It’s been a great year for movies. From the blockbusters that broke box office records (‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Wonder Woman’, ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’) to the new-found classics with a real social impact (‘Get Out’, ‘Call Me by Your Name’), many films released this year will doubtlessly be well-remembered for decades to come. There’s been controversial releases from much-loved directors (‘mother!’, ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’), some fantastic sequels, remakes and franchise continuations (‘Logan’, ‘Blade Runner 2049’, ‘Thor: Ragnarok’) and even a new Rotten Tomatoes record for critical acclaim (‘Lady Bird’). Of course, as per usual, some movies haven’t quite hit the mark, but best not to mention those. Instead, we’ll talk about the movies that we truly loved in 2017, the very best of the best, in a year that’s been very important for film. Without further ado, our top 15 of the year:
15. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Martin McDonagh’s latest is a dark comedy about the ongoing anger in our world and what happens as it explodes into something far worse. But for as much as past mistakes may have driven one’s own soul to where they are headed to in the present, Martin McDonagh’s newest black comedy isn’t so much what would have been expected. What I first entered thinking it would be another vulgar comedy in the veins of In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths wasn’t only that, but to my own surprise it was also a rather stunning portrait of grief – in order to balance the satire present with the way the American morale is perceived by many. In this world that Martin McDonagh has created, there are no heroes, there’s only anger and it explodes into more anger, we laugh along but quickly enough it bites back since we know that in this world we know that there is no greater authority that wants to control the anger. It only feels more fitting in this day and age when you come to consider that America’s driving force is anger. In the most unexpected ways, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is actually rather hopeful amidst the darker surface and it’s also Martin McDonagh’s most optimistic film – driven by a powerhouse performance by Frances McDormand. Right next to her own role in the Coen brothers’ Fargo, it seems like the most fitting counterpart because of their antonymous morals, but it’s that anger it drives from one’s own mind that leaves ourselves to reflect upon what we have in store for the future.
– Jaime Rebanal
14. A Fantastic Woman
There’s a scene in Sebastián Lelio’s 2017 outing A Fantastic Woman (Una Mujer Fantástica) where the lead character Marina dances to musical number with the backdrop professional dancers in a nightclub. She is dressed in eighties disco queen attire, and the scene is completed with a set of colourful lights hitting her every movie. For the viewers, it is a welcoming look into her mindspace — an out of reality labyrinth of pure emotion and catharsis — which is especially important since the scene comes right after one of the most uncomfortable and traumatic moments of the film and serves as a secondary personal climax for the character. What it also does, is that it captures the essence of queer life and its condition within the realm of stigmatization and hate in an extremely relevant, personal, but also universal way: with its saddest and highest moments hand in hand, dancing, to a soundtrack of pop music. That scene by itself alone, deserves so many awards for what it is — and even if the movie had nothing else to its advantage, it would still be one of the best experiences of the year. Thankfully, there is more, and director Leilo, along with his co-writer Gonzalo Maza, succesfully highlight the same venerable yet brave soul of the script from beginning to end. And then there’s also Daniela Vega, who shines like the brightest star as she wears the lines and the look with an atmosphere of such relatability that one cannot help themselves but to feel as if the screen is a vortex that is leaking its reality into this one when watching it. In the end, A Fantastic Woman might not be the perfectly crafted film, but it is a perfectly crafted and most importantly intimate showcase of storytelling that finds beauty in struggle, and doesn’t let go of that brightness even in its darkest hour.
