Our favorite movies of 2017

1. A Quiet Passion- In A Quiet Passion, writer/director Terence Davies and actress Cynthia Nixon see their subject, the American poet Emily Dickinson, with disarming clarity. Fragmentally structured through her life in 19th century Massachusetts, Davies and Nixon create an expansive emotional landscape within Dickinson’s increasingly shrinking, reclusive world. Happiness is nearly always out of her reach, conveyed by Nixon’s endlessly crumpling face. Still, A Quiet Passion does not wallow in Dickinson’s despair, Davies grapples with her thoughts and feelings that build and bleed into each other moment to moment. The first half of A Quiet Passion is often blisteringly funny, and Dickinson’s quick wit becomes a through line that Davies uses to trace her withdrawal from the world. The second half of the film portrays Dickinson reaching a point where she refuses to meet face to face with anyone other than family members, standing from a doorway atop the stairs, shouting down witticisms and rebuttals from a sad distance. A Quiet Passion may at times be unrelentingly bleak, but it is also deeply empathetic and moving. Davies shows that remarkable artistry can bloom from such dark, oppressive conditions, even if it wasn’t rightly admired during its creator’s life.-Matt

2. Call Me by Your Name Call Me by Your Name is a film about young love made from a mature distance. Luca Guadagnino’s intoxicating drama, set at a villa in 1980s Italy, chronicles a summer affair between 17-year-old Elio and Oliver, a chiseled, imposingly tall American in his 20s who is working as a summer graduate assistant of for Elio’s academic father. The director and his invaluable lead actors (Timothée Chalamet as Elio and Armie Hammer as Oliver), portray the uncertainty the two young men feel both physically and verbally. Guadagnino aims his camera at them head-on, often foregrounding one as he talks, reads research or plays the piano while the other watches in the distance. There are also key point-of-view shots, watching one of them from a distance before cutting to the other person watching, transfixed but uncertain why. Their eventual affair is the result of an evolving, undefined intimacy. Call Me by Your Name gets so much right about attraction, about a short-term affair that will be frozen in time and replayed for the rest of its characters’ lives.-M

3. Nocturama- It’s easy to be taken in by Betrand Bonello’s formal acuity in Nocturama – from its dizzying first half following young Parisian activists plotting and carrying out a major act of violence to its final hour where they hang out in a shopping mall during the aftermath. The film’s political message is more obtuse – none of its characters profess their leanings explicitly, nor does the director make his intentions clear. Is it a critique of activist tactics? Is it a commentary on idealism or capitalism? The questions linger long after the last act’s inevitable bloodshed.-Sam

4. Good Time- In Daddy Longlegs, a previous collaboration between Josh and Ben Safdie and writer Ronald Bronstein, the trio created Lenny, an incompetent divorced father who can’t (or doesn’t want to) grow up, despite a strong desire to stay in the life of his two kids. Connie (Robert Pattinson), the character at the center of Good Time shares love for his brother Nick (Josh Safdie) in much the same way: he wants to be there for him, but he is incapable by virtue of who he is and their established relationship. The film is their most confident and realized project yet, carried by the same propulsive energy of its main character, an excellent score from experimental maestro Oneohtrix Point Never and DP work by Sean Price Williams. Pattinson is a captivating onscreen presence, lunging from one scheme to the next on the streets of New York, trying to break his brother out of Rikers and clashing against the institutions he has dodged all his life. The results are manic and moving. -S

5. Lady Bird– Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is a lovingly tumultuous mother/daughter story wrapped up inside a coming of age tale. Saiorse Ronan is a winning blend of youthful uncertainty and matter-of-fact wit as the title character, a high school senior grappling with the economic realities of her big ambition. The movie is overflowing with generosity, which enhances the push/pull dynamic at its core relationship as well as giving each supporting character a moment to take center stage. -M

6. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)- In The Meyerowitz Stories, Noah Baumbach again mines the hyper-specific New York familial dysfunction that has come to define several of his films. It’s his The Royal Tenenbaums; centered around three distinct, disparate siblings (Adam Sandler, Elizabeth Marvel and Ben Stiller) and their fraught relationship with their aging, cantankerous father (Dustin Hoffman). Though Baumbach’s acerbic wit is as present as ever, this film also feels kinder and gentler than his more venomous work. This is clear in the movie’s approach to Hoffman’s patriarch, who is basically an older, more world weary version of the one played by Jeff Daniels in The Squid and the Whale. –M

7. On the Beach at Night Alone- “You’re not qualified to love,” Young-hee, the protagonist of Hong Sang-soo’s film, tells a friend at an increasingly awkward drunken dinner scene. Played in a commanding performance by Kim Min-hee, Young-hee is an actress trying to bounce back after an affair with a married director. (On the Beach at Night Alone is a personal reckoning of sorts about the star and director’s real-life affair). She at first seems composed, if nervous and jittery. But as the movie progresses through a series of extended conversations at cafes, dinner tables and, yes, beaches, Hong taps into Kim’s nervous energy to increasingly devastating effect. -M

