2017: Rebirths and Afterlives

Person to Person, Colossal, Lady Bird, The Ornithologist

I adore this time of year. It’s the time when we write out short lists to memorialize the past twelve months. The selections don’t matter, nor does the order; the point is simply to remember. “#10 was the first new movie I saw this year, at the multiplex, with a coworker who’s since moved out of state. I ran to a screening of #2 right after scarfing down some pita and hummus.” Each entry represents a pocket of time I lingered in. The year’s ten best pockets of time.

I enjoyed the following ten movies almost as much as the ones I’ve listed below: Call Me by Your NameColossalGirls TripGood TimeLady BirdLogan LuckyThe OrnithologistPerson to PersonSong to Song, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The new Twin Peaks, on the other hand, I enjoyed even more than the titles below. It may have aired in weekly installments on Showtime, but it’s still essential to any conversation about the state of filmmaking in 2017. May as well call it my real #1! It moved and thrilled and shook me unlike anything else in recent memory.

Here’s a supplementary list of ten performances: Betty Buckley, articulate as a psychotherapist, and the protean James McAvoy playing against her in Split; Harris Dickinson, implosive with self-loathing in Beach Rats; two turns by Michael Fassbender, as the smarmy villains of Song to Song and Alien: Covenant; Milla Jovovich’s valedictory sprint through Resident Evil: The Final Chapter; Barry Keoghan as a teenage sprite barely veiling his hostility in The Killing of a Sacred Deer; Keanu Reeves, put through his paces again in John Wick: Chapter 2; Lady Bird’s callous, precocious, and heartbreaking Saoirse Ronan; newcomer Millicent Simmonds and her silent movie acting in Wonderstruck; octagenarian Lois Smith playing her age as Marjorie of Marjorie Prime; and Adrian Titieni, slouching and gloomy as a bad dad in Graduation.

Now onto the list:

10) Get Out, directed by Jordan Peele

This reconfiguration of horror imagery transpires in a secluded country house. Where better to satirize the horrors and entitlements of whiteness? Genteel racism is its villain, far more insidious than your standard movie monster.

Riley Keough is a key piece of the Logan Lucky team, pithy and self-assured as the car-savvy sister.

Michael Stuhlbarg speaks in a sensitive voice that suggests a reservoir of emotion as the dad in Call Me by Your Name.

9) Princess Cyd, directed by Stephen Cone

Jonathan Demme died in late April. This summery gem had its world premiere about a week later. It’s lax in its narrative, attentive to its ensemble, profoundly gay. Demme’s gone, but his influence lingers.

Laurie Metcalf plays a near-monstrous notion of motherly love in Lady Bird molded by her working-class pragmatism.

In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Mark Hamill resumes a role he initiated 40 years ago, now morally fatigued and with a bitter sense of humor.

8) The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), directed by Noah Baumbach

These stories of fathers, sons, brothers, and sisters knit together tightly into one dense family saga. Everyone has a role to fill, a pattern to repeat, and a lot of the comedy derives from that stagnation. It’s sad, maybe, but still a fact that we’re all causes, and we’re all effects.

Tiffany Haddish is irrepressible in Girls Trip: insinuating with her eyebrows, cracking nonstop dirty jokes, sucking off a banana with panache.

Willem Dafoe’s one of the great living actors, and in The Florida Project, he only ever seems like a nice guy working a shitty job.

7) The Other Side of Hope, directed by Aki Kaurismäki

A hapless asylum seeker challenges a divorced restaurateur. A fistfight ensues. By the very next shot, the former’s dining at the latter’s establishment, both of them bandaged up, with the staff looking on. The joke lies in the editing. Everything’s sad just as everything’s hilarious in this Finnish film, a Modern Times for our modern times.

Elizabeth Marvel does exemplary supporting work as the neglected middle child of The Meyerowitz Stories.

Bene Coopersmith, owlish owner of a real-life record store, wears his audiophile heart on his sleeve in Person to Person.

