‘We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste!’ – Professor Perlman, Call Me By Your Name
The end of the year is upon us once again. On a personal and professional level, 2017 has been full of achievements, some hardship, celebration and, most notably, change. Change is important, and it is this ethos that is reflective of the kind of innovation that can be seen in some of the films released this year, either by playing on classic formulas or building new ones entirely. Whilst the arrival of a fresh calendar year does not inherently alter anything other than the numbers in the date, it’s always interesting to reflect on the last year and the many unforgettable cinema experiences it gave us. This year has been rife with outstanding filmmaking from some of the most promising new filmmakers in the industry, particularly in the indie circuits, as well as brand new offerings from some of Hollywood’s great directors. Full of stand-out performances, particularly from female actors, 2017 has provided moments of film I will never forget, and I can’t wait to talk about them.
Please note: As always, some of these are technically 2016 films but I am basing the list on films which were released here in the UK in 2017.
The Florida Project (dir. Sean Baker)
Christine (dir. Antonio Campos)
Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
The Love Witch (dir. Anna Biller)
10 – mother! (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
In one of his most divisive turns as a director, Darren Aronofsky gave us his abrasive and tumultuous Biblical allegory, mother! in 2017, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a couple whose idyllic newly-renovated home is torn apart by the arrival of a horde of peculiar uninvited guests. The film was notable for polarising its audiences with its horrifying imagery and chaotic, convoluted themes, even prompting mass walk-outs across some cinemas. With an ingeniously executed concept and classic horror influences aplenty, I have to applaud mother! for the raw energy, momentum and terror it manages to convey whilst exploring the relationship between God and Mother Earth. It is truly a bold, unnerving piece of cinema and undoubtedly provided one of the most memorable viewing experiences of the year.
9 – The Handmaiden (dir. Park Chan-wook)
Park Chan-wook has remained at the very forefront of South Korean cinema during the last two decades with his trademark brand of unnerving, unpredictable and meticulously-crafted action. Harking back to the evocative, often unpalatable imagery, and unforeseen twists and turns of 2003’s Oldboy, 2017’s psychological thriller, The Handmaiden, delivered the same sense of passionate, frenetically-paced storytelling and toys with its audience sadistically, much like the former. Set in 1930s Korea, every camera movement is agonisingly precise, every frame dense, lustrous and complex like a 17th century painting. Park Chan-wook once again uses his consistent attention to detail to create an enigmatic story rife with danger, allure and depravity.
8 – The Killing of a Sacred Deer (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
The Killing of a Sacred Deer was a film I was eagerly anticipating in 2017, and I certainly wasn’t alone in that after its director, Yorgos Lanthimos, proved his proficiency in writing surreal satire with the darkest of humour when he released The Lobster, his first English-language film in 2015. Unlike the former, however, his latest release is utterly chilling in tone with very little twisted comedic levity. Colin Farrell plays a successful surgeon whose unconventional friendship with the son of a patient who he once treated turns unnervingly sinister. Farrell’s performance is unlike anything I have seen from him before; stilted, audibly scripted and perfectly in line with the awkward and abrasive feel of the overall film. Mysterious, unpredictable and unsettling to the core, Lanthimos delivers a truly thrilling piece of filmmaking whose tension, clinical performances and electrifying cinematography culminate in its greatness.
7 – The Beguiled (dir. Sofia Coppola)
Featuring yet another set of exceptional leading performances by Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell, The Beguiled marked Sofia Coppola’s sixth feature film, and explored similar themes of femininity, repression and the stifling oppression of suburbia, as many of her previous works did. Coppola has frequently discussed her desire to remake the 1971 Don Siegel classic from the perspective of its female characters, inhabitants of a girls’ school in Virginia during the American Civil War. The women lead a careful, dutiful and meticulously contrived life, epitomising the archetypal feminine example demanded by the fraught, regimented patriarchal era in which the events unfold. The true brilliance of The Beguiled stems from the slow unravelling of this equilibrium when the women reluctantly take in and nurse a wounded soldier, leading to mistrust and betrayal as desire takes hold of the situation. The dynamic between character marks the wonderfully nuanced performances of Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning in particular, all propped up by the idyllic location and the beautiful natural lighting Coppola uses to emphasise the dichotomy of sin and righteousness in this deeply repressed time period.
6 – Jackie (dir. Pablo Larraín)
Perhaps the most underrated film featured on this year’s list is Pablo Larraín’s hauntingly intoxicating portrayal of America’s most influential First Lady, Jackie Kennedy, whose quiet resilience is brought to the screen with unparalleled depth and elegance by Natalie Portman. With equally nuanced accompanying performances provided by the likes of Peter Sarsgaard as the enigmatic Bobby Kennedy, Billy Crudup as the reporter peeling back the layers of grief, fear and disillusionment Jackie finds herself in the grips of following her husband’s infamous assassination. Whilst Jackie didn’t make the waves that were perhaps expected of it, this is truly a testament to how encumbered with strong filmmaking the past year has been. Through its exquisite costume design and 35mm cinematography and Mica Levi’s bone-chilling score, Jackie manages to capture the spirit of both its namesake, and of a people, in one of America’s darkest moments. (You can read my full review here).
