Science, reason, and basic human decency are under attack more than ever, but at least good movies are still being made.
10. Lost in Paris
The latest by married couple Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon pulls off the tricky feat of getting formalistic whimsy just right, creating a Jacques-Tati-on-a-shoestring romance that never misses an opportunity for a sight gag or other lightweight silliness. Fiona is a tall, gawky librarian (represent!) who travels to Paris to visit her aunt, promptly loses everything, and falls in with Abel’s average-sized tramp. The tone is sweet and affable without becoming cloying, and Abel and Gordon get points for the truly baller move of needle-dropping Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s “The Swimming Song” four times.
9. Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story
A film about a married couple rather than by one, Harold Michelson was a production designer for dozens of films, including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, while Lillian did research for hundreds of films but received screen credit for only seven. David Raim’s charming documentary is told from the still-alive Lillian’s POV, and she has no shortage of stories alternately inspiring and infuriating — the verbal abuse she received for being an orphan back when America was great is just stunning — while shedding light on aspects of filmmaking that don’t get enough attention.
8. We Are the Flesh
Further evidence that all bets are off in Mexico’s ongoing horror renaissance. Emiliano Rocha Minter’s claustrophobic vision of a post-apocalyptic Mexico City finds a pair of teenage siblings coming under the sway of a man who views the collapse of society as a call for humans to embrace their carnal nature and shatter every taboo, starting with the obvious one between brothers and sisters. What Minter lacks in budget he makes up for with a deeply unsettling sound design and no regard for anything resembling conventional taste or morality.
7. The Disaster Artist
James Franco’s adaptation of Greg Sistero’s book about the making of Tommy Wiseau’s famously incompetent The Room is the best narrative movie about outsider filmmaking since Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. Franco the director wisely retains the book’s structure, focusing on the relationship between Wiseau (Franco, James) and Sistero (Franco, Dave), while Franco the actor’s portrayal of Wiseau always laughs with the Eastern European oddball, never at him.
6. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki
A sort of bizarro-world Raging Bull, the title subject of Juho Kuosmanen’s biopic is a 60-kilo Finnish boxer training to take on Davey Moore. When Mäki falls in love with a childhood friend, he discovers he’s more of a nurturer than a fighter. On a strictly cinematic level, few period pieces capture their era so perfectly; shot on gloriously grainy 16mm b&w, it would be easy to mistake this for a lost film from the early 1960s.
5. Dawson City: Frozen Time
Speaking of lost films, several hundred silent-era movies were once buried under a skating rink in the Yukon Territory mining town of Dawson City. Who knew? Bill Morrison’s multilayered montage of a documentary explores the reasons why, and tells the story via on-screen text against contemporaneous newsreel and feature film footage, as well as through the recovered reels themselves. Dawson City’s history would be interesting either way, but the mother lode of frozen, hypnotically decayed motion pictures makes it downright delicious.
In a performance that vindicates anyone who’s ever confused her with Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett plays 13 unconnected characters in wildly disparate situations who shout, whisper, and otherwise recite both famous and not-so-famous artistic and political manifestos. In addition to being a visually sumptuous showcase for a terrific actor, it’s fun to think how many of the alpha-male artists she quotes would be horrified by the thought of a woman speaking their precious, earth-shattering words.
Kitties! Ceyda Torun’s study of the hundreds of thousands of feral cats that make the streets of Instanbul their home is by far the most aesthetically and emotionally satisfying documentary of 2017. The smiles on the bipeds’ faces would speak volumes even if you watched it without subtitles, but notable in the spoken language is the frequent use of the word “Allah,” a spiritual aspect of the film that’s only surprising if you don’t like cats.
2. Brigsby Bear
Dave McCary’s comedy needs to be watched the way it was made: with a completely open heart, devoid of cynicism. It seems difficult, but it’s worth the effort, and the rewards are many. It helps to go in knowing as little as possible, but in broad strokes, it’s about a sheltered young man who decides to make a movie based on his favorite television show. A Valentine to the healing power of art and the magic of friendship, Brigsby Bear is a film quite unlike any other.
1. My Little Pony: The Movie
A pleasure from start to finish, Jayson Thiessen’s lush feature adaptation of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic series was never going to get a fair shake due to the brand’s toxicity. Some critics balked at the concept of talking animals, apparently having missed every animated film produced between Bambi and Zootopia. Aesthetically, art director Rebecca Dart evokes the long-gone days of cel-based animation in both the character designs and the backgrounds: Consider the hand-drawn look of the waterfalls around Canterlot, or the chain holding the cage in Tempest’s airship. Also setting it apart from many animated family films is that except for Sia, whose avatar Songbird Serenade fits into the Pony universe as if she were present from the start, there isn’t a single modern pop-culture reference to date the film. A special shout-out goes to Taye Diggs, clearly having the time of his life voicing the wily cat Capper.
But like the source show at its best, the movie is a character-driven story first and foremost. It also doesn’t shy away from Pinocchio-level heaviness — but without that film’s heavy-handed moralizing — such as when the little purple pony princess protagonist surrenders to despair and chooses to die. (That’s followed by four seconds of silent blackness before she’s resuscitated — and it isn’t even her darkest moment.) My Little Pony: The Movie is PG, but it’s a hard PG. It’s even good enough to make up for the lack of a proper Equestria Girls feature this year, and that’s no small feat.