Time has come for us to look back at 2017’s fair share of favourites and letdowns in film. As always, due to late releases, I am missing out on movies that I might have loved, including Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here.
Sadly, I have also had less time for trips to the cinema. Even so, Netflix has produced plenty of stunning works, some surpassing even the most anticipated blockbusters. Scouring through the films I have seen both online and off, here is a list of my personal picks.
10. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (dir. Noah Baumbach)
With his works from the realist (The Squid and the Whale) to the expressly whimsical (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), Noah Baumbach has earned a solid reputation as a versatile and empathic screenwriter. The Meyerowitz Stories returns to his familiar world of family dysfunction, where estranged siblings find commonality in their individual search for human connection.
The outstanding work sees Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler reunite as brothers at loggerheads, alongside Elizabeth Marvel as their wallflower-sister, and Dustin Hoffman as the egotistic patriarch of the family. Subtle individual quirks reveal their identifiable histories, of which the cast plays to perfection. Catharsis ensues.
9. Wonder Woman (dir. Patty Jenkins)
DC may be a laggard right now, but 2017 has seen its first bright spot since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. This is no Elektra or Catwoman. Director Patty Jenkins defines Diana Prince far beyond her sexuality, and sees Gal Gadot embody one of the most empowering heroines in the history of comic book films.
Befitting her stirring display of strength is the powerful soundtrack, making its mark like few other recent scores have done. For anyone out there dismissing Wonder Woman as a one-hit wonder, her exceptional appearance in Justice League would no doubt diminish that very misgiving. (review)
8. Logan (dir. James Mangold)
Considering how the past eight X-Men films have homed in on Wolverine in some way, it is no easy feat to have his solo outing stand out. But Logan defies expectations, crafting one of the most striking chapters in the expansive world of superheroes.
Not only is the film is a near-perfect swan song for an aged hero. It also succeeds in introducing X-23 in a surprisingly satisfying origins story. Never would anyone expect a 12-year-old to carry her own superheroine film, but Dafne Keen proves more than ready. (review)
7. The Invisible Guest / Contratiempo (dir. Oriol Paulo)
Adrian Doria (Mario Casas) has had everything going for him, until a murder charge threatens to mar his life. To clear his name, he hires a reputable defense attorney, who races against time to unearth what truly happened that night.
Truth is malleable, as The Invisible Guest does well to show. Each retelling of the same reality lay bare a piece of the puzzle, where changing perspectives transform a seemingly perfect picture. Just as everything appears to fall into place, writer-director Oriol Paulo shuffles the cards that he has been patiently playing. The result is a masterclass on the rare artistry of an unpredictable and gratifying mystery thriller.
6. Baby Driver (dir. Edgar Wright)
Fifteen years later, an idea for a little-known music video germinated into one of the biggest, slickest joyrides of the year. Taking an all-American cast on a spin this time, Edgar Wright still puts forth his welcome brand of dry wit, mottled with specks of violence and dark humour.
Be it for a dramatic car chase or the paltriest of actions, every scene plays to the addictive rhythm of a marvellous playlist, which includes Queen, The Damned, and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. If it isn’t the most fun this audiophile has had at the cinema in years. (review)
5. Okja (dir. Bong Joon-ho)
Following The Host and Snowpiercer, Bong Joon-ho’s films continue to explore the ethics of capitalism and the necessity of environmentalism. This time, the subject of sympathy is super-pig Okja. While an endearing pet to young Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), Okja is but seen as a slab of genetically engineered meat to global slaughterhouses.
Seeing past the gloss of public relations, Mija is determined to expose the unsavoury truth of the creature’s fate. Far from subtle, the message still comes through strong. All thanks to the credible bond that Okja builds, not just with Mija and the Animal Liberation Front, but the audience too.
4. Buster’s Mal Heart (dir. Sarah Adina Smith)
Buster (Rami Malek) is a house-breaking drifter on the run. He was also once Jonah, a corporate family man who is struggling to escape the edge of the poverty line. Chasing the elusive freedom from life’s clockwork motions, a trauma soon leads him on a reflective spiritual journey, winding through the unconventional paths of a fever dream.
In its leading man and thematic exploration, Buster’s Mal Heart feels complementary to Mr Robot. Only that Sarah Adina Smith is less interested in a sensational socio-political confrontation. Delving into a resonant existential crisis as prevalent in fiction as it is in society, her psychological drama explores something more intimate and affecting with Jonah’s emotional strife within.
3. Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)
A young black man Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) meets the family of his white girlfriend, only to uncover their nightmarish secrets. Horror may be a landmine of tropes, but Get Out manages to escape mostly unscathed. One half of Key and Peele steps away from his usual brilliant comedy, and emerges a frontrunner in horror of 2017.
Taking a leaf out of George A. Romero’s classic films, Jordan Peele layers his genre tale with provocative commentary on race, politics, and social class. If there is anything more discomforting than blood and guts, it is always some semblance of the truth.
2. Dunkirk (dir. Christopher Nolan)
An arresting masterwork of suspense, Dunkirk paints an honest and unflinching portrait of warfare. Young soldiers are driven to desperate inner battles, with home in sight yet out of reach. In the converging stories of the troops, difficult motifs of blind patriotism, forgotten heroism, and inconsequential sacrifices are confronted head-on.
This retelling of the Dunkirk evacuation may be remembered for its visual and aural accomplishments. Yet the emotional impact is just as irrefutable, as we are forced to witness the permanence of warfare’s implications. (review)
1. Mudbound (dir. Dee Rees)
Mudbound also harks back to volatile times, where war exists outside of the battlefield. Blatant racism thrives in the open, as does derogatory violence. In a period when black men were forced to use the backdoor in public, the white McAllans are explicit in their scorn and abuse against the Jacksons. But not Jamie (Garrett Hedlund). War bounds Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) and him together, despite being born in worlds apart.
Their friendship is fraught with tension, as the men of their households Pappy (Jonathan Banks) and Hap (Rob Morgan) find themselves deadlocked back on the rural farmland of Mississippi. A story like this seems destined to culminate in tragedy. But Dee Rees (who also directed the brilliant Pariah) does not forget that glimmer of bittersweet hope in its harrowing conclusion. It is powerful filmmaking, both disquieting and challenging.