The best of cinema this year dwelled on loss. It isn’t a subject many flock to the theaters for, but it proves to be a subject worthy of many good films and a few great ones this year. Loss can be overused and melodramatic. Loss can also be depressing. There is a niche of films, though, that use this subject with an exact purpose: to overwhelm its audience with emotion and to cause us to ruminate on what we just watched.
The loss of a father in Columbus provokes a relationship that could last a lifetime. The loss of a sibling in Personal Shopper could impact a soul for a lifetime. A ghost in A Ghost Story has lost his life and has the misfortune of seeing life zoom by others, witnessing them losing what they love. And in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri a mother’s loss ignites a strand of violence that cannot be altered. Below are more films dealing with loss.
Here are my Top 30 Movies of 2017…
30. I, Tonya– Directed by Craig Gillespie
29. Super Dark Times– Directed by Kevin Phillips
28. Lost City of Z– Directed by James Gray
27. The Meyerowitz Stories (The New and Selected)– Directed by Noah Baumbach
26. I, Daniel Blake– Directed by Ken Loach
25. The Disaster Artist– Directed by James Franco
24. The Killing of a Sacred Deer– Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
23. The Salesman– Directed by Asghar Farhadi
22. Sweet Virginia– Directed by Jamie M. Dagg
21. Harmonium– Directed by Koji Fukada
20. Frantz– Directed by Francois Ozon
19. Nocturama– Directed by Bertrand Bonello
18. Beach Rats– Directed by Eliza Hittman
17. Personal Shopper– Directed by Olivier Assayas
16. Dawson City: Frozen Time– Directed by Bill Morrison
15. Lady Macbeth– Directed by William Oldroyd
14. Walking Out– Directed by Alex and Andrew J. Smith
13. My Happy Family– Directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Grob
12. Dunkirk– Directed by Christopher Nolan
11. Mudbound– Directed by Dee Rees
10. 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.
9. Brawl in Cell Block 99 Directed by S. Craig Zahler
Vince Vaughn gives one of the best performances of the year as Bradley Thomas, an ex-boxer who ends up in prison after a botched deal. His demeanor is constantly calm and yet seems to be able to erupt with rage at any moment. It is an impeccable performance. Director S. Craig Zahler surrounds Vaughn with some great villains (Don Johnson and Udo Kier) and uses them to channel the raw films of the 1970s. The film is simple, direct and to the point. Along the way we witness extreme violence and ruthless aggression, all of which never seem too over-the-top.
8. mother! Directed by Darren Aronofsky
There is an electric current that runs throughout the entire run-time of mother! It occurs as soon as the first image appears on the screen and ends on the final image we see. Both images are incredible. Nothing can possibly prepare you for what Darren Aronofsky has in mind. It is as if, with this film, he has discovered the perfect, adequate images that define madness.
7. Call Me By Your Name Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Set in 1983 in Northern Italy, Call Me By Your Name cannot refrain from casting a poetic, dreamlike aura around itself. By the time the film comes to its heartbreaking conclusion it immediately becomes part of a memory that the viewer may have forgotten he or she had. Ungovernable passions ensue when Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives at his professor’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) villa to study remnants from the Roman culture for six weeks. The professor’s son, Elio (Timothy Chalamet), takes an immediate romantic interest in Oliver, but is hesitant to come out with his feelings. Director Luca Guadagnino studies Elio’s subtle movements and gestures while he studies Oliver’s swift movements and cocky demeanor. Their journey is a delight to behold as we witness the awakening of two individuals, but realize that they have to keep their passions wanting more.
6. 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 during his attempt. The three are forced to stay together in Shinoda’s mother’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, which is to become a good father again.
5. Columbus Directed by Kogonada
First time director Kogonada tackles an all too familiar topic, but somehow, miraculously, makes it his own thanks to his poetic, subtle filmmaking. It is hard to dismiss legendary Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu’s influence on Kogonada’s film. His camera lingers on the every day casualness with subtle admiration and haunting rumination. Taking place in Columbus, Indiana (a silently renowned city for modern architecture), the film follows Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young woman who’s very intelligent, dealing with the recent death of a famous architecture. Jin (John Cho) is the son of this famous architecture and he comes in for his father’s funeral. Jin and Casey link up and what ensues is intellectual conversations that are sublime, inspirational, and ultimately revelatory for each character. The two find out more about themselves and the relationship they had/have with their parents through conversation. Sounds just like Ozu to me.
4. The Florida Project Directed by Sean Baker
How heartbreaking it is to see a child completely unaware of her surroundings. She laughs, plays, is confident, is proud, and has so much love to give despite her dire situation. This childhood innocence is what drives Mr. Baker’s newest feature. We are shown the beautiful Florida weather, skies, rainbows through the eyes of Moonee (Brooklyn Prince), a 6-year-old girl who lives with her single mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), in a colorful budget motel outside Orlando, Florida. Disney World is a mere pebble toss away, but Moonee is preoccupied with other children living in the same motel or similar ones surrounding the area. Willem Dafoe plays the manager of the motel Moonee and her mother are staying in. He tries his best to not only keep an eye out for the kids, but also make sure Halley keeps her act together. There are fragile lives existing in these motels. One slip and it can all come crashing down. Moonnee keeps her childlike innocence throughout the film, but there is a shattering climax (maybe the best of the year) where she realizes how desperate and dire her situation is.
3. Good Time Directed by Benny and Josh Safdie
The Safdie brothers must take immense delight in allowing the depraved, the degraded, and the hopeless to pervade every inch of their celluloid. The vivid force of reality that they bring to the screen is at times haunting, terrifying, thrilling, and jaw-dropping. In Good Time, we are recklessly plunged into the chaotic and desperate lives of Connie (Robert Pattinson) and Nick Nikas (Benny Safdie), two brothers who must have been playing behind the eight-ball since birth. After their botched bank robbery lands Nick in jail, Connie has several hours to get the money he needs to get his brother out of jail. Nick has mental issues, and needs special care and therapy to survive in life. Jail isn’t the place for him. Connie’s journey is nothing short of a nightmare, encountering the evil, the ugly and the desperate. The Safdie brothers film with urgency and every frame amazes. The incessant pace of their film, paired with this year’s best score by Oneohtrix Point Never, leaves one staggering after watching it, but filled with an excitement that has been lost in cinema recently. This is an exhilarating ride through Hell.
2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Directed by Martin McDonagh
Very few films are this good. Very few films dare to ask audacious questions or point the finger and blame authority. Very few films exhibit such inquires not with hatred or bias in mind, but because their characters are truly attempting to digest and contemplate the void in their life. McDonagh’s latest feature is one of these few films. It is brave, confident, unsparing, and finally, profoundly moving.
1. A Ghost Story Directed by David Lowery
Is pressed by unseen feet, and ghosts return
Gently at twilight, gently go at dawn,
The sad intangible who grieve and yearn….
– T.S. Eliot
Here is a transcendent film. Easily the best I’ve seen this year. Its potential is vast, inimitable, and eventually revelatory. One would never surmise such traits given the film’s sparse narrative: a man’s ghost (played by Casey Affleck who’s wearing for the majority of the film a white sheet with holes carved out for his eyes) comes back to the home he last lived in to perceive his wife’s (Rooney Mara) well being (she cannot see him) as she grieves his loss and tries to eventually move on. What transpires is unmistakably grand and ambitious. The film is less than ninety minutes long 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, the timelessness of time, the futility of creation, and the incessant torture a ghost must endure while watching helplessly as life zooms by.