The Best of 2017

The top ten

Certain Women
The Florida Project
Raw
Moonlight
Jackie
Call Me By Your Name
Get Out
The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
The Handmaiden
Toni Erdmann




Film Of The Year
Certain Women

“All three stories find Reichardt offering us women trying to progress with their lives in the face of absurdity. The tempo is steady and one can readily imagine a thousand other stories taking place outside of frame, their collective matrix making up the lifeblood of the day-to-day America rarely afforded screen time for it’s perceived banality.”

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, of refusal and defiance. 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. Kelly Reichardt’s films aren’t for everyone. They’re muted experiences, paced to the rhythms of real life, scaled appropriately.



The Florida Project

“The most heartbreaking material most likely happens… outside of the film, when you realise that the American dream probably isn’t letting anyone else in.”

Sean Baker follows-up this decade’s finest Christmas film with another sun-kissed ode to the fringes of American society, turning his gaze on a poverty-line motel on the outskirts of Disneyland, Florida. Willem Dafoe will scoop nominations aplenty for his supporting role as caring motel manager Bobby, but the film belongs to brash unemployed mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her troublemaker daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince). The Florida Project charms with brattish behaviour and shimmers under rainbow skies, but behind it is a timely statement about those living day-by-day in Trump’s America, always on the brink of an abyss.



Raw

Raw feels considered, right down to just how graphic it becomes and when. It’s an intelligent film, a cold one, and a consistently engaging one.”

Julie Ducournau’s Raw 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.



Moonlight

“Though Moonlight has a firm sense of geography and is rooted in its Floridian environments, the world around Chiron and co is often a blur. A smudged place. It intensifies the characters, but also places them in a world of uncertainties.”

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.



Jackie

” It feels like a film in mourning not just of the past, but of the present. Heavy though it is, it’s a remarkable accomplishment for all concerned.”

Boasting a demure yet bristling career best performance from Natalie Portman and another wondrous score from Mica Levi, Larraín’s Jackie 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.



Call Me By Your Name

“Objects are important in Call Me By Your Name. The peach is a loaded one. Neither one thing nor the other.”

There’s a hyperlink here to my full review of this movie. I’m pointing that out bluntly 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.



Get Out

“The first hour is really a masterclass of intelligently played high-wire work as we’re shown enough to know something is the matter (not least from that seemingly unrelated cold open) but we’re tantalisingly left short all of the pieces.”

Get Out is 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.



The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

“While the film is pregnant with progenitors, the end result wholly and confidently belongs to Lanthimos. With his now trademark fancy for deadpan dialogue exchanges and absurd acts of self-abasement, his humour has rarely been so consistently grim.”

“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.



The Handmaiden

“Once Park starts revealing the slipperiness of the plot, its hard not to spend time trying to get two steps ahead of him again, but one of the pleasures of The Handmaiden is how welcomingly Park invites the audience to get involved.”

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.



Toni Erdmann

“Ade asks us to see the inherent tragedy in both of them. Without forcing the issue, without signposting it, she makes Toni Erdmann a sincerely moving experience. She asks her audience to laugh, and patiently prompts them to feel.”

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. 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.



The best of the rest…

Personal Shopper
Loving
A Quiet Passion
Logan Lucky
IT
The Disaster Artist
Happy Death Day
Free Fire
A Ghost Story
The Love Witch
The Fits
Paddington 2
The Untamed
Wonder Woman
Wet Woman In The Wind

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