What we here at Cinemacy consider to be the best of this year represents a combination of the movies that had the greatest emotional impact on us, matched with movies that felt innovative or groundbreaking. Here are the films I consider to be this year’s best:
10. Beach Rats
Following in Moonlight’s glow, Beach Rats was a quiet, but essential, entry for a banner year showcasing queer adolescence on film. It tells the story of a working-class South Brooklyn teenager juggling his rugged social life with a growing desire for older men. Beach Rats may have been the film of the summer– not for its beaches and boardwalks, but for its spirit of freedom, exploration, inhibition, and restlessness. Director Eliza Hittman’s deft 16mm naturalism and gentle eye provide documentary-like intimacy, giving the film clear authenticity and avoids being a standard “coming out” story. It’s an exploration that opens more dramatic doors than it closes. But identity, especially queer identity, is a restless journey. Beach Rats is all the better for recognizing this.
Read our full ‘Beach Rats’ review here.
Every frame of Dunkirk is immaculate, but perhaps the most frightful details in Christopher Nolan’s WWII epic are those that are unseen. One is, of course, time – a theme that Nolan has often deconstructed throughout his career in radical ways. His triple-layered timeline is a dazzling trick of narrative rewiring that creates the tension of a ticking time bomb (both figuratively and literally and, s/o Hans Zimmer, musically). The second detail comes from the enemy – the Germans – whom we very, very rarely behold. The notion that a white-knuckle behemoth like Dunkirk can be driven by two nearly invisible antagonists is a testament to Nolan’s faith in human drama. It’s grandiose and gorgeous, but Dunkirk is a deceptively simple and intimate portrait of humans struggling to survive – trudging onward despite the chaos hiding in the water. In an anarchic year, it was an essential reminder to huddle close and press forward.
Read our full ‘Dunkirk’ review here.
8. The Shape of Water
The list of quality films capturing the American political zeitgeist was long: Get Out’s masterful translation of racism into Hitchcockian thrills, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, MO’s sardonic tackling of sexual assault and police, among others. The Shape of Water, a post-war fairy tale of a mute woman who falls in love with an amphibious creature captive in a government lab, is a quiet allegory for a number of debates aflame in modern America, from science vs. the government to sexual identity. But all of this political relevance lay deep beneath Guillermo del Toro’s homage to monster movies, film noir, and the golden age of movie musicals. It packs so much into a beautiful story about the one thing that was perhaps absent the most from any headline this year: love.
Read our full ‘The Shape of Water’ review here.
7. Phantom Thread
Phantom Thread, the latest film from director Paul Thomas Anderson and the last film from actor Daniel Day-Lewis, inhabits in the world of haute couture fashion. Haute couture involves the creation of custom-tailored garments by hand with unique, and often expensive fabrics and extreme, time-consuming attention to detail. Even prior to Phantom Thread, it would be more than reasonable to deem both Anderson and Day-Lewis the leading couture artists in their respective crafts. But Thread shows two master artisans exploring the anxieties of perfection with deliciously dark humor and gothic psychodrama. Phantom Thread introduces a new star in Vicky Krieps, who snatches the spotlight from Day-Lewis as his muse and lover and flips the tables of domestic power and the male gaze in her wake.
Read our full review of ‘Phantom Thread’ here.
6. Call Me By Your Name
Something amazing happens about twenty minutes into Call Me By Your Name, the story of a teenager’s sexual awakening with his father’s student-in-residence. It’s a slight moment, but highly unusual. Teenage Elio (a revelatory Timotheé Chalamet) take a bite out of an apricot and you can taste it. Minutes later, Elio shows Oliver, (an outstanding Armie Hammer), around his countryside southern Italian town by bike and you can feel the warmth of the summer sun on the backs of your hands. It’s a pure magic trick by director Luca Guadagnino, but what he has crafted is the most sensuous movie of the year, a film that basks on the little details of life, love, and learning about yourself. Like Beach Rats, Call Me By Your Name is a restless exploration of queer sexuality. But its emotions are universal. It is a magnetic story of falling in love for the first time and opening the door to yourself and throwing away the key. Rarely does a film treat young love with the unfettered joy and grace that is given here.
Read our full ‘Call Me By Your Name’ review here.
