From surgical quietude and nocturnal nightmares to feral mermaid sisters and antiporno sadism
For many people, 2017 was a year endured rather than lived. If 2016 was marked by the sheer immediacy of survival, then that sense of heightened awareness led us to wonder just how the fuck we got to where we are now. As reality continued to morph into the cartoonishly hyperreal landscapes of a nightmare, the cinema of 2017 brought forth a much-needed wave of pragmatism, forcing us to take a long, hard look at our collective histories — both recent and long ago, historical and fictional — as a means of regaining our bearings in a world where the rug had seemingly been pulled out from under our feet.
Whether these films were tackling issues of race (Mudbound, I Am Not Your Negro), sexuality (BPM, Call Me By Your Name), or even our youthful connection to the towns we grew up in (Lady Bird), there was an urgent sense of gazing back in time to reckon with our mistakes. And these contemplative reevaluations wisely skirted pure nostalgia, paving the way for thrilling narrative and visual experiments, from slowly peeling back the perfectionist veneer of the 1950s London fashion world to reveal its psychological kinks (Phantom Thread) and extolling the humor and wit of a reclusive poet (A Quiet Passion) to examining a collision between personal obsession and imperialism (The Lost City of Z) and a daring retcon of the world’s most ubiquitous film series (Star Wars: The Last Jedi).
Even topics that have been long since rendered inert were made exciting once again in 2017. Christopher Nolan’s use of World War II (Dunkirk) as an experiment in crosscutting and tension-building and Albert Serra’s wry Renaissance-painting-come-to-life (The Death of Louis XIV) displayed new aesthetic strategies for representing and grappling with the past, while James Franco used the behind-the-scenes on-set comedy (The Disaster Artist) to explore both the authenticity of our attachment to so-bad-it’s-good cinema as well as the emotional and economic intricacies behind its own making.
But where many films looked behind us, there were still plenty drawing inspiration from the urgency of our current and near-future predicaments. Some of our favorites managed to touch on the potential repercussions that technological advancements will have on our consciousness and memory (Marjorie Prime) or our sense of self-worth (Ingrid Goes West), while others remained firmly grounded in the struggle to simply exist and make it to the end of each day (The Florida Project, Good Time). These 30 films demonstrate that the art of filmmaking can still be emboldened by sociopolitical turmoil to re-examine its own means of production, simultaneously breathing new life into once-stale forms and breaking boundaries to create new ones. –DEREK SMITH