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The Film Stage’s Top 50 Films of 2017

Written by on December 30, 2017 

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)

STAYING VERTICAL

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.

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