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The Film Stage’s Top 50 Films of 2017

Written by on December 30, 2017 

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For our most comprehensive year-end feature, we’re providing a cumulative look at The Film Stage’s favorite films of 2017. We’ve asked our contributors to compile ten-best lists with five honorable mentions — those personal lists will be shared in the coming days — and, after tallying the votes, a top 50 has been assembled. (For the first time ever, our #1 overall pick wasn’t #1 on anyone’s personal list, showing how collective of a choice it truly was.)

It should be noted that, unlike our previous year-end features, we placed no requirement on a selection being a U.S theatrical release, so you may see some repeats from last year and a few we’ll certainly be discussing more during the next. So, without further ado, check out our rundown of 2017 below, our complete year-end coverage here (including where to stream many of the below picks), and return in the coming weeks as we look towards 2018. One can also follow the below list on Letterboxd.

50. Uncertain (Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands)

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Located on the border of Louisiana and Texas, Uncertain (Population: 94) looks like the sort of place dreamed up in a novel, but directors Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands dig past the town’s quirky surface to find a series of rich and engrossing stories underneath. Profiling three different generations of men (a 21-year-old fighting addiction to gain independence; a middle-aged hunter trying to move on from his dark past; and a 74-year-old widower wanting to live out the twilight of his life in peace) living in town, Uncertain weaves their stories together, highlighting what they have in common while showing how much their place in life influences their own philosophies and attitudes. It’s an effective method that McNicol and Sandilands structure around an environmental crisis involving an invasive weed, a perfect symbol for the struggles these men face in their lives. Uncertain, much like the town itself, went largely unnoticed after its small, self-distributed release earlier this year, but it’s a film well worth seeking out, and the true definition of a hidden gem. – C.J. P.

49. Good Luck (Ben Russell)

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Ben Russell’s latest is an experiential document of contemporary gold mining practices and a transcendental ode to the valiant men who still carry out this arduous, anachronistic and seemingly absurd profession. Traveling from Serbia to Suriname, the film takes occasional detours into the sublime – for instance: to spectate an accordion rendition of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” performed in the deep, dark bowels of the Earth. – Giovanni M.C.

48. The Other Side of Hope (Aki Kaurismäki)

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What Kiarostami is to the front seats of a car and Bresson is to the prison, so Aki Kaurismäki is to the perennial mid-80s Helsinki; that dark, pastel-colored nowhere where everyone smokes and drinks and wears cheap suits. One of the many interesting things about The Other Side of Hope — a poignantly contemporaneous deadpan comedy, surely among the greatest of his 20-or-so features — is that the auteur plants a Syrian refugee named Khaled (Sherwan Haji) into the center of that backwards world, as if he were a walking anachronism. Hope is as contemporary and vital a film as you’re likely to find in 2017, but it’s also one of the funniest and most classically (not to mention beautifully) cinematic too. – Rory O.

47. In This Corner of the World (Sunao Katabuchi)

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Occupying a lyrical middle ground between social and magical realism, Sunao Katabuchi’s elegiac anime epic In This Corner of The World meditates on life during World War II-era Japan through the perspective of a young woman on the homefront. This is far from another misrerabilist time capsule, though. Buoyed by a spectacular art style that blends together Chibi-influenced character design, muted watercolor backgrounds, and exhaustive digital details, it’s a hypnotizing film as concerned with mundane routines and idyllic daydreams as the endless daily bombing evacuations. – Michael S.

46. Nathan for You: Finding Frances (Nathan Fielder)

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Wherein an opportunistic — some might cut deeper and just say “sadistic” — TV host uses his mind-bogglingly vast resources to help a friend, thus unwittingly or not (and I really have zero idea) unfurling the fabric of a four-season-long constructed reality. Complete with a song-and-dance number I’ll never forgot, much as I’ve tried. “Well, the years go by.” “They do.” “In the snap of a finger, they go by.” – Nick N.

