The 20 best films of 2017

After sampling this year’s cinematic delights, eight of our writers have pooled together their top picks to create our list of the 20 best films of 2017. There was no space in even the top 40 for Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or winner The Square, while Golden Lion winner The Shape of Water  was voted in at number eight and Golden Bear winner On Body and Soul arrived outside the 20 at #32. You can find our contributors’ individual top five selections at the bottom of the post.

As has been done in the past, any film that has received a world or UK premiere on this year’s festival circuit is eligible for inclusion. This does mean that several films on the list are yet to receive a UK release – or may never receive one – but we always want to take the opportunity to recommend some of the year’s more eclectic offerings in the hope that people will seek them out.

1. The Florida Project (dir. Sean Baker)
The Florida Project is a tale of children which never talks down to them, a To Kill a Mockingbird for Trump’s America. It’s triumph is its determined optimism, even if it admits that is probably a fantasy. It’s a tale of the fallen who, like Moonee’s favourite tree, keeps on growing regardless.” John Bleasdale

2. Zama (dir. Lucrecia Martel)
“The appearance of a llama in the background of one ostensibly important meeting between Zama and potential liberation is an exemplar of the delightful oddity Martel has crafted here; one man’s limp frustration played out as a microcosm of a New World of stagnant, savage and insane opportunity and oppression.” Matthew Anderson


3. You Were Never Really Here (dir. Lynne Ramsay)
“An adaptation of Jonathan Ames’ novella, Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here escapes the pastiche of the original and creates something tough and noirish. The superb soundtrack by Jonny Greenwood is aural PTSD at times, while allowing for interludes of almost peace.” JB

4. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
“The characters are not unfeeling automatons, but the almost Brechtian removal of sentimental cues makes the observations about our baser instincts all the more confrontational. While we can laugh at David’s perpetual spinelessness, Lanthimos’ distinctive – and admittedly divisive style – renders it all the more human.” Ben Nicholson

5. Call Me By Your Name (dir. Luca Guadagnino)
“Capturing the agony and ecstasy of young love, Call Me By Your Name is a major addition to the queer cinema canon – a deeply felt movie that’s bittersweet, tender and true.” Patrick Gamble

6. Song of Granite (dir. Pat Collins)
“Combining dramatic re-creation with musical performances, Ireland’s foreign-language Oscar entry Song of Granite is a lyrical paean to Gaelic culture and the ability of music to colour the distance between the past and present.” PG

7. The Lost City of Z (dir. James Gray)
“An ornately mounted story marked with tints of antiquarianism, The Lost City of Z is perhaps Gray’s most accomplished film to date. Despite working on a larger canvas he remains true to the themes of his previous work: primarily those of family and social class.” PG

8. The Shape of Water (dir. Guillermo del Toro)
“This is deeply satisfying filmmaking at its best. It’s witty, smart and brilliantly played, plumbing the sub-aqueous depths of our psyches, our histories and desires.” JB

9. Lady Bird (dir. Greta Gerwig)
“Period detail will only get you so far, but Lady Bird has buckets of heart too. Depicting the waning self-involvement of late adolescence, it offers glimpses into the tribulations of the lives of secondary characters while maintaining focus on Christine’s personal crises.” Christopher Machell

10. mother! (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
“Yes, it is pretentious. But pretension is also about ambition and this is cinema that is willing to kick out the lights. Lawrence, Pfeiffer, Harris and Bardem are great at creating a group of people who seem to operate on a level of inescapable paranoia, reminiscent of early Polanski.” JB

11. Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)
“Never let it be said that genre cinema has to be unsophisticated – Jordan Peele’s Get Out is as nuanced an analysis of race in America as it is a nail-biting thriller. Horror has experienced a resurgence recently, and Peele’s debut feature is up there with the best. Could this be the year that a horror film finally gets some Oscar love? ” CM

12. Caniba (dir. Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel)
“Is it possible to understand the urges of a cannibal, or are some taboos too far outside of normative human behaviour to be comprehended? If society cannot understand Sagawa’s fetish, it is certainly fascinated by it.” CM

