TLE Film’s Review of the Year: 25 Best Films of 2017

With Contributions From: Jim Mackney, Sam Inglis, Wyndham Hackett Pain, and Mike McNulty

Editor’s Intro

2017 was a year to remember, although perhaps not always for the right reasons: Trump, Brexit, the threat of war with North Korea… and let us not forget the ever-present fear that we may soon be facing a significant prosecco shortage. When reflecting on the year in film, however, one’s memories are far more favourable; the shattering sadness of watching A Monster Calls on New Year’s Day; the frenetic sense of adrenaline that came from seeing Baby Driver on the big screen for the first time; the frenzied anticipation that came from sitting in the auditorium, waiting for The Last Jedi to begin earlier this month.

So many of my favourite moments from the past 12 months arose from the emotions felt and experiences faced while sitting in a darkened cinema auditorium. Make no mistake; every year is a great year for film, but 2017 felt like a truly radical year for the medium. Indeed, there were so many tremendous titles to choose from when constructing this list of the year’s best, a number of fantastic films inevitably failed to make the final cut: Baby Driver and A Monster Calls amongst them, Daphne, The Levelling, A Ghost Story, and mother! also. Plus for those who prefer the comfort of their own sofas, there was the likes of Gerald’s Game, Mudbound, Chasing Coral, and Kingdom of Us to indulge in on Netflix.

The 25 films listed below (in no particular order), however, are the ones we consider to be the best of the best from 2017 – each one a work of genius in their own unique way. So here’s to the year that’s passed, and the one that’s to come: season’s greetings to you all, and a happy New Year.

Moonlight (Dir. Barry Jenkins)
For sheer cinematic beauty, no other film came close to Moonlight in 2017. The triptych narrative allows the film to unfold gracefully, emotionally, pulling you further and further into its clutches. Moonlight, by any measure, is outstanding, the fact that it came from a director only making his second feature is nearly unbelievable; an all-time great. JMackney

La La Land (Dir. Damien Chazelle)
The title tells you everything you need to know. La La Land isn’t a film for the haters. It wasn’t made for the swines, the sulkers, the grumps or the grouches. No, La La Land is for the lovers; the fools, the fantasists, the sweethearts and sentimentalists. It’s a heart-racing, hip-swinging triumph; a tale of contemporary LA love rendered with charisma and heart by Emma Stone & Ryan Gosling, played to the beat of a Golden Age musical by writer/director Damien Chazelle, and set in a world of saturated supercolour. It may have lost the Best Picture Oscar in the most nightmarish fashion, but this will forever remain a film for those who dare to dream. JMcAllister

Jackie (Dir. Pablo Larraín)
Whether it was planned or not remains to be seen, but the juxtaposition of Jackie being released in UK cinemas on the same day Trump was sworn in as President could not have been more perfect. While “the Donald” set about undoing the work of his predecessor, here was a film pertinently reflecting on ideas of personal and political legacy. As Jackie herself observes, “there will never be another Camelot”. JMcAllister

Lady Macbeth (Dir. William Oldroyd)
Adapted from Nikolai Leskov’s novella ‘Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk’, this commandingly radical period piece from debut director William Oldroyd skilfully subverts our expectations with forceful conviction. Written with a caustic zeal by playwright Alice Birch, and pivoted around Florence Pugh’s astonishing central performance, it’s a film that confronts our attitudes towards both femininity and morality with a biting ferocity that chills you to the bone. JMcAllister

Gods Own Country (Dir. Francis Lee)
Francis Lee’s achingly beautiful debut feature film is a gay love story set in the windswept Yorkshire hills that is both tough and tender. Johnny (Josh O’Connor), son and caretaker of his father’s failing farm, strikes up a romance with a soft eyed Romanian seasonal worker. It’s simple and raw, with O’Connor deftly navigating a nuanced performance that brings to life his character’s pent up emotion and frustration. MM

