So 2017 has been and gone and thank god it has. Whilst I have had a good year personally, finishing up my Masters; crossing Oslo off of the list of cities I’ve always wanted to see; saw a live production of Angels in America; recorded episodes of The Lambcast, The Film Pasture and Forgotten Filmcast and met up with other members of The Lamb for the stag do and wedding of Jay Cluitt of Life vs Film and seeing Killing of a Sacred Deer with Rebecca Sharp of Almost Ginger, for the world this year was just a disaster, Trump, Brexit, Weinstein, it was just depressing. One of the few areas that wasn’t fully depressing was with film, sure there were some stinkers but overall this has been a solid year of cinema and it’s time for my roundup. As a reminder, my lists focus on all films released in the UK in 2017, so some big films released in 2016 in the US are included and big films released in 2017 in the US are excluded (e.g. even though I saw it in 2017, since it’s only getting fully released this year in the UK, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is ineligible for this years list). With that said, here are my top 10 films of 2017.
10. War for the Planet of the Apes – This cycle of Planet of the Apes films has consistently been one of the most surprising, all of the films being incredibly intelligent, thought provoking action films and with War for the Planet of the Apes, we’ve reached the peak. This is not so much a war movie as a prisoner of war movie, in all respects of the word prisoner, creating a powerful, thought provoking look at the nature of war and revenge, with Andy Serkis giving his finest performance as Caesar.
9. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 – The first Guardians of the Galaxy remains my favourite film in the MCU so this film had a lot of expectations and it lived up to pretty much all of them. The humour and performances were strong but it was the thematic weight of the film that made it work so well, looking at the damage caused by ego, both the villain and the psychology, overcoming legacies of abuse, dealing with complicated relationships with parents and ends with a character in tears after realising that people will go to his funeral. Whilst I still prefer the first film subjectively, objectively this is a more powerful film.
8. Dunkirk – This is the most pure cinematic experience of the year. What Christopher Nolan does here is nothing short of putting you in the shoes of the people at Dunkirk, on the beach, in the boats and in the sky. His signature use of time ensures that the tension is maintained throughout the film, accentuated by Hans Zimmer’s score. If you can though, you need to see this in 70mm IMAX, there’s a power in seeing the film this way that you cannot get in any other format, every noise being highlighted to put you on edge, this is easily the best experience on a purely cinematic level that I’ve had this year.
7. Paddington 2 – On the other end of the spectrum, this film is pure charm and whimsy. What Paul King has done in both films has brought Paddington to the modern world without losing sight of why Paddington has endured for so long and here, King has surpassed himself. This is a lovely film that shows the importance of immigration and acceptance and how Paddington makes the world a better place no matter what environment he’s in. Special mention has to go to Hugh Grant though who steals every scene he’s in and is a consistent comic highlight.
6. Logan – The X-Men series has a weird place for me since I’ve only found 2 of them, before this year to be really great films, X2 and X-Men: First Class. Nothing about the series prepared me in any way for this. By stripping down the character of Logan and creating a tone more fitting for a Western, we see a devastating, brutal film in every possible way that provides an incredible insight into the characters and looks at the legacy of the character and without the history of Hugh Jackman playing the character, Logan’s arc in the film would not work nearly as well, with incredible supporting performances from Patrick Stewart and Dafne Keen sealing the deal.
5. The Disaster Artist – As a fan of The Room, I was eagerly anticipating this film as soon as it was announced and my anticipation was rewarded. The comedy elements of the film are excellent and the dedication to recreating The Room makes the events of the film more believable, but it’s the characters that make the film work as well as it does, James Franco in particular turning a performance that could so easily have slid into caricature into a truly haunting figure, along with nailing the unique voice and body language of Tommy Wiseau.
4. The Lego Batman Movie – This is easily the most I’ve laughed at a film in a long time, every second there are new jokes, some you only see on the second or third viewing, and this parody of Batman could easily have been enough to carry the film. Instead, this film takes a look into the psyche of Batman than most of the live action films fail to do, getting to the root of why Batman stays Batman and the difficulty he has in accepting people into his life, plus we get to see Batman fight Daleks and that’s just a brilliant sight.
3. Get Out – With his first film Jordan Peele established himself as one of the great voices of modern horror, creating one of the most intense experiences of the year. The horror gets you to pay attention to the film but the social satire is what stays with you, seeing how the Black experience has been commodified by white people, focusing on the image over the person and really getting me to think about my own actions. It’s rare that a film does this and Jordan Peele nailed it on his first try. Peele is going on to head up a reboot of The Twilight Zone and there is no better choice, he is one of the great film minds of this generation.
