This article is part of our 2017: A Year In Review series
As 2017 winds to a close, the time has come for reflection and introspection. If you’ve been following the news you’d be well aware of how both arts and world politics took a painful beating throughout the year. So it just makes sense that some of the best films of the year weren’t the obvious, big name titles but the smaller ones that properly reflected how far we’ve fallen from our collective high horse.
There were a few decent films like Ladybird, Get Out, Dunkirk, Coco and Call Me By Your Name. On the other hand The Shape of Water, Three Billboards and Phantom Thread would probably get some Oscar recognition in Feb.
The interweb, however, is filled with articles on how Hollywood is panicking over falling box office receipts and how the ‘prestige films’ haven’t performed well, but there’s little focus on the genuinely good ones that managed to sneak up behind the biggies and made an actual lasting impact.
Here are the 20 of the best:
Dir: Marianna Palka
This dark comedy drama takes the crown in the subgenre of using a bizarre setup as a metaphor for a real life domestic issue. After being endlessly frustrated in her troubled marriage, a woman suddenly gains the personality of a vicious dog – snarling and biting anyone who dares to come close. The film cleverly uses the ‘asshole husband’ trope as a primer for the werewolf like transformation of his wife, and anyone in a relationship would be able to relate to the themes snarling under the oddball dark comedy. Director and star Palka has made three other great films like this one and it’s rather odd that she’s been under the radar all this while.
Dir: Ceyda Torun
What could possibly be better than a tour of Istanbul? A tour of Istanbul through the eyes of various cats of course. This Turkish documentary charmingly illustrates the relationship between man and the felines, rendering with the light touch of a cat’s paw the message that we humans could learn a thing or two from them. Whether or not you dig cats, this is a film purely meant to warm the cockles of your stone cold heart, and perhaps even appreciate how cats have managed to survive hundreds of years of kingdoms falling apart in the region – especially since humans currently in Turkey seem to be on their way to downfall.
Dir: Joe Lynch
The title of the film is a clear enough indication of what it could be about. This is a wonderfully unhinged, balls to the wall action horror comedy that almost seems like a remedy to the humdrum cinema this year. Set entirely within the confines of a building writer director Lynch tears corporate structuring and jargon to shreds with satirical bite – but that is when the film isn’t slicing and dicing through hordes of people in suits. It also signals the arrival of the gun trotting Samara Weaving as the next big thing.
17. Berlin Syndrome
Dir: Cate Shortland
Aussie filmmaker Cate Shortland delivers a claustrophobic thriller with excellent performances, foreboding atmosphere and an increasingly unpredictable plot. The film premiered at Sundance to an unfortunate situation where the projection failed in the third act which marred the word of mouth and the film’s life, but it absolutely deserves a cult following. Shortand’s unique direction filled with silences and the suffocating cinematography often makes you wonder whether you should feel for persons who commit atrocities because they’re humans too.
16. Your Name
Dir: Makoto Shinkai
As someone who isn’t a big fan of anime outside of Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon, Your Name opened me to a new way to watch and appreciate cinema. Very rarely does a film marry the emotional, the visual and the cerebral so beautifully, and Shinkai finds the right balance at every step, even in the sprawling scope and scale of the canvas. It’s the best animated film of the year, and also a proper pop culture phenomenon. I wasn’t aware of Shinkai’s work prior to this but now I’m a huge fan, and ten minutes into Your Name, you will be one too.
15 – The Ornithologist
Dir: Joao Pedro Rodrigues
Last year it was Embrace of the Serpent, this year it is The Ornithologist that takes you on a drug fueled, hallucinogenic journey into a remote jungle. This is the kind of film that demands patience, but those willing to wade into its murkiness and metaphors will find themselves rewarded handsomely. A large joint would be a nice accompaniment to fully experience the spiritual diatribes and seductive allure of the film. If nothing else, you’ll certainly be considering a tour of Portugal having been swayed by the lush visuals.
