2017 was a rough year to love the movies. I hate to start off a countdown of the best films of the year on a downer note, but as 2017 coughs and wheezes its way to the finish line, I wanted to let you guys know that coming up with this list of my 50 favourite films of the year was exceedingly difficult.
It’s not that I couldn’t come up with fifty films that I enjoyed immensely. After seeing a total of 622 titles in the past 355 days (and still counting), I could have kept going with films that I thought were worthy of praise. A list of honourable mentions would have been nearly as long (as would the worst of the year list). By that same token, I openly acknowledge and realize that – on the whole – 2017 was a low quality, forgettable year for film in general. Artistic risks and brainy crowd-pleasers seemed to be at a bare minimum. I think the only reason I could make a list this long is because I essentially see films in bulk on a weekly basis, sometimes by choice and often out of professional courtesy.
The real problem came in trying to decide which films belonged on this list and what criteria and considerations should be put in place. In a year where sexual harassment scandals were front and centre as part of a much overdue discussion, I wrestled with my feelings about problematic artists. Ultimately, there are two films on this list that could be labeled as problematic thanks to the participation of high profile stars accused of acting inappropriately. You’ll know them when you see them, and I’ll immediately admit to my own conflicted feelings and probable inability to watch them the same way ever again. But films are more than the work of a single person and the truly great ones deserve recognition for all the people involved who weren’t accused of predatory behaviour.
A bigger problem was trying to figure out what films should be eligible. If I kept it to films that were only given wide or semi-wide releases, this list would be dire. I live in Toronto, so choosing films that opened in Toronto, combined with those getting Oscar qualifying runs in the States that open here in the near future, should be criteria enough. Then there’s the matter of the rise of event television and Netflix to contend with, which arguably have just as big a reach as wide release feature films.
When putting together this list I was particularly dismayed by the state of Canadian films and documentaries. Many of the best documentaries and films from Canada could have easily made this list if they had seen any sort of release at all. A lot of documentaries that would have been included here had blink-and-you’ll-miss-them in the U.S. but saw nothing outside of festival play in Toronto. Documentary bookers in the city of Toronto played things safe, often programming forgettable, lackluster, homegrown fare that was due to air on television for free in the near future, anyway.
That’s frustrating, but still not as hard as trying to get even a single screen for a Canadian film that doesn’t have an instantly marketable gimmick or hook. The uphill battle of getting a Canadian film released has been difficult for the past several years, but it only gets worse from here with the increasing needs of major distributors who lock down theatre screens so far in advance for the latest Hollywood blockbusters that a Canadian film could never compete. I could go on about how no one even bothers to market Canadian films anymore, but I really just want to get to the list.
So, ultimately, this list is comprised of the fifty best films I saw this year that saw a proper release in Toronto cinemas, Oscar contenders that are yet to open, and films that at least got a VOD/DVD/streaming release in Canada. I ultimately decided not to do what a lot of the cool kids were doing and make Twin Peaks: The Return my number one film of the year, although it very well could have been. As much as David Lynch states that it was always to be viewed as one extended film, it’s still television to me, no matter its greatness.
So with all that potentially unnecessary exposition and ranting out of the way, here’s my informal and in no way scientific ranking of my top fifty (technically fifty-one) films of 2017.
- The Disaster Artist
While some films are made by bad people, I’ve always believed that no one sets out to make a film that’s deliberately terrible. James Franco’s look at the behind-the-scenes making of Tommy Wiseau’s infamous dud, The Room, proves that point. Making the worst film ever made is likely just as stressful and passionate of a battle as making an all time great. Boosted by one of the best scripts of the year, The Disaster Artist proves that art is what we make of it, what we sacrifice for it, and what we put back into it when we consume it.
- Girls Trip
No film in 2017 made me laugh harder than Girls Trip. Largely slept on by critics who probably saw it as too lowbrow and urban to “waste” their time on it, Girls Trip is exactly the kind of film that Bridesmaids and Rough Night tried and failed to be. A genuine story of friendship and good old fashioned debauchery, it’s a blast from start to finish. I also insist that we give Tiffany Haddish an Oscar nomination for her work here. She gives one of the most gleefully unhinged comedic performances that I’ve ever had the pleasure to behold.
