If 2016 was a bit of a disappointment, then 2017 made up for it in spades. From beginning to end, the year was chock full of fantastic cinema, with a surprisingly small number of my favourite films screening during the year-end awards season rush; even with its fair share of mediocre products, there wasn’t a month that passed by where there wasn’t something exciting, invigorating, fun, or enticing to see. There was excellence from Hollywood and independent studios alike, admirably risky productions that paid off if simply for their having been made, action films returning to lucid form, and honestly something excellent across every genre and every possible mood (there were even multiple(!) superhero films I actually enjoyed).
This is arguably one of the best years for film since 2007 (a year which was a huge turning point for my relationship with cinema), and the plethora of brilliant films has made it an especially excruciating process for me to pick the ten films above all others that I wanted to celebrate most. Even now I’m conflicted as I prepare to publish my list, but every time I reconsider I know that these more than any are the films that moved me, shook me, made me laugh and cry, and impressed me with their form and artistry. Before we get to that, however, let me share my (abnormally extensive) list of honourable mentions, which I can’t stress enough are dripping with quality and come with a high recommendation from me. In alphabetical order:
And now, my top ten films of 2017.
10) The Lost City of Z
It was very early in the year that I caught The Lost City of Z in the cinema, and it’s stuck with me ever since. James Gray‘s revisioning of an Amazonian exploration epic is nuanced and masterful, reverent of its predecessors while providing a breath of fresh air through criticism of their perspective of South American natives as backwards savages. The cinematography is gorgeous and labouriously achieved, with Gray and company dragging cameras into the rainforest like Werner Herzog, and it’s perfectly paced, long enough to give adequate feel to the sacrifice of time while not becoming exhausting of its own accord. Charlie Hunnam also impresses, proving he can carry a picture on his own terms, while Robert Pattinson demonstrates his acting chops in a superb supporting performance…but more on him later.
9) Your Name.
I’ve been partial to anime for a long time, but it’s not often that a feature film not directed by the wonderful Hayao Miyazaki really captures my heart. However, it’s hard not to get sucked into Your Name.‘s story, which is as outrageous and cerebral as it is touching and emotional. Gorgeous animation, entertaining and enjoyable characters, and an engaging mystery at its core made it easy to get swept up by the heartrending and ominous narrative. To speak further of its poignancy, it’s the rare occasion where I felt like I would melt and die in a puddle of tears if I didn’t get a happy ending. The Breadwinner and Coco were excellent in their own rights, but Your Name. is the animated film of the year in my book.
I’m a huge fan of Cristian Mungiu and his mastery of the Romanian New Wave style, first coming into contact with his work through the stunning and harrowing 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. He approaches his material through a minimalist’s eye, often presenting through long takes on stationary tripod shots that allow his actors ample opportunity to live in their characters and dig more out of them. I’d say Graduation is deceptively minimalistic in fairness – the stillness of the camera and the central characters in frame makes it seem considerably simpler than a more elaborate film designed around long takes such as Children of Men, but there’s an obscene amount of coordination and choreography going on behind the scenes to make the sets feel alive. And I haven’t even dug into how the focus on the characters and subtle, clever dialogue gives weight and precision to social criticisms of contemporary Romania. Mungiu is brilliant, and I’m always excited to see what he does next.
7) A Ghost Story
Speaking of minimalism, A Ghost Story takes that to another level. It’s quiet, foreboding, empty, and lonely, yet beautiful, enrapturing, and emotional. David Lowery loves to let the camera sit still for what feels like hours, letting discomfort bleed into the room, perfect for exploring the longing of a lover lost on another plane of existence. Casey Affleck‘s bedsheet ghost is remarkably empathetic despite the lack of a face (or really any body) to work with, but the real star of the show for me is Rooney Mara, who deserves an award for for the pie scene alone (notably my favourite scene in film of the year as well). Quiet, melancholy, and strangely hopeful, A Ghost Story lingers not only in the moment but long after the credits have rolled.
6) Beauty and the Dogs
With the focus on sexual harassment and women’s rights in the #metoo movement this year, Beauty and the Dogs is a film that I’m extremely disappointed may go unnoticed. It follows a young Tunisian university student over the course of a night as she seeks justice after being raped by a group of police officers, finding the entire system to be set up against her. Told through nine single-take sequences, it brilliantly captures the tension and immediacy of the awful evening and allows actress Mariam Al Ferjani to shine in a tour de force performance at the heart of it all. It’s a tough but powerful watch and well worth digging up wherever you can find it.
5) Baby Driver
Edgar Wright has proven himself over the years to be one of the best contemporary directors of comedy, and Baby Driver is another fantastic notch on his belt. It’s a sort of jukebox musical action film full of energy, humour, and incredibly spot-on editing and choreography. Kevin Spacey’s presence unfortunately drags it down a bit during awards season, but I appreciate and echo the sentiments of Ridley Scott earlier this year that the actions of one man shouldn’t negate the incredible hard work of so many others in this production. Baby Driver is impeccably crafted through and through and remains the most fun I had in the cinema in 2017.
Set in an Estonian village during the peak of the plague, it’s hard to nail down a genre for this darkly humourous…whatever it is, but November‘s blending of comedy, horror, history, and fairytale was the perfect route to my heart. Wonderfully shot in gorgeous black-and-white and backed by stellar art direction, costumes, and weirdly brilliant puppeteering, it’s my favourite of the year in terms of sheer aesthetics, and the layers keep piling on from there. I could live in this film for ages, and I’m looking forward to many, many more viewings to come.
3) Good Time
The Safdie brothers have produced a tight and tense thriller in Good Time, following one man’s desperate attempts to get his intellectually disabled brother freed from prison. The tight framing creates a perfect, claustrophobic atmosphere, drenched in neon lights and dirty synths, the kinds of sounds and colours that have captivated my mind since I saw Drive. Benny Safdie is excellent as the bewildered brother Nick, but Robert Pattinson owns the show as Connie, giving a tremendous performance that ought to remove any doubt surrounding his talent. Connie is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever seen on film, and Pattinson’s work makes that possible; I genuinely think it’s an absolute travesty that he hasn’t had more awards attention this year. Worth the 101-odd-minutes for him alone.
2) Phantom Thread
Paul Thomas Anderson is quietly the best working filmmaker in the contemporary scene, and it’s hard to put words to how stellar his films are. At once familiar and unique, he has a style that’s often been grand in scope, but Phantom Thread feels far tighter and smaller in focus. Everything is quiet and tight in space, surrounded by white walls, and even the lead performances from Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day-Lewis are (brilliantly) reserved. Instead, it’s the costumes that take centre stage, the heart and soul of Reynolds Woodcock put on display. Sharp and funny, it’s another case for PTA’s directorial supremacy. Oh, and Jonny Greenwood‘s score is amazing as usual.
I was absolutely floored by mother! from start to finish. Aronofsky has made a statement with this untamable fever dream, demonstrating the sheer power of audiovisual art to explore complex themes. The beauty of mother! is how many different ways it can be so assuredly interpreted, all with equal validity and equal weight, a juggling of ideas so perfectly calculated that it’s hard to believe. This film is a miracle, and I’m delighted that Paramount took a risk on it. It’s is the sort of art that worms its way in and sticks with you for weeks to come, and it inspires and motivates me to elevate my own work. mother! is not only the best film of 2017 but one of the best films I’ve ever seen, full stop. You owe it to yourself to experience this masterpiece.
You can find an interactive version of this list on my Letterboxd profile. Here’s to 2018 being another phenomenal year for cinema.