The Shape Of Narrative: The Top 10 Films of 2017 + Oscar Picks

Daniel Kaluuya stars as Chris Washington in 'Get Out.' (Universal Pictures)

This, my friends, might be the most extraordinary year for film in decades.

Not only because there were such a long, strong list of good movies to choose from, but because the cultural upheaval of our time means that Oscar voters continue to ask the wrong questions – but different wrong questions – about what it means to make the best film.

One quick note – there will be some light spoilers, particularly in relation to The Last Jedi. You should be okay with that by this point.

But before we get there, THE LIST!

**DISCLAIMER – I will like different films to you. I like big characters, I appreciate weirdness in filmmaking, I probably overrate comedies and the work of Wes Anderson. That’s fine! Enjoy the diversity and leave your opinion in the comments below.**

The List:

Missed:

Wonder Woman (caught the first half on a plane), Call Me By Your Name, I, Tonya, Logan, The Post, Thor: Ragnarok, a few others I’m less worried about. Black Panther (which I haven’t seen) is eligible for NEXT year’s Oscars, not this year’s.

Category 1:
Supremely disappointing

20: Guardians of the Galaxy Part II
19: The Foreigner
18: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

One paragraph on The Last Jedi, which is as much as I can stomach. I’m surprised it’s as high as #18. Here’s why it was a terrible film.

Everything with Rose was tough to swallow. What happened to Snope? Princess Leia flies like Mary Poppins. Luke Skywalker dies because, magic. THE PATRIARCHY. Thankfully Fly Boy Poe Dameron Learns His LESSON About Making Decisions. Everything, literally EVERYTHING with Laura Dern, who was a trainwreck; “May The Force Be With-(laughs sheepishly) – I learned that from you (gets weirdly serious), my mentor and leader and role model.” (vomits in mouth). An entire planet devoted to teaching us about wealth and animal cruelty. Finn’s last second saving. Luke’s creepy milk drinks. The Idea that Star Wars films need to be about us Learning about Important Things.

*sigh*

Just make a Star Wars film. Kill off characters, whatever, just don’t turn the greatest franchise of all time into a series of environmental/patriarchy lectures. I didn’t even mention the Porgs. The Porgs were great. Underrated even. But just to be clear, The Last Jedi wasn’t a bad Star Wars film: it was just a bad film in general.

So, on to the rest:

Category 2:
Perfectly adequate films

17. The Fate Of The Furious
16. The Beguiled
15. John Wick 2
14. Ferdinand

All these movies were fine. Fun, even. It hurts to put a FatF movie that low though.

Category 3: Filmmakers who really, genuinely tried

13. All The Money In The World
12. Mudbound
11. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

Sacred Deer is super weird but also amazing. Worth watching. Brilliant acting. Colin Farrell’s beard at its finest. Mudbound was a bit boring, but hey, Netflix.

Onto the top 10!

Category 4: Any Other Year…

10. The Trip To Spain

The Trip To Spain was the first Trip movie I’ve ever seen, which maybe means I over-rated it. But hot damn these films are funny. Old mates Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon argue their way across the continent, replete with Michael Caine, David Bowie and Roger Moore voices. The Roger Moore voice scene is incredible. It just…keeps…going.

These films are a great guilty pleasure, but in the midst of the self-satirising and straight banter is some good honest commentary about ageing, celebrity and loneliness, particularly from the brilliant Steve Coogan. Such an enjoyable film.

Gary-Oldman-Our-Darkest-Hour

9. Darkest Hour

The second-best movie about the Dunkirk evacuation you’ll see in 2017.

In all seriousness, this is some classic Oscars-bait. The film is quite good – relatively gripping, with some decent support roles by Lily James and Kristin Scott Thomas – but it mostly serves as a Churchill character piece, as a crowning for Gary Oldman. Oldman is magnificent as Churchill, making the most of a so-so script and so-so direction from Joe Wright. His voice and timbre is excellent, culminating in the famous ‘fight them on the beaches’ speech, but the depiction is more than that. Ultimately Darkest Hour is a political film more than a war film. In 2003 it would be a real chance at the winner – but film-making is evolving and in 2017 it lags well behind some other contenders.

 

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8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The first film that could really win best picture, yet maybe the most problematic. Not simply problematic in its themes and content – every film made in 2018 comes under fire somewhere. But Three Billboards features a writer/director who doesn’t know what he’s making. Is it a dark comedy? Is it a small-town drama? Is it a tragedy? A redemption story? Martin McDonagh tries to do all of the above, cramming it into a pastiche film that wastes great subject matter and truly brilliant acting. Sam Rockwell and Frances McDormand make mincemeat of their roles. Woody Harrelson doesn’t, and his nomination for Best Supporting Actor is baffling for a role that is basically just like every other Woody role.

