As the year comes to a close, there’s one group we’ve yet to hear from about the Best of 2017: the directors. IndieWire has reached out to a number of our favorite filmmakers to share with us their lists and thoughts on the best of the year. From Benny Safdie breaking down the brilliance of “Nathan For You” to Alma Har’el shining a light on a new Arab cinematic wave to Justin Simien admitting he was filled with envious rage watching “Get Out,” 42 directors responded and offered a totally different perspective on 2017.
This Best of 2017 is dedicated to the spirit of Jonathan Demme, who last year took part in this poll and was an incredibly generous man, especially when it came to supporting his peers’ work.
Update: Top 10 lists from Angela Robinson and Edgar Wright have been added since this article was originally published.
The following appear in alphabetical order based on the director’s last name.
“Phantom Thread” (Paul Thomas Anderson): A real feast. Even though the author confesses his fascination for mysterious love stories, there are no clues to follow this masterpiece by P.T. Anderson. Every sequence is a surprise. This film is the portrait of a genius, of his egocentricity and his contempt for everything that isn’t related to his work, and of the wonderfully ordinary woman who manages to tame him. The three protagonists deliver masterly performances. And Jonny Greenwood proves himself as the best composer of the year. If it is true that Daniel Day Lewis says goodbye to acting with this role, he does so brilliantly. He nails this role.
“Call Me by Your Name” (Luca Guadagnino): Everything is pretty, attractive, desirable and moving in this film. The boys, the girls, the breakfasts, the fruit, the cigarettes, the pools, the bikes, the open air dances, the 80s, the doubts, surrender and sincerity of the protagonists, the relationship of the protagonist with his parents. The authors (André Aciman, James Ivory and Luca Guadagnino) make a bet here for the passion of the senses and the embodiment of desire. The light of Lombardy and very particularly Timothée Chalamet are the biggest breakthroughs of this year.
“BPM (Beats Per Minute)” (Robin Campillo): This is a poignant story about a group of Parisian ACT UP activists in the early 90s. In addition to a splendid script, Campillo shows his great ability to direct ensemble scenes, they’re like out of a documentary. Extraordinary actors and iconic images, like a bloodstained Seine because of the death of young people caused by AIDS. There’s also a love story told with no melodrama or modesty, with death at the forefront. It surprised me this film didn’t make the cut into the shortlist for the Foreign Film category at the Oscars.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Martin McDonagh): The film with the best title of the year. A dark, unbreathable and pessimist story with the blackest humour. It’s a pleasure to get depressed with Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelsson and Sam Rockwell at their best.
“You Were Never Really Here” (Lynne Ramsay): Lynne Ramsay is one of the most original storytellers nowadays. Joaquin Phoenix is explosive as a killer of a dreadful brutality (cannon fodder), keeping the same face expression all over the film. Again, a great soundtrack by Jonny Greenwood.
“Zama” (Lucrecia Martel): A exquisite tale about the waiting. A new masterpiece by this indispensable author.
“A Ghost Story” (David Lowery): This is a film about a disoriented ghost who comes back home to console his wife (obviously, after his death). She cannot see him, which is very sad. The ghost is covered with a sheet from head to toe with two holes as eyes, exactly as we imagined ghosts when we were kids, or at least the way I imagined them. It’s a beautiful film about the loss, the pain and the passing of time. Even if you find the first sequences a bit too long, be patient, the wait is worth the effort.
“Colossal” (Nacho Vigalondo): This is such a crazy idea that I find incredible that someone has produced it: an alcoholic and dissatisfied girl played by Anne Hathaway finds out that, in very particular circumstances, every move of her arms, legs, feet, etc., has a replica in the moves of a giant monster that shows up unannounced in Seoul. Once she discovers she has the extraordinary ability to use the monster according to her own interests, she takes advantage of it to figure out some personal issues. Nacho Vigalondo succeeds in making the most daring and original idea of the Spanish cinema this year.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (Yorgos Lanthimos): Lanthimos’ film is a free version of Euripides’ tragedy “Iphigenia.” This isn’t a supernatural terror film, even if it can be scary at times. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is about how humans and Gods can only relate through sacrifice, as cruel, gratuitous and irrational this can be. This is a weird, unsettling, original, uneasy film that reminds me of the best of Kubrick. Nicole Kidman shines in her role of mother and wife, in the same abstract tessitura as in “Eyes Wide Shut.”
“The Florida Project” (Sean Baker): This film reminds me of “The Forgotten Ones,” by Luis Buñuel. Baker uses his own heart and a special ability for the ellipsis to tell the story of a group of kids that live in a poverty-stricken building painted in purple in the proximity of Disney World. Willem Dafoe is touched by the grace, plus two enormous discoveries: the girl Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite, who plays her mother. I hope that Vinaite gets all that Courtney Love deserved as an actress and very unfairly didn’t get to achieve. Possibly no other film this year breathes a reality as palpable as this one. Sean Baker is my bet for the future.
One quick thing. Dear Studios and Distributors reading this: PUT THE OPTION FOR SUBTITLES ON YOUR SCREENERS. PLEASE. I get screeners so I could have theoretically seen everything by now, but I’m 30% hard of hearing and most screeners don’t have the option. And I couldn’t watch the following films cuz they weren’t subtitled: “The Florida Project,” “The Disaster Artist,” “Lady Bird,” “I, Tonya,” “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” “Blade Runner 2049,” and there’s lots more.
“Phantom Thread”: I can’t fucking rave about this movie enough. The performances, the cinematography, and that music… OOOF. This is euphoric cinema. So emotional and deeply honest about the conflict between romantic love and the megalomania of an artist. I’ve seen it twice and can’t wait to watch it again. And again. PTA for the win.
“The Shape of Water”: The other best movie of the year. So romantic I left the theater and my heart was literally softer. It’s also funny and perverted, and unlike anything else. Guillermo at the height of his wizardry powers.
“Get Out”: It’s no big secret, but I also have to mention it because this film struck me as a masterpiece. A movie at the zeitgeist of art and culture and politics.
“Disappearance”: This is a tiny independent Iranian film I saw when I was on the jury for the Singapore International Film Festival this year. My first time on a jury, and it was this film that brought us to a unanimous decision. It’s one ongoing night in Tehran with a young couple and it grabs hold of you from beginning to end. Kind of in the realm of how “Victoria” did.
“The Mountain Between Us”: I just love a survival movie, and I love a love story, and here you get both. Also, Idris Elba.
“All These Sleepless Nights”: I don’t know that this is a 2017 movie, I think it was the year before, but I have to mention it because it’s a pretty amazing experience this movie. If you’re not familiar with rave culture and drug culture you probably won’t like it. Or maybe you will.
I’m not going to give a top 10 list for 2017. I don’t mean to disappoint anyone but there are a couple of reasons why this is. First of all, my film watching has slacked this year and I am sure there are films I haven’t seen yet that will surely make my list of favorites. Second of all, being that I made a film that is in release this year I feel strange giving a list of US narratives at this time. Also, I have so many friends with films out this year, call me strange but I don’t think I can be 100% objective. Suffice it to say that of the things I have see this year I have been very happy leaving the theater. There is so much talent out there.
So, I am listing the three foreign films and one doc that have had a big impact on me so far. And for the hell of it, I’m including five albums that I’ve loved in 2017.
1. “BPM (Beats Per Minute)”: It’s going to be tough to push this out of my number one slot. Moving, visual and important.
2. “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki”: Criminally under seen. An incredible debut by Juho Kuosmanen. Beautifully shot on 16mm B&W. Every frame looks like it was shot in 1962.
3. “Lady Macbeth”: Another fantastic feature debut (by William Oldroyd) that introduces a new star to the industry: Florence Pugh.
And the doc – “Dawson City, Frozen Time”: A must see for anyone who cares about history or film or both.
Top 5 albums
Torres, “Three Futures”
St. Vincent, “MASSEDUCTION”
Billy Corgan, “Ogilala”
LVL UP, “Return to Love”
In no particular order:
“The Disaster Artist”
“Shape of Water”
“The Florida Project”
“The Meyerowitz Stories”
“Ingrid Goes West”
“The Big Sick”
“Gaga: Five Foot Two”
There are still a lot of films I haven’t seen yet, but here’s my list of favorites so far:
“Call Me by Your Name”: Watched this film late at night by myself, knowing very little going in. Half way through, I actually paused my screener to yell “WOW!” to no one in particular.
“The Big Sick”: The 4-slices-of-cheese scene goes down as one of my all-time favorite scenes in any film, ever.
“Get Out”: Wholly original and inspiring. Jordan Peele for President.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MIssouri”: The writing is so distinct and committed and somehow never misses the tiny tonal bullseye it aims for. Savored every bit.
“The Disaster Artist”: Beautifully off-the-wall and genuinely emotional in sneaky places. Also seemed like it was a hell of a lot of fun to make.
“Wonder Woman”: First time in my life a battle scene made me tear up. Had no idea how much I needed/wanted an ass-kicking lady who’s all heart.
“The Post”: Timely for sure, but also written with real nuance, directed in a way that doesn’t let you look away, and Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks somehow manage to exceed the outrageously high expectations.
The whole “Despicable Me” series: I’ve watched these movies about 600 times with my 4-year-old, so I am especially thankful for just how great they are. Every single time they’re on, I notice new hilarious little details in the artwork that I somehow never caught before.
I also want to spotlight two riveting documentaries: “The Keepers” and “Mommy Dead and Dearest,” and the gorgeous, strange, heartbreaking podcast “S-Town.”
10. “Brawl in Cell Block 99”
9. “Ingrid Goes West”
8. “Tigers Are Not Afraid”
7. “Good Time”
6. “The Meyerowitz Stories”
5. “Get Out”
4. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
2. “Lady Bird”
1. “A Ghost Story”
Sony Pictures Classics
“Call Me by Your Name”: It hit so close to home that, for a while, it paralyzed me. I couldn’t really talk about it, even though I wanted to. What it did to me, fundamentally, was help me project myself in people I’ve fallen in love with in the past. People I judged as unkind, or selfish. Through Hammer’s character – that boastful giant who you’d think invincible – I had to, well, rethink my twenties. What I love here is that the rare moments where Hammer’s fragility isn’t concealed are almost only when Chalamet sits with his back to him – because vulnerability equals weakness of course, and from weakness arises pain, which by all means we shun. Not a lot of characters or human beings, in my own culture and experience, are capable of tenderness like Michael Stuhlbarg in this scene where he expounds his theories on our ageless incapabilities as lovers. It is so stirring to see filmmaking at its best, aesthetically, go hand in hand with the cruel truth about our romantic failures. To be able to attain such controlled contrast is just masterful, and something great to aspire to.
