Year in Review
BEST OF 2017
Featuring Get Out, mother!, Call Me By Your Name, and more.
By Blake Peterson
Good Time by Josh & Ben Safdie
What it’s about: A moronic bank robber's (Robert Pattinson) attempts to save his partner-in-crime/mentally challenged brother (Ben Safdie) from lock up.
Why it’s great: Boosted by a revelatory performance from Pattinson, who recalls Al Pacino in 1975's incomparable Dog Day Afternoon, Good Time is a hyperreal series of unfortunate events that becomes increasingly riveting the more things fall apart. The Safdies are certainly filmmakers on the rise.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets by Luc Besson
What it’s about: A pair of space agents’ (Cara Delevingne and Dane DeHaan) attempts to save a flagging alien race from extinction.
Why it’s great: While Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was cast aside as something of a lesser version of Besson’s The Fifth Element (1995) when it came out this summer, I found it delightful. It’s a jolly popcorn movie that immediately transported me into its colorful dreamworlds, reminding me of the days when I was in elementary school and could lose myself in a fantasy novel in a matter of minutes. It’s only slightly hindered by the miscasting of Dane DeHaan, but even then.
Baby Driver by Edgar Wright
What it’s about: The misadventures of a teenage getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) desperate to get out the business and pursue a romance with a pretty young waitress (Lily James).
Why it’s so great: No other action comedy this year has been as ingenious or escapist as Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, which takes elements of The Sugarland Express (1974) and The Driver (1978) and expectedly synthesizes them all with an icing of becoming, Wrightian stylization.
The Big Sick by Michael Showalter
What it’s about: A burgeoning romance’s interruption via a serious, sudden illness on the part of its female party (Zoe Kazan).
Why it’s so great: Based upon the real-life courtship of comedians Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, which really was dramatically hindered by a life-threatening sickness, The Big Sick initially plays out like a particularly inspired romantic comedy only to transform into a humanistic and heartfelt drama.
Wonder Woman by Patty Jenkins
What it’s about: The central Diana Prince’s a.k.a. Wonder Woman’s (Gal Gadot) upbringing and her eventual fight against World War I terrors.
Why it’s so great: Its humor deft and its sense of grandeur even more so, this year’s Wonder Woman was the most crucial (and entertaining) superhero movie of 2017, topped by terrific performances from a splendid Gadot and her never-better co-star, Chris Pine.
Get Out by Jordan Peele
What it’s about: A young black man’s (Daniel Kaluuya) realization that his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) and her apparently liberal parents (Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford) might not be exactly who or what they say they are.
Why it’s so great: Smart and timely, this The Stepford Wives (1975)-esque horror allegory regarding post-racial America is one of the most original films of the year. It’s become something of a cultural staple in the months since its February release, and it’s easy to see why – this is the kind of movie destined for a spot in the horror canon. An instantaneous classic.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) by Noah Baumbach
What it’s about: A dysfunctional family’s having to readjust after its patriarch (Dustin Hoffman) gets cancer.
Why it’s so great: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is the best movie writer/director Noah Baumbach has made to date. Poignant and universal but also strikingly funny, it is a family dramedy with an unusually sharp understanding of its characters, whom we grow to love. Best yet, it features an unexpectedly terrific performance from Adam Sandler, who’s perhaps never been as good as he is here.
Personal Shopper by Olivier Assayas
What it’s about: A personal shopper (Kristen Stewart) mourning her brother’s death is thrown for a loop when it’s suggested that his spirit might not have made it to the afterlife.
Why it’s so great: Though it flirts with the accidentally comical, the idiosyncratic psychological thriller Personal Shopper is saved by its hypnotic leading lady and by auteur Olivier Assayas’ straight-faced dedication to his material. Featuring some of the year's most memorable sequences – from Stewart’s wandering about a possibly haunted house to her long-winded text conversation with a man she presumes to be her brother’s ghost – the movie’s hard to shake off, even if it’s somewhat difficult to figure out what to make of it.
