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The Best Films of 2017 (So Far)

Written by on July 3, 2017 

The Ornithologist (João Pedro Rodrigues)

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Publicly stated by its director to concern Saint Anthony, the Portuguese priest and friar who legend calls the most supernatural of saints, The Ornithologist luckily manages to see the profane outweigh the sacred — no white elephantine “spirituality,” but rather a progression of set-pieces. We have something of a return for João Pedro Rodrigues to his debut feature Fantasma, a nocturnal “erotic thriller” of sorts that moved by the logic of its own images, this in opposition to more character-driven films such as Two Drifters and To Die Like a Man or his most recent The Last Time I Saw Macao, a tad too much an academic exercise in mirroring post-colonialism through a deadpan “non-mystery.” – Ethan V. (full review)

Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas)

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After Clouds of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper confirms Olivier Assayas as the director most adept at drawing the best out of Kristen Stewart. Here she follows in the footsteps of Maggie Cheung and Asia Argento, actors whose exceptional central performances prevented fundamentally flawed films by Assayas – Clean and Boarding Gate, respectively – from foundering altogether. Stewart’s achievement is arguably even more remarkable considering that for the bulk of Personal Shopper’s running time, her only co-actor is an iPhone. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)

A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies)

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“You are alone you your revolution, Ms. Dickinson,” spouts a stoic headmistress in the opening sequence of A Quiet Passion, a biopic of 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson and the latest work from proud Liverpudlian auteur Terence Davies. In the scene, young Emily has apparently rejected both a life in the seminary and the option to be a practicing catholic, a decision the famously atheistic director clearly vibes with. That sense of empathy and understanding with his subject is rife throughout this quietly cleansing and exquisitely considered film, which shows the writer from her late teens (portrayed by Emma Bell) through to adulthood (Cynthia Nixon) and old age. – Rory O. (full review)

The Son of Joseph (Eugéne Green)

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The Son of Joseph, my introduction to the films of Eugéne Green, displays an impressive formal approach and playful sense of comedy. In this story of a teenager attempting to track down his real father — and the aftermath of what that entails — Green’s Bressonian style melds nicely with his colorful palette, creating one of 2017’s more distinct features thus far. – Jordan R.

Song to Song (Terrence Malick)

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Let’s start this with an inquiry, one that hopefully engenders some consideration and an honest response: what are you seeking when watching a Terrence Malick film released in 2017? I take the unusual tack of beginning like so because it sometimes feels as if questions are the most that his recent work can ultimately encourage, and in particular because the latest, Song to Song — his fifth feature completed this decade, or the sixth if one counts the IMAX version of Voyage of Time, and preceding a sixth (or seventh) narrative film that’s rumored to premiere this fall — seems, no matter its very immediate and obvious pleasures, unlikely to change the current dialogue in any significant way. There are stronger-than-usual whiffs of narrative and a star-studded / -crossed-lovers cast to be found, yes — note how its poster puts those faces front and center while making no note of the auteur in question — but we are once again deep in Malick country, and they may only exacerbate the fact that the director has made one of his most emotionally dense films, and perhaps the most outright restless. – Nick N. (full review)

Staying Vertical (Alain Guiraudie)

Staying Vertical

Those only familiar with Alain Guiraudie’s sublime Stranger By the Lake, which finally brought the gifted French director to a (relatively) wider audience following a laureled Un Certain Regard premiere in 2013, will likely find themselves confounded by its follow-up, Staying Vertical. With his first entry in Cannes’ main competition, Guiraudie returns to the psychoanalytic mode of the features preceding Stranger, where he gradually and stealthily eroded the boundary between reality and fantasy to probe the complexities of human desire — particularly of the sexual kind — exposing the stifling effects of social norms and conventions to thoroughly bewildering results. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)

The Woman Who Left (Lav Diaz)

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Lav Diaz’s Golden Lion winner from this year’s Venice Film Festival feels like something of a surprise because, for all its extended shots, luminous black-and-white photography, and socio-historical weight, The Woman Who Left is ultimately an unostentatious work. Compared to, say, Norte, The End of History’s remarkably grim ending, with its reaches into fantasy / metaphysics (don’t forget that Tarkovsky-esque levitation), there doesn’t seem to be quite the same need to impress or belabor the point. – Ethan V. (full review)

Your Name (Makoto Shinkai)

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I had no idea what to expect upon sitting down to Your Name and the first few minutes definitely had my head spinning. We’re ushered in via the voiceover narration of two high schoolers we’ve yet to properly meet in Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) and Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki). They speak about dreams as a rare comet shoots across the blue sky. It’s cryptic, beautiful, and utterly fascinating—a subdued tone easing us in before a kinetic collage of vignettes without context replaces it, a Radwimps rock anthem blaring about love. This shift to music video interlude proves jarringly abrupt; its culmination marked by Mitsuha awakening from slumber a wonderful splash into the deep-end of this anime’s high concept romantic fantasy. – Jared M. (full review)

Honorable Mentions

Since Twin Peaks isn’t even halfway over, we’ll wait to mention that come September. Otherwise, a number of festival favorites we admired (or were split on as a team) deserve a mention, including Slack Bay, Berlin Syndrome, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, Dean, The Discovery, The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Mäki, Graduation, Tramps, Dark Night, The Human Surge, Behemoth, The Lure, Contemporary Color, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, David Lynch: The Art Life, Norman, Afterimage, My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, and Hounds of Love. As far as studio fare, SplitA Cure for Wellness, and The LEGO Batman Movie also nearly made the cut.

Lastly, films such as I Am Not Your Negro, The Salesman, My Life as a Zucchini, I, Daniel Blake, and The Red Turtle finally got proper releases this year, but considering they had qualifying runs last year, we left them off.

Looking Ahead

The must-see films arriving in the last half of the summer season that we’ve already reviewed.

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A Ghost Story (July 7)
City of Ghosts (July 7)
Landline (July 21)
The Untamed (July 21)
Escapes (July 26)
Columbus (August 4)
Step (August 4)
Good Time (August 11)
Whose Streets? (August 11)
Nocturama (August 11)
The Trip to Spain (August 11)
Marjorie Prime (August 18)
Beach Rats (August 25)

What are your favorite films of the year so far?

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