I watched around 200 films this year. Most of them were, admittedly, ones I already loved, but a few were new ones released in 2017. Here are my five favorites, ranked in no particular order — after “Lady Bird” (which is, indisputably, number one).
After “Lady Bird,” there should be no more excuses for depicting teenage females dishonestly or inaccurately onscreen ever again. Greta Gerwig’s inherently (and, at times, terrifyingly) relatable film follows a particularly troubled teen (Saoirse Ronan) navigating her last year of high school. It’s hilarious, aesthetically pleasing and remarkably iconic, fashion-wise. But what’s truly impressive about “Lady Bird,” and what led me to drive two hours just to see it a second time, is the way it refuses to shy away from what most coming-of-age films are afraid of: how much it can suck to be a teenage girl. The titular heroine, who is also, often, her own worst enemy, is constantly told by those around her that her problems aren’t valid, but she doesn’t buy it. We need more of this in film and TV, of reminding young women that even though the world doesn’t revolve around them, they’re still allowed to be upset about fighting with their best friend or getting dumped for the first time (or any other time).
This is an impossibly gorgeous film whose sun-kissed, summery Italian backdrop is perfect for telling the story of 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer), the 20-something grad student working with Elio’s father. It’s chiefly an agonizing, slow-burning love story between the two men, as both come to terms with their feelings for one another — Oliver, confidently, and Elio, while grappling with his sexuality. “Call Me By Your Name” is a downright whimsical romance that’s somehow still subtly grounded in the harsh realities of adulthood. It’s also, arguably, a Hanukkah movie, because Hanukkah is celebrated in it and the main characters proudly don Star of David necklaces in several scenes. This might be a stretch, but I’m so anxious to replace “A Rugrats Chanukah” as my favorite film for the holiday that I’ll take it.
Just as “Lady Bird” should mean no more excuses for half-assed stories about being a teenage female, “Wonder Woman” should mean no more excuses for the lack of prominent female action heroes in film. Its predictability and questionable special effects can and should be ignored in favor of its unparalleled display of feminine power, both on screen (by Gal Gadot as the titular heroine) and off (by director Patty Jenkins). “Wonder Woman” made me tear up three times — twice, because I’d never seen a female free to display so much independent power onscreen, and once because I’m a sucker for Chris Pine in a turtleneck.
To be totally honest, this is the first Christopher Nolan movie I’ve liked. It turns the epic 1940 military disaster-turned-triumph into a character study of a handful of individuals, focusing on three — a pilot (Tom Hardy), a civilian boater (Mark Rylance) and a young soldier trapped on the beach (Fionn Whitehead). Through them, and a substantial supporting cast that includes Harry Styles (surprisingly convincing as a hotheaded army private), Nolan captures the desperation and patriotism that defined those nine days in the summer of 1940. Of course, no media depicting the Dunkirk evacuation will ever measure up to its sweeping portrayal in 2007’s “Atonement,” but this film comes close.
I had a hard time deciding between this and “The Disaster Artist” for number five. The films aren’t really comparable in any way, except their most-talked-about qualities were singular performances — James Franco as Tommy Wiseau in “Disaster Artist” and Michael Fassbender as David/Walter in “Alien.” But, while Franco blew me away with his seamless transformation into Wiseau (he perfects the icon’s glazed-over expression and halfhearted chuckle), as a whole I enjoyed “Alien” more. Its immediate predecessor, “Prometheus,” is eerie, but “Covenant” is downright terrifying. The Ripley references may be a little heavy-handed in new star Katherine Waterston, but this “Alien”-meets-“Couples Retreat” is still a relentless thrill ride through an otherworldly hell. It’s a straight-up horror movie as much as it is a space film, maybe more.