Anders' Top 10 Films of 2017
1. Phantom Thread (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
What It’s About: The relationship between Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis), a designer of couture dresses in 1950s London, and his latest young muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps), is more than what it seems.
Why It’s Good: Perhaps the most gorgeous film of many a year (with my number two film a close runner-up), Phantom Thread, as Aren remarked in his review, feels timeless. It’s exquisitely shot and acted, subtle and playful at varying moments. While the story of a temperamental artist and his young (female) muse seems like old hat, Anderson upends our expectations and challenges us to consider how form influences interpersonal relationships. Ostensibly Anderson’s Hitchcock homage (comparisons to Rebecca are thrown around, but this is as much a riff on Vertigo and even Psycho, in moments), Phantom Thread shares with Hitchcock’s works an acute eye for human psychology and behaviour as well as a macabre sense of humour. (Note: Make it a double feature with my honourable mention, Personal Shopper, another film about fashion and uncanny relationships with the past).
2. Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
What It’s About: In the year 2049, a replicant blade runner (Ryan Gosling) uncovers a secret about the past that threatens to upset the assumptions about the relationship between humans and replicants that drive this dystopian world.
Why It’s Good: I didn’t want a sequel to Ridley Scott’s seminal science fiction classic (one of my 10 favourite films of all time), and to even attempt it seemed misguided. But Villeneuve shows with this film and last year’s Arrival that he is a master at creating science fiction films that are imbued with thoughtful speculation about our rapidly-changing world. Blade Runner 2049 is not merely a sequel that extends the story of Deckard (Harrison Ford), but rather a further rumination on what it means to be human and the direction our planet is heading. Drawing as much on Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, as on Scott’s 1982 adaptation, Blade Runner 2049 offers a nightmarish portrait of gendered capitalism, where female replicants and AI’s serve at the whim of powerful men; yet, the film finds glimmers of hope amongst the outcasts of such a society. Roger Deakins’ precise cinematography helps to realize one of the most astounding science fiction worlds ever put on screen.
3. Dunkirk (dir. Christopher Nolan)
What It’s About: Three interwoven timelines — land, sea, and air — tell the story of the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk in World War II.
Why It’s Good: Christopher Nolan extends his narrative experimentation into the war genre, challenging our understanding of events as causally motivated. Dunkirk plunges the viewer into the events of the evacuation with minimal set-up, going for visceral experience rather than detailed backdrop to achieve an emotional effect. While most war films, even those ostensibly anti-war ones, marry their narrative beats to the accomplishing of a mission and thereby implicitly have us root for the war effort, Dunkirk complicates this by staging the action as a retreat and shifting the timelines for each of the three stories, freeing audience investment from the accomplishing of violent goals. Few films are as compellingly anti-war without upping the ante on gore and viscera. Dunkirk is a remarkable achievement of historical storytelling and technical filmmaking that resonates on a deep emotional and moral level.
4. Lady Bird (dir. Greta Gerwig)
What It’s About: In her final year of high school in Sacramento, California, “Lady Bird” (Saoirse Ronan) navigates romance, university applications, and family struggles as she yearns to break free from her “nest.”
Why It’s Good: Lady Bird is a semi-autobiographical coming of age film from Greta Gerwig. For a solo directorial debut, it is a work of intense self-reflection and empathy. Few films about teenagers have struck me as authentically in their portrayal of family and community; Lady Bird is a shockingly-honest film about the challenges of class, gender, and striving for something better, all while maintaining a genuine affection for its cast of characters. Love, the film suggests, is found in the attention we are willing to give to those around us. In this funny and touching portrait of a young woman, propelled by wonderful performances from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, writer/director Gerwig shows love to her hometown through the attention of this film.
5. The Lost City of Z (dir. James Gray)
What It’s About: While working for the British Geographical Society in the years before and after the First World War, British officer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) finds himself repeatedly drawn to the jungle after hearing the story of a lost civilization in the Amazon basin.
Why It’s Good: Operating within the classically-inflected genre of the colonial adventure story, The Lost City of Z explores how a person might be drawn to something beyond his or herself, i.e. seek transcendence, and how this impacts their most intimate circles of family and individual calling. Director James Gray and cinematographer Darius Khondji create a dichotomy of jungle and civilization, while suggesting that such a dichotomy might be an incomplete understanding of the world. As Fawcett is compelled to return to the Amazon, eventually bringing his son (Tom Holland) with him, the film becomes unmoored from the conventional tale of exploration. Combining a literary sensibility with an assured sense of visual grandeur, they literally don’t make many films like this anymore.
6. Mudbound (dir. Dee Rees)
What It’s About: The intertwining fortunes of two Mississippi families, one black and one white, come to a head in the experiences of World War II and the crushing poverty of the Jim Crow South.
