Josh’s Top Ten of 2017
- The Florida Project
Sean Baker finds beauty in lives on the fringe of society. Porn stars in Starlet, prostitutes in Tangerine, and underprivileged children in The Florida Project. Once we slow down as viewers, we focus on the subtle simplicities in their lives. We think about what it’s like to live in a hotel. We empathize with kids who have to find something to do when their parents leave them alone all day. As with his previous films, this one builds silently to an emotional climax. It’s a very human, very Florida version of hope amongst the ashes.
- Phantom Thread
Paul Thomas Anderson takes a step away from his epics for what may be his smallest story yet. Three primary characters, almost all the action taking place in the same house. Within this framework he dives deep into the lives of a creative genius and the woman who loves him. However, it is their dysfunctions, not their romance that comes to the forefront. What happens in a relationship where two people alternately fulfill and destroy each other?
- A Ghost Story
A Ghost Story is more than a contemplation on grief. Rooney Mara’s performance early in the film is a striking picture of grief, but the fact that the film goes on so long after that shows that it’s about much more. Slow and steady, almost anachronistic in its approach to fantasy, Lowery’s film gets at all the things that surround a life and a place. It explores the importance of places, homes specifically, and how people’s identities are wrapped up in them. And of course, it is about how far humans (alive or dead?) will go to feel complete.
- I, Tonya
We take the 24 hour news cycle for granted these days but when the Tonya Harding story broke, it was still new. Craig Gillespie’s film focuses not on the details of the story, but the fact that we can never really know the true details. Everyone has a different story. Everybody is probably lying. No one can ever really know exactly what happened. And yet we all made judgments on it, believing that the constant barrage of news entitled us to expert opinions. Margot Robbie’s Tonya Harding is presented as someone who did some amazing things, and did some terrible things. We tend to focus on one or the other, but the movie helps us understand that the real truth is somewhere in between.
- Blade Runner 2049
I’ll be honest – Blade Runner 2049 is a little thin on theme and story. But it’s one of the most beautiful films to come out this year. The visuals, the music, the production design – everything contributing to the look and feel is amazing. Villeneuve knows how to do effects. The atmosphere he creates in his scenes stands in stark contrast to the too-clean CG of most Marvel fare. These are the kind of movies that the sci-fi genre needs to stay alive.
- Lady Bird
I love Greta Gerwig as an actress so much and it’s a pleasure to see that she brings the same depth and introspection to her work as a director. Lady Bird feels like a spot on portrayal of the high school experience, the child to parent relationship, and all the foibles of someone who needs to grow up even though they’re pretty convinced they have already. Saoirse Ronan is quirky but not in a way that’s too cutesy or (gasp) twee. It’s a lovely, detail oriented family portrait that I look forward to rewatching.
- Get Out
Get Out is great not only because it captures something about the political moment but because it simultaneously takes all the air out of it. While the themes and ideas are huge, it still knows how to jump between light and heavy with ease. Most striking is that Jordan Peele is saying something about racism that no other films are saying – the antagonists are racists, but not the In the Heat of the Night kind. They genuinely think very highly of black people, but have missed the crucial necessity of thinking of them as people. Thought provoking, funny, scary and well-acted, Get Out is a real triumph for a first time director.
- The Big Sick
The Big Sick joins the pantheon of the rare good romantic comedies. It’s funny and sweet, but has an underlying authenticity to it that makes it stand out. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon are putting it all out there with their personal story, holding nothing back about their own flaws. Real people showing their real flaws will always be more interesting than a writer in a vacuum imagining how characters might act. And I’m not going to stop talking about Holly Hunter in this movie. Seriously, she’s so good.
- Personal Shopper
Personal Shopper was at the same time the most stimulating and confusing movie for me this year. There is so much going on, and I’m not sure I understand most of it. But every time I dig a little deeper, something else opens up. Assayas’ newest deals with death and spirituality in a way that would make Bergman proud. It beautifully explores identity; identity in the face of loss, identity by proxy, whether identity can be defined or redetermined by our surface details. Most of all, it suggests that the real world and the supernatural one are fused in a way that we don’t understand, and may never understand.
Dunkirk seems like the greatest achievement in directing for 2017 and maybe Nolan’s best work yet. On the surface, this story could be a boring but inspirational one – soldiers were trapped, then civilians came to rescue them. Almost no real fighting ever happened there. Nolan digs into every nook and cranny of the events to give us the full picture. The anxiety, the danger, the sacrifice, the risk, the looming unknown – all of it is expertly examined. And done so with technical expertise. From the structure, to the effects, to the music, to the framing, all of it shows a director at the height of his strength making concise decisions to get the most out of a story. When it finally lets up at the end of the third act, we realize how fast we’ve been driving for the last two hours.
Didn’t see (yet!): Call Me by Your Name, Killing of a Sacred Deer, Good Time, The Beguiled