I’m not as concerned as others with how Three Billboards deals with race relations – though I think Sam Rockwell’s redemption arc is undeserved. But it just can’t work out what kind of film it is and so ends up as a strange kind of buddy comedy. It feels unearned and a bit confused. Despite this though – it’s a good film! Just not quite enough this year to top the better films.

thefloridaproject-quadposter

7. The Florida Project

The second most underrated film of the year. The Florida Project is beautiful and haunting and joyful and horrible. Willem Defoe’s turn as the down-to-earth manager, Bobby, contrasts beautifully with Bria Vinaite’s deadbeat mum and Brooklynn Prince’s adorable ringleader of the motel’s troupe of wayward children. Sean Baker has put together an evocative film, from the perspective and colours of childhood, but with the dark lining of adulthood. It knows what it is and executes beautifully.

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6. Blade Runner 2049

But somehow, this year it’s a Ryan Gosling film that is the most underrated.

It’s beautiful, it’s poignant, it captures the original’s ethos, it’s brilliantly directed, it’s well-acted, it’s a work of visionary filmmaking…and it’s about 45 minutes too long. It’s Blade Runner 2049. Denis Villeneuve was up against it trying to create a film that hold up to the original’s genius while taking it in a new direction and bringing in a new generation of fans. But he does it. In a year of extraordinary cinematography, Blade Runner may have the best of all. It continually brings the viewer into stunning themes and landscapes from Villeneuve’s imagination.

But ultimately? It’s just way too long. Almost boring, by the end. Also, Jared Leto…boy is he terrible in this film. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Dallas Buyer’s Club was lightning in a bottle for him. If not for those two things, it should have been nominated. Still a beautiful, widescreen/surround sound experience though.

Phantom-Thread-movie

5. Phantom Thread

This was a tough movie to rank. All Paul Thomas Anderson’s works are kind of brilliant, always a bit dark. And this features Daniel Day-Lewis, my adoptive father and spirit animal. How does it not go first?

The cop out answer is that there are better movies. Movies that are not only well-made and acted, but genuinely enjoyable. Phantom Thread, like most PTA movies, is a bit of a tough hang. We’re meant to bask in his genius rather than question why it can’t be more interesting, or 15 minutes shorter. DDL, Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville are all magnificent in this. What a year for women in film.

But maybe the answer with more nuance is that Phantom Thread doesn’t have the same power as There Will Be Blood or the pace and style of Boogie NightsPhantom Thread is slower and more elaborate, as it charts the descent into near-madness of man-child Reynolds Woodcock and his femme fatale muse Alma. The film is effectively about a highly dysfunctional relationship. But the set pieces are what you get excited about; the dinner parties and the haunting score underneath it all.

It’s a very, very good film in a year of brilliance.

4. The Shape Of Water

Even I’m not sure I’m comfortable putting The Shape Of Water this high. It’s a weird film, filled with Guillermo Del Toro’s trademark fairytale mystique but doesn’t hit on the same level as the genius of Pan’s LabyrinthThe Shape Of Water is beautiful. It’s moving and evocative, yet also brutal and straight-up unnecessary in other areas (none of us needed to see that much Sally Hawkins – no offence Sally) that don’t add to the film. This is a film where the themes are a bit on the nose, but the story is awesome. The cinematography, CGI and acting are wonderful, with the exception of Octavia Spencer, who I refuse to acknowledge unless she plays a different type of role. Just, ever. Just once. Academy, stop nominating her and give the spot to another talented black supporting actress like Betty Gabriel.

Anyway. What more to say about a movie centred around fish sex? It tells the story it needs to and is a great film-going experience. It’ll probably win Best Picture and we’ll regret it five years from now. But it’s a good film. And I have no gripes with the Guillermo Del Toro Best Director push. He’s an auteur and he’s done a great job.

It just can’t hold water (pun firmly intended) to the next three films.

Category 5: Can’t We Give Out Three Awards?

For the first time in my memory, there are genuinely three films that deserve to win the Best Picture award. And, interestingly, they are all two hours or shorter in length. Directors are embracing the Netflix era.

3. Get Out

You know it’s a good year when Get Out is third on the ballot. Because it’s incredible. An eerie, thematic piece of genius from comedy guru Jordan Peele, Get Out explores the darkest possible timeline of the high-end middle-class racism still prevalent in America (and basically everywhere else). From Bradley Whitford’s impeccable dad “I would have voted for Obama for a third term” to Catherine Keener’s steely-eyed mum and Caleb Landry Jones’ bro-aggression makes for an interesting family dynamic. Scene-stealing turns from Lil Rel Howery and particularly Betty Gabriel (“Oh no no no. No no no no no no no no. Oh that hasn’t been my experience at all.” Chilling.) round out this great cast but it’s the two central characters, Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams who hold down the film.

The real star is Jordan Peele’s script and direction. There is symbolism and social and political commentary EVERYWHERE, but that’s not the main point. The most incredible point is that Peele did was Martin McDonough couldn’t in Three Billboards – he took a film that could have been awkward and mismatched as a comedy, horror, thriller, Guess-Who’s-Coming-To-Dinner-gone-wrong jigsaw and turned it into a perfectly flowing work of art. Get Out combines all these features in a way that doesn’t lose out. It’s still funny, it’s still scary, it’s still dramatic, but it uses these features at different times to achieve breaks, scares and tension. It’s a masterpiece. And it’s still only #3 on my list.

ladybird_poster

2. Lady Bird

There is a strong tradition of ‘coming-of-age’ movies that resonate deeply in the cultural consciousness (think The Breakfast Club, Ten Things I Hate About You, Can’t Hardly Wait, Mean Girls etc) yet would never in a MILLION YEARS get near an Oscar.

