Well, that’s another year drawing to a close- and what a complete roller coaster of emotions 2017 has been. And I’m not talking about the daily dramas that have been making headlines in the news this year: I’m talking about the eclectic range of movies that have made going to the movies in 2017 such an utter joy.
From the biggest blockbusters to the smallest independent films, this year has produced some of the most memorable cinematic experiences in recent memory. In any other year, the films that missed out on places in this list would have been guaranteed to have featured. Instead, 2017 has been so great, films ranging from distinctive genre efforts like Get Out and Good Time, independent dramas like The Lost City of Z and Lady Macbeth, to fantastic franchise efforts like Logan, John Wick: Chapter 2 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi have all missed out on places in this list. In any other year, these all surely would have ranked inside my top 10. Instead, 2017 has produced an embarrassment of cinematic riches that has left the films I’ve missed out every bit as accomplished as the films that made my final cut.
I’ve been writing less reviews for this blog during 2017 due to now extensively covering movies for a number of different outlets. As always, I contribute regular reviews, director interviews and features for Film Inquiry (where my reviews also count towards the Rotten Tomatoes Tomato-Meter), but in 2017, I’ve also started regularly writing for Gay Essential, The Digital Fix and Cinemazine. I’ve also become a member of GALECA, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, which means I receive awards screeners, and as a result have featured a few films on this list that aren’t getting UK releases until 2018, but still very much count as “2017 films” due to their awards eligibility. However, there are also two films on this list that haven’t been released in the US as of December 2017, so it’s pretty much a geographical clusterfuck.
This means that I haven’t included films from last year’s awards season in my list this year in order to avoid utter confusion (Moonlight was featured in my top 10 of 2016, despite being released in the UK in February 2017. Confused? Think how I feel putting this list together). I also haven’t seen every single awards eligible film for the upcoming awards season- I won’t be seeing Phantom Thread and All the Money in the World until January, so they will now never be featuring in any timely top ten lists compiled by me, no matter how great they could be. They are technically 2017 films, so don’t expect them in my best of 2018 in twelve months’ time.
Anyway, enough rambling on from me- here are my 17 favourite films of 2017.
17. The Disaster Artist
Fourteen years after its original release, and The Room is one of the most enduring bad films in history. The Disaster Artist succeeds as a biopic by understanding the fundamental enjoyment of a particular kind of bad movie, and the enduring fascination with how something so utterly awful could ever get made.
Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber follow in the footsteps of Tim Burton’s Ed Wood by simultaneously understanding the humour in how a bad piece of art gets made, but also the underlying melancholy of seeing the world reject something you put your heart and soul into.
mother! may be a box office catastrophe that has left audiences cold, but one thing is for certain: film fans will be discussing this controversial work of art for years to come. Undoubtedly director Darren Aronofsky’s best film to date, the film is unsubtle, uncomfortable and genuinely unsettling- just make sure you don’t take it at face value.
15. Baby Driver
With his latest film, the long gestating passion project Baby Driver, director Edgar Wright has made his most sincere attempt at an action film to date. Here, he takes a simple B-movie narrative (a getaway driver can’t escape the criminal underworld, even after completing “one last job”), and then transforms it into an irresistibly stylish pop culture confection, which despite taking the shape of a jukebox musical, is presented with full sincerity. Wright’s tongue isn’t lodged in his cheek – he has a sincere appreciation for practical stunts, car chases and classic pop/rock music, and it proves to be infectious from the opening moments.
Aquarius isn’t a political film – it is an achingly human one, universally relatable in its portrayal of a woman fighting back against her vulnerabilities, anchored by one of the year’s strongest lead performances. Combined with a director who has managed to channel his anger at gentrification into a coherent character study, the film is an utter joy to behold.
13. Paddington 2
Paddington 2 is fun for all the family, without ever feeling like a children’s film- there’s an intelligent cineliteracy at play here, with slapstick sequences that not only refer back to the glory days of Charlie Chaplin, but are constructed with enough comic incisiveness that it doesn’t feel like hyperbole to refer to them as the modern day equivalent. Director Paul King, along with co-screenwriter Simon Farnaby (who pops up, like the majority of Britain’s comedic character actors, in a brief cameo here) has perfected the art of storytelling that’s enjoyable for all ages. It’s a gloriously uncynical, charming romp, full of slapstick gags, and even a tense, climactic action sequence. It’s hard to imagine anybody walking away without a smile on their face.
