Tyler runs down his Best Performances, Missed 2016 Bests and, finally, the Best Films of 2017 in a recap of his massive movie watching year.
How would you define the term “2017 movie?” Pre-1990 this might have been easier, as the products of the studio system and limited festival releases indicated that films could be neatly broken out into their component years by release date.
Yet post-Sex, Lies and Videotape, post-Tarantino, the landscape is infinitely murkier. The Academy Awards now recognizes dozens of U.S. and International film festivals as “Academy Qualifiers,” meaning that films can open “wide” at Cannes, Toronto, Berlin or Telluride and show nearly nowhere else and still qualify for awards.
Then there’s geography. The reality that Los Angeles and New York (and, charitably, Chicago, San Francisco and Austin sometimes) have the highest concentration of movie business-oriented folk and so get the lion’s share of all releases is all well and good. But when you start to define the Best Movies of [Insert Year], you risk alienating a good portion of a reading/listening/viewing audience that doesn’t live in a cinematic metroplex, leaving them to only dream about what On The Beach At Night Alone might be like when they get to see it in March.
Movie availability is endlessly frustrating, and the more bicoastal and insular Hollywood makes itself (disregarding the distinctly Midwestern and Southern locations of most major and mid-major movie shoots), the worse this dichotomy will get. Whether the breakage point ever materializes, where a company or system figures out how to sustainably (cheaply) offer independent and what might otherwise be known as “limited” release movies to the masses of people who don’t live in New York or Los Angeles, is up for debate. The movie industry is self-reflexive. Most of the people who care about seeing Phantom Thread in its preferred aspected ratio and film stock are in the film industry anyway.
So this list is incomplete. It doesn’t include incredibly well-received movies like The Square, Phantom Thread, The Breadwinner or Jane, not because they aren’t worthy of inclusion, but because they just flat out didn’t show near this reviewer’s area. This doesn’t even count the innumerable foreign films that don’t show in the United States.
On the other hand, it also doesn’t include 2016 “Unmentionables” like Toni Erdmann, Kaili Blues, Paterson, The Handmaiden, I Am Not Your Negro or The Salesman because, despite their unavailability to this reviewer until well into 2017, they are agreed 2016 movies by critic cognoscenti.
And on the third hand, there are movies like The Lure, Graduation, Hounds of Love and After The Storm that movie databases consider to be pre-2017 movies but that critics are counting in their concatenated lists of 2017 movies. So this reviewer kept them. Because who knows?! Time is relative!
All right. I guess I’m done. Here are the amazing things I watched this year, from this year (I guess).
[Note: The World of Tomorrow, Episode 2: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts would probably be the number one movie on this list. But I can’t jive with short films and feature-length living together. But anyway, please go spend $5 on World of Tomorrow. It’s beautiful.]
Notable Performances of The Year
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird – Props to Saoirse Ronan and the rest of Lady Bird, who do phenomenal work bringing Greta Gerwig’s fictionalized memoir to life. But Laurie Metcalf, playing the struggling, constantly beset mother of the title character, is a revelation of muted, intense and never even close to melodramatic performance art. Metcalf imbues Marion with an everywoman ethos rarely seen outside of Frances McDormand, a caretaker’s soul echoed in every minor key inflection or major key freakout. A stunning performance.
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project – Dafoe has been a persistent, weird figure in Hollywood for decades at this point, so the surprise in his distinctly human, restrained performance in The Florida Project lies not in his prodigious talent to disappear into a role — moreso his newfound talent to let the role define him. Playing the surrogate father to nearly everyone at The Magic Palace (Florida Project is deeply human, but not subtle), Dafoe flexes to each scene as required by the virtuoso debut performances beside him. His startling attempts to calm Moonee down in the film’s climax are a showstopper in a movie full of them.
Robert Pattison, Good Time – Just like another third of the triumvirate who we will talk about later that came of age on the set of Twilight, Robert Pattison has shaken loose the broody bonds of teenage dram-rom and become a fully-formed behemoth of an actor. Good Time, another project designed almost as a test of Pattison’s elastic personality, finds him at his most unhinged, pressed against an uncaring world to find just the slightest redemption for his brother. As his cause gets more desperate, Pattison matches with ever more manic movements until finally he leaves the camera behind entirely, his energy too much for even the mise en scene to keep up with.
