The Top 10 Films of 2017
Here are the 10 best films of 2017, according to Crack Magazine.
Visit 2017.crackmagazine.net for more end of year coverage over the coming weeks.
The Florida Project
dir: Sean Baker
Starring: Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe
Following the success of 2015’s iphone-shot Tangerine, director Sean Baker turned to a different marginalised community, the “hidden homeless” eking out their existences in shitty extended-stay motels.
Precocious six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) lives at the Magic Castle motel with her mum Halley (Bria Vinaite), a struggling single mother barely out of childhood herself. Halley scrapes by, unable to get a job and often late with the rent, before eventually turning to darker measures. Unfortunately it’s a familiar story, but Baker’s depiction of their lives is a visual feast full of joy, a bubblegum saturation of childish wonder and naughty behaviour played out in the back corridors and stairwells of places no one cares about.
Exceptional performances from Vinaite (a modern day insta-Cinderella story after Baker discovered her via her posts on the app), Prince and Dafoe aside, what makes The Florida Project unmissable is the brutal authenticity of the characters’ relationships and quiet daily battles. As Baker himself says: “It’s a fictional film, but what it’s based on happens all the time.”
Blade Runner 2049
dir: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Arma
Anxiety was always going to run high over a sequel to Blade Runner. Thankfully, director Denis Villeneuve offered up a sci-fi film of staggering grandeur and beauty, which pays homage to the original yet is never beholden to Ridley Scott’s 1982 bar-setting work.
Just as in Scott’s original, Villeneuve engages with philosophical questions, asking whether machines might have ghosts knocking around in their shells. At the centre of the story is K (Ryan Gosling), a blade runner who has become uneasy with his work retiring rogue ‘skinjobs’. He finds solace in his holographic girl-friend, Joi (Ana de Armas), and, in delicately rendered scenes, Villeneuve expands on the idea of digital intimacy first explored in Spike Jonze’s Her. It’s these moments that form the emotional and intellectual core of the movie. But as much as the film is about existential themes, it’s also one that’s designed to inspire awe – the blazing oranges and rich blues that make up the palette of the film sear into your eyes. It’s a startling reminder that even in today’s cinema, where CGI spectacles are commonplace, big budget films can produce remark-able works of art.
A Ghost Story
dir: David Lowery
Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara
A Ghost Story opened with a quote from Virginia Woolf’s A Haunted House: “Whatever hour you woke, there was a door shutting”. David Lowery’s extraordinary work, like Woolf, exploded ideas of time, and particularly, those personal hauntings that tug at the threads of the past: memories.
The depiction of a ghost was much-discussed upon release – just a white sheet with eyeholes – but around this naive, curiously pathetic symbol swirled expansive themes studded with emotional sucker punches. Some found the pacing infuriating (Lowry cited Asian ‘slow cinema’ directors like Tsai Ming-liang as inspiration), but the the audience was always implicated in the meditation: decades pass in a jump cut or else minutes stretch on forever, as is the case where we’re condemned to watch Rooney Mara eat an entire pie in one, unbroken, take. Sure, A Ghost Story has a tendency towards an almost cosmic pretentiousness, but Lowery channelled a sublime charge from human anxieties about being alone – or worse, forgotten. After all, what could be scarier than that.
dir: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance
While many films about war centre around the tension between the soldier and home, Dunkirk is based solely on the battlefield. A story of suffering and survival, writer-director Christopher Nolan focuses on the physicality of war and those at its centre. Based on Operation Dynamo, a seemingly impossible rescue mission that took place on the French port of Dunkirk, where 400,000 allied soldiers were seized by the Germans, the film is divided into three parts: land, sea and air.
Structural devices and varying timelines contribute to the all-encompassing intensity, and Nolan laces each of these lived experiences and moment-to-moment heroisms with Memento level artistry. Large format shots mean that details emerge in great scale, while the limited-dialogue script highlights moments of tension – for instance, cries for help and barking orders. Together with a devastating score by Han Zimmer, Dunkirk is one of this year’s must-see releases.
dir: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford
The Golden Globes got into some hot water towards the end of the year for categorising Jordan Peele’s 2017-defining directorial debut Get Out as a comedy. Sure, there are funny parts. Peele employed archetypal thriller hallmarks to tell the story of an African American man who travels upstate to meet his white girlfriend’s apparently liberal parents before discovering a sinister truth which lay beneath their over-attentiveness. It was a smart, amusing subversion of a common occurrence. But there’s a harrowing realism in Daniel Kaluuya’s performance in the lead role which imbues the story with a chilling authenticity. Littered with easter egg metaphors and subtle nods to ongoing social issues, Get Out is a gripping social critique which made audiences unsettled on a number of levels. As Peele tweeted in the midst of the Golden Globes controversy, “Get Out is a documentary.”
