Every December, when looking to survey the previous 12 months of movies, The A.V. Club consults its dream team: the writers who spent all year in the review trenches, knocking out thoughts on films of every shape, size, and pedigree. The fruit of that labor is our annual, aggregate top-20 list, composed from the combined opinions of these full-time critics.
Below, you can find the deconstructed version of that list, broken down into individual ballots from our six voters. In addition to a ruthlessly ranked hierarchy of favorites, each contributor also named winners (and losers) in several superlative categories, and spared a few words for “outliers,” a.k.a. those out-on-a-limb passion picks that popped up on only one ballot apiece.
1. The Florida Project
3. Lady Bird
4. The Lost City Of Z
5. Phantom Thread
6. A Quiet Passion
7. The Square
10. Call Me By Your Name
11. Starless Dreams
12. Baby Driver
13. A Ghost Story
14. The Salesman
Outlier: A Quiet Passion
Emily Dickinson was obsessed with death, and so one might naturally assume that any film about her would be kind of a downer. But one of the unexpected pleasures of Terence Davies’ portrait of the great American poet is how it compliments her trademark morbidity with plenty of the razor wit she put to the page. Dickinson didn’t live an exciting bohemian life (she spent her last few years in self-imposed seclusion, locked away in the family manor), and that turns out to be a gift to the soulful British auteur behind The Long Day Closes and The House Of Mirth, who can forgo the usual expositional, who-what-where demands and just devote his full attention to Emily herself, played with billowing emotion and droll, cutting humor by Cynthia Nixon. Some of the best biopics are the ones made in the spirit of the artists they lionize. By seeing more than just a crippling fear of the great beyond in Dickinson’s celebrated mind, this delicate but lively remembrance joins that rarified company.
Most Overrated: The Post
Steven Spielberg’s timely newspaper drama The Post is much more vital for the topicality of its message than for how that message is delivered. The film attempts to build a tense moral thriller out of the moment, in 1971, when The New York Times obtained leaked copies of the so-called Pentagon Papers, only to be federally forbidden from publishing the information contained within them. Yet even beyond the unintuitive decision to revisit this crisis from the perspective of The Washington Post instead of the Times, The Post is inelegantly constructed; the closest it comes to a dramatic center is the no-duh wait to see if the newspaper’s owner, Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), will do the right thing and allow the Post to publish its own legally precarious report. Spielberg, meanwhile, overcompensates by nervously racing his camera through every newsroom and den, when what he really could have used was a fraction of the wit and snap offered by his last two celebrations of American values and the messy business of upholding them. With the president and his cult of bleating followers launching daily attacks on the integrity of honest journalists, there’s no better time than now for a stirring salute to the power and importance of a free press. But that’s about the only case I could make for praising one of this great filmmaker’s stodgiest, stagiest movies.
Most Underrated: Ghost In The Shell
The live-action version of Shirow Masamune’s oft-adapted cyberpunk manga doesn’t meaningfully expand upon the heady philosophies of Ghost In The Shell, and its technological paranoia looks downright outdated when compared to the spooky ambivalence of the 1995 anime. All that being said, critics and audiences alike were too hard on this box-office flop, which boasted some of the most spectacular imagery, art design, and general world-building seen in a sci-fi movie in ages. (That is, before Blade Runner 2049 came to blow it out of the water—though c’mon, that blew everything away, cosmetically speaking.) As for the white-washing controversy: Yes, it’s bogus that Paramount wouldn’t rest its franchise dreams on an Asian movie star. But Ghost In The Shell, which is set in a multicultural, multinational future metropolis, does directly address white-washing in its actual narrative. Mostly, though, it’s just an endless buffet of delicious eye candy: the rare Hollywood mega-budget production where every dollar is right up there on screen.
Biggest Disappointment: Thelma
Maybe I just generally set my expectations way too high, because I was disappointed with a few movies this year: Kathryn Bigelow’s queasily gripping but unevenly structured Detroit; Todd Haynes’ gorgeous but kind of dull foray into family fare, Wonderstruck; the underwhelming murder mystery The Unknown Girl, by two of the safest bets in world cinema, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. But none of those films left me feeling as vaguely but undeniably let down as Joachim Trier’s Thelma. Trier, the Norwegian filmmaker who made Oslo, August 31st and Louder Than Bombs, is an underappreciated master, and the thought of him trying his hand at a coming-of-age horror movie was exciting. But though Thelma benefits from his typically sensitive command of performance, mood, and rhythm, it doesn’t work as a thriller and is perhaps even less satisfying as pure metaphor. I’ll be first in line for whatever Trier does next, while also crossing my fingers that it’s not another undercooked X-Men origin story by way of Let The Right One In.
