Unsurprising throughlines to my favorites this year are heroes, justice, suspense, and silliness… Trends that surprise me include neon, Dave Franco, and horror movies.
It was just that kind of a year, I guess. Weird, dark, and inspiring. Enjoy.
15. Logan – Trailer
Arguably the 2017 superhero movie that best matches the year we’ve had in real life, Logan is dark, painful, violent, and lonely – more of a bloodthirsty dramatic thriller than a colorful superhero caper. Because of its bleakness, however, Logan is fertile ground for the most profound third-act redemption of any hero movie this year. In a story that is so grounded in the complexity of reality, it’s only right that its catharsis is the kind that really hurts.
14. The Beguiled – Trailer
Wrapped in a luminous package of soft light-filled mornings, lace curtains, and polite conversations, The Beguiled mixes the desperation, boredom, and ferocity of 3 women and a few little girls, isolated and vulnerable, with the chaos of war looming just outside the gate – and the result is something remarkable and unique. Fraught with tension thick and strong as human bone, completely unpredictable until the last frame, and engulfed in the intimate softness of candlelight, Sofia Coppola’s latest is a unique experience, not to be missed.
13. Ingrid Goes West – Trailer
It has all the fun things you want from your typical unhinged social media single white female thriller plus a bunch of fun surprises – like Ingrid’s landlord (mega-charming O’Shea Jackson Jr.), a screenwriter who is obsessed with Batman – particularly Batman Forever, which is not the most stylish Batman to love these days… and her girl-crush, Taylor, whose combination of ultrahipster stylemaker status, self-awareness, and narcissism Elizabeth Olsen seems to understand on a level so deep it’s troubling. Also desertscapes, cocaine, a car accident, self-loathing, dance parties, mixology, fashion designers, and a backpack full of money.
12. The Big Sick – Trailer
A big part of the magic of The Big Sick is that although it is a funny and heartfelt (and true!) story about two people finding and choosing each other through lots of obstacles – a classic romantic comedy in the same vein as When Harry Met Sally or these other greats – it’s not only that. It’s also just as much a movie about the complexity of family for a young adult – making choices that push the limits of parental love and support, that forever change your closest relationships, and that define who you will be and how you will live as a person independent of the place you came from.
Special bonus: I’m a big fan of Michael Showalter (AKA Coop in Wet Hot American Summer) as a director, and it’s so great to see one of his projects making a splash.
11. Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2 – Trailer
None of the trailers quite captured how funny and heartfelt this movie is. Although it’s true that it drags a little in the middle and doesn’t capture the same lightning as the first Guardians, vol. 2 offers something different: it gives each character space to be the protagonist of their own story for a moment and teases out the deeper meaning behind their decisions and attitudes, explores the power of embracing the family you choose, and builds strength in the bonds between the characters by giving them the opportunity to choose to stick together, even when they’re all acting like jerks and/or maniacs. It also has great style, a great soundtrack, and GREAT jokes. So funny! I can’t wait for #3 already.
10. Wind River – Trailer
Wind River is a serious detective story for adults about a few people in a really specific place, trying to find justice in the wake of an unsettling tragedy. Unsettling because of its brutality, yes, but also because the outcome and course of events all feel unsurprising to the characters in the film. The undercurrent of banality and the sociopolitical dynamics that soak the setting allow this film to transcend this specific story to draw focus onto the many lives lost through the cracks of the stacked deck of the American justice system and policies regarding indigenous people. Even without that layer of social commentary, though, Wind River shows up strong with tight storytelling; a thoughtful focus on its themes of grief, loss and the crushing waves of intergenerational trauma; a revisioning of wild west frontier justice; gripping suspense; intelligent writing; and lovingly portrayed, fierce characters… this is a remarkable film with depth and staying power.
9. Wonder Woman – Trailer
In our cynical world, Diana’s unapologetic idealism and fearlessness are a revolution. A great origin story, told well, with impeccable casting, a smirky sense of humor, and goosebumps-inducing badassery – this movie is not only great fun to hang out with, it also crushed the box office, setting a bunch of first/best records and far outshining DC’s other recent releases, something an action film with a female director and female lead wasn’t expected to do. Here’s hoping that Wonder Woman’s $800+ million dollar take will make sure that a lot more heroic lady power is in our future.
