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Get Out, Long Time Running and Certain Women top the list of the year's best
It was a horrible year by any conceivable metric… and like everyone else, I used the movies to escape it as often as I could. (There’s a very good reason that superhero cinema, with its clearly defined heroes and villains, is the dominant narrative form right now.)
And while I initially struggled to find a common thread connecting the films on this list, I’ve realized that every one of them demands some level of engagement from the viewer, whether it’s the careful curation of interviews in Long Time Running or the frenzy of imagery in mother! We’re being asked to look into the screen as well as at it, and think about why the story is being told in this specific way. That’s art for you.
D: Jordan Peele
Writer/director Peele’s first feature is a masterful shape-shifter, adjusting the audience’s perspective scene by deliberate scene until it can play as full-on horror movie, pitch-black comedy and as a searing commentary on race in America as any artist has ever delivered. That it was also one of the year’s most successful releases is just gravy.
Long Time Running
D: Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier
After receiving his terminal diagnosis, Gord Downie asked friends and occasional collaborators Baichwal and de Pencier to follow The Tragically Hip on what they all knew would be their final concert tour. The documentary that resulted is an act of such love – from Downie, from his collaborators, from the band and their fans – that it almost hurts to watch.
D: Kelly Reichardt
There’s no better interpreter of women’s lives on screen than Reichardt, and this lean, intuitive adaptation of Maile Meloy’s short stories – starring Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and the amazing Lily Gladstone as people in a small Montana town – feels as much a mission statement as a character study.
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk
D: Christopher Nolan
A Twitter pal said he couldn’t get into Nolan’s harrowing dramatization of the evacuation of Dunkirk because it was all light and sound, with no story. I guess I can see that, and fortunately Their Finest and Darkest Hour are out there for him to explore the event from more conventional angles. But he’s missed the point: Nolan’s film is an immersive, assaultive study of the moment-to-moment decisions that define heroes and survivors, even if they don’t see themselves as such.
D: James Gray
It seems strange that a filmmaker as distinctly American as Gray would make a period drama about an Englishman who spent most of his life obsessed with finding the eponymous Amazonian ruin. Stranger still that it should result in the best film of his career, lacing an intimate character study into a sprawling old-school epic and finally giving Charlie Hunnam and Sienna Miller roles that make them feel like proper movie stars.
D: Guillermo del Toro
Del Toro’s swooning monster romance asks us not just to consider its hostile aquabeast as a potential love interest for its mute hero (Sally Hawkins), but to see every character in the film for who he or she really is. More than the gorgeous imagery or the vivid creature design, its compassion has kept The Shape Of Water swimming around in my mind for months.
D: Darren Aronofsky
Cracked-cosmic Aronofsky is my favourite Aronofsky, and this dizzying, deviously clever allegory finds him working in his most ambitious mode since The Fountain, with Jennifer Lawrence trying to keep her house in order as Javier Bardem keeps welcoming more and more chaos into it. Some argued it was just a hand-wringer about how difficult it is to be the partner of a self-absorbed creator… and sure, that’s a valid take. But it’s about everything else, too.
D: Ashley McKenzie
McKenzie’s devastating first feature follows a pair of young addicts (Andrew Gillis and the incredible Bhreagh MacNeil) killing time mowing lawns in Cape Breton between methadone doses. McKenzie and her actors use our familiarity with recovery narratives to skim over the boring bits and just focus on the emotional beats, letting the tension grow in silences and glances. It’s masterful filmmaking, and one of the best Canadian debuts in years. (Speaking of which, go see Dim The Fluorescents!)
D: David Lowery
Less than a year after his delicate, moving remake of Pete’s Dragon (which, seriously, seek that out), Lowery delivered this lovely meditation on mourning and impermanence, following a shrouded spirit as he watches the world move on without him. Yes, Casey Affleck is in it, but he’s under a sheet most of the time.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
D: Martin McDonagh
McDonagh’s powerful study in shifting loyalties and interlocking moral dilemmas has drawn fire from critics and audiences who feel it gives short shrift to its Black characters. I think that’s a specific choice to set up the arrival of Clarke Peters’s character in the second half, but I can also see how it might feel unsatisfying in the current moment – especially for a film so determined to examine the way people respond to brutality, ugliness and tragedy.
All of which made me very, very happy I get to watch movies for a living: Baby Driver Beach Rats Blade Runner 2049 Brigsby Bear Dawson City: Frozen Time Dim The Fluorescents The Disaster Artist The Florida Project Free Fire God’s Own Country Graduation Human Flow Lady Bird Lady Macbeth The Little Hours In This Corner Of The World My Cousin Rachel My Scientology Movie O, Brazen Age Okja Personal Shopper Star Wars: The Last Jedi Their Finest T2 Trainspotting Unarmed Verses Wonder Woman.