14. Tragedy Girls
Dir: Tyler McIntyre
The blackest of black horror comedy with an American high school setting, all the requisite underpinnings such as peer pressure and Instagram followers, and two strange girls who may or may not be planning a brutal murder. This is genre filmmaking working at optimum levels, with the oddball WTF-a-minute cycle of thrills to keep you nervously laughing but also strangely entertained. And the star of the show is Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead from Deadpool) who gets to ram head first in a subversive and hilariously wicked role.
13. BPM: Beats Per Minute
Dir: Robin Campillo
While the festivals went bonkers over Call Me By Your Name, Robin Campillo’s LGBT set drama went unfairly under the radar – but this is a much more nuanced, soulful and moving ode to the gay community. Set against the backdrop of the ACT UP campaign in early 90’s Paris, BPM shies away from sensationalist means to expound the stigma against homosexuals and AIDS at a critical time in history – culminating into a finale that is probably the most exhilarating cinematic sequence of the year.
12. The Big Sick
Dir: Michael Showalter
The reason why this film became an unlikely blockbuster and made it to many best of the year lists is that it is the most crowd pleasing film of the year. It is also the rare film that has a very large heart at its center – with emotional pull without manipulation, laughs that feel earned and characters that reflect people who are always around you but we never paid much attention to them. It’s made Kumail Nanjiani a star and it will be interesting to see what he does next and whether he has the acting chops to do something different.
11. Get Me Roger Stone
Dir: Morgan Pehme, Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro
While a film about a hero is generally the filmmaking norm, there’s always something far more fascinating about films on total, absolute dirt bags. Get me Roger Stone serves not just as a terrific portrait of one of the scummiest human beings to have graced the Earth, but also as a searing history lesson on what the hell suddenly went wrong in America. The film keeps lobbing grenades of information that becomes more and more shocking, more so because it becomes clear that the seemingly giant machine behind world history is a simple little thing called political lobbying. Essentially everything that was rotten in our world has boiled down to 2017, and this film serves as a handbook.
10. Band Aid
Dir: Zoe Lister Jones
Zoe Lister Jones stars and directs one of the most unique takes on a failing relationship, in which a husband and wife who fight constantly discover that the only way to avoid a divorce is to turn their arguments into pop songs. The nasty fights may get a little weary, but the unpredictable nature of the film and the wonderful chemistry between the leads is an absolute treat to watch. It may not reach the heights of Blue Valentine but the conflicts presented in the film are quite resonant and the observations are surprisingly insightful. Jones, who was earlier known for the show ‘Life in Pieces’ is quite an astonishing cinematic force.
9. Good Time
Dir: Ben and Josh Safdie
A kinetic, darkly thrilling film that goes so deep into the underbelly of New York so fast it’s hard to keep track of the goings-on. Pattinson delivers a shockingly great performance as a junkie caught up in a heist gone wrong, stuck in a race against time. The Safdie Brothers weave a consistently tense narrative, filled with lush visuals and a gangly, dense atmosphere. The choice of aesthetics render a style of filmmaking we’ve never seen before, so even in the moments of familiarity we’re kept on the edge of our seats, swept up by the unpredictable unfolding of the story.
8. The Villainess
Dir: Jung Byung-gil
If you’ve been missing some quality Korean cinema lately here’s a film that should whet your batshit insane cinema appetite for a whole year. This is not just John Wick on steroids, this is John Wick during a plutonium blast while careening at full speed towards an exploding star. Right from the opening scene where we see a woman kicking ass for ten whole minutes in one single take in First Person perspective, right up until the finale that contains the best bus sequence of all time, this is carnage presented like a beautiful ballet. It’s also nice to see Kim Ok Bin from Park Chan Wook’s Thirst headline another Korean classic.
