As it turns out, last year was a pretty good year for movies. We had plenty of outstanding genre-fare, which pushed boundaries in ways that forced the the major award ceremonies to pay attention. As always, there were plenty of surprising and weird indies and foreign films pushing boundaries in other ways. Even as the market becomes increasingly inundated with comic book movies, there were still a couple of outstanding big budget hits.
I’ve been paying much more attention to films big and small as of late, and as a result I have a pretty huge backlog.
Here’s some shout outs to films that are high on my to-watch list: The Phantom Thread, Call Me By Your Name, Faces Places, Personal Shopper, A Silent Voice, and a link to the rest.
Honorable mentions: Baby Driver, Okja, Three Billboards, A Ghost Story, and Wonder Woman
And without further ado, let’s get into the top 10.
10. The Shape of Water
I love being able to root for Del Toro. The fantastical visionary’s latest works as an interesting combination of fairy tale love story and take down of Cold War era Americana. It glides from scene to scene, riding on a wave of ephemeral fuzziness thanks to its snappy editing and woozy camera work. Sally Hawkins wordlessly steals the show through perfectly communicating the sensation of longing, while Richard Jenkins’s neighbor character offers endearing comic relief. More than just a love story, The Shape of Water works as a riveting tale about discrimination, and how hatred of the other; whether that’s minorities, the disabled, gays, Ruskies, or fish men, is endemic to America. But despite rampant hatred, it’s not those forces that will prevail. It’s film in which the love of its creator can be felt in every frame.
9. I, Tonya
The truth can often be a murky fickle thing, and in our quest to find easy answers we often take things at face value. If Tonya Harding’s side of the story is true, then her saga is an extreme example of how assumptions can unjustly upend a lifetime of dedication. Filmed in mockumentary style, I Tonya is a biting biopic that redefines the traditionally sappy and aggrandizing nature of the sub-genre. Fueled by some of the best performances of the year by Margot Robbie and Allison Janney, the darkly comic script manages to find some humor in a dismal set of affairs, without undercutting the drama. It’s utterly heart-wrenching, impressively filmed, and interested me in a type of film that I usually bounce off of.
8. Get Out
When discussing movies it’s easy to get bogged down in conversations about the “most important film” of the year. Major award ceremonies almost always get absorbed in these sorts of questions, resulting in situations like when Spotlight triumphed over the greatest action spectacle ever produced, Mad Max Fury Road. I imagine this is at least partially the case because the panels of judges are made up of people whose lives are dedicated to cinema, and thus would like to see the choices for movie of the year reflect the importance of their medium. Get Out is a rare film that manages to split the difference between being “important”, and just being a really well plotted genre film. In a year dominated by prejudice and hate speech, Jordan Peele gave a voice to those who could feel the thinly veiled bite of racism hidden under the veneer of socially acceptable behavior. He put to work his years of comedy writing and understanding of satire to creating a movie that somehow manages to be both scary and hilarious at the same time. Every line and scene has purpose, layers and layers of foreshadowing building a sense of dread and inevitability. Could this be the year a horror movie wins Best Picture? Get Out may not be my singular favorite of the year but I can’t help but root for it.
7. The Last Jedi
In my opinion, there is still no franchise that succeeds at conveying a sweeping cinematic tale of good and evil quite like Star Wars. Although the film has proven to be extremely divisive, I found Johnson’s focus on the failings of its characters to be an interesting change of pace. The portrayal of Luke is particularly striking; our previous hero consumed with grief and regret. The dynamic between Rey and Kylo is similarly arresting, showcasing the acting chops of Driver and Ridley. And importantly, it hits its grandiose moments with a sense of poise and aplomb, delivering some of the most striking and memorable scenes the franchise has ever seen. Although it’s form has changed in many ways it feels as though the spirit of Star Wars has been kept alive. It’s distillation of the Hero’s Journey continues to spread one of the most universal stories told through our history, filtered through its own specific weirdness that has so thoroughly dissolved into the culture that we don’t really consider how odd it is anymore. While at its core it’s a simple tale of good and evil, its messages about hope in the face of absolute despotism continues to resonate.
You would think the consumption of human flesh would be something that couldn’t possibly enter even the proximity of humor. The odd thing about Raw, Julia Decournau’s horror coming of age mashup, is that it wrings a certain absurdism out of its nightmarish premise. Raw pulls no punches, depicting a hellish descent into hazing, the pressures of conformity, and college hedonism with non-distanced realism. When it finally takes its abrupt turn, the fact that it can be tracked to an allegory about growing up doesn’t even remotely lessen the following relentless assault on basic human decency. While many movies would cash in on it’s concept for pure shock value, Raw transcends this, providing horrific thrills backed by the universal nature of growing up. It’s powerful moments are ore senses with surprisingly confident film making for a freshman effort. From it’s excellent musical accompaniments which help deliver essential moments such as the pivotal turn, and a sexual awakening, to it’s lingering body horror shots, I was simultaneously disgusted and intrigued from start to finish.
*End of spoilers*
There’s the first half of the list, the rest should be up in the next week or so!