45. The Untamed (Amat Escalante)

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There’s something dark and wonderful lurking in The Untamed, the brilliant, frightening, hyper-real erotic mystery from the mind of Mexican auteur Amat Escalante, whose Heli ruffled plenty of feathers at Cannes a few years back. Is the 37-year-old merely a provocateur? On the evidence of his latest film, clearly not. The plot (a strange extraterrestrial being that lurks in the woods grants ultimate pleasure) sounds like a schlocky drive-in science fiction flick, but the director heightens things immeasurably by expertly cultivating the visceral, aesthetic nowhere of a drug trip, as if the characters involved (and perhaps the viewer) are participating in some sort of communal high. – Rory O.

44. Raw (Julia Ducournau)

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It’s unfortunate that the marketing for a unique introspective coming of age film focused on the more horrific aspects of Raw. That’s the difficulty of a dark comedic tone that the film takes with appealing to a broader audience. Raw follows a young woman’s journey through veterinarian school in France where she is often lovingly tormented by her older, upperclassmen sister. It’s here where a taste for flesh is awakened in the young vegan and her life starts to spiral as she deals with balancing her burgeoning sex drive, studying, and fitting in along with an omnipresent school that more closely resembles a fortress. It’s a unique film with a lot of heart and a curious sense of humor that shouldn’t be missed this year. – Bill G.

43. Milla (Valérie Massadian)

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What is living a life? If life is a refraction of specific moments and repetition than the beauty of being given a body is in the loop of breath and how it changes as days pass. Valeria Massadian’s Milla is a stunning portrait of the quotidian nature of life and how it gives birth to larger or more staggering moments. In her film we get a sense of who Milla is and how her everyday decisions impact her life, at first a hazy recollection on the timelessness of romance bursts apart when cause and effect bring motherhood, death and music. Cinema as humanity. – Willow M.

42. Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

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Like Andrey Zvyagintsev’s last movie, Leviathan, his latest takes headlines for another excoriating look at contemporary Russia and the simmering resentment beneath its imperious, corrupt social structures. True and relevant as that is, it’s not what makes Loveless another masterpiece. The director’s pitiless gaze at the ruinous breakdown of a marriage and the disappearance of a child concerns more with the moral pit of modern humanity, run riot at want of things – sex, money, fashion, power – but not of love. Filmed with icy precision in cold, anonymous Moscow, with some of the year’s best cinematography – by Zvyagintsev regular Mikhail Krichman – the film is upfront, provocative and, in its bitterly satirical testimony of the decay of Russian cultural life, according to some critics blunt. But it’s in that vein that Zvyagintsev so powerfully confronts the domestic terror of the central missing-child drama. Really, Loveless is the great horror film of the year. – Ed F.

41. Western (Valeska Grisebach)

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Valeska Grisebach’s Western is this year’s Toni Erdmann. Both are third features by alumnae of the so-called, ever-fruitful Berlin School, both were snubbed by their respective Cannes juries despite easily outclassing most of the films they were up against, and both have emerged as year-end critical favorites across the globe. Oh yeah, one more parallel: they are both knock-out feats of filmmaking that will reignite your faith in cinema. – Giovanni M.C.

40. World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts (Don Hertzfeldt)

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Don Hertzfeldt’s first World of Tomorrow short packed so much into its 17 minutes as to feel like a complete universe — what more could another installment offer? The endless reaches of memory and personality, as it turns out. Where the first film toured a mordant version of a future in which functional immortality and endless creative possibilities aren’t enough to satiate humanity’s innate void of intimacy, this one uses literal self-investigation to visit whole realms of personal regret, grief, and longing. And despite the bone-chilling existential probing, it remains utterly hilarious, half thanks to voice actress Julia Pott’s extraordinarily British prim dryness and half thanks to costar young Winona Mae’s bottomless creativity. – Dan S.

39. Tramps (Adam Leon)

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It’s the simplest of things: a love story between two young troublemakers set in Queens, New York. Directed by Adam Leon and starring the lovely Grace Van Patten and Callum Turner, this 80-minute gem is a comedy of errors for the modern set. Leon is so sure of his setting, so sure of his performances and so sure of his camera that every moment feels lived-in, earned, and effective. – Dan M.