2. Moonlight – With this film Barry Jenkins creates such a beautiful, empathetic look at the life of a gay black man, enabling anyone to experience the powerful emotions felt by the characters, with one of the best scripts of the year, incredible performances and a haunting yet beautiful style, this is a film of pure empathy and is a work of beauty.
1. The Red Turtle – The Red Turtle though is a work of art. A stunningly beautiful piece of animation, by telling the story without dialogue, what Michael Dudok de Witt does is create a truly universal film. Anyone can look at the film and understand the characters and relate to them, the stunning animation, aided by Studio Ghibli, creating moments of stunning beauty that drove me to tears in the service of a quietly powerful story of love. It’s rare that I say a film is required viewing but I truly believe that every person needs to see The Red Turtle to see the true power of cinema on a universal level.
As usual, next is the ranking of all of the films I saw in 2017, it was very difficult not to include any of the films in 11-20 in my top 10 and in any other year they probably would have made my top 10. Also as usual, for any film I’ve not reviewed or done a podcast on, I’ve provided my brief thoughts on what I thought about them
11. Mudbound – A powerful look at race relations in America following World War 2 with the focus on the two families providing an effective point through which to see the race divisions, along with exploring themes of depression, PTSD and the role of women, with Dee Rees and Rachel Morrison working together to create a strong visual style for the film, buoyed by probably the best ensemble cast of the year, Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell, Rob Morgan, Jonathan Banks and Mary J Blige being the standouts.
14. Thor: Ragnarok
17. Okja – Bong Joon Ho’s direction and writing is incredible, especially when mixed with the style of Jon Ronson. The tonal shifts can be a bit jarring for some people but I found them effective, especially in terms of showing the horrors that Okja faces and the relationship between Okja and Mija. The performances are also great, special praise going to Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal (who goes for broke in his performance, although some people may not like what he does) and an impressive debut from Ahn Seo-Hyun.
19. The Big Sick
21. A Ghost Story
24. Baby Driver
25. Shin Godzilla
26. Wonder Woman
28. To The Bone – Whilst there were worries that this film would glamorise eating disorders, and speaking as someone who has never suffered from an eating disorder, I found this to be a powerful, emotionally brutal film with an incredible central performance from Lily Collins
30. Miss Sloane – A very intelligent political thriller, going into the full dirty details of the lobbying industry through a brilliantly written script, with a cast giving it their all led by Jessica Chastain giving a powerhouse performance as Sloane, showing the exact sort of mindset needed to succeed in the world of lobbying.
33. Lady Macbeth – This is a very powerful look at the gender disparity of Victorian England, showing how few rights women had at the time and how often marriage became a prison, along with the hypocrisy in the system that rewards men for actions that women are punished for, with Florence Pugh giving an incredible performance as Katherine, working with Alice Birch’s script, to create a fascinating character equal parts coldly calculating and vulnerable, showing the damage that Victorian life did to women in Katherine’s position, whilst also providing commentary on class and race disparity at the time.
35. Hidden Figures
36. The Founder – Whilst on paper the story of the founding of McDonalds doesn’t sound interesting, the way it’s presented effectively shows how sleazy the whole thing was and how ridiculous the whole thing got, anchored together by a brilliant performance from Michael Keaton.
39. Their Finest
40. Logan Lucky
41. In This Corner of the World – A fascinating look at the life of a Japanese woman during World War 2, tackling issues such as the role expected of women in Japan and the psychological damage done by war, sharing some similarities to Grave of the Fireflies, along with having absolutely gorgeous animation and the main character, Suzu, being one of the best characters of the year. However, the film is slightly dragged down by how much material it has to cover, being spread out over 10 years, meaning that some interesting elements had to be rushed to fit it in a 2 hour run time.
43. American Made
44. Denial – Whilst the direction is pretty generic, this is a film where the script and the performances are the star, with Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Andrew Scott and Timothy Spall giving excellent performances with there being well explored themes about the nature of free speech, how emotion is brought into history (along with how it can be used to denigrate history) and the need to keep focus on truth rather than emotion.
47. La La Land
48. The Other Side of Hope – Whilst the restaurant side of the story isn’t as strong, when the film focuses on the plight of Syrian refugee Khaled, the film soars, mainly due to an excellent performance from Sherwan Haji and when the two stories converge together, we get some really powerful moments about accepting refugees, culminating in a powerful ending.
49. Loving – This film makes the right call by focusing more on the relationship between the Lovings, with the chemistry between Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton helping to convey this love, although personally I did want to see a bit more of their life before marriage.
50. The Beguiled – This is a really fascinating film, brilliantly directed by Sofia Coppola, although her script isn’t quite as strong as her direction, with interesting ideas related to gender politics of the Civil War and well developed moral ambiguity, with the performances, particularly those of Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst, creating a strong, suspenseful film.
