For critics, the act of drawing up a 10-best list is always a time of angst—but who wants to hear it? Complaining about having to, heaven forfend, come forward publicly with a list of the movies you loved best in a given year amounts to a kind of veiled self-congratulation. Am I making the right choices, the ultimate choices, the choices that celebrate the best work while also reflecting the essence of my own personal taste? I say, bring all of that to the shrink’s couch. While it’s a privilege to make a public list of favorite movies, the idea is not to dictate taste, but to spur you to think about what your own favorites are, and why.
A note on the order: I always like to think of the top three movies in any ostensibly numerically weighted list as an interchangeable set of favorites. If I’d eaten something different for breakfast on the day of making up the list, my number 2 might have been number 1, or vice-versa. These are all movies that moved me, delighted me or made me think in 2017. In some way, they’re all winners.
10. Girls Trip
A good comedy is one of life’s great pleasures, and Malcolm D. Lee’s Girls Trip—raunchy, buoyant and powered by a terrific cast, including Queen Latifah and Tiffany Haddish— was one of the sweetest surprises of the summer. A bunch of old friends reunite for a weekend of partying and debauchery. Through it all, they laugh, scream and mime unbelievably dirty sex acts. But this is a rare girls’-night-out comedy that doesn’t leave you feeling depleted or insulted. Instead of depressing self-debasement, the mood is one of sublime joy and catharsis.
9. Get Out
In Jordan Peele’s creepy-smart and bitterly funny directorial debut, a white woman (Allison Williams) brings her black boyfriend (Daniel Kaluuya) home to meet the folks, where they accept him warmly—a little too warmly. Peele succeeds where even more experienced filmmakers sometimes fail: he’s made an agile entertainment whose social and cultural observations are woven so tightly into the fabric that you’re laughing even as you’re thinking, and vice versa.
8. Faces Places
In this effervescent documentary, the revered 89-year-old Belgian-born filmmaker Agnès Varda teams with the 34-year-old French street artist JR: they tootle through the French countryside in JR’s truck, a roving mini portrait studio outfitted to process and print very large pictures. The result is a wondrous, vigorous work that connects people with the landscape they inhabit—and carves out a small place in that landscape for the artist too.
Christopher Nolan’s ambitious fictional drama, set against the events of Operation Dynamo, is a grand spectacle, not an empty one—a rare example of the Hollywood blockbuster dollar well spent. Nolan sustains Dunkirk’s dramatic tension beautifully from start to finish. This is a supreme achievement made from small strokes, a kind of Seurat painting constructed with dark, glittering bits of history.
6. Call Me By Your Name
A precocious 17-year-old kid (Timothée Chalamet) is ready for a boring summer at his family’s Italian villa. Then a casually presumptive American guest (Armie Hammer) shows up. What unfolds between them is, in director Luca Guadagnino’s hands, a kind of languorous hypnotism, a meeting of the carnal and the spiritual that’s both dreamlike and dazzling in its tender physicality. The whole movie is a rapturous, bittersweet seduction. To fall into its arms is bliss.
Is Ceyda Torun’s delightful and visually splendid Kedi a documentary about Istanbul with cats, or a documentary about cats that happens to be set in Istanbul? There’s no need to make the distinction. In all great cities, the magnificent intersects with the mundane—that’s what makes them vital—and Torun captures that idea in a movie that breezes along like a silky purr.
4. Personal Shopper
A glorious Kristen Stewart plays an American living in Paris, working at a job she hates and desperate to communicate with her recently deceased twin brother. Olivier Assayas’ alluring modern ghost story is genuinely spooky but also poetic, a meditation on the membrane between the worlds of the living and the dead, and on grief as a portal between the two.
3. The Lost City of Z
Adapted from David Grann’s 2009 best seller, James Gray’s resplendent, symphonic adventure tells the story of real-life British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who devoted his life to locating a mythical lost city in the Amazon. A gorgeous and passionately crafted picture, it captures the wonders and horrors of one man’s obsession, a mysterious mirror-world Eden. Films with this kind of grand sweep and dreamy energy don’t come along every day. The Lost City of Z is itself a message in a bottle, a missive from a lost city of movies.
2. Lady Bird
This smart, joyous, tender film about an out-of-sorts teenager (a superb Saoirse Ronin) growing up in Sacramento circa the early 2000s isn’t writer-director Greta Gerwig’s debut. But its openness about the anxieties of growing up with no money and an extremely complicated mother (Laurie Metcalf) make it feel like the arrival of a bright new voice. Sometimes you’ve got to run away from home to get there.
1. The Post
Steven Spielberg was finishing another movie when producer Amy Pascal sent him a script by an unknown writer named Liz Hannah about the Washington Post’s risky 1971 decision to publish the Pentagon Papers. The movie Spielberg made from that script, completed in less than a year, is both rapturously entertaining and pointedly topical. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are marvelous as Post publisher Katharine Graham and executive editor Ben Bradlee, who put their paper and their careers on the line to strike a victory for freedom of the press. This movie’s belief in the power of journalism is a head rush. There is no more galvanizing, or more important, film this year.
The Beguiled, Mudbound, The Shape of Water, Wonderstruck, Baby Driver, Logan Lucky, I Called Him Morgan, The Florida Project, My Life As a Zucchini, California Typewriter, John Wick: Chapter 2, The Little Hours, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards