Here we are at last, the reveal of the top five best films of 2017. Let’s see what made the cut…
5 – LADY MACBETH
Full confession: I first saw this film when it debuted at the 2016 London Film Festival, and while I thoroughly enjoyed it back then, I was initially worried it wouldn’t spark as bright a flame as it did then when it would eventually make its way to cinemas. Thankfully, audiences seemed to respond to it just as positively, but even if they hadn’t I still would have really, really loved this movie.
A costume drama with seriously sharp teeth, and that’s putting it mildly, director William Oldroyd and debut writer Alice Birch arrive on the scene with one hell of a first movie together, which adapts Nikolai Leskov’s Russia-set novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by resetting it in Northern England with a firm focus on its riveting anti-heroine and her overwhelming desire to free herself from the shackles of her loveless marriage. But what starts out as a mere costume drama, albeit with a much quieter approach, turns into something truly haunting, and goes places that no other film like it would dare even consider going, which makes it truly something special for fans of this kind of quiet, reserved and delightfully wicked cinema.
But let’s face it, none of it would ever come together the way that it does without Florence Pugh in the lead of this magnificent movie. The very definition of a breakthrough performance, the 21-year-old actress, whose only film prior to this was a small but significant role opposite Maisie Williams in The Falling, completely and utterly owns this film from the very first scene onwards, and she gives a completely chilling rendition of a young woman who’s been forced into a pretty horrid situation, and through her passionate need to rebel ends up making herself a figure of such strength, but at the cost of her own humanity. It’s an electrifying performance, one of the year’s best in fact, and it’s so encouraging to see that Pugh has gotten loads more work thanks to the well-deserved attention she is receiving for it (you can see her next year in no less than three major productions, including next month’s Liam Neeson actioner The Commuter, Stephen Merchant’s wrestling dramedy Fighting With My Family which also features Dwayne Johnson, and ambitious Netflix historical drama Outlaw King with Hell or High Water director David Mackenzie and star Chris Pine).
To say anything more about this film would ruin the many surprises it contains, so you should do yourself a solid and find this to watch on whatever screen you possibly can, because it’s that awesome a film. But even then, it’s probably not as awesome as the next movie on this list…
4 – BABY DRIVER
Don’t let Kevin Spacey’s co-starring credit put you off from seeing this, because Edgar Wright has delivered a fast-paced, impeccably choreographed and highly enjoyable movie that truly earns its place high up on this list.
Wright’s love for music and intense action stunt-work combine to make the thrilling and extremely unpredictable rush of this movie, which tells a familiar story about a young criminal wanting to escape his dangerous life, and gives it a whole new set of wheels as well as a killer playlist to cruise along to. It’s fast, funny, wonderfully edited, perfectly acted (yes, even by Spacey), and incredibly well-written and directed by Wright who, after years of earning critical praise left and right yet never entirely landing a true box office smash, finally got audiences everywhere to really see what he can do with this $100+ million success in the US domestic charts (worldwide, it brought in a respectable $226 million).
But beyond that, it was also a film that introduced a very different kind of movie musical, one that features absolutely no song-and-dance numbers to speak of but certainly tons of choreography – and not just the numerous car chases and action sequences, but also some of the quieter and more sincere moments of the film, including a magnificently executed one-shot title sequence – with all of it set to a funky and toe-tapping playlist that seriously stands out as one of the best soundtracks of the year. Wright ensures that each featured song not only has a point to the overall narrative, but is edited so well into the choreography and overall sound design that it’s genuinely inspiring.
It’s a thrilling ride from start to finish, and you’d be crazy to miss out on what is easily one of the most entertaining times you will have at a movie in a long goddamn time…
3 – DUNKIRK
Christopher Nolan’s career is made up entirely of movies that have defied expectations and ramped up the levels of ambition as well as filmmaking prowess, and his latest film Dunkirk was an excellent reminder of how powerful a filmmaker he really can be.
Nolan plays around with time more frequently than with any of his other films, by showing us the events surrounding the 1941 evacuation of British and French troops from the beaches of Dunkirk from three very different perspectives and time frames; on the beaches and with the young soldiers themselves, which takes place over a week; a middle-aged sailor setting off from Dorset to France over the course of a day; and up in the air with pilot Tom Hardy taking down enemy planes within an hour. They all come together remarkably well to form one of the most unique war movies ever made, and one where its affirming message of hope and optimism is never lost despite the heavy scenes of bleak loss and terrifying danger.
Shooting once more on IMAX film, Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema have made something that should be seen on any IMAX screen you can get to, as the imagery and nearly-impossible camera trickery are simply extraordinary and deserving of the largest screen possible. It leaves one a little concerned over how it would play on a far smaller screen (somehow, I don’t think people will want to view it on the screens of their phones on the way home from work), but the rest of the movie is honestly strong enough to make it worth watching regardless of screen size, with the ensemble cast doing a damn good job with the simple but identifiable characters they’re given – including, in one of the most bizarre twists of 2017, a performance by Harry Styles that’s actually pretty good – and the powerful message of hope in one of history’s darkest moments.
Whatever he ends up making next, whether it be that long-rumoured James Bond movie or even a Rob Schneider comedy, Nolan is going to at the very least make it look absolutely amazing, if Dunkirk is any indication of where he’s going…
2 – GET OUT
If there was one movie this year that absolutely everybody was talking about, for all the best possible reasons, it was Jordan Peele’s debut film as both writer and director. But while the horror movie – or comedy, according to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association – was a truly great movie anyway, it struck a particular chord with people for its smart, subversive and all too timely subtext.
