Universal Pictures

The 25 Best Films of 2017
The 25 Best Films of 2017

20

Marjorie Prime

As science fiction, Michael Almereyda’s Marjorie Prime derives its haunting power as much from its speculative elements as from the cozy familiarity of its mise-en-scène. Exploiting a multi-generational beachfront family cottage designed in a warm midcentury modern style as its setting, as well as comforting splashes of Beethoven and the Band on its soundtrack, Almereyda’s spare restaging of Jordan Harrison’s talky play imagines a near future where holographic simulations of dead loved ones (also known as “primes”) have placed familial relations in peril, providing unprecedented grief-coping opportunities on the one hand but enabling an echo chamber of delusion and emotional confusion on the other. Starring Tim Robbins, Geena Davis, Lois Smith, and Jon Hamm as the corporeal and projected personae of a bourgeois family bound by a history of half-clarified emotional wounds, Marjorie Prime consists of a series of charged one-on-ones between humans and uncanny A.I. contraptions that progressively muddy the tenuous distinction between truth and selective memory—in addition to showcasing the ensemble’s dexterity. As with 2015’s Experimenter, Almereyda excels at running a tight ship (the film was shot in 13 days with limited resources) while still bringing out the best in his collaborators (cinematographer Sean Price Williams and composer Mica Levi both do daring career-highlight work here), and his elliptical treatment of the script’s central existential dilemma—the havoc wreaked in transcending the absolute finality of death—is enough to justify a sly visual nod to Last Year at Marienbad. Carson Lund

The 25 Best Films of 2017

19

The Salesman

In Death of a Salesman, it isn’t difficult to sympathize with Willy Loman, who embodies America’s propensity for self-pity. Arthur Miller invites us to celebrate ourselves as the tragic figure of our lives. Asghar Farhadi, a tough, self-questioning, and unceasingly curious humanist, has no use for such narcissism, fashioning The Salesman’s Willy Loman figure into a peeper, an unglamorous outsider who challenges our self-glorification. The aging, overweight Naser (Farid Saijadi Hosseini) is so slumped, breathless, and poignantly defeated that we barely take him for a man let alone a sexual predator, thinking of him instead as a member of the de-sexed “elderly,” who exist primarily to scold us and to sit in rocking chairs. It’s this sort of perception, a prison, which drives Naser to commit violation, reaching out for the newness and now-ness of the youthful fling he had once before. When Naser weeps, out of guilt and panic, he seems to be doing so over the deep chasm of isolation and alienation that awaits us all, the chasm with which the protagonists must acquaint themselves if they are to inform their own production of Death of a Salesman with soul. Bowen

The 25 Best Films of 2017

18

Starless Dreams

Mehrdad Oskouei’s Starless Dreams relies largely on that most common of documentary techniques: the interview. Inside one of Tehran’s juvenile corrections facilities, teenage girls tell their stories to the camera with remarkable candor and a heartbreaking self-awareness of the injustices they’ve suffered. Oskouei understands that the most vital role he could play in his own film is a minimal one—so only his voice is heard, off-camera, gently prompting the young women’s broader considerations on the nature of happiness, forgiveness, and faith. His filmmaking offers poetic expressions of the thoughts and ideas expressed by his subjects: When one girl describes the corrections facility as a place where “pain drips from the walls,” Oskouei punctuates the lament with an image of thawing snow on a windowpane, suggesting not only the sadness of the girl’s reality, but also the hope for change that Oskouei has invested in her. These gestures deepen this concise, 75-minute film’s sense of artistry, but its depth comes from its humanist ambitions. Much like Edet Belzberg’s magnificent Children Underground, Starless Dreams transcendantly gives a platform to otherwise voiceless youths of boundless strength and character. Sam C. Mac

The 25 Best Films of 2017

17

Tempestad

“Now that I see this film from a distance,” said director Tatiana Huezo in a 2015 interview, reflecting on her documentary Tempestad, “I realize that there’s an invisible war in Mexico; nobody recognizes it as such, but we’re like orphans from justice, from institutions, from authorities.” Interweaving the stories of two such “orphans”—Miriam, a young passport official thrown in a brutal prison on spurious charges of human trafficking, and Adela, an older circus performer whose daughter was mysteriously kidnapped by a drug cartel—Huezo’s film pulses with outrage at Mexico’s endemic corruption and criminal impunity. But Tempestad is no polemic. Rather, it’s an anguished, intensely intimate excavation of two lives scarred by trauma. Huezo hauntingly layers her subjects’ first-person retrospections over footage of vehicles slowly heading down highways, landscapes glimpsed out of bus windows, day laborers absorbed in their work, buildings decaying from neglect, and circus acrobats contorting their wiry frames. Tranquil yet foreboding—like an eerie calm in the midst of a raging storm—Huezo’s mix of sound and image seems to transport the viewer directly into Miriam and Adela’s bruised but resilient psyches. Tempestad also connects us to something larger: Enveloping us in an atmosphere of dread and disquiet, the film evokes nothing less than the fears and anxieties of an entire nation riven by violence. Keith Watson

The 25 Best Films of 2017

16

The Florida Project

Sean Baker spends much of The Florida Project charging in vigorously nimble fashion up and down the stairs of the Magic Castle, in and out of its rooms, investing the minutia of the down-and-out lives within this little ecosystem with a bittersweet energy and significance. And almost always the camera is yoked to six-year-old Moonee’s (Brooklynn Prince) present-tense point of view, which explains why the forces battering these lives from all sides remain largely outside the film’s purview: They’re not only too big for this little girl to both completely imagine and understand, but it’s outside her field of vision where the film’s adults are content to keep these forces. One take on the project of the film’s title is the unspoken social contract that binds these lives: the understanding that they’re in this life together, united in their love for their kids. A bitter irony here is that, when the shit hits the fan and Moonee’s eyes open in ways they never have before, she makes a heartbreaking, last-ditch effort to run toward the dream that adults have kept alive the her, fulfilling something that her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), could never give her. But I’d like to think, given this girl’s precociousness, that she’s also hell-bent on destroying this dream, if only to dream bigger: of a world not so small, after all, and as such not predicated on the self-containment that enables capitalism and turns us into its suckers. Ed Gonzalez

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