Top 10 Films of 2017
Notes on a Film Year
This was an extraordinary year for film, but it didn't beat 2007, which was the best year for film I can remember living through. Nothing is ever going to top that year, which was the formative film year of my life. In 2007 I was a senior in high school, and my main extracurricular activity—even more important and time-consuming than Model UN, editing the school literary magazine, and taking photos for the school newspaper—was watching every film that had been nominated for an Oscar that year. I think I came close in 2006 and succeeded in 2007. Over February vacation I managed to get Eastern Promises and Away from Her on DVDs from Netflix, and then passed them off to my friend Nicole, who was and remains similarly afflicted. I watched The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford on On Demand with the sides chopped off, and still thought it was incredible. (If you've seen it, I imagine you are shuddering.) I must have gotten La Vie en Rose from Netflix, too, and didn't think much of the film but loved the actress.
In those pre-Twitter days we used to scour Entertainment Weekly for Oscar coverage, and read Wesley Morris and Ty Burr's predictions in the Boston Globe. Who Will Win, Who Should Win, Who Should Have Been Nominated. I kept lists. I couldn't drive, and so bribed friends to go to the movies with me with pastries from the farm stand where I worked. Sometimes we ventured out into the indie cinemas in Somerville, or Waltham, or Cambridge, and felt cool.
In 2007 my high school was beset by Juno fever so intense that people started carrying around boxes of orange tic tacs. In an early act of contrarianism, I went to Juno and hated it. My favorite film of that year was There Will Be Blood and this caused problems. Film Twitter cannot rival the arguments we were having over those movies that year. I argued with friends. I argued with acquaintances. I argued with my mother. The day after the Oscars, I got into an argument with a girl in the school newspaper office, who denounced the violence in Movies Today, like No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. "There Will Be Blood isn't even very violent," I told her, "the director had to ask for an R rating." (I have not double-checked this story.) "Well," she huffed, "I haven't seen it."
I went to a repertory screening of There Will Be Blood a couple of weeks ago. There isn't much violence in it but the last scene is pretty intense, so I'll concede that point a decade later. It's still my favorite movie. I remember going to see it with my parents, and sitting in the back of the car as we drove home in the snow. The next day I was in the newspaper office talking to a good-natured guy I knew. He had already seen it and told me he hadn't been able to sleep the night after. "Me neither," I said. We felt so much. We wanted to know everything.
This spring, I became an expert on romantic comedies of the 1930s. I don't think this is much of an exaggeration. My to-be-watched list remains long, but I saw... a lot. I was supposed to be writing my master's dissertation. Lest any of you think I wasn't working, I was—many hours of the day. But I wasn't getting anywhere. I had no ideas. I had lots of ideas about romantic comedies of the 1930s, which was not helpful for my dissertation on Middlemarch.
When I was in middle school, my friends always picked romantic comedies for trips to the movie theater or sleepovers, and I always complained; I was not a fun child. The rom-com has never been my genre. But my affinity for Hays Code-period romantic comedies is not so surprising in retrospect: my academic work has always focused on marriages, money, and sex. They've got it all! And in this most miserable of years it was a relief to watch movies that weren't... miserable. It's also true, and depressing, that women got better roles back then, at least in romances. The roles were limited, of course, and exclusively for attractive white women (or older women who played their mothers), and behind the scenes things weren't pretty. But oh, how they talked.
At Thanksgiving, I went to see Lady Bird with my mom and my grandma, who is ninety-three and almost entirely blind. She was worried about being able to see the screen. I had seen the movie already but cried so much I was angry when they brought the lights up the moment the credits rolled. As soon as we got home, my grandma got on the phone to call three different people to tell them they had to go see this film Lady Bird, with that wonderful girl from Brooklyn.
My mother and I watched The Force Awakens over Christmas. When Rey overpowered Kylo Ren at the end of the movie, she gleefully exclaimed to me, "It's like every little girl's dream!" Earlier in the year, she had gone to see Wonder Woman and had almost cried. She went with a female friend from work who does not go to superhero movies. I don't know whether her friend cried or not. I did.