51. Fences – Whilst this is an incredible script with powerhouse performances from Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, it cannot escape its state roots, lacking the cinematic power that would have justified an adaptation
53. Free Fire
55. Atomic Blonde
56. Alone in Berlin – Whilst there are excellent performances from Emma Thompson, Brendan Gleeson and Daniel Bruhl and the central idea of the film is engaging, the film ultimately isn’t effective at generating suspense through bland direction and a pretty mediocre script
57. Wheelman – Essentially what you would get if you made Locke as an action film, this is a solid, well made thriller, although it’s nothing really special and does lose the effect near the end of the film when the camera goes outside the car, reducing the technical skill that made the film work up until then
58. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) – This is a case of a film being well made but just not for me. Whilst it is well written and the performances are great, particularly from Adam Sandler, giving the best performance in at least a decade, and Elizabeth Marvel, I just couldn’t get invested in the characters due to how horrible most of them were, it was just an environment and set of characters I couldn’t get into.
60. Split – Whilst the film is worth watching due to James McAvoy giving one of the best performances of his career, especially when he switches personality mid scene, outside of him this is a pretty bland film with very regressive attitudes towards mental illness and abuse.
61. Raw – The perfect example of a film that is well directed, well written and well acted, but just isn’t for me. I recognise the quality of the film and the way it talks about the pressures of fitting in are effective, but my squeamish nature related to body horror came up here making it so I couldn’t watch most of it, along with the scenes set in the vet school and the parties reminding me of uncomfortable experiences I had at university, taking me out of the film.
62. The Love Witch
63. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Whilst the world created in the film is incredible, Luc Besson showcasing his skills as a technical director, create a fascinating, unique world that helps carry the film, the actual story that is being told in this world is fairly generic, not helped by an overwrought script and Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne being completely miscast, nothing about their acting works with the characters as written and the two have no chemistry with each other, which cripples the film seeing how a lot of it revolves around a romance between the two.
64. 6 Days – A very bog standard thriller with nothing really special about it, aside from solid performances from Mark Strong and Jamie Bell. There was an interesting idea in not showing anything inside the Iranian Embassy, but that idea gets abandoned, the characters aren’t well written and we get a pretty terrible performance from Abbie Cornish, sounding absolutely nothing like Kate Adie, whilst the scene of the actual raid on the embassy is pretty average, not reflecting the actual raid effectively.
67. Power Rangers – This could have been a great family friendly action franchise but instead, outside of the performances from RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin and Becky G, this is just a boring film with unlikeable characters, especially Kimberly who did something pretty unforgiveable, horrible use of product placement and generic action scenes that are over way too fast.
68. The Ghoul – Whilst it is a well acted film, mainly from Tom Meehan, this is a case of a film not knowing what it wants to be. It starts out as a compelling psychological thriller but the main element that makes this part work is dropped too early with the rest of the film feeling pretentious, especially the ending which goes off the rails and damages the effect of the film as a whole. It’s hard to explain without spoiling the film but The Ghoul is a pretentious, confusing mess of a film
71. Live By Night – A prime case of an overstuffed film. There is easily enough material in this film to fill another 2 films, but in one 2 hour long film, this feels heavily compressed and ultimately boring as it moves too fast for anything to be engaging, all of the important character development and interesting plot points that could have made for interesting films being sidelined, not helped by the characters we follow being incredibly generic, despite the talents of the cast, in particular Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper and Elle Fanning giving their characters depth the script doesn’t due to the strength of their performances, just a mess of a film.
72. Trespass Against Us – Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson give great performances but this is a tonally confused film that contradicts everything it’s trying to say in the ending and isn’t as profound as it thinks it is.
73. The Great Wall – Whilst there are some entertaining action scenes and Jing Tian gives her character personality that the script doesn’t, this is just an incredibly generic film, which is disappointing considering the previous works of Zhang Yimou, with the film falling into both the white saviour narrative with Matt Damon and acting as propaganda for the Chinese army, whilst on a character level, Pedro Pascal and Willem Dafoe seem pretty pointless and probably could have been cut out of the film entirely.
