With a few weeks left before what has quite loudly morphed into the most unpredictable Oscars in years, it’s finally time to take stock of what we had in 2017 at the cinema.
In brevi: It was an astounding dichotomy of auteurs operating – or continuing to operate – at the height of their powers (Guillermo Del Toro, Paul Thomas Anderson, Denis Villeneuve) and first-time directors yielding surprise gems and excitement for the future of film (Greta Gerwig, Jordan Peele).
In a year that ended with Hollywood beginning to form a new identity – the result of which may not be evident on the big screen until at least 2019 – it also gave us much to cry, scream and ponder about in the theater.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that in the months following an incredibly epic and incredibly awkward Best Picture win by “Moonlight” – itself a eulogy to identity and the winding road it can personify itself as – some of 2017’s best movies featured heroes, villains and everyday characters grappling with theirs.
Sometimes it involved busting out a move at an impromptu dance party in Italy, other times it was shedding your identity for the entertainment of others.
And, at other times still, it involved fish sex. 2017 truly had it all.
Adding to the sea of similar pieces that represent closing a chapter and opening a new one more than anything of actual substance, here is this film critic’s top 10 films of the year.
1. “Phantom Thread”
Simultaneously engrossing, mystifying and deliciously realized, watching Paul Thomas Anderson’s enigma of a period romance has more in common with, well, anything else PTA has done than, say, “Atonement.”
It may represent the end of an iconic career for Daniel Day-Lewis, but “Phantom” is also just as much a coming-out celebration for Luxembourg actress Vicky Krieps – who matches Day-Lewis and Lesley Manville (both up for Oscars in March) every step of the way.
Witnessing Reynolds’s and Alma’s strange, budding romance against the backdrop of an immaculate Johnny Greenwood score and the claustrophobic House of Woodcock is tenser than you’d expect, but just as tantalizing when you remember the perennially standard-raising director at the helm.
2. “Call Me By Your Name”
This year’s best love letter to “Moonlight” for no bigger reason other than, much like Barry Jenkins’s masterpiece, Luca Guadagnino’s portrait of a gay relationship in northern Italy unfolds like poetry. And if there are any seams in its erotically woven canvas, they are nearly impossible to be found.
Whether the success of “Call Me” results in an Armie Hammeraissance remains to be seen, but it also gave audiences – as part of an impeccably timed three-headed beast along with “Lady Bird” and “Hostiles” – the ultracool Timothee Chalamet in a role that is singularly pervading and heartbreaking.
You won’t be able to eat meals inside anymore after this film, and you won’t be able to soon forget Chalamet’s multilingual, infinitely multidimensional turn. If you manage to, you still have Michael Stuhlbarg’s creeping tearjerker of a final monologue to endure.
3. “Lady Bird”
Uniquely transcendent and all-encompassing, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut harkens back to 2002-era Sacramento in a way that makes it seem like we all lived there.
Saoirse Ronan is a powerhouse as the northern Californian high school senior looking to escape to the East Coast, but the trials and tribulations of senior year is almost an entire character on its own (as you most likely will remember, dear reader).
It’s a powerful teacher of a film, a midnight dip into the snack cabinet and absolutely everything in between.
From my review: “The irony that all of Lady Bird’s hijinks – imagine her as Juno with a touch of Joan Jett – unfolds against the backdrop of a Catholic school in a world that has just experienced the horrors of 9/11 never plays itself dry. Communion wafers are eaten like Pringles (‘It’s OK, they’re not consecrated yet.’), and only Gerwig could make an opening sequence sprinkled with Bible readings and ‘amens’ so endearing.”
4. “Get Out”
A social-thriller darling purely of the moment, “Get Out” placed Jordan Peele solidly on the Hollywood map seemingly before we realized he was even going there. It’s a cinematic collage of already iconic scenes and sequences, and a dark comedy well worth its weight in creepy tea-stirring and allegory.
“Get Out” has all the ingredients not only for one of the best movie-going experiences of the year, but to also make a heavyweight claim as what will go down as 2017’s most relevant film decades down the road.
Whatever film history’s version of The Sunken Place is, Peele’s first film is not destined to be imprisoned in it.