6) On the Beach at Night Alone, directed by Hong Sang-soo

A lot of long take conversations here, as in most of Hong’s work, replete with booze-sopped niceties. This one’s more overtly melancholic. It’s wintry and crepuscular, the lonely story of an actress.

“It’s not a handicap to have one thing, but not another,” says Rebecca Spence in Princess Cyd. “To be one way and not another. We are different shapes and ways, and our happiness is unique. There are no rules of balance.” She takes ownership of the line with her sensitive delivery.

With his measured voice and unbroken gaze, Jon Hamm’s believably unhuman in Marjorie Prime. (He’s terrific as the archvillain in Baby Driver, too.)

5) The Unknown Girl, directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

“You don’t know the meaning of the word neighbor!” cries a woman in Rear Window, the owner of a murdered dog. “Neighbors like each other, speak to each other, care if anybody lives or dies. But none of you do!” The idea of collective guilt that’s deep in this knotted mystery reminds me of that line.

Adèle Haenel plays The Unknown Girl’s amateur sleuth, a doctor who reveals far more in her choices than her inscrutable face.

Sherwan Haji moves inconspicuously yet with a dash of silent comedy through The Other Side of Hope.

4) Marjorie Prime, directed by Michael Almereyda

Under the Skin’s greatness was bound to the sinuous music of Mica Levi. The same is true of this placid techno-drama. Her work here is as crucial as the shimmering photography of Sean Price Williams and the dialogue Almereyda adapted from Jordan Harrison’s play. Together they make up a modest movie about what it’s like to be human.

Aubrey Plaza affects her usual deadpan in Ingrid Goes West, but presents it as a facade with only a sea of self-hatred behind it.

Jason Sudeikis shifts subtly from romcom lead to abuser over the course of Colossal, a terrifying show of range.

3) Personal Shopper, directed by Olivier Assayas

Skype chats, séances, texting: the shopper devotes herself to communication, but doesn’t get much in return. Her relationships are tentative, her story desolate. Her taste’s impeccable. The couture garments she selects are among the surface pleasures of this maddening ghost story.

Personal Shopper star Kristen Stewart acts with laserlike concentration as if a coil were wound tight inside her.

Daniel Kaluuya’s face in Get Out charts the spectrum of moods between simple discomfort and full-on terror.

2) A Quiet Passion, directed by Terence Davies

Only an aesthete could adapt an artist’s life like this, heeding the furniture she sat on and the light that touched her face. Time is cruel, but art—like this sharp-eyed chronicle of a woman’s grief—can be kind.

Kim Min-hee’s interior work in On the Beach at Night Alone shows what it’s like to be too deep in yourself and too far from the love you need.

Adam Sandler’s vulnerable and sometimes pathetic in The Meyerowitz Stories as a dad with a bad mustache who clearly wishes he could be better or smarter but has to settle for being himself.

1) Nocturama, directed by Bertrand Bonello

Perhaps an incendiary slasher movie, maybe an expansion of Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves, this encapsulates its point in history. What do you do with the world you’ve been given? Here’s one bleak and bracing answer.

In A Quiet Passion, Cynthia Nixon plays an Emily Dickinson who’s cognizant of her own weaknesses. She recognizes over the years who she is (a poet) as well as who she’s not (a wife) and the actress walks with this knowledge. She withers from the poison of regret.

In a pivotal shot halfway through Good Time, the camera lunges unsteadily toward Robert Pattinson with his shitty blond hair and unshaven, sweat-glazed face lit only by a TV’s glow. “Fuck,” he says. It’s like the rush into close-up that introduces Stagecoach’s John Wayne, zeroing in on a star who’s likewise handsome and in a role that smacks of destiny.

[Movies I have yet to see include BPM, Ex Libris: New York Public LibraryFaces PlacesPhantom ThreadThe PostThe Shape of Water, Starless Dreams, and Thelma.]

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