Technically, July 1 marked the year’s midway point. Allow me to cheat a little in crafting this list of the year’s superlative films to date. I admire “A Ghost Story” and “War for the Planet of the Apes” so much that I’ve extended the deadline to July 15 to secure their eligibility. In this business, one must make some tough decisions.
All said, it’s been a decent year at the movies, if you avoid the glut of disappointing sequels and reboots. I’m sad to omit “Song to Song,” “Logan,” “Beatriz at Dinner” and “It Comes at Night,” but here are 10 films worth celebrating, recommending and rewatching.
Here's an unconventional romantic comedy if there's ever been one. "The Lovers" begins as a divorce dramedy, Debra Winger and Tracy Letts
playing a sedentary married couple who reignite an unlikely spark in the midst of steady affairs. They are lovers, cheating on their lovers by becoming lovers. Azazel Jacobs' charismatic flurry is about the ripening of middle age and the ambiguities of elapsed time, expressed in small gestures, like whether to share a bottle of wine one evening or retire to separate quarters as usual. Winger and Letts bear every complicated crease of a life spent together, wistful for the past and marching toward a farcical fresh chapter.
This year is doing a number on my superhero agnosticism. I quite liked the gritty Western stylings of "Logan" and the clever high school humor at the core of "Spider-Man: Homecoming." But it's "Wonder Woman" -- part comedy of manners, part espionage saga -- that convinced me Hollywood's domineering genre finally has something to offer
. Patty Jenkins' film bypasses the self-pity that defines some of Wonder Woman's male counterparts, instead giving our Amazonian champion a dignity and wherewithal that runs circles around Batman's hardened vigilantism. It's a story about altruism, virtue and a fish plucked out of her remote island's water and into the chaos of London during World War I. It's what future comic-book spectacles should be modeled after: actual movies.
In the 1920s, British military vet Percy Fawcett and his teenage son vanished while mapping an ancient civilization in the Amazon. In the hands of "We Own the Night" and "The Immigrant" director James Grey, Fawcett's (Charlie Hunnam) is a yarn about nature's compelling power and the need to preserve one's legacy. Lush greens crackle, World War I battle sequences glide by, and fragile family drama
anchors "The Lost City of Z," making it a well-rounded hallmark that's both adventurous and serene.
All great romantic-comedy leads need a hurdle to overcome. "The Big Sick" has two. Cultural differences pull the central comedian (Kumail Nanjiani) and budding therapist (Zoe Kazan) apart, and the latter lands in a coma, complicating any possible reconciliation. Written semi-autobiographically by Nanjiani and wife Emily V. Gordon, Michael Showalter's gem is the rare movie that navigates incessant tone shifts without sacrificing nuance or delicacy. Its jokes are constant and airtight, and its story of exchanging ancestry for personal identity is reverential and progressive. They don't make rom-coms like this anymore, but then again, they never really did to begin with.
The buzz surrounding the year's surprise hit is justified
. "Get Out" satirizes horror tropes by keeping us one step ahead of its conventions, until those conventions become charged and twisty enough to take us along for the ride. Proving that studios don't need splashy effects or pre-meditated sequels to attract blockbuster-quality profits
, Jordan Peele's scalding directorial bow arraigns an America where black identity suffers at the hands of white posturing (and worse). Peele was able to accomplish that while making a boffo comedy with a hint of sci-fi surreality, turning "Get Out" into one of the most assured debuts in recent memory.
2017 has given us a King Kong bummer
, more noisy Transformers and a franchise-launching
"Mummy" reboot. Forget all of it: The year's primo monster flick
is Nacho Vigalondo's "Colossal," a clever dramedy that uses kaiju trappings to indict virulent masculinity. It's one of those movies where the twist is actually the premise, so the less said, the better. Anne Hathaway plays a down-and-out party gal who returns to her sleepy hometown, reunites with a childhood pal (Jason Sudeikis) and discovers an odd connection to a behemoth causing terror in South Korea. The right blend of quirk and thrill, "Colossal" zigs where every other beastly adventure zags.
When the "Planet of the Apes" trilogy began in 2011, who knew it would become the decade's finest franchise? In "War for the Planet of the Apes," director Matt Reeves conducts a symphony of existential strife, staking out a melancholy denouement that pits the simian population against the Homo sapiens who infiltrated their peace. "This is a holy war; all of human history has led to this moment," an unsparing colonel (Woody Harrelson) hell-bent on maintaining his race's dominance tells Caesar (Andy Serkis), our graceful protagonist. The ensuing battle unfolds amid snow-capped mountains and breathtaking serenity, tugging at our devoted emotions. Tentpole movies could learn a thing (or a dozen things) from these monkeys.
And now presenting the quote of the year: "Bring me the anatomy book." Nicole Kidman, playing the Confederate headmistress at a Civil War-torn boarding school, hisses these words, preparing to operate on a wounded Union soldier's (Colin Farrell) leg after declaring she is no surgeon. The scene cuts to black, and we know that whatever will follow cannot be promising. "The Beguiled" is a genre piece from Sofia Coppola, the masterful director
known for minimalistic plots and sun-kissed soul-searching. Those qualities are on display here, too, but they teem with a concise Southern Gothic carnality that morphs into summer's most slyly uproarious film. Come for the dinner scenes where the schoolgirls (including Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning) compete for the solder's affection; stay for the battle of the sexes that plays out in a candle-lit plantation home with scarce natural resources. This is "The Bachelor," 1864 edition.
Here's something alien: a summer movie with a thrilling midpoint action sequence that isn't cacophonous, where nothing explodes, where no superpowers are needed to thwart destruction. A band of animal-rights militants infiltrate the titular super-pig's abduction, telling its captors they come in peace. The ensuing chase across a South Korean highway and through an underground shopping mall may not be peaceful, per se, but it's so entrenched in human ambition that you'll hardly notice its clamor. Bong Joon-ho, who gave us haunting dystopian parables in "Snowpiercer" and "The Host," has crafted an epic of Spielbiergian proportions. "Okja
" is a fable fixated on a young girl (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her colossal pet, thrust into a battle about corporate avarice, the meat-processing industry and the wealth of the human spirit.
Drawing parallels to "A Ghost Story
" is a fool's errand. It has influences -- Terrence Malick meets "Poltergeist," if you will -- but David Lowery has made a singular masterwork that transcends its thin conceit and slips (nearly wordlessly) through past, present and future. No plot synopsis would do this film justice. A dead man (Casey Affleck) returns to the Texas home he shared with his wife (Rooney Mara), wearing a Halloween-style bedsheet with peepholes. But the central couple are almost beside the point: This is a tale about mortality's grip and the marks left on places and people we love. New tenants replace Mara's mourning widow, specters communicate through windows while awaiting darlings who will never return, and history suddenly melds with the hereafter. There is nothing like it.