Big Picture contributors’ top 5 films of 2017

It’s been an incredible year for films. We asked our regular contributors which five films were their personal favourites of 2017.  Share yours with us @BigPicFilmMag

 

Kieron Moore

Mother! (Dir. Darren Aronofsky)
This fever dream earned Darren Aronofsky his place alongside Lynch and Bunuel as one of cinema’s great surrealists. You can interpret it how you like – a Biblical allegory, a meditation on corrosive fame and ego, a condemnation of humanity’s destruction of nature – or you can go along for the ride and the ‘did they really do that?’ shock of that scene with the baby.

The Death of Stalin (Dir. Armando Iannucci)
I still, from time to time, remember gags from this movie and burst into laughter. “Lock the doors, this is a musical emergency!” Buscemi trying to swap places with Tambor during the ceremony. “They’re filling his brain with American lies!” Jason Isaacs’s gruff Yorkshire Zhukov. “We need you, you’re the greatest and nearest conductor in Moscow!” Michael Palin’s dog. “How old are you?” “I’m old!”

Get Out (Dir. Jordan Peele)
An incredibly strong feature debut from writer and director Jordan Peele, with remarkably deft handling of the overlap between genre pleasures and topical issues. Its creepy and evocative take on Stepford Wives-esque suburban horror is mixed in with a Hot Fuzz-esque wit and an examination of America’s racial problem – a theme which Peele makes integral to the plot.

Toni Erdmann (Dir. Maren Ade)
I spent Toni Erdmann cringing through my fingers, terrified as to how Germany’s most embarrassing dad would embarrass his daughter next. But at the same time, I really warmed to the character, thanks to the humour being balanced with a poignant melancholy. Toni Erdmann nails this difficult tone through spot-on performances from Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller. A reminder that laughter is the best medicine.

Blade Runner 2049 (Dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Never have I been so nervous about a film, but my reaction to Blade Runner 2049 can best be summed up as a huge sigh of relief, followed by a huge gasp of “wow”. The expansion of the original’s world; the misdirection before the wonderfully nihilistic twist; the Joi subplot, equally mesmerising and discomforting; Roger Deakins’ gorgeous cinematography – how did it all work so well?

 

Ada Pîrvu

Loveless (Dir. Andrei Zvyagintsev)
The best film of the year in my opinion. If I had to describe Andrei Zvyagintsev’s film in a few words, I would call it the tragedy of modern life. Yes, there is a tragedy occurring in the story, but the film also speaks volumes about the many social ills of our modern world, about the superficiality and nothingness of a world with an unending aspirational demand for status, money, and the social media prerogative of selfies and self-affirmation. Because this film is not just a pitiless critique on Russia; it is rather, sadly, the story of all of us, a loveless world that has lost sight of what is truly important, incapable of supporting human life, or a child’s love.

You Were Never Really Here (Dir. Lynne Ramsay)
Joaquin Phoenix deservedly won Best Actor in Cannes this year for his role in Lynne Ramsay’s film. His subtle performance leaves no room for predictability, and up until one point, you’re never quite sure whether his tormented character is good or bad. You just don’t. I am so glad these two creative outsiders (Phoenix and Ramsay are both known for their no-bullshit attitudes when it comes to the Hollywood system and its promotional games) united to make this film. Because not only did they break away from the system, but they broke the form of the crime genre, too.

Wind River (Dir. Taylor Sheridan)
Wind River tackles a story that many American films are afraid to: the fraying community and pain endured by the Native American people, so often ignored as an act of historical penance. Through his mastery of tension and mood, employing a neo-noir touch and superb cinematography, Sheridan establishes a distinctive style that had a very solid base to begin with: an incredibly well written script. Wind River is uncompromising in showing an uncomfortable portrayal of the American society and wild west mentality, and it could very well be one of the few most important American films of the year.

L’Atelier (Dir. Laurent Cantet)
L’Atelier is a  realistic film, not just because of the mostly nonprofessional actors, but because it is an accurate representation of today’s youth. “Many of them are feeling abandoned, left to their own devices, isolated within their own communities, and I wanted to listen to them and give them a space where they can express themselves. I think that we’re very responsible for the big generational rift that we have, and it’s urgent for us to get in there and give them a chance to show us who they are,” says director Laurent Cantet. The scariest thing about Antoine (one of the characters, superbly played by Matthieu Lucci) is not that he has a violent side, but that he’s also a nice boy. The optimistic tone of that very last scene proves that words can be so much more powerful than weapons.

The Shape of Water (Dir. Guillermo del Toro)
There is startling beauty in Guillermo del Toro’s latest film, a fantasy story that has that rare quality that reminds you of cinema as art. And then there is Sally Hawkins, who undoubtedly makes the best female role I’ve seen this year. Part of me wishes that the film, set in early-1960s Baltimore, remained entirely in the realm of fantasy and did not comment on the era’s Cold War paranoia and civil rights issues. Not because I don’t believe these topics should be addressed as often as possible in film, but because the celebration of love, and of individuality, and of the magic of cinema in del Toro’s motion picture is so ravishing and full of a myriad of artistic possibilities that it would have worked out so well without the realities of life. We need to not give up dreaming.

