The Ten Best Films I Saw in 2017
This was a difficult list to compile, and there is a whole mess of movies I didn’t have the chance to see. Regardless, I hope you enjoy! There are also some light spoilers below, but in my opinion, nothing that would detract from your enjoyment of the films.
10. Super Dark Times
Josh (Charlie Tahan) and Zach (Owen Campbell) are two high-school friends in upstate New York in the early 90s. They spend their days riding their bikes, reading comic books, and talking about sex with the sort of naive bravado that was so common among teenagers before the internet existed. On one afternoon they meet up with two other kids and decide to steal Josh’s brother’s katana sword and go have some unsupervised fun in a field. After an altercation, one of the kids winds up accidentally dead. As the title suggests, things then escalate from dark to super dark. Pre-dating Columbine, the film examines the suburban angst and fragile masculinity that set the stage for the massacre a few years later. The detail with which the film portrays the two teens processing their guilt, one plagued by dreams and a desire to appease, the other feeding it to a pre-existing rage and unhappiness, shows a surprising sensitivity and understanding that was sorely lacking in movies like Gus Van Sant’s Elephant.
9. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Every bit as anxiety-inducing as mother!, but without the head-bludgeoning allegory, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a movie in which even the establishing shots exist solely to cause unease and disarray. Colin Farrell plays a surgeon whose odd relationship with a teenage boy (a terrifying Barry Keoghan) begins to impact his wife (Nicole Kidman) and children. Even more than was the case with The Lobster, the sedated frankness with which Lanthimos’ characters interact suggest that they are aliens who are learning about human nature almost as quickly as they are refilling their Klonopin prescriptions. It isn’t until minute fifty-three that a character acts on a real human impulse, and it is to the absurd credit of the film that said action is trying to force-feed a donut to a dying child. Shocking, laugh-out-loud funny, and unforgettable, this is the director’s best film to date.
Stephen King released an eight-million-paged, cocaine-laced nightmare called IT in 1986. It is the story of a billion-year-old cosmic shape-shifting alien-demon that often takes the form of a clown and really has a gripe with a small, fictional town in Maine called Derry. IT chronicles the lives of seven human characters in two different timelines, as well as provides over a century’s-worth of history for a town that has been besieged by evil. Suffice it to say, a film adaptation of this work was a huge undertaking. I’m happy to report that director Andy Muschietti got it (almost) perfect. First of all, Bill Skarsgård made the wise choice of avoiding an impression of Tim Curry’s Pennywise. Curry’s gravel-toned, erratically-tempered deviant is replaced by something much more alien and child-like, and thus much less predictable. But unlike the 1990 television adaptation, there’s a lot more to IT than a good villain. The cast of young actors is so fantastic that, much like the Loser’s Club, they upstage the monster itself.
At first glance Dunkirk feels like a horror movie that found an officer’s uniform and snuck into theaters dressed as a war movie. Leaflets fall from German planes with a simple message to Allied soldiers: surrender or die. From that moment we are immersed in a non-stop fight to survive. Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan was about the nobility of soldiers who died for their country. Oliver Stone’s Platoon was about war corrupting soldiers and turning them against one another. While both of these themes are briefly addressed in Dunkirk, it is really about men who are trapped like rats on a sinking ship, desperate to escape death in every direction. The lack of soliloquy and character development may further the opinion that Christopher Nolan directs without compassion for character, but perhaps a little utilitarianism and realism is just what we need in our blockbusters.
6. Good Time
Much like a Sprite bottle full of LSD, the Safdie Brothers’ Good Time packs quite an unexpected punch. Robert Pattinson and co-director Benny Safdie play Connie and Nick, two brothers in New York who need money. After a botched bank robbery, Nick is arrested and Connie goes to extreme measures in order to keep him out of Riker’s. This is a film of grimy intensity and desperation; a 100-minute long litmus test of how many people the protagonist can fuck over before we realize he is the villain of the film. And after just one minute of screen time Robert Pattinson sheds whatever vapid afterglow remained from the Twilight franchise and delivers one of the best performances of the year.
