I did something stupid, something I almost never do…
I made a ranked list.
Normally I don’t do ranked lists. I find them too definitive and reductive – much too calculating for something as arbitrary and subjective as “liking movies”. How do you rank a fluffy, knockabout rom-com with a gory, grisly slasher? Can you? Should you? I’m not so sure. What’s more, I have not seen – nor cannot see – every film released this year. Nobody has – not even close. So what’s the use in ranking?
But forget the logic for just a second. The reason for ranking this year’s list is because I was told by a few friends that if you rank something on the internet, people are more likely to click on the link. (Don’t ask. They probably read it off some ranked Buzzfeed article or something.) I don’t know how true this is, but I’m willing to give it a go. Hey look, I enjoy clicks as much as the next person. I may dislike clickbait, but, as long as I’m not the one doing the clicking, I’ll happily supply the bait.
So here we are. The end of 2017. Gosh, it just flew by, didn’t it? (No, of course it didn’t – it dragged like a jockey caught in a stirrup. But it’s almost over, folks. Only a few more days to go. Just breathe and relax, breathe and relax.)
However, despite the fact 2017 was a bit… well… terrible, it was still a pretty good year for cinema. Here’s a list of my 17 favourites from 2017 (I couldn’t even manage a top 15, never mind a top 10). By this time tomorrow I’ll almost certainly regret the order or want to change it completely. And by this time next year, I’ll probably look back and think I was crazy. That’s the way it goes. Also, like I said before, there are still hundreds of films released this year that I never saw – and probably never will (“Geostorm” for one… But somehow life just seems too short though, doesn’t it?).
Naturally enough, this list is restricted to films released in the U.K. and Ireland in 2017 – so there’s no “Lady Bird”, no “The Post”, no “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, no “BPM”, “Phantom Thread”, “The Shape of Water”, “Loveless” or “I, Tonya”. But I look forward to each and every one of those titles in 2018. Bring it on.
17. Personal Shopper
Dir: Olivier Assayas
Back in 2014, Kristen Stewart delivered the performance of her career in Olivier Assayas’s “Clouds of Sils Maria”. But, with the arrival “Personal Shopper”, Stewart and Assayas’s second collaboration together, that’s no longer the case. Stewart’s performance in this film tops all her previous work. She’s one of the most interesting and intuitive performers in modern American cinema. Here she plays Maureen, a personal shopper to a wealthy, unpleasant socialite. But she’s also an amateur ghost hunter searching for her dead twin brother. This sounds like a jarring combination, but Assayas makes it work. The balance of the material world with the afterword is deftly handled and oddly complementary. Maureen occupies a space on the fringes of wealth, and a space between life and death. The film serves as a profound meditation on grief, notions of an afterlife, the interconnectivity of souls, and our strange, ghost-like relationship to technology.
16. The Death of Stalin
Dir: Armando Iannucci
A fantastic script and a top-notch cast. Armando Iannucci satirises the dark, bumbling insanity that followed the death of one of the most brutal dictators of the 20th Century. Steve Buscemi is on top form as the gloomy, calculating Krushchev, a man that achieves more sour put-downs inside a minute than most of us manage blinks. It’s a terrific part for a sensationally talented actor, one that’s sadly often understretched these days. But perhaps the stand out is Jason Isaacs as the feared Red Army general Georgy Zhukov. He plays him as a big, strapping, no-holds-barred Yorkshireman – sort of like if Sean Bean burst into the Kremlin with the bravado of Joe Pesci from “Goodfellas”.
Dir: Martin Scorsese
Adapted from Shusaku Endo’s novel, Martin Scorsese’s Silence is an exquisite, earnest movie about the nature of faith and the meaning of God. Those are big subjects, a territory of cinema frequented by arthouse giants like Bergman and Tarkovsky. But if any living director can handle it, Scorsese can. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver play two 17th century Portuguese Jesuits that travel to Japan to spread Christianity. It’s a deliberately slow and meditative piece, taking its time in exploring fascinating questions regarding faith, religion and the role of missionaries. It’s gorgeous, but also brutal – a beautifully ornate prayer book filled with doubt and melancholy.
