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The 20 best films of 2017, according to critics

You probably never saw #1

The 20 best films of 2017, according to critics
Tom Victor
04 January 2018

From start to finish, 2017 was a great year for film.

It began with Get Out, one of the first films to get a UK release after the Oscars, while we were treated to The Big Sick over the summer and rounded out 2017 with Blade Runner 2049 and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected).

However, in the minds of critics, at least, none of the above did enough to be considered among the best films of the last 12 months.

Metacritic has unveiled a list of the best-received films of 2017, based on critics’ combined reviews, and there are a couple of surprises in among some of the familiar names you’d expect to find towards the top.

Get Out was hugely popular with audiences, but narrowly missed out on the top 20

20. Jane (Metacritic score of 87)

A biopic of Jane Goodall and her study of chimpanzees in the wild, Jane featured newly rediscovered footage alongside more recent interviews with the British scientist. In her Village Voice review, April Wolfe writes: “The immense strength of this remarkable woman is on such powerful display that, 20 minutes into the film, tears welled from my eyes and did not stop, even after I left the theatre.”

19. The Farthest (87)

Emer Reynolds’ film about NASA’ Voyager mission is another of the brilliantly-received documentaries to feature on this list. As Andy Webster notes for The New York Times: “The accounts of scientists, whose enthusiasm still glows, is as wondrous as the technology seen here.”

18. Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan (87)

Wendy Whelan is one of the United States’ best known ballerinas, and this all-access film follows her departure from the New York City Ballet after three decades. “Her poignant example of grieving, letting go and moving forward with joy is a reminder that the most difficult transitions can burnish and better us, if we let them,” Claudia Bauer writes for the San Francisco Chronicle.

17. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (87)

An early pick for Best Picture Oscar recognition in the upcoming Academy Awards, Three Billboards… has already picked up assorted award wins and nominations, with cast members Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell earning particular plaudits. Writing for ScreenCrush, Matt Singer described Martin McDonagh’s script as “A true work of art that somehow balances pitch-black humor, shocking violence, Hitchcockian suspense, and lacerating social commentary, often within a single scene”.

16. Rat Film (88)

With Rat Film, Theo Anthony made what the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips described as “one of the most imaginative and provocative documentaries on any topic I’ve seen this year”. The rodent is a means by which Anthony tells the story of the city of Baltimore, and in a world of repetitive or unoriginal documentaries this offers something entirely fresh.

15. Quest (88)

Quest is a documentary looking at the Rainey family, an African American family living in North Philadelphia, over the course of a decade. It paints a picture of a side of America not always glamourised or even noticed, with Variety’s Guy Lodge praising the manner in which it “[emerges] as an essential reflection of social transitions — for better and worse — in Barack Obama’s America”.

14. In Transit (88)

A lot of the best films of 2017 have focused on less-than-obvious subjects, and this is no exception. At 75 minutes, In Transit is not the longest, but this deep dive into the United States’ busiest long-distance train route really hits home. As David Ehrlich writes for Time Out: “A mosaic of happenstance, the documentary crystallizes an abstract yet fundamental truth of American life, which is that movement isn’t only eminently possible, it’s also the greatest promise this country makes to the people who call it home.”

13. Uncertain (89)

Small-town America has a certain cinematic appeal unique to the country, and this documentary about Uncertain, Texas (population 94) crystallises exactly that. Focusing on three of those 94, this film from Anna Sandilands and Ewan McNicol has been described by The Hollywood Reporter’s Frank Scheck as “a hauntingly evocative portrait of its Southern Gothic-infused milieu”.

12. Columbus (89)

As directorial debuts go, Kogonada’s first feature Columbus is probably one of the best of the last 12 months (if not the best). Starring John Cho, who puts in a performance that could see him move well away from the comedies of his younger years, the film has already been compared to Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. Writing for IndieWire, Kate Erbland praises the director’s ease in “[layering] visual flair with deep emotional nuance, delivered care of two of the year’s best performances”.

11. Loveless (90)

One of only a handful of top-20 entries in a language other than English, this film from Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev has won praise from across the globe. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw describes the ‘hypnotic’ film, focusing on two separated parents when their child goes missing, as “a drama with the ostensible form of a procedural crime thriller”.

