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The Top Ten Films of 2017

January 23, 2018



In a year of sinking and floating on the big-screen, a film critic must tread through all the great films of 2017 and make a list of the best. It happens each year around this time. I look back and ascertain what films I’ve viewed and (most likely) reviewed over the past year and determine what I consider the best, my favorite and the Top Ten Films of 2017. It’s daunting, frustrating and inevitably involves hand-ringing and procrastination. Of course, it’s also arbitrary, just like any other listing out there, but to my surprise these lists have proven to be helpful to some and it just doesn’t feel the same without posting one. Once again, I’m joined by a Keeping It Reel contributor and between the two of us I think there’s a commendable list to consider.

Once such a list is made, there’s a fleeting thought that maybe I could move on from 2017, but I know better. There are still many films to catch up with and write about from such a tumultuous and challenging year for so many outside of movie theaters. We need films now more than ever. Not just to escape and be entertained, but to unite us and remind us to empathize with others and that there will always be a need for great storytelling on the big-screen.

This was another year in which cine-snobs, film enthusiasts, filmmakers, actors – just about everyone – have bemoaned the state of superhero movies supposedly saturating the box office. To each their own. I’ve accepted them and view them as an established subgenre all their own and only wish the anger and frustration for them could be directed toward the current work of once great actors who are currently slumming it (Pacino and Willis, to name a few), but alas, complaints come with every box office success. Being a comic book fan, I want to enjoy superhero movies and hope that most of all, like any movie, they’ll get made with a solid script and quality storytelling.

This year, the Big Two had a great year of superhero movies, well, for the most part. “Wonder Woman” from Warner Bros/DC was an enormous hit and left people wondering why it took so long for a female-led superhero movie to do this well. It was really good, but not great, establishing Gal Gadot as an absolutely charming and charismatic lead and Patty Jenkins as a director who can bring action, humor and heart successfully into one movie. The same cannot be said for the debacle that was “Justice League”, the other WB/DC blockbuster, which was pretty awful on many levels, but at least it gave us a chance to hang out with Gadot’s Wonder Woman in the same year. This means Marvel came out on top, with three features between May and November (“Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2”, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Thor: Ragnarok”) that were a flat-out blast. Great storytelling, wonderful cast and very different from each other thanks to the respective directors at the helm.

Speaking of Logan, movies that included “Logan” or “Lucky” or a combination of both in their title, such as “Logan Lucky” were great as well, but wound up cancelling each other out, missing my list (they would easily be included in the next ten) by that much




Other movies that didn’t make my list, but are most definitely worthy of an Honorable Mentions list…

“Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri”, “The Shape of Water”, “The Big Sick”, “War for the Planet of the Apes”, “Good Time”, “Stronger”, “Maudie”, “Baby Driver”, “Dawson City: Frozen in Time”, “The Bad Batch”, “It”, “The Lost City of Z”, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” & “The LEGO Batman Movie”.

Speaking of Honorable Mentions, Keeping It Reel correspondent from Canada, Joshua Bertram, who covered the Toronto International Film Festival this past fall, has some of his own to share before we dive into our full list…

“Silence”, “Personal Shopper”, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, “mother!”,
“Long Time Running”, “Logan”, “It”, “I, Tonya”,
“Mudbound” & “John Wick: Chapter 2”

Special mention goes to writer/director  Michael Glover Smith‘s latest feature, “Mercury in Retrograde“, which premiered toward the end of last year and will hopefully find a wider audience in the coming months. It’s confident filmmaking, focusing on relationships in an astute and authentic manner with a wry sense of humor.

