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The year 2017 has been good so far so good and the movie industry at large has not failed to keep us entertained. However, moviegoers have been gifted with a bounty of great blockbusters, indies and documentaries, proving that filmmakers are continuing to find new ways – both big and small to entertain, excite and enlighten. No doubt there are numerous gems to come in the months ahead, given that by the holidays, we’ll have the latest works from acclaimed directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and Steven Spielberg (to name just two). For now, however, these are our current picks for the best films of 2017.
25. Get Out
Be it the early sight of a car pulling up alongside an African-American man, or a photo of an angry dog being held on a tight leash, the color white spells doom in Jordan Peele’s social-commentary horror hit Get Out—albeit ultimately in unexpected ways. Surrounded by his white girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) Obama-loving family and their friends during a weekend getaway at their rural estate, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) finds himself increasingly uncomfortable, especially after a series of encounters with fellow African-Americans (the household’s staffers, a young boyfriend of a much older white woman) make him suspect that something is scarily amiss. The story’s climactic revelations are indebted to The Stepford Wives, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Rosemary’s Baby, and yet are given a fresh of-the-moment twist by Peele’s razor-sharp script, which cleverly locates the means by which liberals’ pro-black attitudes function as a type of appropriation-esque intolerance. As impressive as its racial-dynamics critique, however, is its formal dexterity; from its malevolent pacing to its terrifying imagery (especially of “The Sunken Place”), Peele’s directorial debut is a first-rate cinematic nightmare.
24. Logan Lucky
After a four-year cinematic “retirement,” director Steven Soderbergh makes a welcome return to the big screen with Lucky Logan, which operates as a southern-fried, Pabst Blue Ribbon-fueled variation on his Ocean’s Eleven heist trilogy. Pulling off this elaborate caper are Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde Logan (Adam Driver), two working-class brothers who’ve had it stuck to them by the Man—Jimmy’s lost his construction job due to insurance-regulation issues stemming from an injury; Clyde is missing a hand because of an Iraq tour of duty—and decide to strike back by robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway during its biggest race of the year, the Coca-Cola 600. Enlisting the aid of their sister (Riley Keough), a demolitions expert known as Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, stealing every scene he’s in), and involving a host of others as well (including Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakam, Seth Macfarlane and Hilary Swank), the ensuing robbery is a madcap affair that’s as stylishly orchestrated as it is comically suspenseful. It’s the summer’s breeziest multiplex confection.
23. The Ornithologist
It helps to have some working knowledge of Saint Anthony of Padua—the 13th century Catholic priest who became the patron saint of lost things—if you want to fully grasp João Pedro Rodrigues’s The Ornithologist. Then again, this heady spiritual import is best experienced with next-to-no preparation, the better to tumble headfirst into its bewildering raft of pious and profane imagery. The story of a Portuguese bird-watcher who, during his time out in the wild, encounters (among other things) two Chinese female hikers who want to castrate him and a young shepherd named Jesus who wants to sleep with him, Rodrigues’ film is a deeply allegorical descent down a biblical rabbit hole, drenched in highly personal details and infused with a potent sense of the phantasmagoric. No matter whether one can decode all of its strange, mystifying sights and symbolism, it plays out like a spellbinding reverie about one man’s quest for greater knowledge about himself, his universe, and his God.
22. The Bad Batch
In a post-apocalyptic America where the haves have exiled the have-nots to a desert Texas wasteland, a young girl (Suki Waterhouse) becomes prey to cannibals, losing her arm and leg in the process. Rather than succumbing to despair and death, however, she soldiers on, leading to a hallucinatory journey through a misfit-outcast landscape where she soon finds love with a flesh-eating family man (Jason Momoa). Ana Lily Amirpour’s sophomore feature is, like her 2014 coming-of-age vampire romance A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, an entrancing hybrid of various cinematic traditions. With Keanu Reeves as a deviant Hugh Hefner-style messiah and Jim Carrey as a scraggly nomad (in a part that affords no dialogue to the motormouthed comedian), it’s a uniquely out-there head-trip about marginalized men and women forming communities, and finding love, out on the fringe—one whose political subtext gets more relevant by the day.
