This is not a list of my personal favourite films of 2017 (That list is coming, not that it matters). But because there’s always more films than you can possibly justify putting into one list, and we like to be positive around here, these are the ones that I’ll still defend and champion a year from now. Whatever their flaws, their quirks and ambitions more than make up for it. 2017 was the year I learned to completely own my tastes, and to be more forgiving of flaws where I’d find them.
A film sadly destined to be buried in the avalanche of Netflix’s mostly disposable-to-terrible original* films, Tramps is an updated screwball comedy, refocused on the working classes who’d actually have to struggle with the consequential actions of the casts of genre classics such as Bringing Up Baby. It has all the laidback mood you’d expect from kitchen-sink budget indies, and that thematic thread is exceptionally well drawn without making the remotest fuss. The basic premise? When his brother lands in jail, Danny (Callum Turner) has to pick-up a briefcase and drop it off. But he screws it up, and so he and his one contact Ellie (Grace Van Patten) head upstate in search of the woman he gave it to. It’s winsome, sincere, and Van Patten and Turner have excellent chemistry; Tramps is full of the subtle onrush of falling for someone, suddenly.
*read: We bought this when we saw it at Sundance and decided to just not tell anybody.
Martin Scorcese doesn’t make movies that aren’t worth watching. It’s never a good sign if a film is released on New Year’s Day, as it’s usually forgotten by the end. Yet Silence is a meaty and gorgeously understated (and absolutely gorgeous) exploration of faith. There are no easy answers, only questions, and the more you learn about the story (hey, Portuguese Apostate Liam Neeson: believing that no new faith can take root in Japan is a little ironic since Buddhism originated in India) the muddier the waters get. It’s an undertaking and a half to watch, but mesmerising and impossible to turn away from. Never sleep on Scorcese.
Guys, spy movies are historically the silliest things in the world. There are multiple, highly lucrative franchises about male power fantasies swanning through Europe, blowing things up, jumping from ridiculous heights, and beating up failing Western rule in critical self-flagellation (hello Jason Bourne!). Atomic Blonde leans into the silliness: it has a Berlin club lighting palette, a gleefully on-the-nose soundtrack, James McAvoy giving his second hammiest performance this year, and of course multiple all-too-clever scenes where opposing characters know something they think the other doesn’t know, or maybe they do, but we’re sure the hero will make it out alive. Meanwhile, Charlize Theron gifts us another ass-kicking, genre-elevating performance through multiple scenes of hardcore punishment, all setting a new standard for hand-to-hand combat in American action filmmaking. If 30% more summer films were this cool and honest, we’d all be happier.
You could fill a 100 pages with shots of sunlit weeping willows and candlelit murder dinners from The Beguiled. It’s sexy, propulsive, full of note-perfect performances, and overflowing with tension. Colin Farrell is in a groove of rocking the older seductor vibe, but proves here that such an artifice of politeness can be used to hide as much weakness as it did manipulation in Fantastic Beasts. Special mention too, in a stacked female cast, to breakout Oona Laurence.
Speaking of gorgeous movies about women dealing with the physical and figurative structures trapping them. Lady Macbeth is so mean it makes The Beguiled look like 10
Things I Hate About You. Florence Pugh’s performance is simply sensational, with her methodical, hyper-internal Katherine drawing the much more open performances into her orbit, before this sympathetic woman turns savage. I can’t wait to revisit the heart-stoppingly cruel third-act so I can read all the different ways throughout that Pugh plays the simple image of Katherine sitting or standing with her hands clasped over impeccable dresses, her china-doll face belying an impossible iron will.
Kong: Skull Island
I’d have this on any list about 2017 just to celebrate director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ vicious takedown of CinemaSins, and subsequent self-deprecating appearance on Honest Trailers. It helps that Kong: Skull Island, subtle though it isn’t with its inspirations, is one of the most gorgeous blockbusters this decade. The images of a giant ape using a boat propeller to beat up a skeletal cavern-crawling beastie, or using a helicopter to smash other helicopters, or watching those same crawlers munch on our party of expendable heroes in the midst of a green fog graveyard. Tom Hiddleston in a gas mask, with a katana, slicing up lil’ pterodactyls? Yeah, this movie fucking rules. Kong: Skull Island only makes sense in the cinema, and you can ask no more from a giant monster movie.
This is exactly what you think it is, but a lot better in the execution. A warm, playful, feminist-leaning nostalgic comedy about making movies in wartime Britain, with Bill Nighy? How could it possibly surprise you? Well Their Finest proves to be made of steel with a development that recontextualises the characters efforts to make a movie that inspires people: whilst on set after a bombing raid, writer Buckley (Sam Claflin) dies in a freak accident, the very second after he and writing partner Catrin (Gemma Arterton) finally confessed their mutual love. Suddenly, this warm film about making movies to lift spirits and mobilise people shows you what has been building the entire time: the movies are not enough. They can comfort, as Catrin finds out herself, but what really matters is showing up and doing the work. It’s a bold, cruel choice on the part of write Gaby Chiappe and director Lone Scherfig, but it’s what makes Their Finest significantly more memorable than its appearance.
H.R. Giger’s creation is still the most terrifying movie creature in existence. But Ridley Scott, not content with adding to the species roster with the infinitely nasty Neomorph, makes Michael Fassbender’s David the hero of his own nihilistic, genocidal story. Characters and cardboard cutouts drop like flies here, and Scott’s having a blast using them to get inside the head of possibly the most exciting and disarming AI since Roy Batty. Sporting killer horror and action sequences, and the ever-valuable Katherine Waterston and Billy Crudup, Alien: Covenant is a gleeful Frankenstein melding of classic schlock and pretentious divergence.
A Cure For Wellness
It’s been a year of great horror movies big and small, and the most exciting thing about it is how many times a studio-backed film with an insanely high budget swung hard for the fences, when it came to scares and subtext. And perhaps no film (except mother!) swung with more mania than A Cure For Wellness. Wonkily structured it may be (the batshit insane third act climax is actually somewhere in the fourth act), and barely bothering to hide the “in-plain-sight” danger by casting Jason Isaacs (with a none-more menacingly hammy performance), it’s nonetheless a riot of big, trippy spectacle, haunting sound and production design, and themes of decaying morality, amidst characters trying to live forever.
Valerian & The City Of A Thousand Planets
I’ve already written at length about why this rules, so in short: this was the biggest sugar rush of the summer blockbuster season. Sometimes overwhelming, often very silly and eye-rollingly hard to stomach, but it’ll also fill you with a giddy buzz unlike anything else this year.
Happy Death Day
Ditto in the case of this hyper crowd-pleasing slasher. Jessica Rothe is a star, and I’m going to remember the split-diopter shot and the baseball death transition for a long time, for their sheer visual fun. They’re not even close to all the moments director Christopher Landon makes a neatly premised slasher so much more original.