No doubt there are numerous gems to come in the months ahead, given that by the holidays, we’ll have the latest works from acclaimed directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg (to name just three). For now, however, these are our current picks for the best films of 2017.
25. Heal the Living
Life’s circular nature is a frequent melodramatic subject, and yet Heal the Living treats its familiar material with a sensitivity and lyricism that’s powerfully affecting. French filmmaker Katell Quillévéré’s drama concerns a teenage surfer who, after a car crash, winds up in a coma, brain-dead. While his separated parents (Emmanuelle Seigner and Kool Shen) try to cope with this unexpected tragedy, a concert violinist (Anne Dorval) strives to grapple with a deteriorating heart condition that can only be cured via transplant. That synopsis alone likely telegraphs the path along which the film travels. Still, the director’s adaptation of Maylis de Kerangal’s novel is marked by unexpected detours into the stories of an organ-donor consultant (A Prophesy‘s Tahar Rahim) and the injured boy’s girlfriend, as well as a bevy of aesthetic grace notes, many of them courtesy of Alexandre Desplat’s sorrowful score. The result is a moving portrait of life’s fragility, and the strength we derive from our connections to each other.
Hugh Jackman bears his adamantium claws one last time as Marvel’s Wolverine in James Mangold’s Logan, which—after 2013’s samurai-themed The Wolverine—relocates the character in dusty, downbeat Western terrain. Set in a 2029 in which mutants are rare specimens thought to be extinct (as well as the stuff of comic-book legend), Mangold’s R-rated film finds Jackman’s famed hero hiding out in remote Texas, caring for a dementia-addled Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and trying to forget how he got all the scars that now mar his body, failing to heal the way they did during his youthful heyday. His recluse life is forever upended by the arrival of a young girl (Dafne Keen) with whom he shares a mysterious connection, and who’s wanted by mercenaries led by Boyd Holbrook’s Donald Pierce. What follows is a prolonged chase narrative that’s awash in more brutal R-rated action than any prior X-Men franchise installment, and infused with a surprisingly melancholy—if quietly hopeful—heart that marks it as a fitting end for Jackman’s Wolverine tenure. Rent/buy on Amazon and iTunes.
23. The Ornithologist
It helps to have some working knowledge of Saint Anthony of Padua—the 13th century Catholic priest who became the patron saint of lost things—if you want to fully grasp João Pedro Rodrigues’s The Ornithologist. Then again, this heady spiritual import is best experienced with next-to-no preparation, the better to tumble headfirst into its bewildering raft of pious and profane imagery. The story of a Portuguese bird-watcher who, during his time out in the wild, encounters (among other things) two Chinese female hikers who want to castrate him and a young shepherd named Jesus who wants to sleep with him, Rodrigues’ film is a deeply allegorical descent down a biblical rabbit hole, drenched in highly personal details and infused with a potent sense of the phantasmagoric. No matter whether one can decode all of its strange, mystifying sights and symbolism, it plays out like a spellbinding reverie about one man’s quest for greater knowledge about himself, his universe, and his God.
22. The Bad Batch
In a post-apocalyptic America where the haves have exiled the have-nots to a desert Texas wasteland, a young girl (Suki Waterhouse) becomes prey to cannibals, losing her arm and leg in the process. Rather than succumbing to despair and death, however, she soldiers on, leading to a hallucinatory journey through a misfit-outcast landscape where she soon finds love with a flesh-eating family man (Jason Momoa). Ana Lily Amirpour’s sophomore feature is, like her 2014 coming-of-age vampire romance A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, an entrancing hybrid of various cinematic traditions. With Keanu Reeves as a deviant Hugh Hefner-style messiah and Jim Carrey as a scraggly nomad (in a part that affords no dialogue to the motormouthed comedian), it’s a uniquely out-there head-trip about marginalized men and women forming communities, and finding love, out on the fringe—one whose political subtext gets more relevant by the day. Rent/buy on Amazon and iTunes.
21. Get Out
Be it the early sight of a car pulling up alongside an African-American man, or a photo of an angry dog being held on a tight leash, the color white spells doom in Jordan Peele’s social-commentary horror hit Get Out—albeit ultimately in unexpected ways. Surrounded by his white girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) Obama-loving family and their friends during a weekend getaway at their rural estate, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) finds himself increasingly uncomfortable, especially after a series of encounters with fellow African-Americans (the household’s staffers, a young boyfriend of a much older white woman) make him suspect that something is scarily amiss. The story’s climactic revelations are indebted to The Stepford Wives, Invasion of the Body Snatchers,and Rosemary’s Baby, and yet are given a fresh of-the-moment twist by Peele’s razor-sharp script, which cleverly locates the means by which liberals’ pro-black attitudes function as a type of appropriation-esque intolerance. As impressive as its racial-dynamics critique, however, is its formal dexterity; from its malevolent pacing to its terrifying imagery (especially of “The Sunken Place”), Peele’s directorial debut is a first-rate cinematic nightmare. Rent/buy on Amazon and iTunes.
20. Wonder Woman
Like Logan, Wonder Woman breathes bracing new life into the increasingly moribund superhero blockbuster—although in the case of Patty Jenkins’ film, it does so less by reimagining its main character than by conceiving a grand, unique origin story for its heretofore-cinematically-neglected DC Comics icon. Building upon her scene-stealing cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gal Gadot embodies her Amazonian princess with innocence, resolve, and nobility throughout this solo outing, in which her Princess Diana departs her female-warrior homeland to join Chris Pine’s American spy in the fight against the Germans during WWI. Conflating history and fantasy with aplomb, Jenkins delivers the smash-’em-up CGI goods while reconfiguring standard-issue genre tropes in decidedly feminist fashion. At once courageous, determined, and guided by a heartening belief in the inherent goodness of mankind, this Wonder Woman is brains, beauty and brawn, cast in a classical mold and yet tailor-made for the modern age. Pre-order on Amazon and iTunes.