Nocturama does something completely inexplicable- by viewing the world through the eyes of an eclectic group of young terrorists, they eventually grow to be empathetic, especially when considering the drastic state of affairs that presumably led them to co-ordinate such atrocities. Few films dare to humanise those who commit acts of terror, with the ones that do making them out to be sources of ridiculous comedy. In Nocturama, we see characters who don’t fit our perception of terrorists- and director Bertrand Bonello never makes them out to be heroes or villains. By showing their insecurities and their flaws, he has created an unquestionably challenging work of art, that dares us to not only examine why young people could be so gullible to be led to a life of extremism, but also to humanise them in spite of the crimes they have perpetrated.
Dunkirk isn’t a typical Hollywood blockbuster, let alone a typical mainstream war film. It is deeply ambiguous and divorced from politics, leaving the audience with the same desperation as the characters onscreen. You won’t want to sign up to the army after watching this tale of heroism in a state of existential crisis, but you will definitely want to head back to the cinema again, as director Christopher Nolan has revitalised his approach to filmmaking, and the results are nothing less than awe inspiring.
Forget the opening montage in Up: the final moments of Pixar’s Coco are the most emotional thing the studio has ever put their name to- an elegant, mature portrayal of the vulnerability of old age, and the majesty of the afterlife we can only hope will come after it.
Coco is one of the year’s best films, and conclusive proof that Pixar will always bounce back, no matter how many times it’s claimed they have fallen from grace. This is a beautiful film, filled with visual wonder and warm humour, not to mention packing one of the year’s hardest emotional punches. If you aren’t left feeling completely moved by it, I’d suggest urgently checking your pulse.
9. Personal Shopper
Personal Shopper is best defined as a work of techno-gothic ingeniousness, if it can be easily defined at all. If it is simply a horror film, it is the rare horror that demands repeat viewings, crafted in a surprisingly elegant manner that ensures multiple rewatches will only improve the film’s quality. It may not prove to be the best film of the year, but it is certainly the one that will welcome the most repeated visits to try to define the puzzle within.
8. Lady Bird
Every generation gets the teen movie it deserves and as a rebuke to the relentless negativity of the modern era, Lady Bird feels every bit the movie this generation urgently needs. Greta Gerwig’s quietly miraculous directorial debut may only be set fifteen years in the past, yet there is something equally alien and timeless about her portrayal of California in the early 2000s. The internet era hasn’t yet kicked in, the majority of characters don’t even own mobile phones, and despite taking place in-between 9/11 and George Bush’s “War on Terror” in Iraq, the emotional dramas in the lives of the characters (both old and young) appear entirely detached from the nightly horrors on the news. It’s hard to imagine similarly apolitical crises playing out in today’s society.
2002 was hardly a golden age to be a teenager; the early 2000s had a borderline perverse aversion to style, or unifying pop culture. Yet Gerwig presents it as the last simple time in American life, the perfect time to live out your High School senior year before the nightmarish toll of 21st century adult life fully started to take effect. Lady Bird works because it never avoids this aching melancholy that is lying in plain sight beneath the perfectly observed, frequently laugh out loud comedy.
7. A Fantastic Woman
Make no mistake – Marina Vidal is a fantastic woman, and Daniela Vega gives the year’s best, most transcendent performance in this landmark cinematic role. Sebastián Lelio manages to get uniformly excellent performances from his cast, working with cinematographer Benjamín Echazarreta to help make a film that has a beautiful visual sensibility, albeit one that is easy to ignore because of the rich vein of humanity embedded within the heart of this film. Here, the substance outweighs the style, as this is an empathetic, wonderful and highly significant cinematic achievement.
6. A Ghost Story
You may be taken aback by A Ghost Story at first, due to director David Lowery’s preference for long, slow takes – but this is just to initially give an impending sense of dread, which isn’t to materialise in the humane, Gothic tale which follows. Once you acclimatise to A Ghost Story’s off kilter nature, it becomes apparent that his movie isn’t supposed to terrify, or unsettle. At its heart, this is a universally relatable story about the nature of grief on an intimate scale, transplanted onto a more epic canvas than you would have ever imagined possible – something I never thought I’d say about a film where Casey Affleck stars as a supernatural bed sheet.
