluuya gives an intelligent, sensitive performance as a black man meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener are chilling, as is Allison Williams doing her best work yet.

Watch the What the Flick?! review here

10. “War for the Planet of the Apes”

My favorite blockbuster of 2017, although I loved “Wonder Woman,” too. And I’m not even a giant fan of the whole “Planet of the Apes” cinematic universe. But what Matt Reeves has achieved here is so tricky: an epic movie with an equal amount of massive special effects and moments of deep emotional resonance. Andy Serkis once again proves he’s the king of performance capture, imbuing the complex Caesar with both subtle shadings and decisive force. Virtuoso camerawork abounds, veteran cinematographer Michael Seresin’s images are breathtaking and composer Michael Giacchino’s bold, percussive accompaniment is the score of the year.

Watch the What the Flick?! review here

20 Comments on “10 Best Films of 2017

  1.  by  Stephen kessen

    I am really surprised to not see Three Billboards….Missouri not on this list. It is my favorite movie of the year.

    •  by  Christy Lemire

      Oh, it’s great! But we only get to pick 10. That’s part of the challenge (and part of the fun). Glad you liked it.

  2.  by  Linda Buie

    Thanks, Christy! It is time for me to get busy and start watching these. So far, I have only seen one of them. I will see Lady Bird at the theater tomorrow, and then I must start searching for ways to see the others. I trust your judgement more than most, so all of these are on my list, especially Call Me By Your Name.

    •  by  Christy Lemire

      Thank you, Linda! You’ll have to let me know what you think once you play catch-up.

  3.  by  Connor Siedow

    I love the list! Really surprised about Three Billboards too. My favorite of the year. But I’m super hyped to see Good Time here!

  4.  by  Leo Bergmiller

    I must say, I find your lack of Three Billboards and The Shape of Water disturbing, but otherwise great list as always Christy!

    •  by  Johnny Buck

      Walking home alone at night and sensing someone is following you is disturbing.
      Someone not having some movies you happen to like on their list might be disappointing. But it’s a bit of a stretch to call it disturbing.

  5.  by  Kenny

    I am behind this year. Dunkirk and LadyBird the only two I have seen. I enjoy and follow your reviews. Keep up the good work.

  6.  by  Will

    What is your pick for most overrated title of the year? I enjoyed The Big Sick when I first saw it (I gave it an A), but I’d say it’s lost much of its luster since then. In addition, have you had a chance to see Faces, Places or A Fantastic Woman yet, and if so, what are your thoughts?

  7.  by  Krishna

    Surprised at your War for the Planet of the Apes pick. The music in this one is hauntingly beautiful for sure. Movie is good too. Not great. I am at 50% of the list. Coming back to India I am left with no prospects of seeing some of them until the blu ray comes out. Another great year for movies. Looking forward to your Oscar winner picks.

  8.  by  Geoff

    I’m so glad Raw is getting the attention it deserves. I’m eagerly awaiting Call Me By Your Name’s release in Minneapolis.

  9.  by  Larry

    a few of those end of year Oscar bait movies haven’t opened in SF yet. So I can’t comment on The Post or Phantom Thread.
    Some of my faves are Three Billboards, The Shape of Water, Logan, and Wind River

  10.  by  Reed

    Killing of a Sacred Deer would have to be in my Top Ten. Three Billboards also.

  11.  by  Acrylic Sweater

    All of the movies above, are slick and cool, and happening. No doubt. I ask myself, what was the stand out experience of a movie, for me in 2017? And it’s a kind of movie, that would never make it into any top ten, on any successful movie critics top-ten list. So, just a shout-out for a small movie project in 2017, that I thought had packed a decent punch. No one is ever going to mention a little movie from earlier in 2017 (i.e. well, well, well in advance of the ‘window’ for awards-centric movie releases), called ‘Gold’ starring Mathew McConaughey. I liked the movie, because it actually tells a story about it’s subject matter in a manner that it was meant to be told. And you know, because the actors involved in the production, seem to be enjoying the acting task and the characters. I can’t help thinking however, that one couldn’t have a small movie like ‘Gold’, without having ‘big television’ productions (things like ‘Narcos’ and the long-form, carefully drawn out, character development in those productions). Movies left to movies’ own devices, in the past before ‘big television’, would never have dared even to venture in the depths and darkness of the characters who are in the movie ‘Gold’. In days gone by, it was assumed that an audience didn’t want to know as much about the various dimensions, layers and development of a character, as one tends to see sometimes now in television.

    The story of 2017, the actual and basic, honest story about 2017, I think is that one can sense how ‘big television’ is having a impact at the level of the small movie production. And that ‘line’ is sort of blurred now. It’s not uncommon to see the same actors who work in very high quality television production, also doing more low-budget, cut-down, streamlined and lean movie making projects on the side. The movie ‘Gold’ from early 2017, was the stand out production for me. It was a gut wrenching experience to watch. I didn’t see the twist at the end. One has a character played by McCaughey who all through the movie, is supremely confident and knows all the angles. And the ‘reveal’ in the final act, is that his character was fumbling around in the dark, not knowing half of it, for the entire time. That kind of strange twist in a movie, at the end, is a classic eight episode, ten episode long-form television ploy, to generate drama. Like one would see in series like ‘House of Cards’ or similar. But, what the ‘Gold’ movie shows is that one can take the technique, re-discover it, and apply it in a context of movies and it’s character development, or narrative too. Most of all, I’m a sucker for movies that don’t need to ‘say it’, or ‘talk it’ (criticisms that I’ve heard mentioned on Sorkin in directorial debut spring to mind), . . . and instead of saying or doing it, they simply rely on a sound track or something, to say it. In the manner in which Sergio Leone’s movies would have done. And ‘Gold’ is one of those movies, that displays economy in that sense. The best part, about McConaughey’s character is that he didn’t over-explain himself. In fact, that’s the whole point. By the end of the movie, we’re aware of the fact, he wasn’t clued into his surroundings at all.

  12.  by  Rafael Silva de Alencar

    What are your horonable mentions? I would include “Blade Runner 2049” and “The last Jedi” as one of the best movies of the year as well.

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  14.  by  Saxon Plesko

    Surprised to see Good Time on this list. I remember watching the What the Flick review when it came out, and it didn’t seem like you liked it this much. I totally agree though it’s also my fourth favorite of the year. Also great list can’t wait for your top three to make it to my theater!