Best movies, and a couple of additional year-end lists
Apologies to David Letterman, but I’ve always thought 10 was an arbitrary number for compiling “best” lists.
So, here are my seven favorites from 2017, not ranked but in alphabetical order. Why seven? Frankly, my dear, for the alliteration of seven and 17. But, of course, you know that there are always a few more worthy films that fall just shy of the cut-off. Hence, I’ve included some honorable mentions. A final caveat: as a part-time film critic in a smaller market, I haven’t managed to see every buzzy movie of the last year, so I’ve also provided a list of those for which I still have high hopes.
The Big Sick
This indie comedy stars stand-up comic and actor Kumail Nanjiani, and it’s even co-written by him and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, based on their own cross-cultural love story. Nanjiani plays a Pakistani stand-up comic named Kumail who falls in love with a white grad student, Emily. When Emily becomes seriously ill, he must come to terms with her prickly parents, his traditional family’s expectations, and his own conflicted feelings. Offhandedly funny, modernly relevant, touching, and oh, so meta!
Pixar’s latest animated film featured an entirely Latino voice cast in a fast-moving but thoughtful story about family and destiny. Miquel, born into a family of shoemakers, aspires to be a musician, and must travel to the land of the dead and his ancestors to find his way home physically and emotionally. Not only does Coco celebrate a rich Mexican cultural tradition, it’s also an arrestingly beautiful and detailed film. This is not your abuela’s movie cartoon.
The Florida Project
Writer-director Sean Baker’s newest project has amped up the production values from his 2015 Tangerine, but still hews to his affection for the downtrodden and marginalized. Set at and around a ramshackle residential motel in the shadow of Disney World, The Florida Project uses non-professional actors to show the boot-strapped lives of its struggling residents mainly through the eyes of the motel’s latch-key children. The film is painful to watch at times, but always deeply poignant. Willem Dafoe shines as the motel manager and den mother to a wayward pack of kids.
Comic actor Jordan Peele (half of the Comedy Central team of Key and Peele) astonished everyone last summer with this satirical horror film, which was also his directorial debut. Get Out slyly punctures somewhite liberal dogma while delivering terrific comic licks mixed with the frisson of fairly earned thrills. The solid cast includes newcomer Daniel Kaluuya, along with Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford and Allison Williams. The result is a winning trifecta: genuinely scary, hilarious and woke.
This bittersweet coming-of-age tale about a teenage girl (Saoirse Ronan) and her loving but unforgiving mother (Laurie Metcalf) is another directorial debut, this one by actress Greta Gerwig. Lady Birdmanages to walk a fine line between unsparingly honest and profoundly affecting. Born Christine but renaming herself Lady Bird, the teen trudges through her senior year in high school seeking a way out of her confining home town and the road to excitement, adventure, and ultimately, a comfortable self-identity. This is a familiar cinematic journey, but Gerwig’s assured direction and Ronan’s and Metcalf’s unvarnished performances make it feel brand new.
Todd Haynes’ mysterious fantasy sets two lost (and deaf) children on adventures in the wilds of New York City, but the twist is they are happening 50 years apart. Haynes cuts back and forth between the stories, with the 1920s version shot in luminous black-and-white and the ‘70s sequences in raucous color.Julianne Moore, a frequent Haynes collaborator, plays multiple roles, but the true stars are the two adolescents at the movie’s center: Millicent Simmonds as Rose and Oakes Fegley as Ben. Both are captivating.
At last, a female superhero worthy of a film franchise! And, girl, is she ever! Wonder Woman got a lot of attention during and even prior to its release for its groundbreaking qualities: not only a woman hero but a woman director in the Marvel universe. But the movie itself more than delivers on its promise by showcasing a central character whose greatest strengths are arguably her feminine qualities: curiosity, a thirst for justice, and abiding compassion. Israeli actress Gal Gadot embodies the Amazon princess with serene ease in front of the camera. The viewer cares about Wonder Woman, and therefore, her quest. The period setting and World War I revisionism are additional clever touches.
Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, Detroit, Lady Macbeth, Lost in Paris, Mudbound, Okja, Personal Shopper, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and War for the Planet of the Apes. (Interesting side note: Mudbound and Okja were both made for Netflix and reached most of their audiences on that streaming site, not in theatrical release.)
(Movies I’ve not yet been able to see but which I look forward to)
Call Me by Your Name, Darkest Hour, Downsizing, I Tonya, Molly’s Game, Phantom Thread, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Post and The Shape of Water.