Here are the best films that happened to land in 2017.
15. Columbus - Kogonada
This is not just about architecture, but about spaces, what it means to share one, and what it means when we leave them. Kogonada, known for his video essays on the work of the greats, never feels textbook; Columbus is only ever steered by its heart.
14. Endless Poetry (PoesÍa Sin Fin) - Alejandro Jodorowsky
Less hard-edged than its predecessor La Danza De La Realidad (The Dance Of Reality) and in turn less overall, Endless Poetry has been labeled Jodorowsky’s most accessible film. It’s still the work of a maestro, and you’ll see nothing else like it (except its superior antecedent).
13. Raw (Grave) - Julia Ducoarnau
Who knew cannibalism would be one of the most eloquent allegories for coming of age, for the hunger and desires your parents once had in youth and feared you might acquire too? Justine’s mother enforces vegetarianism and conservatism on her two daughters, but their taste for meat, of the human sort, is piqued as soon as they’ve flown the coop and got a whiff of university hedonism a la what must be the most hardcore veterinarian school in the world.
The metaphor has such universal range that the film never settles for its concept or genre. Gross-outs, horror, and comedy, are all in favor of a story of two sisters in college that let their appetites get the best of them -- and are better for it.
12. The Beguiled - Sofia Coppola
This is a film that exists for no better reason than to revel in its aesthetic sublimity. This is the rare film that establishes a grammar through its own rules and dares only to barely break them when the content calls for it.
“Coppola’s reticence has lucked upon their most fitting circumstance. The hellish requiems screaming up from beneath a life’s worth of enforced tradition and good manner is never heard, and Coppola’s restraint never cracks. Agitation awaiting the anxiety to snap: unbearable! It only implodes. The lunacy’s captured with discipline, or not at all -- left off-screen. And, in the wake of damaged souls only their manners survive unscathed.”
11. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) - Noah Baumbach
Here is Noah Baumbach playing with editing and composition with surprising aplomb and control. This, and its aces domestic ensemble cast, (Elizabeth Marvel especially) elevates what 2017 viewers might write off and corner as just another indie film about rich white people (with daddy issues) coagulating in their brownstones.
10. Detroit - Kathryn Bigelow
Devastatingly underseen, Detroit packs what should have been a provocative and calamitous audience wallop. Instead, a weak box office turnout muted the societal wave and Oscar buzz that the film deserved. And the greatest ensemble cast of 2017, chock-full of star-making turns by never-before-seen faces (Algee Smith chief among them), have all but been snubbed for any awards nominations.
I wasn’t triggered to cry by the effect of a specific scene; I cried, involuntarily, between them.
In response to a popular Detroit criticism:
The ideology that there is no value, or that it is wrong for a, in this instance, white woman to depict her perspective on a black story, is an ideology that will age. Untimely, and timely gross, sure, but more likely timeless in the larger scheme of things and the eventual return of objectivity.
The real problem is the inundation, the influx, of white filmmakers to all others, a lack of diversity, not necessarily, invariably, the perspectives, and work of that white monarchal majority -- though that inundation has obviously had ghastly effects. That problem is, just recently - and just barely - beginning to become remedied. That Detroit is not part of that movement is unfortunate in a way that’s isolated from its value as a film.
Kathryn Bigelow cut her teeth on male marrow. Her perspective on masculinity has always been valuable, and that doesn’t suddenly cease here.
9. Graduation (Bacalaureat) - Cristian Mungiu
Oh, the things we’ll do for each other but talk and listen. Romeo, a doctor, father, and absent husband will foist tribulations upon himself so long as he can evade the hard talks. His desperation leads him to become the moral equal of a system he resents, and in the end, two sacrificial wrongs don’t seem to birth a right.
8. The Florida Project - Sean Baker
Sean Baker’s romanticized and societally oppressed characters are positioned on the borderline of dreams and wealth as if some cruel hand on the opposite end of the hierarchy deemed, every hour of every day, to show them a window into the pleasantries they’re destined never to have.
Non-actors play in this naturalist fairy tale of working-class folks who seek permanent residence in hotel rooms. The Florida hotel owners can afford to paint their tourist traps in illusory primary colors, but can’t afford to exterminate its bed bugs. The simultaneously decaying and beguiling architecture says all you need to know, and as the stories of the characters come closer to the tragedies their surroundings suggest, the camera pushes them closer and closer together.
7. Wormwood - Errol Morris
With 4 hours of noxiously realized hypotheticals, pointed interviews, and parlous indices, Morris goes big by fixating, as always, small. Mirroring a hobby of its central subject, Eric Olson, Morris designs Wormwood like a collage with all the answers that was created by someone oblivious to them. We know the outcome, we know how it ends, the answers play right in front of us, but ‘til Wormwood’s final moments, we watch pretending we don’t.
6. The Lost City Of Z - James Gray
This is a classic in the genre of tragically overcompensating men. Percival Fawcett is born into shame, an infamous drunkard father who cursed his family name and starts the film emasculated despite his compensatory accomplishments. He is not allowed, due to class and lineage, to dine on the venison he himself acquired in a competitive hunt amongst soldiers. So he watches the upper echelon feed on his achievement.
But, a goal as unachievable as his insecurities are irreparable finally shows the way, and it’ll swallow his soul, and perhaps his family’s, entirely.
5. The Road To Mandalay - Midi Z
This impeccable shomi-genki-like does the populist naturalism like a maestro, and then upends it not once, but twice, in a coupling of two of the year’s most shocking scenes.
4. Dunkirk - Christopher Nolan
When Nolan’s characters aren’t expunging exposition, they’re shutting the hell up. Dunkirk is Nolan’s highly technical, traditionalist aesthetic, without the mumbo jumbo to trigger a retrospective buzzkill. It’s like writing in the passive voice, Nolan avoids his biggest problem by eradicating the responsibility and opportunity of making it -- the result is a landmark of the war film.
3. The Square - Ruben Östlund
Östlund doesn’t settle on the success of his 2014 hit Force Majeure: another classic tale of tragic overcompensators. He continues his search into the psyche of civilized boys whose weakness is revealed in the face of a primal conflict.
But in The Square, he goes farther, bigger, and more abstruse with it. Humor is used here, primarily, to escalate discomfort instead of ease it, and if you haven’t written the coloring Monkey off as just a big WTF, then you’ve gone some ways into cracking the code many critics thought too opaque to crack.
2. Phantom Thread - Paul Thomas Anderson
1. Call Me By Your Name - Luca Guadagnino
This is a perfect film. The most astounding film accomplishment in the last few years (alongside Master Koreeda’s After The Storm). If you break it down into the swing of its emotional take, it wins. If you disassemble it, cold, into machinery, it aces. The sound design! Listen as the lovers present a disrupting wake-up call into each other's lives: doors slam, jogging steps quake the wood floors, a thick book is tossed to the ground as an analog alarm. Watch as the editing transitions from smooth to staccato, as Mukdeeprom’s (of Weerasethakul fame) photography positions history, architecture, and religion in the shrouded buffer zones of a gay romance.
Most Beautiful Island - Ana Asensio
Thirst Street - Nathan Silver
Dayveon - Amman Abbasi
On The Beach At Night Alone - Hong Sang-Soo
Get Out - Jordan Peele
Good Time - Safdie bros.
The Killing Of A Sacred Deer - Yorgos Lanthimos