Yet Lady Bird somehow, marvellously, does. More in the tradition of Boyhood (a particular favourite of mine) than Pretty In Pink, it charts with authenticity a quirky young woman’s rise to adulthood, her wrestle with her mother and their love-hate dynamic, her struggles in school and college, dating and friendship, in a way that is so perfect. Movies like Mean Girls only show a cadre of impossible hot women in impossibly rich suburbs. Lady Bird is grounded; it’s believable. The mother isn’t evil; just overbearing out of love. The best friend is lovely but does have a breaking point. The boyfriends are both idiots in different ways and most of all Lady Bird herself is that weird, quirky, trying-to-find-herself girl we all knew (and were, to a degree) in high school or college. The father and brother let the film down slightly as purely generic characters, but that’s really picking nits. Because at the heart of Lady Bird are the incredible acting performance of Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf as Lady Bird and her mother, two people who love each deeply and grate on each other constantly. It is such a well lived-in pair of roles that it makes the viewer assume there is a longstanding relationship. It’s easy to relate to – which is half the point of a coming-of-age film. Lady Bird is constantly trying new (and stupid) things in a way that is both embarrassing and endearing and the film draws it together to a near-perfect point – though the last five minutes is unnecessary. An amazing work by Greta Gerwig who deservedly got an Oscar nomination.

But Who Won The Year?

  1. Saoirse Ronan – the woman is a queen. Jumping from ‘awards-fare actor’ to ‘genuine movie star’, Ronan is quietly eyeing off Meryl’s crown. 3 Oscar noms and only 23 years old.
  2. Jordan Peele – Off the back of Keanu’s quirky success, directing the incredible Get Out has skyrocketed him into the stratosphere.
  3. Caleb Landry Jones – having a minute, with roles in The Florida Project, Get Out and Three Billboards. All small roles though. Similar shoutout to Barry Keoghan who did the same in Dunkirk and Sacred Deer.
  4. Timothee Chalamet, who keeps insisting we call him by his French name.
  5. Colin Farrell & Nicole Kidman – The Beguiled and Sacred Deer showing their truly weird sexual chemistry

 

dunkirk

1. Dunkirk

The most fascinating part of Dunkirk’s awards run this year has been the steadfast refusal of voters, both new (The Ringer) and old (Variety) to remember it exists. Dunkirk has seemingly slipped quietly into 4th or 5th spot on most website ballots and it probably won’t win today.

Any other year I’d be getting really on my high horse about Dunkirk but in 2018, when Lady Bird and Get Out could win as well, I’m just happy for genius in film-making and a crop of extraordinary directors.

But Dunkirk is a masterpiece. Even by Christopher Nolan’s lofty standards, it stands alone as a harrowing narrative that constantly creates a sense of urgency and panic that reflects war. There are some reasonable arguments that Nolan made a film about white men specifically (and plenty of unreasonable arguments), but Dunkirk, as Nolan says, is a survival movie. The closest the audience gets to a break from Hans Zimmer’s stressful score and the panning shots of screaming Messerschmidts is brief moments with the steady Mark Rylance at the tiller of his rescue boat. Nolan’s decision to use three timelines concurrently (the boats, the soldiers and the planes) gives the entire film urgency. Watching Dunkirk is one of the most stressful movie-watching experiences of a lifetime.

However, it’s not exclusively stressful. It’s beautiful, it’s poignant, it’s inspiring. Nolan isn’t telling a tale explicitly of war but of humanity, using his unparalleled storytelling capacities and cinematographic genius to bring us both into the fear and madness without trying to pull a Last Jedi and Send An Important Message. Nolan’s message is this: “I make brilliant films. If you want to be brought into another world for two hours, come join me”.

The problem with voting for films in 2018 – like doing anything else – is that people insist on it conveying a political and social message. Films can absolutely do that and do it well – Get Out is a prime example. But they don’t have to. They are ultimately about stories, about transporting the viewer into the narrative, to empathise and despise characters, to marvel at the visual and audio arts used, to feel like there is beauty, creativity and intelligence in the world and that we walk away in awe of the craft of film-making.

Dunkirk does this in a way nobody else quite could, in a very, VERY strong year. And it’s time to start rewarding the filmmakers who can do all of this in a way that is creative, artistic and still eminently watchable. It’s Nolan’s time.


THE OSCAR PREDICTIONS

Best Original Screenplay:

Should win: Lady Bird
Will win: Lady Bird

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Should win: Call Me By Your Name
Will win: Call Me By Your Name

Best Supporting Actor:
Should win: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Will win: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actress:
Should win: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Will win: Alison Janney, I Tonya

Best Actor:
Should win: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Will win: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Best Actress:
Should win: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Will win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director:
Should win: Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Will win: Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape Of Water

Best Picture:
Should win: Dunkirk
Will win: The Shape Of Water (we’re going to regret this one, King’s Speech-style)


Disagree? I’d love to hear from you!

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