8. The Disaster Artist – Trailer
This one is kind of a gimme, because I’m pretty sure James Franco decided to make this movie JUST for me. I’ve seen The Room at least 30 times (it just keeps getting better!) and the fantastic book that this film was based on is one of my favorites. I went to the theater with high expectations (which could definitely have backfired) and a fair amount of background knowledge about the subject material – and it was one of the most fun moviegoing experiences I’ve had in recent years. Like both the cult film and the book, The Disaster Artist brings the bizarre with great humor, soft humanity, and kindness – a loving salute to weirdos with big dreams – and the result is hilarious and inspiring in equal parts.
7. It Comes At Night – Trailer
This is not the “make you jump at the monster in the mirror” movie I expected at all. It brings much more deeply affecting, slow-burning gothic horror because of the realism underlying the story and characters, pushing you to consider that if the times you were living in were truly desperate, whether or not you would be the person who helps others in a crisis, and how far you would go to protect yourself and the people you love. Claustrophobic and drenched in grief, there is no monster to fight in It Comes At Night – just the darkness that consumes you when you completely lose hope.
6. The Little Hours – Trailer
A simple story set at a convent about repressed, bored, frustrated peasant people acting out and expressing themselves in whatever way they can, this adaptation of The Decameron, a collection of stories written in the 14th century about love, wit, and practical jokes, plays out kind of like a medieval Mean Girls with a lot more clothing, feudalism, and religious oppression. The cast play it totally straight (and refreshingly, without euro accents) and the result is so weird and hilarious and bawdy and joyful and completely unexpected and SO FUN! I will watch it a million times.
5. Personal Shopper – Trailer
Although it is a ghost story and a murder mystery, Personal Shopper feels more like crawling inside the experience of a dear friend who is going about her business while consumed by grief, swirling in the profound mysteries of the afterlife. The experience is both intimate and expansive, drawing connections between the threads that bind individuals to one another eternally and the resonances between the inner pulse of the soul and the heartbeat of the cosmos, perfectly synced and yet completely out of reach.
4. Get Out – Trailer
Get Out plays as a perfectly executed, exhilaratingly paranoid horror mystery along the lines of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Thing – and if it was only that, it still may be one of the best films of the year. But it’s more. An elegant, chilling exploration of dominant white culture, Get Out connects up to the real, everyday danger of living daily life as a black man in America and somehow, it also manages to be a fun moviewatching experience. Thank that Jordan Peele secret sauce – however he does it, it really works.
3. Thor: Ragnarok – Trailer
Marvel Studios’ decision to give Ragnarok to Taika Waititi was inspired. This is probably my favorite Marvel movie of all time. It has a great sense of humor (duh), but also this supercharged electro garbage style, beautifully imagined grandeur of norse mythology, greatest use of Led Zeppelin in any film ever, Jeff Goldblum at his smirkiest, compelling character arcs, badass fighting moves, redemption, and zany outer space stuff. I saw it twice in the theater, and both times after I left I had the competing urges to 1) go dancing immediately and 2) take on some new life challenges.
2. Detroit – Trailer
In a year in which the darkness of reality can sometimes feel crushing, it’s more important than ever that we remember our history. Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is intense and deeply troubling, and the events in this film really happened, just 50 years ago. Amid chaos and bitterness and heat and fear, people died – and those who survived carried these scars forever and passed them on to their families. Justice in the present will never be possible unless we are able to look with open eyes at the history that we were born from and understand its implications for our choices now. This is an amazing film – perhaps Kathryn Bigelow’s best – don’t miss it, especially because it’s hard. True things often are.
1. Blade Runner 2049 – Trailer
Simmering underneath the best meditations on inequality and oppression are the questions at the heart of Blade Runner 2049. What does it mean to be alive? Where are the lines around who is and isn’t considered human, and who draws them? The same philosophical ponderings that made the original Blade Runner pulse with life under its neon skin expand into new layers of intrigue and complexity in 2049. Everything about this film begs at the deep questions of existence – the story, the characters, the settings, the mist and geometry of the cinematography – and the film is spacious enough to give you time to explore the big ideas as you go deeper and deeper into its world. I love, too, that Denis Villeneuve layered on the mirrors and foils that float through so many of his films – they just add to the richness, beauty and depth of 2049’s affect. At its best, science fiction pokes at our current reality, while drawing us into more profound ponderings about our existence – and 2049 is gritty, gorgeous SciFi at its apex.
Best wishes to you all for an inspiring 2018.
– betsy midnight