Toni Erdmann (Dir. Maren Ade)
And they said the Germans didn’t have a sense of humour! Well this dark, droll, and extraordinarily bizarre story from director Maren Ade – about a workaholic thirty-something being hounded by her infuriatingly foolhardy father, who tries to teach her that it’s ok to stop and laugh once in a while – shows that they most certainly do. After three viewings, I still can’t decide whether Toni Erdmann is the saddest comedy, or funniest tragedy ever made. Either way, it’s a masterpiece. JMcAllister

Heal The Living (Dir. Katell Quillévéré)
Heal The Living looks at the issue of transplantation through the lens of a single case, and the ripples it produces. A young surfer named Simon (Gabin Verdet) dies in a car accident and his parents (an ashen Emmanuelle Segnier and Kool Shen) must decide whether to donate his organs. Quillévéré tells this story in ways that are sometimes striking in their realism (the harvesting of Simon’s organs), but also folds in moments of pure visual poetry (the road becoming the ocean as the accident happens) and often cuts between the two to striking effect (the cut from the memory of Simon’s first meeting with his girlfriend to the image of his parents in the doctor’s office). Quillévéré takes care to find time to tell small stories from just about every possible perspective, be it is a beautiful vignette with Monia Chokri’s nurse, or the heart wrenching moment that the transplant co-ordinator (Tahar Rahim) plays Simon’s favourite song for him, one last time before his organs are harvested. It all adds up to a beautiful tapestry of detail and emotion. SI

The Death of Stalin (Dir. Armando Iannucci)
Armando Iannucci has brought us many memorable satires in the past, including In the Loop and Veep, but his latest effort may be his most memorable and carefully observed. Aside from being easily the funniest film to be released all year, The Death of Stalin is brilliantly crafted to the extent that if the volume was turned down it may even resemble a period drama. There may be moments that boarder on absurdity, but there is always a sense that more of it happened than we would like to think. WP

My Life As A Courgette (Dir. Claude Barras)
Sure, it may be set in a world built with plasticine, but My Life with Courgette feels shatteringly honest; a story of childhood told with a soulful sense of hope, joy, and profound sadness. Claude Barras’ beautiful animation is one constructed with real personality; full of heart and humour, but never afraid to candidly reflect on the more mature aspects of its narrative, which sees a young boy – the eponymous Courgette – go to live in a orphanage after the tragic death of his mother. Not since Pixar’s Up has an animated film, in this critic’s eyes, been so profusely affecting. JMcAllister

Paddington 2 (Dir. Paul King)
Arguably this year’s most delightful surprise. Like its eponymous bear, Paddington 2 is a small package with a huge heart; enthused by the purest of joy, and the warm wonder of childhood imagination. I laughed, I cried… I momentarily wondered whether marmalade really was the answer to all my problems. Of course, I cannot say for sure whether it is or not, but one thing I do know is that even if it isn’t, this film might be. JMcAllister

Dunkirk (Dir. Christopher Nolan)
The sheer scale of Dunkirk takes your breath away, with the roving extreme wide shots of the stranded soldiers on the beach and the hundreds of actual fishing boats crossing the channel on their rescue mission. The film opens near-silently and throws you into the action with a perfectly timed jolt and gathers apace from here, holding you down and until it ends. Dunkirk is blockbuster filmmaking of the highest degree. JMackney

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Dir. Rian Johnson)
As it was for a lot of critics I suspect, the initial backlash from fans following the release of The Last Jedi came as something of a shock. Especially considering that in the eyes of many, myself included, this was one of the strongest entries in the Star Wars saga to date: director Rian Johnson pulling out all the stops to offer audiences something that was fresh and fearless, but still very much felt like it was ingrained within the Star Wars universe. Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker said it best himself in the trailer; “this is not going to go the way you think,” he warned, a caution best heeded by those expecting another thick slice Force Awakens-style nostalgia. JMcAllister

