Another year, another favourite films post! I’ve done one on Letterboxd, but that’s just my top 25 of films that were actually released in the UK in 2017, so it includes films that were on my favourite 2016 films list. Over there I’ve also got a list of all the 2017 films I’ve seen, which are the ones with a 2017 production date, and that list will keep changing and growing. Below is a list of my favourite new films that I saw in 2017, including ones that don’t have a UK release yet. As ever, it means it’s missing some that only got festival screenings which I haven’t yet seen (most notably Agnès Varda’s Faces Places, which I’m very much looking forward to), so expect those next year.
But to the statistics, because I love the statistics! In total, I saw fewer films in 2017: 340 medium- or full-length feature films (almost a hundred fewer than in 2016), 143 of which were in the cinema (which at 42% is exactly the same percentage, though still represents a drop from a high of 62% of films seen in the cinema back in 2013).
However the big news is that I achieved my resolution to see 50% of films directed by women and 50% of films directed by people of colour. I saw exactly 170 women-directed films and 170 PoC-directed films, which particularly in the latter case represents a huge year-on-year increase (last year I saw 43% films directed by women, and 26% directed by non-white directors). In total, I saw exactly the same number of films directed by women of colour as by white men (95 films, i.e. 28% of my total). Now that I’ve hit that, I probably won’t try to achieve it again in 2018, as it did mean I actively avoided a lot of films, especially when it got to December, and I want to focus on filling in some film history gaps, which is going to mean more (old) films directed by white men, but I will certainly try to keep watching a diverse range of new filmmaking.
In terms of quality, there were lots of brilliant films, and plenty that I loved which I haven’t been able to include here… I mean, somewhere below the 25 listed there’s Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (flawed, yet sensitive, with a brilliant performance from Rebecca Hall, maybe my favourite acting performance of the year), On Body and Soul (a strange, odd Hungarian film), Félicité (an African film with another brilliant central performance), Angels Wear White, Jeune femme, The Death of Stalin, Step, I Am Not a Witch, Good Time (a critical favourite, and with an undeniably brilliant Robert Pattinson), not to mention 2016 films only released in the UK in 2017 like Hidden Figures, 20th Century Women, Toni Erdmann, the list goes on… So yes, I’m a big fan of 2017.
25 Girls Trip
It’s not perfect but this comedy is great fun, not least for Tiffany Haddish’s great performance. It also makes a stark contrast to Rough Night, which would be my least favourite film this year if I made a list of those (but generally I avoid films that look terrible).
24 Lady Macbeth (2016)
British cinema (and television) is littered with dull, worthy, handsomely-mounted period films, but this one is very far from being either dull or worthy. It is, however, very beautiful, and Florence Pugh is brilliant in it (after impressing in a small role a few years ago in The Falling).
23 Toivon tuolla puolen (The Other Side of Hope)
There have been plenty of films about refugees and immigrants over the last few years, for sadly obvious reasons, but this one from Kaurismäki has his usual glacial deadpan cinematic gaze but with a beautifully moving underlying empathy. Should probably have ranked it higher.
22 Human Flow
Another film about refugees, and one with both grand, complex images of masses of desperate people, but also the filmmaker/artist (Ai Weiwei) moving among them. It’s not so much about their individual stories, as about the overall story, and it’s heartbreaking.
21 Logan Lucky
Steven Soderbergh’s return to feature filmmaking this year may have had all his usual hallmarks, but its story of poor people marginalised by capitalism yet desperate for something better has all the hallmarks of that classic American theme wrapped up in its heist plot mechanics.
20 All This Panic (2016)
A coming-of-age documentary in NYC with stark characters, alternately awful and yet growing into themselves, framed by a beautiful aesthetic from director Jenny Gage and her DoP.
19 Colossal (2016)
Surely the oddest film of the year, a strange hybrid of monster movie and small-town allegory. It’s pretty wayward at times, but at its best, it’s brilliant, not so much about the destructiveness of alcoholism as (in a late film twist) about toxic masculinity.
18 Wo bu shi Pan Jinlian (I Am Not Madame Bovary, 2016)
The title character is a well-known femme fatale figure of Chinese literature, and this film is about a woman shunned. It’s also, pretty easily, the most beautiful film of the year I’ve seen, and the distinctive cameo-like picture framing is used to great effect.
