In March, the producer-director Brett Ratner said
that the website Rotten Tomatoes “was the worst thing we have in
today’s movie culture,” directly blaming it for “the destruction of our
business.” It isn’t common practice for industry influencers to go after
critics, but sometimes desperation wins out. That perhaps also explains
why in August, Harvey Weinstein wrote a column
in Deadline flacking his much-delayed, soon-to-be flop “Tulip Fever,”
admitting that “writing this article is probably akin to putting a
target on my back.”
(directed by Christopher Nolan) Most war movies are about winning.
“Dunkirk” is about surviving. With peerless craft and technique, Mr.
Nolan puts you in the air, on the sea and on the ground during a World
War II rescue mission and, once the rescue is over, makes it harrowingly
clear that the fight goes on.
2.‘EX LIBRIS: THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY’
(Frederick Wiseman) In his wonderful, expansive and wholly absorbing
documentary, Mr. Wiseman goes deep into the New York Public Library —
down grand and humble halls, and past open and seeking faces — for a
portrait of a cultural and social institution that is democracy
3.‘FACES PLACES’ (Agnès Varda and JR) In this glorious, vividly personal work,
Ms. Varda both wanders through France and into the past alongside the
visual artist JR, meeting new friends and seeking out old. Ms. Varda is
often described as one of the greatest female directors alive, which is
true. She is also one of the greatest.
4.‘THE FLORIDA PROJECT’ (Sean
Baker) Mr. Baker makes heartbreakers about people usually ignored by
movies: a porn actress and the forgotten elderly woman she befriends in
“Starlet”; two transgender female prostitutes in “Tangerine.” In “The
Florida Project,” he tells a deeply American story of children and
adults struggling at the margins of Disney World, creating a
21st-century “Grapes of Wrath” with psychedelic color and gobs of spit.
(Jordan Peele) A meme generator, a social critique and a metaphor for
our times — “Get Out” is all of these. It’s also an exceptional feature
directorial debut. Mr. Peele does much that’s right and it’s worth
remembering that what makes his movie memorable isn’t only what he says,
but also how he makes meaning cinematically with finely calibrated
timing, a sense of alienated space and an indelibly haunted, haunting
image of the void.
(Greta Gerwig) The anguished teenager has been a cinematic cliché since
James Dean bellowed about being torn apart in “Rebel Without a Cause.”
Ms. Gerwig’s tender, thrilling movie about an adolescent girl has plenty
of drama: Our heroine throws herself from a car. Thereafter, she does
more than simply survive; she becomes a person in a movie that insists
female artistic self-creation isn’t a matter of sacrifice but of being.
(Bong Joon-ho) Filled with lapidary visual touches and pictorial
splendor, Mr. Bong’s lovely, often funny and achingly soulful movie
about a girl and her pig didn’t receive the theatrical release it
deserved because it was bought by Netflix, which largely seems committed
to shoveling product into its pipeline. That may be the future, but
it’s infuriating that — like the villain in this movie — it can’t see
past the bottom line.
(Paul Thomas Anderson) Two lives — and two perversities — become one in
this ravishingly beautiful, often unexpectedly funny film, which traces
the relationship between an eminent couture designer (a magnificent
Daniel Day-Lewis) and his younger, surprising muse (Vicky Krieps). It’s a
story about love and about work, and finally as much about its own
creation as the romance onscreen.
9.‘A QUIET PASSION’
(Terence Davies) In this exquisitely directed biography of Emily
Dickinson (a sensational Cynthia Nixon), Mr. Davies turns images into
feelings. With delicacy and transporting camera movements, he brings you
into Emily’s everyday life, touching close to the people that she
deeply loved and into the rooms that they shared. He shows you the
beauty, grace, light and shadow that flowed into her and right through
10. ‘WONDER WOMAN’
(Patty Jenkins) I love all the movies on my list, but more than any
other this year, “Wonder Woman” reminded me that we bring our entire
histories when we watch a movie — our childhood reveries, our adolescent
yearnings and adult reservations. I’ve always loved Wonder Woman in all
her imperfection, including in the old TV show, and I loved her here
because all my adult reservations were no match for this movie.
was a lot to feel bad about in 2017: plenty of reasons to take offense,
get angry, go numb or feel sick to your stomach. If that sentence
bummed you out, I’m sorry. (It was an epic year for dubious apologies,
too.) But I’m not sorry about this list of the movies — a top 10 and a
second 11 — that made me feel other, better ways. Not always cheerful,
but enlightened, moved, surprised and gratified. In bad times, we tend
to either ask too much or expect too little of art, pretending it might
heal or save us, and dismissing it when it doesn’t. Its actual function
is much simpler: it keeps us human. That’s what these movies did for me
promise of an independent, socially conscious, aesthetically
adventurous homegrown cinema is spectacularly redeemed in Sean Baker’s
latest feature, which managed to be both the most joyful and the most
heartbreaking movie of the year. Steeped in the gaudy materialism of
Central Florida, animated by Brooklynn Prince’s gleeful spontaneity and
anchored by Willem Dafoe’s deep craft, the movie already has a feeling
of permanence. Ms. Prince’s Moonee has earned a place in the canon of
American mischief alongside the likes of Eloise and Tom Sawyer.
