My favourite films of 2017

Compiling this list of 2017 films has been an interesting task. There are usually a couple of films which miss the previous year’s deadline due to UK release dates, but it’s not often that so many of them make my ‘best of’ list. This year, some of my favourite films on this list may seem like old hat because they came and went with the Academy Awards earlier this year, having qualified with their 2016 US release dates. But they didn’t get UK release until 2017, so that’s why you’ll see them here.

The other observation is the number of films on my favourites list featuring LGBT characters – 2017 seems to have provided a lot of great storylines, and a lot of high-profile films.

Sadly, there are a handful of films I would have liked to have seen but which passed me by: The Florida Project, Good Time, The Beguiled, Get Out (this one mostly because I struggle with horror films and so chickened out) are among these.

A complete list of my 2017 viewing can be found here on Letterboxd or click on the titles to see my thoughts on the top ten.

Let’s start with a quick list of numbers 20 – 11:

20 – The Red Turtle

19 – Logan Lucky

18 – Logan

17 – Blade Runner 2049

16  – Stronger

15 – Aquarius

14 – Beach Rats

13 – Thor: Ragnarok

12 – After the Storm

11 – The Killing of a Sacred Deer

10 – Columbus

A very calm and beautifully shot film about guilt, grief, anger, despair, with two great performances from John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson.

9 – A Ghost Story

Starts out being about very personal grief and connection, and becomes about the nature of death, time and memory, and deals in vast themes, all featuring a man in a sheet.

8 – The Salesman

A peak at feelings of emasculation in the Iranian middle-classes as a husband fails to cope with an attack on his wife. Asghar Farhadi wins again.

7 – The Handmaiden

A beautiful, sometimes over-the-top creation – would we expect anything less from Chan-wook Park?

6 – Juste la fin du monde

The awkward family dinner as only Xavier Dolan can.

5 – La La Land

Perhaps when we were all younger and full of future dreams the world appeared to us in Technicolor, much like the musicals of the 50s which director Damien Chazelle captures here. But he also asks us deep questions about those youthful dreams too.

4 – God’s Own Country

Beautiful film with an impressive performance from Josh O’Connor – John’s evolution from angry, lonely young man to where he ends up is beautifully nuanced, and heart-breaking.

3 – Manchester by the Sea

I know, Affleck is persona non grata, but it doesn’t alter the fact that I found this a heart-breaking study of guilt and grief.

Joint 1 – Call Me By Your Name / Moonlight

First time since doing these lists that I genuinely can’t choose one of these over the other, so I’m having a joint first place this year.

Call Me By Your Name presents something incredibly 80s and yet also something timeless. It doesn’t matter whether the protagonists are straight or gay, this is a universal story about growing up, growing wise, feeling love and feeling pain.

Moonlight offers similar ideas, but in a very different setting. It’s accompanied by a beautiful score and gorgeous cinematography, with occasional shades of Wong-Kar Wai in tone – a sense of longing, searching and unrequited feelings permeates.

And as I couldn’t separate my top two, this means that Luca Guadagnino has topped my list for the second year in a row!

Don’t hold your breath for 2018 though Luca, as my discomfort with watching horror films might bar me from seeing the Suspiria remake due next year.

My least favourite films of 2017

These are the ones that brought me least pleasure, or most annoyance, during the past 12 months. Some of them put me at odds with many of you, I know!

Click on the film title below for my original thoughts on each one.

Favourite films of the year coming up in the next post!

Number 5 – Assassin’s Creed

Silly. And I wonder if the wonderful Marion Cotillard just doesn’t work well in English.

Number 4 – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Irritating. I am just not on board with this lot.

Number 3 – Lady Macbeth

Apparently this has some humour in it and the fact that I didn’t get that at all is probably why I was just glad when this was over.

Number 2 – Song to Song

More a visual art installation than a film.

Number 1 – The Circle

Could have been really interesting but some highly improbably choices on the part of Emma Watson’s character just made this terrible.

Our Souls at Night (2017)

I wish someone had told me earlier that this film was directed by Ritesh Batra because I wouldn’t have put off watching it for so long. Batra also directed The Lunchbox a couple of years ago, which is a lovely, gentle story of two strangers gradually getting to know each other.

Although Jane Fonda and Robert Redford’s characters already know each other when this story starts, the director’s same gentle touch applies.

The two actors are a great match for each other; their working history together allows the viewer to trust their characters from the start (even if they don’t quite trust each other) and go to with them on this strange, yet very honest journey of older years.

