The year is young, but it's never too early to start celebrating the finest movies offered up by both the multiplex and the art house. After only four months, moviegoers have been gifted with a bounty of great blockbusters, indies and documentaries, proving that filmmakers are continuing to find new ways-both big and small-to entertain, excite and enlighten. No doubt there are numerous gems to come in the months ahead, given that by the holidays, we'll have the latest works from acclaimed directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg (to name just three). For now, however, these are our current picks for the best films of 2017.
15. Heal the Living
Life's circular nature is a frequent melodramatic subject, and yet Heal the Living treats its familiar material with a sensitivity and lyricism that's powerfully affecting. French filmmaker Katell Quillévéré's drama concerns a teenage surfer who, after a car crash, winds up in a coma, brain-dead. While his separated parents (Emmanuelle Seigner and Kool Shen) try to cope with this unexpected tragedy, a concert violinist (Anne Dorval) strives to grapple with a deteriorating heart condition that can only be cured via transplant. That synopsis alone likely telegraphs the path along which the film travels. Still, the director's adaptation of Maylis de Kerangal's novel is marked by unexpected detours into the stories of an organ-donor consultant (A Prophesy's Tahar Rahim) and the injured boy's girlfriend, as well as a bevy of aesthetic grace notes, many of them courtesy of Alexandre Desplat's sorrowful score. The result is a moving portrait of life's fragility, and the strength we derive from our connections to each other.
14. Dark Night
Inspired by the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting by James Eagan Holmes that took place in a movie theater showing Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, Tim Sutton's indie strives less for docudrama details than for a larger, more elusive sense of a time and place-and the many factors that might have given birth to such a tragedy. A kindred spirit to Gus Van Sant's Columbine-inspired Elephant, it tracks a host of men and women in an anonymous Florida suburb as they go about their daily business, most of which involves aimlessly wandering about in search of direction, and which often puts them into contact with firearms. Alternating between snapshots of PTSD-afflicted vets, wayward skateboarding teens, and other assorted loners-and featuring hypnotic aesthetics buoyed by Maica Armata's mournful soundtrack songs-Sutton's experiential drama eschews cause-and-effect analysis in favor of a haunting evocation of a community whose very fabric seems to have been stitched together with violent impulses.
13. All This Panic
Female teenagerdom is presented in all its raw, messy, complicated glory by All This Panic, a documentary from Jenny Gage that depicts the ups and downs of a collection of New York City girls over the course of three years. While the most compelling personality in this sterling non-fiction film is lanky Lena-whose plight involves drinking to excess with friends, coping with divorced parents who are equally incapable of maintaining a stable residence, and trying to make it through college despite little financial aid from mom and dad-Gage splits her time between a variety of fascinating subjects, her gaze intimate and empathetic throughout. In the figure of Ginger, who opts to stay at home and find her own way while her best friend Lena heads off to school, it also locates how the path toward adulthood can be a rocky one paved with confusion, fear, sexual anxieties, social uncertainties, and ecstatic joy.
12. The Lure
La La Land's award-season triumphs may have heralded the return of the Hollywood musical, but in terms of ingenuity, flair and sheer eye-popping weirdness, it can't hold a candle to The Lure. Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska's wackadoo import is a familiar tale of a young couple torn between individual dreams and professional desires, the twist being that these protagonists (Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszanska) are mermaid cannibals sashaying through the seedy cabaret underbelly of 1980s Warsaw. Like the dreamy love child of Amèlie's Jean-Pierre Jeunet and The Fly's David Cronenberg-except with quite a bit more singing and dancing from its fantastical femme fatales-Smoczynska's knockout debut charts its aquatic fairy tale creatures as they make a name for themselves as a pop duo known as "The Lure," along the way falling in love and chomping on unsuspecting (male and female) victims. A bisexual Little Mermaid-by-way-of-vampire horrorshow scored to original New Wave-y tunes, it really is like nothing you've ever seen before.
11. Icaros: A Vision
A journey into the deep, dark regions of the Amazonian wild, Leonor Caraballo and Matteo Norzi's Icaros: A Vision follows an American beset by a cancer to the Peruvian jungle in search of ayahuasca-a psychedelic plant that, along with medicinal chants known as "icaros," are used by locals to remedy mind, body and spirit. In the care of Shipibo shamans, she and other patients venture freely between lucid and hallucinatory states, and so too does the film, which proceeds in an oblique, waking-dream fashion. Shot on location at a community retreat (and, briefly, at a hotel that was featured in Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo), this unique effort is an equally optimistic and despairing look at the ongoing clash of global cultures. And it's one bolstered by its constant synthesis of disparate forces-man and nature, the modern and the ancient, the West and the East, the physical and the ethereal, and, ultimately, the real and unreal.