From my review: “‘Get Out’ is suspenseful in ways we’ve seen countless times before, but Peele has such a talent for interweaving searing, smart satire wherever he can that there are several moments that invite both feelings of tension and laughter.”
Illuminated by a deeply embedded coda of violent and undeniable eroticism, this French gem about cannibalistic vices is as rebellious as much as it feels like essential coming-of-age viewing.
It’s horrifying, on the obvious levels, to watch veterinary school freshman Justine (an astounding Garance Marillier) tear into a severed human finger for the first time. But director-writer Julia Ducournau ensures there’s a tinge of uneasy familiarity to the whole affair as well – we’ve most likely tried new things that are just as batshit crazy in college, didn’t we?
6. “Blade Runner 2049”
It’s been decades since a major studio produced a piece of sci-fi so non-mainstream (in all the best ways) and it may be decades before it happens again, if the final box office numbers of “2049” tragically have anything to say about it.
Director Denis Villeneuve effortlessly kept his hot streak going with an engrossing, almost overwhelmingly realized noir-dystopia world that has as much to say about what it means to be human as it does about pushing the limits of film’s ability to hijack our senses and run wild with them.
From my review: “It’s an atmosphere that is downright intoxicating in its futuristic dreariness, and a world that – from a technical level – provided me with a more memorable sense of awe than James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’; an environment that, like K, is grasping onto a sense of what it means to be human, and grappling with how being human has changed over the previous 30 years.”
7. “Baby Driver”
Edgar Wright’s latest effort was destined to be a hit from the start.
An action musical with all the intensity and charm that one would expect that pairing of words to deliver, “Baby Driver” is both incredibly cathartic in its use of mostly-slightly-obscure rock jams and in its underlying love letter to that great pastime of simply turning on your car and hitting the road.
8. “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond”
Who says the Hollywood life is the easy life?
In Netflix’s unexpectedly revelatory documentary, Jim Carrey is starkly honest and uncomfortably intimate about his tendency to get lost in some of the cinema’s most iconic characters of the ’90s.
The ironic parallels between Carrey’s and Andy Kaufman’s so-freaking-out-there-we-just-laughed-it-off performative jaunts aren’t lost by one iota, and even less so is the disturbing truth about how far entertainers will go just to get a few laughs and smiles from you, me and the rest of an otherwise unassuming audience.
Frenetic and rarely ever pausing to take a breath (we can thank another iconic Hans Zimmer score for that), Christopher Nolan’s near-wordless WWII epic is a masterclass in assailing our senses senseless.
It’s more than just a technical work of artistry. “Dunkirk” has the balls – for better or for worse – to hone in on an aspect of war that often goes too understated in film. As one of the most powerful forces in existence, war doesn’t discriminate about who is in its way when ships drown and bombs scream through the sky, marking it as even more of a triumph when even a single teen soldier endures through the chaos.
From my review: “Dunkirk is perhaps a more realistic vision of the how the boys sent off to fight in WWII – many of them teenagers – were never truly equipped for what they’d experience. The concept of home itself means as much to them as air; survival itself is a victory. By telling the story in a way that is so matter-of-fact, Nolan has found a way to perhaps pays as much homage to the soldiers as a studio film made 80 years later possibly can.”
10. “The Shape of Water”
Guillermo del Toro’s most cinematic tale is also his most timely. Sally Hawkins gives one of the standout, can’t-take-your-eyes-off-her performances of the year as she signs, dances and (spoiler) sings through corners of del Toro’s mind that are more supremely human than anything he’s ever done before.
The more he twists the archetypes of the classical love story, the more he fine-tunes a contemporary definition of love for an increasingly tolerant world, and it’s a beautiful and completely satisfying romance to watch unfold.
From my review: “Like many of his films, it’s impossible to imagine “Shape of Water” being pulled off as well by any other director. It dips its webbed feet into about 10 different genres – most notably noir, suspense, romance and horror, to name a few – and manages to effortlessly glide through each of their waters.
Best of the rest: “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” “Coco,” “The Disaster Artist,” “Darkest Hour,” “mother!,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “I, Tonya,” “Okja.”
Thanks for reading, and here’s to 2018 *champagne glasses clink emoji*