- All the Money in the World
Ridley Scott was somehow able to reshoot and re-edit almost the entire first third of his thrilling, entertaining, and darkly humorous look into the kidnapping of the grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty in 1973 in record time. Only barely a month before it was due to hit theatres, Scott excised Kevin Spacey’s role in the film, replaced him with a vastly better Christopher Plummer, and still got the movie into theatres in time for Christmas. While that’s a commendable achievement on a technical and political level, it’s better still that the film was worth the trouble at all.
- Dunkirk/Darkest Hour (tie)
I liked, but didn’t overly adore either of these WWII era pictures, but I think that when viewed as a whole, Christopher Nolan and Joe Wright’s technically dazzling (and narratively drab) films complement each other perfectly. Nolan stages the battle to save British troops from the beaches of Dunkirk with action packed immediacy, while Wright’s film finds Winston Churchill (played by an excellent Gary Oldman) trying to spearhead the war effort almost immediately upon being placed into office. Nolan stated that he never wanted to make a film about guys sitting around in rooms talking when he made Dunkirk, and the result is a film that’s refreshingly free of filler. Wright’s film is almost exclusively about those very men sitting in rooms and talking, but told with a refreshing amount of fluidity and style. They make for one heck of a double bill.
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi
This is some of the most fun I had at the movies this year. I enjoyed it immensely. I like the new directon the franchise seems to be moving in. Let’s move on.
I wish that the first half of Dee Rees striking tale of a white family relocating to a muddy farm in Mississippi circa World War II was as strong as the riveting second half of the film. The marital tension between Carey Mulligan and Jason Clarke’s wife and husband pairing is well acted, but ultimately goes nowhere and adds nothing. The relationship between Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell’s white and black soldiers returning home to the Jim Crow South blows the marital strife off the screen the instant it starts. The second half of Mudbound is top ten material. The first half of the film is merely okay in comparison.
- Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Documentarian Steve James’ look at the only Manhattan bank to face criminal charges following the most recent stock market collapse – a family owned and operated business that caters almost exclusively to the Chinese community – is a look at one of the most bizarre and infuriating miscarriages of justice in recent memory. Dripping with racial overtones and an undercurrent of big business finding protection in the form of the very people who should be prosecuting them, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is one of the best David and Goliath stories of the year.
- Lady Macbeth
William Oldroyd’s stark debut feature about a young, cheating wife (an exceptional Florence Pugh) who’ll do anything to get out of her loveless marriage is one of the most low key and ruthless films of the year. It’s unexpectedly nasty, but it carries on under the thin veneer of an unassuming Victorian period piece. It’s as timely as it is powerful, and makes for an unlikely, but pretty great double bill with Jordan Peele’s modernist thriller Get Out.
- Song to Song
By this point, you either love Terrence Malick’s particular style of free flowing filmmaking or you despise it. I happen to still love what he’s able to do, and while I don’t enjoy this look at love and life in the Austin music scene as much as I’ve taken to his other recent output, this still has some of the best individual sequences, philosophical musings, and emotional beats of any film this year.
- Wonder Woman
Outside of making a superhero film with a woman in the lead instead of a man, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is noteworthy for daring to make the sour-faced DC Comics franchise fun and exciting. In a year where Marvel was swinging for the fences to be as crowd-pleasing as possible across every marketable demographic, Jenkins managed to make a film that feels completely removed and unencumbered by being a part of a franchise that’s not very good to begin with. More Wonder Woman and less DCU, please.
- The Killing of a Sacred Deer
One of the most bizarre revenge films ever made, auteurst Yorgos Lanthimos’ tale of a doctor (Colin Farrell, the best at adopting the Greek director’s deadpan cadence) who can only watch as a creepy teen (a standout Barry Keoghan) curses his entire family is one of the most unique and unnerving experiences of the year. You might not fully understand what it’s about or where it’s going while you’re watching it, but it will burrow under your skin and stay there long after it ends.
