The movie year started when Allison Williams dangled those car keys in “Get Out.” The same weekend that Jordan Peele’s horror-satire become an instant phenomenon, “Moonlight” snatched the Best Picture trophy away from “La La Land.” It was a chaotic, thrilling moment that heralded what was to come: a batch of films that would provide prescient commentary on our chaotic, not-so-thrilling national mood. Of course, some instead offered needed respites, letting us laugh or swoon or scream to escape our collective woes.
All in all, it was a swell year for movies, even if Hollywood’s big blockbusters proved less and less reliable. Across many genres, filmmakers captured snapshots of humanity that rang out with poise: gay love stories, delicious battles of the sexes, testaments to overcoming adversity, odes to other species, meditations about poltergeists wearing bedsheets. If you knew where to look, the magic of cinema was all around, no matter the horrors pouring out of the industry that supports it.
I’ve seen close to everything, and I am delighted to bring you another ranking of the year’s best. This is, of course, a subjective list full of omissions. But I hope there’s comfort or amusement in the recommendations curated below. I had a magical time watching (and, in many cases, rewatching) each of these. I hope you will, too.
"The Disaster Artist"
Which aspect of "The Disaster Artist" is right for you? The James Franco resurgence that accompanies it? The bizarro Hollywood morsel it depicts? The sprightly buddy comedy that undergirds the movie? Whatever it is, this behind-the-scenes account about Tommy Wiseau, the mythologized cult director responsible for "The Room," is the year's most infectious experience. Its humor envelops the audience, jokes lingering well past their punchlines. Franco goes above the call of a standard biopic performance, reinterpreting Tommy as a clueless oddball try-hard whose unplaceable Eastern European accent maybe has a bit of an endearing side. There's more to Wiseau, of course, but "The Disaster Artist" errs on the side of affection. And that's OK -- it's testament to the sheer fun of movies.
"The Big Sick"
In terms of pure watchability, it's hard to top "The Big Sick." Heralding a new age for the romantic comedy, this semi-autobiographical dramatization of Kumail Nanjiani and wife Emily V. Gordon's cross-cultural courtship is a mile-a-minute joy with a piquant melancholy at its core. It's at once a snapshot of the immigrant experience in America, a testament to young love and an uproarious look at the tug-of-war that exists within families. It also features Holly Hunter (fiery, affectionate, drunk) and Ray Romano (pensive, regretful, huggable) as the year's best on-screen parents.
Whether you think "mother!" is an intoxicating provocation or maddening nonsense, surely we can agree it's the year's most electrifying conversation piece. Paramount rolled the dice, releasing Darren Aronofsky's enigmatic project on some 2,400 screens -- far too many for a genre-agnostic allegory about religion, ecology, the artistic process, marital discord and home invasions. Featuring Javier Bardem, a career-best Jennifer Lawrence, Ed Harris and devilish MVP Michelle Pfeiffer, "mother!" begins with a tentative creep and crescendoes toward a fever pitch that's as exasperating as it is exhilarating. How wonderful. Just make sure your sinks are braced.
"Star Wars: The Last Jedi"
The chief joy of the new "Star Wars" trilogy -- other than the porgs -- is seeing characters meet or reunite. "The Last Jedi" has plenty of meetings and reunions, and a few goodbyes, too -- all of which will make you squeal or cheer or cry or gasp in the ways that only this franchise can. It's easy to see why Disney has entrusted director Rian Johnson to create a new trilogy: He has a thrilling eye for visuals and a keen sense of character humor. The galaxy far, far away is getting a slick upgrade.
"War for the Planet of the Apes"
20th Century Fox
The monkey movies shouldn't have been this good, but somehow "War for Planet of the Apes" was even more existential and thrilling than its two predecessors. In the snowy Sierra mountains, our graceful hero (Andy Serkis) fought the final stages of a battle pitting humans against a simian species that only ever wanted peace. Invoking shades of "Apocalypse Now," the Western genre and the Book of Exodus, Matt Reeves' exceptional threequel proves that Hollywood's franchises can capture a director's subdued vision and still remain both balletic and invigorating.
