As the new year starts, it’s common tradition to look back on the previous year with nostalgia and try to remember the high points, and maybe it’s partially because 2017 was such a politically terrifying year that the escapist pleasures of cinema felt that much more potent. Even so, and though I know this sentiment has been beaten to death, the past year was something truly special at the movies, so it was especially hard to narrow down our collective top twenty best films of 2017. The four writers on this list had some wildly varying opinions on what deserved to be included here, but the end result is something truly special that we are proud to share with you all.

Some of these films didn’t receive five stars from Substream’s official review. Some of them have reviews written by a different writer than the one who picked it for this list. Some don’t even have reviews at all. And there are some films that scored very well that just didn’t make the cut. The thing to remember about this or any ranking list is that we will always be dealing with notions of subjectivity. Minds change and opinions are fluid, so it’s best not to look to us as some way to confirm the validity of your opinion, but rather to maybe see our perspectives as something to potentially expand yours. Agree or disagree, we can only tell you what we thought, but all of us agree that this was a year filled with too many great movies to definitively rank them all. If you see that your favorite didn’t make the cut, maybe search our catalog to see if a critic reviewed it. Odds are they did, and if you really need to have your opinion confirmed, you might just find it there. For what it’s worth, though, I think this is a very fine list, and I find myself hard pressed to disagree with any of the selections chosen.

So, without further ado, please enjoy Substream’s Top 20 Best Films of 2017. Here’s hoping that 2018 turns out just as fine. – Film Editor Leigh Monson

20. John Wick: Chapter 2

john wick

If you finished watching John Wick, 2014’s breakout hit that relaunched Keanu Reeves’s career, and went “I want EVEN MORE of that,” 2017 was great for you. John Wick: Chapter 2 took everything you liked about the first one and gave you EVEN MORE. Did you enjoy Reeves looking like a man possessed while he murdered a bunch of nameless goons in increasingly stylish action scenes? There are a billion of those scenes in Chapter 2! Did you enjoy a movie that figured out the best use of Reeves’s acting style is to have him quietly intone nearly everything? He does that a bunch in this one! Did you enjoy getting a peek into a world of hitmen and assassins who have a governing set of rules and regulations? There’s more of that and most of it even makes sense! I am never one to complain about more smart, intellectually stimulating films. But I’m not going to complain about films that are really good at making me turn my brain off while a whole bunch of cool stunts and action happen. John Wick: Chapter 2 delivers that last bit with gusto. – Gabriel Aikins

19. Step


Good documentaries are not uncommon, but Step is that rare true-to-life piece that captures a moment and experience exactly when society needs to see it. In Step, Amanda Lipptz shows the experiences of three young black women in Baltimore, all of whom are caught in difficult circumstances and come together on a step team. They are not perfect, as they are just teenagers with all the reckless abandon and passion that implies, but they are also women with a strength and power who defy their circumstances. Step gives us a glimpse of the quiet determination of people who are trying to make it through their every day lives against all the odds. – KT Schaefer

18. Okja


Bong Joon-ho is a name that your film-loving friends have probably brought up on multiple occasions, and with good reason. Each of his works resonate deeply, and Okja is no exception. The story of a girl trying to reunite with her super pig is a scathing indictment of corporate greed, a soulless meat industry, and the phoniness of corporate advertising. At the same time, the film implores groups fighting against those things to do so in good faith. Tilda Swinton pulls double duty as the twins in charge of the fictional Mirando Corporation, and gives each a distinct personality while sharing enough traits between the two to make their relationship believable. Amongst the human cast, Jake Gyllenhaal steals the show as pathetically slimy and deranged animal expert. Okja is not what I would describe as “pleasant,” but Bong Joon-Ho has created a movie that challenges, something we sorely need now. – Gabriel Aikins

