So, here I am again at the end of another year (well, a couple of months beyond the end of another year, but never mind). I’ve been posting during the past week about the best films I’ve seen during 2017 (for a general overview of the year click here and for a list of my 20 favourite documentaries click here) and below is a list of my 50 favourite feature films. The only criteria applied is that they were released in the UK during 2017, either in cinemas or on streaming services. This means that certain movies that appeared in US cinemas – and on many critics’ lists – in 2016 are included here (e.g. Manchester By The Sea, La La Land, Moonlight), and that certain well-received US releases from 2017 like Lady Bird are not included here, as they are 2018 UK releases. Got it? Good!
Note: At the time of writing I’m yet to catch up with a few releases from 2017 that I think may have a chance of being somewhere in this top 50, including The Death Of Stalin, After The Storm, The Disaster Artist, A Silent Voice, Hotel Salvation, Professor Marston And The Wonder Women, Happy End and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer; should any of those make it in at a later date I’ll re-order everything accordingly. (Also, I’m not sure whether it’s worth stating, but I’ve seen over 230 2017 releases at the time of making this list.) Oh, and spare a thought for the ‘nearly’ films that ended up just outside of the this top 50, all of which I’d recommend seeing. They include Back To Burgundy, Land Of Mine, The Other Side Of Hope, My Happy Family, The Fits, The Levelling, A Man Called Ove, Fences, Wind River, The Red Turtle and First They Killed My Father.
50. Logan Lucky (Soderbergh): A rather endearing robbery caper set in West Virginia against the backdrop of a popular NASCAR race. It has a lot going for it, not least the rather entertaining and eminently likeable cast, which includes Riley Keogh, Adam Driver and Channing Tatum as the three Logan siblings, who must carry out a heist while the race is on and the small matter of a family curse hangs over their heads. It’s an entertaining, light-hearted way to pass a couple of hours.
49. The Founder (Hancock): An unusual biopic about Ray Kroc, the man who ‘joined’ McDonald’s and transformed it into the world’s biggest fast-food franchise. It’s unusual in the sense that it spends the first hour setting Michael Keaton’s Kroc up as a nice guy, a dreamer with a vision and a man with the will and belief to see it through; the second half, however, systematically destroys his character, emphasising his single-minded ruthlessness in sidelining the real founders, Richard and Maurice McDonald, as well as his first wife Ethel. It appears to be celebrating an American institution yet also undermining it, faintly criticising the business practices and moral decisions that transpire as it grows to a certain size.
48. I Am Not Madame Bovary (Xiaogang): A Chinese film about Li Xuelian (Fan Bingbing), whose attempts to overturn a court’s decision against her bring frustration and cause more and more headaches for officials as time passes. Much of it is intriguingly presented in a circular format – deliberately recalling traditional Chinese art – though occasionally it does change briefly to a square.
47. I Am Not A Witch (Nyoni): An impressive tragicomic debut feature by Rungano Nyoni about a young girl who is accused of being a witch in Zambia and sentenced to a kind of slave labour camp with other accused women, before later being exploited by a government official. It starts out as a coruscating satire, with a number of absurdly funny scenes (or scenes that just seem plainly absurd, at least to my eyes, unfamiliar as I am with the subject matter and the country of Zambia more generally), though Nyoni gradually takes the film into a darker place, and the final act – in which there is much less dialogue – is strikingly solemn.
46. My Life As A Courgette (Barras): Warm-hearted and thoughtful animation about French kids in a care home. Doesn’t skate around issues and it’s all the better for its frankness and openness.
45. God’s Own Country (Lee): This debut feature by Francis Lee seems to me to be the pick of the recent rural-set English dramas (Hope Dickson Leach’s The Levelling missed out on my top 50, though not by much). It’s a queer love story involving the English son of a farmer and a Romanian farmhand, set against the backdrop of the southern Yorkshire Dales, and although it shares certain plot points with Brokeback Mountain this is very much a Brexit-era British film that deals with immigration and racism, the new world causing friction as it rubs up against the old world, and includes the kind of rolling pastureland that occasionally steals the show (but is often kept out of focus with tight, close-up camerawork focusing on leads Alec Secareanu and Josh O’Connor). Ian Hart and Gemma Jones provide good support.
