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Ryan Swen’s Top 10 Films of 2017

Written by on January 1, 2018 

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Appropriately enough for one of the oddest years in recent memory, my favorite films from 2017 are a motley, often contradictory mix. They reflect something that can only be described a general malaise in the world cinema, which created many fine films but few standouts.

Moreso than in years past, even the films that quickened my heart usually did so in subtle, perplexing ways, and many of the most fascinating works, such as The Human Surge, By the Time It Gets Dark, and Kékzakállú, to name three magnificent whatsits that didn’t crack the upper echelon of my list, were also largely frustrating and confounding.

Perhaps this accounts for the unexpected presence of not just one, but three franchise films on the following list: the perfect balance of quality and genuine daring was often found in the oddest places this year. One exceedingly important and noteworthy exclusion: Twin Peaks: The Return, the finest work of art this year and which firmly belongs to the realms of both film and television, would easily be at number one were it not for my deference to the theatrical commercial release model.

Honorable Mentions

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10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson)

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Perhaps the most audacious series of gambits this year (certainly in franchise filmmaking) came late, in the form of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Jettisoning much of the established conventions and narrative structures, Rian Johnson orchestrated a daring four-part narrative, moving between intersecting, asynchronous tales of disappointment and the balance between hope and evil. It is a genuinely exciting and innovative new chapter in the closest thing modern society has to myth, while delivering some moments of levity and pain along the way.

9. BPM (Beats Per Minute) (Robin Campillo)

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Some of the most vibrant, politically charged filmmaking of the year was found in BPM (Beats Per Minute), Robin Campillo’s lively account of ACT UP Paris activists in their fight to secure better treatments and recognition for AIDS victims. While the scenes of dialectical meetings discussing strategies are the most thrilling, the gradual shift from overt protesting to more quiet acts of subversion via an intense relationship is rendered with a strong vitality. Sex, politics, and partying all go hand in hand, while never eliding the reality and danger of its remarkable ensemble cast’s collective affliction and struggle.

8. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Paul W.S. Anderson)

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The cause célèbre franchise of the vulgar auteurism movement took its curtain call with a return to the series’ horror roots on three fronts: the narrative, the setpiece, and the form. The most furiously edited film of the year, it moves and rushes with an inexorable kineticism buoyed by Anderson and Milla Jovovich’s singular drive and sense of purpose. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter overwhelms, but it does so with uncommon, awe-inspiring vigor and craft that earns an unexpected sense of transcendence, literalized in the finale to the finale.

7. The Post (Steven Spielberg)

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Equal parts rousing and intelligent, Steven Spielberg’s continued late-period interest in historical procedurals manifested itself this year with The Post, an account of the Washington Post’s defiance of the Nixon Administration through its publishing of the Pentagon Papers. The modern-day parallels are impossible to ignore, but it is at its very best in its master auteur’s uncommonly vigorous direction, which delights in the thrill of the chase and investigation. It is perhaps fitting that what would conventionally be the climax – the court decision – is almost an after-thought: the act of publishing, of relaying information, is what matters.

6. Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (S.S. Rajamouli)

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Though it functions neatly as the second part to the 2015 blockbuster, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion is in many ways a departure, almost entirely for the better. The non-stop insane action that defined its predecessor is eschewed for much of the first film, as S.S. Rajamouli crafts an utterly unexpected and exquisite royal tragedy that shifts through court politics, backstabbing, and even romantic comedy. The predominance of the flashback only renders the all-out war of the finale that much more awe-inspiring, and the assuredness of the whole film feels like witnessing a myth being made in the present tense.

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