10. A Ghost Story
A Ghost Story aches with loneliness. Certainly this is the experience of its central character—a recently deceased man, standing silently beside his living loved ones while wearing a white sheet. But the movie itself aches along with him: the reverberating string score, like a heart echoing its own beat; the boxy aspect ratio, trapping its character in space; the careful editing, which captures how time can have a stillness. The title character may not have much presence in A Ghost Story, but watching him we offer ours.
9. Your Name
A work of Japanese anime that starts with a puzzling high concept—a high-school girl in rural Japan and a similarly aged boy in Tokyo inexplicably find themselves switching bodies—Your Name goes on to piece together further puzzles, eventually bending not only space but time. The animation, meanwhile, is mind-bogglingly gorgeous, whether it’s depicting the cosmic (a meteor shower) or the everyday, like the kumihimo, or braided cords, that the characters share.
Put me in the camp that appreciates this long-delayed sequel even more than its cult-favorite predecessor. Director Denis Villeneuve’s doom-laden visuals expand upon the dismal future established by Ridley Scott, the consideration of artificial intelligence is at once deeper and more poignant, and Harrison Ford … well, he redeems his inert, 1982 performance with one that’s full of conviction.
When her father is arrested by the Taliban, a young girl must pose as a boy in order to provide food for her mother, sister, and baby brother, who all share a two-room space in Kabul. It’s a simple, sorrowful story told with an animated artistry that is nothing short of majestic. Like Grave of the Fireflies, The Breadwinner uses animation to capture the horror of children living under strife in a way that is true to their struggle, while also honoring their imaginative resilience.
Guillermo del Toro takes the erratic undercurrent of longing felt in 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon and moves it to center stage, delivering a romance between a mute cleaning woman (Sally Hawkins) and an Amphibian Man (Doug Jones, acting beneath an exquisitely icky costume). The resulting story works on an intimate level, but also has sharp political implications for an era decidedly short on empathy.
5. The Beguiled
Possibly the musliniest of Sofia Coppola’s pictures, The Beguiled does much of its entrancing work through fabric, especially that worn by the female teachers and students at an 1864 Virginia boarding school who take in a wounded Union soldier as their patient/prisoner (Colin Farrell, excellent as a sly fox whose tail gets caught in a mother bear’s trap). The stitching of dresses gives way to the stitching of wounds, as Coppola explores feminine desire in all its startling complexity.
Essentially I Was a Teenage Cannibal, and as transgressive as that title implies, Raw is probably the hardest 2017 film to shake. But its challenges are worthwhile, in that they force us to face the primal nature of the human appetite. The filmmaking, meanwhile, is appropriately feverish. With dark visual wit and an electric energy, director Julia Ducournau hardwires us to her lead character’s ravishing id (embodied by the unsettlingly direct Garance Marillier). Rarely has my mind been so tickled while my stomach was being turned.
Director Sean Baker just won’t let the world be ugly. In The Florida Project, he once again turns his camera on the marginalized—in this case a single mother and her daughter scrounging by in a budget motel outside Disney World. Yet what he finds is not only heartache, but beauty. This isn’t Pollyannaish; the movie gives danger its due. Rather, it’s a way of recognizing that the downtrodden deserve screen time because they too are beautiful—fully deserving of the fresh coat of lavender paint that the motel manager (Willem Dafoe, never better) dutifully provides.
2. Get Out
Amidst all sorts of exciting new talent to emerge in 2017 (Julia Ducournau, Lady Bird’s Greta Gerwig), writer-director Jordan Peele stands at the top because he seems best equipped to move cinema forward. His discomfitingly funny and terrifically scary debut film as a writer-director connects contemporary race relations to America’s history of body horror, an urgent, unsettling challenge that somehow still united audiences at the box office by the sheer force of Peele’s talent. He is versatile, visionary, and—let’s just say it—black. He’s everything Hollywood needs
I fully realize that what I just wrote about Peele and Get Out makes the choice of Dunkirk—a World War II film from an established white director—ironic at best. But there is a mastery at work here that can’t be denied. In its immersive manipulation of time, sound, and image, Dunkirk is overwhelming in a way that big, popular cinema so often tries to be, but it also has a rigor and intelligence that most blockbusters lack. And as triumphant as the filmmaking may be, the film itself is not. Dunkirk doesn’t exist to mark a military victory, but rather to remind us of our human frailty. It lauds sacrifice and humility over triumph, and these days few things seem braver than that.