My sixth straight self-indulgent, instantly forgettable Year in Review, and what a year it was — not in movies, but in American culture. And by “what a year,” I mean “what a godawful, miserable, scab-peeling, disgust-generator of a year.” From Trump to Paddock to Weinstein to Nassar, the monsters really came out from under the bed. And that’s just in the United States. In movies, well, you can take solace in the ones that reflected this tumultuous Time We Live In, but history isn’t kind to films that date themselves. So my list of favorite movies is less about this current time, and more about how the movies themselves contemplate the nature of time (especially my top two). Art isn’t supposed to be a list of moral rights and wrongs, so I don’t give something extra credit for being ethically superior. I like films that challenge me aesthetically, intellectually, philosophically, and emotionally. They’re discriminating and brave. They make us feel, they have empathy for their characters and they make us look at things through different eyes, hear through different ears, and contemplate through different points of view. All that said, here’s my Top Ten. Once again, with the caveats that a) it’s almost February 2018 so 2017 lists are *so* last month; b) I saw even fewer films (~75) than the paltry number I usually clock (~85), so this isn’t a comprehensive “best” — just my favorites of what I was fortunate enough to witness:
2017 TOP TEN
- A GHOST STORY — A last-minute iTunes-via-AppleTV experience that floored me so much it unseated everything else to take the top spot. David Lowery’s carefully modulated meditation on the elasticity of time (and the perception of it) aches with generations of pain, cries tears of emotion based on loss and love, and bleeds from every frame with the passion for what the juxtaposition of images can do in the cinematic form. Its protagonist is passive, the dialogue could fit on fewer pages than a Shake Shack menu, and the best performance exits the movie halfway through. But somehow it takes all these broken rules and glues together a thesis on humanity and history that you’ll never forget.
- DUNKIRK — Like A GHOST STORY, it takes history and stretches, pauses, speeds up, rewinds, twists, and molds time — in order to make a comment about community and human will to action that only a movie could make. It’s raw, elemental sound and image, and remains my favorite big-screen experience since FURY ROAD.
- CALL ME BY YOUR NAME — A tactile, effervescent coming-of-age love story featuring the furious eruption of talent that is Tim Chalamet (whose forthcoming probable loss at the Oscars to Gary Oldman will hopefully be just a temporary pause on his ascendance to movie royalty) and gentle, suggestive camera work from Guadagnino. The conversation Chalamet has with Stuhlbarg near the end stands proudly as the most touching scene of the year.
- OKJA — Bong Joon-ho follows up SNOWPIERCER with another bizarre, futuristic genre-mash (with a great Tilda Swinton performance) that managed to make us weep tears for the sacrifice of a CG super pig. Directed with admirable restraint and a crackerjack story, it’s another bizarre and singular work from an incomparable Korean master.
- GET OUT — Ahhh, so that’s why she didn’t want to cop to see his ID…
- THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI — It has generated quite a feverish backlash, mainly from people who don’t like schematic writers using characters as tools in the service of a philosophical thesis (a fair enough criticism). But a more open-minded glance at this text yields a wealth of riches, not just from sparkling dialogue and performances (such as McDormand, Harrelson, and Dinklage), but in what questions it makes us ask ourselves about violence, revenge, and how rage (as ignited by economic, institutional, or physical factors) poisons the best and worst of us.
- PHANTOM THREAD — Whatever I didn’t say in my review is mostly because I need to see this again to get a handle on its grandstanding genius.
- LOGAN LUCKY — A beautiful return to the wheel from Soderbergh; it’s not just a sober reflection on the depressed Appalachian economy, but also a hilarious bit of caper entertainment featuring the most surprising performance of the year in Daniel Craig’s considerable comic chops.
- mother! — Split audiences to extremist poles stronger than the 2016 election did. Count me among those enraptured by the skill with which Aronofsky conducts this horrific symphony.
- THE BIG SICK — Generates such compassion and warmth due to just how real, relatable, and honest every frame feels. It’s very much a movie, but a piece of fiction that so obviously comes from two bold voices willing to lay bare their real lives.
Didn’t Quite Make the Cut: Wish I could have made room for Cannes-winner THE SQUARE and its prickly criticism of the nature of art; you’ll see NOCTURAMA on other Top 10 Lists, but you may remember it was #9 on my 2016 list; IT COMES AT NIGHT and THE LOST CITY OF Z were two early films that were sadly forgotten by many despite their smart and engaging charms. Also, don’t let Miguel Arteta’s quietly powerful BEATRIZ AT DINNER fall unnoticed.
And now, the requisite awards:
Best Director — David Lowery, A GHOST STORY
Best Actor — Timothée Chalamet, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Best Actress — Michelle Williams, ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD
Best Supporting Actor — Daniel Craig, LOGAN LUCKY
Best Supporting Actress — Lesley Manville, PHANTOM THREAD
Best Screenplay — Martin McDonagh, THREE BILLBOARDS
As usual, no Worst list. I may have found films like LADY BIRD, BLADE RUNNER 2049, and THE SALESMAN overrated or underwhelming, but they’re perfectly fine movies. I try to stay away from actual garbage, and even if I didn’t, I take no joy in giving them more grief. Feel free to comment below with anything you want to discuss, and thanks for reading.