And now, before I change my mind, here is a list I have wrestled with long enough…





The Lovers





Luca Guadagnino’s summer of love film is rich with sensory satisfaction and discomfort, the agony and ecstasy of first love and lust. There is a tension is infused throughout every moment of Call Me by Your Name, one that damns its central couple with the dilemma of the pain of acting or not. Here in the liminal space between exploration and exploitation – there is a 7 year age gap between the two – desire is that most pure and cruel of impulses. If unfulfilled, it festers in the heart as an opportunity lost. If fulfilled, it becomes a surge of wonder and joy so great that it forever changes you, even as it tears you apart. Michael Stuhlbarg’s monologue near the end of the film is one of the best scenes of the year, an arresting and palpable affirmation of the way love is pure, loss is pain, and growing up is a mix of both. (now in theaters)


Written and directed by Azazel Jacobs, “The Lovers” is a dry romantic comedy that follows a fiftysomething Southern California couple who’ve been married long enough to have coasted into a dispassionate roommates. Michael (Tracy Letts) and Mary (Debra Winger) are both trying to hide their affairs from each other – he’s seeing an emotionally erratic dance instructor (Melora Walters) and she’s seeing Robert (Aidan Gillen), an emotionally need writer. With their college-son, Joel (Tyler Ross) returning home with his girlfriend, Erin (Jessica Sula), they both see the occasion as an opportunity to come clean with their infidelity and finally dissolve their union. But there’s a problem – they may still be in love. The film’s title becomes somewhat ambiguous and playful once the reignited couple start to play a comical shell game with their younger lovers just as sparks return to their marriage. Winger and Letts are absolutely tremendous, embuing their characters with rich subtleties, navigating their way from awkwardness and malaise to a new and weird dichotomy that’s uncertain for both of them. Jacobs has written a dry and smart screenplay that wisely balances the melancholy and the silly. It’s a relatable story for anyone who’s been married for good while, accompanied by an unconventionally contagious score from Mandy Hoffman and ending with one of my favorite musical moments of the year. (DVD/Blu-ray, streaming on Amazon Prime) 





Perhaps no contemporary filmmaker is greater at wringing the agonising tension out of everyday life than Asghar Farhadi. The Salesman retains the marks of moral murkiness that made A Separation so rich to wrestle with. For Farhadi, there’s rich drama in the ordinary, and in the way small choices have far-reaching effects. The Salesman is marvelous in capturing the subtleties of trauma and the ways it affects people’s lives and makes going ‘back to normal’ near impossible. But The Salesman isn’t just about trauma, it’s also about the failure of masculinity in domestic relationships. You get the sense that Farhadi wants you to consider the limits of justice and revenge, and the way men, even good ones with good intentions, so often put their desires above those of women. (avail. on Amazon and iTunes)


Writer/director David Lowery’s latest film had to grow on me and the more I think about it, the more it still does. It’s a strange and weird film both in content and execution, one that I’ve had to wrestle with and come around to, but it’s been well worth it. It’s about life, loss, death and grief from the perspective of the deceased. It makes sense then that it’s more of a lyrical journey than it is a linear narrative. My first viewing left me stumped and frustrated, yet impressed. At my second viewing, I was in a completely different place in life and the film wound up taking an entirely different meaning. I understand why it’s a divisive film, since it has confounding scenes such as Rooney Mara’s grieving wife sitting at length with a pie and an extensive mid-way monologue from Will Oldham about legacy of humankind, but I’ve learned from experience how those scenes can be taken differently depending on where you’re at in life. “A Ghost Story”, with its indelible image of a hidden Casey Affleck underneath a sheet with sad-sack eyeholes, never plays it safe. If anything, it does exactly the opposite – although some may argue otherwise, but isn’t that challenges, upsets and surprises a sign of a work of art? (avail. on DVD/Blu-ray, Amazon & iTunes)



A Ghost Story






The most competent and exciting blockbuster of the year, Wonder Woman is one of the brightest and most emotionally-satisfying superhero origin stories on film. It is rich with weight and a deeply humanist spirit, because that’s the thing about Wonder Woman: she’s a warrior, but she’s also in pursuit of peace. Empathy is at the core of the character, and writer/director Patty Jenkins gets that in a way Zack Snyder has been unable or unwilling to embrace with his Superman films.The poster for Wonder Woman depicts the hero kneeling with a sword, planting it in the ground as though planting a flag. She might as well be, because this movie stakes out territory as finally giving the character what she deserves. Doing Justice indeed. (avail. on DVD/Blu-ray, Amaon & iTunes)  


