Below you will find each contributor’s individual ballot for their personal top ten films of the year. In addition, we have asked each contributor for some year-end superlatives outlining the most overrated, most underrated of the past 12 months and what they most look forward to in the year ahead.
1. If I had one more entry to add to my list I would choose…
Nate: Avoiding controversy I did not include David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return on my list even though other publications have classified it as a film (let the debate rage on). Twin Peaks: The Return is a sublime one of a kind experience that of all visual media in 2017 was arguably the most innovative if not the greatest. I also strongly considered Don Hertzfeld’s World of Tomorrow Episode Two but the fact that it is a short film coupled with its late release meant it missed the final cut. Still much like it’s predecessor, World of Tomorrow Episode Two is a poignant masterpiece that should be viewed by all.
Ethan: There are two films that narrowly missed out on my top ten list, the first of which is Michaël Dudok de Wit’s beautifully animated The Red Turtle, which was nominated for an Oscar last year. Backed by Studio Ghibli, the film has no dialogue and the primarily hand-drawn scenery is tranquil and eclectically colored as a man seeks purpose while stranded on a desert island. My other choice would be Netflix’s original documentary Casting Jonbenet, which honors a tragic event through the emotional responses and ways that other humans relate to the story. Consisting primarily of talking-head interviews, the film is exciting and innovative in the way that it documents its subject matter.
Ken: War for the Planet of the Apes. Easily the best of the revival series, delivering one of the best satisfying conclusions to a trilogy in recent years and a worthy chapter to its predecessors in the iconic franchise it’s spun from. Amazing effects, beautiful cinematography, and production design, Matt Reeves’ excellent direction and top-notch performances from its cast of ‘apes’ and humans (Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson as most definite standouts); all in its haunting visuals and inspirational nods to classic war films and even delivered with very relevant social commentary. Whether this is the true conclusion of this exploration of the franchise or not, this film certainly takes this turn of the series out on a high note.
Michael: The Founder. Unfortunately, the release dates of this film were bungled and Michael Keaton didn’t end up getting any sorts of nominations at all. Though a biopic on the corporate founder of McDonalds, the movie is also a fascinating dissection of the ugliness of the American Dream and cutthroat capitalism. It’s fun, intriguing and at times just striking. A very strong film that was surpassed by the great releases in the year, it still holds up as a solid work of biographical cinema.
Ken: Beauty and the Beast. Disney’s track record as far as adapting their animated films to live-action has been something of a mixed bag. But in some ways, it does remain admirable for their attempts in using updated technology available in modern filmmaking that could conceivably allow for what was perceived only achievable in animation and bring it to “real-life” to the big screen. And in the right hands sometimes these projects prove their worth but, even despite good intentions, sometimes for every success (Jungle Book, Pete’s Dragon) there also comes considerable missteps (Cinderella, Maleficent). And while Beauty and the Beast can be admired for its attempts at recapturing the nostalgia of the Disney Renaissance classic, it, unfortunately, seems to rely too heavily on it though it’s nearly scene-for-scene reenactment with only a few minor subversions. And what it doesn’t change, from its classic songs to the disappointingly simplistic design of the eponymous beast, it simply cannot match that of the original. While no means a bad movie, Beauty and the Beast serves as an example of what can be achieved with modern film techniques but only seems to demonstrate on how to repackage what’s already familiar.
Ethan: Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. The film’s musical premise fails to distract from its other shortcomings, with a predictable, clichéd narrative and dull, uninteresting protagonist in the form of Ansel Elgort’s Baby. While credit has to be given for Wright’s ambition and the film’s choreography, Baby Driver is nowhere near as funny as the rest of his filmography and leaves much to be desired.
Michael: Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. Christopher Nolan is well-deserving of great respect and admiration for his filmmaking, and while Dunkirk succeeds greatly for its spectacle, it falls flat on its historical narrative. Visual effects are only half the story of a great film, yet Dunkirk conspicuously ( intentional or not) leaves everything else vague. I had no personal connection to anything. Perhaps the film should have been called simply “War” instead.
