No franchise action hero or movie star was as prominent throughout the year as the theme of nuclear families in danger of destroying each other. Sons killed fathers, fathers killed sons — and those are mostly the comedies. Could it be that artists are in a mood?
Or maybe it’s the crowd. It wasn’t really a banner year at the box office for big-time comedy, with Girls Trip the only live-action hit to clear the $100-million mark for ticket sales. The superhero parade continued, and the heroes shouldered some of the laughs that movies have been missing, as did a stellar class of indie and foreign films. Most surprising, filmmakers around the world seemed to invest boundless hope in old-fashioned romance, from The Big Sick to God’s Own Country.
Love stories are great, and not much was truly terrible (with the exception of that lurid sins-of-the-father thriller The Snowman, starring Michael Fassbender). But even that was the kind of bad that Bad-Movie lovers live for, just as the year’s most divisive film, Darren Aronofsky’s lunatic Mother!, offered the undeniable pleasure of J-Law’s plugged-in performance in the midst of utter narrative chaos. That pleasure was, of course, emphatically deniable to some — hence, this entirely subjective list of the year’s ten best films.
10. RAW — Morbid and sexy, writer-director Julia Ducournau’s feminist horror film is just unhinged enough to avoid being as sadistically disturbing as one of its clear antecedents, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. That’s fine, since the humor and curated cool allow a closer view of the violently complicated relationship between sisters Justine (Garance Marillier) and Alex (Ella Rumpf). The veterinary school classmates develop a taste for the same stud, Adrian (Rabah Nait Oufella), who happens to be gay. They also share an appetite for flesh, which gets in the way of sisters just looking out for each other in this rare enjoyable cannibal horror flick.
9. Suburbicon — This pitch-black comedy was virtually ignored by the autumn moviegoing crowd, despite A-list stars, director George Clooney, and a script by the Coen brothers, who are a brand unto themselves. The film also took a licking from critics, who complained that Clooney weighed down what should have been a murderous romp with too-obvious messaging about red-vs-blue politics and racial tension. How could the filmmakers have known when they shot the film’s ’50s-set race rallies that real-life Nazis and the Klan would be marching on a Virginia college campus just weeks before the movie opened? If Suburbicon‘s message is that standing with your neighbors against bigotry is a more worthwhile pursuit than whacking your wife, then at least its macabre heart is in the right place. Also, Matt Damon and child actor Noah Jupe have a great thing going as father and son turned from adoring to adversarial. (Full review.)
8. Call Me By Your Name — Director Luca Guadagnino’s sumptuous Italy-set love story would be exceptional just for the electric connection that star Timothée Chalamet establishes onscreen in tandem with every member of the cast he meets, particularly his love interest, played by Armie Hammer. What really sets the film apart is the design, care, and craft employed to create a world so fertile with hope and knowledge that an audience can trust that even pain will bear the fruit of wisdom. It’s a beautiful trip to a lazy ’80s summer of long afternoon lunches and hot evening swims, where mom and dad encourage a kid to seize the day. Chalamet absolutely seizes his moment at the head of this year’s class of breakout acts.
7. Thor: Ragnarok — Light on backstory and paved with almost all fresh road, at least for the casual comic book moviegoer, Thor: Ragnarok should be the film future generations watch to understand this 21st century explosion of superhero cinema, if they still give a damn what we thought about anything. While this spring’s Logan had gravitas and the panache of an old school Western, and summer’s Wonder Woman had urgency and the charismatic Gal Gadot, Thor managed to shove all that entertainment, plus the Hulk and Cate Blanchett and her enormous CGI antlers, under one roof. Not even Spidey’s triumphant solo return in Spider-Man: Homecoming could match such a feat of exuberant escape. Godspeed, Avenger. (Full review.)
