2017 was a year that… well, it wasn’t boring. But as we witnessed one of the most insane news cycles in recent history create a discussion which could fundamentally change the entertainment industry and beyond, there was one constant: The talented minds working both within the Hollywood system and outside it who created film, television, and more which inspired us, challenged us, healed us, or all of the above.
The IndieWire staff represents an eclectic set of points-of-view, which is why many of their individual Top 10s of the year represent unique approaches to the concept. But the one constant is a celebration of the media that keeps us devoted to the cause, and got us though the year.
Eric Kohn, Deputy Editor and Chief Critic
At a time when the world is changing at an unquantifiable pace, when menacing world powers threaten everything we hold dear, we often look to the movies to bring the chaos into focus. In 2017, even the best escapism came with a dose of harsh truths about struggles facing civilization today, and the best movies went to places woefully ignored by the culture at large. When the mood of the moment is #resist and the future often looks more like a fake-news frenzy than the audacity of hope, the resilience of this art form is in sync with the zeitgeist.
I stand by the credo that anyone who thinks this was a bad year for the movies simply hasn’t seen enough of them. (You can read the rest of Eric’s list right here.)
1. “Get Out”
What’s left to be said about the year’s most exciting wakeup call? Writer-director Jordan Peele catapulted beyond his sketch-comedy roots for a category-defining work about race and privilege in American society that moviegoers had never truly wrestled with before. The outrageous premise — rich white liberals brainwashing black people to be their mind slaves — finds its match in the legitimate foundations of a psychological thriller, as well as the sobering portrait of a black man grappling with a troubled past and uncertain present.
The movie’s observations about awkward race relations are funny because they’re true (even as the plot takes its wildest turns) and terrifying for the same reasons, often leaving viewers uncertain if they should laugh or contemplate the scarier implications of the punchlines. That’s the zeitgeist in a nutshell. Any history book on the American mood in 2017 will forever take its cues from “Get Out.”
“Foxtrot” spends its first half hour as a bleak drama about distraught parents mourning their dead son, and then it becomes something entirely different. Israeli director Samuel Maoz’s brilliant followup to his debut “Lebanon,” which took place within the confines of a tank, deals with a very different kind of confinement — being imprisoned by an ambivalent world, and forced to deal with whatever random tragedies it chooses to dish out. Despite those dreary overtones, Maoz pierces his milieu with flashes of perceptive satire, an animated interlude, and a touching, romantic finale, all of which adds up to a wonderfully unexpected hodgepodge of insights into intergenerational Israeli frustrations.
It starts with middle-aged couple Michael (the ever-reliable Lior Ashkenazi) and Daphna (Sarah Adler, in a fiery turn) being visited by a pair of soldiers bearing the bad news that their son has been killed in the line of duty. But that’s only the first act of a story that later shifts to a remote Israeli outpost in which the malaise of daily military life sets the stage for a number of fascinating twists. By turns sad, funny, and profound, “Foxtrot” is above all one of the most unpredictable movies in recent memory.
3. “Lady Bird”
In “Lady Bird,” an angst-riddled teen copes with her restrictive Catholic high school, bickers with her doting parents, endures her first heartbreak, and dreams of escaping to a far-off place. There’s nothing fresh about that premise, but writer-director Greta Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical riff on her Sacramento upbringing elevates it to a new wavelength beaming with wit and insight. Anchored by Saoirse Ronan in a spunky lead role that registers as her very best, the movie confirms that Gerwig’s plucky screen presence translates into a richly confident filmmaking voice. “Lady Bird” is both snarky and sincere — a touching, markedly feminine ode to growing up that never takes its familiarity for granted. Gerwig earns the ability to make this rite-of-passage saga her own. Post-9/11 anxieties never felt so bittersweet.
Mike Schneider, Executive Editor
When Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket at sunset last week, half of Los Angeles wondered whether a UFO had finally made contact. After the events of 2017, I, for one, welcome our new alien overlords. Turns out the creatures from outer space haven’t arrived to save us from ourselves just yet. That leaves us to have to try and once again do better in 2018.