Florence Pugh, Lady Macbeth – While the movie is a little too “British People Make a Sexy Thriller for Downton Abbey fans,” Florence Pugh’s steely gaze as the camera begs her to break anchors everything in this brutal feminist parable. Rarely allowing an emotional action to get in the way of an ultimately liberated purpose, Pugh’s Katherine is terrifying to the viewer in a way other characters only briefly witness. In the end, the performance recalls the steely resolve of Anya Taylor-Joy’s transformation in last year’s The VVitch in all its menacing certainty.
Tiffany Haddish, Girl’s Trip – Considering its rote first act and disappointingly treacly third, that Girl’s Trip morphs into a Edgar Wright-style profane, madcap, amazing second act is almost exclusively in debt to Tiffany Haddish’s Dina, a blend of Zach Galifianakis’ Alan character from The Hangover and Nick Frost’s Ed from Shaun of the Dead with an added dose of badass African-American womanhood thrown in for good measure. Her delivery of a monologue about the (totally real) sexual practice known as “Grapefruiting” tops itself second by second, and her deadpan to fiery ridiculousness delivery is a frighteningly funny addition to a movie that sometimes lacks a chaotic element to push it to the next level.
Menashe Lustig, Menashe – The better of the three movies about Orthodox Jewish culture that came out this year was Menashe, Joshua Weinstein’s parable to his at-worst schlimazel self. The U.S.-shot Yiddish-language film wouldn’t work as well as it does without Menashe Lustig, a loveable galoot struggling to keep a hold of his son’s time and the fringe relationship he has with the church. Lustig constantly feels on the verge of falling into a puddle of nervous catastrophe, even in the moments when his character is the most put together (the scene as he prepares Passover Seder for his Rabbi is rough to watch). It’s a minor-key wallop of a performance, simultaneously hyper-authentic to its insular locale and universally relatable.
30. Mimosas, directed by Oliver Laxe
A hallucinatory walk through the desert is the framing for this arresting Moroccan film about the nature of man, who has existed through the ages but seems to always fall back on the same motivations. A more effective portrayal of conflict with one’s faith I didn’t see in 2017.
29. A Dark Song, directed by Liam Gavin
As a horror movie obsessed with the occult and the relational differences between facilitator and confused subject, A Dark Song ends on a disappointingly arch note, similar to the way Sunshine pivoted to a monster movie in its last third. Yet the first two thirds, largely concerned with the quasi-sexual defo-troubling relationship between Steve Oram’s Joseph and Catherine Walker’s Sophia as she tries to reconnect with her dead daughter, is a masterful manipulation of Occult Theory as Male Dominance.
28. Paint it Black, directed by Amber Tamblyn
The insistent confidence of Amber Tamblyn’s directorial debut can be summed up in one of the most terrifying scenes of 2017: a funeral scene in which Alia Shawkat is brutally, mercilessly attacked by Janet McTeer. There are moments when the tension seems to lessen, and all seems to return to normal… then McTeer will re-engage, dragging Shawkat’s character screaming down the funeral procession. It’s a startling, unsettling scene, much like the rest of Paint it Black, and it’s directed impeccably by Tamblyn.
27. Lost In Paris, directed by Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel
A cross between the melancholy charm of Jacque Tati or Charlie Chaplin with the sight gags and playfulness of a slow-paced Muppets, Lost In Paris is lovingly human in its flaws (a frustrating lack of tonal consistency) and exceedingly silly in its achievements (the interplay between Fiona and Dom). Breezy and undramatic yet heartfelt, it’s a pretty little trinket that doesn’t concern itself with modern cinematic comedy.
26. Graduation, directed by Cristian Mungiu
Though the ending lets its main character frustratingly off the hook, Graduation is a clever and elegant exercise in the way bureaucracy codifies and destroys the ability for its subject citizens to act in human ways. When his daughter is assaulted on her way to high school, a local doctor (Adrien Titieni) struggles to find the assaulter as the world he has carefully constructed collapses in around him. Romeo’s motivations are genuine, yet his indiscretions poison his ability to appropriately listen to what his daughter wants. An undercurrent of post-Soviet restlessness bubbles around all of Romeo’s decisions — in his mind, there is no future for his daughter inside Romania, only compromise and failure. That he never accurately learns to listen to his daughter or wife until very late in the movie, then is immediately redeemed, sours some of the flavor of this individualistic parable. Yet it remains a starkly beautiful, despondent portrait of Eastern European parenthood in the post-Soviet age.
