January 1, 2017. Harvey Weinstein was a powerful Hollywood mogul, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. enjoyed thriving careers, and Jennifer Lawrence and Darren Aronofsky were madly in love. Nope, we’re not in la la land anymore. Same goes for the drama on the big screen. Gone is the lush escapism. Many of the year’s stand-out films reflected the unsteady signs of the times — urgent, angry, provocative, desperate for hope. Here’s one more cheer to the fools who dream . . . and achieve greatness.
Not a typo. The mind-blowing, head-scratching WTF pseudo-horror movie — in which Jennifer Lawrence played a doomed, tormented mother Earth trapped in her home — is destined to be a cult classic/film school study. The rare Grade F audience score only makes it extra special!
The true story of a disfigured fifth grader (Jacob Tremblay) struggling to fit in to his new school had the potential to be a preachy sap-fest. Instead, it was an uplifting, soul-cleansing gem that led to the ugliest of all cries. This movie should be required viewing for kids. Of all ages.
8. The Florida Project
Just outside Disney World, a group of rag-tag kids run wild on the grounds of a low-rent motel complex — while a weary, surprisingly humane building manager (Willem Dafoe, wonderful) tries his best to maintain the peace. The vibrant indie, drenched in sun-kissed pastel colors, deftly observed yet never exploited life on the fringe.
7. I, Tonya
Whyyyyyyy, whyyyyyyy applaud the meta biopic of disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding? Because it’s a wickedly sharp glimpse into a gifted athlete emotionally ill-equipped to rise above the obstacles around her. And because Margot Robbie, in a fascinating, flawless performance, managed to stick the landing.
6. Call Me By Your Name
We’ll always have Northern Italy, sigh. During the summer of 1983, a shy teen (future Best Actor Oscar nominee Timothee Chalamet) falls for a dashing grad student (Armie Hammer). Their budding romance, though fleeting, was sweeter and juicier than the insides of a ripe peach. (You’ll get it when you see it.) What a poignant beauty.
5. The Big Sick
A funny thing happened when Kumail Nanjiani’s ex-girlfriend, Emily, was induced into a medical coma some years ago: He grew up. The now-married couple took their unconventional courtship and turned it into a whip-smart and genuinely funny comedy that cut straight to the heart. It’s a happy ending for all.
Director Christopher Nolan did not make it easy. His take on the historic 1940 rescue mission of soldiers stranded on an enemy beach was a frenzied, non-sequential and nearly wordless rush for the senses. That’s precisely what made it such a thrilling and authentic big-screen experience. You did see it on the big screen, right?
3. Lady Bird
Truth: The year’s most emotional, relatable, moving, fraught, hilarious depiction of a relationship was between a rebellious college-bound girl who goes by the name Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) and her fed-up blue-collar mother (Laurie Metcalf). Actress Greta Gerwig, in her solo writing and directing debut, made a heartwarming movie to love. PS. Call your mom.
2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
An ultra-fierce Frances McDormand owns every scene as a determined mom seeking justice for her murdered teen daughter. That’s just the starting point of a highly original drama. Her story — as well as the stories of the small-town, wild card locals around her — unfolds in the most interesting and unpredictable of ways.
1. Get Out
Now we’re in the sunken place. Writer-director Jordan Peele’s seemingly simple tale about a guy (Daniel Kaluuya) experiencing the weekend from hell at his white girlfriend’s fancy family estate was an off-kilter, brilliant look at the racism lurking behind the facade of even the most enlightened. The topic is uncomfortable. The movie, in which every single scene falls into place, is a sly masterpiece.
Honorable mentions: The Disaster Artist, Battle of the Sexes, Darkest Hour, Wind River, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Thor: Ragnarok, Ingrid Goes West, Good Times and Girls Trip