The 50 Best Movies of 2017

Movies Lists Best Of 2017
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The 50 Best Movies of 2017

One idea to ultimately keep in mind, as you count down the best movies of the year with us, is that this list is the result of math. Each staff writer put together a top 20 of their favorite movies of the year, contributing to an aggregate list based on points assigned according to where each film ranked. The goal was and has always been to provide an overview of staff tastes, however much individual lists differed. Which is to say: if you’re pissed or elated about anything being on here or not being on here, then chances are at least one Paste Movies staff writer agrees with you.

For example: A Cure for Wellness, our #50 film, was despised by a few staff members, but it was Oktay Ege Kozak’s favorite movie of the year. Similarly, The Shape of Water was a consensus pick, though Dom Sinacola recently wrote about how much he dislikes the way Guillermo del Toro tells stories. Kyle Turner panned Call Me By Your Name, but then it found a prominent place on other lists. And Matt Brennan bemoaned the quandary of us critics reviewing and ranking films that most readers can’t see—in fact, more than half of our staff hasn’t seen Phantom Thread, because we don’t live in NY or LA—which still didn’t keep those films out of the top 50.

It’s been a phenomenal year for film, and most of that judgment is based on the broad variety of favorites that make up our section’s taste. Regardless of how enraged or enchanted you were with movies these past 11-ish months, we still hope that you can find plenty to love in the following.

And be sure to check out our other Best of 2017 lists here:

The 20 Best Movie Performances of 2017
The 15 Best Horror Movies of 2017
The 15 Best Documentaries of 2017
The 10 Best Movie Scores of 2017
The Best Movie Trailers of 2017

Here are the 50 best movies of 2017:

cure-wellness-movie-poster.jpg 50. A Cure for Wellness
Director: Gore Verbinski
It’s a bit of a tragedy that Gore Verbinski’s delightfully bizarre, absurdly violent and grotesque A Cure For Wellness went largely unnoticed. Hollywood’s versatile trickster, Verbinski and screenwriter Justin Haythe go for broke cramming various sub-genres and mood-drenched tropes into an overstuffed, batshit-crazy horror epic, a loving nod to old Universal monster movies, among many, with the mad scientist conducting experiments that “defy god and nature” in a picturesque old castle perched atop a village that somehow skipped the 20th Century, Bojan Bazelli’s gorgeous cinematography taking full advantage of the Euro-gothic aesthetic. It’s a no-fucks-given gonzo experiment, laced with the riskiness of Giallo and the surrealist imagery of a Lynchian nightmare, disparate tones wrapped dreamily around an angry, blunt satire about the self-destructive, soul-sucking nature of greed and ambition. —Oktay Ege Kozak / Full Review


after-the-storm-movie-poster.jpg 49. After the Storm
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Depending on the filmmaker, After the Storm’s storyline could be grist for a dark comedy, a tear-jerking melodrama or a bilious character study. But because it springs from the mind of Japanese writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda, this look at a middle-aged man who’s only slowly coming to the realization that he’s a right bastard is gentle, wistful—serene even. The film stars Hiroshi Abe (who previously appeared in Kore-eda’s I Wish) as Ryota. Years ago, he was a novelist of some acclaim—he even won a prestigious literary prize—but lately, the muse has run dry, leaving Ryota busily tending to his gambling addiction while taking a job as a private detective. And that’s when Ryota is not snooping on his ex-wife Kyoko (Yoko Maki) to see who she’s dating now, even cajoling his 11-year-old son Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa) to question her about how serious this new relationship is. If a melancholy, troubled tone is endemic in Kore-eda’s work, so is his close chronicling of family dynamics. While Ryota fears turning into the same terminal disappointment as his father—or, perhaps, the disappointment he perceived him to be—he tries to win Shingo’s affection, buying him gifts to assert his supremacy over his ex’s new boyfriend. In Ryota’s mind, it’s how to be close to his boy in a way his father never was with him, but After the Storm knows better, recognizing all the ways that he’s failing his kid—and also how, like its own kind of genetic gravity, Ryota is becoming his old man, unable to correct the mistakes of the past. But there’s no scorn in Kore-eda’s depiction of Ryota’s transformation, the director’s patience towards Ryota is both touching and despairing. After the Storm shows this man more kindness than perhaps he deserves, but the film has no illusions: Only Ryota can pull himself out of his own hole. But that’s the thing about having faith in people—it makes it that much easier for them to keep breaking your heart. —Tim Grierson / Full Review


