The joke may be that 2017 has been a seemingly never-ending cycle of bad news and events, but it has also been a fantastic year for independent film. First-time directors Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig made a splash with their feature debuts, more stories featuring LGBTQ representation were brought to the forefront, and unique storytelling all around has made this year one to remember. Below are the top ten films that I saw this year.
10. In a Heartbeat
Despite running just four minutes long, watching the animated short film In a Heartbeat became one of my favorite moments in film this year. The story of a young boy attempting to hide his feelings (literally, his heart) from another boy is at once full of innocence and yet also mature in its positive theme of self-acceptance. Directed by art school students Beth David and Esteban Bravo (it was their final project to graduate) and funded on Kickstarter, In a Heartbeat has already been met with much success, having been racked up 20 million views in its first five days since its official YouTube premiere. It’s likely In a Heartbeat slipped through the cracks this year, but the good news is that you can still stream this winning short on YouTube in full for free.
Watch ‘In a Heartbeat’ in full on YouTube here.
9. Ingrid Goes West
In this age of social media, more and more studies are showing that an unhealthy attachment to social media can lead to depression and a false sense of reality. This is the premise of Matt Spicer’s award-winning Sundance film Ingrid Goes West, a #nofilter look at modern-day superficiality in the digital age. Spicer’s hilarious dark comedy is centered around the delusions of mentally unstable twenty-something, Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), a social media stalker who confuses “likes” on Instagram for authentic relationships. So when she gets it in her head to make the beautiful social media influencer Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) her BFF (best friend forever) IRL (in real life), Ingrid commits to doing whatever it takes, leading to a darkly perverse story and hilarious film that, while it may be a funny satire, may also make you re-consider posting that next photo to Instagram.
Read our full review of ‘Ingrid Goes West’ here.
Watch our full ‘Ingrid Goes West’ red carpet coverage from this year’s LA Film Fest here.
With films like ‘Louder Than Bombs,’ director Joachim Trier has shown he has a sensitive and artistic eye, which, lent to the seemingly ordinary story of a young woman coming of age, turns into something extraordinary. In his latest film, Thelma, Trier explores the tangle of repression, desire, and the supernatural through his main character, Thelma (Eili Harboe), a first-year university student who finds herself falling for a female classmate which, given her family’s deeply religious background, imposes immediate feelings of confusion and shame upon her that manifest themselves into supernatural mayhem. Ruminating in silence and a sense of foreboding, Trier embodies the pursuit of love through this allegorical and psychological thriller, Trier has given us the true definition of a cinematic experience, which is also Norway’s official foreign-language Oscar submission.
Read our full review of ‘Thelma’ here.
Watch our full interview with Joachim Trier on ‘Thelma’ here.
Highly theatrical in its performance-driven style, Manifesto is a series of vignettes derived from famous 20th Century art movements in which Cate Blanchett stars in every role. Taking on thirteen different contemporary personas – from a homeless man, to choreographer, to anchorwoman – Blanchett and director Julian Rosefeldt modernize the manifestos of the past as well as show their lasting relevance in today’s world, making for an experimental tour-de-force of a film that blew me away. While on the surface it may seem like Manifesto only caters to niche “art house” enthusiasts, I can’t recommend you taking a chance on exploring this unconventionally beautiful and stimulating work.
Read our full review of ‘Manifesto’ here.
6. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Rejoining forces with Colin Farrell after The Lobster (my favorite film of 2016), Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a destructive psychological thriller born out of revenge, showing just how easily any one person’s life can turn upside down and the desperate situations they’ll go through to cope. Farrell plays a renowned cardiovascular surgeon who provides mentorship for young Martin (Barry Keoghan), an odd boy who shows interest in becoming a doctor. Martin’s intentions seem pure at first, but after a string of questionable acts, Steven begins to have reservations about their relationship. Only by that point, it’s too late. Lanthimos pulls no punches when it comes to creating graphic and unsettling visuals to dissect the complications in human relationships, and his latest film is no exception. Fantastical and darkly absurd, Sacred Deer is uncomfortably hilarious and will make you think about the sacrifices one will make under impossible circumstances.