44. Harmonium (Fukada): A small home features prominently in this Japanese family drama, in which an ex-con goes to live and work with a man who we later discover is indebted to him, as a result of an unseen act carried out years beforehand. At first the style and the setting bring to mind Ozu, or perhaps in terms of modern directors Koreeda, but this is no slice of everyday life, and it becomes a much darker film that helps to distance it from the work of others. It’s split into two parts; the first, leading up to two terrible events, is suffused with dread, the second – set years later – a suffocating sadness and a sense that a new character’s genuine attempt to put things right is just going to lead somewhere very dark indeed. Good performances all round.
43. The Big Sick (Showalter): The breakthrough comedy hit of the summer, Michael Showalter’s Apatow-produced The Big Sick was written by comedian Kumail Nanjiani (who stars as himself) and writer Emily Gordon (also Nanjiani’s wife), a version of whom is played in the film by Zoe Kazan, an actor I always enjoy watching and who tends to bring a certain edgy charm to romantic movies (I’m thinking of her self-penned Ruby Sparks, primarily). It’s a sharp, funny comedy that mines the couple’s meet-cute and the early stages of their relationship for chuckles really well, and gets plenty of laughs out of the comedy club circuit and Nanjiani’s Pakistani-American family life, too. The film loses some of its early momentum when Kazan’s character, here named Emily Gardner, falls into a coma, though this does also bring about the appearance of Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents, both of whom are on terrific form. A funny movie with heart and soul.
42. The Beguiled (Coppola): I haven’t seen Don Siegel’s 1971 original, remade in 2017 by Sofia Coppola, but this newer piece certainly has a strong sense of time and place, like all her films – it’s set in and around a girls’ school during the American Civil War, and you can almost feel the oppressive, muggy air and the heat emanating from the swampland surrounding the establishment. It also establishes its characters well, such as three of the women of various ages studying in and running the school (played by Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, none of whom put a foot wrong), as well as the wounded Union Army soldier that they discover and take in (a terrifically oily Colin Farrell). The film looks and sounds beautiful, as you would expect from Coppola, and watching the three main women – who have different roles within the school, as defined by their ages, but who all end up desiring the same thing – as their closed-off, carefully-maintained environment is turned upside-down by this sudden male presence is compelling, particularly during the second half.
41. Suntan (Papadimitropoulos): I was impressed by the performance of Makis Papadimitriou in Athina Rachel Tsangari comedy-drama Chevalier, which came out in 2016, and here he delivers another impressive turn as Kostis, a middle-aged doctor whose behaviour becomes increasingly pathetic and unhinged after he takes up a new post on an unnamed Greek resort island. Both films deconstruct the behaviour of men, though where Chevalier drew laughs from its depiction of absurd male competitiveness Suntan gradually turns into a much darker affair.
40. Christine (Campos): The main question surrounding this biopic – which depicts a brief period in the life of Florida TV reporter Christine Chubbuck, ending with a shocking recreation of her on-screen suicide – is whether it should have been made at all; or, put another way, why bring up this sad event if all you’re really doing is reigniting the age-old ethical arguments surrounding the “if it bleeds, it leads” edict of TV news reportage? Whatever you think, at least it’s a strong, evenly-paced work that recreates the period well enough, and is sympathetic towards the character of Chubbuck, played with deft skill by Rebecca Hall, who should at the very east have been nominated for an Oscar. Tracy Letts and J. Smith-Cameron are also very good in supporting roles.
39. Mother! (Aronofsky): A flawed but ambitious Mother Earth parable that has a slow build up (which I liked) to a chaotically over-the-top final act (which I liked less). Clearly the entire cast and crew got behind the director, and for that reason I think it just about works for me, much in the same way Ben Wheatley’s High Rise, which has a similarly crazy final third, worked for me last year. But fuck you, pretentious director, you’re getting a bloody capital ‘M’ on this blog.
