As the year comes to a close, there’s one group we’ve yet to hear from about the Best of 2017: the directors. IndieWire has reached out to a number of our favorite filmmakers to share with us their lists and thoughts on the best of the year. From Benny Safdie breaking down the brilliance of “Nathan For You” to Alma Har’el shining a light on a new Arab cinematic wave to Justin Simien admitting he was filled with envious rage watching “Get Out,” 42 directors responded and offered a totally different perspective on 2017.
This Best of 2017 is dedicated to the spirit of Jonathan Demme, who last year took part in this poll and was an incredibly generous man, especially when it came to supporting his peers’ work.
Update: Top 10 lists from Angela Robinson and Edgar Wright have been added since this article was originally published.
The following appear in alphabetical order based on the director’s last name.
Pedro Almodóvar (“All About My Mother”)
“Phantom Thread” (Paul Thomas Anderson): A real feast. Even though the author confesses his fascination for mysterious love stories, there are no clues to follow this masterpiece by P.T. Anderson. Every sequence is a surprise. This film is the portrait of a genius, of his egocentricity and his contempt for everything that isn’t related to his work, and of the wonderfully ordinary woman who manages to tame him. The three protagonists deliver masterly performances. And Jonny Greenwood proves himself as the best composer of the year. If it is true that Daniel Day Lewis says goodbye to acting with this role, he does so brilliantly. He nails this role.
“Call Me by Your Name” (Luca Guadagnino): Everything is pretty, attractive, desirable and moving in this film. The boys, the girls, the breakfasts, the fruit, the cigarettes, the pools, the bikes, the open air dances, the 80s, the doubts, surrender and sincerity of the protagonists, the relationship of the protagonist with his parents. The authors (André Aciman, James Ivory and Luca Guadagnino) make a bet here for the passion of the senses and the embodiment of desire. The light of Lombardy and very particularly Timothée Chalamet are the biggest breakthroughs of this year.
“BPM (Beats Per Minute)” (Robin Campillo): This is a poignant story about a group of Parisian ACT UP activists in the early 90s. In addition to a splendid script, Campillo shows his great ability to direct ensemble scenes, they’re like out of a documentary. Extraordinary actors and iconic images, like a bloodstained Seine because of the death of young people caused by AIDS. There’s also a love story told with no melodrama or modesty, with death at the forefront. It surprised me this film didn’t make the cut into the shortlist for the Foreign Film category at the Oscars.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Martin McDonagh): The film with the best title of the year. A dark, unbreathable and pessimist story with the blackest humour. It’s a pleasure to get depressed with Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelsson and Sam Rockwell at their best.
“You Were Never Really Here” (Lynne Ramsay): Lynne Ramsay is one of the most original storytellers nowadays. Joaquin Phoenix is explosive as a killer of a dreadful brutality (cannon fodder), keeping the same face expression all over the film. Again, a great soundtrack by Jonny Greenwood.
“Zama” (Lucrecia Martel): A exquisite tale about the waiting. A new masterpiece by this indispensable author.
“A Ghost Story” (David Lowery): This is a film about a disoriented ghost who comes back home to console his wife (obviously, after his death). She cannot see him, which is very sad. The ghost is covered with a sheet from head to toe with two holes as eyes, exactly as we imagined ghosts when we were kids, or at least the way I imagined them. It’s a beautiful film about the loss, the pain and the passing of time. Even if you find the first sequences a bit too long, be patient, the wait is worth the effort.
“Colossal” (Nacho Vigalondo): This is such a crazy idea that I find incredible that someone has produced it: an alcoholic and dissatisfied girl played by Anne Hathaway finds out that, in very particular circumstances, every move of her arms, legs, feet, etc., has a replica in the moves of a giant monster that shows up unannounced in Seoul. Once she discovers she has the extraordinary ability to use the monster according to her own interests, she takes advantage of it to figure out some personal issues. Nacho Vigalondo succeeds in making the most daring and original idea of the Spanish cinema this year.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (Yorgos Lanthimos): Lanthimos’ film is a free version of Euripides’ tragedy “Iphigenia.” This isn’t a supernatural terror film, even if it can be scary at times. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is about how humans and Gods can only relate through sacrifice, as cruel, gratuitous and irrational this can be. This is a weird, unsettling, original, uneasy film that reminds me of the best of Kubrick. Nicole Kidman shines in her role of mother and wife, in the same abstract tessitura as in “Eyes Wide Shut.”
