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42 Directors Pick Their Favorite Movies of 2017, Including Denis Villeneuve, Guillermo del Toro, and More

Films by del Toro, Luca Guadagnino, Sean Baker, Edgar Wright and Villeneuve are on most top tens, but who made their lists? From Almodovar to Zobel, 42 top directors write about what they loved in 2017.

Chad Hartigan (“Morris From America“)

columbus

“Columbus”

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)
“Columbus” (Kogonada)
“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)

Matthew Heineman (“City of Ghosts”)

Christian Bale in Hostiles

“Hostiles”

Here are my top 10 narratives from this year in alphabetical order:

“The Big Sick”
“Call Me by Your Name”
“Detroit”
“The Florida Project”
“Get Out”
“Hostiles”
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”
“Lady Bird”
“Phantom Thread”
“The Post”

Anna Rose Holmer (“The Fits”)

"Stalker"

“Stalker”

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.

Steve James (“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail”)

Agnes Varda Faces Places

“Faces Places”

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.

Geremy Jasper (“Patti Cake$”)

City of Ghosts

“City of Ghosts”

Photo courtesy of Studios / A&E IndieFilms / IFC Films

(In no particular order)

“The Lure”
“We The Animals” (you’re all in for a treat)
“Nathan For You”
“City of Ghosts”
“Okja”
“Bob Dylan Trouble No More”
“Blade Runner 2049”
“Brimstone & Glory”
“Get Out”
“O Animal Cordial”
“mother!”

Daniel Kwan (“Swiss Army Man”)

"A Ghost Story"

“A Ghost Story”

screengrab

“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.

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