Generation Film’s Top 25 Films of 2017

Raw25. Raw (Julia Ducournau)- Julia Ducournau’s dangerously seductive and mercilessly immersive horror film Raw leaves an impression on those who experience it. It’s visually provocative, symbolically heavy, and certainly goes out of its way to discomfort all of those who get enraptured by its lurid visuals, symbolic subtext, and grotesque surprises. It’s a coming-of-age tale about social anxiety, adolescent acceptance, and the suppression of primitive urges, one that allows actress Garance Marillier to showcase a vast array of personality shifts demonstrating the muddled struggle of identity that leads to a discovery of sin that becomes a true fall from grace. Ducournau’s direction, aided by the exquisite camerawork of Ruben Impens and the chaotic score of Jim Williams, constructs a seductive work that burrows under the skin and entices the audience to follow this journey of an awakening of carnal desires. It’s a bold statement from any filmmaker, let alone a directorial debut, and Ducournau’s inventive, darkly humorous, and delectable debut showcases the creative instincts and perverse sense of humor we desire in our emerging talents. There’s a lot of promise here beyond the truly enticing work of sexuality and cannibalism, and that’s what is truly exciting.

BrawlinCellBlock9924. Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler)- Anyone who had the pleasure of experiencing the chilling debut statement from S. Craig Zahler in Bone Tomahawk–the anachronistic, witty western that was a crossbreed of old-fashioned western veneer, pitch black comedy, and cannibalistic horror—must have been anticipating what the mad cynical genius could come up with next. And for those lucky enough to get to experience his sophomore effort Brawl in Cell Block 99 didn’t feel even a tinge of disappointment. S. Craig Zahler is a serious, intimate screenwriter with an even more elegant sense of filmmaking, and his script is overfilled, even dripping, with character, sumptuous dialogue, and cringe-inducing brutality. It’s a painstakingly paced thriller that envelopes you with its fascinating air of morbidity, and at the center of it all is a captivating, believable, and physical performance from Vince Vaughn (I never thought I would type that sentence either). Brawl in Cell Block 99 is one of the best examples of 70s grindhouse resurrections, mostly because it has serious intent behind all its bone-crunching violence. This isn’t some joke or parody for S. Craig Zahler, it’s exploitation made with vicious sincerity.

Happiest Day23. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Juho Kuosmanen)- As sports biopics go, especially in the pugilism genre with the likes of Rocky, The Fighter, or even Cinderella Man, there’s rarely any that transcend their formulaic conventions. But Juho Kuosmanen’s The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki boldly defies expectations, and brilliantly removes cliché from its beautiful reflection on the balance between the ambition of careerism and the anchor of personal happiness. We’ve become accustomed, especially in cinema, to printing legends instead of the fallible men that inspire those legends, but Kuosmanen’s paradox of warm melancholy beautifully captures a focus on life’s innocent pleasures that depict a flawed man reaching for simple contentment. Shot masterfully in gorgeous black-and-white that enhances J.P. Passi’s lyrical handheld cinematography, and effectively anchored in performance by Jarkko Lahti, everything in the film seems to work in unison to deliver an ending that matches its perfectly composed first frame of bittersweet acceptance. It’s a wryly funny, yet deeply felt rarity of a film that tries to put the craft or skill of the sport at the forefront, and not necessarily put the winning of it at the center. It’s a refreshing take, and for a filmmaker to capture this perspective through sheer brilliant skill and a dedication to attention really shows what a promising filmmaker Kuosmanen will become in the future.

Breadwinner_0222. The Breadwinner (Nora Twomey)- the team behind the stunning visuals and engrossing fantasies of The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea returned this year with another beautiful, yet distressing animated tale about Parvana, an 11-year-old girl growing up under Taliban rule in Afghanistan 2001. This luminous, bold, and dark depiction of life under oppression gives birth to a message of female empowerment that pulls us and the characters seemingly out of the darkness. It’s a powerful message, one that should be heeded by those who are far removed from the consequences and hardships inflicted upon their young peers on the other side of the world. Beyond its heart-wrenching narrative and heroic protagonist, who is as intrepid as any Disney princess you admire, there’s the film’s expressive animated beauty that is as detailed and lush as a finely arranged tapestry. Even the harsh landscapes of the desert littered with the bones of landmines and abandoned tanks glisten with a lively aesthetic that entices you into its rapturous animation. It is a confident film that pushes the boundaries of comfort for the usual animation audience, inviting them to empathize and visualize a world that they really couldn’t comprehend fully before. That is art.

