Well, gang. We made it through another garbage year. As my colleges have noted, we at least got some stellar movies to help us along the way. Here are the ten I enjoyed the most:
#10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
I’m shocked this is here at all. While I can hang with Star Wars along with everyone else, it’s not something I have great love and affection for. But this film is special. Rian Johnson’s follow-up to JJ Abrams’ mindless (but fun!) fan service calls Star Wars to task, digs deep thematically, and offers gigantic moments of both emotional and pulpy elation. We should demand this from all blockbusters, but until then, let’s at least appreciate what we got here.
I love movies like this. Lucky is a small, meandering examination of a character that doubles as a celebration of the actor who plays him. Harry Dean Stanton remains front and center throughout the entire film as he confronts a creeping mortality that probably should have caught up with him ages ago. There isn’t a lot of plot, but each scene is a joy, particularly those Stanton shares with David Lynch. Lucky is all about the smaller pleasures in life. It ends on a simple smile that could break your heart if you’re not careful.
#8. The Big Sick
A perfect feel-good movie in a year that could really use one. The Big Sick has all the warmth of a great love story but with the added benefit of legitimate hilarity. Add to that some amazing performances (I love Holly Hunter in this so much), and you have a film that acts almost as medicine for all the aches and pains we’ve acquired in the last twelve months.
On the other hand, you have Logan, a rather miserable film I also happen to adore. I let a lot of time pass between my first and second viewings of this, worried my initial elation was a false reaction to a film that in time would reveal itself to be an empty slog. Fortunately, that’s not the case. James Mangold’s comic book riff on Unforgiven may not be pleasant, but it’s always thoughtful and focused on its mission, treating one of our most beloved comic book characters with great care and honesty, even if it’s ugly. Most X-Men films are garbage, but even I find Wolverine and Xavier’s eventual places in their world heartbreaking given all that came before. Also: more head stabs than ten Mike Banning movies.
#6. Good Time
The Safdie brothers knock this energetic crime film out of the park, offering a strange combination of laughter and thrills that never lets up, even when you’re unsure how to feel about it from one moment to the next. The plot constantly zigs when you think it might zag and confounds expectations in entertaining ways. Robert Pattinson’s Connie Nikes is quietly one of the year’s best characters, a low-level thug who is at once brilliant and stupid, sociopathic and capable of great love. It’s a hacky sentiment, but the title of this film is totally accurate.
Hey, go big or go home. And while he certainly wasn’t successful with everyone, Aronofsky definitely went big with this one. Time will tell how it all holds up later down the line, but the experience of watching this that first time is something I’ll cherish for a while. At what point did you realize what he was up to here? I like my allegorical storytelling loud and proud, and this definitely supplied that. I don’t know how it managed to get such a wide release, but I’m so happy it did. With any luck, scores of people showed this to their parents during the holidays.
#4. John Wick: Chapter 2
I’ll tell you a shameful secret. I didn’t love this movie the first time I saw it. Perhaps its deviations from the original caught me off guard. I’ve seen the film many times since then and I’m better now, thank you.
Now I see that this is a perfect sequel, not only widening the scope of John Wick’s universe (arguably the series’ greatest asset), but offering an unexpected examination of John Wick himself, and leaving him in both a narrative and existential predicament I cannot wait to see conclude with the next entry. When all this is done, the story of John Wick will be one of action cinema’s greatest achievements; I truly believe that. We’re just so lucky to have this movie.
#3. Get Out
Despite being number three on my list, I don’t think there’s any doubt that Get Out is THE movie of 2017. Its perfection is at times hard to fathom - from the way it forces white viewers to confront themselves, to the cathartic answers it offers this horrible year, to the way it manages to juggle horror and broad comedy without even threatening to break - I can’t believe Jordan Peele’s achievement here. Its success, not just financially but as a cultural milestone, is truly satisfying to behold.
#2. A Ghost Story
Along with mother!, A Ghost Story is another film I’m shocked even exists. It’s a bold and original use of form that conventional wisdom simply cannot account for. If cinema is dead (are people still saying that?), how do you get this - an existential meditation on time in which a name actor performs from underneath a white sheet? It sounds stupid, and yet here it is.
Like anyone else, I cry at films, but this one devastated me, forcing me to bolt from the theater in frantic search of a private enough alley to just let it all out. Equating quality with elicited emotion usually isn’t wise, but this movie hit me way too hard to ignore. One day I may watch it again, but not anytime soon.
#1. The Work
I fear most of you have yet to see The Work, as it’s a small documentary few have heard of. I beg you to give it a shot. You can rent it on Amazon right now for $0.99, and that’s a small price to pay for such an experience.
The film examines an annual group therapy session amongst violent conflicts and civilian volunteers at Folsom Prison. One by one, we watch impossibly distrustful and hardened people give themselves over to vulnerability so they may confront the inner demons that still haunt them. Usually this comes with violent and terrifying outbursts unlike anything I have ever seen. In the end, no one can really be healed, especially not in a place like Folsom. But for a brief time, these men are allowed a safe place to explode and reconnect with the fear and insecurities that unite us all.
Movies I still need to see: The Post, Phantom Thread, Call Me By Your Name
Movies I adored but aren’t out yet: Bodied, Let the Corpses Tan
"It's not a movie but..." : Twin Peaks, Jean-Claude Van Johnson, “Finding Frances”