The real best pictures of 2017, Oscars be damned

Going for gold.
Going for gold.
Image: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni
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We’re just a few days away from finding out which movies have landed nominations for the 2018 Academy Awards, and which five to ten films are in the running to follow in Moonlight‘s footsteps as Best Picture.

Some frontrunners have already emerged following this month’s Golden Globes (you’d be hard pushed to argue against Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Lady Bird after their triumphs there), but this year’s race has also been incredibly hard to predict. There’s no La La Land guaranteed to sweep the board come nominations day, and it’s still difficult to predict who will win in each of the major categories. But one thing is for certain, there’ll be plenty of amazing movies missing from Tuesday’s shortlist.

We’ve given some thought to the pictures that stood out most to us over the last 12 months, and created our very own 15-film Best Picture shortlist, based on recommendations from across Quartz’s global bureaus (in no particular order). Whether these films land Oscar nominations or not, they all deserve your attention.

Sheikh Jackson

Michael Jackson was so many things to so many people—but in Egyptian director Amr Salama’s movie, the King of Pop takes on a new significance. The worlds of Islamic preacher Khaled and the music superstar collide in this drama, which was selected as Egypt’s foreign language entry for the 2018 Academy Awards. Following the death of MJ in 2009, the cleric’s life goes into a tailspin as he thinks and hallucinates about his childhood obsession with the American singer’s music and zombie dance moves. As his life comes apart, this tender and well-produced film reveals a contrasting narrative about religiosity and secularism, and whether our choices in life ultimately lead to self-love, and above all, happiness. (Abdi Latif Dahir, reporter)

God’s Own Country

God’s Own Country is an intimate and often brutal portrayal of loneliness and the transformative power of love. Set on a remote farm in the northern English countryside, it focuses on the unexpected romance between Johnny, a young sheep farmer, and Gheorghe, a Romanian migrant worker who is recruited to help out during lambing season. Francis Lee’s drama has been hailed by more than one critic as “Britain’s answer to Brokeback Mountain, but there’s a fundamental difference between the two, despite their superficial similarities. While God’s Own Country does tackle heavy subject matter, it’s ultimately a story about hope. As one critic wrote, it’s “a universal tale about giving yourself over to love, even when you seem hopelessly broken”. Johnny’s sexuality isn’t the source of his problems, but the love he finds is ultimately what saves him. Josh O’Connor’s performance cut deep in this stunning debut—a film I’ll revisit again and again. (Sam Rigby, growth editor)

The Florida Project

It would be easy to dismiss The Florida Project, Sean Baker’s film about life on the fringes of Orlando, Florida, as poverty porn. But through empathy and verisimilitude, the film perfectly balances the joys and traumas of the lives of six-year-old Moonee and her friends. Growing up with parents that act like distracted older siblings—at times loving and fun, but at others lost deeply in their own narratives—the kids have the run of the Magic Castle, a seedy motel-cum-housing complex that’s their home and playground. It is every kid’s dream and every parent’s nightmare.

We never find out why Moonee and her mother ended up living in a motel in the shadows of Disney World, but even though we don’t know the dream, we feel deeply the beauty and danger of a dream just out of reach. The Florida Project is small in some ways, especially compared to many of the other great movies of the last year, but the ideas it conveys about family, friendship, ambition, failure, loyalty, decency, and humanity, are huge. (Elijah Wolfson, science editor)


My taste in entertainment steers towards the audacious, especially when it’s executed confidently, and Christopher Nolan’s World War II blockbuster Dunkirk is nothing if not an exercise in confident audacity. Most of us assumed that Dunkirk would be Nolan’s most traditional film yet, but it wound up being perhaps his most radical one in an oeuvre that’s explored outer space and the inner recesses of our minds. There’s nary a word spoken in the first 20 minutes of Dunkirk, as viewers are thrust instantly into a chaotic war zone where the soldiers have no names or backstories. Dunkirk breaks several “rules” of storytelling, and in the process experiments with a new type of storytelling, one steeped in total immersion that values experience over analysis. The real magic of Dunkirk, however, is how moving it still is in spite of the audience’s ignorance to its characters’ lives before the film begins.

It’s a deeply human story of our species’ yearning to fight on, to persist, to live—a yearning that only grows in strength the more insurmountable the odds become. With the help of cinematographer Hoyt van Hoytema, Dunkirk is also one of the most visually stunning war films ever made, ending on the best shot of the year—the burning remnants of Tom Hardy’s Spitfire, an emblem of the fire of the human spirit that raged in June of 1942, and continues to rage wherever injustice might try to put it out. (Adam Epstein, reporter)

Call Me By Your Name

Call Me By Your Name is Italian director Luca Guadagnino doing everything he does best—lush landscapes, picture-perfect architecture, an addictive soundtrack, lovely locals and a swoon-worthy script that makes you long for young love. The film is gay enough to please LGBT audiences without resorting to clichés. Call Me By Your Name feels both classic and presciently present—as if its air of infatuation and, ultimately, acceptance foretell a kinder, more loving and celebratory time. Sadly, the film leaves viewers chastened to realize that time is certainly not now. (David Kaufman, global lifestyle editor)


This vibrant Pixar Animation Studios film follows Miguel Rivera, a dimpled 12-year-old who dreams of becoming a musician. Taking place on the Mexican holiday of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and set in a technicolor land of the dead, director Lee Unkrich’s film revolves around themes of family, tradition, and death. (That’s right, a feel-good film about death.) It’s also steeped in color and music, and the most stoic viewer will be left misty-eyed by the song “Remember Me.” Extremely well-crafted and deeply reverent of Mexican culture, a movie this visually rich and packed with such sweet storytelling doesn’t come along every year. (Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz, editorial assistant)


