Let's get onto the good stuff finally. I am not going to do any honorable mentions, this is it, my top 20 of 2017, and while the title of this list states that these are the "best" films of 2017, that is not really the case, these are my "favourite" films of 2017. Alright, enough talk, lets begin with my:
TOP TWENTY BEST FILMS OF 2017
20. SUPER DARK TIMES
A perfect depiction of an adolescent nightmare, where a group of teenagers mucking around together are suddenly thrust into the world of adulthood as they have to deal with the consequences of their actions when one of their innocent games accidentally turns deadly. Kevin Phillips directorial debut was quite the surprise, as he confidently handles this dark and layered coming of age drama, looking anything like a first time director. This is another 80's nostalgia piece, but different from both “It” and “Stranger Things” in that one, the kids are a little bit older, and two, this is set in the real world; there is no supernatural element here. This is a world that hurts, and a split second decision can change five lives in a second. Consequences are real here, as is the way each kid tries to deal with the aftermath of just what they have done. Perfectly and sensitively acted by the entire cast, I was particularly impressed by Amy Hargreaves who portrays the mother of one of the boys. A fantastic debut from Phillips and I will be eagerly looking forward to what he produces next.
19. THE UNTAMED
As beautiful as it is mysterious, Amat Escalante's “The Untamed” is a strange and atmospheric journey into the unknown. The film centres on a married couple who are going through some tough times, but when they encounter a creature whose origins are unknown, they find themselves exploring their basest instincts in regards to pleasure and destruction. Before seeing this film, I was not sure if it was going to appeal to me or not, but I was immediately drawn in by its bizarre and mysterious opening scene and then hooked by the film's atmosphere. While I wasn't exactly sure what was happening at all times, I was still totally mesmerised by the whole thing. It is a tough film, and very frank in its depiction of sex, but it was a very rewarding watch. Visually, it is gorgeous to look at (in the opened up 1:66 ratio), and its tentacled creature is more than a nod to H.P. Lovecraft and Andrzej Zulawski's “Possession” ( a film I must admit I still find impenetrable). I loved every second of this strange film but must stress that it isn't for everyone.
This is the final film from Polish master film maker Andrzej Wadja, who passed away soon after completing “Afterimage”, and he ended his career on a high note. I have been late to appreciate Wadja's skill as a director, having only seen three of his films (all of them late in his career), but I have loved all three. He is a classic film maker and just knows how to craft a story beautifully. “Afterimage” is a biopic about Polish avant garde artist Wladyslaw Strzeminski as he struggled against Stalinist ideals while refusing to bend his art to suit its needs. I initially wasn't sure if I would be interested enough in the subject to bother seeing this film, as quite frankly it sounded a little boring, but I am so glad I decided to on the strength of the Wadja films I had previously seen because I loved every second of it and was moved and saddened by it all. Strzeminski was a man who ended up losing everything he loved after refusing to create art that fit the government's ideals at the time. After his rejection, they went about crushing this poor man by taking his job, his house, his family, his legacy and even his ability to procure art supplies. He essentially died with nothing, but his ideals as he never gave in to their fascist demands. The film is headlined by an amazing central performance from Boguslaw Linda as the artist, and there are not enough superlatives in the English language to express how good he is in the role. Like his students, you fall in love with this man right from the get-go and it is obvious why he inspired so many. However you are equally heart broken later in the film by the beaten yet never broken man he becomes. Visually, like I said earlier, “Afterimage” is shot in a very classical way and looks very impressive. One key moment is the use of the colour red as a Stalinist banner is placed over the window of Strzeminski's apartment, causing all of his art to have a red glow, symbolising the dark cloud that will follow the rest of his life. “Afterimage” is a fitting swansong for this talented director.
17. JASPER JONES
Sadly, “Jasper Jones” is the only Australian film to make it onto my top twenty list this year. The film is a light mystery/thriller about a fourteen year old boy, named Charlie Bucktin, whose life is turned upside down the night he follows Jasper Jones into the bush to see the dead body of a young girl. Being an aboriginal boy, Jasper knows that he will be the lead suspect into the girl's death and enlists Charlie to help him find the real killer. Charlie must look within to decide whether to trust Jasper himself, as he barely knows the guy except seeing him briefly at school. What I loved most about this film is that all the characters are flawed and not always what they present to the public. The film ends up being about love and family and being connected to those in your family and learning to forgive them for their mistakes and loving them for who they are, not what they appear to be. Performances are all top notch but Hugo Weaving steals the film thanks to one amazing scene. It is the scene where Jasper and Charlie confront him, suspecting him to be the killer, only for the old man to explain who he really is. It is such an emotional scene that is perfectly played by Weaving, who almost underplays it. The follow up scene, which is also dialogue free, is one of the most beautiful and heart-warming moments too that will leave a lump in your throat. “Jasper Jones” is a lot more than a murder mystery though, as it also is a coming of age tale that sees Charlie fall in love (with the dead girl's younger sister), deal with his mother's infidelity, while also finding true courage to stand up for what is right. Not only that but it also deals with racism that was so prominent in Australia in 1969 (and sadly, today).