17. Song to Song

Song to Song

Either you vibe with Terrance Malick’s later works or you don’t; it’s that simple. His newest, set against the backdrop of the Austin music scene, is another one of his experimental works, despite a love triangle existing at its center. With shades of the story of Adam and Eve, Song to Song is one of the most gorgeous things released in 2017. It also helps to have the likes of Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, and Rooney Mara to deliver dialogue that mirrors free verse. Malick’s work is like poetry, constantly bemusing and frequently landing on profundity. The jumping from theme to theme actually works here as it shows a cast in constant growth, thrown into the midst of every complex emotion that life can throw at you. It’s about experimentation and its consequences on the human soul. You may think it’s pretentious, but Malick is trying to show the audience how he feels. – Sam Cohen

16. Beatriz at Dinner

Beatriz at Dinner

I didn’t go in to Beatriz at Dinner expecting to fall in love, but it is the kind of incisive class commentary that is so vitally necessary right now that I couldn’t help but do so. This is a simple film that asks just what exactly the difference is between the rich and the poor in how they treat others, and whether or not kindness, politeness, and decorum really serve to further conversations between the powerless and the powerful. Wickedly insightful, gorgeously shot, and extremely cutting against wealthy individuals who refuse to examine their privileges, this is a film that flew under a lot of radars or was dismissed for its bluntness, but maybe that is precisely why it’s so important. – Leigh Monson

15. The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water

Romantic fables are Guillermo del Toro’s specialty and The Shape of Water is the culmination of his talents in the genre. His story of love between a mythical water being and a mute woman wanders between a cruel reality and a beautiful dream. It discusses disability with a graceful truth that shows how Elisa, a woman who many would see as helpless, is the true heroine. Michael Shannon leverages every bit of his creepy talent as the villian, but he plays it with a menacing subtlety that sends chills down the spine. Del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a gorgeous and emotional journey with all the highs and lows of an epic fairy tale, but its message is far more poignant for today’s audiences. – KT Schaefer

14. Loveless


Russian director/writer Andrey Zvyaginstev has a way of leaving the audience cold and lost in the wake of his tragedies. His 2014 Oscar-nominated masterwork, Leviathan, works as both an indictment of the current regime in Russia and the incapability for the country to separate church and state. With Loveless, he uses a broken marriage and the strictures of bureaucracy to crushing effect when a child goes missing. Shot in long and unbroken takes of the unforgiving Russian winter, Zvyagintsev’s newest is blunt in the only way he knows. Every character action is infused with what he thinks of current societal trends. His disdain for cell phone culture is used to resemble a disconnect between a person and reality. He then goes on to find that same disconnect between modern political thought and the old guard in Russia. The bitter battle between Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin) stands as great drama, even when Zvyagintsev wants to dive into headier political allegory. More than anything, it’s the kind of film that’s thrilling to watch even when you know there’s no way it all can come to a sensible conclusion. This is cinema that studies people stuck under a regime that doesn’t care for them. – Sam Cohen

13. The Little Hours

The Little Hours

The Little Hours is an unapologetic and uproarious comedy that thumbs its nose at every polite convention. The story of three medieval nuns fighting over one attractive and criminal peasant is made even better by discarding any semblance of antique language and allowing the effects of that juxtaposition to have free reign. The three women at its center, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, and Kate Micucci, are among the best of today’s comedians and all three vie to give the biggest laughs in a story plucked straight from a bawdy Italian novel published over 600 years ago. The Little Hours demands that you either get on board with its raucous tone and wild story or get the hell out. – KT Schaefer

12. It


There were approximately 10,000 Stephen King adaptations in 2017, but It was always going to be the biggest. Arguably his most influential, memorable novel (depending on your feelings about The Stand), It has always been ripe for a retelling. Bill Skarsgård is even scarier than we might have hoped for, the disturbing combination of his own physical features (the dude is a giant) and some movie magic, making for a Pennywise that feels monstrous and wrong in the best way. More than the scares though, the movie understands the greatest truth in King’s works: it’s never about the monsters. Utilizing wonderful performances from the Losers Club, It is a movie about the undying love amongst friends. You go to It for the scares, but you leave with the warm memories of childhood when you and your friends were all that mattered, just like King intended in his novel. – Gabriel Aikins

