By Ryan Keating-Lambert
It’s finally come! The end of another epic year of cinema, and the end of an even more epic year of blogging about cinema. 2017 certainly had its fair share of surprising twists and turns for both independent and Hollywood cinema.
My Top 20 list for this year is based on films that were screened in the Czech Republic in 2017, so don’t expect to see Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name or Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water. I have no doubt that they’ll be included in next year’s list anyway.
Thankfully, the Czech Republic, or “Czechia” from this year on, isn’t always behind in cinema distribution. Events such as the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Febio Fest, and the Be2Can Film Festival bring a diverse range of English friendly and award-winning independent films from all over the world, not to mention the best of the best of European cinema. From Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer to the Safdie Brothers’ Good Time, we’ve seen some truly original and awe-inspiring films this year.
Hollywood on the other hand had a year of ups and downs. Summer saw one epic box office failure after another. However, the DCEU finally struck a note with Wonder Woman, which was also a major breakthrough for women in the film industry. Still a long way to go though. Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk was massive (no surprises there) and Blade Runner 2049, despite having rave reviews (not from me though), massively under-performed at the box office, and then M. Night Shyamalan finally made a good movie with Split? What a year.
In some ways, it’s been a hell of a polarising year for cinema as well. Darren Aronofksy’s Mother! was so extreme that it divided critics and viewers alike. Some called it a masterpiece, some called it absolute trash. And Star Wars: The Last Jedi has so far stirred up more controversy than any of its predecessors, with some fans even signing a petition to remove it from the franchise – calm the f*** down!
After you check out the best, be sure to check out the worst at the end of the list, not to mention some of the year’s honourable mentions that ALMOST made the cut. Enjoy, and feel free to comment!
This film never got a theatrical release in the Czech Republic but is still available to stream on Netflix. Catfight is a hilarious and satirical take on war, Trump and everything in between. To me, it’s the spearhead of Trump-era satire. Director Onur Tukel takes two college friends of differing social status (Sandra Oh and Anne Heche) and pits them against each other in a delightfully absurd and entertaining black and blue comedy.
19. 120 BPM
Robin Campillo’s Cannes Grand Prix winning queer film surrounds a complicated gay relationship in the ‘Stand Up’ AIDS activist group in the 1990s. However, BPM is an atypical AIDS film in the sense that it relies more on dialogue and brutal realism rather than Hollywood cliche. It also draws on both Campillo’s and writer Philippe Mangeot’s real-life experience in the group. It also won Best Picture at Prague’s Be2Can Film Festival, and is also the French Oscar entry for this year.
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk somewhat reinvented the war movie, eliminating main characters to create a more realistic and visceral tale of the anonymity and realism of WWII, but it’s Hans Zimmer’s ticking time-bomb of a soundtrack is what really drives the film home. That, along with spectacular cinematography and direction has given the film a lot of Oscar attention. Dunkirk is a great achievement for modern cinema, even if it is a little patriotic at times.
17. The Beguiled
The latest film directed by Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides) and perhaps one of her greatest. The Beguiled is a remake of the 1970’s Clint Eastwood American Civil War film that sees a wounded Yankee soldier (Colin Farrel) taken in by a group of women in an isolated Virginian school. With an all-star cast including Nicole Kidman (what a year she’s had) and Coppola regulars Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, Coppola has delivered a superb civil war thriller that reels you in from the get-go, but she also still manages to keep her trademark indie quirk and visuals. Think The Virgin Suicides meets Cold Mountain.
Thelma is perhaps one of the best queer films of the year, and is also Norway’s 2017 Oscar entry. This ambitious supernatural thriller by Norwegian director Joachim Trier (Louder Than Bombs) premiered at Prague’s Mezipatra Queer Film Festival in November and is currently in Czech cinemas thanks to Aero Films. Thelma sees the titular character fall slave to an unusual illness after falling in love with a girl at her Oslo university. It’s a queer coming-of-age film in the spirit of Carrie. The trailer is also phenomenal. Check it out.
15. You Were Never Really Here
Directed by Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin), the new Joaquin Phoenix thriller earned the actor a Cannes Best Actor award and had its Czech premiere in Prague’s Be2Can Film Festival this year. You Were Never Really Here is ruthless, but absolutely gorgeous – a modern day version of Taxi Driver. Phoenix is fantastic as Joe, an ex-veteran turned hitman of sorts, as is the young Nina played by Ekaterina Samsonov.
14. The Lost City of Z
James Gray’s misinterpreted masterpiece. The Lost City of Z was a critical hit but fell a little short with general audiences. The film was marketed as somewhat of an Indiana Jones action/adventure when in reality, it’s an epic. Charlie Hunnam delivers a career best performance as obsessive explorer Percy Fawcett in search of El Dorado, as does Robert Pattinson as fellow explorer Henry Costin. The Lost City of Z is a work of art and inspiration that very much reinforces the ‘it’s not about the destination, but the journey’ expression.
13. After the Storm
From Japanese auteur Hirokazu Koreeda (Little Sister), comes the wonderfully bright and relatable After the Storm. Like a lot of Koreeda’s films, After the Storm is a family-orientated drama centred around a mending father-son relationship. Superb performances and lovable wit make this a surprisingly light-hearted film that delivers on almost every scene. I can see this being a movie that people will always revisit as comfort food.
12. Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman is without a doubt, one of the best superhero films of recent years. Bursting with energy, charisma, and superb characterisation, Gal Gadot is unstoppable and a perfect fit for the Amazon superheroine. Thanks to director Patty Jenkins (Monster), the DCEU finally got itself a hit, and firmly cemented the superhero’s place in the franchise. It’s an all-round memorable and inspiring action film for the modern age, and a huge step forward for women in the industry. Just look at that scene in No Man’s Land. WOW.
The comeback of M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable) after a decade of flops. Split marks the director’s triumphant return to the horror / thriller genre that he did so well with in the past. A solid build-up and an insanely good performance(s) by James McAvoy make this a real nail-biter. West Dylan Thordson’s superb soundtrack was also my pick for soundtrack of the year. Split very much serves as a reflection of sorts for the director and his past work – THAT TWIST. A lot of careful and constructive thought went into this film, and I’m very excited about the sequel Glass, currently in production and slated for release in early 2019.
10. A Monster Calls
Probably one of the year’s most harrowing tales, A Monster Calls is somewhat of a gothic fairy tale about a boy coming face-to-face with an impending family death. Lewis MacDougall gives an incredible performance as young Conor, as does Liam Neeson who voices the monster. Based on the novel by Patrick Ness and directed by J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible), A Monster Calls is a tragedy captured through the eyes of a child. It’s also a visual masterpiece, utilising exquisite animation sequences and concept art by some of the industry’s best, including Catalan illustrator and comic book artist Miki Montlló.
9. 20th Century Women
One of the many films that screened at Prague’s Febio Fest this year. From acclaimed director Mike Mills (Beginners), 20th Century Women is a warm-hearted exercise in nostalgia, love, and freedom. Annette Bening leads an all-star cast as unconventional and contradictory single mother Dorothea, who’s trying to raise her teenage son in 1970s California. This film is an all-round win – psychedelic, funny, and just so relatable.
Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is a career best for Adam Driver (Star Wars, Logan Lucky). The film accentuates the monotony of small-town life and finds the beauty in it through bus-driving poet ‘Paterson’. There’s a certain air of curiosity and playfulness here that really gets under your skin. Driver is fantastic, as is the supporting cast. Paterson is gorgeous, funny, and criminally underrated. A must see.
The Best Picture Oscar winner for this year is a ground-breaking piece of cinema. A well-composed portrayal of struggle through the eyes of an African-American boy questioning his sexuality in an ultra-masculine world. Directed by Barry Jenkins and based on parts of the director’s own childhood, Moonlight is a triumph in queer storytelling, and littered with raw emotion and powerhouse performances, especially from Naomi Harris as Chiron’s mother… plus it beat La La Land!
6. Good Time
Good Time is like Run Lola Run on LSD. It’s intense, and it’s also Robert Pattinson at his best. The Twilight star completely transformed himself for the role of Connie, an amateur thief whose mentally handicapped brother gets arrested when they botch up a bank job. Directed by the Safdie Brothers (Daddy Long Legs), this is an inventive heist thriller full of bittersweet chaos. Oneohtrix Point Never’s hyperactive soundtrack is the icing on the cake and also made the Best Soundtrack list for this year.
5. Lady Macbeth
A powerful feature film debut by director William Olroyd, which recently cleaned up at the European Film Awards. Set in 19th century Britain, Lady Macbeth is a modern interpretation of the classic Nicolai Neskov novel (not Shakespeare) with an incredibly magnetic performance by Florence Pugh. Dark and unforgiving, this is a disturbing but moving tale of a young bride and her transformation into manipulative murderess. A woman pushed to the edge. Superb film-making.
4. A Ghost Story
One of the standout films at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival this year, which actor Casey Affleck personally presented. A Ghost Story is a haunting and fascinating look at death. Director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon) has managed to effortlessly capture the vastness of time through the grief-stricken performances of both Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, all through a 4:3 camera aspect ratio – A Ghost Story is a poem for the afterlife… with lots of pie.
3. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Last year’s list saw Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos make a more than memorable entry with the ultra-dark dystopian comedy The Lobster. This year, it’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Lanthimos’ genius taboo horror is a powerful slow-burn with exceptional performances from Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, not to mention breakout star Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk). The film actually premiered in Czech cinemas before most other countries, thanks to Prague’s Be2Can Film Festival – a festival dedicated to bringing the best of the European festival circuit to Czech cinemas.
Directed by Julie Ducournau, RAW was a game-changer for indie horror this year. The French language film received a lot of attention from international film festivals, not to mention from its gory marketing campaign. People were supposedly fainting at screenings and some even left in an ambulance. However, this film is so much more than gross-out torture porn. RAW is a fiercely original and well-directed coming-of-age piece, with some subtle nods to feminism… and some not so subtle nods to cannibalism.
In the number 1 spot, those of you who know me won’t be surprised in the least. Mother! sees Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star in a surrealist and thrilling allegorical tale of Mother Earth which is almost impossible to categorise. Directed by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan), Mother! was an ambitious passion project that caught the attention of many with its nightmarish intensity and sometimes confusing symbolism. Even James Jean’s stunning posters had their share of cryptic puzzles. There’s so much going on in this film that you could pick it apart for days, but it’s a fascinating, and truly disturbing experience. Aronofsky’s signature use of sound and invasive cinematography also make this a hell of a sensory experience.
Feature photo: Roger Ebert