The Top Ten Winners of the 2017 Movie Year

Applauding the true stars of 2017 at the movies.

By this point in awards season, the leaders of the pack in most of the categories have already shown themselves. While there still may be some surprises up ahead, the class of the 2017 movie season is a done deal. Now movie lovers and cinephiles alike wait to see if Gary Oldman trounces Timothee Chalamet as Best Actor, if Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri splits the major categories with The Shape of Water, or whether the heavily-touted Get Out and Lady Bird can swoop in for the upset.

As is becoming the case more and more with each passing year, 2017 also sees a number of stellar titles falling by the wayside. Once seen as heavy Oscar-hopefuls, the likes of Phantom Thread, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and even The Post, now eagerly vie more and more with each passing day for a spot at the Oscars. This of course spells good news for the die-hard cinephile, whose once-limited awards selection consisted of no more than a small number of strategically chosen indie titles and heavily promoted studio fare, but now easily boasts films of all calibers. In fact the variety of titles has been so vast as of late, that it’s more the common themes and attributes displayed in the year’s releases which now shine through more so than any one screenplay or performance. The result has made the singling out of certain films and the individuals who contribute to them as “the best,” all but impossible. While the Oscars carry the burden of selecting the “top” in each category, opening themselves up to endless criticism with each choice, I’ve decided to single out what I feel were the top ten elements that made 2017 in cinema one of the best in years.

LGBT Representation

A little more than a decade has passed since Brokeback Mountain signaled a new phase in the shattering of cinematic boundaries, while ultimately becoming a film more notable for its subject matter than its qualities as a work of cinema. Nonetheless, that film helped pave the way for the portrayal of homosexuality on the screen. In 2017, the presence of gay and lesbian characters as fleshed-out individuals unable to be dismissed rang true and free. While Best Picture hopeful Call Me By Your Name is experiencing a similar kind of hype to the aforementioned film, this time the focus is shared with the acting and execution, as well as the universality of the film’s love story. Meanwhile Battle of the Sexes and Novitiate both offer up complex lesbian characters discovering and exploring their sexuality while under the most extreme of time periods. At the same time, the gay supporting characters in both The Shape of Water and Lady Bird rose above stereotypes to show men trying to come to terms with their homosexuality while trying to maintain an existence in their respective environments. Hollywood in the past has been careful about highlighting homosexuality on the screen (as evidenced by the long gaps of time in between titles such as Longtime Companion and Philadelphia), but 2017 showed the times have indeed changed.

Caleb Landry Jones

Every year brings out a number of breakout performers who make such an impression on the screen that even though they may not be their film’s star, they nonetheless can’t help but shine. One of the most memorable of the year hands down was Jones, who after years of side work in features (notably X-Men: First Class) and a small recurring role on TV’s Friday Night Lights, gave the film world one memorable calling card after another in 2017. Besides fitting perfectly into the arena of David Lynch in the Twin Peaks revival, the actor was chilling and unforgettable as the maniacal antagonist in Get Out. American Made may have been a Tom Cruise vehicle, but Jones’s turn as his redneck brother-in-law allowed the actor to exercise his comedic chops to the point where he stole scenes away from the film’s superstar lead. It couldn’t have been easy to stand out in an ensemble that also includes Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson, yet in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Jones crafted a true portrait of a bystander caught up in the craziness of the titular small town who never lost his warmth and decency. By the time the actor turns up in The Florida Project, his subtle work in his one scene as Willem Dafoe’s estranged son spoke volumes about both characters with the most minimal of efforts. Truly the first of many great years for a fine and gifted actor.

Michelle Pfeiffer

From the emergence of one talent to the resurgence of another. Its been a decade since Pfeiffer’s first comeback, the one-two punch of Hairspray and Stardust, took place. While the three-time Oscar nominee has never particularly wanted for work during any time in her career, the last ten years saw her stuck in a cycle of projects which either didn’t get noticed (Cheri, People Like Us), didn’t deserve her (New Year’s Eve, Dark Shadows), never got off the ground (the abandoned Robert Rodriguez collaboration) and long breaks in between. At a time when most actresses in their 50s are scraping the bottom of the acting barrel, 2017 saw Pfeiffer enjoy the kinds of roles which just don’t come to those not named Julianne Moore. First, she aged about a decade to play Ruth Madoff, the wife of disgraced real-life financier Bernie Madoff (Robert DeNiro) in the HBO film The Wizard Of Lies, earning Emmy and Golden Globe noms for her heartbreaking turn. Darren Aronofsky’s mother! may have been the most divisive film of the last decade, but everyone agreed that Pfeiffer’s work as a 21st century Eve took the director’s surreal and insane vision to a whole other level in one of the most praised recent turns of her career. Finally, the actress capped off the year as the chatterbox widow with a secret in Kenneth Branagh’s all-star re-telling of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, stealing the show to the point where critic Mick La Salle said of Pfeiffer: “On her own, she helps Branagh make the case for his remake over the original.” With the acclaimed Sundance drama Where is Kyra? due in April and a return to the comic book world as the original Wasp in July’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, the Pfeiffer-ssance looks set to continue into 2018.

