Top 10: Films of 2017

Top films of the year lists are like Christmas selection boxes. Not because they include a carefully chosen selection of favourites guaranteed to please, but because everyone’s got one and you’re sick of them by the 2nd week of January. With that in mind, here is the Depends on the Dream Top 10 films of 2017. Rules are as in previous editions: the film must have been released in UK cinemas for the first time between 1st January 2017 & 31st December 2017 to qualify. And there’s LOADS I haven’t seen, so if your favourite isn’t there it’s as likely because I’m lazy busy as it is I didn’t enjoy it. Spoilers will be avoided, so read through, search out the ones you’re yet to watch, and debate away, dear readers…

10. Lady Macbeth – dir. William Oldroyd

It’s brave to take as your title the name of one of English literature’s most infamous figures. It’s even braver to do so when your film is not about Shakespeare’s sometime Queen of Scotland, but instead a story of an entirely different (but no less memorable) woman of passions. But then the debut feature from British director William Oldroyd is defined by its independence and individuality. From the under-appreciated Northumberland locations, to the delightfully flagrant use of sex and shocking violence, to a quite astounding central performance from Florence Pugh as Lady Katherine Lester, this is a film that ploughs its own furrow, with extraordinary results. Winner of 5 BIFAs at this month’s British Independent Film Awards (including Best Actress for certain star & lovely person Pugh), it’s an essential 2017 film and one that this country should be very proud of.

9. mother! – dir Darren Aronofsky

For centuries ‘Oh boy!’ has been an expression of surprise, delight, shock and occasionally disgust in the English language. After Aronofsky’s ludicrous home invasion horror, it should be replaced by ‘Oh mother!’. 2017’s most polarising film simply did not care what you thought of it; only that you did think. Although through burning buildings, vigorous sex (including one scene on the stairs that really does push the limits of what we will watch) and of course the eating of a baby, the analysis of mother! could only come afterwards. The abuse of her character within the film distracted some from what is Jennifer Lawrence’s finest performance to date; she’s in every scene and almost every shot, with much of it filmed in a from-the-eyes-of style that will give millenials the experience of an episode of Peep Show mixed with Argento and a Hammer horror. Just don’t lean on the sink…

8. The Beguiled – dir. Sofia Coppola

Remakes: too many of them, right? Well, yes – but that’s why Sofia Coppola’s telling of Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 novel, first made into a film in 1971, is so refreshing. It’s the same story, but is imbued with a spirit, a colour and most importantly a humour that are entirely Coppola’s. She’s truly an actor’s director, and brings performances from regular collaborator Kirsten Dunst and never-swarthier Colin Farrell that bring light to the hazy dusk of the deep South. From costumes to the imposing house that contains most of the action, it looks stunning, and is a more playful film than many have given it credit for; where else does Nicole Kidman turn towards the camera and bullishly declare ‘Bring me the anatomy book!’?

7. God’s Own Country – dir. Francis Lee

Independent film gives filmmakers a chance to put their lived experience on screen, to share what they have felt with the world. Actor-turned-writer/director Francis Lee lives on a hillside near Keighley in Yorkshire, on the farm run by his father, and his experience and understanding of this life courses through God’s Own Country like a refreshing woodland stream. This story of blossoming love between a young Yorkshire farmhand and his new Romanian colleague is one of the great British film romances. Comparisons to Brokeback Mountain are lazy; not because the film lacks in quality, but because this is a different story; one of unspoken love finding a way to display itself, in many different relationships. Read a full review here, and find a way to watch this most heartfelt and heartening of British film successes.

6. Moonlight – dir. Barry Jenkins

The Oscars mishap means people who otherwise may not have seen this extraordinary story of angst, pain and unrequited love will know its name. That alone is reason enough to be thankful for PricewaterhouseCoopers’ moment of madness; the more exposure films like Moonlight get, the better cinema becomes. From its strolling, world-defining first shot to the final glance back of a hopeful young boy, it is a mesmerising and enormously moving film. Instead of having to overcome an unconventional structure, it uses it to great effect; Jenkins and his amazing cast unite the three parts of Chiron’s life with precision. The continuity of his mannerisms across three different actors is breathtaking to behold, and this is before we get to stunning supporting performances from Naomie Harris, Janelle Monaé and Oscar winner Mahershala Ali. A worthy Best Picture winner, but so, so much more.

