Over a week ago, I counted through number 25-11 of my favorite films of last year. Now I’m going to talk about my top ten favorite movies. These run the gamut from sci-fi blockbusters to small intimate character studies. From first time directors making explosive debuts to seasoned veterans continuing to pad their resumes. Any way, enough intro stuff, lets get into it.
10. Blade Runner 2049
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Making a sequel to one of the most influential science fiction films was always going to be tricky, making it a good sequel would be even more tricky. But with Denis Villeneuve, the director of Prisoners and Sicario, at the helm this film shines. At its core a film about what it means to be human, Blade Runner 2049 is as thought provoking as it is beautiful. While it could be easy to talk on and on about the many wonderful and powerful performances in this movie, I want to talk about one in particular, Ana de Armas as Joi. Joi, Ryan Gosling’s K’s hologram girlfriend, is the thematic center of the film, a character that truly asks us how we define our humanity. It would have been so easy for the character to have been shallow and functional, getting the job done of conveying plot points and informing Ryan Gosling’s character, Ana de Armas fills here with so much depth and empathy that we can’t help but almost forget she isn’t human. It is this depth and complexity that is brought to every little piece of this film that really makes it stand out. Combine that with an excellent Hans Zimmer score and academy award winning cinematography by Roger Deakins, and you have one of the most powerful science-fiction films in recent memory. It might not have demolished the box office but this is a film destined to last just as long as the original.
9. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Directed by Rian Johnson
Star Wars is my favorite film series, a group of movies that I don’t remember discovering, merely always existing in my consciousness. I’ve spent more days than I can remember simply thinking about and pretending to be in Star Wars, and yet I don’t know if there’s ever been a Star Wars movie that has ever touched me in a way The Last Jedi has. From it’s first moments until its stunning final image, every second of The Last Jedi feels new and exciting, and yet sits with me as though it has always been there. I believe that every person has their own Star Wars movie, and this is mine. In The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson jettisons the dynastic framework that has dominated the series since its very beginning, instead imbuing his film with a populist streak that really struck a chord with me. Who are Rey’s parents? It doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t matter who your parents are or where you come from, what matters is what you do. The heroes of this film are nobodies, from nowhere, doing all they can to merely protect the spark of hope they have. It serves as an indictment of the idea that you can simply abstain and stand by while evil is being done, and truly believes that the average person can make a difference, force powers or not. The Last Jedi also serves as perhaps the most visually stunning film in the series, a film cloaked in deep reds, golds, and greens. It features perhaps the most visually arresting moment in film this year, a moment destined to always be interrupted in theaters by the sound of someone going “whoa”. The Last Jedi may have been divisive among fans and movie-goers alike but I quiet honestly don’t care. This movie made me happy, and excited about my favorite series in a way I didn’t think I could be excited about Star Wars any more. It turned me into a child again, and for that I thank it.
8. Phantom Thread
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Phantom Thread is a movie that seems to defy labels, part character study, part romantic comedy, part self satire, it feels like one of P.T Anderson’s most personal films. Anchored by the wonderful and brilliant performances by Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day-Lewis, this exploration of the relationship between a dressmaker and a waitress in 1950’s London is utterly mesmerizing. Perhaps the years most quotable film, Anderson has created an engrossing, dramatic, hilarious film that I still think about now, months after having seen it. The score by Johnny Greenwood is magical and works so seamlessly with the visuals in a way I seldom see at movies. I wish I had more to say about it but what more can I say that hasn’t already been said about the film. It is truly a one of a kind movie that could have only come from Paul Thomas Anderson, and it is just excellent artist executing a singular vision in a way no one else could. A career highlight from careers already filled with highlights.
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Dunkirk is one of Christopher Nolan’s best films, in my count it’s probably third after Memento and the Prestige. But even more than that it is by far his most refined film. Building on themes and techniques that have always fascinated the acclaimed director. Nolan’s mixed timeline works best here, and is edited to perfection, moments where his three nestled timelines come together are some of the most rewarding of the year. This is also Nolan’s most efficient film, clocking in at a very tight hour and forty six minutes, not a wasted line or camera move in the film. Telling a story that feels more akin to a disaster movie than a typical war film, it feels so much more interested in the way people feel fear, despair, and relief than they do so. Dunkirk deals with war in way unlike most war movies and in doing so is a true cinematic triumph. You can read more about my thoughts in my full review here.