11. Baby Driver

Baby Driver

There’s a part of me that wants to pull a Ridley Scott and excise this film from my personal favorites due to Kevin Spacey’s involvement, but the fact of the matter is that there’s just so much to love about Baby Driver that I need to include it. Edgar Wright and his talented technical team have pulled off a masterwork of shooting and editing scenes to accompany music, using skills usually only applied to musicals and building a thrilling action film from the pieces. Combine that with Wright’s lyrical dialogue and an ensemble cast up to the task of bringing these characters to life, Baby Driver ranks among the best films in Wright’s excellent filmography. – Leigh Monson

10. Princess Cyd

Princess Cyd

This coming of age tale by Stephen Cone swept me off my feet from the first shot. It’s rare to find a film so warm and kind to every character that inhabits its world. Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) is sent to live with her Aunt Miranda (Rebecca Spence) in Chicago for a summer. Cyd’s discovery of herself is sensual and empathetic without being overwrought, lush without feeling overdone. Cone has respect for the faults in his characters and how they aren’t to be exposed, but rather to be embraced. Princess Cyd is the kind of film that’s so gracefully made that it needs no music cues or over-explanation to come across to the viewer. After all is said and done, Cyd and Miranda’s stories feel like a place we can visit whenever life is trying. That’s probably one of the best compliments I can ever give. – Sam Cohen

9. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

It pains me that Wonder Woman didn’t make the cut in this countdown—it just barely missed my personal top ten—but I am absolutely confident that the other Wonder Woman movie this year is the better film and is much more in need of attention. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a rarity in cinematic representation as one of the few times that a polyamorous relationship has been shown in a positive and empathetic light. However, even setting aside the revolutionary subject matter the film portrays, Professor Marston is a marvel precisely because it doesn’t bill itself as revolutionary, opting to tell a story of love under oppressive influence that doesn’t give a damn what popular opinion about Wonder Woman’s creator would say. This is a movie built on a foundation of love, and learning the many shapes love can take is the simple pleasure this film conveys. – Leigh Monson

8. Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok

The first two Thor movies were among the weakest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s offerings, but 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok broke with the previous style of both the films and the character of Thor. Taika Waititi, a director from New Zealand who is known for his idiosyncratic films that combine goofy awkward comedy with delicate and sincere drama, was hired to work his magic with the Thor franchise. Waititi took the underdeveloped Thor and dour Hulk and allowed them to shine by pushing their stories to the limit of credulity. The vague motivations and cookie cutter heroes are shown to be nuanced and thoughtful characters when they are pressed to the breaking point. Thor: Ragnarok also happens to be filled with some great comedic moments and exciting action scenes and that makes it all the better. – KT Schaefer

7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

the last jedi trailer

Subverting expectations in film can be a tricky challenge. If it works, it’s brilliant. If it doesn’t, the film is usually a confusing mess. Thankfully, Star Wars: The Last Jedi falls firmly in the first camp. Rian Johnson took what we know of Star Wars and turned much of it on its head while never straying from the sense of wonder that a Star Wars movie should bring. Not only do we see gripping space fights and lightsaber action, but meaningful character growth occurs almost across the board. Mark Hamill turns in a masterful performance as a jaded, reclusive Luke Skywalker. Adam Driver has turned Kylo Ren into one of the most fascinating, complex movie villains of the 21st century. Daisy Ridley is a delight as always. The Last Jedi is a gripping, riveting action film and character study rolled into one, and it sets the stage for Star Wars to go in any number of excellent directions. – Gabriel Aikins