- War for the Planet of the Apes
I was never a huge fan of the recent cycle of Planet of the Apes films, but this supposedly final entry in the trilogy was the best overall film about warfare this year. Andy Serkis continues his underrated motion capture work once again as ape leader Caesar tries to look for peace with the humans in opposition to Woody Harrelson’s unhinged militia leader. It’s not the most action packed of the films in the franchise (although the climax is stunning), but it’s the most fully realized, subtextual, and dramatically satisfying entry in the series, and one of the only thoughtful mainstream blockbusters to be released this year.
- Baahubali 2: The Conclusion
Few filmmakers are as exceptional at creating eye candy and spectacle as Indian filmmaker S.S. Rajamouli. This worldwide smash hit (which performed extremely well in North America) wraps up a two part story of an exiled heir coming back to violently reclaim his throne and save his people from slavery. You need to see Baahubali: The Beginning for this to make a lick of sense, but trust me when I say that by the time you get to this part of the story, all will be worth it.
- Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Martin McDonagh goes back to the blend of social commentary and sarcastic nastiness that made In Bruges such a devilish delight with this uncomfortably timely and close-to-the-bone look at a grieving mother (Frances McDormand, in one of her best performances) demanding answers into the unsolved rape and muder of her teenage daughter in a town already primed to explode with racial tensions. While I think McDonagh bites off slightly more than he can chew, that doesn’t make the characters or their individual situations any less compelling. If there’s such a thing as a film being too timely for its own good, this is it.
- The Other Side of Hope
An overlapping, dryly comedic tale of a Syrian refugee and a down on his luck Finnish businessman trying to help each other out, The Other Side of Hope touches on a lot of themes that master filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki explored more insightfully in Le Havre, but they’re just as poignant, engaging, and hilarious here. No one does deadpan quite like Kaurismäki, and I doubt anyone ever will.
Bong Joon-Ho has never been a subtle filmmaker, and his works are always in danger of being overstuffed, but this allegorical, satirical, and daring story of a young woman and her “superpig” is like watching a home run derby. Everything hits exactly as it intends, even the over-the-top performances of Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal. It might not be as thoughtful and reflective as it might have been with a little more restraint, but it also gets points for refusing to be didactic or overly cynical, which is hard for a film pitched at this particularly high level of comic insanity and social commentary.
- Ingrid Goes West
Matt Spicer’s directorial debut is a #savage takedown of social media vapidity told through the eyes of one of the most memorable and unassuming looking stalkers of all time. Aubrey Plaza is given the role of her career, and Elizabeth Olsen, Billy Magnussen, and O’Shea Jackson Jr. give equally memorable supporting turns in this tale of an unhinged young woman who takes an unhealthy shine to her favourite Instagram #influencer. Conflicted and full of moral gray, it’s a bleak, deliciously catty dark comedy that unfolds under the California sunshine. #bless
- Chasing Coral
Jeff Orlowski’s follow-up to Chasing Ice isn’t just an environmental call to action in a bid to save coral before it goes extinct, but also a pointed look at how difficult it can be to document such a cause on a technical and political level. It’s impassioned, but it also looks directly at the passion it took to make such a film in the first place. It also has the single saddest moment in any documentary this year when the nicest man viewers are likely to see in a doc this year loses his faith in humanity before our very eyes. (Thankfully, there is some happiness after that point, though.)
- The Breadwinner
Animated filmmaker Nora Twomey continues her streak of exceptional work with her gorgeously realized and moving adaptation of Deborah Ellis’ novel of a young Afghan woman desperately trying to provide for her troubled family at the height of Taliban power. While kids will be able to relate to a lot of the themes and the messages of strength and family unity are easily accessible, this is also a riveting, poignant drama.
The feel bad movie of the year, Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyaginstev’s politically metaphorical tale of an imploding marriage escalates slowly and surely before turning into a thrilling look at guilt and grief. Chilly, acerbic, and confrontational, this isn’t the film to watch if you don’t want something to haunt you for the rest of the day.
- A Quiet Passion
Cynthia Nixon reaffirms her status as the most underrated and underestimated actress of the current era with her exemplary turn as Emily Dickinson in master filmmaker Terence Davies look at the writer’s life and times. While watching Davies tackle a rather standard (for his talents) biopic is slightly strange, Nixon and the director’s keen visual eye make this a memorable experience.
