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Films of 2017: Mid-year report

Film Team | 16 Jun 2017

It's time for our traditional mid-year look back at the best films of the year so far. Whether you're looking for films about love, sex or religion, and whether you want comedy, satire or horror, 2017 has you covered

Moonlight

Dir. Barry Jenkins

How did the story of a gay black man from Miami, with a largely unknown cast, become a universally acclaimed box office hit and (eventually) win the Best Picture Oscar? It's because Moonlight is both a singular work of art and an extraordinary act of empathy. Barry Jenkins' film puts us inside the experience of its protagonist, Chiron, tapping into our own feelings of loneliness, longing and pain. As Jenkins takes us through Chiron's childhood, adolescence and adulthood, his sensitivity and artistry ensures every scene feels distinctive and true. The three young actors cast as Chiron at different ages (Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex Hibbert), meanwhile, collectively give the year's finest screen performance. It already feels like a classic. [Philip Concannon]

Read our interview with Barry Jenkins

Get Out

Dir. Jordan Peele

Daniel Kaluuya (Skins' Posh Kenneth) plays gifted Black photographer Chris Washington, who in the first flushes of young love with WASPy girlfriend Rose Armitage (Girls' Allison Williams) agrees to meet her wealthy folks, despite Rose not informing her supposedly liberal parents about Chris' race. Chris dreads the possible Guess Who's Coming to Dinner awkwardness and racist microaggressions, though far worse awaits him at the Armitages' estate. A critical and box office success, actor turned writer-director Jordan Peele's debut is as hilarious as it is terrifying, deftly repurposing classic genre tropes to deliver a razor-sharp, topical horror comedy that's required viewing. [Rachel Bowles]

Read our full review of Get Out

The Handmaiden

Dir. Park Chan-wook

The Handmaiden is pure cinematic pleasure, a teasing thrill-ride that glides and sizzles like butter across a hot griddle. Welsh novelist Sarah Waters’ Victorian-era novel Fingersmiths is the unlikely source material for Oldboy director Park Chan-wook’s erotic and witty tale of cross and double-cross set in 1930s Korea. Told from a trio of perspectives – the handmaiden, her mistress and an art teacher trying to seduce the latter – this sumptuous thriller sees Park throw his full arsenal of visual expression at the screen, and it’s a joy to behold. We’d try and give you a flavour of the plot, but it’s twistier than a squirming octopus. [Jamie Dunn]

Read our full review of The Handmaiden

Certain Women

Dir. Kelly Reichardt

Still waters run deep in the films of Kelly Reichardt. Even if the stories she tells are quiet affairs, light on ostensible drama, the complex emotions that she stirs up through her flawed, fascinating characters resonate long after the film is over. Her triptych Certain Women explores the hopes, frustrations and sadness of a group of vividly drawn women in Montana, and each beautifully measured segment boasts pitch-perfect performances. Certain Women is also one of the most brilliantly crafted films you'll see all year. Christopher Blauvelt's grainy 16mm is gorgeous and atmospheric, while every composition and cut feels perfectly judged. Reichardt keeps getting better, but it's hard to see how she'll top this. [PC]

Read our interview with Kelly Reichardt

Manchester by the Sea

Dir. Kenneth Lonergan

Cinema concerning grief can often be built around grand scenes of cathartic outpouring that, while effective on a case-by-case basis, can’t help but come across as lacking the various nuances that actually come about with instances of tragedy. There’s no playbook for coming to terms with the death of loved ones, nor is the absurdity of both the grieving and funeral processes ever given much airtime. In Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, all these little moments of mundanity, indignity and repressed emotions add up to something epic; making often imperceptible changes into the stuff of gut-punching, slow-burning drama. [Josh Slater-Williams]

Read our interview with Manchester by the Sea star Michelle Williams

Aquarius

Dir. Kleber Mendonça Filho

The great Brazilian actor Sônia Braga plays an indefatigable 60-something (and serious GILF) standing tall on her own against a sleazy property company who’re trying to force her from the beach-side flat she’s lived in for decades. Braga is soulful and captivating in the lead, but this fine-grained character study is also fiercely political. Her character’s love for objects of meaning – her vinyl, books, photographs, a chest of drawers stuffed with mementos – makes her immune to the developers' bribes, so the would-be gentrifiers turn to more underhand tactics. As the drama plays out, director Kleber Mendonça Filho reveals some bracing home truths about the intersection of class, history and memory in modern Brazil. [JD]

Read our full review of Aquarius

Cameraperson

Dir. Kirsten Johnson

For the past 25 years, Kirsten Johnson has been the eyes behind the camera for documentary filmmakers as diverse as Laura Poitras, Michael Moore and Barbara Kopple. With her own feature doc, Johnson has assembled unused but indelible images from those films she’s shot – she calls them “the images that have marked me” – to create a deeply personal and moving document of her career. But this isn’t just a cinematographer’s showreel. The precise editing and ordering of these mini narratives from across the globe – some whimsical, many harrowing – builds into a compelling tapestry of human existence. Johnson doesn’t appear on camera, and rarely speaks, but we feel her presence in every shot, from the slight tremble of the camera to her worried breathing. Seeing life through her eyes, in all its joy and heartbreak, proves thrilling. [JD]

Read our full review of Cameraperson

Toni Erdmann

Dir. Maren Ade

A clownish, prank-loving father (played by an unforgettable Peter Simonischek) visits his corporate high-flyer daughter (Sandra Hüller) in this meandering comic masterclass from German director Maren Ade. It's an easy juxtaposition – the international businesswoman vs. a man who keeps a pair of joke-shop teeth in his front pocket – but Ade operates with a deceptively shaggy precision as she weaves moments of excruciating cringe comedy into a dense treatise on work, corporate culture and humanity. The American remake is already in the works, but it’s hard to imagine another production so successfully walking the tight-rope between sentiment and side-splitting hilarity. [Tom Grieve]

Read our interview of Maren Ade

Silence

Dir. Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese’s take on Shûsaku Endô’s novel (though it’s not the first adaptation) gestated in various forms of development for decades, and it’s safe to say that basically everything that the legendary director knows about filmmaking features in his latest masterpiece; it both feels unlike anything he’s ever made, yet also the culmination of so many of his interests in his long career. Andrew Garfield rightfully got plaudits during Silence’s theatrical run, but the film’s stellar Japanese supporting cast should not go unmentioned, particularly Issey Ogata, Tadanobu Asano and Shinya Tsukamoto, the latter one of Japan’s boldest directors himself. [JS-W]

Read our interview with Silence star Liam Neeson

Raw

Dir. Julia Ducournau

Julia Ducournau’s intelligent and brutal Raw follows Justine, an idealistic vegetarian who’s following in her sister Alexia’s footsteps by starting out at veterinary school. During Justine’s gruelling “rookie” week of hazing and hedonistic partying she's forced to eat a rabbit kidney, resulting in a insatiable hunger for raw flesh rousing in her gut. A bone crunching, gory Gallic feminist horror, this debut film from Ducournau is thrillingly self-assured. Enjoyable purely as a genre piece, it nonetheless is dripping with as much subtext as blood, making the film’s social commentary as biting as its cannibal anti-heroines. [RB]

Read our interview with Julia Ducournau