We’ve done the worst, now let’s look at the best!
As with the worst list, this one got to 38 before I decided to shave it down to make it more manageable/make my critical skills a little more legitimate. With that said, here are those films sadly cut as honourable mentions:
20th Century Women, Better Watch Out, Casting JonBenet, Christine, God’s Own Country, Happy End, Ingrid Goes West, Insyriated, La La Land, Loving Vincent, A Quiet Passion, Rat Film, Song to Song, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Tarzan’s Testicles
Check them out. They good.
Now onto the best of the year! Starting with:
23. An Open Secret
An extremely difficult and depressing but also very important watch. Released three years ago, this movie only got to be seen here due to the recent sex scandals and the production team deciding to publish it online for free. Rightfully so-Amy Berg’s frank and well-researched dive into a covert child grooming racket in Hollywood from the mid-90s exposes how a lot of practices and unspoken rules of the industry can be used for predation and abuse. It’s actually rage-inducing the stuff these people get away with, but it’s a powerfully made documentary getting to the heart of the victims of these crimes, who are front and centre here. Maybe not the most entertaining film, but absolutely one of the most vital.
22. Baby Driver
Hoo-boy, speaking of Hollywood predators and assholes who get away with too much…wasn’t Christopher Plummer great in this?!
One scum-sucking leech may have put a dampener on people’s love for this movie (understandably so), but it doesn’t take away what a kick ass journey it is from start to finish. Edgar Wright’s impeccable editing and on-point music choices combine to create a rhythmic and well-poised dance through the story of a half-deaf getaway driver who times nearly his entire life to music. It’s got a great lead in Ansel Elgort, it’s filled with Wright’s usual minutiae and attention to detail, it has one of my favourite jokes of 2017 involving masks, it’s legitimately surprising and thrilling when needs be and can turn a dime as the Cornetto Trilogy director continues to be a master of tonal shifts. High-octane and fun with a great story and concept that just fits right into the beat.
21. Get Out
Honestly, the only flaw Get Out has is that it’s not higher on this list (nothing to discredit the movie’s success over-I just saw 20 movies I liked more). It’s one of the most talked about films of the year, and rightfully considered one of its most important. A cutting dissection of modern day race relations between supposedly liberal progressive people, it injects a lot of real tension and horror into a suspiciously friendly environment with the mastery of any of the greats. Daniel Kaluuya is fantastic at being the audience surrogate throughout this, it continues to pull the rug from under you and the final reveal of what’s going on is just so note perfect I won’t dare ruin it. It’s almost impossible to praise it without just speaking to the masses on the social commentary and satirical elements this brings up-Jordan Peele made one of the most impressive debuts of the year. While it may not be a comedy, it’s certainly an impressive documentary.
20. The Florida Project
Well, this was lovely! Sean Baker’s follow-up to Tangerine finds us exploring more seedy confines on the corners of America’s great attractions, this time being the literal theme park attractions of Florida. One of the best depictions of childhood put to film, it’s got an insanely talented child cast lead by newcomer Brooklyn Prince, matched only by mom Bria Vinaite in terms of sheer raw talent. I love that Baker’s films mix sleaze with a vibrant sense of life and colour in the production design and cinematography, it really brings out the humanity of the overlooked underclass. Willem Dafoe gives one of his best performances in years, and I love how much you get challenged by how selfish and nasty the mother is yet still finding reasons to sympathise with her. It’s a complex look of the joys and tears of childhood wrapped up in an ugly world that rejects them, an absolute winner from a talented filmmaker who I can’t wait to see more from.
19. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond-Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton
This was an unexpected surprise. Jim Carrey discovered behind-the-scenes footage from Man on the Moon, where Andy Kaufman’s former partner filmed him recapturing the late comedian. Intercut with interviews from Carrey 20 years later, it’s a bold and challenging look at artistic expression and just how far we go to capture a legacy. I love that the movie really does challenge how far Carrey goes, and whether or not he really lay tribute to Kaufman, made a mockery of his legacy or, surreally enough, actually began channeling the man. It’s funny, it’s off-putting, it’s entirely strange, and it truly captures how far one can go to celebrate a life. One of the best documentaries on acting I’ve ever seen.
Pablo Larrain is such a distinctive filmmaker in that he’s really mastered the art of saying a lot through very little. This has never been truer than in Jackie, a biopic of the widow of John F Kennedy and her experiences in the days after her husband’s assassination. Showing the impact of an important but overlooked figure to the great man, we see her struggles to keep him remembered, but also her personal trials at having her life completely shuffled up and shifted after his death. It’s an almost otherworldly and atmospheric look at the realities of relevance, historical permanence and death, charged forward by an amazingly honest performance by Natalie Portman, one of the year’s best. It’s a biopic that frames itself to be about the greatness of a historically significant woman, but ends up being a character study on how that greatness can leave its toll and hollow you out, leaving you to fight to keep your loved ones safe and happy and not really knowing if the efforts you make on the world will have any remembrance in the future. A historical biopic about history itself.
