Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan in The Big Sick (Lionsgate/Amazon Studios)

There were more than enough films to choose from for this year’s best-of compilation. In an informal poll of nine Film-Forward reviewers, each response differed widely, with only three to four choices overlapping between any given list. No one film was a handpicked favorite of more than four writers, so this year presented even more of an opportunity to let loose and venture far off the beaten path from both the multiplex and the local art house. That’s not to say there aren’t familiar names or at least one blockbuster to be found below. No matter the funding, there are certain films that can’t be overlooked for a credible and expansive final 10, whether it is an international production funded by a Hollywood conglomerate (Dunkirk) or a documentary produced by a subsidiary of ABC News (Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992).  

Still, with the site’s focus on independent (a term that is very fluid these days), foreign, and nonfiction films, the following recommendations also aim to highlight and to bring attention to movies that played sometimes in only a handful of theaters and/or faced the challenge of being singled out among an overabundance of options, given that there were more than 700 films released in theaters and countless others debuting on streaming services and video on demand.     

The sleeper of the year, The Big Sick, touches upon a subject most Americans don’t experience: arranged marriage. Its hook is inherently intriguing, too: a Pakistani American man wants to be by the side of the white woman he loves despite having broken up with her and her being in a coma. The film’s success is all in the execution, a blend of laugh-out-loud moments and subtle drama about duty and responsibility. Another boost is that co-writer/star Kumail Nanjiani is an affable screen personality. Not to mention the movie channels the spirit of James Brooks’s films, a realistic funny/sad melodrama that producer Judd Apatow has been aiming for since The 40-Year-Old VirginJack Gattanella (Available on DVD, Blu-ray, streaming)  

A scene from Faces Places (Cannes Film Festival)

An unlikely duo, French artist JR and Nouvelle Vague pioneering filmmaker Agnès Varda create a delicately composed documentary on art’s ability to unite and nurture communities in Faces Places as they travel around France in JR’s photo booth-cum-van. Utilizing Varda’s unpretentious and humane cinematic approach, the film appears straightforward in premise but overwhelmingly emotive in its execution. The two directors illuminate the elation and melancholy that comes with making art, living life, and expressing one’s self to the fullest. Alasdair Bayman (In theaters)  

Not since Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line has there been a war film so innovative. Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk skips introductions and throws viewers into the immersive experience of the Allied Forces’ evacuation in May 1940, with time as the main focus. Most movies these days have a tiresome third act problem, but Dunkirk explodes in its masterful last act. The film reminds us of the unlimited power of cinema, in which there is no conventional story in the hands of the right storyteller. Guillermo López Meza (DVD, Blu-ray, streaming)  

Ten months after its theatrical release, Get Out still stands as a fearless mix of pulpy horror and pointed social commentary. The premise involves a weekend trip to a secluded estate in the countryside, ostensibly so African American Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) can meet his white girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents for the first time. First-time director Jordan Peele deserves much praise for his clever, subversive approach to white privilege and other race-related issues. He also shows a real knack for producing scares and offsetting scenes of slow-building dread with laugh-out-loud moments. All told, this is a rare gem that satisfies on so many levels. Phil Guie (DVD, Blu-ray, streaming)  

Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu in God’s Own Country (Orion Pictures/Samuel Goldwyn Films)

Sensual and romantic, God’s Own Country is beautifully set among the failing family farms of debut director Francis Lee’s Yorkshire roots. Glum 24-year-old Johnny (Josh O’Connor) works and drinks hard, taking breaks for rough quickies in the pub men’s room. When his carping father (Ian Hart) falls ill, Johnny reluctantly hires Romanian laborer Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) during the busy lambing season. Gheorghe not only knows his way around sheep, cheese, and herbs but he introduces Johnny to the potential of love and domesticity beyond sex. The struggle of all the characters to adjust is compassionately touching. Nora Lee Mandel (In theaters)  

At once nostalgic and fully contemporary, In Transit, the enlightening final film from Albert Maysles (who died in 2015), documents the cross-country train ride from Chicago to the Northwest. A form of public transportation since the 19th century, trains have long moved a diverse slice of American society. Aboard the Empire Builder, we meet riders from various backgrounds on fascinating odysseys of escape and adventure or in search of better lives. Impromptu vignettes of friendship and conflict unfold lyrically as breathtaking scenic vistas hurtle by. It’s a testament to our common hopes and dreams in these divisive times. Rania Richardson    

Nostalgia is deceptive, especially when it comes to growing up. In her brilliant solo directorial debut, Lady Bird, actress Greta Gerwig has written a coming-of-age story set in the early 2000s that avoids easy tears and beats with a rebellious heart, just like the title character. Saoirse Ronan provides a naturalistic performance in one of the more human and thoughtful movies about becoming an adult. If you feel you have seen this story before, it’s probably because you have already lived it. GLM (In theaters)  

The 1992 Los Angeles riots left more than 50 dead, 2000 injured, and a billion dollars in damage. Director John Ridley’s Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 examines this explosion of violence and the long trail of racial mistrust between law enforcement and the African American community that led up to it. Ridley wisely bypassed pundits and allowed eyewitnesses to talk, and uncommonly intimate interviews give the film a mesmerizing power and depth. Layering story upon complex story, cops, assailants, victims, and unlikely heroes still seem stunned by an American tragedy all these years later. Caroline Ely (Streaming)  

Hermann Sámuel (Iván Angelus) and his son (Marcell Nagy) arrive via train in 1945 (Lenke Szilagyi/Menemsha Films)

A gem that peels back layers of the Holocaust to the intersection of corruption and collaboration, 1945 is a dramatically suspenseful, beautiful looking, scarily evocative step back into that precarious year in rural Hungary. Director Ferenc Török evokes Hollywood black-and-white revenge dramas and classic showdowns as two Jewish men arrive at the railroad station with a big box and walk through the village behind a horse-drawn cart. Throughout the small-town citizenry, fearful reactions that turn into guilt-driven hysteria tensely reveal how genocide was a convenient tool for greed and collusion. NLM (In theaters)  

The Teacher is set in 1983 at a middle school in a country (Czechoslovakia) and a system (Soviet-style Communist) that no longer exist. Though director Jan Hrebejk and his script collaborator Petr Jarchovsky were inspired by a real-life situation to re-create the period and politics, this is as universal an allegory of bullying as Lord of the Flies. Zuzana Maurery, as the smiling titular apparatchik, is the bully, and her constant manipulation of her students’ parents for gifts, favors, and services is as cynically comical as it is believably bureaucratic. The important lesson of organizing to resist is also just as as timeless. NLM (DVD out on January, 2018)