threebillboards21. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh)- After five years since the uneven Seven Psychopaths, Irish playwright and occasional filmmaker Martin McDonagh returned this year in the form of the darkly comedic, wryly acidic, and exceptionally mean-spirited Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. It’s a more focused work from the accomplished writer, one that feels discomforting in its relevance as its corrosiveness shifts the story from the hilariously profane and shockingly violent to the surprisingly tender and deeply poetic. It tackles the themes of festering injustice, as that personal pain from one deeply persistent woman breaks down and hollows a community and their palpable indifference. It’s a work of Shakespearean rage and imperfect redemption where most of its power and intrigue comes in the form of vibrant and defined characterization and performance, most notably from Frances McDormand who commands the screen and convinces, without any doubt, that not all moral compasses are easy or digestible. While it might not be as focused as his debut In Bruges, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is the first time one of McDonagh’s films has come close to the maturity and scope of his plays, and finally constructs a tale that says more about human nature, civic responsibility, and true righteousness than any of his other works. It’s his most palatable and relatable work, and that’s something to be commended.

columbus-film-image-120. Columbus (Kogonada)- One word that could describe the artfully composed and visually stunning Columbus might be the word “breathtaking.” Kogonada’s impressive feature debut stands out as one of those films unlike any other of its kind; a quietly stirring arthouse gem that juxtaposes the immaculate precision of architecture with the messiness of love, family, and legacy into a melancholic reflection about life’s unexpected changes. On its surface it is a formal tour-de-force of aesthetic meticulousness, a film that seems so perfect in its unconventional framing and chosen angles that it truly defies the modern formula of filmmaking. It’s fanatically symmetrical (beyond Wes Anderson quirk), possesses a stillness that approaches a feeling of zen-like comfort, and feels like it is conceptually structed as a form of architecture itself. And yet, all of this well-executed and beautifully done structure gorgeously illuminates the characters who inhabit the small town of Columbus, Indiana, as their lives seem chaotic, empty, and ill-designed compared to the famed buildings and calculated edifices around them. It’s a deceptively emotional work, one that mesmerizes you in such subtle ways that it is hard to forget its impactful resonance once you’ve left the theater.

The Big Sick - Still 119. The Big Sick (Michael Showalter)- The Big Sick reminds us that even the most formulaic of genres, such as the romantic-comedy, can still be explored for more intimate, intriguing material if we give it the proper time and attention. Inspired and detailed from the true story of co-writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon’s fascinating, beautiful, and complicated struggle to find love amidst the stumbling blocks of family, sickness, and tradition, this film breathes invigorating life into an otherwise uninventive genre. The film is a charm conductor and lives on natural chemistry, heartfelt reactions, and believable dramatic shifts that enhance every moment on screen. And while The Big Sick does tout an incredibly witty aura of comedy, generous character interactions that feel authentic and real, and an ending so delectably pleasant that you will cherish the difficulties it took to get there, its power really comes from its reflections on personal tolerance, the complexities of culture vs. religion, and the competitive peculiarities of the stand-up world. It’s a lot for any movie to take on, but Kumail and Emily ground their script in such voracious humor and indefinable grace that it takes on a life of its own and creates something that we can now grab and call our own. Their life and their lessons are now a gift and it’s definitely a film that should be cherished as such.

bpm18. BPM (Beats Per Minute) (Robin Campillo)- This restless, and engrossing portrait of Parisian Act Up activists fighting the AIDs pandemic in the early 90s attempts and succeeds in giving the personal and the political equal weight, where graphic intimacy between people and highly regulated meetings about policy both feel richly engaging. Filmmaker Robin Campillo has created an authentic and loyal document of history, injecting into it an exhilarating-yet-exhausting depiction of the times that feels almost as if it’s a documentary, mostly because Robin Campillo and co-writer Philippe Manegot drew upon their own experiences to make it. It keeps faith with the people it intends to memorialize, devoting a large amount of its screen time to philosophical debate in order to articulate and honor the arguments made during its time and the importance of their mission in the face of barriers. But it isn’t a procedural, or only a pure document of time, because in it remains a passionate heart of character pulse pounding beats and more beats per minute with every interaction and purpose, as they riotously hit the streets for demonstrations, dance in glowing intimacy at the local discos, or hopefully tackle the downside of sickness in the skids. BPM is a confident and clear encapsulation of time in order to deliver a moving message for the future, and that is a truly beautiful thing to witness.

