2017, eh? Terrible year for reality; great damn year for movies. I had no rules for my Top 10 this year. If it was a new movie and I saw it in a cinema, it was fair game - foreign releases and festival titles included. Some of these films won't get American distribution until next year - one in particular, maybe not at all - but I can't leave them off my 2017 list, so much did they add to my moviegoing experience. I've also cheated and done a Top 20, and even that misses out at least a dozen films I'd love to have included - not to mention a handful of films I either missed on release or won't get to see until later.* But fuck it - I've got a publication date to keep. The rest are what Letterboxd is for.
#20. ALIEN: COVENANT - An existential two-hander drama wrapped in a passable franchise entry, and the best Blade Runner follow-up in a year where there were two good ones. Read my essay on the film here.
#19. I, TONYA - The rare film about abuse that uses the very tools of its construction to make the audience complicit in it.
#18. GOOD TIME - Gritty crime drama done right, with a potent mixture of thrills, laughs, weirdness and heart, and a final shot that continues to haunt me.
#17. THE EVIL WITHIN - Outsider art par excellence that would become the new The Room were it not so openly hostile towards its characters and its audience. Full review here.
#16. THE SHAPE OF WATER - A gorgeous fairy tale for adults that speaks both to loneliness and love (and fish-fucking).
#15. DUNKIRK - Pure anxiety at 24 frames per second, given gripping life by Chris Nolan's mixture of classical direction and borderline experimental use of time.
#14. THE BEGUILED - Maybe the finest-touch directing of the year, as Sofia Coppola essays the female gaze (and male toxicity) through her outstanding ensemble.
#13. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER - Absurdist psychological horror tuned with Kubrickian precision, and secretly one of the funniest films of the year.
#12. LADY BIRD - A hilarious and heartfelt comedy about status and rebellion that's sure to become the defining high school movie of our times.
#11. WORLD OF TOMORROW EPISODE TWO: THE BURDEN OF OTHER PEOPLE'S THOUGHTS - A mind-bending animated spacetime odyssey with existential implications that left me so overwhelmed I couldn’t speak.
Julia Ducournau’s cannibal coming-of-age saga had me at “cannibal coming-of-age saga,” but it’s more than that. It’s a tale of a young woman’s burgeoning sexuality; of unexpected bonding between sisters; and of rebellion against parents, religion, and society. Raw eventually gets down to some serious bloodletting, but not before touring all of its young protagonist’s triumphs and humiliations. Dotted with honest observational drama and comedy, it makes a curious spiritual sibling to Lady Bird (another coming-of-age movie and another female director’s solo debut), though it's considerably more sanguine. Its pleasures are carnal in the most literal sense of the word; the moment young Justine first indulges in her seemingly-inevitable culinary passion is one of punch-the-air satisfaction, the audience grinning even as they’re repulsed. Or in my case, just grinning.
#9. VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS
The other, other, other big space opera released in 2017 was weirder, ballsier, and more French than anything Disney put out this year. Playing out like the movie all our inner eight-year-olds (and director Luc Besson's, evidently) wanted from the Star Wars prequels, it's a non-stop cavalcade of insane sci-fi concepts and imagery, a colourful circus of cool shit that in an alternate universe would be a merchandising juggernaut to rival any other. That its two leads (and arguably much of the remaining ensemble) are horribly miscast only adds to the delightfully bizarre atmosphere. Valerian's box-office failure might stymie development on any other $200-million indies like this one, but at least we've got this wonderful, overstuffed, ridiculous feast of a movie - a movie that had me guffawing and applauding throughout its gloriously bloated runtime.
Thanks to ecstatic festival reception (not to mention a positive reference from Quentin Tarantino), mainstream audiences will get a look at Lowlife next year. They'll have no idea what hit them. What starts out as a singularly mean-spirited Los Angeles crime thriller morphs and evolves throughout its non-linear story, eventually becoming one of the sweetest films of the year. Every single one of the film's varied, weird-as-fuck protagonists - even the one with a swastika tattooed on his face - ingrains themselves into the affections of the audience, making us love them even as they play out a truly crazed, ultraviolent caper. Get ready for the cinematic catchphrase of 2018: “The legacy is all."
#7. THE BIG SICK
Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V. Gordon, and Michael Showalter’s unassuming romantic comedy is one of the year’s funniest films, featuring some truly jawdropping one-liners and set pieces, but it’s also so completely naked-hearted and raw that you’ll frequently be weeping even as you laugh. Nanjiani and Gordon bare their pasts and their souls for the world to see here, resulting in a movie about love and family that never feels like just another movie about love and family (and there are plenty of those). In a year full of great genre films and great gimmick movies, The Big Sick distinguishes itself by getting down to basics: it’s a great script, directed and performed to perfection. You can’t ask for much more than that.