brawl-cell-block-99-poster.jpg 48. Brawl in Cell Block 99
Director: S. Craig Zahler
In which we bask in Vince Vaughn’s hugeness, witnessing S. Craig Zahler’s pitch-perfect ode to grindhouse cinema draw the best of extremes out of an actor who’s had a rough couple years crawling out from under the parody of himself. This is not Vince Vaughn playing Bradley Thomas, stolid brute willing to do whatever it takes to protect his family, it is the silhouette of Vince Vaughn, silent and bigger than everyone else in the room, a spectre of bruised flesh—so much flesh—descending circle by circle into Hades, his odyssey heralded by the likes of Don Johnson and Udo Kier, both seemingly born to be in this endlessly compelling, awfully fucked-up movie, and soundtracked by soul/RnB icons like the O’Jays and Butch Tavares, confirming that Zahler—along with Bone Tomahawk—is on some Tarantino levels of modern genre filmmaking. Which could honestly be a pejorative, were Brawl in Cell Block 99 less finely tuned, less patient and less phantasmagorically, breathlessly violent. By the time Bradley lurches into irrevocable action—foreshadowed by an opening scene in which he rips apart a car with his bare hands, which is exactly as that sounds—every life force he snuffs out with maximum barbarity also comes with pure satisfaction, the Id of anyone who’s into this kind of thing stroked to completion. —Dom Sinacola


nocturama-poster.jpg 47. Nocturama
Director: Bertrand Bonello
Nocturama trusts its audience—more, even, than its audience may want to be trusted. Throughout, director Betrand Bonello folds timelines, indulges in flashbacks and replays moments from different perspectives, rarely with any warning but hardly without precision or consistency, investigating the comparatively small world of his film from every angle while implying that a much bigger, much more complicated world exists outside of its admittedly limited view. Bonello’s tact offers no explanations; his story follows a gaggle of beautiful Parisian teens, seemingly representing a broad swath of life, participating in a terrorist act, from planning through meticulous execution, and then, in the aftermath of the explosions, to the high-end department store where the teens hide out to watch the City respond. Bonello never allows these kids a monologue or conversation or anecdote to explain why they’ve gone to such extremes—their political understanding is about as sophisticated as that of a college student who’s only recently discovered Noam Chomsky, and even these beliefs they mumble to one another without much dedication. Instead, Nocturama is all surface, all watching: the faces of these innocents as they silently go about their terror, the tension that arises from knowing there is so much obscured behind those faces but also seeing so much so clearly in those faces, and then knowing that we will never know. Because these teens seem fine, even existentially so. They seem middle class, comfortable, unburdened by the wiles of puberty, free to do what they want, be with whom they want, say what they want—and only in the department store, amongst designer clothes and expensive, pointless home goods, do they yearn for more, potentially blowing up Paris not to protest anything, but to beg to be a part of the elite who define it. This is terrorism not against capitalism, but for it. Bonello trusts his audience to know the difference. —Dom Sinacola


the-lure-poster.jpg 46. The Lure
Director: Agnieszka Smoczynska
In Filmmaker Magazine, director Agnieszka Smoczynska called The Lure a “coming-of-age story” born of her past as the child of a nightclub owner: “I grew up breathing this atmosphere.” What she means to say, I’m guessing, is that The Lure is an even more restlessly plotted Boyhood if the Texan movie rebooted The Little Mermaid as a murderous synth-rock opera. (OK, maybe it’s nothing like Boyhood.) Smoczynska’s film resurrects prototypical fairy tale romance and fantasy without any of the false notes associated with Hollywood’s “gritty” reboot culture. Poland, the 1980s and the development of its leading young women provide a multi-genre milieu in which the film’s cannibalistic mermaids can sing their sultry, often violently funny siren songs to their dark hearts’re content. While Ariel the mermaid Disney princess finds empathy with young girls who watch her struggle with feelings of longing and entrapment, The Lure’s flesh-hungry, viscous, scaly fish-people are a gross, haptic and ultimately effective metaphor for the maturation of this same audience. In the water, the pair are innocent to the ways of humans (adults), but on land develop slimes and odors unfamiliar to themselves and odd (yet strangely attractive) to their new companions. Reckoning with bodily change, especially when shoved into the sex industry like many immigrants to Poland during the collapse of that country’s communist regime in the late ’80s, the film combines the politics of the time with the sexual politics of a girl becoming a woman (of having her body politicized). And though The Lure may bite off more human neck than it can chew, especially during its music-less plot wanderings, it’s just so wonderfully consistent in its oddball vision you won’t be able to help but be drawn in by its mesmerizing thrall. —Jacob Oller / Full Review


