Another year, another 10 movies that define why we love cinema. 2017 was such a strong year for film releases that many excellent movies failed to make our Top 10.
Honorary shout-outs then to such must-sees as Wind River, IT, Mother!, Una, A Silent Voice and Wonder Woman. Great movies all, all pipped to the post by the titles below.
Whatever brow-furrowing misbehaviour 2018 brings, one sliver of good news is that cinema should remain in fine shape. From what we saw at the London Film Festival in October, at least three five-star movies will be released next year.
But, without further ado, here is Electric Shadows’ 10 Best Films of 2017…
Writer/director S. Craig Zahler’s prison movie is a hell of a one-two punch… followed by a knee to the nose… and heel to the throat. Vince Vaughn is the best he’s been in years as an honourable guy forced into a nightmare labyrinth of pain and violence after being banged up when a drug deal goes south with a bullet. As with his previous Bone Tomahawk, Zahler shifts between black comedy, bone-snapping violence and outright horror. You’ll gasp, you’ll shriek, you’ll want to spend time in Cell Block 99 again. The director’s next film is titled Dragged Across Concrete. Expect it to make an appearance on our 2018 list.
Hell on earth is a fitting description for the world writer/director Martin Koolhoven creates here. A Job style tale of one woman’s nightmarish struggle against a demonic stalker in the 19th century American frontier, and a patriarchal world in general, it is one of the most unusual horror movies of recent memory. Koolhoven pulls in filmic references including old Hollywood melodrama and Westerns, plus The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Cape Fear and particularly The Night of the Hunter. Guy Pearce terrifies as a relentless force of male rage. Underseen and underrated, this is 2017’s best film you haven’t heard of.
Fandom is a fickle beast. The Force Awakens was criticised for being in the shadow of A New Hope. Director Rian Johnson delivers a film of ambition and daring and is attacked in certain fan quarters for destroying the legacy of Luke Skywalker. This is, of course, nonsense. Johnson tells a captivating story of generational push and pull, female pragmatism and macho bluster, and pitches it all at an operatic level. What the internet bleating has done is rob the film of a proper discourse. The Last Jedi has flaws: it is too long, the Canto Bight sequence strays close to the black hole of the prequels, Daisy Ridley seriously needs acting lessons. But, it also opened a galaxy of opportunities for Episode IX, and was a fitting tribute to Carrie Fisher. And Ade Edmondson’s in it!
Trump’s America a few decades down the line forms the hellish backdrop for Hugh Jackman’s swansong as the character that made him famous. With all his producer clout, Jackman went hard-R for this bloody, sweary tale of old man Logan. The ill-tempered talon’d one is keeping himself and an ailing Professor X one step ahead of a shadowy military agency, when mysterious young girl Laura is dumped on him. But, the pint-sized hellion proves something of a handful. Patrick Stewart (also bowing out as Charles Xavier) and newcomer Dafne Keen as Laura are both sensational. Director James Mangold skilfully manages the X-Men’s shift into X-rated violence, delivering a climactic emotional gut punch that may well be the series’ finest moment to date.
- Manchester by the Sea
Divisive to all hell, people are either overwhelmed by Kenneth Lonergan’s study of grief or dismiss it as depressive white guy navel gazing. We sit, wiping our eyes in the former camp. For our money Casey Affleck gives the finest Best Actor Oscar winning performance since Daniel Day-Lewis’s win for There Will Be Blood back in 2008. Shame his off-screen behaviour threatens to overshadow the brilliance of this movie (we can’t imagine he’ll present Best Actress in 2018 as is customary at the Oscars). But, this story of a man returning home after his brother dies, and facing the ghosts of his past is a mighty experience.
If there’s one genre most suited to holding up a mirror to society, it is horror. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Night of the Living Dead, It Follows; sometimes the darkest lens is the best through which to view social ills. The story of a young black man’s weekend getaway with his white girlfriend at her WASPish parents’ country estate, Jordan Peele’s Get Out emerged as an instant pop horror classic. Not many films make the top spot in both Empire and Sight and Sound’s films of the year lists. Deftly skewering white liberal self-congratulation, playing complex games with cinema’s legacy of race depiction and just plain being scary, Get Out remembered the best horror tickles the funny bone while raising hairs on the neck. Extra points too for recognising Flanagan and Allen’s Run Rabbit Run as the terrifying ditty it truly is. We’ve elected not to include the spoilerific trailer…
From the opening close-up of Natalie Portman’s pinched, pale face and the strings of Mica Levi’s woozy score, it is clear Jackie aims for more than a standard soup-to-nuts biopic. Director Pablo Larraín and writer Noah Oppenheim (a long way from his scripts for Allegiant and The Maze Runner) conduct a voyage into the traumatised psyche of the one-time First Lady in the weeks following JFK’s assassination. Languid and dreamlike in atmosphere and pacing, with nightmarish bursts of terror and grief during and after the assassination, this is dazzling cinema. And we like Emma Stone, but it was la la to give her the Best Actress Oscar over Portman’s work here. And double la la to award La La Land Best Score over Mica Levi’s breathtaking compositions.
Park Chan-wook’s Stoker was our no.1 film of 2013. Follow-up movie The Handmaiden was a contender for the top spot. The fact that it places third is testament to how good the films are in the first and second spots. In 1930s Korea, when the country was under Japanese rule, a pickpocket posing as a handmaiden schemes with a local conman to rob a Japanese noblewoman of her fortune. A sprawling, labyrinthine tale of intrigue and deception, told as a battle of wills between the sexes, this is a glorious journey through the darker recesses of human desire. Satirical, shocking and boldly sexual, Park’s adaptation of Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith is a five-star triumph.
J.A. Bayona’s film immediately joins The Spirit of the Beehive, Pan’s Labyrinth, and the too-little remembered Paperhouse as a masterclass in the power of art and imagination to battle the difficulties of real life. Or to put it another way, it’s Billy Elliott with a big monster instead of ballet. Lewis MacDougall’s performance of tenderness and rage as a boy whose mother is terminally ill is impressive beyond his years. Liam Neeson also shines as the tree giant who the lad thinks can help him save his mum. Also excellent are Felicity Jones and Toby Kebbell as the boy’s parents and Sigourney Weaver as his brittle nan. A Monster Calls is one of the most effective tearjerkers of recent times, a wonderful example of cinema’s ability to leave you crying and cheering.
Christopher Nolan’s breathtaking depiction of the evacuation of 400,000 men from the beaches of France in the early days of World War 2 is quite simply why we love movies. Deploying everything he learnt on his previous films, Nolan presents the evacuation as a 106-minute endurance test. Nerves are stretched to breaking point and the senses are exhilarated by the sight of a master at work. Sound and vision fuse to present an astonishing, at times near abstract view of war. A fragmented story structure audaciously weaves in viewpoints of three different character groups (including Tom Hardy’s Spitfire pilot). A masterpiece of survival cinema and the best film of the year.
How does 2017’s Top 10 compare to previous years?