Jared’s Best Films of 2017
As usual, there was talk of it being a bad year for movies. And, as always, I say you just need to know where to look. If I compare my 2016 favorites with this year’s, I think I slightly prefer the latter. But it’s close. My taste in cinema tends to straddle the line between mainstream and arthouse, so hardcore cinephiles will probably deem my selections basic and casual moviegoers will say they’re obscure. All I can say is these are the films that wowed me. A factor I considered more this year than in the past: Did the film impact me such that I was compelled to revisit it a second or third time? The great films entice you to return, and all but one of my top 15 films I watched at least twice (#9 only once due to availability).
So listed below are my 30 favorite movies of the year split into three categories. “Best of the Rest” is 15 solid films to check out. Then we have five Honorable Mentions followed by the Top Ten. Eligibility was based on a 2017 U.S. commercial release (too bad Lucrecia Martel’s Zama was pushed to 2018, because it would have cracked the top five). Regrettably unseen: Félicité, 4 Days in France, The Breadwinner, The Human Surge.
Best of the Rest
The Beguiled | The Big Sick | Coco | A Fantastic Woman | The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki | Hermia & Helena | LA 92 | Logan | Mudbound | Rat Film | The Shape of Water | Song to Song | Star Wars: The Last Jedi | 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, MO | Wonderstruck
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut—one of the year’s biggest surprise hits—is a provocative psychological horror film that holds up a funhouse mirror to American society. Can’t say I ever expected to see a scary film about cultural appropriation!
THE LOST CITY OF Z
James Gray’s emerald-hued adventure film is as much about a man’s search for his soul as it is about the search for an advanced ancient civilization. Gray’s knack for knockout finales continues.
A muted yet hypnotic meditation on the ephemerality and manipulation of human memory. Director Michael Almereyda turns a Pulitzer-nominated sci-fi play into a cinematic elegy. Excellent ensemble and Mica Levi score.
The kids are not all right, according to writer-director Bertrand Bonello. A dual film—first a terrorism thriller, then a cultural satire—of aesthetic pleasures and incendiary ideas. First saw it at TIFF 2016, and I still can’t shake it.
THE UNKNOWN GIRL
An unfairly maligned humanist neo-noir from the Dardenne brothers. A young doctor’s quest to solve a murder takes an unusual shape, as the doctor-patient relationship morphs into a priest-parishioner one. Adèle Haenel is fantastic.
10. A QUIET PASSION
A Quiet Passion is one of the great biopics of the decade—as much for the things it doesn’t do as for those that it does. In fact, this Emily Dickinson portrait has more in common with last year’s Love & Friendship: a brilliant, quick-witted woman, trapped by social codes and gender expectations, strives for autonomy and respect. As the acerbic dialogue flies back and forth across the screen, writer-director Terence Davies infuses the film with the poetic spirit we’ve come to expect from his work. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect Dickinson portrayal than that by Cynthia Nixon. It’s the kind of performance that deserves awards but will receive none.
9. FACES PLACES
Faces Places arrives as a shining beacon of humanity at a time when the world is desperately in need of it. This documentary, a collaborative project between legendary filmmaker Agnès Varda and enigmatic photographer JR, has a simple premise: the two drive around the French countryside snapping local people’s photos, printing large blow-ups, and plastering them around town. But through this process, the amusingly paired Varda and JR—as well as the viewer—come to understand the people, their personal histories, and their perspectives. The result is a joyous celebration of art and human connection. Faces Places fulfills Roger Ebert’s idea of cinema as an empathy machine.
8. PERSONAL SHOPPER
No filmmaker has a finger on the pulse of modernity quite like Olivier Assayas, and Personal Shopper is his latest reflection on 21st century existence. At once a psychological thriller and a ghost story, the film expertly taps into how technology shapes our everyday lives—how one’s digital identity transcends boundaries, how the dead seemingly remain present, how communication can be both reassuring and alienating—while also considering the ways in which people grieve for loved ones. Personal Shopper is a zeitgeist film if there ever was one.
7. THE FLORIDA PROJECT
Indie filmmaker Sean Baker continues to impress with The Florida Project, an endearing humanist picture that is an innocence-of-youth tale from the perspective of a six-year-old girl and a social realist drama centered on the day-to-day struggle of residents and employees of a budget motel on the outskirts of DisneyWorld. Against all odds, it succeeds wildly in both modes, thanks largely to Baker’s egalitarian eye: he captures the naive imagination and energy of his pint-sized protagonists as they make the best of their meager surroundings with the same honesty he depicts the hardships, sacrifices, and compromised decision-making of the adults. Willem Dafoe, in one of his best roles, is the film’s weary yet persevering soul.
6. THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES
Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories earns the unique distinction of being the first great Netflix-distributed film. It also rivals Frances Ha as the director’s best work to date. This vignette-structured study of a family in disarray at the hands of a narcissistic patriarch contains some of Baumbach’s sharpest, funniest writing—as barbed as it is warm. I am tempted to call it “The Squid and the Whale meets The Royal Tenenbaums,” but that description undersells the precise calibration of the film’s vulnerable heart, best worn by Adam Sandler, of all people. This is Sandler’s strongest dramatic performance, and it’s surrounded by an equally impressive cast—unquestionably the ensemble of the year.
5. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Luca Guadagnino’s stunning Call Me by Your Name is a tender, erotic coming-of-age film of gazes, touches, and desires. Tactile images among the film’s lush photography—an element that is becoming the filmmaker’s trademark—flood the senses in hopes of replacing the internal monologue of André Aciman’s novel, and it works! In fact, this is a rare instance where I prefer the film to the source material, which I guess is a controversial opinion, as the film significantly alters the ending (and, in my opinion, wisely truncates an earlier section). Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, and Michael Stuhlbarg are all superb in a picture that sneaks up on the viewer with its emotional potency.
4. BLADE RUNNER 2049
Denis Villeneuve was basically setting himself up for failure when he took on the task of making a worthy sequel to a revered, 35-year-old sci-fi classic. And yet, improbably, he pulled it off. Blade Runner 2049 should serve as a model for such undertakings: remain true to the spirit of the original while designing something—narratively, thematically, aesthetically—that stands apart and justifies its own existence. 2049 reimagines the world of Blade Runner (and in doing so actually comes closer to matching that of the original source text, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) and asks new questions about what it means to exist in such a universe—and how it reflects on our own. Much has been written about its technical brilliance (because Roger Deakins is a god, obviously), but less has been said about Ryan Gosling, whose expressive restraint has never been used to such great effect. This is a film I saw twice at the theater in a 12-hour span and expect to revisit often.
3. LADY BIRD
Talk about a (solo) directorial debut! Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird mines well-worn territory to excavate an entirely fresh perspective on the coming-of-age story. But, as she has explicitly declared in interviews, it is just as much a letting-go-of-your-child story—an angle that culminates in one of the year’s most touching scenes (I won’t spoil it). Gerwig’s screenplay exhibits not only an autobiographical quality but a sense of wisdom so that it is not a nostalgic film but a film about how nostalgia affects perception. And it is perceptive in other ways: the push-pull relationship between a mother and daughter, the love-hate relationship one can have with his/her hometown, and how certain songs become inextricably tied to specific events. Last but not least: Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are magnificent.
2. GOOD TIME
The movie I championed the most in 2017, Good Time is the thriller of the year. Josh and Benny Safdie blend their gritty indie aesthetic with a newfound flair for action filmmaking to craft a propulsive, tightly-plotted, take-no-prisoners crime story built around an antihero’s misguided act of love and desperation. The grungy crime equivalent to Scorsese’s darkly comic After Hours, Good Time is destined to rank among the great New York City movies. The verisimilitude of its milieu is matched only by the lived-in, authentic—and wholly magnetic—lead performance of Robert Pattinson. Every once in a while, a film’s collaborators—who here also include actor Buddy Duress, cinematographer Sean Price Williams, and composer Daniel Lopatin—fuse in a beautiful kind of alchemy. Good Time is such a film.
1. PHANTOM THREAD
And at the eleventh hour, the film of the year finally revealed itself: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. This period piece, set in mid-20th century England, opens as a fairly conventional (relatively speaking—this is PTA, after all) romance in which a prominent dressmaker courts a young foreign waitress. But quickly their relationship and her status within this shrewdly-gothic environment changes, further complicated by the influence of the dressmaker’s sister and business partner. What follows is a series of subtly shifting power dynamics in which these three players make cunning decisions to attain domestic sovereignty. Like with The Master, Anderson here doesn’t show his hand until very late, preferring to bemuse with intriguing behavior and glints of character psychology, forcing the viewer to question the nature and intent of every interaction—creating a playful and unusually suspenseful kind of tension—until information is disclosed that reverberates back through the film, illuminating various things that came before. What is most exciting about Phantom Thread is that it displays Anderson’s continued evolution as a filmmaker: his writing has never been richer, and his direction is more finely tuned than ever. The ostentatious direction of Boogie Nights and Magnolia (don’t get me wrong, I like both movies) has been entirely replaced by a controlled style that delivers a lot from a little. It is a film of quiet moments and small gestures that hit with great force—sometimes it’s as simple as a sharp glance or a cutting line of dialogue. But that isn’t to diminish the film’s technical merits. Phantom Thread is sumptuously photographed (with faint shades of Luchino Visconti), exquisitely costumed, and delicately scored (by regular composer Jonny Greenwood). Then there is the extraordinary trio of actors, Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Lesley Manville, all of whom deserve accolades. Anderson has mentioned Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and David Lean’s The Passionate Friends as influences on Phantom Thread, and, sure, one can see that, but ultimately this nuanced, spellbinding examination of strange love is just one thing: a PTA masterpiece.