Hollywood Reporter Critics Pick the Best Films of 2017

6:00 AM 12/12/2017

by THR Staff

Chief critic Todd McCarthy’s favorites include an undersung comic epic from Alexander Payne, three very different love stories and a formally bold war movie, while the most popular film among all Hollywood Reporter critics polled was 'Call Me by Your Name,' followed by 'Lady Bird' and 'The Shape of Water.'

'Downsizing,' 'Call Me by Your Name'
'Downsizing,' 'Call Me by Your Name'
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures; Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

It was looking pretty grim there for a while. Sundance gave us Call Me by Your Name last January, but by the end of June, people whose job it is to speculate about what other films might be up for year-ends awards and critics' lists were weighing the chances of good genre entries like War for the Planet of the Apes, Get Out, Wonder Woman and Baby Driver — not normally the kind of stuff of which Oscar dreams are made.

Nor the did Cannes Film Festival in May yield much of potentially enduring value. Yes, there was a wonderful documentary, Agnes Varda and JR's Faces Places, and one mesmerizing out-of-the-blue entry in the Directors' Fortnight, The Florida Project, made by a director whose previous feature had cost little more than the cellphone camera it was made on. But where were the rest of the contenders?

The first one, Christopher Nolan's much-anticipated Dunkirk, flooded theaters in July and planted a flag for quality big-budget Hollywood fare. A few very good indies turned up but were not widely seen, including Columbus, Logan Lucky and Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.

Finally, nine months in, the major early autumn festivals once again signaled that all was not lost after all, and enough very-good-to-excellent films have emerged since September to have made 2017 a pretty decent year after all. As the Patriots showed in the last Super Bowl, if you score enough points in the final quarter (and overtime), you win.

Here were the ten best films of 2017. — by Todd McCarthy

  • 10. Dunkirk

    Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures

    There was never much doubt that Christopher Nolan would deliver an exceptionally vivid panoramic depiction of the enormous event that first suggested Hitler might not roll unimpeded to victory in World War II. To be sure, the film's verisimilitude and physicality are extraordinary. But the way Nolan told his story was the surprise, in fragmented vignettes, on land, sea and in the air, with no artificial build-up of pre-packaged heroism or emotion. It's the rare modern film in which the dialogue could be discarded with no loss of meaning or power.

  • 9. The Shape of Water

    Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

    Guillermo del Toro was unquestionably the most visible and voluble directorial presence on the fall festival circuit this season, and the beautiful film he brought with him provided a lot to talk about. A traditional fairy tale mated with a Cold War monster movie, it also features a mute heroine (played by Sally Hawkins) whose resilience and resoluteness were approached this year only by that of Frances McDormand in the almost equally fine Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This is at last another film in which del Toro's delightfully unlimited film geekiness is matched by the finesse with which he channels his obsessions.

  • 8. Faces Places

    Courtesy of Telluride Film Festival

    French New Wave pioneer Agnes Varda may be 89, but she's still got her ear to the ground and her eye is as sharp as ever in this covert report from the front in a France we seldom see. Starting as a sort-of larkish road movie in which Varda and co-director JR decorate parts of the countryside with huge posters of the latter’s photographic portraits of ordinary people, the film becomes an amiable but unsettling portrait of the nation's by-passed and disenfranchised. A late bit in which Varda is rudely stood up by her old friend Jean-Luc Godard is unforgettable.

  • 7. Graduation

    Courtesy of TIFF

    Romanian master Cristian Mungiu is within a couple of turns of the screw of top form in this corrosive look at how old-style communist-era cynicism and depression are alive and well in post-Ceausescu times. The decades of bureaucratic rot still pervades everything in professional and personal life, as any sense of idealism and hope are systematically cut down to size in the course of a doctor's initially sincere efforts to get his bright daughter into a British university. The director's ability to almost imperceptibly grow his story from the specifically human to the pervasively societal remains awe-inspiring.

  • 6. Phantom Thread

    Laurie Sparham/Focus Features

    After three weighty, life-gushing yarns, all of which had third-act problems, Paul Thomas Anderson ventured out of the United States' Wild West and into English chamber drama in a poisonous romantic yarn hinging upon who will get the upper hand in an intimate triangle. As eccentric as its characters, the film is claustrophobic and controlled as well as wild and rangy, and the excellence of his leads (Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville), along with the melodiously melodramatic score by Jonny Greenwood, ultimately makes something rich and strange out of the director's risky roll of the dice.

  • 5. The Florida Project

    Courtesy of A24

    Once again finding amazing subjects, faces and stories for cinema where no one else would presume to look, Sean Baker expands his horizons considerably with this walk on the wild side of Orlando. Set amid the scruffy, borderline derelict denizens of a low-end motel within spitting distance of Disneyworld, the film forces you to come to grips with down-and-outers most people would go out of their way to avoid in real life. While Baker doesn't glamorize or excuse their often atrocious behavior, nor does he discount their humanity.

  • 4. My Journey Through French Cinema

    Courtesy of Gaumont

    There have been many documentary histories of cinema, but nobody has made anything to compare with the veteran French director Bertrand Tavernier's highly personal epic look at the history of one of the two or three great national cinemas the world has known. Zig-zagging through the decades, the filmmaker offers incomparable insights into acting, film music and overlooked talents as well as into the official classics. He has now finished a ten-part television companion piece, which we can presume will make its way to local screens before too long.