Most Welcome Surprise: The Big Sick
I’ve been enjoying the nerdish comic stylings of Kumail Nanjiani since at least the first season of Silicon Valley. But I have to admit, I was a little skeptical about the idea of him starring as himself in an autobiographical comedy about his love life. It sounded more than a little… I don’t know, navel-gazing? But The Big Sick won me over almost instantly. Nanjiani, as it turned out, is an appealing romantic lead, and his movie is even better: a charmer about how the comedian met his wife, the writer Emily V. Gordon, then bonded with her parents (endearingly portrayed by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) during a sudden, scary medical crisis, all while trying to figure how to tell his own parents that he doesn’t want a traditionally Pakistani arranged marriage. Judd Apatow produced The Big Sick and his sensibilities are there in its blend of humor and heart. But it’s Nanjiani’s voice that rings loudest throughout, almost heckling my lack of faith in his ability to turn his own experiences into crowd-pleasing, first-rate entertainment.
2. The Lost City Of Z
5. Phantom Thread
6. Lady Bird
7. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
8. John Wick: Chapter 2
9. Good Time
10. Call Me By Your Name
11. Baby Driver
13. Blade Runner 2049
14. The Florida Project
15. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
M. Night Shyamalan’s multiple personality B-thriller Split is rollicking fun, irresistibly combining a loony premise and a gonzo performance from James McAvoy (his best, to be honest) with some of the most ingenious camerawork of its writer-director’s career. Shyamalan has always been a goofball (see: The Happening), but he goes wild like a pre-Scarface Brian De Palma in this film’s freaky subterranean setting—a bunker where three teenage girls are kept prisoner by McAvoy’s alternate personas, which have staged a psychic mutiny to prepare for the coming of a monstrous, hitherto unseen personality buried deep in his subconscious. It’s unabashedly trashy, with a sense of humor to match—but also a lot smarter and more artful than it lets on.
Most Overrated: The Disaster Artist
James Franco’s lackadaisical (and inexplicably acclaimed) tribute to The Room, the preeminent anti-movie of our time. I’m not sure why the scenes of Franco’s vampiric Tommy Wiseau despotically directing the bewildered cast and crew of his magnum opus aren’t the bulk of the film; the rest is suffocatingly fannish, sub-Apatovian boilerplate. (But with real Apatow regulars.) The model is clearly Ed Wood, but whereas that fanciful biopic touchingly reflected its Z-grade filmmaker hero’s quirky ambitions through some of the most luminous examples of Tim Burton’s style, The Disaster Artist is hamstrung in by Franco’s limited, unimaginative filmmaking. The behind-the-scenes memoir that this is nominally based on tells a much stranger, sadder, and more human story. Yeah, I know: “Leave your stupid comments in your pocket.”
Most Underrated: Person To Person
Dustin Guy Defa’s modest, homegrown ensemble comedy Person To Person—which follows several shaggy-dog stories that are set on the same day but don’t always overlap—was curiously dismissed by many of our colleagues as just another pseudo-vintage Brooklynite indie. But Defa’s feel for American eccentricity—the stuff of Jim Jarmusch and Richard Linklater movies—is sincere, luxuriating in non-events and bodega conversations. Bene Coopersmith, the real-life Red Hook record store clerk who also starred in Defa’s same-titled (but unrelated) short, more or less makes the film; as a record collector (also named Bene) negotiating the purchase of a possibly counterfeit rare Charlie Parker LP, the simultaneously imposing and easygoing Coopersmith exudes enough offbeat confidence to sustain a feature of his own.
