Ranking movies for end-of-the-year lists is tough business, especially in a year where so many movies created serious divisions in audiences. This month's super-blockbuster, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, for example, has created a schism in that particular fandom that rivals that of the Jedi and the Sith. But even that pales in comparison to the reaction to movies like Darren Aronofsky's Mother! – an art-house allegory about ... well, art ... that presumably no one at the studio saw before putting it in front of mainstream Jennifer Lawrence fans. For that reason, I've leaned a little toward some films that didn't quite find the right audience – and a few that did. – TM
It Comes at Night One of the best films that came out this year that suffered from really piss-poor marketing was Trey Edward Shults' It Comes at Night. A super-tense, low-budget look at how fear of the unknown causes people to distrust and turn on each other (no lessons here about the current political climate, no sirree), the film was marketed as a supernatural horror flick. Fans of that genre felt misled, but anyone who appreciates suspense and psychological horror should make it a point to add It Comes at Night to their watch list.
War for the Planet of the Apes The Planet of the Apes franchise revival, which started with 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, may have sounded like a dumb idea at the time, but it's turned into one of the most consistently satisfying science fiction trilogies of all time. And War was easily the best summer blockbuster to come out this year. Director Matt Reeves delivers on the promise of the spectacle of all-out war between apes and humans – hinted at in 2014's Dawn – but ensures that all of the action serves a powerful and poignant story about mankind's last days.
The Florida Project Yes, Sean Baker's look at families living on the margins of society got our attention because it was filmed on location in Kissimmee's run-down tourist strip. But the focus on the point of view of a 6-year-old, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), sucked us in with humor and charm that belied the heartbreaking bleakness surrounding the candy-colored Magic Castle motel where she lives. Willem Dafoe was good, too, I guess.
Get Out Speaking of miscategorization, you probably already heard that the Golden Globes put Get Out – Jordan Peele's universally acclaimed directorial debut that we would classify as a "social horror" movie – into the nominee list for the musical or comedy subcategory for Best Motion Picture. The film, about affluent whites literally taking control of black bodies, doesn't have a musical number in it, so we guess the couple of moments of nervous laughter it elicits makes it a comedy. Peele's reaction to the perplexing categorization was to tweet out "Get Out is a documentary."
Blade Runner 2049 This marks the second year in a row that my favorite film of the year is a science fiction masterpiece from Denis Villeneuve, after last year's Arrival – and if he manages to be the first director to get Dune right, not the last. It's a rare example of a sequel to a cult hit turning out better than the original. (And if you're one of the people who think that 2049 is "too boring" compared to the original, you should really go back and watch the 1982 version again.) Audiences didn't flock to it quite as much as the studio was expecting – probably due to the three-hour runtime or the fact that discussing the plot at all amounts to a spoiler – but it deserves to end up with as strong of a cult following as Blade Runner ever did.