The Best Films of 2017
2017 was, as I’m thoroughly convinced every single year is, a great year for cinema. It was also the hardest year since I’ve been blogging for me to narrow down my ridiculously titled The Best Films Not Made in 2017 That I Saw For The First Time in 2017 list.
There are a lot of 2017 films I missed: Nocturama, Logan Lucky, Lady Macbeth, Columbus, The Untamed, Icaros: A Vison, Most Beautiful Island, Afterimage, Beach Rats, A Quiet Passion, The Ornithologist, My Happy Family, Knife in the Clear Water among many, many others.
You won’t find a whole lot of films on this list, because they haven’t been released near me. Those include Faces Places, The Florida Project, Call Me By Your Name, Happy End, Zama (I really can’t wait for this film!!), The Endless, Let The Corpses Tan, Un beau soleil intérieur, You Were Never Really Here, The Strange Ones, The Shape of Water, Scarred Hearts, Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc, Foxtrot, The Woman Who Left, Phantom Thread, Lady Bird, Western, A Fantastic Woman, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and others. I’m sure some will be on my 2018 list.
Similarly, Toni Erdmann, The Salesman, and Neruda made a lot of 2016 lists. They opened for me to see in early 2017.
The Best Films of 2017
Five Favorites, in No Order:
I don’t know that I saw a better film all year. Toni Erdmann is perfect, front to back. It’s a master class in how to make all of the right decisions, from beats to camera to production design to dialogue. It somehow makes the major plot point of a dad wearing false teeth and a wig not into a bland one-note studio tentpole and instead wrestles between philosophical and hilarious.
Another easy favorite of the year. This is a film about myth-making and the elusiveness of art. It’s also about big personalities and the need to fill them. It’s hilarious, poignant, and really beautiful.
Did other people love this film? I’ve heard surprisingly little about it. It’s such a strong Kiyoshi Kurosawa. One of his best, I think. It’s just so damn creepy and unnerving, thanks in large part to the performance from Hidetoshi Nishijima and Kurosawa’s technique.
A Gentle Creature
Even though I had issues with the end of this film it’s really stuck with me; more so than a lot of other films on this list. Loznitsa just has such fresh technique. The feels films sprawling because of all the side characters (it’s possibly the best cast of extras I’ve ever seen) but intensely personal because of the close-ups and control of Vasilina Makovtseva. And the end has grown on me as I think of it – that I think of it means something.
The best surprise on this list because I’d heard next to nothing about it, Ava is so good. I’m sure it’s a film that will linger with me. It feels fresh and young. There’s a lot that I’d like to take away (read: imitate) from this film, but mostly that opening sequence, the color palette, and some of the transitions.
The Next Five, In No Order:
I haven’t seen many lists that this film hasn’t made and for good reason. It’s hysterical, scary, and meaningful, a damn hard combination to pull off. My favorite part is still Betty Gabriel’s super-eerie close-up.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: not many people block an interior scene with two characters like Olivier Assayas. It’s just such confident blocking. Slightly handheld, comfortable with off-screen space. But Personal Shopper, like Clouds of Sils Maria (is there a third part to this would-be-trilogy coming?) is much more than just that. It’s an intense character study filled with moments of wonder, and the best texting scene I know of.
This film just feels pretty relentless. Part of that is the score, sure, but it’s also just a breakneck film. I feel like some of the plotting shouldn’t work. Like the “mistaken identity” bit could feel hackneyed in another film, but here, thanks to Pattinson’s performance and the writing of his character, it makes total sense.
Maybe the most naturalistic film of the year, alongside The Levelling. 120 BPM just feels like real people doing real things in real time. It’s not really any of that, but the facade is basically invisible. I like the ability to make so many distinct personalities arise – credit to writer, director, and actors there.
Alongside The Big Sick, the funniest movie I’ve seen all year. Ruben Östlund is a star, and I bet that star keeps rising. Between this and Force Majeure he seems to have figured out the beautiful line between provocation, irreverent comedy, and harsh tragedy.
Rounding out The Top 15, in No Order:
I Am Not a Witch
A fantastically sharp, haunting satire. I was surprised how funny it was at times (the talk show sequence, in particular). Beautifully lensed, great turns by the leads, and a delicate sense of pacing from Rungano Nyoni.
Man. I just love that this movie exists. It’s so daring. Totally embraces risk. I can see why some people might hate it (even mis-marketing aside), but if you just let it take you, let some of the biblical allusions flutter around in your mind, and revel in the absurdity of it all then it’s a great ride.
A Ghost Story
I think that this would be a great film to pair with Mother! Both are, in many ways, about a disintegrated relationship (though for very different reasons), and both expand time and/or space in unexpected ways. This film is much quieter and reflective. It’s also bold. One thing I didn’t note in my blog about it is the effort put into the ghost costume (I think I mentioned the eyes and that’s it): to get the effect of blackness underneath those eye-holes, to get the effect of a body but no body under that sheet…that’s a coup.