“Lady Bird”: Is there anything that makes me happier than Ladybird? No. Is Laurie Metcalf’s performance incredibly acute, simple, human, motherly, suburbanite and heartbreaking? I think so! Are all sets and costumes in this film entirely believable, inspired, and curated with taste and intelligence? Yes! Is there anything, on this planet, that makes my heart sing more than Lucas Hedges caught red-handed kissing another guy in a bathroom stall? Sadly for me, no.
“The Shape of Water”: Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer are a delightful duo! It’s been a while since I’ve seen such chemistry between friends on screen – well, Saoirse Ronan and Beanie Feldstein in Ladybird are a great match as well. We see great chemistry between lovers, but chemistry between friends often seems like a lesser concern. Also, there’s an interesting gay best friend character, which acts as a subordinate storyline until he actively takes part in the story, and I love what the character represents here in terms of providing us with a counter-narrative to standard storytelling. A 50-something LGBTQ protagonist being the lead’s aid and confident in a genre movie with that kind of means feels novel to me. Anyway, it just is one of the multiple successful aspects of Guillermo’s film, and well, as always with him, the world we are presented is so complete, and rich, and inventive. It’s romantic, eery, poetic, and reeks of sex! Which is great if, like me, your sexual life has ended. Meaning : I’ve started to think of the things I could steal from Michael Shannon in order for him to chase me.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”: I love everything in Killing of a Sacred Deer. I’ve seen it three times, quite alarmingly. What a fantastic piece on revenge! I find it so well designed- its warmth – in fabrics, props, costumes, curtains, etc.!- perfectly balances the cold-blooded, graphic violence throughout. Those accordion pieces by Janne Rättyä are bone-chilling, and reminisce Wendy Carlos’ works. Barry Keoghan is stunning and quite unique. I love a film where we are intellectually stimulated, and not given all the goddamn answers. You can bring that home and talk about it with friends. Or, if you’ve watched it alone and are home already, contemplate your first kill.
“Wind River”: I haven’t experienced such a thrilling, sickening film in a while. I’m not sure I’m doing the film’s poignancy justice with such phrasing, but of course it’s no light treat. The story’s already so powerful – and necessary – on paper, but it is the performances of the entire cast and the unforgiving white wilderness of the décor that bolster up the piece to an exhilarating extent. And then there is this bold flashback, quite disconcertingly, right in the middle of the film, which is great, and smart, and comprises one of the most terrifying scenes I’ve ever seen.
“The Post”: The Post is pure entertainment. My friends and I watched this and found ourselves screaming and jumping around like kids on a snowstorm morning. Well, there’s the perfectly fun and thrilling score by Williams, to begin with, and every set, every shot is filmmaking at its most pleasant, albeit occasionally oversimplified or preachy, but always congenially. Meryl Streep’s silences, and her shame, are something to marvel at. Because she’s been so empowered, and positioned herself as so eccentric, or severe, or energetically inspired over the past decade. But here, her modesty is everything, and exerts such a bemusing spell on all these men-only scenes. Her insecurity is so refreshing. She reinvents herself, and looks like she’s having mighty fun doing it. It just transpires and travels to you, and you’re having fun too. Also, MORE SARAH PAULSON IN MOVIES PLEASE.
“It”: I love It to the moon and back, for how smart and good-hearted the kids are, for its humour, its atmosphere, and its aesthetic standards. But the only problem is that I now know for sure that Pennywise lives in my basement. A part of me wants to focus on the positive side of this fact (Bill Skarsgard), but somehow that’s not who I picture when I soar upstairs, knowing he’ll grab my ankles and cut my tendons with a pruning shear!
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”: Is Frances McDormand excessively good in this? Yes. Is she Anette-Bening-in-20th-Century-Women good? Yes! Does that mean she’ll be stupidly ignored like Anette Bening was last year? I sure hope not! Is Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell amazing as well? Hell yes! Did Martin McDonagh perfectly wrote and direct this? Yes! Is the tone between drama and comedy mystifyingly, oddly, inexplicably well-balanced? Yes! Will I mention Lucas Hedges’ talent and charisma again? Probably!
Regrettably, as usual, there are many films that I did not see this year (including several especially acclaimed titles). In no particular order, these were the films that I enjoyed most – all of them were complete in vision and execution, and all were riveting.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”
“The Florida Project”
I loved the photography and tangible atmosphere of “The Beguiled” and “The Lost City of Z” (Z also had some great fake mustaches). The impeccable film craft in “Blade Runner 2049,” “Dunkirk,” and “The Shape of Water” was inspiring. The first jump scare in “It Comes at Night” was a favorite moment that gave me a nightmare, in fact. And the performances in “Call Me by Your Name” were beautiful.
I am especially looking forward to seeing “Phantom Thread,” “Happy End,” and “Mudbound” before the year is out.
Filmy Stuff I like:
“The Shape of Water” floods new meaning into the concept of a “creature comfort.” This film made me both crave hard boiled eggs AND cry at the same time. Viva Guillermo!
“Chavela”: Gender-bending Mexican songstress gleefully seduces your wife (including Frida Kahlo and Ava Gardner), drinks you under the table the dons a poncho and sings all about it. See this wonderful doc to find out how it all ends (it gets messy).
Patty Jenkins as Wonder Woman: I was already a fan of her excellent work and then she ventures into the Hollywood man cave and emerges with an actual, fair and equitable paycheck for the sequel! I swoon! Git it, Patty, Git it!
“Get Out”: That thrilling feeling you get while halfway through a film you’re like “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?” Best garden party scene ever made. #weirdAF
“Call Me by Your Name”: It’s summer in Italy and two sexy men are riding rickety bikes into town and sneaking furtive kisses in the piazza. Throw in the lush photography and some ripe peaches and, well, what’s a girl not to love?
Greta Gerwig as herself: GG, we’ve been waiting for you to show us all you can do and “Lady Bird” does NOT disappoint. The Globes don’t mean diddly squat so go higher, girl. Git it Greta, Git it!
A few of my favorite non-filmy things :
Stephen King’s Twitter feed: I just love me my daily does of acerbic wit and candid musings from that beautifully verbose fella. Recent example: “The ‘tax cut bill’ is basically a little piece of candy on a long, shit-coated stick.”
Rachel Maddow’s Ubiquitous Black Blazer: The practical un-fussy item that says “I ain’t dolling myself up for you people while Donny boy goes out there sells our country’s magic beans to the Kremlin.” We Wuv the UBB.
“People, Places and Things”: They tried to make her go to rehab and she did and dragged us along with her in this insanely immersive play at St. Ann’s Warehouse. #DeniseGough
My unusually tiny dog: Rico is barely 8 lbs but impresses me every day with his outsized confidence and brio. Just the other day I caught him working on his memoirs — and he’s only a year old! #nervy
Ivanka: She’s a powerful example that blondes do NOT necessarily have more fun.
Bushwick: Where else can you go to a supper club next to a cement factory? Come sip Ilegal mezcal with me at Guadalupe Inn any time. I’m waiting for you!
Photo Courtesy of MACRO, photo by Steve Dietl.
“Get Out” and “Mudbound”
These two films are very different from each other in many ways. One is a contemporary post Obama horror tale, set in an Eastern liberal enclave, and released by a traditional theatrical distributor. The other a post World War II family drama, set in the Jim Crow South, and released by digital distribution disrupter. Yet, I view Jordan Peele’s and Dee Rees’s films as companion works of art that found unique ways to speak about race, class, and privilege. Both subvert and embrace audience expectations of their specific genres to deliver gripping entertainment that speak to our current “post racial” times. Both take the audience on an exploration of the psychological and physical violence that underwrites racism in scary and satisfying ways. Both were told by emerging auteurs reflecting the new American mainstream cinema that embraces the digital and the analog. Jordan and Dee demand that the film experience be about audience engagement and not mere escapism. The films are just the beginning point of a debate about the issues of our times: From how a multicultural society lives together, to ultimately what platform that society will see its filmed entertainment.
As happened last year, I once again am way behind on all the movies that came out this year and there’s just so much I’ve heard is great that I haven’t seen yet. But since the great Indiewire has once again kindly asked me to weigh in on my favorite ten movies of 2017, here’s this year’s very incomplete but extremely sincere list of my favorite things I’ve watched over the past twelve months:
“Patti Cake$”: Damn, what a movie. Featuring a career-making performance by Danielle McDonald, as well as amazing supporting performances by Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhanangay and Mamoudou Athie, this life-affirming film is the very definition of a crowd pleaser. Writer/director Geremy Jasper tells this underdog story with so much heart and inventiveness that it all felt like much more than just a piece of fictional storytelling – you feel like you’re real life friends with McDonald’s Patti and you suffer and rejoice right along side her as she goes through her life-changing experience. I could not have loved this movie more.
“The Shape of Water”: This movie checked every box for me. The story was engaging and touching, the performances were great across the board, the production design looked way more expensive than I’m sure it actually cost and the direction was beautiful. From the opening credits alone you know you’re in for something special. And it was. Not many things made me choke up this year but the end of this amazing movie was one of them.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”: First off, Martin McDonagh is a fucking genius. His scripts are absolutely perfect the way they pay off everything he sets up (In Bruges, anyone?) and his characters are all rich and three dimensional, even when you think he’s setting them up to be one-dimensional. This movie is a tonal masterpiece, a film that you think is going to be a heavy drama and then you find yourself laughing the entire time, even though it is still a heavy drama. All the performances are pitch perfect and you end up caring about characters that most other filmmakers would simply leave unredeemed. Special kudos to Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell for two of the best performances of the year. I didn’t want this movie to end.
“Lady Bird”: I don’t think there’s anything that Greta Gerwig can’t do. I’ve been a huge fan of her acting for years but when I saw Lady Bird, I was blown away by her writing and directing. This movie worked on every level and was so sure-handedly made that you would never know it was her very first movie as a filmmaker. Saoirse Ronan should win every award in the world and the rest of the cast should too. Greta Gerwig, I am in awe of you.