Blade Runner: 2049 (Dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Intelligent sci-fi films appear to be Denis Villeneuve’s speciality, with Blade Runner: 2049 coming after the wonderful Arrival. Blade Runner: 2049 adds to the canon of the series (surely, it is a series?) by expanding on the universe, posing the right questions and always expecting the most of its audience when delivering it’s detailed narrative. A triumph in sci-fi filmmaking. JMackney

The Phenom [a.k.a. Rage] (Dir. Noah Buschel)
The Phenom is a perfect encapsulation of the problem with film distribution in the UK right now. It’s the kind of inexpensive drama that, had it been released 20 years ago, would have found a foothold in cinemas, if only in limited release. Today, it not only bypasses cinema release altogether, but could easily escape the notice even of the three people who might otherwise have been waiting for it, as it was released recut and with a new, ludicrously unsuited, title. However, the film is well worth tracking down, preferably in its original form, as a showcase for its excellent cast. Johnny Simmons and Paul Giamatti are excellent as the sports psychologist and his initially sceptical patient, but it’s in the scenes between Simmons and [Ethan] Hawke – all coiled energy, especially when restrained behind the thick plexiglass of a prison visiting room – that sparks are really struck. SI

Tower (Dir. Keith Maitland)
Tower is one of those films you wish existed purely as a historical curio, relating a story that so appalled people when it happened that they took steps to ensure that nothing like it could ever happen again. As shocking as the story is, in and of itself, the most painful takeaway from Tower is the fact that events like this remain commonplace in the US (indeed the Las Vegas shooting, which mirrored Whitman’s actions in many ways, came a few months after the film’s UK release). Built around eyewitness testimony from many different angles, the film zooms in on many of the details of the day, building a sense of the entire scene, the entire story, through a patchwork of details. I often find documentaries interesting, but it is rare that I feel their rightful home is a cinema screen. Most are story, rather than image driven and I often find myself thinking I wouldn’t have missed anything by seeing the same film on TV. Tower’s visuals make it one of the exceptions to this rule; the film has a very particular texture that, as much as the story, has an emotional effect on its audience and makes it a truly cinematic film. SI

The Other Side of Hope (Dir. Aki Kaurismäki)
Containing the trademark deadpan humour and bleak themes that have made director Aki Kaurismäki one of Europe’s most celebrated directors, The Other Side of Hope is a sharp commentary on the refugee crisis that is surprisingly tender and heartfelt. The film is a celebration of altruism and little acts of kindness that despite being common are not seen often enough. If this is to be Kaurismäki’s final film, then it is a brilliant endnote to an extraordinary career. WP

Aquarius (Dir. Kleber Mendonça Filho)
Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho returned this year with another insightful and beautifully observed look at the social issues facing his homeland. Detailing attempts to stop property developers evicting a resident from her home, the house at the story’s centre acts as a microcosm and metaphor for a modern Brazil that is in conflict with itself, and riddled with corruption, abuses of authority, and the endorsement of whatever can be profitable. Aquarius suggest that if you remove people from your notion of nationhood then you not only create divisions between those who live there, but have no foundation to move forward and build from. WP

Thelma (Dir. Joachim Trier)
Part coming of age romance, supernatural thriller and family drama, Joachim Trier’s third cinematic instalment is swimming in the thick waters of dread. The story of a university student (played excellently by Eili Harboe) struggling with her burgeoning sexuality, Thelma is a dizzyingly tense, low key and a subtly poignant observation on sexuality and repressed desire. MM

Girls Trip (Dir. Malcolm D. Lee)
Quite how Tiffany Haddish failed to earn a nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy at the forthcoming Golden Globes I’ll never know. It’s a revelatory performance – brimming with confidence and blissfully zany, a perfect epithet for this unexpectedly filthy delight, which manages to feel free and empowering, despite the conventional nature of its narrative. All four female leads – including Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, and Jada Pinkett Smith – are individually fantastic, but this is Haddish’s film from the moment she appears. And whether she’s grinding on P. Diddy, or showing us all how to “grapefruit”, she slays whenever she’s on the screen. JMcAllister

