These are the best films of 2017.
Baby Driver (Dir. Edgar Wright, TriStar Pictures)
With its primary colors and slick veneer, this embodies everything great about pop filmmaking. Director Edgar Wright takes the well-worn persona of the con looking at his last job and places it inside 20-something getaway driver Baby, a kid who seems as innocent as his name. He owes a debt to a crime boss but is unaffected by the criminal life. Baby is the deejay on this joy ride, filling the time between parking and speeding away with a hip song from any time and any genre.
Baby Driver breathes cool from its opening frame. Baby parks a red sports car across from a bank; his passengers, Jon Bernthal, Eiza Gonzalez and Jon Hamm, are all dapper and ready for larceny when Baby hits play on his old iPod and the funktastic groove of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion establishes the movie’s attitude. Ansel Elgort plays Baby as scarred and fresh-faced, naive enough to garner sympathy and foolish enough to believe he is in control of the violent circumstances that surround him. He is a musical savant, ear buds are an essential part of his uniform, and he prances from scene to scene like a young Han Solo while the stakes are low. But he loses control of everything including the soundtrack when the lives of his loved ones are in the balance.
Wright continues his career-long winning streak, but the quirk of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and the Cornetto trilogy brought only cultish success. He parted ways with Marvel over Ant-Man to make this movie, which is only fitting; Baby Driver is a testament to what a visionary director can accomplish when left alone. – Don Kelly
Blade Runner 2049 (Dir.: Denis Villeneuve, Warner Bros.)
If Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi film was a cyberpunk vision of what America would look like three decades beyond the ‘80s, then Denis Villeneuve’s brilliant, beautiful Blade Runner 2049 is what Scott’s futuristic world might evolve into in another 30 years. It’s not a premonition of our own future, but the imagined future of Scott’s distinctly ‘80s, brutalist Los Angeles. This complicated timeline, combined with the film’s cold, noir tone and its cyborg protagonist, can put the film at arm’s length, which perhaps contributed to the film’s disappointing box office returns. But if the viewer can take the leap and suspend disbelief, its rewards are abundant.
Where Blade Runner’s replicants died quick deaths after short lives of labor, 2049’s replicants have been incorporated into society, allowing for characters like Ryan Gosling’s K, a replicant Blade Runner with a human for a boss (the excellent Robin Wright) and a hologram for a girlfriend (the mesmerizing Ana de Armas). K is established as a purposefully shallow protagonist, initially meant to serve as the viewers’ conduit into future Los Angeles, but several twists and a surprisingly powerful love story, aided by Gosling’s subtle performance, make K a unique and heart-breaking hero. An abundance of great supporting performances (led by a perfect return by Harrison Ford and incredible newcomer Sylvia Hoeks) and effective cameos move the action forward, while the most vivid cinematography and special effects in years make you wish the movie would never end. It’s more than a sequel, but it’s the perfect sequel, expanding its predecessor while telling a story that is entirely its own. Blade Runner 2049 is a monumental achievement that feels 30 years in the making. –Mike McClelland
BPM (Beats per Minute) (Dir. Robin Campillo, The Orchard)
