The Best Films of 2017 (According to E. Oliver Whitney)
It’s been a terrible year to live in, but thankfully, a rewarding one to slip away from for trips to the movie theater. The last 12 months have blessed us with a plethora of diverse stories, films with characters rarely explored in-depth onscreen, debuts that breathed life into stale genres, experimental works that dazzled and surprised, and relevant tales that sharply reflected the current state of our country. In 2017, I cried more in movies than I had in recent years, laughed harder, and even laughed while crying (you can credit James Franco for that one).
This being the time of year where all good things must be ranked, it’s time to condense things down to the ten best. While top 10 lists are always excruciating, this year was particularly difficult; I’ve been putting off writing this for weeks, delaying having to rank my top four picks, all films I love tremendously and could easily make the case for in the number one spot. So before I make my hundredth last-minute change to this list, here are the best films of 2017, plus honorable mentions that follow.
10. Good Time
Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie
Josh and Benny Safdie’s Good Time is the best and most exhilarating feel-bad movie of the year. I love a film that makes me feel something, whether it’s emotional, psychological, spiritual, or what have you; Good Time made me feel like I stepped into someone’s brain during a 99 minute-long bad acid trip, one that was so enthralling I couldn’t back away, like a rubbernecking masochist. Things go from bad to terrible to somehow even worse in the Safdies’ tense crime thriller, which follows a best-ever Robert Pattinson as a New York crook attempting to get his brother (Benny Safdie) out of jail over the course of one night. It’s a thrilling nightmare that leaves you feeling gutted and electrified.
Read our full review of Good Time.
9. Song to Song
Directed by Terrence Malick
Terrence Malick keeps leaping further and further away from traditional storytelling, and while his post-Tree of Life work has been hit or miss, with Song to Song the enigmatic filmmaker finally gets into a fascinating experimental groove. The Austin-set romance hops between music festivals, hotel rooms, and desert vistas charting Rooney Mara’s Faye through various relationships. Watching Song to Song feels like tumbling through a woman’s diary as she reminiscences on past lovers, echoing the looseness of a daydreaming mind. Malick turns that into a sensory experience, mimicking the way music can conjure emotions and transport us back to a specific place and time with a single song. It’s hard to put into words why exactly this film speaks to me so much (admittedly, it’s not for everyone), but the way it understands how we’re never quite free of the imprints relationships leave on us, both the damaging and the transformative, made it one of the most evocative experiences I had at the movies this year.
Read our full review of Song to Song.
8. The Big Sick
Directed by Michael Showalter
It’s no easy feat to take one of the most exhausted genres and infuse it with fresh humor and heartfelt storytelling. The Big Sick is one of those movies that may not scoop up all the awards – as sadly seems to be the case so far this season – but it’s a rom-com we’ll watch again in five, ten years and think, “Damn, that was a great movie.” Kumail Nanjiani gives one of the most affecting performances of the year as a fictionalized version of himself, a struggling stand-up comic whose girlfriend Emily (Zoe Kazan portraying co-writer and Nanjiani’s real wife, Emily V. Gordon) suddenly falls ill. Romantic comedies so often show us a falsified version of life, storybook romances that sugarcoat hardships and complications; The Big Sick distinguishes itself by turning a real-life story of love and tragedy into something genuine, funny, and poignant. It’s a giant hug of a movie that leaves you with wet eyes and a big smile. What more could you ask for?
Read our full review of The Big Sick.
7. Get Out
Directed by Jordan Peele
It’s not hard to see how Get Out came from the mind of Jordan Peele; just look to some of Key & Peele’s best sketches that use sci-fi and humor to offer perceptive commentaries on race. With his impressive directorial debut, Peele uses an intoxicating blend of horror and dark humor to reflect the divided world we’re living in. When Chris (a great Daniel Kaluuya) takes a trip with his white girlfriend (Allison Williams, so perfect it’s scary) to visit her white liberal parents, he uncovers a series of horrifying family secrets that expose the upsetting realities of our country’s racial tensions. With Get Out Peele’s given us a satisfying thrill ride and one of the smartest social critiques in years.
Read our full review of Get Out.
6. A Fantastic Woman
Directed by Sebastian Lelio
The latest from Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Lelio (Gloria, Disobedience) follows Marina (newcomer Daniela Vega), a nightclub singer and trans woman whose older lover (Francisco Reyes) unexpectedly dies one night. Haunted by grief, Marina’s resilience is tested by her lover’s family, the police, and by malicious passersby. With A Fantastic Woman, Lelio sculpts a portrait of a trans character with dignity and depth, a rarity in film history. But much credit is also owed to Vega, who gives an unforgettable performance that speaks volumes. Watching Vega, who is trans, play Marina is a testament to the authenticity and emotional intelligence a trans person can bring to a trans role, and, identity aside, is proof of a rising new talent. What I love most of all is how truly fantastic Marina is, a woman who continues to defy those rallied against her, who perseveres and remains true to herself. That’s the kind of storytelling we need in 2017 and beyond.