38. Get Out (Peele): This whip-smart Stepford Wives, Society or Invasion Of The Body Snatchers-style horror about race that effectively satirised white, middle class liberal American attitudes towards black people, while also providing the audience with an occasionally comic ride and plenty of thrills. I liked Daniel Kaluuya as photographer Chris, the guy who must spend a weekend in the company of the wealthy family of his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), and I very much enjoyed the awkwardness of Chris’s first encounters with his other half’s nearest and dearest. The movie delivers its key message succinctly and cleverly while also highlighting the fact that in real life black Americans who go missing do not receive anything like the level of attention afforded white Americans in the same predicament. It’s also a lot of fun.
37. Frantz (Ozon): François Ozon’s latest is a sombre tale set between Quedlinburg, Germany and Paris after the end of the First World War, and apparently a remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby, which I’m afraid I haven’t seen. Part mystery, part romance, part social drama, it’s handsomely shot in black and white by Pascal Marti, who won the César for Best Cinematography in 2017, while the tone and subject matter feels concomitant with Ozon’s other work as well as, occasionally, Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon.
36. Detroit (Bigelow): I wish this were higher up, as in dramatising the Algiers Motel incident of 1967 the first hour of Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit offers tense, gripping filmmaking of the highest quality. Sadly this leads to a top-heavy work; detailing the aftermath and telling us what happened next to the people involved is absolutely necessary, but the interviews and courtroom scenes that follow are muted and the film meanders slowly to a finish.
35. Maudie (Walsh): Tender, warm portrait of the Canadian painter Maud Lewis, who lived in and worked out of a small shack in Nova Scotia for much of the 20th century. She is played here by Sally Hawkins, whose intense physical performance is informed by the artist’s struggles with rheumatoid arthritis, though there’s much more to Hawkins’ work here than contortions and pained expressions. The film concentrates less on her art and more on her relationship with husband Everett (Ethan Hawke). A lovely soundtrack adds to a warm viewing experience.
34. The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Mäki (Kuosmanen): Very much an anti-boxing movie (though it’s not, for clarity’s sake, anti-boxing per se). In real life Mäki was a very successful amateur Finnish boxer, competing in the Olympics before later turning professional. He fought Davey Moore in Finland for the World Featherweight Title in 1962, only to lose in two rounds, and this beautiful black and white film by Juho Kuosmanen is set during the run-up to that bout, as well as its immediate aftermath. Really, though, the film is about the relationship between shy, unassuming Mäki (Jarkko Lahti) and his girlfriend Raija Jänkä (played with a huge dose of warm-hearted charm by Finnish singer-turned-actor Oona Airola). It’s a light, entertaining film and the hand-held camerawork and boxing gym locations bringing to mind Shane Meadows’ low-key debut TwentyFourSeven, though the images here are crisper. I thought I was done with boxing movies, which often seem to have turned into parodies of themselves of late, but this is a gem that quickly disarms anyone who mistakenly approaches it with weary cynicism.
33. Jackie (Larrain): While this Jackie Kennedy biopic is not without its problems, it’s still a dizzyingly intense and striking imagination of life within the White House as lived by Jackie-O before and after the death of JFK; it creates a good sense of what it might be like to be in the middle of a media whirl, to be completely unanchored after the killing of a loved one, and to have to find precious time to mourn while also being expected to fulfil certain ongoing obligations. Natalie Portman is really good here and the soundtrack by Mica Levi is excellent, helping to set both tone and pace.
32. Loving (Nichols): The quietly-told tale of a landmark court case, anchored by two impressive lead performances (Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton as Mildred and Richard Loving, who fought Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law). It’s a film that takes plenty of time to explore the couple’s deep love for one another, as well as their individual reactions as their case escalates through the courts. I think it’s a film that will be forgotten about by many as time passes, which is a shame.
31. Logan (Mangold): It was nice to see superhero films moving in a slightly different direction last year, particularly with regard to the gender of a main protagonist and a director (Wonder Woman), but also the greater emphasis on humour elsewhere (Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming). However Logan‘s the 2017 release that really seemed to stand out from the pack to me and go against the grain, despite the fact that its seriousness and the focus on a character who has appeared many times before on the big screen probably counted against it in the eyes of many amateur and professional critics. The action was stripped back and bone-crunchingly violent, the dialogue sweary and sparse, and it was great to see Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine at his baddest after all these years. The western influences were presented a little clumsily at times, but at least this was unusual.