- In This Corner of the World
Sunao Katabuchi’s empathetic and epic animated drama looks at the scars left behind following the use of the atomic bomb by outlining the conflicted life of a young, married woman who had to live through everything leading up to the most historically pivotal moment of World War II. In This Corner of the World isn’t only the most underrated animated film of the year, but also one of the best period dramas of the year.
- I, Tonya
Craig Gillespie’s serio-comic look at the life and times of figure skater and pop culture punchline Tonya Harding shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. Vacillating at a moment’s notice between slapstick, satire, tragedy, mockumentary, and melodrama, it requires a delicate sort of hand to make it watchable, and the result is one of the strangest and most invigorating dark comedies of the year. It also helps that Margot Robbie (as Harding) and Allison Janney (as her foul mouthed mother) turn in some career best work here.
- Ex Libris: The New York Public Library
While this isn’t austere and rigorous documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s best effort, Ex Libris’ look behind the scenes of one of the largest library systems in the world is a beautiful long form ode to why these institutions are so important. It’s like going on a grown up field trip for bibliophiles who want to see where some of the magic comes from. It’s a cinematic force for good in the world that doesn’t have to try very hard to get a point across. The film existing is enough.
- The Beguiled
While many prefer when Sofia Coppola makes restrained films about rich dudes wrestling with malaise (Lost and Translation and Somewhere, both of which are grossly overrated), I prefer the films where she can cut loose, get a little nasty, and show some playfulness. The best example of Sofia’s wild and dark side since her unjustly overlooked Marie Antoinette is this year’s other collaboration between Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell (following The Killing of a Sacred Deer, making them the only on screen duo to appear on this list twice). This updating of Thomas Cullinan’s Civil War set novel and the problematic 1971 Clint Eastwood western of the same name is a subtle, slow building revenge film where no one is in the right and everything is a mess.
- The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
The first of the two movies on this list that I wrestled with including is the latest film from Noah Baumbach about vastly differently tempered siblings (Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Elizabeth Marvel, all giving the best performances they’ve ever given) coming together and pulling apart because of their complicated relationship to their father, played by Dustin Hoffman. One of Baumbach’s most assured effort (his best in years), it might be hard to sit through given everything that has come to light about Hoffman’s past, but I urge that if you can get past that, it’s definitely worth a watch.
There’s no single scene of sustained tension in a film more gut-wrenching in a film this year than the siege on the Algiers Motel in Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit. Wading into the moral and racial quagmire of the 1967 Detroit riots and a specific incident of disgusting police brutality, Bigelow finds great suspense, tension, and drama through sheer patience and willpower. Even after the incident (which takes up almost the entire middle hour of the film), Bigelow doesn’t speed things up to give the audience easy answers, depicting a longer search for justice and healing that continues to this day. Bigelow delivers one of the best directed films of the year.
Atlantic-Canadian filmmaker Ashley McKenzie makes the leap from shorts to features with this stunning, unflinching, and no bullshit look at a pair of struggling methadone addicts (Andrew Gillis and Bhreagh MacNeil, both in star making turns) repeatedly trying and failing to get back on their feet. Gorgeously shot and uniquely empathetic, McKenzie’s strong debut feature shows immeasurable promise for the future.
- Last Flag Flying
I’m convinced that many film critics and general audiences unnecessarily scoff when presented with films that deal with the traumas of returning home from a war if said film doesn’t have a showy, transformative performance at the heart of it. It happened last year with Ang Lee’s unnecessarily trashed Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and again this year with Jason Hall’s debut feature Thank You for Your Service (which just barely missed making this list). But the most overlooked of all of them is Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying, a tender look at three older soldiers trying to reconcile their feelings while burying the son of one of their own. Written off as “minor Linklater” by many lazier critics, Last Flag Flying is a road film where the road never ends. It’s a circle of pain and suffering that can only be broken occasionally by understanding and human kindness. This is a lovely, unjustly slept on film.
