The Top Ten Films (Plus Four Critics’ Picks) of 2017

January 23, 2018

 

From the film review staff at Indy Week, an informal Best Of for 2017…

1. GOOD TIME

Raw, rambunctious, and funny, Good Time redeems American cinema from the doldrums of pre-packaged comic-book franchises and inert middle-class dramas. Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) traverses New York’s five boroughs, stealing and jumping fences, to rescue his mentally ill brother from a state-run facility. Dramatizing Connie’s odyssey with desperate dark humor, Ben and Josh Safdie emerge as unique filmmakers capable of toeing the line between exploitation and gritty social realism with actual heart. —Laura Jaramillo

2. GET OUT

Writer-director Jordan Peele pulls off an impossibly difficult maneuver with the fabulous, timely Get Out, delivering a real American horror story about race and violence that also works as grim satire. Peele understands that timing is key to both comedy and horror, and his beautifully crafted script unwinds with clockwork precision. It’s the movie we didn’t know we needed until we saw it. —Glenn McDonald

3. THE FLORIDA PROJECT

After finding success by shooting Tangerine on iPhones, Sean Baker didn’t have to shoot on iPhones anymore. But this bigger-budget follow-up shone with the same intimacy, immediacy, and empathy, portraying the precarity and dignity of low-income families on the margins of Walt Disney World, so close to an American dream they can’t reach. The Florida Project is heartbreaking, heart-lifting, and hilarious, down to its perfect final scene. —Brian Howe

4. I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO

Raoul Peck’s doc about James Baldwin is required viewing for all Americans, this year, next year, and every year to come until his words cease to resound with insight and prophecy about the inner workings of white supremacy. Baldwin’s hypnotic authority is such that one feels racists would implode like dying stars if only they could be made to listen—a fantasy, no doubt, but one that speaks to the power of Baldwin’s thought and this film. —Brian Howe

5. PERSONAL SHOPPER

Writer/director Olivier Assayas can’t miss. His newest film casts Kristen Stewart as Maureen, who is obsessed with the spirit of her dead twin brother and works as a personal shopper for a Lady Gaga equivalent in Paris. Stewart delivers one of the most emotional, tremble-inducing performances of the decade. A totally original blend of art horror and existential spiritual exploration becomes a narrative maze of thrills that will leave you speechless. —Luke Hicks

6. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER

Dark comedy reaches a new level in writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos’s follow-up to The Lobster. Lanthimos wants you to question whether you are allowed to laugh at this bizarre, suspense-ridden film, which plays out like a demented game of “Would you rather?” Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, and relative newcomer Barry Keoghan hilariously convey Lanthimos’s deadpan dialogue without hindering the stark, severe drama beating at the heart of the film. —Luke Hicks

7. A GHOST STORY

At first glance, it looks like the worst kind of art-school pretension: a ghost story starring a guy in a bed sheet with holes cut out for the eyes. But director David Lowery makes it the year’s most thematically ambitious film, directly engaging blunt questions about life and death that we generally prefer to avoid. Why are we here? What happens next? Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara explore some unsettling possibilities. —Glenn McDonald

8. LADY BIRD

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is an early-aughts high schooler growing up in Sacramento yet yearning for the bright lights of New York City, much like her creator, the writer-director Greta Gerwig. Lady Bird‘s ensemble cast is awards worthy, in a film that treats even its antagonists complexly and evenhandedly. This is an astute, refreshing coming-of-age dramedy, but it’s more than that—it’s a paean to home and how we are the product of our formative setting. —Neil Morris

9. BLADE RUNNER 2049

Thirty years after the original sci-fi film noir classic, a laconic blade runner—an obedient LAPD replicant named K (Ryan Gosling)—makes a discovery that threatens to further blur the divide between humans and their avatars. Director Denis Villeneuve amplifies philosophical and religious themes, from creation and mortality to humankind’s technological and moral trajectory. The original’s visionary cinematography gets an update from the incomparable Roger Deakins, producing an eye-popping postmodern landscape of neon and chiaroscuro. —Neil Morris

10. NOCTURAMA

Bertrand Bonello’s Nocturama, perhaps the most chronically slept-on film of the year, is a riveting hybrid of action thriller and philosophical excursus on the dissolution of the social contract. The cast of stonefaced Parisian youths from different walks of life who band together to plan a bomb attack on the city, captured with hyperkinetic digital cinematography, presents a startling document of twenty-first-century alienation and inequality. —Laura Jaramillo

Plus Four Personal Picks from the Critics

LANDLINE The collaboration between filmmaker Gillian Robespierre and comedian-actor Jenny Slate is among the most exhilarating in independent film. A follow-up to Obvious Child, their brilliant 2014 debut, Landline expands on the pair’s weird and wonderful dynamic with the story of an eccentric Manhattan family in the go-go nineties. The film caroms gleefully from filthy jokes to raw confessionals, with terrific performances from John Turturro, Edie Falco, and Abby Quinn. —Glenn McDonald

THE POST Steven Spielberg can make a better movie using muscle memory than most filmmakers can using their fullest efforts. Every element in The Post is finely crafted, from the scene construction to a hefty cast led by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. Based on The Washington Post‘s publication of the classified Pentagon Papers in 1971, the film is also a polished polemic, drawing on our contemporary zeitgeist to reiterate the importance of a free, independent press. —Neil Morris

FOXTROT You will not experience the profound sorrow and magnanimous relief of Israeli director Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrotanywhere else. The gorgeous cinematography, fifteen-minute animation insert, and nonlinear progression combine to form a wildly imaginative look into familial love and loss that is grounded by stellar performances. (It was also controversial, denounced by Israel’s Minister of Culture for its portrayal of an Israeli Defense Force cover-up of the shooting of four Arab youths.) —Luke Hicks

BEATRIZ AT DINNER This discomfort-tinged drama poses as a mild comedy of manners. When Beatriz (Salma Hayek), a Mexican massage therapist, is accidentally invited to a business dinner at her boss’s house, tensions mount as she submits the group to a series of moral and ethical confrontations. Mike White and Miguel Arteta’s script quietly worms into the deepest chambers of American anti-immigrant sentiment and prods at its most tender parts until the deepest antagonisms become visible. —Laura Jaramillo

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