This time of year I typically post up a list of some of the best films of the year that are already streaming on Netflix. Unfortunately the shift that Netflix has undergone to proprietary content, among other factors, seems to have resulted in a smaller such crop this year. So instead I offer you a more conventional list—my ten favourite films of 2017.
10. Good Time
Good Time marks the emergence of the filmmaking Safdie brothers into the mainstream, sort of, and the certification of Robert Pattinson as a ridiculously talented actor (if Cosmopolis and Maps to the Stars, among others, didn’t convince already). It’s the quintessential almost-can’t-watch-but-can’t-look-away film.
9. The Big Sick
This convention-busting rom-com “tells a great story with waves of deep feeling and questions of identity and makes the whole thing feel like a breeze,” and for me just felt like a breath of fresh air for a tired genre.
8. Lady Bird
“You might think you’ve seen this all before. You probably have, but never quite like this,” said A.O. Scott in the NY Times, which encapsulates well how I feel about this film. It’s been weeks since I saw it and the characters are still with me. As a piece of cinema, what impressed me the most was the tight pacing and editing—first-time director Greta Gerwig seems to have a knack for picking just the right small moments to represent larger swathes of narrative.
7. The Florida Project
Sean Baker’s “brilliant, buoyant, and ultimately heart-wrenching” follow-up to the remarkable debut Tangerine seemingly draws a dash or two of inspiration from The 400 Blows and strikingly takes the point of view of its youngest characters in its timely portrayal of impoverished residents of a Florida welfare hotel on the outskirts of Disney World.
This debut feature from a well known name, ok, pseudonym in cinephile circles—Kogonada, master of the supercut—is impressive for its formal acumen but also for its original and heartfelt story. “Few performances—and few films—glow as brightly with the gemlike fire of precocious genius.”
The debut feature by “the fearless Ashley McKenzie” is a made-in-Cape-Breton substance-abuse drama that had just two screenings in Halifax in 2017, but notably four sold-out screenings at the Berlin International Film Festival. I can’t think of a more accomplished or original film made in Nova Scotia in the 21st century.
4. Call Me By Your Name
All it took was a gem of a script of from the master himself, James Ivory, to unlock the full potential of the director Luca Guadagnino. Everyone is talking about Michael Stulhbarg’s remarkable speech as the scene that takes it over the top, but the film really won me over with its wonderful dialog that joyously bounces from English to French to Italian, and back again. The partners in the central romance, played by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, perhaps look respectively younger and older than the 17 and 24 years of age specified by the script, but the charm here is irresistible and I bought in fully.
3. Get Out
I still can’t say enough good things about Get Out, the wholly original directorial debut from Jordan Peele. This “gloriously twisted thriller that simultaneously has so much to say about the state of affairs in post-Obama America” is something special, delivering scares, laughs, and insight in equal, generous measure.
2. Faces Places (Visages Villages)
This deserving winner of the TIFF People’s Choice Documentary Award is a remarkable collaboration between veteran filmmaker Agnès Varda, now 89 and, as the film documents, experiencing diminished vision and mobility, and the giant-photo-wall-pasting activist artist JR. It is genuinely touching, irresistibly funny, and grounded in the weight of experience—and still somehow free. There was no other festival film this year that I can so confidently recommend to absolutely everyone.
The most opaque and complex film I saw at TIFF was also unquestionably the year’s best, for me. Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel has finally returned nine years on from The Headless Woman with her most ambitious feature yet. With its incredible sound design and elaborate reconstruction of indigenous cultures wiped out centuries ago, this stylized, sophisticated head-trip of a colonial period piece strikes me as a film I will return to again and again in years to come—but maybe not before reading the novel on which it is based, recently, belatedly made available in English translation. I’m seeing evidence that the film’s release to theatres in the USA has been delayed (perhaps due to it not making the Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar?) but hopefully soon more people will have the chance to experience it. (Toronto peeps, note that it will be screening at the Lightbox in February again, along with her acclaimed Salta trilogy La Ciénaga, The Holy Girl, and The Headless Woman.)