TOP 10 FILMS OF 2017
This is the latest my Top 10 has been published with many releases in the U.K getting pushed back to late Feb but I made it just in time for the Oscars. 2017 was a dissapointing year for cinema in my opinion but it did give birth to alot of unique films such as mother!, Get Out, Ghost Story and The Shape of Water. It was also the year that gave us impressive comic book movies and comedies that stood out at its years end. For the first time in my reviewing career most of the years best films came out during the first half of the year, before awards season.
There was a lot of critically acclaimed films that didnt really click with me such as Lady Bird, The Florida Project, The Post and many more. I was yet to award a 9/10 in 2017 and my highest rated film of the year sat at an 8.5. With previous years producing impressive films such as The Revenant, Silence, Mad Max Fury Road, La La Land, Moonlight etc. However, once again we have certain films which were in my most anticipated and didn’t get released in time for me to add to this list such as:
Mute (dir. Duncan Jones), Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland), Radegund (dir. Terrance Malick), Roma (dir. Alfonso Cuaron), You Were Never Really Here (dir. Lynne Ramsey), Mary Magdalene (dir. Garth Davis), Under The Silver Lake (dir. David Robert Mitchell)
It’s a bigger list of missing films than last year but I still managed to watch over 200 movies this year even though only a select few got reviewed on this blog. So here are my favourite films / performances of the year.
(Dir. Dee Rees)
Netflix has been a roll with releases and 2017 gave us Dee Rees Mudbound a film that did not feel like a straight to Netflix feature. This was a full cinematic journey with classic film making and an amazing ensemble cast. Dealing with life on a rural Mississippi farm after World War 2, Dee Rees perfectly captures the racial tensions with those who fought alongside them in the war. However, this is not a one way tale that only deals with the racial tensions, it also introduces friendship between a black and white male showcasing their similar paths of life. This is a very human story and you have many different characters played on-screen, from those with no racism, the racist and the ones considering whether the racial tensions are all but worth it. The film is a slow burn and often does drag on but if you follow the journey there is a powerful ending to the entire film. This slow first half of the film sets up the characters and throws us as an audience into rural Mississippi and builds the world and era for us. Taking her time with the film Dee Rees creates a story that is drowned in sorrow that feels realistic and not melodramatic. Many films dealing with race relations fall into this forced sympathetic nature but everything here feels natural and its to do with an amazing cast and script. The acting ensemble is what makes Mudbound a strong film with Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell giving career best performances as the films two lead protagonists who form an unlikely friendship. Carey Mulligan and Mary J. Blige also give amazing performances as the two wives of husbands from opposite walks of life with Blige giving a quiet yet powerful performance which will be remembered towards the year’s end. However, what stands out the most in Mudbound is Rachel Moss’s muted cinematography that manages to capture the struggle on this rural farm with an image full of mud and rain. The opening of the film captures the mood and tone for the entire film as two brothers dig a grave for their father in the pouring rain covered in mud.The earthy tones in Moss’ cinematography relate itself with the grounded story told and in the end you see all the characters black or white , rich or poor covered in this same mud. Tamar-Kali also produces a score to accompany Dee Rees story and captures the moments and struggles each character goes through. It’s a classic score in an experimental sense but it uniquely feels different to many of the other scores this year because of how it captures the emotion of the screenplay. Mudbound is a hard watch and a very slow one if that but it is a small gem of 2017 that should not be forgotten and like Beasts of No Nation this offers a more reputable addition to the Netflix roster.
(Dir. Lee Unkrich)
Pixar have disappointed me with their last few releases and in this past decade I’ve only enjoyed watching Toy Story 3 and Finding Dory. However, they return with another original concept for their studio and hit all the right notes. Coco introduces the Mexican tradition of The Day of the Dead and also has its usual moral family themes. However, they manage to seamlessly mix the theme of death for child audiences and create a beautiful film. Typically the animation is breathtaking and for a film based around music it does provide a score and range of original songs up there to rival Disney as Pixar never really focus themselves on the musical element of their movies. ‘Remember Me’ and ‘Un Poco Loco’ are stand out songs that should be around during awards season when they pick the best original song. There is a very ambitious world created here by Pixar and although the film does some world building there is still so much of this universe yet to explore which I wish the film had done. However, the film plays it simple and goes from a simple point A to point B and this rids the film of any major flaws but at the same time closes it off from any innovation. I would have preferred a larger universe that explored more themes but Pixar simplified the formula and managed to create a neat film with very little holes. I’ve seen a lot of comparisons between Coco and The Book of Life but the fact is Pixar created a cleaner film with their signature touch. This signature touch has been missing of late but these moralistic themes in their films is what drives them to succeed. Certain themes here such as the analogy of immigration through the custom checkpoints to the afterlife are there but never really expanded on. What the film does achieve is to convey a message to children about death and the afterlife and entertain adults at the same time. Coco is a melancholic tale told through Pixar’s lens and portrayed with a refreshing yet happy tale of loss and discovery.
8. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
(Dir. Luca Guadagnino)
One of the years most sombre quiet pieces of cinema that explores the relationship between a teenage boy and an older man. However, this film doesn’t so concentrate on a homosexual relationship and instead focuses on the connection between two people finding themselves and two different points in their lives. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is the cinematographer here and he beautifully embodies Italy and makes a dream like image for a dream like story on the screen. Aiding the visuals is Sujan Stevens creating an ethereal score and giving us Mystery of Love one of the best original songs of the year that fits perfectly for this film about the mystery of love. Luca Guadagnino captures this relationship in a sexual but almost platonic manner but the connection between to the two characters seems delicate and fragile. Newcomer Timothee Chalamet gives one of 2017’s best performances and Arnie Hammer is here giving a career defining performance as Chalamet’s love interest. The chemistry between the two characters is beautifully portrayed and captured by Guadagnino. However, for me the film falls short of creating a fully realised perfect picture when compared to other films dealing with the same themes such as Brokeback Mountain. However, the film subtly and its gift of capturing a memory or time of places makes this one of 2017’s best film
7. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
(Dir. Martin Mcdonagh)
Martin McDonaugh returns with his follow-up to In Bruges and Seven Psychopath. His skills of portraying black comedy have travelled into a political film full of many undertones about the state of America. This tragedy plays out like a play in its confined Midwest town and at the centre of it are the selection of characters who put together the ensemble in Three Billboards. Frances McDormand takes the title role as the grieving mother with a vicious temper. Opposed to her are the two cops, good cop played by Woody Harrelson and bad cop played by Sam Rockwell. All three of these actors give amazing performances and carry the dark weight of the world through its comedic stance on reality. At the centre of this film surrounding loss you see the spectrum of life that it tries to portray. What makes the film so unique is the amazing performances from the whole ensemble of actors behind this piece of cinema and that drives this film into a deeper sense of realism. This film becomes one of the best Coen brother films not directed by the Coen brothers, from its midtown USA story to its bleak humour trying to show us a different side of the human psyche. Using black comedy Three Billboards makes a film that represents various themes of American society in a twisted light-hearted way whilst exploring life, loss and grief. It has also become relevant around the world when dealing with issues ignored by Government and Police with the Three Billboards ideology inspiring more people to stand up and rise against the rules of society. Sure the film takes a more rebellious nature with its revolt but McDonaugh’s film comes out during a relevant and dark time of history.
(Dir. Darren Aronofsky)
Darren Aronofsky is one of my favourite film makers and I’ve enjoyed all of his films (minus Noah). Here he returns with one of his most critically divided movies he has made and even on my first viewing I understood some of the hate. Mother! is a film that relies on its analogy of Mother Earth, God and the creation of the universe and almost through a theatrical presentation Aronofsky throws these huge ideas into a small compound of a house. In this film Earth is set inside a house and history comes together as fragmented pieces of crazy antics from various characters. claustrophobia is the first emotion I got from this film and Matthew Libatique perfectly captures this with his intense close-ups of its characters. The whole films is set inside a house so wide shots are not used much and instead this tension is created through Libatique’s images. The films tension starts off as a mystery and halfway through the film becomes a straight up uncomfortable watch. The tension in this film feels like Hitchcock on acid and the whole film feels like a metaphorical bad trip so I can see how the film is hated. The main cast gives great performances even though Jennifer Lawrence was nominated for a Razzie! In my opinion she gave her best performance and Javier Bardem, Michelle Pffifer and Ed Harris give amazing yet mysterious performances. Mother! features a very light sound scape score yet I would have loved to see the original score by the late Johann Johansson because in some scenes I feel like a really experimental score would have brought out the images and messages the film was trying to relay to the audience. Darren Aronofsky takes big themes about life and religion and isolates them into this small location with few characters. I don’t know how he came up with the concept and actually executed it but this is one of the craziest and original films I have ever seen and although divisive it becomes one of my favourite films of the year.