21. The Lure
La La Land‘s award-season triumphs may have heralded the return of the Hollywood musical, but in terms of ingenuity, flair and sheer eye-popping weirdness, it can’t hold a candle to The Lure. Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska’s wackadoo import is a familiar drama about a young couple torn between individual dreams and professional desires, the twist being that these protagonists (Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszanska) are mermaid cannibals sashaying through the seedy cabaret underbelly of 1980s Warsaw. Like the dreamy love child of Amèlie‘s Jean-Pierre Jeunet and The Fly‘s David Cronenberg—except with quite a bit more singing and dancing from its fantastical femme fatales—Smoczynska’s knockout debut charts its aquatic fairy tale creatures as they make a name for themselves as a pop duo known as “The Lure,” along the way falling in love and chomping on unsuspecting (male and female) victims. A bisexual Little Mermaid-by-way-of-vampire horrorshow scored to original New Wave-y tunes, it really is like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
20. The Villainess
It’s been an exceptional year for action epics featuring formidable female warriors, and none are as out-and-out insane as The Villainess, South Korean director Jung Byung-gil’s aesthetically frenetic revenge saga. Opening with a first-person hallway-gym skirmish that has to be seen to be believed, this blood-drenched import concerns a young assassin (Kim Ok-vin) who’s enlisted—and given a new identity—by a shadowy intelligence organization. Nonetheless, she remains throughout an independent soul determined to track down and murder the man responsible for killing her father years earlier. Trying to keep up with the film’s convoluted narrative requires a Herculean effort, but being confused has rarely been this exhilarating, thanks to a series of set pieces that—defying the odds—manage to continually one-up their predecessors, from a motorcycle fight in which the camera does as many impossible things as Jung’s protagonist, to a finale that leaps between multiple speeding vehicles. It’s the cinematic equivalent of an adrenaline shot to the heart.
19. The Beguiled
Sofia Coppola’s adaptation of Thomas P. Cullinan’s novel (which was previously made into a 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood) is a sweltering hothouse thriller guided by its director’s precise, penetrating evocation of female rivalry and pent-up desire. In Virginia during the Civil War, a group of women living at a remote boarding school have their sleepy existence interrupted by the discovery of a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell), whose arrival—and sexual magnetism—does much to upset their delicate domestic balance. From Nicole Kidman’s regal headmistress, to Kirsten Dunst’s unhappy teacher, to Elle Fanning’s reckless student, the women soon struggle to control themselves (in more ways than one) in scrupulously designed sequences in which sideways glances and furtive gestures indicate the roiling emotions hidden beneath their refined facades. Building toward eruptions of ecstasy and horror, The Beguiled finds Coppola tilling familiar thematic terrain through an enchanting period-piece prism.
Even if it didn’t conclude with a gasp-inducing twist that forces one to reconsider everything that’s come before it, Split would stand as a triumphant return to form for director M. Night Shyamalan, the former The Sixth Sense wunderkind who’d lately fallen on tough studio-for-hire times. Unlike his sturdy 2015 found-footage thriller The Visit, Shyamalan’s latest boasts the menacing, meticulous widescreen beauty of his signature hits. Here, his sinister style is used in service of a story about three young girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula) who are kidnapped by James McAvoy’s Kevin—and then learn that they actually have many captors, considering that Kevin boasts 23 distinct personalities. Worse still for them, Kevin is convinced that a supernatural 24th identity known as “The Beast” is on the verge of emerging—a development that provides plenty of breakneck-momentum suspense to go along with McAvoy’s mesmerizing lead turn as the monstrous madman.