dir: Julia Ducournau
Starring: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Naït Oufell
Raw tells the story of Justine, played by newcomer Garance Marillier, a vegetarian veterinary student who discovers a taste for human flesh. But Raw is about so much more than that: it’s a fucked up coming of age film set in an amoral adult-free world, where teenagers roam free and people get away with literal murder. Visually, it’s hugely arresting – the vet school is housed in a sprawling, brutalist building. By day everything seems stark and clinical, by night it’s transformed into a fearful place where teens dance together in mortuaries turned into improvised nightclubs. Weirdly, cannibalism aside, Raw’s depiction of sisterly dynamics was extremely relatable. Justine and her older sister Alexia, a fellow student, fight, fall out, wax each other with gruesome results, and generally behave like sisters around the world do – with a mixture of boundless love and boundless rage. It’s almost enough to make you want to gnaw off your own finger. Expect big things from Julia Ducournau, a terrifyingly smart, talented young female director.
dir: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris
Set within the confines of a labyrinthine Victorian house, Mother! introduced the audience to an unnamed couple, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. Bardem’s ‘Him’ was the archetype of a tortured artist – a once-famed poet suffering from writers’ block. Lawrence was the homemaker whose seemingly sole purpose is the care of her partner. In a succession of events that drew parallels to the biblical Fall, Aronofsky’s characters were thrown into a maelstrom of Antichrist proportions. Active participation remains essential on the part of the viewer to make sense of what unfolds, which is perhaps why Mother! received such a polarising response from audiences and critics alike. Many will draw obvious parallels between Bardem’s character and the Old Testament God, while others might see it as a parable of artistic obsession. However you choose to make sense of Mother!, in Aronofsky’s apocalyptic vision – where society has become spectacle and celebrity worship is one and the same as religion – everything is futile.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
dir: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman,Barry Keoghan
Loosely based on Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis, the sixth feature from Yorgos Lanthimos is one of the most remarkable films of the year. An eerie, comedic horror that unsettles from the opening scenes. The ominous tone is, in part, due to the work of Thimios Bakatakis, whose cinematography opts for unconventional angles. This off-kilter world is accentuated by dread-inducing use of works by György Ligeti and Sofia Gubaidulina, which, as thunderously as the music appears, dissipates into thronging hums, carefully crafted by sound designer Johnnie Burn.
Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman offer up career highlights, but it is newcomer Barry Keoghan that astounds as Martin, being at once both charming and malignant as he enacts his vengeful plot on an unsuspecting suburban family. Unlike The Lobster, here Lanthimos is wrestling with darker material, and it suits him, echoing the macabre nature of earlier works like Alps and Dogtooth. Like Keoghan’s Martin, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is wonderful wicked, triggering riotous laughter one minute, only for you to recoil in horror the next.
Call Me By Your Name
dir: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg
Breathlessly romantic, infused with the fuzzy warmth of summers past, and starring a never-sexier Armie Hammer, Luca Guadagnino’s sun-kissed book adaptation is one of the most masterful and memorable film of 2017. Set in 1983, it stars Hammer as an American student who goes to stay with a professor and his family “somewhere in northern Italy”, where he attracts the attention of 17-year-old prodigy Elio (Timothée Chalamet). As the pair’s mutual attraction grows, Guadagnino’s unshowy camerawork draws us into one of the year’s most affectingly down-played romances. With a soundtrack to die for (Sufjan Stevens’ Visions of Gideon and Love My Way by The Psychedelic Furs are beautifully deployed), plus a captivating turn by Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name is joyfully emotional without ever spilling into sentimentality. In a stellar year for LGBTQ+ cinema, Call Me By Your Name is an evocative, wrenching portrait of young love that also involves a scene involving a peach you’ll never forget…
dir: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Ashton Sanders, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali
As the coming-of-age story of a gay man of colour in America, Moonlight was both a significant social commentary and a personal portrait of human desire. The twin sides of the film – the social and the personal – coalesce into an overwhelmingly beautiful story, executed perfectly with astounding performances and the confident, slow pace of Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning direction.
Moonlight is a film about sexuality, but its expression is mostly gestural. In one of the only direct depictions of open sexual expression, the audience’s view is the image of a lover’s hand cradling protagonist Chiron’s head. This simple gesture is typical of a film that excels through plain but powerful imagery both visually and in dialogue. Chiron says at one point that he cries so much he feels he could turn to drops, and it’s an idea that reoccurs throughout; in the ocean, in bath-water, in ice in the sink. But the film ends with Chiron staring out into the ocean, with water transmuted from an image of loneliness into one of openness and liberation.