Universal Pictures

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

10

Call Me by Your Name

Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name chronicles a moving and compassionate queer love story driven by universal representations of sensuality and erotic exploration. Desire is located mainly in furtive glances and brief, suggestive caresses but also in the oddest, most unexpected of places, be it a lustful handling of a pair of worn swim trunks or use of a juicy peach as a receptacle for an orgasm. Guadagnino fills the gaps between nascent longing and sexual gratification with tender, seductive scenes showing the two men striving to interpret and respond to codified postures, movements, and behaviors as they attempt to surreptitiously bridge a rift that societal norms and mores have placed between them. As Elio moves from admiring Oliver’s (Armie Hammer) statuesque physique and occasionally bumbling foreignness from the same calculated distance from which his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) reveres ancient Greco-Roman sculptures to embracing it in all its splendor, Call Me by Your Name creates an intoxicating atmosphere, with the aid of its gorgeous, pastoral setting, that fully embraces passion while remaining grounded in its scrupulously constructed, lived-in world. But even when things shift toward a nostalgic melancholy, Guadagnino retains traces of hope in his doomed romanticism through the poignant ways in which his film answers one of its central questions: “Should I speak or should I die?” Derek Smith

The 25 Best Films of 2017

9

Dawson City: Frozen Time

An elegy for lost cinematic treasures and a vanished way of life, Bill Morrison’s Dawson City: Frozen Time is a ghost story of sorts that reminds us of the fragility of film as a physical medium. Juxtaposing documentary footage of the gold rush in the Yukon Territory at the turn of the 19th century with clips from decayed silent film reels previously unknown to exist or thought to be totally destroyed, Dawson City: Frozen Time feels like cinema dreaming of its own faded, half-remembered childhood. Morrison provides an engrossing history lesson about the business of early film while telling the story of the dying Old West as personified in the boom and bust of Dawson City, a once thriving mining town that’s since faded into almost complete oblivion. As he’s done in his previous films, Morrison displays half-destroyed old nitrate film reels, which were notoriously unstable and flammable, as art objects in and of themselves, independent of the stories they once told. Taken out of their original context, the snapshots of life contained within these ghostly frames give us an unprecedented feeling for this time and place, with its Wild West melodrama and Gilded Age optimism. The film serves as an exquisite reminder that the cultural detritus of the past can become an artistic bonanza for future generations. Oleg Ivanov

The 25 Best Films of 2017

8

BPM (Beats Per Minute)

The queer art of survival through debauchery and improbable alliances meets the French gift for conversational sparring in BPM (Beats Per Minute), which dramatizes the frantic lives of ACT UP activists in Paris in the early 1990s. The result is one gut-wrenching ode to joie de vivre—a political orgy of sorts where queer kinship is the only buffer zone keeping dying and desiring from becoming the exact same thing. An army of lovers debates without end, like cruising, as if trying to speak their way out of death, or into it, ultimately exacerbating human condition’s most basic tenet: brevity. The average heart rate indeed. BPM avoids archival, pedagogical, and sentimental approaches to its material by placing a believable love story at the very core of its militant bacchanalia, provoking precisely the type of identification, or recognition, that ACT UP’s theatrical activism aimed to forge. Derek Jarman took ACT UP’s slogan, “Stop looking at us, start listening to us,” to its most radical cinematic conclusion in Blue, stripping the frame from everything but a single color. Writer-director Robin Campillo has more graphic demands in mind: the ruby redness of fake blood staining corporate carpet, the melancholy lilac of Kaposi’s sarcoma dotting the bodies of lovers-cum-makeshift-immunologists, the gut-wrenching darkness of the wake in the final sequence where friends and lovers show up to smooth over the edges of departure—and the deceased boy’s mother lets out, matter of factly, “Already?” Diego Semerene

The 25 Best Films of 2017

7

The Lost City of Z

“I will help you, because you will make sure that nothing will change,” says a plantation owner and rubber baron (Franco Nero) dressed in a fine white suit and fanned by a native slave, to Major Percival “Percy” Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam). The baron assumes that Fawcett’s mapmaking expedition in the Amazon is meant to maintain the constancy of early 20th-century colonialism—of occupations that mitigate conflict through control. But in actuality, like Marion Cotillard’s Ewa Cybulska in James Gray’s earlier The Immigrant, Fawcett exists outside of the strictures of his time—a deliberate anachronism. The man’s break from the era’s accepted social norms, his belief in exploration as more than a means of exploitation, and his dreams of the future as a corrective for the past reflect both his repentance for an “unfortunate” ancestry (his father was a gambler and a drunk) and broadly represent emergent 20th-century modernism. Gray’s opulent formalism channels Fawcett’s delusions of grandeur, making for an intoxicating adventure film. And the director’s typically bracing intelligence—employed here to examine the psychological toll of obsession, and the philosophical weight of understanding, and accepting, change—lends the narrative the scope and detail of a classical epic. Like The Immigrant, The Lost City of Z is about ideologies out of step from the present moment of the world they exist in, and is itself a film out of its own time. Mac

The 25 Best Films of 2017

6

Personal Shopper

Kristin Stewart shops, Olivier Assayas buys, and cinephiles everywhere throw away the receipt. Assayas’s latest and potentially greatest indulgence in diva worship seems rigged to pin Stewart like a butterfly in cinematic isolation for as long as the apparatus can get away with it. Stewart stars (and rarely has the word “stars” felt so inadequate) as a spiritual medium moonlighting in Paris as a buyer for a hangry fashionista, and desperately trying to come into contact with her recently departed twin brother. Filmed in a sense like an exorcism of its leading player’s own fame-making turns in pop-horror blockbusters, the stages of grief embodied throughout Personal Shopper are at once redolent of funereal urban ennui and wrapped too tight. By the time Stewart is spending the film’s thrilling and entirely dialogue-free central act nervously trading texts with “Unknown Caller,” Assayas has encroached fully upon her space while depicting her, in every sense, alone. Not since Kyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse has a ghost story more closely replicated the anxiety of modern communication. And not since Vertigo has the act of dressing up felt so illicit. Henderson

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