Haleigh Foutch’s Top 10 Films of 2017
Thank god for movies. It’s not a new sentiment or a particularly original one, but in the trying times of the year past, it’s one I came to over and over again. Whether the film is a distraction, a balm of relief, an irritant that inflames a spiritual reaction, or in the best cases, an actual bit of healing, cinema has always offered a means of transportation, empathy, and unhindered emotion that we rarely allow ourselves once the lights come back up. The magic between a movie and its audience is a powerful, personal thing; it takes you around the world, it plants you in another’s shoes, if only for a few hours.
Around this time of year, my movie watching always kicks into high gear, binge-watching film after film in preparation for year-end lists and nominations. Most of them are surprises, many of which I put off because they weren’t “my type of thing”, or indies that slipped under the radar until the best-of list parade. It’s always a time that affirms my deep love of cinema, but again, this year felt especially poignant. This year, seeing through the eyes of others felt especially important. Empathizing with impossible situations and allowing the darkest, wildest fantasies felt especially important.
Fortunately, 2017’s cinematic offerings were up to the task. This was a good year for movies. Making a top ten list is always a tricky task, but in a year like this one, it becomes nearly impossible. Ten? Just ten?! In a year so rich with diverse, inspiring, horrifying, beautiful, hideous tales, ten doesn’t even measure half of the films that had a profound effect on me.
But ten it is, and so I’ve put together a list of the films that hit me the hardest and moved me the farthest. Every critic has their own approach to putting together their year-end list — do you look for the “Best” movies of the year? The ones that made the most impact in the zeitgeist? I don’t believe in a best movie and DGAF about the zeitgeist, so I always look for the movies I can’t shake. The ones that keep me up at night. Don’t worry much about the ranking (though god knows, I fret and fret and fret), it’s something I do because I’m asked to. Just know I went back and forth on the top spot endlessly, alternating between #1 and #2. I’ll almost certainly have changed my mind again by the time this list goes live. Both films have a very dear place in my heart, and that’s what really matters — not the order or the metrics, just know that these are ten films I love very dearly.
Finally, before we proceed, my List of Shame (aka the movies I haven’t seen yet): BPM, Hostiles, A Quiet Passion, God’s Own Country, Lady Macbeth, Foxtrot. I atone for these sins, movie gods.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, ten films that really did it to me in 2017.
10) The Killing of a Sacred Deer
To be blunt, what the fuck? What is this movie? And why did it completely mess me up? Yorgos Lanthimos has a weird little world of upsetting wonders in his head, that’s for sure. The Killing of a Sacred Deer stars Colin Farell as a Steven Murphy, a brilliant surgeon, who lives an idyllic life with his beautiful wife (Nicole Kidman) and their two children, teenaged daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and young son Bob (Sunny Suljic). That is, until he grows close to Martin (Barry Keoghan), the son of a man who died on his operating table. Martin lingers around like an unswattable fly until he presents Steven with an ultimatum so horrifying it recalls the unflinching, merciless demands of the old gods. Sacrifice, punishment, and expiation.
Farell and Kidman do great work as a chilly, affluent couple faced with an impossibly upsetting predicament, but it’s newcomer Keoghan (also seen in Dunkirk) who will make you squirm in your seat with his bravura embrace of the weird. Never has a plate of pasta been so damn distressing. Between Keoghan’s performance and Lanthimos’ piano-wire tight tension, Killing of a Sacred Deer is inexplicably nauseous from the get-go, but about halfway through the discomfort and dread boils over into a mythic, haunting fever dream of punishment and perversity. The Killing of a Sacred Deer starts with a needling presence, scratching and probing in intensely uncomfortable ways, and before you know it, the film becomes a full-on opiate drip, lodged deep, that transforms Lanthimos’ signature surreality into a nightmarescape that feels too real and too intimate. I just can’t shake it.