The Top 25
25. The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo del Toro
Nobody can do what Guillermo del Toro does, which is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, no other filmmaker could make a beautiful 1950s-era Hollywood romance between a mute cleaning lady and The Creature from the Black Lagoon, with a Communist beta-male and a gay ad man as supporting characters. Del Toro is also the only filmmaker who could get away with making such a sneering, hyper-Alpha Christian menace played by Michael Shannon as the main antithesis of an ostensibly easy drama romance. The Shape of Water is a gorgeous, moving love letter to old Hollywood, while still acknowledging the horrors that surrounded that particular era. It would not have done so without the stultifying work of Sally Hawkins, once again levying the boom of her acting talents upon a movie that actually deserves her. [Chase’s Review]
24. Hounds of Love, directed by Ben Young
All of the trigger warnings around Hounds of Love are legit — this movie is a brutal dissection of sexual control and violence that likens humanity to dogs in our ability to do outrageous harm to others to get the specific meal we crave. A sort of David Fincher-esque production, director Ben Young uses the geography of the house young Evelyn (Emma Booth) is trapped in to put the screws to both the audience and the imprisoned protagonist. Young never shies away from showing Evelyn struggling against what has befallen her at the hands of the parasitic couple enslaving her as a means to reinvigorate their relationship. Underneath a structure of escape horror, Hounds of Love holds a candle to the way a couple tries to make things work, and the way those sacrifices are most often placed at the foot of the woman in the relationship.
23. Nocturama, directed by Bertrand Bonello
“Mall as purgatory” isn’t a particularly rich vein, yet in the hands of master French stylist Bertrand Bonello, Nocturama turns into a shaggy dog story of teenage terrorists-turned-players inside Schrodinger’s shopping center. Bonello peppers the sparse story with ostentatious pop culture references (“Whip My Hair,” Chief Keef, an absolutely stunning lip-synced Shirley Basset “My Way” performance) and highly stylized moments of violence as the darkness closes in on the group, adding a layer of menace to the youthful exuberance in the belief of doing something revolutionary. Whether they were on the right side of history or not, Bonello makes sure to tip his cap in a direction, yet the moments the group get to spend together maybe allow for a measure of salvation.
22. Personal Shopper, directed by Olivier Assayas
Stylish and confident in a way most movies that jump from a framework of “ghost starts text messaging an executive fashion assistant” probably shouldn’t be, Personal Shopper is a fascinating mixture of high society snobbery and Occult mysticism. Kristen Stewart plays Maureen with a laconic magnetism as she comes unraveled trying to figure out how to contact and see through to the afterlife her deceased brother Lewis. The insidious, deeply troubling text message sequence on the train from Paris to London is a showcase of Stewart’s acting chops, considering she was given nothing to work with and manages to sell the tension of being contacted by a spirit through your iPhone. Props also should go to Assayas, who balances the story on a fulcrum between horror and mystical drama, never diving into either but drawing positives from both.
21. Brawl In Cell Block 99, directed by S. Craig Zahler
I personally was not at all prepared for the performance Vince Vaughn puts into Brawl In Cell Block 99, and proceeded to be floored at every point (with the lone exception being Vaughn’s sometimes nauseatingly awful Southern accent). The logline — bag man must go do bad things in prison to save his pregnant wife — sounds like a Taken clone, yet Zahler and Vaughn imbue the proceedings with a kind of unmoral, man’s-world violent machismo that is grotesque, brutal and utterly captivating. Not for the faint of heart (the foley work deserves a technical Oscar, at the very least), Zahler’s fight scenes arrest the viewer and leave you breathless, something that couldn’t really ever be said of Vince Vaughn before.
