I always find it difficult to create a list of my favorite films of the year, mostly because there are so many good films it’s hard to narrow down which stand out most, but also because I dislike making a competition out of art and making comparisons about ‘better’ or ‘best’. I do like sharing the films which have impacted me most, as a way to stimulate your interest in seeing films you may not have yet.
Last year’s list ended up being broken into two groups of 22 films each. This year I’ve got four groups of 10. My groups tend to be less concrete than most top lists usually are, so there is less difference between my first and tenth film, which is why I list the films alphabetically within each group. There did seem to be a difference between the first ten and the next ten, and next, hence these groups of ten. The first 30 films all have my Must See rating (see My Ratings dropdown menu to the right), and the last ten are Should See, so it’s really more of a Top 30 + 10.
As usual, spoilers aplenty, so reader beware!
My First 10 Favorites
Black Panther’s tight story, great characters, and impressive visuals make it one of the best Marvel films ever, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a culturally and historically significant milestone in the depiction of Black empowerment in an African/Black-centric society… Read the Full Post
An excellent thriller about undercover cops infiltrating the KKK in 1970’s Colorado Springs, but so much more than that. Mr. Lee uses the setting to teach the history of the KKK, white supremacy and Black Power, culminating with the events of today, including the violence and murder in Charlottesville and Trump’s normalizing of racism. Not only is this one of my favorite films, it may be the most important film I’ve seen this year.
Stunningly beautiful film that I must see several times to fully bask in it’s gorgeous cinematography (Lukasz Zal), the spot-on performances by Joanna Kulig (Zula) and Tomasz Not (Winter), and Mr. Pawlikowski’s sure-handed artistry. Easily one of the best films of the year and felt a lot like a non-Hollywood version of A Star is Born. The doomed relationship between the two lovers, complicated by the volatility of Zula and the chaos of postwar Poland through the early 1960’s, makes for a compelling story. This and Pawlikowski’s previous film (Ida) both create a stark portrait of Cold War Poland and the toll the political/social setting takes on people’s lives in a very specific and personal way.
A disturbing film whose examination of despair left me pondering and moved with profound sadness over the corruption and fall of the main character Rev. Ernst Toller – Ethan Hawke, in a masterful performance. Listen to the Podcast.
Fantastically compelling documentary about rock climber Alex Honnold and his quest to free climb El Capitan. The film is much more than just a sports film, as it intertwines the psychology and personal history of what makes Alex tick, and folds in his romantic relationship and the effects it has on his climbing and what that does to his girlfriend Sanni McCandless and their relationship. Read the Full Post
A quietly powerful examination of a young rodeo cowboy who suffers a traumatic head injury which threatens his career, and the struggles he faces to hold onto his dreams. Written and directed beautifully by Ms. Zhao, who lets her actors’ reactions communicate more than the sparse dialog can and captures the emotions in their faces and through the South Dakota landscapes where they live. Spiritual, poetic, delicate, profound and so authentic, this is a striking artistic achievement. Read the Full Post
A very personal look at director Alfonso Cuarón’s childhood in Mexico City and the social dynamics surrounding that time and place. A profoundly universal examination of class, politics, relationships in a stunningly beautiful film.
A devastatingly powerful film about a struggling family who’s members may not be related, their Palm d’Or winner at Cannes is an exploration of relational ties and what is at the heart of love and family. The first half of the film had me squirming in discomfort about how twisted the choices the adults were making, and feeling disgust and judgement over their actions. The second half had me empathizing with their brokenness and hoping for love and redemption to win out. The film has an open ending and thankfully doesn’t try to wrap things up neatly, but I was left with a sense of hope and redemption.
You Were Never Really Here
What a great piece of cinema with outstanding visuals (Thomas Townend) as we follow the actions of hitman Joe (Joaquin Phoenix in another devastatingly powerful portrayal) who specializes in retrieving pedophile victims, or delivering fatal retribution to the pedophiles. The unfolding of the story and character that are both complex, difficult to embrace, at times harrowing, and by the end, seemingly justifiable, is enhanced by the richness of the writing, the stylish cinematic techniques of director Lynne Ramsey, and a vibrant score by Jonny Greenwood.