Read our interview with Daniela Vega.
5. A Ghost Story
Directed by David Lowery
Attachment is one of the most painful elements of human existence; our attachments to things, to people, places, feelings, and our hope that those ties will lead us to some sense of resolution. David Lowery’s A Ghost Story grapples with understanding connection across space and time. His film re-contextualizes classic elements of a ghost story – the haunted house, a being under a white sheet – to meditate on existence, love, and loss. After Casey Affleck’s musician suddenly dies, his spirit wanders through his old home, watching his lover (Rooney Mara) in mourning, and whatever crosses his path. If the movies are supposed to take us somewhere we’ve never been and leave us mulling over questions about our lives and the world around us, Lowery has done just that.
Read our full review of A Ghost Story.
4. The Florida Project
Directed by Sean Baker
The limitless wonder we have as kids is often tainted with time. Thankfully, we have movies like Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, a luminous reminder of how infinite and magical the world can be when seen through a child’s eyes. In his follow-up to Tangerine, Baker further establishes his prowess as an ace director of non-traditional actors. A fluid drama set at a budget motel in Orlando, Florida, The Florida Project trails the young Moonee – played with buzzing vivacity by newcomer Brooklynn Prince – and her ragtag gang of friends as they find adventure in their dismal surroundings. In the eyes of Moonee and her friends, trash becomes treasure, and boredom rouses curiosity as they use their imagination to paint over the harsher parts of their daily lives. It’s a beautiful film – both narratively and visually – that honors a belief in something bigger.
Read our full review of The Florida Project.
3. The Shape of Water
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Any filmmaker who can convince me of a romance between a woman and a fish-man – one developed sans dialogue that makes me cry multiple times – is a damn fine filmmaker. Guillermo del Toro has been fascinated by monsters and gothic horror stories for ages, but with The Shape of Water he’s melded his cinematic passions into one glorious masterpiece. It’s a loving homage to cinema, blending genres to tell a love story about Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor who falls for Doug Jones’ amphibious creature and rescues him from a government lab. Del Toro’s film is more than just a romance though; The Shape of Water is made up of an ensemble of outsiders, characters devalued and mistreated for their otherness. Del Toro takes the things that may make us appear monstrous to others – the way we look, speak (or lack-thereof), and the desires of our heart – then celebrates those as the parts of ourselves that makes us human.
Read our full review of The Shape of Water.
2. Lady Bird
Directed by Greta Gerwig
I could list a dozen reasons why Lady Bird is one of the best films of the year. It’s funny and achingly human, it perfectly nails what it’s like to be a teen in the 2000s, and the entire cast is nothing short of excellent. But what I love most about Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut is how it feels like it was tailor-made for you. Saoirse Ronan’s Lady Bird experiences things we’ve all seen before: She falls in love, gets heartbroken, gains friends, loses friends, fights with her family, goes to school dances, and apply for colleges. And yet for me, and many people I’ve talked to, watching Lady Bird is like watching traces of your own story up on screen. Gerwig tells a story that’s personal and universal at once, one that understands the awkwardness and sadness of being a teenager, the nuances of a complicated relationship with a mother, and the urge to run from what you know to try and start anew. It’s a movie that only grows stronger in repeated viewings, and will certainly leave you with an urge to give your mom an overdue call.
Read our full review of Lady Bird.
1. Call Me By Your Name
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
As amazing as 2017 has been for film, nothing has topped one of the first movies I saw this year: Call Me By Your Name. Luca Guadagnino has a gift for making the ordinary erotic, and in his adaptation of André Aciman’s novel the filmmaker infuses glances, gulps of apricot juice, and a brisk shoulder rub with sweltering sexual tension. Timothée Chalamet is remarkable as Elio, a precocious boy dizzied by lust when the older Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives at his family’s summer home in the Italian countryside. The two share such steamy, palpable chemistry it’s almost heartbreaking they aren’t a couple in real life. Guadagnino’s sun-soaked visuals are dreamy and lush, the soundtrack, a mix of classical, ‘80s tunes, and aching Sufjan Stevens tracks, is swoon-worthy, and the film features the most powerful moment I’ve seen in a movie all year: A monologue delivered by Michael Stuhlbarg that brought me to tears both times I saw it. Like those lovers you never quite got over, Call Me By Your Name is the type of film that stays with you.
Read our full review of Call Me By Your Name.
Honorable Mentions (In Alphabetical Order): A Cure for Wellness, The Disaster Artist, God’s Own Country, Mudbound, Okja, Phantom Thread, The Post, Princess Cyd, Raw, Thelma.
Gallery - The Best Movie Posters of 2017