It’s fair to say that 2017 was a return to form for cinema – a purple patch in a decade that’s so far proven tough going for cinephiles. You didn’t have to look as far this year for a quality offering in a range of genres: Nolan’s war flick Dunkirk, the horror fun of The Void and Get Out, the Apatow rom-com The Big Sick, and the big budget experiment mother!.
Even some tent-pole instalments of major franchises delivered – Logan proved the best Marvel-related movie released-to-date and Star Wars: The Last Jedi was the best-written and genuinely meaningful offering to the canon since The Empire Strikes Back. The new Blade Runner sadly didn’t deliver, but it didn’t matter – 2017 was encrusted with gems. Here’s the top 20 movies for 2017.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Release date: July 20, 2017
Best described as the Waiting for Godot of Second World War conflicts, the evacuation of allied troops from the harbour and beaches of Dunkirk might have made a dreary film. “Men waiting impatiently” and “fish in a barrel” aren’t the sexiest of pitches. But in the hands of master film maker Christopher Nolan, the tension of this famous historical moment is palpable as hell. With barely a single drop of blood shown on screen, Nolan divides the film’s perspective into land, sea and air, which allows kinetic pacing. He also plays with time jumps, which proves something of an overly clever Nolan-esque distraction, but for the most part the British filmmaker deals in restraint and gets back to what he’s best at – jaw-dropping, widescreen storytelling. Dunkirk is a spectacle for the theatre, and such a visit is rewarded with a gripping and often breathtaking experience.
19. GHOST IN THE SHELL
Director: Rupert Sanders
Release date: March 30, 2017
In a year of many big budget sci-fi spectacles, Ghost in the Shell was something of a surprise packet. Despite dumbing down its iconic source material for mainstream audiences, Rupert Sanders’ live action adaptation of the anime original proved to be a more effective and enjoyable outing than the year’s other large-scale sci-fi retread Blade Runner 2049. Where Denis Villeneuve’s movie was visually spectacular, two of its principal characters – namely Ryan Gosling’s hero and Jared Leto’s villain – failed to locate any emotional depth or nuance in the screenplay, thus rendering the overly long movie a hollow experience. Ghost in the Shell, on the other hand, is served by a steely performance from Scarlett Johansson. The seasoned actress elevates the material into something compelling. Neither of the two movies take the android sub-genre anywhere we haven’t been before, but Ghost in the Shell is visually rich, stylish and, at 106 minutes, doesn’t outlive its welcome.
18. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Director: Bill Condon
Release date: March 23, 2017
The theatre goes dark as I’m calculating exactly how many boyfriend brownie points my attendance will tally. Drawing on the Twilight saga as precedent, I’m confident there’s a guilt-free weekend away with the lads in my near future. And yet, as the rather exquisite Emma Watson twirls through her little town and laments her provincial life in Beauty and the Beast‘s whimsical opening number, I find myself swept away in the pure cinematic revelry of it all. My quiet indignation subsides. Memories of the 1991 Disney animated film come rushing back and I’m a child again.
Bill Condon’s live action adaptation of that classic movie is a romantic vortex of pure escapism. I was the first to groan at the news that Disney would roll out live-action remakes of all their most popular animated movies, but this and The Jungle Book are truly superb. This Beast remake racked up an impressive $1.264 billion dollars at the global box office. One can only imagine that the impending live action reimagination of The Lion King will double said figure.
17. THE VOID
Directors: Steven Kostanksi and Jeremy Gillespie
Release date: August 4, 2017
If you’re a gore buff that’s concerned practical effects have gone the way of the dinosaur, then The Void will kill your craving. Harking back to the dark gothic body horror of Clive Barker and John Carpenter, this bloody Canadian romp pits a rag-tag group of people trapped in a remote hospital against a horde of white-robed, dagger-wielding cultists. The evil cult surrounds the building and escape looks unlikely. But is the evil trying to get in – or trying to get out? Directors Steven Kostanksi and Jeremy Gillespie walk a fine line, not taking the narrative too seriously, but genre fans will respond to this piece of classicism. A passion for blood-soaked horror is evident in every frame.
16. WIND RIVER
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Release date: August 10, 2017
Building upon his impressive screenwriting efforts with Hell of High Water and Sicario, actor Taylor Sheridan makes a sterling directorial debut with Wind River. His stories are heavy dramas set on a frontier, both physical and emotional, and in this case is a cold and desolate Indian reservation in Wyoming. When the bloodied body of a young woman is found in the snow, expert tracker and US Fish and Wildlife Services agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) reluctantly teams up with rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to find her killer. They journey through the underbelly of this unforgiving town, thundering towards a particularly dark resolution. Sheridan seems fascinated with malignant male behaviour, and it certainly rears its ugly head throughout this full-blooded, atmospheric thriller.