17. Hounds of Love
Putting a rugged twist on the serial-killer subgenre, Australian director Ben Young’s stellar debut concerns a young girl in 1987 Perth named Vicki (Ashleigh Cumming) who, after another row with her mother about her parents’ separation. is lured back to the home of a couple (Emma Booth and Stephen Curry) that, it turns out, has deviant plans for her. From an opening POV pan across a schoolyard populated by nubile teenage girls to the many shots in which Young’s camera pulls back from closed façades, Hounds of Love conveys a chilling sense of unspeakable horrors being perpetrated just out of everyday view—thus lending the proceedings a faux-based-on-real-events grittiness and immediacy. As it slowly elucidates the parent-child issues plaguing both its captors and their captive, the film develops into a chilling portrait of male domination and female liberation, all while providing, at every turn, an almost unbearable amount of methodical, nail-biting suspense.
16. The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography
Errol Morris is one of cinema’s all-time great documentarians, and for The B-Side, he lavishes his acute, empathetic gaze on Elsa Dorfman, a Massachusetts photographer famed for using a giant (and now discontinued) Polaroid camera to snap 20×24 portraits. Its title referring to the alternate pictures her customers reject (and which she keeps), the film begins as a casual study of an eccentric artistic personality—only to blossom into a larger examination of more profound themes, including the transience of life and art, the twisty-turny relationship between an artist and her art, and the technology employed to create it. Though it does little more than spend time with Dorfman in her studio, telling stories about each new photograph she discovers in her archives, the film is only modest on its surface; with a canny eye and an inquisitiveness about the way we see—and interact with—the world at large, it’s a profound inquiry masquerading as a pleasant tribute to an peculiar individual.
15. Icaros: A Vision
A journey into the deep, dark regions of the Amazonian wild, Leonor Caraballo and Matteo Norzi’s Icaros: A Vision follows an American beset by a cancer to the Peruvian jungle in search of ayahuasca—a psychedelic plant that, along with medicinal chants known as “icaros,” is used by locals to remedy mind, body, and spirit. In the care of Shipibo shamans, she and other patients venture freely between lucid and hallucinatory states, and so too does the film, which proceeds in an oblique, waking-dream fashion. Shot on location at a community retreat (and, briefly, at a hotel that was featured in Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo), this unique effort is an alternately optimistic and despairing look at the ongoing clash of global cultures. And it’s one bolstered by its constant synthesis of disparate forces—man and nature, the modern and the ancient, the West and the East, the physical and the ethereal, and, ultimately, the real and unreal.
14. Wonder Woman
Like Logan, Wonder Woman breathes bracing new life into the increasingly moribund superhero blockbuster—although in the case of Patty Jenkins’ film, it does so less by reimagining its main character than by conceiving a grand, unique origin story for its heretofore-cinematically-neglected DC Comics icon. Building upon her scene-stealing cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gal Gadot embodies her Amazonian princess with innocence, resolve, and nobility throughout this solo outing, in which her Princess Diana departs her female-warrior homeland to join Chris Pine’s American spy in the fight against the Germans during WWI. Conflating history and fantasy with aplomb, Jenkins delivers the smash-’em-up CGI goods while reconfiguring standard-issue genre tropes in decidedly feminist fashion. At once courageous, determined, and guided by a heartening belief in the inherent goodness of mankind, this Wonder Woman is brains, beauty and brawn, cast in a classical mold and yet tailor-made for the modern age.
13. City of Ghosts
Since 2014, ISIS has claimed the Syrian city of Raqqa as the capital of its so-called Caliphate—and, at the same time, been opposed by a band of local “citizen journalists” whose mission is to expose the Islamic State’s horrific crimes. That group, known as “Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtered” (RBSS), is the focus of director Matthew Heineman’s sterling new documentary, which embeds itself with three RBSS members as they struggle to continue their work from Germany and Turkey, where they’ve been forced to flee thanks to death threats from ISIS. Posting ghastly video and still photos of ISIS atrocities in order to elicit global outrage and opposition, RBSS risks literal life and limb in its battle with terrorism, and to a significant extent, so too does Heineman via his doc, which embraces its subject’s cause in order to effect change. Eschewing many non-fiction conventions (talking head interviews, textual summaries) for a chronologically fractured, up-close-and-personal depiction of courage under fire, it’s a film that inspires as much as it horrifies and infuriates.