5. THE LOST CITY OF Z
(Dir. James Gray)
Over the years James Gray has brought out impressive film after impressive film with most being ignored during awards season; from Two Lovers to The Immigrant. Now when I go in to see one of his films I prepare myself for some classic film making and that was the case here with The Lost City of Z. Everything about it reminds me of a film I would have seen maybe 50 years ago but on an entertainment level it still keeps me on the edge of my seat. Z is essentially a story about obsession and for me this obsession is portrayed better than other films who tried to tackle it this year such as The Phantom Thread. Based on the novel by David Grann and adapted by James Gray himself , Z manages to condense the very dense novel into an entertaining exploration picture. Through every scene in the jungle I was hoping to see more of the natives but this film isn’t like Apocalypto where we get to see a lot of the natives. Instead Z puts us in the shoes of Percy Fawcett, its protagonist and we discover the films revelations as he does. The film covers a span of many years but even with a long running time of 140 minutes the film flew by for me. This is classical film making like we don’t see in modern cinema and its methodical script enhances a slow film and makes the audience embrace Percy’s devotion to discovery. The cast all give exceptional performances with Charlie Hunnam playing Percy Fawcett, capturing every ounce of his obsessive passion. Robert Pattinson gives another amazing performance for 2017 as Percy’s partner, a role that is a stark contrast from his character in Good Time; showcasing his versatility. Darius Khondji also returns with James Gray to utilise the 35mm film making to its best with his cinematography. Capturing a golden tone to the image made it feel like a film from the 50’s and at the same time it captured the beautiful atmosphere of South America. I wish there was more shots on the scenery but he remained focused and kept this is a very contained story as it followed Percy. Chris Spelman took the reigns with the score but I could sense his inexperience with composing and he didn’t elevate what could have been an amazing score but it was still good enough to keep me connected to the images of the screen. James Gray has made amazing films before but this is him at his best, tackling his largest picture yet with a step forward in his career with this artistic direction. I’m sure this film like many other of Gray’s film will go over the head of audiences but it is a unique gem in the roster of 2017’s cinema.
(Dir. Christopher Nolan)
Over the years Christopher Nolan has become one of the most respected directors of his time. Starting off with smaller art house films and moving into the science fiction realm, Nolan has finally challenged himself with a new spectacle for the screen. Dunkirk becomes his play on the War genre, a genre that has been regurgitated by Hollywood over the years. However, what we have here is a film that plays in its own league outside of the cliché genre. A few directors have achieved what Nolan has with Dunkirk, such as Terrance Malick’s arthouse take with The Thin Red Line and Roman Polanski’s human tale with The Pianist. Its closest comparison becomes Saving Private Ryan but the immersion that Nolan captures is one that hasn’t been done on-screen before. Earlier on in the year in my Most Anticipated movies of the year list Dunkirk sat quite high at number 7 but my only problem was the TV like visuals in its trailer. I take my comment back, the visuals in Dunkirk didn’t feel like it had a Hollywood filter. Instead we got the gritty real visuals which Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema created. They both worked together on sci-fi epic Interstellar but Dunkirk shows their diversity as they tackle the complete opposite spectrum of visuals. From the moment the film begins we are thrown into the action and as the film is split into three parts, Land, Air and Sea we are given a look at every aspect of Dunkirk. From the bomb struck beaches as the soldiers and the audience sit on the edge of their seat waiting for the next bomber plane to fly over. The sea where ships are sinking faster than they arrive, capturing the tension of the underwater claustrophobia. Then finally in the air giving us an almost video game like first person perspective of the spitfire plane. Creating this was a masterclass and this should be the film to get Christopher Nolan the Best Director Oscar because Dunkirk is a technical feat in immersive film making. To add to this immersion was Hans Zimmer score which begins at the start with a constant ticking sound that went through the whole film until the end. This was one of his best scores, full of dark experiment industrial sounds. What made it stand out was how well it went with the visuals, he did not create an epic war sound, instead we get a score that would be more suited to a horror film. None of Zimmer’s scores have sounded this experimental and I think that’s what makes it stand out in his large body of work. With a more fleshed out script this 105 minute film could have run for an extra hour with more development. However, I can see that this was a creative risk by Nolan so he could create this constant action and constant suspense that would have not been achievable with more character development. Dunkirk is a film like no other, not even in the war genre but any genre, it gives you a point of view aspect of the war and along with the amazing visuals and sound design you don’t just hear every bullet, you feel it. I even found myself turning my head as the spitfire spun in the air chasing the enemy. I wouldn’t call it Nolan’s best film but it is a technical achievement in film making and one that deserves its praise. This is a tale that hasn’t been told properly on the big screen and Nolan has done it justice by recreating what went on in Dunkirk all those years ago.
