Top 10 History Films of 2017

Top 10 History Films of 2017
Francois Duhamel/Annapurna Pictures via AP
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Behold, my list of best history films of 2017:


1. Detroit. Based on the 1967 12th Street Riot, which was part of the larger “long hot summer of 1967,” where race riots plagued the United States due to bad governance, Detroit has just enough violence, just enough mayhem, and just enough historical relevance to take the top spot here. A must see.

2. Dunkirk. This one is obvious. I loved Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, and I expected a lot from this film. It delivered. The best part of the movie, I thought, was its subject: the Dunkirk evacuation between May 26- June 4 in 1940. The Allied troops - British, French, and Belgian - had been outmaneuvered and outgunned by the German military, and had nowhere to go except to the sea. Luckily, good old-fashioned British ingenuity saved the day for the Allies.

3. First They Killed My Father. Directed by none other than Angelina Jolie, this film about the communist Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror in 1975 is absolutely a must-see. The labor camps - a staple of communist governance - are there, as are child soldiers, random beatings and mass graves, and propaganda. Who says Hollywood is sympathetic to communism?!

4. The Death of Stalin. Speaking of communism, this joint British (Scottish)-French parody of Stalin’s ruthless dictatorship is worth the price of admission. I sometimes got lost in the humor (being an American), and I’m always torn when someone tries to make light of ruthless regimes, but this was a well-made film. Plus, Steve Buscemi is in it!

5. Daddy. This film, based in late 1960s-70s in India, is all about deindustrialization and the effects it had on Indian society. The film, directed by Ashim Ahluwalia, follows a young man who is not quite forced into a life of crime, but crimes he does commit nonetheless. Street gangs, violence, corruption, and sociological intrigue all add to the pleasant fact that you’re watching a foreign film (and thus becoming just a little more cosmopolitan in your mores).

6. Churchill. The title speaks for itself. Filled with big names and backed by a big budget, I find myself placing this film in the bottom half of the Top 10 list. This doesn’t mean it’s bad, by all means it’s not, but only that I was hoping for something that I just can’t put my finger on. I think it might have been the way Brian Cox (lead actor) and Jonathan Teplitzky (director) tried to make Churchill out to be somebody who he was not. Don’t take my word for it, see this film!

7. Rangoon. The second Indian film to make my Top 10, this one has a much more Bollywood flavor to it than Daddy. Based on India’s chaotic World War II era, where not only was the British war machine firing on all cylinders, but Indians were having a dialogue among themselves about their place in the Empire. On the surface, this is a cheesy love story (“Bollywood flavor”), but beneath the surface is a powerful tale filled with violence, sex, and politics that’s well worth your time.

8. Tulip Fever. This film is set during the Dutch Golden Age (the 17th century) during Tulip Mania. It’s about an artist who falls in love with his married subject. The two plan to escape together using money they earn from investing in tulips. I couldn’t tell if this film was a critique of capitalism, or bourgeoisie marriage, or even of the lifestyle of the infamous “artist.” That’s why it is eighth on my list. However, it does a great job of capturing the essence of Dutch culture during the Netherlands’ Golden Age and is thus worth the hour-and-a-half of your time it demands.

9. Battleship Island. A South Korean production, this film is freakin’ awesome! Set during World War II in a Japanese labor camp (on real life Hashima Island), the film chronicles an attempted jailbreak by a number of Korean prisoners. You won’t get any spoilers from me, but Battleship Island does an excellent job of representing Korean film (which is becoming better and better as the time marches on). It’s ranked a little lower because the historical accuracy, in my mind, is sometimes sacrificed for the plot of the film.

10. The Post. It’s good. It’s amazing. Go see it already! It’s also politically boring. You know the drill: corrupt Republicans, journalists of high valor, and Democrats who didn’t do anything because they simply didn’t know any better until the press brought everything to light. Again this is a great piece of art, but if you’ve got a politically independent bone in your body, watch this amazing film with a generous heart.

Further thoughts

I know there’s a TON of foreign films on this list, and I’m not going to apologize for it. The rest if the world is doing great work (a reflection, I would argue, of the continued rise in standards of living we’re seeing all around us), and at a time when Hollywood seems stuck in neutral, I can’t think of a better outlet for my history watching than on the big screen featuring voices and aesthetics from around the world.

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