Today, I rode the subway home from work next to a teenage girl and her parents who had just seen Star Wars. She giggled about Kylo Ren's stupid pants ("It's kind of a meme") and offered up various fan theories about Rey's parentage ("I still think she's Obi-Wan's daughter"). Her own parents also had a lot of opinions about Star Wars; she came by it honestly. "I like Kylo Ren," she said, almost to herself, "I hope he's good."
20. Logan (dir. James Mangold)
They did it! Somebody finally fucking did it!
19. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
Would watch Barry Keoghan eat spaghetti for two hours.
18. Maudie (dir. Aisling Walsh)
Sally Hawkins' best film of 2017.
17. Thor: Ragnorok (dir. Taika Waititi)
Marvel's funniest, richest, best film.
16. The Post (dir. Steven Spielberg)
Let's—let's do it.
15. Logan Lucky (dir. Steven Soderbergh)
The most fun I had at the movies this year.
14. On the Beach at Night Alone (dir. Hong-sang Soo)
Well this turned out to be pretty fucking timely.
13. Lady Macbeth (dir. William Olroyd)
I dragged some of my coursemates to this after a stressful day of graduate school and it was not relaxing.
12. My Happy Family (dir. Nana Ekvtimishvili & Simon Groß)
A nineteenth-century novel transported to twenty-first century Georgia.
11. Beach Rats (dir. Eliza Hittman)
I cannot believe this is not in my top ten.
The Top 10
10. BPM (dir. Robin Campillo)
A rallying cry. A cri de coeur. A docudrama. A love story. A disco. A memory. One of the most timely films of the year (maybe the most timely), without being pedantic or pandering, and without proselytizing. I wish more people had gone to see it. I can't recommend it highly enough.
9. Good Time (dir. Josh and Benny Safdie)
This stayed at #9 on my list all year, as other films entered above it and then dropped down. I loved it. I haven't stopped thinking about it. One of the funniest bone-crushingly bleak movies I've ever seen. Congrats to my guy RPattz for finally winning over Film Twitter in this year of our lord 2017.
8. Lady Bird (dir. Greta Gerwig)
The only thing that could have improved this perfect movie would have been Lady Bird winding up at Barnard, AS I WAS ANTICIPATING THE ENTIRE TIME.
7. Phantom Thread (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Paul Thomas Anderson is my favorite filmmaker and I suspect this movie would have been higher on my list if I had not seen it last Friday. It needs more than a week. But it made me so happy. Every time I go to a screening of one of Anderson's films in New York—current or repertory—the audience is dominated by Film Bros around my age, all of whom probably had a formative cinematic experience with There Will Be Blood as teenagers, like I did. I have spent a lot of time thinking about who Anderson's movies, most of which are preoccupied with the subject of toxic masculinity, are for. Female audiences, by and large, prefer films with women in them. But do his fanboys all get it? I sometimes wonder. I wondered this especially in the wake of his last film, Inherent Vice, which features a scene of such nauseating misogyny I felt physically ill watching it. Most critics loved this film. Most critics are men.
Phantom Thread is a movie about toxic masculinity in which the toxic man is an object at the center of the story around whom women act as subjects; Vicky Krieps gives the best and most enchanting performance of the year (with one exception) as the female lead. She out-acts Daniel Day-Lewis! She is allowed to because she is the one doing the narrative legwork. Her face tells the entire story of the movie. It's kind of sad to feel so grateful to a man for doing the basic work of telling a story from a woman's perspective, but I can only say that that is how I felt watching this film. Anderson's work is extremely important and extremely personal to me and I did not expect this from him. I am grateful. I feel seen.