– Deniz Çakır
13. Blade Runner 2049
As far as belated sequels at least 30 years in the making can go, Blade Runner 2049 is as good as they get. Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s cult science fiction film perfectly recaptures the legacy of Blade Runner, thus leaving behind one of the most satisfying experiences of the year. Like the original, Villeneuve doesn’t ever let go of the irony that he has created a humanistic science fiction film despite his characters being mechanic on the surface – for it was what had allowed the original to resonate with many over the years. But even if it only matches the original film in mere moments rather than as a whole, what Blade Runner 2049 still manages to provide is a psychologically stimulating experience that expands upon the philosophy of the original with such ease. If it had already taken so much time for Ridley Scott’s original film to acquire its status as one of the most influential films of the science fiction genre, then I can only imagine what time will set up for Blade Runner 2049. The more I let it sit in my mind, the more I am convinced it’s Denis Villeneuve’s best film yet, for never does it lose touch with the power that the original had carried – from the differences between artificial and the real, and what happens when the line between the two is blurred to that point where we cannot tell anymore. Scott had sought to create a story “more human than human,” and Villeneuve only brings Scott’s vision further from where it stands.
– Jaime Rebanal
12. Good Time
After seeing Heaven Knows What, I was very interested in what the Safdie brothers would do with their next film. Good Time aired this year in competition at Cannes, and ever since the trailer for it dropped, I was pumped out of my mind. A stylish neon drenched thriller in the vein of After Hours? In 2017? Sign me up!
After finally seeing the film in August, I knew it was something incredibly special. It wasn’t just a fast paced drama/thriller with excellent performances and a great score, but it was filled with different symbols and hints at what the true deeper meanings of the film are. One of our authors Kareem Baholzer did a brilliant analysis of the final moments in the film, and I would suggest you read his piece for some great insight into the films deeper meanings.
This is a film I’ve seen three times already this year, and I will definitely be seeing it a fourth time very soon. It’s one of my new favorites, and one of the year’s best. Watch it if you haven’t, it’s a total blast.
– Ryan Solomon
11. Get Out
Horror films get a lot of slack because of how many seem to fall below par, but there are so many great films within the genre and Get Out joins that rank. This won’t be the first time it’s said and won’t be the last but this is a truly smart horror film. The concept is one of the best things about this films and that’s not to do a disservice to the writing or directing or acting which are also incredible. Jordan Peele has assembled a great film for his directorial debut and it’s a really impressive showing for someone we’d normally associate with straight up comedy. Get Out does still hold a lot of humour but it’s in no shape or form a comedy film (even if the Golden Globes would call it one). Get Out is always a horror film first and foremost and any horror film that can get a sold out audience truly cheering on the lead character and applauding his attempts to survive has truly done a good job.
– Tyrone Lewis (@TyroneLewis22)
10. A Quiet Passion
In a year full of biopics, British auteur Terence Davies’ latest film ‘A Quiet Passion’ is a one that stands out. The film tells the life of one of the most famous poets ever lived, Emily Dickinson, from her youth till her death. What makes ‘A Quiet Passion’ so special amongst other biopics is that there is no over the top dramatisation of Dickinson’s life, no moment of her life is played out as more significant than others but each moment, each scene, holds an essence, serves to the whole and comes together as a testimony to Dickinson’s rather uneventful but still full of emotion life. Maybe Davies succeeds at such quiet but effective portrayal because of his closeness to the poet whom he said he sees himself in. It is sometimes in her most non-important moments that we see Dickinson’s personality; the way her face falls when she finds out she came second in a local bread-making competition tells more to the audience about her more than any dramatic moment could. Here comes the power of Cynthia Nixon’s performance, one of the best and most underrated performances of the year. Nixon, who was a huge fan of Dickinson before taking the role, brings perfect nuance and sensibility to the role. She plays Dickinson’s unlikable qualities with the same sympathy as her good ones. The way she reads her poems, which are heard in voiceover throughout the film, are simple, soothing even, not filled with over the top sentimental way that poems are sometimes read, but they are more powerful in their simpleness for they compliment her quiet life. This beautifully directed and acted portrayal of an extraordinary poet is a must see of 2017.
