Get Out– It is a near impossibility that you have not heard of this film, and with good reason. A black man (Daniel Kaluuya) goes to visit is white girlfriend’s (Allison Williams) parents, and what starts as an awkward suburban encounter soon morphs into something more. The first feature from writer/director Jordan Peele is a timely, terrifying piece that slips into your consciousness and shows you the very real horrors all around. The film is nominated in the “Comedy” category of the upcoming Golden Globes, and this odd minimization of a harrowing piece of art is another example of why this movie must be seen. It is clever, but by no means a comedy. It reflects back to the world the worst of us, all of us, and that reflection is at times hard to watch but necessary. Jordan Peele has more to come, already working on other horror movies that point to the darkest corners we often refuse to look into, and it has never been more necessary than it is now. Entirely unique, stunningly crafted and simply urgent, this is the years’ best.
Lady Macbeth– Lady Macbeth contains beautiful cinematography of English vistas, elegant pacing and use of sound, but the reason it sits so high on this list is the phenomenal performance of Florence Pugh. I refuse to reveal any detail of the plot, this movie is best experienced going in blind, but as Katherine, Pugh is in complete control, conveying the ambition and desire of a ruthless young woman through every gesture and look. She weaves tension and fear into the most seemingly still scenes, and the result is a masterpiece that proves that Florence Pugh is a force to be reckoned with.
Call Me By Your Name– Call Me By Your Name is many things: a cementing of Luca Guadagnino’s place as a revered name in filmmaking, a jumping off point for Timothee Chalamet, an endlessly beautiful exploration of Italy. Above all things, however, Call Me By Your Name is a love letter to, well, love. Based on the book of the same name, the film’s portrayal of a relationship in its many forms is something Guadagnino lets wash over you, a fever dream on the intersections between innocence and intellect. It is the essence of a well-done adaptation in that you watch it as you may read a book, the same sense of calm, of anticipation for the next page. What you lose is the sense of control, each inevitable moment reaching you minute by minute, meticulously framed and executed. The result is two hours of uninterrupted loveliness and heart wrenching narrative you owe it to yourself to experience.
The Florida Project– The Florida Project is the follow-up to Sean Baker’s critical darling Tangerine, and it offers up a story that is much more accessible but no less poignant or beautifully crafted. The film follows a young girl, Moonee, living in a motel outside Disney World and her summer adventures with her mother Halley, tempered by motel manager Bobby, played by Willem Dafoe, who is often disrupted by their pranks. The acting, as in Tangerine, is the driving force behind this achievement; Willem Dafoe is in his best role but it’s Brooklynn Prince as Moonee who steals the show, a phenomenal young talent. This movie encompasses not only a family but a place, something Sean Baker has shown a specialty in, and hopefully this is only the beginning of his exploration of the oft ignored people and places of the US.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri– Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is darkly comedic (emphasis on dark) like writer director Martin McDonagh’s previous films, Seven Psychopaths and In Bruges. This venture benefits from a remarkable cast, but while Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson have a strong command of their roles, it’s Frances McDormand as a grieving mother bent on justice and more than a little unhinged that shines through. As things escalate, part of the audience enjoyment becomes fear and anticipation over what could possibly happen next. A meditation on loss, love and the meaning of justice, Three Billboards deserves its place near the top.
Good Time– Good Time is a fast-paced showcase for the best male performance of the year, delivered by Robert Pattinson as a man racing to find enough money to bail out his mentally ill brother whose next stop is Rikers Island. The film gives little time for the audience to catch its breath but it works, the cinematography tight so you never lose track of Pattinson’s Connie as each questionable choice leads to another. Connie’s arrested brother, Nick, is played by Benny Safdie, also one of the directors along with his real-life brother Josh. The Safdies style is strong and the critical acclaim the film has drawn will no doubt lead to more of the same, not necessarily high-stakes crime but certainly drama that keeps the audience too close for comfort.
Phantom Thread– Phantom Thread will be seen by many for the sole reason that it may be Daniel Day-Lewis’s last performance, and how lucky those people are that this is the film that will greet them. Set in the 1950s, the film follows an obsessive dressmaker, revered in the world of British Fashion, and his business associate and sister Cyril. Daniel Day-Lewis’s dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock is a bachelor who goes through many young women until he meets Alma, quickly making her his lover and muse before he realizes that she cannot be as easily controlled as the rest of his meticulous life. It is a Paul Thomas Anderson film, and that holds a certain expectation that this film lives up to, that of tension, unsure footing and a struggle for meaning. The acting is superb, with relative unknown Vickey Krieps as Alma and Lesley Manville as Cyril, and if this is indeed Daniel Day-Lewis’s last project he picked a wonderful film and role for it.