If you’re a regular around these parts, you’re probably sick to death of hearing me go on about Julia Ducournau’s coming of age cannibal film, but Raw is just that striking and unsettling. Set at a French Veterinarian school, which are apparently some seriously messed up places to matriculate, the film stars Garance Marillier in a breakout role as Justine, a virginal vegetarian Freshman who discovers all kinds of hunger in herself during the school’s brutal hazing rituals.
The metaphors for sexual awakening and self-discovery in Justine’s newfound craving for flesh aren’t subtle, but they are sharp, and Ducournau executes her journey with an eye for stunning, disorienting detail. Even better, Raw serves up a set of fascinating character dynamics with its fleshy frights, investigating Justine’s unconventional relationships with her sister (Ella Rumpf) and newfound best friend (Rabah Nait Oufella). There’s eroticism, revulsion, and a primal pull to each scene as Justine navigates the choppy waters of her new life away from home. There’s even some body hair phobia that will feel too real for anyone who was ever a vain teen girl, and then will feel like a terror of the flesh as the scene catapults and violent, violating directions you never could have guessed. Raw is just like that. Emotional and honest, and yes, very raw, this stomach-churning bit of cannibal horror digs deeper than the guts and goes for the soul as one of the most insightful, deeply relatable, and totally twisted teen movies of the year.
What a stunning accomplishment Logan is. After playing Wolverine for two decades, more often than not in subpar films, Hugh Jackman finally got the solo feature he deserved just in time to hang up the claws. Logan proves that Deadpool’s success wasn’t a one-off and the R-rated superhero movie is a viable format, but the more exciting lesson studios should heed is that it proves that audiences are hungry for timely, intelligent stories of heroism that challenge the mind and the spirit. Nothing about Logan goes down easy, it’s a bristly, bitter film just like it’s titular hero, but if you end up with a claw stuck in your throat while digesting this one — well, that’s just about right, isn’t it?
Logan takes the themes of oppressive, hateful violence and bigotry that have always underscored the X-Men films and finally goes deep with them, digging for the roots. At the same time, the film provides an essential arc for our heroes, both Logan and Professor X (Patrick Stewart in a franchise-best performance), long past their glory days when one grand last stand could truly cost them everything. But they’ve got to get the guns out of the valley, and director James Mangold puts the characters up against the consequences that come with a life of violence — even one waged on the side of good — in a farewell that ties up family, duty, and the decisions that make life worth living even when your light is fading. Touching as it thrilling, tender as it is brutal, Logan is hands down one of the best superhero movies ever made.
“What did I do last night?” It’s a common refrain for addicts, but what if the answer was more horrifying and hilarious than you could ever imagine? Nacho Vigalondo’s sci-fi self-discovery comedy Colossal has one of the ballsiest, straight up goofy set-ups of any film this year. Anne Hathaway stars as Gloria, an out-of-work alcoholic who occasionally manifests as a giant Kaiju monster in Seoul, Korea during her blackout spells. It’s a blunt force metaphor for the destructive power of addiction and all all-too-relatable, if super silly manifestation of the regret cycle familiar to anyone who’s woken up with a killer hangover and an even deadlier pit of regret in their stomach.
Vigolando approaches his base concept with good humor and fabulous originality, not to mention some genuinely great monster sequences, but the film really kicks into high gear when it digs into the dynamic between Gloria and her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a real Nice Guy™ who goes out of his way to “help” Gloria… as long as it puts him in the power position. That trait belies a darkness in Oscar, which manifests in surprising, horrific ways when Gloria starts to assert her independence. From there, Colossal evolves into something much more complex and timely, digging into the m’lady brand of toxic masculinity with a precision knife, and culminating in an intensely satisfying, devilishly cheeky finale. But don’t worry, Vigolando is too smart to tie things off with a perfect bow, and Colossal ends with a knowing nod to anyone who’s danced with addiction and lived to see the other side. Maybe.
