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The Film Stage’s Top 50 Films of 2017

Written by on December 30, 2017 

10. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)


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)


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)


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)


“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)


“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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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 50 Most Overlooked Films of 2017


The Best Cinematography of 2017


The Best Scores and Soundtracks of 2017


The Best Directorial Debuts of 2017


The Best Documentaries of 2017


The Best Double Features of 2017


10 Wide Releases in 2017 That Exceeded Expectations


The Best Movie Posters of 2017


Follow our complete year-end coverage.

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