Well folks, we’re already one week past the midpoint of 2017, and as per usual I like to take a look back at the year in progress, and highlight some of the best films we’ve seen released. 2017 has already kicked off to an immensely promising start, with these first six months brimming with strong contenders for many year-end best lists. To be sure, there have been a few groaners (Fuck you, The Bye Bye Man!), moaners (Fifty Shades Darker…ugh) and disappointments (c’mon people, Logan is not all that great), but all in all, the good outweigh the bad, and without any further ado, here are my Top Ten Films of 2017 (so far).
After an auspicious debut (The Virgin Suicides) and a pair of remarkable features (Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette), Sofia Coppola’s filmmaking sensibilities seemingly to have slammed into a brick wall with subsequent efforts Somewhere and The Bling Ring. The Beguiled serves as a timely reminder as to how quietly engaging a director Coppola can be. A sumptuous and sensual return to form for the helmer, The Beguiled is as deceptive as its central characters, slowly revealing a much more insidious story at play underneath its delicate, China Doll-like exterior. Gorgeous cinematography by Philippe Le Sound is profoundly evocative and utilizes the most of its two locations (the interior of an all-girls’ seminary school is cast heavily in shadow, and the woodsy outdoors are bathed in swathes of sunlight), and performances by the ensemble are great all around, most notably with a stunning central turn from Nicole Kidman as the icy head of the school. It’s the best she’s been in years.
Dawson City: Frozen Time
A marvelous and significant snapshot look at the history of early American Cinema, Dawson City: Frozen Time is the carefully curated work of documentary filmmaker Bill Morrison, here presenting the findings of hundreds of film reels containing over 500 silent movies that were presumed to have been lost forever after they were originally frozen under an ice rink in northern Canada in the 1920’s, eventually being unearthed in the 1970’s. The resulting feature is nothing if not historic, with Morrison judiciously sifting through hundreds of hours of footage (including actual, never before seen clips of the 1919 World Series) to compose a wonderfully archival glimpse into the formative years of cinema.
Believe the hype: the most universally praised film of the year is also one of its best. Director Jordan Peele has done the unthinkable, blending a “message movie” with a genre picture to produce a smart, topical, and crowd-pleasing feature. There’s not a whole lot more to be said, really. Perhaps some might find the social commentary to be a bit more effective than the horror stuff, but there’s no denying the power in Peele’s words, and in the (putting this mildly) contentious world we live in now, we need films like Get Out now more than ever.
A Ghost Story
Like the haunting memory of a recently deceased loved one, A Ghost Story is destined to remain with viewers long after the end credits roll. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing has yet to be widely determined (friend and colleague Jack Eason was less than favorable towards the film), and on the surface, this does seem like your typical sort of pretentious, shallow, arthouse affair that acts as a punching bag in any serious film discussion. But before this goes and gets pilloried on Film Twitter, I’ll go on the record first at Optimism Vaccine to say that David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is a beautiful, near-masterpiece of a movie, one that examines life, death, love, loss, and regret, without being confined to the boundaries of time and space. It’s a film where a simple, static shot of a character engorging themselves on a home-baked pie becomes one of the most heart-rending and affecting portrayals of grief ever depicted on screen. Love it or hate it, you owe it to yourself to seek this movie out.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
In the ongoing debate of theatrical releases vs. streaming services, one argument in favor of the former is the lack of promotion for the films released on the latter. For instance, you will see millions of dollars of advertisements being poured into big name releases like Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2, Transformers: The Last Knight, and Spider-Man: Homecoming, but smaller films tend to get lost in the marketing shuffle. Case in point: Macon Blair’s I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, a film that held its premiere at Sundance in January and was actually awarded the festival’s top prize before dying a quick death on Netflix. It’s too bad really, because I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore film is a bright and inventive little thriller, occasionally dipping its toes into quirk without ever becoming insufferable. Blair might owe a bit of his work here to fellow filmmaker and friend Jeremy Saulnier (the pair worked together on Blue Ruin and Green Room), but as far as Sundance Grand Jury Prize winners now streaming on Netflix go, you could do a whole helluva lot worse than this.
It Comes at Night
Last year, director Trey Edward Shults blew the doors off of micro-budgeted indie filmmaking with the emotionally-charged and staggeringly personal Krisha, firmly establishing himself as a talent to watch. Shults keeps his promise with It Comes at Night, a pared down post-apocalyptic tale. Working with a more traditionally formal design, Shults’ film is sparse and heavily atmospheric, but no less gripping, pitting two families against each other in one house, cut off from a world that has been all but completely ravaged by disease. Shults’s propensity for quieter moments is put to great use, with the filmmaker capable of mining insurmountable moments of tension from the smallest of details. It’s terrific, minimalist work, and I’m looking forward to see what Shults does next.
John Wick: Chapter 2
2014’s John Wick was a revelation. A lean, mean, 95-minute bruiser of a film, Wick was the hero we all needed, with star Keanu Reeves turning in a note-perfect performance as the Zatoichi-esque killer, a man on the hunt to inflict pain and punishment against every last motherfucker who wronged him. It was truly awesome stuff. Chapter 2 doubles down on everything that made the original Wick a hit, expanding the scope of its action and delving deeper into Wick’s criminal underworld with a slick, globe-trotting revenge saga. Action choreography remains as clean and ruthless as ever, and while the film’s runtime might lack the urgency of the original Wick, the results are no less thrilling. Needless to say, bring on John Wick: Chapter 3.
The Lure is the Polish mermaid-musical-horror-comedy you never knew you wanted. It’s also the only Polish mermaid-musical-horror-comedy that’s been released in…ever? Anyways, The Lure is the startling debut film of Agnieszka Smoczynska. A loose retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, with the story here centering on a pair of beautiful mermaid sisters (their tales become exposed when their legs get wet, a la Tom Hanks vehicle Splash) who join a rock band and use their siren’s songs to feed their cannibalistic urges. Dazzlingly shot and featuring a terrific pop-rock soundtrack, The Lure is excitingly feminist, fun and twisted delight.
Earlier this year, I jokingly tweeted that Personal Shopper was merely “100 minutes of Kristen Stewart buying clothes, hunting ghosts, and text messaging” and that I loved every fucking minute of it. A tad reductive, I’ll admit, but it’s not a completely inaccurate summation of the film’s plot (and far be it from me to think that that would go on to be my most popular tweet ever). The latest from French auteur cum punk-rock enthusiast Olivier Assayas, Personal Shopper does indeed feature Kristen Stewart as the personal shopper for a famous actress who, in her spare time, practices being a medium to seek out the spirit of her recently deceased twin brother, who succumbed to a congenital heart condition Stewart’s character was also born with. That’s essentially all there is to it, with the middle act of the film dedicated to Stewart receiving a series of ominous text messages from an unknown source, one that may or may not be her brother. It’s to the credit of Assayas’ that he makes this material so damn compelling to watch on screen, with Stewart equally rising to the occasion to deliver her career-best work as an actress yet.
Twin Peaks: The Return
Oh, come at me. Instead of regurgitating the usual “Film vs. Television” debate that pervades every major discussion of pop culture this year, I’m just going to say that Twin Peaks: The Return is one of the greatest…things that I have ever had the fortune to lay my eyes on, and the fact that it continually exceeds and transcends any and all expectations I have as I continue to tune in each week is nothing short of astonishing. This is not just an excellent continuation of the original series; this is David Lynch’s finest hour, an amalgamation of his entire body of work that has coalesced into an incredible whole. It’s the best and most beautiful piece of art I’ve seen from any medium this year. At the time of this writing, we’re barely halfway through the series, and I have no idea where Lynch will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.