The Shape of Water– Guillermo del Toro loves to create beauty out of the monstrous, and this film takes that, perhaps, to its logical conclusion. The Shape Of Water tells the tale of a mute cleaning woman named Elisa working in a secure government laboratory in the 1960s. When a new discovery is brought to the laboratory for experiments, Elisa’s world is forever changed. Many know from the advertising of the discovery, the “sexy fish man”, but this is a truly romantic film. Also, like most from del Toro, violent and terrifying, but romantic in a genuine way conveyed by the phenomenal work of Sally Hawkins as Elisa and the physicality of Dough Jones as the amphibious man. The visuals are stunning, perhaps moreso than anything del Toro has done since Pan’s Labyrinth, saturated and of the time while also conveying the otherworldly. It is very much a fairy tale for adults, one I am happy to have read.
Dunkirk– Above all, Dunkirk is a visual and auditory master class. The acting is solid, introducing many newer faces and some old ones, but character is simply not the focus here. The point is conveying the enormity and terror of a moment in time, on the beaches of Dunkirk, and Nolan displays the best of his filmmaking in bringing it to life. The use of heartbeats and ticking clocks undercut terror and tension while sweeping, orchestral scores film composer Hans Zimmer is known for grab the audience’s attention and never let go. Each shot is meticulous, every vista and cut thought out to the last detail. This is not a film to be treasured for its narrative expertise but for the experience it offers, one that stays with you long after the credits roll.
Lady Bird– Greta Gerwig’s announcement of her debut as writer/director was met with excitement, but also nervousness. Whenever an actor steps behind the camera the entertainment world holds its breath, wondering if it will be another ego indulgence or, worse, a genuine effort that doesn’t quite find itself. Lady Bird is neither. It is a shockingly strong debut that clearly knows what it wants to be and how to become it, not unlike its lead, Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson, played by Saoirse Ronan. Based openly on Greta herself, Lady Bird is a seventeen year old flying between self-assured and nervous, loudly herself and hiding behind what she thinks others may like. There’s a wonderful and important best friend dynamic (helped along by Julie Steffans as the friend, Beanie), along with romances changed and failed, but the core of the film is in Lady Bird’s family, particularly her mother. The chemistry between Ronan and Laurie Metcalf as Marion, her mother, is remarkably real. The perspective at times shifts more towards Marion, giving insight into how she sees the life they live in Sacramento, California, compared to her daughter aching to escape. Gerwig has set herself up as one to watch, and I doubt we’ll be disappointed by what comes next.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)– I’m a sucker for Noah Baumbach, so the minute The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) came out on, surprisingly, Netflix. I was ready for another story of fraught family relationships and uncomfortable silences. I was not disappointed, and I mean that with happiness and sincerity. The story follows the three children of sculptor Harold Meyerowitz as they come to New York for his new show, and each relationship is given room to breathe, or rather, not. The audience is given a view into the relationship Harold has with his son Danny (by a Punch Drunk-reminiscent Adam Sandler) and his son Matthew (Ben Stiller) in nearly equal part, followed by the relationship between Danny and Matthew, and, in the background, their sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel). There are many more moving parts, Danny’s daughter, Harold’s second wife (hilariously by Emma Thompson) but the siblings and their father anchor it in painful honesty. You are forced to see Danny lose his father again and again to Matthew, Matthew feel a constant disappointment to Harold, Jean awkwardly announce a long-ago sexual trauma Danny and Matthew then try and utterly fail to remedy. It hurts because it feels like you shouldn’t be there, shouldn’t be seeing this, but you are and in the end you’re thankful for it. Few write character as well as Baumbach and with the help of a stunning cast, this may be his best yet.
Columbus– Columbus has a delicate nature to it, as if one wrong move would have sent the movie tumbling out of the acclaim it holds, but it didn’t tumble. Beautiful, understated cinematography that holds architecture in the highest regard, bolstered by John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson as two lost people tethered in very different ways to the same place, leads to a film that doesn’t need to fill itself with constant noise, or action, or distraction. It stands alone like one of the architectural pieces it highlights, thought-provoking and intriguing, both new and old, a step in the right direction. Director-writer Kogonada has a clear vision and delivers it deftly, an auteur in the making.