30. On Body And Soul (Enyedi): Ildikó Enyedi’s first film for nine years mixes absolutely beautiful shots of a shared dream, in which deer stalk one another in a frozen woodland, with a drama about the complicated relationship that develops between the two dreamers in question, who are also workers in a Hungarian abbatoir. One is a taciturn man (Géza Morcsányi), the other a woman with Asperger’s (Alexandra Borbély), and the quiet, peaceful aura created by these two characters is punctured occasionally by startling imagery.
29. Marjorie Prime (Almereyda): A low-key, slow and satisfying drama set 40 or 50 years into the future, at a point when technological developments have enabled humans to live with holographic representations of deceased loved ones, all of which are able to learn and become more realistic the more that they are conversed with. The film grapples with its themes and ideas – memory repression, misremembered or edited history, AI in the future, to name but a few – in a way that I found pleasing, and the overall effect is, I suppose, a little bit of Blade Runner 2049 crossed with a little bit of Black Mirror crossed with a little bit of Robot And Frank, even though it’s also much, much subtler and calmer and reflective than the combination of such works might suggest. Also – nice to see Tim Robbins and Geena Davis again.
28. The Salesman (Farhadi): The title of Asghar Farhadi’s latest Oscar-winning drama refers to Arthur Miller’s play Death Of A Salesman, of which we see snippets (rehearsals, and then later, performances). Some of Miller’s themes feed into this film’s overarching narrative, which concerns two of the actors in the play, Emad and Rana, a married couple; on the face of it they have a good, solid relationship, though the opening prologue – in which their apartment building is evacuated before it begins to collapse – hints at problems to come. Farhadi regulars Shahab Hosseini (A Separation) and Taraneh Alidoosti (About Elly) do particularly well in the lead roles, delivering convincing performances that mostly make you believe in their characters, their decisions and their actions.
27. The Handmaiden (Park): A twisty three-parter, effectively starting out as an elaborate, class- and race-focused period con movie and then – typically of Park – turning into something quite different indeed: a film that easily shifts back and forth from its central queer (and often explicitly-rendered) love story to psychosexual drama and even twisted revenge thriller. It’s a committed, fast-paced affair, but my suspicions that this Korean director is always trying too hard to dazzle his audience with spectacle simply won’t go away.
26. Graduation (Mungiu): Cristian Mungiu’s latest drama sees a chain of events unfold after a promising student (Maria-Victoria Dragus) is attacked outside her school, an incident that affects her ability to perform in a crucial exam with a scholarship to the University of Cambridge riding on the outcome. Out of this horrible situation comes a cautionary tale about corruption and the calling in of favours within modern Romanian society. It has an excellent script by Mungiu and there’s a really impressive ensemble performance at its heart. Bleak and downbeat, but also sincere and thoughtful.
25. The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected) (Baumbach): More Upper East Side shenanigens from Noah Baumbach, who has managed to wring the first excellent performance out of Adam Sandler in many a year. It’s basically an anthology film about one family, as hinted at by the title, and I think the best praise I can give is that I wanted to see more of nearly every character after it finished. Elizabeth Marvel and Ben Stiller also impress.
24. In Between (Hamoud): Three female flatmates in Tel Aviv face struggles for independence, equality, acceptance and tolerance within a patriarchal, conservative society. It’s a well-written, well-acted, sharp piece of drama.
23. Paddington 2 (King): Really great fun from the first moment to the very last, with a wonderfully self-effacing turn by Hugh Grant as the villain. It incorporates animated sequences in a lovely way, puts forward simple, positive messages and it’s probably as good as the first Paddington… perhaps even better.