Biggest Disappointment: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
Like all true connoisseurs of cinemaaah, I love those pulpy, geometrically plotted Resident Evil movies and the work of Paul W.S. “The Best” Anderson in general; he makes most latter-day Hollywood genre directors look like pseuds. But the greatest hits medley of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (say it ain’t so!) was a major letdown. Repetition is nothing new for a series obsessed with clones, memory wipes, formulae, and bald quotations. (It’s safe to say after this film that Anderson loved Mad Max: Fury Road.) But the frenetic editing and hectic pace—out of character for Anderson, a clean and symmetrical stylist—skirts incoherence; this might be that the first P.W.S.A. joint that shouldn’t be seen in 3-D. Still, the writer-director can be relied on for the occasional self-reflexive line of pulp sci-fi dialogue. Resident Evil: Retribution gave us the immortal explanation of how to use a gun: “It’s just like a camera—you point and shoot.” From The Final Chapter comes: “We can reboot it in our image.”
Most Welcome Surprise: Mother!
As a Darren Aronofsky skeptic, I didn’t expect to be so taken with Mother!, his delirious and blackly funny recasting of scripture as surreal, grotesque psycho-horror, indebted to Roman Polanski and, to a lesser extent, David Lynch. The filmmaking is some of Aronofsky’s most skillful (especially in the way it handles point-of-view) and seemingly un-commercial; it appears to have been made in part to fuck with unsuspecting multiplex audiences. But at its dark center is a personal, self-critical vision of Aronofsky’s pet themes: delusion; the search for meaning; the relationship between humanity, nature, and the cosmic unknown. Whether it’s The Wrestler’s Randy “The Ram” Robinson or Noah’s eponymous angry prophet, his heroes have always had a touch of craziness and self-destruction. Now so does Aronofsky.
2. The Florida Project
3. Staying Vertical
4. Brawl In Cell Block 99
6. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
8. 4 Days In France
9. Phantom Thread
11. From Nowhere
13. The Challenge
14. All This Panic
15. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Outlier: Brawl In Cell Block 99
It’s been a long time since an exciting new voice has emerged from the disreputable world of exploitation films (or artsploitation, as the more thoughtful variety is sometimes dubbed). S. Craig Zahler’s fine debut, Bone Tomahawk, married stomach-churning gore to colorfully archaic dialogue and a patient, leisurely pace. The same counterintuitive combination fuels Brawl In Cell Block 99, which sees a bulked-up, taciturn Vince Vaughn (in his best performance since Swingers) navigate the most horrifying prison in cinema history. That Vaughn’s character, Bradley, takes about 90 minutes of screen time just to arrive at cell block 99, where he’s agreed to murder another prisoner in order to save his wife (Jennifer Carpenter) and unborn child, is typical of Zahler’s painstakingly brutal approach. He’s as interested in the methodical nature of the journey as he is in the gruesome destination. Let the impatient and the squeamish beware.
Most Overrated: Lady Bird
To paraphrase Pee-Wee Herman: Look, Lady Bird, I like you. Like! I like you. It’s not that Greta Gerwig’s funny, tender portrait of confused adolescence does anything wrong, exactly—my only serious complaint about the film concerns its ending, which is way too didactic for my taste. (The scene practically dials your mother for you and holds the phone up to your ear.) Nonetheless, it’s my choice for this molotov cocktail of a category because I can’t for the life of me reconcile its universally rapturous reception with its fundamentally modest aims. A truly great movie swings for the fences; Gerwig seems perfectly content to hit a line drive up the middle and wait patiently on second base. (Not a terrible strategy for your first time at bat, at least solo.) I’m as bewildered as I’d be were people raving wildly about, say, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. What’s that? Some people did rave, you say? Ah well. I’m a loner, Lady Bird. A rebel.
Most Underrated: The Glass Castle
Many of the folks who adored Short Term 12 (I was not among their number) were deeply disappointed by Destin Daniel Cretton’s follow-up, adapted from Jeannette Walls’ 2005 memoir about her highly unorthodox childhood. Granted, scenes featuring Short Term 12 star Brie Larson as the adult Walls circa the late ’80s/early ’90s tend toward the mawkishly overstated. But Cretton beautifully complicates the movie’s numerous flashbacks, locating piercing moments of joy and intimacy amidst the squalor of this family’s nomadic, hand-to-mouth existence. There’s a scene toward the end, in a room over a pool hall, that came pretty close to wrecking me, as a teenage Walls gets out of an ugly situation (sadistically engineered by her father) by brandishing the residue of earlier trauma. Plus, I prefer Woody Harrelson’s unsung, live-wire performance here to his more restrained (and also quite good) work in Three Billboards.
