Top 20 Films of 2017 (10-1)

(This list is based on UK release dates and festival films without a 2018 release date)

To read my Top 20 Films of 2017 (20-11), click here.

10. GOLDEN EXITS

I may not have enjoyed director Alex Ross Perry’s previous effort, Listen Up Philip, but here he’s created a stunning and perplexing episodic epic. Golden Exits’ apparent shortcomings (namely stilted dialogue and wonky delivery) reveal themselves as integral characteristics of a tour-de-force study of self-hatred and resignation; what at once appears inorganic becomes entirely organic. The impression is clear: this is a film full of characters uncomfortable in their own skin, silently screaming to break free from their inner turmoil. As the wonderful score builds and thrums, there’s an increasing awareness that this is not just a mere character drama or some easily dismissable mumblecore, but something monumental – a film that recognises the methods in which it can manufacture drama, and goes out of its way to avoid them. The characters may remain silent in their discontentment, but there is nothing quiet about Golden Exits’ profundity. It’s a staggering, unique achievement – a balloon that refuses to pop (or, heck, even let out a little air), instead expanding from what is, at first glance, a narrow focus, into something universal.

To read my Golden Exits review, click here.

9. PERSONAL SHOPPER

In 1996, Olivier Assayas directed Irma Vep, a hodgepodge of juicy thematic strands, and a hot, fascinating mess. In Personal Shopper he refines this indulgence, weaving in each individual element rather than leaving them to rot, and thereby dictating a juggernaut balancing act. It’s difficult to explain exactly what Personal Shopper is about or what happens – simply because almost everything does happen. There’s a ghost story – a Hitchcockian exercise in nail-biting suspense. There’s a murder mystery, an elongated text-messaging sequence, a parable on fame and desire – everything and anything and somehow it works. This is in no small part due to Kristen Stewart, who in the lead role gives the greatest performance of 2017. She’s frail yet committed, brandishing a stone-faced demeanour – but the stones are beginning to crumble. She’s haunted; perhaps she wants to be. The camera sweeps, pans, fades in and out. In one of the film’s most ethereal sequences, lifts and automatic doors open on their own; Assays transforms the mundane into the gob-smacking, and no matter which way you interpret what goes on – whether you’re frightened, moved, stunned (I was all three) – there’s no denying the film’s lasting impact. Now you’re haunted too.

8. NERUDA

The only biopic on this list is one that pokes fun at its own genre. Neruda is as playful as they come, developing the figure of writer and political activist Pablo Neruda by staging a fictional chase between poet and detective. Much like Personal Shopper, Pablo Larrain’s latest is many things at once: it’s a biopic that deconstructs biopics, the characters flitting between locations within the same conversation, as if the film is lamenting the idea of rigid truth-telling. It’s a film that does away with convention and truth to deliver something utterly truthful; Neruda’s life isn’t retold, but his character is understood and evoked. It’s a time capsule of mood and emotion and creativity, the screen bursting in warm hues of red and blue, lens flares injecting an extravagance that can only be associated with Neruda himself. It’s a unique and mature reflection on fiction; not simply through the fact that the chase itself is fictional, but through how Bernal’s detective reacts to that fact – and his own non-existence – in a spellbinding expositional sequence. And, most importantly, it’s a fascinating, intricate, beautifully rendered and exceptionally realised take on, if not the life of Pablo Neruda, certainly the life that he created for himself.

7. BLADE RUNNER 2049

2017’s greatest blockbuster belongs to a film whose audience entered with trepidation: why exactly does Blade Runner need to have a sequel? Here’s why: Blade Runner 2049 exceeds expectations and then some, substantiating the themes of the original while creating something entirely unique and operatically operational on its own. There’s so much going on that any talk of shortening its near-3-hour runtime seems ludicrous: it betrays ‘chosen one’ convention, it adds fuel to the furious debate on what it means to be human, and it re-establishes a neon-soaked world with tremendous detail. There’s nothing quite as ambitious this year as Blade Runner 2049 – nor, perhaps, as jaw-droppingly beautiful. Deakins spruces up this dystopian future with intense colour scheming, wide, gaping framing, exquisitely-realised transitions (a scene morphs from flickers of fire to city lights, though if you missed it, that’s understandable – the whole film is just as technically stunning). Not everything works (talks of rebellion belong to a different film), but when it does, – a scene that redefines the term ‘sexposition, for instance – oh boy is it special.

6. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

Upon its release, a few people I talked to dismissed Manchester By The Sea as Oscar bait, Well, if this is the state of Oscar bait, then I’m all in: Kenneth Lonergan’s latest is a grounded masterpiece, unassuming yet overwhelming. Memories skim through our protagonist’s psyche as he weathers trauma; Casey Affleck sells it wonderfully. It may not be entirely out of his acting range but the perennially-depressed-looking Affleck brother is exquisite as the perennially-depressed Lee Chandler, in a reserved, heart-breaking performance aided by a script that refuses to manipulate. Not content with simply jerking the tears (of which there are many), Lonergan injects his writing with a black humour that ripples throughout proceedings, meshing farce with tragedy. Men struggle to offload his wife into the back of an ambulance. Affleck almost burns his house down for a second time. In Manchester By The Sea, Lonergan has created a mellow masterpiece; a thoughtful, poignant vehicle for Affleck, Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams to flaunt their considerable ability in front of the camera.

5. ANTIPORNO

Japanese auteur Sion Sono (who also made my Top 20 Films of 2015 with Tokyo Tribe) may be the last person you’d expect to direct a feminist plea and scathing indictment of the porn industry, but watching Antiporno unfold and…yeah, that makes sense. It contains everything that makes Sion Sono consistently greater than Sion so-so: fourth-wall breaks, lurid colour palettes and over-the-top sexualisation with a paradoxical purpose. It’s Duke of Burgundy if Strickland had crammed his gob with sugar beforehand, and it’s as glorious as it sounds. A family engage in a conversation over dinner involving more than just the birds and the bees. Two reporters dressed in Clockwork Orange get-up are ordered to rape the ‘protagonist’s’ secretary. A woman slams her face into cake. It’s erratic, gorgeous to look at, and surprisingly insightful, lamenting a porn empire that has misled the Japanese youth. Men leer, roles reverse, paint splats, paper butterflies flutter away and glue themselves to the ceiling; it’s something resembling Lynch without the dread or Kubrick without the perfectionism, but filtered through Sono’s singular, provocative vision: it’s an opioid marvel.

4. WORLD OF TOMORROW EPISODE TWO: THE BURDEN OF OTHER PEOPLE’S THOUGHTS

Having a short film on this list may be cheating a little, but World of Tomorrow 2 has enough ideas crammed into its 22-minute runtime to make any feature-length film blush. Don Hertzfeldt’s successor to the wildly original Oscar-nominated short World of Tomorrow, this film scours the psyche of its protagonists (Emily Prime, and an incomplete backup copy of her third generation clone) rather than looking to the stars, paradoxically expanding its scope. It loses the interstellar, but keeps the stellar, as we are transported into the minds of two characters who could not be more different. The backup clone’s mind is dour, hopeless, with areas such as the ‘Bog of Realism’, where ‘glimmers of hope’ lie buried and forgotten. Emily Prime’s, conversely, contains ‘Triangle Land’, its presence bursting on to our screens and evoking an instantaneous, deeply heartfelt reaction. Statements are made on identity politics, on the futility of holding on to memories, on the effect of aging and experience – it’s so rich and dense that rewatches are a necessity. And even if you don’t understand a whole lot, at least there’s Hertzfeldt’s sumptuous animation to tide you over – abstract vistas shift with each stick figure’s movement, clouds of smoke shudder and rotate, and red specks distort the screen akin to Interstellar’s gyroscopic wormhole effect. It’s an existential revelation sprawled out and stuffed back in inside 22 minutes; Charlie Kaufman is quaking in his boots.