Famous New Filmmakers

“What I really want to do is direct” is the way the saying goes in Hollywood. I can’t remember who necessarily said it, but 2017 saw plenty of acclaimed and established talent prove the old adage true as they showed had much more to offer the world of cinema than that which helped make their names. After years of wowing audiences with his intoxicating dialogue, Aaron Sorkin ventured behind the camera for the first time for the dynamic Molly’s Game, instantly earning his stripes as a capable filmmaker. Jordan Peele more than proved his versatility as an artist with the incredibly bold Get Out, a film so monumental, it’s already earned classic status. The Disaster Artist may not have been James Franco’s directorial debut, but it was easily his greatest (and most accessible) achievement to date with its offbeat story, undefinable tone and telling industry commentary. The strength and beauty of Greta Gerwig’s script for Lady Bird ostensibly made it more of a screenwriter’s film than a director’s one, but the result is a movie filled with humor, truth, poetry and the start of an undeniably promising filmmaking career. Finally, although he surrendered the directing reigns to Michael Showalter, Kumail Nanjiani’s script for The Big Sick (co-written with wife Emily V. Gordon) rewrote the rules of the romantic comedy with its take on culture, love and the strength to embrace both.

Agatha Christie and Stephen King

There was once a long stretch of time when the works of Christie and King were mainstays on the big screen. Both authors were considered pioneers in their respective literary genres and their vast collection of titles were ripe for big-screen treatment, much to the delight of film executives and their many fans. In recent years however, Christie and King’s work had been more or less relegated to TV, where they enjoyed something of a renewed success. The TV adaptations of King’s Under the Dome, Haven and especially 11/22/63 had viewers glued, while from across the Atlantic the Christie mini-sereis adaptations of And Then There Were None and The Witness for the Prosecution scored with audiences on both sides of the pond. But 2017 saw two of the authors’ most famous works find new life on the big screen. September’s It was a monster hit, opening to huge numbers and strong reviews, as it thrilled audiences while staying true to the darkness of King’s epic novel. In November, Kenneth Branagh directed and starred as Christie’s legendary sleuth Hercule Poirot in the lavish star-studded remake of Murder on the Orient Express. The film’s $300 million take at the box office proved that audience appetite for the Christie-whodunnit was still strong. The year also saw the smaller-scale releases of King’s Gerald’s Game and Christie’s Crooked House (both never-before adapted) serve as added bonuses for fans everywhere. The upcoming productions of It: Chapter Two and Death on the Nile, both due in 2019, shows the power of Christie and King is as strong as ever.

Child Actors

While films featuring children in prominent roles so often tend to be throwaway schmaltz, 2017 made the best use out of some truly gifted pint-sized talent. The always-great Jacob Tremblay might’ve been the star of Wonder, but co-star Noah Jupe’s turn as BFF Jack Will was heart tugging in one of the most human portraits of childhood seen in some time. The young actor’s talent also helped give George Clooney’s otherwise batty Suburbicon its most grounded moments as Matt Damon’s son. Not many people seemed to want to give the exquisite Wonderstruck the time of day. This is a shame since it contained one of the strongest film debuts in recent memory. In Todd Haynes’s adaptation of Brian Selznick’s novel, Millicent Simmonds gave off waves of soulfulness as the deaf Rose who sets off to 1920s New York in an effort to connect with her estranged movie star mother (Julianne Moore). The Florida Project felt like an agonizing chore at times thanks to the actions of most of its adult cast. But Brooklyn Prince’s embodiment of the joy and glee that comes with pure childhood innocence redeemed the film and gave it nothing but heart. Finally, the entire cast of It proved a film populated entirely by children could carry a story filled with the darkest of themes. Each of the young stars stepped up to the plate, facing issues such as abuse, violence and death, while showcasing the sheer force of a child’s ability to endure and persevere.

Original Songs

One of the most enjoyable categories every year at the Oscars continues to be Original Song. The idea of selecting one single musical track which, in the space of a finite amount of time, encapsulates the entirety of an entire film in terms of ideology and spirit has always been worth notice. However the task has so rarely been as daunting as 2017 has made it thanks to an overwhelming collection of songs, all of which more than do right by the films they represent. Beauty and the Beast’s “Evermore” was the highlight of Bill Condon’s live-action retelling, adding a deep layer of character and sadness to the oft-judged Beast. Kenneth Branagh’s lyrics to “Never Forget” and Michelle Pfeiffer’s lovely crooning of them unearthed a far deeper, human meaning within Agatha Christie’s classic Murder on the Orient Express. Love it or hate it, no one can deny that the strength of The Greatest Showman lies in its music, particularly in “This is Me,” a theme for anyone who ever felt like an outcast. Mariah Carey delivered one of her strongest offerings in years with the poignant title track for The Star, practically overshadowing the film itself with its theme of the true meaning of Christmas. Finally, both original contributions by Stufjan Stevens’ to Call Me By Your Name beautifully showcased the various sides of love, not least of all its universality.


