The 10 best films of 2017 – and a few that just missed out
PUBLISHED: 09:19 20 December 2017 | UPDATED: 17:07 20 December 2017
Sequels, prequels, remakes, return of the musical and a spate of films about race, it’s been another eventful year at the cinema. Here we highlight our 10 best films of 2017 (in no particular order), and a some that nearly made the grade.
La La Land
There was frenzied Oscar hype surrounding writer-director Damien Chazelle’s musical love story and arugably it suffered a bit of a backlash as a result. However this impeccably crafted, visually sumptuous, unabashedly swooning valentine to the golden age of Hollywood musicals was a treat. Yes, characters burst into catchy songs amid Mandy Moore’s expressive choreography, but there is so much more to Chazelle’s story of boy meets girl than doe-eyed glances and pat sentiment, including a heart-wrenching second act. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone were a luminous double-act.
Based on the stage play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, writer-director Barry Jenkins’ tender coming-of-age drama found hope, compassion and salvation in the darkest places and was a worthy winner of the Best Picture Oscar. Neatly bookmarked into three chapters told from the perspective of an African American boy struggling to come to terms with his sexuality against a backdrop of crime and punishment in Miami, it is an extraordinary film of naked emotion, broken dreams and deep longing that upends stereotypes. Every anguished syllable of dialogue glistens with authenticity. Naomie Harris scorches every frame as a drug-addicted mother, whose lip-curling cruelty propels her wounded son into the surrogate care of her own dealer.
Manchester by the Sea
Anguished silences between members of a fractured Massachusetts family spoke volumes about the loss of a son in writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s elegiac drama. Set in and around the titular coastal community, this eloquently explores universal themes of grief, guilt and sexual awakening through the eyes of a 40-year-old handyman. Lonergan sketches his internally conflicted central character with patience and precision, gifting a peach of a role to Casey Affleck, who delivers a nuanced, emotionally raw portrayal of a man who has been battered and bruised by the past.
That rarest of things: a horror film with some thing to say. Inspired by the creeping dread of The Stepford Wives, writer-director Jordan Peele’s slickly engineered razor-sharp satire took a scalpel to simmering racial tensions in present day America. Mixing shocks and laughter in equal measures, it draws plenty of blood from the nail-biting battle of wits between a gifted black twentysomething artist and his white future in-laws. Peele takes this suburban clash of cultures to the unsettling extreme. British Daniel Kaluuya delivered a stellar performance too as the unsuspecting lamb to the slaughter.
Christopher Nolan’s harrowing wartime drama was his shortest and simplist film but arguably his best so far. He adopted a stripped back approach to storytelling that jettisons dialogue for long sequences but still has nerves on edge right from the hauntingly beautiful opening scene and steadily tightens the knot of tension. Fragments slot together to form a compelling and deeply moving narrative that captures this page in recent history from multiple perspectives. The ensemble cast was excellent, including surprisingly One Direction’s Harry Styles. When the Oscar nominees are announced in a few weeks, it’ll be a major surprise if this doesn’t feature heavily.
The anti-heroine of William Oldroyd’s debut, adapted by scriptwriter Alice Birch from Nikolai Leskov’s 19th-century Russian novella, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk, is portrayed with scorching intensity by rising 19-year-old British acting star Florence Pugh. It resets the sex-fuelled skulduggery to Victorian England, where women are treated as commodities by glowering husbands. A lot goes unsaid, but Oldroyd’s directorial choices marry perfectly with the themes, his framing and placement of the actors speak volumes and he gets great performances.
A Ghost Story
If we were choosing the unlikeliest major studio film of 2017 this haunting drama about life and love after death that drapes Oscar winner Casey Affleck in a flowing white sheet as the spectre for most of its 92-minute running time would walk it. Written and directed by David Lowery, it is an oddity but one that caresses the heartstrings and lingers in the memory. The basic premise and intentionally languid pacing, allowing the story to unfold in long unbroken takes, divided audiences, but, beguiling and infuriating, it was profoundly moving. Rooney Mara and Affleck capture the devastation, yearning and emotional release of two souls, separated by tragedy.
Blade Runner 2049
Taking on a belated sequel Ridley Scott’s ground-breaking sci-fi classic 35 years after the original was a bold move but in the hands of Denis Villeneuve, who was Oscar-nominated for last year’s elliptical sci-fi thriller Arrival, it proved to be more than worthy of its predecessor. With bravura production design and flawless special effects, it both honours the past and respectfully expands the nihilistic universe. Motifs from the earlier mission reverberate tantalisingly throughout. This is a beautifully crafted thriller that has the confidence to sustain a pedestrian pace, and Ryan Gosling at his most blank was perfect as laconic hero KD6-3.7
Call me By Your Name
Based on a script by James Ivory adapted from Andre Acriman’s novel, Luca Guadagnino’s sun-drenched and gorgeously restrained tale of a summer romance between two boys Elio and Oliver in 1980s Italy is a poignant and truthful triumph. It is a film filled with sun, and swimming and walking around in tennis shorts and lolling around reading learned books on philosophy in the sun. What a life, all infused by the preciousness, passion, lust and fear of first love. Don’t be surprised if this tale of fleeting affection among the cultural elite sneaks into the Oscar running.
There is a reason why Paddington 2 – the remarkably fine sequel to the unexpectedly splendid original – deservingly got the best reviews for any recent children’s film not made by Pixar. The boldness of the first one was the way it updated Michael Bond’s beloved creation, without updating him at all. He was still immaculately polite and well mannered, and that wasn’t mocked or sent up at all. The sequel repeated the trick. It has silly bits, aah bits, clever sight gag bits, slightly-over-the-kids’-heads bits and all these bits tie up together just beautifully. It was nice too, but not at the expense of wit and invention.
IT — Andres Muchchietti’s box office busting Stephen King adaptation is a crowd pleasing, well executed coming-of-age horror, but maybe just a little anodyne.
The Lost City of Z — Despite sounding like the next Tarzan spin-off, this tale of real-life Amazon explorer Percy Fawcett was a striking success telling a true story with very British restraint.
T2 Trainspotting — How do you recapture a zeitgeist youth-culture? Danny Boyle and the old gang just about managed it in this 40-something sequel.
Baby Driver — Funny, ferocious, thrilling, stylish, original, Edgar Wright’s latest was a perfect Millennial vision of a heist movie.
Okja — In a sign of the times Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s mix of creature feature and meat industry satire was ione of the best films not to make cinemas, being on Netflix only.
The Beguiled — Colin Farrell filled Clint’s shoes as wounded Yankee soldier in Sofia Coppola’s dreamy Civil War drama that may be better than the original.
Mudbound — Another Netflix only affair, Dee Rees’ powerful and absorbing family saga story set amid race relations in pre- and postwar Mississippi.
Detroit — Kathryn Bigelow’s big sweeping, multi-character recreation of events surrounding the murder of three black men in Detroit riots in 1967.
Good Time — Robert Pattison delivered a fantastic performance in the Safdie brothers electrifying urban thriller, sadly little seen in cinemas in this region.
Marjorie Prime — Also sadly missing from local screens was this fantastic melconcholy sci-fi film featuring a holographic Jon Hamm.