15. THE BAD BATCH
Director: Ana Lily Armipour
Release date: July 21, 2017
British filmmaker Ana Lily Armipour describes her second feature film best: “a post-apocalyptic cannibal love story set in a Texas wasteland”. That neatly sums up this visceral, bloody, hyper-stylish, neon-tinged journey into a nihilistic future. Armipour comes from the Nicolas Winding Refn and Jim Jarmusch school of ultra-cool, where creating a distinct visual language is as important as the dialogue. This gives The Bad Batch the strange duality of being both very bleak and aesthetically arresting, as if this nightmare future is filtered through the pages of Vogue. It’s an impressive second outing from Armipour, who proves herself a major talent.
14. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Release date: December 26, 2017
Mainstream cinema, while having come a long way in its willingness to depict homosexuality, continues to lock its gay characters in a holding pattern of victim narratives. While the good intentions of some filmmakers can’t be denied, their depiction of the LGBTQI experience often revels in the oppression, illness and death of its gay characters. Which is why Call Me By Your Name was such a refreshing experience, instead revelling in the pornographic qualities of the European lifestyle, depicting a dazzling and decadent coming-of-age love story that just happens to be gay. A big step forward for mainstream American cinema – post-modern in its exploration of homosexuality and ravishing in its depiction of burgeoning desire.
13. THE BIG SICK
Director: Michael Showalter
Release date: August 3, 2018
Typical of the type of comedy behind which Judd Apatow throws his weight, The Big Sick balances its more obvious Hollywood laughs with incisive observations about modern relationships. Written by real-life couple Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, and based on the very real scenario in which Gordon endured a coma, the film is carried by its superb performances. Nanjiani’s central autobiographical character is flawed and endearing, Gordon’s avatar Zoe Kazan, who spends much of the film in said coma, is equally believable during her screen time, and Holly Hunter and Ray Romano have never been better as the suffering parents. The Big Sick is a romantic comedy with many pointed truths about fidelity, racism in modern America and culture.
12. INGRID GOES WEST
Director: Matt Spicer
Release date: October 26, 2017
While it may be delivered with the biting panache of a very woke black comedy, Ingrid Goes West is the year’s scariest horror movie. There’s no gore, no murder – just a stark summation of what our modern society values in 2017. It’s bracingly accurate, and therefore the most unsettling film experience of the year. Aubrey Plaza is phenomenal in the title role, as the obsessed fan of an “Instafamous” blogger – played by a note-perfect Elizabeth Olsen – who makes it her life ambition to befriend her idol. It’s a tragic and devastating ride. And way, way too real.
Director: Joon-Ho Bong
Release date: June 28, 2017
South Korean visionary director Joon-Ho Bong continued his impressive portfolio of visually inventive and thought-provoking cinema with a big-budget Netflix debut called Okja. With lovingly dark and completely oddball humour, and a cast of stars that sit perfectly on the director’s wave-length (Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal among them), Okja follows the relationship between a headstrong young girl and a genetically engineered animal bred for slaughter. It’s a wild ride, full of thrilling moments, and is, ultimately, a confronting statement about the continued mass slaughter of sentient beings for consumption.
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Release date: March 23, 2017
In spite of its blatant similarities to many other claustrophobic spaceship thrillers – à la a certain Ridley Scott movie – Life was one of the most superbly crafted flicks of 2017. In fact, if you take away its lack of originality it’s a rather faultless exercise in sci-fi horror tension. Director Daniel Espinosa (who made the underrated Child 44) takes a well-trodden idea and a stellar cast and crafts a dread-laden, white-knuckled genre piece with a deliciously nihilistic finale. In case you were wondering, still no one can hear you scream.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Release date: September 14, 2017
Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky is at his most bizarre and idiosyncratic in mother!, the most dissectible cinematic outing of 2017. Posing ever-so-thinly as a psychological home invasion thriller, this perplexing and allegorical fever dream is unsettling, fascinating and, as it unravels towards its dizzying climax, a masterful and ambitious work. Mother! is not for everyone – it requires work on the part of the viewer, an effort to which not all are willing to commit. It shirks convention at every opportunity. But should you scratch beneath the surface you’ll uncover devastating commentary on not just our treatment of the environment, but the volatility of man and the tensions between Muse and Creator. A dense, fiercely original puzzle of a movie.
Director: Pablo Larraín
Release date: January 12, 2017
Natalie Portman’s remarkable portrayal of Jackie Kennedy was one of the year’s most hypnotic performances, truly inhabiting this complex and iconic figure. Director Pablo Larraín’s biopic is more esoteric than most. While it’s an insight into the horror of what Jackie, loving wife and adored public figure, went through on the day her husband, US president John F. Kennedy, was assassinated, Jackie is as much about mythology as it is grief. Jackie becomes the architect of her late husband’s legacy.
07. A GHOST STORY
Director: David Lowery
Release date: July 27, 2017
David Lowery’s remarkable dissertation on sorrow and the heavy, relentless passage of time is an ambitious exercise. Casey Affleck becomes a ghost and subsequently wanders through the ages in an archetypal white sheet. His face is masked, rendering him a passive observer. The ensuing movie is a largely meditative exercise, filmed inside the one house, as Affleck’s apparition watches the world move on without him. It’s a shame an unnecessary monologue by musician Bonnie Prince Billy, aka Will Oldham, at a dinner party spells out the movie’s entire point. But it’s just one small misstep in an otherwise original and memorable film experience. Rooney Mara does most of A Ghost Story‘s heavy lifting and, as always, she’s mesmerising.