“The Disaster Artist”: How James Franco, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg continually reinvent modern comedy will always amaze me. This is the End was such a giant step forward in how you can make an audience laugh and care about the characters even when they’re in an absurd situation. And now they take a real life artistic disaster and turn it into an incredibly funny but even more incredibly touching story about the meaning of art and its effect on the people who make it. Huge congrats to director/star James Franco on killing it in front of and behind the camera.
“Get Out”: This movie is another tonal masterpiece. Jordan Peele walked the line so perfectly between drama and comedy and never subverted the stakes along the way. The movie was tense from beginning to end and did what all great movies should do – made you think while you were being completely entertained. I could watch this movie over and over again and find something new each time.
“Gifted”: I loved this movie for so many reasons. The story was wonderful and touching and Chris Evans turned in such a strong, nuanced performance. But it was young McKenna Grace as the lead actress that took this film to another level. I haven’t heard any Oscar buzz on her and it’s a true shame because she’s one of the most talented actors I’ve seen on the big screen in a long time. This is a lovely little film and Marc Webb did a great job directing it. If you want to watch something life affirming and leave all the cynicism of the current world behind, check this one out.
“Do No Harm”: Okay, I hate when critics put lots of obscure movies on their top ten lists because I always think they’re just trying to sound like they’re smarter than the rest of us. But I was one of the judges in a festival of short films by female directors this year and this short by Roseanne Liang blew me out of the water. It’s utterly fantastic. Violent, action-packed, beautiful and emotional, it easily takes its place alongside the best things I’ve seen this year. Roseanne is a huge talent and should be making a lot of movies as soon as possible. For more information about “Do No Harm,” click here.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”: Okay, I know it wasn’t a movie but I loved this show so much. Amy Sherman-Palladino did the hardest thing in the world – told a story about people in comedy that was truly funny. Making movies and shows about standup comedy is the hardest thing in the world because it’s incredibly difficult to portray something as funny that is actually funny. It’s usually the on-screen audience laughing at the comedian and we in the real audience are going “Those people are laughing way harder at that joke than they should.” The performances are all incredible and Rachel Brosnahan as Mrs. Maisel is an absolute revelation. And one of the characters in the show is Lenny Bruce! I mean, come on. Devour this show as soon as you can.
“Love You More”: Again, it’s not a movie but since Amazon very stupidly didn’t pick this pilot up to series, I’m going to declare it a short film and demand that you watch it. The great Bridget Everett created the perfect vehicle for herself and her uniquely hilarious voice with this show. Much of her supporting cast is actors with Down Syndrome and they are easily one of the best ensembles I’ve seen in a long time. The show is so fucking touching and funny and outrageous and emotional that I’m getting angry all over again that Amazon didn’t pick it up to series. Bridget is a damn genius and so is her director Bobcat Goldthwait and will somebody please pick up this show so we can watch many more seasons of it?
Okay, that’s ten but I want to cheat and add something a bit more obscure but totally noteworthy. To wit:
“Chad: An American Boy”: First of all, this got made in 2016 but I didn’t get to see it until this year, so that’s why it’s on the list. Second of all, there’s no way any of you have seen this because it was a TV pilot for Fox that didn’t get picked up. But it’s one of the best things I’ve seen all year. Nasim Pedrad stars as a 14-year-old boy named Chad and the show is so fucking funny and real and sweet and honest that, like with Love You More, my blood starts boiling when I realize that it never got its day in the public court. Maybe if we all demand that Fox either pick up the show or release it online so we can see Nasim’s amazing work, we can right this wrong. Chad is awesome.
And as a bonus, coming in at number 12 is: Watching Roy Moore get defeated by Doug Jones in Alabama – I mean, if that wasn’t the greatest last minute twist of the year, I don’t know what was.
Gunpowder & Sky
1. “The Little Hours”: Hands down my favorite film of the year. It is so inventive and funny and made me laugh…which was really what I needed more than anything this year.
2. “Narcos”: I loved seasons 1 and 2 but whatever was going on in the writer’s room for season 3 was pure gold.
3. “Tarantula”: Carson Mell is a goddamn genius and his new show on TBS is unlike any other animated show on TV. Do yourself a favor and watch it asap if you haven’t seen it yet.
4. “Dunkirk”: Technically the most glorious film of the year.
5. “Lady Bird”: I loved every single choice Greta made. Rushmore for girls! I’m only upset this didn’t come out when I was 16 because I could have used Lady Bird in my life in a major way.
6. “Downsizing”: Alexander Payne…Pitch perfect performances. The fact that this movie got made gives me hope for the film biz.
7. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”: I just finished the series last night. Wow. Don’t let the name and the poor font choice scare you away. It is just the right mix of comedy and drama. The writing is perfect. The camera work is perfect. The acting is perfect. The last three episodes are so insanely powerful that I can’t stop crying…in a good way. Trust me. Watch this show.
8. “The Handmaid’s Tale”: Terrifying, gorgeous, and brilliant.
9. “The Square”: I’m still trying to pull back all the layers on this one.
10. “The Florida Project”: Wow wow wow.
11. “A Ghost Story”: Cinematographer (and my BFF) Andrew Palermo outdid himself on this one. Not to mention that the pie eating scene alone deserves an Oscar.
12. “People Places & Things”: This is neither TV nor Film…I happened to see this play on a whim while visiting friends in New York. Goddamn. The actress Denise Gough gave one of the most raw and beautiful performances that I’ve ever seen anywhere. I’m talking Isabelle Huppert/Meryl Streep level…and she did it night after night after night.
I tried to take a break from docs in my spare time — water breaks in the “marathon not sprint approach.” I’ve seen everything on the short list [Ford’s “Strong Island” is one of 15 films on the Oscar short list for Best Documentary], but decided to leave those off. Here is my unranked list:
“BPM (Beats Per Minute)”
“Carol” (I know it’s not this year but I recently watched it)
“Whose Streets” / “Rat Film” / “Did You Ever Wonder Who Fired the Gun”
“I Am Not Your Negro”
“Beach Rats” / “Stranger Things” / “Queen Sugar”
Top 20 in alphabetical order:
“A Fantastic Woman,” by Sebastian Leilo
“After the Storm,” by Hirokazu Kore-eda
“Alien Covenant,” by Ridley Scott
“Austerlitz,” by Sergei Loznitsa
“The Big Sick,” by Michael Showalter
“Cinema, Manoel de Oliveira and Me,” by Joao Botelho
“Dunkirk,” by Christopher Nolan
“Eight Hours Are Not a Day” (restored re-release), by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
“Faces Places,” by Agnes Varda
“I Am Not Your Negro,” by Raoul Peck
“Logan,” by James Mangold
“Logan Lucky,” by Steven Soderbergh
“The Lost City of Z,” by James Gray
“Mrs. Fang,” by Wang Bing
“On the Beach at Night Alone,” by Hong Sang-soo
“Paddington 2,” by Paul King
“Split,” by M. Night Shyamalan
“Twin Peaks: The Return,” by David Lynch
“The Venerable W,” by Barbet Schroeder
“War For the Planets of the Apes,” by Matt Reeves
From the films I’ve managed to see… Other than “Loveless” (my favorite of the year), the others are in no particular order.
“Loveless”: My favorite film of the year and the director whose talent makes me the most jealous.
“The Party”: A scathing and very timely film.
“Phantom Thread”: A period film that never feels constrained by the period. Plus, Lesley Manville is incredible.
“First Reformed”: One of the most interesting US films of the year.
“mother!”: A brilliant piece of cinema and if you don’t agree then you’re wrong.
“Lady Macbeth” and “God’s Own Country”: Two very good debuts.
“Get Out”: The most entertaining film of the year that’s also one of the smartest.
“Threads”: A TV movie from 1984 about a nuclear attack that I finally saw on the big screen (after being forced to watch it as a kid at school). It’s probably the bleakest film ever made and all the better for it.
I haven’t seen as many films as I wanted this year. Life was in session. However the ones I saw left a strong impression on me and I can’t in anyway rate them but I would love to list them. It occurred to me that going to the cinema is now the official remedy to the constant swiping left on Netflix. I also want to say I haven’t seen “Lady Bird,” “Patti Cake$” and “Call Me By Your Name” yet.
“You Were Never Really Here” by Lynne Ramsay: Lynne Ramsay is one of my favorite directors and images from “Rat Catcher” will forever play in my head. I wished the topic of Sex Trafficking would have a female protagonist, but this film proves that through a woman’s eyes, men benefit from a new gaze too.
“Bar Bahar (In Between)” by Maysaloun Hamoud and “Personal Affairs,” directed by Maha Haj: Are two films with strong Palestinian, women directors point of view who shared the top prize at the Haifa Film Festival in Israel. They both capture the heavy intersectional burden of life under occupation and in a patriarchal society in different ways. “In Betweenm” details the lives of three very different young Palestinian woman who live together in a Tel Aviv apartment. When the film opened in the UK, Maysaloun Hamoud spoke about a message she got on Facebook and can’t forget. It said: “I have a question for you: Do you want the bullet in your head, in your heart or between your legs?” Both films can be considered as part of a new Arab, cinematic wave which started after the Arab Spring and gives voice to a younger, underground scene many people in their 20s and 30s around the world will identify with.
“Scaffolding” by Matan Yair: One of my favorite taglines is in the trailer: ”A man under construction.” This Israeli film came from its writer/director’s experience of teaching high school kids from working-class backgrounds. Some of them never return to read any literature, poetry or plays once school is over. It’s an insightful look at education as a privilege and at masculinity in its many forms.
“Mudbound” by Dee Rees: With painterly cinematography from Rachel Morrison.
“Get Out” by Jordan Peele: New ideas about race are rarely packaged in such a popular way. The “Sunken Place” is real.
“Lemon” by Janicza Bravo: Featuring one of my all-time favorite performances from Michael Cera.
“Good Time” by Safdie Brothers: Rob Pattinson is not a vampire.
“Wonder Woman” by Patty Jenkins: Never thought I would cry in a SuperHero movie but seeing Wonder Woman with a Hebrew accent and Robin Wright in FULL armor on horseback after growing up with the beloved and passive ButterCup in the Princess Bride had more impact on me than I could foresee.
