The 50 Best Movies of 2017

Movies Lists Best Of 2017
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disaster-artist-poster.jpg 25. The Disaster Artist
Director:   James Franco  
To tackle the ineffable mystery of Tommy Wiseau’s consciousness is to understand the mind of a crocodile, or of a shark, or of a space alien. I wouldn’t even know where to start. Which is precisely what makes James Franco’s portrayal of Wiseau in The Disaster Artist such an impressive and triumphant one. Franco has physically transformed into Wiseau in the same manner that usually draws praise for an actor such as Daniel Day Lewis: not necessarily via hair or makeup, but in a way that is more primal and intimate. Every odd little tic, every awkward laugh, each inexplicable grimace—the gestures all shine through as genuine to anyone who has seen The Room, or even an interview with Wiseau. The portrayal is a huge part of what makes The Disaster Artist so compelling and just plain fun. You could make a good argument that this is the greatest role of Franco’s career. And even if The Disaster Artist reads like it’s positioning for a shot at year-end honors and the largest possible audience, fans of The Room will ultimately get far more from the experience than the average multiplex dweller. It’s a film to see with an audience familiar with what it’s about to see, with people who can appreciate the dedication with which Franco and co. have recreated so many of the original film’s woeful charm. —Jim Vorel / Full Review


graduation-movie-poster.jpg 24. Graduation
Director: Cristian Mungiu
The crimes are minor but it’s the misdemeanors that do the most harm in Graduation, an excellent Romanian drama that begins as a father’s hope for his talented teen daughter and morphs into a claustrophobic moral crisis ensnaring several individuals. Writer-director Cristian Mungiu lays out his story with nearly surgical precision, adopting a chilly tone for a movie about the tiny, day-to-day infractions that conspire to corrode society’s foundation. This is the fourth feature from Mungiu, who has proved to be a master of the minor. In his breakout second feature, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, the arduous process to secure an abortion was enough to sustain a taut, real-time thriller. In his 2012 follow-up Beyond the Hills, the tense relationship between two childhood friends became a springboard for a drama about religious faith and devotion. Now with Graduation, Mungiu again sees the drama in the everyday, arguing that it’s not the major injustices that are the most nefarious—it’s the small ways we screw over the other guy on a regular basis that keep us so paranoid and distrustful of one another. Rarely has cheating on a test been fraught with such significance. —Tim Grierson / Full Review


colossal-movie-poster.jpg 23. Colossal
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Colossal is simply a much darker, more serious-minded film than one could possibly go in expecting, judging from the marketing materials and rather misleading trailers. It blooms into a story about sacrifice and martyrdom, while simultaneously featuring an array of largely unlikable characters who are not "good people" in any measurable way. I understand that description sounds at odds with itself—this film is often at odds with itself. But in the cognitive dissonance this creates, it somehow finds a streak of feminist individuality and purpose it couldn’t have even attempted to seek as a straight-up comedy. What Nacho Vigalondo has created in Colossal is a truly unusual, sometimes head-scratching aberration, a film with tonal shifts so jarring that the audience’s definition of its genre is likely to change repeatedly in the course of watching it. Aspects of the film defy explanation, but one thing is clear: Nobody was stifling the writer-director, and we’ve been given one of the most interesting films of 2017. Vigalondo takes aim at the cliches of film festival dramas before smashing them under a giant, monstrous foot. —Jim Vorel / Full Review


