Hoai-Tran Bui’s Top 10 Movies of 2017


5. Dunkirk

I scoffed at first when Christopher Nolan announced that his latest film would be an “experience” rather than a traditional story, but that is what Dunkirk truly is: a visceral, impassioned experience that tests the limits of what movies can do. Separate timelines aside, Dunkirk is Nolan’s most barebones film, yet it still manages to achieve a level of emotional resonance that his most complex movies could only dream of. Dunkirk envelops the viewer in the raucous cacophony of World War II, your teeth clacking and your ears in danger of being deafened. It’s almost on par with watching a 4D movie, but Nolan expertly weaves a simple narrative through the auditory and visual language. There’s a reason that the dialogue-sparse film could easily be condensed into an affecting silent film: Dunkirk is pure cinema.

the shape of water

4. The Shape of Water

I’m convinced that there’s no director who loves his craft more than Guillermo del Toro. There’s a certain unfiltered joy he brings to his movies that you can feel throughout The Shape of Water, a weird and whimsical fairy tale with teeth and a warm, bloody heart. He’s been knocked before for his fastidious love letters to genre, but The Shape of Water soars thanks to the ardent cinematic homages that del Toro plants throughout the film. The Shape of Water is at once send-up of B-movie creature features and classic Hollywood musicals, an allegory of oppressed minorities during the Cold War, a deconstruction of the American dream, and a dark fairy tale romance. It operates on so many levels that it’s easy to be distracted, but The Shape of Water is anchored by Sally Hawkins’ vulnerable, multifaceted performance as the mute Eliza Esposito and her romance with the equally wordless Amphibian Man (Doug Jones, in a role literally created for him).

your name

3. Your Name

Just because Your Name fell from the top of my best movies of 2017, it doesn’t mean that I love it any less. And yes, I’m including this film despite it premiering and breaking records in Japan in 2016. I have long championed animation as one of the underrepresented mediums that can test the limits of how we tell stories, and Your Name is a perfect example of that. At first appearing to be a standard body-swap comedy, Your Name slowly unfolds into a wistful slice-of-life portrait that suddenly explodes into a trippy and cerebral meditation on fate and time. Makoto Shinkai, who previously tread similar territory in the lethargic photorealistic short film 5 Centimeters Per Second, manages to find the tragedy within the mundane in Your Name, producing one of the most stunning metaphysical films of the year.

Michael Stuhlbarg, Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer appear in Call Me by Your Name by Luca Guadagnino, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

2. Call Me By Your Name

You know that moment when you first wake from a beautiful dream? You feel hazy, feverish, and dense with an inexplicable emotion that remains just out of reach. That’s what the entirety of Call Me By Your Name is like. The LGBTQ romance is subtle and moving, set against the gorgeous, lazy backdrop of the warm Italian countryside. But despite its lush setting, director Luca Guadagnino maintains a cold distance to his core characters, allowing the romance between breakout star Timothée Chalamet and the Adonis-like Armie Hammer to blossom in an aching slow-burn. Guadagnino observes but never touches — as if this summer fling is so beautiful and delicate that it could shatter into a million pieces. And emotionally shatter me it does, during Michael Stuhlbarg’s powerful monologue delivered to Chalamet’s Elio toward the end of the film, a sudden moment of sharp reality that feels nearly out of sorts with the dreaminess of the rest of the movie. But Stuhlbarg’s speech toward his son becomes the catalyst by which the film’s previously subdued passions can rush out in an outpouring of grief, joy, and regret. It’s the lynchpin of the film, the moment upon which you realize that Call Me By Your Name has delivered a tender ode to the beauty of life, in both its ecstasy and pain.

the florida project

1. The Florida Project

“You know why this is my favorite tree? ‘Cause it’s tipped over, and it’s still growing.”

I’m aware it seems shallow to choose my number one film by the amount of tears that it made me shed, but The Florida Project more than deserves its top spot. Sean Baker’s film is a profoundly human, emotionally devastating depiction of life on the periphery. However, it never veers into overly sentimental or grim territory, instead presenting a story of Florida’s hidden homeless through the fanciful eyes of a child, played with astounding grace by newcomer Brooklynn Prince. The Florida Project is the most sincere and authentic film of the year, aided by the unpretentious performances from a cast that Baker largely plucked from the streets. Coupled with the astonishing career-best turn of Willem Dafoe as the strict but compassionate motel manager, The Florida Project is a near-perfect film. There’s no real narrative, instead collecting a series of a slice-of-life vignettes set in the rundown motels that surround Florida’s Disney World. But rather than trudging through the harsh struggles of the slum-like motel and its residents, The Florida Project floats, buoyed by Moonee and her gang’s mischievous adventures and the playful, escapist heart that the film wears on its sleeve.

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