In 2017, Hollywood used the past to take on our scary present and uncertain future. Whether a film came from a veteran (Steven Spielberg) or a newbie (Jordan Peele), you felt the energy of an artist spoiling to be heard. The themes were many and varied: the simmering heat of racial politics (Get Out, Detroit); a U.S. President’s unconstitutional war against a free press (The Post), the rage that comes when you feel helpless to fight the power (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri); and the essential question of how to live in a world heading for global disaster (Dunkirk, Darkest Hour). The year’s best movies sent a message that a lot of us are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Is anyone listening? #OscarsNoTrump
The last great film of 2017 comes from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, a talent whose roaring power and cinematic reach are apparently limitless. Set in the posh world of 1950’s London fashion, the film stars a beyond-brilliant Daniel Day Lewis as a top designer whose world is rocked by a revolution in style. Equally seismic to his creative process and personal life: a young muse (Vicky Krieps) who refuses to join a long line of women who jump at his command. Sexual politics, then and now, echo through the film. Will there be blood? Not in the way you might imagine. But love, as Anderson sees it, is a magnificent obsession that can nurture or destroy. You won’t be able to get the film’s twisted secrets out of your head. You won’t want to.
David Lowery’s supernatural tale of timeless devotion involves a woman (Rooney Mara) haunted by her dead lover (Casey Affleck). Here’s an ardent, ambitious, challenging experiment that restores our faith in film as an art form.
Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal take an incendiary look at the 1967 Detroit race riots still alive and toxic in the police brutality and systemic racism of today. Audiences stayed away. Big mistake. Detroit is hard to take. It’s also impossible to forget.
Visual master Guillermo del Toro goes back to the Cold War to probe the secret passion of a mute girl (Sally Hawkins) and a creature from the government-black-ops lagoon (Doug Jones). The result speaks volumes about what we choose to label “alien.”
There’s nothing new about coming-of-age comedies, but Lady Bird gets the genre thrillingly right, thanks to screenwriter Greta Gerwig in a solo directing debut that mines her own formative years in Sacramento circa 2002. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf excel as a daughter and mother whose cage match of brawling affection hits home no matter what age you are.
In Steven Spielberg’s propulsive political thriller,
it’s not hard to find the link between right now and the threats that Nixon’s White
House launched at Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl
Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks).The year is 1971; the question is whether or not to not publish the Pentagon
Papers and expose a massive government cover-up. Any relationship to Trump’s
war against a free press is purely intentional. Streep could be headed for
Oscar No. 4 as a woman spoiling to be heard over an army of patronizing men. And Spielberg’s speed-is-of-the-essence direction speaks with relevant power to the
past, present and a chilling future.
Anglo-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh finds his
cinematic sweet spot in writing and directing this sorrowful and savagely funny look
at a small-town dynamo (Frances McDormand) who rents billboards to rage at the
police for not solving the rape and murder of her teen daughter. McDormand and
McDonagh, a match forged in fire, catch the helplessness and fury we’re all
feeling right now.
Homophobia has no place in Luca Guadagnino’s erotic romance, set in Italy in 1983, when a musical prodigy (Timothée Chalamet) and his father’s handsome assistant (Armie Hammer) experience the thrill of first love and the gutting pain of its loss. An artistic triumph that insists empathy is the best antidote to intolerance.
Can a horror film get in the Oscar race for Best Picture? You bet your ass. Daniel Kaluuya doesn’t know what he’s in for when his girlfriend (Allison Williams) takes him home to white suburbia, but black culture isn’t the only thing being co-opted. In the year’s most exciting directing debut, Jordan Peele juggles scares and laughs to skewer racial hypocrisy in an America that refuses to get woke.
In the year’s best film, Christopher Nolan shows us the meaning of pure cinema, depicting the 1940 evacuation of British soldiers from the French beaches of Dunkirk as Hitler’s forces attempt to crush them by land, sea and air. Instead of telling us what to think, Nolan offers full immersion in the life-or-death experience of being there, prey to the whims of a dictator and still fired up with the will to resist. (And as the perfect companion piece to Nolan’s epic, Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour – featuring Gary Oldman as British PM Winston Churchill – takes us inside the corridors of power where the political repercussions of the slaughter on Dunkirk’s beaches bristles with topical implications about a world on the brink of catastrophe. Sound familiar?)