20. In This Corner of the World, directed by Sunao Katabuchi
Similar to other pieces of Japanese culture about World War II (Shigeru Mizuki’s excellent Showa manga series comes to mind), In This Corner of the World carries a sense of dread throughout its entire runtime. Yet while that dread continues to build as the war edges closer to the family at the movie’s center, Sunao Katabuchi (adapting Fumiyo Kōno’s manga) manages to weave delightful and romantic character moments between Suzu and her arranged beau, Shusaku, light familial drama as Suzu struggles with homesickness, or feminist motivations as Suzu looks for work. Yet the dread of the movie’s premise is fulfilled in horrific detail, and In this Corner Of the World ends up being more of an excoriation of war than it seemed at any point during its runtime — all the better for that fact, indeed.
19. After the Storm, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
A movie as kind-hearted and forgiving as After the Storm shouldn’t be as good as it is. In worse hands, the saccharine reunions that a rogue Japanese typhoon bring together for a disjointed family brought to ruin by an uninspiring writer (yawn) would befit a Hallmark movie. Yet, uniformly, the performances from the main family members — Ryoto (Hiroshi Abe), Kyoko (Yoko Maki) and unbelievable grandmother Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki) — buoy After the Storm and turn in a movie that is affecting and small, filled with little emotional beats driven to truth by their own miniature nature.
18. Colossal, directed by Nacho Vigalondo
One of the most surprisingly resilient movies of the year, Nacho Vigalondo’s paean to small-town ruts and poisonous relationships strikes a chord due to its off-beat narrative and an infectiously relatable performance from Anne Hathaway. Vigalondo guides “always on the wrong side of skeevy” Jason Sudeikis to convincingly create a dour antagonist from what could’ve been a generic rom-com bar owner stereotype. Also, there’s a really awesome Kaiju.
17. Harmonium, directed by Kōji Fukada
Tight-fisted but surprisingly loose, Harmonium distributes its revelations and heartbreaks slowly, methodically ratcheting tension with little fanfare before yanking the expected climax away at the last second. The story of a family haunted by the misdeeds of their father’s past makes Harmonium seem a much more normal movie than it is — along the way, Fukada digs into the nature of parenthood, whether that nature changes when the circumstances of the parenting change, and ultimately the cost of an individual sin, kept under wraps until only revealed by other sins. An astounding chamber piece that turns into a solemn road trip movie in its final moments, Harmonium had so much more to say than its generic thriller bones might indicate.
16. Dawson City: Frozen Time, directed by Bill Morrison
If Dawson City: Frozen Time were just a collection of fascinating anecdotes about the titular city as a receptacle for silent films, delivered via train with no return ticket to Hollywood, spliced with footage of the unearthed reels, Bill Morrison would’ve found something. Yet Frozen Time is a treasure trove of love for cinema history as Morrison weaves decaying pieces of silent film together with the narrative decay of Dawson City; by the time the journey of the silent nitrate film ends, having been transferred via the Canadian military to a museum for safekeeping, it’s impossible not to believe in the permanence of art in the face of the transitory nature of everything else.
15. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, directed by Martin McDonagh
Martin McDonagh’s sprawling revenge story succeeds in a way that most other movies don’t: it presents human characters that constantly make the wrong decision. Whether those reasons are morally justified (the billboards) or completely unhinged (Sam Rockwell’s character throwing an ad-man out of a second story window), these characters are shown as flawed but reasoned in their own madness as they descend the Old Testament world of Ebbing further into chaos. A titanic Frances McDormand performance keeps the train from careening too far off the rails, reveling in the weakness of its characters as it simultaneously asks more and more of them. In its incredibly dramatic, biblical way, Three Billboards deals in frank humanity, warts and all. [Tyler’s Review]
14. Okja, directed by Bong Joon-Ho
After he made Twilight Zone: The Train with Snowpiercer, crafting a fairy tale follow up about a completely CGI’d creature resembling parts of a cow, a pig, and an elephant would seem to be an odd turn for Bong Joon-Ho. Yet thanks to zany performances (in a good way) from Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton (twice!), Okja excels at combining socio-political polemic with a grounded story about a girl’s search for her giant pet. Ahn Seo-hyun is a revelation as Mija, playing the stunned youngster brought into and nearly made complicit in the commodifying of a new, bred-to-be-dead animal, constantly keeping Okja from feeling too over the top or soapbox-y. Somehow, while ditching the tight-fisted narrative framework that made Snowpiercer unmissable, Bong Joon-Ho made a movie that hits a deeper emotional core about the way we consume the creatures around us.
