The past year contained many strong films that were sufficient at talking about our society, showing inter-personal relationships, honoring historical moments and figures, and having endlessly creative and artistic ways of entertaining us as moviegoers. Please accept the following list as my two cents into the discussion of the best films of 2017. These are the films that especially touched or impacted me, or made me sit back in my theater seat, in awe of what I was seeing. They stimulated me intellectually, emotionally, and visually.
10. DARKEST HOUR
Most would urge me to honor “Coco,” “Phantom Thread,” or “Wonder Woman” as the cap to my list of distinguished films of 2017, but instead, I choose “Darkest Hour.” The character study of Winston Churchill at the most pivotal time in his tenure as Prime Minister of England will not shake the boat in a revolutionary way, but it’s a sturdy piece of filmmaking that basks in classic storytelling methods. The grandiose technical achievements are reason enough to venture into the thought of celebrating “Darkest Hour,” from the accomplished cinematography and musical score. Of course, though, the paramount feature of the film’s success is the towering, once-in-a-lifetime acting showcase by Gary Oldman. His characterization of Churchill strikes an impossible balance between camp and theatrics, but it’s a portrayal that always feels grounded and what’s in the best interest of the character on the page.
9. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Seasoned with a vast array of culture, nature, imagery, and poetry, “Call Me By Your Name” is a high art motion picture. At the center is a palpable romance between Elio and Oliver, superbly portrayed with charisma and humility by Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer. “Call Me By Your Name” is a staple in the catalog for modern LGBTQ filmmaking, and the movie relishes in its progressiveness. But through a simpler lens, the film can be boiled down to a human tale of a first love and how impactful it can be. More importantly, the film conveys the melancholy that follows the novelty and passion of a first love. The most haunting truth in “Call Me By Your Name” is summarized by Michael Stuhlbarg’s show-stopping monologue at the film’s end, describing how each time we end a relationship and begin another we have “less and less” to offer.
Darren Aronofsky is going to make the movie he wants to and no one will stand in his way. And thank God that he had the resources and freedom to do so, because in “mother!” Aronofsky produced his most daring and challenging piece of cinema yet. Along with a perfect Jennifer Lawrence and an unhinged Michelle Pfeiffer, there’s no denying the quality filmmaking and theatre taking place on screen, even if one finds “mother!” to not connect with their particular taste buds. Creating such an elusive narrative allows for a lot of interpretation to be had with rich, literature-like metaphors in “mother!.” It could be a biblical allegory, a study of gender dynamics, an examination of an abusive relationship, representation of social anxiety, and so on, and so forth. Aronofsky throws all of this at the viewers and lets them make sense of it. “mother!” is art in its finest form.
7. THE SHAPE OF WATER
Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape Of Water” is the kind of movie that will live on well beyond its reign in 2017. It will grow to be even more adored and admired in future years because it has a uniqueness that is simply timeless. It receives straight As for its technical abilities and for having a stellar cast ensemble, but really what makes “The Shape Of Water” special is parable at the heart of the fairytale, told with a pungent scent of European cinema. It has the most uplifting story arc of any movie this year: “The Shape Of Water” is about outsiders who, separated by a non-conformist trait, find the place where their strangeness is accepted as normal. Once you extend some patience to its unorthodox facets, such as a human being falling in love with a fish, you’re bound to be swept up in the film’s magic and love.
6. I, TONYA
For months, the buzz surrounding “I, Tonya” was its two most prominent actors, Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. Television veteran Janney is, of course, performing at the height of her comedic and dramatic powers as Tonya Harding’s maternal monster. Robbie was boasted in the early fall as the one to beat for Best Actress this year, and she’s solid in the role, but it was my surprise to leave the film thinking Robbie was nowhere near the best part of the movie. (No matter how condescending that sounds, it really is a compliment.) There’s so much more to “I, Tonya” than simply a performance from the principal actor. In some respects, everything fades behind Craig Gillespie’s directing, the devastatingly good commentary on domestic abuse class in America, the sharp screenplay, effective music choices, and ambitious editing that dapples in subjectivity. “I, Tonya” is a quintessential, post-modern masterpiece that’s smart and diabolical as hell.
5. MOLLY’S GAME
For all my money and poker chips, “Molly’s Game” was the surprise of the year. After “Miss Sloane” left a bad taste in my mouth last year, my expectations were low for Jessica Chastain’s take on Molly Bloom. My fear was it would be a knockoff of stories Chastain already told as an actor and Aaron Sorkin’s attempt at directing a feature film would be mediocre at best. My projection was wrong, and going in with those low expectations made the film even greater. Sorkin’s sizzling and threateningly alive screenplay serves as the backbone of the film, yet his directing makes the film incredibly well-paced, fun, and endlessly compelling. He tells and shows this story with great confidence. To the contrary of my initial thoughts, Chastain delivers the greatest performance of her career. Molly is infused with emotion, humanity, and vulnerability that was lacking in Chastain’s other authorities, badass protagonist works, while still drilling in the iron-clad, fist-pumping moments we come to expect from her. “Molly’s Game” is an example of a thrilling story being told with mark-by-mark precision.
