'Call Me By Your Name' leads top ten of 2017
My choices for the ten best films of 2017 are a gratifyingly diverse group, but they also form some intriguing pairs: two sci-fi fantasy tales, two LGBT stories of love and loss, two inquiries into America’s racial divide, two movies about rebellious young females, and two movies about the historic World War II evacuation of Dunkirk. The harmonies aren’t by design: They all just happen to be exceptional movies.
1. Call Me By Your Name. Director Luca Guadagnino’s sensuous adaptation of the André Aciman novel is both a landmark of gay cinema and a fervent coming-of-age romance any open-minded person can relate to. The pastoral setting in northern Italy is immediately alluring, and so are the performances of the revelatory Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer as a professor’s smitten teenage son and the older American grad student living with the family for six magical summer weeks. See my full review here.
2. The Shape of Water. Visionary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro delivers his most satisfying movie to date with this fable of a mute cleaning woman and her unlikely bond with a mysterious amphibian demigod captured in the Amazon. Del Toro’s striking design elements combine with highly empathetic performances from Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer and Doug Jones (as the regal creature) to make you believe in cross-species attraction. See my full review here.
3. Get Out. The most zeitgeist-y movie of the year is this audacious horror satire from onetime sketch comedian Jordan Peele that also is dead-serious about the fraught status of black Americans in 21st-century America. Peele has said he made the kind of socially conscious thriller he always wanted to see himself, and a huge audience—both black and white—responded to his bold and highly original provocation. See my full review here.
4. Dunkirk. Christopher Nolan immersed audiences in the harrowing experience of the desperate World War II evacuation of British troops from the German assault on the beaches of northern France. Nolan daringly experiments with a fractured narrative structure, crosscutting between three different time frames (lasting one hour, one day, and one week), but the gambit succeeds in increasing the intensity. In IMAX especially, it’s almost too overwhelming.
5. Mudbound. Director Dee Rees makes a huge creative leap with this drama of two families, one black and one white, whose lives intersect in 1940s rural Mississippi. Two of their number, soldiers returned from the war, become friends, but their bond isn’t enough to overcome their very different statuses in a racially divided milieu. Rees’ evocative touch is complemented by excellent performances from Jason Mitchell, Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke and Mary J. Blige.
6. The Florida Project. Sean Baker (Tangerine) once again explores the lives of people on the margins of society with this tale of a young mother and her mischief-making six-year-old daughter (the delightful Brooklynn Prince) living in a gaudily seedy motel in Kissimmee, Florida, so close and yet so far from the Magic Kingdom. Baker generates tremendous empathy for his highly imperfect characters while making inspired, painterly use of his locations. And he simultaneously captures the innocent (but not guileless) world of childhood that persists even within the direst circumstances.
7. Okja. One of filmdom’s most original and outlandish auteurs, Bong Joon Ho follows his wild Snowpiercer with another spectacular mix of satire, science fiction, social commentary and gonzo humor. This tale of a young Korean girl who bonds with a massive, experimental “superpig” named Okja and embarks on a determined rescue mission when he’s carted away is both a splendid fairytale and very dark vision of the human capacity for evil. One of a kind.
8. A Fantastic Woman. Roger Ebert famously called the movies “an empathy machine,” and that wise comment surely applies to this drama from Chile’s Sebastián Lelio about Marina, a transgender singer whose older lover suddenly dies. While mourning this terrible loss, she must also deal with hostility from his ex-wife and son and suspicion from government bureaucrats. Throughout, Daniela Vega’s fierce, remarkable performance makes you feel every affront Marina is suffering; the film is a milestone in transgender representation on film.
9. Lady Bird. Actress Greta Gerwig, who already has significant writing credits, makes a wonderful directing debut with her semi-autobiographical script about the senior year of a Sacramento, Calif. teenager (the great Saoirse Ronan) dealing with high-school crushes, a formidable mother (brilliant Laurie Metcalf) and her own restless desires. The coming-of-age genre may be a familiar one, but Lady Bird feels authentic and totally fresh.
10. Their Finest. The most overlooked title on my list, this is the year’s first Dunkirk movie. (We also had Darkest Hour, with a sensational Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill.) But the vantage point is very different: a witty inside look at the film division of Britain’s Ministry of Information in 1940, tasked with making a narrative propaganda film about heroic Brits participating in the flotilla that rescued their soldiers from the beaches of northern France. Adapting from Lissa Evans’ novel, scripter Gaby Chiappe and director Lone Scherfig (An Education) create a clever amalgam of comedy, romance and drama that compares with any Hollywood or British classic of that golden era of movies.
Among the films that just missed the cut: The Post, The Big Sick, Baby Driver, American Made, Novitiate, Your Name, Battle of the Sexes and Citizen Jane: Battle for the City. It was a very good year.