I’ve not always been a fan of Jane Fonda’s work, but she is particularly good here leading the relationship through its complications and not being afraid to say what she wants, while maintaining the dignity and responsibilities of a mother and grandmother.

Obviously I can’t let an appearance from Matthias Schoenaerts go unmentioned – it might be a little strange casting a Belgian as Fonda’s son in small-town America, but he does his familiar ‘rough around the edges’ turn and I’d rather see him than others.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

I apologise.

When I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I said I wasn’t sure about Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. In my defence, I did also say that this might make more sense in future instalments.

And so it delights me no end to say that I was wrong, and that Adam Driver’s tormented soul is electrifying in every scene he is in. I loved him!

Actually I liked quite a lot about The Last Jedi. Mark Hamill is great as Grumpy Old Luke. The enthusiastic action hero of my (and his) youth has matured into a jaded, disillusioned hermit, but when his time comes to step up, he does what is required in spectacular fashion.

I’m also a fan of the number of women, and particularly older women, who got to do good stuff. Carrie Fisher is, of course, both heart-breaking and heart-warming to watch. Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose gets her moment, and Laura Dern is great – although I’m not sure about her character. She was great though. And then there’s Daisy Ridley. Her scenes with Grumpy Old Luke are fun but the conversations and action scenes she shares with Adam Driver are brilliant. That scene in the red room must be one of the best sequences in a Star Wars film ever.

Slight disappointments where Poe and Finn are concerned, in that their characters didn’t seem to get the opportunities that it looked like they would following The Force Awakens, and the fact that they were largely kept apart for the duration. Nor was I fan of whatever Benicio del Toro was doing.

I do also think that The Last Jedi could do to lose 20 minutes – I was more interested in the characters than the action so I did drift off a little during some of the aerial sequences.

But I liked what it did, I liked the worlds it presented to us, and I loved Kylo Ren. Thank you for that, Rian Johnson.

Aquarius

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

A woman of later years (Sonia Braga), independent and strong-minded, refuses to be forced out of her apartment so that a property company can build a new development on the site.

I love this woman.

No matter what life throws at her, she knows her own mind and sticks to her plan.

She suffers serious illness, bereavement, grown-up children who don’t visit her enough or who take her for granted, intimidation and harassment from the property company – and she refuses to be beaten down by any of it.

She has a fun circle of friends, a good relationship with her brother, the respect of those who know her, and the strength of will not to back down when threatened.

Braga inhabits Clara so perfectly, and the writing is so beautiful, that I felt like I had known her for ages and would like to be in her circle.

It’s fabulous that an older woman is the centre of such a story and not a peripheral aunt or grandmother.

Beach Rats (2017)

Frankie’s a young man with a group of macho friends who like to hang out on the boardwalk and eye up the young women in the evenings. They fill their time playing ball sports together and smoking weed, and have a very laddish time. At home though, Frankie has a seriously ill father and a penchant for searching online for older men with whom he can meet up. But Frankie is so much a part of his macho circle of friends that it is impossible for him to find a way to tell them that he is gay, and in covering it up provokes even more internal conflict and external violence than before.

What’s amazing is how much of this internal torment we see just in the face of Harris Dickinson. The camera is often really close-up on him and as he’s a young man of few words, fleeting expressions convey everything. It’s an incredible performance from such a fresh face.

There’s something going on with one of his friends, the quietest of the group, who sinks into the background on more than one occasion when things are getting tough. It’s almost imperceptible and we never get to the bottom of why, but it’s almost as if he too is gay or at the very least has a crush on Frankie, and chooses to absent himself instead of joining in when things get too rough.

I think it’s a mark of a good film when I continue to wonder what has happened to Frankie since I left him on the beach, and I hope he has found some happiness in the meantime. Although somehow I doubt it.

Suburbicon (2017)

Such potential, such a disappointment.

On the one hand, I’m a fan of Matt Damon and Julianne Moore, and they are good, or as good as they can be.

On the other, the two storylines just don’t mesh at all. The (presumably) Coen brothers-penned thread is full of dark humour and sees Damon and Moore involved in fraudulent shenanigans under the investigative eye of MVP Oscar Isaac. That’s all well and good, but there isn’t enough of a story to make a full movie. So then there’s an additional thread featuring the next-door neighbours, an African-American family who are subjected to terrible attacks in their own home by the white inhabitants of the residential estate into which they have just moved. Other than living next door there seems to be no other connection, and in fact their situation is infinitely more interesting.

I suppose there is the contrast between the white adults getting away with horrible crimes with no-one batting an eyelid, where as the totally innocent black family has their life destroyed for no reason whatsoever, but the two halves are not balanced, and I was left underwhelmed.