Films of 2017: The 25 Best Films of the Year

The best film of 2017 was about women and directed by a woman. Elsewhere, we were stirred by films from points of view rarely represented on screen: those of queer people, poor people and people of colour; our second best film of 2017 concerns all three

Feature by Film Team | 28 Nov 2017
  • Films of 2017

25. Paddington 2

Dir. Paul King

Once again Paul King marries Michael Bond’s genteel charms with his own hugely imaginative visual style to create a chaotic comic caper in which each frame is packed with a sight-gag or goofy reference. Like the first movie, Paddington 2 acts as a balm for our troubled times, but it’s also quietly political. While certain factions of the UK government continue to encourage contempt for thy neighbour, these Paddington films slyly suggest that a little bit of compassion for those around you might be just what’s needed to make our country a bit more bearable to live in. Hugh Grant is the cherry on an already delicious cake, sending himself up no end as a pompous luvvie who’s willing to go to any lengths so he can mount his one man show, and that includes framing this marmalade-loving bear. [Jamie Dunn]

Read our full review of Paddington 2

24. Elle

Dir. Paul Verhoeven

The implacable, inimitable Isabelle Huppert stars as a Parisian businesswoman dealing with rape, the legacy of a brutal family history and the plate-spinning of a series of complex relationships. And, it’s a black comedy. Paul Verhoeven’s film, adapted from a novel by Betty Blue author Philippe Djian, is a pulp delight that’s deeply absorbing and defies categorisation. [Ian Mantgani]

Read our interview with Elle director Paul Verhoeven

23. John Wick: Chapter 2

Dir. Chad Stahelski

Underneath John Wick 2’s extraordinary quantity of bullets lurks a beast of surprising intelligence and ambition. While the original gently hinted at Shakespearean, Jacobean themes – a court of spies and assassins and tragic avengers – this sequel flawlessly takes it to scale. Courts of spies become duchies; dukes and duchesses sit at the high table while characters with names like Ares and Cassian trade bullets in the ancient streets of Rome. For all its mindless violence, John Wick 2 is at its heart a Jacobean revenge tragedy. How many modern action films can make that claim? [Benjamin Rabinovich]

Read our full review of John Wick: Chapter 2

22. A Quiet Passion

Dir. Terence Davies

Like his namesake Terrence Malick, Liverpudlian filmmaker Terence Davies has suddenly become prolific. Unlike Malick, however, Davies appears to be keeping the quality high as the productivity increases. His latest, a study of the American poet Emily Dickinson, is a typically passionate and idiosyncratic affair. The dialogue is heightened and wry (this is by a wide margin Davies’s funniest film), his image is stately and measured, but prone to poetic flourishes, such as when Dickinson dreams of a mysterious man forcing his way into her boudoir. Cynthia Nixon, best known as Sex and the City’s career-minded lawyer Miranda, is a revelation as the feminist poet. [JD]

Read our full review of A Quiet Passion

21. My Life as a Courgette

Dir. Claude Barras

This must be the most charming film to ever open with a bout of matricide. With Water Lilies, Tomboy and Girlhood, French filmmaker Celine Sciamma has established herself as a master of openhearted coming of age stories, and she’s done it once again here with her witty and insightful script for Claude Barras’ gorgeously rendered stop motion animation about a troubled nine-year-old’s life in an orphanage following the death of his alcoholic mother. The child-like plasticine figures – all oversized heads, massive eyes and vivid colours – burst with expression, but this is no kids’ movie. There’s no shying away from the pain of growing up, the trauma of bereavement and the difficulties one feels in accepting love if it’s been an alien concept all your short life. [JD]

Read our full review of My Life as a Courgette

20. Song to Song

Dir. Terrence Malick

Originally titled Weightless, the new existential drama from writer-director Terrence Malick stars Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman as young-ish people balancing romance and ambition in the Texas rock music scene. That’s just the superficial narrative description, though: as ever, Malick is more concerned with gamboling gestures, scattered emotions and experimental techniques.

