There have already been many great films so far this year, so I felt it worth doing a run down of my favourite films of the year so far. These all reflect the cinema releases we’ve had so far in the UK in 2017 - for that reason this list includes some films that were released in the US in 2016. Enjoy, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the best films of the year so far!
Honourable mentions: Their Finest, Colossal, Gifted
1. Get Out, dir. Jordan Peele
This film really knocked me for six, to such an extent that I simply had to see it twice in the cinema. It got even better upon a re-watch, when I was able to watch it with full knowledge of the characters’ underlying motives and the things to come. It’s a terrifying concept (the racism of an all-white suburb is taken to a horrifying extreme) executed with incredible panache, and you feel every emotion that Chris goes through thanks to Daniel Kaluuya’s excellent performance. Get Out also represents one of the most brilliantly communal experiences I’ve ever had at the cinema - I won’t spoil it, but let’s just say that the audience erupted into spontaneous applause at a key moment in the climax. Simply fantastic.
2. The Handmaiden, dir. Park Chan-wook
This film is exquisite - it’s first and foremost a beautiful boundary-smashing love story, and an absolutely marvellous tale of female defiance. It transplants Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith to 1930s Korea, and the story is effortlessly adapted to become intrinsically interwoven with its new setting. Sookee is a talented pickpocket plucked from a thieves den and sent as a handmaiden to trick a rich heiress into falling for a conman. To say any more would spoil the twists, but this film is just a masterwork of suspense, keeping you guessing throughout a series of interlocking pieces that take their time to reveal their secrets. I’ve seen the theatrical cut and the extended version, and they’re both great - you’re in for a treat with either.
3. Jackie, dir. Pablo Larrain
This is a film that soars on the strength of Natalie Portman’s incredible performance, which is complemented by Mica Levi’s haunting score. Portman’s performance is painfully vivid, with her agony and wretchedness coming through so intensely that it’s often uncomfortable to watch. Jackie is probably the best portrait of grief I’ve ever seen, and it sucks you into a famous historic event by providing an incredibly intimate perspective on it. This is great cinema, but be prepared for suffering.
4. A Cure for Wellness, dir. Gore Verbinski
This is a delightfully strange Gothic fairy tale of a film, and I’m amazed and impressed that a Hollywood studio gave Gore Verbinski a budget sufficient to pull it off with such beauty and style. I’ve seen this film attract love and hate in equal measure, but I adore it - the trailers set you up for a rehash of Shutter Island, but nothing could be further from the truth beyond the isolated setting. If I had to compare this to anything, I would compare it to Roger Corman’s Poe cycle of films from the 1960s - it has a similarly lurid sensibility and a deep-seated sense of fantastic romanticism at its core. Great if you’re after something uncompromisingly bonkers.
5. Wonder Woman, dir. Patty Jenkins
This film represented pure joy for me - I couldn’t have anticipated how emotional I was going to get at witnessing a (wonder!)woman crossing No Man’s Land and deflecting bullets with her bracelets. This simultaneously rejects the wry self-awareness of the Marvel films and the grim self-importance of the previous DC movies, instead unabashedly depicting a superhero who triumphs thanks to her overriding belief in love and compassion. Patty Jenkins adds endless little touches - from funny moments to quiet scenes where characters talk simply to learn about each other - that enrich the film and make it feel vivid and intimate in a very rare and special way.
6. Silence, dir. Martin Scorsese
This is truly the work of a master filmmaker, and it represents a stunning artistic achievement and a moving and intelligent investigation of the threshold of faith. Scorsese tried to get this made for decades before finally succeeding, and his passion for and belief in the project shine through in every painstakingly crafted frame. Silence is equal parts beauty and brutality, and it uses this contrast to illuminate the painful questions that the faithful must ask themselves when faced with the harsh reality of the present world. It’s heavy stuff, but well worth your time if you’re up for a film that raises more questions than it answers.
7. In This Corner of the World, dir. Sunao Katabuchi
I had no idea this film existed until a few days before I saw it, but I was really struck by its poetic treatment of the joys and tragedies of life. This film follows a young bride who moves to live with her husband’s family in WWII-era Japan, and while it deals unflinchingly with the trauma and horror of war - particularly the bombing of Hiroshima - it’s also surprisingly funny and ultimately hopeful. The power of this film comes through in the little moments of human connection and the way that the full potential of animation is exploited to maximum effect.
8. La La Land, dir. Damien Chazelle
A lovely ode to the classic Hollywood musical, La La Land is a technical marvel that sticks with me because of its heart and humanity (those words are recurring a lot, right?). It tells a very small story of a love affair between two dreamers in Hollywood, but it feels much bigger than them because of the way in which their story is told. La La Land draws from influences across the spectrum of cinema, and its homages to the classics are joyful and loving. The final ‘what might have been’ sequence represents the perfect marriage of raw emotion and filmmaking virtuosity.
9. Okja, dir. Bong Joon-ho
Not many films can balance flatulence jokes with uncompromising critique of capitalist greed, but Okja pulls it off with aplomb. The core story hinges on the innocent and endearing friendship between a young girl named Mija and a bio-engineered super pig called Okja, and the film succeeds because you totally buy their connection and desperately want the two of them to have their wish and live together in the mountains. I’m delighted that Netflix gave Bong Joon-ho a platform to make such a weird beast.
10. Logan, dir. James Mangold
Logan may be bleak, but that isn’t what makes it great - Logan is fantastic cinema because it remembers that superheroes are still people who struggle with their own souls as much as super-villains. This film features the best character work managed in any of the X-Men films, and Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and - in particular - Dafne Keen give heart-rending performances that really ground the film and give it an emotional core. I hope we get more superhero films like this, and that the takeaway from it for the industry is the importance of stressing character rather than frantic spectacle.
Most anticipated films still to come: War for the Planet of the Apes, Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets, Dunkirk, The Beguiled, Mother!, Logan Lucky, Blade Runner 2049, Murder on the Orient Express, The Shape of Water, Annihilation, Star Wars: The Last Jedi