6) A Ghost Story
I haven’t finished processing A Ghost Story. I’m not sure I ever will, and if that isn’t a sign of a challenging piece of art, I don’t know what is. And make no mistake, A Ghost Story is an art film, one that won’t be to everybody’s tastes, and frankly, I wouldn’t have thought would be to mine. And yet, David Lowery’s meditation on mortality, legacy, and the great ghost of love past gripped me through every searching, minimalist frame. Even through that notorious pie scene (and yeah, it’s really long.)
The film follows a man, (Casey Affleck) young and in love with his wife (Rooney Mara), when he dies unexpectedly and returns as a white-sheet ghost to haunt the halls of their home. She can’t see him, but we can and he moves about the space like a lumbering misplaced object, his downturned shoulders the portrait of eternal sadness. The film verges on pretentious for a bit and then just dives right in, because Lowery isn’t just exploring grief and confronting mortality, he takes on the scope of time itself. He gets cosmic with it. Sure, it gets pretentious and oblique, but in doing so it dares to reach for the profound. Sometimes, it grasps it.
Like I said, I’m still working through A Ghost Story, but what I know for certain is that this is a fearless, boldly unique piece of filmmaking that is, not to be cute, completely haunting. I’m not sure when I’ll stop obsessing over this movie, or if I’ll ever quite figure out why it lodged a splinter so deep in my psyche, but I’m sure grateful for the opportunity Lowery gave me to try and figure that out.
5) Faces Places
Part road movie, part documentary, part art project, Faces Places unites French film legend Agnes Varda (age, 88) and large-scale photographer JR (age, 33) to give a glimpse into the creative life of these two mismatched kindred spirits and how their unique perspectives shape their art. Together, they tour around the villages of France in a minivan shaped like a camera, which rolls through each new locale like a magic little ice cream truck. Someone steps in for a portrait, and it prints out on the other side ready to be pasted up as art.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and this duo beholds plenty. They talk to the sole woman who remains in an abandoned row of mining houses. When they plaster her face to the front of her home, a grand tribute to a humble woman, she’s speechless and teary-eyed. It’s beautiful. They find a woman who refuses to burn the horns off the goats at her dairy farm, and so they paste a portrait of a goat, with big brilliant horns proudly glowing white. It’s beautiful. They photograph the wives of dock workers, pasting them up as three giant totems of womanhood stretched accross the docks, they photograph an old man who lives in a shack he built for himself, everywhere they go, they capture the minutiae of life, and it’s all so very beautiful.
Faces, Places is perhaps the closest you can come to seeing the world through the eyes of a great filmmaker. Sometimes quite literally, such as the cheeky moment JR uses prop letters and rows of people to recreate Varda’s eye exam. Sure the great filmmaker’s eyes may be failing her, but her vision is still there and it’s a true treat to experience it, even if for a short time. At her age Varda has a sense of time, of love lost and found, art loved and forgotten and Faces Places offers wise perspective on the transitory nature of art, love, and life itself. There are profound moments laced in that reach deep, but the greatest gift of Faces Places is the big, open heart at its center. Agnes Varda and JR love people, they see the beauty in them, and their unconventional art project helps you see the beauty too.
This won’t win me a lot of popularity points on the interwebs, but I haven’t connected with a Christopher Nolan film since The Dark Knight. So you can imagine how overjoyed I was watching Dunkirk and finally feeling the awe that made me such an admirer of his filmmaking in the first place. Dunkirk is precision cinema, a true technical marvel, but it also has the lit flame of soul inside it that surpasses even the most mind-blowing technical feats.
Nolan has always thrived on experimenting with structure and he continues to refine that technique with Dunkirk, which expands and dilates the passage of time across three overlapping narratives set at the evacuation of Dunkirk. The pivotal WWII battle has been fodder for cinema throughout 2017, featuring in Darkest Hour and Their Finest, but Nolan treats Dunkirk not as an idea or even a historical event, but as an experience. On the shores are the soldiers, whose story spans about a week as they desperately wait for evacuation among the bullets and bombings. On the seas are the citizen vessels, who spend a day rushing to the soldiers’ aide when the Royal Navy cannot. Finally, in the air with only an hour’s worth of fuel and a sky full of enemies, the Royal Air Force’s clock ticks the fastest.