With the moshpits of SxSW in the distance, and reflective cameos from past rock gods like Patti Smith, Iggy Pop and Johnny Rotten as bookmarks, Malick spends most of this epic of the heart drifting off with his cast to consider what love and life lessons might be in store for partying young people as they traverse a life of hedonism and temptation. It’s a more straightforward narrative than the intensely personal Knight of Cups, but just as blindingly beautiful and formally distinctive. [IM]

Read our full review of Song to Song

19. 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 with Toni Erdmann director Maren Ade

18. mother!

Dir. Darren Aronofsky

The lower case title suggests we’re in for Aronofsky at his most pretentious – and in a sense we are – but that cheeky exclamation mark gives the clue that this will also be a lark, which mother! most certainly is. In long takes and in tight close-ups we follows Jennifer Lawrence’s house-proud young woman who becomes increasingly distressed by her poet husband (Javier Bardem) and his parade of unseemly houseguests, who include Ed Harris as a chain-smoking doctor and Michelle Pfeiffer as his straight-talking wife. There’s the spirit of Buñuel in the film’s cruel satire, and you can pick your prefered allegory as Aronofsky piles on the biblical, literary and political references. [JD]

Read our full review of mother!

17. Good Time

Dir. Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie

Robert Pattinson is brilliant as Connie, the conniving, street-smart hustler who carries the audience through one desperately dark night in New York City, as he attempts to break his mentally disabled brother (Benny Safdie) out of a secure hospital bed following a botched bank job.

Connie leverages everything he has – his race, his looks and his greasy dirtbag charm – in this electric, hellishly propulsive effort from the Safdie brothers. New York has played host to some grimy, down-and-dirty crime movies in its time, but few pummel their audiences in quite the same way as the stylishly off-kilter Good Time. [TG]

Read our interview with Good Time star and co-director Benny Safdie

16. 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. [Rachel Bowles]

Read our interview with Raw director Julia Ducournau

15. Baby Driver

Dir. Edgar Wright

Edgar Wright’s latest is a musical thrillride in which breakneck car chases replace dance numbers. Our eponymous hero (an adorable Ansel Elgort) is the best getaway driver in the business, and his secret weapon is his array of vintage iPods, on which he can scroll to find the perfect track to get him out of any situation. Wright – perhaps our greatest pop director – has synchronised the film's on-screen action so that every rev of an engine, every screech of a tire and every handbrake turn corresponds to the dizzyingly eclectic soundtrack. Baby Driver doesn’t quite have the wit of Wright’s British movies, but its openhearted vigour makes it irresistible nonetheless. [JD]

Read our interview with Baby Driver director Edgar Wright

14. A Ghost Story

Dir. David Lowery

A Ghost Story is definitely an actual ghost story (no misleading title here), but, while it’s haunting, it’s certainly not a horror film. Instead, as its rather perfect poster tagline posits, it’s all about time. Casey Affleck plays a white-sheeted ghost (you’ll end up on board with the concept pretty quickly), who returns to his suburban home to keep an eye on and try to console his bereft wife (Rooney Mara), only to find that his spectral state gets unstuck in time. And then things get... cosmic. To give a taste of its aesthetic sensibilities, think a blend of Under the Skin, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the patient works of directors Chantal Akerman and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Don’t come to it expecting Affleck and Mara to go crazy with a pottery wheel and a Righteous Brothers soundtrack. [Josh Slater-Williams]

Read our interview with A Ghost Story director David Lowery

13. Logan

Dir. James Mangold

James Mangold is back at the helm for a second time (following 2013's The Wolverine), offering up a broodier, more visceral take on the character Hugh Jackman first played nearly 20 years ago. Here we’re in a story rooted in the humanity of Logan, not the superpowers of the Wolverine, as the brooding anti-hero's life is disrupted with the arrival of a young Mexican girl, Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen), who bears a few familial traits to the mutton-chopped mutant. Who knew that a sophisticated meditation on the indignity of old age wrapped in a superhero cape, loaded with father-child motifs, saying goodbye to one generation of heroes and setting up the scene for a new generation, would prove to be the best film in the franchise to date? [Joseph Walsh]