logan-poster.jpg 22. Logan
Director: James Mangold
The first word in Logan is "fuck"—perhaps you’re thinking that sounds somehow in the same tonal wheelhouse as, say, Deadpool, but in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth. What Logan is defies easy categorization. I struggle to even call it a "superhero movie," or an "X-Men movie." If it is one, then it’s quite easily the most uniquely disparate X-Men movie ever made, asking audiences to quickly cast away any expectations of how an X-Men movie might look, sound and feel. Yes, one might call it a "superhero movie" in the sense that it, you know, has superheroes in it, but it would be similar to describing Saving Private Ryan as "that movie where Tom Hanks plays an English teacher." In short, this is quite the departure for Marvel’s first family of mutants and it’s difficult even now to comprehend how a mass audience processed Logan. Were they be wowed by its ultra-gory, visceral action and supremely gritty, nihilistic vision of a future where entropy has seemingly conquered all? Or were they be unnerved by its often oppressive dourness, humorless nature and patience in lingering in the quiet moments? The differences between this film and the tone of The Avengers could scarcely be more profound. Ultimately, Logan’s ambition is to present itself with a weight of gravitas that isn’t entirely earned, considering the history of the character. It will doubtlessly frustrate some of the Everyman cinema-goers who perceive its middle chapters as slow, or who criticize the 135-minute run-time, but I expect patient viewers will appreciate the way it allows its characters to breathe and wallow in moments of vulnerability. It’s not a film calculated to be a people-pleaser, but it is an appropriately intense end to a character defined by the tenacity and ferocity of a wolverine. —Jim Vorel / Full Review


sacred-deer-movie-poster.jpg 21. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
In the uncanny valley of a Yorgos Lanthimos film, characters resemble human beings…but not entirely. In movies such as Dogtooth and The Lobster, the Greek writer-director has become a maestro of the queasy/funny horror-comedy, turning our universal anxieties into psychologically rich satires in which life’s mundane surfaces give way to dark, often bloody realities we don’t want to acknowledge. His movies are funny because they’re so shocking and disturbing because they’re so true. But for them to really soar, their provocations need to be grounded in recognizable behavior, which gives Lanthimos a foundation to then stretch his extreme stories past their breaking point. With his latest, we see what happens when his underlying ideas are not as complex as the intricacies of his execution. The Killing of a Sacred Deer reunites Lanthimos with his Lobster star Colin Farrell, who plays Steven, a cardiologist, who’s married to an ophthalmologist, Anna (Nicole Kidman). They have two children, teen Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and her younger brother Bob (Sunny Suljic). It would be hard to describe their personalities because, in typical Lanthimos fashion, they don’t really have any. Quickly, Sacred Deer introduces us to the fly in this particular ointment. His name is Martin (Barry Keoghan), a moody teen who seems as lobotomized as the other characters. There’s one crucial difference, though: He has befriended Steven for reasons that feel sinister but will only eventually become clear, and he keeps insinuating himself into the man’s world. It wouldn’t be much fun to reveal where Sacred Deer goes from there, but Sacred Deer may be Lanthimos’s most visually and sonically ambitious work—technically, it’s pristine—clever without ever quite deciding precisely what it’s about. —Tim Grierson / Full Review


baby-driver-poster.jpg 20. Baby Driver
Director:   Edgar Wright  
Baby Driver is a sugar missile of endorphins aimed directly at the movie dork’s pleasure center, a film that is so eager to get you on its candy-crush wavelength that resistance doesn’t just seem futile, but downright uncharitable. This is nothing you haven’t seen before—I’ve seen it joked that Baby Driver is sort of a YA Drive—and I suspect Wright’s fully aware of that. This movie is all about sensation, about grooving on the very specific but unquestionably catchy hook Wright has laid down for you. The movie is wall-to-wall music, seemingly taken straight from Wright’s own iPod, and his enthusiasm is infectious. We’ve all imagined ourselves, while walking down the street listening to the music in our ears at maximum volume, in a private movie of our own creation, and it is quiet the achievement of Wright to have essentially made that movie real. —Will Leitch / Full Review


wonder-woman-poster.jpg 19. Wonder Woman
Director: Patty Jenkins
Considering that the character of Wonder Woman was the only one in Batman v Superman who didn’t want to yank your eyeballs out of your head with a spork, it perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that Wonder Woman is lightyears better than anything else the newfangled DC cinematic universe has produced. It’s not quieter necessarily, but it is more measured, more comfortable in its own skin, less fanboy desperate to keep waving keys in front of your face—exploding keys—to make sure it has the full attention of all your assaulted senses. It feels almost old-fashioned in its themes of the goodness of humanity—and the debate alien outsiders have about whether or not humans are worthy of redemption—and the selflessness of one for a greater good. It still has too many skyscraper-sized god-monsters blowing up whole acres in hackneyed super slo-mo, and it doesn’t have much you haven’t seen before, but that it simply tells one story in linear order with logical progression…man, when it comes to these movies, it almost feels like a miracle. —Will Leitch / Full Review


