Universal Pictures

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

5

Good Time

Manny Farber’s conception of a film defined by “unkempt activity” often gets shortened to “termite art,” even though his full, original designation was “termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss art.” The unwieldy term seems precisely the point: Wild and ferocious, such a film wants to worm and rip its way through your viscera with little concern for the damage incurred. In Good Time, directors Josh and Benny Safdie tailor a shredding electronic score by Oneohtrix Point Never to energize the caustic, Christmas-set NYC tale of Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson), an anti-Santa Claus who leeches his victims, including Nick (Benny Safdie), his mentally challenged brother, of their possessions and trust. Right from the devastating opening, in which Connie snatches Nick from a therapy session as the latter is on the verge of a breakthrough, the Safdies convey Connie’s desperation not through backstory or exposition, but as a compulsory, breathless sprint toward destruction. A handful of African immigrants are caught in the crosshairs of Connie’s mad dash of a day, with their professions and lives routinely jeopardized by his sociopathic behavior. The systemic danger of white-male anger, especially as it’s informed by Connie’s vaguely defined sense of personal injustice and self-righteousness, has rarely been represented in American cinema as an urgent public health hazard, with its noxious effects no different than the choking, billowing haze of an exploded dye pack. Clayton Dillard

The 25 Best Films of 2017

4

Lady Bird

With her screenplays for Frances Ha and Mistress America, Greta Gerwig proved to be a formidable surveyor of the intricacies of female relationships, but her solo writing and directing debut, Lady Bird, while evincing her customary wit, articulates an even deeper and more profound humanism than her earlier work. The self-involved Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson’s (Saoirse Ronan) fraught relationship with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), over the course of the former’s senior year in high school serves as the catalyst for Gerwig’s nuanced exploration of the tension between our youthful ego and the realization that we’re not the center of the world, merely minor individuals in a vast ensemble made of infinite narratives. As Lady Bird’s complicated and often revelatory confrontations with other characters spur the development of her sensitivity to the multifaceted lives of those around her, the empathy with which Gerwig has imbued her film shines through in the singular perspective of her protagonist, marked by a symphonically comedic rhythm of dialogue and gesture. Gerwig’s singularly offbeat vision of Sacramento contributes a specificity of place to this rare, unsentimental portrait of youth that feels unabashedly, bracingly alive. Wes Greene

The 25 Best Films of 2017

3

Nocturama

A coterie of gangly young terrorists, frustrated with society, concoct a plan to synchronize attacks around Paris: from shootings to bombings to fires set to statues, all to interrupt the quotidian stagnation of modernity. Their motivations are somewhat nebulous, and their end goal unspecified, but they commit to the plan—if not any discernible purpose or impetus—and pull it off. Subways act as their underground tunnels, a shopping mall their eventual bastion. They seem edified, discussing Pinochet’s Chilean regime in cafés, the ethical quandaries of terrorism, the perils of consumerism, but also just as susceptible to the allure of stuff; inside the mall, they regress into emulations of the people they hate, of the mannequins on display. This is terrorism as pop-art. Behind Nocturama’s glistening surfaces and pretty faces is an emptiness, a dearth of conviction. This is, of course, by design. As depicted by Bertrand Bonnello, who has a penchant for voluptuous camera movements, Paris is decadent and vile. Even the idealists aren’t immune to the city’s sybaritic sickness. In a coruscating materialistic world, there’s a profusion of reflective surfaces and no self-awareness. For all the gazing the young characters do—at televisions, out windows, into mirrors—they never see what’s staring back at them. Greg Cwik

The 25 Best Films of 2017

2

A Quiet Passion

Like a certain American whisper-mongering auteur with whom he shares a first name, it appears that the drive for big questions has found Terence Davies upping his ante in terms of productivity. The filmmaker’s portrait of Emily Dickinson, A Quiet Passion, charts the poet’s course from a silver-tongued teenager (Emma Bell) to a sly recluse (Cynthia Nixon). The narrative is spindled around less than two dozen lines of Dickinson’s posthumously published words, and by the time they’ve run out, the pleasures of nonconformity within high Massachusetts society have given way to the creeping disappointment of a chaste middle age. Davies shows the agony of Dickinson’s kidney disease in unsparing long takes, anchoring her story, for all its high-mindedness, to the same mortal coil that unites us all. Call it transcendental pessimism. The film fits snugly among Davies’s (indeed, quiet) masterpieces for the way it wrings the sublime from the strained confines of everyday life, refusing the luxury of easy liberation on either side of the screen. By the time Dickinson asks her sister, Vinni (Jennifer Ehle), “Why has the world become so ugly?,” this tender and heartbreaking film has taught us better than to expect an answer. Steve Macfarlane

The 25 Best Films of 2017

1

Phantom Thread

Imagine a version of Rebecca staged with the offbeat majesty of Barry Lyndon and you’ve just begun to limn the uncanny, gorgeously sustained tenor of Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson’s film about a megalomaniacal, self-obsessed artist and the women who love him unconditionally. The World War II-era couture fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is an impeccably groomed British fussbucket, a man of elaborate routines whose freedom to create comes from the labors of his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville). Their traditions are disrupted after Woodcock discovers a muse in Alma (Vicky Krieps), an immigrant waitress who proves determined to earn and keep her position in Woodcock’s affections, along with his business. The vast majority of Phantom Thread is confined to the ivory-hued interiors of Woodcock’s home office, but the eccentric love triangle that ensues is a luxuriously expansive discourse on creation wrapped in a perfectly concise, endlessly surprising period drama. Assisted by Jonny Greenwood’s staggeringly dextrous score and a trio of beguiling lead performances, Anderson digs into his characters with exquisite sensitivity, lingering on flushing cheeks and a taxonomic array of moony, mischievous smiles. Even his more self-conscious flourishes—scenes that track and circle alterations and fittings with surgical quietude—espouse an intimate, love-drunk restraint (Anderson shot the film himself under a pseudonym), a sensibility matched by a screenplay that sneaks the coked-up syntax and repetition of the director’s early work into a reverent but chastely kinky period piece. (With its abundant plates of eggs, toast, and pastries, the film is at its most ravishing at the breakfast table.) Rhyming love’s fickle rhythms with the fundamental ephemerality of high fashion, Phantom Thread gradually becomes a singular musing on the artist’s legacy. To think any piece of clothing or unfettered emotion will last forever is a uniquely human folly, but each of Anderson’s unforgettable characters prove rapturously committed to the notion. Christopher Gray

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