Another fantastic year of film has come to an end. There were surprises and disappointments as always, and I already can’t wait for 2018. When it came time to lock this list, there was sadly a gaping Phantom Thread-sized hole in it since the first Philadelphia showing of Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is not until this Saturday. That may be a good thing, since it is a safe bet it would land in my top ten anyway. We’ll set that one aside and leave room for a dark horse choice to wander in.
I also chose to set aside The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson’s fantastic latest entry in the Star Wars saga. I loved it, and yet it felt odd to compare it to any other film that came out this year. Star Wars occupies its own space in our universe, and the question of “What did I like better- The Meyerowitz Stories or The Last Jedi?” was too strange of a question to really consider.
10. Dunkirk (Dir. Christopher Nolan)
There were many films in 2017 that were conceived of long before the 2016 election, but took on an extra layer of meaning once they were released. Dunkirk was one such instance. It tells the story of England’s darkest hour, the army’s evacuation from the European mainland back in 1940- but it may just be Christopher Nolan’s finest hour. Always one for incredible visuals and tone, it is his twistiest storytelling experience since Memento. With three narrative threads happening at three different time pacings (one week, one day, one hour), it fits together like the interlocking gears of a pocket watch. In defining the mere act of survival as an act of victory, Nolan assuaged the fears and defeats of 2017 by placing them into the context of history. Once, we survived the insidious onslaught of fascism to fight another day- as we must do again now.
9. Columbus (Dir. Kogonada)
The strongest debut of the year comes from South Korean director Kogonada, who before this had been making supercut videos of all his favorite filmmakers. For his first feature, he cast John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson as a cross generational pair of strangers who meet and form a deep connection in the small town of Columbus, Indiana (randomly, Mike Pence’s hometown. How’s that for incidental relevance?). Cho plays a man whose father, a famous architect, has just suffered a massive stroke while preparing to give a lecture in the town (which is known for its abundant modernist architecture). Richardson is a college age student who grew up there, who feels torn about whether to leave or stay.
The two do a lot of walking and talking, as the film morphs into a Garden State riff- if it were directed by Kelly Reichardt with a script by Richard Linklater. Few films have ever kept me in such a trance for so long after I see it, the same way that a night spent with your best friend in the world can. It makes human connection-regardless of the labels we put on our relationships- feel as vital as the air we breathe or the water we drink.
8. Wind River (Dir. Taylor Sheridan)
Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen star in this snowbound western, as agents of the U.S. fish and wildlife and FBI who investigate the death of a young Native American girl on a reservation in Wyoming. It is the first big film directed by Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the scripts for Sicario and Hell Or High Water. Sheridan does the modern day western like nobody else can, and while this one falls a little short of the grand slam it’s aiming for, it hits a triple just for trying- its flaws making it all the more admirable. In doing so, it wins my The Place Beyond The Pines award for the year. It also features my favorite movie scene of the year: a shocking and climactic shootout outside of a trailer, rivaling the Sicario traffic jam shootout for the most visceral thing Sheridan has ever constructed.
7. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Dir. Noah Baumbach)
Nobody does neurotic family dysfunction better than Noah Baumbach, his films often feeling like symphonies of neuroses exploding in anxiety and farce. And yet he has probably never felt so deeply for one of his fictional families until now. Starring Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and Elizabeth Marvel as the adult children of Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman), a semi-famous sculptor whose sudden health crisis upends the lives of his family- suddenly forced to care for him. You won’t believe me when I tell you this, but Meyerowitz was never the best father, and he left his kids with a shit ton of emotional baggage they’re still trying to unpack.
Ultimately though, it’s a film focused on the three children. I have never seen a better film about adult siblings, that really gets what it means to carry on with the people you are related to years after you’re still obligated to. It’s about a family who has to come apart, so that it can come together- perhaps for the first time. It’s also rip roaringly funny in that too-close-to-home way that Baumbach excels at.
6. Call Me By Your Name (Dir. Luca Guadagnino)
What would it be like to see yourself fully in another’s eyes, and have that be unconditionally accepted? What would it be like to be seen for who you truly are, without judgment? These are the questions, and the fears, of Call Me By Your Name. But they are good fears to have. Luca Guadagnino’s Sundance breakout is an achingly beautiful film, buzzing with feeling and all of the sensuality of a long, lazy summer in Northern Italy. Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer star as the two star-crossed lovers Elio and Oliver, who fall for one another despite their relationship having an autumn expiration date. They give two unforgettable performances, in what has to be the most engaging love story the movies have seen in many years.
