I had the privilege of watching over 30 theatrical releases this year. Yeah, that’s a lot of movies. But hey, some men buy boats, others build classic automobiles with their bare hands. I choose to pay $15 dollars to watch people play pretend on a giant screen. And since the internet could use even more unsolicited opinions, I decided to put together this totally objective list of the films I found rewarding and memorable. 

While some of these films move slower than I do after Thanksgiving dinner or make you uncomfortable like your kinda racist uncle at a Holiday party, all the movies on this list do pay off on either an emotional, intellectual, or entertainment level. With that said, here’s are the objectively best 12 films of the year.

12. Mother!

Movies are inherently oneiric (a fancy word for dreamlike). Cuts between scenes are literally jumps across space and time, offering viewers a way to move across the world or 1000 years in an instance.

This notion goes back to the early experimenters of cinema, with the likes of Buñuel, Bergman, and Pasolini putting together pictures that made you say what the fuck. Instead of attempting to feign reality with their films, often they leaned into the very dreamlike nature of the medium. And it’s exactly this reason that made Darren Aronofsky’s twisted allegory a must-have on the list.

Mother! is maybe the most refreshing film on this list in that it’s not afraid to leave you behind, confused, and questioning. Its narrative rolls out with the logic of a dream, more cinematic poem than a traditional feature, and escalates to an impossible to anticipate 3rd act. 

11. Lady Bird

Lady Bird while technically a comedy reminded me a lot of 2016’s utterly depressing but beautiful Manchester by the Sea. This comparison extends from the script’s adherence to economy and understated character. For such a talky lead, Lady Bird expertly knows when to shut up and allow you and its protagonist a moment of meditative silence.

Greta Gerwig has debuted with a film that is consistently witty, truthful, yet still dips into the small sadnesses of life. At the heart of this film is inevitable pain, in particular, that which accompanies the love parents pour into their children. The parents’ presence is expertly woven into the background, reminding us of what the titular protagonist tells her self-righteous hipster lover: “Different things can be sad. It’s not just war.”

10. Thor: Ragnarok

The best Blockbuster sci-fi fantasy film of the year is not Star Wars: The Last Jedi. That title undoubtedly goes to Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok. This is how you make a superhero film: with heart, humor, and a character-driven narrative that makes the movie itself exude an amiable personality. In the Classical literary tradition, great reverence was given to the poet that could master both Tragedy and Comedy. Waititi’s rendition of Thor comes close. Sure, Ragnarok won’t have you leaving the theater weeping (although it did make me laugh to near tears), it does manage to masterfully straddle the line between comedy and the pangs of melodrama. Here are 4 reasons you’ll probably dig it if you haven’t seen it:

  1. It’s the most entertaining film the big Hollywood studios put out this year.
  2. It’s an excellent antidote to Superhero movie fatigue.
  3. It delivers on the laughs all the way until the end of the film.
  4. It’s the only film on this list I can recommend to everyone without coming off completely pretentious.

9. Dunkirk

Chris Nolan’s WWII film was the most experimental Hollywood blockbuster this year. How so? For one, there’s almost no dialogue. Dunkirk is more parts silent film than anything else. This aesthetic decision results in a movie that over and over again shows instead of tells. It’s an action film with a $200 million budget that is not afraid to ask its audience to pay attention. Story is almost always happening in front of you without anything being said. Nolan also never once shows us a “villain” or explicitly visualizes the enemy. Often, death and danger fall in from outside the frame like an unknowable force of nature. It’s a bold moves that helps Nolan eschews the cliches of past war films and produce an incredibly immersive experience.

8. Good Time

Playing out like a “remember [this guy]? This is him now. Feel old yet?” meme for Robert Pattinson (Edward from Twilight), Good Time is an argument for the actor’s outstanding talent and fresh takes on the crime genre. The Safdie brothers’ debut feature comes hard at the neo-noir tradition with a rendition as exciting and reinvigorating as Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. The difference is that instead of emitting a dark fairy tale glow Good Time radiates gritty reality.

Paradoxically much of the feeling of new comes from the Safdies harkening to traditional film noir, when crime was never glamorized and always paid. Notably, the film lives up to its name, moving at a pulse-pounding pace, interrupted by unexpected poignancy, and cascading into the inevitable consequence of people’s actions.

7. A Ghost Story

Ghost Story is a movie about Casey Affleck wearing a sheet and roaming a house as a ghost. The stupidest premise on this list also generated the most ingenious meditation on death, mortality, and eternity of any film this year. Often excruciatingly slow, Ghost Story in time shows you that it knows exactly what it’s doing, delivering brilliant commentary on its themes. To do this through such a perfect alignment of form (the language of film) and content (an inverted story of mourning) is to execute on Film’s strength in a way that even the best directors rarely achieve.

6. The Shape of Water

There’s nothing more romantic than love between a fishman and a woman. Or at least that’s what Guillermo del Toro has pulled off in The Shape of Water. del Toro has inverted the monster film here and pulled from it a powerful love story that’s as beautiful as its visuals and craft.

This truly is a masterpiece. The plot moves at an engrossing pace. Characterization expertly suggests the depth of every person that hits the screen. The cinematography is consistently gorgeous, colors and water are used to incredible thematic and emotive effect. But what really killed it for me is the ending, which del Toro lands harder than any filmmaker this year—mixing writing, visuals, and sound to close out the film with great emotional satisfaction.