12. Baby Driver
Driving to the beat of his own iPod playlist, Baby (Ansel Elgort) is the charismatically cool frontman of Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, a rocking caper about a gifted getaway driver who discovers that it’s difficult to extricate one’s self from a life of crime. More propulsive and streamlined than his “Three Flavours Cornetto” trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End), the film is a stylistically daring showstopper, its every inventive camera movement and edit in perfect harmony with the many great, eclectic soundtrack tunes blasting in Baby’s earbuds. Grooving alongside its hero as he tries to break free from his kingpin boss (Kevin Spacey), Wright’s high-octane original soon has Baby in league with a collection of menacing thieves, most notably an amoral Jamie Foxx and a psychopathic Jon Hamm, while simultaneously wooing a diner waitress (Lily James) who dreams of escaping her dreary day-to-day and hitting the open road. Reconfirming Wright’s preeminent genre mash-up skills, it delivers an electrifying action-romance-musical high.
Christopher Nolan dispenses with the exposition in favor of immersive aesthetics with Dunkirk, a dramatic account of the WWII evacuation of Dunkirk, France’s beaches in 1941. Fractured between three interwoven time frames and perspectives (land, sea and air), and shot almost entirely in 70mm IMAX—which stands as the ideal format in which to see this overwhelmingly experiential work—Nolan’s wartime tale cares little for character detail or contextual background. Instead, it thrusts viewers into the chaos engulfing a variety of infantrymen (including Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles), commanders (primarily, Kenneth Branagh), fighter pilots (led by Tom Hardy), and civilian boatman (notably, Mark Rylance), all of whose sacrifice, selfishness, cowardice, and heroism is thrown into sharp relief by Nolan’s grand set pieces. Through its towering scale, superb staging, and inventive structure, Dunkirk melds the micro and the macro with a formal daring that’s breathtaking, along the way underscoring the unrivaled power of experiencing a truly epic film on a big screen.
10. Good Time
Arguably the finest male performance of the year comes courtesy of Robert Pattinson in Good Time, the latest grungy New York City street drama from rising superstar directors Ben and Josh Safdie (Heaven Knows What). In this breakneck nocturnal thriller, Pattinson is Connie, a low-level hood who finds himself on a desperate search for bailout cash after a bank robbery goes awry and his accomplice—his mentally challenged brother Nick (Ben Safdie)—is arrested and given a one-way ticket to Rikers Island. With a scruffy goatee, disheveled hair that he eventually bleaches a garish blonde, and amoral desperation in his eyes, Pattinson proves a mesmerizing man on the run, his motivations cloudy, his behavior unethical, and his every decision more foolhardy than the last. The Safdies’ up-close-and-personal shooting style sticks closely to their protagonist as he falls deeper and deeper into a hole of his own making, ultimately generating an intensity of sound, movement, and mania that makes watching the film feel akin to being on a rollercoaster with faulty brakes.
9. John Wick: Chapter 2
Rarely has a film seemed less in need of a sequel than 2014’s John Wick, a self-contained bit of action-cinema perfection. Nonetheless, John Wick: Chapter 2manages to thrill through a constant barrage of masterful gun-fu carnage, with bullets flying at a jaw-dropping rate courtesy of Keanu Reeves’ nattily dressed assassin. Director David Leitch’s follow-up is a symphonic orgy of frenzied firearm warfare, with violence here depicted as a culinary art form performed by stylish Zen badasses with philosophical souls. It’s akin to a hybrid of Jean-Pierre Melville’s noir cool and Marvel’s superhero fantasy, all underworld rules and regulations and unbelievable feats of fearsome brutality, with Reeves exuding male-model chicness and powder-keg explosiveness as the epicenter of this murderous maelstrom. While the film’s reason for once again forcing Wick out of retirement isn’t nearly as gripping as its predecessor’s vengeance-for-his-dead-dog motivation, the specifics of Chapter 2 wind up mattering little in the face of so much exhilarating death and destruction.
