10. “Blade Runner 2049”
Like every film on this list, “Blade Runner 2049” is what cinema is all about. From a technical standpoint, it’s a masterpiece of sight and sound, nearly unparalleled in film this century. It’s perfectly shot by living legend Roger Deakins (“Sicario”), and the daunting production design combines with his cinematography to create one of the most gorgeous movies in recent memory. The score by Hans Zimmer (“Dunkirk”) and Benjamin Wallfisch (“It”) works as a tribute to Vangelis’s iconic work on the original, but stands just as well on its own as the beautiful, eerie, pulse-pounding backbone to the film. Even when it isn’t playing, the sound design — the cacophony of 2049 Los Angeles — provides a soundtrack all its own.
The story Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”) crafts is what makes “2049” what it is: a moving tale of love, loss and what it means to be human set against the backdrop of revolution. There’s a sense that Villeneuve’s already impressive career has been leading to this. In addition to the film’s technical achievements, he directs his ensemble to unanimously superb performances, from Ryan Gosling’s (“La La Land”) commanding work in the lead role to what is hopefully a star-making turn from Ana de Armas (“War Dogs”), even down through Dave Bautista (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) and Lennie James (“The Walking Dead”) in more minor roles. The original “Blade Runner” was a great film, but “2049” exceeds it as a flat-out masterwork on the part of all involved.
— Jeremiah Vanderhelm, Daily Arts Writer
9. “Good Time”
The elevator pitch for “Good Time” would’ve felt out of place on a top 10 list just a few years ago. Two brothers — one mentally disabled and the other profoundly slimy — botch a bank robbery and set in motion a plot that sprints through a clammy urban environment: the visual equivalent of cold sweats. But thank god we’ve moved past the days where “The Post” would’ve been a shoe-in for top billing so genre films like “Good Time” can finally get their due.
But the Safdie Brothers take a tired genre (crime thriller) and an over-shot city (New York) and extract and amplify their strongest characteristics: their grit, speed and neon glow. The result is a heart-racing emotional rollercoaster that doesn’t twist, but swerves from one extreme to another. Robert Pattinson’s (“The Lost City of Z”) performance as Connie, the slimy older brother who masterminds the robbery, is set to be the most tragically overlooked of the year. His eyes scan the world he barrels through with so much desperation and fear I catch myself almost feeling sorry for him. Connie is destructive, selfish and tragic and as him, Pattinson sheds any doubts left over from his “Twilight” days. All this and a score by Daniel Lopatin (who records as Oneohtrix Point Never) with an original song featuring Iggy Pop make “Good Time” one of the most relentlessly paced and unexpectedly compelling movies of the year.
— Madeleine Gaudin, Managing Arts Editor
8. “The Shape of Water”
“The Shape of Water” is Guillermo Del Toro’s (“Crimson Peak”) “Beauty and the Beast,” telling a love story between a mute woman named Elisa (Sally Hawkins, “Maudie”) and a fish-creature (Doug Jones, “Ouija: Origin of Evil”). Despite the tried and true thematic content, the film bursts at the seams with creativity and creates a world that truly feels like a modern fairytale, featuring Del Toro’s signature dark brand of magical realism. Set in the 1960s, the film tells a story of tolerance and overcoming differences against the backdrop of a time period characterized for its intolerance: Illustrated in the film is prejudice based on sexual orientation, race, gender and national identity.
What’s more, Hawkins’s performance as the mute Elisa is one of the most compelling of the year. While she does communicate through sign language, the bulk of her characterization is nonverbal. This challenge is no match for Hawkins, however, who can speak volumes with a single glance. Elisa is positively charming and manages to be so without ever speaking a word. She is someone who spends much of her time in her own head, and Del Toro and Hawkins work in perfect tandem to bring the viewer there as well.
