It’s been a quiet year for me this year for a combination of reasons: uptick in social things and ultimate, watching a huge number of films for school, and perhaps being a bit pickier when forking over my $10 (Reading) – $17.50 (Lighthouse Cuba). I’ve only seen 48 new releases this year, which is a smidgeon below par. While 2017 has felt like a better than average year for film, no film has earned a 10/10 from me on IMDb this year, and no repeat cinematic viewings. There also hasn’t been anything quite as awful as Victor Frankenstein, or a Pigeon Sat on a Tree Branch. Rounding up 2015 and 2016 I felt the need to champion truly amazing films that had been overlooked in all awards discussions and critical round-ups, but this year I think my top half-dozen films have almost all also been well received generally. I base my list on what I saw as new, not a strict 2017 release date, which means 11 films from my haul are technically 2016 releases.
First, the stinkers:
Live by Night
How you make a film about prohibition-era gangsters running rum through Cuba into a boring and turgid mess would have remained a mystery without this utterly nonsensical piece of garbage. Well done for answering a question literally nobody had.
Traditionally, a comedy should have at least a single laugh in it. I’ve got no basic problem with the plot – which was asinine – or making “inappropriate” jokes – I laughed until my face hurt when watching Bad Santa  – but I need some kind of comic timing, some kind of rhythm of expectations being subverted. Taking that cast and making a movie that laugh-free takes a truly special talent.
The best films of year in ascending order of global box office:
Colossal [Nacho Vigalondo, US$4,470,506]
I’ll need to revisit this in a few years and see whether I’m right, but this feels like the perfect film to capture the base problems of the patriarchy and its psychology, and seems like the perfect film for this moment in time. This film lifts the best parts of genre concepts to tell a story about real-feeling people and their struggles. the juxtaposition between the fantastic appearance of the Kaiju and the superbly real characters is a hugely difficult balancing act that the film absolutely pulls off.
The Florida Project [Sean Baker, US$5,978,874]
About 20 minutes into this film I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like it at all; there hadn’t been anything I could recognise as a plot, instead presenting as a series of vignettes about the desperate plight of a child and her unemployed mother living in a motel on the outskirts of Disneyland. But as the film unfurled, I recognised that there was a powerful and compelling story – it just wasn’t happening to the protagonist, but to her mother. This allows the film to show its story of human drama while avoiding the usual pitfall of this genre of systematic sadism toward its characters. The characters have our sympathy, but never our pity. In short, neither telling, nor showing, this film artfully suggests.
The Villainess [Byung-gil Jung, US$8,818,918]
This is a film which defies precise genre categorisation: a melange of high-octane action with stunning choreography and stunts, an underworld spy movie with every twist you’d expect, a psychological thriller about trust and relationships, and a romance. A list of films to which it owes a debt would be pointless, because it doesn’t borrow widely, it steals outright and perfects everything it grabs. This is the apogee of genre film making, confident, self-assured, controlled, and precise. It’s also notable, at least to Western eyes, for placing powerful women front-and-centre within a genre context.
Get Out [Jordan Peele, US$253,750,109]
By now I probably don’t have to explain to anyone what this film is about or what makes it one of the best musicals or comedies of 2017. I can’t remember another film which has so consistently appeared on year round-ups; still, if it picks up any of the Oscars it merits, I’ll be surprised.
La La Land [Damien Chazelle, US$431,690,689]
This was the first film I saw in 2017. I have retained a powerful sense memory of the film opening into a full razzling-dazzling musical set piece that I think would stand alongside anything in the history of musicals. I felt a wave of simple rapturous joy which never receded throughout the film, which somehow managed to at the last minute deconstruct the genre’s troped-t0-death happy ending into something that I found genuinely touching and moving. I’ve had plenty of people explain to me what they didn’t like about it over the course of 2017, but nothing anyone has said has trumped the pure joy I felt.
And finally a special mention, for Blade Runner 2049. It wasn’t a film that worked for me, but I think it’s been by far the film I’ve discussed the most. I think this is a film whose reputation and importance will slowly grow over time, as the staggering level of talent applied to make it becomes more evident on subsequent viewings.