Biggest Disappointment: Happy End
Having finally achieved a degree of mainstream success (by the standards of foreign-language fare, anyway), Austria’s Michael Haneke chose to follow Amour with the most noxiously, tediously misanthropic film of his lengthy career. Happy End recycles elements from his entire back catalog—the technological sadism of Benny’s Video; the buried colonialist guilt of Caché (Hidden); even Amour’s euthanasia—without committing wholeheartedly to any of them. It’s just an empty cavalcade of awfulness, culminating in what amounts to a sick joke. Just to rub it in, the film also reunites Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert, who once again play father and daughter (it might even be the same father and daughter), but no longer share even the most tenuous emotional connection. There’s no happy here, just a yearning for the end.
Most Welcome Surprise: Wonder
Earnest dramas about little kids overcoming adversity rank pretty low on my most anticipated list, and I wouldn’t likely have gone anywhere near Wonder (even the title makes me gag) had another publication not assigned me to review it. But director Stephen Chbosky—whose The Perks Of Being A Wallflower I sort of mildly ridiculed three categories back—deftly avoids most of this genre’s usual pitfalls, earning throat lumps honestly. Following the lead of R.J. Palacio’s source novel, Wonder focuses not just on Auggie (Room’s Jacob Tremblay, beneath heavy makeup), a genetically disfigured 10-year-old venturing into the potentially cruel wider world for the first time, but on all of the people in Auggie’s orbit: his loving parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson), his older sister (Isabela Vidovic), his new best friend (Noah Jupe), and even his sister’s estranged best friend (Danielle Rose Russell). This empathetic panorama prevents the film from ever getting too maudlin. It’s not one of the year’s best, but it’s much better than you might expect.
1. The Florida Project
2. Lady Bird
3. A Ghost Story
4. Logan Lucky
5. The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected)
6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
8. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
9. T2: Trainspotting
12. The Beguiled
13. Phantom Thread
15. The Post
No one second-guesses like Noah Baumbach; his characters would wonder aloud what they could have done to make the proper best-of list with a wryness belying their insecurities. Meyerowitz, loosely structured as a series of short stories, bears some superficial resemblance to the films of Baumbach’s pal Wes Anderson, particularly The Royal Tenenbaums, but it inverts the family dynamics of a ne’er-do-well father parenting stunted child geniuses. Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman) is like a Tenenbaum kid in dotage, half-ignoring his successful but non-glamorous children, and Baumbach captures both the affection and the unpleasant reality of dealing with a middling-at-best parent whose frail humanity remains in full view. This movie isn’t as snappy as his collaborations with Greta Gerwig, but it’s very funny and beautifully acted, particularly by a career-best Adam Sandler as a stay-at-home dad who dotes on his smart teenage daughter. No second-guessing is needed for me to call this yet another Baumbach career highlight.
Most Overrated: The Shape Of Water
While there are plenty of movies that I like but don’t love nearly as much as my A.V. Club colleagues (what’s up, Lost City Of Z), the gulf between the broader critical consensus and my feelings on The Shape Of Water is much larger—and given the subject matter, more puzzling. A viridescent romance riff on the Creature From The Black Lagoon sounds like something to love, but it turns out this is just another Guillermo Del Toro picture that leaves me impressed by his visual imagination and unconvinced by the notion that his movies have strong emotional currents. Shape is sort of like a gorgeous painting with a plaque next to it, explaining that what’s happening in it is really quite a beautiful romance, so long as you don’t ask for any details. The relationship it does depict winds up feeling weirdly superficial: Does the Sally Hawkins character fall in love with the creature just because he’s a fish-man?
Most Underrated: T2: Trainspotting
Twenty-years-later sequels have become so commonplace that audiences and critics seemed to barely bat an eye when Danny Boyle and company cooked up a bookend to the electric 1996 junkie dramedy Trainspotting. The subject is no longer heroin addiction but aging and the perils of nostalgia, best evoked in a delirious all-nighter sequence that does more to explicate the friendship between former junkie Renton (Ewan McGregor) and seemingly permanent dirtbag Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) than anything in the first film. Boyle may rely too heavily on bits of footage from what came before (frankly, he does this even in movies that don’t follow up an established classic), but at its frequent best, the movie deepens the supporting characters from Trainspotting while taking an affectionate but unsparing look at their failures and frustrations. Boyle may be demonstrably middle-aged, but he hasn’t lost his visual bravado; the movie’s final shot is a slept-on stunner.
