Anyone who knows me well knows I hate lists. I think they are arbitrary, overwrought, and in no way attribute a qualitative assessment of my time in the theater this year. With that being said, I've been suckered into making yet another "best of" list for 2017. BUT, like my colleague Gary Kramer, I'm doing it on my terms. This is a list of films that made me feel something this year, or were in some way memorable to me. Those emotions could be positive or negative, puzzling or uplifting. And as usual, I'm listing them in alphabetical order.
The Beguiled (dir. Sofia Coppola)
Spanish moss, foggy mornings, and surreal spookiness is what I remember most from Coppola's Southern gothic drama. There are also great performances from Kirsten Dunst (fresh off of her stellar turn in the second season of Fargo), Nicole Kidman, and Colin Firth, who manages to keep his Irish rogue despite being a Confederate soldier thanks to a convenient backstory. It all adds to the mystery and atmosphere of this film that is equal parts bodice ripper, thriller, and a pinch of horror.
The Big Sick (dir. Michael Showalter)
Kumail Nanjiani's autobiographical film about meeting and falling in love with his real-life wife Emily Gordon came to me at a particularly poignant time this year. I relish this film about finding love, managing familial and cultural expectations, and ultimately choosing your own path despite what others around you may say. Co-written by Nanjiani and Gordon, it's the mature romantic comedy/drama that is sorely missing from our current cinematic landscape.
The Breadwinner (dir. Nora Twomey)
The latest film from Cartoon Saloon-the animation studio that gave us Secret of Kells and the wonderful Song of the Sea-may be their best yet. The Breadwinner is a coming of age tale set in the direst of circumstances, where a young Afghani girl, Parvana, adopts a new identity to save her family after her father is taken by the Taliban. It's a film about the power of story, history, and the freedom of using ones words to vanquish hate. From my review for Cinedelphia:
Above all, this film is about the power of raising one’s words to quell those who would harm us, instead of raised voices full of anger and hate. Throughout the film, Taliban soldiers yell at the citizens of Kabul. They yell at Parvana for being out in public, her mother for continuing to speak as she holds up a picture of her missing husband, and her father for bringing his daughter with him to the market. As is witnessed in the film’s beautiful climax, when you hear someone’s story, their name, it’s harder to visualize them as anything less than a human being with experiences and a spirit. The Breadwinner stresses the power of words, and perhaps more importantly, the power of listening to those words.
Dunkirk (dir. Christopher Nolan)
Watching Dunkirk in IMAX may be my favorite viewing experience this year. We saw it opening night, when they didn't quite have the sound balanced and by god was this movie loud. Gloriously loud. If you've seen it then you know what I'm talking about. The ticking of the clock, the rat-tat-tat-tat of guns, the droning of plane engines. It was a thrilling experience that had my heart pounding and my clothes drenched in sweat. I was exhausted but knew I'd be seeing it again immediately. I love war films, I love Christopher Nolan. I love Dunkirk.
The Florida Project (dir. Sean Baker)
Sean Baker's previous film Tangerine was a movie I loved in part because it perfectly captured the look of California with it's signature golden, orangy hues in the pre-morning hours after a particularly rough night. The Florida Project manages to accomplish the same mastery in committing to screen the palette of Floridian life in the shadow of Disney World. It's pure pastel brilliance; dripping ice cream down the faces of sticky, sweaty, kids in the ungodly heat of the summer vividness.
Kedi (dir. Ceyda Torun)
Watching Kedi filled me with pure joy. It's a cliché to say that with so much negativity in the world, a documentary about cats wandering the streets of Istanbul brought a smile to my face but it's the truth. The compassion, love, and service that regular citizens of the city show to these "street cats" is nothing sort of inspiring and a real eye-opener to a different philosophy concerning our furry overlords. From my review:
From feline rapscallions always hinting for a treat, to gentlemanly aristo-cats who find subtler ways into their human’s hearts, it’s hard not to walk away from Kedi with admiration and a smile on your face. After all, for creatures that surely commune with the divine, they deign to give meaning and purpose to our lives.
Lady Bird (dir. Greta Gerwig)
After a disappointing revelation concerning a boyfriend, Lady Bird and her best friend Julie retreat to the comfort of each other, clutching hands, and singing along in tear soaked voices to Dave Matthew's Band's Crash Into Me. I can't stress enough how perfect this moment is in the life of a teenage girl, when all sense in the universe fails her but lyrics somehow tell the story of every emotion she's feeling and will ever feel again. I was laughing and (almost) crying long with her. Greta Gerwig has captured something special here, along with perfect performances from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.
mother! (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
I can't believe this movie is on my list but here we are. Months after its release I'm still thinking about what the hell it was I watched. I usually find films this overwrought extremely pretentious but there was something in the depiction of Jennifer Lawrence's "mother" character that I found oddly sympathetic given all that has been going on this year. I found her plight compelling, and the film's commentary on women's roles especially horrifying and sadly real.
Rumble: The Indians That Rocked the World (dirs. Catherine Bainbridge, Alfonso Maiorana)
Remember in the opening scene of Guardians of the Galaxy when Starlord is dancing across the terrain of an alien planet to the melodious sounds of "Come and Get Your Love" by Redbone? As great of an opener as that is, tell me this video doesn't fill you with the same groovy joy.
Watching that performance was one my favorite parts of this documentary about the hidden history of Native Americans in rock music. From my review:
America’s great melting pot of cultures ensures that its music can never be created in a vacuum; that across time different sounds have come together to create wholly new ideas of what music can do and be. From Mississippi and Louisiana to New Mexico and the Pacific Coast, music from the likes of Link Wray, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jimi Hendrix, Mildred Bailey, Randy Castillo, and Redbone, flood every frame, assigning a face and a name to some of the most recognizable beats in history. The song ‘Rumble’ by Link Wray lends its name to this film and is noted as quite possibly the most influential piece of music in terms of its range. Its pulsating rhythm simultaneously stretching from the ancient beat of a single drum to the elaborate stadiums of the present day.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (dir. Rian Johnson)
Yeah, yeah, it's on my list. It's Star Wars, it was amazing, haters gonna hate. After the nostalgia fest of Force Awakens I'm glad Last Jedi is finally taking us in a new direction for the franchise. I loved Mark Hamill, I loved Adam Driver, Canto Bight was a little meh, but overall it's a solid entry. My review here.
Other notable films I enjoyed this year: Colossal (dir. Nacho Vigalondo), The Transfiguration (dir. Michael O'Shea), Wind River (dir. Taylor Sheridan)
Happy New Year, folks! Hope your 2018 is filled with awesome movie moments!