7. Super Dark Times
Dir: Kevin Phillips
This is the low key, intimate, slow burn, beautifully shot thriller to fall absolutely in love with. The setup is like cinematic comfort food – a gang of young kinds in a suburban neighborhood find themselves involved in a murder gone wrong. The 90’s setting, the fantastic cast of young actors and the ominous atmosphere all add up to a very solid debut by cinematographer turned director Phillips. And there’s just something magical about seeing kids on bikes in movies – maybe it’s fascinating because the image represents an era that can never return even though it was a a few years ago and we had many chances to preserve that aspect of childhood.
Dir: Andrey Zyvagintsev
The film that is sure to grab the foreign language Oscar this year, Loveless is a brutal, dreary jaunt into the harsh snow of Russia. Much like Zyvagintsev’s previous films, we’re taken through an uncompromising slow burn chronicling a family crisis with an undercurrent of social commentary on the state of things in the country. It may not be in the same league as Leviathan, but this is a demonstration of a master filmmaker under full control of form.
5. T2: Trainspotting
Dir: Danny Boyle
The sequel was never going to be a zeitgeist capturing classic like the original Trainspotting, but the film did something special – it presented us a new drug that we’re always addicted to – nostalgia. The result is a fever dream fueled by an overdose of nostalgia, reminding you of days gone by and how being carefree is no longer an option in an increasingly punishing world that cares less about you each passing day. It’s a somber chamber piece enveloped in Boyle’s trademark idiosyncratic colours and energetic camerawork. It’s also almost meta sequel filmmaking where we’re literally told that doing more of the same is just not possible when you’re no longer in your twenties.
Dir: Frédéric Mermoud
The director of French classic The Returned delivers another great film that explores the threshold that exists between life and death. Part revenge drama and part psychological thriller, we follow a woman (an incredible Emmanuelle Devos) who has embarked on a journey to find the owner of a car that killed her son during a hit and run. Apart from the unrelenting suspense, and brilliant twists and turns, the film is packed with exquisite visuals of Lake Geneva that serves as a metaphor for death.
3. All These Sleepless Nights
Dir: Michal Marczak
Like a beautiful fission of Terrence Malick and Kieslowski’s work, All These Sleepless Nights is the ultimate art form of the year, so beautiful to behold it seems like an art exhibition with moving images. It’s a simple story where youngsters roam a city in Poland over three nights and discover culture, history, and a deeper understanding of their own selves and their connection to each other. Director Marczak delicately moulds the shape of the film over and over again like clay, often changing its form from mesmerizing to haunting, making the experience so intoxicating and intimate you feel you’re within the movie itself. You want to touch the people in the film, and be touched by them; I don’t remember the last time I had such a convergence towards cinematic characters.
2. Better Watch Out
Dir: Chris Peckover
A trio of young friends hang out on Christmas eve, but there might be a killer on the loose – or so you think – because the 20th minute has an insane twist you will never ever see coming. With his elusive mix of sick humour, shocking visuals and subversive thrills debut director Peckover has created something totally unique, yet familiar and comfy to be consumed like hot chocolate on a chilly holiday evening. This is a comedy of quite astonishing blackness, and a thriller of surprising depth and soul – all packaged with incredible performances, particularly from the 14 year old Aussie actor Levi Miller and The Visit star Olivia DeJonge. This is the papa of all recent genre films and I absolutely cannot wait to see what Peckover makes next.
Dir: Alice Lowe
It seems the children of Ben Wheatley have come of age. Sightseers actor Alice Lowe has emerged as a superstar writing, directing and starring in what is possibly the best horror comedy in years. Lowe plays a pregnant woman who suddenly goes on a killing spree, targeting specific individuals who may or may not be connected to each other. But what sets this apart from many of its genre films siblings is how the woman in question receives particular instructions to execute her plans – a surprise best left for you to discover. It’s completely bonkers, and dances madly on the line connecting eccentricity and entertainment; but more than anything it is incredibly satisfying to watch, almost like a catharsis or sorts. Its bitingly hilarious digs on motherhood are just one of the many awesome screenwriting elements.