marjorie-prime-movie-poster.jpg 45. Marjorie Prime
Director: Michael Almereyda
Marjorie Prime is an elusive movie. You could call it dense, but calling it agile, or maybe just tricky, better describes the film’s character. Another director might have felt compelled to present Marjorie Prime as a mystery box, a riddle to be solved instead of a film to be savored, and peppered its plot with clues to vie for our attention, encouraging us to figure out the box’s secrets before its creator tips their hand. Michawl Almereyda gives not a single damn about outsmarting his viewers or his viewers outsmarting him. Like him or not, there’s no point denying how well he’s aged as a filmmaker throughout his extensive career. Appropriate, then, that this is a movie about precisely that—age—and all of the melancholic baggage and ennui that comes along with it. Working from Jordan Harrison’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play of the same name, Almereyda presents a tale of generational grief, in which elderly Marjorie (Lois Smith, reprising her role from the original play) is kept company in her modern seaside abode by a hologram modeled after her late husband, Walter (Jon Hamm). Walter, referred to coolly as “Walter Prime” by Marjorie’s daughter, Tess (Geena Davis), and her son in law, Jon (Tim Robbins), looks and sounds like the real thing, perfectly captured as a man in his 40s by the miracle of technology. Tess thinks the whole thing is weird. Jon less so, though he has his own problems with the Walter dynamic despite being the one who purchased him for Marjorie in the first place. From there, Almeryeyda mounts an exquisitely challenging production, one that calls for repeat viewings over years, all the better to persuade the film to surrender its meaning. How does the old saying go? That a lie told often enough becomes the truth? Such is the stuff that Marjorie Prime is made of: The lies we all tell ourselves to work through mourning and the passage of life. —Andy Crump / Full Review


marston-wonder-women-movie-poster.jpg 44. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Director: Angela Robinson
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women tells the story of two married psychology professors at Radcliffe College, Bill Marston (Luke Evans) and Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall), a couple who grew up together and are deeply in love but also restless and eager for discovery. While attempting to invent a lie detector test—they eventually create one but never patent it—they meet an eager, beautiful student named Olive (Bella Heathcote) who’s the daughter of a feminist icon and as desperate for knowledge and new experiences as they are. They eventually all fall in love and live together as a menage a trois before their university finds out, fires the couple and forces them to all go live together, now with their children, to find some sort of work. The work turns out, we learn in an unnecessary narrative flash-forward sequence, to serve as the basis of Bill’s increasing interest in comic books, creating a character, based on the two women in his life and based in his feminist ideals, who is strong, smart, truthful, heroic and, well, into bondage. The love story of this family turns out to be the origin story of Wonder Woman herself. This is a fascinating story, particularly as we see little moments in the lives of the Marston clan reflected in the Wonder Woman mythos. (Olive wears metal wristbands all the time, the lasso is like the lie detectors Elizabeth and Bill invent, so on.) But writer-director Angela Robinson makes sure to keep it focused on the emotions involved, which is especially tricky considering all three characters are all so academically oriented—not to mention obsessed with deciphering the human mind and why we make the decisions we do—and are thus constantly questioning their own value systems. We really do believe that these three people love each other, and that they’re all better off together, but Robinson never tries to make this overly prudish and sanitized. The movie isn’t buttoned-up and restrained, but it isn’t brash and in your face either; it’s affably sexy, if such a thing is possible. And it never loses sight of its central premise of equality and acceptance—this movie’s heart is firmly in the right place. —Will Leitch / Full Review


casting-jonbenet-poster.jpg 43. Casting JonBenet
Director: Kitty Green
An unlikely cross-section of humanity also populates Casting JonBenet, which boasts a provocative idea that yields enormous emotional rewards. Filmmaker Kitty Green invited members of the Boulder, Colorado community where JonBenet Ramsey lived to “audition” for a film about her. But in the tradition of Kate Plays Christine or The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear, that’s actually a feint: Green uses the on-camera interviews with these people to talk about Ramsey’s murder and the still-lingering questions about who committed the crime. She’s not interested in their acting abilities—she’s trying to pinpoint the ways that a 21-year-old incident still resonates. It’s a premise that could seem cruel or exploitative, but Casting JonBenet is actually incredibly compassionate. Green wizardly finds connective tissue between all these actors, who have internalized the little girl’s killing, finding parallels in their own lives to this tragedy. High-profile murders like Ramsey’s often provoke gawking, callous media treatment, turning us all into rubberneckers, but Casting JonBenet vigorously works against that tendency, fascinated by our psychological need to judge other people’s lives, but also deeply mournful, even respectful, of the very human reasons why we do so. —Tim Grierson