The Other Side of Hope
A Kaurismäki film feels like a reason to celebrate. One of the most distinct styles in cinematic history, I think. He’s just so instantly recognizable. The Other Side of Hope is great. It’s got his irony, and cynicism but also real compassion.
An amazing score, great performances, no major set pieces, basically one location, awesome dialogue. All of the ingredients are there in The Levelling, which is really quietly painful (maybe this is the better pairing with A Ghost Story…).
The Best of the Rest, in No Order:
I caught this one on a plane. Best movie I’ve ever randomly watched on a plane? Probably. I love the caring depiction of the daughter. It’s a beautiful look at guilt and grief.
I’m surprised that I’m putting Dunkirk on this list. When I left the theater I thought that the first 10 minutes would be all that stayed in my head. And, while that is certainly the best part of the film (alongside the sequence in the beached ship), the whole film lingers. It’s possibly Nolan’s best. It at least feels like his least narrative (a good thing).
The Big Sick
Feels like an old-fashioned comedy. Deceptively simple structure. Good jokes. More than one relationship at its core. This was probably the movie that I’d heard the most hype about on this list prior to seeing it, and it lived up to it.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Speaking of absurdity…The Killing of a Sacred Deer is accomplished for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is pulling off a ridiculous scenario in a world that seems to be mostly logical but teetering on the brink of illogicality. If you have a dark sense of humor (the theater I was in did) then all the more reason to see this.
The film that took me the longest to come around to, Raw also has staying power. I like a film that knows that it’s playing with fire (this one: an analogy that rides a thin line, sometimes coming too close to comedy) and still goes for it. Plus: the color!
Sweatiest film of the year? That’s a compliment. I think it’s no small feat to make the audience feel texture and smell smells (without the help of smell-o-vision) while watching a film. Joaquim does both. I think this would be hard for an American director to make (the fact that it’s about Brazil, notwithstanding) because of how late the “hero” becomes a “hero.” We see very little of that on-screen.
I caught this at the beginning of 2017, though it’s a 2016 movie for many. It almost feels old-hat now: Asghar Farhadi makes another great movie. Farhadi makes another movie where the blocking is complex and impeccable. Farhadi makes another film where unpleasant secrets are revealed. But it all still feels fresh. In really odd way, this film feels connected to Cache. Much of it also just feels like a Farhadifilm: shooting in cars, the amazing change in tone in the classroom/censorship scene, handheld camera and fast blocking.
Second-sweatiest film of the year? Slack Bay doesn’t have much else in common with Joaquim, but both are great. Bruno Dumont keeps surprising. I wonder if he’ll try romance next. Or maybe a true genre film. I’d love to see him do horror. Slack Bay is gross and hilarious, it’s indecent and mocking, it’s reverent and irreverent.
I Also Liked:
Blade Runner: 2049
I, Olga Heparnova
A Dark Song
Beatriz at Dinner
TV Shows I really Liked in 2017:
Twin Peaks: The Return
The best exercise in patience…ever? I mean this is a long series, and the payoff is so great, but a little before the midpoint it gets close to tiresome. I don’t know that you can make this film as a young director for multiple reasons: skill, confidence, and also just the conviction that the audience will go with you. This is so haunting, and if Lynch never makes another film, well, then at least we had Twin Peaks.
Not 2017, but this is the second-best series I watched this year. The acting from the four leads is so good (reaffirms how great I think Lakeith Stanfield is), it’s funny, and bold (that talk show episode!). I also really like how it’s shot. There are some amazing wides in here. I was waiting for Outkast on the soundtrack and when it finally came it was beautifully used.
The Best Films Not Made in 2017 That I Saw For The First Time in 2017.
I’m really cheating here. There were just too many. I couldn’t leave off Wedding in Blood, for example. And there were a lot of other too-hard decisions. So I made this a list of 20, with ten ties. The final 10 though: nearly interchangeable! The 1960s are, as is usual I think with my lists, well represented. 9 are from the ’60s and 5 from the ’70s.
10. Wedding in Blood (Chabrol, 1973) and Polytechnique (Villeneuve, 2009)
9. Death in the Garden (Buñuel, 1956) and The Boxer and Death (Solan, 1963)
8. The Chess Players (Ray, 1977) and The Day of the Beast (de la Iglesias, 1995)
7. Le Deuxième Souffle (Melville, 1966) and The Sun in a Net (Uher, 1962)
6. Magical Girl (Vermut, 2014) and The Arrangement (Kazan, 1969)
5. The End of a Priest (Schorm, 1969) and Summer With Monika (Bergman, 1953)
4. Fear of Fear (Fassbinder, 1975) and Invasion (Santiago, 1969)
3. Joseph Kilian (Jurácek, 1963) and Distant Thunder (Ray, 1973)
2. The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Fassbinder, 1972) and Death Watch (Tavernier, 1980)
1. The Executioner (Berlanga, 1963) and Diamonds of the Night (Nemec, 1964)