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Obsessed with Cinema

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When I moved from Denver to the Roaring Fork Valley, I assumed my access to new cinema would suffer.

It hasn’t. Thanks to theaters like the Crystal in Carbondale and the Isis in Aspen, the handy inter-library reservation system, and hard-working postal workers delivering Netflix DVDs every few days, it’s easy to go beyond the selections available from Redbox and streaming services. Each year, I research every theatrical release using the review aggregation website Metacritic.

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In 2017, over 700 movies screened in New York or Los Angeles. I watched 150 of them, and noted another 250 that looked promising, with 300+ on my skip list. With the Academy Awards ceremony on March 4th marking the end of the year in cinema, here are my picks for the best 100 films of the year.


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The Shape of Water ups the ante on Cold War reminiscing and creature feature theatrics with mesmerizing performances, led by Sally Hawkins. French film The Midwife is a potent meditation on forgiveness. Mudbound packs huge emotion into an unlikely friendship between two men returning home to the Jim Crow South after WWII. With Dunkirk, director Christopher Nolan packs adrenaline, fear, and hope into a visual masterpiece. Salma Hayek and John Lithgow collide in the righteous thinkpiece Beatriz at Dinner.

Smart, funny women are at the center of Princess Cyd, a jewel of vivid authenticy. Lady Bird is a showcase for actress Saoirse Ronan and a breakthrough for writer-director Greta Gerwig. Earnest and unsentimental, Patti Cake$ follows an unlikely rap heroine on her quest for artistic recognition. Director Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying is a moving portrait of Vietnam veterans brought back together by the ravages of another misguided war. A timely ode to press freedom, The Post explores the crucial role Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham played in the publishing of the Pentagon Papers.

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Molly’s Game, starring Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, weaves complex character motivations and snappy dialog into a satisfying stranger-than-fiction biopic. Part horror movie, part fearlessly funny racial commentary, Get Out lives up to the hype. The Florida Project examines poverty through the prism of unsupervised kids, in the shadow of Disney World. Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer is a fascinating ride to the darkside of political influence. After the Storm, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, is a sensitive look at three generations of a Korean family that will make you want to call your grandmother. The Salesman is a devastating dive into the social norms and moral machinations of present day Iran.

Actress Kristen Stewart plays a woman seeking a connection with the ghost of her brother, in the moody arthouse film Personal Shopper. Denzel Washington delivers another tour de force performance in the philosophically-minded legal thriller Roman J. Israel, Esq. There is no way to unsee the misdeeds depicted in Wind River, and that’s the point, to force the issue of disappeared Native women into the public consciousness.

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The riveting Icarus illuminates how Russia systematically cheats in the Olympics over and over again. Human Flow is a unflinching journey from one refugee crisis to another, directed by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei. Chasing Coral, the follow up to the powerful film Chasing Ice, is another wake-up call to a world emitting dangerous amounts of carbon. Activists take center stage in the Ferguson protest film Whose Streets?

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Hope drives struggling folks in Indianapolis to sign up for Night School, while charisma and hard work push them to succeed in the face of inequality. The Sunshine Makers is a nostalgic look at the untold story of two chemists who manufactured millions of doses of LSD. Get Me Roger Stone articulates how the snake oil salesman approach to American elections worked for Donald Trump, while demonstrating how devious the infamous right-wing political operative is. I Am Jane Doe chronicles how a group of mothers fought for years to stop Backpage from facilitating sex trafficking. Strong Island aches with emotion, offering an intimate view of the injustices of racism. Decipher the dialects while touring the Chitlin Circuit in I Am The Blues, and you’ll be tuned in to musical talents unsung for far too long.