the-post-movie-poster.jpg 42. The Post
Director:   Steven Spielberg  
The Post begins as a restrained procedural, sticking only to the facts surrounding The Washington Post obtaining, in 1972, top secret Pentagon Papers showing (without a doubt) that the American resolve for winning the war in Vietnam was severely diminished—the exact opposite mood the U.S. administration was claiming at the time. This strictly matter-of-fact approach would have made directors like Gosta Gavras and, yes, Alan J. Pakula proud. Of course, this being a Steven Spielberg joint, The Post can’t help but gradually bring heavy emotional tension to the film’s forefront, easing us moment by moment into a fairly manipulative yet exhilarating finale. None of that should come as a surprise: “Manipulative but exhilarating” might as well be the director’s calling card. The fact that The Post doesn’t stick to its apparent predecessors’ (All the President’s Men, Spotlight) dogged dedication to never clearly extracting strong emotional responses out of its audience might come across as a clear criticism of this otherwise airtight, tautly-paced drama with some of the best acting of the year. However, we are not living in subtle times. With the rise of authoritarianism here in the U.S. severely pushing back on the first amendment, explicitly declaring the free and open press an enemy of the people, the people need a populist piece of art with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face. That’s why, in 2017, Spielberg is the perfect director to handle this story. Who better to rouse us, give us the passion and motivation we need to not only keep up the fight against such tyranny, but to hold out some hope for salvation as well? Depending on one’s politics, then, The Post could be the most important film of the year, or a pathetic piece of left-wing agitprop, but its effectiveness in eliciting a strong emotional response cannot be denied. —Oktay Ege Kozak / Full Review


my-happy-family-movie-poster.jpg 41. My Happy Family
Directors: Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Groß
It’s a shame Netflix felt like Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß’s My Happy Family deserved a burial, that the company didn’t bother pushing the film for awards season and neglected to give it a boost in visibility for the average consumer. Because Ekvtimishvili and Groß’s latest collaboration in a long line of collaborations is superb, timely and altogether unexpected in its unwavering grace. Compared to the year’s other films centered on dysfunctional families, whether hammy (I, Tonya) or naturalist (Lady Bird), My Happy Family is a gentle tribute to dignity: Manana (Ia Shugliashvili) is never less than noble in her constant dedication to her family, even as she determines that to preserve her sanity she must move out of the apartment she shares with them and lay down roots in a pad of her own. My Happy Family doesn’t judge Manana—it validates her. It illustrates a woman’s liberation from social and familial expectations, allowing Manana to discover who she is, what she wants and where she’s going without looking down on her. But My Happy Family is a small film with grand artistic ambitions, and both Ekvtimishvili and Groß know that Manana’s bliss has its limit. They know that eventually the matters of her husband and children, plus their extended family, must be reconciled. Still, My Happy Family shows a benevolent kind of restraint by ending on a note of uncertainty, sparing us the lion’s share of that work, its ultimate lingering ambiguity a thing of honorable beauty. —Andy Crump


guardians-galaxy-vol2-movie-poster.jpg 40. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Director: James Gunn
In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, James Gunn shows that “second verse, mostly same as the first” can serve the viewer (and, inevitably, the box office) well, especially when one has most of the Marvel universe to pull from. To a large extent, GotG Vol. 2 follows the playbook from its predecessor, though now, with the entire cast familiar faces to the audience, Gunn skips introductions and goes right to the funny. In this case, that means an opening credits sequence featuring the entire team and what amounts to a highlight reel of character traits meant to amuse: rapid banter from Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), humorous ’roid-rage from Drax (Dave Bautista), quiet bad-assitude from Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and an extended cute-Groot frolic. During this sequence and throughout the movie, the comic elements of this particular space opera feel as if they have been ratcheted up, but, though he doesn’t seem to want the audience to have too much time between laughs, Gunn also seems determined to match the increased comic volume with more heart. The audience is unlikely to feel they’ve seen anything that different from Vol. 1, but it’s clear that Gunn and company knew exactly what qualities made the first film so enjoyable, and what they needed to do to make sure this particular sequel was worth the wait. —Michael Burgin / Full Review


columbus-poster.jpg 39. Columbus
Director: Kogonada
Kogonada takes us on a tour of Columbus, IN and all of its glorious, beautiful, occasionally surreal architecture, from the Columbus Learning Center to the Second Street Suspension Bridge. He highlights these landmarks in tribute to his setting, but the greatest monument on display here is Haley Lu Richardson’s striking, towering performance. The places and things Kogonada includes in his frame are important for drawing us into Columbus’s world, but it’s Richardson who gives that world its shape, supplying her director’s clean, static compositions, captured in long shots, with aching humanity molded by doubt and disappointment. “Do you think he’s got a chance to recover, even if it’s just enough to go back to Seoul?” Casey asks Jin (John Cho) as she takes a drag off her cigarette. “God,” he mutters, “I hope not.” She’s stricken by the acidic tone of his reply, as if Jin’s ambivalence has fractured the veneer covering her world. It’s a great moment in a movie littered with them, and most of them belong to Richardson’s poise. Through the figurative lens of Richardson’s performance and the literal lens of Kogonada’s camera, we see Columbus for what it is: A moral lesson about keeping ourselves in neutral. The more time we spend living in the same spot, the more we take that spot, and ourselves, for granted. —Andy Crump / Full Review