At first, "Phantom Thread" seems like another movie about a fussy artist and his subservient muse. Then Paul Thomas Anderson rips the cloak off the story's lush facade, turning it into an unlikely romantic comedy that remains both intimate and grand. It's a portrait of the strange idiosyncrasies of coupledom: a touch of silky melodrama here, a bit of unlikely sadomasochism there. The movie evolves across its two-hour runtime, giving Anderson his finest masterwork since "There Will Be Blood," the director's other shrewd collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis, who will surely be missed if his impending retirement persists.
Cohen Media Group
Movies that collect year-end accolades tend to be somber, heady affairs that cut into humanity's truths. "Faces Places" reaches the same endpoint without any of the leaden weightiness. It is, simply, irresistible. French New Wave virtuoso Agnès Varda and street artist JR make a delightful duo, traversing the less glamorous plains of France for slice-of-life portraits of everyday folks making tiny impressions on their surroundings. Much like "Cameraperson" last year, this documentary seems to find itself as it unfolds. Each stop along Varda and JR's road trip leads to an exploration of hard work, unavoidable aging and improbable appreciation for the simple things in life. In a year filled with horrors, "Faces Places" is ecstasy.
20th Century Fox
Much has been, and will be, said of the old-fashioned craftsmanship that Steven Spielberg maintains in the fifth decade of his career. In the best possible sense, "The Post" would be at home with a handful of films from the 1970s, and not only because it resembles "All the President's Men." Rarely does a movie about a process -- in this case, The Washington Post's process in publishing the classified Pentagon Papers -- feel this alive. It hardly matters if the characters, like Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) and Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), proclaim the movie's themes so blatantly they might as well be speaking into megaphones. Spielberg and company fast-tracked this in March; nine short months later, the results are a rousing ode to a free press, fair workplaces and red-hot risk-takers.
"A Fantastic Woman"
Sony Pictures Classics
On a particularly blustery day, the heroine of "A Fantastic Woman" treks through a windstorm so powerful she can hardly stand upright. She thrusts her body into a gust, unable to move as debris flutters through the air and an aria serenades the scene. It's one of numerous surreal interludes in this melodic Chilean drama about a transgender opera singer who refuses to let adversity victimize her. Daniela Vega is masterful as the story's protagonist, contending with the sudden death of her romantic partner, whose family refuses to let her attend his funeral. What starts as a tale of heartbreak ends as a beautiful, soaring reflection of the struggles that make one woman stronger, more fantastic.
Sofia Coppola has done it again. In "The Beguiled," she dresses a tart comedy of manners in shades of Southern Gothic horror. The heroes are a tribe of horny ladies nursing a wounded Union soldier at a Civil War-era boarding school lucky enough to call Nicole Kidman its brittle matriarch. This is the plottiest, genre-iest of Coppola's six movies, but she employs her signature introspection, capturing candlelit repression and sun-drenched stupor, replete with the line of the year, delivered in a flurry of delirium: "Edwina, bring me the anatomy book."
"God's Own Country"
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Farm life has never been this titillating. The pastoral plains of Yorkshire aren't kind to a repressed lad (Josh O'Connor) tasked with tending to his stony father's land, where the only distractions from his self-loathing are hard drinking and cold sex. "God's Own Country" is "Brokeback Mountain" without the melodrama: A Romanian migrant worker (Alec Secareanu) arrives to help with the year's lambing season, in turn introducing our protagonist to the throes of unexpected romance. Everything in France Lee's psalm -- from tacit glances to muddy fornication -- unfolds with the utmost restraint, as if it's listening to the characters' quiet inner lives and announcing, finally, that they've been heard.
"A Ghost Story"
"A Ghost Story" may invite comparisons to Terrence Malick, Virginia Woolf, "Boyhood" and "Ugetsu," but it's a singular feat that needs no antecedents. Often wordless and always elliptical, David Lowery's feature-length ballad interrogates grief, the passage of time and the roles we play in the lives of our closest companions. The central couple's quotidian conflicts are put to rest when one member (Casey Affleck) dies in a car crash, returning as a bedsheet-clad specter traipsing around the home he once shared with his wife (Rooney Mara). From there, the movie weaves through time, gently probing what happens to a soul once the body it inhabited perishes. It doesn't purport to answer life's big questions, instead finding peace in the search for meaning. Can you sense from this writing that it's a hard concept to describe? You're right, and the film is all the better for it. Rarely is the afterlife explored with such divine, peerless grace.