6. Get Out
Directed by Jordan Peele
With Get Out Jordan Peele has a debut for the ages. A tight, scathing satire of modern American racial politics, taking direct aim at the type of privileged white racism so prevalent in “liberal” parts of the country Get Out is the rare mainstream horror film to break out of the horror bubble. Not only a smart satire but also a profoundly engrossing and masterfully made film. While much has been written about Peele’s incredible script, that drops hints and themes like breadcrumbs only to pick them up at the end and wrap the film up in a way that rewards multiple viewings, I want to shout out the great camera work. Peele has knack for creating unease, and has a mastery of the close up. So many of the films iconic shots feature close up shots of characters faces, forcing us into invading their space, in the same way that they themselves have had their own bodies invaded. The sunken place is perhaps the most iconic image of the film, and is one that seems to linger most with the viewer. Finally I want to talk about Daniel Kaluuya, who turns in a mesmerizing performance that is both subtle and powerful. In the end this is a film that deserved every accolade it received and is probably destined to be the film we most talk about when we talk about this year in film. But I don’t think it will be the last time we talk about a Jordan Peele film as a masterpiece.
Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina
I have had mixed feelings on recent Pixar films. At times they create true masterpieces, such as Inside Out, but at other times can create films that prove to be utterly forgettable, like The Good Dinosaur. So it was with hopeful optimism that I looked forward to Coco, and it did not disappoint. So many of Pixars best films deal explicitly with themes of family and what it means to be part of a family. In Coco these familiar themes are filtered through the vein of traditional Mexican beliefs in the Day of the Dead and traditional Mexican family dynamics. This works wonderfully, creating a work that is at once both specific to a single culture and yet feels as though it can be apply to anyone. Of course, as someone who is Mexican, I am a bit biased but I don’t really care. I enjoyed seeing things from my own upbringing that are so rarely shown in a mainstream American film. It was nice, it made me feel warm about my own past and history. I loved the lush and colorful production design, creating a colorful and warm after-world that feels so distinct from those that we traditionally see in Hollywood. This film also feature a tearjerker of an ending in the Pixar tradition but that also feels distinctly happy. Combine all of this with a beautiful soundtrack and some excellent voice work, and you have another stellar entry into the Pixar canon.
4. Lady Bird
Directed by Great Gerwig
Get Out would have been the best debut film of the year were it not for Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. Anchored by one of the years best scripts, strong direction and editing, and perhaps the best performance in Saoirse Ronan’s already terrific career, Lady Bird paints a complex and sincere portrait of the moment where teenagers begin to see their parents as real people. Equal parts funny and touching Lady Bird is one of the best films about the teenage experience in years. What I came to appreciate about it was the films sincerity, its joy in portraying things that have not been seen as cool, especially the Dave Matthews Band, as something that one should embrace simply because you like them. The Sacramento that Gerwig creates in this film is obviously a work of love, feeling so lived in and a place we want to stay in even as the films protagonist yearns to escape it for New York. No discussion of Lady Bird can be complete without a talking about the incredible performance of Laurie Metcalf as the mother of Lady Bird. A complex and nuanced performance of a mother who is doing her best to raise her daughter in spite of a myriad of problems in a rapidly changing world, Metcalf is allowed to be something rare in Hollywood, a parent who is allowed to not always be the best parent but with out being a villain. While Ronan may be the star and main character, it is Metcalf who for me is the emotional core of the film. It is Metcalf who guides Lady Bird to the moment at which everyone become an adult, when they see their parents as a whole human being and not just as their parents. In Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig, Saoirse Ronan, and Laurie Metcalf have created one of the most human films about being a teen. Gerwig has already stated she wants to make even more films set in Sacramento, and I will be looking forward to every single on of them.