mother-movie-poster.jpg 18. mother!
Director:   Darren Aronofsky  
Try as you might to rationalize Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, mother! does not accept rationalization. There’s little reasonable ways to construct a single cohesive interpretation of what the movie tries to tell us. There is no evidence of Aronosfky’s intention beyond what we’ve intuited from watching his films since the ’90s—as well as how often Aronofsky loves to talk about his own work, which is usually worth avoiding, because Aronofsky likes thinking the movie is about everything. The most ironclad comment you can make about mother! is that it’s basically a matryoshka doll layered with batshit insanity. Unpack the first, and you’re met immediately by the next tier of crazy, and then the next, and so on, until you’ve unpacked the whole thing and seen it for what it is: A spiritual rumination on the divine ego, a plea for environmental stewardship, an indictment of entitled invasiveness, an apocalyptic vision of America in 2017, a demonstration of man’s tendency to leech everything from the women they love until they’re nothing but a carbonized husk, a very triggering reenactment of the worst house party you’ve ever thrown. mother! is a kitchen sink movie in the most literal sense: There’s an actual kitchen sink here, Aronofsky’s idea of a joke, perhaps, or just a necessarily transparent warning. mother!, though, is about everything. Maybe the end result is that it’s also about nothing. But it’s really about whatever you can yank out of it, its elasticity the most terrifying thing about it. —Andy Crump


thor-ragnarok-movie-poster.jpg 17. Thor: Ragnarok
Director: Taika Waititi
Sixteen films and nearly a decade into the MCU—and in the midst of a renaissance/deluge of superhero movies in general—it’s not unusual to encounter some grumbling about both Marvel Studios and even the genre itself. You’ll find plenty of folks who bemoan its formulaic approach to plotlines, the overall weakness of its villains and lack of female heroes getting their due. Starting with Edgar Wright’s departure from Ant-Man, there was also the rapidly accepted conventional wisdom that Marvel Studios was not the place for any director wishing to put his or her stamp on a franchise. Then along comes Thor: Ragnarok. The third film in the arguably least-loved franchise of Kevin Feige and company’s box office-melting enterprise, it’s also the liveliest, funniest and "loosest" film of the bunch (and that includes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2). Much, if not all of this can be credited to director Taika Waititi, who seems determined to mine every ounce of comedy—be it physical, situational or conversational—from a tale that’s both rollicking buddy movie and retelling of the least uplifting tale in all of Norse mythos. Given the source material and the director’s track record, I’m not surprised there was plenty of ammo for Waititi or how well he used it—I’m just shocked and delighted he was allowed to use it in the first place. —Michael Burgin / Full Review


lost-city-of-z-poster.jpg 16. The Lost City of Z
Director: James Gray
James Gray’s The Lost City of Z is an anti-period movie. In the vein of The Immigrant, Gray’s glorious last film, Z is fascinated with its milieu (this time we begin across the Atlantic in Blighty, from 1906 to 1925) and luxuriously adorned with period detail—but the strangulated social climate and physically claustrophobic spaces of its ostensibly sophisticated Western society make that environment appear totally unappealing. Only once we reach the Amazon, untainted by Western hands, does the film relax, its beguiling score and open-air scenery turning inviting. There, in a land of uncomplicated tribes and indifferent wilderness, a man like soldier and explorer Major Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) can find freedom from the narrow-mindedness infecting early 20th century Britain. Darius Khondji’s cinematography doesn’t just complement Gray’s movie, it deepens its meaning, strengthening the appeal of Fawcett’s jungle, endlessly verdant and mysterious where home in England appears dull and monotone. Every frame is sumptuous and misty-eyed, always pining for a lost era when adventurers might still find corners of the Earth completely untouched. (Gray may show little love for Empire, but he depicts colonial exploration in itself as a romantic adventure.) The film doesn’t make for much complexity, but it feels deeply. Like Fawcett, it aches—like his obsession, the jungle, it envelops, casting a lasting spell. —Brogan Morris / Full Review