- Logan Lucky
The best caper films are the ones that get better and deeper the more times you watch them. Steven Soderbergh’s redneck heist flick Logan Lucky fits squarely into that category for me. Featuring the inspired quartet of Adam Driver, Channing Tatum, Riley Keough, and Daniel Craig as big dreaming criminals keen on robbing a speedway during a NASCAR race, Logan Lucky is an often hilarious, sweet, genuine, and smart crowd pleaser that might take more than a single viewing to fully appreciate. If the Coen Brothers ever wanted to stop making comedies that were endlessly referential to other movies that came before it and just have some fun for a change, they might have ended up with something a lot like this.
- Hello Destroyer
B.C. filmmaker Kevan Funk has said that his first full-length feature, Hello Destroyer, would have been about the military if it had been made in the U.S. and not about hockey. That comparison is evident almost from the first frames of this tragedy surrounding a top prospect hockey enforcer (a revelatory Jared Abrahamson) who gets excommunicated from the sport he devoted his life to because he dared to follow orders and do the job he was tasked and conditioned to perform. A subtle, detailed, and incrementally building character piece, Hello Destroyer showcases some of the best Canadian filmmaking of the century thus far. It’s a shot straight to the heart of nationalism everywhere.
- Baby Driver
I feel bad for Edgar Wright. After getting booted from his passion project of bringing Ant-Man to the screen by the Marvel hegemony, he manages to dust himself off and produce the best film of his career: a non-stop escapist action-comedy about a unique sort of getaway driver who wants to leave the criminal life behind for good. It’s lauded, praised, and actually becomes the highest grossing film of Wright’s career. It just has the misfortune of having Kevin Spacey in a large role, and right now it feels almost too soon to revisit Baby Driver, no matter its status as one of the superior pieces of entertainment produced by Hollywood this year. We just can’t have nice things. Also, if this isn’t nominated at the Oscars for Best Editing, the Academy members doing coming up with the nominees never watched the film.
- The Square
Confrontational almost to a deliberate fault, Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund sprawling and cheekily savage takedown of “polite” society and the art world feels like two separate films linked only by the connective tissue of actor Claes Bang’s central asshole art director. It’s a lot to take in, but exhaustion with the material is the whole point. Everything goes on too long to prove how ridiculous it is when people draw out material that’s overly serious. Low key hilarious, and one of the best overall performance pieces of the year.
- Good Time
It took me quite awhile to realize the genius of Josh and Bennie Safdie’s relentless, bleak, and kinetic thriller Good Time. When it first ended, this story of a career criminal (Robert Pattinson) racing through the streets of New York to scam enough cash to spring his brother from prison left me exhausted and even slightly outraged. But much like how exhaustion is part of The Square, that’s also the point of Good Time, a film that locks viewers in with an unlikable main character and lets the viewer watch him squirm. Also, those who doubt Pattinson’s chops as an actor, take note. He gives what I think is the best male performance in any film this year. Period.
Stepping well out of his normal comfort zone, director Todd Haynes’ adaptation of writer Brian Selznick’s overlapping tales of a young deaf boy in the 1970s and a young deaf girl from the silent era of cinema plays out like a gorgeous stripped down fairy tale told primarily through visuals instead of words. It’s not a silent film, but the words are secondary to the stimuli experienced by these kids. It’s a film aimed at young people that’s expressly about the nature of experience. It’s charming, heartfelt, and masterfully acted and produced. It will make you miss the days before the internet existed.
- Strong Island
Yance Ford’s deeply personal and intricately researched quest for answers into the death of her brother is all the proof viewers need that there’s something rotten in the American judicial system, and that prejudice is alive and well in a far from “woke” society. Brimming with hard questions and few answers, Ford’s moving and poignant work is like poking at a raw nerve for the whole world to see. And we need to see it.
- The Post
For all the ink that has been spilled thus far about Steven Spielberg’s latest film functioning as a shot straight to the heart of the Trump administration, The Post functions better on a thematic level when taken at face value. It’s a dutiful recreation of tensions running high at The Washington Post over whether or not to publish what they found within the notorious Pentagon Papers and how the war in Vietnam was basically a sham that cost thousands of soldiers their lives. Whether the film follows Tom Hanks’ take charge editor, Meryl Streep’s conflicted publisher, or Bob Odenkirk’s lead reporter, The Post shows the different layers of tension that go into breaking sensitive news. Nostalgic, perhaps, but also intricately detailed and impeccably produced.