It’s an injustice that this didn’t end up on the Foreign Language shortlist for the Academy Awards this year. The story of ACT UP Paris, an AIDS advocacy group, and their struggles to obtain legitimacy and information in the wake of the AIDS epidemic in the ‘90s, ‘director Robin Campillo’s third film is vital and life-affirming. Unlike other AIDS features produced in the wake of the crisis, BPM looks at behind-the-scenes minutiae. Much of the film consists of ACT UP meetings filled with laughter, tears and disagreements. Every member of the group is an individual and not a formulaic film trope, and the beating heart of the film is Nahuel Pérez Biscayart as Sean, a militant member who can make you laugh as often as he makes you mad. He’s a man with flaws, but his effortless charisma makes it easy to understand why he’s so enticing. Sean’s relationship with Nathan (Arnaud Valois) presents the romantic underpinnings of what ACT UP is fighting for and it’s a relationship that’s vulnerable, intimate and tender. The stakes aren’t high, they’re real, and that’s what makes for effective drama. – Kristen Lopez
Call Me by Your Name (Dir. Luca Guadagnino, Sony Pictures Classic)
This sumptuous, sun-dappled adaptation of André Aciman’s 2007 novel is the rare film that improves upon its superb source material. With his screenplay, the great James Ivory slices off a few layers of adipose tissue from an already lean work – later after-the-fact narration and pointless epilogues! – and leaves behind the choicest storytelling cut: a gorgeous, burgeoning romance between two kindred spirits, set against an idyllic Italian backdrop. Does it matter that our lovers, Elio (a precocious 17-year-old) and Oliver (a grad student seven years his elder), are bisexual men? Yes and no. A same-sex coupling still seems noteworthy in 2017, even in the wake of Brokeback Mountain and Moonlight. But this film isn’t looking to make hay of such a partnership. As it blossoms, Elio and Oliver’s summertime fling is no big deal within the picture’s historical context, a cosmopolitan and particularly European 1983. Their connection starts as a buzzing undercurrent beneath a lazy, quotidian routine and then becomes fully electric. In a crucial scene, late in the film, Elio’s father (the outstanding Michael Stuhlbarg) wholly endorses the movie’s worst-kept secret with little fanfare and huge tenderness.
What makes Call Me by Your Name remarkable is how unremarkable and specific the desire and love between two humans can be. That these humans happen to both be men is, as it turns out, incidental. That this couple is played by Timothée Chalamet (our hero Elio) and Armie Hammer (the dashing Oliver) is, of course, essential. Hammer, who towers above the cast with his height and good looks, represents an aloof Disney prince, the impossible quarry to be ensnared. And Chalamet, the young hunter, has his trap – a long, smooth torso underneath an oversized brain – at the ready. His wiles and eventual successes aside, Elio’s naked, beating heart is at the story’s center. When it bursts open during the closing credits, a stunning film transforms into an outright tear-jerker and, finally, a modern masterpiece. – Peter Tabakis
Coco (Dir. Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, Disney/Pixar)
Pixar has largely limped through the last decade, following up the technical and emotional pinnacle of Toy Story 3 with flaccid sequels and the occasional original concept that failed to deliver on its premise. Coco feels like a revelation, the first Pixar film in an age to do what the company used to do regularly. It surprises with its inventiveness and quality, restoring the studio to some of its prior luster. Eye-popping colors define the lands of the living and the dead, with autumnal orange literally bridging the two in a dazzling scene of flower petals forming walkways from the afterlife back to Earth. The best Pixar films have always centered some kind of MacGuffin that doubles as aesthetic inspiration, and here it’s music, which infuses the movement of the film’s scenes to create fluid but rapidly changing moments. Through it all, the movie touches upon both the responsibility and burden of the past, of respecting family while also breaking cycles that repeat to the harm of all. Thrilling and heartbreaking in a way Pixar never seemed it would reach again, Coco rates among the company’s most beautiful films, a technical marvel to be studied for lighting and color timing for years to come. – Jake Cole
Dunkirk (Dir. Christopher Nolan, Warner Bros.)