“Eternity” is the brand new film from French Vietnamese film maker Tran Anh Hung, and his first to be actually shot in the French language. It is a stunningly beautiful film that follows three generations of women from one family over the course of one hundred years. I have been a big fan of Hung's work right from the start, absolutely loving his early Vietnamese trilogy. After that, he went quiet for almost a decade before he returned with “I Come With The Rain”, which is his worst film to date. He got back on track with the Japanese film “Norwegian Wood”, but for mine, “Eternity” is his best film since his early classics. It is actually not an easy film to fall in love with, because it is narrated and one of the main characters, played by Audrey Tautou, barely speaks throughout the entire feature. In fact, it takes so long for her to say her first word in the film, that you start to think that you are only going to get an insight into the characters via the narration. As it is, the other females in the cast all get to speak much more than Tautou. And what a cast; besides the aforementioned Tautou, the two other female leads are Melanie Laurent, and Berenice Bejo. All of the girls are magnificent, but my favourite was Laurent, although I believe that Bejo has the most demanding role and handles it was aplomb. The highlight of the film though is its stunningly gorgeous visual style and the cinematography by Mark Lee Ping-Bing. The look of the film is luminous and with the majority of the film taking place during the day, the colour pallet is dominated by yellows and golds to amazing effect. Not only are the colours in the film truly spellbinding, but the camera moves within the film are complex and at times mind boggling, but never done in a show off fashion, mainly due to the slow movement of the camera work. There were some shots where I was stunned and thought that must have taken ages to get the perfect take of that shot, complex as they were. At the end of the day, I must admit I am not sure if “Eternity” has a huge lot to say, however I was seduced by the visual style and film making on display, that if that is the case, I did not notice. It is a long film, that moves at a glacial pace, so it wont be for everyone, but personally I found it very worthy of my time and quite an emotional experience.
15. THE BEGUILED
Sofia Coppola is a director whose work I am just drawn to. So far I have enjoyed all of her films, and it is always an event whenever she brings out a new one. After completing her previous film, “The Bling Ring”, Coppola was set to direct a new adaptation of “The Little Mermaid” fairytale, focusing on the original tale rather than the Disney version. I was super excited by this announcement as I thought the material and director were perfectly suited to each other. Unfortunately the project fell apart, and Coppola moved onto “The Beguiled”, a remake of the 1971 Don Siegel film, as her next film. Initially I was shocked by this choice as, unlike “The Little Mermaid”, I was unsure that Coppola's talents fit well with the story of “The Beguiled”. Coppola's films tend to be ones that you feel and succeed via their atmosphere and beauty, rather than the machinations of plot. Also in all of her films, Coppola presents a strong female voice to the stories she tells, whereas “The Beguiled”, at least in the Clint Eastwood starring version, is a very masculine affair. Well, my worries were of course ill-founded because Sofia Coppola has once again delivered another entertaining and beautiful film. True to herself, Coppola's version of “The Beguiled” revolves more around the women's point of view, and what a cast she assembled to fill these roles. Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, Angourie Rice and Oona Laurence round out these strong female characters and they are all magnificent, but for mine, the stand outs are Kidman and Dunst. Both play their characters as very proper and straight laced, particularly Dunst, almost like their true nature is trapped under the tight corsets they wear. The man filling Clint Eastwood's shoes is none other than Colin Farrell who comes across as a less charming, but no less manipulative character, than the Eastwood version. While Farrell is good in the role, I personally think that Clint Eastwood wins in the comparison here. Where “The Beguiled” truly shines though is in its look and feel. Coppola thankfully shot “The Beguiled” on film (in the 1:66 ratio) and the results are so magnificent as you are just able to see and feel the textures of the world, and get a full sense of the environment where the girls are living. The director of photography was Philippe Le Sourd, whose previous film was Wong Kar-Wai's “The Grandmaster”, but his work on “The Beguiled” surpasses even that great film. Some of the shots outside the house are truly jaw dropping; this film, like all of Sofia Coppola's films, is a thing of beauty.
