As I love to point out every year, film is subjective, and so are these Best Films lists that pop up about this time each year (although I did see a lot of lists appearing in November, which must mean that no good films come out in December). And as it was with 2016, 2017 has been a VERY good year for cinema – my films-I-loved list easily outweighs my film-I-loathed list, and it was tough to narrow it down to just 10 (this list began with 45 titles on it). The following may not be the BEST films of the year just gone, but among the ones I actually got to see (that I actually got invited to a press screening of, anyway), they were the ones that I enjoyed the most. As usual, they are listed in no particular order ...
A superhero film the likes of which we have not seen before – a dark, gritty, meaty, messy, bloody, violent and foul-mouthed graphic novel that pulls no punches and takes no prisoners. More of a western in look and feel than your usual CGI-laden superhero epic (there are no flying buildings, spaceships, time travel or apocalyptic global destruction here), Logan is an intimate character study, self contained and very self knowing. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart give strong, emotional performances in what could well be the final outing for both their X-Men characters, Wolverine and Professor X, and young Dafne Keen is exceptional as a new breed of mutant. Logan is, arguably, the best X-Men film to date.
The other great superhero film of 2017 saw this long-standing comic book (and TV show) character finally get her own big-screen outing. And what an outing it is. It's a classic origin story that introduces us to Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (the exceptional Gal Gadot) – and as with most origin stories, it's a tad overlong and is, on occasion, weighed down with exposition. And the final act "big bad" showdown is a little conventional and cliched. But thanks so a superb central performance from the charismatic Gadot – her Diana is not only strong and powerful but also sweet, kind and loving – and perfect direction from Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman is an inspirational, feminist film – but more than that, it's a film that should appeal to both men and women equally; in fact, to anyone who loves a great superhero saga (along with a surprisingly decent war drama). It's bold, powerful, hugely entertaining and about bloody time.
Featuring in a lot of this year's Top 10 lists (and deservedly so), Get Out is a comedy-horror-thriller that opens with a scene straight out of the slasher handbook before settling down into the story of photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), who are about to head upstate for the wekeend to meet her parents for the first time. And when a large family gathering takes place, things start to get very strange. Get Out is a timely, smart and wickedly satirical look at race relations in the US. It's a horror movie where the monsters are us, our friends, our relativers and our neighbours. It's a breakout starring role for Kaluuya – he gives a compelling performance, no doubt aided by a clever script from writer/director Jordan Peele. The film's real strength, and where the horror really lies, is in showing us life today in the US from a black perspective – and it ain't all that pretty. The satire is sharp, and the horror moments are very, very creepy. It's a movie you will continue to reflect upon for days after you see it. While being very entertaining, Get Out is alarming, unsettling and revealing.
The Big Sick
Here's that rare beast, a romantic comedy that gives the rom-com genre a good name, and is both romantic AND very funny. The Big Sick's greatest strength is its sheer honesty. It's a very funny, moving and heartfelt film about about life, love and cultural differences. It's based on the real-life "meet-cute" story of Kumail Nanjiani (who plays himself in the film) and his now-wife and co-writer Emily Gordon (who is played by the sweet and charming Zoe Kazan). Nanjiani has been on the scene for a while now, popping up in small (but often standout) roles in films such as The Five-Year Engagement, Sex Tape, Loaded and Central Intelligence – but he is best known for his role on the superb HBO comedy Silicon Valley. This is his first leading role, and it's one that should make him a star – he deserves it. Kazan, too, should see her star on the ascent after her performance here as Emily (even though she spends half the film in a coma). And the chemistry between these two just sparkles. Also, there's not much to be said about Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily's parents, except to say that Hunter is as wonderful as she always is, and this is a fine dramatic turn from Romano and one of the best performances we've seen from him in quite some time. Whatever it is that ails you, The Big Sick is the best possible medicine.
The deserved 2017 Oscar winner for Best Picture has a very simple premise – three acts that focus on one central protagonist, Chiron, at three different points in his life. But this film is anything but simple. With the help of an exceptional cast, writer/director Barry Jenkins weaves a deeply moving and emotional tale of a man coming to terms with his sexuality, discovering exactly who he is and his place in the world. It's visually stunning, often heartbreaking but ultimately life-affirming and uplifting – and easily one of the finest films not just of this year, but of any year.