BPM-movie-poster.jpg 38. BPM
Director: Robin Campillo
What did it look like before it was hashtagged and a selling point, branded on buttons and books? For Robin Campillo, it looked like: a handful of people disrupting a meeting of suits to call attention to oppression, abuse and malpractice, only to have everything go awry when someone throws a balloon of fake blood, complicating the intended political effects. It looked like: a couple dozen people in a badly lit room, ostensibly gathering for the same beliefs, shouting at one another, trying to negotiate what the best way would be to get the attention of the government so that lives can be saved. It looked like: a “die in,” a political action that describes when people’s mode of protest is to stop in the streets, in plain sight and full visibility, playing dead on the ground to represent the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been affected by ignorance and unhelpfulness from the government. Robin Campillo—by (semi-fictionally) documenting the Paris chapter of ACT UP, the HIV/AIDS activist group that grew out of New York in the mid 1980s, and how its members deal with pharmaceutical companies, actions, sex, love, hate, community, dancing and death—shows us what defiance and, yes, what resistance looks like. In BPM, Campillo understands better than almost any filmmaker that, for the marginalized, even the molecular is political. —Kyle Turner


three-billboards-movie-poster.jpg 37. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director: Martin McDonagh
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri stars Frances McDormand as Mildred, a divorced mother who lives in a rural Missouri community. Everybody in a small town knows everybody else’s business, and Mildred is Ebbing’s walking tragedy: She’s the woman whose teen daughter was recently raped and murdered. Unhappy that the local police force, led by the cantankerous Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), has failed to find her girl’s killer, Mildred decides to take action, buying up three billboards outside of town and splashing an accusing message across them: “Raped while dying. And still no arrests. How come, Chief Willoughby?” Whether it’s Our Town or Dogville, fiction occasionally uses small towns as a microcosm for America at large, showing what’s wonderful or toxic about our country. Judging by this film, the state of our union is fractious and violent—and only getting worse. You probably didn’t need a movie to tell you that, but writer-director Martin McDonagh’s volatile comedy-drama keeps poking at our scabs, pinpointing our humanity and surprising us with a series of small revelations. This is a film that’s proudly impertinent but also deeply morally serious. And even if Three Billboards doesn’t always hold together, that’s appropriate for its anxious characters who are, themselves, a little unsteady. —Tim Grierson / Full Review


Whose-Streets-poster.jpg 36. Whose Streets?
Director: Sabaah Folayan
Following the murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, filmmakers Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis examine the American media’s biased, racist coverage of the tragedy and the protests in response. Whose Streets? asks that—rather than if black lives matter to prosecutors, or State’s Attorneys or the American police (all culprits in the teen boy’s modern-day lynching)—viewers place their faith in those real heroes, like activists Brittany Farrell and David Whitt. You might go into Whose Streets? expecting to simply see a film about the Black Lives Matter movement and some of the people behind it. And if you are of the opinion that black lives do matter, you might expect to be moved and motivated to either continue on in your activism, or take to the streets for the first time in your life. I, for one, anticipated another powerful, but difficult, film, similar to 13th and this year’s equally excellent The Blood is on The Doorstep. And while I was right, I also had no idea how deeply personal the protestors’ stories would get. The directors frame the film around the very young children of the activists they follow, but Whose Streets? is one of those rare and wonderful experiences in which a piece’s framing manages to both enhance and intensify the central narrative. “Whose Streets?” refers to the protest chant encouraging people to take back their neighborhoods from the cops and racist, classist policies that would seek to destroy them, but the answer to the question is actually more devastating: These streets—whether they’re covered in the blood of slain, unarmed black people, or humming with protestors both peaceful and riotous, or swarming with members of the national guard in tanks, sent in to militarize an entire city—these streets are always seen and experienced through the eyes of those with the least ability to change it, and the most to lose. By personalizing the experiences of their activist subjects, and demanding viewers see how the subjects’ choices and sacrifices directly impact their children and families, Whose Streets? becomes all about the kids and, therefore, all about the the future. And so much of that future, the film seems to insist, is dependent on the emotion and anger that keeps the film’s subjects in the streets, and the cameras in the hands of the filmmakers who also put their own bodies on the line. A political documentary that dares acknowledge rage as a tool as useful as hope or faith: That is one that [Black] America will surely need in 2017, and beyond. —Shannon M. Houston