3. GET OUT
(Dir. Jordan Peele)
Get Out was by far the biggest surprise of the year, a Horror-Comedy that was also a satirical look at race relations in America. First off categorising this as a comedy is the first flaw audiences make because the end result is such a dark film that the fact we see it as a comedy reveals our desensitization to racism as a whole. Jordan Peele has come through and crafted one of the most original scripts I have seen on-screen for a very long time. This simple story of a Black man meeting his White girlfriends parents is elevated and representative of racism around the world, not only America. Jordan Peele then amps up the film an extra notch by turning Get Out into a Twilight Zone episode full of hypnotism and body swapping. The film never really goes deeper into these themes because in essence these Sci-Fi themes are metaphors for the deeper meaning of racism he is trying to portray. There is a darker malice in the film but the films protagonist manages to handle it with ease until its end. He tries to reassure himself that this causal racism and finger-pointing to his skin tone from his girlfriends family members is just harmless fun. This shows us that even casual racism that has no malicious intent is still racism but regardless of this Peele tries to throw in comic relief into Get Out. A great supporting character was that of Rod, who adds in humour to the film but it never seems out-of-place. He is the character that is written to represent what audience members watching this film are thinking, while Chris is an optimist when it comes to racism; Tod is the pessimist with a humour. Daniel Kaluuya from Black Mirror fame gives a defining career performance that he will be remembered for as Chris Washington. His performance is quite subtle but it is one of the years best performances as he represents the everyday coloured male who isn’t caught up in the racial tensions. Catherine Keener also comes through and gives a dark performance as the hypnotist Missy and performs like I’ve never seen her perform before. I think Get Out was a hard feat to create as a satirical horror that critiqued race relations in America. It was hard to create a film that did not offend and still managed to please critics and audience members around the world. Sure the themes of the film aren’t really symbolic and a lot of the metaphors are thrown in your face but I don’t think Get Out tries to be a film that relies on subtlety.Jordan Peele leaves little easter egg like metaphors littered throughout his film that relate to race relations. The picking of the cotton to save the protagonist the antagonist keeping her coloured cereal separate to her white milk. This little subtle hints in the film show attention to detail that most films in modern cinema seem to enjoy. Jordan Peele has a message he tries to display to the audience but he builds the world in his film with ease because of these little details. This will be the film from 2017 that will be remembered for years to come and I can see it being analysed through many different film lectures. Get Out was a film that came out early in 2017 but by the end of 2017 it is still being remembered as one of the most important and influential films of the year.
