Best Movies of 2017 from Dunkirk to Phantom Thread – Collider

We weighted all the individual lists and here’s how it shook out.
We’ve now published our individual Top 10 lists, and if you’ve read them all, you can see the amount of diversity. Yes, there were some titles that were shared across multiple lists, but no single title landed on all five lists. That speaks to the great diversity not just in taste, but in film this year. It was easily possible to come up with completely different Top 10 lists because there were so many good movies this year.
To compile this list, we weighted every entry on the other lists by rank. So a #1 choice got 10 points, a #2 choice got 9 points, and so on. We’ve listed the point totals next to each selection. You can find links to the individual top 10 lists at the bottom of this article.
I had heard good things about Mudbound out of Sundance, but I was still floored by it when I caught it at TIFF. Dee Rees’ Southern epic feels truly literary in all the best ways, but goes even further by telling two stories—one about a white, landowning family that has fallen on misfortune due to their patriarch’s foolishness, and a black family struggling to get out of tenant farming. It would be a mistake to call Mudbound a “reflection” of our present since the film highlights how little distance we’ve traveled when it comes to race relations.
Mudbound doesn’t have any easy answers, but it draws out some fascinating threads looking at people who don’t have power and giving them a voice while Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) and his father, Pappy (Jonathan Banks), two white guys who have never been or will ever be oppressed by anything. Even Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) has gone from privilege to seeing how fragile his life is after witnessing horrors he thought he could figuratively and literally fly over. Rees’ film is a rich tapestry, and the only thing that makes me mad about it is that it landed on Netflix rather than opening on 4,000 screens, but so it goes. – Matt Goldberg
Emily Dickinson thought about the matters of life and death an awful lot, but especially the latter. Mind you, this was long before she passed away from a disease of the kidneys. The fleetingness of life, the miracle of even one day of existence, is what gave much of Dickinson’s writing its flavor and depth, and it’s this part of her personality that Terence Davies so solidly grasps onto in A Quiet Passion.
Cynthia Nixon’s portrayal of the American poet is the towering achievement of the year in acting, so elegantly delivering Davies’ sumptuous dialogue while keeping a distinct tempo to her speech and diction, both on screen and in voice over. Davies, returning to the Americas for the first time since his endearing adaptation of The Neon Bible, ensconces her with plenty of period detail, verbal sparring matches against her beloved sister (Jennifer Ehle) and father (the great Keith Carradine) hallucinatory sequences steeped in death and romance. When life ceases in this film, the full weight of the loss is felt without pressing the tragedy of the situation, and when an argument gets vicious, the blows dealt to fragile egos and relations aren’t softened. The fact that language, fragmented into blasts of imagery and imagination, is so powerful is not surprising, but it is surprising to finally see a film that conveys that truth so profoundly. Davies clearly sees a bit of himself in Dickinson and with this, his eighth and arguably greatest work to date, he can now be counted amongst her most insightful and evocative disciples. – Chris Cabin
It’s fitting that James Gray’s The Lost City of Z opened the same week as The Fate of the Furious, a film franchise that has reinvented itself to be about family dynamics in order to separate itself from the pack of bam-bam action films. (If they say “family” enough everyone will pick up on it, right?). Fitting because Gray (Two Lovers, The Immigrant) has made a career out of expertly navigating the difficulty of family expectations. And also, because one of the most celebrated American directors abroad has never been able to find a similar audience stateside, and although Lost City of Z had adventure components, it was left in the dust of the latest car movie.
The Lost City of Z has bloodlines running through it, though, but Gray plays it subtle. When a military man and adventurer, Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), takes a map survey job to divide Bolivia and Brazil so that there will be no war (but rubber keeps them profitable) he’s told that by taking this job he will be able to reclaim his surname, which has kept him back from past promotions due to his father’s reputation. It’s a line of dialogue that doesn’t give us information of what his father exactly did, but instead focuses on the knowing receipt of those words on the part of the son, who’s processing it. He knows his reputation has preceded him and he knows only he can undo it. But that’s not the only familial bond in Z. It’s also present in the pronouncement of staunch gender roles in an otherwise idyllic-seeming marriage between Percy and his wife, Nina (Sienna Miller).
In one breath he champions Nina’s discovery of a correspondence from more than a century ago that partially confirms a lost city he thought he’d discovered in the Amazon, but in the next he tells her she cannot join him on his next voyage because she needs to tend to their children. Years later, he takes his oldest son (Tom Holland) back to Brazil in an attempt to find what he’s labeled as “Z,” one of the earliest civilizations in the Americas. And in the Fast and Furious way of things, Fawcett also makes new “family” bonds with those whom he shares years on wooden rafts with (Robert Pattinson and Edward Ashley).
