Although I make this claim nearly every year, 2017 has been a spectacular year for film. From a wave of new additions to the American “neo-neo realist” canon, which encompasses films focused on class struggles and disenfranchisement, to films that wholly embrace the escapist qualities that cinema has to offer, most of the much-anticipated movies released this year have not disappointed. Though I have yet to see many of 2017’s cinematic darlings — such as “Call Me By Your Name” and “Phantom Thread” — because of their limited releases, here are my picks (in no specific order) for the year’s must-see films:
“The Florida Project” - Sean Baker
Like Sean Baker’s iPhone-filmed debut “Tangerine,” “The Florida Project” is a stunningly funny and charismatic exploration of adversity, largely centered on the precocious six-year-old Moonee who lives in a purple motel ironically named “The Magic Castle.” The film is a love letter to childhood innocence in the face of hardship, portraying the everyday magic that life has to offer even after its mysticism has long worn off. No other film of 2017 has matched the stunning visual display that “The Florida Project” offers: The candy-colored, sun-kissed tones of Floridian summers melt over every frame, and Baker’s direction is taught and flawless. It’s this year’s “Moonlight,” in terms of both content and style — let’s just hope that this time, though, there aren’t any Academy Award mix-ups to detract from its moment in the spotlight.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” - Martin McDonagh
Black humor is difficult to pull off, especially when the subject material is devastatingly tragic — director Martin McDonagh, however, has never shied away embracing the comedy of the taboo, evident in his previous films “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths.” With “Three Billboards,” McDonagh manages to turn the rape and murder of teenage girl into a viciously clever story of vendettas and violence, the cinematic representation of “an eye for an eye might make the whole world blind, but the world has it coming.” The film is a character study of the lengths one will go to in order to nurture grief, and it explores some of the darkest reaches of the human psyche possible through the acting powerhouses that are Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell.
“Baby Driver” - Edgar Wright
What if “Drive” and “La La Land” had a cinematic offspring crafted by the creative mind behind “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”? There’s no need for guessing — without a doubt, that lovechild is “Baby Driver,” a film bursting at its seams with music, rhythm, color and car chases. “Baby Driver” is a ballet of gunfire and getaway cars: Its action is choreographed perfectly to its carefully curated soundtrack, and the characters interact and move with the fluidity of a dance. Like the rest of Edgar Wright’s filmography, it’s a film marked by its larger-than-life qualities, dazzling visuals and relentless energy, which provide a couple hours of escapism from the ostensible nightmare that has been 2017. (The downfall of American democracy, anyone?)
“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” - Noah Baumbach
Adam Sandler is, perhaps, one of the most criminally underrated actors in Hollywood — rivaled only by Nic Cage and Jim Carrey. In the made-for-Netflix film “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” Sandler plays into the idiosyncrasies of Noah Baumbach’s script with a level of subtlety rarely witnessed in his career, and provides an impassioned take on his signature mania to which we have grown accustomed. Also starring Ben Stiller and Dustin Hoffman, “The Meyerowitz Stories” is at once funny and heartbreaking, a story of family dysfunction that feels like “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Nebraska” but never relies too heavily on the footwork of its predecessors. It’ll make you wish Noah Baumbach directed every film Adam Sandler stars in.
“Lady Bird” - Greta Gerwig
Greta Gerwig stepped away from her longtime filmmaking partner and boyfriend Noah Baumbach for her directorial debut “Lady Bird” (which she also wrote), a coming-of-age story about a high school senior named Lady Bird who is unapologetically eccentric and outspoken. The film contains all of the quirks that comprise a Gerwig-related production — fast-paced editing, quick-witted and awkward humor and moments of intense poignancy. “Lady Bird” is not groundbreaking by any means in terms of its storyline or style, but it’s overwhelmingly earnest and energetic, a well-intentioned take on a girl’s journey through adolescence and the turmoil (both external and internal) involved.
“Quest” - Jonathan Olshefski
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Though documentaries rarely receive as much acclaim or recognition as their fictional counterparts, photographer-turned-filmmaker Jonathan Olshefski’s “Quest” is one of the most deeply moving and intimate films of the year. Filmed over the span of 10 years, “Quest” documents the woes, joys and day-to-day mundanities encountered by the Rainey family in their North Philadelphia neighborhood. Its progression could’ve easily been fabricated — the Raineys contend with financial problems, gang violence, health issues and personal shortcomings — but it’s the fact that the film is rooted in real people (and their real stories) that stirs the viewer so profoundly. Reality is confronted rather than suspended, and the result is a poignant film that will surely leave an impression on even the most casual viewer.
Nina Wilder is a Trinity sophomore and the Recess managing editor.