Dir: Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan’s best film. The infamous World War II rescue mission is dramatized for the big screen with supreme craft and precision. The film is strikingly efficient – like a military operation. We breathlessly straddle land, sea and sky as tensions rise and knuckles whiten. But were as most war movies are about winning, “Dunkirk” is about surviving. It’s cinema at its purest. It’s Nolan at his finest. (See full review here)
13. Call Me by Your Name
Dir: Luca Guadagnino
“Call Me by Your Name” debuted at the Sundance Film Festival just days after Trump’s inauguration. In the midst of such a repressive climate, the movie calmed and soothed the festival’s audience. The film went down a storm – in the middle of a political storm. It was also a reminder that a gay love story, even a coming-of-age one, needn’t be overtly political to resonate. The romance between Elio (Tomothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) in 1980s Northern Italy is shown with little outside resistance. There are no disproving parents here; no bigoted bullies, concerned neighbours or cautious relatives. Instead, “Call Me by Your Name” is simply the story of a summer fling – a gorgeous, messy, exciting summer fling. But it’s also wise enough to recognise the power of such agonising, lustful encounters and acknowledge their lasting effects on an individual.
Dir: Paul Verhoeven
“Elle” is a bold, provocative rape-revenge fantasy from director Paul Verhoeven, one that showcases the great Isabelle Huppert at her absolute best (which means acting that’s better than anyone else on the planet). Here she is nothing short of astonishing as a cold, distant woman having to juggle her career and family life whilst dealing with horribly violent sexual assault. However, the way in which she deals with this assault is strange and disturbing. It’s a challenging film, at times maybe even inflammatory. For some, it might as well be called “Problematic: The Movie”. But I think that’s a little unfair. It’s much smarter and more complicated than it first appears. As a character study it’s completely fascinating, and it’s primarily down to Huppert. She may be the most powerfully instinctive and the most calmly intelligent actress working in cinema today.
11. Lady Macbeth
Dir: William Oldroyd
Lady Macbeth is no gentle period piece. There’s sex, murder, intrigue, secrets and lies. It features a sensational performance from Florence Pugh as Katherine, a woman of weak conscience but strong determination. It’s a chilling film, one that explores the wicked ways in which class and privilege can protect those in power from consequence whilst destroying the lives of others. It’s a beautiful-looking film too, each frame composed so carefully and deliberately. But there’s madness bubbling just below the surface, giving the film a frightening – but fascinating – air of menace. The tension tightens with every scene, gaining more and more friction, until finally exploding at the film’s devastating end.
Dir: Alice Lowe
“Prevenge” is a movie about a pregnant serial killer – written by, directed by, and starring (all-round genius) Alice Lowe. It’s a hoot. It’s also wickedly smart, dishing up a nightmarish satirical twist on antenatal depression. Lowe wrote and shot the movie while she was legitimately pregnant. Tired of not getting any acting gigs because of her condition, she decided to knock out her own project – quickly, cheaply and brilliantly. Lowe plays Ruth, a heavily pregnant woman with an acute awareness that, despite the all the cheery, tender hoopla surrounding it, pregnancy is a gruelling, unpleasant and painful experience. As a result, Ruth suffers from paranoid delusions that her unborn baby is instructing her to kill. And she dutifully obeys, time and time again.
9. Baby Driver
Dir: Edgar Wright
In terms of sheer directorial talent, Edgar Wright is the man. He’s a director with an impeccable instinct for cinematic craft. His latest pulpy vivacious exercise plays like a cinematic mixtape – a foot stomping, action movie musical. It takes archetypal genre characters – the badass driver, the callous boss, the stuck-in-a-rut waitress – and places them in fast cars, gun fights and groovy coffee runs. And it’s all set to the propulsive rhythmic soundtrack of energetic glam rock, vibrant prog rock and sweet, classic soul. The technique on display here is something else. Not a single shot is wasted. Gunshots become drum beats. Dialogue develops its own rhythm. Cars swerve and pirouette like Fred and Ginger. It’s a total blast from start to finish.
Dir: Darren Aronofsky
The 2017 film I’ve thought about maybe more than any other. It’s bold, bonkers and crammed with cinematic pleasures. Darren Aronofsky has created a movie rich in menace, paranoia, allegory and visual insanity. It’s one heck of a ride. It’s a messy, unrestrained (and surprisingly funny) mix of psychological horror, religious allegory, domesticity, gender dynamics, celebrityism and artistic creation. It’s not for everyone. Many will hate it. (Many already have.) But if you go with it, you’re in for a movie experience unlike any other big-studio release of the year. (See my full write-up here)
7. The Big Sick
Dir: Michael Showalter
I’m a sucker for a good rom-com. It’s one of the hardest genres to pull off: the chemistry needs to be perfect, the material needs to be funny, and the romance needs to be believable. Well, with “The Big Sick”, real-life couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon have written one of the best rom-coms in years. It’s the true story of how Kumail (who plays himself here) and Emily (wonderfully played by Zoe Kazan) first met and fell in love – and it’s an absolute delight. It’s sweet, it’s charming, it’s sincere and heartbreaking. But, perhaps most importantly, it’s also really funny. It’ll have you laughing, smiling and blissfully bawling all the way to the credits – and likely beyond.
6. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos
Yorgos Lanthimos is one of the most distinctive filmmakers working today. His films are like a cross between Luis Buñuel’s and Stanley Kubrick’s, but somehow drier, darker – deadlier. Here he tells a strange story of urban bourgeois guilt in the style of Michael Haneke, but with a demented deadpan delivery. It’s full of surreal logic, twisted relationships and bizarre social satire, constantly poking fun at societal conventions and obligations. It’s one of the darkest (and funniest) films of the year. And it’s all filtered through the alien-like poker-faces of his wonderfully creepy characters.
5. Get Out
Dir: Jordan Peele
This was the most talked-about film of 2017. And for good reason. It broke box office records, spawned dozens of memes, gave the world new jargon, and proved to be a biting, whip smart exercise in social horror cinema. It was also the perfect film to arrive in 2017, putting its finger on society’s prickly anxieties about race and appropriation, only to poke at them again and again and again. Jordan Peele’s script is marvellous. It’s a masterclass of tone, managing to probe real-life racial paranoia in a smart, funny, entertaining way. The film feels like a scathing punchline (or gut punch) to the end of the Obama era. But it also felt like the first (albeit unintentionally conceived as such) true film of the Trump era.
Dir: Julia Ducournau
The feature film debut from writer-director Julia Ducournau puts a cannibalistic twist on the old “kid-goes-to-college” movie – meaning it captures the unique thrill and panic of leaving home in dark, devilish ways. “Raw” is an incredibly exciting film, one whose distinctive vision is present in every frame. But it can also be disturbing and downright disgusting (a certain scene involving a hairball and a toilet is positively stomach-churning). Although perhaps its greatest achievement is its complicated depiction of sibling rivalry. It’s an amazingly assured work from a filmmaker brimming with talent – a director playing with horror, humour and heartbreak with confidence and style. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
3. La La Land
Dir: Damien Chazelle
It’s big, it’s bold and it’s beautiful. “La La Land” was pure cinematic confection, a love letter to Old Hollywood written with in most gorgeous, elegant hand. Although it was also the ultimate love-it-or-hate movie of 2017, promoting many to pray it wouldn’t win Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. (It didn’t. But boy, what a way to lose! The “Moonlight”/“La La Land” Oscar kerfuffle was perhaps the biggest blunder of 2017 – just narrowly beating Theresa May staring into a mirror, deep in thought, pondering all possibilities, until finally deciding… “Fuck it. General Election it is.”) Still, “La La Land” worked wonders on me. What else can I say? I’m predisposed to liking musicals with big numbers and a big heart. And when the world’s as gloomy and dark as it was in 2017, I’ll always be glad of another day of sun. (See my full review of it here)
2. The Handmaiden
Dir: Park Chan-wook
Park Chan-wook is one of the world’s best filmmakers, and “The Handmaiden” is one of his very best films. It’s a gorgeous, erotic, twisty thriller about a thief hired to convince an heiress to marry the wrong man. It was adapted from the Sarah Waters novel “Fingersmith” with the setting changed from Victorian-era Britain to Korea under Japanese colonial rule. Every frame of this film is a stunner, and the camera moves with the grace of its two central characters – women that wind up falling in love with one another but then end up betraying one another. There’s so much to enjoy here. And in the second half there’s a stage scene so raunchy you’ll forget that all the characters are fully clothed.
1. The Florida Project
Dir: Sean Baker
This film is a bittersweet gem. I am so grateful Sean Baker is alive and making movies today. He’s an extraordinary talent; a man who continually turns his lens to those forced into the fringes of society and gives them a place to shine. In “The Florida Project”, Baker explores a sector of society that rarely gets enough attention – the so-called “hidden homeless”. In Florida, these are often people forced to live in low rent hotels situated right next door to the biggest playground on the planet: Disney World. It’s therefore a strange (but fascinating) place for kids to grow up, which is why it’s told mainly from their perspective. They’re the heart and soul of the movie – particularly the rambunctious Moonee, impeccably played by Brooklynn Kimberly Prince (a kid who frankly deserves the Oscar for Best Everything at next year’s awards). For me, “The Florida Project” is the film of the year.
A few others I really dug:
“The Love Witch” (Anna Biller), “Free Fire” (Ben Wheatley), “Hounds of Love” (Ben Young), “The Villainess” (Jeong Byeong-Gil), “A Quiet Passion” (Terence Davies), “A Ghost Story” (David Lowery), “The Fits” (Anna Rose Holmer), “Okja” (Bong Joon-ho), “Moonlight” (Barry Jenkins), “Logan” (James Mangold), “The Lost City of Z” (James Gray).