2017 has been an historic and potentially game-changing year in the world of film. From Moonlight’s Oscar win, to Wonder Woman’s domination of the box office through to the fall of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, this has been a year which will hopefully mark the start of a change in how the film industry conducts itself and in the stories it tells. In terms of the quality of films released, it has also been one of the strongest years for film in quite some time. I usually struggle to put together a top ten because there aren’t ten films I liked enough to include on the list. This year I had the opposite problem, as I agonized over which films would make the cut. Films are always a snapshot of the time in which they are made, however oftentimes the defining films of any given year or era don’t reveal themselves until well after release. Only time will tell what films from 2017 remain in the public consciousness, and which are forgotten. Films that flop upon release are remembered later down the road, whilst films that were readily embraced are soon disposed of. With those caveats out of the way, here are my ten favourite films from this year…
10. Paddington 2
An utter delight from start to finish, Paddington 2 is an example of children’s cinema done right and, as many have pointed out, is the perfect tonic to the horrors of the modern world. The plot focuses on Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) trying to get a 100th birthday present for his Aunt Lucy in Peru. A pop-up book of London is the perfect gift, however, being a little out of his price range, Paddington has to work a number of odd jobs in order to save up the money. Just before he can get it, nefarious actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) steals the book in order to follow the clues hidden within to find a horde of treasure that will fund his one-man show. Framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Paddington is put in jail and the Brown family must work to clear his name. Paddington’s portrayal of the British prison system may not be entirely on point, however there’s absolutely no resisting the joy and charm of this film. It’s cute without being cloying and pulls of that balance previously perfected by Pixar and Aardman of amusing the grandchildren and grandparents with the same joke. Intelligently written and performed with the right mix of sincerity and awareness, Paddington 2 makes a hard task look as easy as eating a marmalade sandwich. Come the final scene, I have no problem admitting that a tear or two may have been rolling down my cheeks.
Perhaps the year’s most controversial film, mother! enthralled and enraged audiences in equal measure. It certainty puts all the current bickering over The Last Jedi into perspective. The film takes place entirely within the confines of a house that is being lovingly tended to by Jennifer Lawrence’s character (only referred to as Mother). She lives there with her partner, Javier Bardem’s ‘Him’, who is a poet struggling to finish his latest work. When a couple played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer turns up unexpectedly, it starts a chain of events that will disrupt Mother’s tranquil life. mother! is a film that’s hard to explain and one that has inspired adoration, ridicule and offense. However, it’s not just shock value for the sake of it, and arguably few films this year capture the chaos of the world we live in and its nightmarish quality better than this one. The final fifteen minutes is some of the most disorientating, distressing and ridiculous cinema I’ve ever seen. Love it, hate it, one thing’s for sure, if you see mother! you won’t forget it.
A swansong to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Logan is a superhero film with a maturity and bloodiness that makes even The Dark Knight look like a children’s cartoon. Featuring a breakout performance from Dafne Keen as X-23 and a heartbreaking turn from Patrick Stewart as an ailing Professor X, Logan contains a triumvirate of performances that would all receive Academy Award nominations were they not in a genre film. Hugh Jackman gives a characteristically committed performance, plunging new physical and psychological depths. Meanwhile, James Mangold’s direction doesn’t cop out from following through on the film’s promises, while also giving it a visual palette more akin to a western than a superhero film. The result, is a film that’s not just unique in the superhero genre, but in cinema, allowing both a character and an actor to go out on their own terms. Let’s hope that Disney’s purchase of 20th Century Fox doesn’t put an end to superhero films that are as beautifully brutal as this one.
7. The Disaster Artist
A film based on a book written about the making of the best worst film ever made, The Disaster Artist feels like some sort of meta breaking point, pushing the space-time continuum to its limits. Directed by and starring James Franco as Tommy Wiseau, The Disaster Artist tells Greg Sestero’s story of how The Room was made. A cult classic, The Room is a midnight-screening favourite as audiences across the world revel in its atrocious acting, stilted dialogue and befuddling plot. The Disaster Artist is James Franco’s greatest achievement to date, as he captures Tommy Wiseau’s unsettling absurdity, as well as bringing a real sense of pathos and humanity to the screen. For a film that could have easily relied on goodwill from the converted, or fell into mean-spirited mockery, The Disaster Artist tells an accessible story, earnestly portraying the love for film and desire to succeed which drove the production of The Room. The Disaster Artist was not only the funniest film of 2017 but also one of its most heartwarming. Click HERE to read my full review of the film featuring quotes from James and Dave Franco's live introduction at the Picturehouse Central in London.
6. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Opening with a shot of a beating heart being poked and prodded mid-surgery, heartwarming is one thing The Killing of a Sacred Deer is not. With a cold, clinical tone that may simply be too icy for some, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is an operatic tale of revenge told in a near-silent minor key. Telling the story of a heart surgeon given an impossible choice in recompense for past negligence, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is incredibly bleak viewing yet also hilarious at times in the most pitch black of ways. Brought to us by writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos (Best-known for Dogtooth and The Lobster), the film works with classic Greek myth in a modern setting. Barry Keoghan is stunning as Martin, delivering a performance that deserves to receive Norman Bates/Psycho levels of notoriety. Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman couples her fantastic performance in The Beguiled with another superb supporting turn. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you can stomach it, The Killing of a Sacred Deer will leave you with one of the tensest and strangest experiences of the year. Click HERE to read my review of the film from this year's London Film Festival, including photos of the stars Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman on the red carpet.