13. The Work, directed by Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous
Toxic masculinity is a creeping undercurrent of most of the societal ills facing this country. So while watching The Work, essentially an 80-minute therapy session with dozens of ex-cons, stunned volunteers, and maximum security prisoners, it’s instructive to think about the effect the masculine “stiff upper lip” has had not just in the macro context, but in the micro. Marvelously captured by a camera crew over four days, The Work breaks down the cliche mythologizing of the prison system, instead casting the inmates as attempting to find a modicum of peace in their environs, while the outside volunteers begin to break from repressed feelings of violence and insufficiency. In what might be the film’s most moving moment, the second day draws a volunteer, a facilitator, and an inmate so physically and emotionally close that everyone in the room, and watching at home, is forced to confront the humanity of each, equal and without judgment. It’s a marvelous turn that The Work never holds over its audience, instead painting as unflinching a portrait as possible for the sake of honesty.
12. The Killing of a Sacred Deer, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Yorgos Lanthimos can be forgiven, a year after his major league breakout The Lobster, for making his first marquee movie an homage to late period Stanley Kubrick. Sacred Deer has many tangential and thematic similarities to Kubrick’s last finished film, Eyes Wide Shut, from the stilted dialog (a Lanthimos feature anyway) to a disaffected upper middle-class Nicole Kidman engaging in trysts with work colleagues of her husband. While Eyes Wide Shut has a more furtive, decisive point to make about sexuality in the booming 90s, Sacred Deer leans far more into fairy tale witchery (it’s actually an adaptation of Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides), never managing to feel horrifying or threatening, yet always approaching something akin to existential dread. Losing the pitch black humor of The Lobster, Lanthimos replaces it with scenes of grotesque desperation, when in control adults are forced into moments completely alien to them. [Chase’s Review]
11. Certain Women, directed by Kelly Reichardt
Triptychs are so hard to pull off, especially ones that obsequiously knock its three parts together in ways that can come off either fawning or overly pointless. Yet in the hands of master director Kelly Reichardt (Night Moves, Wendy & Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff), it’s not surprising that Certain Women is revelatory and gorgeous, filled with washed out palettes and washed out, weary women. Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Lily Gladstone and Michelle Williams each get turns navigating the intricacies of being ignored or marginalized, sometimes resorting to frustration (the most dramatic of emotions Reichardt bends to), but often taking abuse and challenge in stride. That each of the stories manage to dovetail ever so gently into each other makes the massive scope of the movie (taking place along the breadth of Montana) makes it a broad-scope yet deeply personal entry into Reichardt’s expert canon.
10. Thelma, directed by Joachim Trier
Joachim Trier’s oeuvre never treads that deeply into the metaphysical or the inexplicable… yet Thelma is an assured, magnificent argument that perhaps the dude needs to make a few more science fiction movies. Centering around the growing process of the titular college freshman (played with a disquieting charm by Elli Harboe), Thelma pivots around such universal ideas as sexual experimentation, drinking, non-epileptic seizures, overly attached parents, and telekinesis with a tight-fisted purpose kept all the tighter by Trier’s camera and Harboe’s elastic, innocently menacing face. While it wouldn’t match the freshman trials of another movie this year (good year for horrific descriptions of college), Thelma proves that post-Louder Than Bombs Trier has a lot of gas in his tank.
