The Best Films of 2017
Another 12 months are almost up and we're at that point where we begin to lose sleep trying to put together a top ten of the year. It's been a pretty impressive year in cinema by all accounts, with some fantastic docs, impressive blockbusters, surprise hit indies and memorable foreign language films all fighting for our attention.
Rather than run through a combined top ten, our writers have each put together their favourite five films of 2017. We've seen some great festival films that will no doubt see the light of day next year, but these lists feature films that opened in UK cinemas in 2017. Read on below to see which list comes closest to matching your own.
Everything cinema should be: funny, shattering, frightening, exhilarating, political. You'll never consider your meat the same way again…
2. The Handmaiden
A visually breathtaking and touching love story of dizzying preciseness.
3. Baby Driver
Edgar Wright's cinema reaches new heights with this astonishingly cool heist film. Will he ever make a faux pas?
Darren Aronofsky has put all his obsessions into a film. A visceral cinema experience!
Paul Verhoeven is back in amazing shape with an exhilarating dark comedy which gives Isabelle Huppert one of her best roles.
1. Toni Erdmann
Ines (Sandra Hüller) is a hardworking executive. Her father (Peter Simonischek) tries to reconnect with her by creating a fake persona as Toni Erdmann and crashing the high-powered conference she is attending. This comedy, an Oscar nominee as Best-Foreign Language Film, is poignant, often very funny, and very insightful about parent/child relationships. It features a room party you won't believe. An American remake is in the works.
2. 20th Century Women
Mike Mills continues to delve into his own life for inspiration. Beginners was inspired by his own father, and now he pays tribute to his mother (Annette Bening) and the women around him, including lodger Greta Gerwig and platonic best friend Elle Fanning, exploring their lives, aspirations and expectations as women at a time of change in the late 70s. Beautifully written and acted, constantly inventive, poignant and often funny.
The first Australian film Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film tells a story of forbidden love, set on Vanuatu with dialogue in Nauvhal. An engrossing story and a feast for the eyes, its eye for landscape makes this one for the big screen, though sadly few got to see it that way.
4. Their Finest
Inspired by a true story, Their Finest tells of Catrin (Gemma Arterton), who gets to work as a scriptwriter due to World War II. A winning mix of romantic comedy and drama, with plenty of knowing detail for film fans, impeccably made, it's another winner from British-based Danish director Lone Scherfig (An Education, The Riot Club and others).
Christopher Nolan's film, telling the story of the Dunkirk evacuation in land, sea and air (three interlocking storylines taking place over different periods of time) is visually and aurally quite staggering, especially on the big screen as it was filmed in IMAX and 65mm.
1. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Human horror and the supernatural merge in Yorgos Lanthimos’ Greek tragedy which considers the themes of retribution and sacrifice. It’s as tense and alienating as they come but well worth the emotional draining. Come for a brilliant Farrell and consistently cool Kidman but stay for Barry Keoghan’s slightly peculiar and twitchy spaghetti eater.
Dee Rees’ adaptation of Hillary Jordan’s debut novel took me completely unawares. Focussing on two families - the Jacksons and the McAllens - on a remote cotton farm in the Mississippi Delta. It’s an unflinching, deeply human, redemptive and hopeful drama that, although a slow-burn, is worthy of your time. Jason Mitchell, Garrett Hedlund and Mary J. Blige deliver standout performances, stranded in a sea of mud.
For Gloria (Anne Hathaway), life is in the toilet but there’s still plenty of fun to be had at the bottom of a bottle. Not to worry, everything's okay as she still has her ever-so-slightly uptight and condescending British boyfriend, who looks decidedly like Dan Stevens by her side well, ish. This is a fabulously entertaining film of monstrous proportions with the greatest fist-pumping and conducive subtext in the world to the shit-show that is 2017.
