The Best Films of 2017

Top 10 of the Year

1. DunkirkChristopher Nolan
2. Blade Runner 2049Denis Villeneuve
3. ColumbusKogonada
4. Phantom ThreadPaul Thomas Anderson
5. First ReformedPaul Schrader
6. Call Me By Your NameLuca Guadagnino
7. Good TimeThe Safdie Brothers
8. The Shape of WaterGuillermo del Toro
9. You Were Never Really HereLynne Ramsay
10. Get OutJordan Peele

Best Film

Dunkirk. It is an intricate contraption of a film – a swiss watch with inner mechanisms that are so painstakingly in sync with each other that it looks effortless. Christopher Nolan’s best films always possess some brilliant mix of parallel editing and montages, but by stripping back conventional plotting to a minimum here he constructs a pure exercise in editing along the lines of Battleship Potemkin or Breathless. Like those cinematic landmarks, Dunkirk delivers a jolt of stylistic innovation, following three separate narrative strands set over a week, a day, and an hour leading up to the eventual evacuation. The effect is deliberately disorientating, jumping across multiple timelines that eventually meet at a single point in time, recalling the similarly climactic finale of D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance. Considering this along with Hoyte van Hoytema’s IMAX photography and Hans Zimmer’s distillation of a heart attack in the form of music, and you get an easy #1 film of 2017, as well as the #3 film of the decade.

Dunkirk is a supreme achievement for Christopher Nolan on many levels. Gone are the chunks of bulky exposition, and in its place is a lean narrative structure that frees him up for pure cinematic innovation.

Most Underrated

Columbus. I would almost say Blade Runner 2049 owns this category given its position at #20 of 2017 on the TPSDT list, but Koganada’s astonishing debut isn’t anywhere to be found on there at all. Hopefully this is rectified with time, perhaps as he continues to build his career and becomes a bigger name in the industry.

Like Antonioni, Koganada has an eye for architecture which turns it into expressions of character.

Most Overrated

Lady Bird. It hurts a little to call this one out, given how much it is a personal favourite. The screenplay and performances can’t be faulted, and Greta Gerwig has a wickedly sharp sense of humour. #4 of the decade is just too high though for something that refuses to engage with any visual aesthetic, and which doesn’t really pack a formal punch. Thankfully she would go on to prove she is capable of delivering both with 2019’s Little Women, where her artistic voice significantly matures.

Greta Gerwig’s screenplay can’t be faulted. It is engaging, funny, smart, and incisive – she just doesn’t yet have the visual direction to back that up.

Best Directorial Debut

Columbus. This is also a strong contender for the best debut of the decade as a whole. Koganada’s roots are in online video essays, so it is no surprise that he brings a considerable understanding of film theory and history to his work as a director. Given that Columbus is so architecture-focused, comparisons to Michelangelo Antonioni will naturally emerge, but it also shares Yasujirō Ozu’s fascination with hallways, windows, and doorways as frames, submerging his characters in a city that expresses the potential of human imagination as large, postmodern constructs.

It is a stroke of genius in this shot to use existing architecture as divisions in the mise-en-scène, splitting up these characters as they say goodbye.

Gem to Spotlight

A Ghost Story. David Lowery transforms the material world into a quiet limbo of poignant self-reflection in this philosophical drama, playing out a meditation on loss, history, and existence from the perspective of the deceased. He effectively translates the inert feeling of grief into a gradually accelerating narrative pace that sees time frustratingly slip away, moving from static shots which last several minutes into montages that start leaping decades and centuries ahead. Despite the title, the only horror to be found here is purely existential.

David Lowery executes an intelligent metaphysical study of grief and the passage of time in The Ghost Story, gradually accelerating its pacing as seconds and centuries flit by.

Best Male Performances

Ryan Gosling’s performance in Blade Runner 2049 is comparable to Rutger Hauer’s in the 1982 film, finding a human sensitivity within the cold stoicism of their replicant characters, but he also benefits from being given even greater screen time to work through his internal conflicts. The scene where he discovers the toy horse in the factory is simply a masterclass of silent acting, seeing his entire world turn upside down purely through his muted facial expressions that hold back an existential terror.

Ethan Hawke is next, subverting his romantic image from Richard Linklater’s films as the stern Reverend Toller in First Reformed. This is a typical Paul Schrader protagonist – introspective, weary, and highly intelligent, though Hawke puts his own highly-strung spin on this archetype as a religious figure slowly losing his faith and grip on reality.

Ryan Gosling gets his fourth acting mention in this category for Blade Runner 2049, doing what he does best with his stoic, silent acting.