Why It’s Good: Few films from this past year have stuck with me like this one did in its ability to reveal something about history and the complexity of human experience. In juxtaposing the injustices of the Jim Crow South with the role of servicemen in World War II, director Dee Rees draws out the intensity of the horrors of both experiences in this literary adaptation. There is something almost inhuman in the intimate brutality of lynching and also in the immense, almost science-fiction-scale, destruction of the Second World War; but in placing one next to the other, the film offers new insights in the experiences of both those who served and those who stayed and returned home. Filled with touching performances and evocative cinematography, Mudbound is one of the very best things Netflix has produced thus far.
7. Good Time (dir. Josh & Benny Safdie)
What It’s About: A small-time crook, Connie (Robert Pattinson), attempts to free his developmentally-disabled brother (Benny Safdie) from institutional custody and has him participate in a bank robbery that goes wrong.
Why It’s Good: On the surface, a straight-forward riff on the “one crazy night” genre of film, you likely won’t find Good Time in fact a “good time;” but it is an engrossing, pulse-pounding, and tragic story of figures on the margins of society, and of how bad decisions can become compounded by further bad decisions. Robert Pattinson’s Connie seems to genuinely care for his brother, and yet he treats others as merely means to try to get the money he thinks will cure all their problems. In contrast, the film itself treats both Connie and Nick and the characters they meet and damage as they careen around New York with the utmost empathy. It’s a rare film that peers into the world of crime and the systems that keep people in poverty—including class, race, and bureaucracy—and ends up making you feel like you’ve gotten to know something of their lives rather than merely observed them. Good Time is a bracing and essential piece of American independent filmmaking.
8. mother! (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
What It’s About: A religious and environmental parable in which Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and her artist-partner, Him (Javier Bardem), find their paradise-like home and domestic relationship increasingly under threat as he invites a progression of characters into their space.
Why It’s Good: I still can’t believe that a major Hollywood studio gave Darren Aronofsky the money to make this wild parable of a film and then attempted to release it as a mainstream hit! It’s no wonder many audiences were repelled, as the film is so out of step with the norms of dramatic storytelling our culture is used to. Rather Aronofsky engages with parable and loose-allegory, in which various approaches to the narrative help reveal facets while remaining incomplete. The film’s messiness helps the allegory to reach a nightmarish fever-pitch in the final 20 minutes of the film. This is a film unafraid to engage with Biblical-mythic frameworks and Byronic Romantic notions of artistry at the same time. While it would be easy to try to interpret this as some kind of statement on Aronofsky’s relationships with his various muses, the film defies such a reductive reading. Built around a fearless performance by Jennifer Lawrence, mother! is a one-of-a-kind film.
9. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (dir. Rian Johnson)
What It’s About: Rey (Daisy Ridley) petitions the reclusive Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to train her in the ways of the Force, while Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order attempt to eliminate the Resistance .
Why It’s Good: Rian Johnson’s entry in the Star Wars series is proving to be one of the most divisive pop cultural artifacts since perhaps Lucas’s own Star Wars Prequels. But don’t let the passionate arguments dissuade you. This is blockbuster filmmaking that is both technically proficient, cinematically literate, and narratively challenging. While the ultimate reverberations of what happens in this episode may not immediately reveal themselves, The Last Jedi (as we exhaustively fleshed out in our three roundtables) both challenges and draws on the depth of Star Wars lore to tell its story and pave the way for further chapters in the Star Wars saga. Containing both scenes of striking visual grandeur and others of goofy charm, The Last Jedi is a thrilling and grand tale of space adventure that demonstrates the continued viability of the series under Disney’s management.
10. Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)
What It’s About: Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) faces an uncomfortable weekend at the estate of his white girlfriend’s (Alison Williams) liberal parents (Bradley Whitford and Katherine Keener), but something more sinister lurks beneath.
Why It’s Good: Director Jordan Peele, best known for the brilliant sketch comedy show, Key & Peele, aims his target not at immediately recognizable hillbilly racists, but tries to create a sense of the way that race structures all kinds of seemingly progressive relations. Equally a comedy and a horror film, Get Out was perhaps my most memorable theatrical experience of the year, with an audience unsure of whether to scream or laugh, or of where the film’s criticism were targeted. While the underlying genre premise of Get Out doesn’t quite track with the film’s more biting social commentary, Get Out nonetheless sticks the landing with memorable performances, big laughs, and genuine thrills.
THE NEXT 10 (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)
After the Storm (dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda)
Alien: Covenant (dir. Ridley Scott)
Baby Driver (dir. Edgar Wright)
The Beguiled (dir. Sofia Coppola)
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (dir. Noah Baumbach)
Personal Shopper (dir. Olivier Assayas)
Song to Song (dir. Terrence Malick)
T2: Trainspotting (dir. Danny Boyle)
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (dir. Luc Besson)
Wonder Woman (dir. Patty Jenkins)