Read our full review of Logan

12. Aquarius

Dir. Kleber Mendonça Filho

On the surface, Kleber Mendonça Filho's follow up to 2012’s Neighbouring Sounds is a humorous tale of the defiant struggle of a 65-year old woman to save her home from the clutches of a property development company. Yet Filho's innovative style and intelligent sound design alludes to the world outside the frame, one bristling with anxiety and political anger, turning this story of individual resistance into a broader study of inherited guilt, social inequality and the distinction between house and home.

Brimming with formal invention and a knockout performance from Sonia Braga, Aquarius is a triumph of socially conscious filmmaking; a bold and electrifying film that's grand in scope, but intimate in its execution. [Patrick Gamble]

Read our full review of Aquarius

11. 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

10. The Florida Project

Dir. Sean Baker

Willem Dafoe turns in a career defining performance as kind-hearted, hard working Bobby, a budget motel manager in Sean Baker's sumptuously shot, naturalistic comic drama. The Florida Project focuses on the children of impoverished families who are forced to live in 'temporary residences' on the cheap commercial strips that have grown out from Disney's Orlando resort. Moonee (Oscar-worthy newcomer Brooklyn Prince) is a fiercely intelligent, witty six-year-old who leads her friends into all kinds of comical hi-jinks (both whimsical and criminal) in the bright DayGlo environs of off-brand, unlicensed Disney – an uncanny wonderland which Baker films without judgement. [RB]

Read our full review of The Florida Project

9. Dunkirk

Dir. Christopher Nolan

There can be no doubting the astonishing technical craft of Christopher Nolan's retelling of the evacuation of over 300,000 British soldiers from the eponymous French beach. The director's sense of scale has never been better realised than in Dunkirk's stunning 70mm IMAX presentation, shot masterfully by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema. His preoccupation with non-linear storytelling is put to brilliant effect, too, with the narrative cross-cut against three parallel stories running at a rate of one week, one day and one hour. Some may have baulked at Dunkirk's historical liberties, but its sensational intensity and propulsive narrative resulted in Nolan's best film yet. [Chris Machell]

Read our full review of Dunkirk

8. Cameraperson

Dir. Kirsten Johnson

A documentary, a self-portrait, a kind of cinematic scrapbook – Cameraperson is a unique formal achievement. The film consists of unused footage shot by cinematographer Kirsten Johnson over the course of 25 years, but taken together these discarded images create an extraordinary portrait of humanity. A boxing match in New York, a maternity ward in Nigeria, a wounded teenager in Afghanistan; Johnson has captured piercing moments of great joy and pain, and her film touches on a number of questions about the ethics and responsibilities of filming such images. Cameraperson is a film one can return to time and time again, to be continually moved, challenged and surprised in new ways. There is so much life in this movie. [Philip Concannon]

Read our full review of Cameraperson

7. Blade Runner 2049

Dir. Denis Villeneuve

The long-gestating, always seemingly ill-advised Blade Runner sequel could so easily have just skated by on a battered Ryan Gosling hanging around neon lights for a couple of hours – had Nicolas Winding Refn been in the director’s chair, it could plausibly have been called Only Gods Forgive Electric Sheep.

In the hands of director Denis Villeneuve, and with the original’s screenwriter Hampton Fancher back on (co-)writing duties, Blade Runner 2049 comfortably fits in the company of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road – two big-budget sci-fi revivals, made decades after their predecessors that refurbish and organically expand on the prior material’s modes to exhilarating thematic, aural and visual ends. [JS-W]

Read our full review of Blade Runner 2049

6. Manchester by the Sea

Dir. Kenneth Lonergan

Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea is a beautiful, understated exploration of grief and catharsis. Watching Lee (Casey Affleck), a man haunted by an unbearable tragedy, struggle between continuing with a self-imposed punishment and accepting a shot at redemption evokes an emotional response few other films could ever generate.