last-jedi-movie-poster.jpg 15. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Director: Rian Johnson
The Last Jedi, unlike its predecessor, has the freedom to be daring, and perhaps the most thrilling thing about it—and there are many, many thrilling things—is how abundantly it takes advantage of that freedom. If The Force Awakens was basically just Star Wars told again in a new, but familiar way, The Last Jedi challenges the audience, challenges the Star Wars mythos, even challenges the whole damned series itself. It blows the universe up to rebuild it; it is a continuation and a new beginning. And more than anything else, it goes places no Star Wars film has ever dreamed of going. In a way, the success J.J. Abrams had with The Force Awakens, particularly how decidedly fan-servicey it was, laid the groundwork for what The Last Jedi is able to pull off. That movie reminded you how much power and primal force this series still had. This movie is an even more impressive magic trick: It uses that power and force to connect you to something larger. Not everything in The Last Jedi works perfectly, but even its few missteps are all founded in the desire for something new, to take risks, to push an American myth into uncomfortable new directions. —Will Leitch / Full Review


good-time-poster.jpg 14. Good Time
Directors: Josh and Benny Safdie
The hero of Good Time is one of the canniest individuals in recent cinema, which might seem like an odd thing to say about a scummy lowlife who screws up a bank heist in the film’s opening reels. But don’t underestimate Connie: Several of the people who cross his path make that mistake, and he gets the better of them every time. Connie is played by Robert Pattinson in a performance so locked-in from the first second that it shoots off an electric spark from the actor to the audience: Just sit back, he seems to be telling us. I’ve got this under control. The financially strapped character lives in Queens, unhappy that his mentally challenged brother Nick (Benny Safdie) is cooped up in a facility that, Connie believes, doesn’t do enough to help him. Impulsively, Connie strong-arms Nick into helping him rob a bank. They make off with thousands of dollars, but what they don’t realize is that they live in the real world, not a movie. A paint bomb goes off in their bag, staining the money and the criminals’ clothes. Shaken and trying not to panic, Connie and Nick abandon their getaway car, quickly raising the suspicion of some nearby cops, who chase down Nick. Connie escapes, determined to get his brother out of jail—either through bail money or other means. As Connie, Pattinson is shockingly vital and present, unabashedly throwing himself into any situation. Following their star’s lead, the filmmakers deliver a jet-fueled variation on their usual intricate exploration of New York’s marginalized citizens. Good Time features no shootouts or car chases—there isn’t a single explosion in the whole film. The Safdies and Pattinson don’t need any of that. Like Connie, they thrive on their wits and endless inventiveness—the thrill comes in marveling at how far it can take them. —Tim Grierson / Full Review


it-comes-at-night-poster.jpg 13. It Comes at Night
Director: Trey Edward Shults
It Comes at Night is ostensibly a horror movie, moreso than Shults’s debut, Krisha, but even Krisha was more of a horror movie than most measured family dramas typically are. Perhaps knowing this, Shults calls It Comes at Night an atypical horror movie, but—it’s already obvious after only two of these—Shults makes horror movies to the extent that everything in them is laced with dread, and every situation suffocated with inevitability. For his sophomore film, adorned with a much larger budget than Krisha and cast with some real indie star power compared to his previous cast (of family members doing him a solid), Shults imagines a near future as could be expected from a somber flick like this. A "sickness" has ravaged the world and survival is all that matters for those still left. In order to keep their shit together enough to keep living, the small group of people in Shults’s film have to accept the same things the audience does: That important characters will die, tragedy will happen and the horror of life is about the pointlessness of resisting the tide of either. So it makes sense that It Comes at Night is such an open wound of a watch, pained with regret and loss and the mundane ache of simply existing: It’s trauma as tone poem, bittersweet down to its bones, a triumph of empathetic, soul-shaking movie-making. —Dom Sinacola / Full Review


