3 Brothers' Essential Films of 2017
Every film site from the A.V. Club to Indiewire has released their best films of the year in the past few weeks. While our Top 10 lists won't arrive until the first week of January, we thought it'd be useful to compile a list of the essential films of 2017, originally inspired by Scott Tobias's exhaustive "The Big Checklist" he used to publish for The Dissolve, before that website was sadly dissolved. (Here’s Tobias’s most recent version of the list from 2016 on Letterboxd.)
Before the list starts, a few clarifiers:
We think of essential films as those movies every cinephile ought to try to see. They don’t have to be great, but they have to be good and interesting and worthy of conversation. Not every brother saw every film on this list, so we listed whose nomination it was. If the film was loved by one brother and hated or deemed mediocre by another we didn't include it, a criterion that this year excludes films such as The Big Sick and Song to Song. But if only one brother saw the film and loved it, we included it since there was no dissenting opinion.
We've also divided the list up into four categories to make it easier to sort: The Prestige Pic, The Multiplex, The Arthouse and The Hot Doc. The Prestige Pic includes cinema heavyweights, movies looking to find glory come awards season and the festival circuit. The Multiplex includes all the mainstream movies you'd find at the local Cineplex. The Arthouse includes foreign and independent cinema, the kind of stuff mainstream theatres usually avoid showing. And finally, The Hot Doc includes documentary cinema.
Without further ado, here are the 3 Brothers' Essential Films of 2017, sorted by category, and listed in alphabetical order.
The Prestige Pic
dir. Sofia Coppola
What It’s About: During the Civil War, a Union soldier (Colin Farrell) stumbles upon a sequestered manor house full of southern women (including Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning), who hold him prisoner at the same time they lust after him.
What the Brothers Said: Anders and Aren found it to be another strong effort by Sofia Coppola, one that explores isolation and seduction in ways particular to her stylized form of cinema.
Blade Runner 2049
dir. Denis Villeneuve
What It’s About: A replicant Blade Runner (Ryan Gosling) gets involved in a conspiracy involving a replicant child and a former Blade Runner (Harrison Ford) who has been in hiding for decades.
What the Brothers Said: “Blade Runner 2049 ranks among the best of the genre, not only creating a fascinating future world for us to indulge in, but exploring some of the most potent themes of what it means to be human and comprehend our own existence.” (Aren)
dir. Kathryn Bigelow
What It’s About: A retelling of the Algiers Motel Incident during the Detroit Riots of 1967, where a tyrannical police officer (Will Poulter) held the guests of the motel annex hostage during one bloody night.
What the Brothers Said: “[It] is a very good movie, both painfully intense and smart.” (Aren)
The Disaster Artist
dir. James Franco
What It’s About: An adaptation of the book of the same name telling the story of Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) and Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) as they embark on the making of The Room, one of the worst films ever made.
What the Brothers Said: “This is a work of exceptional sympathy, of one artist bonding with another and transcending his own failings as he explores the failings of another. It turns failure into success and trash into art.” (Aren)
dir. Christopher Nolan
What It’s About: A retelling of the World War II British evacuation of Dunkirk, focusing on individuals efforts by land, air, and sea.
What the Brothers Said: “[Nolan] uses the [war] genre to further his interests in questions of time, precision, and the meaning that we give to the events that define our lives.” (Roundtable)
The Lost City of Z
dir. James Gray
What It’s About: A chronicling of explorer Percy Fawcett’s (Charlie Hunnam) journeys into the Amazon Rainforest in search of a lost civilization in the early 20th century.
What the Brothers Said: “The Lost City of Z will not enthrall those moviegoers who demand explanation at all turns of a narrative, but for those who can shift to a film’s peculiar rhythms, it is majestic.” (Aren)
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
dir. Noah Baumbach
What It’s About: The story of three half-siblings (Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Elizabeth Marvel) dealing with family issues and the ramifications of being the children of a mildly-successful, neurotic artist (Dustin Hoffman).
What the Brothers Said: Anders and Aren found Noah Baumbach’s latest to be a funny yet emotionally raw film about aging, family, and success, featuring a career best performance from Adam Sandler.
dir. Darren Aronofsky
What It’s About: A biblical and environmental allegory about a woman (Jennifer Lawrence) and her artist husband (Javier Bardem) dealing with a series of strangers who arrive at their home and upset their paradisal harmony.
What the Brothers Said: “mother! is both personal and cosmic, a riveting engine for the themes and ideas that consume its director and happen to affect the totality of human experience.” (Aren)
dir. Dee Rees
What It’s About: A tale of two families, one white (Jason Clarke, Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jonathan Banks) and one black (Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, Jason Mitchell), living on the same stretch of farmland and struggling with racial tensions in the mid 1940s.
