Top 10 movies of 2017: Ken Eisner

Behind-the-scenes shake-ups are reflected in the Straight’s annual critics’ picks of the year’s best movies

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      One of the darkest years in human history saw Hollywood just as befuddled as everyone else. We’re only starting to see pushback from the so-called liberal media, and this has come in the form of socially conscious efforts like The Post, Downsizing, The Shape of Water—some of which are more earnest than good. Other movies, like Get Out and Wonder Woman, coincidentally caught the spirit of the moment, regardless of inner contradictions.

       

      Lady Bird

      Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is so perfectly tuned, and so well reviewed—99% on Rotten Tomatoes and 94 on Metacritic—there’s bound to be some blowback when late adopters see that it is simply a small-scaled (but big-hearted) coming-of-age tale from a decidedly female point of view. That’s actually what makes it gently revolutionary. Plus, the mother-daughter face-offs between Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan are unforgettable.

       

      Phantom Thread

      Daniel Day-Lewis gives what he says will be his last performance as a narcissistic fashion designer in 1950s London. Thanks to Paul Thomas Anderson’s lyrical writing and direction, it’s also one of his very best.

       

      Faces Places

      The most uplifting movie of the year was made by and about the odd-couple pairing of octogenarian filmmaker Agnès Varda and a 30-something photographer called JR. In this nonfiction lark, they film themselves touring the French countryside, taking and then printing (mammoth) photos of people, most of whom have been forgotten by progress. Even in the bleakest settings, their encounters benefit everyone,
      including us.

       

      The Florida Project

      Willem Dafoe is a lock for the best-supporting-actor Oscar as the patiently suffering manager of a motel that caters to indigents who’ve fallen through the cracks of a collapsing society. But the nonactors in this second outing for Sean Baker (who famously shot Tangerine on iPhones) are just as good, with a special nod to six-year-old Brooklynn Prince, who deserves her own Academy nod for playing a latchkey kid whose every gesture says “Whatever happens, I’m gonna turn out great.”

       

      Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

      Oddly blinkered ideas about race leave a hole at the centre of this very dark comedy about a small town torn apart by violence from without and within. But Frances McDormand gives her best performance since Fargo, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell kill as troubled cops doing battle with her vengeful character, and writer-director Martin McDonagh’s Cuisinart approach to cinematic tropes is wildly infectious.

       

      I Am Not Your Negro/I Called Him Morgan

      Two of the year’s best docs throw back to the ’60s to convey the creative side of black life in America. One is an in-depth look at the political writing and activism of James Baldwin, a prophet both of and ahead of his time. The other studies Lee Morgan, a trumpet star who couldn’t handle his own success—partially from the POV of the woman who killed him. What a coincidence that both titles were made by European filmmakers, right?

       

      The Big Sick

      Silicon Valley vet Kumail Nanjiani and partner Emily Gordon wrote this very funny take on their own disease-hobbled path to the altar, with Zoe Kazan subbing on the distaff side. Still, it’s Holly Hunter and Ray Romano who shine, as the sickster’s bewildered parents.

       

      Logan Lucky

      That silly title, coupled with almost no advertising, didn’t help Steven Soderbergh’s latest, with Channing Tatum and a one-armed Adam Driver as Robin Hood–like thieves, attain the recognition it deserved. The surprise standout was Daniel Craig, who turned up the fun as an overconfident safecracker who takes on NASCAR and a steep Southern accent.

       

      Brad’s Status

      Ben Stiller pulled double duty this year, with intriguingly complicated variations on middle-aged soul crisis in The Meyerowitz Stories and this overlooked gem from Mike White, in which a guy who has devoted himself to nonprofit do-gooding revisits basic life choices while taking his teenage son on a tour of likely colleges.

       

      Their Finest

      The original, Churchill-tweaking title, Their Finest Hour and a Half, perfectly captures the bittersweet tone of this Lone Scherfig–directed dramedy—now available on Netflix—about a British propaganda-movie team (including Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin) tasked with making a believably falsified version of the Dunkirk disaster, to pep up a frightened population. Christopher Nolan spent a lot more money and somehow achieved less.

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