The Death Of Stalin-Armando Ianucci, the creator of political satire classics The Thick of It and Veep, sets his satirical sights on the past for an examination of the fall of Stalin and the ensuing race for power. The cast is a sea of stars, from Steve Buscemi to Jason Isaacs, and Iannuci makes no effort to have them adopt any semblance of a Russian accent; instead, you have a room of American and British men screaming and crawling over each other for the top seat. Both hilarious and darkly pointed, The Death Of Stalin will leave fans of Ianucci anything but disappointed.
Logan Lucky– When the director of Ocean’s Eleven comes out with a new, non Oceans-related heist movie, expectations are high. Throw in the fact that the unknown writer, “Rebecca Blunt”, is a pseudonym for an anonymous person none of the cast ever met and the intrigue is at its peak. Lucky for Steven Soderbergh, Logan Lucky is another triumph. Sub in North Carolina for Vegas and redneck-esque siblings for the slick style of Clooney and you have a film that evades predictability at every turn. The Logan siblings are played by Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Riley Keough, and while there was little doubt of the acting chops of Driver or Keough, Tatum is the best of his career. Hilarious and full of heart, you’ll think you’ve figured it all out just before the film spells out all the details you missed, and that’s what makes a great heist movie. That and, you know, the fact that they’re robbing NASCAR. So throw in a healthy dose of fast cars and testosterone (not to mention some great gender role nods) and a surprising amount of heart and you have the best heist of the year.
Loving Vincent– Each frame of Loving Vincent is a beautiful oil painting, a kind of frame-by-frame animation taken to a baffling level. Using pre-recorded footage of actors and painting over each moment, the story of Vincent van Gogh’s troubled life carries all the emotion and beauty of the work of the man himself. It is a visual delight, art and cinema combined, and the only fitting vehicle for such a genius.
The Big Sick– There are few romantic comedies I would hazard to recommend to anyone who doesn’t already use the terminology “rom com” and consider Katherine Heigl a close personal friend, but The Big Sick is one of them. One of the key things that guides it through the terrain of rom com to bigger and better things is that it’s based on a true story, and not in an abstract sense where someone read an article and thought, “This would make a good movie!” Or a story passed down through generations where only the good bits stick. No, this is a true, fairly recent story written by the people who lived it, comedian Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and his wife, Emily Gordon. Kumail plays himself as a struggling comedian/Uber driver who meets Emily (played by the wonderful Zoe Kazan) at a show and instantly falls for her. Despite the mutual attraction, Emily discovers a secret that leaves her heartbroken, rejecting Kumail and leaving forever. Forever ends when Kumail gets a phone call that Emily is at the hospital in a medically-induced coma. Aside from the superb writing and levity of the story, the film is lifted by its actors, particularly Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents. It’s a must see for rom com lovers and film buffs alike, and indicates great things to come for Nanjiani.
Logan– Logan represents a step for the superhero film industry outside of its established niche. Many have compared it to Deadpool due to the R-rating, but that’s where comparisons end. Logan, or Wolverine as many know him, cares for a sick Professor X in a secret facility across the border, avoiding the attention of others. This changes with the introduction of a young mutant whose powers have eerie echoes of Logan’s own. This film has its fair share of action and violence but it holds more weight. Unlike superhero films where hundreds die in an instant, giant action scenes commonplace to further the plot, every act of violence in this film holds great consequence and weight. Hugh Jackman as Logan presents what may be some of the finest acting of his career, a man with very little left to live for forced once again into the role of hero he spent so long running from. The plot unravels as a painful march to a seemingly inevitable point, but one that when reached, feels earned. You don’t need much or any prior knowledge of the X-Men to see Logan, just a love of good filmmaking. Hopefully this is one of many like it to come.
Nocturama– Nocturama is at once a terrorism thriller and a meditation on youth and ideals. Young people take shelter in a shopping mall after planning to bomb Paris, and once there, relationships and motives are tested. Information is parsed out rather than offered all at once, and assumption plays into the tension on the part of the characters and the audience. The film is not particularly strong on character and plot, more adept at atmosphere and feeling, but it asks enough unique questions of the viewer that it stands its own. Asking the audience to sympathize with terrorists is indeed a big ask, and it’s up to you whether this film succeeds.