13. Still the Earth Moves (dir. Pablo Chavarría Gutiérrez)
“At the close of Still the Earth Moves comes a quotation from Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera about creating an international language of cinema. It casts some light on the disquieting work that precedes it – a stomach-churning and unsettling meditation on humanity, nature and landscape that eschews traditional modes in favour of discordant notes in a deeply reverberating audio-visual symphony.” BN

=14. El Mar La Mar (dir. J.P. Sniadecki, Joshua Bonnetta)
“A film of unspoken force and urgency, El Mar La Mar is an anti-pastoral western in which the landscape looms as a volatile and unpredictable force with room for anything and everything except human beings.” PG

=14. Electro-Pythagoras (a Portrait of Martin Bartlett) (dir. Luke Fowler)
“Fowler manages what so many documentaries about artists fail to achieve; to evoke their subject through their form. As he crafts a fragmentary collage of letters, home movies, performances, unreleased audio, and newly filmed material, he uses juxtaposition, montage and rhythm to call forth the polyphonic and philosophical ghosts in the machine.” BN

=14. Loveless (dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev)
“For all his relative youth, Zvyagintsev is masterfully compiling a cinematic record of suffering, and the indifference surrounding and facilitating it, which will live on.” JB

=14. Valley of Shadows (dir. Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen)
“Using the folkloric tropes of a deep, dark wood and tales of a beast terrorising the countryside, Norwegian debut director Gulbrandsen has crafted one of the year’s finest, most deeply affecting psychological dramas.” CM

=18. Mudbound (dir. Dee Rees)
“Though Mudbound represents a period of injustice consigned to history, its examination of a toxic, racist masculinity stuck in the past could hardly be more relevant today.” CM

=18. The Phantom Thread (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
“A sumptuous denouement to PTA’s loose masculinity-in-crisis trilogy – which began with There Will Be Blood and continued with The MasterThe Phantom Thread begins with a simple conceit only to evolve into a twisted, heartrending excise on dependency and manipulation. Daniel Day-Lewis is more than matched by newcomer Vicky Krieps, while a glorious Lesley Manville rounds off this exquisite three-hander.” Daniel Green

=18. Princess Cyd (dir. Stephen Cone)
“The three central performances of Princess Cyd are near flawless and the honesty and subtlety of this tale, which sees hope in the struggles of life at all its stages, is astonishing.” MA

21. Centaur
22. City of Ghosts
23. Life Imitation
24. Logan
25. Quest
26. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
27. You Are Still Somebody’s Someone
28. A Ghost Story
29. Purple
30. The Work
31. Human Flow
32. On Body and Soul
33. IFO
34. Wind River
35. Downsizing
36. Dunkirk
37. Taste of Cement
38. The Disaster Artist
39. Casting JonBenet
40. I Am Not a Witch

Individual Lists

Ben Nicholson (BFI, CineVue, Sight & Sound)
1. Still the Earth Moves
2. Electro-Pythagoras (a Portrait of Martin Bartlett)
3. Song of Granite
4. You Are Still Somebody’s Someone
5. Purple

Daniel Green (CineVue)
1. You Were Never Really Here
2. Zama
3. The Phantom Thread
4. Quest
5. The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Patrick Gamble (CineVue, The Skinny)
1. Song of Granite
2. El Mar La Mar
3. Zama
4. Centaur
5. The Florida Project

Joseph Walsh (CineVue, The FT, The Skinny)
1. You Were Never Really Here
2. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
3. The Florida Project
4. Loveless
5. The Shape of Water

Chris Machell (CineVue, LWLies)
1. Lady Bird
2. Valley of Shadows
3. Caniba
4. Get Out
5. Logan

Martyn Conterio (CineVue, LWLies)
1. The Florida Project
2. Aquarius
3. The Lost City of Z
4. Call Me by Your Name
5. A Ghost Story

John Bleasdale (CineVue, The Skinny)
1. The Florida Project
2. You Were Never Really Here
3. mother!
4. Loveless
5. The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Matthew Anderson (CineVue, LWLies)
1. Call Me By Your Name
2. Zama
3. Princess Cyd
4. City of Ghosts
5. The Work