In what will go down as a legendary period in film history, 2017 saw both independent and popular cinema serve as statements on modern times and the struggles of the past. The world is in an inarguably dark, anxiety-ridden place, and the messages and aesthetics of 2017 cinema reflected that, providing us with a reprieve from the madness, defiantly standing up to it — or a little of both.
Below, Film Critic Evan Amaral (21C) and Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor Jesse Weiner (21C) compile their top 10 films of the year, highlighting both indie gems and mainstream hits. Acclaimed fall releases “Lady Bird” and “Call Me By Your Name” made both of their lists, as did “Get Out,” an artistic force that has dominated the cultural conversation since its bow in late February.
- “The Florida Project”
Director Sean Baker makes films for purely empathetic reasons, working overtime to tell the stories of communities living in the margins of society. His latest, a colorful, verite portrait of the poverty looming in the shadows of Disney World, exemplifies why independent cinema matters. Meticulously researched and created by a crack team of amateur and professional collaborators, it takes American capitalism to task while creating a uniquely sweet and devastating cinematic language.
- “Lady Bird”
Rocketing straight to the top of the coming-of-age canon, director Greta Gerwig’s luminous solo debut is an instant classic. She proves herself as a generous director of actors with a subtle aesthetic sense. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf round out the year’s finest ensemble as Marion and Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a wildly conflicted mother-daughter pair coming to terms with the titular high school senior’s departure from the nest. Make no mistake, this epic novella is a pitch-perfect miracle of a movie and a feminist milestone in its own right.
- “Phantom Thread”
Since releasing 2002’s “Punch-Drunk Love”, writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson has churned out masterpiece after masterpiece — and this film is no different. This tale of perverse humor and swooning romance, set in post-war London, boasts the unstoppable threesome of dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), his muse and lover Alma (Vicky Krieps) and his controlling sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). It’s Anderson’s most accessible and old-fashioned film in terms of style, but it retains his trademark complexity and unfussy perfection in its thorny deconstructions of desire and power.
- “Get Out”
No other film defined today’s social and artistic realities more than director Jordan Peele’s debut feature, a zeitgeist-dipped descent into microaggressive hell. Using biting satire and classical horror in equal measure, Peele and lead actor Daniel Kaluuya (Chris Washington) crafted a revolutionary exercise in genre that cut through the noise of the contemporary dialogue on race. In short, “The Sunken Place” defined 2017.
- “Good Time”
New York-based dynamic duo Josh and Benny Safdie’s fifth feature is a neon-soaked thrill ride: a social-realist crime picture and horror story about white privilege all wrapped into one. Robert Pattinson gave the best performance of his career as Connie Nikas — a conniving, two-bit thief who embarks on a nightlong odyssey to spring his mentally-handicapped younger brother from Rikers Island, encountering a community of marginalized characters along the way.
- “Call Me By Your Name”
No film in 2017 captured the sublime pleasures of life, the heartbreak of youth or the simple appreciation of beauty quite like director Luca Guadagnino’s sun-soaked love story set in the Italian riviera. Teenager Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet) and charming doctoral student Oliver (Armie Hammer) stand entwined, like the bronze statues they study, as their memories of the summer of 1983 fade, punctuated by quiet whispers of a song.
- “By the Time It Gets Dark” (“Dao khanong”)
Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong brings a fresh face to the international movement of slow cinema, taking on the hybrid docu-fictional structure of a metafilm mixed with a period piece about historical trauma. Centered on a real-life 1976 massacre of student protesters, it reckons with political action in the face of authoritarianism. Suwichakornpong’s camera becomes a weapon, an image of the present haunted by sounds of the past.
Few films in the past year have rivaled the stirring power of director Dee Rees’ State of the Union address, which analyzes the relationships between two families — one white, one black — in the years following World War II. An expansive cast of characters populates Rees’ sharecropping South, while crafting a sweeping narrative that deftly jumps in and out of time, illustrating the blood-stained hands of America’s past and present.
- “Logan Lucky”
Thank the cinema gods that director Steven Soderbergh came out of retirement. He outdoes himself with this experiment in artistic autonomy — a hilarious, rip-roaring ride through country roads and a sly commentary on the exploitation of the American working class. Down-on-their-luck brothers Jimmy and Clyde Logan (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver) and safe-cracker Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) round out an all-star cast of Southern-fried swashbucklers in this finely-tuned, edge-of-your-seat heist flick that exemplifies the best of popular cinema.
Idiosyncratic South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho fashions an almost indescribable experience with this film, molding the childlike humanism of Hayao Miyazaki with the wondrous excitement of early Steven Spielberg. The story of a little girl trying to rescue her giant pet pig from a ruthless corporation, Bong’s film is alight with sharp humor, political intelligence and tear jerking emotion, masterfully balanced within the framework of a multilingual international thriller.
