'Florida Project' Tops David Edelstein's List Of The Year's Best Films

Dec 26, 2017
Originally published on December 28, 2017 9:46 am
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Let's see what's on our film critic David Edelstein's list of the best films of the year.

DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: In a year dominated by stories of sexual harassment and abuse in the entertainment industry and elsewhere and in which Time magazine declared its persons of the year, the silence breakers, I find myself mostly gravitating to stories rarely told in voices that aren't heard from enough. Here's my 10 best list, in reverse order to maximize suspense.

No. 10 is the French "BPM," standing for beats per minute, suggesting heartbeats or disco. Director Robin Campillo focuses on the Paris branch of ACT UP, which, in the '90s, staged violent protests against governments and pharmaceutical companies not responding swiftly to HIV/AIDS. It also features two men, one whose death is near, the other, near enough, who find warmth amid cold, collective action. No. 9 was a huge flop, appearing on some 10 worst lists - Luke Besson's "Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets." Yes, the script is lame, the acting worse, but I was thrilled by this dizzying ballet of actors, bizarre creatures and gizmos.

Numbers 8 and 7 are immersive documentaries - "Nowhere To Hide" and the "Last Men In Aleppo." The first begins with the 2011 American withdrawal from Iraq. A film crew leaves a camera with a medic who intends to chart his country's rebuilding but winds up documenting his city's destruction and family's desperate flight from ISIS. The second film focuses on men recovering corpses from rubble in Syria's most ravaged city. Watch these and footage of distant falling bombs will never seem removed from the hell they bring. No. 6 is "Marjorie Prime," Michael Almereyda's sci-fi chamber drama centering on a family and its primes - holographic incarnations of dead loved ones that are intended to give comfort but open a portal to haunting questions. What is memory? What lasts? What fades away? The cast includes Jon Hamm and, as Marjorie, Lois Smith, who's also in "Lady Bird" and began her career opposite James Dean in "East Of Eden." How cool is that?

"Faces Places" is No. 5. Now 89-year-old Agnes Varda's documentary of her road trip with a photographer calling himself JR around rural France photographing people, blowing up photos to 30, 40, 60 feet and affixing them to buildings. It sounds whimsical and pretentious, but it might be the least arty movie about art ever made. No. 4 is Jordan Peele's "Get Out," a paranoid horror comedy starring Daniel Kaluuya as a black photographer who meets the hardily liberal family of his white girlfriend. We knew from Peele's sketch comedy TV show "Key & Peele" that he'd mastered the tenets of satire but not that he could sustain them for a feature in which "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" morphs disturbingly easily into "The Stepford Wives."

No. 3 is "Lady Bird." The title character is Saoirse Ronan's dreamy, prickly high school senior who jettisons her real name for one suggesting flight, especially from her resentful mother. Director Greta Gerwig is able to skip along the surface of her alter ego's life, stop to go deep, then skip forward again, evoking the tempo of an existence lived whimsically but over an emotional abyss. No. 2 is "Call Me By Your Name," a gay '80s love story set in Italy in which every moment resonates with the sexual longing of a 17-year-old, played by Timothee Chalamet, for Armie Hammer's 24-year-old visiting scholar. Young men and women are always doffing clothes and jumping into sparkling lakes, but it's not prurient. Director Luca Guadagnino captures the literal and metaphorical essence of midsummer - lazy but so vivid that every sound reverberates.

My No. 1 film is emphatically Sean Baker's "The Florida Project," centering on rambunctious little kids bopping around a transient motel not far from Disney World. Baker captures their crazy elation, playing pranks, mouthing off and also the gnawing uncertainty of their lives, the grayness of their family's financial situation, a counterweight to the eye-popping artificial pinks and purples. The young star is the astounding Brooklyn prince. Willem Dafoe is unforgettable as the motel manager who can't fix what most needs fixing.

A year in film consists not just of whole movies but elements, performances. I'll remember the pervasive mucky browns of Rachel Morrison's cinematography in Dee Rees' "Mudbound" and the luminous subterranean greens in Guillermo Del Toro's The "Shape Of Water." I'll remember the first shot of "Dunkirk," allied troops moving through French streets as German leaflets flutter down and the last shot of "Call Me By Your Name," a teenager by a fire weeping to Sufjan Stevens' beautiful "Visions Of Gideon." I'll remember James and Dave Franco's nutty chemistry in "The Disaster Artist," the sexual voraciousness of Aubrey Plaza and some great clowns in the nun sex farce "The Little Hours" and Chris Hemsworth turning a muscle-bound demigod into a good-natured farceur in "Thor: Ragnarok."

I'll remember Michelle Williams' harried eloquence as the mom of a kidnapped teen in "All The Money In The World," most famous for Ridley Scott's post-production replacement of alleged predator Kevin Spacey with the crafty Christopher Plummer as billionaire J. Paul Getty. I'll remember, finally, Gal Gadot, whomped by foes in "Wonder Woman" and "Justice League," shaking her head with annoyance and smiling as she leaps back into the fray, always giving better than she got.

GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. Tomorrow, we continue our holiday week series featuring some of our favorite interviews of the year and listen back to my interview with comic and actor Patton Oswalt, recorded after the release of his Netflix comedy special "Annihilation," which is in part about the unexpected death of his wife last year and having to find a way to prevent himself and his young daughter from falling to pieces. It's also about living in the Trump era. I hope you'll join us.

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GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer as Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.

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