To read my World of Tomorrow 2 review, click here.

3. TONI ERDMANN

Maren Ade’s acclaimed oddity is as ‘My God, this really shouldn’t work’ as they come. A 3-hour German comedy where not a whole lot happens may not pique the interest, but here we are. In Toni Erdmann, Ade has created a glorious father-daughter parable that revels in its addiction to awkward humour, and languishes in its encroaching ennui. The titular character, you see, doesn’t exist, but is instead a fictionalised persona of a father who’s attempting to reconcile and connect with his estranged, work-obsessed daughter. Peter Simonischek is superb but its Sandra Huller who astonishes, scenario-shifting between business meetings, Whitney Houston renditions and naked dinner parties and making it look and sound believable. Toni Erdmann is more than just ‘believable’ though: it’s honest, hilarious, and genuinely heartbreaking; an emotional odyssey with one cathartic hug worth the 2-and-a-half-hour buildup. Who says Germans can’t be funny? Though not every stereotype is disproven: even with such a long runtime, they remain efficient – not a minute could be shredded off this shaggy epic.

To read my Toni Erdmann review, click  here.

2. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

Last year, Luga Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash was my No. 1 film of the year. He comes close to repeating that feat this year with Call Me By Your Name, a ‘what I did last Summer’ type of film that builds on the director’s fixation of intense sensuality. It’s a rapturous sun-soaked delight, taking hold of you right from the piano-plodding off and not letting go beyond the end credits. Taking place ‘somewhere in the north of Italy’, we follow Timothée Chalamet’s Elio as he traverses the tricky window between youth and maturity, discovering his sexuality after getting to know Armie Hammer’s Oliver – an intern for Elio’s father. Here they fall in love, their relationship stained with the awareness that it will inevitably come to a close (Oliver moves to America once the summer ends). In the moment, however, it’s something to be savoured, the film gorgeously realising the evocations that the experience of a first love can muster up. Hammer may be the bigger name but Chalamet is incredible, his measured performance in turn both playful and heartbreaking. Call Me By Your Name is a real peach of a film. I look forward to Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake claiming no.3 on next year’s list.

1. NOCTURAMA

Some may be surprised by this choice: after all, didn’t I give it four stars in my review earlier this year? Well, yes, but Bertrand Bonello’s heady extravaganza possesses a staying power like no other. My fan-boyish gushing over Nocturama‘s thematic resonance and how it goes about tackling such a tricky topic as teenage terrorists without stooping to vacant provocation remains. On the other hand, my brief, fleeting criticisms have faded away – Nocturama is the nigh-perfect film (though I’m unable to call it Bonello’s magnum opus, as his 2011 brothel-as-capitalism-metaphor House of Tolerance is just as spellbinding). Unpacking each element of Nocturama takes time – but is more than worth it – the film unravelling into a treasure box of conceptual morsels that are each delicious to indulge in. There’s the mannequins, whose clothes mirror our protagonists’.  Multiple interpretations can be applied just to this alone, yet maybe all of them are correct – how their anarchism melts into a singular whole, how they are consumed by the very product – capitalism – that they wish to destroy, how by destroying this structure, they are destroying themselves. To talk about everything Nocturama has to offer in a 200-word thinkpiece is impossible, so I’ll just say this and let you read my review afterwards: for the sheer scope and ambition of Bonello, for the careful consideration taken to humanise his teen terrorists without sympathising with them, for the improbable way in which he balances three tonally jarring acts and makes them function – no, accentuate each other – as a cohesive narrative whole – Nocturama is the best film of 2017. You can watch it on Netflix now, and I suggest you do so immediately.

Thanks for the fantastic year, 2017. And with Wes Anderson, Lars Von Tier, Cuaron, Dolan, Denis, Jenkins, Chazelle, McQueen, etc on the horizon, I reckon 2018 will be just as special.

-Gus Edgar

 

 

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