 

Thomas Puhr 

Blade Runner 2049 (Dir. Denis Villeneuve)
There are simply too many impressive things about Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 to dismiss, despite its bloated runtime and inevitable failure to reach the heights of its classic predecessor. Its smallest, quietest moments are among its most powerful. Consider, for example, a surreal sex scene in which Ryan Gosling’s holographic girlfriend projects herself onto a prostitute, or when the audience is allowed a peek inside the workshop of a dream-maker for replicants. Hampton Fancher’s long-awaited return to screenwriting adds to the project’s mystique.

Get Out (Dir. Jordan Peele)
Although it is far more successful as a social satire than it is as a horror story, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut announces the arrival of an exciting new voice in genre filmmaking. Daniel Kaluuya gives an engaging performance as an African American visiting his white girlfriend’s eccentric (and homicidal) family. Unfortunately, the ending feels too easy, as if Peele mercifully releases his audience instead of pitching them off the cliff toward which he had been dragging them since the first scene. As a side-note, Catherine Keener’s clinking, hypnotic teacup surely deserves some award for best sound effect of the year.

The Beguiled (Dir. Sofia Coppola)
Possibly Sofia Coppola’s best film since 2003’s Lost in Translation, The Beguiled is a dreamlike meditation on isolation and denial during civil unrest. A dangerous game of sexual cat-and- mouse ensues when an injured Union soldier (Colin Farrell) is taken in by the faculty (headed bya reserved but icy Nicole Kidman) and students of an all-female boarding school in Virginia. As the characters flirt, stage elaborate dinners, and uphold their rigid routine at all costs, the distant gunfire of America’s Civil War can just barely be heard.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest offering solidifies his position as a cinematic Franz Kafka. Like the surrealist writer, Lanthimos cunningly takes the fantastical and somehow makes it feel both commonplace and inevitable. With the precision and terrible logic of a Greek tragedy, the writer- director follows a wealthy cardiologist (Colin Farrell) whose family life is upended by a mysterious teenager (Barry Keoghan, in a genuinely-disturbing performance) from his past. This film is, among other things, a shocking criticism of the absurdity behind “an eye for an eye”- style justice.

Mother! (Dir. Darren Aronofsky)
Perhaps the most daring and confrontational American film of the year, Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is also responsible for my favorite film-going experience from recent memory: a furious audience member stomping out of the theater and whipping his popcorn bag in the trash just as Javier Bardem pushed his hand through Jennifer Lawrence’s scorched chest in search of her crystal, regenerative heart. The film is not only deliriously unpredictable, but it is also a foreboding and tragic reflection on humanity’s darkest tendencies.

 

Neil Fox

Moonlight (Dir. Barry Jenkins)
No film has stayed with me more this year. No film left me as emotionally floored and as amazed by its aesthetic craft and prowess. Pure cinema of the kind a lot of people claim doesn’t get made anymore.

Certain Women (Dir. Kelly Reichardt)
The space that Reichardt leaves for the audience in this film is incredible. Such restraint and confidence in the film making and such poetry in the lives of the characters. A brilliant return to form after the muddled (for me) Night Moves.

The Other Side of Hope (Dir. Aki Kaurismäki)
A blast of unique humour and a much-needed jolt of fairytale hope in world of cynicism and sadness. A joy to spend time back in the company of Kaurismäki’s oddballs and his singular cinematic universe.

Neruda (Dir. Pablo Larraín)
The sheer confidence in the storytelling is immense. It feels like the culmination of all Larraín has been building up to aesthetically and ideologically. Thrilling and mysterious and poetic.

On Body And Soul (Dir. Ildikó Enyedi)
This film crept up my list week by week, and maybe if I was writing in January it would be in the top three. It has stayed with me, with its indelible images and profound humanity. It is a comfort and tonic in the way only great cinema can be sometimes.

 

Andrea Grunert

The Third Murder (Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda)
Hirokazu Koreeda’s film starts like a crime drama but quickly develops into a complex exploration of the legal system and the metaphysical examination of the question of truth. Social criticism targets a system that contents itself with ready-made answers instead of pursuing the truth. Contradictory viewpoints and information, diffracting coherence, reveal the fragility of perception and challenge conventional narrative patterns, while its latent tension captures our imagination long after the film’s unexpected end.

God’s Own Country (Dir. Francis Lee)
Francis Lee’s directorial debut is the unsentimental but emotionally rich portrayal of the harsh conditions of deep rural life. Lee avoids both the picturesque and the wretchedness, instead presenting loneliness and hardship, as well as generosity and the hidden feelings which linger under the surface of stoic endurance. It’s a bleak, disturbing film but imbued with the energy of the people whose lives are so deeply rooted in the land.