4. 20th Century Women
After Thumbsucker (2005) and Beginners (2010) - the latter of which fictionalised his father’s coming-out - there was only one person Mike Mills had yet to introduce to cinema audiences and that was his mother. A funny, heartwarming, and brilliant coming-of-age (for both the adolescent and mother). Featuring a fabulous cast including Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning, led by the luminous Annette Bening (she who can do no wrong onscreen) as a woman, in a Santa Barbara of '79, determined to raise a good man.
5. The Lure
Take Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid and give it a subversive, visceral and darkly feminist twist and you may get a vague picture of what Agnieszka Smoczynska’s Córki dancingu (its original Polish title) is all about. Throw in a love triangle, some musical numbers, a bit of gore, and plenty of sequins and you get the idea.
1. The Florida Project
This wonderful, affecting film about life on the poverty line is startlingly real, mostly thanks to an excellent cast of child actors who are put centre stage and simply left to play, director Sean Baker keeping things loose and fun in order to bring us into their world. The laughs are plenty and the performances are brilliant, especially from Willem Dafoe as a gruff yet kind motel manager and newcomers Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite (who both steal the show whenever they’re onscreen). However what really impresses is an incredible poignancy that slowly builds in the background until that heartwrenching ending – one of the most hard-hitting moments in film this year. Powerful, magical cinema at its absolute best, which is why it’s my choice for top film of 2017.
2. Free Fire
Hilarious, action-packed and featuring a stellar cast, Ben Wheatley’s 70s set film is superb from start to finish. While it might be slow to get going, once the real plot kicks in it is relentlessly thrilling and brilliant fun, that single location working well and adding another level of tension to those amazing shootouts. A riot of a film that is endlessly quotable, which more than makes it worth multiple viewings.
3. Thor: Ragnarok
Taika Waititi expands on the world of Thor by revelling in the funny side of the God of Thunder while also bringing in a cast of old favourites (Hulk!), as well as excellent new characters to join in the fun (Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie is a particular highlight). Chris Hemsworth is at his absolute best, while Waititi’s fresh eyes, perfect sense of humour and knack for action make this one of the most exciting Marvel films seen so far. Plus those cameos are all delightful.
4. The Big Sick
A heavy dose of realism via Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s magnificent story make Michael Showalter’s film surprisingly touching and incredibly heartfelt. Yet the comedy side of the film is just as impressive and a welcome relief from the darker moments, with Nanjiani proving himself to be a perfect leading man able to deal with both. An unconventional love story with a big heart, and one you'll never want to end.
5. Call Me by Your Name
This beautiful, moving narrative slowly unfolds before our eyes in the most organic way possible, director Luca Guadagnino giving it room to breathe and letting us soak up the gorgeous Italian backdrop. Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet are superb as the leads, their onscreen chemistry palpable as their relationship steadily grows, while Michael Stuhlbarg is excellent in a supporting role, especially during an emotional speech to his son (Chalamet) that will have you fighting back tears. Hugely poignant, and one of the most effective tales of love you’ll ever see.
1. Call Me By Your Name
Luca Guadagino creates a sensual, melancholic and beautiful coming-of-age romantic drama with dynamite performances from its male leads.
The provocative Paul Verhoeven and the incomparable Isabelle Huppert prove a dream-team in this uncompromising and daring drama.
3. Get Out
A timely and horrifying political satire that is scathing in its take-down of modern racism. Jordan Peele is a talent to watch.
4. Blade Runner 2049
Denis Villeneuve proves himself as a true visionary filmmaker with this much-anticipated sequel containing stunning cinematography from Roger Deakins.
The type of art-house film rarely seen from major studios, Aronofsky's latest may infuriate some but will enthral others. Jennifer Lawrence has never been better.
A lot of people noticed that Dunkirk is a rubbish war film. That’s because it’s a suspense thriller that happens to be set during WWII and should be judged on such terms. Christopher Nolan’s finest hour is impeccable and beautiful. The audacious, modern narrative takes nothing for granted. For a period piece, Dunkirk feels fresh and relevant.
