Before we go through my top 10, there’s an elephant in the room for me here, considering the year that it’s been. Publications such as Sight & Sound and Cahiers Du Cinéma have lauded David Lynch’s return to Twin Peaks, placing it in their countdowns of the best films of the year. There’s a strong case to be made. Lynch himself directed all 18 episodes and it was structured by Lynch and Mark Frost as an 18 hour film. In a very real sense it is an 18 hour film. And with direct-to-streaming films becoming more common on platforms such as Amazon Prime and Netflix, whose to say now? The lines are blurring.
Regular readers will have witnessed my fascination with the returning show, and if I were to include it in this list, season three/the return/the limited series would have been top. It was, for me, the highlight of the year. By miles. But I’ve decided not to include it. It appeared over 18 generous weeks. It still feels rooted in television. But the debate is an interesting one, and I imagine it will prove a precedent for some interesting things to come. For now though, here are my top 10 films released in the UK in 2017:
10. IT (Andrew Muschietti)
The year’s biggest monster, in more ways than one. IT didn’t save the dire summer season exactly, but it brought it to the end with a jump. The first part in an ambitiously scaled reworking of Stephen King’s famous novel, what Muschietti gets so right here is the interactions between his young leads. It doesn’t hurt in the least that Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise is a whole other level of creepy, even when held in comparison to the well-remembered version committed to film by Tim Curry. It’s only the first half of the story; the ‘adults’ movie will be with us in a couple of years. For now though, this is a new classic for populist horror.
9. Get Out (Jordan Peele)
Less a straight-up horror movie, more a staggeringly relevant Twilight Zone iteration that burrows with precision into race relations in America, from the co-opting of African-American culture to the country’s vile history of slavery and repression. Sounds heavy and fuck awful, right? Peele’s mastery is taking these bristling themes and warping them so deftly into a suspense-thriller narrative, one that struck a chord on both sides of the Atlantic. The film was the year’s first boom horror release. Aided by a super dose of comic relief from LilRey Howery, Get Out was an easy pill to swallow. Peele is here and could prove to be as iconic a voice for the genre as Carpenter or Cronenberg.
8. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)
One of the tolls of living in the UK is that a great number of the year’s best releases are technically last year’s films, as we’ll see going forward. Toni Erdmann was the talk of Cannes in 2016, but Maren Ade’s heartfelt comedy didn’t get an airing on these shores until this spring. Those who sought it out were hugely rewarded with one of the finest situational comedy films in years, one that puts the improv-heavy Hollywood machine to shame with its on-the-page hilarity. This treaty on the relationship between father and daughter is also deftly touching without ever veering into schmaltz. It’s basically essential.
7. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-Wook)
While the graphic novel ultra-violence of Oldboy might be his most iconic work, and Sympathy For Mr Vengeance his most arresting, The Handmaiden might just be Park Chan-Wook’s most accomplished film to date. Returning to Korea following his Hollywood foray, Stoker, the auteur plays pure showman with this twisting, multi-perspective tale of trickery, eroticism, tawdry pornography and greed. It’s a long, luxurious and incredibly playful movie, one with more kinks than most directors squeeze into an entire career.
6. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos)
“I will literally make you eat your hair,” so Colin Farrell’s character Steven says to his immobilised son in Lanthimos’ latest salvo from the darkly comic recesses of his mind. Heavily indebted to the work of Stanley Kubrick and Michael Haneke, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is a vengeance tale unlike any other you’ll see for a while, as a surgeon and his family are cruelly toyed with by the coldly terrifying Barry Keoghan (best supporting actor nominee in waiting). On release I called it ‘the year’s best worst time’, and little has occurred to change that opinion.
5. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)
There’s a hyperlink to my full review just above this still from the movie. I’m reminding you of that because it might be the best piece of film writing I’ve done all year. Guadagnino’s sun-dappled literary adaptation arrived late in the year but was the perfect antidote to the bitter mornings and encroaching darkness of year’s end. And, in a breakout role, it’s given us the sizeable young talent that is Timothée Chalamet. Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg are dead good too.
4. Jackie (Pablo Larraín)
The remaining films on this list are hang-overs from 2016, proving that, from an observed distance, it really was quite a year. Pablo Larraín put out two biopics that year; the immensely enjoyable Chilean Neruda and this. Boasting a demure yet bristling career best performance from Natalie Portman and another wondrous score from Mica Levi, Larraín’s film succeeded by skirting expectations for this-type-of-thing. Focusing on just one week in the life of Jacqueline Kennedy – the week following her husband’s assassination – Larraín and Portman conjure a portal into heightened grief under extremely unusual circumstances, yet with the elegance and airy otherness of late Malick.
3. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
Splitting out these three movies required a lot of deliberation; there’s so much quality between them that I was almost tempted to make them all joint Film Of The Year. Moonlight was the most deserving Best Picture nominee in a decade and it’s underdog win was the sole highlight of an otherwise snoozing ceremony. The months haven’t taken the edge off of the film, which is a small wonder that you really must see to appreciate. Charting three key chapters in a young gay black man’s development, Jenkins uses shallow-focus to eke out tremendous depth. His central character – played by three fine actors – is tight-lipped but knowable throughout, while the final half hour might just be as perfect as cinema gets in this decade.
2. Raw (Julie Ducournau)
Julie Ducournau’s debut arrived on whispers of extreme content, but thrived on its sheer confidence and electricity. It’s exciting to watch. A thriller in a literal sense. Personally speaking, we’re talking both horror film of the year and horror film of the decade so far. In truth the movie spreads its tendrils out further than mere genre exercise; it’s an allegory and deeply human (humane?) drama of adolescence, self-discovery, sexual awakening and societal comment. And those whispers were true; Raw is best served to those with strong stomachs. What’s it about? Just watch.
1. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)
Kelly Reichardt’s films aren’t for everyone. They’re muted experiences, paced to the rhythms of real life, scaled appropriately. In the process they become deeply empathic poems to the world around us and find great worth in tiny struggles. Certain Women is made up of three short stories. In one Laura Dern stars as a beleaguered lawyer dealing with an obstinate client (Jared Harris), in another Michelle Williams asks an elderly friend if she can buy some rocks from his lawn, and in the third a lonely rancher (Lily Gladstone) hopes to have found companionship with Kristen Stewart’s night-school teacher. That’s it. That’s all Certain Women is. But as a whole it’s a thing of great beauty.
2017 has been one hell of a year for women. Though the headlines ran and ran with tales of abuse and long-silenced voices, the enduring sense was of a world changing, of women staking their place in it, or refusal and defiance. In spite of Trump, in spite of everything, strength was the year’s watchword. This seemed especially true in the film world, where more films made by women have garnered attention and deservedly so. Certain Women isn’t my film of the year for this political reason – and Kelly Reichardt’s been doing this for two decades now – but this reason bolsters the timeliness of this film’s appearance.
More simply, I love it. Reichardt doesn’t grandstand (though her very reservedness is its own aesthetic). Her images are deliberate. What’s subtracted is deliberate (there is no score until one key, utterly heartbreaking scene… and that’s just of somebody driving). But there’s as much of the heart here as there is of the head. And if the first two stories are respectable, the third is as great a piece of film as I can recall seeing in recent years.
Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone. That is all.