Read our full review of ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ here.
5. Lady Bird
The mother-daughter relationship can be a delicate dance, especially during those teenage years when it feels like the world and everyone in it is literally against you. If only you could move to New York, wouldn’t that solve everything! For those of us who have lived through that phase (*raises hand), Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird, is sure to strike a chord. Saoirse Ronan leads a cast of amazingly talented actors as she struggles to see eye to eye with her mother and vice versa – neither realizing their frustrations stem from the fact that they are exactly alike. This is a must-see for anyone who likes their humor playful, smart, and overall heart-warming.
Read our full review of ‘Lady Bird’ here.
4. Get Out
Written and directed by Jordan Peele (half of the former comedy duo “Key and Peele”), the satirical comedy Get Out is one of those rare films that is hard to shake long after its watch. Even over 10 months since I initially saw the film, I’m still fascinated by its bold theme and expert craftsmanship. Get Out tells the story of a young black man (Daniel Kaluuya) meeting his white girlfriend’s (Allison Williams) family for the first time, only to discover a hidden secret that threatens both his relationship and his life. With captivating performances and a smart script filled with hidden symbolism sprinkled throughout, Get Out is one that you’ll want to re-visit many times over.
Read our full review of ‘Get Out’ here.
There may have been a number of films chronicling the life and times of Jane Goodall – who is most widely known for her study of chimpanzees and their behavior in the wild – but this is not just another nature documentary. In partnership with National Geographic, Jane is comprised fully of never-before-seen footage shot by notable wildlife photographer (and former husband) Hugo van Lawick during her assignment in Gombe, Tanzania in the 1960s. These special moments of Jane’s initial bonding with chimpanzees and the relationship she would develop with them over time are priceless and truly enchanting to watch on the big screen. With an original score by Philip Glass, Brett Morgen’s profile of Jane Goodall is a powerhouse film that sheds light on this incredible woman and serves as a reminder to stop and appreciate life’s beauty and natural wonders.
Read our full review of ‘Jane’ here.
2. Call Me By Your Name
Call Me By Your Name is the rare kind of big-screen adaptation that not only stays true to the details that made the novel so special, but improves upon them. Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer star as two acquaintances, turned friends, turned lovers, who navigate the confused feelings of desire for each other over one sunshine soaked summer in a 1980s Italian countryside. With a screenplay by James Ivory and directed by Luca Guadagnino, the story is beautifully sensual and lyrical, making for a romantic film that offers enough intimacy and devastation to capsize anyone. Newcomer Chalamet commands the film as teen Elio, whose journey of self-discovery and coming-of-age is one that bridges worlds in its emotional resonance and is already gathering awards and early Best Actor buzz.
Read our full review of ‘Call Me By Your Name’ here.
1. The Florida Project
Sean Baker’s The Florida Project moved me in ways that I haven’t been moved in a long time, making this “little indie that could” my favorite film of the year. Emotional, nostalgic, and captivating, this $2 million feature success from A24 is a result of the sum of its parts, most notably in the fantastic performances from its young star Brooklynn Prince and supporting anchor Willem Dafoe. The loose story follows six-year-old Moonee (Prince) as she lives with her teenage mother (Bria Vinaite) in a long-stay budget motel, plays with neighboring kids, and, due to certain circumstances, is quickly forced to grow up, all while being overshadowed by the blinding happiness of the neighboring Disney World. Life is complicated, beautiful and messy, and Baker captures that hard-to-describe energy in a short 111 minutes. It isn’t just the script that brought me to tears (although that happened more than once too), it is the raw, palpable energy in front of the lens from the film’s rising stars (especially that last scene, bring the tissues). The Florida Project offers a unique perspective on growing up and my feelings from that initial viewing have stayed with me to this day, and I’m certain they will with you too.
Read our full review of ‘The Florida Project’ here.