I don’t think viewing Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” outside of an optimal big-screen theatrical experience would provide a viewer with the same impact of a film that epitomizes the fullness of cinema. It’s another immersive film from a director who manages to consistently make epic and memorable films. Nolan incorporates three different points of view (by air, sea and land) and timeframes, placing viewers into the experience of the chaos of war, emphasizing the panic and fear of war, as well as the unforgettable bravery and sacrifice of men and boys. It’s about urgent experiences and situations, more than it is about specific characters. It’s about sacrifice, courage and how in war, those two things are often not enough. While it definitely puts viewers in their shoes, “Dunkirk” is first and foremost an experience of sound and vision and a technical achievement. Nolan uses extensive practical effects and IMAX 65 mm and 65 mm large-format film stock as lensed by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema to great effect. Like his last film “Interstellar”, I don’t know how home viewing will play out for “Dunkirk”. It could turn into an entirely different experience and that’s fine, but I hope it’s a movie that finds special theatrical rereleases in the coming years. (avail. on DVD/Blu-ray, Amaon & iTunes)  



Get Out






Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” observes the denizens of a budget motel so quietly and with so much empathy and so little judgment that it would feel like a documentary at times if not for the presence of Willem Dafoe, who blends seamlessly as the motel’s good-hearted manager with the rest of the largely unknown cast. Baker imbues the world of the film with a child’s wonder: cotton candy hues, a sense of adventure, and a wildness that you could almost get lost in were it not for our awareness of the harsh reality to which the children are oblivious. The artistry of “The Florida Project” is in how it gives space to the stories of people society would rather ignore. That he chose to focus on such a socially-difficult set of characters, makes the film more challenging to reckon with. But it also enriches it by getting at the conflicting truths of a contemporary America that is rotten to its core but still not worthless because of those very real and very human creatures who inhabit it. (now in theaters) 


I’ve been telling people that the coming-of-age dramedy, “Lady Bird”, made me feel like the first times I watched “Juno” and “Rushmore”, which means I instantly liked it, appreciated it and could watch it over and over again. Indeed, I’ve done just that with Gerwig’s autobiographical directorial debut with it’s fully-realized characters and exemplary handling of the ups-and-downs of a relatable mother/daughter relationship. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are the heart of this honest and humorously heartfelt story, with some wonderful supporting performances from Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothy Chamalet, Beanie Feldstein Odeya Rush, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Lois Smith – that’s right, the whole cast is simply wonderful. It takes no effort for us to empathize with these characters or be moved by their situations and what stands out the most is how spot-on Gerwig’s screenplay is, capturing the voices and tone with such authenticity and realism. You’ll laugh heartily, get choked up and have a greater appreciation for the complicated relationship teens and parents, maybe even your own.  (now in theaters)



Phantom Thread





It’s easy to get lost in the beauty of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread”: the exquisite costumes, the lush period setting, the towering performances from Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Leslie Manville. It’s so easy that for much of its first hour you become lulled into a false sense of what Anderson is doing. It’s much less a straightforward film about an artist and his muse than one might expect, a film that mingles danger and intoxicating eroticism. It’s a sumptuous film that luxuriates in its own surprises as much as in its lavish closeups of the detail and craft of human creation. It complicates the artist-muse relationship in fascinating ways as a sadomasochistic dance for power that has its own type of twisted artistry. (now in theaters)