22. Mudbound (Rees): That still-fairly-rare occurrence… a high-quality Netflix feature film (see also The Meyerowitz Stories, above). There are really good performances across the board here, including Mary J. Blige’s Oscar-nominated supporting turn as a farmworker, Garrett Hedlund’s troubled veteran and Carey Mulligan’s love-torn city girl, as well as stunning photography by Rachel Morrison (again Oscar-nominated) that seems to simultaneously highlight the bleakness and toughness of the land in Mississippi while also capturing serene beauty of its sunsets. The story is powerful.
21. A Quiet Passion (Davies): Cynthia Nixon excels as the acerbic, witty and forward-thinking American poet Emily Dickinson in this biopic from Terence Davies. Using just one (admittedly fairly large) location, it looks great (thanks to the wonderful period production design), and it’s often very funny, with Dickinson’s superbly caustic zingers arriving regularly throughout. There’s heart and soul in there too.
20. 20th Century Women (Mills): One of the things I like best about this film by Thumbsucker director Mike Mills is that it switches its focus so skilfully between its characters, so on the one hand you get passages that feel very much like a typical coming of age film with a teenage boy as the centre of the known universe, and then others that concentrate more on the life of Annette Bening’s matriarch; in fact all of the main characters are well-drawn and get plenty of time on screen. There are some creative montages and retro special effects to denote the late-70s California setting, too.
19. Lady Macbeth (Oldroyd): This chilling debut film by William Oldroyd is loosely based on Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov and contains a star-making turn by Florence Pugh as Katherine, a scheming young woman rebelling against the older men she has been forced to live with: one her cruel, miserable husband Alexander (Paul Hilton), the other her cruel, miserable father-in-law Boris (Christopher Fairbank). Alice Birch’s screenplay is very impressive and Ari Wegner’s cinematography emphasises the austerity of the house.
18. Slack Bay (Dumont): Bruno Dumont’s black comedies mix slapstick and farce with cutting social commentary, gruesome acts and the otherworldy bleakness of the north of France, and I guess they’re not for everyone but from what I’ve seen I like the mish-mash very much. This tale of tourists going missing while holidaying on the Normandy coast includes a pair of bungling detectives and hilarious turns from Fabrice Luchini and Juliette Binoche, who play a wealthy brother and sister.
17. Aquarius (Filho): Impressive, thoughtful and unhurried Brazilian drama by Kleber Mendonça Filho, notable for its excellent central performance by Sônia Braga as Dona Clara, a retired music critic, cancer survivor, widow and mother, and also the last resident of the titular beachside block of flats in Recife. The story is about gentrification, and greed, but the film is also a reflection on time and (a particular) space, subtly exploring family relationships, individualism and memory.
16. Call Me By Your Name (Guadagnino): I didn’t fall for this romantic drama as much as some viewers seemed to (it’s the most swooned-over release of 2017, for sure), but I still liked and appreciated it very much; a tender, gay love story that’s perhaps a bit reticent about actual sex (hey, why show that when you could show lovely meals in the late-afternoon Italian sun, eh?), it features a really good breakthrough performance by Timothée Chalamet and has a nice, woozy charm. Do you judge a love story by the way you feel about the outcome at the end? I sometimes do, and if I don’t care about what has happened to the characters I don’t think it’s a particularly successful film; not the case here – the end is emotionally hard-hitting.
15. Raw (Ducournau): Raw is a visceral, highly-stylised European horror that doffs its cap regularly to Italian giallo, both in terms of the bloody, over-the-top, exploitation-style violence it contains and the lurid colours employed on occasion, which are cleverly incorporated into the plot and the production design so that the film also manages to retain a certain sense of realism, at least in terms of its setting. Events that transpire, and the way that they are depicted at times, are way more out there. A great, gruesome debut.
14. Toni Erdmann (Ade): A bittersweet and keenly-observed comedy with two terrific protagonists that uses the comedy of embarrassment really well. I think I under-appreciated it at the time of viewing, partly because I’d expected so much after all the hype, and the more I thought about its comic set-pieces afterwards the more I warmed to it. Two really great performances by Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek to enjoy as well.