Looking back at this year, there was some reason to be hopeful — particularly as voices were heard and amplified as countless instances of serial sexual harassers and cases of assault were finally exposed. But we also lost a lot in 2017, including superstars like Tom Petty, Mary Tyler Moore, Chris Cornell and even Judge Wapner. Some of what we lost we won’t miss (remember that tone-deaf Kylie Jenner Pepsi commercial?) and some of what we lost we really won’t miss (ahem, “The O’Reilly Factor,” ahem). But here are a few more things we said goodbye to in 2017:
10. Cellino and Barnes
Yeah, Selena Gomez and The Weeknd was big, Fergie and Josh Duhamel was sad, Ben Stiller and Christine Taylor was unexpected, and Chris Pratt and Anna Faris was heartbreaking. (Let’s not discuss Kylie Jenner and Tyga or Blac Chyna and Rob Kardashian.) But the most stunning breakup of the year had to be the ugly split between ambulance chasing attorneys Cellino and Barnes. You know their mad catchy jingle, the staple of daytime TV across the country. Ross Cellino and Stephen Barnes hate each other so much now, they’re tossing grenades at each other while launching separate, rival firms. Who gets the jingle? Apparently, Barnes spent nearly $1 million to recraft the song with his new phone number.
9. Wet Seal
The “retail apocalypse” continues. As someone who spent a great deal of time at shopping malls as a teenager in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it’s quite sad — and yet fascinating — to see the collapse of something that once defined the retail experience. (I still remember Wet Seal as the store with the big video screens blaring freestyle music videos by Seduction and Stevie B as teens shopped.) Also in 2017, The Limited closed its doors, American Apparel shut all of its retail locations, Radio Shack is mostly out of business, Teavana announced it was closing all of its stores, and even retail giants Sears, JCPenney and Macy’s shut down hundreds of stores. Also in 2017, Toys ‘R’ Us, Gymboree and Payless ShoeSource were among the companies filing for bankruptcy — which means the retail apocalypse will likely consume many more major companies in 2018.
8. Cloo, Esquire, Chiller, Seeso
NBC Universal continued streamlining its entertainment offerings in 2017, eliminating some of its smaller cable networks, including crime drama channel Cloo, the young male-oriented Esquire, and horror channel Chiller. Cloo was the successor to Trio, a channel still fondly remembered for its scrappy pop culture programming (including franchises like “Brilliant But Canceled”), while Esquire replaced Style Network’s channel slot (and G4’s programming mandate) as an attempt to reach upscale male audiences, and Chiller began life in 2007 but was never a major cable player. Several channels have shut down over the past year as the cable industry prepares for an uncertain future in the wake of so-called “skinny bundles” (cable packages with fewer channels) and the growth of cord-cutting. But the rise of over-the-top platforms has already gone through a shakeup of its own, as witnessed by the decision to shut down comedy service Seeso so soon after launch. The comedy streaming platform pitched itself as a home for “Saturday Night Live” episodes as well as originals like “Take My Wife,” “Bajillion Dollar Propertie$” and “HarmonQuest,” but after it failed to find much traction, NBCUniversal pumped the brakes on original content.
7. 140 characters
We didn’t ask for 280 characters. We didn’t need it. Twitter, fix youself.
6. The San Diego Chargers
Speaking of what we didn’t need, Los Angeles went 21 years without an NFL team, and suddenly it has two. The return of the Los Angeles Rams in 2016 made a lot of sense, as that team still had fans in Los Angeles and an emotional attachment to the market, having been here from 1946 to 1994. Still, the Rams had a bumpy first season back in L.A. (it’s been a different story this year), making the arrival of the Chargers all the more perplexing. In a city with many more Oakland Raiders fans, and transplants rooting for their old hometown teams, the Chargers are now more like the fourth NFL team in Los Angeles.
5. Popular Photography, Surfing, Self, Teen Vogue, Nylon
Of course, even bigger than the retail apocalypse is the continuing slow death of the media. In 2018, we’ll be discussing the disappearance of the Time Inc. and Tribune Media labels, as both disappear for good (unless Tronc comes to its senses and grabs back its rightful claim to the Tribune name). In 2017, we said farewell to several major titles — perhaps, most notably Teen Vogue, a more recent title that has made a name for itself in covering politics and social issues.
4. “The Carmichael Show”
Plenty of shows ended their runs in 2017, including faves “The Leftovers” and “Orphan Black.” But at least those shows got to tell the endings they wanted to tell. There was no bigger TV tragedy than the end of NBC’s “The Carmichael Show,” a comedy that received plenty of critical acclaim, but never turned into the hit it should have been. Despite being on the air for three seasons, “Carmichael” only produced 32 episodes. And the show never even aired in the fall, having been relegated to the summer in 2015 and 2017, and late spring in 2016. Could it have thrived with more care? Unfortunately, we’ll never know, but at least Jerrod Carmichael had the chance to craft the right comedy at the right time, and provide a platform for performers who have already gone on to big things — including Tiffany Haddish and Lil Rel Howery.