personal-shopper-poster.jpg 12. Personal Shopper
Director: Olivier Assayas
The pieces don’t all fit in Personal Shopper, but that’s much of the fun of writer-director Olivier Assayas’s enigmatic tale of Maureen (Kristen Stewart, a wonderfully unfathomable presence), who may be in contact with her dead twin brother. Or maybe she’s being stalked by an unseen assailant. Or maybe it’s both. To attempt to explain the direction Personal Shopper takes is merely to regurgitate plot points that don’t sound like they belong in the same film. But Assayas is working on a deeper, more metaphorical level, abandoning strict narrative cause-and-effect logic to give us fragments of Maureen’s life refracted through conflicting experiences. Nothing happens in this film as a direct result of what came before, which explains why a sudden appearance of suggestive, potentially dangerous text messages could be interpreted as a literal threat, or as some strange cosmic manifestation of other, subtler anxieties. Personal Shopper encourages a sense of play, moving from moody ghost story to tense thriller to (out of the blue) erotic character study. But that genre-hopping (not to mention the movie’s willfully inscrutable design) is Assayas’s way of bringing a lighthearted approach to serious questions about grieving and disillusionment. The juxtaposition isn’t jarring or glib—if anything, Personal Shopper is all the more entrancing because it won’t sit still, never letting us be comfortable in its shifting narrative. —Tim Grierson / Full Review


okja-movie-poster.jpg 11. Okja
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Okja takes more creative risks in its first five minutes than most films take over their entire span, and it doesn’t let up from there. What appears to be a sticking point for some critics and audiences, particularly Western ones, is the seemingly erratic tone, from sentiment to suspense to giddy action to whimsy to horror to whatever it is Jake Gyllenhaal is doing. But this is part and parcel with what makes Bong Joon-ho movies, well, Bong Joon-ho movies: They’re nuanced and complex, but they aren’t exactly subtle or restrained. They have attention to detail, but they are not delicate in their handling. They have multiple intentions, and they bring those intentions together to jam. They are imaginative works that craft momentum through part-counterpart alternations, and Okja is perhaps the finest example yet of the wild pendulum swing of a Bong film’s rhythmic tonality. Okja is also not a film about veganism, but it is a film that asks how we can find integrity and, above all, how we can act humanely towards other creatures, humans included. The answers Okja reaches are simple and vital, and without really speaking them it helps you hear those answers for yourself because it has asked all the right questions, and it has asked them in a way that is intensely engaging. —Chad Betz / Full Review


shape-of-water-movie-poster.jpg 10. The Shape of Water
Director:   Guillermo del Toro  
If there’s a waiting period filmmakers must abide before they can borrow from their own body of work, Guillermo del Toro either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. His latest, The Shape of Water, an ageless story of true love between a human woman and a fish-man, references his filmography both at and below surface levels: It suggests a riff on Abe Sapien, the psychic ichthyoid sidekick in both Hellboy films (who is himself a riff on Creature from the Black Lagoon’s Gill-man, fed through a copyright strainer by his creator, Mike Mignola), but directly invokes the structure and fairy tale trappings of his 2006 breakout picture, Pan’s Labyrinth. Del Toro has us set down in 1960s Baltimore, where Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) works the janitorial night shift for the not-at-all-shady Occam Aerospace Research Center. She’s alone, mostly, except for her next door neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), and her coworker and friend, Zelda (Octavia Spencer). Giles and Zelda give Elisa a voice she quite literally lacks: She’s mute, and spends most of the film communicating with sign language. Elisa’s clockwork days are disrupted by the arrival of the Asset (Doug Jones, the actor behind Abe Sapiens’ prosthetics), the aforementioned fish-man, in the custody of Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon), at once the epitome of the del Toro villain and the average Shannon role: He’s abusive, violent, dictatorial to a fault, but mannered, the kind of bastard who thinks his dastardly bastard deeds are right and never thinks twice about his own morality. Elisa, ballsier than Strickland and basically every other man in the film, develops instant kinship with the creature. The success of their relationship hinges on performance as much as on direction. Del Toro cares about the well being of freaks and aberrations more than most people care about the well being of other actual people. Visually, The Shape of Water screams dieselpunk, signifying Bioshock more than the brothers Grimm, but the film bears the indelible stamp of folkloric mythmaking all the same. Del Toro weaves together his influences so finely, so delicately, that the product of his handiwork feels entirely new. That’s the magic of the movies, and, more importantly, the magic of del Toro. —Andy Crump / Full Review