6. The Florida Project (dir. Sean Baker)
This movie is a miracle. Brooklynn Prince is a miracle. Willem Dafoe calmly telling large birds they need to move along now might be my favorite film moment of 2017. An Oscar for Willem Dafoe, an Oscar for the birds. I do not often cry at the movies but this was a cry-heavy year and my god I bawled at the end of this movie both times I saw it. Sean Baker did a Q&A the second time I saw it and I genuinely believe him to be a good man and that, too, is a miracle.
5. A Ghost Story (dir. David Lowery)
I put off watching this for a long time because of The Casey Affleck Situation, but... it's a fucking masterpiece. I can't think of another movie I've seen that is anything like this film, and I can't say that about many movies. It is entirely its own thing, and it's not even the thing you think it's going to be for the first third of the film. The only word, HORRIBLY, is "haunting." I'm gonna be thinking about that fucking sheet. The costume designer on this movie deserves an Oscar nomination solely for that sheet.
(Also: more people should shot in 4:3! Go for it! Take the plunge! It's very aesthetically pleasing!)
4. The Square (dir. Ruben Östlund)
I think I laughed more at this film than I did at any other movie I saw this year. I mean—almost crying. Evaluating a film like this is difficult, because it's too long, and overstuffed, and some things don't work—it's a film about men being bad that doesn't have room for women, for instance, which is a Problem. But like big fat books with similar issues, it wouldn't be great if it weren't sprawling and chaotic. The chaos is where the madness and the genius comes from.
I rewatched Force Majeure recently, which I remember loving when it came out, and it's still wonderful. It is definitely more pristine than this movie (and treats women better). But I like this more. It has more energy, and it made me think more. This movie is two-and-a-half hours long and as soon as it was finished I was desperate to see it again. I still don't think I quite understand it, but I want to puzzle it out. And I want to stare at Claes Bang's face some more. claesbangdancing.gif, et cetera.
3. Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)
I saw this film in Oxford when it was released, which was not exactly an ideal setting: people were not laughing as much as they would have been in New York. I thought it was fantastic. I saw it again this fall at MoMA, in an audience of primarily older white people, which was also a strange environment, and the audience was fairly subdued—until the creative team came out for a post-screening Q&A, and they lost their shit. For a movie about the awfulness of white people to be that much of a hit with a bunch of rich old white people who go to see movies at the Museum of Modern Art really says something.
Watching this a second time brought home its genius. It's less "art house" than most of the other films on this list but its genius lies in the simplicity of its concept and execution. It's not complicated, but you keep thinking about it. And thinking about it. Every little moment is perfect. This is another movie that's hilarious—except that it isn't.
2. Dunkirk (dir. Christopher Nolan)
I have always been immensely fond of Christopher Nolan's films without truly loving any of them except The Dark Knight, which I still think is great, though I think it's slightly out of vogue now amongst the Twitterati. Nolan's movies are predictable: they all have the same flaws and the same strengths, and at a certain point I just decided to accept this. Also, despite his penchant for killing off his female characters, he seems like a pleasant, boring dad in real life, and whether or not that's true, it's very refreshing.
As many people have observed, in Dunkirk Nolan just excised all the things he isn't good at, chief among them being women and dialogue, and the result is a film better than I ever expected he would make. I love World War II films and while this one is not historically unimpeachable (many people have written incisively about its overwhelming whiteness), I think it derives most of its power from not actually being about the Second World War or even about Dunkirk in any specific sense. It's about survival.
My pet theory about 2017 is that we will remember Dunkirk as one of the year's most significant films, and that it will remain enduringly popular. Critics have mostly focused their attention on more politically resonant films, both deserving (Get Out, Lady Bird) and not (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri); in this hyper-political year Dunkirk is too removed and, for some, too "unemotional." I actually think it's an immensely emotional and moving film, and I also think, despite its subject matter and popularity with the likes of Nigel Farage, it is a subtly (but compellingly) anti-nationalist text, and so in fact profoundly of our moment. It is a masterpiece, and boasts the best final sequence of the year—and the second-best final shot of a young white man's face.
1. Call Me by Your Name (dir. Luca Guadanigno)
Reader, I wept.