10. I Called Him Morgan (90)

There’s been a rise in true-crime documentaries in the years since Serial first aired, and for every underwhelming TV or radio production there’s a great feature-length piece like this. I Called Him Morgan focuses on the murder of jazz musician Lee Morgan, but it’s much more than that. Screen Daily’s Sarah Ward praises the work of documentarian Kasper Collin, speaking of “something transitory made permanent, a description that applies as much to chronicling the Morgans’ mournful story as giving Lee’s musical output its due”.

9. EX LIBRIS: The New York Public Library (91)

We’ve spoken about EX LIBRIS before, in some detail, and the critics are similarly glowing of this documentary about public libraries. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan notes that “sometimes, in fact often, it’s the unexpected moments that are the most involving”.

8. Phantom Thread (92)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film is yet to arrive at UK cinemas, but those who have had a chance to watch the Oscar contender – starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Lesley Manville – are very complimentary indeed. In his Rolling Stone write-up, Peter Travers says: “Anderson is deliberate and cunning about revealing the secrets he’s sewn into the fabric of his spellbinder of a film.”

7. The Florida Project (92)

Praise has been rolling in for The Florida Project, Sean Baker’s film which features Willem Dafoe, but boasts equally big stars in the previously unheralded children who flank the Spider-Man actor. “The Florida Project is both radiant and unsentimental,” writes TIME’s Stephanie Zacharek, adding that Baker captures one key element of childhood to make the film a success: “Kids have no idea they’re feeling wonder,” Zacharek writes, “just feeling it is the thing”.

6. Foxtrot (92)

Directed by Samuel Maoz, this Israeli drama won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival and will likely be a frontrunner when it comes to the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Writing for, Brian Tallerico says speaks highly of how “Foxtrot blends stark, drab realism with the kind of images only film can provide”.

5. Call Me by Your Name (93)

A big part of a year in which gay cinema well and truly broke through into the mainstream, Call Me by Your Name will surely be in the discussion for Best Picture at the Oscars. The Austin Chronicle’s Kimberley Jones speaks highly of Luca Guadagnino’s coming of age drama and its big performances from a talented cast, not least Armie Hammer, writing: “In his best work since his breakout in The Social Network, Hammer physically conveys the transformation of Oliver under Elio’s influence, his body tight with restraint, then loosening to the point of a childlike giddiness.”

4. Lady Bird (94)

Fans of Greta Gerwig won’t have needed much winning over, having been blown away by her performances in Mistress America and Frances Ha, and her solo directorial debut has been just as popular, if not more so. “In Lady Bird, Gerwig has taken the familiar teenage girl coming-of-age plot and turned it into something rather extraordinary and carefully observed, the kind of movie that actually reveals layers on repeated viewing,” writes Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson.

3. Dunkirk (94)

Christopher Nolan’s latest film is his most popular with critics, far exceeding previous frontrunner The Dark Knight, with many heaping praise upon a war film where less is often more. Writing for The New Yorker, Anthony Lane calls Dunkirk “an unlikely candidate for a major Hollywood production”, but praises it as a film which is at its essence “about what we do - how we suffer and retort - when things happen to us, and when the happening grows far beyond our control”.

2. A Fantastic Woman (94)

It’s hard to put into words what makes this film from Chilean director Sebastián Lelio so compelling, so we’ll defer to The Los Angeles Times’ Justin Chang. Chang writes of the film, which stars trans actress Daniela Vega as waitress Marina: “If the resulting performance is a triumph of representation, it is also a bold and endlessly sympathetic feat of imagination - an acting tour de force whose every flash of fury and ecstasy is grounded in a cool, radiant stillness.”

1. Faces Places (95)

The best documentary released this decade, according to critics, French film Faces Places takes top honours for 2017. Writing for The Boston Globe, Ty Burr notes how “the movie makes you see all the people we tend to look past”, and argues that “anyone who can’t enjoy this wise and soulful film has to consider whether they’ve given up on the movies, and on life”.

(Images: Rex)