Top Ten Films of 2017 – by Media Matters reviewers
Vic’s Top Ten Films of 2017
Counting down, in a year of great films made by and about women:
10. Their Finest – In a year when, for the first time, my top-ten list includes two films written and directed by women, as well as eight films with a female protagonist, it’s appropriate to begin with a film about the role of women in filmmaking (and in WWII Britain generally). Written by Gaby Chiappe and directed by Lone Scherfig, Their Finest stars Gemma Arterton as a screenwriter for a 1940 propaganda film about the retreat from Dunkirk. It’s much more fun, and more insightful, than Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.
9. Molly’s Game – Aaron Sorkin is, in my opinion, the best screenwriter out there. This time he also directs. Even without a subject that interests me or a particularly sympathetic protagonist, Sorkin won me over with this riveting, fast-paced and intelligent film. Based on true events, Molly’s Game stars Jessica Chastain in a terrific performance as Molly Bloom, a woman arrested by the FBI for running an illegal gambling establishment. Idris Elba, also terrific, plays Charlie Jaffey, the only lawyer willing to take her case.
8. The Post – Steven Spielberg’s latest film is one of the very few he has made with a female protagonist. With Meryl Streep in the role of Kay Graham, the owner/publisher of the Washington Post who goes up against Nixon’s White House in 1971, Spielberg could hardly go wrong. Having Tom Hanks on board as Ben Bradlee, The Post’s executive editor, doesn’t hurt. The Post is another vital film about the changing role of women in the workplace (not to mention the role of the media in holding governments accountable).
7. downsizing – Perhaps the most underrated film of the year, Alexander Payne’s downsizing stars Matt Damon as Paul Safranek, a man who decides to try downsizing (to the height of five inches) and moving to an ideal miniaturized community as a way to refresh his stagnant life. He regrets that decision until he meets Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau, who is marvellous). A profound, original and humanizing film about how to live in an unsustainable world.
6. A Fantastic Woman – Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman stars Daniela Vega in a sublime performance as Marina Vidal, a trans woman in Chile who is treated abominably after the sudden death of her boyfriend. Gorgeously-filmed, this timely heartfelt story is told with wisdom and compassion.
5. Loveless – Another bleak and thought-provoking film by Andrey Zvyagintsev, the director of Leviathan, Loveless offers a commentary on life in Russia today with this tale of parents hunting for their missing 12-year-old son. This haunting, beautiful, brilliantly-acted film focuses on the trials of the mother, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak).
4. Lady Bird – Greta Gerwig wrote and directed this warm, funny and insightful coming-of-age drama about ‘Lady Bird’ (Saoirse Ronan), a headstrong but insecure seventeen-year-old in her last year of high school in Sacramento who is struggling in her relationship with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). Featuring two of the year’s best performances, Lady Bird is full beautifully-drawn and sympathetic characters.
3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Described as the angriest film of the year, Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards is also the most imaginative, humanizing and redemptive film of the year. Frances McDormand is sensational as Mildred Hayes, a grieving woman who puts pressure on the chief of police (Woody Harrelson) to find her daughter’s killer, and Sam Rockwell is phenomenal as an angry officer who wants to put Mildred behind bars.
2. Blade Runner 2049 – Denis Villeneuve continues to impress, making a sequel of one of my all-time-favourite films that is almost as good as the original. This slow-paced, intelligent and captivating sci-fi masterpiece stars Ryan Gosling as K, a replicant (robot) in a post-apocalyptic California whose discovery that replicants can give birth will lead him to Deckard (Harrison Ford) and to questions about what it means to be human. Too much redemptive violence, but such a wonder to watch on the big screen.
1. The Florida Project – This gorgeously-shot slice-of-life drama concerns the life of precocious six-year-old Moonee (Brooklyn Prince, who is amazing) and her struggling young mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), who live day-to-day in a garish motel near Disney World. Willem Dafoe is superb as Bobby, the inspiring motel manager. Profound independent filmmaking at its very best, Sean Baker’s jaw-dropping film is wonderfully humane and humanizing, finding little pieces of beauty in an ugly heartbreaking setting.
Gordon Houser’s Top 10 films of 2017
While there were many good films this year—and many more I was unable to see—none stood out quite like Moonlight did last year. My order and what’s on my list might change on another day, but for now, here are my top 10:
1. I Am Not Your Negro. This incisive documentary was released in 2016 but was unavailable to most people until this year. Director Raoul Peck includes footage of James Baldwin and others as he envisions a book project Baldwin left unfinished that explores the African-American experience in modern America.
