Any year in which I see even just one film that blows me away, I consider being a “good” year in film. Looking back on 2017, I can once again re-affirm this belief to be true. From the smart, big-scale event movies from stylish auteurs, to the unexpected indie breakouts that also counted as those directors’ debut feature films, to dazzling Awards-aimed movies that left me totally floored, I am happy to say that this year in film was as powerful as it was eclectic. Below are the top ten films that defined the year in movies for me, and ones that I hope you’ll consider checking out.
10. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
I’m including I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore on this list for a few reasons. Foremost, it holds a special place in my heart as it was the Grand Jury Prize winner (Sundance’s top award) that I managed to see at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Also, I don’t believe everyone saw this wacky blood-bath of a movie, which I’d love to put on more people’s radars. The directorial debut from Macon Blair is a mash-up of Tarantino wit and violence but also manages to be a truly funny and heartfelt movie with a fantastic lead performance from Melanie Lynskey. An excerpt from my original review below:
Macon Blair’s comedy-thriller I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore won the coveted Grand Jury Prize after leaving audiences in stitches with its raucous tonal mixings of genuinely side-splitting comedy and shock-violence action that plays like an indie grindhouse comedy. [It’s] a true belly laugh of a film, and the perfect choice for when you want to watch a weirdly hilarious and insane movie.
Read our full ‘I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore’ review here.
9. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton
I first saw Man on the Moon, the 1999 Andy Kaufman biopic starring Jim Carrey as the late-comedian, in high school. But what I, along with everyone else who saw that film, didn’t see were the lengths that Carrey went through to play Kaufman, as when the cameras would cut, he would continue to “be” Kaufman in a performance that bordered between method and madness. Now a new documentary, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, reveals the previously unseen footage that was shot behind-the-scenes in which Carrey’s reality-bending antics disrupted the production at every turn. Countered with a present-day and very-bearded Carrey, in which he entertains the idea that his eccentric aspirations served as fantasy escape at a time when Carrey’s star power was burning brightest, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond is more than a making-of movie; it’s one of the most interesting explorations of an artist and ego exploring identities and how we construct them. And with Carrey in the driver’s seat, it’s hilarious.
Read our full ‘Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond’ review here.
8. Lady Bird
I might have related to Lady Bird more than any other film this year and looking at its numbers to date, I know I’m not alone. The debut feature film from director Greta Gerwig received the year’s highest Rotten Tomatoes rating and has edged ahead of last year’s Best Picture winner, Moonlight, to also become A24’s highest grossing film. The semi-autobiographic story of a spunky high school senior is one of the most sincere, funny, and heartfelt films of the year – just like Gerwig herself. An excerpt from my original review below:
“Lady Bird is infectiously funny and so pure-spirited that it will leave you emotionally complete. The laughs ring true, and so does the heartache and despondency. If directorial debuts are the best revelation of the true spirit of the filmmaker, then it should come as no surprise that Greta Gerwig’s first feature film soars.”
Read our full ‘Lady Bird’ review here.
7. Baby Driver
Edgar Wright returned to the big screen this year to make his biggest studio movie to date, which was also one of the most impossibly cool films I saw in theaters all year. An adrenaline-pumping asphalt-burner from the opening scene, Baby Driver tells the story of Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young getaway driver who’s a devil behind the wheel, but only when he queues up the perfect song on his iPod for his car chases – an element that Wright has endless fun playing with as he himself is known for creating perfect musical moments in his films. If you didn’t catch this blisteringly cool film in theaters, then I recommend queuing up Baby Driver as soon as you can – and sitting as close to the screen as you can when you do. Don’t forget to buckle up.
Read our full ‘Baby Driver’ review here.
I missed seeing this documentary at the Sundance Film Festival (where it would go on to win the Grand Jury Prize in the Documentary category). I subsequently proceeded to miss it when it screened at LA’s NEXT Fest (presented by Sundance), and finally missed all of the film’s press screenings. When I finally got my hands on a screener DVD (thank you, anonymous Academy member), I expected that I had missed my opportunity to see this film play in the best setting possible. What I soon realized as I began watching this gem of a film is that the magic of Dina, a documentary following an eccentric woman and her evolving relationship with a Walmart door-greeter, is in its intimacy, which resonates in settings of all sizes. Dina is beautiful in both its visuals – it’s restricted and locked down camera with zero movement makes it feel so deliberate as to feel like a narrative comedy – and in its breakthrough story revealing the human condition of wanting to find love, and be loved in return.