On the surface, "Lady Bird" is a simple coming-of-age story, charting the wanderlust of a restless high school senior (Saoirse Ronan). It belongs to a genre that often feels played out, but Greta Gerwig mines her own Sacramento biography for a poignant spin on mother-daughter crosshairs, middle-class disillusionment and the bittersweet release of growing up. The jokes sing, just like the teenagers staging a school production of Stephen Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along." That we get to be in the audience for both is one of the 2017's treats.
If any movie this year was a true phenomenon, it was "Get Out," Jordan Peele's biting satire about white minds preying on black bodies. In crafting his race parable, Peele also deconstructed the horror genre, using its tropes to stoke audiences' nerves. We laughed because we knew how a conventional thriller would unfold, and that made us anxious, with all those ostensibly well-meaning liberals up to no damn good. Featuring a star-making turn by Daniel Kaluuya, playing a big-city photographer meeting his white girlfriend's wealthy family, "Get Out," for better or worse, became an apropos commencement for post-Obama America.
Whether you see it on a big or small screen, "Okja" is a marvel. Pet movies are a sure bet in Hollywood, but rarely are they this sprawling and well-observed. From flowery South Korea to industrial New York City, the journey young Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) accepts to retrieve her super-pig BFF butts up against rapacious corporate overlords, militaristic activists and media frenzy. Director Bong Joon-ho lightens the dystopian undertones that defined his previous films "Snowpiercer" and "The Host," landing on something refreshingly optimistic. Along the way, he composes a thrilling adventure, brilliantly photographed by Darius Khondji. This is the stuff summer blockbusters should be made of.
"The Shape of Water"
Guillermo del Toro, first and foremost a creature-feature whiz kid, betrays his sensitive side with "The Shape of Water," a spellbinding love story that unites a mute janitor (Sally Hawkins) in Cold War-era Baltimore with a mysterious Amazonian fish-man (Doug Jones) kidnapped for government prodding. Only a master can make an inter-species sonnet this splendid. With an old-fashioned sweep and a cast of characters (Richard Jenkins! Octavia Spencer! Michael Stuhlbarg!) who fit together like pieces of a weary puzzle, this resplendent achievement turns otherness into a fairy tale. How lovely.
"The Florida Project"
Sean Baker earned his directorial clout with 2015's "Tangerine," a stormy comedy that looked like a million bucks (and then some), despite being shot on iPhones with a nonprofessional cast. Baker one-upped himself with "The Florida Project," a blissfully ambling jewel that also tells a story of marginalization. With a buoyant spirit and a trenchant sense of heartache, a hard-up mother (Bria Vinaite, discovered on Instagram) and her mouthy 6-year-old daughter (Brooklynn Prince) bide their summer days at a budget motel near Disney World. Adventures turn into misadventures, and the vibrant hues of magic hour fade as the future suddenly knocks on their violet door. This distinctly American tale knows how to find treasure in what some will call trash: with a fizz of fanciful bliss.
"Call Me by Your Name"
Sony Pictures Classics
Maybe once or twice a year, a movie will come along that I adore so much it seeps into my soul. That's how I felt about "Jackie" last year, and about "Carol" and "Mad Max: Fury Road" the year before. The only parallel from 2017 is "Call Me by Your Name," the most blissful heartache ever to saunter across the screen. Nestled in the Italian countryside during one lush summer, a love story springs to life, first in furtive gestures and finally with profound euphoria. Timothée Chalamet gave the year's finest performance, playing a bookish 17-year-old who jumps at the chance to be tour guide and companion for Armie Hammer's strapping grad student. Their connection builds slowly, steadily, sensually. Life is but a dream in this adaption of André Aciman's celebrated novel, directed by Luca Guadagnino and written by James Ivory, who treat the central courtship like a feature-length Sufjan Stevens ballad. From the fertile opening shots to the ravishing close-up that concludes the film, "Call Me by Your Name" is an enrapturing experience, like a melancholy dream that sends you floating into the enchanted, unwritten future.
- “BPM (Beats Per Minute”) (director Robin Campillo)
- “Colossal” (director Nacho Vigalondo)
- “Girls Trip” (director Malcolm D. Lee)
- “Good Time” (directors Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie)
- “Kedi” (director Ceyda Torun)
- “The Lost City of Z” (director James Gray)
- “The Lovers” (director Azazel Jacobs)
- “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” (director Noah Baumbach)
- “Mudbound” (director Dee Rees)