films I have loved in 2017
Well, now I have (probably) completed my new-film viewing for 2017, so I am free to make the list of my favourite films of the year (I opted to save writing this list until after seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi in both hope and nervousness). I’ve determinedly limited myself to a top ten - but in no particular order, as I don’t feel that I can refine them that clearly. I’ve also put in (i) some honourable mentions, because I’m a cheat, and (iii) a couple of films to which I gave a resounding pfffft.
The Top Ten
A Monster Calls. J.A. Bayona’s film of Patrick Ness’s story is a beautiful, painful real film in which the fantasy story enables the central character to cope with the real story. I’d never read the book, but I knew the premise, a teenage boy whose mother is dying from cancer - and yet I was. not. ready. I bawled. I was at a screening with three teenage girls who, by the end of the film, were sobbing vocally in each others’ arms - and were given the end of a pack of tissues by the guy sitting in front of me as he left the cinema. There are few storytellers better at helping teens navigate complex emotions than Ness, and Bayona brought this to life magically.
Logan. Finally, Wolverine gets great, deep, story told phenomenally well. The X-Men movies were my ‘first’ introduction to comic books (I started reading because I wanted more of the stories and the background) and it was really nice to see a film in this world go to the kinds of complicated places I want a film to go, because yeah, in the world we live in what happened to those kids would happen. It was dark and violent, but necessarily so. And I’ve been listening to Johnny Cash ever since.
Hidden Figures. A lesson in how to tell a serious story with wit, verve and affection, this film was an utter, utter joy. My highlight: watching Mahershala Ali apologising to Taraji P Henson for underestimating her. I want to watch it in a triple bill with The Dish and Apollo 13.
Dunkirk. I’d heard incredibly little about it until I saw the trailer, and I was really ready to be sceptical about it. And then I was completely swept away. It was huge, literally - I went to see it in 70mm Imax at the BFI and got neck-ache following the planes - and pitched its intensity really well (helped significantly by Hans Zimmer’s ticking score). It was really well grounded by Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hardy, who anchored the story about the three young soldiers on the beach. And yes, I fell hard for the moment that Elgar’s Nimrod swells through the score as Branagh watches the horizon through his binoculars…
A Ghost Story. I’d loved David Lowery’s previous film with Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, Ain’t Them Body Saints, so I was looking forward to this, despite trying to navigate the various tensions and emotions of watching Casey Affleck in anything nowadays. This was delicate yet tough, eerie yet soothing, and completely absorbing. I'm fascinated by time, so this was one for me.
God’s Own Country. This was a complete surprise to me, and completely astonishing. It really captures the hardness of working a small family farm in Britain today, but also some of the good and the value of this life - plus the absolute beauty of Yorkshire and a suprising and delightful love story. The most moving scene for me comes when Johnny runs into an old school friend, home from university for the holiday, in the pub - and her complete inability to understand what his life is like. The ending is *kisses fingers* perfect.
Blade Runner 2049. This was one that could have gone terribly wrong, but didn’t, and I was terribly worried about it despite it being directed by Denis - Arrival - Villeneuve. I like the original a lot, but was not a massive, invested, fan (I’d only seen it twice before - the original and the director’s final cut) and it felt like something that could be completely unnecessary. After seeing it I still feel like more would be unnecessary, and I’m worried that Ridley Scott will take this where the Alien world is going - but I loved this as a ‘20 years later…’ standalone, going deeper into what it means to be human.
Death of Stalin. Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop is an all time favourite of mine, so I was really ready for his take on Russia in this, the time of our return to the Cold War. I thought it pitched it’s tone really well - utterly hilarious and yet simultaneously shocked at the utter self-obsessed nonsense of the men in charge and the consequence of this on the people at large. In addition, I am extremely here for films in which Jason Isaacs is ruggedly, cursingly, uniformed (and northern) and Simon Russell Beale finally gets a screen role worthy of his greatness.
Song to Song. I am an unapologetic, ongoing, Terrence Malick fan, and I really liked his latest. It’s not just that I got a lot out of it and thought it was really good but didn’t have a fond affection for it, like Knight of Cups - I actively enjoyed and have very fond feelings about this. I think it’s because it’s about a young woman trying to work out her life, and I’m - one of those, so it spoke to me.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Not quite the last seen (because I took myself off to see Pitch Perfect 3: please pitching stop embarrasing us all the day after this) - but nearly. I don’t quite feel that I’ve got enough distance on this before adding it to my top ten list - and yet I can’t imagine leaving it off (and not just because in my nightmares Oscar Isaac looks at me like I’ve disappointed him). I didn’t grow up on Star Wars, and I’ve only come to be a fan (rather than a person who has seen the films) with The Force Awakens and Rogue One. So for me, TLJ feels like a leap forward in exploring the characters from where TFA and allowing that to drive the story. My least favourite parts involved Luke, Rey and Ben, because I find Jedi-religion quite quite dull and what I really like is Space Politicking and Battles. My most favourite parts involved Rose and Finn being a joy and delight and sunshine to the world, and the way Johnson handled the Dameron - Holdo storyline without making me hate Poe or casually making Holdo a woman who’s a terrible leader in order to keep my affection for Poe. I was so scared about how that plot would play out, and I really felt they landed it.
T2: Trainspotting and Paddington 2 (because both could have gone so terribly wrong and ruined the memories of the originals)
Baby Driver (even though I think Kevin Spacey was in a different, more parodic film, and now watching Spacey with Baby is creee-py)
King Arthur (because I love gloriously silly Guy Ritchie mythy nonsense)
Thor Ragnarock (because it was a raucous good time, and I’ve never wanted to be part of a revolution led by a rock monster, but now I do, and also VALKYRIE)
Wonder Woman (despite it apparently needing the parting words of a Guy Called Steve to save the day)
My Cousin Rachel (because un-resolution never felt so infuriatingly unsatisfying and yet intellectually satisfying)
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (weird yet wonderful)
Gifted and Goodbye Christopher Robin (both could have been so twee, wasn’t)
Silence (painful, remarkable, a worthy adaptation of the book)
A Quiet Passion (because I was expecting the beauty and the pain but not the humour)
The Big Sick (a rom-com that had both rom and com, staggeringly).
Films I missed but really want to see: Between travel and busy-ness, these are a few of the films I missed, but really want to catch:
Call me by Your Name
Ingrid Goes West
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Detroit. I really really wanted to like this, because Kathryn Bigelow, at her socio-political best (Zero Dark Thirty) can make you complicit in the uncomfortable stories she tells, and I thought it could be really effective in this - but I just felt like it kept me at a distance from the abuse the cops wreaked on their prisoners, in a way that made me feel uncomfortable about watching.
La La Land. Kill it. No really. I truly, deeply LOATHE this film. If I hadn’t been sat in the middle of the row in a busy cinema I would have walked out at the point at which Ryan Gosling mansplains jazz to Emma Stone and says sadly, “And it’s dying.” NO IT ISN’T. Jazz does not need Ryan Gosling to save it from John Legend. Also, that tinkly-tonk, plinkety-piano Gosling plays is NOT JAZZ. It’s elevator music. The only reason I ever thought Emma Stone’s character actually HAD a character is because Emma Stone is a seriously good actress hiding the vacuum that lurking is beneath the lines she has been given. Make it go away.