The Beguiled (Dir. Sofia Coppola)
True to its title, The Beguiled is a film that will charm you, deceive you, but ultimately captivate you – a peppery period drama that unfurls as a piece of pure cinema. Director Sofia Coppola takes her cue less from the Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood original, and more from Thomas Cullinan’s original novel, spinning her own devilishly feminist fable from the available prose. Shot on smoky 35mm stock, it’s a heated tale, but one that’s told with a human heart thanks in no small part to Kirsten Dunst, whose measured, emotional restraint deftly balances the prickly performances of Nicole Kidman & Elle Fanning, and the increasingly feverish plot. JMcAllister

Get Out (Dir. Jordan Peele)
Dubbed by writer director Jordan Peele, as a documentary of the black experience, and raising more than a few highbrows with its awkward classification in the musical and comedy category of the Golden Globes, Get Out is a satirical-horror that sinks its teeth into the myth of America’s “post-racial” landscape. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), visits his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time at their stately home in the country before things quickly take a turn for the sinister. MM

Sun Choke (Dir. Ben Cresciman)
I’ve been championing Sun Choke for several years now, but it finally landed a UK release through horror streaming service Shudder, in 2017. Sarah Hagan plays Janie, a troubled young woman whose behaviour has seen her confined to her house with only psychologist Irma (horror legend Barbara Crampton) for company. Each day Janie must go through the same tests and things seem to be going well. Soon she’s shown that she’s stable enough to be given some time outside on her own, time in which she immediately begins following Savannah (Sara Malakul Lane). Sun Choke builds its horror through detailed and highly impressive performances. The uncertain relationship between Janie and Irma, who may also be her stepmother, is expertly played by Crampton and Hagan: Crampton has a cold, clinical reserve that deliberately makes every expression of love that Irma makes towards Janie ring hollow and calculated. Hagan is perhaps even better, building a complex portrait of a psychopath whose desire to get better is often in question. A disturbing and mysterious film, Sun Choke will get under your skin, and marks director Ben Cresciman out as a talent to watch. SI

Hounds of Love (Dir. Ben Young)
Perth born Australian writer-director Ben Young’s debut feature is a brooding serial killer thriller chilling in its gritty depiction of horror. Set in the 1980s, it is the story of a slowly unravelling couple of serial kidnappers who snatch a high school girl. Finding all its power in the way it ratchets up tension until it is a boiling pot of palpable anxiety, the film is also a feminist metaphor on the dynamics of abusive relationships. MM

The Florida Project (Dir. Sean Baker)
A wrenching tale of poverty told in the shadow of Florida’s Disney World Resort – “the most magical place on earth” – director Sean Baker’s study of America’s burgeoning ‘hidden homeless’ community is desperate, devastating filmmaking. But by holding its focus on the kids of those who are stuck in this existence – led by the brilliant Brooklynn Prince – the story is instilled with a spirited, youthful innocence that leavens the darker inflections in the narrative. Disney may consider itself to be a place where dreams are made, but as The Florida Project observes, the truth that surrounds it is closer to a nightmare. JMcAllister

Call Me By Your Name (Dir. Luca Guadagnino)
Love can hurt, but as Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer show in Luca Guadagnino’s florid coming-of-age romance, it also brings the greatest joy. Written with a gorgeous elegance by James Ivory, it’s a sensual and exciting film, imbued with the lush haziness of long summer days; the magnificence of the Italian landscapes perfectly mirroring the beauty of Chalamet & Hammer’s love. But there’s also a sadness here, a pain and longing that Michael Stuhlbarg’s warm-hearted patriarch reflects on with a tender profundity in the final act. Guadagnino has already suggested that he intends to make a sequel, and one awaits this next chapter in the story with a fevered anticipation. JMcAllister


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