13. Elle (Verhoeven): It’s a tonally-mixed but very compelling movie, in which Isabelle Huppert’s commanding performance holds everything together; her apparent ease at portraying coldness-mixed-with-resilience makes her the perfect fit for the role. It’s clear that her Dutch director/collaborater shows no sign of entering into a tamer, late-life period, as this is among his most brutal, violent and unsettling work, at times, yet it also contains scenes that are among his most drily witty.
12. The Florida Project (Baker): There are excellent performances here, and a sugary, colourful look that captures perfectly the way that the pastels of the Walt Disney World Resort seep beyond its boundaries and across the Floridian businesses that surround it and rely to a certain degree on it. The setting is a hotel where many of the residents (single mothers and their children, predominantly) are apparently fighting to stay just above the poverty line and keep a roof over their heads. Baker’s film is sympathetic and non-judgmental, but it doesn’t shy away from showing the consequences of a certain character’s actions either. It effortlessly slips from presenting this candy-coloured world from a child’s point of view to the points of view of the stressed adults who inhabit it.
11. Certain Women (Reichardt): A film that is partly about three faltering relationships: between a lawyer and her client; between a woman and her family as they set about building a dream home; and between a young law teacher and a ranch hand student.
The scene in which a truck rolls off the road is one of the saddest, most heartbreaking cinematic images I’ve seen for quite some time, but there’s a mournfulness seeping in throughout this movie, perhaps reflected most by the snowy, barren Montana landscape.
10. Heal The Living (Quillévéré): The narrative in this excellent new film by Katell Quillévéré, written by Quillévéré and Gilles Taurand, drifts from one character to another, all of whom are linked together in some way by a dying patient in a hospital and his heart. There are excellent performances and some very persuasive sequences that indicate the strange state that exists between dreams and reality, which are beautifully shot by Tom Harari. There’s also a really lovely soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat that contemplates the images and the delicate nature of the film. A moving, well-considered, subtle study of life, death, grief and hope.
9. Personal Shopper (Assayas): A difficult film to pin down, as it comfortably slips between genres without much in the way of fuss. It is on the one hand an existential drama largely set within the fashion industry and the celebrity world, though it’s apparent from the off that Assayas wishes to deglamorise fashion, or at least the purchasing of it (if not the actual act of wearing). It’s also a chiller, a genuinely unnerving ghost story and a psychosexual thriller that leaves its fantastical phenomena mostly unexplained – we see and ‘hear’ the same things that Maureen hears, but even by the end it’s still unclear whether we’re supposed to believe in these interactions or judge Kristen Stewart’s character as someone who is a) able to communicate with the dead or b) coming apart at the seams. Fun to pick apart, and it’s a superb central performance by Stewart.
8. Silence (Scorsese): Martin Scorsese’s rumination on belief and persecution includes two good actors in the lead roles whose careers are still very much in the early stages, and I’m not sure either is really suited to the role of a 17th century Jesuit priest or is quite able to carry the weight of such a film at the present moment. I just wish there were a couple of great turns here; as it is the two leads are overshadowed by Yōsuke Kubozuka, who is excellent in a smaller role as translator/guide-turned-betrayer Kichijiro. It certainly looks very good – lots of lavish images from Rodrigo Prieto – and Thelma Schoonmaker is of course an excellent editor who has been at the peak of her powers for as long as her illustrious collaborator. The subject matter of faith – familiar to long-term Scorsese fans – and long running time evidently put plenty of people off, which is a shame.
7. La La Land (Chazelle): This celebrated musical is equal parts miserably relentless, tentatively hopeful, brilliantly effervescent and quietly resigned, just like the four seasons it uses for its structure, and even though it’s basically selling a lie it’s no hardship to sit back and let Chazelle and co flog it to you one more time, with feeling; I’ve tired of Hollywood’s endless celebrating of itself in the past, but I have to admit I can turn a blind eye (and even enjoy myself) when it’s trying to entertain you as hard as it does here, and though it’s easy to be cynical about the success of the characters in terms of achieving their goals, it is at least delivered with a welcome underlying note of sadness. Considering that no other characters beyond those portrayed by the two leads are developed in any meaningful way, and that the film’s running time extends beyond two hours, Gosling and Stone do a terrific job.