2. Graduation. Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, one of my favorite directors, presents the complex moral choices of a doctor in post-Soviet Romania as he seeks to make sure his daughter graduates from high school with good enough scores to gain admittance to a college in England and escape Romania. But all kinds of challenges occur. The film is not only a suspenseful story but explores philosophical questions of ethics, freedom, death and meaning.
3. Mudbound. This hard-hitting epic, set in rural Mississippi in the 1940s, delves into the lives of two families, one white and one African-American. It shows the dehumanizing drain of daily racism as well as its sudden, alarming violence. The title captures the suffocating muck of poverty and how slowly change happens.
4.Lady Bird. A fiery mother-daughter relationship is at the center of this film by Greta Gerwig, who also wrote the excellent screenplay. The daughter’s rebellion and the mother’s relentless criticism eventually lead to an emotionally satisfying resolution that just borders on being too tidy.
5.Get Out. First-time director Jordan Peele uses some typical tropes of the horror genre but subverts them to create a story that comments on white supremacy and the devaluation of black life. Peele seeks to debunk the myth of a postracial America. His film brings to light the harsh reality of how African-American lives are viewed in this country.
6.The Florida Project. Director Sean Baker follows 6-year-old Moonee and her friends as they make mischief during a summer in a low-budget motel in the shadows of Disney World. Halley, Moonee’s mother, survives mainly on welfare and struggles to get by. The film refuses to romanticize poverty but forces us to see its ugliness alongside the empty glitz of Florida’s commercialism.
7.A Ghost Story. This original film uses long takes and careful camera work to show a lonely couple in a house. The man dies in a car wreck (not shown) and becomes a ghost, shown as a sheet with eyeholes. Director David Lowery explores the afterlife without offering answers but raising questions that haunt us.
8.A Quiet Passion. This quiet film tells the story of American poet Emily Dickinson from her early days as a young schoolgirl to her later years as a reclusive, unrecognized artist. The film includes pieces from her poetry and is itself a poetic work. Terence Davies’ direction and Cynthia Nixon’s performance are outstanding.
9. Dunkirk. You will likely see no more suspenseful film this year than this. It tackles the heroic, messy and tragic attempt to rescue 330,000 British troops in May 1940 from the shores of Dunkirk across the channel to England. Christopher Nolan’s camera keeps you with his characters on land, sea and air as they try to survive attacks from German warplanes.
10. The Post. This well-made film tells the story of how The Washington Post came to publish excerpts from Daniel Ellsberg’s classified reports that showed how the U.S. government had been lying about its involvement in the Vietnam War. It particularly looks at the courage of owner Katherine Graham in choosing to publish in the face of threats of prison. I’m a sucker for films that show the importance of the press, and this one is particularly relevant today. But it’s a bit too didactic, even though I liked its message.
Matthew Kauffman Smith’s Top 10 Films
10. Win it All. Deep? Hardly. But this Netflix original about a gambling addict who accepts a challenge to babysit thousands of dollars, is funny, suspenseful and entertaining.
9. Wonder. I will admit a home-court advantage on this one. I never read the book, but my 11-year-old daughter has, and we saw the movie together. She liked the story of Auggie, a boy who has undergone 27 plastic surgeries who starts public school for the first time. I liked it too.
8. Thor: Ragnarok. Yes, I know. Thor is in my top 10. Art? No. But it’s witty, charming, and far exceeded my expectations in a year where a lot of movies didn’t live up to my expectations.
7. Columbus. Like The Florida Project and Dunkirk, this is a beautifully filmed, slow burner of a movie. The difference is that Columbus spends more time on character’s back-stories to give us more context.
6.Uncertain. A super mellow, super interesting documentary about the citizens of Uncertain, Texas, population 94. It’s a place of dead ends, beginnings and redemption.
5. Spider-Man: Homecoming. As far as superhero movies go, I was rooting for Wonder Woman to be the superior movie. But Vic Thiessen’s review of Wonder Woman is spot on: preaching love and acting out in violence makes no sense. Spider-Man: Homecoming succeeds in showing Peter Parker realizing his power and his attempts to learn no to abuse it.
4. Kedi. This isn’t just a 90-minute You Tube cat video. This documentary about feral cats in Turkey is a feel-good movie about how animals and cats need each other (but let’s face it: cats need us less – they just make us think we’re useful).
3. The Big Sick. A romantic comedy that turns stereotypes on their ear. It’s well written, poignant, and funny.
2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This did exactly what the middle movie in a trilogy should do: build on the last one, keep the audience guessing, and leave us wanting more.
1. The Post. I would pay to see Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, First Amendment: the Musical! Luckily, this was much better and shows what the lost art of journalism can be.
Movie buffs: we especially invite you to share this great list for our fans who love having ideas for their movie-watching queues, and for tips for youth groups or others looking for analysis of current films for discussion nights etc.