The best movie of 2017 starred a guy in a bed sheet! But what makes “A Ghost Story” so distinctive, even radical, is that it tells its tale from the point of view of the ghost, and it’s by necessity a long view — a very long view. We not only get this one ghost’s particular perspective on life, we also share in his experience of it, which in turn alters our sense of time and purpose. Not a scary ghost story, but a haunting one.
2) “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
A pitch-black comedy about a mom who’s so outraged by the local cops’ inability to find her daughter’s killer she puts up billboards blasting the sheriff. This is a movie full of pain and rage and humor and grace and violence. The main characters – the mom (Frances McDormand), the sheriff (Woody Harrelson), and his deputy (Sam Rockwell) – start off as razor-sharp caricatures but they all deepen unexpectedly. A profane mini-masterpiece.
A blistering look at one particular incident of police brutality during the 1967 inner city riots in Detroit. The director and writer who brought us “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” (Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal) base their film on court records, FOIA requests, and three eyewitnesses. But it doesn’t feel like a musty history lesson. “Detroit” is so intense and infuriating that it is almost too stressful to watch. Easily the most visceral movie experience of the year, the story it tells still resonates 50 years later.
The flat-out funniest film of the year. James Franco (director and star) has managed to make a hilarious movie about the making of a hilariously bad movie – “The Room” (2003.) Not only does Franco perfectly mimic the oddball filmmaker/star Tommy Wiseau himself, he perfectly recreates the god-awful movie too. What saves “The Disaster Artist” from being just a mean-spirited jape is Franco’s generosity of spirit. He clearly has affection for this misguided, egomaniacal dreamer.
This low-budget narrative film has plenty to say about the struggles of low-income families, but its true focus is on the irrepressible spirit of children. Six-year-old Moonie may be living a rootless existence with her financially strapped single mom on the outskirts of Disneyworld, but to her, the world of cheap motels is full of wondrous possibilities. “The Florida Project” is a joyous affirmation of life in the face of real difficulties.
6) “Lady Bird”
Actress Greta Gerwig mined some of her own life story for her directorial debut, a movie about a Sacramento high school misfit who insists on being called Lady Bird. Treading mostly familiar ground, Gerwig’s witty script rises above that familiarity with especially pointed and precise observations about the foibles of adolescence. At its heart is a mother-daughter relationship that is so emotionally fraught, it makes you squirm, but you stay put because it also rings uncomfortably true.
7) “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”
From the filmmaker who brought us last year’s brilliant “The Lobster” (Yorgos Lanthimos) comes this even more bizarre and perverse tale of a family besieged by an avenging angel, or the devil. Boning up on the story of Iphigenia should help you make some sense out of this often mystifying movie. Even then, you’ll still probably be shaking your head at what transpires. But it’s also a film you can’t shake.
8) “Phantom Thread”
Paul Thomas Anderson reunites with his “There Will Be Blood” star, Daniel Day Lewis, for this strange story of an obsessive fashion designer who lives his rigid life as precisely as he designs his clothes. When his latest muse tries to upend his expectations, a battle of wills ensues. Psychological warfare never looked so stylish.
9) “Get Out”
At its core, this horror film is a darkly comic manifestation of African-Americans’ worst fears and suspicions. It’s ingenious how writer/director Jordan Peel uses horror tropes to hit on real racial tensions roiling just below the surface.
It’s something of a critical cliche to say a particular film’s setting is itself “a character,” but never has this been more true than in this modest, architecture-obsessed movie. Columbus, Indiana is a mecca for modernist architecture (who knew?), and director Kogonada capitalizes on this unique setting to present something of an intellectual romance between the son of a famous architect and an enthusiastic Columbus native. The aesthetic appeal here is that, for much of the film, the architectural wonders are in the foreground and the humans are the backdrop.