06. PERSONAL SHOPPER
Director: Olivier Assayas
Release date: April 13, 2017
Following their work together on Clouds of Sils Maria, veteran French writer-director Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart again joined forces for the meditative and absorbingly atmospheric Personal Shopper. The filmmaker elicits yet another impressive performance from his muse, playing to her understated strengths. Stewart’s never been better, here playing the titular personal shopper Maureen. Her employer is the difficult and famous model Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). But Maureen is not emotionally invested in Kyra’s career – she’s preoccupied by the notion of making contact with her dead twin brother Lewis. The two shared not only a congenital heart defect but also a medium’s ability to converse with spirits of the dead. Before Lewis’ passing, the twins made a pact that the first to die would attempt to contact the other from beyond the grave, reassuring them that they’re at peace. This wonderfully unsettling premise imbues this mesmeric exercise with slow-creeping dread, shaping a portrait of grief, glamour and the male gaze.
05. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
Director: Rian Johnson
Release date: December 14, 2017
There’s a certain pleasure derived from watching Star Wars diehards throw their toys from the pram when their theories and dreams go unrealised. Such was the impact of The Last Jedi, director Rian Johnson’s breathtaking contribution to the franchise. Indeed, expectations were dismantled and gloriously rebuilt in the latest chapter in the Galaxy Far Far Way. The movie may not be perfect – some dialogue clangs and a handful of comedic moments fall flat (despite all being delivered in the cheesy spirit of the original trilogy) – but The Last Jedi is otherwise the most intelligently written and nuanced of any film in the official Star Wars canon, particularly with its attention to character detail. With scintillating action sequences (maybe not the “fathier” stampede – that’s one for the kids – but definitely the slo-mo red room showdown) and the feeling that something is actually at stake (a rare feeling in modern Star Wars outings), The Last Jedi demonstrates that “destruction leads to a very rough road but it also breeds creation“.
04. GET OUT
Director: Jordan Peele
Release date: May 4, 2017
Expertly executed with razor sharp wit and social satire, Jordan Peele’s Get Out shows how a cleverly selected Frankenstein’s monster of horror genre tropes can be elevated into high art without losing its pulpy schlock charisma. Flipping The Stepford Wives on its head, Get Out demonstrates how easily the Left can start to resemble the Right in the modern ideological landscape. Impressive, too, is Peele’s masterful balance of laughs and genuine spine-tingling creep-out moments, which results in an utterly enthralling experience, satisfying as both a horror movie and piece of commentary.
Director: James Mangold
Release date: March 1, 2017
It was the Marvel film we’d dreamed possible, but seemed desperately unlikely. And yet, director James Mangold (Walk the Line, Girl, Interrupted) made up for his only okay entry into the X-Men universe, The Wolverine, with a moving and mightily impressive film. Logan stands alone as a modern sci-fi classic, anchored by sublime performances by Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, as two characters they now where like a second skin. Greatly served by the freedom of its R rating, Logan has expertly crafted action scenes, thrilling moments of violence, and genuinely funny comedic moments. In a franchise that’s largely gone through the motions, cannibalising and re-writing its own canon without a care in the world, its a relief to know that there is at least one entry in this endless cinematic X-Men endeavour that will stand the test of time.
Director: Benedict Andrews
Release date: June 22, 2017
Not many movies venture into the taboo emotional territory of Benedict Andrews’ Una. Essentially a two-hander between Ben Mendelsohn and Rooney Mara, it’s no surprise that its source material is a stage play – Blackbird by David Harrower. Its lean on locations, taking part mostly in an austere warehouse, but this blandness of backdrop only highlights the scintillating confrontation within. Its two central performances are staggering – the best of Mara and Mendelsohn’s near faultless careers. Mara is the titular Una, who has tracked down the man, Ray (Mendelsohn), with whom she had a pedophilloic relationship when she was 13 years old and Ray was her neighbour. Few films have traversed the complexities of abuse and human sexuality in such a devastating manner.
01. THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED)
Director: Noah Baumbach
Release date: October 13, 2017
By far the best film to which Netflix have laid claim, Noah Baumbach’s latest humanist comedy about the trials and tribulations of family and fading dreams is a funny, moving and eloquently drawn mini-masterpiece. It’s another gorgeous screenplay by its director, marked by wry, hilarious dialogue and superb performances from its incredible cast. Baumbach’s eye for detail is formidable and here he finds unpredictable ways to sucker punch you with a beautiful and honest revelation. Adam Sandler and Dustin Hoffman give performances that are as good as anything else in their showreel – the same can be said for Emma Thompson, Ben Stiller, Grace Van Patten, and Adam Driver in a fun cameo. An understated triumph.
DISCOVER THE TOP 20 MOVIES OF 2016