2017 has been on balance a rather grim year out in the real world, ending up on a sad note personally for me. So rather than dwell on that - back into a darkened room I go. Here’s my nobody-gives-a-damn top ten movies list of 2017 (UK releases what I saw - for anyone feeling pedantic).
10: Free Fire: Ben Wheatley’s absurdly funny, loud, brutal, crowd-pleasing 70s shoot-out-a-thon. I like Wheatley when he’s being difficult and obtuse (A Field In England), but I like him even more when he’s letting a deranged Sharlto Copley off the chain in a downtown Boston warehouse (actually Brighton, naturally – where they had to re-assure shoppers next door when the gunfire kicked off), with a couple of IRA nutters and an arsenal large enough to stage a military coup in a South American dictatorship. Barnstorming and hilarious.
9: Blade Runner 2049: Regular readers will be aware of my difficulties with Blade Runner 2049. I’ve seen it three times already and I’m still not sure that I like it. But I am sure that I admire it. Beautiful, thoughtful, precise, elegant filmmaking. Whether Blade Runner 2049 goes on to become a beloved classic (remember Blade Runner was largely considered a failure in its time) is something of which I’m far from certain. But I do feel that we got a movie made by smart, dedicated people who genuinely love and respect the original, and worked extremely hard to preserve the subtlety and mystery present in source, while expanding and taking the story in interesting new directions. It’s probably too long, it’s definitely too slow. But it does nothing to dishonour my all time favourite movie – and for me that alone is little short of miraculous.
8: The Death Of Stalin: It is probably equal parts a measure of the satirical genius of Armando Iannucci and a reflection of the absurd and ghastly political times that we are living through right now, that a true story about the death of a terrible dictator and all the nasty, duplicitous, backstabbing, murdering, cowardly, fearful and near-genocidal activities that swirled around this awful period in history contained more belly laughs than any other movie I saw this year – including Captain Underpants.
7: Paddington 2: …and in such dreary days (not to mention my personally downcast state of mind a few weeks ago) what a wonder that a small animated bear with a marmalade fixation could deliver such a perfectly judged and joyfully received reminder of how we can still find and bring out the best in each other – if that is what we look for. Had me crying by the end with joy and laughter - for the second time running. That’s just rude.
6: Moonlight: Possibly the most remarkable film of the year. A black-cast urban-set deprived-background, drug and dysfunctional family themed, coming of age boy-to-man drama comes with a whole heap of ghettoised stylistic and genre expectations - and Moonlight confounds every single one of them with filmmaking of utterly poetic and elegiac grace and brilliance. Such accomplished, original and tender work from only a second time director is extraordinary in itself. That Naomi Harris filmed her entire superb performance as the drug-addicted mother spanning nearly twenty years in just three days work due to visa restrictions is just one example of the incredible sure-footedness of Barry Jenkins’ direction, and the dedication to honest, deeply-felt storytelling of everyone involved.
5: Raw: Speaking of tough coming-of-age experiences. It’s also pretty tricky being a strict vegetarian teenager developing cannibalistic tendencies after a savage hazing in a veterinarian collage. This French-Belgian drama-horror is wonderfully dark, unsettling, touching, sensual and brutal. With a wry smile just perceptible among the grue.
4: Get Out: Blimey! Part horror, part social-satire, part Stepford-Wives-esque mystery chiller, part unsettling racial drama, part dark comedy - All original and gloriously accomplished entertainment from first-time feature writer / director Jordan Peele. Brilliant and refreshing.
3: The Handmaiden: Three hours of twisty, Korean whodunit, whosdoingit and whoswhodoingittowho period-set psychological drama might sound like it’s going to be hard work. It isn’t. It’s funny, it’s thrilling, it’s gorgeous… and it’s very very very very sexy. What more do you want?
2: Manchester By The Sea: One of the quietest, most understated, almost inertly introvertedly performed dramas I’ve seen. And one that punched me in the gut harder than almost any I can remember.
1: Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan’s habit of making my favourite film of the year is getting almost too predictable by this point. His brilliance with intricate, ingenious, precision-tooled plotting and gargantuan but lovingly honed visual prowess is deployed so seemingly effortlessly and with such regularity that it might become easy to overlook. But here he’s put all that interwoven multi-timeline brilliance, that painterly IMAX palette, that artistic care with massive commercial clout at the service of his most simple, direct and powerfully honest tale yet. Dunkirk dispenses with historic sweep, CliffsNotes audience hand-holding, revisionist political analysis, or indeed even the need for something as seemingly essential to any thrilling war movie – an actual present enemy – to reduce this powerful and honourable tale of one of the most audaciously heroic defeats in military history to one simple, driving, intense and universal experience: The desire to get home.