Unlikely triumphs: Our critic picks his favorite films of 2017

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Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out is at the top of fans’ and critics’ lists for 2017. Courtesy Universal Pictures Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out is at the top of fans’ and critics’ lists for 2017. Courtesy Universal Pictures

In movies, as in life, it was quite a year of highs and lows. These are our favorite films of 2017.

Get Out

As social commentary, as a horror movie that connected with an incredible amount of people, as a directorial debut for Jordan Peele—any way you look at it, Get Out was a huge achievement for independent film and for intelligent, layered stories with societal messages. The world already loved Peele for his comedy; with Get Out, we discovered that we need him for his insight.

Colossal

This was a year of unlikely triumphs, of which Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal is the most unexpected. A thoughtful, funny film about very serious psychological issues—alcoholism, depression, self-loathing, projecting one’s own failures onto anyone who happens to be nearby—framed in one of the most bizarre narratives of 2017 that plays the absurdity completely straight-faced. If you let this one slip by you, definitely check it out.

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story made mocking headlines for an extended, unbroken shot in which Rooney Mara sits on the kitchen floor and eats an entire pie. There, we said it, yuck it up, now let’s talk about what a powerful meditation on life and its meaning (or lack of it) this is, and how phenomenal it is that writer-director David Lowery feels as at ease with a noncommercial passion project as he does with a big-budget Disney remake (Pete’s Dragon).

Menashe

By all accounts, Menashe shouldn’t exist. A Yiddish-language movie filmed in New York’s ultra Orthodox Jewish community featuring a cast of first-time actors, many of whom had never set foot in a movie theater until the premiere, combined with the fact that it’s this great, makes it even more stunning. Starring Menashe Lustig in a story partially inspired by his own life, Menashe follows its lead character as he works to prove his worthiness as a father to his son, a year after the death of his wife. Simple, elegant, heartwarming, and one of the year’s must-sees.

Lucky

The last film of the legendary Harry Dean Stanton would be notable no matter what, but the sort of astonishing match between actor and material on the level of Lucky is quite rare. Stanton stars as a man in a small desert town who lives day to day on almost exactly the same routine. As we get to know Lucky better and witness the events of the doom, we see how those patterns became so important to him as they begin to break, but never in a tragic way. A lovely film with one of the year’s best performances.

Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan delivers the most powerful film of his career with Dunkirk, the story of a military defeat by the British that resulted in an astonishing evacuation and in turn inspired a generation to persevere in the fight against fascism in the early days of World War II. The film is told as a triptych, three interlocking stories spanning different lengths that are stylistically and thematically linked. Dunkirk is a technically sophisticated film without an ounce of self-indulgent spectacle, dedicated to the bravery of the soldiers on that beach and those who risked their lives to rescue them.

First They Killed My Father

Angelina Jolie’s film about the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia is a fascinating, humanizing. look at totalitarianism and the human cost when squabbling superpowers use innocent nations as proxies. Told from the point of view of a young girl at the very beginning of the regime, she experiences all of the horrors of war—forced labor and being enlisted as a child soldier—while being subjected to empty propaganda day and night. Though it can be difficult to watch, the intent is to truly understand this moment in history from a philosophical and humanistic point of view, including its roots in the Cold War and America’s disastrous Southeast Asian foreign policy.

Lady Bird

In a year of strong directorial debuts, Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age tale stands out as one of the best and most sophisticated of the bunch. The title character, played by Saoirse Ronan, is in her senior year of high school and is in a hurry to let go of everything that has defined her: friends, interests, academic life, her name and especially her mother, played by Laurie Metcalf. Funny, poignant, brutally honest and boasting a career-high performance by Metcalf, Lady Bird should sit at the top of your watchlist.

Wind River

The power of Wind River comes in its clarity of mission and total understanding of every inch of its subject matter. Though narratively a procedural about the pursuit of the men who raped and murdered a young woman on the Wind River Indian Reservation, it is also an examination of the continued legacy of American colonialism on all parties affected. A tracker (Jeremy Renner) and an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) join Tribal Police (Graham Greene) in the hunt. Refreshingly, all are great at their job; Olsen’s character is new to the region but she is an excellent agent, Greene does the best he can with the limitations his department faces, and Renner feels connected to the land despite being a perpetual outsider. A remarkable work in an already exceptional year.

John Wick: Chapter 2

Good filmmaking is good filmmaking, okay? There are some deep sociopolitical statements on this list, but in the end, movies are all about how well you can tell a story with the resources you have. In the case of John Wick: Chapter 2, those resources are some of the best technicians in the industry and the most committed and disciplined American movie star possibly in history. Much has been made of Keanu Reeves’ stiffness as an actor, but there is no question that this man belongs on the screen delivering remarkable physical performances. The stakes are ramped up from the previous installment as is the craftsmanship, turning what was a fun action flick into a franchise that could bring the best of Hong Kong genre cinema stateside.


Playing this week

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056

Ferdinand, The Greatest Showman, Pitch Perfect 3, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Violent Years 

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213

All The Money In The World, Coco, Darkest Hour, Downsizing, Father Figures, Ferdinand, The Greatest Showman, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Pitch Perfect 3, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000

All The Money In The World, Darkest Hour, Downsizing, Father Figures, The Greatest Showman, Human Flow, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Pitch Perfect 3, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Three Billboards Ouside Ebbing, Missouri

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