38. Coco (Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina)

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Pixar’s best film in years, Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina’s Coco does what the studio does best: create rich, human stories with a range of deep emotions and textures. The vibrant story centers on a 12-year old Miguel, a rebellious musical from a family of shoemakers who have forbidden him from playing rock ‘n’ roll. Idolizing music legend and matinee idol Ernesto de la Cruz, he finds himself on the other side of the Day of the Dead in a film about culture, legacy, honor and remembrance. Operating in a similar mode to another film about love and loss, A Ghost Story, Coco is just as rich and striking a deep emotional cord as Miguel traverses time to unpack a forgotten family history. The vibrant land of the dead is matched in the realm of the living with uncanny detail and emotional accuracy, lovely music, and engaging plots and subplots. Its glorious visuals are perfectly matched with first-rate storytelling. – John F.

37. Logan (James Mangold)

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This is just good filmmaking, plain and simple. Every frame of Logan sings with historicity and maturation; caked in dust and blood, friends’ faces turned ashen and feeble, memories buried under sorrow and loss. After all this time, the exposure of six adamantium claws has never resonated so deeply, going beyond the shock of how viciously they cut flesh. This is the Wolverine I want, bellowing pure anguish as he is forced to resort to animalistic violence. For me, Logan is a superhero magnum opus, peeling back an iconic character to their core until all that remains is a wounded, beating heart. – Mike M.

36. Ta’ang (Wang Bing)

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In one of many astonishing shots in this film, a woman shelters a candle in her hand from the night wind, trying to keep its warmth and light alive. It’s a haunting metaphor for the film’s larger conflict, as it follows the plight of the Ta’ang people of Burma as they flee violence there to China. The swelling global tide of refugees is spawning more documentaries about them each year, but Ta’ang foregoes maudlin string-pulling or political grandstanding in favor of a blistering human element. Director Wang Bing’s roving eye seems to have a supernatural instinct for when to crawl in closer to or pull away from someone, or when to move on to a different subject. It’s the kind of two-and-a-half-hour film you could easily imagine watching for twice that amount of time. – Dan S.

35. God’s Own Country (Francis Lee)

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British filmmakers have a recent habit of bringing about canonical additions to UK queer cinema in their debuts. Andrew Haigh’s heartbreaking romance Weekend and Hong Khaou’s moving Lilting are now joined by Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country, a bold and brilliant drama rightfully garnering Brokeback Mountain comparisons out of its Sundance debut. Anchored by a quartet of heartfelt performances and tapping into zeitgeisty conflicts between working-class England and growing EU immigration, it’s hard to imagine a more bracingly open-hearted film coming out of Brexit Britain today. – Ed F.

34. Foxtrot (Samuel Maoz)

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A couple grieves the loss of their child, a group of adolescent soldiers ponder the sense of life spent waiting for war. Emerging therefrom is a contemplation on the Israeli fate both eloquent and uncommonly refined. Demonstrating tremendous narrative versatility that sees him switching gears between emotionally heightened chamber drama and lively, theatrically enhanced interludes, Maoz treats the sensitive subject matter with the gravity it deserves while using moments of levity or visual pizzazz to drive home his most intrinsic points. The breadth of the Jewish experience opened up by this tonal richness is kaleidoscopic, breathtaking. – Zhuo-Ning Su

33. Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins)

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As a child I loved spinning in my living room pretending I was Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman. I’d never have imagined I’d feel the same way in my 30s watching the big screen version of the Amazon princess’ story, and yet Patty Jenkins’ ode to the goodness of humanity did just that. Kudos to Gal Gadot for reminding us superheroes can have a sense of humor while they kick some major villain ass. – Jose S.

32. Staying Vertical (Alain Guiraudie)

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Being that this writer is reaching somewhat of a breaking point with contemporary festival films, with one after another usually combining the setting of a forest, magical realism and the hybrid of documentary and fiction… it’s nice to be both surprised, shocked and a little puzzled by an “art film” again. As Alain Guiraudie’s Staying Vertical, surely the strangest interrogation of heteronormativity and the creative process since Bret Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park, is welcomingly perverse, jagged and above all, belonging to a highly personal vision. – Ethan V.