Director Christopher Nolan’s increasingly ambitious work has in the past been marred by bloated length and clunky exposition. Fortunately, there’s nobody to explain what you just saw in Dunkirk. With its brutal sound design and disorienting visuals (best experienced in 70mm IMAX), Nolan tightens his narrative belt and immerses you in the horrors of war like no other movie. Though produced on a huge scale, the film is often claustrophobic, from a crowded jetty to a Spitfire cockpit to a modest rescue boat. Spectacular and intimate, Nolan and his ensemble cast convey the human scale of world-shaking moments, the three-narrative structure unsettling you in a conflict from which there seems no escape. Yet in the middle of this hellish chaos, soldiers and civilians become heroes simply through persistence, determination and mere survival. Embodying this are the steady presence of Tom Hardy (obscuring his face in a Nolan picture again, this time for less villainous reasons) and especially the quiet heroism of Mark Rylance, who seems to represent old-fashioned thespian values of restraint. For all its visceral, cinematic action, this spectacle is in the service of a memorial to the valorous men who bravely served their nation in World War II; real heroes setting an example for a time in which we sorely need them. – Pat Padua
Get Out (Dir. Jordan Peele, Universal)
Coming fast on the heels of the apocalyptic blood-and-soil nightmare that was 2016, this has been the year of the wolf in sheep’s clothing, with countless supposed allies outed as craven, power-abusing monsters. Get Out didn’t quite predict this trend, although its perceptive skewering of the dark side of cheerful liberal virtue signaling was instrumental in demonstrating how power reflexively seeks to perpetuate itself, often using the coerced cooperation of the less mighty as a means of propping up its authority. Here the target was the control and commodification of black bodies, a weighty topic that heavily benefitted from the method used to present these criticisms, employing a taut genre hybrid of comedy thriller, and horror, rather than the familiar medicine of earnest, awards-baiting drama. Debut director Jordan Peele’s personal touch also further evinces, as with other 2017 showstoppers like Lady Bird and BPM, the utility of allowing creators to tell their own stories. The result is an unconventional approach that renders recognizable material with heretofore unseen texture and wit. Furthermore, it’s a lived-in specificity that fully fleshes out the experience of its embattled protagonist, smoothing the transition from realist comedy to gothic-tinged sci-fi. Via this carefully constructed process, each seemingly minor micro-aggression is sharpened into a sinister barb, working toward a cumulative effect that deftly communicates the exhausting everyday toll of thoughtless, low-key oppression. — Jesse Cataldo
A Ghost Story (Dir. David Lowery, A24)
As a follow-up to his understated, Oscar-winning turn in Manchester by the Sea, Casey Affleck goes even more low-key here, spending most of the film under a bedsheet in a purposefully rudimentary spectral costume. After Affleck’s character, C, dies in a car wreck, he wanders around the house he shared with wife, M (Rooney Mara), invisibly and silently observing her as she grieves and even causing a poltergeist disturbance with a paranormal temper tantrum when she eventually brings a man home. C’s ghost appears bound to the property, and even as M eventually moves out—after hiding a note, presumably written for C, behind some plaster in a spot he can’t get his phantom fingers on—he witnesses the future before time loops back into the past.
Despite a scant $100,000 production budget—Lowery shot for free at a house that was scheduled for demolition—A Ghost Story is a spellbinding meditation on time, our attachment to physical spaces and the transcendence of human connection. As C shifts back to the 19th century, he witnesses a girl killed in a field by Native Americans and bears witness to her body gradually decomposing into a skeleton, a grim and poetic sequence that captures the awful and wonderful ephemeral nature of mortality. – Josh Goller
Good Time (Dir. Josh and Benny Safdie, A24)
Imagine a monster truck with a cement block on the gas pedal barreling through a crash course of fire and flashing neon lights while running over white picket fences, and you begin to get an idea of what it feels like to experience the hypnotic head rush that is Good Time. The film expertly balances themes of desperation, class, race and universal social disorder, at once capturing the zany nightmare-logic of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours and the socio-political lens of Frederick Wiseman’s “Law and Order” (both of which the Safdie brothers cite as an influence for this film). From its momentum-driving score by Oneohtrix Point Never to the best performance of Robert Pattinson’s career, Good Time consistently delivers in emotion, shock and anxious energy. As Connie Nikas, Pattinson is phenomenal, an explosively dynamic contrast of desperation, devotion, sociopathy and casual cruelty that stands in for the movie’s underlying critique of white privilege in America. Additional performances, such as Buddy Duress (a former heroin addict who made his debut in the Safdie’s previous film, Heaven Knows What) are equally exciting. Swiveling from gut-busting laughter to nail-biting danger, heart-racing panic attacks to heartbreaking desolation, playful surrealism to staggering social commentary, it’s one hell of a movie. – Greg Vellante