commune17. The Commune (Thomas Vinterberg)- Anything by the hands of Danish writer-director Thomas Vinterberg becomes an essential, thought-provoking and absorbing piece of cinema, and his examination of the complexities and contradictions of free love, liberal enlightenment, and marital boredom in The Commune becomes a searing indictment on non-traditional households born of radicalism. Set in 1970s Copenhagen, the film exposes the dark side of shared living and free love, as a family invites a plethora of personalities and eccentrics into their home to start a commune simply out of boredom. It’s this clash of boredom that imbues chaos into a private home of family flourish and turns it into a wide-open party space, which begins eroding the lives of its inhabitants as emotional and moral rot seep into the household structure. It’s a dark and disturbing reflection, and in the hands of the provocative Vinterberg becomes a capsule of moral warning, showing us that leaderless, communal entities take on consequences due to rudderless direction, such as a power vacuum that paves the way for authoritarians, the irresponsibility and damage of parental neglect, and the idea that societies built on selfish desire turns into a society that depends on personal fulfillment rather than charitable observation. It’s a radical take on unthought supposed enlightened radicalism, and that kind of deconstruction is the mark of a brave filmmaker.

Dunkirk-116. Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan)- Seldom do films, especially westernized films, so eloquently capture the anarchy, brutality, and arbitrariness of war like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk does in such gloriously controlled technical precision. Disposing of his cinematic weaknesses—including inert dialogue, bland characterization, and slapdash narratives—Nolan has constructed something truly complimentary to his chilly, visceral eye, which is almost an avant-garde immersion into the detached historicism of war as a brutal, alienating, and hopeless affair. It’s a tour-de-force of cinematic craft and technique, delivered in three separate chapters of time and location that are brilliantly weaved together to enhance the dizzying and confusing nature of war. Christopher Nolan might have created something truly new in the annals of war films—an intimate epic. He captures with an unflinching, non-judgmental eye the desperate survivalist gasps of frightened warriors, small moments of brave heroism lost in chaos of death, and unambiguously hints at the shortening gap between yesterday’s fights and today’s. Had he avoided dialogue, speechifying, and a grandly manipulative tone shift to the heroic altogether and remained detached throughout, this would have been Nolan’s masterpiece and placed far higher on this very list. It still very well might be, or at least the closest thing he’ll ever get to it, and that’s respectable enough to acknowledge its ambition and success.

gods own country15. God’s Own Country (Francis Lee)- What transpires in Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country—an electrifyingly poignant and quietly warm rumination on loneliness and newfound intimacy—is something beyond the familiar exploration of finding one’s true sexual identity. It is a universal tale about giving one’s true and complete self, shit-splattered boots in the countryside and all, over to love, even when you seem hopelessly and inextricably broken. It’s a profound film, one that is so enigmatic in its unconventional presentation of unflinching, detailed camerawork that not only captures the discomforting realities of livestock farming, but also uses that unflinching focus to capture the roiling emotional undercurrents of two captivated souls and how love can transform an irresponsible deadbeat into a responsible son. It says more in its razor-sharp closeups of its central figures in love than it does in its minimal use of words, showcasing its power of earnestness, accuracy, and unrelenting detail through ambiance and immersion. Aided by aching performances by Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu, God’s Own Country makes for a powerful cinematic debut that is sensual, thoughtful, romantic, and, most importantly, hopeful in its presentation of toughness and tenderness battling it out.