3. Trader Joe’s Veggie Corn Dogs
How dare you, Trader Joe’s. I’m not vegetarian, but these were better than any regular corn dogs (including the disappointing Trader Joe’s turkey corn dogs, which are rubbery in comparison). On the go, the TJ veggie corn dog was the perfect lunch meal. Then, like so many great TJ products, they just disappeared one day without any explanation. This one hurt.
In a depressing, shrinking media world where local news has been hit hardest, sites like DNAinfo and the Gothamist chain (including LAist in Los Angeles) were more important than ever. As the alternative press shrinks, these sites picked up the slack and covered stories that other outlets were also struggling to handle, given smaller staffs and budgets at even major newspapers across the country. That all came crashing down when billionaire owner Joe Ricketts shut the sites down in November, without warning. Ricketts closed them down after the staffs of DNAinfo and Gothamist had unionized with the Writers Guild of America, East. A right-wing owner who had donated to anti-labor causes, the swiftness of Ricketts’ decision to shut the sites was stunning, and left a tremendous void in local coverage.
The Republicans pass a tax bill that funnels money into the pockets of millionaires and corporations, yet drags its feet to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Hundreds continue to die in Puerto Rico, where power won’t be restored for several more months, and the administration says nothing about it. Donald Trump lies with impunity, and has golfed at least 80 times (at a cost to taxpayers at over $40 million) after having criticized President Obama for spending a fraction of that time on the course. Louis C.K. apologizes for sexual harassment but makes it all about himself. Many Republicans flocked to Roy Moore, despite the fact that he’s a pedophile, choosing party over country. Moore lost, but still won’t concede. Kellyanne Conway made up the fake “Bowling Green Massacre.” Trump said there were “some very fine people” among the white supremacists causing violence (and an eventual death) in Charlottesville. There is no shame anymore, and hypocrisy now rules the land.
It’s been a rough year, setting the stage for what should be a history-making 2018. “Looking back and looking ahead: 2017 was the Year of the Con,” tweeted U.S. “House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon. “2018 will be the Year of the Turn.” Happy New Year!
William Earl, Digital Director
1. “Twin Peaks: The Return”
This 18-hour beast loomed large over 2017, with the first half of the year spent obsessing over the cryptic advertising and stressing about the quality control, with the latter spent trying to decode this gift from David Lynch and Mark Frost. A rich and surprising chapter in one of the best shows to ever exist.
2. John Oliver grilling Dustin Hoffman during a “Wag the Dog” anniversary screening
It’s been hard to feel optimistic about Hollywood as every day seems to bring new sexual harassment allegations against actors, directors, and predatory men everywhere. John Oliver, whose HBO show has been a beacon of hope during Trump’s disastrous first year as president, was in key form grilling Dustin Hoffman about sexual harassment allegations made against him, disrupting an otherwise business-as-usual anniversary screening Q&A. This simple act of unscripted rebellion sent a message to predatory men that they can’t hide from their past.
3. “A Ghost Story”
Want to reduce anyone to a weepy mess? Show them “A Ghost Story,” which obsesses over the afterlife in such a crushingly beautiful way that it will make you reconsider your place in space and time. While it’s hard to root for a Casey Affleck film in 2017, this is Rooney Mara’s showcase, from an agonizing pie-filled long take to the difficult decisions she makes later on in order to keep living. David Lowery made the year’s best small budget film, and it reverberated long after the credits rolled.
4. Land of Talk’s “Life After Youth”
The year’s finest album comes straight from the heart of rock warrior Elizabeth Powell, who returned from a seven year hiatus to drop a heavy, catchy indie rock opus filled with hooks and emotion in equal measure. The little touches shimmer, from the guitar freakout that ends “Loving” to the rhythm shifts of “World Made,” accompanied by the frontwoman’s gorgeous vocals. Heartbreak that you can dance to, “Life After Youth” is an amazing progression in Powell’s songwriting growth.
5. Dev’s Uber ride home in “Master of None” (episode: “The Dinner Party”)
A wordless short film perfectly encapsulating moments of anguish that can eat a person alive, Dev’s ride home after not making a move during his kinda-date with Francesca is frustrating and relatable in equal measures. Expertly directed by Aziz Ansari’s co-star Eric Wareheim, Dev’s frustration from a season and a half of navigating the world of relationships is written all over his face. The soundtrack of Soft Cell’s “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” is on the nose but well-earned, as the viewer begins cataloguing all of his regrets….as well as their own.