17 The Big Sick
I think in many ways this romantic comedy is best viewed as a film about being an immigrant and fitting in (it somewhat sidelines its female lead for understandable based-on-real-life plot reasons), but it’s also about finding empathy and being a better person, so I rate it highly for that.
16 London Symphony
I live in London and I helped with the Kickstarter for this project years ago, so it’s great to finally see it. What could be an arch and rather affected conceit (hommaging the silent ‘city symphony’ films of the 1920s) is actually beautifully achieved, and makes London look a lot more beautiful than on my grumpier days I sometimes feel it deserves, but it makes me happy to live here.
15 Fences (2016)
It came out in the UK this year hence its inclusion in my 2017 list (ditto the other 2016 films here), but Viola Davis is easily the MVP in this acting line-up, though Denzel is of course no slouch. Filmed theatre can be a tough ask and won’t work for everyone, but I thought this film was beautifully rendered, and it’s truly elevated by the acting above all.
14 Personal Shopper (2016)
It wouldn’t be an end-of-year best-of list without a standout Kristen Stewart performance, and though I found this film somewhat more wayward than Olivier Assayas’ previous collab with Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria), it’s still a wonderful piece channelling grief and longing via some peculiarly 21st century mediation.
13 You Were Never Really Here
When I read the précis in the festival brochure, I expected to hate this (a sort of ripped-from-a-Daily-Mail-headline revenge type fantasy), but Lynne Ramsay manages to achieve something with her beautiful, elliptical editing: a profound sense of moral ambiguity. [festival screening]
At times with a hint of the surreal, this coming-of-age is another fine film about people on the margins of society. [Festival screening; released direct to VoD in UK]
11 Ex Libris: The New York Public Library
Something I too often take for granted, but libraries are great. Frederick Wiseman returns with another of his sensitive, multi-layered films about a public institution, this one showing the huge range of important things a library does for its community. [Festival screening]
10 The Beguiled
It received some pretty mixed feedback when released, but I loved Sofia Coppola’s latest film. Sure it’s very white in many ways, but it’s a film that seems to capture something about the traumas of adolescence as refracted via the Civil War. Also, it looks great.
9 The Fits (2015)
A film that took its time getting a UK release, and another film about adolescence, but it has a wonderfully understated atmosphere, a slow, quiet build, that completely hooked me.
8 Grave (Raw, 2016)
A pretty intense film, and yet another coming-of-age (of sorts), but it does what the best horror films do, which is to make literal something very primal.
7 The Florida Project
This could easily be an exploitative film about poor white people living on the edges of the American Dream, abandoned (if not screwed over) by capitalism. I mean, it is a film about that, but it’s not an exploitative one: the love between mother and daughter seems profound, and it has real empathy for its characters.
6 Pop Aye
Like Colossal above, this is an unusual film, but at its heart it’s a road trip movie about lives lost in the acquisitive forward thrust of modern city-bound society. Maybe it’s because it was one of the first films I saw at the London Film Festival and I just really wanted to love something, but I think this film is great. [Festival screening]
5 Estiu 1993 (Summer 1993)
Films about the experiences of childhood aren’t always great, but this Spanish one really takes an extra effort to centre its narrative (and its empathy) on the child at the film’s heart and that pays off. [Festival screening]
4 God’s Own Country
As a London-based city-dweller, I didn’t expect to like this film as much as I did (northern England, gay love story, set on a farm) but the interplay between the two lead characters is beautifully balanced by the cinematography and editing. It returns to the year’s favourite theme of being an immigrant, and it makes this outsider narrative compelling.
The stand-out of this year’s film festival was this Palestinian film. It engages with the political situation there without being preachy, and in its story of a father and son hand delivering wedding invitations around their community, has something of the feel of an Abbas Kiarostami film. The best kind of humanist filmmaking in a conflicted world. [Festival screening]
2 Get Out
It’s fair to say this film has already been very widely discussed and lauded, but I just wanted to add my voice to that. The comic elements only underline the central — and very American — horror at its core.
1 Cameraperson (2016)
A film about the world we live in, and about the sometimes fractured and fractious ethics of documenting that world, it’s also a film about a person and a life and making a life within that world. It feels like a film about so many things, that could so easily fall apart, but instead it’s the strongest film I’ve seen this year.