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Programmer Top 10 Films of 2017: Gillian McKercher

They select the movies for the Calgary International Film Festival, and now our team of programmers share their Top 10 films of 2017. Still not sure what films you need to catch up on from the past year? Take it from our curators – these are films that you'll want to seek out as we say goodbye to the year that was 2017.  

Film Programming Administrator Gillian McKercher shares her Top 10 Films of 2017.


2017 was an inconsistent year for films. A number of highly anticipated films underperformed critically and commercially (DOWNSIZING directed by Alexander Payne), and early buzz for films at Sundance seemed to fizzle by their release dates (PATTI CAKE$, INGRID GOES WEST). Additionally, some of the films competing for Oscar contention were not released in Calgary for 2017 (I, TONYA, PHANTOM THREAD). In my opinion, audience attention was distracted by bombastic real-world news and events. Most pertinent to the film world was the explosion of allegations against Harvey Weinstein, arguably one of the most influential people in the American independent scene of the '90s and 2000s. The intensity of global affairs reflected itself in releases that were split between classical, escapist films, and stylistically experimental yet narratively uneven stories. Personally, I’m looking forward to what 2018 has to offer as 2017 was over-shadowed by real-world stories.

1. THE SHAPE OF WATER directed by Guillermo del Toro
A beautifully crafted, simple film. The narrative, tone, and style met their classical aspirations, and the filmmakers’ love for their story was fully expressed in every frame. 
THE SHAPE OF WATER is playing in Calgary at Cineplex Chinook

Inter-generational family dysfunction shot with fresh dialogue, style, and confidence. Despite making a number of films on the same subject, Baumbach directs this film with the energy and sincerity that make this a proper stand-alone in his repertoire. Also, it’s so much fun.

3. GOOD TIME directed by Benny Safdie and John Safdie
Pulpy, extreme, and entertaining. The Safdie’s show a perverted love of New York City with the help of top-notch acting, gorgeous 35 mm frames, and momentum-building editing. I also appreciate that the Safdie’s addressed Benny’s casting as Nick in regards to exploitation. Their past work has been criticized for exploiting their non-actors’, and I support their professional steps forward with GOOD TIME. 

4. NOBODY’S WATCHING directed by Julia Solomonoff
My third NYC film on my 2017 list. This is a film that I saw for the festival in 2017 and that stayed with me the longest. Subdued, focused, and emotionally surprising, this is one of the most accurate representations of the immigrant experience I’ve seen. 
NOBODY'S WATCHING was a 2017 Calgary International Film Festival selection

5. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 directed by Chad Stahleski
The best action of 2017 and both an honourable sequel and good stand-alone film. This film made surprising choices that make it more interesting than other big budget films: in particular, the female middle-aged Italian mob head who does not have a romantic interest and has a quiet, unusual exchange with John Wick.

6. BLADE RUNNER: 2049 directed by Denis Villeneuve
The best production design and visual effects, and perhaps the best popcorn flick experience, of 2017. This is a film that feels like a full body experience. The film is a stellar, albeit overly simple, classic noir. I can overlook the film’s flaws (e.g. plot holes, a major fan service scene with the colour of someone’s eyes) based on the aesthetic and audio experience alone.

7. LADY BIRD directed by Greta Gerwig
A familiar story with a fresh voice about growing up in the face and fear of mediocrity. The writing and acting are what boost this film above its many coming-of-age peers. Once the immediate emotional response fades, Gerwig’s directorial choices show their stuff: the airport drive with Lady Bird’s mom, the bathroom exchange with Lady Bird’s parents, the overall choice to celebrate the mundane.
LADY BIRD is playing in Calgary at Cineplex Eau Claire

8. AFTER THE STORM directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
This film originally screened in the 2016 Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, but it did not show in Calgary until 2017. This is an expertly written story about familial redemption and disappointment. This is a slow-paced film that appears simple, but the layers reveal themselves to you for the emotionally crushing final act.

9. NEW RULES directed by Henry Scholfield
Music videos are the best places to see new style and storytelling techniques. 2017 was a year with top-notch videos that met my expectations (e.g. HUMBLE, THE GATE, WHO DAT BOY), but nothing shocked me except NEW RULES. This is the self-aware, fun, and thoughtfully crafted pop video I’ve been waiting for! Although it has a familiar and simple premise, the execution is perfect and unlike any video I’ve become accustomed to for a performer of Dua Lipa’s genre and calibre. 

10. MAN PROPOSES, GOD DISPOSES directed by Daniel Leo
This film took my breath away from the first scene. This was my best 2017 experience of an original new voice in cinema. I saw a lot of promising Canadian debuts this year, but as with music videos, nothing shocked me or pushed stylistic or narrative boundaries. MAN PROPOSES, GOD DISPOSES pushed the medium for Canadian debuts - perhaps not always successfully as the film is narratively very uneven. Looking forward to Leo’s next work. 
MAN PROPOSES, GOD DISPOSES was a 2017 Calgary International Film Festival selection

Honourable Mentions: 

Originally a film, the adaption to a TV Series is the highlight of my binge-watching year with the best commentary on race relations in the US. Currently streaming on Netflix

$100 Film Festival's 25th Anniversary Retrospective with visiting artist Phillip Hoffman
Phillip Hoffman’s visit for the $100 Film Festival’s 25th Anniversary introduced me to one of Canada’s most important cinematic diarists and experimental filmmakers. His work is incredible and inspiring and this was a highlight of my 2017 year, especially to watch some of his original film prints.