6. Johnny Greenwood’s score for “Phantom Thread”
The Radiohead guitarist’s fourth score for a Paul Thomas Anderson film, “Phantom Thread” thunders on a lush musical bed. From a sweeping opening montage that shows the gears in Reynolds Woodcock’s busy enterprise ticking along, to some of the most romantic and foreboding scenes Anderson has ever put on film, Greenwood’s maximalist vision is a perfect enhancement of the luxury of Woodcock’s world.
7. “Get Out”
Jordan Peele’s explosive directorial debut distilled all of the darkest vibes from the brilliant “Key and Peele” into one of the year’s most essential theatrical experiences. The humor, thrills, and surprises are all top-notch, and watching the biggest moments with a crowd only elevates the tension and release. Watching Peele and his film celebrated on the awards circuit is the cherry on top.
8. Young Thug’s “Wyclef Jean” Video
One of rap’s most creative minds redefined minimalism by not showing up to shoot his own video. Ryan Staake, who “co-directed” the clip with Young Thug, improvised with what he had and documented the whole affair via a Pop-Up Video-style examination of a disaster. As things on set go from bad to comically worse, it’s one of the most compelling and twisty five minutes of the year.
9. Steve in “Stranger Things 2”
In a series full of warm and cuddly nostalgic touchstones, Steve’s transformation into an aww-shucks nice guy is so welcome. Credit Joe Keery’s charm, wardrobe, and healthy head of hair among the series’ secret weapons, as his character grew leaps and bounds after the end of Season 1 to become America’s favorite babysitter. Anyone who can watch Joe and Dustin’s scenes together and not smile is more terrifying than a Demogorgon.
10. “Finding Frances,” the season finale of “Nathan For You”
If there was any justice in the world, “Nathan For You” would win every television award. This feature-length treasure starts with Nathan Fielder setting out to find the long lost love of a terrible Bill Gates impersonator…and then things get weird. Fielder’s ability to make any uncomfortable situation ten times worse is pushed to the brink during this insane road trip, which is so brilliantly developed and edited that it won serious praise from one of Fielder’s heroes, the legendary documentarian Errol Morris.
Honorable Mentions: “The Florida Project” (gorgeously shot!), “At Home With Amy Sedaris” (charmingly insane!), “It” (perfectly adapted!), and “The Deuce” (David Simon!).
Anne Thompson, Awards Editor/Editor-At-Large
Best Animated Feature: “The Breadwinner” (GKids)
Directed by Nora Twomey of Cartoon Saloon (“The Secret of Kells”) and executive produced by Angelina Jolie, Irish-Canadian “The Breadwinner” is based on Deborah Ellis’s YA novel about 11-year-old Parvana (voiced by Canadian actress Saara Chaudry), a strong-willed Afghan girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to provide for her family and save her father under threat from the Taliban. The beautifully written, designed, and voiced drama about love, hardship and perseverance won Best Feature at the first Animation Is Film Festival and is a surefire Oscar nominee.
Best Documentary: “Faces Places” (Cohen Media)
With heart-tugging pop-up road movie documentary “Faces Places,” 89-year-old Honorary Oscar-winner Agnes Varda is at the top of her game, even if she’s going blind and leaning on a cane. She has an uncanny ability to find arresting moments, working with artist enabler J.R. as they travel the French countryside posting giant photos of the charming people they meet. This winsome love letter to the creative spirit scored big on the fall festival circuit, has been rolling up awards and is on the documentary Oscar shortlist.
Best Foreign Film: “Loveless” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Cannes jury prize-winner “Loveless” (Sony Pictures Classics) is a moving, intense family drama that damns Russian society, which writer-director Andrey Zvyaginstev portrays as consumed by careerism, selfishness, greed, and even profound neglect of its own children. His last film, Oscar-nominated “Leviathan,” was also a film critical of Russia at a time when the country’s culture ministers demand that their industry reflect their nation in a positive light. Even though the elegantly wrought wintry drama was financed independent of the Russian film industry and government funding, nonetheless Russia submitted it as its official Oscar entry; it made the foreign-language shortlist.
10. “Get Out” (Universal)
Jordan Peele’s brainy $4.5-million horror thriller featuring “Girls” star Allison Williams, British import Daniel Kaluuya and supporting veterans Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener broke out of any pre-existing genre boxes. Peele, having laid the groundwork for the movie in multiple sketches on Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele” that pulled humor out of racism, leaned into the horror classics that brought Grand Guignol wit to their dark themes: “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Stepford Wives,” and “Scream.” The result is a propulsive, unpredictable twisty Hitchcockian original that no one else could have made. This is the work of a true auteur who will be around for a while.