The world is now digital; a fact which most of society has accepted. This is especially true in the world of cinema where digital filmmaking continues to explore and break new ground with regards to finding innovative ways of telling stories. Yet the case for original film stock is far from lost as a number of 2017 releases shot on celluloid illustrated the power and value of such a practice. Sure, digital is more economical in terms of budget and scheduling, yet it’s never been able to capture the same cinematic and versatile quality that only film possesses. Only 16mm could have given Darren Aronofsky’s mother! and Sean Baker’s The Florida Project the sort of raw, naturalistic feel both films deserved. Similarly, Battle of the Sexes and Wonderstuck’s aim of giving off feelings of period nostalgia would have been impossible without the aid of 35mm film. Finally, both Christopher Nolan and Kenneth Branagh saw the benefits of film when it came to shooting Dunkirk and Murder on the Orient Express, respectively. This proved true when it came to highlighting the glorious richness and grand scale of both films in ways only 65mm film could capture. As every aspect of life continues to move digital, especially where movies are concerned, the practice of filming on actual celluloid refuses to die out; and thanks to the striking evidence in each of the above-mentioned titles and the makers at the helm of them, it won’t be doing so anytime soon.

Female Roles

The fact that the industry as a whole, from filmmakers to the critical media seem to feel that the maternal stereotypes plaguing the Supporting Actress field this year symbolizes the best in female screen images is both shameful and sad. Yet the strength of the many other screen heroines (none of which will be remembered on Oscar night) show that 2017 was actually a great year for women in film. Jessica Chastain made for a diverting conflicted figure in Molly’s Game, while Annette Bening stunningly revived the soul and spirit of screen legend Gloria Grahame in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. Kristen Stewart did so much by doing so little as a closed-off figure who feels the ghost of her dead brother surrounding her in Personal Shopper. Hong Chau’s political prisoner turned fierce activist elicited tears with every scene she graced in Downsizing and Lois Smith’s elegiac turn as a woman clinging to her fading memories in Marjorie Prime was likewise moving and poetic. Not many actresses can hold their own opposite Daniel Day-Lewis, but Vicky Krieps did as the muse determined to tame the tormented fashion designer in Phantom Thread. Salma Hayek was a revelation as a woman faced with the other side of her beliefs in Beatriz at Dinner, a cantankerous Shirley MacLaine re-evaluated her life as she drafted her own obituary in The Last Word and Anne Hathaway tackled alcoholism and a giant monster in Japan with the brilliant Colossal. Sophia Coppola did right by the entire, mostly female cast of The Beguiled and the grande dame of them all, Meryl Streep, made her annual bid for the Oscar with The Post; the only performance that might actually make it to the top five. Here’s hoping for the same kind of cinematic girl power in 2018!


At a time when the country has never been more divided than in 2017, the world of film managed to combat the gloomy apathy permeating American society by showing the various sides of humanity and its relentless power. The Post’s re-telling of a newspaper’s risky choice to deliver the truth the American people deserved to know was seeped in bravery. Downsizing was a trifle. But Alexander Payne’s misfire had one thing going for it: the character of Ngoc (Hong Chau), whose past victimization fueled her desire to help those worse off than her. The same can be said for Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project, whose motel manager served as a sort of guardian angel for the residents staying in the down-and-out property. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri preached pathos, forgiveness, redemption and the idea that no one is worth giving up on to be one of the year’s best films. Similarly, The Shape of Water showed that all creatures, regardless of whatever supposed flaws or imperfections they may have in the eyes of outsiders, are worthy of love. Wonder’s message of the importance and strength of everyday kindness was deeply felt, while The Greatest Showman’s embracing of diversity in all its forms rang true, especially in the number “This is Me”; which instantly became the theme of self-acceptance. Finally, Dunkirk showed the power of a nation’s love for their fellow countrymen and the steadfast mission to take care of their own at whatever cost. May the same kind of compassion, empathy and hope ring true in both 2018’s crop of films and especially throughout the country.

There’s no doubt that TV is currently in its prime, with many bold and original stories being told on every network and platform imaginable. As a medium, the kind of yarns being told for wider audiences has resonated in ways never seen before. Yet 2017 proved that film is still just as powerful a medium as ever. Whether they be epic tales of spectacle, or intimate character dramas, the past year in film made sure that voices of all kinds were heard and audiences of all types were served. The Oscars may still be just around the corner; yet for me, the winners have already arrived.

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