The Other Side of Hope (Dir. Aki Kaurismäki)
Once again, Aki Kaurismäki successfully blends social concern with fairy tale, harsh realism with stylish photography. The contrast between the misery of the refugees and the spiritual poverty in Finland challenges the idea of cultural clash in a most intelligent manner. The stylisation never destroys Kaurismäki’s appeal for humanism but invites us to question our own attitude towards some central problems of our time. The sort of cinema we need in a world which lacks compassion.

You Were Never Really Here (Dir. Lynne Ramsay)
Lynne Ramsay’s film is the impressive dissection of generic conventions. The search for a missing person transformed into an inner journey is narrated in a highly original manner which blends memory with imagination, reality with dream. Ramsay does not need action scenes to create constant tension and strong emotions. You Were Never Really Here is a great film on memory and human fragility, which masterly creates meaning through style.

Afterimage (Dir. Andrzej Wajda)
Andrzej Wajda’s last film strongly recalls the horrors of Stalinism and very subtly points to the fragility of freedom in contemporary Poland and beyond. Boguslaw Linda’s powerful performance magnificently reveals the artist fighting against the system, while the ingenious use of colour as a symbolic and aesthetic medium reminds us that Wajda was a painter himself – and that he was an artist who, not unlike his protagonist, criticised the system.

 

Gabriel Solomons

I Am Not Your Negro (Dir. Raoul Peck)
Based on Remember This House,  an incomplete manuscript by writer and activist James Baldwin , Raoul Peck’s scathing portrait of White America reminds us that US race relations are as strained as ever. Even though Baldwin died in 1987 and much of the film focusses on the 30 pages of his manuscript, which he wrote as a personal account of the lives and assassinations of three of his close friends, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., the narrative is a present-day condemnation of a country still unable or unwilling to acknowledge that systemic racism is rife and runs through all facets of society. As Baldwin states at the beginning of the film: “The story of the Negro in America is the story of America, and it is not a pretty story.” Peck’s powerful film is lyrical, poetic and full or rage, using James Baldwin’s words as a revolutionary call to arms. Essential viewing.

The Killing of A Sacred Deer (Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
Ok, so while I can’t say watching Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest film was enjoyable, it does what all good films should do – which is to make you think. Filmed in typical Lanthimos style with emotionless delivery of dialogue, eerily prescient static camerawork and sparse use of sound, this is psychological horror at its purest. The shocks and scares here are so effective because they are done so matter-of-factly. From Murphy’s son Bob suddenly losing the ability to walk, to the tragi-comic sacrifice scene near the end, Lanthimos knows how to hold our gaze. Uncomfortable but hypnotic viewing.

A Ghost Story (Dir. David Lowery)
Or ‘The Casey Affleck Under A Sheet Film’. Proving once again that less is more where film is concerned, Lowery’s supernatural drama takes us on one man’s (or ghost’s) epic journey of the soul. Earthbound and seemingly trapped, our ghost (simply called ‘C’) silently drifts through the home he once shared with his wife, while the relentless passage of time gradually cuts deep furrows of sadness into his sheet’s lifeless black eyes. He watches as his wife grieves, is consoled and eventually moves out of the house, taking with her all of the possessions that carried with them memories and traces of their life together. A Ghost Story is a poetic elegy about letting go of a physical place, and a reminder to us that while our bodies may return to the dust and the memory of our existence fades – it’s love’s power to transcend time which will be our lasting legacy.

The Meyerowitz Stories (Dir. Noah Baumbach)
Noah Baumbach made the decision to stream his film on Netflix rather than in cinemas (although it did have a limited release), which is a growing trend among directors lured by guaranteed audiences and lucrative production deals. Family dysfunction – especially of the Jewish variety – is a path well trodden, but in the hands of seasoned comic actors Dustin Hofmann, Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler – Baumbach’s pithy and witty dialogue is a joy to behold. Mining the comic potential of life’s tests and travails is Baumbach’s specialty, and The Meyerowitz Stories is a wonderful addition to the director’s already impressive body of work.

Blade Runner 2049 (Dir. Denis Villeneuve)
What at first seemed like an exercise in futility and a misstep of epic proportions, Blade Runner 2049 actually surprised everyone. Those of us who feared that Villeneuve’s film would undo all the hard-won fan adoration and cult status earned for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, breathed a sigh of relief from the moment agent ‘K’ glides his flying car above an epic futuristic landscape to a swelling Tangerine Dream-esque score. The film effectively expands and deepens the story of its predecessor by raising questions about what a world increasingly populated by replicants could mean to humanity while fleshing out complex relationships created as a result of our technological pursuits. But when the dust finally settles, will Blade Runner 2049 have the staying power and receive the fan adoration which its predecessor so rightly deserved? Only time will tell, but in 2017 a return to the dystopian frontiers of Los Angeles turned out to be a pretty good idea after all.

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