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Jared Mobarak’s Top 10 Films of 2017

Written by on January 3, 2018 

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We pretty much knew last year’s Best Picture Oscars race was coming down to La La Land and Moonlight right after the completion of the Toronto International Film Festival in September. But while there’s something to be said about the strength of films able to ascend to frontrunner position, I can’t help loving the idea of heading into March without a clue as to who might win. Ask ten different critics what their favorite of 2017 is and I’d estimate hearing at least eight unique titles. There’s a level of excitement to this reality that we frankly haven’t had in quite some time. It’s anyone’s game.

Unlike past years where the safe nominees were lacking that sense of out-of-nowhere creativity and pathos beyond tried-and-true molds, 2017’s field is inspiring in its diversity. And those twenty or so films with a real chance at a nomination are legitimately good. I remember there being years where my top ten was devoid of even one true Oscar contender and now I could feasibly see five or more of the following fifteen films making it to the show.

There are seasoned veterans, debuting newcomers, genre flicks, female-led narratives, LGBT-led narratives, women directors, and POC directors all worthy of inclusion. Whether or not the ones that do get honored ultimately reflect this deep talent pool, know that many will stand the test of time as modern classics regardless. Molds are being broken and audiences are gradually embracing the new voices leading the charge. It’s been a true joy to both watch it happen and remain optimistic it will continue from here.

Notable films I sadly missed: Phantom Thread, Foxtrot, Song to Song, My Happy Family, All the Money in the World, God’s Own Country, Loveless

Honorable Mentions

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10. Thelma (Joachim Trier)

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Joachim Trier delivers one of the most startlingly bleak openings in recent memory as Thelma‘s glimpse at difficult revelations yet to come tightens its vice-like grip. While the resulting coming-of-age tale proves supernatural in aesthetic, its resonant look at an adolescent breaking free of prejudiced constraints contains universally authentic themes. Nature and nurture collide as the power of embracing one’s own identity potently defeats the suppression through conformity ideal forced upon them. Whether a result of religion, race, gender, or sexuality, society will imprison psychologically with fear and hate. To realize you’re not the cancer in your own life is to therefore render those prisons into chrysalises and augment your escape with the strength to change the world.

9. Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes)

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You may not peg Todd Haynes as a children’s film director—and the box office shows few parents did—but Wonderstruck quickly reveals itself as a perfect vehicle for the auteur. This adaptation of Brian Selznick’s Scholastic book is ultimately a culmination of Haynes’ career with formal eccentricity (two-thirds is a silent film), period aesthetic (half takes place in the 20s and half the 70s), and a stop-motion animated sequence depicting flashbacks. It’s about family and identity, history and “the movies.” Bring your kids to ease them into silent era classics and stay for its parallel, heartfelt (and fantastical) adventures towards independence, inclusion, and closure.

8. A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies)

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Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion spans decades and yet feels less like an Emily Dickinson biopic than a portrait for gallery exhibit. Its series of personal vignettes is accompanied by her poetry, each glimpse packed with emotion, intelligence, and a hint of despair. The visuals are beautiful period reenactment lit with delicate drama, the performances deeply human and complex despite their aristocratic machinations. Davies paints Dickinson with a brush of honesty—a virtue her character holds above all others, a vice turning her coldly pessimistic as the world outside her physical and psychological exile of home becomes ruled by selfishness. And Cynthia Nixon shines with regality, wit, and authenticity, fearlessly portraying this legend’s faults as equally important to her strengths.

7. It Comes at Night (Trey Edward Shults)

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There’s nothing scarier than mankind’s potential to destroy itself. This is the message behind Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes at Night—an intelligent slow burn of a post-apocalyptic thriller revealing how a high-concept danger lurking outside is never more potent than the monster lying within. Fear makes us unpredictable as survival hardens us beyond repair. You can live knowing death waits because life itself must be stifled to prolong that fate. Hope is therefore a weapon that softens vigilance, dismantles trust, and makes way for an evil we barely hold at bay. Life can become a gift we no longer deserve to keep.

6. Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd)

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As gorgeous as any period film, William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth is also ten times more brutal. Gone are ballroom dances and awkward smiles of growing love because there’s no need to dress up an era of overt patriarchy and human property with romanticism. He provides reality’s harshness instead through the empowerment of a woman wresting back her freedom before inevitably seeing her position as victim corrupted into one of oppressor. It’s a chillingly bold depiction of souls weighed by a system erected by men rather than Gods. Innocence is lost to darkness as an unforgettable performance from Florence Pugh psychologically scars us in its drama like few horror films ever could.

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