31. Faces Places (Agnès Varda and JR)

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An irrepressible, freewheeling collaboration, Faces Places uses a simple concept – following legendary filmmaker Agnès Varda and the pseudonymous street artist JR as they travel the French countryside and put up large-scale photographs of its inhabitants – in order to explore an extraordinary range of humanity and emotion. Light-hearted and substantial, its prosaic method of presentation only enlivens the pairing of the octogenarian and the young raconteur, culminating in a beautiful moment of pure emotion that reflects its central aims: revelation via documentation. – Ryan S.

30. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh)

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There’s a reason Martin McDonagh can write a film like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri despite being a British playwright: he’s not writing America. He’s writing mankind circa 2017 through America. We are the angry townspeople screaming. We’re the posturing cowards who don’t actually care enough to act until our lives are affected. Anger begets more anger because we’ve lost the ability to answer it with anything else. There’s no redemption here. No vengeance. McDonagh’s damning treatise on 21st-century rhetoric’s rejection of responsibility is the blood-spewed rage we wield to combat the numbing guilt and hopeless despair consuming us whole. – Jared M.

29. The Work (Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous)

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Moment to moment, scene to scene, there was no film this year as emotional or visceral as The Work, a documentary about group therapy in Folsom Prison. Taking place over the four days in the year when civilians are allowed to undergo this experience with inmates, it is a collection of startling, often violent experiences, where men undergo unbearable waves of catharses and emotional exorcisms. Co-directors Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous skillfully navigate this interplay between facilitator, prisoner, and outsider while constantly emphasizing the achingly transformative power of intimacy. – Ryan S.

28. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas)

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The first text message movie. Kristen Stewart delivers a performance of masculinity and femininity within conflict as she works as a personal shopper for a movie star while she deals with the grief of her recently departed brother. Assayas camera lets Stewart control the frame with her entire body and injecting even her text message conversations with personality, like her dubious punctuation. Assayas choices to constantly reinvent the movie throughout from a fashion picture, to a ghost story and a murder mystery keeps viewers on their toes, but at the centre is Stewart who gives what is the best performance of her career to date in one of the best movies of the year. – Willow W.

27. Mudbound (Dee Rees)

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Someone told me Dee Rees’ gorgeous and profound Mudbound reminded him how crazy it is to think people treated others that way so close to his lifetime. He acknowledged the story’s historical significance while ignoring its mirrored glimpse at the present. This inherent naiveté reveals the film’s importance. At a time when Americans abuse patriotism as a weapon to divide, this blindness to what’s currently happening to minority populations only grows. Rees shows racism dissolving via empathy while the machismo of insecure men replenishes its fire to solidify oppression-rooted power. We watch humility save lives and privilege wrongly justify horror. Its brotherhood of men message transcends its “us versus them” narrative, exposing how blood is a symptom rather than cure. Enlightenment and salvation therefore arrive from escape—in recognizing your life as more than what’s in your veins. Greed moves beyond economics towards the psychological belief that your life matters more than a stranger, forgetting there’s a good chance a stranger will save it. Be that stranger because burying the past doesn’t negate today’s crucial battle. – Jared M.

26. The Square (Ruben Östlund)

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One of the year’s funniest films, Ruben Östlund’s The Square is a rare treat: a razor-sharp satire taking direct aim at populism, globalization, the art world, masculinity, experience, inexperience, race, high society, low society, and power dynamics. The film’s most famous scene–in which an ape-like performance artist turns on the museum’s high class donors is worth the price of admission alone–but only scratches the surface of this ambitious and soon to be infamous comedy that reflects the populist outrage it cooks up amongst the elites it take dead aim at. Claes Bang stars as Christian, the lead curator of a cutting-edge modern art museum in Stockholm who’s world suddenly gets turned upside down by both a missing smartphone and wallet and the opening a new exhibit whose central thesis is built on trust and individual rights. Östlund thrusts his lead into one absurd situation after another in a desperate act of self preservation after acting out – from idol threats to one night stands and poor marketing decisions. The Square may very well be what we use to explain to our kids how our new era of drive-it-like-you-stole-it populism came about. – John F.

