Best Films of 2017

| January 4, 2018

While 2017 was a disaster for reality, it was a minor miracle for movies, granting us a slate more consistent in themes yet more varied in quality than the previous year. And while a lot of the movies that stuck out gained my attention due to their audacity, what made the best of the year stand out were the films’ singularity, both for better and for worse. If 2015 was a year of comedy and cautionary futurism and 2016 was a year of social issues and a need for hope while the facing the void, 2017 was the answer to all of that: intimacy and subjectivity to compliment humanity’s detachment from itself. The Disaster ArtistMy Life as a Zucchini, The Blackcoat’s DaughterPersonal Shopper, and Graduation all skated similarly close to landing on the top ten list this time around, and in some ways, they may be just as deserving, but the following resonate closer to me due to their personal impacts on me.

#10 – The Beguiled, dir. Sofia Coppola

“Lay him here.”

It’s a very real film in that it’s very well mannered, not always in the traditionally polite sense, but in how people interact with each other. The character dynamics are largely unspoken but so well executed, thanks partially to the film’s surprising amount of droll humor that is typically associated with Coppola’s work. Like most pressure cooker scenarios, emotions are heightened, be they sexual or otherwise, and Coppola plays with how sudden this onslaught of confusion and jealousy can be. With each character’s confidence portrayed in differing ways, ranging from sassiness to flirtiness to physicality to moral righteousness, their mutual constraints—both physical and metaphysical—highlight their bonds, their maturing, their growing disconnect. And by the haunting final shot, it becomes clear—through all the fog and morning mist and candle-cast shadows—that we’re all in our own prison.

#9 – 20th Century Women, dir. Mike Mills

“Wondering if you’re happy is a great shortcut to just being depressed.”

It’s a movie owned by the performances of its performers: Annette Benning; Greta Gerwig; Elle Fanning; Billy Crudup. I’d be wrong, though, if I didn’t say that this is ultimately Mills’s movie. As an ode to the women that he grew up around, he’s created a touching, funny, and realistically bittersweet exploration of growth and change and what those entail. A movie this delightful and full of outstanding performances is one that warrants a strong recommendation, and seeing Benning and Crudup awkwardly dance to Black Flag and Talking Heads is something that we could benefit from more of in general.

#8 – T2 Trainspotting, dir. Danny Boyle

“You’re a tourist in your own youth.”

This 20-years-later sequel to a cult classic comes together to form a package that is acutely aware of its place and how that landscape has changed between the release of the original and now. Boyle and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle run with the grimy aesthetic of the first while consciously placing it within today’s time period of flashing lights and a Spring Breakers-esque color scheme. In terms of John Hodge’s script, several of these characters haven’t changed at all, and that’s the point. Some people don’t change, especially when they choose cynicism instead of life. After the repetition of their lives wears out like a dog chasing its tail for hours, all they come to have is the lack of true purpose like a cat that realizes that the red dot from the laser pointer cannot be trapped. If anything, some aspects of these characters’ narcissism and hedonism has been amplified by today’s age, which the movie largely communicates through visuals and the self-aware aesthetics rather than dialogue. But maybe it’s okay to be aimless sometimes as long as you have a delusion of an endpoint in your sight. Flirting with—but refusing to commit to—a concrete morality, Hodge and Boyle again understand why these people live these lives, and they show the fun and disgust of it all. It’s not really a sequel; it’s a complimentary piece to the original that comments on the fetishization of nostalgia.

#7 – The Florida Project, dir. Sean Baker

“You know why this is my favorite tree? … ‘Cause it’s tipped over, and it’s still growing.”

In a film that’s ethnographic for virtually its entire runtime, the music is diegetic and its performances largely come from non-actors. These are people who live just outside of Disney World, the seemingly sourceless sounds around them almost functioning as a cruel reminder of their proximity to the happiest place on earth. Anything that exists right outside of paradise is going to be a dumpster fire of banality in comparison, but Baker stages his scenes in subtly cinematic ways. The realism of America is what grants it its mysticism, and when you’re a child, it’s all the same. The humanism on display here is some of the finest since Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, with Baker’s admiration of the protagonist as well as the patience for her mother feeling at once objective and from a filmmaker’s voice. Similarly, the actors aren’t asked to mine emotion out of more conventional drama because Baker knows that the implications and causality are what really matter. Life isn’t so much about moments in time as it is about what follows them.

#6 – Lady Bird, dir. Greta Gerwig

“It’s the name you gave me, and it’s a good one.”

In her directorial debut, Gerwig never apologizes for her protagonist’s sins, yet she emphasizes with the rationales behind her wrongdoings. There’s a balance of morality and apathy present throughout the script that filters out of Lady Bird herself, one that’s accelerated by a teen’s perceived lack of agency and desperation to prove oneself in the world. It’s thematically universal but unapologetically deadpan and occasionally sardonic in the ways in which Gerwig’s writing often is, but placed within the suburban high school context, the hues of human behavior shine with a different glisten—a different sense of self-awareness—than her previous works. This is brought to fruition by a wonderful cast, both lead and supporting, namely Ronan and Metcalf, whose push-pull dynamic of blossoming and established worldviews encapsulate the insecurity of growing up as a whole.

#5 – Get Out, dir. Jordan Peele

“Now you’re in the sunken place.”