- Phantom Thread
I need another viewing and more time to sit with the latest film from Paul Thomas Anderson. This could easily move ten slots up the list or ten slots down the list, hence its placement at lucky number 13. This tale of a toxic relationship between a rigorously focused British fashion designer (Daniel Day Lewis, in what might be his last performance) and the woman who loves him (Vicky Krieps) is either a damning portrait of male infantilism or a load of bullshit about how falling in love can destroy male genius. At either rate, it belongs somewhere on this list because of how compelling and delicately plotted the whole thing is. I’m not entirely convinced that Anderson knows what kind of film he has made – and even less certain that this is the right time to be releasing a film like this – but I was intrigued and take by Phantom Thread nonetheless.
- A Fantastic Woman
Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio’s best film to date, A Fantastic Woman features one of the best leading performances of the year. In the role of a transwoman struggling to move on with her life following the sudden death of her lover, Daniela Vega has a lot of heavy, dramatic lifting to do. Contenting with prejudice, familial infighting, and her own sense of loss, Vega’s character is the most well defined and sympathetic heroine of any film this year. Her pain is palpable and instantly relatable. She goes through hell, but there’s no main character viewers will want to cheer onto success harder than Marina Vidal.
- The Lost City of Z
Adapting a sprawling non-fiction novel dealing with intricate global politics and archaeology doesn’t sound like an easy task, and it certainly doesn’t sound like the kind of film that American auteur James Gray would excel at making. And yet, this reworking and tweaking of David Grann’s bestseller shows that not every film about worldly scientific types has to be a swashbuckling adventure to be compelling. Building to a conclusion that would be right at home in a Stanley Kubrick film (which is also in line with the book), Gray’s latest (and best) is an immersive experience in the best possible ways.
- John Wick: Chapter 2
There’s very little overlap between those who love violent action films and those who appreciate fine art. In some respects, I feel like the wildly fun and eye popping John Wick franchise was made just for me and a select handful of others. Keanu Reeves’ unstoppable, but moral mercenary inhabits an intricate world that would make for a perfect comic book series, but its visual and subtextual refinement is the kind of thing Matthew Vaughn has been trying and failing to do across two Kingsman films. I defy anyone to look at this film’s climactic cat and mouse shootout in a museum’s hall of mirrors exhibition and not recognize it as one of the best scenes in any film this year from a technical or narrative standpoint. It’s the perfect blend of going to the carnival, playing a video game, going to a museum, and going to the multiplex.
- Get Out
Outside of being a timely conversation starter, Jordan Peele’s chilling directorial debut has remained at the front of public consciousness since it opened at the start of the year for another key reason: it’s the best and most detailed screenplay for a horror movie in decades. A few pacing issues aside, Get Out is the kind of scary movie that hasn’t graced screens in ages: one that can be viewed scene by scene and analysed to a point where the viewer can spiral off into any number of discussions about history, race relations, capitalism, and politics. It’s a great thriller and a better satire, but there are few films this year as assured and direct as the one Peele has created. It’s going to be a near impossible act to follow, but here’s hoping he does.
- BPM: Beats Per Minute
The personal is political and the political is personal in Robin Campillo’s look at people with AIDS and HIV fighting for their lives while actively participating in protest against the homophobic French government as a part of the advocacy organization ACT UP in the 1990s. Campillo looks at how the group would stop at almost nothing to be heard and taken seriously, and also at the personal lives of some of the members with startling intimacy. Campillo and his wonderful cast always remind the viewers that these men and women are protesting not because of a mere injustice, but because they don’t want to die. There’s nothing more powerful than making a statement when one’s life is on the line, and Campillo’s film is a moving tribute to their bravery and dedication.
- After the Storm
Lots of critics of film and culture say that such and such a movie is “the film of the moment” or “the film we need right now.” I know I’ve been guilty of it once or twice, but rarer still is a film that can be brought out at any moment and comes with lessons on being a good and decent person that speak beyond the zeitgeist. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After the Storm, the tale of a man trying to make amends with his estranged son and ex-wife, is one such film. Told through subtle moments of revelation and reflection, After the Storm takes melodramatic material, plays it in a hyper-realistic fashion, and still manages to elicit swelling emotions without being overwrought. Not every film where a main character has an epiphany about life has to be played to the hilt, and the latest from one of our best living master directors is proof of that.