Daniel Day-Lewis’ final film performance before retiring (we’ll see) stands among the best of his brilliant career, playing the perfectionistic fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock in Paul Thomas Anderson’s gorgeous period piece. Timothee Chalamet is in the same class in Call Me By Your Name – he is only 22 years old here, but he effectively sets himself on the road towards becoming one of the greatest actors of his generation. This is a coming-of-age drama that navigates transgressive territory, and Chalamet contains so much sensitivity and youthful idealism in his performance.

After freeing himself from the Twilight series, Robert Pattinson took risks by picking up more arthouse films, and it all pays off here in Good Time with his wide-eyed, highly-strung bank robber. Joaquin Phoenix plays a far more sympathetic antihero in You Were Never Really Here, packing on weight (just two years before he would shed it all again for Joker) and moving around like a mass of depressing, negative space.

Returning briefly to Blade Runner 2049, Harrison Ford returns to the role of Rick Deckard several decades later and outdoes his original performance, while Daniel Kaluuya owns virtually the entirety of Get Out. Finally, John Cho is a thoughtful, sensitive fit for Koganada’s gentle ruminations in Columbus.

Daniel Day-Lewis is one of cinema’s great method actors, and his performance in Phantom Thread is as introspectively perfectionistic as his character.

Best Female Performances

It is not an overly strong year in this category. Sally Hawkins’ mute performance in The Shape of Water leaves everything up to her incredibly expressive face, playing out the complexities and nuances of this fairy tale heroine. Not far below her, Margot Robbie gives her single strongest performance in I, Tonya, nailing every single strained, unhinged eccentricity of the controversial sporting figure. Her scene in front of the mirror applying makeup as she tries to cover up her agony with a passionless show smile is incredible to watch. Lastly, Haley Lu Richardson makes real, heartfelt connection with John Cho in Columbus, and earns the final mention.

Sally Hawkins proves she doesn’t need dialogue to convey character in The Shape of Water, placing so much emphasis on her expressive face.

Best Cinematography: Blade Runner 2049

1. Blade Runner 2049Roger Deakins
2. DunkirkHoyte van Hoytema
3. Phantom ThreadPaul Thomas Anderson
4. ColumbusElisha Christian
5. The Shape of WaterDan Laustsen
6. Good TimeSean Price Williams
7. First ReformedAlexander Dynan
8. The BeguiledPhilippe Le Sourd
9. Call Me By Your NameSayombhu Mukdeeprom
10. The Killing of a Sacred DeerThimios Bakatakis
Blade Runner 2049 is surely a landmark of visual effects, but it may also be Roger Deakins’ best work. There is so much in the lighting and colours which build out the sci-fi world Ridley Scott created in 1982.

Best Editing: Dunkirk

1. DunkirkLee Smith
2. You Were Never Really HereJoe Bini
3. Baby DriverPaul Machliss, Jonathan Amos
4. Blader Runner 2049Joe Walker
5. Good TimeRonald Bronstein, Josh Safdie
6. I, TonyaTatiana S. Riegel
7. Call Me By Your NameWalter Fasano
8. A Ghost StoryDavid Lowery
9. First ReformedBenjamin Rodriguez Jr.
Enough can’t be said about the editing of Dunkirk. It is pure tension and disaster rendered on film for close to two hours. It also showcases some of the greatest editing in history – and I don’t make that claim lightly.

Best Screenplay: First Reformed

1. First ReformedPaul Schrader
2. Call Me By Your NameJames Ivory
3. Phantom ThreadPaul Thomas Anderson
4. Get OutJordan Peele
5. ColumbusKoganada
6. Good TimeRonald Bronstein, Josh Safdie
7. Blade Runner 2049Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
8. I, TonyaSteven Rogers
Paul Schrader wrote some of cinema’s finest screenplays including Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, and First Reformed sees him continue along the line of formally intensive character studies, this one centring a troubled man of faith.

Best Original Music Score: Dunkirk

1. DunkirkHans Zimmer
2. Phantom ThreadJonny Greenwood
3. The Shape of WaterAlexandre Desplat
4. Blade Runner 2049Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch
5. You Were Never Really HereJonny Greenwood
6. A Ghost StoryDaniel Hart
7. Good TimeOneohtrix Point Never
If Dunkirk is a Swiss watch, then Hans Zimmer’s score is its constant ticking, using auditory illusions to ratchet up the tension with no resolution.

Year Breakdown

Until 2019 came along, this was the single best year of the 2010s, with both huge depth to its quality and a monumental masterpiece sitting right at the top.