- “The Shape of Water”
No film this year kept me as entranced as director Guillermo del Toro’s latest. While the story draws inspiration from “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” and “Beauty and the Beast,” del Toro executes the film with such precision and beauty that it feels completely original. It’s impossible not to gawk at his elegant use of mise-en-scene and cinematography. Sally Hawkins delivers an Oscar-worthy, emotional performance as mute janitor Elisa Esposito, and Richard Jenkins is fantastic as her supportive, closeted neighbor Giles — not to mention the creature itself, Amphibian Man, played by Doug Jones in a stunning mix of costuming and CG effects. Del Toro immerses the viewer into his fantastical world, and I didn’t want to leave.
- “Baby Driver”
Director Edgar Wright’s first mainstream American flick is so lively and entertaining that it kept me smiling throughout its hour and 53 minutes. Whether it’s the fast-paced action sequences, remarkable editing or over-the-top acting by stars Jamie Foxx (Bats), Jon Hamm (Buddy) and Eiza Gonzalez (Darling), Wright knocks it out of the park. Taking inspiration from Quentin Tarantino, the film masterfully integrates classic music to put us into the shoes of Ansel Elgort’s Baby, and the plot veers into unpredictable territory that keeps the viewer on their toes.
- “Lady Bird”
Director Greta Gerwig crafts a film that is hilarious, heartbreaking and relatable (especially to a college freshman whose senior year of high school bears some resemblance to Lady Bird’s). This couldn’t be done without tour-de-force performances from Saoirse Ronan (Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson), a sheer joy to watch on screen, and Laurie Metcalf, who deserves an Oscar for her emotional performance as Lady Bird’s mother, Marion McPherson.
- “The Post”
No film about journalism has had me as invested as “The Post,” which sheds a light on The Washington Post’s endeavors to reveal the horrors of the Vietnam War through the Pentagon Papers. Steven Spielberg brings an intensity and drama to his latest flick that 2015’s “Spotlight” lacked, and he does so with one of the best film ensembles of 2017. Headliners Meryl Streep (Kay Graham) and Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee) are stellar, and skilled cinematography by Janusz Kaminski makes the film as beautiful as it is intriguing.
- “Get Out”
After my first viewing of director Jordan Peele’s debut film I was left speechless by the brilliance of his racially-charged horror flick. Peele delivers clever cues throughout the film that display a terrifying look into the contemporary African-American experience. The film works on multiple levels — as a horror film, thriller and mystery movie — and is even better on a second viewing.
- “Spider-Man: Homecoming”
Director Jon Watts created a Marvel movie that works both as a exceptional high school drama and superhero film. As the third iteration of Peter Parker in the past decade, Tom Holland is eminently likeable as a younger web-slinger still grappling with his powers. As a foil, Michael Keaton’s Vulture is a well-rounded and excellent villain in an age when compelling villains are hard to find. After tacking on some effective humor and emotional moments, the film is one of Marvel’s best.
A brilliant send-off for Hugh Jackman’s iconic character, James Mangold’s film is not a typical superhero romp; it is a grounded, gritty tale of a hero past his prime. Mangold finally gives fans the bloody, R-rated Wolverine story they’ve been craving and does so with artistry and emotion. Jackman (Logan) and Patrick Stewart (Charles Xavier), reprising their roles from the X-Men films, both deserve praise for their incredible performances as aging mutants in a world where their kind are nearly extinct.
- “War for the Planet of the Apes”
An intense conclusion to one of the greatest science fiction trilogies of all time, director Matt Reeves’ film is a technological marvel. Motion capture technology breathes life into the apes, making the audience feel for Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his tribe as they are oppressed by The Colonel, played by a fiery Woody Harrelson. The film subverts the war film genre by focusing on character development rather than action, with Serkis providing a stunning depiction of a leader pushed to his limits.
- “Call Me By Your Name”
This film doesn’t feel like cinema so much as a video recording of the lives of two lovers in the summer of 1983. Director Luca Guadagnino takes his time with the love story, allowing the viewer to become acquainted with Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) as the two men discover and struggle with their sexuality. Beautifully shot in Northern Italy, the film made headlines for the gender of its protagonists but should be respected as a beautiful love story in its own right.
- “The LEGO Batman Movie”
The best DC Comics movie of the year may not have the impact of “Wonder Woman,” but director Chris McKay’s film manages to respect the character of Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) while being one of the funniest movies of the year. The film has something for everyone — kids appreciate the colorful, fast-paced action; movie buffs admire the quippy dialogue and stunning animation; superhero fans recognize hilarious nods to Batman lore. In a year where comic book movies were released almost every month, no one could have expected that one of the finest would be in LEGO form.