27th Dec2017

Rupert’s Top Ten Films of 2017

by Rupert Harvey

2017-top-10-movies

It’s been a topsy-turvy year in film. On the plus side, the Shyamannaisance continued with Split; Edgar Wright got to make his magnum opus; and Netflix showed their willingness to produce the sort of mature films that seemed to have vanished amidst the cinematic blur of CGI. On the Dark Side, Ridley Scott continued to ritually sacrifice his own Alien legacy; inferior sequels and stultifying franchise-builders dominated the multiplexes; and Star Wars VIII climaxed the year with a drab fizzle. Off the screen, a cavalcade of harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein opened the floodgates for a #metoo campaign which may ultimately change Hollywood for the better.

Along the way, as always, there were plenty of simply great movies – and here are ten of my favourites. (Sorry, Baby Driver!)

Get Out

It was a diamond year for the horror genre, and Blumhouse Productions – whose bread and butter is undemanding franchise material like Insidious and Ouija – should be praised for taking a chance on riskier material. Their confidence in writer-director Jordan Peele paid off, with commercial takings for Get Out matching its critical success. Upon first viewing, I felt that the comedy element – a subplot involving Lil Rey Howery’s wannabe detective – was jarring, but now I get it: it’s another diversion that exists to manipulate us; part of the film’s unnerving rhythm of grip-and-release. Get Out is a timely, intelligent and funny future classic which takes the sinister utopia subgenre into new and thrillingly confrontational territory.

War for the Planet of the Apes

Matt Reeves followed up his fine second instalment with this surprisingly weighty and moving story about a clan of apes on a journey to their Promised Land. The film isn’t just classically handsome and tonally perfect; it also chooses to reverse many of our expectations of the modern blockbuster (long before Blade Runner 2049 would annihilate them completely). The central thrust of the narrative is not about the victimhood of the apes, but the great mistake of their leader, Caesar (the peerless Andy Serkis); and, in the end, the final confrontation between the two mighty warlords is one of the quietest scenes in all of 2017. It’s a majestic blockbuster, and a chest-beating rebuke to the notion that film is moving inexorably to the small screen.

The Handmaiden

This fast, funny and eminently watchable film offers two fingers to the stuffy period drama. In 1930s colonial Korea, a pickpocket is employed to swindle money out of a rich aristocrat, but ends up falling for his wife instead. Or does she? Park Chan-wook’s emotionally labyrinthine drama portrays the ingrained bigotry of a caste social structure, whilst also holding a mirror to modern values. With playful editing complementing its dark themes, and excellent performances across the board, this is a brilliant exercise in control, where restraint and recklessness are written into its narrative fabric. Finally, its message of feminine love winning out over masculine power is highly positive.

Blade Runner 2049

Even if it can’t hope to match the impact of 1982 movie, Blade Runner 2049 has a better storyline than its predecessor, and it’s the more challenging film overall. Denis Villenueve chooses not to directly mimic the style and pace of the first movie, instead rendering his stunningly sombre sequel as if it were a half-recalled memory of Ridley Scott’s dystopia. The result is a triumph of the visual medium: dazzling style in the service of genuine substance. It’s imperfect – and very human in that regard – but so juicy with thematic meat that it will surely keep us sated until… well, 2049 at least. A cinematic experience that feels built to last.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

It might be a more straightforward story than Yorgos Lanthimos’s previous film, English-language debut The Lobster, but Sacred Deer is surely the tougher watch. A wealthy surgeon is cursed by the son of an unlucky patient, and given an ultimatum: Kill one of your own, or you will all die slowly and painfully. It’s a Sophie’s Choice which peels back the façade from the perfect nuclear family. With a queasy, writhing performance from Barry Keoghan as the vengeful witch, this tense thriller descends gradually – and often humorously – into existential horror, culminating in the scariest scene of the year. This may not be Lanthimos’s best film, but it’s certainly his best calibrated: a rotten feast of uneasiness, weird psychodrama and jet-black comedy.

Wind River

There may come a time when all mid-budget dramas have made the migration to subscription television, but in the meantime the majesty of rural Wyoming gets the big screen treatment in Taylor Sheridan’s sophomore directorial effort. Of course, the location is merely the backdrop for the real deal: an intense, thrilling and occasionally fanciful murder mystery about a rookie FBI agent teaming up with an emotionally distant huntsman. After years of Marvel archery practice, Jeremy Renner is a revelation as the broken recluse, struggling to achieve justice for a bereaved local. This is mature and confident filmmaking, brutal yet not exploitative, mythic in tone, with a delicious score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. It’s great for filling the Cormac McCarthy-shaped void.

Wonder Woman

In a year that saw DC hit a depressing low with the desperate “Me too!” of Justice League, it’s even more delightful that the best comic book movie of the year happens also to be the first of its generation to focus on a feminist icon. In a year defined by a pussy-grabbing POTUS and the spilling of the Hollywood harassment sewer pipe, the presence of Wonder Woman seems all the more glorious and necessary. It’s a romping adventure story with real wit and verve, a sharp script and an enormous heart. If only the last act hadn’t descended into a CGI blur, it might have been the perfect comic book entertainment.

Patti Cake$

The year’s other Wonder Woman was Patti, a wannabe New Jersey rapper, who couldn’t be further from the grace and power of Diana Prince. Ostensibly, anyway. While she may not have the looks or the lasso, Patti’s story is just as fist-pumpingly empowering, as she battles hoodlums, producers and her very own mother in order to achieve her dream. Geremy Jasper’s film feels utterly authentic, but ultimately isn’t afraid to take us on a wish-fulfilling flight of fancy, with the most exhilarating final performance since Whiplash. Flirting with formula (and no worse for it), this is a bold and unforgettable modern fairy tale.

The Love Witch

While Stranger Things got all the attention for its ‘80s fan service overload, let’s not forget the astonishing pastiche of The Love Witch. Mimicking to a tee the style and tone of gaudy ‘60s horror, Anne Biller’s homage perfectly emulates the highly sexualised style of Roger Corman, whilst subtly switching the sleaze into something ironic and feminist. Samantha Robinson is mesmerising and arch in the title role, playing a woman who spends her time seducing and slaughtering a series of lustful men. Everything, from the rear projection to the gaudy colour palette, affectionately apes a bygone style, rarely mocking and more often reminding us of the clarity and charm of cinematic stagecraft.

It Comes at Night

Alongside the ghost train rides of It and Jigsaw, 2017 gave us some notable slow-burners to harrow the soul. For me, the best of them was this very unsettling take on the zombie genre, written and directed by Trey Edward Shults. It feels at times like an expanded version of 28 Weeks Later’s opening scene, where a family is holed up in a farmhouse, surrounded by ghouls – but do not expect a cacophonous chase sequence to finish things off. Romero meets Haneke in a delicately-staged siege movie which focuses on the fractured relationships between the captives, with its unbearable tension provided by a host of impossible moral dilemmas. Excellent, thoughtful horror.

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