5. Blade Runner 2049
Those expecting a Prometheus-level disappointment from this return to Ridley Scott’s other classic science fiction creation need not worry. In the hands of a director at the top of his game, Blade Runner 2049 is a blockbuster with brains, heart and an abundance of style, that will certainly reward repeat viewings. It took three different attempts and over 20 years for Scott to perfect his “final cut” of Blade Runner. Director Denis Villeneuve has knocked it out the park on the first attempt – he may just be the most accomplished director working on this level today.
4. BPM (120 Beats Per Minute)
With the topic of AIDS in mainstream cinema largely relegated to films with more of an interest in awards than realistic empathy for gay communities the world over, a film like BPM (Beats Per Minute) feels like a major cinematic milestone. It’s a fiercely angry and impassioned work of political cinema that is vibrant, sometimes hilarious and frequently tearjerking – and most importantly, unapologetically queer in a way so few films on the AIDS crisis allow themselves to be.
This is a film squarely focused on documenting a moment in history for gay audiences, offering concessions to straight viewers only in the sense that it offers them a chance to showcase basic empathy and be moved by a story that deals with a culture they won’t be able to relate to. In my screening, this worked wonders: by the time the end credits silently rolled, there wasn’t a single dry eye in the house.
The directorial debut of Julia Ducorneau is very clearly inspired by the body horror of David Cronenberg, the overwhelming style of Giallo and the feministic coming of age tale presented in Brian De Palma‘s Carrie. While watching Raw, however, the most immediately striking thing is that none of these comparisons come to mind- it is gloriously unpredictable, managing to be equal parts viscerally disgusting and unapologetically heartfelt.
2. Call Me By Your Name
Adapted from Andre Aciman’s novel by legendary writer/director James Ivory, and directed by the surely soon to be legendary Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, the film takes a classic coming of age premise within LGBT fiction and transforms it into something extraordinary and infinitely heartfelt. Although this is to be expected from Ivory, whose sincerity always shines through in his directorial efforts (most notably A Room with a View and The Remains of the Day), it’s a breakthrough in Guadgnino’s back catalogue – his films are stylish, entertaining and engrossing, but up until now, have seldom been emotionally arresting. Here, entwined with a brilliant soundtrack that mixes classical music with 80’s pop hits and some new songs by Sufjan Stevens (arguably the greatest he has yet written), his aesthetic decisions are every bit the equal to the moving tale at the foreground.
The style of his latest effort isn’t as pronounced, but it’s still there; from the gorgeous opening credits until the tear-inducing closing credits, which feel like unique in terms of cinematic storytelling on this level, to the sumptuous cinematography and carefully constructed shot compositions, everything has been stylised to within an inch of its life. The only difference is that this time, it can become easy to ignore, as it is so deeply entwined with a moving story of blossoming emotions at the foreground. Guadagnino’s directorial prowess in carefully composing every single frame means that Call Me By Your Name will reward repeat viewings – and will leave you feeling moved every single time.
The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro is one of the most sincere filmmakers in Hollywood. No matter whether he’s making a comic book movie sequel, or a megabudget film where robots fight Kaiju monsters, he claims that every single entry in his filmography is as personal to him as the last – his affection for the gothically inclined pop culture of his youth shining through in every frame of his films. For the first act of The Shape of Water, his stunning return to form following the divisive Crimson Peak, it appears that something has changed – and that the director’s tongue may be lodged in his cheek for the first time. What follows couldn’t be further from that initial impression: a lovelorn tribute to Hollywood melodramas, with an aching emotional sincerity that rendered me speechless through its effectively simple power.
A sincere love story, especially one as nakedly influenced by mid 20th century musicals and melodramas as The Shape of Water, isn’t a film that particularly cares about being cool, and will likely be the subject of a derisory backlash by a certain type of film fan upon release. Well, I don’t care about appearing cool – this is the best, most beautiful film I’ve seen all year, from a director whose love of cinema and the power of love itself proves infectious.
Want more of the best (and worst) films I’ve seen this year? Then click here and find my full rankings of this year’s movies.