2. Blade Runner 2049
When I heard Denis Villeneuve was to direct the sequel-no-one-knew-they-needed to Ridley Scott’s definitive sci-fi classic, I had every faith it would be good. Arrival was marvellous, while Sicario had already demonstrated Villeneuve’s considerable focus. But did anyone expect Blade Runner 2049 to be quite so sublime? It even might be *whispers* better than the original.
Kleber Mendonça Filho's film is gorgeous and stars the luminous Sonia Braga in a perfectly judged role that captures the ignominy of ageing and nostalgia. The languid camera work and innovative narrative renders a mood rarely captured so succinctly, and with a fiery wit too. Oh, and it’s the second film in this top five to feature awesome use of a Queen track.
4. Baby Driver
Ant-Man was a decent Marvel flick, but everyone knew a chance had been squandered. Thankfully, Edgar Wright’s next project is something special. It captures the spirit of the great, car-based exploitation movies of the 1970s, but to make it a pseudo-musical and time everything to a soundtrack that would make Tarantino jealous? *Mic drop*.
Comic fans can be a fickle bunch. The clamour for Mark Millar’s 'Old Man Logan' to be adapted was understandable, but impractical. It’s a mean-spirited comic that exploits popular characters to be sensational. Thank goodness for the steady hand of James Mangold that gave Hugh Jackman’s take on the character a fine, old fashioned and human finale. This is something special.
1. Get Out
This is a horror film that made me feel uncomfortable and unnerved deep in my very existence and I loved it. No other film challenged me in the same way as Jordan Peele did with Get Out. It had me thinking about the world we live in, my position in it and how I could make it a better place.
2. Baby Driver
Edgar Wright's fifth movie is the only film that I felt I had time to go and see twice this year. Like Edgar Wright's other films, it is a jumble of genres that shouldn't really go together, but Baby Driver works as a balletic car musical, full of jaw-dropping action and one of the best soundtracks of the year.
3. A Ghost Story
2017 was apparently on odd year for horror, with the strangest being a deeply existential examination of memory, legacy, love, time and home, that stars a man under a giant sheet. This is an experience rather than a film, yeah it can get a bit obvious with the message, but it has a deeply resonant core that will have you considering your position in the universe.
This film was without a doubt the best film of this year's awards season. A story about love in adversity that focused on the love, it was a breath of fresh air. It was also powered by a knock out performance from Ruth Negga, who was criminally ignored by the major film awards. Though it is nearly a year on I am still a little miffed that she only got a rising star nomination from BAFTA and then lost to Spiderman, I mean c'mon!
5. Blade Runner 2049
Denis Villeneuve has solidified himself as one of my favourite filmmakers currently working with this slick, smart sequel to a classic science-fiction film. It is made all the more impressive when most other films of this sort come across as cheap cash grabs. Villeneuve's slow, sweeping stroll through Blade Runner 2049 is filled with love and care for the original.
1. La La Land
Even though I first saw it all the way back in January, I was convinced that no film would replace La La Land as my favourite of the year. It's another one of the most visually luscious films I have ever seen, as well as a heartwarming story about dreamers. When I viewed the film's "Epilogue" montage for the first time in the cinema and filled up with emotion, I knew that I had seen something that truly resonated with me.
2. Blade Runner 2049
Denis Villeneuve's latest sci-fi masterpiece continued the themes of existentialism, paranoia and loneliness that were present in the original Blade Runner, while also managing to make this sequel feel original and fresh. It is also one of the most visually gorgeous films I have ever seen, full of unforgettable shots; no one deserves the Academy Award for Best Cinematography next year more than Roger Deakins.