9. The Shape of Water
Guillermo Del Toro calls ‘The Shape of Water’ his favourite child, a child that his whole career built up to. The film centers around Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute cleaning lady who finds love and compassion in, and with, the most unlikely creature, an Amphibian Man (Doug Jones), who was captured by the violent Strickland (Michael Shannon). ‘The Shape of Water’ takes place in 1960s but as Del Toro puts it, it’s a fairytale for troubled times which we sure are in at the moment. The film captures American anxiety and demonstrates how the glorified past that people are yearning for, were only great for certain people, “white protestant men”. Del Toro takes the cliche narrative of white handsome lead man saving the beautiful woman from the monster and turns it into a story where an overlooked woman and a creature save each other, in more ways than one, from the monster that is Strickland and the American anxiety he represents. Elisa, her co-worker and friend Zelda (an African American woman), her best friend Giles (an elderly gay man) and her unlikely ally Dr. Hoffstetler (a Russian spy) are the people Strickland sees as “not created in Lord’s image” and the people who end up as the heroes of the story. What brings this group of people together is, though it sounds cliche, is love and compassion for each other, and for the Amphibian Man who is as “other” as it gets. In ‘The Shape of Water’, Del Toro gives us a heroine unlike any other we’ve seen; an ordinary woman with “an ethereal beauty”, a woman whose sexuality is shown without exploitation, a woman who just happens to fall in love with a river god from the Amazons, we’ve all been there.
– Dilara Elbir
8. A Ghost Story
‘A Ghost Story’ is David Lowery’s magnum opus — if a magnum opus was a quiet, meditative, surreal art film on a micro-budget. Following his first blockbuster, the (surprisingly good) live action remake of ‘Pete’s Dragon’, Lowery returned to his indie roots, reunited with his ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ stars Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, and filmed ‘A Ghost Story’ in secret. At once a devastating portrait of grief, the endless search for purpose in life, and the history of the entire universe, the story largely surrounds a married couple who are abruptly torn apart by the death of the husband. The husband returns as a ghost, in its classic form of the bed-sheet with holes cut out for eyes. (So if you hate Casey Affleck as much as I do, you will be glad to know you rarely see his face.) The most memorable scene is likely to be the unbroken 5 minute shot of Rooney Mara eating a vegan pie. This scene is more than just a talking point for your post-movie discussion though — it’s a devastating manifestation of the all-consuming grief that slowly unfolds through a beautifully subtle performance from Rooney Mara. For all its quirkiness, ‘A Ghost Story’ is simply moving in the way it forces you to think about life and death, love and loss, everything and nothing.
– Iana Murray
7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
As of late, to give praise to ‘The Last Jedi’ is to incur the wrath of dissatisfied fanboys. The latest instalment of the world’s biggest franchise has courted a great deal of ire from a large amount of its (mostly) male fans and has even left some signing a petition to exclude the episode from the ‘Star Wars’ canon. For me, however, ‘The Last Jedi’ serves as one of the most exhilarating and most ambitious films in the series so far. Where JJ Abrams’ ‘The Force Awakens’ – which I loved, just to clarify – played things a little too safe, where it adhered to traditional expectations of a ‘Star Wars’ film, ‘The Last Jedi’ takes everything that we thought we knew about our heroes of the galaxy and completely upturns it.
‘Star Wars’ is, at its core, an epic tale of good and evil. It is a story of biblical proportions, centred on the eternal battle between the light and the dark, and has always inspired a strive for greatness in a great number of us. It has, in recent years, become a little too pre-occupied with its own ideas of lore, legacy and tradition. It needed a change. What ‘The Last Jedi’ does, so brilliantly, is introduce this change through the inclusion of new concepts to the world of ‘Star Wars’. ‘The Last Jedi’ shows that a hero doesn’t have to come from a legendary family. Rather, they can come from ‘nothing’, that they can be children of the desert, defected stormtroopers or even maintenance workers, and still change the galaxy beyond imagination. It shows that sometimes even the most beloved of stories could do with a transformation and for that it has become one of my favourite ‘Star Wars’ instalments, and one of my top films of the year.