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World makes a compelling case that indigenous artists from Link Wray to Robbie Robertson impacted rock music more than most of us realize. I Called Him Morgan reveals in fantastic detail what led hard bop trumpeter Lee Morgan, who joined Dizzy Gillespie’s band as a teenage prodigy, to be murdered by his wife at age 33. Mali Blues is a hypnotic observation of the power of music to challenge cultural repression by Islamic radicals. Packed with rare footage and bursting at the seams with ideas about music, Chasing Trane goes to a higher level when it delves into the legendary saxophonist’s late-career free jazz period. Tickling Giants introduces us to Bassem Youssef, better known as the Egyptian Jon Stewart, who rose to fame against the backdrop of the Arab Spring.

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I Am Heath Ledger taps into the extensive home video collection of the popular actor, who died from an accidental prescription drug overdose at age 28. Abacus: Small Enough to Jail portrays a banking family in Chinatown fighting to protect their legacy while Wall Street gets away with crashing the economy. Centered around a folksy repair shop in Berkeley, California Typewriter is a charming ode to dusty old machines on the brink of extinction. Dealt shows off the skills of one of the finest card mechanics in the business, Richard Turner, who prefers not to let audiences in on his blindness.


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Pixar strikes gold with Coco, a fable about a boy who crosses over into a technicolor afterlife called the Land of Dead, to discover his family’s true history for himself. My Life as a Zucchini depicts the aspirations of an orphan with a light touch, drawing deep meaning out of simple stop-motion animation.

Telling the story of a shipwrecked man on tropical island with no one to talk to, The Red Turtle is a triumph for Studio Ghibli. Built around actors filmed evoking iconic paintings, Loving Vincent features over 60,000 frames of film hand-painted in Van Gogh’s style. Depicting the dreary life of a family surviving Taliban rule in Kabul, The Breadwinner centers on a fearless young girl who must disguise herself as a boy to feed her family. Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is a crowd-pleaser about imagination.


A winning combination of thoughtful writing, great acting, and plenty of jokes, The Big Sick stands out as one of the best comedies in years. Director Steven Soderbergh is back with a bang and though Logan Lucky is a heist film, these are new heights in silliness. Landline revels in the awkward hilarity of two sisters trying to bust their philandering father without their mother finding out.

Please help ensure Hollywood produces irreverent R-rated comedies like Girls Trip more often by renting this movie, laughing your ass off, then recommending it to the person next in line at Redbox. Deadpan medieval sex farce The Little Hours is offbeat and awfully funny. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s existential rants and competing Michael Caine impressions generate serious chortles on location at tantalizing restaurants in The Trip to Spain. Critics aren’t wrong about CHIPS being unabashedly stupid and unnecessarily gross, but it’s also outrageously amusing. Mr. Roosevelt is a shaggy dog of an indie comedy, endearing and tender. A flawed film about flawed people, Table 19 keeps you giggling. There are worse ways to spend an evening than laughing along with actors who are in on the joke of how bad Baywatch is.


We can all agree there are too many damn sequels these days, but even if comic books aren’t really your thing, there is plenty to enjoy in Star Wars 8: The Last Jedi, Blade Runner 2049, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Wonder Woman, Thor: Ragnarok, Logan, War for the Planet of the Apes, The Fate of the Furious, Valerian, Kong: Skull Island, and Guardians of the Galaxy 2. If you’re looking for something wholly original, check out Korean director Joon-ho Bong’s epic Okja.


Many more 2017 films are worthy of your viewership. Don’t miss The Lost City of Z, Crown Heights, Call Me By Your Name, Thank You For Your Service, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Battle of the Sexes, I Tonya, Little Boxes, Their Finest, Brigsby Bear, Rememory, Stronger, Marshall, Te Ata, Maudie, Polina, The Lovers, My Cousin Rachel, The Mountain Between Us, and Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. Also worth a look are Lucky, Victoria and Abdul, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Glass Castle, Manifesto, Tulip Fever, Lady Macbeth, The Zookeeper’s Wife, Unlocked, Ingrid Goes West, Marjorie Prime, The Promise, The Ottoman Lieutenant, and The Hero.