raw-movie-poster.jpg 9. Raw
Director: Julia Ducournou
If you’re the proud owner of a twisted sense of humor, you might sell your friends on Julia Ducournau’s Raw as a coming-of-age movie in a bid to trick them into seeing it. Yes, the film’s protagonist, naive incoming college student Justine (Garance Marillier), comes of age over the course of its running time: She parties, she breaks out of her shell and she learns about who she really is on the verge of adulthood. But most kids who discover themselves in the movies don’t realize that they’ve spent their lives unwittingly suppressing an innate, nigh-insatiable need to consume raw meat. Allow Ducournau her cheekiness: More than a wink and nod to the picture’s visceral particulars, her film’s title is an open concession to the harrowing quality of Justine’s grim blossoming. Nasty as the film gets, and it does indeed get nasty, the harshest sensations Ducournau articulates here tend to be the ones we can’t detect by merely looking. Fear of feminine sexuality, family legacies, popularity politics and the uncertainty of self govern Raw’s horrors as much as exposed and bloody flesh. It’s a gorefest that offers no apologies and plenty more to chew on than its effects. —Andy Crump


call-me-by-your-name-movie-poster.jpg 8. Call Me By Your Name
Director: Luca Guadagnino
In Kyle Turner’s Paste review of Call Me By Your Name, he muses that in the film’s opening credits "there’s enough of a hint to suggest that, as Michael Stuhlbarg’s professorial patriarch Mr. Perlman mentions, the statues are ‘daring you to desire.’ The film, while occasionally inching towards it, never takes that dare." Much has been made about whether the film flinches at the physical love it champions, or embraces with grace and decorum the same love, finding eroticism in other (maybe juicier, stickier) images—regardless, the allure of Call Me By Your Name, the story of a 17-year-old rich white kid (Timothee Chalamet) and his Italian summer tryst with a hunky grad student (Armie Hammer), is in all of that anticipation and lazy anxiety, of never being quite sure what’s right for you because you’re not yet quite sure who you are. Perhaps Guadagnino never "takes that dare" because the film is less about the consummation of the two characters’ desires, and more about the dissolution of that consummation, the need to let it go for all its fantasy and excitement and confusion, and then to live with the quiet, needling regret that more could have been done, that somehow the desire, the sumptuousness of the flesh, should have been better grasped. It’s in Michael Stuhlbarg’s final, bittersweet monologue, as well as in Chalamet’s credits-long fireplace cry: Call Me By Your Name is an exquisitely shot movie, alive with the privilege and luxury of what it means to spend one’s formative sexual years in the Italian countryside, but more importantly, it’s a movie that aches far harder for the lives and relationships that could have been. —Dom Sinacola / Full Review


phantom-thread-movie-poster.jpg 7. Phantom Thread
Director:   Paul Thomas Anderson  
Phantom Thread is a movie that is so wonderfully made, so meticulous in its construction, so deeply felt in execution, that you can almost overlook how prickly and scabrous it is. This has to be the most luscious-to-watch film, ever, that is in large part about how self-centered and inflexible the world of relationships can be, how we can only give up so much of ourselves and it’s up to our partner to figure out how to deal with that, if they want to at all. This is an uncompromising movie about two uncompromising people who try to live with one another without losing too large a part of themselves, and the sometimes extreme lengths they will go to get their way. Daniel Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a world-famous dressmaker who clothes celebrities, royalty and, sometimes to his chagrin, déclassé wealthy vulgarians. Almost everything that doesn’t meet his exacting standards is vulgarian, until one day while in the English countryside, Reynolds comes across a waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps) who both meets Reynolds’ physical requirements (specifically so he can make dresses for her) and has a certain pluck that he instantly finds fascinating. Both of the principals of Phantom Thread are absurd and insane in their own ways, and one of the many thrills of the film is watching them bounce off each other, and then collide again. It’s the oddest little love story, so odd that I’m not even sure it’s about love at all. My colleague Tim Grierson said this first, but it’s too good an observation to ignore: This movie is in large part about the absolute unknowability of other people’s relationships. From the outside, it makes no sense that Reynolds and Alma would have this sort of connection with each other; it’s difficult to tell what either person is getting out of it. But what’s unfathomable about it is also what makes it so powerful. —Will Leitch / Full Review