8. The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Director Osgood Perkins is the son of Norman Bates himself (actor Anthony Perkins), but he proves to be a horror maestro in his own right with The Blackcoat’s Daughter, a beguiling descent into dark, demonic places that’s all the more chilling for refusing to chart a simple straight-and-narrow course. In upstate New York, Kat (Mad Men‘s Kiernan Shipka) is left by her parents to spend winter break at her boarding school alongside more popular Rose (Lucy Boynton); meanwhile, Joan (Emma Roberts) endeavors to hitchhike her way to the school, eventually nabbing a ride with a contentious couple (James Remark and Lauren Holly). What these three girls have to do with each other is a mystery to be unraveled. It’s ultimately far less important than the overarching air of loss—of parents, of virginity, of adolescence—and grief that consumes them. It eventually becomes clear that all is not right with this institute and its (Satan-admiring?) staff members. Yet what lingers is the pervasive fear of abandonment, all of it encapsulated by Roberts’ final, unforgettable primal scream.
7. Atomic Blonde
With Blondie style and John Wick ferocity, Charlize Theron strikes a peerless ass-kicking pose in Atomic Blonde, director David Leitch’s electric Cold War extravaganza. Straddling a fine line between exploitation and empowerment, this adaptation of a 2012 graphic novel (The Coldest City) is a narratively tangled affair—told in unreliable flashback by its protagonist—about Theron’s MI6 spy navigating a sea of Berlin duplicity on a mission to learn why her espionage cohort-lover was murdered. The hunt for a coveted list of covert agents follows, with KGB baddies and James McAvoy’s dubious colleague complicating matters to a head-spinning degree. Such storytelling confusion is part and parcel of a film that, at every turn, thrillingly plays it both ways, replete with Theron’s heroine casting doubt on her allegiance to her interrogative superiors (Toby Jones, John Goodman) while also seducing Sofia Boutella’s Frenchwoman. More importantly, from an early apartment skirmish to a late hallway throwdown—one-against-many conflicts defined by stellar choreography and a piercing sense of pain and exhaustion—Theron indisputably seizes cinema’s action-queen crown.
6. Alien: Covenant
Blending the body horror of his 1979 Alien, the gung-ho combat of James Cameron’s 1986 sequel Aliens, and the philosophical grandiosity of his 2012 prequel Prometheus—not to mention the man-and-machine musings of his 1982 Blade Runner—Ridley Scott delivers a biblically scaled interstellar nightmare with Alien: Covenant. Scott’s latest spends its first hour setting up a familiar battle between human colonists and angry xenomorphs, after the former decide to investigate a mysterious distress signal from a nearby planet. Yet after expertly going through the tried-and-true monster-movie motions, the director then shifts gears by turning his prime attention to Michael Fassbender’s android David—who, it turns out, is an inhabitant of this ancient world. Face-huggers, back-bursters, mecha-doppelgängers, and the most narcissistic-homoerotic sequence in sci-fi history soon follow, with the action immaculately designed for suspense, scares, and sly sinister humor. At once a rousing blockbuster spectacle and an inventive expansion of the franchise’s core themes, it’s the rare prequel to truly justify its existence.
5. The Lost City of Z
Acclaimed American filmmaker James Gray (Two Lovers, The Immigrant) ventures for the first time outside New York City— and into the dark heart of the Amazon—with The Lost City of Z, an adaptation of David Grann’s 2009 non-fiction book of the same name. Such a geographic relocation, however, does little to alter Gray’s fundamental artistic course, as his latest—about early 20th century British explorer Percy Fawcett’s (Charlie Hunnam) repeated efforts to locate a lost South American civilization that he believed to be more advanced than any previously discovered – boasts his usual classical aesthetics and empathetic drama. Energized by a hint of Apocalypse Now‘s into-the-wild madness, this entrancing period piece is at once a grand adventure, a social critique about class and intolerance, and a nuanced character study about an individual caught between his love for, and desire to escape, his environment. Led by Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, and Sienna Miller, it’s also one of the finest-acted dramas of the year.