6. A Fantastic Woman — One can readily imagine the b.s. and bureaucracy any woman might face navigating the unfortunate logistics of wrapping up a deceased lover’s final affairs. But for a woman to have to confront the loved one’s doctors and business associates and exes and family, without the benefit of a marriage certificate or a will or any legal standing for her relationship to the deceased other than her word for it, is a nightmare not even Kafka could imagine. In the funny, suspenseful, intense, and truthful A Fantastic Woman, unassuming waitress Marina finds herself in this predicament, one made exponentially harder by the fact that she’s transgender. As portrayed by the magnetic trans actress Daniela Vega, Marina must fight as much for her right to exist, as for her right to the life she shared with her dead lover, Orlando (Francisco Reyes). The film builds organically to a catharsis of anger and honesty that will have audiences cheering for Marina.
5. Get Out — Frightening and funny, and somehow even more frightening for being so funny, Jordan Peele’s hit horror film wasn’t like peering through the looking glass of racial unrest in America. It was like crashing through the looking glass, landing in the sunken place of understanding, and finding yourself stuck there, screaming to get out. Peele wasn’t so unlikely a source for a zeitgeist-riding hit with racial undertones, given the clever satire of his and partner Keegan Michael Key’s former sketch show Key and Peele. But it still marks an astounding debut, at the box office and for a horror movie of cultural relevance, featuring an ensemble full of fine actors. The cast was led by another young star enjoying a breakout year, Daniel Kaluuya, whose brilliant performance totally captured the WTF scariness of all of 2017.
4. I, Tonya — There are as many villains as there are victims in the brutal comedy I, Tonya, the Fargo of figure skating. A story told from many perspectives, director Craig Gillespie’s film gleefully breaks the fourth wall and all sorts of other rules, driven by Steven Rogers’ razor-sharp script and a trio of wonderful performances. Margot Robbie is shattering as the erstwhile U.S. champion Harding, Allison Janney is savage as Harding’s vicious mom, LaVona, and Sebastian Stan has never been better as Harding’s dopey, abusive husband, Jeff Gillooly, who orchestrated the bumbling conspiracy that effectively ended Harding’s skating career. That last detail might have seemed like just the period at the end of a national joke to everybody else, but losing the chance to skate meant the world to Tonya Harding. It ends up meaning the world in this riveting biopic-meets-procedural orchestrated by Gillespie, whose unnecessary Fright Night remake nevertheless turned out not bad. That movie was a mere double loop jump compared to this triple-axel film achievement.
3. Mudbound — Earthy, warm, and real, like the Mississippi farmers and sharecroppers it depicts, filmmaker Dee Rees’ period drama Mudbound gets under the skin. Tracking all the ways this land has changed, while remaining in some of the worst ways the same, this story of two struggling families presents haunting visions of ugliness, but never forgets to revel in beauty. A shower in the yard at sunset, a bite of chocolate enjoyed at the end of a hard day, a quick dance around the room with a beloved spouse — for every facet of doom revealed in Mudbound‘s Delta, Rees and her superb cast highlight some beautiful aspect of life that binds these families to each other, to the land, and to the nation’s collective past. (Full review.)
2. Dunkirk — A handsomely funded experimental filmmaker, Christopher Nolan invents new ways to visualize being submerged inside a sinking ship in this harrowing wartime adventure. Nolan depicts the massive, and massively complicated, evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Allied troops off with magnificent clarity and spontaneity. What mind-blowing planning it must require for any moment in a movie the size of a battleship to seem spontaneous. On several planes of story, the movie conveys the human toll of war, in lives and fear, in heroic last stands or desperate acts of self-preservation. Those men made it out, the film seems to say, and may no soldier ever have to return. (Full review.)
1. Let It Fall: L.A. 1982-1992 — At the risk of repeating an earlier argument, Let It Fall is the documentary that might help future generations truly understand what happened to cause all hell to break loose one spring in America’s second-largest city. Directed by Oscar-winner John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), this fast-paced, comprehensive look at the L.A. riots, or, in the film’s parlance, the L.A. Uprising, produces pointed testimony — via fresh interviews, stock footage, and well-edited news clips — from witnesses to every side of the events and those that precipitated the chaos. From cops at the scene of the Rodney King beating, to saviors and violent aggressors amidst the storm of looting and lawlessness that overtook the city when those cops were acquitted, everyone who knows anything gets a word in here. And yet, the film as a whole speaks one opinion clearly: it was all avoidable.
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