3. Call Me By Your Name
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
The first thing one might notice about Call Me By Your Name is that the movie is overwhelmingly gorgeous. Every shot in this film makes you want to drop everything, and move to the north of Italy. What is most affecting about this film is that despite how overpowering the visuals can be at times, this is a film that found a way to have ostentatious pillow shots after all, is the way that so much of the story is so quiet. This is a love story that is told through glances, pauses in a sentence, and the brush of a hand on another hand, and yet the romance never feels rushed, it always feels real. This is of course down to the incredible acting performances by Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer who deliver stunning, intimate, and vulnerable performances in the main roles of Elio and Oliver. But they aren’t the only ones bringing it, Amira Casar and Esther Garrel deliver great performances as the Elio’s mother and sometime girlfriend respectively. But perhaps the best supporting performance is give by Michael Stuhlbarg as the father of Elio and Oliver’s professor. In Call Me By Your Name, Luca Guadagnino has crafted a film where the visuals so perfectly compliment the quiet story about perhaps the most grand thing there is, love.
2. The Florida Project
Directed by Sean Baker
For almost the whole year after I saw it, this was going to be the film that I listed as the best of the year. Timely, and powerful The Florida Project is the movie that most encapsulates the state of America as profoundly messed up place filled with people who are just trying to get by, and yet there still remains a core of people who are trying to be good. The Florida Project is at its core an incredibly empathetic movie by perhaps our most empathetic filmmaker. Sean Baker as a director works best when he examines the forgotten underclass of America, in Tangerine these are transgender sex workers, and here the invisible homeless. Starring a cast of mostly unknowns, The Florida Project follows the lives of the tenants of the Magic Castle, a motel in the shadow of Walt Disney World. Seen predominantly through the eyes of Moonee, played by a revelatory Brooklynn Prince, a six year old girl who spends her days with her friends generally getting into trouble and hanging out. Through her we meet her mother played by Bria Vinaite, and Bobby the manager of the Magic Castle, played by Willem Dafoe in perhaps his best role ever. Much has been written about Willem Dafoe in this film, and the truth is, its all correct. Dafoe is brilliant in this movie, caring yet stern, and who obviously cares a great deal about the people who live in the motel he manages. For so much of the past year the country has searched for a narrative, for a way to give a voice to the people we have left behind, and in this film Sean Baker continues to be the filmmaker most interested in telling the stories of those actually forgotten, not merely those who act as though they have been. Finally, I’d like to speak obliquely about the ending, I won’t ruin it here but let me just say that the ending of this film is one that I simply can’t forget about. It is an ending that is both devastating and yet oddly hopeful in a surreal and emotional manner. Heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal amounts The Florida Project is simply the kind of movie we should reward, that we should beg more filmmakers to make.
1. Paddington 2
Directed by Paul King
First things first, yes this film didn’t come out until 2018 in America but it came out in 2017 in most of the world, and this is my list so I get to make the rules and categorize it as 2017 film. Beside this list is so late anyway that it might as well have counted as 2017 movie for America anyway. But enough about the details of my list making, why is this the best movie of the year?
In the late 1990’s television series Sports Night, there is an episode in which one of the main characters tries to get tickets to see the Broadway musical production of The Lion King. Initially dismissive of the show as frivolous entertainment, after she see it she says “ I didn’t know we could do that.”. That is how I feel about Paddington 2, I didn’t know we could do that. In a year marked by confusion, fear, and sadness this movie made me feel hopeful again. Not only hopeful but good, an emotion so rarely triggered by film. This movie made me feel good, not just about the world but about myself. Paddington 2 is an absolute joy to watch, a sweet and understated film about a bear from darkest Peru who just wants to get his mother a popup book of London. This gives director Paul King, who also directed the first film, a chance to stage some very touching and also very sequences, occasionally at the same time. But where this film really shines is when Paddington is sent to jail after being framed for theft by Hugh Grant who is doing one of the funniest performances of the year as a washed up actor. Once in prison, the gags get funnier, the film gets even warmer, and the movie truly wins you over. Incredibly well acted, incredibly well directed, and a film that moved me to tears of joy and left me feeling not just good and happy but optimistic about the future Paddington 2 is a true masterpiece. Paddington 2 made me feel a way that films so rarely do, it is a film I’m excited to revisit and one that I will think about a lot in the years to come. I didn’t know we could still do that.