It was a turbulent year for the world but an exciting one for cinema – here’s our ranked list of the best films that came out in 2017
Has anyone had a good 2017? It’s hard to say. I’m guessing no. For all your personal highlights (graduating, learning piano, finally dumping your boyfriend), the year has also been inescapably dominated by Trump, Brexit and learning that even the guy who directed Toy Story is a sexual harasser. Now, in order to stay engaged with the real world, one must follow the news. That means parsing through various write-ups of breaking stories, scrolling through Twitter for reactions, reading think-pieces from trusted writers, hate-reading think-pieces from alt-right trolls, and then realising you’ve wasted an afternoon staring at a laptop during what is supposed to be the golden years of your life.
But sometimes it’s too much, and the one escape, to some extent, has been sneaking out to the cinema. Except 2017 has also been a year where, in terms of film, the drama onscreen has been overshadowed by what’s unfolding behind the scenes. By this, I mean that 2017 was the year the public discovered that Harvey Weinstein has been a serial rapist for decades and that his crimes were an open secret in Hollywood. Similarly, 2017 will always be the year that the #MeToo movement empowered women to step forward to name their abusers, and it’s hopefully paving the way for a safer, more diverse working environment in the future.
“Many of the year’s best films have grappled with what’s occurring in the turbulent world beyond the darkness of your local cinema”
So it’s no surprise that, whether intentional or not, many of the year’s best films have grappled with what’s occurring in the turbulent world beyond the darkness of your local cinema (and beyond the closed curtains, if you’re watching at home). While art isn’t about ticking boxes and selling a preconceived political philosophy, the act of surrendering your attention to a two-hour movie (or an 18-hour TV series masquerading as a movie) revolves around experiencing someone else’s POV and reflecting upon it afterwards. A great film can be enriching, not just entertaining, and the best ones know how to execute their ideas specifically for a visual medium.
What I’m saying is, movies still matter. We invest time in seeking them out, watching them, thinking about them, discussing them, and – in the case of mother! – losing friends over them. So after some careful consideration, we here at Dazed have come up with a countdown of our favourite films of the year. For the criteria, we’ve stuck with films that premiered in 2017 – hence an absence of Moonlight and Toni Erdmann. And while Twin Peaks, Vice Principals and the Nathan For You season finale were among the most stimulating pieces of art we’ve seen over the past 12 months, they’re undeniably TV. Got that? Cool. So here it is, our ranking of the best films to grace 2017.
Rumour has it that Robert Pattinson, a movie nerd trapped in a movie star’s body, hooked up with the Safdies after he was spellbound by a single still of Heaven Knows What on Indiewire. Similarly, Good Time is the kind of movie that repeatedly dazzles viewers with intricate plot twists, high-octane chase sequences, and a smartly integrated, pulsating score by Oneohtrix Point Never.
What’s more, the New York crime-thriller, shot on grainy 35mm, features Pattinson in full-on rat mode as an incompetent bank robber whose poor decision-making ranges from rescuing the wrong person from police custody to the awful hair he dons for the second half. Not only that, it’s also a social satire and within its caper hijinks are some uncomfortable truths about whiteness.
The year ended with two accomplishments: Lady Bird officially became the best-reviewed film on Rotten Tomatoes, and everyone finally learned how to pronounce Saoirse Ronan’s name. Set in 2002, Greta Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama takes a simple premise – a daughter’s (Ronan) tumultuous relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf) – and makes it universal with rapid-fire witticisms and poignant characterisations.
Whereas Frances Ha was about pretending to be cool, Lady Bird encourages viewers to embrace their inner lameness. The main music moments involve Dave Matthews Band and Alanis Morissette, while Gerwig admitted in press that she advised Timothée Chalamet (who plays Ronan’s boyfriend from hell) to behave like an obnoxious Pavement fan. It’s an utter delight.
The ever-ambitious James Franco finally found his masterpiece. Leaving stoner films and weird performative art pieces behind, the actor-director took on the best-worst movie ever made and crafted a riotous, surprisingly touching piece about complicated friendship, failures-turned-triumphs and cult movie madness. The Disaster Artist chronicles the catastrophic making of The Room, and its bizarre, enigmatic lead, producer, director and financier, Tommy Wiseau.
This is inarguably Franco at his best, finding a kindred spirit in would-be actor and filmmaker Wiseau, on a quest to discover his place on the scene, and then carving out that very space for himself. Dave Franco is Wiseau’s frosted tipped, baby-faced best friend Greg, offering a sympathetic perspective – and at times all-out exasperation – for the now-famous oddball. Even in the depths of the absurd, there’s a big heart – and it’s face-achingly hilarious. It arrives the same year Franco fronts the glittering 70s porn-gangster drama The Deuce as Mafia-colluding twins.
It looks like big Franco could help Tommy Wiseau finally achieve his dreams of walking the Oscars red carpet in 2018.
In Mudbound, a bold, narratively complex post-WWII drama, every character is literally given a voice: the swirling first-person narration switches between the interior monologues of its repressed central figures and results in something novel – and novelistic. Though the plot, on paper (ie Hilary Jordan’s book), sounds like a 10-hour TV series, director Dee Rees condenses the love, anguish and revelations of two families – one white, the other black – into a tight, heartbreaking tale that explores structural racism.
The cast – Mary J. Blige is completely unrecognisable – are all faultless, as is the poetic direction. Even on Netflix, you can feel the soil and how much of a pain it must have been to shoot. As Carey Mulligan’s Laura puts it: “When I think of the farm, I think of mud… I dreamed in brown.”