David – GET OUT

It’s rare to find a film released in February that’s still being written and talked about the rest of the year, but it’s completely understandable when it comes to Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, who also wrote the original screenplay. I remember seeing “Get Out” about a month before it opened in a packed theater with a predominately black audience. No that was memorable. No one knew quite what to expect, other than the buzz it was getting out of Sundance. That’s the best kind of viewing experience. There’s bound to be some awkwardness for Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) when he reluctantly agrees to meet his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) upper class white family in the suburbs, but he could never imagine what he’s in store for and neither could we. “Get Out” is more social commentary than it is a horror  and more comedic than one might think. There’s still a lot to say about Peele’s film and years from now people will still be talking about it. I absolutely love introducing others to this one and just letting them know it’s a Twilight Zone type thriller, knowing they’re going to be quite surprised. Considering the immense success of “Get Out”, Peele can now do anything he wants and I’m on board for all of it. (avail. on DVD/Blu-ray, Amazon & iTunes)



Lady Bird




Joshua – LADY BIRD

Greta Gerwig’s sensitivities to a teenage experience that feels both specific and relatable (at least, to a certain age) are filled with empathy and amusement that comes from looking back on one’s past self, of being both embarrassed of the person you once were and grateful to that person for shaping who you became. Lady Bird’s discontent with her situation screams of naivety, confusion, dumb idealism, and ungratefulness. Gerwig pokes gentle fun at her protagonist, but honours the feelings of teenage agony that feel so real at a time when you think you know everything but you know nothing. She allows her characters to be deeply flawed, but makes none of them easy to hate, as growing up is framed not in grand gestures and epiphanies but in small steps toward understanding, perspective, and reconciliation that are actually big steps.


Watching Luca Guadagino’s “Call Me By Your Name” found me instantly thinking of how powerful and monumental discovering love as a teenager was. It’s a transportive, sensual tale that follows seventeen-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothy Chalamet, in an outstanding breakthrough performance), who is drawn to the confident and impulsiveness of Oliver (Armie Hammer), the graduate student who’s come to study alongside his archeology professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) for six weeks. During a summer of swimming, bicycling and care-free dancing to The Psychedelic Furs, Elio falls for Oliver and when he musters the courage to share his true feelings with Oliver, his is met with passionate and understanding response. It’s a not-so-secret affair the two will remember forever and fortunately it’s in a film that doesn’t ridicule or persecute gay love. Written and co-produced by James Ivory, based on the 2007 novel of the same name by André Aciman, the story is a patient and observant look at the struggles, challenges and euphoria of emerging love. The sun-drenched northern Italy setting is luscious and inviting (thanks to gorgeous cinematography from Sayombhu Mukdeeprom) and despite the 1983 setting, it’s a story that feels timeless thanks to its authenticity in handling love and desire. “Call Me By Your Name” has potent performances, memorable scenes and dialogue (especially that last scene with Stuhlbarg and Chalamet) and an infectious soundtrack that I’ve been replaying over and over.




Joshua – GET OUT

That it took 50 years to remake Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner as a horror film is shocking. Mining the idea of a black man meeting his white girlfriend’s family for horror feels so obvious in hindsight. “Get Out” is masterfully-paced and wonderfully-confident, taking its time to let tension grow, deflate it, and then open the floodgates. It’s indebted to horror classics like Rosemary’s Baby and Night of the Living Dead in which social anxieties and mistrust are prominent. Jordan Peele makes evident the insidiousness of benevolent white liberal racism while speaking pointedly to the heightened awareness with which people of colour necessarily navigate the world. The image of a black man alone and lost in an affluent suburb in the opening scene has enough real-life parallels for us to know what’s coming. Subtle microaggressions and justifications permeate the film almost as a challenge to white viewers, as if to ask, ‘how far do things have to go before you’re willing to accept that something isn’t right?’ In a crop of great horror films in recent years it stands at the top, an important film we’ll be talking about in the intersection of film and politics for a long, long time.