2. BLADE RUNNER 2049
(Dir. Denis Villeneuve)
The wait is finally over and the sequel to my favourite Sci-Fi film and my most anticipated film of the year is here. Denis Villeneuve is hot off his streak with last years oscar nomination for his innovate Science fiction film Arrival. In ways this film feels less innovative because of its relation and inevitable comparison to the original. The story follows Ryan Gosling playing K a Blade runner 30 years after the events of the original film. Los Angeles has changed a lot since the original, we are given less grittier and a more futuristic depiction of the world which drew me away from the originals grittier dystopia. There was also less Orientalism within the world’s architecture which was the first thing that kept bringing me out the film. In the original Blade Runner the city itself is a character that plays an important factor in the film. With 2049 the city takes a back seat as a visual backdrop without any further substance. The script follows the characters through great locations but it rarely settles the camera in middle of the bustling city we came to love with the original. However, it is still a beautiful film and Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakin’s still created a beautiful image for the screen. At times the plot plays it too close to the original and many fans wondered if 2049 would answer the questions left by the original film. The answer is, yes and no, some questions are answered by the storyline still manages to retain its mystery by not revealing the whole ideology of the world. As an audience we crave to learn more about this futuristic dystopia but we look through a keyhole and don’t see its expansive universe. This mystery is what keeps us captivated and Villeneuve and screenwriter Hampton Fancher handle the story with respect to the original, which was also adapted by Fancher. This is a bigger story than the original, it didn’t answer many questions we had but it expanded on the universe Scott created. The original film had a much more contained story and 2049 tries to touch on a lot of themes for one singular film and this is why the focus moves away from the city as a character. It also shifts us away from the film’s character development and you aren’t really given a deeper insight into their lives. The film could have gone in many different directions but he still made an outstanding piece of cinema worthy as a companion to the original. All the themes of race and social class are still prominent in the film and it becomes as relevant in 2017 as much as it was in 1982 when the original was released. It makes you wonder how social views haven’t changed much in the past 35 years. Blade Runner 2049 has an amazing score and Roger Deakin’s best visual work this will definitely be remembered as an iconic film and one of the years best. The team behind it has immersive world which will please fans of the original and introduce more people to the Blade Runner universe.
1. THE SHAPE OF WATER
(Dir. Guillermo Del Toro)
Guillermo Del Toro is a unique director with a style that hasn’t been replicated by any other director. With The Shape of Water he creates one of his best films (although Pan’s Labyrinth is still my favourite. This is his homage to the B-movies of the past, in particular The Creature from the Black Lagoon. However, here he has mixed in classic Hollywood film making to lift this B-movie into classic status. It’s a small-scale picture, filmed amongst a handful of locations but cinematographer Dan Lausten creates this dream like vibe throughout the whole film, while the film drifts from scene to scene seamlessly. Guillermo creates this story that seems like a real life fairytale, the story of a princess who could not speak. The whole film feels like a fable straight from the mind of Guillermo and even the score by Alexander Desplat shines and he keeps the child like wonder alive, showcasing the curiosity inside all of us. The score and editing itself seems straight out of new wave french cinema reminding me a lot of Amelie and how up beat but surreal it all felt. Guillermo stated this was the film he wanted to make as a child and it shows through the film, it very much feels like a passion project. Here we have one of the best films of the year and one that I don’t think could ever be replicated. Aside from the fish monster himself the person who stole the show was Sally Hawkins playing a mute janitor and giving the best performance of her career. Like the fish monster himself she is unable to project her thoughts and feelings through speech and everything is portrayed through body language. The Shape of Water is like a B movie mixed in with Golden Age Hollywood and an adult Disney or Studio Ghibli fable. It covers so many themes and at the end of the film it felt like I had just travelled through a dream so gently, slowly transported by the amazing cinematography, acting and the sounds of Desplat. In a year full of many original idea’s this is the film that feels like it was executed to its fullest potential.
Honorable Mentions (in order)
The Killing of the Sacred Deer
The Disaster Artist
The Darkest Hour
The Lego Batman Movie
Best Director : Denis Villeneuve – Blade Runner 2049
Guillermo Del Toro – The Shape of Water
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Darren Aronofsky – mother!
Best Original Score : Hans Zimmer – Dunkirk
Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch – Blade Runner 2049
Alexander Desplat – The Shape of Water
Tamar-Kali – Mudbound
Johnny Greenwood – Phantom Thread
Best Cinematography : Roger Deakins – Blade Runner 2049
Hoyte Van Hoytema – Dunkirk
Dan Lausten – The Shape of Water
Rachel Moss – Mudbound
Matthew Libatique – mother!
Best Actor In A Leading Role : Gary Oldman – The Darkest Hour
Timothee Chalamet – Call me by your Name
James Franco – The Disaster Artist
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Best Actress In A Leading Role : Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Daniela Vega – A Fantastic Woman
Jennifer Lawrence – mother!
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Best Actor In a Supporting Role : Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Jason Mitchell – Mudbound
Arnie Hammer – Call me by Your Name
Michael Shannon – The Shape of Water
Garett Hedlund – Mudbound
Best Actress In a Supporting Role : Michelle Pffifer – mother!
Alison Janney – I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Nicole Kidman – The Killing of the Sacred Deer/ The Beguiled
Mary J. Blige – Mudbound