The Square– The Square is an examination of art and culture, at once satirical and unashamedly absurd, at times thoughtful and at others laugh out loud funny. The film is hard to describe past this, that the absurd and art are not so different, that ideals and ideas often do not play out as expected. Heard of the monkey man scene? That’s this movie. Not for everyone but worth a try, The Square is an utterly ridiculous piece of filmic art, and that’s kind of the point, right?
Coco– With Coco, Disney gets it right. From characters to visuals to score, the animated feature coveys Mexican culture in a sensitive and genuine way, a rich texture that leaves room for character to shine, which they do. The storyfollows aspiring young Miguel on an accidental journey to the Land of the Dead as he discovers more about himself, family and the music that shaped him. The color usage is especially useful in bringing the audience into the world of the film, conveying a sense of warmth that crosses the boundaries of living and death. Perhaps Disney Pixar’s most powerful examination of grief, Coco is a family friendly tale that demands to be shared.
Baby Driver– Edgar Wright has long incorporated music as a core aspect of his films: in Scott Pilgrim, he joyed in playing with music as a literal weapon, and who can forget Shaun of the Dead’s iconic zombie fight scene choreographed to “Don’t Stop Me Now”. Baby Driveris Wright’s all-in ode to music in film. The opening chase scene sets the mood immediately and functions as one of the best moments of film this year, each second synced to the beat of the music in getaway driver Baby’s headphones (played by Ansel Elgort, whose acting prowess was a pleasant surprise). The rest of the cast is full of big names, Jon Hamm, Lily James and (unfortunately) Kevin Spacey. The film is not far down the list due to Spacey, however; as a huge Edgar Wright fan, I wanted to like this movie so much. And I do: the way every action is synced to track after track of phenomenal music is mind blowing. The cinematography is decisive, the visuals and sounds working together breathtakingly well. However, it isn’t quite enough, and maybe this is expectations at play. Wright is a hilarious writer who plays on audience expectation and social norms and this movie just… doesn’t. Not really. The characters don’t feel whole, especially the female ones, ESPECIALLY Lily James as Debora. It’s not her fault: the character is a two-dimensional love interest for Baby. So yes, this film fell short of my wildest hopes and dreams, but if you want a movie that requires little thought while being fun as hell, look no further.
I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore– Sundance winner I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is dark. Helmed by the hilarious Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood and labelled a comedy, just how dark this film is surprised me, or maybe more like a shock, a slap across the face. Lynskey plays Ruth, a woman who is burglarized and sets off on a mission to bring them to justice with the help of her odd neighbour Tony (Elijah Wood). What follows is violence, crime, and an examination of what happens when people are pushed too far. I don’t want to divulge too much except to say that this movie is best watched when you need someone to commiserate how awful everything really is. Because according to filmmaker Macon Blair, shit’s truly fucked.
Brigsby Bear– Brigsby Bear, the first feature length venture from SNL’s Kyle Mooney and writing partner Kevin Costello, is a genuinely feel-good film. Not in an over simplified, predictable way that leads to disregard and critical oversight: Mooney and Costello manage to take a basic premise, a man trying to reclaim his youth, and flip it entirely on its head. The story follows James, an intellectual man played by Mooney, who is abruptly pulled from his home and (without spoiling too much) told that his life up until now has been a lie. To most, this would be jarring, but to James the hardest part is learning that his favourite show, Brigsby Bear, will never be made again. This sets into motion an adventure filled with genuine emotion and heart helmed by Mooney in a remarkable performance as someone learning to embrace the world while still treasuring his past. “Believably heartwarming” is the kind of content we need right now, and Brigsby Bear delivers.
Ingrid Goes West– Ingrid Goes West is the modern, better Single White Female. Even that comparison does an injustice to Ingrid, a young woman who just lost her mother and is desperate for any form of connection, leading to a mounting obsession with Instagram star Taylor Sloane. Ingrid, played by Aubrey Plaza, uses her inheritance to move to LA and manipulate Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen) into friendship. Her mental health and the ways social media furthers her instability ask interesting questions about technological dependence and privacy without beating the audience over the head with it, and Plaza is typically strong in her portrayal of a woman on the edge. The ending is perhaps the movie’s strongest moment, and the performances and pacing make it well worth the ride.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi- Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Obviously I can say absolutely nothing without being killed, but it’s great. It’s Star Wars. See it.