Best of 2017

The end of the year is upon us – and with it comes the annual task of composing a best-of list. Some housekeeping notes:

  1. For consistency’s sake, the list is limited to films that had an initial theatrical run in New York in 2017. As such, films that expanded from a 2016 limited release (I Am Not Your Negro, The Red Turtle, Paterson, Silence) and festival films (Golden Years, Hannah, A Man of Integrity) are not eligible. (Even though the aforementioned films are all excellent.)
  2. Certain films have been getting a lot of buzz in recent weeks – Phantom Thread, Molly’s Game, The Shape of Water, Call Me by Your Name, I, Tonya, and The Post, to name a few. They are not on this list because I have not seen them yet.
  3. Entries are arranged unranked in alphabetical order.

So without further ado…

The Beguiled

Image courtesy of Focus Features.

Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled provides a welcome, wistful follow-up to The Virgin Suicides, the 1999 movie that originally launched her career as a director. With her characteristic reliance on long takes, she weaves her favorite themes (ennui, sexism, repression) into a story that testifies to love’s simultaneous importance and fragility. The film’s clashing themes of empowerment and frustration also provide indirect commentary on the state of gender relations in 2017.

The Breadwinner

Image courtesy of GKIDS.

Nora Twomey’s The Breadwinner – an animated movie about an Afghan girl who cross-dresses in order to evade the Taliban – is more than just an indictment of the bigotry practiced by Trump and his ilk. It’s also a moving tribute to the art of storytelling that never loses respect for its viewers’ intelligence. The people drooling over Pixar’s Coco would do well to take a look at this shamefully neglected gem.

The Florida Project

Image courtesy of A24.

Sean Baker’s The Florida Project turns a superficially ugly setting – a rundown motel frequented by hookers – into the backdrop for a poignant, spellbinding depiction of the tenuous innocence of childhood. The cinematography expertly inserts you into the worldview of the film’s young protagonists, the non-professional actors Baker has rounded up are all exceptional – and in a time defined by growing concerns over globalization, the movie also offers a meaningful illustration of the effects of economic inequality.

Get Out

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Jordan Peele’s Get Out was this year’s most improbable hit: a thriller that doubles as a searing examination of white-liberal racism. For the former, Peele rarely has to resort to the meaningless jump scares that have become so prevalent in modern-day horror movies. And for the latter, he develops his ideas with a clarity and self-awareness that prove sorely lacking in genre counterparts (cough cough, mother!). This is the rare movie that actually lives up to the hype.

A Ghost Story

Image courtesy of A24..

David Lowery’s A Ghost Story turns a seemingly gimmicky premise – after you die, you get to hang around as a bedsheet ghost – into the foundation for a sweeping meditation on time, death, and love. The movie’s conceptual intricacies put it in that select group of masterworks that demand constant re-watching. And for the less philosophically inclined, Rooney Mara only offers further proof that she’s one of the best actors in the business.

Lady Bird

Image courtesy of A24.

Alongside Lady Macbeth and Get Out, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird marks one of this year’s finest directorial debuts. Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical portrayal of an uppity high schooler not only features stellar performances (particularly from Saoirse Ronan); it also brings compassion and depth to a genre that’s too often defined by unneeded angst. The overall story provides a refreshingly candid acknowledgement of the challenges of growing up.

Lady Macbeth

Image courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

In a year in which women around the world spoke truth to power, William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth stands out as a blistering takedown of institutional sexism. The plot’s unflinching brutality belies Oldroyd’s thoughtful, sympathetic treatment of his protagonist – a woman whose cruelty simply reflects her internalized misogyny. Extra reasons for appreciating this film include its minimalist cinematography and Florence Pugh’s superb lead performance.

The Other Side of Hope

Image courtesy of B-Plan.

Earlier this year, Aki Kaurismäki’s The Other Side of Hope won the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. And for good reason: its depiction of the relationship between an Iraqi refugee and a down-on-his-luck businessman offers the year’s most powerful plea for humanitarianism. Scathing critiques of Western intolerance aside, it’s also full of priceless gags about the restaurant business.

A Quiet Passion

Image courtesy of Music Box Films.

Terence Davies’ latest movie is a biopic of Emily Dickinson – the last thing you’d initially expect from a director best known for his impressionistic depictions of working-class England. But thanks to Davies’ expert use of shadows and Cynthia Nixon’s bravura performance, A Quiet Passion quickly proves to be another worthy examination of themes (sexuality, repressed individuality, death) that Davies has always held dear. And in the end, it’s also a fitting homage to one of the greatest poets in the English language.

Your Name

Image courtesy of FUNimation Entertainment.

A year ago, Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name unseated Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away at the box office to become the most successful anime film of all time. And although it’s not quite as meaningful as anything Miyazaki’s made, Your Name easily holds its own as one of this year’s most touching, gripping, and intelligent pieces of entertainment. (Bonus points should also be given for its exceptionally catchy soundtrack.)


Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order)

Frantz
Graduation
Last Flag Flying
The Little Hours
Maudie
Menashe
The Meyerowitz Stories
Mudbound
My Life as a Zucchini
Okja


Festival Favorites

The following films were all screened at the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival. See here and here for reviews of these and other CIFF films.

A Ciambra
Birds Are Singing in Kigali
Bitter Flowers
The Confession
Golden Years
Hannah
Let the Sunshine In
The Line
A Man of Integrity
Sicilian Ghost Story


Great Performances – Actors

Colin Farrell (The Beguiled, The Killing of a Sacred Deer)
Sherwan Haji (The Other Side of Hope)
Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)
Sakari Kuosmanen (The Other Side of Hope)
Tracy Letts (Lady Bird)
Menashe Lustig (Menashe)
Pierre Niney (Frantz)
Robert Pattinson (Good Time)
Adam Sandler (The Meyerowitz Stories)
Adrian Titieni (Graduation)


Great Performances – Actresses

Sally Hawkins (Maudie)
Rooney Mara (A Ghost Story)
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
Cynthia Nixon (A Quiet Passion)
Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project)
Haley Lu Richardson (Columbus)
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
Ahn Seo-hyun (Okja)
Millicent Simmonds (Wonderstruck)


Disappointments

Baby Driver
The Big Sick
BPM
Coco
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Good Time
The Lost City of Z
The Square
Wind River