The Lost City of Z is an extremely well-paced film that spans decades but never feels like it’s rushing to its conclusion. Gray chooses to focus on Fawcett’s various bonds to his family, his discovery, and his fellow man and how those tethers get him through various stages of life interruptions, whether it’s World War I or floating the Amazon. In my eyes, this is the third masterpiece that Gray has made in a row. – Brian Formo
Leave it to Christopher Nolan to create a film explicitly not made for Netflix or Amazon. Dunkirk is the opposite of the ideal home-viewing movie, as Nolan puts together a purely experiential piece of cinema. The result is breathtaking, if you’re able to get on Dunkirk’s level. There’s no sense in trying to piece together the narrative or figure out the characters’ backstories—the purpose of Dunkirk is to sit back and let Nolan transport you to the beaches, to the sea, and to the air, to offer an unforgettable experience that helps further understand the heroic actions of these men in the face of certain defeat by putting you, as close to “literally” as possible, in their shoes. In many ways this is the film that Nolan’s been building to his entire career, and it’s surely one of his best. – Adam Chitwood
After charting the lives of drug addicts and irresponsible dads in New York City, the Safdie brothers turned to full-blown criminality in Good Time. Robert Pattinson is frighteningly intense and occasionally hysterical in the role of Connie Nikas, who spends a night in the five boroughs trying to track down his brother (Benny Safdie) after he’s picked up for armed robbery. What begins with some sweet-talk with his wealthy quasi-girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) at the bondsman’s office ends with Connie trying to cash in on a Sprite bottle full of acid, and the lunacy of this journey is not lost on the film’s creative team. Working from a script by Josh Safdie and Ronald Bronstein, the directors see Connie as no less instinctual than a horny dog, doing anything to get what he needs done, no matter how stupid or unhelpful his actions may be. There are more than a few allusions to Trump in Nikas’ character – he doesn’t drink and is quick to see others as less intelligent or worthy of his time – but to make direct parallels would miss the point. Pattinson’s untamed idiot only lives off the abundant privileges that being white, male, and capable of convincing people they are inferior or owe him affords him and little else, a notion that many critics ludicrously accused the Safdies of not being aware of or criticizing to their distinct satisfaction. He’s not just Trump but every white man who paints himself as a victim in order to avoid facing just how empty and talentless they are when all is said and done. If there was a more timely movie in 2017, I didn’t see it. – Chris Cabin
I’m so glad this movie exists and that it functions as an announcement that Greta Gerwig is not only a major talent, but also a talent that can go beyond herself. My fear going into Lady Bird is that the movie would be too autobiographical and Gerwig would have unintentionally created a parody of her mumblecore roles. Instead, she provided a film that was personal and specific. It’s a movie that relishes its lived-in relationships while never being exclusionary.
On my first viewing, I found the movie to be a very good example of the coming-of-age dramedy. Upon a repeat viewing, I see it as one of the best examples the genre has to offer. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are both amazing as they relish both the highs and lows of their mother-daughter relationship, and watching Lady Bird’s rocky senior year, complete with all the honest missteps a teenager makes, turns Gerwig’s debut into an unforgettable feature. – Matt Goldberg
I first saw Call Me by Your Name at the Sundance Film Festival, almost a year ago. I was blown away then, and it’s remained my favorite movie of 2017 ever since. The filmmaking on display in this 80s-set summer romance/coming-of-age/coming-out story is phenomenal. Director Luca Guadagnino does such a masterful job of making the world of his film real and tactile that for two and a half hours, you feel as though you’re there in Italy with Elio and Oliver, feeling what they’re feeling. From the precise yet intimate cinematography to the impeccable sound design to the almost dreamlike choices of music, every inch of Call Me by Your Name feels like it was tuned just right.
That certainly extends to the performances, and it’s the work of Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer that solidifies the film’s connection with its audience as something truthful. You feel the love blossoming between these two, but you also delight in watching them tiptoe around each other at first, playing a passive-aggressive game of chicken. These characters feel lived in and fully realized, and Chalamet and Hammer both rise to the occasion and then some.
A lot of the films on this list solidified my faith in the power of cinema, and that’s true of Call Me by Your Name. It’s a wildly empathetic film, but it’s almost magically transportative. Film as a medium has the capacity to transport the viewer’s consciousness to another time or place, if only for a moment, but with Call Me by Your Name Guadagnino not only sustains the illusion for the entirety of the film’s runtime, he imbues each and every frame of the film with emotional honesty, making this an experience that you feel deep in your bones, not just with your senses. That’s pretty incredible, and in a day and age where our attentions are being pulled in every single direction all the time, a film that works this well, on this level, and speaks to the universality of love and heartbreak, is basically a miracle. – Adam Chitwood
What hasn’t been written about Jordan Peele’s groundbreaking debut thus far? One thing that has slipped threw the cracks is all the allusions to Luis Bunuel, the master provocateur of the bourgeoisie and upper classes. It’s first noticeable in the long shot when Chris and Rose first arrive at the Armitage house, framed to accent the idyllic aesthetic of the home and its lawn before it pulls out to reveal the black groundskeeper who made it so. Of course, as we’ll find out, the groundskeeper isn’t exactly the groundskeeper, and neither is the cordial yet uneasy maid. Though Get Out’s script follows the beats of horror, it’s really social commentary in the same fiery range as Bunuel’s ferocious class critiques. The humor is more distinctly American, and so is the anger, which can be felt rumbling beneath each frame of this masterpiece. As for Peele, he wouldn’t need to make another movie for his entire life after this, considering not only the runaway fiscal success of the movie but also its seemingly near-universal appeal. Even so, I hope he makes a 100 more movies before he gets tired. – Chris Cabin
Paul Thomas Anderson makes masterpieces. It’s just what he does. At this point, it’s getting a little ridiculous. I even stan for The Master and Inherent Vice, but Phantom Thread easily ranks as one of his most gorgeous and simple films, stunning for an intimacy and honesty unrivaled on his resume since Punch Drunk Love. Phantom Thread gets even more bare, even less adorned — unless you count the gorgeous constructions Daniel Day-Lewis’ high society dressmaker strings together at the behest of obsessive genius.
