The first of three foreign language films on the list (in this case French) and one of two with a female director, Raw feels like the kind of movie that would never be made in Hollywood and would never be made by a man. It is just too gritty and honest about femininity or to find a word that encapsulates both of these things better; it is just too raw. The title of the film more obviously refers to the plot though which revolves around a young vegetarian woman who goes university, develops an insatiable appetite for uncooked meat and starts to see her fellow students as an ideal source of said foodstuff. It is a proper horror film in that it is horrific rather than relying on jumps and creepy monsters. It is disturbingly brilliant.
9. Paddington 2
If Raw is a film that bites then Paddington 2 is a film that hugs. There is something of James Stewart in Ben Whishaw’s portrayal of Michael Bond’s little bear and spending time in his polite and gentile company is utterly beguiling. In the context of the story Paddington makes those around him into better people and does the same for his audience as all cynicism and impatience leaves you as you watch the movie. Equally inspiring is Sally Hawkins’ Mrs Brown though who, working hard to fight injustice, cracking the crime and diving off tall places, may just be 2017’s greatest hero of feminism.
When Moonlight won the Oscar for Best Film over La La Land, the way in which it happened wasn’t actually the biggest surprise. La La Land is exactly the kind of movie that wins the big awards and Moonlight with its small budget, its realistic unshowy style and its concentration on minority groups is exactly the kind of film that doesn’t. Barry Jenkins’ movie is quietly brilliant and it is great that the mainstream American movie industry chose to shout about it.
7. The Levelling
Moonlight may be low budget but compared to The Levelling it is a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Hope Dickson Leach proves definitively that all you need to make a great film is a run down farm, a caravan, a camera, some brilliant actors and a superb screenplay.
6. The Villainess
All of the films on this list have elicited some kind of strong emotional response in me. In the case of The Villainess it was exhilaration and genuine awe. It is hard to do anything new in cinema and this may be most true with action movies where the big American studios are constantly throwing money at the screen to create spectacular fight sequences. This South Korean film beats Hollywood hands down and fists up. You might argue that The Raid did this a few years ago but while that had some nifty martial arts, this combines hand to hand combat with camera work in a way that is genuinely and stunningly audacious.
5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
This hasn’t just been a great year for foreign and independent films, the biggest of all the US studios has also given us a few surprises and potentially changed things a little. Disney/Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok played with movie conventions, just missing out on a place on this list, and Disney/Lucasfilm’s The Last Jedi constantly went off in directions that no one had anticipated. This upset some Star Wars fans but this Star Wars fan loved everything the haters hated. (Mind you, I liked Attack of the Clones on first viewing too so you may not be able to trust my opinion.) More importantly though is the role the film plays in redressing of gender imbalances. Seven of these top ten films of the year have a female lead and if this is evidence of a sea change then the Star Wars films are leading the charge on this.
4. The Florida Project
The Florida Project is a wonderful film about growing up on the periphery of wealth, on the periphery of mainstream culture, the periphery of society’s idea of conventional parenting and the periphery of regular childhood all signified on screen by a six year old girl growing up on the periphery of Disneyland.
3. La La Land
La La Land was praised at all of the film festivals, widely loved on its release and briefly won the Oscar but for most of the last twelve months people have been sniffy about it. The back-la-la-lash has been almost bigger than the movie. I absolutely love it though. There are few new releases I’ve viewed twice this year, one other I’ve even watched three times but I have seen La La Land six times now and have been totally charmed by it on each occasion. I adore the two leads, I love the relatable aspects of the story, the music is great and while the dancing may not be as skilled as Astaire or Kelly, it is sweet which is something that the great dance men never managed in the same way.
2. The Handmaiden
I went back and forth on the top two positions this year list and actually had to watch both of the movies in question to be able to make a decision. Missing out on no.1 by a whisker, Chan-wook Park’s Korean/Japanese adaptation of Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith is a staggering piece of cinema. Every aspect of it is beautiful from the setting, to the music to the characterisation of the female leads. In the end though it is the twisty plot, very slightly changed from Waters’ novel, that stays with you as two women battle a patriarchy that foolishly underestimates them. Much was made in the press about the lesbian love scenes, not enough was said about the powerful feminist and LGBT themes.
You are almost as unlikely to get an impartial view from me on a Christopher Nolan film as you are on a Star Wars movie. There is just something about the man’s poetic sense of cinematic storytelling that I love. It is clear to anyone though that Dunkirk is a superb piece of film making, which in this case is actually partly due to its lack of storytelling. Dunkirk doesn’t have a detailed plot, focussing instead on people’s experiences. This makes it one of the purist, least gung-ho, most authentic and most relentlessly tense depictions of war ever captured on celluloid. It is a genuine masterpiece and the best movie in a year of great films from every section of the industry.
Also, as a bonus and at their request, here are the top five lists of my three daughters:
1. Thor: Ragnarok
2. A Monster Calls
3. Paddington 2
5. Spider-Man: Homecoming
1. Thor: Ragnarok
2. Wonder Woman
3. Spider-Man: Homecoming
4. La La Land
5. Paddington 2
1. Paddington 2
2. Beauty & the Beast
3. Despicable Me 3
4. The Lego Batman Movie
5. The Boss Baby