shape of water214. The Shape of Water (Guillermo Del Toro)- Anytime we undeserving, wretched lot receive the visionary innocent beauty that defines a Guillermo Del Toro film it’s cause for unreserved celebration, especially one as delightful and enchanting as his re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast entitled The Shape of Water. It’s one of Del Toro’s finest achievements, a lovely, empathetic tribute to not only outsiders finding their own place, but also one to Old Hollywood and the Monster genre that has so deftly inspired the master filmmaker. Each piece fits together quite gently, including Paul D. Austerberry’s pristine production design, Alexandre Desplat’s irresistible score, and cinematographer Dan Lausten’s romantic flourish, all of which breathe life into this adult fairy tale, making it an unforgettably dreamy, utterly sublime, and unsurprisingly alluring phantasmagoria. And yet, while the visual splendor is on its most sophisticated game for Del Toro, it might be Sally Hawkin’s virtually silent performance that anchors everything down so that we may attain its innocent virtues. Del Toro constantly transcends pastiche, and continuous to do so with The Shape of Water, turning his love for literature, art, and film into a creative film subconscious that spills artistry, empathy, and sensuality from every open pore.

other side of hope213. The Other Side of Hope (Aki Kaurismäki)- Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki returned this year with an even sharper, more sophisticated demonstration of his compassionate spirit and absurdist wit through an observation about the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe. The Other Side of Hope avoids, altogether, heavy-handed messaging, pompous lecturing, and moral posturing by simply telling a story of character, most notably a tale of two very different people, a Finnish citizen and a Syrian refuge, and both of their individual journeys to call a place home. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lesson to be learned, because Kaurismäki smuggles in moral contemplation through the subtle subtext that is layered throughout his film and is disguised by his signature absurdism and compulsively dry delivery. There’s a guiding ethic to his film, which is that altruism, and the caring consideration of others, isn’t a brave or noble conceit, but rather a basic human principle we all seem to take too lightly. Kaurismäki dredges up commonplace heroism from places we least expect, and from people who, at first glance, seem incredibly unlikely to break away from their complacent isolation. It’s a timely drama, drenched in empathy and delivered with an air of melancholy, making it a humorous, yet thought-provoking warning of lost consideration.

lady-bird12. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)- “Aren’t they the same thing? Love and attention?” That’s the question Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith) asks near the end of Lady Bird. And the answer is most likely yes, considering that writer-director Greta Gerwig has created a deeply loving, nostalgically detailed, and somewhat autobiographical portrait of her coming-of-age years in Sacramento based purely on her simply paying attention to it. Lady Bird might be a particular window into a particular time (2002) of a particular city (Sacramento) following a particular young woman (Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson), and yet the film is an exceptionally universal story of awkward adolescence and its inevitable dawn into young adulthood. The complexities of personal identity, lasting friendship, and parental nurturing are all part of this deeply layered, undeniably gorgeous, and harshly honest depiction of adolescent malaise, which proves that Greta Gerwig is becoming a warmer, more matured creative voice now unencumbered by outside influence on her writing. There’s purity in this humorous exploration of pathos in the turbulent bond between a teenage daughter and her overbearing mother, and those who succumb to its charm will undoubtedly have something to ponder in their own relationships, their own hometown, and their own personal development.

ghost story 311. A Ghost Story (David Lowery)- Eerily symphonic, intimately metaphysical, and distinctly meditative, David Lowery’s folksy A Ghost Story invokes big ideas within an ultra-low-budget framework that gives unto the audience with the patience required some spectacular results. It’s an offbeat, oddly haunting phantasm tale of love, loss, life, and death, and it proves to be a graceful examination of the mundanity of grief, the complexities of time and space, and how loneliness and love ignite an energy of lasting connection. It’s more discomforting than disturbing, more thought-provoking than complacent, and more of a journey through metaphysical possibility than it is a narrative puzzle to be pieced together, making A Ghost Story a truly unique and perceptive meditation relating to memory and spiritual connection. Perhaps its Malick-esque stillness, or even its cartoonish aesthetic of a Halloween sheet garbed apparition, is a challenge for most, but there are rewards to be reaped in this quiet life of a ghost haunting a house where contentment once lived, for those with patience and with those with a willingness to take a spiritual journey. It’s wondrous, soulful, and deeply affecting, a brief sojourn into the deepest philosophical concepts of death and the afterlife, which allows David Lowery to propose questions without obvious answers, leaving them to drift in the ether, like particles of dust or notes hidden away, for us to find in our own time.

Honorable Mentions: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Wind River, Personal Shopper, Brigsby Bear, Land of Mine, Get Out, The Unknown Girl, Blade of the Immortal

Top 10 will be published here after the podcast premieres Friday, January 5th 2018. Hear it first on iTunes  or Soundcloud.

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