Top picks from a surprisingly strong year for film
2017 was an excellent year for film, probably the best since 2013. As often seems to be the case—including last year—I wrestled for a while with two contenders for best film of the year before one ultimately emerged as my clear favorite. The bigger surprise, perhaps, is that numbers three (especially), four, and five didn’t feel as though they were far behind. Unlike many years, when I’ve included at least one big-budget blockbuster, I didn’t this year, in part because there were several that might have been good enough—War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonder Woman, Logan, etc.—but not one that stood out clearly above the rest. As for smaller films, there are two, Lady Bird and Call Me by Your Name, that I liked, but clearly not as much as many other critics. And, as always, there are inevitably movies that I didn’t see, in particular some foreign films and documentaries. For a change, I stuck to a top-10 list and, by consequence, allowed myself an unusually large number of honorable mentions. After that, as always, come my more idiosyncratic awards.
1. Get Out
Genre hybrids almost always have moments when the competing elements trip over one another. (The classic case is the action-comedy that devolves into pure, unimaginative action for its finale.) But Jordan Peele’s Get Out is a triple hybrid—horror, comedy, social commentary—in which all the elements are in precise alignment from the first frame to the last. Very nearly a perfect movie: If you haven’t yet seen it, make it a priority.
Christopher Nolan’s World War II tour de force is visually stunning and narratively inventive. But its greatest innovation may be its recognition that you can squeeze a full-blown war epic into just a bit over an hour and a half, if—as Elmore Leonard famously recommended—you leave out the boring parts.
3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Like many, I was a big fan of playwright Martin McDonagh’s feature-film debut, In Bruges. Like fewer, I was also a big fan of his next picture, Seven Psychopaths. But the heart-wrenching black comedy of Three Billboards rises to another level altogether, in no small part thanks to superb performances by Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell. There are many years in which this would have topped my list.
4. Blade Runner 2049
Like its predecessor, this is an astonishingly beautiful film—one of two this year, along with Dunkirk, that truly demands to be watched on a big screen. In every other way, it is better than the original: more probing and sophisticated, and populated by far more interesting performances. (Even Harrison Ford, at 74, is better this time around.) If the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, who’s been nominated for 13 Oscars without a win, doesn’t take the trophy home this year, the Academy may want to shut down the category altogether.
5. The Shape of Water
Lovely, weird, romantic, violent, sentimental—this is a film that only Guillermo Del Toro could have made. While not up to the level of his masterpiece, Pan’s Labyrinth, it was clearly engineered to be more accessible to an American audience. Alas, it is evidently still not accessible enough, having cleared barely $4 million in box office to date. This is a case where I fear it’s the filmgoers, not the film, who bear the blame.
Few people have been harder on Pixar than I have for its notable decline since the studio’s acquisition by Disney. So I am particularly delighted to say that Coco is not only a return to earlier form, but possibly the best-looking movie Pixar has ever produced—and the best overall (yes, even better than Inside Out) since Toy Story 3.
Many, many people hated this film—a fact that more than a few have shared with me personally—and it is not remotely hard to understand why. But I enjoyed it enormously for its craftsmanship, its devout commitment to its animating metaphor, and its unsparingly dark wit. It doesn’t hurt that Jennifer Lawrence has never been better.
8. The Florida Project
An utter delight. Sean Baker’s direction is wonderfully unobtrusive, Willem Dafoe is as good as he’s ever been, and Brooklynn Prince delivers one of the best child performances I’ve ever seen. I wish this film were getting one quarter the critical love of Lady Bird and Call Me by Your Name.
9. Phantom Thread
Not quite the masterpiece one might have hoped for from Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis, in what the latter has claimed will be his final film performance. (Color me skeptical. Remember Steven Soderbergh?) Yet nonetheless an understated, elegant film that veers into fascinating territory in its final act.
10. The Post
The epitome (in a good way) of a big-but-conventional, awards-season Hollywood movie. Steven Spielberg keeps his Spielbergian uplift largely in check and the cast—in particular the supporting players—is terrific. Moreover, this is the rare movie about journalism that has even a remote comprehension of how journalism actually works. It’s not in the elevated realm of Spotlight, The Insider, and All the President’s Men, but it’s solidly situated in the tier just below.