ornithologist-poster.jpg 35. The Ornithologist
Director: João Pedro Rodrigues
There are times during João Pedro Rodrigues’s newest film, The Ornithologist, wherein you can’t tell if it’s all a big sexy joke or if it’s an earnest, religious and intellectual inquiry into the boundaries of spiritual and physical adventure. There’s enough evidence in the film—which follows a strapping studier of birds on his journey to note black storks and the various surreal things that occur to him—to argue that it’s both. Fernando (Paul Hamy), our bird man, is over the course of the film: pissed on, tossed about by river waters in his kayak, badgered by a presumed lover from back home via text, without medicine, has the eyes on his passport photo burnt through, has sex with a twink deaf and mute twink named Jesus, and is tied up St. Sebastian-style by two lost Chinese lesbians on a religious pilgrimage. Rodrigues easily integrates an aesthetic reminiscent of a nature documentary into scenarios that, like a modern Portuguese take on “The Aristocrats,” mount in their ludicrousness. Yet, the oddball adventures that color Fernando’s journey seem embedded logically within the film’s universe, and even better, within Rodrigues’s own screenplay. However strange it may be to watch a Satanic ritual occur on screen, the director has seemingly mapped out precisely how to transition from weird scene to weird scene, making The Ornithologist and effectively coherent fever dream. As Fernando walks down a busy road in the end of the film, literally transformed into Rodrigues (who may also be St. Anthony) and magically transported from the jungle, one can’t help but think of The Ornithologist as a hallucination brought on by heat stroke. In the best way possible. —Kyle Turner / Full Review


faces-places-poster.jpg 34. Faces Places
Directors: Agnès Varda and JR
The year’s best road movie was this delightful French film from New Wave pioneer Agnès Varda and photographer JR. The odd-couple contrast between co-directors is physically striking—she’s a woman, he’s a man; he’s much taller and younger than she—but they’re aligned in their desire to document the lives of everyday French citizens, taking oversized photos of the people they meet and plastering them on the sides of buildings to commemorate their specialness. Faces Places is very much in the style of Varda’s most recent documentaries, such as The Gleaners and I and The Beaches of Agnès, which chart how art and life weave inextricably together, but at 89, she doesn’t have the same stamina she once did. That fact lends added poignancy to a movie that, in part, is about the fragility of everything: small towns, photographs, loved ones, long friendships fading into disrepair. With JR as her co-conspirator, the Varda we see in Faces Places stands as a model for how to carry oneself through the world: with humor, humility and grace. —Tim Grierson


girls-trip-poster.jpg 33. Girls Trip
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
While it’s great to experience movies that are powerful and groundbreaking and devastating—we all love to weep at the theater or in our homes, wiping away tears as the credits roll on movies like Call Me By Your Name—but some of the best movies can be both well-written and unapologetically fun. And I’m not sure anybody had more fun this year than those of us who experienced Girls Trip. You go in likely expecting a solid, heartwarming tale about a group of friends who reconnect on a trip to New Orleans, but you leave wondering how you’d gone your whole life without experiencing this sort of black, female-centered version of The Hangover. It’s not just that Girls Trip, is so reminiscent of those raunchy, absurd (and kind of disgusting) comedies, it’s that the shocking, laugh-out-loud moments are so earned and so excellently delivered that it’s easy to forget there’s some kind of message wrapped up in it all. That’s a good thing, because it makes those final confrontations and confessions at the end of the film all the more compelling. Of course, what really made this movie one of the most beautiful and hilarious movies of the year was its cast, featuring performances from an incredible group of women with the kind of chemistry you dream of seeing on screen: Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah all turned in phenomenal work. Haddish has been (rightfully) celebrated as the breakout star, but her comedic prowess could have been lost on a lesser script. Luckily, writers Tracy Oliver, Kenya Barris and Erica Rivinoja laid an impeccable foundation for director Malcolm D. Lee, and the result was one of the biggest blasts—among any genre—of the year. —Shannon M. Houston