5. Blade Runner 2049
When I walked out of the cinema after seeing Blade Runner 2049, everything felt different. I was dazed and confused, looking around my surroundings as if I was acclimatizing to them. It was like I was physically and emotionally returning from a trip to the future. This eerie sense of displacement was compounded a couple of days later, when Britain experienced an afternoon of orange skies and a red sun, as if the film had literally bled from the screen and into the real world. A transcendent and hypnotic experience, Blade Runner 2049 was an atmospheric, transportive film that in my opinion surpassed its predecessor, a film often considered amongst the greatest of all time. The plot focuses on K, an officer played by Ryan Gosling who like Harrison Ford’s Deckard is a Blade Runner tasked with ‘retiring’ rogue replicants. However, where with Ford’s Deckard there was an ambiguity as to his own humanity, here we are told from the off that Golsing’s K is a replicant, knowingly hunting his own kind. At the start of the film he is told that he is only able to do what he does because he’s never seen a miracle. After making a potentially earth-shattering discovery, K embarks upon an investigation that has him questioning his very personhood. Like the original, Blade Runner 2049 is a bleak, dystopian vision of the future. The cinematography by Roger Deakins is hauntingly beautiful, while the production design by Dennis Gassner is the best of the year without question. However, the film is not just a visual exercise. It’s a meditative, sombre work that reaches a conclusion of understated yet powerful emotion. A box-office flop just like the original, Blade Runner 2049 will go down in history as one of the best sequels ever made.
4. War for the Planet of the Apes
The final part of what is one of the best and most underrated trilogies in modern film. Directed by Matt Reeves, War for the Planet of the Apes tells the next chapter in the story of Caesar (Andy Serkis) that was started in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and continued in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Whilst clumsily titled and telling what some may see as an inherently silly story, this third film is a perfect culmination of everything its predecessors were building towards. The motion-capture technology that was previously so groundbreaking now seems to be taken for granted. However, almost every single shot of War for the Planet of the Apes is an unparalleled, historic cinematic achievement. This is a film that is led by the apes, and in particular, by Andy Serkis’s stunning performance as Caesar, a character he has nurtured and grown over three films from boy to man. War for the Planet of the Apes reaches a level of filmmaking elegance and emotional resonance that is unmatched by most films released today, let alone in the summer blockbuster sphere. Its true achievement is that the special effects are all in service of character and emotion. The film doesn’t lack spectacle, however its most thrilling moments are the thousand emotions that run across Caesar’s face, and which completely suspend your disbelief in the way that the very best of cinema does.
3. Baby Driver
Pure pop filmmaking, Baby Driver is an absolute thrill-ride from start to finish and not just 2017’s most enjoyable action film, but also the first truly modern movie musical. A passion project of its director Edgar Wright, Baby Driver was what he turned to after parting ways with Marvel on Ant-Man. Rather appropriately, it was released around the time Phil Lord and Chris Miller parted ways with Lucasfilm on Solo: A Star Wars Story. Baby Driver was just the jolt that they, and all of us needed, to show what is possible for our youngest, most exciting filmmakers outside the parameters of franchise filmmaking. Exquisitely edited to the beats of its carefully curated soundtrack, Baby Driver is a film that gets your feet tapping and your heart beating that bit faster.
Simply put, seeing Dunkirk in 70mm IMAX was one of the greatest cinematic experiences of my life, and one that left me overwhelmed as the credits rolled. From the very first shot you are sucked in and Christopher Nolan doesn’t let you go for the next 106 minutes. While forgivably lean in its running time, Dunkirk may be Nolan’s most structurally ambitious film yet, as three separate timelines deceptively converge. The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is stunning, in particular the aerial sequences with Tom Hardy that are literally breathtaking on the IMAX screen. Then there’s the sound design, with the scream of bombers from above and bursts of fire putting you right onto the beach with those terrified, isolated soldiers. Imagine the intensity of Saving Private Ryan’s opening sequence, sustained for an entire feature-length film. At a time when people are increasingly turning to Netflix and the small screen for premium entertainment, Dunkirk is evidence that at its best, there is no medium more immersive than cinema.
1. Get Out
Released in February, topping the American box office the weekend of Moonlight’s historic Oscar win, Get Out is the film that has lingered in my mind more than any other this year. A response to the Obama presidency released in the early months of the Trump administration, Get Out is a film taking aim at the lie of a post-racial America. The debut feature of writer/director Jordan Peele, it became the highest grossing debut film based on an original screenplay in Hollywood history and the highest-grossing film in the United States from a black director. The plot focuses on a man called Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) who is visiting the family of his white girlfriend. Assured by his girlfriend that her father ‘would have voted for Obama a third time if he could,’ Chris grows increasingly uncomfortable at the way in which the family speak to him and their black maid and groundskeeper. A satirical comedy of manners soon gives way to outright horror, as Chris discovers the Armitage family’s dark secret. The first time I saw Get Out was at a fairly empty, midday screening, with a couple of elderly women in attendance who seemed to be at the wrong movie. However, by the end of the film everybody was audibly gasping and applauding at the same time, as the exhilarating third act played out. My second viewing was with a significantly larger audience at the Prince Charles cinema in London, and once again the reactions were akin to the ones you’d experience on a rollercoaster. Get Out is both a crowd-pleasing horror film and one of the most politically potent films of recent memory. It’s challenged peoples assumptions, changed the language with its ‘Sunken Place’ concept and has the feel of an instant classic, while speaking very much to the here and now.
Call Me By Your Name
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Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
The Big Sick
What were your favourite films of the year? Let us know in the comments below.