– Hannah Ryan
6. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
From the very first shot – a graphic close-up of open heart surgery – Yorgos Lanthimos’ ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ establishes that this is not going to be an easy ride. Here is a psychological horror that is not going to placate you with familiar jump scares or common iconography of the genre. ‘Sacred Deer’ aims to unsettle in every way possible. The score, which incorporates screeching, orchestral violins, is a warning alarm throughout, marking otherwise deathly silent scenes with a knowledge of impending doom. The script, much like Lanthimos’ other efforts, rings odd to the ears of any listener, creating a foreign, entirely cinematic world where conversation is never relatable or comfortable. The robotic nature of the characters raises questions as to the true intent of all of them – there are no real heroes or villains, and morality is a constant uncertainty. Sure, this is not a film for everyone, as established by the director’s previous works, but if what Lanthimos was aiming for was complete isolation and a tense uneasiness to accompany the viewer through their filmic experience, he could not have done a much better job than this horrific display of twisted ethical dispute. As for the plot, it is best to go into this one with as little knowledge as possible, and witness the unfolding of the story organically – so avoid spoilers at all costs. One thing is for sure, however; the haunting finale will stick with you beyond the two hours you spent in front of the screen, and will be a talking point for a long time coming.
– Megan Christopher
5. Baby Driver
This film takes the crown for most times seen in a theater for me. Typically I won’t see a movie more than twice in theater’s, but something about Baby Driver called me back to my local cinema four times within a few weeks.
Guillermo Del Toro referred to this film as “An American in Paris on crack smoke,” which is probably the perfect analogy for this movie. Edgar Wright is a master of making incredibly entertaining and smart films that only get better on multiple rewatches. Baby Driver is Wright’s first full on action movie, and I really hope it isn’t his last. The action sequences in this film, especially the final one, are among the best of the year. Every performance is endlessly entertaining and fantastic, with Jon Hamm being the standout to me.
And of course, the soundtrack is amazing. Thank you to Edgar Wright for letting me know that there is actually a song called Hocus Pocus by Focus, and that it’s amazing. When I eventually get this on bluray, I can see myself at least 100 more times. One of Edgar Wright’s best, and a total blast.
4. The Florida Project
After the well-deserved success of ‘Tangerine’, Sean Baker moved from the iPhone 5S to 35mm film for ‘The Florida Project’. The film beautifully captures the innocence and wonder that comes with childhood by firmly taking the perspective of its six-year-old protagonist, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince, in a performance so perfect, you can barely call it acting.) Residing in Magic Castle, a motel just outside the Magic Kingdom itself, Moonee and her friends live in an imagined utopia of their own. ‘The Florida Project’ doesn’t necessarily follow a traditional plot structure, and I think that’s where its strength lies — the film just feels like a slice-of-life, and any unnecessary plot devices or antagonists would have ruined the fully realised world that Sean Baker has created.The delightfully vibrant cinematography contrasts with the poverty-stricken environment, evoking Moonee’s playfulness as she finds fun out of the most mundane of places (like all children do), while also suggesting the naivete of someone who is blind to the hardships they will soon have to face. The film goes beyond childhood innocence though — inklings of what’s lurking underneath creep in so unexpectedly that you end up becoming as blissfully unaware as Moonee until everything reaches its boiling point. With this seamless blend of innocence and maturity, I think no film this year – or any film for a long time for that matter — has translated the childhood experience as well as ‘The Florida Project’.
– Iana Murray
Justine (Garance Marillier), the protagonist of Julia Decournau’s ‘Raw’, is the youngest in a French family of vegetarian vets. At the beginning of the film, she is starting out at a prestigious vet school and, as teenagers often find, struggles to fit in amongst a system that prioritises senior students and peer pressures the weak. From its very first moments, ‘Raw’ portrays a psychedelic environment of drugs and the exploration of sexuality that mirrors an accurate experience of youth. It is perhaps jarring, then, that the metaphor Decournau chooses to use for this ordeal is that of cannibalism – as, not long after an induction ceremony that involves the consumption of raw meat, Justine develops an unavoidable taste for human flesh. Despite this slightly outlandish theme, ‘Raw’ never loses its focus on the intense emotional turmoil of teenage life, exploring the pressures of socialisation, the neediness of sexuality, and the literal hunger for blood in equal measure. The violence inherent within the theme is shocking, yet necessary; this is no ‘Saw’ or ‘Final Destination’. Stories of audiences vomiting into the aisles may scare many viewers off, and the squeamish should be warned away from this one, as Decournau’s scattered use of gore is weaponised to its full effect, never once allowing the audience to forget the weight of Justine’s choices. Each drop of blood spilled has an emotional gravitas that surpasses the immediate ick factor, and it is this sensitivity towards character that makes ‘Raw’ one of the best horror movies of the decade.
