In a year that saw the movie industry crumble as it once knew itself under the weight of sexual assault accusations as heavy as Harvey Weinstein himself, there were, nonetheless, many gems to behold in the theater (if someone like you even still does that). With nothing much worth shaking a stick at in January (not even Split), February showed the persistent signs of this year’s political rage with I Am Not Your Negro. Kedi, though “frothy” to some, brought out a much needed lighter side of life early on in the year before things started to get rightly intense–even in the messages of blockbusters like Wonder Woman and Atomic Blonde. Neither of which are on this list, but without further ado, here it is.
I Am Not Your Negro: Raoul Peck’s incisive documentary about James Baldwin is a ninety-three minute exploration of Baldwin’s assessment, “What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man. But if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it.” Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, to boot, the documentary features many an unsettling image (Doris Day included) juxtaposed against Baldwin’s naked truth.
Kedi: Cats in Istanbul? How did this not make more critics “Best of” lists for movies? As Ceyda Torun’s first feature-length documentary film, we’re given a kaleidoscopic perspective on feline personalities in a city that views stray cats with more reverence than any Republican can possess for Donald Trump right now. Far and away the most uplifting movie of the year, there is an underlying spiritual transcendence to Kedi that, if nothing else, should prompt you to move to Istanbul (random bombs going off be damned).
Personal Shopper: With the advent of March came a more serious tone to the cinema, Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper. Marking his second collaboration with Kristen Stewart (veering ever further from her Twilight days) after Clouds of Sils Maria, we see there is a shared confidence between director and actress (finally one that doesn’t seem to involve sexual violation). In the role of Maureen Cartwright, Stewart finds her stride in the art of subtlety, playing up the elements of class division, technology-induced paranoia and an inability many humans have in terms of letting go of someone they love(d). Understated and adept at building tension through minimalism, Personal Shopper was assuredly among the best of 2017’s offerings.
Colossal: When a raging alcoholic has a giant reptilian monster for an alter ego, the masses are bound to suffer the consequences. Particularly in Seoul. Gloria (Anne Hathaway), however, isn’t aware of this hulking manifestation of her addiction until she’s already wreaked havoc. But that’s nothing compared to what her former best friend from elementary school, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), will do with the same power–not to the people, but to her. A sharp and unique comment on what self-hatred can do to others, Nacho Vigalondo’s gem was one of 2017’s standouts.
Good Time: At the time of its release in August, it felt as though Good Time would have the chance to sustain itself on many an end of the year roundup list. But perhaps its macabre tone, bleak outlook on the legal justice system and hyper-local sense of humor allowed it to fall off toward the end of the year. However, giving the Safdie brothers’ After Hours-inspired opus a chance is the best thing you can do in January.
Ingrid Goes West: A scathing look at the stalker culture that Instagram has bred, Ingrid Goes West sees Aubrey Plaza in a role that stretches her acting abilities to new heights. Willing to do whatever it takes in order to secure the friendship of a typically phony baloney Instagram “star” named Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), Ingrid goes down a rabbit hole of self-destruction that ultimately breeds her own fame.
Patti Cake$: Again, one of the films that didn’t seem to get as much love at the end of the year, Patti Cake$ is a triumphant story about pushing for your dream no matter how impossible it seems. Billed as something of a white girl version of 8 Mile, Geremy Jasper’s debut speaks to his own inner and unfulfilled desire to have been a rapper. Through Patti Cake$, he has achieved it.
Loving Vincent: The intensive process behind creating Loving Vincent is worth making the list for the Best Movies of 2017 alone. Hand-painted by 125 artists, the film is composed of 65,000 oil painted frames. And the story about the postman’s son trying to deliver a letter to Vincent’s brother, Theo, isn’t half bad either.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer: Going a different direction from the film that brought him to prominence–The Lobster—The Killing of a Sacred Deer still maintains the same level of supernaturalism that Yorgos Lanthimos has become known for. Near biblical in premise, cardiothoracic surgeon Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) must deal with some very Isaac and Abraham decision making when a boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan) inflicts a curse upon his family for the purposes of his need for justice.
Lady Bird: Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is something one imagines will eventually be taught in film schools. It’s that by-the-book in terms of how its character, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), arcs and the ways in which it manages to tug at your heartstrings appropriately within each act. That being said, it’s no wonder, it’s the most well-reviewed movie Rotten Tomatoes has ever known. Thank God Sacramento proved useful for something.
The Disaster Artist: No one knew that the tale of Tommy Wiseau needed to be told until his co-star in The Room, Greg Sestero, wrote a memoir about it. That memoir then spoke to James Franco, who felt compelled to star and direct (in Wiseau fashion) what is arguably the most unprecedented story about how such a terrible movie came to fruition. The answers, of course, are not that shocking: money and bravado.
The Square: Art is subjective. So is helping others. That is all.
The Shape of Water: When a mute named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) has resigned herself to a loveless life where no one really seems to notice her–least of all men–a mysterious creature is brought to the research facility she cleans to prove that maybe, just maybe, there really is someone for everyone.
I, Tonya: Move over, Nancy Kerrigan. There’s a new narrative in town. One that paints Tonya Harding with more empathy than we’ve ever seen. With a tongue-in-cheek re-telling of the illustrious incident that made competitive ice skating suddenly interesting to everyone, Margot Robbie imbues Harding with a level of humanity that’s often gone missing in recounting the events leading up to Kerrigan’s injury. And even Allison Janney manages to make Tonya’s abusive mother “fun.”
Molly’s Game: Molly’s Game shouldn’t be as immensely enjoyable to watch as it is–for it defies every rule of screenwriting from a word count perspective. Packed with voiceover that no one but Aaron Sorkin could get away with, his first time in the director’s chair marks a signpost in his artistic growth that suits the biopic genre quite well.
Phantom Thread: Proving that we’ve all increasingly got a certain lust for going back to the glamor and poise of the past, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is set against the backdrop of 1950s London, when Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), reign supreme over the world of haute couture. Reynolds’ dressmaking renown doesn’t seem to be of much import to his latest muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps). And though he usually moves on to the next, the careful, controlled hand he usually has over his thread is no match for the snag that is love.
So yes, it was a rather bad year for debunking a lot of myths we still clung to about the “magic of the movies,” but that doesn’t mean that Hollywood and its independent tentacles can’t still churn out a film that really gets to you. Get Out, too, which is not on the list mainly because I Am Not Your Negro states the message more originally than The Skeleton Key rebrand.