florida-project-movie-poster.jpg 6. The Florida Project
Director: Sean Baker
However useful Disney’s surreal approach to reframing paradise may be, Sean Baker’s The Florida Project presents a more acute critique. Baker plunges his audience into his worlds through the lens of social realism, his camera on the same playing field as Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) and the manager of the run-down Orlando motel just outside of Disney World they and the denizens occupy, Bobby (Willem Dafoe). The camera lives with the characters, watches them haul a bed-bug-infested mattress outside, or sit and eat pancakes by a small creek-ish ditch. Nothing climactic happens in these scenes, we just get to watch and not pass judgment—or pass judgment, whatever, it’s up to us. Baker never interferes; the equality and equanimity of these scenes under the eye of his camera makes his film’s pointed ideas about survival and joy all the more striking. The film may be buoyed with a sense of humor and, occasionally, wonder, but Halley’s life is framed by an internal struggle over whether humor and wonder can help her retain her autonomy at all in spite of her class status. The Florida Project is spattered with profound sadness, with moments of externalized, violent frustration at presumed helplessness, at practically being born into all this. To what degree you believe Baker to be condescending or patronizing or exploitive is up to you, but the film’s bursts of light, its idea of what caregiving looks like when caregiving is a privilege, is handled with sensitivity. When the film switches from 35mm to digital in its final shots, Baker imbues his camera, now mobile, with freewheeling liberation. No matter what happens after The Florida Project ends, in those last moments, these kids are born to live. —Kyle Turner / Full Review


ghost-story-poster.jpg 5. A Ghost Story
Director:   David Lowery  
Turns out the perfect opportunity for an existential dilemma is when you no longer exist. With a cheeky title like A Ghost Story, it’s no surprise that David Lowery’s movie isn’t a typical tale of paranormal activity—but even that won’t prepare you for the film’s unpredictable, emotional odyssey through love, death, longing and time. It might even be one of the most epic sub-90-minute movies ever made. In it, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara star as a couple, perhaps married, identified in the credits as C and M, respectively. They live in a simple, old house. He’s attached to it, she wants to move. We get a sense of friction because of that conflict, but we’re also offered genuine affection, especially when the two cuddle after a startling bang on C’s piano wakes them in the middle of the night. Then, just as we’re getting to know them via mumbled dialogue and C’s songwriting, he dies unexpectedly in a car accident. In the aftermath, the movie takes its time to reveal its bold intentions. Writer/director Lowery is already comfortable with both indie projects (Ain’t Them Body Saints) and high-profile Disney joints (2016’s Pete’s Dragon). Perhaps this success has given him the freedom to do a small, low-budget film and not worry about whether people will call it pretentious or boring. A Ghost Story’s dialogue is quiet and sometimes hard to make out, takes are long and deliberate, and the cinematography is muted, not to mention in the out-of-favor (albeit still used) 1.37:1 Academy aspect ratio. With these elements, Lowery captures time in its vastness and loneliness—because it is, after all, the most dramatic difference between the living’s and the dead’s points of view, something that’s taken for granted in most movies (pacing problems and flashbacks aside). C, of course, "wakes up" from death as a sheet-festooned ghost, for whom time becomes more and more significant as he lingers, and as the camera lingers along with him. A Ghost Story isn’t a haunting so much as a witnessing. —Jeremy Mathews / Full Review


blade-runner-2049-movie-poster.jpg 4. Blade Runner 2049
Director: Denis Villeneuve
 Blade Runner 2049 is undoubtedly the most gorgeous thing to come out of a major studio in some time. Roger Deakins has inculcated Jordan Cronenweth’s lived-in sense of a future on the brink of obsolescence, leaning into the overpowering unease that permeates the monolithic Los Angeles Ridley Scott built. The scale of the film is only matched by the constant dread of obscurity—illumination shifts endlessly, dust and smog both magnifying and drowning the sense-shattering corporate edifices and hyper-stylized rooms in which humanity retreats from the moribund natural world they’ve created. There is a massive world, a solar system, orbiting this wretched city—so overblown that San Diego is now a literal giant dump for New L.A.’s garbage—but so much of it lies in shadow and opacity, forever out of reach. What Scott and Cronenweth accomplished with the original film, placing a potboiler within a magnificently conceived alternative reality, Villeneuve and Deakins have respected as they prod at its boundaries. There’s no other way to describe what they’ve done other than to offer faint praise: They get it. —Dom Sinacola / Full Review