What the Brothers Said: “Timeliness might help Mudbound at the 2018 Oscars, but its artistry is what’ll keep it relevant when next February is long past.” (Aren)
dir. Ridley Scott
What It’s About: A colony ship lands on a potentially-habitable planet and crosses paths with the sole survivor of the Prometheus, the android David (Michael Fassbender), as well as murderous xenomorphs.
What the Brothers Said: “Despite its dismal box office reception this past summer, Alien: Covenant is a hugely entertaining science-fiction horror film that entwines genre thrills and the grand evocations of big questions in a satisfying package.” (Anders)
dir. Doug Liman
What It’s About: The story of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), who ran an air smuggling operation for the CIA, the drug cartels, and the Contras in the late seventies through eighties.
What the Brothers Said: Aren thought it was an easygoing delight with Tom Cruise at his most charming.
dir. Edgar Wright
What It’s About: A young getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) gets in over his head when he attempts to walk away from a life of crime.
What the Brothers Said: The Brothers thought Baby Driver was a pure cinematic fun, a delightful fusion of sound and image. While they disagree about the film’s staying power, all of them point back to it as highpoint in a lackluster summer for movies.
dir. Jordan Peele
What It’s About: A black photographer (Daniel Kaluuya) goes away for the weekend with his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) to meet her parents and uncovers a racial conspiracy in the white, bourgeois community.
What the Brothers Said: The Brothers agree that Get Out is one of the essential films of the year, in its horror-film take on white-liberal racism. Funny and scary in equal measure, Anders and Aren in particular note it as one of the best theatrical experiences of the year for how it drew intense reactions from audiences.
dir. Andy Muschietti
What It’s About: A group of children investigate the supernatural happenings of their small town caused by a demonic clown (Bill Skarsgard).
What the Brothers Said: “It is the breakthrough for this mode of referential, clever horror filmmaking and earns the distinction of being the first genuine mega-hit of this current golden age.” (Aren)
dir. James Mangold
What It’s About: An aging Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) embarks on a trip across the country with a senile Professor X (Patrick Stewart) in order to save a young mutant (Dafne Keene) from predatory government officials.
What the Brothers Said: Anton praises Logan as the best film to feature Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Mangold pares down the superhero action picture to its basic elements, and then recasts the story as a near-future-set Western, in the process renewing both the old Western film genre and the newer-but-stale superhero spectacle.
dir. M. Night Shyamalan
What It’s About: A man with 23 different personalities (James McAvoy) kidnaps three girls and holds them prisoner in a dungeon in order to awaken his 24th personality, an identity known only as the Beast.
What the Brothers Said: “Split is Shyamalan’s best film since The Village, maybe even Signs.” (Aren)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
dir. Rian Johnson
What It’s About: The ragtag Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), tries to escape the clutches of the First Order and live to fight another day, while Rey (Daisy Ridley) tries to convince the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), to abandon his exile and help restore peace to the galaxy.
What the Brothers Said: The Brothers agree that The Last Jedi safeguards the Star Wars franchise as the gold standard of blockbuster entertainment, even as it boldly revises aspects of that franchise. The film is at turns visually stunning and narratively thrilling. While its pivoting of the franchise leaves each us with mixed feelings (and to differing extents—look for our forthcoming, extensive Roundtable after Christmas), we are deeply curious about what will come next.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
dir. Luc Besson
What It’s About: Galactic agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevigne) work to stop a galactic incident aboard the space station, Alpha, which is home to thousands of different species and distinct environments.
What the Brothers Said: “Valerian was a breath of fresh air this summer. Its Euro-pedigree made it different enough to stand out, and it’s world-building was substantial enough to feel engrossing and involving. It was just the film I needed to watch where I could just immerse myself and leave this world.” (Roundtable)
dir. Patty Jenkins
What It’s About: An Amazonian princess (Gal Gadot) heads to the world of men in order to stop the God of War and put an end to World War I.
What the Brothers Said: “If superhero films are all this good, I have no qualms with having a few more years full of them.” (Aren)
dir. Makoto Shinkai
What It’s About: Two teenagers, one living in Tokyo and the other in rural Japan, find that they swap bodies with each other when they go to sleep each night.
What the Brothers Said: “This is a beautiful film, but it’s also a wise one, which is far more than most YA smashes can ever boast.” (Aren)
After the Storm
dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda
What It’s About: A former writer and layabout dad (Hiroshe Abe) tries to reconnect with his son and ex-wife when they’re stuck inside his mother’s apartment during a tsunami.