“A Ghost Story” by David Lowery: Time, memory and the existential secrets of life. When the lights came up at the end of the film I felt closer to everyone who shared the theater with me. A masterful work of wonder by one of my favorite filmmakers.
“The Florida Project” by Sean Baker: Brooklynn. Prince. Casting is an underestimated art form that deserves its own category in award shows. Carmen Cuba who is known for her casting of “Stranger Things” and almost every Soderbergh film, found another little miracle.
“Kuso” by Flying Lotus: Kuso means shit or bull shit in Japanese and is the term used in East Asia for all the internet’s crap that consists of low brow camp and parody.
Flying Lotus or Steve is a true experimental artist who has a deep dialogue with the meaning of expectations. Expectations of structure, sound, meaning. You can hear it in his music and – if you can get past the body horror – you can experience it in his Cronenberg-Python-Afrofuturism cinema. There’s not a lot of artists that will dare to go into the darkest corners of their subconscious and come out laughing.
One extra from 2016.
“Raw” by Julia Ducournau: It’s everything its title promises. It captures the raw experience of being a young woman, finding her physical and sexual identity in a world that can often see her as fresh meat. It’s also a great genre film that will be hard for many to stomach but before everything, it is an extremely impressive work of cinema. Of filmmaking, full of choices that make your cinephile blood boil with pleasure.
2017 was a terrific year for movies and since I didn’t make one this year, I had plenty of time to take advantage. I could easily list 30 or more that I highly enjoyed and would recommend, but I decided to narrow it down to the 10 with the fewest votes on IMDb for this list. Hopefully more people will check them out in the months and years to come!
“All These Sleepless Nights” (Michał Marczak)
“Beach Rats” (Eliza Hittman)
“Creep 2” (Patrick Brice)
“Faces Places” (Agnès Varda, JR)
“The Florida Project” (Sean Baker)
“Ma” (Celia Rowlson-Hall)
“The Other Side of Hope” (Aki Kaurismäki)
“Suntan” (Argyris Papadimitropoulos)
“The Workshop” (Laurent Cantet)
Here are my top 10 narratives from this year in alphabetical order:
“The Big Sick”
“Call Me by Your Name”
“The Florida Project”
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”
When I close my eyes and think about the moments that excited me about filmmaking this year, two experiences at the movies stand out:
The One Way or Another: Black Women’s Cinema, 1970-1991 series at BAM. The program centered around the recent restoration and re-release of Julie Dash’s masterpiece Daughters of the Dust. The sold-out crowd bubbled with ecstatic gratitude for her vision. The series also introduced me to Dash’s extraordinary UCLA short dance film Four Women.
The digital restoration of Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” at Lincoln Center. I reveled in the pure cinematic collective giddiness that accompanied the screening. Its record-breaking theatrical run earned that week’s second highest per theater average at the domestic box office, trailing only Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2!
The NYC film programming community deserves a round of applause. I swoon over the bounty of beautifully considered series afforded us. Some additional highlights of the year include:
Forbidden Colours: Ryuichi Sakamoto at the Movies series at Quad Cinema. I love retrospectives built around craftspeople beyond directors. Sakamoto’s new album async also served as my “writing score” this year.
Future Imperfect: The Uncanny in Science Fiction series at MOMA. Where to begin with this embarrassment of riches? I hope they run the whole thing again so I can see every film I missed.
Talking Pictures: The Cinema of Yvonne Rainer series at Lincoln Center. The program also introduced me to Yvonne Rainer’s poems (“the forward momentum / of practice / of object / no ritual here / the weight of the body / is material proof / that air is matter / and mind’s married to muscle”).
My self-created double feature of Robert Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthazar” as part of the Anne Wiazemsky Homage at Film Forum paired with Charles Burnett’s “Killer of Sheep” as part of the Black Intimacy series at MOMA.
The ongoing Welcome to the Metrograph: A to Z series. This year’s program included a 35mm print of Martin Bell and Mary Ellen Mark’s Streetwise and the recently discovered uncut 35mm print of Dario Argento’s Suspira.
New releases moved me too, but this year in particular, I sat in the dark alongside others engaging with old films in a new light. I zoomed out to consider the impact of the work we do on a different scale. The comet has a long tail, dear friends.
I’ve not seen nearly enough of the documentaries or narrative films that comprise most of the media’s lists of significant works this year. So any attempt at a “top 10” would be pointless. But I did see two films that have stood out to me personally for very different reasons.
Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is a perfect film for our moment. I’ve seen it twice now, and its accomplishment only grew for me the second time around. A ruthlessly honest, funny, and scary riff of a film on race in America. Peele’s ear for the comforting lies we liberals tell ourselves about our sensitivity smashes into the deep and still resonate legacy of slavery. Is there a more apt metaphor then “the sunken place” for what it means to be black in America today? That sequence is the scariest thing I’ve seen in years. And the carnage at the end is clearly more than just one man’s fight for freedom. It feels like a righteous attempt at retribution for 300 years of American history.
The documentary “Faces, Places” couldn’t be more different in intentions and aesthetics. It’s a beautiful and playful film about cross-generational connection, and a poignant celebration of the nobility and essential humanity of people. I love the way this film swims against the tide of most documentary storytelling these days with their focus on extreme lives, war, violence, and profound injustice. We desperately need those films, and a lot of brave filmmaking was on display this year from war-torn countries like Syria. But it’s also necessary to remember the everyday good most of us humbly aspire to do.
Photo courtesy of Studios / A&E IndieFilms / IFC Films
(In no particular order)
“We The Animals” (you’re all in for a treat)
“Nathan For You”
“City of Ghosts”
“Bob Dylan Trouble No More”
“Blade Runner 2049”
“Brimstone & Glory”
“O Animal Cordial”
“A Ghost Story”: This tiny film managed to expand my view of time, and my place in it, with the smallest of gestures, the simplest of cuts, and a 9 minute shot of Rooney Mara eating pie. Even though I unabashedly love this movie, I don’t find myself recommending it to others as much as I probably should. Partially because this movie feels like its mine, and selfishly I don’t want anyone else to have it, which is something I probably haven’t felt for a movie since I was in college. I remember leaving the theater and thinking to myself, if I ever watched it again, it’d be by myself in an empty theater because I would need the extra space for my soul to stretch.
“Lady Bird”: I loved every inch of this film. Every time I underestimated its characters or its scenes, thinking them to be oversimplified or shallow, the film would open up a chasm, revealing vertigo-inducing depth. Most memorably, the shot of her mom driving away from the airport. My heart broke for every time I put my own mom in a similar situation, and breaks for every time I know my own idiot kids will one day do the same to me.
“The Florida Project”: I know some people passionately hated the ending to this movie, but I found it thrilling, beautiful, and ultimately heartbreaking. Rather than resorting to the obligatory shot of a girl crying and slamming her hands against the window as the car pulls away, or the montage of her bouncing from foster home to foster home, we are slapped in the face with the exact opposite. Something beautiful and strange and impossible. Which begs the question, if this is impossible, what actually happened? The viewer is forced to imagine it themselves, making the truth of the story that much more haunting.
“The Post”: Its interesting that this historical newsroom drama ended up being one of the most fun times I had while watching a movie this year. Yes, it took a little while to get going, but once it did, I was glued to the screen, feeling an adrenaline rush that my body usually reserves for Christopher Nolan IMAX epics. Beyond being thrilling, this film was a shot of inspiration and a soothing Christmas gift to all of us who have become numb and worn down from this year’s relentless news cycle. Is it going to convince any of the #CNNFAKENEWS crowd of the importance of the free press? Maybe not. But for the rest of us, I’d file this movie under self-care. #treatyoself.
“Call Me by Your Name”: Halfway through the film I found myself restlessly readjusting my legs and thinking about who was texting me. What I didn’t realize was that I was the proverbial frog in the pot of water, being slowly brought to boil. By the time the end credits were rolling, my heart had been cooked alive without me even realizing it. I spent the rest of the evening with a horrible pain in my chest, listening to Sufjan Stevens. It was great.
“Coco”: To be honest, nothing about Coco’s marketing appealed to me, but I really wanted to check out the Olaf short that everyone was complaining about for myself. Somehow this sweet film about a Mexican family and their vibrant and beautiful culture, dropped unwittingly amidst a MAGA, “build the wall” context, became the perfect salve against that hateful rhetoric, without ever needing to include any story elements about xenophobia. To quote another great 2017 film: “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.”
“Dunkirk”: I’ve always appreciated Nolan’s love of the IMAX format as an audience member seeking thrills, but it wasn’t until I saw Dunkirk in all its 70mm glory that I could appreciate it from an artistic standpoint. Every frame was a larger than life fresco, and for a moment, I was at a museum. Soaking up a mural, studying a natural history museum style diorama— I was being hit with the full force of these images. From the first image of young soldiers watching German propaganda float down like snow, to the Tom Hardy cathartically gliding without gas over the city, I was reminded of the way cinefiles affectionately call movie theaters “church”.
“Wonder Woman”: I know this movie gets a lots of praise for being a huge inspiration to little girls who need strong role models like Wonder Woman, but I hope people don’t forget about all of the wimpy-ass grown up beta males who also need to hear that sometimes empathy and tenderness can be your greatest strength. I don’t remember the last time I saw that in a film and actually believed it. When she walked out onto the No Man’s Land on her own, for a moment, I really did.
“Get Out”: The subtle co-opting and erasure of the African American identity and experience by “woke”, “non-racist” white people is such an insane thing to dramatize in a horror movie that I didn’t even have a chance to intellectually process it while I was watching. I just felt it; every beat was pure, fun animal emotion. It wasn’t until the drive home that I got a chance to connect the dots and realize how profoundly clear the whole thing was.
Also, shout out to that one old Asian dude at the auction who brought up way too many complicated feelings on how Asian Americans awkwardly fit into America’s race discussion for me to bring up right now.
Honorable mention: The Last Jedi’s Puppet Yoda laughing in Luke’s face as the old Jedi books burn.This scene reminded me of the fact that so much of the bullshit conflicts that are happening right now come from the fact that too many people are holding too tightly to old books and old rules that no longer make sense in modern times and we need to burn it all down. Burn it down and laugh and dance and realize we can pave a new way. Let me know when the GIF of puppet Yoda giddily kicking his feet becomes available online because I’ll probably use it in every conversation in 2018.