- Faces, Places
There are few things more eye opening and life affirming than spending time in the presence of two (relatively) like minded artists collaborating and enjoying each other’s company. While some darkness seeps through the cracks of veteran filmmaker Agnes Varda and photographic artist JR’s otherwise lighthearted road trip, this film serves as a splendid reminder that there’s beauty in everything if you choose to look for it.
- The Big Sick
Proof that a film can be hilarious, tear-jerking, and crowd pleasing without being hokey and clichéd, comedian, writer, and star Kumail Nanjiani mines his one of his own traumatic experiences (with the help of his real life partner Emily V. Gordon as co-writer) for one of the most original, yet comforting and loving films of the year. Not so much a romantic comedy as it is a film about familial togetherness, The Big Sick offers plenty of laughs, but realistic depictions of everyday people undergoing stressful trials through uncharted emotional territory. The world needs more films like The Big Sick, where the characters and their relationships to one another are greater and more meaningful than the story itself.
- Brigsby Bear
I don’t think this has ever happened to me, but ten minutes after watching Brigsby Bear and thinking back on how lovely it was, I burst into uncontrollable tears on my walk home. Handily one of the most complex and life affirming films of the year, it’s proof that sometimes that the world is not a cold, dead place despite the prevalence of terrible people doing terrible things. More than just another comedy about misfits trying to make a low budget movie on their own, it’s one of the most realistic and thoughtful discussions on the nature of long term trauma recover that I’ve ever seen. It’s also, to steal a phrase from Kyle Mooney’s main character, “dope as shit.”
- Call Me by Your Name
Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name is a nuanced, perceptive, intricately realized tale about the perils of young love, budding sexuality, and inter-generational relationships. Expertly performed, gorgeously photographed, and boasting one of the best scripts ever penned by the estimable James Ivory (adapting André Aciman’s bestselling novel), there aren’t enough superlatives in the world to convey its delicacy and emotional intelligence. It’s also so subtle of a film that using too many superlatives feels gauche and trite. Boosted by great performances from Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, it’s a film where even the smallest of objects and details hold great significance. It’s the definition of a film that doesn’t waste a single breath, word, or shot.
- The Florida Project
Sean Baker’s look at the lives of marginalized American families forced by circumstance and economics to live in a fleabag motel in the shadow of Orlando’s Magic Kingdom could have gone horribly and offensively wrong. What could have been a sickly piece of “poverty porn” with precocious kids and messages espousing the triumph of the human spirit is instead a fully lived in, on the ground dramatic experience. Far from being a documentary on the subject, but not that far off from the truth, Baker and his cast float episodically through various moments of existence and influence to depict human life, warts and all. Sometimes it’s tough to stomach, and Baker is constantly daring the viewer to look away, but material at this level needs to be confrontational if we ever want to have a conversation about these themes in our own world.
- Lady Bird
My top choice for film of the year always comes with some sort of personal attachment, and this year’s number one isn’t any different. With her first solo feature, Greta Gerwig has created a portrait of coming of age at the turn of the century that’s immediately identifiable to anyone who lived through it and understandably explained in subtle ways for anyone who didn’t. I knew people who lived through a lot of what Saoirse Ronan’s titular teen goes through. I have been friends with them, dated them, butted heads with them, and I have also been one of them. Every character – even the most seemingly inconsequential – in Gerwig’s story has a clear set of boundaries and dreams that are getting stepped on or unrealized. They all have to come to a sense of happiness on their own, and it’s never easy. Every scene of Lady Bird could be spun off into its own feature length story, which is what makes it so brilliant to behold and a lot to take in at once. There’s not a false note in the film, and if you suspect that something rings hollow, I guarantee you know at least a handful of people who would argue otherwise.
Thanks to everyone who read this far, and on behalf of all of us at The GATE, I want to wish you a happy holiday season and a joyous start to 2018.