Hoai-Tran Bui’s Top 10 Movies of 2017 So Far

Baby Driver

5. Baby Driver

It’s unusual nowadays to see a movie so overflowing with effervescence as Baby Driver. A slick heist movie with a healthy dose of cheese, Baby Driver follows a baby-faced young getaway driver who has been blackmailed into the criminal underworld and is looking to get out with “one last job.” He stands out from the crowd — and establishes the film’s pulsing soundtrack — because of the constant ringing from his tinnitus, which he drowns out with an iPod soundtrack curated for every occasion. Ansel Elgort is charming as the titular Baby, and the supporting cast of Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eliza Gonzalez, and Lily James are absolutely riveting. Edgar Wright brings his signature flair for visual comedy and action in full force in Baby Driver, resulting in a stunning and nearly over-stimulating joy of a movie. Though Wright does again demonstrate his penchant for focusing on wacky (white, male) outsider protagonists, giving his female characters the short stick — poor Lily James really does deserve more — it doesn’t deter Baby Driver from creating a truly enjoyable experience. Baby Driver has an infectious love for music and cinema that is hard to ignore.

it comes at night review

4. It Comes At Night

It Comes At Night depicts one of the most profound explorations of the inherent destructiveness of humanity I’ve ever seen. I would hesitate to call it a horror movie because it shies away from so many of the horror genre expectations in favor of showcasing small moments of human frailty and violence. The closest It Comes At Night comes to leaning into the horror genre is the palpable sense of dread that permeates the film, lending to the paranoia expressed by Joel Edgerton’s patriarch. It Comes At Night is set in the aftermath of some vague disease that plagues society, with Edgerton and his character’s family (Carmen Ejogo and a brilliantly internal Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) taking refuge in an isolated cabin in the woods. However, their isolation is interrupted by a desperate man (Christopher Abbott) seeking food for his wife (Riley Keough) and child. After an initial clash, the young family is taken into the cabin and given refuge — kicking off the movie’s downward spiral of events as paranoia and fear takes over each of the residents. I have been frustrated with dystopian shows and movies’ love affair with nihilism, allowing their character to descend further into gritty bloodbaths without much thought for the consequences. But It Comes At Night deals with those consequences, and is perhaps one of the most thorough explorations of nihilism and the human capability for violence that I’ve seen on film.

Wonder Woman No Man's Land

3. Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman is not a perfect movie, but it is a perfect movie for this time. It’s an earnest and hopeful breath of fresh air in the midst of grim DC blockbusters and glib Marvel sequels. Director Patty Jenkins never sacrifices character for humor — though there is a healthy dose of both. Gal Gadot is a godsend as the compassionate, idealistic, and flawed Diana of Themyscira, whose fish out of water storyline never gets tired. And Chris Pine is a worthy foil to her as Steve Trevor, the battle-worn and slightly more cynical American spy who gets tasked with taking her into the thick of war to battle the god of war Ares — who Diana blames for starting the Great War. While Wonder Woman at first seems like a by-the-numbers origin story, it’s a rich exploration of whether man is inherently good or evil — testing Diana’s black and white mentality from being raised on an island paradise of warrior women. The supporting characters played by Robin Wright, Lucy Davis, Ewan Bremner, and Saïd Taghmaoui are captivating despite the archetypes they initially fill — each time I watched the film, I found new layers and depths to each of the characters. The villains are cartoonish, yes, and the third act is a CGI mess, but Wonder Woman is a movie that made me cry twice, so that’s all the standards you need.

The Big Sick Review

2. The Big Sick

I love me a good old-fashioned romantic comedy, and I’m so happy that The Big Sick so obviously loves the genre as much as I do. Many indie rom-coms fall into self-made trap of depressing realism, but The Big Sick takes cues from traditional rom-coms before it, and keeps an undercurrent of optimism beneath its darkest moments. You can’t help but adore the movie’s transparent love of love. Based on the true story of star and writer Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily (played by Zoe Kazan, finally finding a role that suits her sunny sensibilities), The Big Sick is funny and heartwarming without falling victim to the emotional manipulation that runs rampant in love stories revolving around sickness. The Big Sick is also an unprecedented American romantic-comedy with a Muslim Pakistani-American man at its center, deftly exploring his family’s cultural roots as well as his place as an outsider of two worlds. Nanjiani’s ruminations on his childhood in both Pakistan and America spoke to my experiences as an Asian-American, and gives me hope for more smart and earnest cross-cultural films like The Big Sick.

Your Name Kimi No Na Wa

1. Your Name

Director Makoto Shinkai has a unique ability to depict the tragedy within the mundane. And while his previous films like 5 Centimeters Per Second and Voices of a Distant Star have been gorgeously rendered meditations on separation and loss, Your Name is the dazzling culmination of his work. The body-switching story of Your Name at first toes the line between voyeurism and wonder, but it quickly becomes a wistful and surprisingly hilarious romance of two young people separated by distance, and — it turns out — time. I’m a sucker for time-travel movies that act as existential commentaries on love and life, and Your Name does that and more. The breathtaking animation is a reminder of the limitless capabilities of hand-drawn animation, and its details used to juxtapose the simple Japanese countryside with the bustling city feels like the film is drawn with a loving hand. Shinkai explored that melancholy emptiness of missing an unknown something or someone in 5 Centimeters Per Second. In fact, 5 Centimeters Per Second bears more than a few plot similarities to Shinkai’s newest film, but Your Name takes that concept and turns it into a metaphysical fantasy, at once thrilling and heartrending.

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