So how was 2017 for you? For myself, I can’t help, but describe it as a mixed bag and then some. A year which began in the lowest depths of depression to a summer of boosted confidence to a fall of obsessions, anxieties and insecurities over my very existence.
In fact, I felt such a drop this autumn that I failed to catch up on many of the season’s critically acclaimed cinema fare. As a result, my ultimate top 10 of the past 12 months in film lacks the addition of several highly renowned movies. I still have yet to see ‘Call Me By Your Name’ – the Italian-set gay love story that has drawn inevitable comparisons with swoon-worthy OSCAR winner ‘Moonlight’ (2016) and seems set for similar awards galore.
I also missed ‘The Florida Project’ – a similar coming-of-age tale surrounding a six year old girl growing up against the impoverished backdrop of Disneyland. Most of all, bear in mind that I composed this list before viewing arguably 2017’s most anticipated release – ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’. No doubt I will be making a belated trip to my local multiplex within the first few days of 2018.
Nonetheless the critical and commercial success of ‘Call Me By Your Name’ and ‘The Florida Project’ suggest what a wonderful year it has been for diversity.
Following the aforementioned and eye-melting ‘Moonlight’ sweeping the spotlight at February’s OSCARS with good and bad results (#WRONGBESTFILMGATE), black-led cinema soared in 2017. Arguably the most powerful triumphs of horror such as ‘Get Out’ and historical dramas like Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘Detroit’ were their lack of racial bias. One might have been a nail-biting account of the 1967 Detroit Race Riot and the other a post-Obama era scare satire yet neither appeared to exclusive to one ethnicity; appearing almost skin-crawlingly relevant in wake of 2017’s most harrowing news stories such as the Charlottesville White Nationalist Rally.
Equally breaking racial boundaries was ‘The Big Sick’. Telling the true-life tale of a Pakistani American stand-up comedian attempting to pursue a romantic relationship with a bubbly, cute indie girl against life-threatening illness and his strictly Conservative parents’ wishes, this was a sweetly sincere romantic comedy that refused to be bogged down by political correctness; leaving me simultaneously a smiling, laughing, blubbering mess over the space of 2 hours.
In terms of female-led fare, there has rarely been a year where the big screen let out more of a feminist victory cry than 2017. A particularly powerful feat given the horrifying tales of sexual misconduct spooling onto the surface in wake of the Weinstein Scandal.
Take ‘Wonder Woman’s whopping $891 million Box Office figures for a stirring example of such a statement.
However the strongest female talent – both in front and behind the camera - was to be found at your local arthouse picturehouse. I had to view Julia Durcournau’s ‘Raw’ through my fingers! That's if I had any fingers by the end of this Belgian coming-of-age Cannibal gorefest that combined a University student’s lust for meat with her sexual awakening.
Such sexual experimentation was certainly a theme which featured heavily in 2017’s foreign cinema. Just take a trip to the countryside of 19th Century Korea for the most impressive example exemplified in Park Chan-Wook’s spellbinding and exquisite erotic drama ‘The Handmaiden’.
Less exquisite yet every bit as eye-watering was set amidst the Somerset Levels in Hope Dickenson-Leach’s softly sinister ‘The Levelling’. An ethereal mix of David Lynch surrealism and Ken Loach social realism, this gritty tale followed a young veterinarian student (the superb Ellie Kendrick) returning to her farm home upon news of her brother’s untimely passing; only to uncover dark secrets that have haunted her family for decades.
Controversy was certainly on the cards for certain film-makers this year. Ask Director Darren Aronofsky about the cataclysmic critical reception to his quasi-biblical, environmental, home invasion, mind-f**k potboiler ‘Mother!’. Billed by many as “the most shocking movie since ‘A Clockwork Orange’”, audiences and critics were left stranded between heaps of rapturous applause or oceans of deathly silence; followed by screams of migraine-inducing anger. I loved the film although am in no hurry to watch it again which is unquestionably its highest merit! The brilliant Jennifer Lawrence has also never been better.
Every bit as brilliant in far fluffier fare was the marvellous Miss Emma Stone who turned out the year’s most heartfelt female performance as feminist tennis icon Billie Jean King in the delightful biopic ‘Battle of the Sexes’. A muscular, skin-inhabiting turn that deserves to set every awards ceremony alight.
Documenting the run-up to the historic 1973 ‘Battle of the Sexes’ tennis final between King and chauvinist world title holder Bobby Riggs (sublimely slimy Steve Carrell), this turned out to be a whole lot more than your standard round of awards-bait melodrama; proving to be a smart, funny and touching take on 70s sexism in spades.
Last, but not least, a mention must go to the mainstream in what has been a surprisingly strong year for the blockbuster. Not least because Christopher Nolan’s shrapnel-splitting ‘Dunkirk’ looks poised for Best Picture glory. That is despite a July release and a budget of $100 million! Hurrah for that!
Interesting then that despite my divine love and admiration for Nolan as arguably today’s most versatile film-maker, his WW2 epic failed to grip me beyond a surface level. Something I wouldn’t have expected from the maestro auteur behind ‘Inception’ (2010) and ‘Memento’ (2000).
Still Nolan’s Best Director nod is well overdue and no one can argue that ‘Dunkirk’ wasn’t a feverishly directed immersive experience if a slightly shallow one in my opinion.
More immersive and much more entertaining was Edgar Wright’s ‘Baby Driver’ or – as I like to call it – ‘Drive’ meets ‘La La Land’ and I mean that in the best possible way. What a blast I had with this motorheaded musical! Such a blast that I ended up skipping out of the cinema, tossing my head around and spending the next 5 days dancing around town to the adrenaline-racing beats of ‘Bellbottoms’ by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. VROOOM!
Yet neither ‘Dunkirk’ nor ‘Baby Driver’ prepared me for 2017’s jaw-dropping, show-stopping, mesmerising labyrinth of unearthly proportions. I’m talking of course about ‘Blade Runner 2049’. Who would’ve thought that 35 years since Ridley Scott changed the face of Science Fiction with 'Blade Runner' (1982) that Director Denis Villeneuve would outdo such a feet. My eyes, ears and mouth were left drooling in majesty of this behemoth of a blockbuster’s beguiling beauty. A feet few cinema experiences have ever accomplished!
Yes. It may have struggled to find the audience it well and truly deserves, but ‘Blade Runner 2049’ has golden cult status dripping from every futuristic skyscraper. A Sci-Fi masterpiece the masses will mouth-water over in decades to come...Happy New Year!
My complete top 10 undoubtedly feels rather incomplete. Being in the UK means many major awards contenders – heavily featured on many US critic’s end of year lists – are yet to be released here. Films such as ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’, the Churchill biopic ‘Darkest Hour’ and Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water’ don’t hit Brit shores til’ the New Year. Please note too that there are certain films ranked higher than others that I may have previously graded higher. It also wouldn’t be a top 10 without a couple of painful omissions which very nearly squeezed their way in…
Honourable Mentions: Goodbye Christopher Robin, War for the Planet of the Apes, I Am Not Your Negro, Get Out, Detroit
Freelance film critic, journalist and writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in cinema.
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