5. Get Out
I didn’t get around to seeing Get Out for what was likely weeks after word-of-mouth had already surrounded the film. But when I finally headed to theaters to see it, I was stunned to see that first-time feature filmmaker Jordan Peele had masterfully executed this horror flick for the masses, expertly blending the very best cinematic elements to create one of the most fearless, bonkers, head-spinningly inventive films of the year. Get Out also aspired to be more than throwaway popcorn-entertainment, wrapping up a silly scary movie premise in a politically-relevant message that successfully transports audiences of all kinds and colors into the experience of being a person of color in today’s America, which can bring a profound helplessness that is the scariest experience of all.
It’s no revelation to say that Christopher Nolan is one of the most important people making movies of our time. The mind behind such grandly ambitious blockbuster films as The Dark Knight trilogy as well as wildly inventive films of Kubrickian inspiration such and Interstellar, Nolan continues to advance the art form with each film he makes. Dunkirk is just the latest example of what makes a Nolan film absolutely brilliant: complex narrative structure, in-camera action sequences, and all captured on the biggest film cameras made while still being four-quadrant films. Telling this war story of helpless British forces awaiting rescue in triptych fashion, capturing three different moments of time in three different time relations makes Dunkirk a gamble of a story. It should be recognized that Dunkirk stands as the most riveting, most immersive, most ambitious film of the year.
Read our full ‘Dunkirk’ review here.
3. Call Me By Your Name
Based on the novel of the same name, Call Me By Your Name manages to do the impossible things that often make a novel so unique and special, which is to bring the subtleties of the page to life in such a detailed and exact way that it not only elicits the tone but creates an intimate experience between reader and material. Taking place over one summer in the Italian countryside in 1983, the film follows young teen (Timothée Chalamet) as he finds himself slowly courting the older student (Armie Hammer) who comes to stay with his family to study under his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), and finds the feelings are soon reciprocated. Moments of shared bike rides, swims, and more deliver some of the finest moments captured in film. Stuhlbarg gives one of the best final monologues in film, Hammer has never been better, and Chalamet delivers a brilliant performance that should usher him into being one of tomorrow’s brightest stars. One of the most beautiful films of the year in both visuals and story, Call Me By Your Name is one of the finest made films of the year.
Read our full ‘Call Me By Your Name’ review here.
2. Phantom Thread
Paul Thomas Anderson (known simply as PTA by his fans) seems to draw straight from the well of pure cinema when he makes his films, leaving me an intoxicated mess each time (making him the best bartender in town for my money). From the very first frames of his latest film, Phantom Thread, I felt myself turning into pure mush, each frame of his high fashion couture world more beautifully composed than the next. Set in the fine, posh world of post-war London (a full swivel away from the pot-stenched Gordita Beach of his last film, Inherent Vice), Phantom Thread is PTA’s most reduced story in quite some time. At its simplest, it’s a love story between a man – renowned yet obsessive dressmaker Reginald Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) – and a woman – beguiling waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps) who he meets during a stop in the countryside. But like any PTA film, there’s so much more than meets the eye, thematically and otherwise. Beyond this classic love story that evokes the classic feel of a David Lean or Hitchcockian romance, exacted with beautiful camera composition (in which PTA assumes camera operating duties) and captivating performances (Day-Lewis’ final film, if you believe his retirement claims), is a creeping darkness and growing tension that leaves a mysterious and lasting impression that still occupies my mind. Like all PTA films, it’s one that I know that I will be returning to multiple times.
1. The Florida Project
Imagine if The Little Rascals took place within a string of budget motels located outside Disney World and you have The Florida Project, the most triumphant statement on childhood since 2014’s Boyhood. Following a group of youngsters over one unsupervised summer as they run, play, and altogether cause mischief around the extended stay motels where they live, writer and director Sean Baker’s second feature film is a masterful exercise in dichotomy. Juxtaposing beautiful moments of kids running towards rainbows and celebrating fireworks in the low-income environment where vices and dangers loom large, Baker reveals the fantasy against the harsh reality of their lives. Willem Dafoe, as maintenance worker Bobby, is subtle and stunning. But it’s the spunky six-year-old Brooklynn Prince who steals the show as spirited youngster Moonee, whose boundless energy reminds us that the make-believe and innocence of childhood inevitably ends, but should be cherished while it’s here.
Read our full ‘The Florida Project’ review here.
Honorable Mentions: mother!, Jane, Logan Lucky
Not yet viewed: Good Time, The Square, Loveless