— Max Michalsky, Daily Arts Writer
“Columbus,” helmed by writer-director Kogonada, is a beautifully paced movie that leaves a lot to contemplate. Meditative cinematography and strong acting from John Cho (“Harold and Kumar”) and Haley Lu Richardson (“The Edge of Seventeen”) drive this film as it addresses the complicated nature of parent-child relationships. When Jin (Cho) rushes to suburban Indiana to tend to his comatose father, he must come to terms with his duty as a son with help from the thoughtful Casey (Lu Richardson). Their unexpected friendship is one full of introspective conversations, stunning architecture and arguments on the responsibilities of family.
The wide shots and well-chosen settings display the artistic genius of Kogonada and promise more to come from this newcomer. The script lends a fresh voice to a minority group often passed over on screen as Korean family values are compared to those of Americans across generational lines. “Columbus” also gives a region of the United States considered “fly-over country” a moment in the spotlight, lending a reprieve from the countless stories set in New York and Los Angeles. Although snubbed at the Golden Globes this year, “Columbus” is well-deserving of all the praise and accolades.
— Meghan Chou, Daily Arts Writer
6. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Martin McDonagh’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” a story about a mother’s devotion to solving her daughter’s murder in her own way, takes a fresh and unusual perspective on the subjects of tragedy and loss. It never falls into the convention of maudlin sentimentality, but rather, treats it with unforgiving bite and strength.
Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand, “Hail, Caesar!”), a renegade and intimidating force of nature, is driven by the purity of a mother’s love and loyalty to her daughter, only carried out by McDormand’s performative tour de force, something only a seasoned and gifted professional could produce. Woody Harrelson (“The Glass Castle”) rivets as usual in his portrayal of Sheriff Willoughby, the cancer-stricken hard-ass with a hidden heart of gold. Lucas Hedges (“Lady Bird”) plays Frances’s son, Robbie, and he proves yet again that he masters the role of the angsty teen and reminds us that he is among young Hollywood’s finest. “Three Billboards” returns us to an unforgiving, unpolished reality and above all else, reminds us of the value of loyalty.
— Sophia White, Daily Arts Writer
5. “Get Out”
Earlier this year, director Jordan Peele wryly tweeted, ““Get Out” is a documentary.” He’s right, of course. Like the best of its genre, “Get Out” derives its power from the visceral panic of reality’s stark truths. It’s a movie about the theft of Blackness, the disquieting anxiety of what it means to live in a body that’s simultaneously feared and coveted. The scariest aspects of “Get Out” aren’t in any gore or bloody murder, but rather the horror of racism itself, and the way it builds toward an unfathomable violence. It’s a masterclass in suspense: every smile is off somehow, every conversation stilted and uncomfortable.
From the very first moment, we know in our gut that something is deeply wrong. The result is a movie crackling with tension, buzzing like a live wire full of nervous energy. There’s a reason it was the number one movie in America for weeks on end. “Get Out” is masterful, through and through, with a rallying cry at its heart. It’s summarized perfectly by the song that opens the film: “Stay woke / Don’t you close your eyes.” It’s a warning we’d do well to remember.
— Asif Becher, Daily Books Editor
4. “The Big Sick”
As an avid rom-com enthusiast, I have seen my fair share of incredibly beautiful and incredibly terrible movies featuring quirky young adults who fall in love. After watching “The Big Sick,” I can easily say this movie stands as one of the best and most compelling romantic comedies, and movies in general, that I have ever seen. Written by and starring Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”), “The Big Sick” sparkles with sharp humor and a bubbly effervescence that can only come from the mind of deeply talented comedians.
Zoe Kazan (“My Blind Brother”) is the perfect counterpart for Nanjiani’s brand of dry, poignant humor; she is witty, playful and sincere in an infectious way that makes Nanjiani’s love for her wholly believable. The film’s brilliance lies in Nanjiani learning to love Emily through his interactions with her parents, played expertly by Holly Hunter (“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”) and Ray Romano (“Vinyl”). Nanjiani’s story is a fresh take on the formulaic rom-com narrative that explores the process of love. “The Big Sick” is more than the classic story of a rebellion against the cultural expectations of one’s immigrant family; it is a deeply human story about the importance of one’s cultural roots, the dynamics of family and the perseverance of love against all odds.
