Christian Bale, Bill Pullman, and Harry Dean Stanton are among the stars who shine on our list of the year’s best.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences won’t announce this year’s Oscar nominations until Tuesday morning. But we decided not keep our readers waiting any longer for our Top Ten Films of 2017.
These ten features and documentaries — most of them already available on DVD, Blu-Ray and/or streaming platforms — have been viewed and appraised by a passel of us who ride for the C&I brand. So without further ado, let the countdown from 10 to 1 begin:
Alex Ranarivelo’s engrossing contemporary drama focuses on the efforts of a newly widowed Texan (Dorian Gray) to save her ranch by operating a program to rehabilitate wild horses that have wandered onto her land with a little help from convict laborers. Sharon Stone makes a strong impression as an outspoken activist who objects to any efforts to “break” wild horses.
Luke Hemsworth rides tall as Wild Bill Hickok in this straight-shooting western about the legendary gunslinger’s brief but eventful stint as a lawman in Abilene, Kansas. The impressive supporting cast includes Bruce Dern as a cynical doctor, Kris Kristofferson as the well-meaning mayor, and Trace Adkins as a powerful varmint who doesn’t appreciate Hickok’s law-enforcement efforts.
Nathan Frankowski’s award-winning biopic recalls the life and achievements of Mary Frances Thompson (masterfully portrayed by Q’orianka Kilcher), who danced and acted under the stage name Te Ata as she performed everywhere from Broadway to the White House while celebrating her Chickasaw Nation culture.
Drawing on the same source material (Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966) that previously inspired the 1971 movie directed by Don Siegel and starring Clint Eastwood, Sofia Coppola puts her own intriguing spin on this gothic Civil War tale about a wounded Union Army soldier (Colin Farrell) who only thinks he is in command of the situation after he finds refuge at a Virginia girls school under the care of a sexually repressed teacher (Nicole Kidman).
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World
Catherine Bainbridge’s exuberant documentary is an informative and entertaining tribute to Native Americans who have influenced the sound of contemporary music.
Sam Elliott gives one of his all-time greatest performances in the title role of Lee Hayden, a former western movie icon who is forced to take stock of his life and reappraise his priorities when he receives some bad news from his doctor. Once again, filmmaker Brett Haley (I’ll See You in My Dreams) brings out the best in the much-admired veteran actor.
Hell or High Water scriptwriter Taylor Sheridan makes a stunningly successful directorial debut with this furiously mournful yet ultimately hopeful drama about an investigation into the murder of a young Native American woman near a Wyoming reservation. Just about every scene in the film is spot-on perfect, but the two most affecting focus on extended conversations between Jeremy Renner as a soul-wounded animal tracker pressed into service as a manhunter, and Gil Birmingham as the grieving father of the woman whose death has sparked the manhunt.
In his last starring role, Harry Dean Stanton gives the performance of a lifetime in John Carroll Lynch’s life-affirming dramedy about a proud eccentric reluctantly coming to grips with his own mortality in an off-the-grid desert community. (Ironically, the cult-favorite character actor passed away, at age 91, just weeks before the movie’s theatrical release.) And he gets strong support from an ensemble supporting cast that includes David Lynch as the distraught owner of a runaway tortoise, James Darren as a supposedly reformed ne’er-do-well, and Beth Grant as the gregarious but not infinitely patient owner of the title character’s favorite watering hole.
The Ballad of Lefty Brown
Jared Moshe, writer-director of Dead Man’s Burden (2012), once again proves he has the right stuff to keeps westerns alive with his latest effort, a richly entertaining, beautifully photographed and satisfyingly old-fashioned drama with an arresting twist: The grizzled sidekick (Bill Pullman) of a Wild West legend (Peter Fonda) must go gunning for justice on his own when that legend is killed. Pullman is nothing short of superb as Lefty Brown, a lifelong under-achiever who’s painfully aware of his own limitations, yet determined to transcend them through sheer force of will.
From the director of Crazy Heart and Black Mass comes a stirringly powerful revisionist western that, yes, is our choice as the No. 1 movie of 2017. Christian Bale of 3:10 to Yuma — pictured above with co-star Adam Beach — stars to perfection with a subtly nuanced and mesmerizingly implosive performance as Capt. Joseph J. Blocker, a war-hardened cavalry officer who, on the eve of his retirement, is ordered to escort a dying Comanche war chief (Wes Studi) and his family from the New Mexico fort where they’ve been imprisoned to their ancestral lands in Montana.