The year's best films from 1 to A24
It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. If ever a year called for escapism at the movies, it was 2017. And, yet, there's a certain theme that emerged in the films that stuck with me over the year. It was more “magnified by” reality than “escape from” it.
1. “Lady Bird”
Actress Greta Gerwig's directorial debut was a surprise revelation. It was a warm and funny coming-of-age story with tremendous empathy for its central characters, played to perfection by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.
2. “The Florida Project”
The adventures of a 6-year-old growing up in a Florida motel on the outskirts of Disney World country took on a whole range of emotions in Sean Baker's follow-up to “Tangerine.” It's a portrait of growing up poor in America, but it's also alternately uplifting, funny and heartbreaking.
This was probably the most “love it or hate it” film of the year, so this is what side of that debate I fall on. Director Darren Aronofsky lays on biblical themes and an environmental allegory, but it can also play as an anxiety-sparking horror film, helped by one of the best performances of Jennifer Lawrence's career.
4. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Writer-director Martin McDonagh goes to unexpected places in both the storytelling and tone shifts in this tale of a mother (Frances McDormand, reason enough to see the movie) seeking justice for the rape and murder of her daughter. Especially recommended if you don't recoil at morally complex characters.
5. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”
Another darkly comic morality tale? Yep, this one from Yorgos Lanthimos reteaming with his “Lobster” star, Colin Farrell, who is joined by a stellar Nicole Kidman. Edge-of-your-seat tension and uncomfortable laughs don't always mix. I could only love this one more if it were filmed in Columbus instead of Cincinnati.
6. “Get Out”
Jordan Peele's surprise hit was loved by both audiences and critics for good reason. It was a sharply executed horror story on the surface, but it's the underlying representation of the African-American experience from slavery through the modern era that gave it its power.
7. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”/“Blade Runner 2049”
Two sci-fi sequels facing impossibly big expectations, and I loved them both. The audacity and brilliance of Rian Johnson's plot choice in “The Last Jedi” came into focus with a second viewing. Denis Villeneuve's stunningly stylish “Blade Runner” reboot wasn't built to be a crowd-pleaser, but it did anything but disappoint.
8. “The Big Sick”
Comic Kumail Nanjiani drew from his real-life relationship in this story, which follows a burgeoning romance interrupted by a medical emergency. It's an honest and funny look through the eyes of immigration. Let's not forget the performances of Zoe Kazan and Holly Hunter.
9. “A Ghost Story”
Director David Lowery reunites with his “Ain't Them Bodies Saints” actors Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara in this contemplative story of love, loss and change. It's a beautiful exercise in mood more than traditional narrative, but it's hard to remain unmoved. (It's also the fourth movie on this list from my beloved distribution studio, A24.)
Christopher Nolan made this World War II movie uniquely his own with a taut storytelling structure that played with time. It's a technical triumph, but also uniquely puts us in the position of British troops who faced long odds with a mix of natural fear and self-preservation. We don't see that side of war often on film.
Next 10 (alphabetically):
“The Disaster Artist”
“It Comes at Night”
Not screened by deadline:
“Call Me By Your Name”