We’ll get to both, but first we have to praise Christopher Nolan coming out with his most accomplished film yet, Dunkirk – the third best film of the decade. He is the single greatest working director during this time period, and this is effectively his purest exercise in formal filmmaking, excising the cumbersome dialogue that can sometimes drag down even great masterpieces like Inception, and laying into his strengths as an editor. As the leading modern blockbuster auteur, he is a great source of inspiration for others like Denis Villeneuve, and this just so happens to be the year that he too made his best film in Blade Runner 2049 – a worthy sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic.

Although Koganada’s Columbus got the shout-out as the best directorial debut of the year, we need to take time to recognise the emergence of Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig. Get Out is just managing to hang on there in my top 10, and although Lady Bird is sitting a little further down, it still shows the promise of a great filmmaker. Meanwhile, other directors like Chloé Zhao, David Lowery, Luca Guadagnino, and the Safdie Brothers are finding their own breakthroughs, gaining international attention respectively for The Rider, A Ghost Story, Call Me By Your Name, and Good Time.

Call Me By Your Name marks a huge breakthrough for Luca Guadagnino this year, and also cements Timothee Chalamet’s rising star.

Another name you probably wouldn’t have expected to find in this year’s top 10 is Paul Schrader, who is effectively making a major comeback with First Reformed and kicking off his late career Renaissance. This is the man who wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, and this follows in the same lineage of formally intensive character studies.

Guillermo del Toro finds success at the Oscars, beating back healthy competition to win Best Picture with The Shape of Water. It is one of those times that the Academy doesn’t get it completely right, but it is so close you can hardly complain – virtually every frame of this Cold War monster fantasy is so beautifully curated.

Franchise movies continue to dominate the box office in 2017, with The Last Jedi especially pulling in large numbers and stoking controversy among Star Wars fans. There are significant flaws here, but nothing that entirely could sink Rian Johnson’s brilliant visual direction. This is easily one of the most handsomely mounted Star Wars films after A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. 2017 is also a notable year for some decent comic book movies, with James Gunn continuing his Guardians of the Galaxy series, Taika Waititi taking the Thor franchise in a fresh new direction, and James Mangold sending out Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine with a Western-style farewell in Logan.

You just don’t get shots like this in your average Marvel movie. Taika Waititi brings fresh humour in Thor: Ragnarok, but he also has an eye for striking imagery.

Film Archives

A Fantastic WomanSebastián LelioR/HR
A Ghost StoryDavid LoweryHR
Baby DriverEdgar WrightHR
Blade Runner 2049Denis VilleneuveMS/MP
Call Me By Your NameLuca GuadagninoMS
CocoLee UnkrichR
Darkest HourJoe WrightR
DunkirkChristopher NolanMP
First ReformedPaul SchraderMS
Get OutJordan PeeleHR
Good TimeThe Safdie BrothersMS
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2James GunnR
Happy EndMichael HanekeR
I, TonyaCraig GillespieHR
ItAndy MuschiettiR
John Wick: Chapter 2Chad StahelskiR
Lady BirdGreta GerwigR/HR
LoganJames MangoldR
Loving VincentDorota Kobiela, Hugh WelchmanR
Molly’s GameAaron SorkinR
MudboundDee ReesR
Paddington 2Paul KingHR
Phantom ThreadPaul Thomas AndersonMS
Star Wars: The Last JediRian JohnsonR
Sweet CountryWarwick ThorntonR
The BeguiledSofia CoppolaHR
The Big SickMichael ShowalterR
The BreadwinnerNora TwomeyR
The Disaster ArtistJames FrancoR
The Florida ProjectSean BakerHR
The Killing of a Sacred DeerYorgos LanthimosHR
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)Noah BaumbachR
The PostSteven SpielbergR
The RiderChloé ZhaoR/HR
The Shape of WaterGuillermo del ToroMS
The WifeBjörn RungeR
Thor: RagnarokTaika WaititiR
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriMartin McDonaghR
You Were Never Really HereLynne RamsayHR
Paul Thomas Anderson slightly faltered in 2014 with Inherent Vice, but he is almost entirely back on form here in Phantom Thread with some lush cinematography and rich characterisations.

4 thoughts on “The Best Films of 2017”

    1. Hi Pedro, it was definitely one I thought about. For the actor and actress categories I mostly consider films with a rating of HR or higher (reason being I take into account ability to pick quality projects), and I came at the other categories with a similar general rule. Lady Bird is one of the few films (at least from the pages I’ve put together) that might tempt me to break that. It’s still an R/HR which is pretty impressive, and I do have a very soft spot for it. Perhaps it will find its way on there with a future update or rewatch.


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