10. Get Out
Be it the early sight of a car pulling up alongside an African-American man, or a photo of an angry dog being held on a tight leash, the color white spells doom in Jordan Peele's social-commentary horror hit Get Out-albeit ultimately in unexpected ways. Surrounded by his white girlfriend Rose's (Allison Williams) Obama-loving family and their friends during a weekend getaway at their rural estate, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) finds himself increasingly uncomfortable, especially after a series of encounters with fellow African-Americans (the household's staffers, a young boyfriend of a much older white woman) make him suspect that something is scarily amiss. The story's climactic revelations are indebted to The Stepford Wives, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Rosemary's Baby, and yet are given a fresh of-the-moment twist by Peele's razor-sharp script, which cleverly locates the means by which liberals' pro-black attitudes function as a type of appropriation-esque intolerance. As impressive as its racial-dynamics critique, however, is its formal dexterity; from its malevolent pacing to its terrifying imagery (especially of "The Sunken Place"), Peele's directorial debut is a first-rate cinematic nightmare.
Even if it didn't conclude with a gasp-inducing twist that forces one to reconsider everything that's come before it, Split would stand as a triumphant return to form for director M. Night Shyamalan, the former The Sixth Sense wunderkind who'd lately fallen on tough studio-for-hire times. Unlike his sturdy 2015 found-footage thriller The Visit, Shyamalan's latest boasts the menacing, meticulous widescreen beauty of his signature hits. Here, his sinister style is used in service of a story about three young girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula) who are kidnapped by James McAvoy's Kevin-and then learn that they actually have many captors, considering that Kevin boasts 23 distinct personalities. Worse still for them, Kevin is convinced that a supernatural 24th identity known as "The Beast" is on the verge of emerging-a development that provides plenty of breakneck-momentum suspense to go along with McAvoy's mesmerizing lead turn as the monstrous madman.
Hugh Jackman bears his adamantium claws one last time as Marvel's Wolverine in James Mangold's Logan, which-after 2013's samurai-themed The Wolverine-relocates the character in dusty, downbeat Western terrain. Set in a 2029 in which mutants are rare specimens thought to be extinct (as well as the stuff of comic-book legend), Mangold's film finds Jackman's famed hero hiding out in remote Texas, caring for a dementia-addled Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and trying to forget how he got all the scars that now mar his body, failing to heal the way they did during his youthful heyday. His recluse life is forever upended by the arrival of a young girl (Dafne Keen) with whom he shares a mysterious connection, and who's wanted by mercenaries led by Boyd Holbrook's Donald Pierce. What follows is a prolonged chase narrative that's awash in more brutal R-rated action than any prior X-Men franchise installment, and infused with a surprisingly melancholy-if quietly hopeful-heart that marks it as a fitting end for Jackman's Wolverine tenure.
7. The Lost City of Z
Acclaimed American filmmaker James Gray (Two Lovers, The Immigrant) ventures for the first time outside New York City-and into the dark heart of the Amazon-with The Lost City of Z, an adaptation of David Grann's 2009 non-fiction book of the same name. Such a geographic relocation, however, does little to alter Gray's fundamental artistic course, as his latest-about early 20th century British explorer Percy Fawcett's (Charlie Hunnam) repeated efforts to locate a lost South American civilization that he believed to be more advanced than any previously discovered-boasts his usual classical aesthetics and empathetic drama. Energized by a hint of Apocalypse Now's into-the-wild madness, this entrancing period piece is at once a grand adventure, a social critique about class and intolerance, and a nuanced character study about an individual caught between his love for, and desire to escape, his environment. Led by Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, and Sienna Miller, it's also one of the finest-acted dramas of the year.
6. Hounds of Love
Putting a rugged twist on the serial-killer subgenre, Australian director Ben Young's stellar debut concerns a young girl in 1987 Perth named Vicki (Ashleigh Cumming) who, after another row with her mother about her parents' separation, is lured back to the home of a couple (Emma Booth and Stephen Curry) that, it turns out, has deviant plans for her. From an opening POV pan across a schoolyard populated by nubile teenage girls to the many shots in which Young's camera pulls back from closed façades, Hounds of Love conveys a chilling sense of unspeakable horrors being perpetrated just out of everyday view-thus lending the proceedings a faux-based-on-real-events grittiness and immediacy. As it slowly elucidates the parent-child issues plaguing both its captors and their captive, the film develops into a chilling portrait of male domination and female liberation, all while providing, at every turn, an almost unbearable amount of methodical, nail-biting suspense.