Played out as a version of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner if it were directed by Roman Polanski post-Rosemary’s Baby, the story about a black guy visiting his white girlfriend’s parents only to find there’s more horror underneath the already uncomfortable surface is brilliantly executed by Peele who, through his sly writing skills and careful direction, leaves you increasingly on edge by just letting the scene play out with its own creepy vibes, through tight close-ups and a distinct lack of music for the most part (but even when it’s there, it still works extraordinarily well). It’s easily one of the best horror movies in years, and that’s really saying something when you take into account that, on the whole, this was a fairly strong year for the genre.
But what makes it even more devilishly poignant and unique is how it offers a discussion on an area of racism that many liberals are unwilling to get into, that of institutionalised racism that still exists even within the most inclusive of people. As the only black person in this household, Chris – played so well by Daniel Kaluuya here – is the constant target of these peoples’ apparent insecurities as they continuously try and link things about themselves to black people in order to leave a good impression on this guy who could really care less about any of that. Even when it’s revealed what is actually happening, there is still a great amount of insistence that it’s all being done because they heavily favour the African-American race, despite it being some pretty messed-up things that they are doing. It’s such a touchy subject in our modern definition of what racism actually is, and what Peele does that is extremely clever is that he presents it both as a horrifying situation for the main character to somehow wiggle his way out of, and also as a mirror for all of us who still harbour insecure feelings around those of a different race, no matter how much we don’t want to. We as humans will always be hesitant about something we consider to be different, no matter how accepting we are of different cultures, races, religions etc; it’s part of human nature to assert oneself as the dominant figure, which is what Peele uses to deliciously horrifying effect in this movie whilst depicting these WASP-y socialites.
It’s a very special movie for its fearless ability to point out the glaring flaws in all of us as mere human beings and our natural instinct to hesitate at the prospect of being around others we consider to be different. It’s also, for the record, an absolutely fantastic horror movie that delivers scares, laughs and uneasy social commentary aplenty and gets positively better and better with each viewing. Not bad at all for a first-time filmmaker – not bad at all…
1 – THE DISASTER ARTIST
No matter what you may think of Tommy Wiseau’s masterpiece of crap that is The Room, you cannot deny its sheer power over audiences all across the world, who have embraced its entertaining wrongness wholeheartedly in the past nearly-fifteen years of its existence, from staging special midnight screenings to quoting its endless library of awkward dialogue to even going so far as to create unofficial video games based on the film. The true power of film, regardless of quality, is how it constantly unites people of all types who share very similar or very different opinions on whatever they see together, and how such a unity can bring hope and joy to everyone because of their undisputed passion for it.
That power is recognised wholeheartedly in James Franco’s absolutely fantastic retelling of how Wiseau’s magnum opus was created, and it’s part of why The Disaster Artist reigns supreme as our personal pick for the Best Film of 2017.
Franco, who directs as well as stars as Wiseau himself – alongside brother Dave Franco as The Room co-star and author of the book this movie is based on Greg Sestero – really gets as deep into the strange mind-set that Wiseau continues to inhabit to this day as he can, and allows us to see a man whose burning passion for acting and filmmaking (or at least, what he considers to be acting and filmmaking) makes him one of the last true believers in an increasingly cynical industry, and is unafraid to do anything to preserve it forever. Needless to say, Franco absolutely nails Wiseau’s mannerisms to an eerily accurate tee, from his undefinable accent to his strangely nonchalant approach to life and everyone around him, and also manages to achieve the impossible by making Tommy Wiseau, one of the strangest and most alien humans to ever stroll down the Walk of Fame, seem like a legitimate human being. It’s a fantastic character brought to life by a fantastic actor, who with this film gives perhaps the most satisfying performance of his career.
As a director, Franco also has a wonderful way of showing the true ups and downs that went into the real-life making of The Room, including but not limited to his touching friendship with Sestero which serves as a large chunk of this movie’s heart, and his increasingly eccentric attitudes whilst on-set of his own movie. We are certainly meant to laugh at scenes that spotlight Wiseau’s own filmmaking and acting incompetence, and those scenes are indeed very funny, but at the same time we are awed that despite his clear inability to do anything that is considered normal on a movie set, he still goes for it because he truly believes in his vision and wants nothing more than to share it with the rest of the world. Franco focuses tightly on this man’s vision and how, even at his most despicable moments, he is still admirable for his firm dedication to the craft, which makes him a truly inspiring figure in this dark time of fear and uncertainly whenever he goes in front of a camera and gives it his all, no matter how wrong it may be.
It is a film that is perfectly acted, perfectly directed, perfectly written, but most of all it is perfect in how it acts as a true love letter to not just so-bad-they’re-good filmmakers like Wiseau, but also to audiences who have stuck with this strange little movie for nearly fifteen years. The final few scenes of the film reflect the joyous and completely unhinged fun that audiences still have with it today, and if you ever go to one of those special screenings then you too will quickly discover that a lot of what this movie portrays this audience as is very accurate. It’s at once hilarious and also extraordinarily heartfelt, as we see that despite the unmistakably horrible quality it has given so many people happiness and entertainment that they would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else, which really says a lot about the power of movies that come along and leave such a strong impression that it’s hard to forget. It never comes across as too mean or even that mocking, but rather as something that clearly comes from a place of love that celebrates both the talent behind this wonderfully odd film as well as the people that made it the cultural phenomenon it is today.
This is why I consider The Disaster Artist to be the #1 film of the year, because of its powerful and crowd-pleasing reminder of the power of movies, and how they can be a magical way of bringing together people for their shared love of them. In these times of cynicism, hatred and pure bottled-up anger, it’s easy to forget that we all need something to latch onto that can restore our faith in humanity – in this case, it just so happens to be a movie about a movie about a guy who throws a football around in a tuxedo.
Once again, Tommy Wiseau has worked his charm on the world of movies for the better, and we’re all so thankful for it…