9. Lady Bird, directed by Greta Gerwig
The teen comedy continues to grow in maturity and perspective through the second decade of this century, growing from its either precious, Manic Pixie Dream Girl roots (Garden State) or Monster Energy chugging, homophobic Dane Cook ancestry (Not Another Teen Movie) into something genuine, idiosyncratic, and honest. The undisputed champion of this resurgent genre is Greta Gerwig, the marvelous actress-turned-equally marvelous writer-director of Lady Bird, who, with a keen understanding of the voice, frailty and innocence of teenagerdom, crafts a sprawling and shaggy dog coming of age story in her old hometown of Sacramento. She finds her perfect partner in the effort in Saoirse Ronan, who plays Lady Bird with the pithyness of an overly smart teenager to a devastating degree of accuracy. Designed as a rom-com where the happy ending is decidedly lonely, Gerwig manages to paint a portrait of not-quite-small town life in suburban America, achieving heartbreak, joy and pain through little more than frank accounting of teenage drama and excellently performed renditions of the same. [David’s Review]
8. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki, directed by Juho Kuosmanen
Sports movies, even the relationship-centered ones (Rocky being the most important) are obsessed with an idea of male dominance and female support of such that it can be pretty alienating to think of athletes as anything but mindless winning machines. Sure, those female characters can be fully realized. Or the sports could take a backseat to the life outside the game. But it inevitably comes back to male machismo. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki is partially focused on machismo — the titular Olli Maki (a real historical boxing Finn) spends a lot of time in the ring, training for a fight he knows he will lose. Yet the movie’s emotional beats are based around Olli’s relationship with his paramour Raija (a revelatory Oona Airola), flexing and stretching based on Olli and Raija’s desire to live a life on their own terms, free of the trappings of boxing opponents, fixers or the incipient power players in the industry. Happiest Day resolves less punk than it should, but it’s a startlingly confident debut from Kuosmanen, who shows a deft familiarity with the concept of turning the sports movie on its head.
7. Super Dark Times, directed by Kevin Phillips
I thought to myself while watching Super Dark Times that the four boys the story pivots on, middle-class high school underclassmen coming to terms with their sexuality, were essentially proto-second generation emo superstars like Jesse Lacey of Brand New or Adam Lazarra of Taking Back Sunday. Little did I know that the rest of the year would bring Lacey’s story a lot closer to Super Dark Times’s as his gross power-tripping over female fans veers dangerously close to the third act of the teenage emo-thriller. But while these queasy circumstantial parallels make watching Super Dark Times not the most enjoyable activity, the movie makes up for it for being an arch version of high school drama, elevating the conversations and actions pubescent boys take to seem macho, or just simply in control. Every decision main characters Zack and Josh make is rooted in a boogeyman fear of possibly losing out on the opportunity to get laid or retributive justice over those that have ruined that chance. It’s a grotesque period of life to focus on, but necessary given the times.
6. The Lure, directed by Agnieszka Smoczynska
As will be seen a little further down this list, the European trope of refashioning Universal Studios-era monsters into German-style fairy tale horror stories is so creatively liberating it’s a wonder the micro-genre hasn’t made the Atlantic jump yet. This time, Agnieszka Smozynska makes a rave-y Polish version of The Little Mermaid, doubling down on the mermaids and making them a lot more like The Creature From the Black Lagoon than Ariel.
The concoction wouldn’t work without precise “come hither and find out what we’re all about” performances from Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszanska, but the true breakout star and shining light of The Lure is Smoczynska’s mesmerizing dance sequences in the nightclub the two mermaids find themselves in. Simultaneously sexy and disturbing in ways that indicate toward the inevitable climax, The Lure is frequently hilarious in its embrace of disco-pop culture wrapped around horror movie basics. It’s the weirdest movie of the year; also one of the best.
5. My Happy Family, directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß
Balancing culture and convention is such a tightrope that it’s no wonder many minor key foreign films never reach large enough audiences to relate on a grand scale. For every Asghar Farhadi masterpiece about the eternity of missed connections and losses of faith possible inside one marriage (let alone one country) in A Separation and The Salesman, there are just as many like My Happy Family, a shockingly assured Georgian film about how the weight of religion, family, marriage, companionship, parenthood and country can nearly destroy any woman looking for a moment of peace.
My Happy Family is perhaps the best film of the year at putting its main character (the mother Manana, as played by Ia Shugliashvili) in unwinnable conflicts with the ultimate goal of sussing out their overarching motivation or commitment to the cause. Manana is constantly challenged on her identity as a fully formed woman, constantly pushed to be a tool of her mother’s needs, her husband’s stature, her children’s guiding light, or her classmate’s talented friend. Yet when the moments come that might offer some thought to Manana’s psyche, each character, in turn, passes her over. Despite its Georgian roots and distinctly Eastern European flavor, My Happy Family is as deft a treatise on female independence as was seen all year.
4. The Florida Project, directed by Sean Baker
You can very easily question the authenticity of Sean Baker’s second-straight film about poor women put in morally dubious circumstances and acting in ways that don’t necessarily portray them as heroes. Baker is a cis white man. His writing partner on both Tangerine and The Florida Project, Chris Bergoch, is a white man. The idea of both men truthfully portraying Moonee (the revelatory Brooklynn Prince) and Halley (an equally captivating Bria Vinaite) and their dysfunctional, loving relationship seems like a recipe for disaster.
