So, 2017 was Filmic Forays' first full calendar year. This time around I've viewed enough films for 'top ten favourites' to mean something. Not that there aren't gaps in my knowledge; The Florida Project, Call Me By Your Name, Raw and The Killing of a Sacred Deer are just four films recommended by friends, which I've yet to see and which, for all I know, might now be taking up space in my 'ten' had I done so. Working with what I've got, however, I still had to whittle it down from a short-list of twenty-four. And that can only suggest that despite blockbuster fatigue and tired remakes, there's still a whole lot of great cinema being made.
All my choices are based on a combination of technical achievement, how the film affected me at the time and the extent to which it stayed with me afterwards. Kind of. It's not a science.
Before I get to the big ten, here are a few honourable mentions in the form of a brief award presentation. (All films included in this feature were UK 2017 cinema releases. You can access the full review by clinking on each link.)
Funniest Film Based on a True Story: Tie between The Disaster Artist and The Death of Stalin
Most Harrowing Film Based on a True Story: Detroit
Most Impressive Expansion of a Cinema World Even if I was Uncomfortably Aware of its Running Time at Points (this might also gain the Second-Viewing Grower award down the line: Blade Runner 2049
Most Radical Reworking of a Franchise: Logan
Biggest Blub-fest: Tie between Lion and Wonder
Best Star Wars Film (yes I know there was only one, but it was really good): Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The Filmic Forays Low Expectations Award for a Film that was Massively Better Than I'd Expected: Happy Death Day
Film I'll Probably Most Regret Not Putting in the Top Ten After I Re-watch It Because It TOTALLY ROCKED, Especially the Foot-Chase Scene to a Backing of Hocus Pocus by Dutch Rock Band Focus: Baby Driver
Enough faffing around. Here's the big ten.
And I'm kicking off with pure cinematic Marmite. This film has a WTF factor that baffled and enraged many cinemagoers - understandably, as it had been pitched as a creepy supernatural thriller and turned out to be something very different. Set within a single location, it's a primal howl of rage at the state of the entire world. Mother! is bewildering, disturbing and occasionally horrific, but it's also the most intense and original piece of work I've seen this year.
9: Get Out
A horror-thriller-comedy (and at points it is very funny), Get Out is utterly unflinching in how it addresses race relations in modern America. It doesn't just tag a racial theme to the 'wake me up from this nightmare' plotline, it fuses them outrageously together to create an experience that's unsettling and entertaining in equal measures. Daniel Kaluuya conveys the hero's incrementally increasing paranoia superbly. Seriously, dude - just get out!
8: La La Land
The genius of La La Land isn't that it recreates moments from Hollywood's golden era of musicals. (As some of its detractors have pointed out, the protagonists can't dance like Fred and Ginger.) It's that the glorious song-and-dance sequences fade out, giving way to a whole other kind of film, as reality complicates the characters' dreams of love and success. The result is bittersweet, yet still manages to be warm and uplifting. And the tunes are sensational.
7: Lady Macbeth
Lady Macbeth is like a cinematic detox. It's all ambient light and sound and is unsullied by a single trace of CGI - basically it's as stripped back as the cold house to which its heroine is introduced at the start of the film. Played with glowering conviction by Florence Pugh, she's a heroine worthy of the title. For this is also a tale of simmering passions that burst into eroticism and shocking violence. Now won't that heat up your January?
The TV mini-series had its pleasures (chiefly Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown), but for lovers of the Stephen King novel this is the first half of what could well be the definitive adaptation. Think Stand By Me combined with A Nightmare on Elm Street-style horror and The Goonies' sense of adventure, if Mary Berry were charged with mixing the cinematic ingredients. The result, a sublime entertainment-cake. (I'll avoid metaphor for the rest of this feature, I promise.) Bring on IT Chapter 2, because this was scary at its most fun.
5: The Big Sick
Based squarely on a bizarre true story, The Big Sick is a touching romance, a hilarious comedy and an involving drama all in one. Triple result. The movie is also a wonderful exploration of family dynamics, interracial relationships and how to form unlikely bonds in a crisis. It's warm and it's moving, with zero schmaltz and huge heart. And you will root for the central couple (I love them - I mean I'm smiling just thinking about them) the way you did for Harry and Sally. Only this really happened.
4: Paddington 2
'Surely it's just a kid's movie,' a friend of mine suggested. But then so were The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins and the Toy Story trilogy. Paddington 2 is proper film-making. Yes it's an exquisitely crafted plot, yes it's funny and uplifting, yes the characters are played to perfection including the Ben Whishaw/CGI combo-marvel that is the bear himself. But it's also a stunning frame-by-frame work of art - a kind of harmonious parallel-London, pretty as a pop-up book. A source of undiluted joy from start to finish.
3: War for the Planet of the Apes
More than any other film this year, I wanted this one to be good. Well it surpassed good, completing an unexpectedly great modern trilogy in grand tragi-heroic style. Who would have thought that its audience would side so strongly with the ape protagonists over appalling, self-serving humans? Or that we'd have believed so completely in the computer-generated ape community? Well, anyone who's seen what Andy Serkis can do in a motion capture performance. This is both an epic technical achievement and a powerful fantasy story - with a dash of humour and a lot of heart.
Christopher Nolan found a way of capturing the ground, sea and air elements of the Dunkirk evacuation, using a crafty triple time-frame to draw all the strands together. He also used real destroyers, real trawlers and real fighter planes to make this feel authentic, while Hans Zimmer's score cranked up the sense of jeopardy to near-unbearable heights. And the cold, frightened look of the young soldiers told the story more effectively than any mawkish dialogue could have done. A colossal achievement that had me riveted throughout.
And the Oscar goes to... the right film, as it turns out. My apologies to La La Lovers - check above, I loved that one too. But Moonlight is just as exquisitely made, with understated power and real profundity, heightened by its released into Trump-era America. Dealing with issues of race, class and sexuality through one boy's coming of age, it's subtle and haunting, with an occasional dramatic gut-punch. I'll admit to a certain degree of randomness in my ordering of the other films, but Moonlight kind of asserted its place quietly at the top of my list. This is an important piece of film-making, and a sublime one.
Well that's done. Lists like this are for disagreeing with, so please, get stuck in. I've heard strong negative comments about most of the titles from various quarters, Get Out and Paddington 2 being notable exceptions. These are not necessarily the 'best' films of the year. The title at number one may very possibly underwhelm you. You may be astonished at both inclusions and omissions. However as of this moment these are my favourites, and I stand by every one.
Now let me go check what 2018 has to offer...