After watching more than four hundred films in 2017, it is always difficult to come up with a “Ten Best” list. How can I measure the achievement of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread against Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name? I thought both films were fantastic; they had me writhing in pleasure. But how can I—or anyone?!—declare Daniel-Day Lewis’s performance was “better” than Timothée Chamalet’s? I can’t. So I won’t.
For my “Ten Best” list this year, I’m going to only write about films that gave me pleasure. Films that held me spellbound and wowed me. Films that made me cackle and consider the human condition. And I’m not going to rank them. Or choose obvious critic darlings. Here they are in alphabetical order:
The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography Errol Morris’s documentary portrait of a large-scale portrait photographer had me ooo-ing and aah-ing throughout. It wasn’t just her images—although who she photographed (Allen Ginsberg! Gregory Corso!) impressed me—it was how she presented herself on camera that charmed me. Morris captured Dorfman’s singular magic through her words and images.
Brad’s Status: Director Mike White’s incisive script took what could have been a painful, cloying subject—a father, Brad (Ben Stiller) re-evaluating his life as his teenage son (Austin Abrams) visits possible colleges—and turned it into something poignant and moving. As Brad measures himself up against his peers (White, Jemaine Clement, and Luke Wilson), it takes a college student to put him in his place about White Privilege, entitlement, and more. It was heartbreaking and hilarious.
Columbus: I was deeply and incredibly moved by the possibly non-sexual relationship that develops between two lonely souls (John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson) in the mono-monikered Kogonada’s directorial debut. And the architecture that populates almost every frame was stunning, too. This was my favorite film of the year.
Dolores: There wasn’t a more inspiring super-hero this year than Dolores Huerta. Director Peter Bratt (Benjamin’s brother) honored this feisty activist, who was long overdue to be recognized, with a smart documentary that showed the strides and sacrifices she made to make the country better for everyone.
Jigsaw As someone who can proudly boast of having seen all seven Saw movies in the theatre, I enjoyed Jigsaw immensely. I can’t even call these films guilty pleasures, because I have no guilt about them. Jigsaw, like its predecessors had a morality about working through trauma that I find fascinating—which is why I watch.
Logan Lucky Steven Soderberg’s criminally-overlooked caper film, set at a NASCAR race, was a wild good time. The impeccable ensemble cast, which included Channing Tatum, Riley Keough, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Dwight Yokum, and Hilary Swank, all went deep into their Southern-fried roles and scored big time.
The Lost City of Z I was mesmerized by this period adventure film about a British explorer, Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) who revisits the Amazon searching for the Lost City of Z. It was gorgeously made, and long, but I found it endlessly thrilling.
Patti Cake$ Another film that failed to find an audience, this crowd-pleaser had an overweight, white female rapper Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald in knockout performance) trying to get straight out of Jersey. Patti dreams big, but she is thwarted at almost every turn, in scenes that are both comic and poignant. The raps are great, the locations authentic, and the performances are killa.
Rumble This documentary about the untold stories of how Native Americans’ influenced every genre of music is both sensational and educational. It makes connections that will give viewers a new appreciation of classic songs.
Slack Bay Was there a funnier, or more effervescent film this year? Bruno Dumont’s slapstick whimsy featured side-splitting performances and set pieces, and more comic mugging than an entire season of Monty Python. It was silly, satirical, and sublime.
As for five films I found most difficult to endure this year: Tulip Fever, The Hero, A Ghost Story, Detroit, Baywatch.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. He is the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Volumes 1 and 2, and teaches seminars at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.