the best conversation-starting films of 2017
Put ya feet up and fill that gap between Christmas and New Years with these. You won’t need to leave the house till January!
The monster in this bracingly original horror movie? Racism itself. A young black man meets his white girlfriend’s family for the first time and, well, freaky racist things start to happen. It’s a horror satire that worms its way under your skin, with its meet-the-parents premise used as a springboard to tackle systemic racism. “The feeling of suppression of the racial conversation is what went into Get Out,” explains director Jordan Peele. And FYI, this is his directorial debut, meaning keep your eyes on this guy.
20th Century Women
Set in late 70s Santa Barbara, Mike Mill’s movie was inspired by his relationship with his mom and his roots in the SoCal punk scene. Mills, here, is thinly veiled as 15-year-old Jamie, a shy suburban skater raised by three women: his mom (Annette Bening), his crush (Elle Fanning), and his mom’s lodger (Greta Gerwig). What follows is a whirlwind of punk shows, liberal parenting, and, of course, strong 20th century women.
Ingrid Goes West
Your Instagram stalking habits have nothing on Ingrid’s. She moves to LA to stalk her new obsession -- a social media influencer whose Instagram is an endless stream of hashtags, humblebrags, and sponsored posts -- and creeps her way into the girl’s world IRL. The premise is basically “ Single White Female for the Instagram generation”, and it’ll definitely make you think twice about the person behind those random “likes” you receive.
In what’s probably the most WTF-worthy movie listed on her IMDb page, Kristen Stewart plays a young American in Paris, working as a personal shopper for a celebrity. So far so normal. Then you learn she made a pact with her recently dead brother, that whoever died first would send the other a sign. Cue the signs, swoopy supernatural smoke an’ all. Arthouse psycho-thrillers starring K-Stew are few and far between. Embrace the weirdness.
The Florida Project
Tangerine director Sean Baker knocks it out of the park again, with a tale of a childhood in the shadow of Disneyland. It follows a six-year-old girl who lives with her mom in an eye-popping purple motel on the edge of Disneyland. She spits at cars in the parking lot, explores abandoned condos, scrounges cash for ice cream. Her mom — played by Bria Viante, who was plucked from Instagram for the part — struggles to make ends meet. Yet this isn’t some social realist drama telling its bleak story through its bleak lens; this is uplifting. From its candy-color aesthetic to its joyful depiction of childhood, The Florida Project is one to savor.
All This Panic
Shot over a three-year period, this insanely intimate doc follows the lives of a group of teenage girls coming of age in Brooklyn. Their lives are viewed in close-up: rejection at parties, parents divorcing, fading friendships. You can almost feel adulthood beckoning. It’s hard not to feel like you personally know these characters by the time the credits come. Could it be the most candid and honest snapshot of girlhood in existence?
The Meyerowitz Stories
Noah Baumbach’s latest — which landed on Netflix super early, FYI — is a hilarious meeting of estranged brothers who come together in NYC for an event celebrating their father’s artwork. The brothers (Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller) bicker, brawl, and compete for their dad’s attention. He’s cantankerous and stubborn and doesn’t appear to give a shit about anything other than his art. The best bit comes at the art show, during the brothers’ awkwardly emotional and bitter speeches. It’s basically the best speech-off since Bridesmaids.
Call Me by Your Name
You’ve seen that very meme-able clip of Armie Hammer dad-dancing. It’s a highlight of the movie, sure, but there’s so much more here. Set in the summer of 1983, it depicts the burgeoning relationship between Elio, a 17-year-old living in Italy with his parents, and Oliver, his dad’s 24-year-old American assistant. By the time the last Sufjan Stevens song plays, credits rolling, it’s impossible not to silently mouth WOW to your friend.
Robert Pattinson nails the NY accent in the Safdie brothers’ gritty crime caper about — funnily enough — brothers. The bros in question — played by R-Patz and Benny Safdie — botch a heist and the cops snatch the brother who’s mentally ill (Safdie). Then R-Patz basically spends an entire night trying to bust his bro out of a hospital, where he’s being guarded by police. I don’t think he, or any other character, has a “good time," but you will and that’s all that counts.
Ah, there’s nothing quite like the squelchy sound of chowing down on raw meat. This French-Belgian gore-fest follows a 16-year-old veggie in her first year at vet school. Everyone in her family is a vet and a vegetarian. So it’s a big leap when she reluctantly eats rabbit kidneys as part of a hazing ritual. Then — this being a Cronenberg-esque body horror — she develops a taste for human flesh. The sight of this rookie vet eating raw chicken from the fridge is arguably peak gross. It’s enough to make you go full-on vegan.
Already tipped for awards, Dee Rees’s Mudbound follows two WWII vets — one black, one white — home from war. They return to rural Mississippi, both dealing with PTSD, both drinking like there’s no tomorrow. The black guy naturally has to deal with other shit, shit he almost forgot existed. This is a stirring drama that clearly resonates in today’s America. Heads up: some scenes you will watch through your sweaty fingers.
Maybe you’ve seen the 467-minute OJ documentary and you think you have a pretty good grasp of the LA riots? Well, turns out there’s more to it. LA 92 returns to the 1991 tape of Rodney King’s brutal beating by police, the subsequent trial, the controversial verdict, and everything that followed in the streets. Including rarely seen archive footage and eyewitness accounts — this is a forensic examination of several days of protests, violence, and looting that shook the city to its core.
One of the year’s critically acclaimed yet under-the-radar movies is The Fits, an unnerving head-scratcher of a drama about an 11-year-old tomboy. At the gym where she trains, a dance troupe is mysteriously becoming sick, one by one, with fits and vomiting. First thought: What the hell is going on? “Maybe it’s some kind of boyfriend disease?” one girl asks. Another speculates there’s something in the water. The trailer makes it look like an uplifting sports movie, but it’s nothing of the sort. It’s worth watching for its WTF ending alone, not to mention young Royalty Hightower’s performance.
Though Sofia Coppola bagged the best director gong in Cannes, her American Civil War drama has since proved divisive. You can see why. It’s an atmospheric slow-burner set in the sultry deep South, with sweeping camerawork and predictable stylistic flourishes. Some found it boring, even though boredom is kinda built into its premise, it being entirely set in an all-female boarding school where a simple twinkle on a piano is basically the most fun thing ever. And yet, sexual tension, repression, and violence simmer under its stylish surface.