For his latest film, writer/director Sean Baker (“Tangerine”) chose subjects who are marginalized at best and normally completely dismissed in society. We’ve seen them in our peripheral vision or even subconsciously looked right through them and Baker gets up close and intimate with the near-homeless that reside in the motels on the edge of Disney World in Orlando, Florida. It may take some getting used to the abrasiveness of  six year-old, Moonee (an unforgettable Brooklyn Prince) and her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite, whom Baker found on Instagram), considering what comes out of their mouths and the things they do, but one can’t help but eventually have a better understanding and hopefully some empathy for characters typically written off as white trash. Isn’t that one of the great potentials of motion pictures? To introduce us to the reality of a situation or people that we may think we already know about and enlighten us. Baker and cinematographer Alexis Zabe simply follows these characters – including a great turn from Willem Dafoe as Bobby the manager of the motel this mother and daughter reside at – and there in lies the story, free of any twists and turns, just simply providing a path to understanding. You may wrestle with your own empathy towards these characters, but you won’t soon forget them and in the end (especially the bittersweet final ten minutes, one of the best moments of the year), you’ll have seen a wholly original film.



The Florida Project




Joshua – COCO

From “Up” to “Finding Nemo” and even “Toy Story 3”, Pixar has never been shy about telling stories about death and loss. But never have they done it in such a way that affirms life as much as they do in “Coco”. The way it explores and celebrates Mexican Day of the Dead traditions provides a warm and interesting counter-narrative to the perspective of death as a tragedy. This tale of a young boy whose love of music makes him a black sheep in his family is a story of dreams, but also of legacy. “Coco” has the rich emotional and imaginative depth of a Miyazaki film. Its elegant storytelling involves surprising turns but also subtle clues to its deceptively simple nature. The way music is woven into the film is spectacular, especially the way the song “Remember Me” is repeated, each new performance providing a new emotional context for the song. “Coco” will bring on tears of joy with its celebratory affirmation of life, family, sacrifice, and love. This is very likely Pixar’s best film since “Toy Story 3”. (avail. on DVD/Blu-ray, Amazon & iTunes)


The filmography of meticulous writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson is mind-boggling. That he consistently makes masterpieces, film after film, is amazing. They are epic yet personal films that always require multiple viewings to fully appreciate them and confirm an opinion of them.  It’s just what he does and “Phanton Thread”, his reunion with Daniel Day-Lewis (supposedly the actor’s swan song) is a transfixing wonder to behold with its rich style, darkly humorous tone and gorgeous visuals, but it’s the absorbing story and hypnotic performances that will leave an imprint. Anderson revels in studying his character’s dimensions and unspoken responses, while traversing into unexpected yet welcome macabre territory. The relationship that develops between the rigid fashion designer auteur Reynolds Woodcock (a role that will be as memorable as Bill the Butcher and Daniel Plainview for DDL) and his muse, Alma (a revelatory Vicky Krieps) is charming, perplexing and uneasy. Anderson will immediately pull anyone in who’s not interested whatsoever with fashion, but its these two actors – as well as the indelible Leslie Manville (as Woodcock’s “old so-and-so” sister/manager) – who keep us absorbed with what is happening on the screen. Anderson’s own cinematography is impressive, the impeccable score from Johnny Greenwood is worth closing your eyes for and the gorgeous costumes by Mark Bridges are intricately designed. Everything comes together splendidly, like sitting down at a fine restaurant and enjoying everything about it – the company, the food, the service, the atmosphere and the experience. “Phantom Thread” will leave you immobilized and content.



Blade Runner 2049




Joshua – BLADE RUNNER 2049

“Blade Runner 2049” is a hypnotic dream of vast spaces, squelching, oppressive sound design, and a dreary tech-future. It feels like an extension of Ridley Scott’s original film but also one asking wider and more grand questions than its predecessor. If Roy Batty asked “am I human?” then 2049’s K asks “am I part of humanity?,” a web of interconnected beings in cooperation. Roy Batty’s mournful eulogy for his own inner life is one we all share. It’s not our memories that we pass on, it’s our actions and their effects, which in turn become other people’s memories. Any choice made leaves a mark on the world. What motivates our actions? When any of us does something purely to benefit someone else, do we not gain something from that too? A feeling of intimacy or accomplishment? We are, all of us, longing not just to live, but to be loved—not just to survive but to be remembered, to have purpose. To be real. “Blade Runner 2049” is an extraordinary experience. (avail. on DVD/Blu-ray, Amazon & iTunes)


