The Best Movies of 2017: Our Critic’s Picks

These are the 17 best films released in the U.S. in 2017.

2017 was a terrific year filled with tremendous, fantastic films. Big or small, drama or genre, English language or foreign — the movies that played their way into our eyes, minds, and hearts will be there for years to come.

It goes without saying, but as that’s never stopped me before I’m going to say it anyway… these are the best movies that I saw this year. Me. Rob. I haven’t seen every film released — at last count I’ve watched 213 movies that opened in the U.S. in 2017 — but Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread and Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 are the only “contenders” that have still eluded me.

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Discs Mother

17. Mother!

The first half of Darren Aronofsky‘s latest is insufferable and roughly thirty minutes too long, but somehow the film still lands on my best of the year list. How? Because the second hour is the year’s most audacious Hollywood output by a long shot. It’s an utterly compelling and devastating allegory brought to vivid life with a stellar cast, eye-catching production design, and Aronofsky’s exacting vision.

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16. The Florida Project

The characters at the heart of Sean Baker‘s follow-up to Tangerine are the people who many of us see on a regular basis — the people working hard to earn a living, the people struggling in poverty, and the kids who don’t know any different. Willem Dafoe steals the film and our hearts with his compassion fueling what amounts to a deceptively warm American tragedy.

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Mudbound - Netflix

15. Mudbound

Don’t let its Netflix origins fool you. Dee Rees‘ look at the intertwined history and disparate lives of two American families is big, bold, aggressively emotional cinema. Our nation’s ugliest attitudes are on display here, but they’re paired with real beauty in both its themes and cinematography.

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14. Get Out

There’s little question that Jordan Peele‘s film is the most notable debut feature of the year. Let those with too much time on their hands argue whether it’s comedy or horror — the bottom line is that it’s an incredibly smart film blending genre and social commentary into entertainment that both reflects and refracts our real world.

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Hostiles Christian Bale

13. Hostiles

Our ugly history is once again on display, but while the landscape — the American West — is vast the focus is small and centered on two men. One is an American soldier disgusted by the natives, and the other is a native disgusted with America. Their journey from point A to point B is the travels of our country itself, from hatred through redemption — or at least through the closest thing to it. Fantastic performances, attractive visuals, and brutal action combine into Scott Cooper‘s best film.

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12. John Wick: Chapter 2

An action sequel? What kind of “best of” list is this anyway. The short answer is the kind that acknowledges brilliance. The longer answer, though, simply points out that it’s action perfection, beautifully choreographed, and even more gorgeously shot. Add in a narrative that leaves you wholly satisfied and thirsty for more, and you have the year’s best action movie.

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Atonement Dunkirk Establishing

11. Dunkirk

Like Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan before him, Christopher Nolan‘s latest crafts massive set-pieces awash with adrenaline, energy, and visceral reactions to what we’re seeing onscreen. Three smaller narratives move effortlessly together into one grand tale of compassion, bravery, and everyday heroism, and it doesn’t let go until the final moments.

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10. Personal Shopper

Grief, loss, and our refusal to let go sit at the heart of this ethereal drama featuring yet another stirring and affecting performance from Kristen Stewart. If you’re still not a fan — inexplicably — this one should ensnare you in her quietly assured talents.

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Bad Genius

9. Bad Genius

A high-school heist film about teens cheating on their national exams may not seem like the makings of a “year’s best” film, but Nattawut Poonpiriya‘s second feature is the real deal. As slick as an Ocean’s Eleven film but with far more heart, its two hour-plus running time flies by pausing only to ratchet up both tension and tears.

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8. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Wonder Woman remains one of the year’s biggest hits, and deservedly so, but if there’s any justice this even more heroic tale will find some small portion of that audience. It’s a love story no less powerful for its unusual structure, and both creation and artistry are found amid its fleshy, intellectual fumblings. Sexy and important aren’t often used as descriptors for the same piece of art, but here both are breathlessly true and applicable.

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The Square

7. The Square

Ruben Östlund‘s Force Majeure showed him to be a filmmaker in complete control of tone and the balance between light and dark. His latest confirms that assessment in grand fashion as he satirizes the actions and affections of a society that prides itself on “good” works and knowing “better” than others. It gets to the core of our humanity with wit, dark comedy, and a begrudging acknowledgement that we can always do better than we think we’re doing.

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6. A Ghost Story

Quiet and meditative, David Lowery’s latest is also a stunningly beautiful look at life, love, death, grief, and the necessary importance of the passage of time. Affecting imagery, a compelling score, and an ending guaranteed to leave you wrecked (provided you’ve been paying attention) all come together for a fantastic film and message that’s sadly an important one in today’s world.

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5. Foxtrot

The screen is a familiar home to indictments of war, both as concept and reality, but few films tackle their prey with such biting confidence as Samuel Maoz‘s (Lebanon) latest. What starts as a straightforward tale of grief shifts into an occasionally surreal but continually beautiful look at the pains we cause ourselves and others.

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4. Dawson City: Frozen Time

Documentaries rarely grab me as effectively as narrative films, and even when a subject moves me the resulting movie usually fades from my focus sooner rather than later. There have been exceptions with films as varied as Maidentrip and The Look of Silence having cracked by unconscious bias to make my year end list of the best movies, and 2017 sees it happening once again. Bill Morrison’s film begins with a “crazy but true” story involving silent film reels found buried beneath a small town in the Yukon. What moves it from interesting to mesmerizing, though, is the way in which he tells his tale. Film clips, archival footage, and old photographs unspool the story of the town itself, from boons to busts, from triumphs to tragedies, and in doing so it creates a strangely meditative journey through the history of America and film itself.

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3. Columbus

Writer/director Kogonada‘s feature debut is as delicately beautiful a film as you’re likely to see. It’s a film as filled with silence as it is talking, and while John Cho’s dramatic maturity is on full display as a leading man Haley Lu Richardson’s performance sneaks up on you as she goes from engaging young woman to a quietly devastating presence. It’s a film about opening your eyes to the people, objects, and opportunities around you, and then acting accordingly, and it’s a quiet stunner.

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2. Thelma

Oslo, August 31st showed that director/co-writer Joachim Trier understands both the strengths and tears of the human heart, and his latest confirms his empathy and curiosity remain in fine form. The film tells a powerful coming of age tale about discovering the truth of who you are and then being true to that discovery, and newcomer Eili Harboe sells every resulting moment.

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Call Me By Your Name

1. Call Me By Your Name

Each new film you see holds the potential of being the best of that particular year, and typically that #1 will change as each month passes on the way to the year’s end. Luca Guadagnino‘s latest is a rare and gorgeous exception in that it’s been the best film of the year since I first saw it at Sundance in January. It’s a beautiful love story, an endearing tale of an open and caring family, and a tremendous ode to the power of youthful emotions. Two terrific lead performances, a terrifically affecting supporting turn from Michael Stuhlbarg, and the best end credits in the history of film add to its overwhelming effect.

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