We are more than half way through the year and we haven’t been exposed to many great films. Naturally, at this point of the year, there may have been a handful of pictures that would have had a profound influence on its viewers initially. One or two have had such an impact (A Ghost Story and Wind River), while others could replicate that same feeling with multiple viewings (the majority of the films on this list). But the majority of the year’s pickings are lacking distinction. We’ll be looking forward to the next few months. Until then, here are my picks for the best movies of 2017 so far.
Personal Shopper Directed by Olivier Assayas
This film is the second collaboration between French director Olivier Assayas and American actress Kristen Stewart. Their first, Clouds of Sils Maria, was a meditative analysis on the eerie similarities between theater and reality. Now, with Personal Shopper, they turn their attention to the metaphysical and what an impressive journey it is. Part ghost story, part yearning for a loved one, Assayas finds the perfect balance between the two to create a palpable work of art.
The Salesman Directed by Asghar Farhadi
There aren’t many directors in the world today better than Asghar Farhadi. He has a penchant for simple tales that quickly unravel to rival something akin to the epic and transcendent narratives of Tolstoy and Chekov. Supposedly based on Arthur Millerâ€™s Death of a Salesman, Farhadiâ€™s version integrates his culturesâ€™ mores and religious beliefs seamlessly, creating an emotionally shattering piece of cinema.
After the Storm Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda
Despite his past failed efforts, Shinoda (Hiroshi Abe) desires to attempt to win back the attention of his son and wife who left him due to his gambling, shady company, and lack of devotion. An impending storm is threatening their city. The three are forced to stay together in Shinoda’s motherâ€™s tiny apartment. What ensues is touching and heartfelt. Director Hirokazu Koreeda savors every moment of this film, focusing on minute details that go into the makeup of Shinoda’s yearning.
The Lost City of Z Directed by James Gray
Many films deal with man being consumed by an impregnable desire to conquer uncharted lands. In recent memory, none have done such an incredible job as James Grayâ€™s film The Lost City of Z. Mr. Gray immerses us in the South American jungles and has us feel the desire, anguish, and joy the filmâ€™s characters experience. It’s a grueling depiction of man’s unwavering desires and the toll such desires have on his family and life.
It Comes at Night Directed by Trey Edward Shultz
What makes director Trey Edward Shultz’ film so marvelously stunning is its accurate depiction of terror. It’s a state that this film revels in throughout its entire runtime. This utterly consistent feeling of dread is conveyed solely by atmosphere. Nothing else. No horrific images, blood, or violence. Those have no place here. The true horror is in the things we don’t ever see.
A Ghost Story Directed by David Lowery
A Ghost Story is a transcendent film. Its potential is vast, inimitable, and eventually revelatory. One would never surmise such traits given the film’s sparse narrative: a man’s ghost comes back to his home to perceive his wife’s well being (she can’t see him) as she grieves his loss and eventually attempts to move on. What transpires is unmistakably grand and ambitious. The film is less than 90 minutes and every last minute seems to have been plucked from director David Lowery’s dreams. Not only are we witnessing grief being coped with, Lowery, stealthily, contemplates the enormity of existence, time, the futility of creation and the incessant torture a ghost must endure while watching helplessly as life zooms by.
Wonder Woman Directed by Patty Jenkins
Here is this yearâ€™s biggest surprise. D.C. desperately needed a hit and got it with this film. What makes Wonder Woman so dazzling is the romance that is at the filmâ€™s core. It’s undeniable, especially with leads such as Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. When a film that has so much action to offer is remembered more for its subtle touches of humanity and intimate moments of romantic bliss (when snow is falling on a dilapidated village while the two leads share a kiss), that is when you know you’re experiencing something special.
Frantz Directed by Francois Ozon
A simple gaze haunts Mr. Ozon’s entire picture. Two men meet in the trenches of WWI. A French officer stares into the eyes of a German officer and is transfixed and paralyzed with fear and maybe even love. From here the film creates magic. Dealing with death, love and loss, Ozon relishes these moments with artistic care, heightening the emotion and not sinking into melodramatic territory. Frantz is filmed mostly in black and white, with the occasional pangs of vibrant color when past, happy times occurred (such scenes call to mind those in Francois Truffaut’s 1962 film, Jules and Jim).
The Big Sick Directed by Michael Showalter
Viewers will be totally delighted witnessing this tragic-comedic-romantic film. It justly disapproves of the crude and vulgar humor other comedies adhere to, and also emphasize moments of intimacy that occur outside the bedroom. These are some pleasures this film provides, but more impressive is the fact that director Michael Showalter can produce a plausible, coherent, and respectable while tackling heavy topics such as loss, religious, and culture differences, and a blossoming love. A lot could go wrong with this picture. Instead, we get something exquisitely intimate as the film reveals the many different paths life has ahead of us.
Wind River Directed by Taylor Sheridan
When looking at Mr. Sheridan’s previous scripts he penned for Hell or High Water and Sicario, it would be easy to understand that he has uncontrollable impulses toward the violent. Throughout each of those films and now Wind River, which is his first attempt at directing what he writes, violence is merely a foundation onto which he constructs his characters on, revealing in them how violence shapes them and the people around them. The violence this time involves a teenage Native American girl. Her body is found miles away from her home in the snow. FBI is called in (played by Elizabeth Olsen). She teams up with the local authorities and a tracker/hunter (Jeremy Renner). Wind River, taking place in the harsh, wintry landscapes of Wyoming on a Native American Reservation, isn’t a complex thriller. It’s to the point, raw and extremely bleak. Watching our protagonists sift through the rot, corruption and formidable evil while attempting to unearth what exactly it is that is going on provides a rush like no other film this year (one scene in particular offers a standoff between authorities that rivals prior standoffs from Michael Mann). Sheridan is insistent that we are exposed to this evil. Even more insistent that we see what it looks like. It’s the only way for us to combat evil.