5. The Lost City of Z – dir. James Gray

It falls in the magic 2hr 15-30 min length that all blockbusters occupy. It features Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson, two of the heartthrobs of the age, getting all dirty and sweaty (not to mention a career-best performance from Sienna Miller). It received glowing praise from esteemed critics, including The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin and Variety UK’s Guy Lodge. So why did The Lost City of Z not succeed at the box office? Whatever the reason, you really should check out this remarkable look at human aspiration, and the glory of failure. When Percy Fawcett (handsome Hunnam) first agrees to lead a survey party to define the Bolivian/Brazilian border, we suspect his task will be bigger than he understands. What we aren’t prepared for is the Herzogian consideration of human spirit that follows, all glistening with gold thanks to Darius Khondji’s exquisite cinematography. Let the stayaways have their Spiderman; The Lost City of Z is testament to the wonder that moving pictures can provoke.

4. T2: Trainspotting – dir. Danny Boyle

It simply wasn’t meant to be this good. When news of a Trainspotting sequel burst into the world, this writer and many other film fans offered responses from trepidation to terror; how could it possibly be worthwhile? Well I offer my apologies and prostrate myself at the altar of Boyle; T2: Trainspotting doesn’t just offer a trip through the delights of one of British cinema’s best films, it breaches new territory that few other stories have accessed in recent years. It does repeat all the old favourites, from drugs to sardonic Scots to Lust for Life. What is great about this film is that it does them FOR something; for a consideration of our relationship with the past, our elevation of it and our desperation to stay in it – even if it never really existed. And it allows us to enjoy them all at the same time. Three cheers Danny, Irvine Welsh, John Hodge, Ewan McGregor et al; just don’t risk it on a third…(surely?)

3. Dunkirk – dir. Christopher Nolan

We went all in on Christopher Nolan at Depends on the Dream this summer, with a ranking of his films, a look at the Bond question and a review of his summer blockbuster. Thank heavens it was good (well, nerve-shreddingly incredible, to be accurate); but with Nolan, was that ever in doubt? Get your breathing for the film done in the first 10 or so seconds; from the moment the first shots are fired on an unsuspecting group of Allied soldiers, the tension only increases, as three different experiences of this stranger-than-fiction evacuation are intertwined across different timescales. Renowned British racist Nigel Farage tried to engage nationalistic fervour by tweeting favourably about the film; as a tale of heroism in the face of fear, of unity being stronger than division, and of accomplished, smart people offering whatever help they can to people they’ve never met, it could not be more distinct from the idiotic prejudice that has gripped too much of Britain right now. It is best seen on a huge screen; but just make sure you see it, with eyes clear and heart open to the tightness with which so many clung to life.

2. Silence – dir. Martin Scorsese

Silence was the first film this writer saw this year, and was so close to being the best. As experienced by the increasingly bewildered Father Rodrigues (played with vigour by Andrew Garfield), words sometimes will not suffice for the emotions we experience within our heads. As Rodrigues and his companion Father Garupe delve deeper into the forbidding Buddhist world of 17th century Japan, their faith becomes the only constant they can cling to, even as it is barracked from all sides by attacks from their opponents and the suffering of their followers. You don’t need to be a religious person to find meaning in this film; it is a paean to what is inside our heads, whatever name we give it. It also closes with one of the great shots in Mr Scorsese’s unparalleled career; keep faith through the two-and-a-half hours prior to it to experience the glory of a cinema god.

1. La La Land – dir. Damien Chazelle

If all films are dreams, then put me to sleep and give me La La Land on repeat. The absurdly talented Chazelle’s Whiplash follow up is decorated in glitz and glorious songs. Beneath them, though, is a truth that is as painful to accept as it is enchanting to watch play out; that to chase one’s dreams is a dangerous, painful choice, and even if you get them, there will be sacrifices along the way. That’s only part of the wonder of La La Land, though; it’s also an instantly catchy, loveable musical for a generation, with a chemistry between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling that doesn’t just recall the Hollywood greats but reconfigures them for a cellphone generation. I love that Chazelle shot a test version of the jaw-dropping first scene on his iPhone; La La Land is about giving everything to your passions, ‘knocking on every door’ and dancing until your feet fall off. It’s the best film of the year for so many reasons, is reviewed here, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you have a treat in store for you in 2018!

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