Our favourite films of 2017

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 30 Dec 2017

2017 has been a pretty impressive year for film. People who aren’t looking hard enough will tell you that modern cinemas are only full of franchise fare and sequels, but that opinion ignores the staggering amount of quality releases we’ve been able to enjoy over the past year. And the presence of one massive-budget sci-fi blockbuster in my end-of-year list, plus another couple in the honourable mentions and plenty of other good ones besides, suggests that even blockbusters still have something to offer cinemagoers.

My top 10 of the year, which is ordered alphabetically, is the best of what I’ve seen. There are, as always, countless films I’m yet to catch up on, including, but certainly not limited to, A Quiet Passion, The Levelling, Detroit, Gods Own Country and a pair of animations, The Red Turtle and My Life as a Courgette, that I sadly haven’t got around to yet.

But even despite the missing names, 2017 has been a memorable year, and I wrestled hard with what to include in the final 10. Some of the films in the honourable mentions list came close to the final cut, but just missed out. Some of the films below came out so long ago I could scarcely believe they were released in the UK in 2017.

Enjoy the list, and Happy New Year from Fan the Fire.

 Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2046

A couple of years ago one long-awaited sci-fi sequel made it into my year-end list in the form of Star Wars The Force Awakens, and now, just two years later, we have another. If anything, Blade Runner 2049 had even more to live up to than The Force Awakens did, following on as it was from a masterpiece of an original, whereas JJ Abrams’ film only needed to dispel the memory of the much-maligned Star Wars prequel trilogy. My excitement levels for this sequel grew the more of its director’s previous films I saw. Denis Villeneuve, whose Arrival made my list of best films in 2016, did something great with Blade Runner 2049, managing to craft a film that is not only visually and aurally stunning, but which continues to wrestle with big themes in the way its predecessor did. It isn’t perfect – for one thing, the lead villain and his plot are disappointing – but it’s one hell of a ride.

CMBYN

Call Me By Your Name

The final part of Luca Guadagnino’s Desire trilogy, Call Me By Your Name stars Timothée Chalamet as Elio, a smart, charming teenager living with his American-Italian family in the Italian countryside. Into this apparently idyllic lifestyle (which is so sumptuous you want to leap into every one of Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s gorgeous frames) comes an American graduate student played by Armie Hammer, with whom Elio begins to form a deep friendship, and perhaps something more. Chalamet, who I’d only seen before in a minor role in Interstellar, gives an extraordinary performance here, capturing intelligence, love and grief in wholly believable ways. Opposite him, Armie Hammer gives probably his best performance yet as the charismatic Oliver, who is worldly and smart, but not beyond petulance or bad choices. The excellent supporting cast add further gloss to Guadagnino’s marvellous, moving romance.

The Florida Project

 The Florida Project

Sean Baker’s follow up to 2015’s Tangerine, The Florida Project takes us into the world of the garish motels that sit on the outskirts of Disneyland, where deprived communities of people struggle to make ends meet. This world, unknown I would imagine to most viewers of the film, certainly to this one, is portrayed vividly and with great affection for its inhabitants, even when the film is dealing with serious social issues. The looming, candy coloured edifices that form the backdrop for the story bring a sense of fractured wonder to the whole thing, and Baker gets lovely, naturalistic performances from his young cast as they roam freely around this forsaken landscape – in particular Brooklynn Prince as Moonee, the precocious girl at the film’s centre. The supporting cast are terrific too, from Bria Vinaite as Moonee’s mother Halley to Willem Dafoe as the manager of the motel in which they live. Vivid, important filmmaking with a knockout final movement.

The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden

Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden is alive with the joy of a filmmaker thoroughly in touch with, and enjoying working on, the material. This ambitious adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith shifts the action from Victorian-era Britain to Korea, but Park somehow makes that change feel vital. His film is a twisting, turning delight, with great performances illuminating a deceptively complex and well-structured narrative that crackles with erotic tension, dramatic weight and thrilling unpredictability. Park blends these elements together in something approaching gothic tradition, and in doing so creates a thoroughly idiosyncratic, mesmerising psychological drama not quite like anything else released this year.

