Continuing my countdown, here are the top five movies that I’ve seen so far this year. This is by no means a comprehensive survey. It’s merely a distillation of the movies I that I enjoyed the most. Maybe you have or will enjoy some of them as well.
5. Girls Trip
This movie is a testament to the power of great characters and superb comedy. It’s premise is as basic as they come: four friends take a wild vacation to a crazy destination, and hijinx ensue. The plot is obvious: the friends have high hopes, have a blast, get upset and work it all out in the end. Delving into the world of R-rated comedy, the story is filled with dick jokes and urination — from a woman’s perspective. It’s a formula as tried and true as Bridesmaids. And like both those films, it has the essential ingredient – clearly drawn, 3-dimensional characters who have real problems and real depth. They may seem stereotypical and obvious at first; but as the film continues and the layers of are peeled back, honest emotions and pain are revealed beneath the jokes. The bit with a fellated banana lubricated by a grapefruit may have been stolen straight from the internet; but holy shit, is it funny!
4. The Lost City of Z
An adaptation of David Grann’s 2009 non-fiction book of the same name, The Lost City of Z takes us into the heart of the Amazon. A dark saga about early 20th century British explorer Percy Fawcett’s repeated efforts to locate a lost South American civilization that he believed to be more advanced than any previously discovered, the film is an elegant period piece that boasts an into-the-wild madness. A social critique about class and intolerance and a nuanced character study about an individual caught between his love for, and desire to escape, his environment, it’s one of the finest-acted dramas of the year.
3. Get Out
Tapping into the zeitgeist in a way no other film has done this year, Jordan Peele pulled off an unbelievable cinematic hat trick; a social-commentary horror comedy. Borrowing from The Stepford Wives, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Rosemary’s Baby, Peele’s razor-sharp script takes a traditional genre and gives it a fresh twist. Funny and unexpected, it’s as impressive in its racial-dynamics critique as its steady pacing and terrifying imagery. Peele’s directorial debut and feature script is a first-rate cinematic nightmare that will scare you as much with its implications and ideas as its twists turns. Wisely, the film mitigates the racial overtones with clever humor that breaks down the viewer’s preconceived notions and opens them to larger issues at hand.
2. The Big Sick
Discursive and unconventionally structured, this film is adapted from a real-life meet cute and an ensuing illness that produced this moving, melancholy rom-com. The plot takes a long time to get started, but the audience’s attention is held with an unending serious of laughs and a gentle but insightful look into the immigrant Pakistani family experience. Anchored by sensitive performances, the script creates believable, fallible characters that you want to root for. It may end one too many times, but the film reminds us that family is complicated, fate is a bitch and comedy is just as hard as dying.
1. I Am Not Your Negro
If you only see one movie this year, this is it. Serendipitously prescient, this film asks all the questions about white supremacy and the resistance to it that you were afraid to ask and uncertain how to answer. This movie will make you think, and may even change your mind.
Though its principal figure, the novelist, playwright and essayist James Baldwin, has been dead for nearly 30 years, you would be hard-pressed to find a movie that speaks to the present moment with greater clarity and force. Using Baldwin’s words and his various recorded interviews and lectures, this film continually pushes uncomfortable truths from 50 years ago that have not gone away. Drawing stark lessons from the shadows of history, it questions what we value as a society and in what ways each and everyone of us is complicit in that social contract.
To call “I Am Not Your Negro” a movie about James Baldwin would be an understatement. It’s a posthumous, uncanny and thrilling communion between the filmmaker, Raoul Peck, and his subject. The voice-over narration (read by Samuel L. Jackson) is entirely drawn from Baldwin’s work. Much of it comes from notes and letters written in the mid-1970s, when Baldwin was somewhat reluctantly sketching out a book, never to be completed, about the lives and deaths of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
In the end, his frank questions about society then and now will leave you pondering more than you imagined and asking questions of yourself that you didn’t walking into the the