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True stories fill up the list of 2017's best films

Film(ed) history

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It's been an odd year in film. The Harvey Weinstein scandal and Disney's purchase of 20th Century Fox have rocked the industry. While quality has been through the roof, ticket sales have been disappointing, though Star Wars: The Last Jedi is erasing Hollywood's financial frowns faster than Ridley Scott deleted Kevin Spacey.

Picking a top five in December is always tough, as American audiences and critics have yet to see all the best documentaries and foreign films. Nevertheless, the following films will restore some of your shattered faith in humanity, just in time for Christmas.

Several movies seem a good fit for fifth place, including Blade Runner 2049, War for the Planet of the Apes, Lady Bird and the Hungarian-language 1945. But in keeping with the oddness of 2017, I offer Dawson City: Frozen Time, an experimental documentary by Bill Morrison. Weaving together old nitrate film previously thought lost and setting it to Alex Somers' hypnotic score, Morrison has fashioned a transcendent experience that's as close as one can come to time travel.

No list would be complete without an entry from Steven Spielberg, and this one is his best since Saving Private Ryan almost two decades ago. The Post, which stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, focuses on The Washington Post's efforts to publish the top-secret Pentagon Papers in the early 1970s. In these days of Trump, it's an important reminder of the power of the press. It's also a perfect prequel to All the President's Men, which is fitting since The Post is the best film about print journalism since that 1976 masterpiece.

Another powerhouse director comes in at No. 3: Joe Wright with Darkest Hour. By conducting a unique visual symphony of pacing, editing, cinematography and music – not to mention the best performance of the year, by Gary Oldman – Wright has resurrected Winston Churchill and emotionally reimagined the bleakest moments of World War II.

In a typical year, Disney/Pixar's Coco would be the top animated flick. But 2017 brought us something unique, something we've never seen before and will likely never witness again: a fully oil-painted feature. All 65,000 frames of Loving Vincent – the brainchild of Polish filmmaker Dorota Kobiela – were brought to life by more than 100 artists over six years. It's the story of the life, death and art of Vincent van Gogh, told by the subjects of his paintings. It's also the best animated film of the century and the most nobly conceived of all time.

Another World War II drama and blockbuster director take the top spot. Dunkirk, by Christopher Nolan, is a 65mm masterpiece of sound and fury, signifying everything. It's a movie that the thousands of men who died on the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940 earned the right to expect, and it's the finest film of the decade.

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