2017 has proven to be a solid year for cinema once again.
From homegrown independent cinema to foreign arthouse, this year’s best five films are all worthy of their positions after sitting through dozens of entertaining features.
But as ever, it hasn’t just been the best five that have summed up the year. Many directors have once again provided entertainment a diverse line-up all delivering work which sum up the year’s honourable mentions.
In drama, Scorsese shocked us to the core with Silence, Casey Affleck broke hearts with Manchester by the Sea, Alejandro Jodorowsky continued his autobiographical odyssey with Endless Poetry and Luca Guadagigno crafted genuine romance with Call Me By Your Name.
For thrillers, Paul Verhoeven teamed up with Isabelle Huppert in the highly provocative Elle, Jennifer Lawrence was left broken in the horrifying Mother!, Park-Chan Wook brought eroticism and treachery to The Handmaiden and Yorgos Lanthimos went stateside for The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
The world of animation was at its most heart-warming this year with the world’s first painted feature Loving Vincent and Studio Ghibli going international for The Red Turtle.
And comedy was a welcome area too with Bruno Dumont bringing the laughs for the French farce Slack Bay, Armando Ianucci carried the British flag with The Death of Stalin , Toni Erdmann showed Germany could do a three-hour comedy successfully with and a middle-aged Trainspotting cast proved they still had it.
But now, the time has come to look at the very best that 2017 has had to offer, as we go in descending order to find out what was 2017’s film of the year.
5. The Salesman
Asghar Farhdai won his second Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film with this unpredictable and tension-fuelled drama from Iran.
Shortly after moving into a new home, a couple’s relationship is tested when the wife is attacked by a mysterious assailant at their home. Whilst they continue to work on a theatre production of Death of a Salesman, the husband searches for the identity of the attacker, leading to a climactic confrontation.
When the film won the Oscar, there was a feeling that maybe it was only awarded as a protest vote against President Trump’s travel ban, beating the favourite to win Toni Erdmann.
Upon viewing, one realised that the better film won. With its theatrical-like atmosphere, this is a surprising and often highly entertaining picture that proves once again the Foreign Film Oscar easily betters the Best Picture winner, in this year’s case, La La Land, sorry, Moonlight.
4. The Death of Louis XIV
Last year, in spite of several wonderful French films, there was no room to fit any into the top 5. This year, there is no worry of that as France appears thanks to a fine examination of the final days of King Louis XIV.
Nearly 60 years after playing Antoine Dunuel in The 400 Blows, Jean-Pierre Leaud portrays the King who spends much of the film bedridden as a sore pain in his leg gradually turns into something much more serious and the inevitable looms in Versailles in 1715.
Catalonian director Albert Speer brings a deliberately slow pace that may prove frustrating for some but wholly rewarding for those who appreciate such a trait. For what this is, this study of discomfort, pain and death is detailed beautifully and stands out as a gem of modern European arthouse cinema.
3. The Levelling
If anything has been proved this year, it is that British cinema has been at its strongest for many years and this debut feature from Hope Dickson-Leach is just one example.
Following the 2014 floods in Somerset, a young woman finishing her studies to become a vet moves back in with her estranged father with the family farm after the death of her brother. The father-daughter relationship is already strained and they are forced to live in a static caravan as they battle to keep the farm going, while she tries to discover what really happened to her brother.
A drama about a family with more skeletons in the closet than the average family, this is a really good example of British indie cinema. The film progressive gets better and is helped by two stellar performances by rising star Grace Kendrick and David Troughton. It remains to be seen where Dickson-Leach goes from here but rest assured, a possible directing talent has been born, made better by the fact she is British.
A rare example of what happens when Hollywood spends $100million wisely, Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic is exactly that, an intense look at the evacuation of soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk.
Divided into three sections, focusing separately on the perspectives of soldiers and the rescuers via land, sea and air, an ensemble cast from Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and newcomer Fionn Whitehead combine to make this a truly suspenseful look at a crucial moment in WW2.
From the chilling opening shot of soldiers running for their lives, Nolan barely lets the audience get comfortable before depictting the events that can only be summed up as action from start-to-finish while keeping dialogue to a minimum.
With a direction to be proud of, Nolan has made his case for why he deserves the Best Director at next year’s Academy Awards and based on contenders with a realistic chance, one would be happy to see this also take the Best Picture award next year. It would be the best film to win such an award in a long time.
1. Lady Macbeth
There is a reason why this year’s top 3 are all British, they deserve to be and this year’s No.1 choice for the best film of the year all but sums up just why the UK has stood head and shoulders above everywhere else this year for cinema.
Based on a 19th century Russian novella, Lady Macbeth is another film from a British director making their directorial debut, this time William Oldroyd whose principle work lies in the theatre.
Here, it tells of a young woman Katherine Lester, played with icy brilliance by Florence Pugh, who finds herself in a loveless and neglectful marriage in 1865 Northumberland.
She soon finds solace in the arms of a mixed-race servant of whom they begin a passionate affair. This then soon leads to a series of events where murder, betrayal and social divisions play a key part in demonstrating the ruthlessness of the titular character.
This year, there was not a film which was able to match Lady Macbeth in terms of intrigue, in terms of interest and in terms of feeling entertained.
Often venturing into gruesome and disturbing territory, the film benefits from the lead character of Katherine, one of the most fascinating characters to see in a film for quite some time. Venturing from sympathetic to downright villainous, Pugh’s performance is a breakthrough and will go a long way to showcasing her as a future British talent.
Like Dickson-Leach, Oldroyd has cemented a legacy with this one feature alone and is another director who has created genuine excitement for their future works.
Lady Macbeth will upset people but for fans of provocative and original cinema, this is the finest film of the year and an example of Brexit Britain at its most creative.