Biggest Disappointment: Suburbicon
Maybe this should not have disappointed anyone after the gently disastrous Monuments Men, but Clooney’s first film as a director, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, as well as his fruitful run of collaborations with Joel and Ethan Coen, serve as reminders of the mischievous streak that predates his tedious, smothering reverence for the old-fashioned. Digging up an unused Coen screenplay and playing it out with a bunch of Coen vets (Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac) should have allowed Clooney to go a little crazy. Instead, most of Suburbicon plays like a clumsy Coen imitation with bits of decidedly non-Coen material spliced in at irregular intervals. It’s more interesting than Monuments Men only because it recalls movies in its participants’ filmographies while somehow still feeling like an uncomfortable outlier, like a transmission from an alternate reality where Clooney, Damon, Moore, and the Coens aren’t especially good at their jobs (Isaac skates—he’s pretty great even in this mess). By going smaller and weirder, Clooney was somehow able to fail big.
Most Welcome Surprise: Stronger
On the other side, I’ve liked almost every movie by David Gordon Green (yes, even Your Highness and The Sitter), so I probably should not have been surprised by how affecting I found his movie about Boston bombing victim Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal). But Green’s previous foray into docudrama, Our Brand Is Crisis, was a career low, and Stronger’s logline about a man who lost his legs but inspired a nation sounded like inspirational pap. As it turns out, Stronger is a beautifully directed examination of trauma and the guilt that can come with unexpected conferment of hero status. A seemingly simple bandage-changing scene, focusing intently on the faces of Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany (playing Jeff’s on-and-off girlfriend), is one of the best moments of Green’s career so far.
1. The Florida Project
2. Lady Bird
3. Baby Driver
4. A Ghost Story
5. Get Out
7. Their Finest
10. My Happy Family
11. Logan Lucky
12. I, Tonya
13. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
15. John Wick: Chapter 2
Outlier: Their Finest
Of the three (!) movies that came out this year about the British evacuation of Dunkirk in the early days of World War II, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is the most innovative, while Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour is the most like the stirring “great man” movies that the UK cranked out in the ’30s and ’40s. But Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest, based on a Lissa Evans novel, is the most effortlessly crowd-pleasing, telling a story about wartime propagandists that finds both the humor and the higher purpose in the job of spinning the messiness and violence of real life into reassuring fictions.
Most Overrated: The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
Yorgos Lanthimos is undeniably a great filmmaker, with a tight command of image and tone best seen in his 2009 masterpiece Dogtooth (a creepily plausible study of overprotective parenting), and to a lesser extent 2015’s The Lobster (a fanciful bit of dystopian romantic comedy). The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, though, puts its doggedly deadpan characters through hell for reasons that are difficult to discern, beyond Lanthimos apparently thinking it’s funny. The movie features a handful of amusing and tense moments, and the talented cast is admirably game. But while the crueler elements in Lanthimos’ earlier films helped deliver barbed commentaries about human vanity, here the horrible behavior seems more sensationalistic—and, frankly, morally repulsive—than thematically justified.
Most Underrated: Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets
Two acquired tastes—the dry eccentricity of Eurocomics and the unchecked floridity of director Luc Besson—were apparently too unpalatable for American audiences, who stayed far away from Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets. But while this overstuffed science-fiction adventure doesn’t always make “sense” per se, it’s a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience, set in a richly imagined environment unlike any other at the multiplex this year. From the quirkily muted lead performances by Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne to the seemingly infinite array of alien backdrops and funky character designs, pretty much everything about Valerian is excessively creative. Put it this way: If this movie had come out in the ’80s, Shout! Factory would’ve already released it on a special edition Blu-ray with three hours of loving bonus features. It’s a cult film in waiting.
Biggest Disappointment: The Square
Ruben Östlund’s 2014 social satire Force Majeure seemed to represent a real breakthrough for the director, focusing his bitter observations about human nature through a small, relatable moment of marital discord. After Östlund’s The Square won the Palme D’Or at Cannes, it arrived Stateside carrying a lot of cinephile hype, and the promise of something more ambitious and excoriating than Force Majeure. But while The Square has a smattering of highlights—mostly involving Elisabeth Moss’ small role as an inscrutable journalist—this rambling, dispiritingly shapeless depiction of highbrow art-world types is ultimately as glib and shallow as the people it’s meant to be about.
Most Welcome Surprise: Alien: Covenant
Although Prometheus is nowhere near as crummy as some Alien fans insist, Covenant is still an obvious improvement, taking everything that worked in the first prequel—namely the cosmic mythology and Michael Fassbender’s creepy performance as an overly helpful android—and surrounding it with more action and more colorful characters. The “genesis and exodus of mankind” theme is still more sophomoric than deep, but Ridley Scott and his team of screenwriters approach it with a sense of wit uncommon to this franchise, and follow the joke all the way through to a shaggy dog ending that’s as funny as it is perverse.
1. Lady Bird
2. Phantom Thread
3. Call Me By Your Name
4. Get Out
5. The Florida Project
6. The Square
7. The Post
8. Lady Macbeth
9. The Big Sick
12. Good Time
15. I, Tonya
Outlier: Lady Macbeth
I know I’m not the only critic with warm feelings towards this very cold film, even if my fellow A.V. Club voters failed to add it to their ballots. William Oldroyd’s directorial debut is a vicious, entirely unsentimental take on the costume drama, retaining all the dramatic lighting and lavish costuming (at least, as much as its limited budget would allow), but replacing the nostalgia for a more civilized age with a radical deconstruction of all the ways that the “good old days” were anything but. Florence Pugh, another newcomer, is absolutely chilling as the main character, calculating noblewoman Katherine, whose passion for one of the farmhands on her husband’s estate warps into something that might be called evil. The climactic scene of this very dark film prompted gasps from the audience when I first saw it at a film festival earlier this year, and its chill stayed in my bones for days afterwards.
Most Overrated: Baby Driver
Listen, the opening car-chase sequence of Baby Driver is a masterful piece of craftsmanship. No one is denying that. But the near-fanatical devotion the movie inspires in its most passionate fans remains something of a mystery to me. Clearly, this film, and particularly its protagonist Baby (Ansel Elgort), provides wish fulfillment for movie-obsessed young men who daydream about getting the girl and taking down the bad guys through the force of their excellent taste. And that’s fine! Please, go forth and chomp down on this movie like the bubblegum lodged in Eiza Gonzalez’s mouth! But next time he writes a script, I’d love it if Edgar Wright could include at least one woman whose character description can’t be boiled down to “Character X’s girlfriend/mother.” In short, while I applaud Baby Driver for its stylistic merits, without that key element of identifying with the main character it felt more slippery than smooth.
Most Underrated: Colossal
Colossal’s early April release date all but eliminated star Anne Hathaway from the awards-season conversation, which is a shame because she turns in a witty, sympathetic performance as Gloria, a self-destructive alcoholic who discovers that she has a psychic connection to the giant monster who started ravaging Seoul right around the time she moved back home in disgrace. At first, this high-concept sci-fi drama appears to be pushing a straightforward (and rather obvious) metaphor for alcoholism. But by the surprisingly moving final scene, Nacho Vigalondo, who wrote as well as directed the film, deftly pivots it into a much more interesting statement about toxic masculinity, as well as a character study of a woman taking back her life from the forces, both internal and external, that want to tear her down.
Biggest Disappointment: Wind River
I was really hoping that Wind River would be as strong as Sicario and Hell Or High Water, which made my list of best films in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Unfortunately, the key difference between Wind River and those other two films—that Taylor Sheridan wrote and directed the former, but simply wrote the other two—turned out to be the new movie’s downfall. Under Sheridan’s lens, the natural wonders of Wyoming appear dull and grey, and his inexperience with shooting action is obvious in the climactic gunfight. Add an Elizabeth Olsen performance wasted on paper-thin rookie FBI agent Jane Banner, and not even the film’s earnest conviction in shining a light on the suffering of Native American women could keep me engaged.
Most Welcome Surprise: Novitiate and A Quiet Passion
Everyone has their blinders and their biases, and given that usually I’m saying something along the lines of, “come on, it wasn’t that gory” in conversations about movies, I admit I wasn’t expecting to be as engaged as I was with either Novitiate or A Quiet Passion. The former, a slow, sometimes ponderous character-driven drama about a young nun’s love affair with God, was oddly refreshing in its old-fashioned rigidity. And A Quiet Passion, while on the surface a movie where nothing much really happens, is absolutely thrilling in its use of language. It’s perhaps also worth noting that both films, while female-driven, lack conventional romantic storylines, focusing on their heroines’ inner journeys.