4. LADY BIRD
A.O. Scott called this movie “perfect” in his New York Times review. It held the record on Rotten Tomatoes for a hot second as the best-reviewed movie of all-time. In short, “Lady Bird” is everyone’s favorite movie this year. It’s the easiest film to love. Most can agree it’s an intrinsically personal film, and Greta Gerwig finds a way capturing aspects of everyone’s coming-to-age trials and tribulations. For me, “Lady Bird” is like watching a memory in your head of the past, going through the necessary growing pains of youth and learning lessons about yourself, your relationships with your parents, and how much of a rotten attitude you can have as you’re coming into your own. This inconceivable documentary-like magic trick is blended together by the impeccable writing by Greta Gerwig and the wonderfully warm performances from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf. In “Lady Bird,” you’ll see yourself and parts of your journey. I certainly know I did, as evidenced by the tears streaming down my face as the film poetically concluded.
3. BLADE RUNNER 2049
Like most fans of cinema who look at it with a serious level of artistic, historical, social and cultural significance, the 1982 original “Blade Runner” was a film that left an impact on me. Now, 35 years later, I find “Blade Runner 2049” to top my affinity for the original. “Blade Runner 2049” is astonishing and it’s because of the masterful direction by Denis Villeneuve. He creates the film with his signature trademarks aesthetically while making the humanity of his characters and story always available to the audience. He allows the viewers to be attached to the film’s heart, even in brisk and harsh ways. “Blade Runner 2049” also succeeds due to deliberate pacing and an underrated screenplay, which brings themes of humanity from the original, as well as racism, evolution, and revolution to the table. As absorbing narratively as it is immaculate visually, “Blade Runner 2049” is the technical achievement of the year.
2. THE POST
No other film had as much to live up to as “The Post.” Some attribute its mere two nominations as a testament to an underwhelming reception for the film overall, but for me, it was a home run. Steven Spielberg’s low-key approach was the best way to tell this story of the Washington Post and Katharine Graham “The Post” is a superbly manufactured film. It doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel of filmmaking in order to be effective. In addition to capturing 1971 with his eye and visual language, Spielberg transcends “The Post” into the modern day, making the story feel timelessly urgent. “The Post” thrives on having digestible and inspiring characters, exposition, and plot, but the film’s most powerful asset is the characterization, portrayal, and arc of protagonist Katharine Graham. Meryl Streep creates, with nuance, grace, and emotion, one of the most complete characters of her career as Graham, while the screenplay explores feminist theories, such as imposter syndrome, to convey gender dynamics of 1971. “The Post” is a prestigious film for adults that goes beyond being a movie and turns into a transparent political rebuttal against the current Washington administration. It reflects cultural, social, and political themes of today back to us through the story of a different time, showing the universal fights of freedom and equality must be maintained and not taken for granted.
1. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
The most controversial film of the year, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” has attracted extremes on both sides of the reactionary isle. This little British-funded film about American culture has landed hard. The people who love it really love it, and the people who despise it want to burn it down. For me, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson bring to life complicated characters without flaw in a radically unpredictable plot, all of which culminate into a cathartic and invigorating motion picture, the best film of 2017. More than any other movie this year, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” improves each time one watches it. In my experience, it’s the type of entertainment that cynically taps into a person’s darkest and most vulgar humor, as well as indignant anger and frustration at misunderstandings between individuals, groups, and institutions. While “The Post” is the defining movie of 2017 about our leaders, government, and women’s roles in society, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is the defining film of the year for the mass culture and the proletariat’s feelings of helplessness and conflict. If “The Post” is about those at the top, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is about everyone else at the bottom, trying to co-exist. The message of the film is one that most do not want to accept – patience, understanding, communication, and forgiveness. As an educated liberal who lives in a rural community in the Trump era, I know the gospel Martin McDonagh puts forth here is the only solution to cure of society of social conflict.
And that will do it for Top 10’s of 2017 from the Next Best Picture team. Be sure to check out others previously announced from Matt Neglia, Deann Chiazzese, Tommy Barquinero, Josh Williams, Daniel Howat and Michael Schwartz. We also recently revealed our own staff award winners for the 2017 NBP Film Awards which you can read here and you the fans voted on the winners of your own awards known as the NBP Film Community Awards and those winners can be found here. Thank you for all that you’ve done for us this year. We hope you will join us here and on social media for the Oscars this Sunday and as always, let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
You can follow Ryan and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @RyanCShowers