Twin Peaks: The Return by David Lynch & Mark Frost
What it’s about: The lives of the residents of (and those connected to) the eponymous town of Twin Peaks, 25 years after the events depicted in the original television series.
Why it’s so great: Twin Peaks: The Return technically isn’t a movie; it’s an 18-part, limited Showtime series. But because it both is more of a cinematic statement than anything else being made on TV and because the renowned French film magazine Cahiers du cinéma declared that it was the best feature of the year recently, I figure’d I would follow in their footsteps. Few works of entertainment so personally impacted my year in the ways Twin Peaks: The Return did. David Lynch and Mark Frost have outdone themselves.
Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan
What it’s about: The ins and outs of 1940’s infamous Battle of Dunkirk.
Why it’s so great: Marking a departure from the ordinarily cerebrally bendy style of Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk is a purely visceral war film that’s among the best of its genre. Like Hans Zimmer’s frantic score, it moves along with the anxiety of a time bomb waiting to go off. Its 106 minutes fly.
Okja by Bong Joon-ho
What it’s about: An adolescent girl’s (Ahn Seo-hyun) fight to save her pet superpig from both the corporation trying to slaughter it and the activists trying to rescue it.
Why it’s so great: Like Snowpiercer (2013), Bong Joon-ho’s previous film, Okja is a work of singularity, decidedly bonkers but also so immaculately conceived that it becomes brilliantly bonkers. It is a masterpiece; how Bong goes about concocting the otherworlds he does so often is difficult to comprehend but stunning to behold.
I, Tonya by Craig Gillespie
What it’s about: The rise and fall of disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding (played here by Margot Robbie), reimagined as an acberic black comedy.
Why it’s so great: A powerful underdog story better – and sharper – than James Franco's similarly acclaimed The Disaster Artist, I, Tonya is an acid-dipped farce that becomes increasingly emotionally resonant the more we get to know the eponymous Harding. It's an unexpected knockout, and beckons a career-best performance from Robbie. (Her co-stars aren't half-bad either.)
Lady Bird by Greta Gerwig
What it’s about: A precocious high schooler’s (Saoirse Ronan) senior year and all the familial dramas, romances, and bumpy friendships that come with it.
Why it’s so great: The sole directorial debut of the forever-underrated Greta Gerwig (now receiving the widespread acclaim she’s always deserved), Lady Bird is one of the best teenage movies ever made, so honest in its depiction of youth that our not being so sure if we even like its leading character is a testament to its verisimilitude (no 18-year-old has it all figured out, after all). Ronan is excellent, and her co-stars, including Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein, and Timothée Chalamet (who seems to be in everything this year), are just as pitch-perfect.
Mother! by Darren Aronofsky
What it’s about: To directly lift the teasing, mind-numbingly ambiguous summary utilized by Aronofsky in the months leading to mother!’s premiere, “A couple's relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.”
Why it’s so great: The polarized reception to mother! speaks to its disturbing capacity to provoke. Whether its entirely allegorical storyline rings effective or not hardly matters – it’s that we’re being provoked at all that does. So few movies of this decade, especially features given wide releases, dare to challenge its consumers as much as mother! does. I left the theater bewildered and aghast, but I was also impressed by Aronofsky’s fearlessness and the determination of a cast handed such difficult material.
Call Me By Your Name by Luca Guadagnino
What it’s about: The life-changing, Italy-set romance between an inexperienced 17-year-old (Timothée Chalamet) and a handsome 24-year-old grad student (Armie Hammer) in the summer of 1983.
Why it’s so great: So evocative and lush that you can practically feel the warmth of the summer sun on your skin while watching it, Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name is an utter masterpiece, a love story that seeps into your pores regardless of your gender or sexuality. Everything about it – its performances, its writing, its soundtracking, its cinematography – is perfect. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since the day I first saw it, and I have a feeling it will stay that way. It’s an unshakable, one-in-a-generation masterstroke that I can't get enough of.