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I refuse to be limited to just ten films. I’ve ranted about the tyranny of it enough, so rather than repeat myself, let’s just get right to the films that blew me away this year.
In no particular order, not even alphabetical:
QUEST – Still on the festival circuit as of this writing, Santiago Rizzo’s tribute to the teacher who saved young Rizzo’s life has both emotional immediacy and visual splendor.
THE LURE – A hidden treasure, an eccentric millionaire, a tantalizing poem, and the dangerous, if beautiful, terrain of the American southwest. All brought together with poetry by Thomas Leach in his documentary.
A QUIET PASSION – Terrence Davies externalizes the complicated, passionate inner life of Emily Dickinson, and gets a performance from Cynthia Nixon in the title role that is unsurpassed this year.
WHOSE STREETS? – Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis ask questions about race relations in this country that are as disquieting as they are necessary using the murder of Michael Brown as their starting point.
COLUMBUS – A quietly searing portrait of alienation and longing framed in exquisitely composed settings.
GET OUT – A fiction film about race that is altogether too truthful while also being unabashedly (and subversively) aimed at a mainstream audience
THE HERO – Sam Elliot has never been more laconic, nor more vulnerable, in this study of an actor who is given an expiration date, and what he does with it.
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES – There is something heartening in a sequel to a sequel that is as good as the original. Imagine how much more heartening it is that WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is actually superior to its antecedents.
THE LOST CITY OF Z – Magnificently human in scale as it contemplate the incomparable joy and driving madness found in the quest for greatness.
BLADERUNNER 2049 – Earns a place on my list for its audacity, but couple that with a film that is a seamless continuation of the original story, and one unafraid to tackle philosophical issues at a graduate-school level.
THE INSULT (opens in January) – Ziad Doueiri’s look at how political is the personal, and vice-versa also looks as the condition of Palestinian refugees within the Arab world in ways not usually seen in this country.
LAST FLAG FLYING – Full of harsh truths and unexpected humor, it is a reckoning for the long-estranged friends as they reconcile the past with the present before moving on to the future. A perfect ensemble of Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, and Steve Carrell, who gives the best performance of his career to date.
LOVING VINCENT – The subjects of Vincent Van Gogh’s masterpieces come to startling, vivid, and enchanting life in a film of enormous beauty and sharp insight.
DAVE MADE A MAZE – The search for meaning has never been more puckishly considered than in this ingenious horror-fantasy-comedy of existential angst. Plus, a cardboard minotaur!
DUNKIRK – Replete with haunting images that sum up the price of warfare using an immersive experience to create this simulacrum, Christopher Nolan’s notion of discontinuous time achieves a sense of reality that nothing else could have achieved.
THE LAST JEDI – Good and evil are inextricably entwined here, making for a pleasing metaphysical subtext to a film with spectacular action sequences, pointed references to the political economics of the class struggle, and a character in Benicio Del Toro whose nihilism carries with it a whiff of Zen philosophy at its purest.
GOOK – Justin Chon’s brilliantly powerful, yet understated look at the 1992 LA riots as seen through the eyes of a pair of fatherless Korea-American brothers, and the African-American girl who considers them family.
LUCKY – Harry Dean Stanton’s final, and perhaps finest performance in a film that addresses the end of life issues for an atheist from a practical and philosophical point of view that is both wry and poignant
LET IT FALL – John Ridley’s documentary about the root causes of the 1992 LA Riots is a explosively eye-opening, not just for the timeline he draws, but for the way he presents the men and women caught up in the violence.
LONG STRANGE TRIP – Amir Bar-Lev’s four-hour documentary about the Grateful Dead dissects not just the band, but their place in the larger culture that shaped them and which they shaped in turn. Fine details, never before seen footage, and a running commentary by the band’s former road manager make this a film that feels shorter than its running time, and one that makes you want to see more.
1945 (open in January) – Ferenc Török’s black-and-white film is a stark, emotionally gripping look at a post-WWII village forced to deal with how it betrayed its Jewish population when two strangers arrive on a mysterious mission.
DOLORES – Peter Bratt gives Dolores Huerta her due with this portrait of a revolutionary whose spirit is as strong today as it was the first time she took a stand.
BRIGSBY BEAR – The >other< film co-starring Mark Hamill, though it’s so much more than that. Childhood friends, and SNL regulars, Kyle Mooney & Dave McCary’s absurdist comedy that heralds the triumph of innocence over cynicism, and is a heartwarming celebration of creativity as applied to obsessive fandom.
THE SHAPE OF WATER – Guillermo del Toro’s retelling of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON becomes one of the most lushly romantic films this year.