The Best Films of 2017
2017 was exhausting but there was a lot of relief at the cinema. The year in film has been a wildcard. Debut filmmakers astounded, legendary directors proved they still had the skills and streaming services announced their arrival to the film landscape in a major way.
A shift is happening, it’s small at the moment but it feels like there’s a changing of the guard and the way we see movies. It’s starting to feel like something great could come from anywhere and that makes me excited for the filmmakers who follow their vision and find ways for their films to be seen no matter if it’s in a cinema or direct to streaming. The cinema will always be the best place to see a film, it’s a place I adore, but poorly behaved audiences are wearing me down. I’d trade half the films on the list you’re about to read for a year’s worth of well behaved audiences.
There are 22 films on my list for 2017 and they are in a loose descending order, which I have agonised over all year.
Now for the criteria spiel. Selection is based on new releases I saw in 2017 at a film festival or new to VOD during the year. I am based in Australia so there will be a few films from the U.S 2016 release schedule that made it onto the list because they were delayed a release here. There’s also a few from the U.S schedule from 2017 that don’t feature because they are under embargo for a release in Australia in 2018, it’s complicated, I know.
Thank you for your support if you’ve dropped by The Popcorn Junkie this year or read anything I’ve written for other outlets. Now, here are the best films of 2017.
22. The Florida Project
An stunning empathy test for a part of America living in the shadow of monolithic corporations. A tiny castle in a capitalist kingdom from the perspective of children who see the magic in the world but are destined to collide with the woes of adults.
You can’t wash away America’s dirty history. The harder you try to clean it up, the more the mud sticks. America has been divided by hate — still is — but its citizens are linked by their suffering. A prescient film at a time when America is questioning its confederate statues and white supremacists march proudly in the streets. Director Dee Rees showed we are capable of terrible things yet have so much in common
20. The Disaster Artist
How a film got in the way of friendship. The film about the making of The Room proved to be so much more than cackling at a film production spiraling out of control.
I saw the future of blockbusters in the eyes of a super pig. Thrilling, diverse, political and with loads of heart. Bonus points for the breathtaking slow-motion sequence set to John Denver’s Annie’s Song.
While men spend time preaching the word of God and trying to prove its existence they fail to listen. What is the nature of faith? It’s all around us. You only have to listen. Masterful work from Mr. Scorsese.
17. The Square
A hilarious satire of the modern art world with characters trying their best to pretend they care. But when the laughs subside it’s a film that preaches empathy despite its character’s selfish indulgences.
16. Alien: Covenant
Ridley Scott swapped aliens for artificial intelligence and made a sublime film about the destruction of mankind at the hands of an immortal being and its monstrous creations.
Beware of unassuming nice guys. Abusive relationships and alcoholism got upgraded to Godzilla proportions in one of the most unique films of the year.
14. I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore
A film that shared that sigh of exhaustion at the garbage fire that was 2017. Melanie Lynskey gave one of the best performances of her career as the perfect burnt out hero for these dark political times.
Evidence of the decline of civilization. Cameras are placed around the Nazi extermination camps in Germany to capture tourist taking selfies in front of gas chambers. A chilling look at how far we’ve fallen as a society, but it also questions how we chose to memorialise atrocities. In one scene a guy is pushing a dog in a pram around the camp. I’ve thought about that maniac every day this year.
12. 20th Century Women
Sometimes you only see a sliver of the lives of the people who impact you the most. A beautiful ode to brief encounters and lives lived well.
11. A Ghost Story
Divine in its clarity and commitment to a vision. Truly unique and original. Souls afloat across time and space, draped in gothic sheets. An extraordinary work of wrangling the complexity of our existence with simplicity.
Cannibalism as a form of self-empowerment in a toxic environment. I can’t wait to see what Julia Ducournau does next.
When ‘Black’ takes off his gold teeth to eat at the diner toward the end of this beautiful film, I cried. The wide-eyed ‘Little’ at the start of the film has grown into a man who has armoured himself against a world that can be so cruel. Yet he his still open to being loved, to being nourished, despite everything that happens to him. Bravo, Barry Jenkins.
8. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Yorgos Lanthimos is my favourite sick puppy. Striking direction, humour drier than burnt toast and a dark heart full of revenge, denial and dread. Gets my vote for the most attention grabbing opening shot of a film in 2017.
I feared Christopher Nolan’s latest would be weaponised by the Brexit mob; the film is about a nation in retreat, after all. It’s the complete opposite. A beacon in dark times that marvels at the achievements of a colossal failure. The battlefield became a clock face where every action culminated in saving lives. We need to celebrate and embrace failure more, I salute you Mr. Nolan.
6. Faces Places
Agnès Varda is losing her vision but she wants to see her friend and co-director, JR, without his sunglasses on for once (he never takes them off). After a road trip together through France where they turn the people they meet into wonderful public artworks, JR grants Agnes her wish. “I can’t see you, but I see you,” she says. Oh my heart. A wonderful tribute to the lives of two great visionaries and their thirst for life, creativity and art.
The great Harry Dean Stanton passed away a few months after I saw this film but it’s made like he knew the end was near. A loving tribute to the man and his outlook on life.
4. Call Me By Your Name
After seeing this film everything else was a bonus in 2017. Bare knees and full hearts. A thirsty tale of young love with the most wonderful kisses from the Italian sun. A ravenous film that’s a toast to the good life (and the heartbreak).
3. Lady Bird
Comforting, warm, unique and original. Greta Gerwig’s debut film goes against the grain of coming-of-age stories by showing how a town and its people shape you as a teenager when you don’t even know it. Props for zero irony when it comes to The Dave Matthews Band.
2. Toni Erdmann
Puts the ‘strange’ in ‘estrangement’. An elaborate, bittersweet, beautiful series of dad jokes with jabs at corporate adulthood. Whenever Ines and Winfried looked at each other from across a room there was so much love and regret. A film that expertly switches from mirth to melancholy. I am so terrified of the American remake.
1. Get Out
Jordan Peele dropped one of the all-time great debut films. It’s so much more than a horror film, but it’s wholeheartedly dedicated to the genre with great twists, scares and creepy white people. Peele’s film has a razor sharp political edge about the lie of a post-racial America and the utilisation of black bodies by colonial oppressors. It’s rare for me to say this but Get Out is the perfect movie.
Follow Cam Williams on Twitter.