Rita’s Top Ten of 2017
10. The Big Sick
The Big Sick is famously based on the real relationship of its married writers, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, and the authentic complexity of an actual intimate relationship can be felt in every frame. Nanjiani and Gordon’s script, directed with a light touch by Michael Showalter, remains funny and uplifting even as it tackles unromantic topics like serious illness, marital infidelity, and the gulf between what immigrant parents want for their children and what those children want for themselves.
9. Marjorie Prime
Based on the play by Jordan Harrison, Marjorie Prime is a quiet chamber piece that sneaks up on you and packs an unexpectedly powerful emotional punch. Lois Smith is Marjorie, an elderly widow beginning to slip into dementia. Marjorie spends much of her time with Walter (the fantastic Jon Hamm), a holographic recreation of her late husband that’s programmed to learn about the real Walter and reminisce with Marjorie about the life they shared. As we watch Marjorie talk to this warped version of her husband and observe how the strange relationship affects Marjorie’s daughter and son-in-law, a deceptively small film becomes a subtly epic inquiry into what it really means to be remembered.
I liked Downsizing so much more than almost anybody I’ve talked to that it actually made me feel a little bit crazy. Maybe when I see it again I’ll be more aware of the plot and tone issues that others have dinged it for, but I walked out of the theater thinking only of the many things I loved about it: a tragicomic vision of the near future that feels totally new but utterly plausible, a script that boldly shifts direction every thirty minutes or so, a rightly lauded breakout performance by Hong Chau, and a sometimes painfully poignant evocation of what it feels like to be an ordinary person navigating extraordinary times.
7. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Less prickly and more generous than many of Noah Baumbach’s previous outings, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) uses its short story collection structure to accommodate the perspectives of multiple characters and create a sprawling, immersive family unit that’s every bit as endearing and infuriating as your own. The cast is uniformly fantastic, but Adam Sandler makes an especially great impression with his restrained, melancholy portrayal of a father struggling to adjust to his teenage daughter’s newfound independence.
6. I, Tonya
People have argued over whether Craig Gillespie’s dark comedy about the rise and fall of figure skater Tonya Harding glorifies its subject or merely laughs at her. The real beauty of Gillespie’s film is that it fully does both, which seems like the only reasonable approach to a character so complex who lived out a story so tragically absurd. While stylistically ambitious and undeniably funny, it’s also a perceptive examination of cycles of abuse and poverty that doesn’t spare anyone — not even those of us watching.
I’ve described a lot of movies as “dreamlike” or “nightmarish” over the years but few movies have ever truly earned that description like Mother! does. Darren Aronofsky claims to have drafted the script in five days, and the film has a frenzied, almost possessed quality that would seem to bear that out. Watching it feels like stepping inside someone else’s fever dream — enveloping, unpredictable, impossible to comprehend, possibly pulsating with vital and primordial truths, but also maybe just nonsense? Many analytical lenses have been offered up as the key to “getting” this movie but no matter which one you choose to look at it through, Mother! is totally unique experience and a surefire conversation starter (to put it mildly).
4. A Ghost Story
David Lowery’s supernatural romance feels like a culmination of many of the most striking elements from my favorite films this year. Like Downsizing and Marjorie Prime, it contemplates big things like time, human memory, and the possible end of humanity altogether. Like Mother!, it has an urgent, epiphanic quality that makes it feel like it was delivered to us from another plane. And like The Big Sick and Lady Bird, it’s full of beautifully observed personal moments that stick with you long after it’s over. It’s a movie that argues for the eventual meaninglessness of everything we do, and yet grants its puny human blips beauty and grace while they’re here.
3. Get Out
Jordan Peele’s stunningly self-assured debut repurposes well-worn horror tropes (balanced out with humor deployed at just the right moments) to communicate some hard truths about race relations in America. Get Out was a huge hit when it opened back at the beginning of the year, and basically hasn’t stopped being talked about since. It’s impressive not only for its bracing message about the shape-shifting insidiousness of racism, but for being made with such undeniable style and skill that it actually got people to listen.
2. Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a witty coming-of-age comedy that overflows with tenderness and empathy for every one of its flawed characters. It’s an unsparing yet loving document of growing up in a particular time and place — I, for one, was not emotionally prepared to see such a dead-on period piece set during my own high school years — and also of that particular phase of young adulthood when you’re forced to stop defining yourself by your quirks and start doing it by your actions.
1. Call Me by Your Name
Director Luca Guadagnino sets his moving romance in a fleeting, Eden-like world in which every moment and action is saturated with sensual pleasure and barely contained emotion. Based on Andre Aciman’s thoroughly internal novel, Guadagnino’s greatest achievement lies in the way the inner lives of its characters – especially that of Timothee Chalamet’s Elio – remain vibrant and insistent despite being played out entirely on the actors’ faces and without the aid of voiceover. I can’t remember the last time a movie made me feel as intensely as this one.