Newton, India’s pick for the Oscars, didn’t make it to the Best Foreign Language film shortlist and that’s a shame, because it was a pioneering movie in a country known for its song-and-dance filled commercial hits. Indie darling Rajkummar Rao stars in Amit V. Masurkar’s film as Newton Kumar, an earnest government clerk trying to conduct a free and fair election in a remote jungle of central India, where impoverished tribal people are caught in the long-running conflict between the forces of the Indian state and Communist guerrillas. With smart humor and a very subtle approach, the movie shines a light on the challenges of democracy in a country like India, and leaves viewers quietly questioning everything they thought they knew about the conflict and the people involved. (Maria Thomas, writer)

Get Out

Get Out is the only movie of 2017 that lived up to its hype. Part horror, part comedy, part social commentary, it delivered something utterly fresh and fun—a rare feat in Hollywood these days. The acting was superb. The story kept me guessing. Jordan Peele’s directing is flawless and Milton “Lil Rel” Howery was brilliant as Chris’s TSA agent best friend—echoing in the film what many viewers were probably screaming at the screen, and saving the day in the end. (Ashley Rodriguez, media reporter)

Spider-Man: Homecoming

I like Spider-Man. I like to watch him fly around and shoot his web things. Spider-Man is one of the best superheroes, which is why they keep making movies about him. But while some Spider-Man movies are good (see Spider-Man 2), some are actually bad (see Spider-Man 3). Great news, though: Spider-Man: Homecoming is very, very good! It moves fast, it’s very funny, the young British boy (Tom Holland) who plays Spider-Man does a fine job, and you bet your butt Spider-Man flies around and shoots his web things. What more do you want out of a Spider-Man movie? Iron Man?!? Well, Iron Man is in this movie too. Spider-Man: Homecoming, directed by Jon Watts, is the best of all the Spider-Man movies, and it was my second-favorite movie of the year after Dunkirk, but someone has already written about Dunkirk. (Adam Freelander, senior video producer)

Happy Death Day

Happy Death Day is a 21st-century Groundhog Day with a killer twist: A sorority girl (Jessica Rothe) has to keep reliving the day of her murder until she can figure out who the killer is. Christopher B. Landon’s movie may not rake in the Oscar nominations, but for my money it was one of the funniest, most engaging, and downright surprising movies of the past year. Rothe brings exuberant comic talent to her role, and it’s deeply satisfying to see a twist on a familiar pop-culture trope: The blonde dead girl isn’t a plot point in someone else’s story, but the detective solving the mystery of her own demise. (Sarah Todd, deputy ideas editor)

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman mesmerized me the moment I saw the Amazons on Themyscira. With thick muscles, textured skin, wrinkles and scars, the female warriors are beautiful with a visceral physicality that’s so different from the airbrushed waifs Hollywood loves to ogle. But the thing I love most about the movie is imagining my 3- and 5-year old daughters seeing it in a few years. The pleasure I felt watching Gal Gadot fight her way across World War I battlefields highlighted how much of my childhood was spent trying to see myself in bold, adventurous, powerful male characters. Representation for woman and people of color still sucks in Hollywood, but Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman gave me hope that saying the word “superhero” won’t always conjure up images of a cape-wearing white guy. (Solana Pyne, executive video producer)

The Lost City of Z

Criminally ignored in theaters (and making back only $17 million of its $30 million budget) James Gray’s gorgeously shot epic deserves to be watched. Telling the story of explorer Percy Fawcett’s (Charlie Hunnam) disappearance in the Amazon, the film dwells on his curiosity, morphing to rabid obsession, with discovering a forgotten civilization deep in the jungle. It acknowledges the colonialist perspective that can inform daring tales of men seeing adventure, as Richard Lawson pointed out in Vanity Fair, noting the film’s ability to “highlight the noxious entitlement that guided Fawcett and his fellow gentlemen explorers” while still telling a beautiful story about “the ways people yearn for a sense of purpose and definition, how we can sabotage our lives in our attempts to ennoble them.” (Johnny Simon, photo editor)

I, Tonya

Some criticized I, Tonya for the license it took in retelling the well-trodden tabloid story of the Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding and her involvement in the attack on a rival skater, Nancy Kerrigan, in 1994. Others took issue with the movie’s portrayal of brutal domestic violence juxtaposed with comedy. I loved Margot Robbie’s fictionalized Tonya—her flinty determination, preternatural talent, and no-fucks-to-give attitude. There was nothing light or flippant in the violence she is subjected to throughout Craig Gillespie’s film—by her reptilian mother, beautifully played by Allison Janney, and then her sad sack of a husband (Sebastian Stan). It’s devastating, no less so for being couched in wisecracks and kitsch. But the real horror of the movie is in the casual cruelty of the pervasive classism Tonya encounters at every turn. (Indrani Sen, culture editor)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

The second installment of what I hope will be a very, very long franchise is packed with more laughs, more brilliant music, and more refreshingly creative scenes than even its predecessor managed. As a frequently unenthusiastic audience member of superhero blockbusters, I view this lovable group of misfits as a bar the rest of the Marvel universe should have to live up to.

James Gunn’s sequel raises some good questions, in fact, for the rest of that universe: If these one-dimensional movies are our cinematic future, why not make them clever? Why not explore the complicated relationship between sisters? Why not buck the tired tradition of an initial drawn-out fight scene by sticking the generic monster-killing in the background while a baby tree dances delightfully to Electric Light Orchestra? And by all means, let’s have more male heroes who aren’t afraid to treasure their moms. You’ve promised to delight us, Marvel, and now we know what true delight means. Your move! (Susan Howson, deputy push editor)