25. Columbus (kogonada)

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A sure-handed debut if there ever was one and possibly the most beautiful film of the year. Directed by video essayist kogonada, the film concerns Jin (John Cho), a Korean-born man temporarily in Columbus, Indiana where his father lies in a coma. He befriends Casey (the superb Haley Lu Richardson), and the relationship that builds is complicated, kind and fascinating. Wrapped in the beautiful architecture of the town, Columbus quickly becomes transfixing, essential. – Dan M.

24. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)

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From today’s vantage it’s difficult not to see Lynne Ramsay’s scorching cri de cœur as a harbinger of the rage unleashed by the Weinstein revelations four months after the film’s Cannes premiere. And although prescience was a dubious cinematic asset even before the advent of click-bait headlines, if it actually gets people to watch this formidable film, then fuck it, here’s your headline: “You Were Never Really Here is the Most Prescient Film of 2017.” – Giovanni M.C.

23. The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro)

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Guillermo del Toro’s Shape of Water is the elegant love story he was born to make. It is obviously his best film since Pan’s Labyrinth, but one can go further: Shape is his finest effort to date. Consider the swoon-worthy look of it all, from the design of the amphibious creature to the sight of a grinning Sally Hawkins on her nightly bus journey. Consider, too, the performances of Hawkins, Doug Jones, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, and Michael Stuhlbarg. On paper, the plot — mute custodian falls for the aforementioned imprisoned creature during the Cold War — sounds stale and B-movie-ish. In del Toro’s hands, it is magical. Moment to moment, scene for scene, The Shape of Water is a glorious creation. Here is a film that reminds us why we so adore cinema in the first place. A remarkable achievement in all respects. – Chris S.

22. Ex Libris – The New York Public Library (Frederick Wiseman)

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Frederick Wiseman’s latest masterful dissection Ex Libris couldn’t be more blunt in its intentions. Yet it repeatedly finds generous new ways to reaffirm its central thesis. Over a Wiseman-standard three-and-a-half hours, the genius octogenarian and a team of operators with exceptional instincts skim through a dizzying number of branches of the New York Public Library, touching on everything the system of libraries offer from expected civic resources (e.g. educational tools for unprivileged communities) to the wealth of authors, musicians, and artists who speak nearly daily at its nearly hundred parts. But true to Wiseman’s style, the genius is less in scope than a consistently rewarding patience. Sections are patience-testing — and become bizarrely funny when the camera moves to audience members falling asleep listening to the same speech — but they all accumulate into something larger than its parts. By the end, Ex Libris is less an argument for the library as a necessary public institution than an inherent reminder of its place as an essential hub for knowledge and human potential. – Mike S.

21. Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve)

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Is it a real dog? If it looks real and acts like a dog, does it matter? Why don’t you ask it? Blade Runner 2049 scrutinizes the line between performance of a self and the existence of it — and whether there is one. Ultimately, it wonders whether simply believing in ones own humanity in turn establishes it — from “I think, therefore I am” to “I insist that I am.” It posits an epic poem as a mantra of affirmation, and likewise works on a mesmerizing, deliberate rhythm, giving each scene space to breathe its idea and add its own piece to its greater mosaic. And what a beautiful picture it is, Roger Deakins continuing to ascend to more masterful control of color and light. It’s more William Gibson than Phillip K. Dick, but all the better for it. – Dan S.

20. A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies)

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Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion is not just a biopic of poet Emily Dickinson. It’s one of our best directors working in top form, taking the anguish, joy, beauty, and pain of existence and rendering it through purely cinematic terms. It’s a showcase for Cynthia Nixon, whose performance is perfect in the way it captures Dickinson as a messy, imperfect, and wholly emotional being, one who longs for a satisfaction she knows she’ll never have. But above all, A Quiet Passion is an ode to Dickinson’s poetry and the struggle of life itself, where art can act as a solace for a world in desperate need for one. – C.J. P.

19. Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler)

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Poeticism meets a punch in the face. A savage and jaw-dropping descent into the bowels of hell, Brawl in Cell Block 99 also manages to be one of the strongest depictions of selfless love put to screen this year. Vince Vaughn is nothing short of a revelation, suppressing anger in his face until it quakes from his body with explosive force. Balancing buttery-smooth-yet molasses-rich dialogue with unforgettable images, Brawl presses its gnarly boot into your gut and stomps. It’s also the best title from this year, and I won’t tolerate any other contenders. Bring on Dragged Across Concrete. – Mike M.

18. Marjorie Prime (Michael Almereyda)

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Everything once-known turned opaque, mysterious, wondrous: the home as a den of memories; memories as a means of conjuring up names; names a full-force vector the joy and pain brought into our lives; lives as something to be preserved, even after the world outside has advanced remarkably, in a close space; a close space as the conduit for this year’s gentlest filmmaking; this year’s gentlest filmmaking in turn being its most consistently surprising. Received warmly upon release, to be venerated in decades to come. “I didn’t mean to make you sad.” “You didn’t. All I can think is, ‘How nice — how nice that we could love somebody.'” – Nick N.

17. Princess Cyd (Stephen Cone)

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For the majority of his career, Stephen Cone has made films about the intersection of identity and spirituality, but Princess Cyd is arguably the first wherein characters in crises of faith aren’t being threatened by their own community’s clashing values. It instead feels almost utopian — a forum for people to reckon with their own shifting beliefs and the ambiguity of the unknown. As represented by Jesse Pinnick and Rebecca Spence, respectively, the relationship between a niece and aunt becomes less about finding convergence than understanding the complexity of each other’s viewpoints. Faith and sexuality is less a matter of pat revelations than a greater holistic peace for these characters, and for the film as a whole. – Mike S.

16. Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan)

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Tossing his hat into an overstuffed genre, Christopher Nolan pitted himself against WWII masterworks for the sake of telling a relatively simple tale of heroism. In an arena already graced with Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line, and after more than a decade doling out the largely fantastical, bitingly real, and relatively small-scale, Dunkirk seemed a curious passion project for the big-budget auteur. Nolan, as he’s wont to do, extrapolates the beachfront standoff over three deftly managed timelines, and opens his film at a breakneck pace that never falters or slows. Taking a cue from Spielberg (à la Jaws, not Private Ryan), he renders the Nazis a faceless terror, characterized only by their destruction. The result is a raw chronicle of hard-won survival, and a film that stands as not only a masterpiece of the genre, but the sitting champion of Nolan’s oeuvre. – Conor O.

15. On the Beach at Night Alone (Hong Sang-soo)

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The immensely prolific and consistent master Hong Sang-soo had a breakthrough year, premiering three features to wide acclaim. The only one of these released in the same year, On the Beach at Night Alone, is also the most personal his work has ever been. Featuring professional and personal partner Kim Min-hee as an actress in seclusion after her affair with a well-known director, it is a simmering yet often gentle examination of the ways in which love can both unite and irreparably break. For someone that regards Hong as one of the great filmmakers of our time, it is gratifying, surprising, and immensely assured in so many undefinable, moving ways. – Ryan S.

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

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If 2017 has shown us something it’s that the personal is political, and no other film encompassed this in such a pithy, powerful way as Robin Campillo’s tribute to ACT UP. BPM (Beats Per Minute) shows what it was like to be an activist in the middle of the AIDS epidemic in the early 90s, but it also feels like a call to action for our days. No film in 2017 was sexier, more heartbreaking, and more inspiring. – Jose S.

13. mother! (Darren Aronofsky)

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Once the credits on mother! started to roll, I knew the film would provide a healthy conversation. When I showed up for our weekly podcast I wasn’t expecting one of our cohosts to literally get so frustrated with recanting his experience watching the film that he struggled to even voice his opinion beyond exasperation and we had to replace him before the podcast even started in proper. That’s when I knew it was, beyond a doubt, my favorite film of the year. From the eerie score and hypersensitive soundscape, to the way that the film unrelentingly follows star Jennifer Lawrence’s increasing displeasure in close-up, the film is one of the most audacious mainstream releases in years. And that was before an absolutely insane gonzo ending that has director Darren Aronofsky throwing everything at the audience, including the kitchen sink. This will be a film I can’t wait to show to others for years. – Bill G.