— Sydney Cohen, Daily Arts Writer
3. “The Florida Project”
“The Florida Project” is the year’s most heart-wrenching drama, but it’s also 2017’s most heart-warming comedy. How did writer-director Sean Baker, who has demonstrated a penchant for exploring ignored communities and subcultures with a deft eye with previous notable films “Tangerine” and “Starlet,” create such a powerful picture? Credit is due first to his cast of actors, both experienced and acting for the first time. The legendary Willem Dafoe (“Murder on the Orient Express”) blends in perfectly against newcomers Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince, the two of which demonstrate enough energy and spark on screen to power an engine.
Baker’s passionate and honest portrayal of the hidden homeless living next to Disneyworld is dotted by the vivid oranges and purples of “Orange World,” “Twistee Treat” and “Futureland Inn.” Cinematographer Alexis Zabe trains the camera on the world of the children, and Kissimmee, FL is seen through their eyes. The result is a dystopian, albeit often very, very funny, sort of “Little Rascals,” with the adventures of the young children of the hotel guiding the film. It provides a welcome refuge from the truly disturbing other storylines that weave their way through the film.
“The Florida Project” is an engaging and often brutal watch, but it’s poignant and unforgettable. And, dare I say it, no other film this year, maybe this century, and maybe ever, has such a glorious final shot.
— Daniel Hensel, Daily Arts Writer
2. “Call Me by Your Name”
The joy and agony that follow the arc of first love were best explored this year in the summer romance between Elio (Timothée Chalamet, “Lady Bird”) and Oliver (Armie Hammer, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”). First love is a genre that is prone to cliché, but, like Gerwig’s handling of “Lady Bird,” director Luca Guadagnino (“I Am Love”) approaches his subject with the utmost care and craft. “Call Me by Your Name” is a patient film, revealing the characters’ thoughts and feelings through subtle visual storytelling rather than clear narration or dialogue. Each shot in the gorgeous Italian countryside lingers with purpose, from the warm stone of the town square to the earthy richness of the Perlman’s villa. Guadagnino’s classical approach to filmmaking feels both timeless and contemporary, introducing the style to new audiences that may be unfamiliar. Chalamet delivers a breakout performance, tapping into the fragility and sensitivity of a young heart. The battle between his eagerness and reserve is palpable. It’s easy to want to ignore internal wishes for tender love, a kind of love that protects and nurtures, but “Call Me by Your Name” invites the audience to indulge in these feelings and realize that, perhaps, there is no indulgence in submitting to these wants. “Call Me by Your Name” underscores the passion and pleasure of love, but never idealizes the condition in which it is experienced.
— Jack Brandon, Daily Film Editor
1. “Lady Bird”
Writer, director and supreme leader Greta Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age masterpiece “Lady Bird” is the film of the year — perhaps the decade. “Lady Bird” encapsulates the high school experience, filled with crushes, heartbreak, controlling mothers and everything in between with expert timing, quick wit and undeniable heart. Following the quirky and ambitious Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn”) through her tumultuous senior year of Catholic high school in Sacramento, California, the film questions the relationships we cherish and the way we define home.
Despite the seemingly conventional narrative, “Lady Bird” is as original as its titular character, infusing the classic bildungsroman with a much needed fresh perspective. The fraught mother-daughter relationship in the film is a relatable one, reminding the audience of their own angst-filled teenage restlessness and the mothers that dealt with it the best they could. Instead of taking a magnifying glass to the transitory infatuations of high school hormones like the coming-of-age films of yore, “Lady Bird” emphasizes the significance of the mother-daughter bond while touching on the power and love of female friendship. The film not only gives fresh life to the coming-of-age genre defined by John Hughes and Richard Linklater, but also makes room for the new wave of female power in Hollywood in the form of actress-turned-auteur Greta Gerwig. If 2017 is the year of the woman, that woman in Greta Gerwig.
— Becky Portman, Senior Arts Editor