The New York Times’ chief film critics, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott, share their favorite pictures of the year:
I’M ESPECIALLY grateful for this year’s good and great movies. Filmmakers make movies despite often-crushing odds, and some make movies while also struggling against entrenched prejudices. Sexual misconduct revelations involving powerful men in the film industry — and the stories of victims who faded away — is appalling proof of the extent of these biases. That there are so many outstanding movies each year despite those odds and those biases can feel like a miracle.
This year all the plenty feels like a balm. Here are my top 10 favorite movies, all of which received a theatrical release or soon will.
1. “Dunkirk” (directed by Christopher Nolan) Most war movies are about winning. “Dunkirk” is about surviving. With peerless craft and technique, 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, 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 incarnate.
3. “Faces Places” (Agnes Varda and JR) In this glorious, vividly personal work, Varda both wanders through France and into the past alongside the visual artist JR, meeting new friends and seeking out old. 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) 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.
5. “Get Out” (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. 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.
6. “Lady Bird” (Greta Gerwig) The anguished teenager has been a cinematic cliche since James Dean bellowed about being torn apart in “Rebel Without a Cause.” 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.
7. “Okja” (Bong Joon-ho) Filled with lapidary visual touches and pictorial splendor, 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.
8. “Phantom Thread” (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 on screen.
9. “A Quiet Passion” (Terence Davies) In this exquisitely directed biography of Emily Dickinson (a sensational Cynthia Nixon), 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 her pen.
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.
>> Other Favorites: “After the Storm,” “The Big Sick,” “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story,” “Call Me by Your Name,” “The Challenge,” “Dawson City: Frozen Time,” “The Death of Louis XIV,” “Escapes,” “Girls Trip,” “Good Time,” “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki,” “I Am Not Your Negro,” “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond — Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton,” “Kedi,” “The Lost City of Z,” “Mother!” “Mudbound,” “My Journey Through French Cinema,” “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer,” “The Ornithologist,” “Patti Cake$,” “Personal Shopper,” “The Post,” “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women,” “Quest,” “Song to Song,” “Tonsler Park,” “Twin Peaks: The Return,” “The Woman Who Left,” “Wonderstruck.”
— Manohla Dargis
THERE 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 this year.
1. “The Florida Project”: The 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. Prince’s Moonee has earned a place in the canon of American mischief alongside the likes of Eloise and Tom Sawyer.
2. “Lady Bird”: In 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.
3. “Get Out”: Jordan 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 punchline to the Obama era, it may turn out to be the inaugural blast of insurgent cinema in the age of Trump.
4. “I Am Not Your Negro”: 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.
5. “Faces Places”: But 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 Agnes Varda. In her late 80s, accompanied by a 30-ish artist named JR (who is also credited as director), 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”: There 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 might also be Daniel Day-Lewis’ 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 seen this film only 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.
7. “A Fantastic Woman”: Sebastian 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.
8. “Graduation”: The 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, Mungiu’s film is an indictment of the everyday corruption that festers not only in Romania, but everywhere selfishness has become the supreme social value.
9. “A Quiet Passion”: But not so quiet, really. As Emily Dickinson, Cynthia Nixon is forthright, sometimes abrasive, often funny and never less than thrilling company. Terence Davies’ 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 gifts.
10. “War for the Planet of the Apes”: Never 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 thespian craft.
>> Other Favorites: “The Bad Batch,” “BPM (Beats per Minute),” “Call Me by Your Name,” “Dawson City: Frozen Time,” “I Called Him Morgan,” “Logan Lucky,” “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” “Mudbound,” “Okja,” “The Post,” “The Shape of Water.”
— A.O. Scott