12. Song to Song (Terrence Malick)

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A cacophony, yes — images, sounds, faces (if there’s a commonality for viewers, it’s asking “is that…?” before someone quickly vanishes), locations, narrative strands, and forms (you probably forgot the sliver where a silent movie is interpolated into the movie’s dense web) — but to say so maybe obscures those micro wonders: sounds working in harmony with an image that anticipates the next cut that will take us to a logical endpoint, and back around again. If you’re into that sort of thing. I am, firmly, even when the wheels are threatening to spill right off, but that’s easy enough when it’s never without life, light, love, a roll and a tumble. At the point of rapture, it bellows: “I want you to love me, baby, or please let me be.” At a closure, or the impression of such, it croons: “Baby, it hurts; baby, it hurts; baby, it hurts to be alone.” – Nick N.

11. The Lost City of Z (James Gray)

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A sublime film steeped authentically in traditional cinematic grammar, The Lost City of Z is a textural wonder whose emphasis on a simple cut to convey meaning and feeling is likely unmatched this year. I can still feel the sunlight cutting between branches in the jungle, coated in the dense aural tinglings of flowing water and chirping insects. Filled with warmth and adventure, James Gray’s intimate epic stitches time and scenery into a divine sensory experience. In earnest, it is cinematic nirvana. – Mike M.

10. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)

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If Phantom Thread is truly Daniel Day-Lewis’ final role, as the actor has stated, one might imagine a physical and mental strain rupturing across the screen the likes of which we haven’t seen since Daniel Plainview. That Reynolds Woodcock exudes anything but those qualities is one of the many surprises Paul Thomas Anderson has in store with his sumptuous period drama. Although there’s an egomaniacal vein that runs through that character, an elite fashion designer, there’s also a sly tenderness and comedic warmth that gives startling life to this shape-shifting relationship drama. Deeply engrossing and playful as it seamlessly weaves between romantic, unsettling, funny, and back again, Phantom Thread is defined by the women in Reynolds’ life (played by the astounding Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville), and it’s a joy to see their three-way psychological game unfold. – Jordan R.

9. The Florida Project (Sean Baker)

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How, exactly, did Sean Baker do it? How did the director of Tangerine make this story of a mother and daughter living at a rundown motel outside of Disney World in Orlando so joyous, sad, and utterly insightful? Young star Brooklynn Prince, giving one of the most natural performances I’ve seen from a child, is essential to its success. And the great Willem Dafoe, of course, has never been better — or sweeter. But Baker deserves the highest praise. He has constructed a film about children and parents that is truly insightful. Does Moonee deserve better? Without question. But Baker shows that even in situations as messy as those depicted in The Florida Project, there can be deep love. And that counts for something. – Chris S.

8. Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello)

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Despite the terrorist protagonists who inhabit Nocturama, it’s not a story about terrorism. To describe the film as apolitical would be incorrect, but with its lushly vibrant style and relentless momentum, Nocturama asks towering questions while offering no answers. Instead, director Bertrand Bonello endows the film with a deliberate lack of emphatic expression, trusting in the intelligence of his audience, presenting us with a group of men and women who execute a brutal terrorist attack. They set off bombs and gun down seemingly innocent citizens in a hypnotic and largely dialogue-free sequence. But who are these so-called terrorists? After the attack, they escape to a shopping mall to hide out overnight, trapped together in a corporate consumer landscape. They steal clothes and blast music, an arrestingly eclectic selection of tracks ranging from Chief Keef and Shirley Bassey to Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair,” arguably the boldest needle-drop of 2017. Climaxing with a frigid and ruthless suspense sequence, Nocturama is a hauntingly mesmerizing and severely unsettling cinematic experience. – Tony H.

7. Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison)

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“Film was born of an explosive.” Director Bill Morrison constructs a living celebration of cinema primarily from silent films discovered underground up in Dawson City, a town on the Yukon River in northwest Canada. Aided by an unforgettable score by Alex Somers, Morrison connects the history of this once-boomtown with the creation of nitrate film, a very flammable starting point for movie-making. As we learn of this town, the people who lived there and what many of them would go on to do, Dawson City: Frozen Time feels less like a film and more like a time machine. – Dan M.