Once again, Sean Baker delivers an exhilarating, compassionate film about a group of social outcasts rarely seen on screen. Eschewing a traditional narrative, The Florida Project depicts the “hidden homeless”, a community just about surviving in a candy-coloured motel around the corner from Disney World. The main troublemakers are Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her hyperactive kid, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince); meanwhile, Bobby (Willem Dafoe) has the unfortunate job of chasing cash-strapped residents for rent.
As the iPhone mastermind behind Tangerine, Baker is no stranger to unorthodox methods. Vinaite is a non-actor discovered via Instagram, and it’s to Baker’s credit how often you suspect a minor character is just a real person wandering onto the set. Where does the writer-director go next? He’s described his next film as When Harry Met Sally with junkies.
At the risk of sparking walkouts during this countdown, let me defend mother! as the kind of unpredictable, risk-taking, auteur-driven movie our film landscape desperately needs. Like the blue-and-black dress that went viral, it’s a number of things: a home-invasion thriller that visualises the helplessness one feels reading online news; a nakedly honest depiction of the loneliness that comes with fame or being Jennifer Lawrence; and also a 16mm portrait of the artist as a middle-aged Javier Bardem.
As for whether it retells the Bible or not, the clues are there (eg the unbraced sink is Noah’s flood) but it’s a red herring. What’s more prominent is the outpouring of anxiety and emotions, and that Aronofsky is sharing more about his private life than he needs to for the sake of art. Of course, it’s also an immersive mindfuck and one of the most impressive technical achievements of the year. In short, you either really love the film, or you’re wrong.
Dogtooth and The Lobster made for uncomfortable viewing, but Yorgos Lanthimos mined new depths of nastiness with his anti-bourgeois horror The Killing of a Sacred Deer. The first image you see? A close-up of open-heart surgery. Whereas The Lobster establishes its sci-fi twist from the start, Sacred Deer challenges you and its leads – Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman – to anxiously piece together the deadpan puzzle. It’s nerve-wracking.
Soon enough, you suspect it has something to do with Martin, an awkward teen depicted by breakout star Barry Keoghan. As a sort of evil Miles Teller, Martin takes command of the screen with subtle body movements and an ability to send shivers down your spine with spaghetti-eating methods alone. As the film progresses, Lanthimos tortures the audience further with cold, composed Kubrickian camera moves, but he remembers to alleviate the tension with humour – you won’t forget the saddest, funniest handjob in recent cinema memory.
3. 120 BEATS PER MINUTE (ROBIN CAMPILLO)
Writer-director Robin Campillo joined the Aids activist group ACT UP in 1992, but it’s taken him until now to document his experience with 120 Beats Per Minute. You sense it’s been building inside him all this time. The sprawling French-language drama, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes, recreates the giddy thrills and sense of community in the early 90s amongst a group of gay youngsters, HIV sufferers and allies. Meeting once a week to plot their protests, ACT UP’s activities range from wreaking havoc at a pharmaceutical headquarters, raving at Paris nightclubs, to, inevitably, mourning together when one of them dies.
Though it may sound like a typical period drama, 120 Beats Per Minute is proudly queer and it never feels like Campillo is toning anything down for a wider audience. Just as Sean and Nathan kiss in public to piss off a homophobic woman, the film isn’t shy about gay sex; it even makes a point of showing the messy clean-up that follows a handjob in a hospital. The cast, outside of Adèle Haenel, are practically unknowns, but you couldn’t tell. And, as the title suggests, it’s also about the euphoria of clubbing and finding a safe space on the dance floor. From an interview which will go online next year, Campillo told me: “We wanted to live and to survive… we were so good at clubbing and having fun and having sex and taking drugs. We were so lively. It wasn’t fair.”
There’s so much to love about Call Me By Your Name. The ambiguous moment Oliver (Armie Hammer) offers a massage to Elio (Timothée Chalamet). Michael Stuhlbarg’s speech on the sofa. The Sufjan Stevens songs. The closing credits. That Elio can be so broken-hearted he needs his mother to drive him home. I could go on and on, and so could half the internet – the gay romance found a loyal online fanbase before it even had a theatrical release.
Interestingly, Luca Guadagnino wasn’t the original director. At first, he was just an advisor brought on because the American producers couldn’t identify from the novel where in Italy the story should be set. Hence why the film pays so much attention to the landscape, and why it feels like a real place. It’s why people want to research the sets, read the book, and see every film with a tangential connection. If it’s also boosted sales of peaches, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Who knew in January, before its Sundance premiere, that an indie horror by a TV sketch comedian would become a runaway box-office sensation and one of the frontrunners for Best Picture at the Oscars? A young black man (Daniel Kaluuya) and his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) visit the latter’s ostensibly liberal, Obama-loving parents for a weekend getaway. Once there, he learns there’s no limit to her white family’s appropriation of black culture.
Though Get Out was marketed as a haunted house movie, director Jordan Peele promoted it as a “social thriller”. As a further twist, it’s about to compete in the Comedy category at the Golden Globes, prompting the writer-director to tweet, “Get Out is a documentary.” Whatever it is, we’re still talking about it, and references to The Sunken Place are now outnumbering brags of “I would have voted for Obama a third time if I could…”
Labelled ‘the smartest horror film this decade’ by Dazed writer Kemi Alemoru, Get Out broke numerous box office records, and is a film that sparked endless conversation, a movie that provoked, entertained and terrified in cinemas across the world. For these reasons, there can be no other choice – Jordan Peele’s Get Out is the film of 2017.