– Megan Christopher
2. 120 Beats Per Minute/120 BPM
There are scenes of dust in this film, swirling over the strobe lit dancefloor. It’s an existentialist image, mirroring the film’s main characters, but also all the other people that rage against the dying of their own light, seemingly making no impact against human suffering in face of the enormity of time. And yet they know, that they can’t stop letting their hearts beat faster than they usually do, because without electrifying their surroundings with the stress-born energy that they have in their bodies, they and their loved ones will die in silence.
Robin Campillo was one of the members of ACT UP in France. Even though he wasn’t at the very front of things, he still knew how shouting, dancing and protesting for your life felt. The film infuses that state of mind into its audiovisual language as well as its narrative. The screen bursts with energy, the colours are bright, there are impressively staged shots, and yet there comes a point where the film sobers up, refocuses from the big picture to the small and gets much more intimate. One of the most beautiful and unapologetic portrayals of queer love on film takes the stage and shows in crucial and painful detail what exactly they are all fighting for. In the end one thing is clear, whatever happens, whatever is going to happen, they can’t stop moving their bodies. Because if they do, it’s over.
The most special thing about 120 BPM perhaps, is that it rages against the silence about these courageous people. It’s a call to arms, an encouragement to never stop fighting. Because if we do, we’re just dead dust.
– Kareem Baholzer
1. Call Me by Your Name
At one point of Luca Guadagnino’s dreamy and fragmented vision of a summer, the main character Elio plucks a peach from a tree in his garden. The fruit is juicy, sweet – and some, in this case the emotionally confused Elio, might say shaped like a human behind. The following scene has swiftly gathered some sort of iconic status, Elio sexually interacts with the peach while fantasizing about his summer love Oliver. The scene is much more than a beautiful expression of forbidden desire, it also connects to the films themes of human nature, which is both paralleled to time, through the greek sculptures and a story about a knight in love, as well as to nature, among others through a suffocating fish, that Elio mimicks, not knowing that he does not only imitate the animal, but actually embodies it.
The film weaves these aspects together so seamlessly that it creates its own cosmos, where homosexuality is portrayed as completely driven by nature, and only the people decide to accept or to not accept it. It thus mirrors reality, but establishes some sort of poetic realism that works through connecting the hazy, dream-like atmosphere of that Italian summer with the real people inside of it. They are good people, and full of love. They hurt each other only, when they don’t know how to express themselves or through their conflicting wants and desires. It’s some sort of ground zero that allows the emotions of the people to fully flourish and works through the psychological conflicts that arise, even in an environment that doesn’t judge.
Call Me By Your Name belongs to the wave of queer films that don’t cater to straight audiences in any way. It’s not about the ugly and the evil, the unaccepting and the attempts to turn homosexuality into something “sick” as Elio calls it. This film pushes all of that aside and portrays how homosexuality, by being a part of nature, is whole in itself, and has its beautiful and its painful sides, like all love and all of life. It’s unapologetically queer in every way, but it highlights how this love, like any heterosexual love is not an anomaly – the system oppressing it is.
– Kareem Baholzer
And that concludes our top 15 films! To read each writer’s individual top 10 lists, simply continue onto the next page. Agree/disagree with this list? Let us know at @muchadocinema!
Please note: due to the fact that we have writers from across the globe, many films were not actually available to many of us at the time of publication, most notably ‘Lady Bird’ and ‘Phantom Thread’, hence their absence.