3. Manchester by the Sea
Admittedly, I didn't praise this one quite as much as everyone else did on the first viewing; on the second viewing, however, I fell in love with the dry wit of the dialogue, the poignancy of the story and the subtlety of the performances. The conversation that takes place between Lee (Casey Affleck) and Randi (Michelle Williams) is one of the most heartbreaking and well-acted moments in the past few years of cinema, and I applaud anyone who can sit through that scene without tearing up.
4. Baby Driver
This film contains some of the best editing I have seen all year. But Baby Driver does not just rely on its endlessly cool style; it's fast-paced, has an incredibly likeable protagonist and features easily the most exciting soundtrack of 2017. You'll never listen to 'Harlem Shuffle' again without thinking of the genius opening credits sequence.
Christopher Nolan has proven once again that he is one of the finest directors working today. Dunkirk is tense, unnerving and beautifully acted, with direction that makes you fully grasp the urgency of the life-threatening situation. It also confirmed that, sometimes, the actions of characters speak louder than words.
As much as it makes me sound like a stuck record, there’s no getting away from it: Christopher Nolan remains at the top of his game with this blistering thriller-cum-virtual reality experience that delivers on George Lucas’ epochal “Faster, more intense” ethic like nothing else before.
2. Blade Runner 2049
In possibly the finest example of a decades-later sequel, Denis Villeneuve’s follow-up to Ridley Scott’s neo-noir adaptation excels in visual grace, philosophical grandeur and emotional gut-punches. Forged in the crucible of an android’s dream, it’s the big budget, big idea science fiction that cinema has craved so much of late.
3. La La Land
Its fruit pastille aesthetic and earworm show tunes disguising a more nuanced and heart-breaking treatise on love, dreams and compromise, Damien Chazelle’s follow up to Whiplash is one for the ages. Tag yourselves: I’m The Fools Who Dream.
4. Get Out
Drawing on a rich heritage of classic horror and imbibing it with stingingly topical racial satire, Jordan Peele turns America’s liberal magnifying glass into a mirror. Get Out’s most damning residue is the realisation that declaring how much you “simply loved” it would make you as simperingly oblivious as those it seeks to strip bare.
5. A Monster Calls
J.A. Bayona’s fairy tale adaptation suffered from an awards season release and was promptly lost in the deluge of Oscar bait. An uncomplicated, uncontaminated fable that insists on the emotion of escapism over any pseudo-psychological explanations, it’s a pure and profound search for truth that deserves digging out.
1. Call Me By Your Name
One of the most beautifully, tenderly told coming of age stories in recent memory, Call Me By Your Name perfectly captures the all encompassing emotional chokehold of confused sexuality, and the deeper emotional feelings that follow. Perfectly performed by its two leads, as well as featuring an Oscar worthy supporting turn from the year’s most reliable character actor, Michael Stuhlbarg, it is a wonderfully romantic gem. And if you don’t stay for the entirety of the end credits, you really don’t deserve a film as heartfelt as this.
After gaining notoriety on the 2016 festival circuit for its Cronenbergian body horror sequences, the cinema release of Raw saw it finally get appreciated for what it was; a gleefully macabre coming of age story, that was as insightful about family dynamics as it was at crafting nightmarish (and blackly comic) set pieces. In her directorial début, Julia Decorneau instantly proved herself to be a filmmaker worth watching.
3. Blade Runner 2049
The master stroke of Denis Villenueve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic is that it doesn’t feel like a Blade Runner sequel at all. Instead, the deliberately detached aesthetic feels so distinctive to Villeneuve’s directorial style, it’s hard to view it as anything other than an original Villeneuve science fiction story that just happens to take place within Phillip K Dick’s otherworldly Californian dystopia. It may have belly flopped at the worldwide box office, but it still feels like an example of how sequels should be done.
4. A Ghost Story
Viewed from the outside, A Ghost Story appears to be a pretentious, borderline laughable attempt at horror film subversion. In actuality, director David Lowery’s quiet masterpiece aims to find the human soul lying beneath the white sheet, one of the most famous pieces of horror iconography in the western world. This is the closest American cinema has come to replicating the ethereal majesty of Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and easily surpasses his acclaimed body of work when it comes to finding humanity in the otherworldly.