  • 3. Lady Bird

    Courtesy of A24

    What a debut, what a surprise, what a welcome arrival of a new auteur! Like Joan Didion having escaped her native Sacramento for New York, Gerwig returned home and conquered with a captivating autobiographical first film possessed of a fleet-footed style, as well a real knack for flitting between comedy and drama with no bother at all. Tonally, it's surprisingly reminiscent of Francois Truffaut's great debut with The 400 Blows.

  • 2. Call Me by Your Name

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

    In an era generally bereft of deep-dish love stories, there are actually three in my top ten, and they could scarcely be more different from one another. The best of them, this piercing account of a summer's ardor between two young men in Northern Italy is a film in which every element had to be just right — and they absolutely are, from James Ivory's knowing script and Luca Guadagnino's searching direction to the lovely settings and, above all, the chemistry, grace and physical force of stars Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer.

  • 1. Downsizing

    Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

    Alexander Payne's film addresses one of the weightiest subjects there is, that of humanity's long-term viability on the planet, and does so as a humane comedy-drama without an ounce of pretension. A sort of Everyman tale like Hollywood used to make, this one zeroes in on Matt Damon's average Joe as he voluntarily joins the ranks of the miniaturized and embarks on an odyssey that is dramatic, picaresque, packed with unusual characters and quite impossible to predict.

    I have seen the film twice, loved it both times and am a bit perplexed, but not shocked, by the coolness with which it's been received (it doesn't even open commercially until Dec. 22). Some critics seem to find the first act lovely, the second a misfire; others perhaps consider it a failed fable or somehow wrong-headed politically. I suspect that, despite its underlying seriousness about what is arguably the planet's most fundamental problem, it's simply that the film's basic intelligence, fair-mindedness and gentle nature are out of sync with the harsh, discordant and hate-filled tenor of the moment. To its credit, this is not a film that fits with the current zeitgeist.

    •••

    And ten honorable mentions: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; The Post; War for the Planet of the Apes; Logan Lucky; T2 TrainspottingNorman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer; Columbus; Foxtrot; The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected); The Disaster Artist

  • Jon Frosch's Top 10 Films

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

    1. Call Me by Your Name
    2. Lady Bird
    3. BPM (Beats Per Minute)
    4. The Shape of Water
    5. A Fantastic Woman
    6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
    7. God's Own Country
    8. Raw
    9. Get Out
    10. Dunkirk

    •••

    Honorable mentions: The Big Sick; Good Time; The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)Mudbound; Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer; Personal Shopper; Phantom Thread; Princess Cyd; Quest; Step

  • David Rooney's Top 10 Films

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

    1. Call Me by Your Name
    2. The Shape of Water
    3. Lady Bird
    4. A Fantastic Woman
    5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
    6. God's Own Country
    7. Get Out
    8. The Big Sick
    9. The Other Side of Hope
    10. Good Time

    •••

    Honorable mentions: BMP (Beats Per Minute); Columbus; Dunkirk; The Florida Project; A Ghost Story; Jane; Marjorie Prime; Personal Shopper; Phantom ThreadWonderstruck

  • Stephen Farber's Top 10 Films

    Courtesy of Merrick Morton/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

    1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
    2. Lady Bird
    3. Call Me by Your Name
    4. The Post
    5. BPM (Beats Per Minute)
    6. The Insult
    7. California Typewriter
    8. Brad's Status
    9. Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool
    10. Downsizing

    •••

    Honorable mentions: The Shape of Water; Mudbound; Dunkirk; Wonderstruck; Detroit; The Disaster Artist; A Quiet Passion; The Florida Project; Phantom Thread; The Big Sick

  • Sheri Linden's Top 10 Films

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

    1. Call Me by Your Name
    2. A Ghost Story
    3. The Shape of Water
    4. Personal Shopper
    5. Marjorie Prime
    6. Graduation
    7. Get Out
    8. A Quiet Passion
    9. Rat Film
    10. My Friend Dahmer

    •••

    Honorable mentions: Barracuda; Columbus; Dawson City: Frozen Time; The Disaster Artist; Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story; Kedi; Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982–1992; The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected); Rodney King; Song of Granite

  • Michael Rechtshaffen's Top 10 Films

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

    1. Call Me by Your Name
    2. Get Out
    3. Dunkirk
    4. The Shape of Water
    5. Lady Bird
    6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
    7. Jane
    8. Coco
    9. Detroit
    10. The Disaster Artist

    •••

    Honorable mentions: Mudbound; The Florida Project; The PostOkja; Faces Places; I, Tonya; A Fantastic Woman; Window HorsesKedi; Logan

  • Frank Scheck's Top 10 Films

    Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures

    1. Dunkirk
    2. Call Me by Your Name
    3. Get Out
    4. Lady Bird
    5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
    6. Wind River
    7. Last Flag Flying
    8. Wonder
    9. Detroit
    10. The Big Sick

    •••

    Honorable mentions: Mudbound; A Quiet Passion; Darkest Hour; Whose Streets?; Wonder Woman; The Shape of Water; The Disaster Artist; Good Time; The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected); The Lost City of Z