5. Lady Bird
There’s a beautiful moment in Lady Bird, which follows the titular high school senior as she navigates her final year before she leaves Sacramento for college. She’s going over a college essay with a nun at her school when Sister Joan mentions that she describes her hometown quite lovingly. The snarky Lady Bird quickly replies, “…I guess I just pay attention.” To which Sister Joan queries, “Don’t you think maybe they’re the same thing? Love and attention?” It’s a beautiful thought and one that defines Greta Gerwig’s gift of a debut feature. It’s a standard coming-of-age story that treats each of its characters with not only attention but admiration for both their beauty and their blemishes. Saoirse Ronan’s magnificent lead performance navigates an excellent ensemble of characters that Gerwig has developed with patience and honesty. But the most enduring reflection of Lady Bird comes in its affectionate appreciation of “home” – whatever side of the tracks it may be on.
Read our full ‘Lady Bird’ review here.
4. A Ghost Story
Deceptively simple on its surface, A Ghost Story may be the most beguiling movie of the year (apologies to The Beguiled). To call it “the story of a ghost observing years worth of tenants in a Texas home” would be both redundant and belittling. Director David Lowery’s (Pete’s Dragon) near-silent fable is a rich and voyeuristic meditation on life, death, time, loneliness, and countless other heady matters that are grounded by the simple image of a timeless white bedsheet ghost. Apologies if this is a rather vague blurb, but if there was one movie this past year that the old cliché “has to be seen to be believed” applied to, it would be this. And guaranteed, you’ll believe in ghosts after this story.
3. The Big Sick
The romantic comedy started to find its way back to cultural (and political) relevance with The Big Sick. The true story of star Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) and his wife Emily’s (Zoe Kazan) early relationship sees her fall sick with a mysterious illness that puts her in a coma for weeks, leaving Kumail to bond with Emily’s parents as she recovers. Touching on everything from Islamophobia to biracial relationships to the healthcare system, Nanjiani’s film does it all with a whip-smart, but tender sense of humor. Perhaps it is a bit unfair to call it Nanjiani’s film, as Michael Showalter’s understated direction guides the film’s careful drama/comedy balance. But Nanjiani and his wife Emily (co-writer) bring the rom-com in the Trump era with a much-needed dose of timeliness and some of the most hilarious moments of the year.
Read our full ‘The Big Sick’ review here.
2. Dawson City: Frozen Time
In the 1970s, close to 400 reels of silent films – many thought to be lost – were found buried in the permafrost under a Canadian mining town. These films make up the majority of the documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time, which unravels the history of the town, from gold mining to it’s surreal connections to the birth of Hollywood. The process of mining or panning for gold is laborious. It often involves hours, days, weeks, even months to find a few flecks of gold dust buried in the sediment of a river. Documentary film is not much different, spending hours, days, weeks, months, even years locating and subsequently digging through archival footage to piece together a narrative. From the unearthed reels, Dawson City: Frozen Time weaves an intricate tapestry– from gorgeously restored prints co-opted to form the history of Yukon life, film history, and the cycles of the American dream. Accented by a hypnotic score from Sigur Rós collaborator Alex Somers, it is a powerful story from a town that would seem to have no tale to tell. A film that will renew love for cinema tenfold.
1.The Florida Project
In an era of sensory overloaded blockbusters, it may come as a surprise that The Florida Project was easily the most immersive film of the year. First, it’s vibrant central Florida locale amongst the kitschy motels on the outskirts of Disney World; the rich pastel colors under the bright blue sky is spellbinding. But it’s a movie of visual and narrative contradictions. The film is told through the eyes of Mooney, a 6-year-old living with her loving, but young and irresponsible mother – struggling to make ends meet – in a motel room among similar struggling families. The dissonance of narrative and visual serves director Sean Baker’s vision of seeing the world as a kid again. And it works like magic. While captivated by the colors and wonder of the setting, it becomes fascinating what we aren’t seeing – the reality of Mooney’s situation becomes clearer very gradually. Baker’s patience as a storyteller and his keen eye not only craft a world but invite you to explore the world as an active character, not just a passive viewer. His humanist touch is a welcome and necessary lens into an overlooked part of America and harnesses a nostalgia for being young, all while revealing an uncomfortable truth about class in this country. The Florida Project is a remarkable travelogue and brilliant exercise in storytelling.
Read our full ‘The Florida Project’ review here.