Sometimes 2017 felt like something out of “The Twilight Zone,” where one couldn’t believe the weird thing that was happening next.
“The Twilight Zone,” as the show’s creator and narrator Rod Serling intoned, was “the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.” Sounds like 2017 in a nutshell.
Sometimes it took a trip to the movies to make sense of the world. In the best movies of 2017, a strong woman could battle hate with love, Americans could have truths about race laid out unambiguously, poverty and injustice could be looked in the eye, and people could enjoy freedom to love whom we want and to print what needs to be said.
Here are my choices for the top 10 movies of 2017:
1. “Wonder Woman”
Not just a watershed moment — the first blockbuster comic-book movie centered on a female superhero — but an earnestly realized look at a character who embodies strength, compassion and courage in any century. Gal Gadot’s performance perfectly depicted a mature, complex heroine who can go from facing down a barrage from the kaiser’s army to gushing over her first taste of ice cream. Director Patty Jenkins provided the sort of epic scale not seen in a comic-book movie since Christopher Reeve first donned Superman’s cape.
2. “Get Out”
In his first movie as writer and director, Jordan Peele didn’t abandon his comedy roots — he sharpened his wit into a sword, all the better to cut down the hypocrisy of so-called “postracial” liberalism. A horror movie about a young black man (Daniel Kaluuya) who accompanies his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) to visit her parents (Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford), “Get Out” lays bare the subtle and not-so-subtle racist messages that black people see every day and white people pretend don’t exist.
3. “The Florida Project”
Life in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom isn’t a fairy-tale experience for the semi-permanent residents of a fleabag motel in Orlando’s low-rent district. But for Moonee, a 6-year-old girl (played with soul by little Brooklynn Prince) living with her constantly hustling mom (Bria Vinaite), and her friend, it’s a summer playground bounded only by imagination. Director Sean Baker’s examination of people on the fringes of the American dream, bolstered by Willem Dafoe’s tender performance as a gruff motel manager, is intensely moving.
4. “The Big Sick”
It’s a delicious irony that the year’s best romantic comedy, centering on a Pakistani-American Muslim comedian falling for a Southern-bred white girl, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon wrote this fictionalized account of their courtship, centering mostly on Kumail (playing himself, essentially) being caught between his traditional Pakistani family and, when Emily (Zoe Kazan) is put in a medically induced coma, her none-too-pleased parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter). Directed by Michael Showalter, this warm and witty film reminds us that love and comedy both break down cultural barriers.
5. “Phantom Thread”
Daniel Day-Lewis has said this performance, as a 1950s English fashion designer whose well-ordered life is upended by a young woman (Vicky Krieps), will be his last on film. If so, he’s going out on a high note, as he and writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson construct a painfully precise and achingly beautiful portrait of refined elegance colliding with barely restrained passion. (It opens in Salt Lake City on Jan. 19.)
6. “Patti Cake$”
Bow down to Killa P, aka Patti Cake$, aka Patricia Dombrowski, a New Jersey bartender who aspires to becoming the next great rap star in writer-director Geremy Jasper’s engaging debut. Patti, in a starmaking performance by Australian actor Danielle Macdonald, teams up with her best friend, Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), and an anarchist mixmaster, Basterd (Mamoudou), to make her dreams come true — so she can escape her Jersey hell and her overbearing mom (played with ferocity by comic Bridget Everett).
7. “Wind River”
Following up on his crime drama “Hell or High Water,” writer Taylor Sheridan takes us to a frozen Wyoming reservation, where a rookie FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) and a U.S. Fish & Wildlife hunter (Jeremy Renner) investigate the death of a young Indian woman in the snow. Sheridan, directing for the first time (and filming in Utah), carefully reveals a web of violence and corruption surrounding the woman’s death, against a backdrop of hard life on the reservation.
8. “Megan Leavey”
A real-life Wonder Woman gets her due in this biographical drama about a young Marine trainee (Kate Mara) who signs up to train bomb-sniffing dogs. She bonds in training with Rex, the meanest dog in the unit, and together they uncover explosives and save lives in Iraq. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite delivers an authentic account of service in the Iraq War, as she and Mara depict the day-to-day grind of soldiers facing death from any direction.
9. “Battle of the Sexes”
The note-perfect casting of Emma Stone as tennis icon Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as ex-champ and hustler Bobby Riggs raises this comic chronicle of their famous 1973 match to dizzying heights. Simon Beaufoy’s sharp script and the lively direction by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris show that there was more than a tennis match on King’s mind — as she spearheaded a challenge to her sport’s sexist powers that be while also discovering her sexual attraction to women.
10. “The Post”
History comes alive in director Steven Spielberg’s thrilling drama, as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) plays catch-up on the Pentagon Papers story while his publisher, Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), battles the old-boy network as she wrestles with the potential financial and legal costs of printing the story. Streep’s performance as Graham, fighting the demure status imposed on women in the 1970s, is good even by her standards. The headlines, about journalism holding the presidency to account, are as fresh as today’s paper.
The second 10
A list of honorable mentions, any one of which could have wormed its way into the top 10 given the right argument:
• “Lady Macbeth,” director William Oldroyd’s shattering portrait of a young woman (Florence Pugh) bristling at the restrictions put on her by a loveless marriage.
• “Lady Bird,” writer-director Greta Gerwig’s assured comedy about a teen (Saoirse Ronan) learning to leave the nest occupied by her acerbic mom (Laurie Metcalf).
• “War for the Planet of the Apes,” directed by Matt Reeves, which expands the science-fiction franchise to an emotionally resonant war drama, as the reclusive ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) faces off against an enigmatic human colonel (Woody Harrelson).
• “Their Finest,” Lone Scherfig’s World War II romance, about a woman (Gemma Arterton) hired to write uplifting movies for the British government, turns out to be a more compelling look at the retreat at Dunkirk than either “Dunkirk” or “Darkest Hour.”
• “Coco,” in which Pixar’s Lee Unkrich celebrates Mexico’s Day of the Dead traditions and the universal bonds of family, living and dead.
• “Jane,” Brett Morgen’s incisive documentary profile of primatologist Jane Goodall, using astonishing long-lost footage of her early days observing chimps in Kenya.
• “A Ghost Story,” director David Lowery’s surreal medication on grief and loss, with Rooney Mara mourning the loss of her husband — played by Casey Affleck, who haunts their house wearing a sheet.
• “Brigsby Bear,” in which “Saturday Night Live” colleagues Dave McCary, Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello collaborate on a weird, funny and surprisingly sweet story of a young man (Mooney) whose world is upended and who finds comfort and new friends pursuing his favorite childhood TV show.
• “Human Flow,” Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s globetrotting look at refugees fleeing violence and poverty on several continents, is a documentary that’s heartbreaking, immediate and beautiful.
• “Colossal,” writer-director Nacho Vigalondo’s sly comedy-drama, with Anne Hathaway as a semi-functioning alcoholic who discovers her actions control a monster terrorizing Seoul — a perfect metaphor for our uneasy times.