8. Song to Song- The new movie from Terrence Malick is as confounding and ravishing as he’s ever been. That wasn’t really a surprise. What was a surprise is how sexy the movie is; there were flashes of eroticism in last year’s Knight of Cups, but the movie was more an exploration of a man’s guilt than anything. With Song to Song, Malick seems freer and happier, his camera roving around a quartet of pretty people (Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling and Natalie Portman) who dance around each other on the edges of the Austin music scene. Though its somewhat abstract rumination on romance is the focus, Song to Song is still filled with wondrous detours that branch off the central drama. This includes several musical cameos and brief but astonishing performances from musicians like Lykke Li and Patti Smith. -M

9. The Beguiled A playful chamber drama tinged with nervous desire, Sofia Coppola’s latest takes the director’s predilection for insular worlds to a new extreme. Her The Beguiled is a remake of sorts of a wild, pulpy 1971 film directed by Don Siegel. (Both films are based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan). The story is set in 1864 at a secluded Southern girls boarding school in Virginia, where Union soldier Corporal John McBurney is hesitantly taken in after his left leg is severely crippled in battle. He gradually disrupts everyone at the school’s routine, thinking his prison might actually be a temporary oasis.  However, he doesn’t anticipate the torrent of longing his presence unleashes at the school, or the dire consequences of acting on his impulses. -M

10. Logan Lucky- Steven Soderbergh makes a triumphant return to filmmaking with this hilarious, poignant NASCAR heist film. Centered around a recently laid-off man (Channing Tatum) who convinces his siblings (Adam Driver and Riley Keough) to help pull the job off to break a family curse, Soderbergh’s movie is a well-oiled plot that blows past absurdity and reveals its characters’ pent-up frustrations and desires. Each performance is filled with delightful, often quiet eccentricities (Driver’s effortless comic timing nearly steals the show). The exception is Daniel Craig, who is a manic wonder as an incarcerated safecracker who the brothers break out to help with the robbery. -M

11. Nathan For You: Finding Frances- Nathan Fielder’s satirical reality show Nathan for You has grown across four seasons into an increasingly ambitious meta-exploration of commerce, identity and human interaction. Yet it is doubtful anyone predicted the heights reached in Finding Frances, season four’s finale, which follows Fielder and Bill Heath (who made appearances in earlier episodes as a Bill Gates impersonator) on a quest to find the latter’s long-lost love interest, juggling a daring amount of tonal shifts through its 85 minutes – from hilarious to eerie to devastating. Fielder has long been an expert at drawing out emotional responses from his clients, often provoked by his transparently manipulative and aloof persona, but here his talents reach an apex. With Bill, he is able to unlock the complex core of a person who seemed near-impossible to break through, all the while revealing profound truths on life, love and regret. Finding Frances is a counter to the show’s biggest detractors in its unflinching humanity – something that was maybe there all along. -S

12. Get Out- There were many debates this year about what exactly Get Out was. Was it horror? Satire? Drama? Comedy? (The Golden Globes seem to think the latter; writer/director Jordan Peele disagrees). Seeking to put it gently within the confines of a genre lessens the skillful balancing act Peele accomplishes with his stunning debut feature. There are moments of grim humor and moments that are just plain grim in his story about Chris, a black man with a growing suspicion that there’s something sinister going on while he’s visiting his white girlfriend’s family for the weekend. Daniel Kaluuya is great in the lead role, and there are a slew of eerily effective supporting performances from Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield, Allison Williams and Catherine Keener. Peele expertly utilizes reaction shots to increase Get Out’s sense of dread and paranoia; let’s just say Chris’ skepticism proves to be more than warranted. -M

13. The Lost City of Z- “To look for what is beautiful is its own reward.” This line is at the core of James Gray’s stunning adventure film, which centers on the British explorer Percival Fawcett’s obsessive quest to track down a hidden city in the Amazon. Spanning the first two decades of the 20th century, including three trips to the South American jungle as well as Col. Fawcett’s time in World War I, The Lost City of Z is a lush, thrillingly intimate epic. Its final shot is also one of the most beautiful in recent memory. -M

14. mother! Darren Aronofsky’s psychodrama mother! plums the self-lacerating depths of being married to a hopeless narcissist, a popular one at that. His portrait of marriage is ruthlessly calculated, pinpointing the tremors in a woman’s face with every small betrayal by her husband. As strangers arrive at the secluded home and disrupt the central couple’s routine, mother! traipses around social boundaries to create a gradually increasing sense of isolation. The movie’s sense of creeping paranoia is later thrown out the window, though, as Aronofksy abruptly descends his movie into madness.  Certainly not everyone gelled with mother!‘s chaotic, horrifying final act. However, the movie is incredibly hard to shake. -M

15. Personal Shopper- Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper is a sleek Parisian ghost story set on the outskirts of high fashion. Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, a personal shopper mourning the death of her twin brother. She refuses to leave the area while waiting for a sign from him from beyond the grave. When she starts receiving ominous text messages from an unknown source, Stewart creates a portrait of internalized grief that gives the movie a devastating emotional core. Her beguiling screen presence is at the core of the movie. -M

Runner-ups:

Princess Cyd

John Wick: Chapter 2

The Ornithologist

Life

Girls Trip

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Split

Wonderstruck

Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

Ingrid Goes West

Note: We were unable to watch several movies that may have made this list before the end of the year, including The Post and Phantom Thread.

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