Most people who open their hearts and minds to alternative cinema (i.e., independent, low budget, foreign, avant-garde, etc.) are routinely accused of being a film snob. We’re too critical of mainstream movies, it’s impossible for us to side with the masses. For me, that isn’t the case. I’m always looking for a good movie, no matter the cast, budget, director, setting – I’m just hoping to find something I deem worthy. I mention this because most people would not think I would enjoy a film like Girls Trip, yet, I absolutely loved it. Does it have as much “depth” as the films below? Did it “challenge” me? No, not really. But was it the funniest film of 2017? You’re damn right. The film is about four friends who travel to New Orleans for a much needed weekend of fun. Absurdity ensues, and I enjoyed watching every minute of it. Tiffany Haddish, a breakout star of the year, won me over immediately. I hope we see a lot more of her (and movies of this kind) from here on it.
10. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Brutal, hilarious, uncompromising – all apt words to describe McDonagh’s tough-love new film. I’ve paid close attention to the other side of the argument concerning this film, and with respect, I simply do not agree with those negative takedowns. On its face, this is a movie about angst, rage and regret. But it’s also about the inverse; compassion and understanding. I will never comprehend the argument that in order for a movie to be good, it has to feature likable characters. Not all unlikeable people deserve a shot a redemption, but if they’re penned by Martin McDonagh, I’m certainly open to listening.
mother! was one of three films I saw twice in the theater in 2017. I had to put myself through it again, because I couldn’t believe it was all up there. For sheer balls alone, this film deserves recognition. Whether or not it is appreciated is a matter of taste. But mother! did things (both narratively and technically) that I hadn’t seen in a movie before. And that’s enough for me to take notice.
8. The Shape of Water
One of the taglines for the film, Babel, was, “If you want to be understood, listen.” That has always stuck with me, and it is a perfect way to describe the importance of The Shape of Water. Del Toro wrote and developed the film long before America reached its pinnacle of absurdity, but the film is, nevertheless, a remarkably poignant commentary of the world we’re living in. And that’s just its story. The acting, cinematography, score, production design, and more, are all impeccable. It could very well be del Toro’s magnum opus.
7. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
The Killing of a Sacred Deer was cold as ice. Both in style and story, this thing was hard to get close to. And I couldn’t get enough of it. Was it enjoyable to watch? God no. But I appreciated it to no end. Shame it didn’t stick around longer. This movie deserved an extended, thoughtful discourse.
6. Molly’s Game
A lot of 2017 movies lacked momentum for me. They began, they set-up, and then they were stuck with nowhere to go. I saw Molly’s Game late in the year, and it was like a shot of adrenaline to the heart. It woke me the hell up in a way I had been craving for months. Writers transitioning to directing can be tricky, but Sorkin’s manic energy carried through to the construction and execution of his film. I loved every minute of it. And it’s worth noting that I cried once in a movie from 2017, and that was while Kevin fuckin’ Costner sat on a bench and gave his daughter, played by Jessica Chastain, a free therapy session. Unexpected feels are the best feels.
5. Personal Shopper
Much like Assayas’ last film, the remarkable Clouds of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper was plagued by the all-too-common slow indie release. It premiered at Cannes in May 2016, kicked around various film festivals, until it was released quietly in the U.S. in March 2017. The movie played for two weeks, and then left without warning. Criterion quickly blessed the film with a DVD/Blu-Ray release, but Personal Shopper deserved to be in the 2017 film conversation more than it was. The film is a slow, mediative parable of loss, grief, and acceptance, featuring Kristen Stewart’s best performance, and my favorite ending to any film of the year.
I heard all the stories. People puked during festival screenings! Some even passed out! It’s so gross! It’s so brutal! It’s so… raw. And, yeah, okay, I get it. Raw is a different kind of flick. The film is “about” a young, lifelong vegetarian who is exposed to horrific hazing at her new veterinarian school. Part of the hazing includes being force-feed meat, which quickly causes Justine (Garance Marillier) to have cannibalistic desires. But, of course, that isn’t what the movie is about. Raw is about the dangers of conforming, it’s about identity (specifically female sexual identity), it’s about knowing where you came from as a means of understanding who you are. Raw is one of the best cinematic metaphors for growing up that I’ve seen in years. Open your mind and give it a chance, on Netflix Instant, right now.
3. A Ghost Story
There were portions of A Ghost Story that I, frankly, never took to. I understood what Lowery was going for, but it felt like he was trying to fill time. When the movie finished, I brushed it off and didn’t think much more about it. But weeks later, something odd happened. I realized I had thought about the film incessantly since I left my screening of it. The damn thing wouldn’t leave; it battled around in my mind, darling me to figure it out, to accept it, to look closer. A Ghost Story is unlike any film I’ve ever seen about loss. It’s an audacious work about time – what it is, how it operates, and what we choose to do with it while we have it. I’m so thankful Lowery made this film (for $100,000!); I can’t wait to let it wash over me again.
I’ve been in fistfights that took less effort than it did to watch Dunkirk. And that is intended as compliment, because Christopher Nolan’s miraculous film kicked the shit out of me. I hardly breathed, and I dared not look away. I spent half of the movie trying to figure it out, and the subsequent duration with my mouth hanging open, stunned at what Nolan had pulled off. I’m always looking for something new. Something challenging, something that forces me to sit up straight and take notice. And just because a movie tries something new doesn’t mean I’m going to instinctually like it. But it does mean that I’ll pay attention. Movies that demand our full attention are becoming more and more rare. Dunkirk tried something new, and excelled at every step of the experiment. Why isn’t Nolan more in the running for the Best Director Oscar?
1. Phantom Thread
When the end title card for Phantom Thread faded in on the screen, I sat back and let out a huge sigh of relief. I put my hand over my heart, and enjoyed the moment. Because 2017, I had discovered, did indeed produce a masterpiece film. To me, the film was perfect. It was slow and gorgeous and oh so wonderfully British. It was acted to utter perfection and shot (by Anderson himself) with such beautiful confidence. The ceaseless score, by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, was a character itself, and the costumes were such a sight to behold.
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most fast and furious filmmakers we have. His films are fun, angry, and ferocious. They move. But Phantom Thread explores a different area of Anderson’s psyche. It’s soft, gentle work. The humor is discrete, and the anger is contained. If this is truly to be Daniel Day-Lewis’ final performance, then what a final, glorious bow to take. Everything about his work in Phantom Thread is worth positive mention. The cadence of his voice, the manner in which he physically occupies a space (does anyone stand in a doorway more significantly than Daniel Day-Lewis?) – the man has presence in a way very few actors (living or dead) have.
I loved everything about Phantom Thread. It is a much needed reminder that earnest, original film is alive, it’s just a bit harder to find than it used to be. Film is my life, and, so, by extension, Phantom Thread is good. Phantom Thread is life.
Blade Runner 2049
Brawl on Cell Block 99
Call Me By Your Name
The Disaster Artist
The Florida Project
The Lost City of Z
Song to Song