It's not often that you see a sequel that surpasses the original film, but that's what you get with Paddington 2 (not that there was anything wrong with the first Paddington film – it's flawless). But unconstrained with the need to tell the origin story, writer/director Paul King and his amazing cast and crew can simply get on with sending our eponymous bear on a new adventure and introduce some wonderful new characters. The best of these is far and away Hugh Grant's self-centred actor Phoenix Buchanan, who manages to get Paddington jailed for a crime he didn't commit – leading to some of the funniest prison scenes ever put on film. Once again, Ben Wishaw's voice work is perfect, and the people behind the CGI that creates our little Peruvian pal are geniuses; the work is so good you are convinced that Paddington is a living, breathing bear. It's a joy from start to finish, very funny and full of emotion – and if you are not tearing up at the ending, you are dead inside.
Colossal is one of those films that wrong-foots you right from the start, in the best possible way. You think you are going to see a Godzilla-style monster movie, and there is certainly an element of that, but what you are really going to see if a deeply moving – and very funny – human drama. Colossal's greatest strength is its two leads. Anne Hathaway is, to my mind, is a greatly underrated actor, and here we have not seen her better. And Jason Sudeikis really surprises with his performance - we know him for his comic roles, but here he takes a very dark turn and it's very much a revelation. Dressed up in its shiny sci-fi/horror suit, Colossal is actually a very dark drama that is really about dependence, obsession and being caught up in abusive relationships.
War For the Planet of the Apes
The third film in this latest Planet of the Apes franchise continues the very fine work that began with 2011's Rise and 2014's Dawn. Three years on, the battle between the remaining humans and apes has left the world a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Caesar (the amazing Andy Serkis) is tired of the war he didn't start, and seeks peace; but human leader Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson) has otehr ideas. With the best motion capture we've seen on screen, and feeling more like a classic western at times than a futuristic sci-fi film, the beautifully-crafted War for the Planet of the Apes is a fitting conclusion to one of the finest film trilogies we have seen in a very long time.
It's long been a running joke that superheroes wear their underwear on the outside, but here's a superhero who wears nothing BUT underpants (and a cape, of course; gotta have a cape). Here's the tale of a pair of schoolfriends who create a comic book about the superhero Captain Underpants but then accidentally turn their ultra-strict principal into that very man. This is easily the best animated film of 2017, and one of the finest comedies of the year too – silly potty humour and all. With a look similar to 2016's wonderful Peanuts Movie, a sharp script from Muppets scribe Nick Stoller and a voice cast that's having great fun with the material, Captain Underpants often goes in directions you may not expect, and definitely has its heart in the right place with it's central theme of the importance of friendship.
The Death Of Stalin
Speaking of comedies, here is THE standout comedy of 2017, from the clever man behind the political satires The Thick of It and Veep, Armando Iannucci. Yes, it's a comedy about a dictator responsible for starving his people, and executing those who displeased him or shipping them off to gulags. It was an awful period in Russian history, and many believe that nobody should poke fun at such things – but satirists have always mocked those in power, even the evil ones (Hitler, Trump) and Stalin should be no exception. Using the real events surrounding Stalin's death from a heart attack in 1953, the film centres around how the members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party vie for power. The outstanding cast – led by Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin and Jason Isaacs – do amazing work, and a nice touch is not having speak in faux-Russian accents. Often farcical, always funny and very, very dark, The Death of Stalin is political satire at its best.
THE NEXT 10
A Monster Calls, La La Land, The Lego Batman Movie, Hidden Figures, John Wick 2, Personal Shopper, Kong: Skull Island, The Handmaiden, My Life as a Courgette, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The best of the rest: Manchester By the Sea, Sing 3D, Prevenge, Blade of the Immortal, Ingrid Goes West, Atomic Blonde, Free Fire, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Baby Driver, Spider-Man: Homecoming, It Comes At Night, Dunkirk, Hounds of Love, I Daniel Blake, Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets, Your Name, Detroit, Logan Lucky, IT, Mother!, Blade Runner 2049, Okja, Brawl In Cell Block 99, Thor Ragnarok, Wonder, Brigsby Bear, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle
The disappointments of 2017: The Time of Their Lives, The Lego Ninjago Movie, CHiPs, The Mummy, Live By Night, The Emoji Movie, Man Down, Geostorm, Pitch Perfect 3