Jonathan Prime/Focus Features
My Favorite movie experiences of 2017.
“Phantom Thread”: I honestly don’t know what to feel about this film, except that I often think of it, weeks later. The moviemaking was so good I forgot to dislike the story. I rolled my eyes at the characters one minute, then stared at them jaw-dropped and mesmerized the next. The end left me queasy. I started to think it was a parody of itself, then realized it might have been a parody of me, or us.
“Blade Runner 2049”: This was, for me, the most complete cinematic experience of the year. I didn’t understand how Denis would move forward Ridley’s vast visual tapestry – one of the most influential characteristics of any single film of any time. The mood of our coming dystopia was familiar – in the best way – but the filmmakers populated it with updates that whispered their impending arrival in real life. Especially, virtual love, project sexuality. I loved its languid pace. The score carried me downriver. The thing took so much hubris, the bar Ridley had set so high, I have nothing but admiration for this film and loved every minute.
“Get Out”: A lot of this felt like an inside (and excellent) joke, from casting known progressive actors as Stepford honkie supremacists, to the Dave Chappelle-like mockery of caucasian dialect. But I got it, and it was smart, and of a moment, and I found myself laughing as a way of protecting myself from the digs the film made at almost every aspect of modern society.
“Baby Driver”: I’ve heard people taking issue with this film, and I wish I knew why. It was a joyful experience – I completely bought into the fairytale musical, the Sharks & Jets/Westside Story and Singin’ in the Rain glee of the story and its filmmaking. I often write to a soundtrack, but the idea of laying down soundtrack first and building a plot around that is smart. I loved the way Edgar shot Ansel Elgort and Lilly James and the chorus of baddies, and way he threw the camera around.
“Mudbound”: Strong cinematic portrait, a film of the south and its treacheries that Walker Evans might have shot.
“Atomic Blonde”: Man, did he shoot Charlize beautiful and badass. Plot whatever. I already forgot it. I’ll take the fight sequences – was that a 10-minute oner as Charlize took on body after body a la OLD BOY? And I’ll take the submergence of flesh in water and the icy loneliness of a killer-spy, killing and fighting to destroy another day.
“The Darkest Hour”: I wanted to resist this film, for its good humor and benign intentions. Then I realized it wasn’t taking on the near-death experience of standing up to Hitler’s apocalypse, as much as it was capturing the enigmatic mind of the Hitchcock of politicians. Joe’s camerawork was beautiful and whimsical, like the man itself.
“Dunkirk”: I’ve never seen a war film so devoid of blood and torn flesh, but so full of anxiety. To me this was a claustrophobic fever dream, almost a tone poem. I loved how few words of dialog there were. When men are facing death or about to die, what they can speak that can top what their eyes say to us?
“I, Tonya”: I got it. I had no idea why she did it. And now I do, completely. An ode to the glass ceiling trapping the white underclass. I kept thinking that if Tonya Harding had skated in Trump’s America, she’d have won the gold.
Courtesy of Sundance
My favorite movies released this year in random order (not including ones directed by/starring/produced by people I’m friendly with because feels weird and unfair to “rank” those):
“Call Me by Your Name”
“On the Beach at Night Alone”
“The Florida Project”
“The Last Jedi”
Photo Credit: Ben Rothstein
10. “The Big Sick”: I love how much ground they are able to cover without being heavy handed. This is such a personal, sweet and emotional film, I was very touched by it. I left feeling very hopeful which is such a beautiful gift to get from a film.
9. “Wonder Woman”: I was unsure whether or not I would enjoy this “action movie,” but I was so inspired and excited by this film. I got very emotional watching the warrior women train for battle, mainly because it just seemed like such a normal thing for them to do. It made me realize how much things have actually changed. I am so grateful that my daughter has a film like this to reference as she grows and develops as a woman. So proud to see a woman making a film of this scale, and doing it better than anyone else!
8. “The Shape of Water”: Such a beautiful, magical film. I am so happy that there are stories like this being told.
7. “The Disaster Artist”: This is a great tribute to everyone who has ever aimed big and missed terribly. It reminds me of Into the Wild in many ways, as a person who has a vision for the way they want to live without necessarily having the tools to implement it. Great performances!
6. “Faces Places”: Such a sweet, simple film celebrating art and the affect it can have on a community.
5. “Logan”: Again, an action film I wasn’t sure about going into it, but it was a really great reimaginiation of what can be done within the super hero genre.
4. “The Last Men in Aleppo”: The most heartbreaking film of the year. Difficult to watch one that must be seen.
3. “Coco”: My kids loved it. Such a gentle and touching way to handle such a heavy subject. A wonderful, adventurous, magical piece of art.
2. “The Square”: Such a brilliant, hysterical film. I loved watching it. So many parallels between the fine art world and the independent film world!
1. “Get Out”: I feel very strongly that this was the best film of the year. It is so nice to see the box office reflect that as well. This film proves that an incredibly powerful, bold statement can be made within a riveting, imaginative and entertaining film. I feel like I have never seen anything like it, and was shocked and moved by it.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture
1. “Dunkirk”: There’s a Calvin & Hobbes strip where Calvin’s dad puzzles him with how the inner point of a record and the outer point of the same record can travel different distances but make a full rotation in the same amount of time, even though the inner most part of the record and the outermost part are moving at the same speed. The final panel is Calvin, awake in the dead of night and tortured by the riddle. 25 years after reading it, I still can’t not think of this algebraic conundrum. “Dunkirk” is like that, but as a movie.
2. “Phantom Thread”
3. “Beach Rats”: As a rule, I do not include movies made by friends on my year end lists. Have to make an exception for Eliza.
4. “The Meyerowitz Stories”: I wonder if it is a coincidence that every movie on this list so far was shot on film.
5. “Blade Runner 2049”
6. “Lady Bird”
7. “Life and Death of Louis XIV”: The only foreign film on this list. I guess I don’t see as many as I would like. Also generally the ones I see have been so overhyped that I don’t quite like them as much as I feel like I am supposed to.
8. “The Beguiled”
9. “Lost City of Z”: That makes six out of ten shot on film.
10. “Donald Cried”
Honestly, my list could be “Twin Peaks” 1-10, but…
1. “Twin Peaks: The Return”
2. “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond”
3. “The Killing Of A Sacred Deer”
4. “I, Tonya”
5. “Big Little Lies”
6. “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore”
7. “Gerald’s Game”
10. “Logan Lucky”
TOP 10 (in no particular order)
“A Ghost Story”
“The Florida Project”
“Call Me by Your Name”
“The Rider”: Although “The Rider” won’t be theatrically released until the spring of 2018, it’s the film I’m most excited to watch again on the big screen. Since seeing it a few months ago, I haven’t been able to shake it. The film is a meditation on physical and spiritual wounds, grief, and a slow healing process that can take a lifetime. “The Rider” is one of the greatest arguments for choosing life (over macho/narcissistic martyrdom) that I’ve ever seen. In letting go of old dreams, the protagonist of “The Rider” is reborn.
My New Year’s resolution is 50/50 x 2020, an intersectional movement to create balance and equity in our workplaces – to this end, my list for 2017 contains the following AMAZING films
“Get Out,” directed by Jordan Peele
“Wonder Woman,” directed by Patty Jenkins
“Mudbound,” directed by Dee Rees
“Call Me By Your Name,” directed by Luca Guadagnino
“Girls Trip,” directed by Malcolm Lee
“The Shape of Water,” directed by Guillermo del Toro
“Everything Everything,” directed by Stella Meghie
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” directed by Rian Johnson
“Lady Bird,” directed by Greta Gerwig
“Step,” directed by Amanda Lipitz
This year I’m only going to list films that moved me on a deep level. Not in any particular order:
“Phantom Thread”: Last year I mentioned in passing (when referencing his Radiohead music video, “Daydreaming”) that I think Paul Thomas Anderson is the most exciting American filmmaker working today. This film just re-confirms that. I’m still processing what this film is “about:” the mystery of love, the impossibility of understanding a relationship from the outside (that is – if one is not in it)? Regardless, it’s a sensorial delight, a beguiling story that hums with mystery (the human condition kind, not the narrative kind). It cast a spell that I don’t fully understand and that hasn’t left me for days after seeing it.
“Thelma”: I’m a fervent and longtime admirer of Joachim Trier. There is such beautiful rawness in all his work. This film is claustrophobic and haunting, delving into a world of the supernatural – new territory for him. It’s aching, painful and beautiful in equal measures. There is an image involving a child that I still can’t shake.
“Raw”: See “Thelma” above (As both these films are coming-of-age stories featuring the “awakening,” sexual and otherwise, of young women). This is among the boldest filmmaking I saw this year. Erotic, disturbing, and continuously surprising – I had no idea where it was going. It was also fantastically inspiring – Julia Ducournau reminded me of how audacious a film can be.
“The Shape of Water”: How rare to see a fairy tale for adults. Fairy tales, if they are films, are almost always morality tales for children. Pixar movies are brilliant and they frequently make me weep, but seeing this, a fully realized vision with extraordinary production, creature, and costume design, not to mention the work of Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Michael Shannon – and made for adults – is profound on another level. This is the work of an artist at the height of his powers. A humanist triumph. I bow down. All Hail Guillermo del Toro.
“A Ghost Story”: If there was a film this year with more soul – please show it to me. Such a quiet and simple meditation; it’s intimate and expansive, all at once. I’m not sure why exactly, but it also gave me hope in humanity. Exquisite filmmaking by David Lowery.
“The Square”: Ruben Östlund again builds complex, hilarious, true, and painful moments out of the quotidian interactions we all have many times a day. The scene in which the museum’s wealthy contributors are treated to a performance art piece is among the most provocative and complex I saw this year. Rather than focusing on the intimacy of a marriage (as in Force Majeure), this is an art world satire (though it also delves into contemporary culture in general). But I found it every bit as insightful and stimulating and wise.
