10. Paths of the Soul. Zhang Yang’s documentary chronicling a journey in which Tibetan pilgrims kowtow 1,200 miles through the mountains to the holy city intrinsically becomes less about a journey to the place itself than one to find inner peace, conveyed in a lyrically observational fashion in which the repetition of the kowtowing gradually allows for the pilgrims’ emergent meditative serenity to also take hold on the viewer.
9. Jackie / 8. Krisha. Though Pablo Larraín’s Jackie is a historical drama, based on very real events, obviously, it nonetheless feels like historical fantasy anyway, like the movie’s Jackie Kennedy, played by Natalie Portman with icy precision, is wresting control of a wannabe biopic in real time, re-making it on her own terms, shrouding it in myth and telling her story the way she wants it to be told. Krisha, meanwhile, though fictional, is based on real events, per director Trey Edward Shults, and stars his own family members, including Krisha Fairchild as the titular estranged family member returning home for Thanksgiving. She struggles mightily to re-claim her own narrative, but can't do it, falling prey to her own worst impulses, exuding a life of chaos that long ago fell out of her control.
7. Weiner. If directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg had hoped to chronicle the resurrection of a disgraced politician, what they found instead was that politician’s descent into even deeper psychological murk, done in by his own craven desire of needing to be seen, where narcissism and technology make for a destructive combination, leaving the ones closest to him without a voice, forever on the periphery, the political truly rendered as the personal.
6. Paterson. Jim Jarmusch’s loving paean to the Everyday is so unassuming that only when it ends and the spell is broken do you realize that the whole thing was magic.
5. Blue Jay. Not for nothing did this lo-fi yet pristine black & white indie contain the best performance of the year (Sarah Paulson). Alex Lehmann's film centers around the idea of performance, catching up with two teenage sweethearts who imagined their adult selves when they were young and now seek to imagine an alternate reality where they wound up together. And while its tone is one of wistfulness, it quietly allows dread to encroach and then explode, tearing down the foundation of performance and leaving behind nothing but the smoking crater of reality.
4. The Treasure. Director Corneliu Porumboui filters a search for buried treasure through the rigid aesthetic common to the Romanian New Wave, mixing up the solemn and the storybook and finding the perfect balance between the two, where one man's quest to do right by his family quietly opens up into something more, and where hope feels less pre-ordained than authentic and earned.
3. Certain Women. Set principally in the remote wilderness of Montana, the setting of Kelly Reichardt's latest ode to resplendent minimalism is paramount. “Certain Women” tracks three separate stories of three separate women who are nonetheless cosmically united by the isolation they endure, whether surrounded by people or not. Each one tries to find her own way in, but Reichardt, never beholden to obvious conclusions, settles for elliptical, yet no less emotionally true observations instead. Like the train in the film's scene-setting shot, life, no matter how much it might confuse and disappoint, just keeps rolling on by.
2. Moonlight. Director Barry Jenkins charts the life of one gay African-American through three different stages, from pre-teen to teen to adult, illustrating how the specific constraints of a society into which someone is cast can prevent him not simply from being what he wants to be but simply existing as who he is.
1. Everybody Wants Some!! Only a movie so tightly controlled could play so loose, a testament to writer/director Richard Linklater, as well as editor Sandra Adair, who craft a nearly flawless ode to the last lazy weekend before the new start of a freshman’s first semester at college. The film airdrops us into an extremely specific setting, that of ferocious male bonding, where ball busting is the native tongue and learning to give as good as you get is necessary for survival. Though do not presume that “Everybody Wants Some!!” is merely the latest visit to the frequent white male movie milieu. On the contrary, for all the machismo, this becomes an exploration of other cultural environments on campus, with the band’s good-hearted leader, Finn (Glen Powell), establishing himself as their semi-scholarly tour guide, espousing the necessity of opening one’s mind as he leads incursions into campus bars and parties where jockstraps are not the norm. Indeed, if “Everybody Wants Some!!” can be as crude as any campus comedy, it is never feebleminded, a sneak attack of sincerity and wisdom that acts its age.