Tuesday 25 June 2019

No action franchises or superhero yarns - Our movie critic's top 20 films of 2017


Irish film The Farthest
Irish film The Farthest
Cillian Murphy in Dunkirk
Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea
Natalie Portman in Jackie
My Life as a Courgette
Colin Farrell in The Killing of a Sacred Dear
Mahershala Ali in Moonlight
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

Beyond the action franchises and superhero yarns, there were some real quality films in 2017. Our film critic picks his favourite 20

1 Dunkirk

Cillian Murphy in Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan's staggering recreation of the siege of Dunkirk was a cinematic masterclass, and my film of 2017. Using real boats, planes and water rather than the easy trick of CGI, Nolan created a moving, pin-sharp, largely wordless evocation of what it must have been like for those poor men stranded on that beach. When those Messerschmitts dipped their noses to attack, you ducked in your cinema seat. A masterpiece.

2 La La Land

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land

The perceived wisdom is that Hollywood can't make musicals any more, but nobody told Damien Chazelle that, and in La La Land he invented a charming modern version of the genre that deliberately invites comparisons with the great MGM movies of the 1940s and 1950s. Emma Stone played a hopeful young film actress, and Ryan Gosling the struggling jazz musician who falls in love with her just as she's about to hit the big time. It all goes delightfully wrong.

3 Manchester by the Sea

Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea

Kenneth Lonergan's beautiful, melancholy, slow-moving drama features an Oscar-winning turn from Casey Affleck. He is Lee, a taciturn Boston janitor who returns to his seaside hometown following the sudden death of his brother. Intending to only stay for the funeral, Lee somehow becomes the reluctant guardian of his brother's teenage son, a predicament that will prove a steep learning curve for them both.

4 Blade Runner 2049

Following in the footsteps of one of the most iconic science-fiction films ever made can't have been easy, but Canadian director Denis Villeneuve definitely has the chops. A mysterious flop at the US box office, Blade Runner 2049 was a thing of beauty, a gorgeously gloomy dystopian sequel starring Ryan Gosling as an android-exterminator who's given the dangerous task of tracking down Rick Deckard, Harrison Ford's assassin from the original film.

5 Jackie

Natalie Portman in Jackie

There was a Marmite quality to Pablo Larraín's biopic, a lush, intense, swelling account of events surrounding the JFK assassination that infuriated some, enchanted others. I was most definitely in the latter camp, and hugely enjoyed the surreal and saturated way in which Larraín and his lead actress Natalie Portman took us into the world of Jackie Bouvier as she faced the greatest test of her life. I loved Mica Levi's tense, up-screeching soundtrack, in fact I loved everything about Jackie.

6 Moonlight

Mahershala Ali in Moonlight

Everyone remembers the moment when Warren Beatty announced that La La Land had won the Best Picture Oscar, before being corrected. The real winner was Moonlight, Barry Jenkins' powerful and poetic account of life in a Miami housing project. Abandoned by his father, smothered but neglected by his drug-addicted mother, Chiron endures a tough start to life before being taken under the wing of an unlikely saviour - the local crack dealer. Jenkins' film subverts ghetto clichés constantly, and forces us to consider addicts, pushers, bullies and crooks as people rather than stereotypes.

7 Lady Macbeth

Based not on Shakespeare's play but a 19th-century Russian novel, William Oldroyd's beautifully photographed film transplants Nikolai Leskov's story to Victorian England, and stars the excellent Florence Pugh as Katherine, an unhappy Northumberland bride. Sold by her father to an elderly coal magnate, she's forced to marry his surly son, and soon grows tired of this joyless arrangement. First she takes a lover, then she begins to consider a more permanent solution to her dilemma.

8 Get Out

Bristling with brains, Jordan Peele's Get Out is both a knowing horror film and a satire on America's oldest problem - racism. Daniel Kaluuya starred as Chris, a black Brooklyn photographer who's dreading his impending visit to his white girlfriend's wealthy parents. Initially, they seem like charming, right-on Obama voters, but something's not right - they have lots of black servants, and they're behaving strangely. A very clever film.

9 A Quiet Passion

Beloved of teenage girls for well over a century, 19th-century poet Emily Dickinson emerges from her morbid myth as a fully-formed and rather difficult individual in Terence Davies' hugely accomplished biopic. Cynthia Nixon plays the mature Dickinson, a warm, passionate and unconventional Massachusetts woman who is slowly ground down by the dreariness of Victorian spinster life. She wrote her poems at night, which perhaps explains their relentless gloominess.