In what is supposedly his final film, Day-Lewis embodies the elegant skin of Reynolds Woodcock, an auteur of the fashion world sought out by royalty and celebrities for his custom gowns. He is rigid, consumed, and not just a little bit of a baby about the circumstances he requires for his art to thrive. When an unassuming but tenacious and wickedly clever young waitress catches his eye, the two embark on a stormy love affair that moves from tantalizing to stifling to something resembling commitment, twisted though it may be to the emotional perversions of this particular pair.
They say that in a relationship one person is always chasing and the other is being chased. In that sense, Phantom Thread is the tortoise and the hare; a fable of love and commitment about the lengths we go to in order to the keep our lover’s heart on the hook. Vicky Krieps is an honest to god revelation as Alma, the unlikely match to Day-Lewis’ consummate bachelor, and as his no-nonsense sister, Lesley Manville gives the withering yet empathetic performance she was born for. That excellent extends from casting and performance through every technical level of Anderson’s elegantly composed film. Johnny Greenwood’s score is an all-timer, and without a traditional cinematographer Anderson and credited lighting cameraman Michael Bauman work in tandem to craft a gorgeous, moody ambiance. The elements come together as a spell so hypnotic, I stayed sat in my seat clear through the credits, immobilized and absorbing every last second the screen would give me. I could have sat there forever. – Haleigh Foutch
Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water has a mute protagonist, a Cold War backdrop, and an aquatic creature that has spots on his skin that glows like a map of the universe. It’s also a love story. It’s perhaps his most ambitious film because combining those elements plus a narrative weave of non-verbal communication—or the faultiness of relying on words—is extremely difficult even before I tell you that the love story is between a woman and a creature. As such, it’s an immense achievement because The Shape of Water not only entertains as a sumptuous fairytale, but it reinforces a faith in humanity set in a time where tolerance of other races, nationalities, and non-“family values” love was volatile. Much like it feels like that time period of intolerance is percolating back to the surface now. This is del Toro’s Beauty and the Beast with the delicate time period touches and social consciousness of Far from Heaven.
Set in 1950’s Baltimore, The Shape of Water opens in a flooded apartment that rests above a movie theater. There are two apartments above the theater, one belonging to Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman who works as a janitor at a high-clearance research facility, the other belongs to her friend Giles (Richard Jenkins), a homosexual editorial painter who’s lost his standing at an advertising firm. The theater below is decorated almost like a cathedral, as old theaters were. Eventually this film reveals a creature and it’d be easy for del Toro to show 1950’s creature features in the theater but instead the glimpses we get into the theater show biblical epics.
This ends up being a nice touch by del Toro because cinema has always served as a refuge for the “freaks” of the world, even if entertainment hasn’t always included them. And every person who assists in breaking out the creature from the laboratory is in different ways someone who’s been marginalized by society. Whether it’s the less employable mute woman, her gay friend, her black co-worker, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), or the scientist spy, Dmitri (Michael Stuhlbarg), who goes against the orders of the Kremlin to destroy it before the American military can learn from it (because national wars impeding research of a creature we could learn from goes against science, which knows no borders or nationalities). Those impeding them are the military of the governments on each side, governments that also suppress homosexuality and allow businesses to enforce discrimination against people of color.
It’s this combination of characters—I’d actually watch a whole movie of Elisa and Giles as neighbors itself—combined with the extreme harsh acts done by governmental officials that makes The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro’s best film to date. Also, it helps that there are a few romantic moments that visually rival the dizzying heights of La La Land.Brian Formo
For all of Collider’s Best of 2017 content, click here, and peruse our other personal staff lists below:
The Collider Staff is a diverse collection of talented writers who bring a wealth of experience, thoughtfulness, and knowledge to their analysis of entertainment. Whether you want a searing hot take on the MCU or you still can’t get over that ‘Game of Thrones’ finale, Collider’s writers always approach the world of entertainment with a keen eye and a ready mind.
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