What the Brothers Said: “Kore-eda’s filmmaking is so assured that it kept me absorbed in the human relations unfolding and reforming.” (Anton)
The Day After
dir. Hong Sang-soo
What It’s About: A popular writer gets in a bind when his wife mistakes his new assistant as his mistress.
What the Brothers Said: “If someone is looking to get acquainted with one of the world’s most prolific arthouse filmmakers, The Day After is a good starting point.” (Aren)
dir. Josh and Benny Safdie
What It’s About: A low-life criminal (Robert Pattinson) tries to rescue his brother (Benny Safdie) from police custody after a bank job gone wrong.
What the Brothers Said: Anders and Aren thought it was a riveting, inventive spin on the “one crazy night” film, with Robert Pattinson giving the year’s best performance at its centre.
dir. Cristian Mungiu
What It’s About: After his daughter is raped and she fails an exam as a result, a father tries to ensure his daughter secures a scholarship by gaming Romania’s corrupt bureaucratic system.
What the Brothers Said: Aren thought it was a dark, claustrophobic look at moral corruption.
dir. Kevan Funk
What It’s About: A small town AAA hockey enforcer is suspended from the game and finds his life upended after he critically injures another player on the ice.
What the Brothers Said: “This is a film that understands Canada without resorting to tired cliches about our national character. It’s unrelenting in a way more Canadian films need to be.” (Aren)
I, Daniel Blake
dir. Ken Loach
What It’s About: An electrician befriends a young single mother as he falls through the cracks of Britain’s welfare system.
What the Brothers Said: “This is a story of uncommon patience and insight. That it speaks loudly to the world we inhabit only makes it more vital.” (Aren)
Dir. Michael Almereyda
What It’s About: In the mid-21st century, an aging woman suffering from dementia finds comfort and reflects on her life and memories with the help of a computer simulation of her late-husband.
What the Brothers Said: “Marjorie Prime manages to do a lot with a little, exploring the effect of technology and time upon human identity without relying on lots of special effects or grand visions of the future.” (Anders)
dir. Kim Ki-duk
What It’s About: A North Korean fisherman accidentally defects to South Korea after his fishing boat drifts across a river and he is captured by South Korean authorities, who believe him to be a spy.
What the Brothers Said: Aren thought it was an insightful look at North and South Korean relationships and the thorny prospects of reunification.
dir. Olivier Assayas
What It’s About: A medium working as a personal assistant to a celebrity finds herself haunted by a presence that she suspects to be the spirit of her deceased twin brother.
What the Brothers Said: “Personal Shopper is a film that is interested in exploring what is missing from our contemporary perception of the world around us.” (Anders)
dir. Danny Boyle
What It’s About: 21 years after fleeing to Amsterdam, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh and re-inserts himself into the lives of Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner), and an incarcerated Begbie (Robert Carlyle).
What the Brothers Said: “This is an unlikely great film. It’s a distinct film that doesn’t tread thematic or narrative ground, but it’s also so strongly connected to the first film that it might even improve that film in retrospect.” (Aren)
The Unknown Girl
dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
What It’s About: An idealistic doctor investigates the death of a young woman who she locked out of her community clinic one night.
What the Brothers Said: “The Unknown Girl is still compelling—it is a film by the Dardennes, after all.” (Aren)
The Hot Doc
Get Me Roger Stone
dir. Morgan Pehme, Dylan Bank, and Daniel DeMauro
What It’s About: A portrait of Roger Stone, a political provocateur who has long had his finger on the pulse of the far-right and who is a confidante of Donald Trump.
What the Brothers Said: Aren thought it was an entertaining, troubling look at how shit-disturbers like Roger Stone have ridden the nation’s anger to political prominence.
dir. Bryan Fogel
What It’s About: Documentarian Bryan Fogel accidentally uncovers a vast doping conspiracy by the Russians in his efforts to create a film that would’ve traced his own steroid use in high-level amateur cycling.
What the Brothers Said: Aren thought it was an exciting behind-the-scenes look at a major global fraud and an example of cinema’s journalistic potential.
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond — Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton
dir. Chris Smith
What It’s About: A combination of behind-the-scenes footage of Jim Carrey’s method performance as Andy Kaufman on the set of the 1998 film, Man on the Moon, and a present-day interview with a nihilistic Carrey reflecting on his career.
What the Brothers Said: Anders and Aren both found the film to be a bizarre, strangely-compelling look at pushing the boundaries of method acting and a reminder of Jim Carrey’s fascinating career.