It’s a genius construct, and it’s easy to get lost, marveling at the carefully plotted points of narrative intersection, but the true triumph is that Nolan’s crafty framework doesn’t distract from the urgency, it enhances it. In Dunkirk, form meets function and Nolan orchestrates the action like a breathless concerto, beats held or halted with an artful hand as the violence of war rolls in and out like the high tide crashing on the shore. Dunkirk is felt as much as it’s watched, a pulse-quickening triptych ode to survival that puts you on the shores, on the sea, or in the sky right alongside the heroes of Dunkirk and reminds you how daring it is to hope, but how necessary too.
3) Phantom Thread
Paul Thomas Anderson makes masterpieces. It’s just what he does. At this point, it’s getting a little ridiculous. I even stan for The Master and Inherent Vice, but Phantom Thread easily ranks as one of his most gorgeous and simple films, stunning for an intimacy and honesty unrivaled on his resume since Punch Drunk Love. Phantom Thread gets even more bare, even less adorned — unless you count the gorgeous constructions Daniel Day-Lewis’ high society dressmaker strings together at the behest of obsessive genius.
In what is supposedly his final film, Day-Lewis embodies the elegant skin of Reynolds Woodcock, an auteur of the fashion world sought out by royalty and celebrities for his custom gowns. He is rigid, consumed, and not just a little bit of a baby about the circumstances he requires for his art to thrive. When an unassuming but tenacious and wickedly clever young waitress catches his eye, the two embark on a stormy love affair that moves from tantalizing to stifling to something resembling commitment, twisted though it may be to the emotional perversions of this particular pair.
They say that in a relationship one person is always chasing and the other is being chased. In that sense, Phantom Thread is the tortoise and the hare; a fable of love and commitment about the lengths we go to in order to the keep our lover’s heart on the hook. Vicky Krieps is an honest to god revelation as Alma, the unlikely match to Day-Lewis’ consummate bachelor, and as his no-nonsense sister, Lesley Manville gives the withering yet empathetic performance she was born for. That excellent extends from casting and performance through every technical level of Anderson’s elegantly composed film. Johnny Greenwood’s score is an all-timer, and without a traditional cinematographer Anderson and credited lighting cameraman Michael Bauman work in tandem to craft a gorgeous, moody ambiance. The elements come together as a spell so hypnotic, I stayed sat in my seat clear through the credits, immobilized and absorbing every last second the screen would give me. I could have sat there forever.
2) The Shape of Water
The Shape of Water is the movie we needed in 2017. An act of healing, a display of great humanity, and a journey from “them” to “us” that cherishes the odd, the other, and the queer with profound warmth, and above all, love. Guillermo Del Toro delivers the best work of his career with the stunning tale of a mute woman who falls in love with a fish god; a love story that unfolds through aesthetic splendor and a rich emotional journey. Every technical element of The Shape of Water is on point — Alexandre Desplat’s score enchants, Dan Lausten’s cinematography leaps off the screen, the sets and costumes make a middling budget look like millions more, and Del Toro unites arguably the ensemble of the year with Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, and 2017 supporting MVP Michael Stuhlbarg — every element works in concert to create one of the most cathartic experiences of the year with sequences so elegantly constructed I was moved to tears by the sheer beauty of them.
People like to say that films like The Shape of Water “elevate the genre,” but del Toro doesn’t direct with his nose in the air. He doesn’t elevate genre, he embraces it and explores it for all its possibilities as a vital part of cinema. And The Shape of Water is made with a deep and abiding love of cinema, all the way down to the silt. The lineage of Beauty and the Beast, Creature from the Black Lagoon and Old Hollywood musicals flood throughout the film, and digging even further back, the same lineage of fairy tales, myth, and folklore that pulses through Del Toro’s entire filmography. The Shape of Water is his most elegant movie yet and it flawlessly combines that historian’s expertise with his bold, sweeping artistic strokes. A film that defies easy categorization; it’s a creature feature, a romance, a cold war spy drama, a jailbreak thriller; it touches on race, gender, sexuality. It’s a film that washes over you and slips through the cracks of classification. It is cinema, in all its infinite possibilities, writ large in bright bold colors.
