The 10 Best Movies of 2017

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Phantom Thread

Hushed, creepy, a shade absurd: It’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s portrait of the artist as a man who must orchestrate every aspect of his existence in order to create, and the destabilizing impact of a love relationship in which he’s forced to cede some control. As a renowned postwar British female clothing designer, Daniel Day Lewis in supposedly his last — PLEASE GOD LET IT NOT BE SO — performance is a wispy creature, floating on currents of both inspiration and self-involvement. He’s upended by a willful new muse/lover played by the Luxembourg-born Vicky Krieps, while Johnny Greenwood’s string-and-piano heavy score scales the heights of romanticism. One problem: the flabbergasting resolution, which makes symbolic sense (Ibsen and Strindberg would have loved it) but is too rushed to be remotely credible.

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BPM

The title of the stark French AIDS-crisis drama stands for “beats per minute,” which can evoke a heartbeat or a discotheque, both of which have their place. Director Robin Campillo focuses on the Paris branch of ACT UP — whose members devise often-violent stunts to call attention to government’s and pharmaceutical companies’ foot-dragging — and a pair of young men who find love amid the horror. As a portrait of the harshness of vital collective action, the film has no peer.

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Shut up and hear me out. Go in expecting a shambolic script and variable acting and you’ll thrill to this daft, virtuosic sci-fi extravaganza — what happens when an artist with an unfettered visual imagination gets hold of the latest computer technology and goes all out. Luc Besson choreographs high-speed ballets of actors, bizarro creatures, and sci-fi gizmos on a dizzying number of planes, any minute of which has more cinematic magic than the last four Star Wars movies combined.

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Nowhere to Hide

It begins with the American withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, when a film crew leaves a camera with a medic, Nori Sharif, who hopes to chart his country’s rebuilding — and winds up documenting his city’s destruction and his family’s desperate flight from ISIS. Watch Zaradasht Ahmed’s great experiential documentary (and the equally intense Last Men in Aleppo) and footage of distant, falling bombs will never seem abstract, so far removed from the hell that they bring.

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Marjorie Prime

Michael Almereyda’s adaptation of a play by Jordan Harrison is a haunting sci-fi chamber drama set in the near future, when people can purchase holographic versions (“Primes”) of their dead loved ones — and end up saying things they couldn’t to the people on whom the Primes were modeled. The film is suffused with despair, but also an abiding sense of forgiveness. The perfect cast features a reborn Geena Davis, Tim Robbins, Jon Hamm, and the ever-sly 86-year-old Lois Smith, who made her debut opposite James Dean in East of Eden.

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Faces Places

Agnes Varda is 89, with wavering eyesight, but she still gazes on every new space like a blank canvas. In her new road picture, she and a 33-year-old photographer calling himself “JR” drive around rural France, finding subjects by design and happenstance. JR’s photos of people and animals are printed 30, 40, 60 feet high, and affixed to buildings, water towers, even a train. It sounds both whimsical and pretentious, but it might be the least arty movie about art ever made. Watching it, I felt I could suddenly access a greater percentage of my soul.

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Get Out

Daniel Kaluuya is the black photographer who travels to meet the family of his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) in Jordan Peele’s paranoid horror comedy, a psychotic satire of white liberals who appropriate black culture. Peele’s directorial debut feels like the work of someone who has been making features for years. You jump, laugh at your jumpiness, and then jump again. Peele hasn’t just blended Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? and The Stepford Wives. He has proven that, nowadays, the former has to morph into the latter.

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Lady Bird

Nearly perfect. The title character is a Sacramento high-school senior (the dreamy-prickly Saoirse Ronan) who jettisons her real name for one that captures her fluttery exuberance — and suggests she’d like to fly away, especially from the tormented mother (the superb Laurie Metcalf) who’s increasingly jealous of her daughter’s freedom. The writer-director Greta Gerwig has a rare gift. She can skip along the surface of her alter ego’s life, stop and go deep, and then skip forward again, evoking the tempo of a life lived whimsically but over an emotional abyss.

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Call Me by Your Name

Director Luca Guadagnino creates a mood in which every moment is suffused with sexual longing — in this case of a 17-year-old (Timothée Chalamet, the year’s best performance) for a 24-year-old visiting scholar (Armie Hammer). It’s a film in which young men are always doffing their shirts and jumping into sparkling Italian lakes or riding on bicycles along dirt roads outside medieval villages. I can’t remember the mood of midsummer captured this way, lazy but so vivid that every sound registers. And that last shot! A triumph by any name.

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The Florida Project

Sean Baker’s follow-up to his shot-on-an-iPhone-5 hit Tangerine centers on a bunch of rambunctious children bopping around a transient motel not far from Disney World. The crazy elation of the first half — as 6-year-old Moonee (the astoundingly vivid Brooklynn Prince) and her friends dash up and down the stairs making trouble at the “Magic Castle” motel — gradually subsides, as Baker shows how precarious this life really is. Bria Vinaite (in her first-ever role) is very fine as the loving young single mother who maybe shouldn’t have responsibility for a kid — but who are we to judge? — and Willem Dafoe is unforgettable (a career-best performance!) as the kind but firm hotel manager who in the end can’t fix what most needs fixing. The eye-popping artificial Florida colors make for the most potent counterpoint imaginable to the uncertainty, the grayness of the characters’ existence. But therein lies the hope. The best film of 2017 by a wide margin.

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*A version of this article appears in the December 11, 2017, issue of New York Magazine.

The 10 Best Movies of 2017