5. The Disaster Artist

I really want to hate James Franco, but wow did he put out an immensely entertaining film with The Disaster Artist. Much of the praise for the film has been due to Franco’s portrayal of Tommy Wiseau. But the directing chops at display here should not be ignored—especially since Franco purportedly directed in character. Of particular note, is how Franco regularly reflects the in-movie audience back at the in-theater audience. It’s a nice touch that starts to dig up the movie’s empathetic concerns. That he’s able to weave these flourishes in the film while giving a performance with such care and exceptional comedic timing is nothing short of impressive.

Ultimately, there’s a deep comprehension of the subject matter at work here. The Disaster Artists starts as a movie about the Hollywood dream, but it’s the heart that these filmmakers uncover that matters, a story of a powerful “human behavior”: friendship.

4. The Florida Project

The Florida Project is the closest you’ll ever get to reliving childhood. Sean Baker’s indie feature is the vision of the film’s six-year-old Moonee. It’s an unadulterated look at innocence and the honest intelligence of its young characters.

The Florida Project takes place in a beatdown hotel in a Disneyland-esque stretch of Florida that’s full of tacky and vibrant castles, ice cream cone buildings, and fuschia sheetrock. While the consequence of poverty abounds, Baker avoids preachy pitfalls or cynicism.

This is a movie about the kids, about Moonee. That isn’t to say there is no heartbreak. It’s there, but delivered with nuance and more feeling than adult analysis would typically provide. Because ofThe Florida Project’s focus we’re given the ability to empathize and understand from the POV of who we adults were so many ungraspable years ago.

3. Get Out

It may be difficult to wrap your head around the 99% Rotten Tomatoes score, but once you examine Jordan Peele’s achievement the answer becomes clear. Peele has produced a film that tightly weaves entertainment, social commentary, tropes of the genre, and expert craftsmanship. And to create something that feels and reads unlike anything else in horror is its own aesthetic achievement. To do this with something important to say elevates this to one of the most important films of the year.

The greatest argument for Get Out’s praise is a careful reading of each moment in the film. Nearly every scene is a powerhouse argument that exposes the vestigial appendages of systemic racism or dismantles any naive claims of a “post-racial America.”

2. Raw

While Get Out may be a modern masterpiece, the sheer, uh, raw energy and cinematic inventiveness of French horror film Raw has still not left my head. It’s a captivating film from the start with feminist subversions thrown in among its striking cinematography, character-driven drama, and cannibalism.

Writer, director, Julia Ducournau’s feature debut is the most twisted bildungsroman (coming-of-age story) I’ve ever experienced—in any medium—and can be summarized in a way that betrays its conceptual, narrative, and visual splendor:  

An 18-year-old vegetarian attends her first year of veterinary school, where during a hazing ritual is persuaded to eat a raw rabbit kidney, unleashing a cannibalistic hunger.

Yet the most shocking thing about Raw may be that it is not so much a shock film as it is an intelligent one. Scenes often ooze smart arguments that are seemingly at odds with one another in a way is so typically human.

But put aside my pretentious preoccupations and you’re left with a visceral and riveting film that explores the carnal urges of a young girl through sights and sounds that never once get boring. Raw is pure cinema: unique visual storytelling that pumps anxiety into your heart and fills your brain with unshakable images.

1. Call Me By Your Name

Call Me By Your Name is the year’s gayest and finest film. Adapted from a novel, this romantic coming-of-age story delivers such a poignant and universally truthful film I had to list it as number one.

As a writer and student of stories, storytelling for me is an aspiration towards empathy. In this case, Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name so authentically captures human connection and heartache that the film not only achieves this aspiration but transcends it. And Guadagnino accomplishes this through a collection of silent understandings: decentered glances, a few words loaded with subtext, the silence of summer, and melancholy sighs.

Guadagnino lulls you into the excruciatingly boring yet relaxing pace of an 80s Italian summer vacation, massaging you with the pleasures of music, apricots, pasta, and bottles of vino. Days are filled with reading and rivers. Cigarettes are smoked to turn doing nothing into doing something. Among this leisure, a relationship between the two leads blossoms in a complex and real manner. 

And unbeknownst to you, Guadagnino is actively weaving a set of emotional payoffs that you do not see coming. Slow and steady filmmaking works so effectively here, entrenching you in the reality and melancholy of a socially unacceptable love. A grounded script does a lot of understated, heavy lifting, saying a lot without a saying word. The cinematography regularly hits you with naturalistic beauty that could act as a stand-in for Crema, Italy’s tourism department. And all the actors make it real not with obvious overreacting, but with side eyes, snickers, skips, and pursed lips.

Every element of the film craft is expertly composed and builds to one of the most affective crescendos I’ve experienced in film. The climax and denouement speak to disregarding society’s shame and identity. But unexpectedly, Call Me By Your Name’s third act extends far beyond these themes into catharsis that doesn’t just encourage but compels the acceptance of self and the intrinsically human feelings we fight so hard to suppress.

Honorable Shoutouts:

  • The Killing of a Sacred Deer
  • The Square
  • Logan
  • Baby Driver
  • It Comes at Night
  • Coco
  • Ingrid Goes West
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