5 – A Ghost Story (dir. David Lowery)
One of the year’s biggest surprises for me was David Lowery’s existentialist masterpiece, A Ghost Story. The titular story begins with the tragic and untimely death of a young musician, leaving behind his grief-stricken partner (Rooney Mara) in their formerly shared home in the sprawling, suburban south of America. From here, her partner remains in purgatory, watching over her day by day in a comically crude ghost get-up. The quiet power of this film creeps up on you unexpectedly, much like the concept of sprawling time it attempts to emulate. It ruminates painstakingly on drawn out moments, including a four-minute scene dedicating to watching Rooney Mara comfort-eat a pie, and eventually stretches out into great cyclical expanses of time, transcending generations and commenting all the while on the unforgiving relentlessness of the earth, contrasted with the meaningless transience of existence. (My full review can be found here).
4 – Toni Erdmann (dir. Maren Ade)
The fourth film in this list is one of which I will never forget my first viewing. Its surprisingly sharp combination of dry, absurdist humour, European idiosyncrasies and tangible, unspoken emotion makes it fantastically unique. Maren Ade’s bizarre and exceptionally-written German comedy, Toni Erdmann, is a multi-faceted, intelligent comedy, playing on the distinctive cultural delivery of German humour, and masterful visual storytelling to depict a complex and challenging father-daughter relationship. The number of times this film brought tears to my eyes is countless, which is partly a credit to Sandra Hüller’s incomparable performance as Ines, and Peter Simonischek’s memorable take on the pseudonymous Toni Erdmann character. You can’t help but bask in the harmoniously balanced joy and tragedy of this film, which perhaps makes it my favourite cinema experience of 2017. (You can read my review here).
3 – La La Land (dir. Damien Chazelle)
La La Land signalled an outstanding start to 2017, and needs no real introduction due to how enamoured most filmgoers were with its near-flawless attempt at capturing Hollywood’s golden years and injecting a modern spin on the classic musical formula. I truly wondered after my first viewing how any other film could possibly top the way I felt about it, particular as Mia and Seb’s characters encapsulated so perfectly the dichotomous struggle between chasing dreams and keeping oneself grounded in reality. Not only was its story consistently compelling and heartbreaking, but the staggering flair, visual beauty and directorial prowess with which director Damien Chazelle helmed the film was simply astonishing for such a young director. It also proved itself as a hit even amongst non-musical fans, offering some of the most jubilant and joyous songs in its soundtrack in recent memory. La La Land is an instant classic, and will no doubt be revered as one of the most noteworthy cinematic achievements of the 21st century, particularly as it channels themes which are ever-present in each passing generation.
2 – 20th Century Women (dir. Mike Mills)
In 20th Century Women, Mike Mills has created an eloquent, all-knowing and poetic ode to his mother, the era of his youth and the tireless effervescence of California. In what was one of my favourite films released last year, Annette Bening plays a 50-something single mother who recruits help in raising her 15 year old son Jamie, from her punk lodger Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and her son’s childhood friend Julie (Elle Fanning). Not only does the film explore the loving, yet distant relationship between mother and son, but also intersects with the joys and woes of its multiple main characters against the sprawling sun-kissed backdrop of 1979 Santa Barbara. It has the power to deeply move with its insightful commentary on the mood of the era, as well as the ever-relatable qualms and dilemmas faced by its characters, brought to life vibrantly with a rich and beautiful colour palette and the suitably jangly new wave buzz of Talking Heads, Suicide and DEVO .
1 – Call Me By Your Name (dir. Luca Guadagnino)
Call Me By Your Name was one of the latter films I saw in the cinema during 2017, but you could say the best was saved until last. Based on André Aciman’s blisteringly romantic book of the same name, the film follows the intense but ephemeral relationship that blossoms between 17 year old Elio (Timotheé Chalamet) and 20-something postgraduate Oliver (Armie Hammer) who lodges with his family for the summer in 1983 Northern Italy. The visual detail director Luca Guadagnino carries in his direction is what creates the pure magic that exists between these characters, combining visual distance and awkardness with the fantastically uncertain and tentative performances delivered by both leads, as they navigate their blossoming but unspoken feelings for one another. Their chemistry is raw and tangible, and is continually complimented by the lustrous symbolic imagery provided by the Italian backdrop, with the summer setting only further enhancing the impermanence of their relationship. Call Me By Your Name has so much to say about love and heartbreak, summed up perfectly by Michael Stuhlbarg’s beautiful closing monologue; it is worth watching for this moment alone. Quite simply, this is film is a gorgeous and soulful masterpiece.