#6. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
For all the debate raging on the internet, one thing's certain: nobody expected the direction Rian Johnson took Star Wars. Johnson turned in a piece of studio entertainment that for the first time in its franchise's ten-film history was actually about something, yet never skimps on entertainment. Directing like he'd never get the chance again (although thankfully, he will), Johnson delivers all the excitement, the emotion, and importantly the magic and weirdness that made this series special back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Star Wars feels fresh again, having thrown off the shackles of certain earlier films’ staid, mystery-box-driven storytelling conventions in favour of new ones stemming from character and heart. And yes, I would like a porg for Christmas.
#5. THE FLORIDA PROJECT
Sean Baker’s followup to Tangerine is so god-damned confident, it puts everyone else to shame. Cast with a blend of disarmingly natural kids, non-actor adults, and Willem Dafoe (plus 2017's good-luck charm Caleb Landry Jones), The Florida Project paints a compelling, captivating picture of the “missing homeless” living in the shadow of Disney World. Far from the “poverty porn” glorification of which it's been accused, this is a film whose characters all feel painfully real and human, in their capacity for nastiness and violence as much as for joy and love. Though much more traditionally filmed than Baker's iPhone-lensed Tangerine, the director's apparent love of filmmaking stunts shines through just the right amount, most notably in a stunning climax that puts an exclamation mark on his essay on American inequality. In the wake of Disney's Fox acquisition, it hits all the harder.
#4. LES GARCONS SAUVAGES
2017 was a great year for Belgian genre film, with the stylish Let The Corpses Tan and delightful Mon Ange vying for a spot here. But Bertrand Mandico's Les Garcons Sauvages transcends the lot with its tale of high-school troublemakers exiled to a tropical island possessed of magical, gender-bending powers. Using a hyper-artificial filmmaking style that harkens back decades (you ain't never seen rear-projection like this before), Mandico creates a throwback to classic boys-own adventure films that still constantly surprises. Dripping with sumptuous, erotic, sweaty imagery (and also dripping with literal cum), it's one of the most gorgeous-looking films of the year, and one of the weirdest. Read my full review here.
#3. GET OUT
It would have been enough for Jordan Peele's directorial debut to merely have been a perfectly-crafted indie horror-thriller. Hell, that would still have confounded expectations, coming from a man mostly known for sketch comedy. But Peele's film is so rich with symbolism and history, so full of things to say about the America's of yesterday and today, that it's elevated instantly into the pantheon of the greats. With a genre conceit married perfectly to its timely social commentary, Get Out manages to chill, amuse, and provoke equally through its blazing-fast runtime. It also jostles with the likes of Good Time and The Florida Project as one of the best-cast films of the year, full of actors subverting their usual “types” even as those types lull the inattentive into a false sense of security. There isn’t a more guaranteed crowd-pleaser than Get Out in 2017.
A new Joseph Kahn feature is always a cause for celebration, but Bodied is something truly special. Smarter than Torque and more focused than Detention, Bodied nonetheless brings all of Kahn's hyperkinetic style to bear on the battle-rap subculture. As a story about battle-rappers, it's already intimidating good, full of wit and performing talent, but it's also here in service of a greater good. Alongside The Square, Bodied is a rare dissection of “woke” culture that doesn't stoop to the likes of South Park's “we make fun of everyone” shtick. That’s a complex and dangerous road to go down in 2017, but Bodied does so with gusto, vigorously throwing out #problematic material while simultaneously subverting it. There’s a reason why this movie has won audience awards at nearly every festival it’s played, and I can't wait for mainstream audiences to be blindsided by it in 2018.
Darren Aronofsky's ode to creation, destruction, religion, and motherhood is a self-important, on-the-nose mess of pretension. It's also flipping brilliant, an absurdist followup to the similarly great and surprising Noah that in a way condenses Aronofsky's whole oeuvre (and personal life) into a single, endlessly-looping nightmare. Possibly the most stressful watch of 2017, or at least neck and neck with Dunkirk, it's an uncompromising art film that predictably turned mainstream audiences off when it was somehow released into 2,000-plus theatres (!). While Aronofsky's insistence on explaining the movie to those mainstream audiences doesn't do it any great service, the film stands up on its own as something wonderfully unique and impassioned, readable from many different angles, with every cast member and crew department working at their highest level. No other film this year has had me mentally returning to it this often, or obsessing over its production quite as much. It's so dense with incident and imagery that I'll likely keep doing so for some time. Full review here.
* Apologies to The Post, Call Me By Your Name, The Villainess, Okja, Columbus, Phantom Thread, and others; I will get to you in time, I promise.