6. A Ghost Story (Lowery): An emotionally stirring, striking and heartfelt study of a ghost who is trapped in the house in which he once lived, while corporeal, and who is himself traumatised by the arrival of new residents and haunted by the slowly-disappearing memories of his life. Its appeal lies in its mystery, its otherness, and what the director does here with space and time is very impressive indeed. It grabbed me from the off and it delivers on its intriguing premise.
5. Blade Runner 2049 (Villeneuve): This is an excellent science-fiction film that smartly takes ideas and themes from the original Blade Runner in new directions, and also retains certain aspects of the look, soundtrack and feel of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece while also feeling very much like Villeneuve’s own vision. It also keeps the sense of bleakness and the lack of hope you associate with film noir – a key influence on the first film – but dispenses with the idea of fun, oddball characters and creations, which I think works pretty well. No smiles to be had here.
4. Manchester By The Sea (Lonergan): This awards season contender from Kenneth Lonergan is a strong, intelligent and superbly-acted drama. It deals with grief in an intelligent fashion, refusing to bend to convention by offering a silver lining or some sort of redemption for anyone at the end of a tough and chilly-looking two hours (it’s snowy and cold in a number of flashbacks, as well as the scenes set in the present day). It’s also filled with interesting characters who have been written with nuance by someone who understands people (as opposed to someone who just knows how to write people in movies) — there are contradictions in terms of the behaviour of nearly everyone in this story, whether they’re going through periods of intense change in their lives or have recently been through them and are still struggling to adapt on the other side, and Lonergan has rendered all of them believable, whether they are central to the story or drop out of it for long periods. It’s a film with a heavy heart, but there are alleviating laughs to be found, as well as strong editing by Jennifer Lame, which manages to fuse the daydreamed reminiscences with the present very well indeed.
3. Good Time (Safdie, Safdie): A great, wild ride of a New York movie by the Safdie brothers, one that channels the scuzz of Scorsese’s sleazy, lowlife-ridden streets in the 1970s and also the on-the-hoof indie spirit of Cassavetes in equal measure. Robert Pattinson is excellent as Connie Nikas, a morally bankrupt small time hustler whose attempt at a bank robbery with the help of his younger, mentally-challenged brother Nick (Ben Safdie, co-director) goes spectacularly wrong, kicking off a chain of events that take place over the course of one night. A dizzying mix of lysergic visuals, kinetic energy, great acting and Oneohtrix Point Never’s pulsing score.
2. Dunkirk (Nolan): Christopher Nolan’s 100-minute-long film is effectively one very long, very tense sequence that builds and builds towards a particularly thrilling finale. I was gripped throughout and felt for the first time in a long time that I was watching a blockbuster worthy of the name. Dunkirk is much more than just an extended, bravura action sequence, though; it has Mark Rylance’s kind-faced performance and Tom Hardy’s narrowing eyebrows; the otherness of the icy Channel and the miserable rain-swept beach; Harry Styles’ unexpectedly effective panic and Hans Zimmer’s apt metronomic score. There’s a lot here to enjoy.
1. Moonlight (Jenkins): This is a beautiful, heartfelt and superbly-acted film that in my opinion fully deserved its Oscar wins (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay), and I say that despite thoroughly enjoying other contenders. Moonlight flows so well through its three parts that you barely notice the introduction of different, older actors to play the main character (‘Little’, ‘Chiron’ and ‘Black’, depending on the period of his life shown), and as so many critics and fans have pointed out it was refreshing to see such a nuanced, thoughtful take on black, gay, American, male sexuality in mainstream cinema (because let’s be clear…although an indie film shot for less than $2m this was propelled into the big leagues as a result of its critical success). Emotionally resonating – because even given my own distance from the material as a white, straight, English man there’s enough universally-understood sadness and longing pulsing through the film for anyone to grasp hold of – and with gorgeous Floridian cinematography by James Laxton (who, a year ago, was probably best known for lensing some of Kevin Smith’s recent box office bombs), I’d struggle to name a better film released since I began blogging four or five years ago. Elegant and enthralling.