I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro

Three documentaries about, or at least partially about, race in America were nominated in the Best Documentary Feature category at this year’s Oscars. The one that won, OJ: Made in America, I confess I haven’t yet seen, but of the other two, which I have seen, I Am Not Your Negro was the standout for me. Ava DuVernay’s 13th is an equally important film and worth a watch, but the lyricism and beauty of Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, based on an unfinished manuscript by social critic James Baldwin detailing his friendships and interactions with civil rights leaders, has stuck with me. Peck’s film fluidly blends archive footage with Samuel L Jackson’s narration, and elucidates its issues with intelligence and passion. It also benefits hugely from the eloquence and wit of Baldwin himself, who appears in numerous clips, and whose speeches resonate with power.

La La Land

La La Land

One of a few films on this list that feel like they came out ages ago, but were actually released in the UK in January, is Damien Chazelle’s wonderful musical La La Land, which stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as star-crossed lovers both attempting to make their way in Hollywood. He’s a struggling jazz pianist, she’s a struggling actress, and as success begins to come their way, it will test the limits of their feelings for one another. The film harks back to classic musicals, perhaps chief among them Singing in the Rain, but does so in a way that is affectionate and original. The performances are great, the songs are great, and the whole thing is beautifully shot by Linus Sandgren. Chazelle paces the film with confidence and the tone is always just right, moving effortlessly between laughs, tears and dance routines, sometimes all at the same time.

Manchester by the Sea

 Manchester by the Sea

Kenneth Lonergan’s beautifully taut, emotionally raw Manchester by the Sea stars an excellent Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, a man struggling to deal with a tragic event in his past who is suddenly called back to the town in which it happened and entrusted with the care of his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges, also excellent). Lee’s estranged wife Randi (Michelle Williams, sparingly used but great) still lives in the town, so he will be forced to confront his grief alongside his new and frankly unwanted companion. Depression is not an easy thing to depict on screen, but Affleck’s performance and Lonergan’s strong script make Lee a sympathetic protagonist. The film is a strong, surprisingly uplifting piece of work, some of the scenes in which have stayed with me throughout the year, in particular a beautifully choreographed sequence in a police station and a heartbreaking conversation between two characters late on.

Moonlight

Moonlight

Barry Jenkins’ affecting adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue won the Academy Award for Best Picture this year (after a brief fiasco in which La La Land was announced as the winner) and it was one one of the few occasions when the Oscars gave out a prestigious award to very little backlash. Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, a conflicted boy growing up in Miami, through three different time periods and three different actors. It’s tough when it needs to be, but the film is also capable of channeling both raw emotion and great delicacy. Quite apart from the film’s importance in terms of the mainstream profiling of prominent social issues, Moonlight is a dramatically rewarding, heartfelt piece of work, and deserves to be seen.

Raw

 Raw

Julia Ducournau’s cannibal coming-of-age tale will probably make you uncomfortable at times, but Raw is so much more than a shocker. Ducournau, who also wrote the script, injects the film with thrills and bold, concise moments of horror, but also more wit and dark humour than perhaps we might expect. Garance Marillier is terrific as Justine, a vegetarian student who joins a veterinary college and is horrified to find herself developing a taste for a very particular variety of meat. The film uses its subject matter as a lens through which to explore growing up and sexual discovery, among other things, but does so in a way that not only has depth, but which is visually inventive and at times impressively sinister. I can’t wait to see what Ducournau does next.

Toni Erdmann

Toni Erdmann

Maren Ade’s film Toni Erdmann is regularly described as a comedy, though that description perhaps suggests an altogether different film. While there are laugh-out-loud moments in Toni Erdmann, Ade’s film is nevertheless dealing with difficult issues, particularly a broken father-daughter relationship and the domineering role that careers play in modern life. The film will make you laugh, yes, but it’ll also make you cry. Possibly at the same time, and possibly through a grimace as you cringe at some of the outrageously uncomfortable scenarios on screen. As a prankster father trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Peter Simonischek, with his daft wig and fake teeth, is great, and so too is Sandra Hüller as his daughter, whose professional exterior cracks just enough that we can see the woman, indeed the child, underneath. Quite apart from the great performances and sharply written dialogue, there are some truly memorable sequences and a wonderfully disconcerting touch of the weird.

Honourable mentions

Baby Driver, Lady Macbeth, Get Out, A Ghost Story, The Last Jedi, The Lost City of Z, mother!, Personal Shopper, Your Name

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