10 Personal Shopper

An art-house thriller with pleasing echoes of Hitchcock, Olivier Assayas' strange and unsettling film is graced by a fine performance from the ever-improving Kristen Stewart. She is Maureen, a young American who lives in Paris and tends to the sartorial needs of Lara, a thundering bitch and international celebrity model. Maureen is distracted from her work by the growing conviction that she's being haunted by the ghost of her late brother.

11 The Florida Project

Sean Baker's grimly poetic drama is set in a welfare hotel that huddles in the shade of a Disney resort. Six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her friends run wild through the corridors of a run-down motel managed with quiet competence by the long-suffering Bobby (a brilliant Willem Dafoe), unaware that they're marginalised, and poor. A brilliant climax juxtaposes the real lives of America's poor with the shimmering towers of Disneyland, a make-believe world where children are cherished, not neglected and despised.

12 A Ghost Story

In David Lowery's brilliant and slightly unhinged drama, Casey Affleck plays a man who finds out what happens after we die. Nothing wonderful, as it turns out, because after 'C' is killed in a car crash, he returns as a kind of supernatural Hamlet, a lonely ghost doomed to watch helplessly from the sidelines as his gorgeous wife moves on with her life, and out of their house. It's an odd, demanding film, but a very special one.

13 Call Me By Your Name

In Luca Guadagnino's lush and evocative drama set in rural Italy in the early 1980s, the Perlmans and their 17-year-old son Elio (Timothée Chalamet) are enjoying a sweltering summer break at their villa when a handsome American called Oliver (Armie Hammer) turns up. Mr Perlman is an archaeology professor, Oliver an up-and-coming academic who's come to help. But during a long, hot summer, the boy and the stranger begin to fall in love.

14 After the Storm

I saw a number of good Japanese films this year, but Hirokazu Kore-eda's haunting drama was the one that stuck in my mind. Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) was once a promising novelist, but now ekes out an undignified living spying on unfaithful spouses. He's divorced but misses his wife and son, and when they accidentally get stranded together at his mother's apartment during a typhoon, he seizes his opportunity.

15 God's Own Country

Part Ken Loach film, part Brontë novel, Francis Lee's atmospheric, bruising drama is set high in the Yorkshire moors and stars Josh O'Connor as Johnny, a terse, hard-drinking young man who bitterly resents having to run his disabled father's sheep farm, and feels like he's been left behind. He's gay, a fact he feels compelled to keep secret from his family until a handsome Romanian worker arrives at the farm to help.

16 Thor: Ragn­arok

The funniest mainstream film of the year was not ostensibly a comedy at all, but the umpteenth instalment in the Marvel Extended Universe. Chris Hemsworth, one suspects, had a lot to do with the hiring of writer/director Taika Waititi, who made the most of Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston's Thor/Loki double act, allowed Jeff Goldblum to sail wildly over the top playing an interstellar despot, and created one of the most winning superhero movies yet.

17 Raw

Julia Ducournau's explosive debut feature gets under your skin from the word go, as gauche first-year student Justine arrives at a French provincial veterinary school. Justine's sternly vegetarian, but when she's bullied into eating raw rabbit's kidney during a hazing ritual, a hidden craving for human flesh is unleashed, leading to all sorts of fascinating unpleasantness. Brilliant, but not for the weak of stomach.

18 The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Colin Farrell in The Killing of a Sacred Dear

Arch, unsettling, ever so slightly mad, Yorgos Lanthimos' surreal drama has shades of Luis Buñuel and stars Colin Farrell as a high-flying heart surgeon who seems to have it all. Steven Murphy lives in a grand McMansion with his beautiful wife (Nicole Kidman) and two kids, but a mistake on the operating table is about to come back and haunt him, as the disturbed son (Barry Keoghan) of a dead patient inveigles his way into his world.

19 The Farthest

The best Irish film of the year, and one of the best documentaries released anywhere this year, Emer Reynolds' Farthest brilliantly describes the creation and launch of the Voyager probes, tiny craft intended to map and photograph our solar systems but also act as a calling card for mankind. Using technology less sophisticated than a modern car-key fob, scientists created a flying orb that was both cultural repository and close observer of everything it passed.

20 My Life as a Courgette

My Life as a Courgette

Made for a paltry $8m but better than any animation Hollywood produced in 2017, this daringly dark Franco-Swiss stop-motion drama ­follows the fortunes of Icare, a dreamy boy who's sent to an orphanage after his neglectful alcoholic mother dies. At first he hates it, but over time ­'Courgette' will find love, and a substitute family, among kids whose stories are sometimes grimmer than his own.

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