5. The Handmaiden
Park Chan-Wook’s best film since Oldboy sees him relocating Sarah Waters’ novel 'Fingersmith' from Victorian London to war torn Korea and finding in the source material a trashy work of suspense and mistaken identity indebted to Brian De Palma and Paul Verhoeven. One of the year’s most visually stylish films by a country mile.
It's rare that such a beautiful independent film gets such widespread recognition but thankfully Barry Jenkin's film broke the mould. Three stages of manhood are deconstructed with touching humanity addressing sexuality, race and masculinity with a uniquely fresh eye.
2. A Quiet Passion
Somehow the wonder of Terence Davies' work continues to be overlooked by the British public. Cynthia Dixon is simply stunning as poet Emily Dickinson, completely at ease with the lyrically sharp script. A film full of mood, imagination and gorgeous imagery.
3. A Ghost Story
David Lowery sticks one on the nose of nihilism. He somehow manages to make a film that means everything and nothing at the same time, ruminating on how important and meaningless the very essence of our lives can be. But he's a romantic at heart and love wins through in the end.
4. The Red Turtle
Magic and mystery turn Dudok de Wit's film about our connection with nature into an unforgettably spiritual experience. It has the essence of Ghibli but stands firmly on its own two feet with its own distinct style and approach. A deeply moving and beautifully rendered piece of animation.
5. The Work
A documentary that should resonate with every male on some level. Jairus McLeary observes the meeting of ordinary guys and convicted violent offenders and the result is raw and powerful. It takes most men years to accept their own emotions and this doc reveals some of the consequences.
Hirokazu Koreeda is present-day Japan's most famous familial storyteller but Koji Fukada tells equally peering stories with a darker, more realistic, heart. Less allusions to Ozu, more to Roeg in this beautifully watercoloured but darkly-painted sermon that asks - but bravely refuses to answer - how to best protect your child. Mariko Tsutsui's tiptoeing central role moribundly describes the tragedy.
2. The Salesman
Actor Taraneh Alidoosti's growing pains have signposted Asghar Farhadi's career. From her youthful hope in Fireworks Wednesday to her detached reality in this, the director's most jabbing film. The Iranian censors forced things to be left unseen and unsaid - like this film's harrowing centre - which counterintuitively drives up the quality; stories having to be told by the nuances and glitches in the actors glances. And The Salesman is a good example of why this country may in turn produce the world's best films.
3. Certain Women
Kelly Reichardt packs a lot of subversive fables into her film's three vignettes. Michelle Williams's role teaches us it's better to listen than talk, but for material gain not palliative respect. Williams gets her bit of land in the beautifully-shot wide-open spaces of Montana, but Lily Gladstone's role is not only Certain Woman with no name, she's the only one who owns no land despite being the only one indigenous to her beautiful country.
4. Get Out
It's rare people of colour are allowed to make mainstream films describing their lived experiences, and even rarer for white people to enthusiastically embrace them. At least we hope that's the case. Anecdotes of black audience members gasping while white audience members breathed a sigh of relief in the final scene warns us the latter - specifically those under liberalism's self-congratulatory thrall - may not accept they're the ones being targeted. Get Out is the most important mainstream American film of recent years, and people should not apply their own interpretation to director Jordan Peele's clear insistence he's made a documentary.
Peter Mackie Burns breathes fresh air into British social realism, with Emily Beecham's titular role living in a typically modernist - but unusually for modern films of this genre - cleanly photographed cityscape. Despite being privileged, it's the victims who get her out of trouble, dignifying the marginalised with agency, unlike Ken Loach's white-centred fatalism. But there is fatalism present, warning us we'll eventually turn into our parents. And warning us about this is absolutely fine.