10. Brad’s Status
Mike White’s meditation on jealousy is pitch-perfectly narrated and embodied by Ben Stiller, this decade’s token actor for portraying white male neurosis and guilt. Despite its limited perspective, Brad’s Status shares a universal understanding of grappling with issues about self-worth, our significance and the very human desire for comparison, over the course of a father-son college tour. In the tone of White’s television series Enlightened, the movie embraces the anxieties of its protagonist, allowing us to embrace ours, too.
9. The Work
This is a documentary that will wreck you, though not exactly in the way that its subjects are wrecked. Filmed over the course of four days in a single room at Folsom State Prison, The Work follows an intense therapy session with a group mixed of convicts and civilian men. It’s a program that takes place twice a year at the prison and asks those participating to drop all their gang affiliations and prejudices in order to peel back the toxic layers of their manhood and arrive at an elemental truth about themselves and others. Nothing can really prepare you for how these interactions and sessions take place, but they demonstrate the depths of pain and fractured foundations many men have endured over their life. It’s an agonizingly emotional experience to watch others uncover.
An enhanced focus on the aesthetic has the tendency to sacrifice the resonance of the story it’s trying to tell. Not the case in Columbus, one of the most beautiful, and beautifully shot, movies of the year for its particular attention to how each can simultaneously inform the other. As envisioned by Kogonada, making his feature debut, the movie connects — listens, observes, follows — John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson in the architectural hotbed of Columbus, Indiana, as they share their lives over long walks while caring for their parents. The conversations are quiet and painful and intellectual. Richardson spends one scene explaining her love for a particular building in town, but Kogonada films it in silence. You are forced to watch her body language instead, a visual that says everything you can’t hear. It’s sometimes all you need.
7. Get Out
Arguably the biggest surprise of the year, Get Out is an exhilarating combination of humor, horror and, yes, social critique, which never lectures its virtues. In other words, it’s an entertainment from beginning to end from a director, Jordan Peele, whose touch and craft significantly enhance its most memorable and iconic imagery. Get Out has achieved an astonishing amount of faces and phrases — Daniel Kaluuya’s frozen mug, The Sunken Place — that have permeated everyday culture, a testament to its relevance and stable of remarkable performances.
6. Personal Shopper
Oliver Assayas’ follow-up to Clouds Of Sils Maria ponders death and the presence of the afterlife in the style of a chilly thriller and slow-building mystery. Kristen Stewart lives in Paris as a medium and personal shopper, convinced her recently deceased brother is trying to get in touch with her. The movie’s moment of extreme fascination comes through an iPhone’s text bubbles, as she messages with what she believes could be her brother’s ghost. You’re never certain about this lonely young woman’s mental state and yet the movie’s precise attention to detail — the suspense of the occult always lurking — provides a window into the process of grief and feeling connected to what’s beyond our sight.
5. Call Me By Your Name
Luca Guadagnino makes the kind of movies that you want to live inside of. This is partly — well, mostly — because he shoots in the luxurious, sun-drenched vistas of the Mediterranean, as he does here. The sensual pleasures of Northern Italy in Call Me By Your Name though, serve as the crucial, seductive backdrop and foundation for the romance between Timothee Chalamet’s and Armie Hammer’s characters. Their relationship, which takes place in 1983, takes its time developing and then offers the inevitable heartbreak attached to summer’s end. Michael Stuhlbarg, playing Chalamet’s father, delivers a monologue near the end of the movie that conjures instant tears, if they haven’t already been flowing to the accompaniment of Sufjan Stevens’ songs.
4. The Florida Project
Sean Baker’s films examine the marginalized, underrepresented, and forgotten parts of society. In The Florida Project, he highlights those living in poverty alongside the Kissimmee, Florida, highways, those residing in extended-stay motels in the shadow of Disney World. Instead of living at the top of a crystal palace, however, six-year old Moonnee (Brooklyn Prince) calls the third floor of The Magic Castle her home. The camera hovers around her height and follows the hijinx and burdens she and her friends find living in a community of single mothers and fathers scraping for money and for a better life. It’s a profoundly serene, colorful and melancholy landscape of survival.
3. Phantom Thread
If his work hasn’t already been overstated, Daniel Day-Lewis (allegedly) ends his acting career with one of the most detailed and rich performances he’s committed to screen. Director Paul Thomas Anderson has made a mesmerizing movie about the obsessive nature of humans in relation to their work, and it couldn’t be more fitting that Day-Lewis is involved as its central figure of dedicated meticulousness and method. As a dressmaker in 1950s London, his world is one of order and control that is tested repeatedly by the women in his life — his wife and sister — who form a captivating and confounding love triangle. Phantom Thread might be best interpreted as a comedy, a natural inclination once you’re wrapped up in the absurdity of its specificity and interiority in the pursuit of sartorial creation.
2. Lady Bird
In one sense, Lady Bird does not exactly boast new material. It follows a high school girl through her senior year — chasing boys, falling in love, breaking up, arguing with mom, participating in school functions, laughing and crying with a best friend — and the emotional collateral attached to it. In another sense, it resists and transcends every well-mined trope and becomes something extraordinary. Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut and semi-autobiographical story is a summation of her clear, spirited grasp of human behavior and feeling. The mother-daughter drama at its center is latent with anxieties about class status and letting go. It treats both figures — Lady Bird, played by Saoirse Ronan, and her mother, by Laurie Metcalf — with empathy, creating a moving portrait of love and perspective and its evolution over time.
1. The Lost City Of Z
It seems as though only director James Gray can match the ambition of his characters with his own as a filmmaker. In this case, he subjects himself to the South American jungles, where his protagonist, English soldier Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), navigates with endless curiosity and purpose the uncharted territories of a country yet to be explored by a Colonist country. At once a tale of personal obsession to discover a fairytale land and a historical perspective of the radical endeavor to profess the dignity and personhood of the native tribes inhabiting the rainforests, The Lost City Of Z stands as a grand achievement. As is typical with Gray, it also showcases a signature final shot worthy of everything seen before it.
Honorable Mentions: A Ghost Story, Atomic Blonde, Dunkirk, Okja, Stronger, mother!, Wind River, Brigsby Bear