Fantasy, social satire, teen truths and wartime drama,
here are my favourite movies of the year
Writer-director Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird confidently explores the baffling push-pull of love and exasperation between mothers and adolescent daughters in a near-perfect comedic drama. There are echoes of John Hughes in the quicksilver dialogue and its authentic look at angst-vs.-joy of teens verging on adulthood, with outstanding performances from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.
2. The Shape of Water
Dubbed “E.T. for adults” writer-director Guillermo del Toro gets the hunted, misunderstood creature and sense of wonder just right in beautifully dreamy made-in-Toronto The Shape of Water. He goes beyond the outlier fairy tale with this Cold War-set drama that’s not ashamed to be romantic, yet also has something to say about prejudice and acceptance. Sally Hawkins is superb.
3. Get Out
Writer-director Jordan Peele makes a sure-footed, creative and often very funny debut with Get Out, a thriller mixed with social satire that turns on observations on race and intolerance in America. Decidedly self-aware and sprinkled with genre film and pop-culture references, Get Out is a movie to thoroughly enjoy in the moment and then spend a lot of time thinking about when the lights come up.
4. The Florida Project
I loved Sean Baker’s Tangerine and wondered at the time, if he could make such a powerful film on an iPhone, what would he do with a bit of budget and a camera? The Florida Project answers that with an empathetic story about poverty in America, with a story centred on kids growing up in a welfare motel in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom and a mother’s struggles. Remarkable performances, especially from Willem Dafoe as the motel manager who tries to bring normalcy and respect to chaotic lives.
5. The Big Sick
Searing funny, topical and filled with heart, comedian Kumail Nanjiani’s often-hilarious drama draws from his own life, as he and grad student Emily Gardner (co-writer on the screenplay and wonderfully played by Zoe Kazan) experience culture clashes on the way to romance. His family wants a traditional arranged marriage to a Muslim woman, but life intervenes. Holly Hunter is excellent as Emily’s determined mother and wonder of wonders, Ray Romano dials it down to be superb as her dad.
6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
It’s all about Frances McDormand’s raging, wounded performance in Martin McDonagh’s drama about race, grief and redemption. The unexpected twists and a surprising performance from Sam Rockwell make it very watchable, although there are flaws in the storytelling and it occasionally veers into unbelievability. But I really liked this movie and it has a place in my top 10.
7. A Ghost Story
A small indie that may have slid past you this year, this existential meditation on grief, loss and memory follows a woman (Rooney Mara) and her struggles to cope after her partner’s sudden death. He, as a white sheet-wearing ghost, must also puzzle out his place in an endless stretch of time, returning to their house to watch and wait for an unknowable something to happen. Because Casey Affleck, who settled two claims of sexual harassment out of court, plays the mute spectre, some may have no desire to see A Ghost Story. He’s under a cover for most of the film, yet manages to give a surprisingly nuanced performance, which may mean you’ll give A Ghost Story a chance.
8. Call Me by Your Name
Director Luca Guadagnino’s coming-of-age story is lush and sensuous with excellent performances by Timotheé Chalamet as 17-year-old Elio who falls into an intense summer relationship older Oliver (Armie Hammer), the mysterious man who changes his life. Michael Stuhlbarg is remarkable as Elio’s father, especially in a concluding scene that may leave you teary.
Christopher Nolan creates an immersive war film told from a soldier’s view, set around the evacuation of Allied troops from the beach at the French town of Dunkirk in World War II. Tension and frustration builds as troops wait for rescue and volunteers in small boats race to get them out before the Nazis fully descend. Nolan skillfully weaves several stories together, while Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance are all excellent.
10. The Square
Director Ruben Ostlund’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner blends art-world satire and escalating drama. It’s often very funny, especially the doings around the ad agency hired to promote a new art installation at a Stockholm contemporary art museum. But it’s often very unsettling, too. The lengthy, searing, and frankly a little bonkers, scene at a museum gala dinner starts out with a shirtless Terry Notary amusing guests with his chimpanzee impersonation. And then it just gets crazy.
Other favourites: The Post, Kedi, Blade Runner 2049, Phantom Thread, I, Tonya, The Disaster Artist, Loveless, A Fantastic Woman, Faces Places, Darkest Hour.