Movies

The Best Movies of 2017

Josh Larsen

The Big Sick

In a refreshing example of a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction premise, screenwriters and real-life married couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon tell the semi-autobiographical story of their courtship. “Kumail,” played by Nanjiani, meets “Emily” (Zoe Kazan) when she “woo-hoos” him during his stand-up comedy set. The two begin seeing each other, but have to navigate, first, his observant Muslim parents’ plans for an arranged marriage and then a serious, undiagnosed illness that leaves Emily in a medically induced coma. During her illness Kumail decides he wants to marry Emily, even as he struggles (sometimes hilariously and sometimes heartbreakingly) to gain the favor of her protective parents, played by a spirited Holly Hunter and self-conscious Ray Romano. The result is a millennial perspective on love, marriage, and family in all of its complexity, risk, and regret. In both the movie and in real life, truth, love, and forgiveness triumph—but the greatest of these is love. (Tamara Hill Murphy)

Dunkirk

Much was made of the “right” way to view Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan’s immersive World War II rescue film. I was fortunate to first see it in 70mm in a full theater on opening weekend. The immensity of the sound and images was a near-religious experience, as Nolan’s meditation on time and ethics in the midst of warfare moved me to tears. Yet my second viewing was just as affecting, though in a very different theatrical environment: a small, near-empty indie theater in a coastal village in Scotland. Walking out and seeing the waves on the beach was as much a liturgy, a religious experience, as my first viewing. The name Dunkirk literally means “church in the dunes;” the opening title sequence describes the need for hope, for “a miracle.” Though this is in reference to “the miracle at Dunkirk”—in which British civilian ships helped rescue troops who were trapped on the coast of France—it is telling that we are reduced (or elevated) to using religious language for such feats of bravery, courage, and human decency. (Joel Mayward)

The Florida Project

A luminous example of what could be called Hagar cinema, The Florida Project turns its camera on those who have been marginalized by society. The result is that—like the Egyptian slave twice cast out by Abram and Sarai—these neglected children of God can truly be seen. The film follows 6-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), who lives with her struggling, single mother in a budget motel on the outskirts of Disney World. She and her friends scamper around the motel as if it is their own personal playground, seemingly unaware of how precarious their lives are. As tourists ignore or exploit these “hidden homeless,” director Sean Baker casts them and their surroundings in a loving glow—a lavender one, to be exact, as that’s the bold color of Moonee’s motel. “You are the God who sees me,” Hagar declares in Genesis. Are we willing to see, as well? (Josh Larsen)

Get Out

All horror movies reflect the social anxieties of their time, but few have had the immediacy of Get Out. Writer-director Jordan Peele portrays the awful reality of African-Americans’ fears while forcing white Americans, who hear supposedly sympathetic rhetoric coming from the mouths of the movie’s monsters, into a rare moment of unpleasant recognition. When Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is hypnotized while visiting the parents of his white girlfriend, Peele depicts him helplessly plummeting into the dark void of “the sunken place,” where his mind will be trapped while his body is exploited. With terrifying elegance, the movie captures the utter profanity of American racism: institutions maintaining power by destroying human beings who are formed and loved by God. (Joe George)

Murder on the Orient Express

Agatha Christie’s celebrated mystery gets a 21st-century, big-screen makeover under the opulent direction of Kenneth Branagh, who also stars as famed detective Hercule Poirot. Outside of the star-studded cast, sumptuous period detail, and lush cinematography, this is also a tale of wounding injustice. In a year of countless real-life victims of all sorts of violation and violence, Murder on the Orient Express offers an important moment to consider again God’s wisdom that only he is rightly fit to execute justice. (Tamara Hill Murphy)

The Unknown Girl

Brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne craft deceptively simple cinematic parables touching on the edge of immanence and transcendence. Their latest, The Unknown Girl, employs detective tropes even as it subverts audience expectations—not with violence or hatred, but with confession and embrace. The film focuses on a young doctor, Jenny (Adèle Haenel), and her search for the origins of a young woman who died after trying to gain entrance to her medical clinic. Jenny’s journey is a reminder of the responsibility we each have to love our neighbors as ourselves, and the significance of encountering the “other” face to face. (Joel Mayward)

Topics: Movies