For the first time, we’re sharing our top choices for films of the year (UK release dates obviously…) and while by no means have we seen everything we wanted to in 2017, nonetheless these are all particular highlights for us.
15 Bad Day For The Cut
An excellent addition to the canon of UK gangster pics. Set in Northern Ireland, it follows Donal, a mild mannered farmer and mechanic, who sets out on an increasingly bloody path to vengeance following the slaying of his elderly mother. As he pieces together the story he realises she wasn’t as innocent as he thought, and the tale weaves between modern day people trafficking, family secrets, and the IRA in a bleakly brilliant manner shot through with savagely realistic violence and moments of black humour.
14 Shot Caller
Despite the slightly far-fetched premise, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau of Game of Thrones fame is brilliantly convincing as Jacob, a successful suburbanite whose life is turned upside down when he accidentally kills someone by running a red light. Fatally falling in with white supremacists in jail to survive, he gradually is consumed by a hitherto unseen dark side that marries his intelligence with a ruthless capacity for violence and intimidation that helps him rise to the top of the prison gangbanger hierarchy. Cleverly mixing before and after timelines with a neat, if somewhat predictable, twist the film is an immensely satisfying mix of thriller and prison drama.
13 Manchester By The Sea
A perfectly judged story of love, sorrow and desperate, paralysing regret with an unmentionable tragedy at its heart. It centres on Casey Affleck’s tightly wound character, a janitor and odd-job man called Lee who approaches each new day with a clenched jaw determination to simply exist and see it through, and an equally fierce will to keep all and sundry at arms length. More is gradually revealed by way of another more immediate tragedy – the sudden death of his estranged brother – and his forced reconnection with his nephew, ex-wife and, through flashbacks, brother who show us the man he was, the shell he has become, and ultimately what might be a glimmer of hope of at least minor redemption of some kind. Beautifully shot and exquisitely played, it is a heavyweight film that tackles profound human failings with an unflinching eye and not a little warmth.
12 Lady Macbeth
Florence Pugh is perfect as the scheming, ambitious and unrepentant central character in this austere, stark Victorian noir cum psychological thriller. Surrounded by obnoxious, weak and arrogant men, she plots, schemes and connives her way through a joyless household, embarking on what ultimately becomes a reckless affair. The consequences are severe, but not in the ways you might expect, and the ultimate humiliations and final assertions of power give the film a perfect ending that more than matches the eighty or so harsh minutes that precede it.
11 Personal Shopper
A thought-provoking mix of ghost story and thriller, that has an outstanding performance from Kristen Stewart at its core. Lonely, grieving her twin brother, and able to commune with spirits, the film wisely focuses mainly on her day-to-day job as a personal shopper for a prima donna fashion model who is consumed by her own importance. Mysterious stalker texts, murder, and some not-by-the-book ghost scares combine to deliver something marvellously uneasy and unwaveringly original.
James McAvoy excels in 23 ways as the creepy, multiple personalitied Kevin Crumb in this most satisfying of horror films that has a fine mix of suspense, back story and dry humour, whilst the back and forth psychological tennis between Crumb and his increasingly suspicious therapist are a delight to watch unfold.
9 T2 Trainspotting
The stakes couldn’t have been higher for this most anticipated of sequels and thankfully it doesn’t disappoint. The heroes (if we can call them that) of the original 90s classic are back – twenty years on and still mostly scraping a living from the fringes of society – drugs, escort services and other assorted petty crime. A plot of revenge, betrayal and of course redemption is eloquently and knowingly executed, whilst another spot-on soundtrack and some gentle nostalgia provide some light relief.
8 Super Dark Times
A brilliantly observed and atmospheric tale of pre-Colombine teen angst, alienation and frustration. A tragic accident leads to a hasty cover-up, and subsequent suspicion, paranoia and ultimately devastation. Set in a small New England town, the film creates a mood so fraught with oppressive, unnerving tension that every wintery frame seems to ratchet it higher and higher until the shocking finale. Outstanding.
7 Good Time
Constantine ‘Connie’ Nikas is a hyped-up, destructive, street hood whose chaotic efforts to break his much-loved brother (who has learning difficulties) from custody following a bungled ban heist leads to a series of increasingly ill-judged decisions and spirals him into one catastrophic event after another. By turn pathetic, arrogantly manipulative, devious and violent, the film has a pitch perfect performance from Robert Pattinson as Connie, and asks some all too pertinent modern day questions as the New York backdrop is perfectly portrayed both in a wonderfully grainy texture, and invasive electronic score from Oneohtrix Point Never.
Possibly the most brazen, provocative and icily strange film I saw all year. Isabelle Huppert is mesmerising as the strong, independent woman who turns the table on her attacker after a violent sexual assault – dealing with the attack and its aftermath entirely on her own terms. It subverts, jumping from grimly brutal to deadpan comedy with a humour blacker than almost anything else I’ve seen, and has a sub-plot that focuses on the cringingly awful love-hate relationship with her mother, and later, a knowing reveal of her father as a horrific 1970s serial killer. It thankfully credits the watcher with enough intelligence to at least debate some of the moral paradoxes it raises without tying everything up in a neat Hollywood style bow.
A wonderful juxtaposition of the vulnerable and the brutal, Raw feels like a wonderfully modern interpretation of the darkest Grimm’s fairytale to create a perfectly judged new take on horror films. From horrific initiation ceremonies to bitterly cruel sibling rivalry, the descent of Justine the waif-like student at veterinary college from fragile vegetarian to full on cannibal is documented in bloody and shocking detail. Laced with the blackest of humours, the film sets a confident course from wide-eyed idealism to the uncompromising abdication of any moral compass whatsoever.
Already a much-loved, vintage mini-TV series, Stephen King’s lengthy, coming-of-age horror story featuring the shape-shifting demonic Pennywise the Clown lived up to every single one of my expectations. And then some.
3 Get Out
Mr Popper’s favourite film of the year. A wonderful update on the classic horror “we know something you don’t”, nod-and-a-wink approach that links this to classics of yesteryear like The Wicker Man. Deftly commenting on racial paranoias through a series of cringe-inducing set pieces and wryly observed humour, the film gradually sets social anxieties to one side and replaces them with far more sinister and ghoulish intentions right up to the uncompromising climax.
2 Baby Driver
Just the best soundtrack of the year – matched to a stylistic, glossy and expertly structured storyline that was the best two hours of movie escapism of the year.
1 Wind River
Part thriller, part wintery western, Wind River is set on a native American reservation of the same name in frozen Wyoming. The discovery of a dead girl in the vast, snowy wastes leads to a murder investigation jointly carried out by taciturn tracker Cory Brennan and ill-prepared, but determined FBI agent Jane Banner who is refreshingly non-stereotypical, brave and smart enough to instinctively understand what she doesn’t know in this alien landscape. Brennan is still haunted by the loss of his own daughter in similarly brutal circumstances years earlier, and his initially uneasy alliance with Banner evolves into a far more rewarding on screen mutual respect as they piece together the circumstances of the murder. A couple of savagely violent scenes are handled with aplomb, whilst the performances of the leading characters and supporting cast is never less than riveting. All in all it makes Wind River a thoroughly compelling watch and a masterpiece of suspense and suffering.