Top 10 of 2017
The Florida Project
Sean Baker has a way of telling uncommon stories and making them feel familiar. His follow-up to the magic that was Tangerine follows young children living in poverty in a motel. Though their circumstances are tragic, they maintain childlike perspective. They live every day oblivious to the ways the world has been deeply unfair to them. The film is filled with bright pastels shots that give their world an almost magical feel. And in the end, that magic runs out as times get tougher and tougher in some of the more heartbreaking sequences of the year.
Is Paul Thomas Anderson the very best American filmmaker working today? It’s at least a fair question as he turns in yet another richly layered work. This time, the story happens to revolve around 1950s London fashion, but what never changes with PTA is that he has something to say. Phantom Thread turns out to be both a simple and complex exploration of the dynamics of a marriage, while also having hypnotic visuals and top-notch performances.
There are two movies on this list capture 2017 as a moment and this is one of them. In the wake of Donald Trump and the fractured racial politics reflected in recent events, Get Out feels like a film that epitomizes the times we face. If you told me a Black man would be nominated for Best Director, Original Screenplay and Picture at the Oscars for directing a horror movie, there is just no way I would have believed you. But here we are, in a world where "The Sunken Place" is a household phrase, Jordan Peele is an Oscar Nominee and none of us will ever be able to look at a teacup the same way again.
I sometimes worry about how this one will be remembered. I still remember the awe-inspiring visuals and sounds, but much of what is impressive about is just that; it’s technical merits. It is a fully immersive experience. When future generations watch it on their smaller than IMAX home screens, they may not see what all the fuss is about. For now, however, there is no doubt this belongs on this list. Perhaps its most impressive feat is editing together three timelines that happen on different scales, and bringing them together in one crescendo that neatly concludes the story. It has some of the best shots and moments of the year and deserves every ounce of praise and adulation it is garnering.
If it weren’t for the somewhat disastrous third act, this might have been my #1 this year. The rest of the movie is just that good. It is a true ensemble, with Mary J. Blige, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell and Carey Mulligan all delivering outstanding work in this sprawling tale of two families forced to share space and time through the racial dynamics of 1940s Mississippi. Dee Rees' passion project is a real treat.
As promised above, here is the second film that captures 2017 as a moment. If Get Out represents the racial climate created by the Trump Administration, The Post represents the Trump Administration's hostility to the press. Every frame offers a crystallization of the importance of a free press and the dangers that result from Nixonian (and now Trumpian) tactics. The fact that it is Spielberg, Streep and Hanks certainly doesn't hurt. The film offers yet another reminder that Meryl Streep can do anything.
Taking stories from the headlines is tough. People have a sense that they already know what’s coming. But whatever you walk in knowing about the Tonya Harding saga won’t dull anything about this razor sharp retelling, which is funneled through multiple interviews and perspectives to create a jumbled narrative. Margot Robbie and Allison Janney turn in two of the year's most memorable performances as a mother-daughter duo constantly at odds. This one ranks high on my ‘everyone will love this’ list.
The Disaster Artist
It’s the kind of movie that is stranger than fiction. Based on the book about the making of the worst movie ever made, it channels All of that awesome badness into an uproariously funny movie. James Franco seems born to play the cartoonishly over the top Tommy Wiseau and the story is filled with laugh after laugh. There's a deeper message about pursuing your dreams no matter what in there somewhere, but what will stick with you the longest are some of the uproariously funny lines and moments they execute flawlessly.
One if the biggest box office successes of the year, IT channels Stranger Things by wrapping its murderous clown in 80s childhood nostalgia. While not as horrifying as anticipated, it was a lot of fun and packed just enough teenage angst to be worth the ride. The way it weaves the teenagers stories together as a thoughtful meditation on fear itself is a worthwhile experience.
All year, I’ve found myself returning to this one over and over when people ask me what they should catch up on. Of just about everything this year, it is the most universally accessible movie that wasn’t also mind-numbingly stupid. It is a smart, modern, high impact action-thriller with technical wizardry that makes the final product loads of fun.
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