Two characters come together in an Indiana town in writer/director Kogonada’s impressive directorial debut, which captivated me like no other film from the first time I saw it last May to this very moment. They are different in age and meet by coincidence, but there’s an undeniable connection between them that gradually develops into something beautiful. What happens between Jin (John Cho), a visiting translator and Casey (Haley Lu Richardson, who gives one of the year’s very best performances), a librarian who admires local architecture and lives with her recovering addict mother, has nothing to do about love. There’s no romance between them, just different levels of connection over time that result in the two becoming something indispensable. Kogonada captures their friendship patiently and beautifully, subverting our expectations with a refreshing authenticity that feels so rare and real. In a story that touches on grief and joy while admiring natural and man-made surroundings, “Columbus” leads us to our need to connect to someone while reminding us to take stock in and acknowledge what’s around us. (streaming on Hulu, iTunes) 








Joshua – DUNKIRK 

We can look to historians to rebuild the past so that we can understand it, but we must look to artists to rebuild it for us to experience. Christopher Nolan has always been a filmmaker of immense attention to detail. Nolan’s obsession with the building blocks of stories has frequently made for cerebral experiences that place form above function, that are technically brilliant but emotionally impenetrable. But Dunkirk is the movie through which Nolan best balances the meticulous concerns of an auteur with the ecstatic longings of a storyteller. I can’t speak enough to the elegance with which “Dunkirk” handles a story of such small geographical and personal concern in light of the far-reaching effect of its outcome.

Nolan uses formal elements to enhance the emotional impact of the film, in a way that creeps up on you. Nolan does not give us a central protagonist here, but rather a sea of faces that are often indistinguishable. We follow a small group of characters, but when their faces are obscured during the disorienting climax it is as if to subvert our tendency to look for “our” hero among the dead and dying. We’re reminded of numbers: 400,000 soldiers trapped on this beach. We know none of these soldiers. Yet we know all of these soldiers.

Nolan foregoes narrative conventions in favour of cinematic experience, one that puts the viewer literally in the line of fire, absorbing the fear and desperation onscreen so that you’re able to feel the small moments of accomplishment, sacrifice, and grace that occasionally break the tension I was moved in a way I wasn’t expecting by the way the film questions our notion of what makes a hero. “Dunkirk” is a film for all time, possibly Nolan’s masterpiece, but it is also a film with concerns that ring especially true in 2017. Its quietly stirring ending would challenge anyone who has just survived the grueling prior 90 minutes to regard simple survival as anything other than an act of heroism in itself.


If “Faces Places” is your gateway to the films of Belgian-born filmmaker Agnes Varda, like it was for me, then your starting in a good place. You’ll be won over by her warmth and vulnerability and you’ll want to know more about her and see more from her. The documentary follows the octogenarian as she teams with thirtysomething French photographer and visual artist JR as they travel through rural France, taking large-scale portraits of people (villagers, farmers, shoremen, etc.) they meet using a portable printable photo booth customized into his vehicle. The townspeople they capture are interviewed, as are their family members and in the process the co-directors inspire and challenge each other, sometimes getting on each other’s nerves, yet having some very poignant conversations about the past, about art as well as life and death. It’s a film that does the very thing to the directors that they themselves are doing to their subjects, allowing space and time to those who would normally go overlooked, those who are seldom represented. It’s a film that’s necessary and needed in 2017 and beyond. It embraces love and sadness in a heartwarming and humorous manner and will hopefully have you looking at the world in a new light. This film brings a smile to my face and makes me want to share it with everyone. I love love love it so much. (coming to Blu-ray on March 6th) 




Dunkirk & Faces Places















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