5. The Florida Project (Dir. Sean Baker)
Sean Baker made one of the decade’s best films with 2015’s Tangerine, a film about two trans women sex workers in Los Angeles that he famously shot on an iPhone. Working this time with a bigger budget and at least one bonafide movie star (Willem Dafoe), Baker doesn’t lose an ounce of his empathy or commitment to telling stories about people living full human lives, despite living them on the margins of society. With mostly non-professional actors and set at a real hotel outside Disney World in Florida, Baker tells a story about modern poverty that could easily fall into miserablism. But thanks to six year old Brooklynn Prince and her merry band of troublemakers, this is a story teeming with life and all of its rich possibilities.
4. mother! (Dir. Darren Aronofsky)
What if God was one of us? Turns out Aronofsky may have been taking Joan Osborne’s question to heart when he wrote mother!, his most audacious film in years- this coming from a director where audacious is his bare minimum starting point. Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star as a married couple living in an isolated mansion, whose lives become upended with the arrival of some uninvited house guests, and the sudden success of the husband’s novel. In order for mother! to work at all, I believe you have to successfully tap into it as an allegory- which can mean different things for different people. Once I got it, it was hard to take the smile off my face for the rest of the movie, even as that smile grew more twisted and deranged. mother! is an insane masterpiece, featuring some of the craziest choreography of moving bodies ever captured on film.
3. Brawl In Cell Block 99 (Dir. S. Craig Zahler)
Let the Vince Vaughn-aissance begin. The total comedic boob has never been better than here, as a down-on-his-luck mechanic turned drug runner who descends into literal hell in order to save his family from harm at the hands of a brutal crime syndicate. S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawak) is just as much a star of the show, who between his mastery of pacing and realistic fight scenes, announces himself as a major talent. Similarly to Bone Tomahawk, this film spends the first two thirds weaving a rich tapestry of dialogue and detailed gritty character work, before taking a hard left into shocking ultra violence (which has already amassed the film with quite the reputation).
Yet no one should stay away just because they’re squeamish, if they love truly great movies. A few well timed hands over the eyes moments ought to do the trick. See it with someone who doesn’t mind watching you scream in sadistic delight.
2. A Ghost Story (Dir. David Lowery)
::eats a pie with a fork for five minutes, while sniffling::
But seriously. This is the one movie I saw this year that felt like it reached me at my deepest of places, depths of which I have yet to reach (and may never). It sounds completely ridiculous- Casey Affleck plays a man who dies in a car accident and “haunts” his wife and many others, all while wearing a bedsheet with the eyes cut out. It shouldn’t work at all, but something about the absurdity of this premise doesn’t let us distance ourselves from it as much as we might like. What follows is one of the deepest meditations on life, time, love, and the universe- you know, little things- since The Tree Of Life. Several lifetime viewings of this are in order for me- and I imagine it will feel like a different movie each time, depending on where I am at. It’s the cinematic equivalent of staring deep into an old, dusty mirror, and finding nothing but yourself.
1. Blade Runner 2049 (Dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Denis Villenueve’s sequel to 1982’s sci-fi classic Blade Runner is a LOT of movie. It’s 162 minutes, and every frame feels like the most intensely beautiful painting you’ve ever seen. With pacing as focused as a glacier, and enough Hans Zimmer BWAHS to nearly destroy your movie theater, it was nothing if not a completely enrapturing cinematic world. Some people were quite bored by it, and it tanked at the box office, in part due to an extremely spoiler-phobic marketing campaign. Yet hopefully time will see this as the modern masterpiece it is.
While certainly a sequel, it feels more like a new story set in the same world. Like The Last Jedi did, it takes our nostalgia for an old product and turns it upside down, leading us down the rabbit hole and seating us in the analysis chair to ask why we went down there in the first place. Ryan Gosling plays K, an LAPD “Blade Runner” (whose job it is to hunt down rebellious A.I. technology, life-like robots known as replicants) and audience surrogate who we learn almost immediately is a replicant himself. If you feel like the movie is a bit lifeless, that’s because nobody is really alive in this world- even the humans. In Blade Runner 2049, being a human is a story you can tell yourself- but a danger when it’s the real thing. It seems easier to be a replicant, where as they were the odd ones out in the original. The times have changed, and with our modern day integration of technology into every fabric of our lives, so have we.
The film has been criticized for having two dimensional female characters despite having progressive aims, and I can’t disagree with that critique. If this is a feminist film, it’s a feminist film aimed at male consumption- one that tells its male characters and its male viewers that the future does not belong to them anymore. If we want a part of it, we must be allies, we must help to lift up, and we must listen- or we can step aside. After all, “all the best memories are hers.”
It drops more than a few threads and leaves some big questions unanswered. But Blade Runner 2049 is perfect in the way that only problematic, astronomically aimed movies can be. It was my favorite movie of 2017. If Roger Deakins doesn’t win for best cinematography, it’s time for revolution.…
and ten more (in alphabetical order):
Detroit, Get Out, I Am Michael, I Tonya, John Wick: Chapter 2, Logan, Most Beautiful Island, T2 Trainspotting, The Lost City Of Z, The Post