“Lady Macbeth”: There is such an admirable austerity to the storytelling. Director William Oldroyd trusted the silences, trusted the audience to see (and feel) every moment of actress Florence Pugh’s slow transformation from victim/slave to master of her destiny. Ms. Pugh illuminated this journey masterfully – in turn transparent, opaque, vulnerable and psychopathic. What could have been nothing more than melodrama was, for me, an immensely satisfying exploration of empowerment and self-realization.
I am just going to include a couple of moments of inspiration that really knocked my socks off (ones that are probably not on other top 10 lists):
Nathan Fielder’s show “Nathan for You” on Comedy Central has always been a source of inspiration, but two episodes in this fourth season reached heights I never thought possible. The first was “The Anecdote” and it is about an appearance Nathan has on Jimmy Kimmel. Nathan methodically research hours “celebrity” interviews as preparation for his upcoming appearance. He finds common themes and punchlines in many of them leading him to come up with the “perfect” anecdote. The only problem is it is completely fabricated. To fix this he methodically spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to make the story true. Step by step the whole thing needs to happen to Nathan in order for the anecdote to sound genuine. What this episode says about performance and its basis in reality is so inspiring. When you finally see the anecdote performed on live tv at the end, you can see the subtleties of acting that could only be achieved because of the preparation and “realism” of the events.”
The second episode in the season was its mind bending finale, “Finding Frances.” I could write so much about this specific episode, but it’s better for you to just watch it. Here Fielder switches the entire style of the show to a road/mystery documentary searching for one of the characters of his show’s long lost lover. It starts out as kind of lark, but the deeper Fielder dives into the life of this man; the deeper the show gets. We see humanity in the moments of frailty and we get to a place of understanding humanity that is truly new. If that weren’t enough Fielder goes into the nature of why even create something at all! He focus the camera on himself and questions his own existence and purpose. Finding Frances overall is around 80 minutes and it is something to be cherished. Thanks!
Also just watched “Stay Hungry” by Bob Rafelson … I know it’s from 1976 but its pretty incredible. Arnold Schwarzenegger gives such a touching performance and Jeff Bridges and Sally Field are top notch.
2017. The state is that which claims a monopoly on violence. But at the same time the (white, male) citizen subject is that which has a right to bear arms – in resistance to state tyranny, and to defend itself against the depredations of those who would infringe upon the free enjoyment of its property. (The state’s monopoly on violence has become increasingly restricted to the public domain, a domain neoliberalism has shrunk to de facto non-existence, as that domain has been privatized, such that is it has become a space primarily constructed around property relations and the extraction of surplus value.) The (white) family is that which (tenuously) mediates these two regimes of violence; families, as purveyors of violent self-defense, are thus always technically “crime” families, para-state structures where state justice and private revenge comingle. The Trump family is a family, for example, but it is also the Trump Organization. It inhabits, also, now, the state. So we are confused about who justifiably wields authority, confused about where, in particular, the authority that justifies violence resides and from whence it derives. The state attacks the (deep) state; the “family” is a corporation, but one drenched in “blood” ties; the citizen subject is sole sovereign of itself, and thus a citizen of no state at all, with no rights to assert other than the ones it can personally kill for. Power now no longer seems to require ideological feints; it tells lies not to deceive but simply and brazenly to display its power to lie. It doesn’t deceive – it performs, triumphantly, its deceptions. No one suspends disbelief. Everyone is simply asked to applaud the performance. Art is thus no longer able to exercise its own unique authority over a separate aesthetic realm. It poses no alternative performative practices that undermine and might point to an alternative order to the dominant culture’s performing practices. It can now only provide a pale imitation of the subversions power itself now operates on the images and performances that once upon a time used to enforce a fake normalcy and civility as they covered up the ruling elite’s crimes.
Here, for example, a “performance” that exposes, subverts, parodies, and with grim hilarity demonstrates the ruling class’s enforcement of white supremacy as a structuring violence in support of its regime:
The “glitch” here in the seamless surface of Fox News (as racist hatemonger Jesse Watters flubs his show’s introduction), is no glitch at all. The fake, fictional authority of the news anchor (a fictional construct shared alike by CNN, MSNBC, and all the others) is interrupted when that authority is shown to be nothing but the effect of a competent reading off of the company’s teleprompter, the reader of which, when faced with no script, turns immediately into a clueless day-player, a free-agent Uber driver temporarily shorn of satellite contact with Google Maps. But then, the script returns, now shorn of its “authoritative” veneer – and the performance is now purely one of cynical, murderously hateful corporate-sponsored venom. A purely documentary moment.
This mix of fictional and documentary modalities is of course a notable feature of so much of what’s interesting in recent cinema, from all the big-budget films “based on a true story” to the more independent works that in a variety of ways tackle the breaks, cracks, and fissures of the “fictional” narrative structures that shape our actual existences (Chloe Zhao’s “The Rider,” Kitty Green’s “Casting JonBenet,” Craig Gillespie’s ‘I, Tonya,” James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist,” among many others). The first scene of the Safdie Brothers’ “Good Time” is exemplary in this light – no other scene I’ve watched in 2017 dealt so boldly with all these confusing and conflictual aesthetic and political conflicts. In it, a seething, developmentally disabled young man (Nick Nikas, played by the film’s co-director Benny Safdie) sits in the office of a psychiatrist (Peter Verby, in “real life” not a professional actor, but a criminal attorney), who is administering some kind of cognitive test meant to elicit from the young man some account of his own violent history and tendencies. Under the guise of soliciting therapeutic, healing self-knowledge, the psychiatrist cannot but help betray his performance to be in the service of the state and its institutional power. Shot primarily in extreme close ups, the scene first solicits our concern for the psychiatrist’s safety (Safdie’s performance is electrically on edge); but it is the state violence of the psychiatrist’s probing, and the intensity of that violence as it is revealed on Safdie’s tear-stained face, that alerts us to the film’s greater empathies, especially as the session is interrupted and the scene ended with the entrance of Nick’s brother Connie (played by Robert Pattinson), who, in the name of family, pulls his brother from the office (and into a woefully mis-executed crime). The Nikas family “organization,” brought to life in the hybrid documentary-fiction language of the Safdies, never had a chance against the powers serving the crime family currently in the White House, but the reality of their resistance, as evidenced in Benny Safdie’s tears, is an eloquent reminder of what’s at stake in the current battles waged within the images we circulate, and the battles hardly visible but no less real.
I loved lots of movies everybody else loved too, like “Lady Bird,” “Get Out,” and “Three Billboards.” So here is some free advertising for things I loved that didn’t make 10 million dollars at the box office already!
1. “The Florida Project”: Brooklyn eating pancakes is my #1 movie moment of the year.
2. “A Ghost Story”: Existential hilarity. And dope jamz.
3. “Finding Frances,” “Nathan for You,” Season 4 finale: This network TV show makes me hurt from laughing and also question what on earth life is.
4. “PattiCake$”: Badass and funny. But also made me cry and made the grandma, mom, and daughter behind me in the theatre cry.
5. “Get Me Roger Stone”: All the now indicted and soon to be indicted Trump boys made a mind blowing documentary where they brag about helping ruin America.
6. “The Passage,” dir. Kitao Sakurai: A TV pilot that all the networks passed on but now it’s playing Sundance in January (thank god!). It’s BEAUTIFUL!
7. The movie in my head when i listened to “S-Town” – my favorite portrait of my home state that I’ve ever come across.
8. “Snowy Bing Bongs Across the North Star Combat Zone”: An absurdist comedy dance film fearlessly made by my absolute favorite people.
9. “Are We Not Cats?” dir. Xander Robin: A gross inventive love story about hair.
10. “Mustang Island,” dir. Craig Elrod: A funny Texas indie filled with great actors I didn’t know.
11. “The Nobodies,” dir: Jay Burleson: An ugly shitty movie shot on VHS about a horror film so bad the filmmaker killed himself. Unforgettable, and coming out on DVD thanks to Troma!
2. “A Fantastic Woman”
3. “The Florida Project”
5. “A Quiet Passion”
6. “Lady Bird”
7. “I, Tonya”
8. “The Post”
10. “The Big Sick”
There are so many great movies that, as of this writing, I have yet to see that I am dying to see – “Call Me By Your Name,” “The Florida Project,” “Three Billboards” just to name a few. For that reason I don’t think my Top Ten List can rightfully be just films given there’s so many that I need to see. So instead my Top Ten List is just a list of things I saw or heard this year that stand-out to me. (in no particular order)
“Get Out” (a perfect satire)
“Lady Bird” (a classic coming-of-age movie/really brought me back to my teen years)
“The Post” (incredibly important story for our time)
“Patti Cake$” (such a joyful movie bristling with life and great performances)
Tiffany Haddish‘s comic tour-de-force performance in “Girls Trip”
The Rachel Maddow Show/Joy Reid’s Twitter feed
Slate Podcasts: “Political Gabfest,” “Trumpcast,” “Reconstruction,” “Slow Burn”
Two great plays: “The Wolves” by Sarah DeLappe (play at Lincoln Center), “Actually” by Anna Ziegler (play at The Geffen)
“Twin Peaks: The Return” on Showtime (anything by David Lynch is a great thing)
“Get Out”: I told Mr. Peele this, so I have no qualms admitting it here; I was awash in envious rage over “Get Out.” (This is usually my first clue I’m watching something I will obsess over all my life.) I have a very different horror satire also about black people gestating (“Bad Hair,” shoots next year!), and here Jordan Peele was not only pulling his horror satire off, but he also managed to completely reinvigorate the genre! Seeing this film is how I imagine it must have been like to see “Rosemary’s Baby” in theaters at the time of its release. It was a revelation. It uses familiar horror genre cues to articulate a kind of terror wholly new for American audiences. Horror is always best when it is vital and bluntly satirical, and by turning the day-to-day fears of being Black into a gothic master work, Mr. Peele, for me pulled off something like a miracle. Watching it in theaters with an audience of squirming white people and black folks chuckling with recognition filled me with a rare kind of euphoria. “They let him get away with this??!!” I kept whispering to myself in total awe.
