2017 was a good time to hide somewhere dark where you can’t check Twitter. What better place than a movie theater? Here’s the 10 best films I saw all year—and if this list seem bleaker than past Top Tens that got celebrated slapstick and romance and Rose Byrne, so be it. Each of these flicks is so good, I’ll want to rewind them in better times, too. Pass the popcorn.
Eleven months after Bryan Fogel’s steroids documentary premiered at Sundance, Russia was suspended from the Winter Olympics — again. It’s prescient in more ways than one. Fogel, an amateur cyclist, intended to shoot a playful experiment to turn himself into Lance Armstrong. But when he asks scientist Grigory Rodchenkov, longtime head of the Soviet’s anti-doping lab, for injection advice, his film takes a high dive into international intrigue. After Rodchenkov admits that Putin pressures his athletes to succeed by any means necessary, so the president can trade gold medals for the civilian goodwill to invade Crimea, the doctor’s associates start to turn up dead. Icarus isn’t just a story about sports. It’s about everything.
Sorry, The Shape of Water. Nacho Vigalondo made the monster movie of the year, in part because he populated it with real people instead of polarized heroines and villains. Here, the two archetypes are one and the same in Anne Hathaway’s Gloria, a drunken mess who stomps all over her life and anyone to tries to save her. Halfway around the globe, a 700-foot behemoth is smashing up Seoul. The tie binding them together is a neat screenwriting trick, but the best thing about the screenplay is Vigalondo’s cool gaze at clumsy destruction and morning-after guilt. Colossal sees the fun in late nights swilling beer — this is no sober screed. Instead, it’s a toast to the Hathaway we’ve always wanted to see, a charming, selfish schemer who’s mainly fooling herself.
Let’s stick with South Korea a little longer to talk about Bong Joon-ho’s latest creature. Bong’s spent a decade celebrating all sorts of deformed things, from The Host‘s toxic sewer lizard to Tilda’s Swinton’s ghastly Snowpiercer false teeth. Yet in Okja, he makes his beast the hero, a mutated super pig raised in the mountains for meat. Neither Okja nor her young caretaker knows she’s headed for the slaughterhouse. We do, but that doesn’t make what’s coming any easier. Still, the film is more complex than an animal rights lecture (though it did make of my several friends cut down on their bacon consumption). Okja’s billionaire breeder Lucy is convinced she’s helping save the planet, and the giant pig’s would-be rescuers, the ALF, headed by a manipulative Paul Dano aren’t exactly good guys, either — though they’re easier to respect than Jake Gyllenhaal’s whiny TV host, who spends the whole film sweating and screaming to make us feel like it’s okay to laugh before we cry.
7) Rat Film
Most humans hate rats. In Theo Anthony’s experimental documentary, set over a century of slum life in Baltimore, residents poison rats, trap rats, hook them on fishing lines, and shoot them with rifles and blow darts. Meanwhile, the people themselves are hurt by filthy streets, neglectful city officials, and redlined real estate laws that prevent them from getting bank loans. Humans have invented dozens of ways to battle rats, one of the most famous symptoms of poverty. But what if we’re fighting the wrong enemy? Anthony’s ambitious mix of history, comedy, science, and economics speaks volumes about modern inequality without ever announcing its thesis. Like rodents themselves, his ideas scurry just outside of view — and stubbornly refuse to leave. “Do rats dream?” he asks. Good question. Can humans dream bigger?
6) The Florida Project
Sean Baker’s follow-up to Tangerine is a humid fairy tale that sticks to your skin long after it ends. Or, at least, Florida seems like a fairy tale to six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), who lives just outside Disney World in a jumbo landscape of giant oranges and rockets and wizards and soft serve ice cream cones, all made of monumental concrete. Her mother (a combustible Bria Vinaite), all seafoam hair and pink angel wings, looks like a princess, and even the motel they live in is called The Magic Castle. When Moonee is an adult, her childhood will look much different. She’ll know then that her mom was a prostitute who might have permanently hooked her daughter on violence and anger. But for this summer, and maybe only this summer, the child still lives in fantasy. And in lieu of pity, Baker insists we see her big, bright home through her eyes, too.