john-wick-2-poster.jpg 32. John Wick: Chapter 2
Director: Chad Stahelski
Perhaps the greatest compliment you can pay to both John Wick movies is via comparison to a contemporary: John Wick films are to guns what The Raid films are to fists. Within their respective spheres of combat, each is on an entirely separate level in terms of presentation. Both aspire to something more vital than to “entertain.” They don’t want to “satisfy” an audience—they want to make your jaw drop. They want you to stifle a guffaw as John Wick (Keanu Reeves) pulls off a move that is simultaneously so slickly unrealistic and bone-crunchingly visceral that the cognitive dissonance causes a brief misfire in your synapses. They’re everything that G.I. Joe or Fast & The Furious never bothers even attempting to be. So yes, both cinephiles and action movie buffs will be pleased to know that John Wick: Chapter 2 is a worthy follow-up to the surprising 2014 original. Holding the torch passed from ’80s and ’90s John Woo classics, director Chad Stahelski delivers an epic ballet of arm-breaking and gun-kata that somehow manages to run for 122 minutes without ever overstaying its welcome. That’s far easier said than done. —Jim Vorel / Full Review


a-dark-song-movie-poster.jpg 31. A Dark Song
Director: Liam Gavin
In Liam Gavin’s black magic genre oddity, Sophia (Catherine Walker), a grief-stricken mother, and the schlubby, no-nonsense occultist (Steve Oram) she hires devote themselves to a long, meticulous, painstaking ritual in order to (they hope) communicate with her dead son. Gavin lays out the ritual specifically and physically—over the course of months of isolation, Sophia undergoes tests of endurance and humiliation, never quite sure if she’s participating in an elaborate hoax or if she can take her spiritual guide seriously when he promises her he’s succeeded in the past. Paced to near perfection, A Dark Song is ostensibly a horror film but operates as a dread-laden procedural, mounting tension while translating the process of bereavement as patient, excruciating manual labor. In the end, something definitely happens, but its implications are so steeped in the blurry lines between Christianity and the occult that I still wonder what kind of alternate realms of existence Gavin is getting at. But A Dark Song thrives in that uncertainty, feeding off of monotony. Sophia may hear phantasmagorical noise coming from beneath the floorboards, but then substantial spans of time pass without anything else happening, and we begin to question, as she does, whether it was something she did wrong (maybe, when tasked with not moving from inside a small chalk circle for days at a time, she screwed up that portion of the ritual by allowing her urine to dribble outside of the boundary) or whether her grief has blinded her to an expensive con. Regardless, that “not knowing” is the scary stuff of everyday life, and by portraying Sophia’s profound emotional journey as a humdrum trial of physical mettle, Gavin reveals just how much pointless, even terrifying work it can be anymore to not only live the most ordinary of days, but to make it to the next. —Dom Sinacola


war-planet-apes-poster.jpg 30. War for the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves
War for the Planet of the Apes is an absorbing, intelligent finale: an ending that, although not particularly surprising, feels appropriate—even inevitable—considering all that’s come before. When Rise of the Planet of the Apes hit theaters in the late summer of 2011, it suggested a franchise in which humanity—flawed, noble, susceptible to its worst tendencies but trying to live up to its highest ideals—would eventually find itself under attack by an enemy of its own making. But rather than suggesting that apes deserve to overthrow us, this series has instead wondered if there’s something inherently broken about the way communities operate that will always endanger their well-being. Caesar (Andy Serkis) was raised by humans who loved him but didn’t understand him. The slow-motion tragedy of War is that Caesar has struggled to reconcile his simian essence with the emotional complexity of the people he’s encountered. He’s the embodiment of what may supplant us—but, poignantly, in the end he may be too much like us to find a peaceful resolution. The real war is going on within him. —Tim Grierson / Full Review


spider-man-homecoming-poster.jpg 29. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Director: Jon Watts
It’s simultaneously easy and impossible to forget that Spider-Man: Homecoming is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Easy, because unlike most every MCU film before it, with the partial exception of Doctor Strange, it manages to extricate its characters (and especially its scope) from the world-ending catastrophes faced by The Avengers to tell a story that is a little bit more “close to the ground,” to use Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) own words. Impossible because, well, Tony Stark is in this. Quite a bit, actually. Nevertheless, Homecoming manages to pull off the most difficult feat for just about any franchise installment: It justifies its own existence. Briskly paced and charming to a fault, it’s a Spider-Man movie that fully embraces both its source material and the perils of 21st century teenage life. Much of that praise is owed to Tom Holland, who is playing the first iteration of Peter Parker who, damnit, actually feels like a high school student—more or less. Holland is simply a likable face, a near-perfect blend of awkwardness, uncertainty and charisma exemplified by the simple physical comedy of putting on the Spider-Man costume. That act, in itself, summarizes the film. Previous Spider-Men would simply have suited up effortlessly and gone out to fight crime. This humanistic Peter Parker fumbles and yanks and tugs his suit into position, just as surely as he awkwardly realizes there’s nothing appropriate to swing on as he’s trying to move through a suburban area. It’s not hard to imagine this version of the character resonating with an under-21 age demographic in a much more profound way than any of his predecessors. It’s equally impressive that such a self-assured film would come from a relatively unproven director in Jon Watts, whose 2015 indie thriller Cop Car was received warmly enough, but whose only other feature was the patently absurd 2014 horror movie Clown. —Jim Vorel / Full Review