a high school production of Shakespeare, Christine McPherson is cast as
“the tempest.” “It’s the titular role!” says her once-and-future best
friend — one of many odd, funny and perfectly apt lines in Greta
Gerwig’s sort-of-autobiographical coming-of-age story. In its
titular role (Christine prefers to be called Lady Bird), Saoirse Ronan
is an utterly convincing American 17-year-old, and everyone else in her
hectic world is just as sharply and sympathetically drawn. The film’s
gentle, affirmative view of friendship, family life and adolescent
sexuality is the opposite of sentimental.
Peele wrote and directed the inescapable movie of 2017, a work of
biting anti-consensus filmmaking that broke box office records. Part of
the film’s genius is the way it splinters the mythology of American
racial healing and then reassembles the shards into something lacerating
and beautiful. Possibly conceived as a mordant punch line to the Obama
era, it may turn out to be the inaugural blast of insurgent cinema in
the age of Trump.
Raoul Peck’s documentary
uses James Baldwin’s words to paint a portrait not only of the writer
in his time, but also of the ideas that stretch beyond his work into our
own troubled moment. Baldwin wrote about American racism — about the
lethal and insidious power of whiteness to distort the nation’s ideals
and threaten its humanity — with unequaled vigor, humor and insight. The
movie is painful because the truth is painful.
the truth can also be delightful. Which isn’t to say that strong,
bitter emotions don’t have a place in the latest auto-documentary by
Agnès Varda. In her late 80s, accompanied by a thirtyish artist named JR
(who is also credited as director), Ms. Varda roams the French
countryside, searching out the remnants of a once-vibrant working-class
tradition. Contemplating some of the sorrows in her own past and the
precariousness of the European present, she keeps gloom at bay with her
resilient faith in the power of art to conserve and expand human
dignity. Every second of this movie proves her right.
6. ‘PHANTOM THREAD’
are movies that satisfy the hunger for relevance, the need to see the
urgent issues of the day reflected on screen. Paul Thomas Anderson’s
eighth feature — which may also be Daniel Day-Lewis’s last movie — is
emphatically and sublimely not one of them. It awakens other appetites,
longings that are too often neglected: for beauty, for strangeness, for
the delirious, heedless pursuit of perfection. I’ve only seen this film
once (it opens at Christmastime), and I’m sure it has its flaws. I will
happily watch it another dozen times until I find them all.
Lelio’s portrait of Marina, a transgender woman mourning the death of
her lover and facing the hostility of his family, is at once bluntly
realistic and ripely melodramatic, polemical and poetic, pointed and,
well, fantastical. Daniela Vega, who plays Marina, doesn’t show up on
screen right away, but once she does (singing a torch song in a
nightclub in Santiago, Chile), the camera never leaves her for long.
What it finds in the planes of her face is some of the glamour of
old-time movie stars — hints of Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Anna Magnani
and Lauren Bacall — and even more of the emotional authenticity that
made them stars in the first place.
kid-goes-to-college movie has emerged as a minor American genre. This
year’s examples include “Lady Bird,” “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and
Selected)” and “Brad’s Status,” all of which offer gently comical
perspectives on a familiar rite of passage. Cristian Mungiu, the
Romanian director of “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” and “Beyond the
Hills,” offers a grimmer view. A provincial doctor wants his daughter to
attend university in England, and is willing to compromise his ideals
to ensure that she can. A family drama and an ethical thriller, Mr.
Mungiu’s film is an indictment of the everyday corruption that festers
not only in Romania, but everywhere selfishness has become the supreme
not so quiet, really. As Emily Dickinson, Cynthia Nixon is forthright,
sometimes abrasive, often funny and never less than thrilling company.
Terence Davies’s blithely unconventional biopic glides through
Dickinson’s life with poetic compression and musical grace, illuminating
both her temperament and the austere, intellectually intense
19th-century New England environment that nurtured and constrained her
has human extinction seemed so richly merited, and rarely has digital
ingenuity been put to such sublime use. The third installment in the
revived series is an epic of national founding, with echoes of the
Aeneid and the Book of Exodus. Somber and exciting, the film, directed
by Matt Reeves, shows how large-scale action filmmaking can explore
political and moral matters without bogging down in pretentiousness.
Andy Serkis remains the key to the enterprise. His performance as
Caesar, spanning three movies, is one of the great feats of acting in
modern movies, a breathtaking fusion of technological magic and solid