“Call Me by Your Name”: Of all there is to enjoy about this film, one of the first that struck me was the way director Luca Guadagnino and DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom mastered the use of point of view. Before I got swept away by the sun kissed forbidden, just a touch problematic, love affair between Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, I began to suspect that while the camera moved about in each scene, the lens never changed. (Googling later proved this to be true) Whether I was consciously aware of it or not, it was always clear from whose eyes I was staring out at the world. For me, the power of images to give us a sense that we are reading the minds of fictional characters, in spite of what they say and don’t say, is perhaps the most thrilling thing there is about motion pictures. This is cinema at its best. It’s a kind of magic act Guadagnino pulls for the entirety of the film. I could in fact write a dissertation on the single take shot used for the ending credits alone. Watching a gay romance where sexuality is not treated as tragedy complete with a speech every single gay boy dreams of hearing from their father, was also pretty exhilarating.
“I Am Not Your Negro”: James Baldwin’s ability to diagnose down to the DNA of America’s race issues was uncanny during his lifetime and even more so now. As if he had a front-row seat to the inverted version of D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” that is our everyday reality as Americans, Baldwin’s words echo into the present like a bolt of lightening in Raoul Peck’s gorgeously crafted documentary. I’m assuming it’s absence from all of 2017’s top ten lists has to do with it’s festival premiere in 2016, but I saw it in release this year (right after the first teaser trailer for my show “Dear White People” made me the target of alt-right trolling) and it remains one of the most rousing movie going experiences of my lifetime. To have your unnamed anxieties and fears articulated so clearly is a powerful but all too rare experience for black movie goers. I left the theater furious and clear but most of all, seen.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”: I find it hard to believe that anyone would disagree over “Last Jedi” being one of the best movie space operas since the genre was made commercially viable with the first “Star Wars.” But, disagree people have. Passionately, over all kinds of conflicting issues. “It’s pandering too much to the Star Wars fans!” “It’s not Star Wars enough for the Star Wars fans!” “The story is bloated!” “It doesn’t go far enough!” “Too many women and people of color!” “Not enough women or people of color and how come they don’t get to use the force!?” Oh and my favorite complaint, “There’s too many anachronisms in this completely fictional fantasy world!” Despite those that love it falling into consensus over its scope, its bravura direction orchestrated by Rian Johnson, the performances, it’s inclusive cast and it’s thematic updates — those that disagree have a cornucopia of often inarticulate and conflicting gripes. (At least it seemed that way before I muted a fervent conversation happening in my Twitter mentions between people who value their opinions much more than I do).
Making my case for this film would be meaningless amidst the noise, so I’ll just say this: A pastime of mine is reading the dissenting reviews of classic and now universally beloved films from the time of their release. I love “Last Jedi” more every time I see it and find the “hot-takes” from “Last Jedi” haters to have a familiar ring to them. “It’s a nice movie. It’s not, by any means, as nice as ‘Star Wars.’ It’s not as fresh and funny and surprising and witty, but it is nice and inoffensive and, in a way that no one associated with it need be ashamed of, it’s also silly,” hailed Vincent Canby about “Empire Strikes Back” in the New York Times before summing it up with “It’s a big, expensive, time-consuming, essentially mechanical operation.” Too soon to tell, of course, but like “Empire,” I suspect “Last Jedi” might be one of the classics.
“mother!”: I found the reception of this film to be particularly disheartening. For me, it was a bold and daring allegory about the destructive nature of our tendency as a species to default to patriarchy. Through the dizzying blend of handhelds strictly from Jennifer Lawrence’s point of view that mark the beginning of the film, to the contained armageddon that recall Fritz Lang and Kubrick which bring the film to a close, I was captivated. Partly because I knew what I was watching. From what I could tell, the film seemed to be divisive because half of the audience watching the film knew they were watching an allegory and the other half thought they were watching a grounded thriller. This is to be expected I suppose, because selling an “Allegory Film” to audiences has never been any studio’s forté. What really bummed me out, however, are the critics who responded with snark to the film’s challenges, rather than trying to help audiences understand how to watch a film like this in the first place. When so many of the paint-by-numbers blockbusters get praised because they’re nostalgic and don’t totally suck, it’s particularly hard to see a work of art (whether one likes it or not) dismissed so casually by “serious” movie people.
“Coco”: I can’t add much to the conversation about this movie that hasn’t already been said. It’s studio entertainment at its best. Moving, delightful, perfectly crafted, totally respectful of the culture it’s introducing to the masses and intimately engaged in the human condition. It is also responsible for an unexpected and very public ugly cry that erupted from me around the last ten minutes of the movie. It amazes me how effortlessly Pixar packages pondering mortality and other existential crisis as such a colorful and family friendly experience.
“Mudbound”: With its tunneling personal narratives and painterly frames of vignetted blues with orange, “Mudbound” is exquisite. I normally watch period films that focus on black pain begrudgingly because that pain is often romanticized, made cinematic, and aimed mostly at white audiences in need of catharsis at the discovery of racism. However in Rees’ hands that pain is given context, cause and effect. This human drama playing out above the muddy Mississippi Delta, features actual flesh and blood humans, rendered eloquently with flaws and fears and colliding histories. I’ve heard the film called “literary,” and I think it’s because there’s never a sense that the narrative has been reduced in its translation to film. Here Dee Rees makes the density of the story one of the films virtues, weaving a lush but rarely sentimental web one can not help but get caught up in.
Contenders for the rest of the list:
So I just wrapped Season 2 of “Dear White People” and thus have not seen all the films I’d like to. In fact seeing everything else on my list is one of the joys I look forward to now that Christmas has passed and I have approximately 17 months worth of cornbread stuffing to sustain me through the movie marathons ahead. With that in mind, here are the films I can’t wait to see that I suspect would’ve made this list had I seen them.
“BPM (Beats Per Minute)”: I can’t imagine what we need more as a society than an urgent, vibrant story about what modern activism has looked like. The trailers from Cannes alone gave me the chills. It looks gorgeous and maddening. A few of my favorite things.
“Phantom Thread”: I wait for a P.T. Anderson film the way I imagine people used to wait for a Kubrick film. Whether you’re going to enjoy the film or not, one can be sure it is going to be audacious, challenging, brilliantly crafted and unlike anything else. He’s one of few working filmmakers who consistently keep cinema exciting by daring to experiment while also remaining (to varying degrees, depending on who you ask) accessible. The thought that this (may) be Daniel Day Lewis’ last, and some say best, performance is icing.
“The Florida Project”: The film looks somehow glossy and intimate, sweeping and nuanced, magical and real. Sean Baker’s ability to tell stories both enchanting and devastating about the kinds of people so easily overlooked by the rest of us is uncanny, and I can’t wait to let this one break my heart.
“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)”
C-Span Live: Congressional Hearings
Courtesy of NEON
Here are a few of my favorite things… Films, series and docs! This list is incomplete because I was too busy delivering a ten-hour tv series and a scripted feature film in 2017 — which I’m discovering also happens to be one of the strongest years in cinema and TV in a long time. It’s been a deep pleasure playing catch up this holiday season. Here’s what I’ve come to thus far:
“Lady Bird”: Saoirse Ronan gives an impeccable and relatable performance as a girl who is struggling to find her identity amid the battle between love and hate for everything that defines her circumstances. Greta Gerwig’s writing is both clever and authentic, and her precise visual construction of the story, often saying everything in a single frame, makes this film tied for tops of those I have seen. The characters are relatable, from the priest to the nun, to her parents and love interests, but they defy stereotype. And there is a sweetness that pervades every scene, even when mother and daughter are angry at each other. The first love montage between Danny and Ladybird was touching and perfect. Catholic school, theater kids, and teenage angst – bouncing off each other in their quest for self-discovery – was so visceral that the film enveloped me completely in it’s world, which is how I judge a great scripted film.
“I, Tonya”: I found the direct to cam doc-style asides and set ups, both in sit downs and in scene, from each character’s competing perspective before taking us back engaging and provocative. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously and forces levity whenever it threatens to get sentimental. Director of Photography, Nicolas Karakatsanis’ all-in-one camera reverse of Jeff in the kitchen and then on the floor in living room and then out of the house and down the street is hands down my favorite shot of the year. Margot Robbie is excellent. Allison Janney is a riot. The soundtrack perfectly captures the period. I was thoroughly entertained and inspired.
“Edith & Eddie”: This short documentary captures the simple yet mind-blowingly deep lessons of what it is to be a truly respectful person, and to find real love and partnership… And then the contrast of the carelessness and greed of the authorities in their lives who want to blow their sweet existence to smithereens. It riveted me, made me furious, and moved me to tears.
“Jane”: Greatest live film experience this year: A Hollywood Bowl screening presented by my friend, director Brett Morgen and Jane Goodall, of his beautifully shot & edited,16MM documentary, “Jane,” starring Jane herself and several key chimpanzees who were key to her research was accompanied by a 75-piece orchestra performing the original Phillip Glass score. Watching the first documentary ever to be screened at the Hollywood Bowl, with chimp arms swinging over violins in the night air, we had the feeling we were witnessing history in the making (a history which should be repeated with other films.) Chills overtook me, and I did actually whistle more than once, from the box I shared with my mother and son.
“The Handmaid’s Tale”: I binge-watched the series on Air New Zealand to Melbourne. Can’t stop thinking about it or talking about it ever since. The poor Aussie’s got the worst of my obsession. It’s an important and timely warning shot about how our freedoms can be gradually taken, and we won’t realize until it’s too late, and we are enslaved. Whether or not we are heading for a similarly totalitarian takeover has yet to be seen, however the observation of how those in power justify the abuse of those they lord over, obscuring and often eliminating their subordinates more valuable contributions, can be witnessed in our daily lives and lately in our entertainment news. Oh, it is beautifully photographed by Reed Morano, and Elisabeth Moss kills it every time.
“Stranger Things”: Cuddling up on the couch with my son and watching the second season was like stepping into another world that we didn’t want to leave. The impeccable 80’s treatment and the performances of Finn Wolfhard (“Mike”), David Harbour (“Jim Hopper”) and Millie Bobby Brown (“Eleven”) were particular highlights, but the reason I love it so much is just the pure loyalty and boundary-less friendship.
“Stronger”: Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Jeff Bauman is remarkable, and Tatiana Maslany was wonderfully-nuanced and authentic. I cried a few times, which felt weird in an awards screening environment, but I couldn’t help it. Having been through a sudden disabling accident with my father, I appreciated how the phases of grief that come with a gradual awareness that one’s life has changed forever were so accurately portrayed. David Gordon Greene’s film captured this through the resilience of these characters, as Jake’s “Jeff” manages to spin every negative into a positive, but still finds it challenging to accept that he is a hero for losing his legs, as well as the responsibilities that come with a real, equal love relationship – the greatest test of all.
