I don’t know that there’s an overall theme to the year’s cinematic offerings, being that most, if not all, of them were developed pre-Trump Presidency and pre-Weinstein fallout. My guess is that we’ll truly feel the despair, anger and fear of this age of ‘American Carnage’ – to quote our Dear Leader – in the coming years.
That being said, there were a number of interesting crossovers: look at how many films had the word ‘Wonder’ in their titles (none of which show up here, but still), or the perfectly coincidental fusion of Logan, Lucky Logan, and Lucky (also worth noting: Ladies Bird and Macbeth, respectively; and I’s, Tonya and Olga Hepnarova, a little less respectively). This was also the year where every other movies seemed to use a John Denver song, or feature poisoning by mushroom. At least two movies featured people having sex with fruit (possibly more – I haven’t seen everything.) I don’t know what, if anything, this means or matters, but I think it speaks to the fact that we, as a society, are currently riding along a certain shared mental trajectory to one another, regardless of our various and often violently opposed outlooks.
Anyway, enough babbling — here are my favorite films from this year (I make no distinction between ‘favorite’ and ‘best’, since this is all a matter of personal taste; though perhaps I should, considering how upset these lists tend to make some people).
Not yet seen: The Shape of Water; Face/Places; Dawson: Frozen City; A Quiet Passion; Personal Shopper; The Post; I, Tonya; Molly’s Game
Honorable mentions: Call Me By Your Name; Alien: Covenant; The Big Sick; Endless Poetry; Thelma; Murder on the Orient Express (yes, really); Lego Batman; Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2
Film’s that almost made it, but that I had a large enough issue with (either in regards to one specific aspect, or overall) that I couldn’t put them on: Logan; Raw; Good Time; Nocturama; Thor: Ragnarok
Best thing I’ve seen across any medium this year, probably ever: Twin Peaks: The Return
On its own, Lucky is an amiable, Jarmusch-like (and Jarmusch-lite) hangout movie, one with a cast of likeable characters and a deep sense of place that you could see yourself returning to, but aren’t necessarily in any rush to. However, with the legendary Harry Dean Stanton – America’s greatest ‘character’ actor – center stage, in the clearly autobiographical titular role (the actor’s last), it becomes something more: a meditation on mortality that is universal, as well as loving tribute to a man who was wholly singular.
Lucky Logan works on a similar level, in that it too is a low key, shaggy dog hangout movie populated by a cast of likeable everyday people on just this side of quirky. Marketed as a slapstick comedy, Steven Soderbergh’s return to the director’s chair actually works off the same cool, leisurely magic as his Ocean’s films, though from a distinctly blue-collar vantage this time. Hopefully, this would-be crowd pleaser, which came and went with little notice, one day finds its crowd.
16. John Wick Chapter 2
Action movie sequels tend to fall into the trap of repeating the formula of the originals while simultaneously going bigger. John Wick Chapter 2 avoids that by diving deep into the mythology established by the first, while bringing its hero to an existential reckoning. It does all this while going much, much bigger, and while it may be missing the simple charm that made the first film an instant classic, it makes up for that by some of the most awe-inspiring visuals and choreography in any American action movie in recent memory.
M. Night is back baby! While his last film, The Visit, garnered good reviews (I have yet to see it), no one was expecting this one – which seemed all but guaranteed to build its narrative around an easy twist – to be so relentlessly entertaining and orgininal. While the surprise at the end had audiences cheering and anticipating his next film, this film works even without it, as a study of a truly tragic monster comparable to the icons of the genre, and a home run performance by star James McAvoy.
14. Lady Bird
There’s not much left to say about this critical smash hit. It has connected with audiences and critics alike for its well observed, sympathetic portrayal of modern girlhood during the rough transition into young adulthood, and as a coming of age teen film it seems destined to be rank among the classics. I will say that, as someone who was in high school at exactly the same time as the characters in this film (and attended a school in California no less – albeit Southern, rather than Northern), it captured the time and milieu perfectly.
13. Lady Macbeth
This small, spare little thriller turns the quiet British costume drama into pitch-black noir, while also serving as a transgressive celebration of one woman’s stand against repression and patriarchy. That her stand leaves a number of bodies – including those of the innocent – in her wake doesn’t lesson thrill we get from watching it.
A poetic meditation on letting go – of anger, of fear, of enablement – by way of architecture and philosophy, this talky two-hander recalls the best of Richard Linklater without ever feeling derivative of him. If at times the script seems a little too eager to let you know what its saying, the moody cinematography and keen direction (by former video essayist Koganada) and the note perfect chemistry between leads John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson more than make up for it. For those who prefer their love stories to be of the unrequited variety.
11. Baby Driver
A great modern musical that subs out the dance scenes for car chases and shootouts (while keeping a couple dance scenes in for good measure), this is the type of fun, endlessly rewatchable technical marvel that we’ve come to expect from Edgar Wright.
10. I, Olga Hepnarova
For those who like to have their souls and their psyches pummeled by the likes of Lars Von Trier and Micheal Haneke, this underseen Czech drama should prove sufficiently harrowing.