74. Death Note – As someone who is a fan of the Death Note anime, I was trepidatious about the film and my fears were justified. Despite the strong direction from Adam Wingard and excellent performance from Willem Dafoe as Ryuk, this film just doesn’t get the story of Death Note it’s trying to tell and would have worked better as a sequel. Light has gone from a genius sociopath to a complete moron, L has become someone who lets his emotions control him (although a strong performance from Lakeith Stainfield still makes him engaging) and the cat and mouse game that made Death Note so good is completely gone. I did like the changes to Misa, now Mia, but makes me wish the film was about her and not Light. This film almost gets what made Death Note work but misses so many details that it ends up becoming incredibly stupid and generic, a far cry from the brilliance of the anime
75. Alien: Covenant
76. Justice League
77. Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge – This is the textbook definition of a thoroughly bland film. Nothing in this film is original, even the most creative scene in the film is taken from Fast Five, with Johnny Depp being insufferable as Jack Sparrow, Javier Bardem and David Wenham stuck with dull villains, Brenton Thwaites given nothing to work with as Henry Turner and Kaya Scodelario having a character that sounds interesting on paper but the way she’s utilised in the film being incredibly insulting, especially since the film is trying to show its feminist bonafides and fails in every single way. Even Geoffrey Rush, whose performances were so much fun in the previous films, is wasted here, his only character development coming right out of nowhere. Even compared to the other Pirates films this is a disappointment, the plot being predicated on a misunderstanding of how At World’s End ended, with the brief scenes of Orlando Bloom being terrible due to wooden acting from Bloom whilst Keira Knightley may as well have not been in the film as she’s given about 15 seconds of screen time. I didn’t think the series could get much lower than On Stranger Tides, but Salazar’s Revenge found new lows for this series.
78. The Book of Henry – Whilst there is a good idea here for a great dark comedy subverting the child genius trope, the way Colin Trevorrow directs the film makes it come across as completely straight, neutering the subversion that seems to be the heart of the film creating one of the most tonally misjudged films in recent years. The contrast between the plot of the first half and the plot of the second act is so wild due to the sentimental way Trevorrow directs the film that any attempt to make the subversion work completely fails, not helped through all the characters being badly written and the whole way the film is shot trying to create a sentimental film rather than leaning into the dark comedy that would make the film work.
79. Bright – Whilst there is a good idea here for a fantasy version of something like Alien Nation or District 9, in the hands of David Ayer and Max Landis this becomes just another cop film with some fantasy elements, with a profoundly tone deaf script and direction that manages to make the whole situation boring and cliched, when it should have been a lean, suspenseful thriller. The only saving grace is Joel Edgerton who is able to give a strong performance with his character easily being the most interesting in the film, albeit still underwritten.
80. The Circle – Whilst the overall premise of the film is interesting and there are fine performances from Emma Watson, Tom Hanks and Karen Gillan, everything interesting was already covered in things like Black Mirror and the film is plagued by bad writing, with none of the dialogue feeling natural in any way, vital character relationships and plot points being unexplained and it being one of the most cliched anti-technology films to come out in a long time, whilst also wasting the talents of John Boyega, Patton Oswalt and the late Bill Paxton. It also feels very insulting, ignoring the real issues that are faced by women in Silicon Valley and instead making it feel like Mae’s ambition itself is at fault for all the events throughout the film. The ending meanwhile feels really preachy and doesn’t quite mesh with the tone of the rest of the film.
The rest of this post will be for other film related lists for 2017. For the acting lists, as a rule I have there will only be 1 performance per film on each list, to ensure that a variety of films and performances are included. With that said, here are my other lists.
Best Male Performances of 2017:
10. Sherwan Haji – The Other Side of Hope
9. Ewan Bremner – T2: Trainspotting
8. Simon Russell Beale – The Death of Stalin
7. Pierre Niney – Frantz
6. Andy Serkis – War for the Planet of the Apes
5. Hugh Jackman – Logan
4. Yosuke Kubozuka – Silence
3. Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
2. Denzel Washington – Fences
1. James Franco – The Disaster Artist
Best Female Performances of 2017
10. Anne Hathaway – Colossal
9. Lily Collins – To The Bone
8. Dafne Keen – Logan
7. Paula Beer – Frantz
6. Rooney Mara – A Ghost Story
5. Viola Davis – Fences
4. Jessica Chastain – Miss Sloane
3. Florence Pugh – Lady Macbeth
2. Naomi Harris – Moonlight
1. Natalie Portman – Jackie
Best Scenes of 2017:
10. Space Oddity – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
9. Toilet Stalls – T2: Trainspotting
8. Atomic Breath – Shin Godzilla
7. Hall of Mirrors – John Wick: Chapter 2
6. Father and Son – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
5. The Ending – La La Land
4. No Man’s Land – Wonder Woman
3. The Final Shot – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
2. The Sky – Dunkirk
1. Bellbottoms – Baby Driver
Most Anticipatec for 2018:
10. You Were Never Really Here
9. Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2
8. The Nightingale
7. A Wrinkle in Time
6. Ready Player One
5. Isle of Dogs
4. Early Man
3. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
2. Avengers: Infinity War
1. Black Panther