loveless-movie-poster.jpg 28. Loveless
Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Often, it makes sense for a filmmaker to present his political commentary with a light touch, letting his story’s inherent drama speak louder than his talking points. Other times, the sledgehammer approach has significant benefits. Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev, whose last film was the Oscar-nominated Leviathan, has crafted a slow-burn moral drama that starts off as the portrait of a loveless marriage and the unhappiness it spawns in the form of a distraught 12-year-old child. But as Loveless rolls along, its scope widens, becoming a blistering commentary on the callous society that Zvyagintsev sees around him. What’s the point of subtlety when your argument is this persuasive and this angry? Much in the style of his stripped-down 2011 drama Elena, Loveless is all perfectly composed, slightly icy images and tightly drawn characters, the plot only gradually asserting itself. Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Alexey Rozin) count down the days until their divorce—barely able to live under the same roof, they both have lovers on the side, and neither seems particularly concerned what will become of their boy Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) once they separate. It’s not that they dislike Alyosha—it’s just that he’s a daily, physical reminder of a hateful marriage they rushed into once Zhenya got pregnant. Then a quiver of dread enters into the picture: They learn that Alyosha—who, come to think of it, has disappeared from Loveless over the past hour—hasn’t been at school the last two days. Zhenya and Boris are concerned about his whereabouts, but there’s a strange remove in their reactions. Yes, they’re upset—but they’re not as upset as one might expect parents to be. But one of Loveless’ great strengths is how it cannily withholds clear emotional involvement with its characters—only to set us up for one blindsiding salvo at the end. When the film concludes, you may find yourself wanting to watch it again to fully absorb the journey Zvyagintsev took you on. And because Loveless is so accomplished, the repeat viewing promises to be deeply rewarding. —Tim Grierson / Full Review


it-2017-movie-poster copy.jpg 27. It
Director: Andy Muschietti
2017 was the year of blockbuster horror, if ever such a thing has been quantifiable before. Get Out, Annabelle: Creation and even would-be direct-to-video gems such as 47 Meters Down turned sizable profits, but they were just priming the box office pump for It, which shattered nearly every horror movie record imaginable. Perhaps it was the uninspiring summer blockbuster season to thank for an audience starved for something, but just as much credit must go to director Andy Muschietti and, especially, to Pennywise star Bill Skarsgård for taking Stephen King’s famously cumbersome, overstuffed novel and transforming it into something stylish, scary and undeniably entertaining. The collection of perfectly cast kids in the Loser’s Club all have the look of young actors and actresses we’ll be seeing in film for decades to come, but it’s Skarsgård’s hypnotic face, lazy eyes and incessant drool that makes It so difficult to look away from (or forget, for that matter). The inevitable Part 2 will have its hands full in giving a similarly crackling translation to the less popular adult portion of King’s story, but the camaraderie Muschietti gets in his cast and the visual flair of this first It should give us ample reasons to be optimistic. Regardless, it’s impossible to dismiss the pop cultural impact that It will continue to have for a new generation discovering its well-loved characters. —Jim Vorel


ITonya-poster.jpg 26. I, Tonya
Director: Craig Gillespie
The triple axel was Tonya Harding’s greatest trick—and making an audience think that it’s a comedy of some sort is I, Tonya’s. Craig Gillespie’s infuriating and entrancingly brilliant biopic gives its subject control, and with fury, glibness, regret and a smirk, Tonya (Margot Robbie) and the many others in her life spin her story, detailing the ways that trauma (and class marginality) has affected and shaped her. Scenes of abuse—in which Tonya is often pummeled by both her mom (Allison Janney) and her husband, Jeff (Sebastian Stan)—are bracingly uncomfortable but cut with snark, and the film then has the gall to ask why you could possibly be laughing at such a horrible thing. I, Tonya dares to embody a camp aesthetic and immediately rebuke it, making sure that everything about it, from its skating scenes—dizzingly filmed as if her skill should be admired, but without actually detailing the technical aspects of what she’s doing, as if to mimic white queer men and how they talk about character actresses—to its genre packaging (part wannabe gangster film, part confessional documentary), smears the ironic quotation marks of its framework with blood, sweat and tears: a roar and a snarl and a declaration of defiance. —Kyle Turner

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