It’s a film about despair, but Lonergan's cast – who also include Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler – bring such warmth and humanity that it’ll make your heart soar in moments too. The film’s underlying brilliance lies in its ability to find humour in the most heart-wrenching of moments – and melancholy in the happiest. The bitterest tears flow after the heartiest laughs. [BR]

Read our interview with Manchester by the Sea star Michelle Williams

5. Call Me By Your Name

Dir. Luca Guadagnino

A tenderly drawn coming-of-age story flush with the awkwardness and ardour of youthful infatuation, Call Me By Your Name is the final chapter in Luca Guadagnino’s trilogy of desire. The film recounts a summer romance in Northern Italy between a precocious 17-year-old (Timothée Chalamet) and a visiting scholar (Armie Hammer). There’s a relatability to the men’s relationship that goes beyond specifics, with Guadagnino seemingly stealing many of his shots without permission to create a deeply sensual piece of cinema with a vein of messy, rampant emotions running through it. The result is a seductive film that, like a first love, stays with you, long after it’s over. [PG]

Read our interview with Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino

4. The Handmaiden

Dir. Park Chan-Wook

Constructed with the satisfying precision of a polished pocket watch, The Handmaiden sees director Park Chan-wook relocate the action of Sarah Waters’ 2002 neo-Victorian novel Fingersmith to his native Korea for an exquisitely charged erotic thriller. Kim Tae-ri plays an orphan girl whose appointment as handmaiden to the young fiancé of a rich purveyor of erotic literature sets off a cascading series of duplicities, cons and double-cons. It’s a woozy, dizzying piece that spins its audiences around several times, as Park melds his elegant style to Fingersmith’s deliciously manipulative plotting in order to explore the politics and power dynamics that surround sex and desire. [TG]

Read our full review of The Handmaiden

3. Get Out

Dir. Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele’s surprise hit of a directorial debut follows photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and his white girlfriend Rose Armitage (Alison Williams) to the countryside where he will meet her family for the first time. What begins as a modern-day Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner soon descends into something far more diabolical when it turns out the Armitages are the architects of an insidious scheme.

The film effortlessly balances humour and horror and boasts impressive performances from its cast; but it's the layered social commentary underpinning the horror that cements Get Out as one of the most important films of the year, if not the era. [Kelli Weston]

Read our full review of Get Out

2. Moonlight

Dir. Barry Jenkins

Forget envelopegate, there are a whole host of reasons why Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is genuinely remarkable. A character study in three parts, it combines a lyrical meditation on identity and self-determination with the challenges facing young black men in modern America. In doing so Jenkins constantly upends stereotypes, finding knotty contradictions in among moments of grace. The scene of our protagonist, Chiron, swimming in the sea with Mahershala Ali’s Juan may be transcendental, but the repercussions of Juan’s drug-dealing are of equal import. It’s a beautiful and sad tale, made all the more poignant by the wonderfully coalescent performances by Alex R Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, the actors playing Chiron at different ages, who seem to inhabit the same person despite minimal resemblance. [Ben Nicholson]

Read our interview with Moonlight director Barry Jenkins

1. Certain Women

Dir. Kelly Reichardt

Kelly Reichardt’s triptych, based on short stories by Maile Meloy, was the most quietly riveting movie of the year, contemplating the burdens, strengths and everyday rhythms of four Montana women. In a meticulous social drama of strivings, perpetrations, loyalties and miscalculations, Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone all perform masterfully without any sudden movements, drawing us into their internal lives with tiny and sometimes shattering gestures, against backdrops so vividly rendered you can smell the cold mountain air. [IM]

Read our interview with Certain Women director Kelly Reichardt

Read our writers' individual top ten lists