lady-bird-movie-poster.jpg 3. Lady Bird
Director:   Greta Gerwig  
Before Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan)—Lady Bird is her given name, as in "[she] gave it to [her]self"—auditions for the school musical, she watches a young man belting the final notes to "Being Alive" from Stephen Sondheim’s Company. A few moments before, while in a car with her mother, she lays her head on the window wistfully and says with a sigh, "I wish I could just live through something." Stuck in Sacramento, where she thinks there’s nothing to be offered her while paying acute attention to everything her home does have to offer, Lady Bird—and the film, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, that shares her name—has ambivalence running through her veins. What a perfect match: Stephen Sondheim and Greta Gerwig. Few filmmakers are able to capture the same kind of ambiguity and mixed feelings that involve the refusal to make up one’s mind: look to 35-year-old Bobby impulsively wanting to marry a friend, but never committing to any of his girlfriends, in Company; the "hemming and hawing" of Cinderella on the, ahem, steps of the palace; or Mrs. Lovett’s cause for pause in telling Sweeney her real motives. Lady Bird isn’t as high-concept as many of Sondheim’s works, but there’s a piercing truthfulness to the film, and arguably Gerwig’s work in general, that makes its anxieties and tenderness reverberate in the viewer’s heart with equal frequency. —Kyle Turner / Full Review


dunkirk-poster.jpg 2. Dunkirk
Director:   Christopher Nolan  
Christopher Nolan  has always been a filmmaker of contradictory impulses. He wants to awe you with spectacle but also capture the restlessness of the soul, to twist every emotion for all its worth but also stand outside and objectively observe, to be plain and direct and earnest but also leave you locked in puzzle-boxes to take apart and put back together again. He is ambitious but reserved; pop but art; loud but quiet. He has been wrestling with all these impulses for years, sometimes resulting in the greatest popcorn blockbuster of this century (The Dark Knight) and sometimes resulting in an awkward, overly complicated mishmash of corn and kitsch (Interstellar). He has a filmmaking instrument of almost overwhelming power, but has, especially recently, had an increasingly difficult time reigning in that power. Which is why Dunkirk is such a staggering, almost fantastical achievement. It takes everything Nolan does well and everything he doesn’t, everything he fights against and everything he embraces, everything great and terrible about him, and streamlines it, focuses it, until it’s pure Nolan, straight into your veins. It’s the most Christopher Nolan film imaginable. It also might just be his best one. —Will Leitch / Full Review


get-out-poster.jpg 1. Get Out
Director:   Jordan Peele  
Jordan Peele’s a natural behind the camera, but Get Out benefits most from its deceptively trim premise, a simplicity which belies rich thematic depth. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams) go to spend a weekend with her folks in their lavish upstate New York mansion, where they’re throwing the annual Armitage bash with all their friends in attendance. Chris immediately feels out of place; events escalate from there, taking the narrative in a ghastly direction that ultimately ties back to the unsettling sensation of being the "other" in a room full of people who aren’t like you—and never let you forget it. Put indelicately, Get Out is about being black and surrounded by whites who squeeze your biceps without asking, who fetishize you to your face, who analyze your blackness as if it’s a fashion trend. At best Chris’s ordeal is bizarre and dizzying, the kind of thing he might bitterly chuckle about in retrospect. At worst it’s a setup for such macabre developments as are found in the domain of horror. That’s the finest of lines Peele and Get Out walk without stumbling. The film doles out scariness in intervals, treating fright as a supplement to the inexplicable or the downright creepy. It’s an exercise in tension, where we can presume what’s happening in the Armitage household without necessarily being on the money, and that’s the fun of the film: It spaces its revelations carefully, building on each to undercut any hint of a twist, while still catching us off our guard. When we’re exposed to the whole truth of Get Out’s race dynamic, it feels like a gut punch instead of a bombshell. —Andy Crump / Full Review

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