4. I Called Him Morgan
Lee Morgan was one of the mid-century jazz scene’s brightest lights, until his life was cut tragically short when his wife Helen fatally gunned him down in a New York City nightclub on the snowy night of February 18, 1972. Using copious archival footage, newly recorded interviews with friends and collaborators, and, most illuminating of all, a tape-recorded 1996 interview with Helen made one month before her death, Kasper Collin’s transfixing documentary I Called Him Morgan recounts this sad real-life saga as two separate stories—Lee’s and Helen’s—that eventually dovetailed, intertwined, and then combusted in horrific fashion. Abandonment, drug abuse, and betrayal all factor into this sorrowful equation, as Collin assuredly conveys the messy stew of passion, need, ego, loneliness, and fury that eventually begat such a calamity. In doing so, it recognizes the jazzy spirit of Lee and Helen’s doomed romance—and, also, the riffing-our-way-forward nature of life itself.
Bong Joon Ho’s Okja is many things at once: a rollicking kid’s fable about the bond between a young South Korean girl (Byun Hee-bong) and her genetically enhanced super-pig (named Okja); a satiric critique of the corporate food industry; a wacko comedy about transcending cultural boundaries; and a fantastical adventure full of kidnappings and chases, buoyed by over-the-top performances from Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, and culminating with a Times Square spectacular and a Holocaust-esque trip to the slaughterhouse. Most of all, however, it’s the year’s most exhilaratingly idiosyncratic work, indebted to the spirit of both Steven Spielberg and Hayao Miyazaki, and energized by the distinctive signature of its director. Vacillating between mirthful, madcap and morose on a dime, Bong’s latest—about Byun’s heroine trying to reunite with Okja after the animal is reclaimed by the conglomerate that created her—is both all over the place and yet assuredly coherent. Whether viewed on a big screen or via Netflix (its exclusive distributor), it’s a wondrous whatsit unlike anything you’ve quite seen before.
2. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
Suspenseful and hilarious, despondent and optimistic, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is a masterful genre film, one that immerses itself in the small, painful indignities of everyday life, and then casts the battle against those wrongs as a serio-comic odyssey of sleuthing, heavy metal, and nunchakus. After her house is burglarized, nurse Ruth (Melanie Lynsky) partners with her rat-tailed martial-arts-loving neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood) to recover her stolen belongings. Their ensuing black-comedy adventure is grimy, bloody, and ridiculous, as director Macon Blair (best known for his performances in Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin and Green Room) pitches his material as an absurdist neo-noir saga about combatting existential despair. Courtesy of a great Lynsky performance that’s equal parts miserable and furious, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. (which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance before premiering exclusively on Netflix) finds humor and horror in the notion that “everyone is an asshole”—and then locates hope in the closing-note idea that, rather than worrying about them, life is best spent in the company of those precious few who aren’t.
1. Lady Macbeth
Hell hath no fury like a woman oppressed, as is shockingly born out by William Oldroyd’s phenomenal feature directing debut—an adaptation not of the Bard but, rather, of Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. In a breakout performance of coiled intensity and ruthless cunning, Florence Pugh is Katherine, a young woman sold into marriage to an older landowner (Cosmo Jarvis), whose nastiness is only surpassed by that of his domineering father (Christopher Fairbank). That union is rife with problems from the start, though despite the film’s Shakespeare-referencing title, the path it wends is an original and horrifying one. Suggesting a period piece version of a film noir saga as envisioned by Stanley Kubrick, this twisted feminist drama is rooted in contentious racial- and gender-warfare issues, employing a meticulous formalism to recount its cutthroat story about Katherine’s at-any-cost attempts to attain liberation. Like its protagonist, it’s a film that’s placid and refined on the outside, ferocious and pitiless on the inside.