5. Alien: Covenant
Blending the body horror of his 1979 Alien, the gung-ho combat of James Cameron's 1986 sequel Aliens, and the philosophical grandiosity of his 2012 prequel Prometheus-not to mention the man-and-machine musings of his 1982 Blade Runner-Ridley Scott delivers a biblically scaled interstellar nightmare with Alien: Covenant. Scott's latest spends its first hour setting up a familiar battle between human colonists and angry xenomorphs, after the former decide to investigate a mysterious distress signal from a nearby planet. Yet after expertly going through the tried-and-true monster-movie motions, the director then shifts gears by turning his prime attention to Michael Fassbender's android David, who, it turns out, is an inhabitant of this ancient world. Face-huggers, back-bursters, mecha-doppelgängers and the most narcissistic-homoerotic sequence in sci-fi history soon follow, with the action immaculately designed for suspense, scares and sly sinister humor. At once a thrilling blockbuster spectacle and an inventive expansion of the franchise's core themes, it's the rare prequel to truly justify its existence.
4. I Called Him Morgan
Lee Morgan was one of the mid-century jazz scene's brightest lights, until his life was cut tragically short when his wife Helen fatally gunned him down in a New York City nightclub on the snowy night of February 18, 1972. Using copious archival footage, newly recorded interviews with friends and collaborators, and, most illuminating of all, a tape-recorded 1996 interview with Helen made one month before her death, Kasper Collin's transfixing documentary I Called Him Morgan recounts this sad real-life saga as two separate stories-Lee's and Helen's-that eventually dovetailed, intertwined, and then combusted in horrific fashion. Abandonment, drug abuse and betrayal all factor into this sorrowful equation, as Collin assuredly conveys the messy stew of passion, need, ego, loneliness, and fury that eventually begat such a calamity. In doing so, it recognizes the jazzy spirit of Lee and Helen's doomed romance-and, also, the riffing-our-way-forward nature of life itself.
3. The Blackcoat's Daughter
Director Osgood Perkins is the son of Norman Bates himself (actor Anthony Perkins), but he proves to be a horror maestro in his own right with The Blackcoat's Daughter, a beguiling descent into dark, demonic places that's all the more chilling for refusing to chart a simple straight-and-narrow course. In upstate New York, Kat (Mad Men's Kiernan Shipka) is left by her parents to spend winter break at her boarding school alongside more popular Rose (Lucy Boynton); meanwhile, Joan (Emma Roberts) endeavors to hitchhike her way to the school, eventually nabbing a ride with a contentious couple (James Remark and Lauren Holly). What these three girls have to do with each other is a mystery to be unraveled. However, it's ultimately far less important than the overarching air of loss-of parents, of virginity, of adolescence-and grief that consumes them. It eventually becomes clear that all is not right with this institute and its (Satan-admiring?) staff members. Yet what lingers is the pervasive fear of abandonment, all of it encapsulated by Roberts' final, unforgettable primal scream.
2. John Wick: Chapter 2
Rarely has a film seemed less in need of a sequel than 2014's John Wick, a self-contained bit of action-cinema perfection. Nonetheless, John Wick: Chapter 2 manages to justify its own existence through a constant barrage of masterful gun-fu carnage, with bullets flying at a jaw-dropping rate courtesy of Keanu Reeves' nattily dressed assassin. Director David Leitch's follow-up is a symphonic orgy of frenzied firearm warfare, with violence here depicted as a culinary art form performed by stylish Zen badasses with philosophical souls. It's akin to a hybrid of Jean-Pierre Melville's noir cool and Marvel's superhero fantasy, all underworld rules and regulations and unbelievable feats of fearsome brutality, with Reeves exuding male-model chicness and powder-keg explosiveness as the epicenter of this murderous maelstrom. While the film's reason for once again forcing Wick out of retirement isn't nearly as gripping as its predecessor's vengeance-for-his-dead-dog motivation, the specifics of Chapter 2 wind up mattering little in the face of so much exhilarating death and destruction.
1. I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore
Suspenseful and hilarious, despondent and optimistic, I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore is a masterful genre film, one that immerses itself in the small, painful indignities of everyday life, and then casts the battle against those wrongs as a serio-comic odyssey of sleuthing, heavy metal and nunchakus. After her house is burglarized, nurse Ruth (Melanie Lynsky) partners with rat-tailed martial-arts-loving neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood) to recover her stolen belongings. Their ensuing black-comedy adventure is grimy, bloody, and ridiculous, as director Macon Blair (best known for his performances in Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin and Green Room) pitches his material as an absurdist neo-noir saga about combatting existential despair. Courtesy of a great Lynsky performance that's equal parts miserable and furious, I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore (which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance before premiering exclusively on Netflix) finds humor and horror in the notion that "everyone is an asshole"-and then locates hope in the closing-note idea that, rather than worrying about them, life is best spent in the company of those precious few who aren't.
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