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Christopher Schobert’s Top 10 Films of 2017

Written by on January 2, 2018 

5. Mudbound (Dee Rees)

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Whether you saw Dee Rees’s Mudbound at Sundance, at the Toronto International Film Festival, or in your home after its November 17 Netflix debut, the response was likely the same: emotional devastation. The story of two families and two World War II veterans in Mississippi is an American epic, one made with unflinching honesty. Mary J. Blige and Carey Mulligan shine here, but the two most startling performances come from Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund. Their portrayals of GIs dealing PTSD and racism are astounding. It all culminates in a final stretch that begins like a nightmare, but ends with a feeling of real joy. Bravo to the immensely talented Rees for crafting an extraordinary, shattering film.

4. Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)

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Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name might not be the most memorable love story of the year — see the film in my No. 1 slot — but it’s the most deliriously sensual and uniquely joy-filled. Guadagnino has long been adept at establishing a unique setting, and he does so here just as effectively as author André Aciman did in his novel. The picturesque, sun-soaked Italian location feels eminently livable, and the characters believable. In fact, it’s the relationships that truly engage — between Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer), Elio and his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), and even between Elio’s father and mother (Amira Casar). It’s the rare film in which a sequel is not just desirable, but downright necessary. Let’s swim with these characters again. And maybe again after that.

3. The Florida Project (Sean Baker)

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How exactly did Sean Baker do it? How did the director of Tangerine make this story of a mother and daughter living at a rundown motel outside of Walt Disney World in Orlando so joyous, sad, and utterly insightful? Young star Brooklynn Prince is essential to its success; she gives one of the most natural performances I’ve seen from a child. And the great Willem Dafoe, of course, has never been better — or sweeter. But Baker deserves the highest praise. He has constructed a film about children and parents that is truly insightful. Does Moonee deserve better? Without question. But Baker shows that even in situations as messy as the those depicted in The Florida Project, there can be deep love. And that counts for something.

2. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)

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Lady Bird is one of the year’s great joys. Greta Gerwig’s debut as a solo writer-director is so wise, so funny, and so remarkably assured that it seems to have flown in out of nowhere. Where did this nearly perfect coming-of-age comedy and emotionally affecting study of youth, social status, and financial malaise come from? There have been several very strong female-led stories of adolescence in recent years — The Edge of Seventeen and The Diary of a Teenage Girl among them. Those films were quite good, but neither quite nailed the tragi-comic tone of The Graduate, or even Rushmore. Lady Bird does, and then some. It’s a celebration of the types of modest successes that define many of our lives. Gerwig understands what it means to struggle economically and academically in America, and how it is to be the private school kid who lives on the wrong side of the tracks. As the film nears its end, Gerwig captures, with ferocious insight, the fear and freedom that come from leaving home. But she also captures the emotional ferocity of a parent watching this unfold. Quite simply, Lady Bird is a film to fall in love with.

1. The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro)

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Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is the elegant love story he was born to make. Obviously, it is his best film since Pan’s Labyrinth, but one can go further; Shape is his finest effort to date. Consider the swoon-worthy look of it all, from the design of the amphibious creature to the sight of a grinning Sally Hawkins on her nightly bus journey. Consider, too, the performances of Hawkins, Doug Jones, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, and Michael Stuhlbarg. On paper, the plot — mute custodian falls for the aforementioned imprisoned creature during the Cold War — sounds stale, and B-movie-ish. In del Toro’s hands, it is magical. Moment to moment, scene for scene, The Shape of Water is a glorious creation. Here is a film that reminds us why we so adore cinema in the first place. In all respects, it is a remarkable achievement.

Continue: The Film Stage’s Top 50 Films of 2017

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