Despite this, The Florida Project is excessively humanist, forgiving of its characters flaws, permissive of the bad choices they need to make as dramatic personae, and probing in the way it finds the little twinges of emotional truth among all of the South Florida Disney-meets-Spring Breakers posturing. Willem Dafoe stealing every scene he’s in feels automatic and beautiful, yet the story’s pivots on little exchanges between Moonee and Halley keep a laser focus on a project that could easily have felt bloated with colorful, cardboard characters. Instead, The Florida Project is the most realized movie of the year, a startling look at forgotten people next to one of the most unforgettable places in the country, representing the thesis of American rot lying just beyond our sphere of vision. [Chase’s Review]
3. Get Out, directed by Jordan Peele
What is there left to say about Get Out? Jordan Peele’s film debut masterpiece is as shocking, funny, timely and eternal as everyone has said it is, a powerful screed against the domination and ownership of black bodies by those who see themselves as on the morally right side of history. Each role, from Daniel Kaluuya through Allison Williams and Lakeith Stanfield, heightens a sense of dread that few modern horror directors know how to fully accomplish without an overbearing score or ostentatious camera work (although the therapy scene is definitely ostentatious). Get Out succeeds precisely because it is a Blumhouse picture; shot cheaply and efficiently to make money, the movie instead uses its thriftiness to shine a light on the hilariously terrifying story. Get Out feels like a movie at the start of a wave, the movie film students will look back on as a key indicator for a new age of groundbreaking movies about black people made by black filmmakers. Get Out deserves such status. Let’s hope it comes to pass. [Chase’s Review]
2. The Big Sick, directed by Michael Showalter
Go figure, all Judd Apatow needed to revitalize his formula was to stop directing, hire a non-white actor, and allow said actor to deeply personalize Apatow’s formula in the service of a touching love letter to forgiveness and persistent kindness. Far less obviously funny than other somber Apatow duds (Funny People at least is RAAAAAANDY), The Big Sick is organized around the operating principle of consistently doing the kind deed for others, even if it is not what they want. In the hands of a less able pair of actors, or a less able director (shoutout Michael Showalter!), the movie could come off as forgiving of some of the nascent awfulness that both Kumail and his mother show early in the movie. Yet Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan, assisted by Holly Hunter and Zenobia Shroff as the two mothers, suffuse the movie with such an abiding, loving chemistry that it’s impossible to not recognize that Kumail is being a beta-male asshole right up until the point he is asked to do the right thing. Because, ultimately, The Big Sick is about making the right choice for the ones you love, and that those choices can carry us through immeasurable hardship. [Rachel’s Review]
1. Raw, directed by Julia Ducourneau
Raw is about many things, but mostly it’s about growing up and facing the darkness within and without. Garance Marillier’s Justine discovers through trial and error what it’s like to be a young person reckoning with the mistakes of her parents, emerging from her sister’s shadow to confront family flaws, embracing collegiate horniness in all its manner of eccentricity and, finally, developing into a woman in a way divorced from traditional narrative, embracing idiosyncrasy and a unique perspective. On the way, Julia Ducourneau and cinematographer Ruben Impens infuse Raw with a rich, stylized and erotic palette, full of deep hue greens and blues invaded by highlighted splashes of pink (the raw chicken!). Ducourneau’s ambitious shots match the magical realist subject matter, never stooping to an unearned level of realism to earn more cred.
Unlike other coming-of-age movies, Raw ends on a sour note. Justine has achieved a level of self-acceptance that is common in these types of movies, especially ones starring females who learn of mystical or horrifying powers (see: Thelma). Yet despite her newfound adjustment, she is unable to shake that this quality that makes her strong and unique will be a curse, and is a curse for those in her line before her. There’s a devastating message to this that gets lost in other wish fulfillment coming-of-age movies. For in between the cannibalism, murder, revenge, sex and partying of Raw’s gorgeous, dangerous shell lies a destructive core of malice about the qualities that make us who we are, and how those qualities both serve us and dominate us. [Tyler’s Review]