It’s rare that we get a superhero movie this moving. Logan takes the implicit pathos and tragedy of the character and pushes it right to the forefront. This rather sombre and bleak finale to Hugh Jackman’s 17-year portrayal of the popular mutant feels not only earned, but a fitting tribute to those following him for so long. Add to that equally excellent portrayals of Patrick Stewart and newcomer Dafne Keen, appropriately brutal and uncompromising action beats, a well-designed world paying tribute not only to the X-Men film franchise but their source material, wonderfully clever Western allusions as the predecessor to superhero flicks, and a deeply personal character journey that can turn a dime from funny to tragic, and we have one of the most rewarding and competently produced films in this franchise. Other movies, not just in this genre, wish to be as emotionally satisfying as Logan.
Looking at an incredibly important civil rights case to legalise mixed race marriages in America, Loving takes a rather interesting approach and breaks down this historically significant event for what it is; two very ordinary people in love. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are chillingly great and give career best work, feeling every bit as nuanced and intimate as an onscreen couple can be. What makes this work is that you fall in love with the pair first, and then you get outraged and concerned over the legal strife that faces them. Jeff Nichols has a talent for getting the ordinary out of the extraordinary, and what makes this work is just exactly how ordinary their relationship is. A powerful and downplayed portrayal of a very relatable subject.
Damn, speaking of powerful portrayal of a relatable subject! Daphne is one of the most overlooked movies of the year-an achingly honest portrait of PTSD, depression and the isolated feeling of arrested development. Yet nothing about this feels depressing, due to a quirky and extremely funny portrait by Emily Beechum, meeting Natalie Portman and one more coming up as one of my favourite female performances of the year. I love that all the comedy is character-based rather than tacked on slapstick or situational humour, I love that the cinematography knows exactly how to capture the mood our lead is going through, I love that the supporting performances from Geraldine James, Tom Vaughn-Lawlor and Nathaniel Martello-White feel as alive and three dimensional as our lead yet don’t take the focus from her. This was one of the more real and personable portraits of the struggles of growing up as an adult and finding your place I’ve ever seen, and yet never feels too maudlin or indulgent. I’ve raved about this film enough on my blog, but I cannot stress how much you need to see it if you’re a directionless kiddult such as myself
14. Toni Erdmann
What a hilarious yet depressing comedy that just works on so many levels. Depicting the truly isolated feeling of both the forgotten parent and the workaholic adult, Toni Erdmann skewers the unreality of the personality-driven modern world. Both characters are excellently drawn and acted, managing to flip from being intelligent and pathetic, sometimes all in one go. While Peter Simonischek is a scene stealer with a lot of the biggest laughs, I really love the grounding presence his long-suffering daughter, played by Sandra Huller, gives. While both can be seen as the protagonist, a lot of this is more her story than his as she is forced to accept her father’s place in her life. Managing to find that great balance between OTT craziness and true-to-life honesty, Toni Erdmann is a triumph that perfects multiple moods.
13. The Transfiguration
Martin for the Rugrats generation. There’s a really uncomfortable sweetness to The Transfiguration, taking elements from the aforementioned Romero flick but also Let the Right One In with the disturbing twist that one of the couples is unambiguously a human child who murders and feeds off people. Both the leads give nuanced portraits of two children lost in a slum for very different reasons, whilst Milo’s brother Lewis gives a similarly excellent performance as a man jaded and agoraphobic to his own surroundings. It doesn’t downplay the seriousness of the situation, but also manages to humanise the lead whilst being a rather pointed commentary on media influence and the dangers of escapism. Intelligently told and beautifully shot, capturing the murkiness both in the setting and in our lead.
12. My Life as a Courgette
I made a crack in my first 2017 overview blog that animation was forgettable this year, but My Life as a Courgette absolutely challenges that. It manages the mountainous task of telling a story of abused children, not holding back on the very real and ugly harassment they have suffered, through the lens of stop-motion animation, and makes you care and really connect with its characters in barely over an hour. A triumph in economic storytelling, it’s also a study in how to deal with some pretty taxing damage at a time where you cannot fully process it. Uniquely designed and emotionally draining in places, it offers quite a humanistic and warm outlook into the lives of society’s most vulnerable members.
11. The Fits
Another economically told story, but this one is a lot more subtle and a hell of a lot creepier. What starts off as a coming of age story tackling gender norms transforms into a understated horror flick that tackles race, class and unspoken systemic abuses. I love how this is framed, showing our lead feeling left out not only by her interests but also by her not experiencing the titular fits that are haunting her class. A magnificent display of class struggle and empowerment without ever making clear its intentions, this is an excellent debut feature by Anna Rose Holmer who is a talent to watch out for.