Narrowing down the best films of the year to just 10 is always a daunting process. There have been so many great movies this year, and I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot more of them than usual as a member of a couple different award committees and, of course, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. For example, I’m going to cheat a little and put the great Israeli drama “Foxtrot” on my list for 2018, when it comes out theatrically, even though it’s getting a quick awards-consideration run at the end of 2017. So I guess this is an 11-best list …? Anyway, please enjoy, and let me know what you’d put on your list.
1. “Call Me by Your Name”
My top pick was an easy one. One of my main criteria for choosing the best film of the year is the way it changes me emotionally, physically. So few films have that power. “Call Me by Your Name” absolutely wrecked me. Luca Guadagnino’s swooningly romantic story of first love in the summer of 1983 is gorgeously rendered, with perfectly calibrated performances from Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer. You will want to luxuriate in the warmth of this place and in the melancholy of knowing that this romance can’t last. Michael Stuhlbarg gives a monologue at the end that’s subtly devastating. See it on the biggest screen you can find, then enjoy the sobbing. You won’t be alone.
2. “Phantom Thread”
We haven’t even reviewed this one yet on What the Flick?! The embargo actually just lifted a few days ago and it doesn’t come out until Christmas. But this is a very close No. 2 for me, and it’s one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s absolute best. Reteaming with his “There Will Be Blood” star, the great Daniel Day-Lewis, Anderson tells a ravishing tale of twisted love between a meticulous couture designer and his unlikely muse (a sneaky-great Vicky Krieps) in 1950s London. The clothes are to die for, of course, and the Jonny Greenwood score is intoxicating. But what I like best is the way “Phantom Thread” grows steadily bonkers within its refined setting. It’s captivating.
3. “I, Tonya”
You probably haven’t thought much about Tonya Harding in recent years, and why would you? She’s a decades-old punchline, her name synonymous with scandal. But “I, Tonya” will make you feel an unexpected sympathy for her and change your perspective on the easy-to-digest tabloid narrative. Craig Gillespie’s film has a propulsive energy as it bounces around between dueling, unreliable narrators — I like to call it “GoodFellas” on ice — and Margot Robbie and Allison Janney absolutely tear it up as the disgraced figure skater and her abusive mother.
4. “Good Time”
I love the choices Robert Pattinson has made post-“Twilight.” He’s parlayed the considerable fame and clout he gained from playing dreamy vampire Edward Cullen to work with directors who specialize in meaty, challenging material, from David Croenberg to the Safdie brothers. Here, he stars alongside Benny Safdie (he and brother Josh both directed) as a con artist who goes on an odyssey through New York City’s underbelly to make things right after a botched bank robbery. It’s a roller-coaster ride through hell, grippingly edited with an intense, synthy score. Pattinson’s work here is reminiscent of a young Al Pacino: He’s tightly coiled and volatile, but he can turn on the charm and be whoever he needs to be from one situation to the next. It’s thrilling to watch.
Christopher Nolan’s latest epic came out while I was on vacation with my family on the East Coast, so I never actually wrote about it and was gone when my friends taped their What the Flick?! review. But there was no way I was going to miss it, even though I was away. So I dragged my husband and son with me to a 1030pm showing in 70mm the night it opened at the English-language theater in Montreal. I’m so glad I did — we were all blown away, actually. I love the way Nolan plays with time and perspective, upending all your notions of what a historical drama should look and feel like. He puts you on edge from the very beginning and never lets up. And cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema’s images are jaw-droppingly beautiful. “Dunkirk” is masterful all around.
6. “The Florida Project”
Sean Baker has a knack for finding people living on the fringes of society, exploring their world and humanizing them, albeit in startling ways. He did it with “Tangerine,” which was on my list of the best movies of 2015. And he does it again here in telling the story of young families living in poverty in tacky motels on the outskirts of Disney World. The Magic Kingdom is tantalizingly nearby, but the kids of “The Florida Project” make their own magic from day to day in their bubble of squalor as they struggle to survive. As a parent, it’s devastating to watch. But Baker never condescends to his characters in creating this lively, vivid sense of place, and he draws strong performances from his young cast, particularly Brooklynn Prince as the plucky, 6-year-old Moonee.