“Call Me by Your Name”: The film is glorious to look at, and thank god because it’s hard to turn your eyes away from Timothée Chalamet in Luca Guadagnino’s story of the budding romance between young Elio and the visiting Oliver. The film lulled me into it’s rhythm, to the point where I felt like I could smell the Italian summer, the sweat of these young men falling in love, and of course – the peach.
“Get Out”: I think Jordan Peele’s horror film is the best of the decade because of it’s blistering social critique and lack of cheap scares, which are so common and predictable in the genre. I loved Daniel Kaluuya and Catherine Keener’s performances, and was ultimately inspired to watch Stanley Kramer’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” again, which I also highly recommend.
“Molly’s Game”: Ties with Ladybird for my favorite opening, especially how Sorkin weaves in educational and trivial information, like comparing the angle of the ski slope to the pyramids, or later when Sorkin compares Olympic sprinter Mack Robinson to Jesse Owens and the four second difference between making elite history and heading home to the then-segregated United States. Plus, sometimes it really does come down to a single twig and things don’t happen as they should. The signature speed of Sorkin’s dialogue revived even my nephew, who was falling asleep when we fired it up on Christmas night, and kept us riveted as we bounced between temporal phases of Molly Bloom’s extraordinary life. The flip side of the high-speed storytelling, though, can sometimes be that everyone talks so fast, dropping razor-sharp comebacks, they can at times sound like each other, or their writer/director, which causes us care a little less about them. That said, Idris Elba and Kevin Costner had me loving those characters, and my favorite scene (besides the recurring videotape her dad took on her 12th birthday) is the first time Molly visits attorney Charlie Jaffey to convince him to represent her – loved the dialogue, the performances and Sorkin’s choice of shots to bring home the game of chase they played…
“The Shape of Water”: I was swept away by Guillermo Del Toro’s magical film. To me, it’s an exploration of how we choose what we see and how that defines who we are. Sally Hawkins is perfectly cast and so natural and together with Octavia Spencer they make such a lovely duo. Richard Jenkins is also fantastic as Eliza’s lonely neighbor Giles. I also love the ending.
“Baby Driver” gets a shout out for it’s action-packed, flawless interplay of music and visuals, and Ansel Elgort’s super-slick performance as lovable “Baby.”
“Wonder Woman”: Well Patty Jenkins rocked it, breaking box office records while together with Gal Gadot giving young girls a superhero to root for who stands for loving-kindness and wins by practicing it.
OK, I’m heading back to the couch to continue rolling screeners. Next up: The lauded “Dunkirk,” “The Post,” “Phantom Thread,” “Hired Gun,” “Wait for Your Laugh,” “Hostiles,” “Breathe,” and of course the most polarizing movie of the year: “mother!”
My TOP 8.
“Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Neill Blomkamp’s Oats Studio Short films
In no order:
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
“Call Me by Your Name”
“BPM (Beats Per Minute)”
“The Florida Project”
“Last Men In Aleppo”
Photo Courtesy of Focus Features
All around a fantastic year for movies and television. “Twin Peaks” especially really blew my mind. Episode 8 was one of the best things I’ve ever seen on TV or at the movies or otherwise. I can’t wait to have an 18-hour marathon of the whole season.
1. “Twin Peaks: The Return”
3. “Phantom Thread”
4. “The Vietnam War”
5. “Blade Runner 2046”
6. “The Beguiled”
7. “Get Out”
8. “Kong: Skull Island”
I also enjoyed “The Orville,” “Star Trek Discovery,” and “The Last Jedi.”
“The Florida Project”: Pretty close to a masterpiece in my opinion. You have to be patient with it, which I rarely am able to do but if you stick with it, the movie is cinema at is best. There are a couple of scenes that are some of my favorite in recent memory. One including a long tracking shot of Willem Defoe walking an unsavory character to and from getting a soda on a hot day. The way the take builds this unusual sense of tension is brilliant. But last 20 minutes of the film, starting with a hotel buffet feast and ending at the most magical place on earth feels almost like a movement in an opera in scope and scale and emotion. For the life of me, I could not stop weeping and stayed glued in my seat until long after the ArcLight digital Q and A.
“Get Out”: There are so many aspects to marvel at in regards to the writing and filmmaking of Get Out but what I keep coming back to is Daniel Kaluuya’s performance. So much of it is just his subtle reactions to the veiled and unveiled insanity going on around him and he does this pitch perfectly. He feels like a movie star to me in the sense I would watch him do anything.
“Lady Bird”: A perfect movie in my opinion. The section that struck me the most was the transition from Lucas Hedges crying on Saoirse’s shoulder to the great Stephen Henderson confiding about his depression to Laurie Metcalf. Lady Bird now stands above the rest as the definitive movie about what it felt like to graduate high school in the early 2000’s.
“Phantom Thread”: He is the master. That is all. I do think more people need to talk about Vicky Krieps though. She goes toe to toe with maybe the greatest and perhaps at times the most intimidating film actor of any generation and she remains calm and fearless and throws everything right back to him with as little as a look.
“Girls Trip”: Hilarious and also deeply emotional. The scene where they all are praying on the bed is one of my favorite of the year.
“The Last Jedi”: Rian Johnson continues to show his humanity and humor no matter how big his canvas. His latest epic still feels as oddly personal and character driven as “Brick.”
“The Shape of Water”: Every performance in this movie is wonderful. Including the cats. But the thing I can’t get over is that each supporting actor (Spencer, Shannon, Jenkins, Stuhlbarg) all have such intricately thought out backstories and inner lives that exist way beyond the A-story of the film. So much so that you could make an entire movie about with any of them as the central character and it would still be one of the best movies of the year.
“Call Me by Your Name”: Final scene between Stuhlbarg and Chalamet is one of the most beautiful moments between a father and son I’ve ever witnessed. We’ve often watched this scene play out the exact opposite way. Where the father is withholding or cruel. Unable to come to terms with his child’s decisions. But the way this scene is written, directed, and performed… from Stuhlbarg’s love and tender openness to Chalamet’s vulnerability and heartbreak summed up with just a look is stunning.
“Dunkirk”: Can’t think of another filmmaker out there who could come close in attempting to make this movie and pull it off the way Nolan does who i stlI think doesn’t get all the credit he deserves. I still feel the need to defend Interstellar to people. Tom Hardy is sneaky brilliant as the indecipherable but truly heroic pilot…. Farrier!
“Brad’s Status”: Mike White’s love letter to his dad (I dare you to listen to his Fresh Air interview about this and not projectile weep) feels criminally underrated and under seen. There are a couple of scenes including one in which Ben Stiller tickles his son Austin Abrams that made me laugh the hardest I did in a theatre this year (sans “Girl Trip”). The last scene between the two of them in the hotel room is deeply emotional and beautiful.
Other notes: I also loved seeing “Wonder Woman” in theaters, “Fleabag” on Amazon, the Papyrus sketch on SNL, and I really, really, miss seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman on screen.
10 Favorites from 2017 (No order)
“The Shape Of Water”
“The Big Sick”
“Call Me By Your Name”
(And here’s another 10 that I could easily swap out any of the above)
“The Florida Project” / “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” / “Brad’s Status” / “Foxtrot” / “Wind River” / “Jusqu’à la garde” (“Custody”) / “Split” / “My Life As A Courgette” / “Lady Macbeth”
First off, there were actually a bunch of need-to-see films I’ve yet to catch up with, like “The Square,” “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” or “Call Me By Your Name.” But there were a million impressive films out this year, from “Get Out” to “The Disaster Artist” to “mother!” (the latter of which I still don’t know what to make of, but certainly thought about a lot).
“Lady Bird” and “The Florida Project”: However, I’m just so excited about Greta Gerwig and Sean Baker having such great years. Not only are both films awesome, but they were made by such cool human beings. That Greta has the highest reviewed film comes as no surprise. And I’m happy that Sean’s ethnographic filmmaking hasn’t wavered throughout all his projects, but now has gained the acclaim it’s always deserved. I’m embarrassed to say that I also haven’t yet caught up with “Good Time” before writing this list, though that is the film I most look forward to seeing. That the Safdie brothers also had a slam dunk year means something is going right in indie film.
“The Post”: I have been re-watching various old Spielberg films all year, for whatever reason: I watched “Bridge of Spies,” “Munich,” “Catch Me If You Can,” “Raiders,” “Close Encounters,” “Jaws,” and “Sugarland Express.” So it was personally a noteworthy 2017 film moment for me to watch “The Post.” It’s definitely one of his better films, and I loved the look of that movie so much. So nice to see after, you know, “The BFG” (which maybe you all liked? I didn’t).
“Dunkirk” and “Darkest Hour”: I was surprised that enjoyed getting to watch both of these films this year. I’m not particularly invested either way in war films, and knew nothing about the Battle of Dunkirk other than its long fluid master in Joe Wright’s “Atonement.” Christopher Nolan’s film seems to be looking at “Atonement” and going, “No, this is more authentic.” While Wright’s film was instead singularly interested in what it takes to become one of history’s best orators. I found both movies great, but more so in their connection to each other: it was fun to see two impressive dudes tackle the same event with completely different perspectives.
Best of TV: Since I’ve been making TV recently, I’ve mostly watched a lot of that. I think “Atlanta” —and Hiro Murai’s work in general — is some of the most original stuff out there. I never woulda anticipated “Big Little Lies” being my jam, but Jean-Marc Vallée hooked me. (Also, this year I was first exposed to his film “Café de Flore,” which should be watched.) “The Good Place” snuck up to become some of the best comfort TV I’ve seen in a while. And that eighth episode of “Twin Peaks”… whoa.
“The Leftovers”: Though I worked on it so it should not be in this list, I just really love and will terribly miss the world of “The Leftovers.” Everyone from Mimi Leder to Nicky Kassell to Keith Gordon did amazing work with Damon Lindelof and his team’s story—but I would single out Carl Franklin’s episode, “Certified,” as my favorite of the year. Remember Carrie Coon standing on that bluff talking about the person whose job it is to puncture beach balls at baseball games? So good…
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