Nate: Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards. I am in the extreme minority here but first I’d like to acknowledge that Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell do indeed give strong performances. However, the film dips its toes in so many different directions that it is hard to gauge where its focus lies. The film wants its characters to undergo a monumental arc but none of that ever really feels earned. The result is a pale imitation of a Coen Brothers movie that is a disappointment for a director of Martin McDonagh’s caliber.
3. The most underrated / most forgotten movie of 2017 was…
Michael: Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit. An unflinching and distressing account of the 1967 Detroit race riots, the film was released at the height of summertime when many audiences would be away from theatres; it’s also the opposite of summer escapism and provides great ties to modern-day troubles especially prevalent in the United States. Despite its content and release date, the film is generally quite good and deserving of a wider exposure than I feel it has received.
Ken: Brigsby Bear. A beautifully rendered original comedy-drama, this film was particularly overlooked over the course of this year; making its critically praised debut at the Sundance film festival but only given a very limited release this past summer. Co-written and starring Saturday Night Live’s Kyle Mooney, alongside Mark Hamill, Claire Danes, Greg Kinnear and more, the film shares a tragically comic yet surprisingly endearing story that explores the nature of pop-culture and media obsession, the creativity and imagination that can be born from it, and all the ways it can shape individuals (whether for better or worse).
Nate: Foreign Films as a whole. Our aggregate list contains some foreign gems but that is definitely not all-encompassing. Distribution of foreign films to other international markets has limited the amount of exposure these films get. Some notable films not mentioned on our list include: Takashi Miike’s Blade of The Immortal, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless, Ruben Ostlund’s The Square, Agnes Varda’s Faces Places, Makoto Shinkai’s record-breaking anime Your Name, Juho Kuosmanen’s The Happiest Day In The Life of Olli Maki and of course the critically acclaimed French film BPM.
A valuable sector of cinema, streaming services would be optimal for bridging the distribution gap either via Netflix, Filmstruck or an otherwise independent streaming service. Hopefully, this will help some of these great films out there to wider audiences beyond that of the typical festival circuit.
Ethan: Carnage. This satirical mockumentary from British comedian Simon Amstell is a vegan sci-fi comedy that is effecting and a direct challenge to the audience’s moral compass, while self-deprecating and genuinely entertaining. Using a combination of archival footage and new imaginings of the near future, Amstell manages to avoid lecturing his audience while still laying down a compelling and watertight argument for veganism, making no effort to avoid bizarre comedy along the way.
Ethan: You Were Never Really Here. Having premiered at Cannes earlier in the year with Joaquin Phoenix scooping the award for best actor, Lynne Ramsay’s first film since 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin has been named by some as Taxi Driver for the 21st century, with Phoenix starring as a private contractor who hunts down missing girls. With many plaudits already and a new Jonny Greenwood score, this early 2018 release is one to get excited about.
Nate: Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs. I love Akira Kurosawa so the combination of his influence on Anderson’s aesthetic in Isle of Dogs has me most excited. He has also brought out the big names for this film featuring the vocal talents of Bill Murray (obviously), Scarlett Johansson, Ed Norton, Greta Gerwig and more. Everything on paper has this looking like one of the best films of the year and what’s even better? It’s coming in March so the wait is a bearable 3 months.
Ken: The one that stands out to me above all others as I write this would have to be none other than the big one: Avengers: Infinity War. The film 10 years in the making, the film that marks the official crossover of the entire MCU and its worldbuilding, and the film to set Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Guardians of the Galaxy against the franchise’s most teased villain, Thanos, in what promises to become the defining chapter of Phase 3 with the MCU. With a release scheduled for May 4th, 2018, Avengers: Infinity War will be among the first to officially kick off the summer blockbuster season; and if as good as its teaser has already set itself up to be, the summer movie season will certainly be off to a bright start.
Michael: I wouldn’t say most excited but one that I have been intrigued with for a while is Mary Magdalene, starring Rooney Mara as the titular character and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus Christ. Biblical movies have been done since films first began and so from a story point of view I wouldn’t anticipate anything overly new, but this cast does certainly create curiosity. Perhaps it will follow a controversial trajectory (like Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ) or maybe it will just be a standard bible flick. But since it’s presumably from the perspective of Christ’s best known female follower, this should indeed be an interesting film. I look forward to Mara’s and Phoenix’s interpretation with great anticipation.