When Japanese film studio Nikkatsu decided to reboot their “Roman Porno” film series, they came up with an idea to hire five popular directors to come up with their own films, as long as they had a sex scene every ten minutes in the feature. Sion Sono was one of the directors chosen and he did something unexpected in that he essentially critiqued these types of films while also looking at the sexual repression of Japan as a whole. Sounds like a heady mix of ideas for a soft core sex film, but it is all disguised in the usual Sono madness. Oh and in case you are wondering, “Antiporno” is my favourite Sono film since 2011's “Himizu”. What is becoming a theme of this top twenty list, the visual style of “Antiporno” is stunning. Anchored by essentially one main location for the entire 76 minute feature, Sono makes the whole thing interesting by flooding it (literally in one case towards the end) in bold, bright colours but mainly focusing on yellow. What impressed me most about “Antiporno” was its feminist bent that actually seems genuine, as opposed to what Sono was trying to say in his 2015 feature “Tag” but failed miserably. Here he seems to be attacking the way females are portrayed in Japanese cinema and in society as a whole too, as if they are just play things or fantasies for the male population. It is also interesting how he uses the required nudity and sex scenes as the antithesis of what I am sure Nikkatsu was expecting, by using them more to make a point rather than to titillate. Typical for a Sono film, none of the performances in the film are what you call subtle but it works here in this over-stylised world. One scene of note that must be mentioned is a hilarious dinner table scene between a couple of teenagers and their parents as they talk about sex and wonder why it is so taboo to talk about if every one loves it and does it. It is a very funny scene.
When I was discussing the most overrated film of 2017, I mentioned that “It” was not even my favourite Stephen King adaptation of the year. The answer to what was is now apparent, as it was the Netflix produced, Zak Hilditch directed “1922”. Adapted from the Stephen King novella, the film is about a farmer who, along with the help of his son, murders his wife for financial gain. While he expects life to improve considerably, a series of unexpected disasters (including a plague of rats) serves to prove otherwise, until he is again left with nothing. The highlight of the film is Thomas Jane's pitch perfect performance as the farmer, Wilfred, whose slow southern accent mirrors the pace of the world around him. It is a still, quiet performance from Jane, and this is the best role I have ever seen him in. This is a slow paced film that gradually builds like the guilt building within Wilfred himself, until it gets too much and the supernatural horror is unleashed. In regards to the supernatural events that happen in the film, personally I believe they have been handled superbly because the truth is, these events probably take place in Wilfred's diseased mind that is filled with guilt, rather than really happening, but that is left up to the viewer to decide. The design of the “ghost” is also spot on, as it is quite terrifying but not in an over the top way. The film has been shot in an old fashioned style, relying on composition and editing to tell its story, rather than quick cuts to amplify the atmosphere. The film is in no rush to tell its story and it is all the better for it, giving moments their chance to breathe. “1922” is Australian director Zak Hilditch's second feature film, and I was also a massive fan also of his debut, “These Final Hours”, from 2013, so it appears that I have found another director to watch out for.
12. THE GREAT WALL
I have already spoken at length about Zhang Yimou's “The Great Wall” in my most underrated section so I will make this brief. I plead that you give this film a chance as this is expert film making done with an epic scope that puts Hollywood blockbusters to shame. The level of detail in every costume, weapon and set is mind blowing, as are the awesome action set pieces that have been constructed and shot in such a way that you always know exactly what is going on. While the film is essentially a monster movie, do not let that put you off because although the creatures have been executed via CGI, they are believable and terrifying. “The Great Wall” is a film that bursts full of exquisite colour and outstanding action. It is a crowd pleaser that I can not recommend enough.
This is the brand new film from Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev, and once again it is full of his usual fun and laughter. If you have never seen a film by Zvyagintsev before, please note that fun and laughter are things that are never present, as he makes films about Russia today, criticising at length issues he is angry about. “Loveless” is about a couple from a broken marriage who, while fighting over who gets stuck with the kid when they finally separate, lose sight of the fact that the child has run away from the house that should be his sanctuary. One of the saddest things in this film is that it takes the parents two days before they even realise that he has run away. They are so caught up in their own lives, and new loves, that they have totally forgotten about what should be the most important thing in their world, their twelve year old son. However, it gets worse, as when the search for the boy begins, the parents use the platform to squabble over whose fault it was and who loves the boy more. It is still all about them, and not their child. Like most (all?) of Zvyagintsev's films, this comes across as an angry film, but also a flat out brilliant one. Zvyagintsev is one of the greatest directors working today, and still has yet to make a bad film. In saying that, I actually prefer his previous film “Leviathan” to “Loveless” but if another director had made this film, it would arguably be the best thing they had done; it is that good. Five features in, and Zvyagintsev has a definite style, and you can feel you are in one of his films right from the opening scene of “Loveless”. He and his cinematographer, Mikhail Krichman, work in perfect harmony together, always creating breathtaking images to tell their story, and once again Krichman's cinematography is full of clean, but haunting images. While the world of “Loveless” is a cold one, both in location and the character's emotions, it is an experience well worth taking even though it will essentially break your heart and make you very angry.