6. Good Time

Good Time

Yes, it’s 2018 and we should be talking about Robert Pattinson and his talents seriously. Directing duo Josh and Benny Safdie followed up their indie darling Heaven Knows What with a tour de force film about America. The comparisons to Martin Scorsese and Walter Hill aren’t unwarranted. Street thug Connie Nikas (Pattinson) has one night to scramble together some cash to get his brother out on bail after a heist gone awry. On the surface, Good Time is an ephemeral rush that takes your breath away. Dig deeper and you’ll find the wounded and angry soul of America, stricken with prejudices. – Sam Cohen

5. Colossal


Colossal is the kind of film that I immediately want to recommend to everyone, yet telling anyone why they should see it feels like undercutting the entire point. The idea of a woman having a psychic link to a monster that appears in Seoul only when she visits a specific spot at a specific time of day is already mind-bending on its own, but Colossal grabs that premise and runs even further than one might reasonably expect. This is a film with many somethings to say, including insights on substance abuse, domestic abuse, depression, gendered power dynamics, and toxic masculinity, and it all comes across in intense and horrifying fashion through great performances under the guidance of writer-director Nacho Vigalondo. If this is what the guy produces on a small budget, I’d love to see what he can do with some studio money. – Leigh Monson

4. Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread

Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is rightfully getting near-unanimous praise for his newest film, Phantom Thread. While it topped my awards ballot in multiple categories, it’s the rare film that opens up on repeat viewing. Daniel Day Lewis’s Reynolds Woodcock is an egotistical fashion designer for the bourgeoisie in 1950s London. His muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps), upset the everyday balance he once had and revitalizes his life for the better. Phantom Thread takes immense pleasure in not only studying the power dynamic between Alma and Reynolds, but in exploring the characters’ inner lives by the way they express physically. There’s much more than just the acidic wit and rapport between the main players. Every movement is filled with intricate detail, showing that one’s actions do not completely speak for their intentions. Anderson makes the viewer realize emotional and physical capabilities with every film he makes, and Phantom Thread is no different. – Sam Cohen

3. Logan


While some of the X-Men movies have been great, none have ever really captured the essence of Wolverine the way the comics have. Here is a tired, broken man, trying to live out his life in peace while he fights the violent tendencies of himself and the world. Logan captured that perfectly, and in doing so gave Hugh Jackman the sendoff he so richly deserved. Jackman’s performance is harrowing, from Logan’s quiet moments of pain, his fantastically filmed and scored bouts of animalistic rage, and the bond he develops with his daughter, Laura. Dafne Keen brings that daughter to life in one of the best performances of the year. Alongside Patrick Stewart’s heartbreaking performance as a mentally deteriorating Charles Xavier, our main band of “heroes,” brought to life through top-notch directing and writing from James Mangold, show the value of finding kindness, heroism, and hope in a brutal world. – Gabriel Aikins

2. The Florida Project

The Florida Project

The Florida Project is not an easy movie to watch, but once started it is difficult to look away. 6-year-old Moonee and her mother Halley are at the center of the film, and their struggle for survival in an all too real world has both joy and heartache. Rather than an endless trudge through the worst in life, director Sean Baker shows poverty in all its difficult truth, with moments of hope as well as great sadness and trauma. It respects its characters and allows them to be fully fleshed out people who live in the murky world of humanity that sometimes requires us to do questionable things. The Florida Project unabashedly proclaims that none of us are perfect, but we are all still worthy of love and understanding. – KT Schaefer

1. Get Out

get out

When I saw Get Out last February, I knew this was the movie to beat in 2017. That this is Jordan Peele’s freshman directorial feature is staggering to think about, as it has the careful measured construction of an old pro, developing pitch perfect performances and unraveling a mystery that only becomes more disturbing and thought-provoking the more you learn. Cynically hilarious and authentically frightening, Get Out is a viciously angry film that also recognizes the role that hope plays in delivering popular genre entertainment. If you somehow missed this film during its theatrical run, there’s absolutely no reason to miss it now that it’s readily available for streaming and rental. This is the movie that defined the zeitgeist of 2017 more than any other, and it ranks among the best films I have seen in the last decade. – Leigh Monson