9. “Mudbound” (Netflix)
For her second fictional narrative feature film, Dee Rees took on Virgil Williams’ adaptation of Hillary Jordan’s post-World War II novel. She changed the script’s focus from white Memphis imports Henry and Laura McAllan (Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan) to a balanced two-family drama with “Pariah” star Rob Morgan and a makeup-free Mary J. Blige as the parents whose family worked the land for generations. Rees fought for her multiple perspectives. Strong women and discontented men try to subvert the rules that govern their harsh, muddy world. Blige and Jason Mitchell pop out of the southern farm drama’s sprawling ensemble as ramrod mother and World War II veteran son. To achieve the aesthetic, Rees and gifted cinematographer Rachel Morrison looked at old WPA artwork, vintage black-and-white photos from Walker Evans and Robert Frank, Whitfield Lovell’s tone-on-tone contemporary portraiture, and Les Blank’s documentaries of the old South. It’s shocking that Rees and her team pulled off this gorgeous, layered drama in 26 days, for $11.8 million.
8. “The Big Sick” (Amazon, Lionsgate)
The first reason why this movie is so good: it’s authentic. You couldn’t make up this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction culture-clash story, written from life by “Silicon Valley” star Kumail Nanjiani with his wife and co-producer Emily D. Gordon (Zoe Kazan), who falls in love with Nanjiani before she’s hospitalized with a mysterious illness. Producer Judd Apatow and director Michael Showalter leaned into the romantic side of this comedy, inspired by love stories from writer-directors like Steve Martin, Richard Curtis, Nora Ephron, and Woody Allen. Unlike most Hollywood romantic comedies, the relationship between Nanjiani and Gordon is balanced, their witty dialogue and smart repartee equally strong. The filmmakers also made sure that Nanjiani’s struggles with his Pakistani family were in balance with Gordon’s parents. While Kazan and Holly Hunter seem perfectly in tune as daughter and mother, “Everybody Loves Raymond” TV star Ray Romano is a revelation as her anxious father. This true immigrant culture clash is timely, sweet and endearing, and carries real emotion.
7. “The Florida Project” (A24)
For Sean Baker’s follow-up to iPhone movie “Tangerine,” he returned to another look at outsiders living on the margins of society. (This time, he shot in 35mm.) Baker had long wanted to make a film about resilient children and was fascinated by a strip of Orlando’s budget motels on Route 92, just a mile away from Disneyworld. Once designed to lure tourists, they now teem with families on the edge. The movie builds dread, concern, and anxiety for the kids, who navigate between joyful fun and obnoxiousness. Instead of E-rides, the kids find their fun in spitting on cars, peeking at topless bathers, stalking grazing cows, and panhandling for soft-serve ice cream to slurp before it melts in the blazing heat. Baker encouraged both the adults and the children to improvise, using the Hal Roach “Our Gang” shorts as a model. Six-year-old Monee (Brooklynn Prince) is the focus of the slice-of-life movie, along with two-time-Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe (“Platoon,” “Shadow of the Vampire”), whose frustrated but humane motel manager holds this poverty-row drama together. He’s the closest thing to a father figure and civilizing force these marginal characters will ever know.
6. “First They Killed My Father” (Netflix)
If writer-director Angelia Jolie hadn’t convinced Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos to back “First They Killed My Father,” the movie wouldn’t exist. The final result is the film she wanted to make: Based on the 2000 memoir of co-screenwriter Loung Ung, who was five when the Khmer Rouge forced her family into work camps, it required a $24 million budget, a 60-day shoot, and a two-hour, 16-minute cut. While Jolie’s film may look like a straightforward narrative, it breaks several Hollywood rules: She shot in Cambodia with unknown local actors in their own language, and told the story from the perspective of a five-year-old girl. First-time actor Sareum Srey Moch is a natural; she draws you into the terrible events enveloping her family. Cambodian citizen Jolie, working closely with producer Rithy Panh and “Slumdog Millionaire” cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, delivers a strong contender for Adapted Screenplay and Best Foreign-Language film.
5. “Dunkirk” (Warner Bros.)