1) Call Me by Your Name
To watch Call Me by Your Name is to be a teenager again. It’s to feel the hot, humid summer sun. To feel first love, and yes, heartbreak; to be transported completely into the soul of another. Elio, Elio, Elio. Timothee Chalamet delivers the breakout performance of the year as Elio, a teenage boy who feels the first flames of desire and love during a summer in the Italian Countryside when his father’s research assistant (Oliver, Oliver, Oliver) comes to stay at the family home for the holiday. Luca Guadagnino has built up a resume of sensual, sun-soaked cinema, but the Italian countryside has never looked more lush than in Call Me by Your Name, where every blade of grass and current in the river seem to urge Elio and Oliver closer together.
The film is adorned with art and music, a feast for the senses, and cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom conjures a luminous, textured embrace of all that beauty that pours over the imagery like warm honey. Elio and Oliver’s sun-bared bodies are photographed like sculptures from different molds, a study of inverse male beauty, and along with the stunning performances from Chalamet and Armie Hammer, it creates a palpable desire — the longing to touch and be touch, to see and be seen. To speak or die.
The core question of Call Me by Your Name is posed by Elio’s lovely mother, reading from an ancient text. “Is it better to speak or die?” That question has certainly always been the core of queer love stories, where historically dire consequences threaten to follow, but in truth, it’s the question at the heart of all great love. Do we perish in silence, or do we risk the suffering of loss? There’s kindness and grace in the way Call Me by Your Name answers the question, a rich compassion that might be the film’s defining trait. Elio and Oliver speak, they risk, and as Michael Stuhlbarg imparts in his lovely, devastating third-act monologue, the risk is the spark that makes life worth living, and the spark is a limited resource.
As for the honorable mentions, remember when I said I could double my list? Here are the films that were this close to making the Top 10.
- World of Tomorrow Chapter 2 – Genius sci-fi. Genius sequel. Genius Don Hertzfeldt, as usual. Didn’t make the Top 10 because it’s a short, but absolutely one of my favorite films of the year.
- Get Out – The movie of 2017. Instantly iconic, probably a masterpiece.
- It – My love for this movie only continues to grow. An impossibly good adaptation of a half of one of Stephen King‘s greatest works. Andy Muschietti makes it feel whole and keeps the audience on the end of a short string.
- Good Time – Robert Pattinson’s Connie might be the best character of the year. Hypnotic and lurid, like a film ripped from the lifeblood of 70s cinema.
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Rian Johnson‘s gorgeous, gleaming wonder sets a new bar for franchise filmmaking. Fearless, wise, and thematically structured to a tee. Reylo for life.
- Ingrid Goes West – Aubrey Plaza gives the best performance of 2017 that won’t get awards attention. Huge, beautiful, chaotic empathy.
- The Florida Project – SHATTERED me.
- Lady Bird – We are all Lady Bird.
- Spider-Man: Homecoming – A joyful love letter to one of my favorite superheroes. Tom Holland is actual perfection — it’s like Peter Parker backflipped off the page and into the MCU.
- Personal Shopper - Confronts mortality and grief in gorgeous ways. Original, spooky, haunting. Kristen Stewart is the real deal and she sure does look like the dream in designer clothes.
But wait, there’s more! Yes, even more movies I loved in 2017: Logan Lucky, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, Columbus, Gerald’s Game, Wonder Woman, Darkest Hour, The Big Sick, The Lure, Thor: Ragnarok
For all of Collider’s Best of 2017 content, click here, and peruse our other personal staff lists below: