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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.

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