Christopher Nolan went rogue with this $100-million World War II movie, an immersive, almost-silent action epic that brilliantly toys with three disjunctive time frames. (Nolan has admitted that he said “fuck it” when it came to the risk of disorienting the audience.) “Dunkirk” also defies convention by relying on a sprawling ensemble in which no actor dominates, although newcomer Fionn Whitehead and supporting veterans Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, and masked Spitfire aviator Tom Hardy all carry enormous emotion. Nolan needn’t have worried: Global moviegoers took the blockbuster to $525 million worldwide, and he will finally nab that elusive Best Director nomination.
4. “Darkest Hour” (Working Title/Focus Features)
Built on a series of talky dramatic sequences in which new Prime Minister Churchill (Gary Oldman), supported by his wife Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas), must take on the fight against the Nazis who are swiftly conquering Europe and cornering some 400,000 Allied forces in Dunkirk, “Darkest Hour” focuses on the suspenseful period when France and Belgium fell to the Nazis. That’s when the PM wrote and delivered three of the greatest speeches of all time, and single-mindedly pushed his country to fight the German menace, even as the British were still recovering from The Great War. He has to figure out how to turn around his country and its pacifist Parliament to rise up to achieve victory against the Nazis. Oldman finds an impish childishness and humanity inside the man, who was full of energy yet took a nap every afternoon, who drank constantly but never seemed to get drunk. King George VI plays an important role as the voice of rationality; Australian Ben Mendelsohn makes a surprisingly ramrod-straight royal. While Wright breaks out of the claustrophobic war room with swooping crane shots, dramatic lighting in Parliament, and out-the-car-window Churchill-POV slo-mo tracking on London pedestrians, the movie was largely shot on sound stages in Manchester and London. Wright leaned into spare storytelling, and it pays off.
3. “Blade Runner 2049” (Alcon/Warner Bros.)
Denis Villeneuve’s long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 “Blade Runner” pushes the state of moviemaking to its apex. Like “Arrival,” Villeneuve and writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green fashion a cerebral, complex, and visually sumptuous narrative that is not easy to parse. Even if its backers never recoup their $185 million negative cost, cinephiles can revel in the movie’s many wonders. Villeneuve’s eye-popping collaboration with long-time cinematographer Roger Deakins and production designer Dennis Gassner is compelling viewing, especially in large formats. At its heart, this movie is an identity quest: The question of whether K (Ryan Gosling) is a replicant, or the child of a replicant, or of Deckard (Harrison Ford) — who could be a replicant — haunts the movie. Like Pinocchio, as K clutches a toy horse with his birthdate on it and questions the origins of his own memories, he wonders: Could he be a real boy?
2. “Lady Bird” (A24)
Clearly, writer-actress Gerwig has been preparing to take the directing reins her whole life. It’s no surprise her solo directing debut is a full-blown New York Film Critics Circle-winning triumph. (After all, it is the best mother-daughter dramedy since “Terms of Endearment.”) Irish Oscar perennial Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement,” “Brooklyn”) plays Christine “Lady Bird” Macpherson (a version of Catholic high schooler Gerwig) as a scrappy and voracious culture-vulture eager to escape her Sacramento confines for an Eastern college. Laurie Metcalf nails her angry, frustrated, penny-pinching, and loving mother who can’t help returning to old arguments. Tracy Letts is Lady Bird’s adoring father, and Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet are her challenging romantic entanglements. “Lady Bird” wrings universal appeal out of its specific story, and marks a high achievement not only as a superb, exactingly wrought screenplay but a fully realized piece of cinema.
1. “The Shape of Water” (Fox Searchlight)
Artists create universes that are extreme visions of our own. With his English-language masterwork “The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro builds, brick by brick, an immersive fantasy world (shot in Toronto around the venerable Elgin Theatre) inspired by the ’60s melodramas of Douglas Sirk and the horror classic “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” that could only come from his prodigious imagination. Del Toro artfully mixes genre and commercial elements with his own personal imprint. This fairy-tale romance matches lonely mute laboratory cleaning woman Eliza Esposito (incandescent Sally Hawkins) with a well-muscled captive merman (Del Toro stalwart Doug Jones). They see beauty and sensuality in each other where others, like Michael Shannon’s abusive government torturer, see abhorrent aberration. (He prefers to bludgeon the gorgeous aquatic creature he calls “the asset,” while Michael Stuhlbarg’s Russian-born scientist appreciates the asset’s living, breathing value.) The production is impeccably photographed and crafted, yielding indelible images such as Eliza floating in her flooded apartment above the movie theatre, making watery love to her sexily glowing aquaman.