7. “Lady Bird”
How lovely is “Lady Bird”? The feature directing debut from longtime actor and writer Greta Gerwig feels intimate and personal, yet it’s so authentic as it reveals angsty, adolescent truths that it becomes universally relatable. Saoirse Ronan is at her absolute best as the title character, a high-school senior searching to find her place in the world and trying on different personae, which aren’t always the right fit. One of the things I like best about Gerwig’s script is that she doesn’t try to make Lady Bird likable all the time, and the mother-daughter squabbles between the excellent Laurie Metcalf and Ronan give the film both a palpable tension and great poignancy. I can’t wait to see what Gerwig does next.
It’s French cannibal flick as feminist manifesto, and it’s amazing that this is only the first feature from writer-director Julia Ducournau. What she does here is so thematically ambitious and narratively tricky, but she pulls it off and it’s mesmerizing. Garance Marillier stars as a young medical student who’s been a lifelong vegetarian. When she’s forced to eat meat as part of a hazing ritual, it stirs a primal hunger she never knew she had. This is a gory horror movie through and through; it’s chilling, and you never know where it’s going. But “Raw” is also fundamentally a celebration of female power—of realizing who you are, what you want and how to go after it, albeit with brutally bloody results.
9. “Get Out”
And speaking of dazzlingly ambitious debuts, what a wonder “Get Out” is. It’s also a horror movie, as well as a dark comedy and a potent satire about the state of race relations in America. As both writer and director, longtime comedian Jordan Peele moves seamlessly through various heady ideas while never letting go of the humor or the tension. The balancing act he pulls off here is seriously impressive, and it bodes well for him for a long a fruitful career behind the camera. Daniel Kaluuya gives an intelligent, sensitive performance as a black man meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener are chilling, as is Allison Williams doing her best work yet.
10. “War for the Planet of the Apes”
My favorite blockbuster of 2017, although I loved “Wonder Woman,” too. And I’m not even a giant fan of the whole “Planet of the Apes” cinematic universe. But what Matt Reeves has achieved here is so tricky: an epic movie with an equal amount of massive special effects and moments of deep emotional resonance. Andy Serkis once again proves he’s the king of performance capture, imbuing the complex Caesar with both subtle shadings and decisive force. Virtuoso camerawork abounds, veteran cinematographer Michael Seresin’s images are breathtaking and composer Michael Giacchino’s bold, percussive accompaniment is the score of the year.
As a (wannabe) figure skater, I was already predisposed to liking “I, Tonya.” But I was blown away by how surprisingly powerful and poignant it was. It’s “GoodFellas” on ice: darkly comic and often just plain dark, but always breathtakingly alive. Margot Robbie is heartbreaking as the disgraced skater and Allison Janney just tears it up as her abusive mother. My rave, at RogerEbert.com.
“The Disaster Artist” is a good movie about a bad movie. So naturally I had to ask my filmmaker friend Jamielyn Lippman, who loves movies and wine as much as I do, to join me at the ArcLight Hollywood for the latest episode of Wine the Flick?! Jamielyn is a former fellow school mom who’s made documentaries and is now moving into features. But the making of “The Room,” largely considered the worst film ever, is stranger than fiction. We tried to understand the mad genius of auteur Tommy Wiseau over a couple of glasses of red wine. It’s tearing us apart.
Gerald Foos bought a motel in Colorado to spy on his guests having sex with each other. And his story only gets weirder from there. My RogerEbert.com review of the documentary “Voyeur,” which has a lot to say about privacy, journalism and the elusive nature of truth.
It’s a very special day-drinking edition of Wine the Flick?! One of my dearest friends, the brilliant film critic Amy Nicholson, joins me to talk about “Coco” over a couple of glasses of cabernet. We met up at the Snow White Cafe, down Hollywood Boulevard from the historic El Capitan Theatre, to discuss the Pixar extravaganza about a Mexican boy who travels to the Land of the Dead to pursue his dreams of becoming a musician. (Amy liked it more than I did.) Click, clink and enjoy.