The horror genre has been done from so many angles, ranging from lazy and clichéd (endless remakes) to meta and subversive (Scream, The Cabin in the Woods), and the revisionist approach of those included in the latter category often employ a feminist slant. With Get Out, though, the sense of being the “other” is the core of the film from another perspective. Instead of the male gaze, we experience the white gaze. Instead of having a final girl, we have a final black man. Instead of casual and unintentional misogyny from characters due to ignorance, there’s casual and unintentional racism. The discomfort and anxiety is firmly rooted within a viewpoint too often neglected in mainstream movies, and while Jordan Peele’s sense of humor is often palpable and makes it a very fun viewing experience, it never strays into parody. This is laser-focused, tonally coherent satire with tricks up its sleeve.

#4 – A Ghost Story, dir. David Lowery

“I don’t think they’re coming.”

Almost all of this existential dreamscape latest operates on the basis of audience projection, granting a detached and often cold, almost stagnant gaze upon emotions that are ubiquitous to humans. The actors aren’t the conduits of information here, and it isn’t so much even writer/director/editor David Lowery who is, either. It’s the camera itself, making the figures on the screen and sounds out of sight exist within a realm of its own, and with that, A Ghost Story is arguably one of the most cinematic movies in a while. There are some shots that create the illusion of a shift in the aspect ratio, playing off of surroundings and framings to subtly show the emotions of these characters as they exist in relation to their surroundings of a world that is, for all intents and purposes, moot. As characters voice their theological insecurities, it becomes clear that they, in each moment, exist on their own planes. Other people and objects function just as sorts of intellectual stimulation and shadings, all while the world continues to evolve, seemingly leaving them behind. They may not know exactly what they think or how to deal with their emotions, but Lowery at once makes his ideas and points clear. Throughout, he invites the viewer to twist visual language around the their own ideas of what can be said and what should be accepted, but never quite how anything should be accepted.

#3 – Ingrid Goes West, dir. Matt Spicer

“I’m just tired of being me.”

One of the things that makes Ingrid Goes West work so well isn’t just its satire, although that is a crucial part of its triumphs. The relentless skewering of Venice Beach culture and psuedo-intellectualism that’s become synonymous with success is knowingly executed by co-writer David Branson Smith and director/co-writer Matt Spicer, and yet the film manages to find the desperation of each of the characters. The film never apologizes for them, though: Taylor is vapid and shrill; her brother is a racist drug addict; and her husband’s idea of art is utter trash. But it’s then that Ingrid’s more traditionally frightening behavior shows itself to be simply a stripped-down version of her acquaintances’ flaws—it’s just that others are more affable packagings of the worst aspects of such a culture. It’s the movie’s treatment of Ingrid, though, that demonstrates Spicer’s success as a filmmaker in his debut. Our protagonist here clearly suffers from borderline personality disorder, and even if it’s at times played for comedic effect, the episodes of depression that she suffers from play out with a Cronenberg-esque earnestness. It’s a script that’s executed with actuality and utmost respect, anchored by a career-best performance from Aubrey Plaza. #iamingrid.

#2 – The Killing of a Sacred Deer, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

“Our children are dying, but yes, I can make you mashed potatoes.”

Lanthimos’s latest contains the deadpan humor that he is known for—every single interaction between characters is stilted and many of them operate on a level of gallows humor. The depiction of suburban life with such a detached and amoral perspective paints the characters’ lives in varyingly satirical shades, and the manner by which people act are like neighbors who are stunningly unaware of the effects they have on others. Or maybe they do know, but they just don’t know how to show that they care. And despite the numerous Kubrick comparisons that have already been made by me and will inevitably be made elsewhere, Lanthimos’s work differs from that in that it cannot in any logical way be read as hopeful or positive. Humanism is not Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou’s forte here, nor is absurdism. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is utter nihilism in that it is not depressing; it is not degrading; it is not angry. It simply is. That’s not to say that emotions are void—they are what lead hearts to rattle with discomfort, both in the bodies of the characters onscreen and in the bodies the viewers watching them. Everything is just a tipping scale, wavering back and forth, and while the film may be a little long for some, the faces of its characters are even longer.

#1 – mother!, dir. Darren Aronofsky

“Do you hear that? That’s the sound of life—the sound of humanity!”

Aronofsky is clearly no stranger to biblical parallels, but mother! differs in that its core philosophy is something that is placed within the context of Christian mythology but is not truly exploring said theology at its core. In what may be the most ambitious and dizzying studio film since Eyes Wide Shut over 18 years ago, mother! takes the basic setup of the Bible to inject the audience with the cold venom of a fever dream from Hell, complete with a final 36 minutes that rank as some of the most assured and velocity-driven filmmaking in recent memory. Yes, it is incredible to think of the fact that Paramount read a screenplay that operates purely on nightmare logic and granted its filmmakers 30 million dollars, but even without the context of its conception, the final product houses the best work yet from star Jennifer Lawrence and technical expertise across the board. mother! surely is not a movie that you will enjoy the traditional sense of the word, but it’s damn near exactly what those involved set out to make, whether you agree with it or not. It’s an environmentalist message, a fever dream juxtaposing theism and gnosticism, a criticism of the narcissism of artists, a look at a deeply problematic relationship, and an utterly nihilistic cry into the void. Let it scream into your face so you can scream into the sky.

About the Author:

Senior year film student at Columbia College Chicago, Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener, and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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