It would almost be disappointing if this bat-shit, go-for-broke effort from Darren Aranfonsky didn’t prove as divisive as it did with audiences (those that saw it, at least) and critics. Less a haunted house movie than a full-fledged art film, Aranfonsky shamelessly uses the most obvious metaphor imaginable to examine his own proclivities, and the destructive toll they can take on those around him.
8. The Florida Project
A modern-day 400 Blows set against the backdrop of late capitalism and commodification (via the Big Brother-like specter of Disneyworld).
Sean Baker is good at telling stories about people on the margins without crossing the line into poverty-porn, thanks mostly to the humor he imbues his films with, as well as the ferocious performances he gets from his actors. The world he presents here, through the eyes of wild-child Moonie, transforms guadiness into something fantastical, and desperation into adventure, while keeping things entirely grounded in the real.
7. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
A hilarious and hilariously cruel study in discomfort, Yorgos Lanthimos and Colin Farrell’s follow up to The Lobster ditches all of the quirk from the first half of that film and zeroes in on the disturbing tension of the unseen forces at work within this slightly off-kilter universe.
The comparisons to Faulkner and Malik that this film has been receiving make sense on paper – it is, after all, a sprawling, family drama set in the post-war South, replete with gorgeous shots of nature and lyrical voice over used for dramatic effect (as opposed to simple exposition), – but they don’t properly convey what director Dee Rees is going for here, which is, at heart, to find the connective humanist tissue and moral bend within the violent arc of history.
The better comparison is to the work of John Sayles, whose multi-character social issue films never sacrificed drama for easy moral lessons. Neither does this film, which is also refreshingly old school in its sweeping emotions and thrilling plotting.
5. Get Out
A new, direly needed take on the idea of body horror, one which confronts American race ‘relations’ (if they can so generously be called) head-on. There’s little left to be said about this break out hit from first time director Jordan Peel, but for all of the praise that it’s received (deservingly so) for what it has to say about current issues, it shouldn’t (and almost certainly won’t be) overlooked as a semiotic masterpiece.
In my opinion, this is the most overlooked film of the year. While a case could be made for other, smaller films, the fact is those were unlikely to find a mainstream audience in the first place. As hard to summarize as this movie is from a plot point, that’s not the case here. This is a remarkably entertaining, endlessly rewatchable genre mashup that recalls the populist hits of Ivan Reitman, Joe Dante, and John Landis. Jason Sudeikis reveals a depth and edge he’d never even hinted at before, and in my opinion should be considered for some Best Supporting love.
3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
I’ll admit that I didn’t expect this darkly comic drama from Irish playwright-cum-director Martin Mcdonagh to prove as divisive as it has, although in these charged times I suppose anything that touches on race and policing should be expected to garner strong reactions. Still, it’s too bad that so many viewers can’t get past what they see as a willingness on McDonagh’s part to forgive police abuse (I, for one, don’t think that’s what he’s doing, and I feel that people are mistaking a depiction of grace for a call for forgiveness), to appreciate this remarkably engaging story in all of its heartbreak, steeliness, and outrage. At least the performances – particularly those of leads Francis McDormand and Sam Rockwell – are getting their proper due.
2. Phantom Thread
This film’s placement on this list should come with a caveat: subject to change on repeat viewings. That change can really only be one that positions it as my number one favorite of the year. This, like all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films (but particularly his films post-There Will Be Blood) demand multiple watches. I remember walking out of The Master and being impressed, but confused about it overall. It has since become not only my favorite PTA film, but my favorite film of this decade.
No such confusion followed the viewing of this film; I was fully aware I was watching a masterpiece for every second of it. As funny as it is icy, as spooky as it is subtle, and as kinky and weird as it is old-fashioned, the supposedly final film to star the preeminent actor of our day and age, Daniel Day Lewis, is a brilliantly unsentimental and singular work that could only come from Anderson.
1.Star Wars: The Last Jedi
I’m legitimately shocked at how much I loved this movie. I am not a Star Wars guy. As much as I loved the original films as a child, the Prequels (thankfully) squashed my interest by the time I was in high school. The ever pervasive nature of the franchise across culture (both film culture and the wider public), and the infuriating myopia of its undiscerning fanbase made me into a proud hater of all things Star Wars in the subsequent years.
Leave it to Rian Johnson to bring me back. As big a fan of his as I have been since Brick first came out (I went to see it three times in the theater during its initial run), he still managed to blindside me. I expected him to make a good movie within the strictures of the franchise model and the Disney machine, but I didn’t expect he’d make such a moving, epic, and indeed, surprising film as this.
This is not only the most gorgeous Star Wars film to date, its not only the best written and the best acted and most emotionally devastating, its also the course correction that the series has needed since Return of the Jedi. Indeed, in the way it breaks down the toxic influence of the standard hero’s journey outline (most specifically the ‘chosen one’ cliches), excises the tired ‘mystery box’ elements that JJ Abrahm’s shoehorned into the last one, and blows apart older, even more egregious male power fantasy tropes that have long infected these types of stories, it may be the most radical blockbuster of the modern era. Possibly the most radical since the first Star Wars. And it is, undoubtedly, to my mind, the best Star Wars, something made even more evident by how angry and confused its made its fanbase. If those types hate something this much, you know it must be great.
In the short time that its been out, SW:TLJ has been the film I’ve thought, argued, and raved the most about. That solidifies it as my favorite of the year.