5. Lady Bird
When a nun at Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson’s catholic school points out the love of Sacramento that comes through in her writing, Lady Bird is confused, responding “I guess I just pay attention.” “Well aren’t they the same thing? Love and attention?” the nun shoots back. This is the central detail that Lady Bird’s titular character (played with confidence by Saoirse Ronan) doesn’t grasp until late in the film, when she’s finally gotten what she thinks she wanted. Before we get there though, Lady Bird experiences all the hallmarks of adolescence (first boyfriend, loss of virginity, trying drugs, favoring popularity over friendship) in hyper-speed, as if crossing them off of a to-do list required for her life to begin. At the center of the film is Lady Bird’s often hilarious and tempestuous relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf). In a single scene the two go from crying together while listening to a The Grapes of Wrath book on tape to a fight that makes Lady Bird defiantly jump out of a moving car. It’s the best love story in a movie that’s full of them.
4. The Florida Project
The Florida Project is full of characters who are trying their best in a less-than-ideal situation. Even the setting, a bright purple motel on the outskirts of Disney World, seems to have dressed itself up like a Times Square Mickey Mouse knock-off and moved to the spot with the best view of paradise. The heart of the movie is Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), a six-year-old girl who spends her days wandering around with her friends (a rotating crew of kids also staying in the motel), or with her mother (Bria Vinaite, incredible in her first-ever film role) trying to sell perfume or stolen Disney passes to tourists in order to pay rent every Friday. At times the film almost seems like a documentary; every conversation or reaction the kids have seems too naturalistic for there to have been a script, and yet too poignant to be improvised by six-year-olds. And finally there is Willem Dafoe, playing caretaker to both the hotel and, reluctantly, its residents. It’s a truly unique experience to watch an actor, with a lifetime of playing unsavory characters under his belt, stretch his legs and play a decent human being; like seeing a real-life Grinch’s heart grow three sizes.
3. Call Me By Your Name
The love story that unfolds in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name is fueled by passion but nurtured by boredom. It takes place over a 1980s summer in Northern Italy, where there is little for seventeen-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) to do other than swim, read, and soak in both sun and ennui. His father (the prolific and fantastic Michael Stuhlbarg) is a professor of archeology who invites a grad student named Oliver (Armie Hammer) to help him with his academic paperwork. Elio isn’t yet comfortable in head or body, which is in stark contrast to Oliver, who enters and exits each scene with the brazen swagger of a cowboy in sneakers and tube socks. The pair weed through each other’s bullshit and finally form a deep friendship, and then more than that. Guadagnino places a lot of faith in his two leads; much of the movie is comprised of their silent longing and frustration. But it is the script, remarkably adapted from the novel of the same name by 89-year-old James Ivory, that stands out. The already-famous speech Michael Stuhlbarg gives at the end, where he employs his son to avoid the impulse to “feel nothing so as not to feel anything” will melt your heart.
2. Phantom Thread
Paul Thomas Anderson’s obsession with solipsistic masters of their craft continues in his ninth film and second collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis. Day-Lewis stars as the ridiculously-named Reynolds Woodcock, a fastidious dressmaker and bachelor who has a pattern of dating models he employs (or employing models he dates) before having someone break off the relationship for him. After one of said relationship cycles ends, Reynolds meets Alma (Vicky Krieps) and takes her on a date that uncomfortably turns into both an audition and a dress-fitting. It quickly becomes clear to Alma how Reynolds treats relationships and it quickly becomes clear to Reynolds that Alma is different from every woman with whom he’s ever been. From a distance Phantom Thread may appear smaller in both scope and message than most of Anderson’s previous films. The lavish sets (a New Years Eve party that anyone would die to attend stands out), beautiful score by Johnny Greenwood, and of course the costumes have a hypnotic effect that may lead viewers to believe they are simply watching a perfectly-executed exercise in style. But it is the film’s central relationship and audacious finale that stay with you, much like a secret tucked away in the lining of a beautiful garment.
- Get Out
It’s difficult to write about a movie as replete with ideas, humor and tension as Jordan Peele’s Get Out without failing to do it justice. I can’t recall a cinematic experience that merited as lengthy a post-film dissection. Chris, an African American photographer, goes home with his white girlfriend Rose to meet her parents and brother. The ways in which Rose’s family treat Chris are all suspect, be it adulation, domination or flat-out aggression. The tension keeps piling up until it erupts in a storm of frenzied violence. A lesser horror director would resign themselves to said chaos, but Peele never loses his focus. Every beat has significance. It dares you to investigate closer and try to poke holes in its logic. This was the movie most demanding of a repeat viewing of 2017, and the most engaging homework movie of the 21st century. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the film’s release date — February 24th — was just over one month after Donald Trump was sworn into office and had begun pushing a xenophobic, race-baiting, and generally derisive agenda. Now almost a year later, the film’s significance and necessity has only grown stronger.