“The Florida Project” (Sean Baker): This film reminds me of “The Forgotten Ones,” by Luis Buñuel. Baker uses his own heart and a special ability for the ellipsis to tell the story of a group of kids that live in a poverty-stricken building painted in purple in the proximity of Disney World. Willem Dafoe is touched by the grace, plus two enormous discoveries: the girl Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite, who plays her mother. I hope that Vinaite gets all that Courtney Love deserved as an actress and very unfairly didn’t get to achieve. Possibly no other film this year breathes a reality as palpable as this one. Sean Baker is my bet for the future.
Ana Lily Amirpour (“The Bad Batch”)
One quick thing. Dear Studios and Distributors reading this: PUT THE OPTION FOR SUBTITLES ON YOUR SCREENERS. PLEASE. I get screeners so I could have theoretically seen everything by now, but I’m 30% hard of hearing and most screeners don’t have the option. And I couldn’t watch the following films cuz they weren’t subtitled: “The Florida Project,” “The Disaster Artist,” “Lady Bird,” “I, Tonya,” “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” “Blade Runner 2049,” and there’s lots more.
“Phantom Thread”: I can’t fucking rave about this movie enough. The performances, the cinematography, and that music… OOOF. This is euphoric cinema. So emotional and deeply honest about the conflict between romantic love and the megalomania of an artist. I’ve seen it twice and can’t wait to watch it again. And again. PTA for the win.
“The Shape of Water”: The other best movie of the year. So romantic I left the theater and my heart was literally softer. It’s also funny and perverted, and unlike anything else. Guillermo at the height of his wizardry powers.
“Get Out”: It’s no big secret, but I also have to mention it because this film struck me as a masterpiece. A movie at the zeitgeist of art and culture and politics.
“Disappearance”: This is a tiny independent Iranian film I saw when I was on the jury for the Singapore International Film Festival this year. My first time on a jury, and it was this film that brought us to a unanimous decision. It’s one ongoing night in Tehran with a young couple and it grabs hold of you from beginning to end. Kind of in the realm of how “Victoria” did.
“The Mountain Between Us”: I just love a survival movie, and I love a love story, and here you get both. Also, Idris Elba.
“All These Sleepless Nights”: I don’t know that this is a 2017 movie, I think it was the year before, but I have to mention it because it’s a pretty amazing experience this movie. If you’re not familiar with rave culture and drug culture you probably won’t like it. Or maybe you will.
Sean Baker (“The Florida Project”)
I’m not going to give a top 10 list for 2017. I don’t mean to disappoint anyone but there are a couple of reasons why this is. First of all, my film watching has slacked this year and I am sure there are films I haven’t seen yet that will surely make my list of favorites. Second of all, being that I made a film that is in release this year I feel strange giving a list of US narratives at this time. Also, I have so many friends with films out this year, call me strange but I don’t think I can be 100% objective. Suffice it to say that of the things I have see this year I have been very happy leaving the theater. There is so much talent out there.
So, I am listing the three foreign films and one doc that have had a big impact on me so far. And for the hell of it, I’m including five albums that I’ve loved in 2017.
1. “BPM (Beats Per Minute)”: It’s going to be tough to push this out of my number one slot. Moving, visual and important.
2. “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki”: Criminally under seen. An incredible debut by Juho Kuosmanen. Beautifully shot on 16mm B&W. Every frame looks like it was shot in 1962.
3. “Lady Macbeth”: Another fantastic feature debut (by William Oldroyd) that introduces a new star to the industry: Florence Pugh.
And the doc – “Dawson City, Frozen Time”: A must see for anyone who cares about history or film or both.
Top 5 albums
Torres, “Three Futures”
St. Vincent, “MASSEDUCTION”
Billy Corgan, “Ogilala”
LVL UP, “Return to Love”