6. Twin Peaks: The Return (David Lynch)

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“The glow is dying.” What four words better summarized gloomy air hanging over this entire year? Yes, Twin Peaks: The Return was week by week a welcome respite from the real world this summer, but part of the work’s overall strength lies in its harsh reflection of the reality surrounding us. If anything, The Return can earn the label of “final statement,” because it seemed to encompass, for better or worse, all of life. – Ethan V.

5. Get Out (Jordan Peele)

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Social commentary has oft elevated the horror genre — to the point where the mantra “It’s about [insert spooky thing], but it’s really about [insert social/cultural issue]!” is not only expected, but tired. While horror fans lament the genre’s need to employ outside forces that are seemingly less horrifying in order to gain the appeal and respect of general audiences, Jordan Peele’s debut satisfies on all fronts. With an overt racial charge running throughout, there’s plenty to chew and reflect on, but he simultaneously proves to be a master of the genre alongside Romero, Carpenter and the like — forcing us (mostly white folks) into an awkward social situation, confronting the very real abject horror at its core, and becoming the new gold standard for the “it’s about this, but really about this” crowd. – Conor O.

4. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)

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Guadagnino gets it. With miraculous ease and intimacy, he maps a summer romance from the first tingles of anticipation to the pangs of memories marking a life changed. There’s no blame, twists or drama. Just moments of realization that have surprised and would ultimately define us. Boasting an immaculate technical team, a dream cast led by the phenomenal Timothée Chalamet and the timeless words by André Aciman/James Ivory, this all-around spellbinding picture lays bare the workings of the heart so beautifully you don’t watch so much as relive them. A bona-fide masterpiece of shattering tenderness and wisdom. – Zhuo-Ning Su

3. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)

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Immaculately scripted and evocatively realized, Lady Bird, writer-director Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, deftly captures the growing pains of adolescence through the eyes of a seventeen-year-old high school senior, caught between the realities of her daily life and the fantasies of her future. The heart of the film lies between Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) and her mother (Laurie Metcalf), whose contentious and warring relationship gradually reveals their inherent similarities. Packed with stunningly cast characters, beautifully quotable dialogue and painstaking attention to period detail, Lady Bird captures an arduous and ecstatic coming-of-age tone and feel with deeper emotionality than any other film in 2017. – Tony H.

2. A Ghost Story (David Lowery)

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The psychological weight of our certain death and the fact that life will go on long after we are departed is difficult to convey visually, but A Ghost Story is one of the most poignant films to ever grapple with this issue. It’s a singular feat of enthralling storytelling that I would say is going to leave a lasting impression centuries after everyone involved has passed away, but as Will Oldham (aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy) ponders in David Lowery’s micro-masterpiece, humanity will eventually perish. It’s not a comforting thought, to say the least, but A Ghost Story leaves enough room for the viewer to find peace in the reflection. – Jordan R.

1. Good Time (Josh and Benny Safdie)

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Like waking up to start your day in your dingy flat, only to realize you dosed three tabs of high-grade LSD before drifting off the night before; as the room shifts, your confusion rapidly develops into heart-thumping stress as you remember you have something really goddamn important to do today — life or death sorta stuff. This is the feverish, ultra-anxiety-inducing sensation that Good Time plunges viewers into from its opening seconds. A sort of cinema delirium, it pulses with a vibrant potency that reminds you film can grab you by the throat; I barely breathed, and I loved every second. – Mike M.

See more year-end coverage below:

The Best Performances of 2017

the-best-performances-of-2017

The 50 Most Overlooked Films of 2017

the-most-overlooked-films-of-2017

The Best Cinematography of 2017

the-best-cinematography-of-2017

The Best Scores and Soundtracks of 2017

best-scores-and-soundtracks-of-2017

The Best Directorial Debuts of 2017

best-directorial-debuts-of-2017

The Best Documentaries of 2017

documentaries-2017

The Best Double Features of 2017

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10 Wide Releases in 2017 That Exceeded Expectations

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The Best Movie Posters of 2017

best-posters-of-2017

Follow our complete year-end coverage.


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