It’s that time once again this year – the Best Films of Yesteryear. To combat the often short-sightedness of Best of the Year lists, which are hopelessly released before the end of the actual year (watch this to see how these lists just say “fuck you” to smaller films with more spread-apart release, namely independent and foreign films), I have given myself a whole extra year to catch up on all the film goodiness of 2017.
Although I usually feel that most years are at least a good enough year for films, with at least a handful of truly memorable pieces of work that I’ll be coming back to for years to come, 2017 really does impressively stand out. It featured such audacious, personal, stunningly and originally crafted films that experimented and broke rules in ways cinema has never seen before. In this regard, it’s been the most exciting year for films since 2014.
And so, from descending order, here are my top 15 favourite of 2017 – I count films with a 2017 release date from any country (Estonia, Uzbekistan, Tonga, what-have-you), though I don’t include festival releases. Stay tuned at the end for the runner-ups, the worst films, and the films I indeed missed out on (most likely because I have a feeling I’ll be underwhelmed by them – but I can never really know!).
10. Free Fire
This is a film somewhat specifically made for fans of a different era of action films. Set in the one factory location, and playing out basically like a feature length shoot-out scene, Free Fire could be cynically referred to as a boys film, but it manages to vivssect the shoot-gun trope as it features one, showing the trust issues, brash decisions, and trigger-itchy reactions cause so much violence, death, and squishy gore or these two drug dealing troupes. Director and co-writer Ben Wheatley is one of the best and most consistently amazing filmmakers working today, even working through different genres and styles, though this little blood-stained gem is another quality work from him.
Also, Read – Free Fire  Review – Insults & Infections
9. I, Tonya
There wasn’t a more deliriously American movie than this. The rather horrifying and somewhat tragic story of Tonya Harding doesn’t seem like it could fill up a feature film, as her involvement with the attack on competing skater Nancy Kerrigan was a big news scandal, but didn’t seem like movie material. But I, Tonya spends a great deal on her upbringing and her hard-working and highly successful foray into figure skating (which I must say is astonishingly filmed and edited).
But it’s her and her family that take centre stage, particularly her mother LaVona, viciously played by Allison Janney, and her husband Jeff, who Sebastian Stan plays out as a regular-looking cardigan-wearing dude who deceivably doesn’t look like a wife-basher. I, Tonya is a thrilling and blackly humorous ride through the shadier side of American ambition, that manages to juggle the multiple moods such a theme conjures.
8. Brawl in Cell Block 99
Like a certain other film further on this list, this is a curious mix of utmost brutality and sensitive love. It’s no surprise films like these are presenting the two side by side, as love can make people do the most unbelievable of things. Leading this film is Vince Vaughn as Bradley Thomas, and if this isn’t his best performance, it sure is his best physical performance. Like the film’s upright posturing, he’s held back, yet conveys so much ferocity even before he actively displays it.
S. Craig Zahler proves he’s continuing to be one of the most exciting new filmmakers for a particular kind of cinephile: he mixes pulpy stories of vengeance and martyrdom, filled with buckets of blood and bone-snapping violence, with an arthouse sensibility and pacing that’s slightly detached and observant (as evidenced from the music-less fight scenes, shot mostly in static long shots).
There’s not too much to say about this remarkably unravelling story without spoilering it at all – all I’ll say is that it begins with a family receiving the heart-breaking news that their soldier has been killed, but you’ll have to see for yourself how this beginning of event series continues after this initial fifteen devastating minutes.
Tonal shifts are often spoken about films like a negative criticism, though it’s in the rare instances, crafted by master filmmakers/storytellers, that they can be used for good. Writer-director Samuel Maoz is consummately able to switch between moods of sorrow and off-kilter hilarity and heart-punching tragedy as this twisting storyline demands it.
Recommended – The 50 Best Films Of 2017
Using the simple story of a son’s disappearance, this fiercely emotional film acts like a tender wound, revealing so many of the frustrations, disappointments, regrets, and short-comings of the parents. Russian writer-director Andrey Zvyagintsev moves away from his film essay manner of filmmaking (like in Elena and Leviathan) to focus on something so much more emotional, yet still retaining a harsh metaphorical critique of the country’s impersonal apathy.
The acting is stupendous, impressive, and involving, the cinematography perfectly matches the gloominess of the tone, but it’s the emotionally bare writing that puts Zvyagintsev up with the most esteemed of European film masters.
5. T2: Trainspotting 2
This sequel felt like a genuine reunion after twenty-one years, showing the immature junkies and hooligans to be only that little bit more grown up. They’ve kicked the junk, but they’ve still got as lust for life and need some other meaning in life to keep them going. An incredibly worthy sequel, T2 is filled with less youthful abandon and more desperate existential angst, most terrifically conveyed in (Ewan Mc) new ‘choose life’ speech, more cynical than ever.
In fact, many of the throw-backs to the original are not simply wink-nudge references, but elevate the theme of slipping time.
4. A Ghost Story
What is very likely the most original film of the year. A Ghost Story works by its own rules that cleverly make up this new take on the (after)life of ghosts. Keeping close to Casey Affleck (mute and covered in a white sheet) and the house he called home, A Ghost Story progresses through one of its home-owners to the next, traversing through time, but keeping still in space.
It’s an eye-openingly unique film that defies being compared to any other film, slowly transforming its non-narrative approach into something that beautifully unravels its own philosophies on time and the afterlife. What makes A Ghost Story work so well is that it seems it could’ve only worked as a film. It uses the medium to tell a properly epic and grand tale in a swift 85 minutes.
Recommended – The Generic Top 10 Movies Of 2017 List
3. Good Time
A thrilling LSD-packed rollercoaster through the rougher areas of Queens, NY, writers/directors the Safdie Bros prove almost effortlessly and invisibly how they meld gritty neon cinematography, pulsating techno score, and a stunning Robert Pattinson anchoring it all to tell a constantly moving tale of one bad decision to the next.
But the giddy excitement and danger of this night is palpable through how well they lay out this grounded thrill-ride onto a cinema canvas. As heightened as the sense are here, there’s still the feeling of authenticity with the motley crew of mostly down-trodden characters Pattinson’s Connie encounters throughout the night (including the brilliant Buddy Duress as Ray). Good Time is exactly as the title suggests, plus it’s one of the most radically 2017 films that clearly has cult favourite written all over it – it’s not just a wild ride, but a brief gaze into the wild ride that some inner-city folks live.
2. You Were Never Really Here
Contradictions are a troubling and glorious facet of our humanity, and whereas quite a few films would rather shy away from this fact and have themselves portray humanity in a compartmentalised way, this film taps into this difficulty with ease. It’s brutal and calm. Its story is leanly told and often edits itself fast ahead, yet is bulky with long moments of our anti-hero feeling the world he’s in.
Joaquin Phoenix (as opposed to the title) is very present as hit-man Joe and conveys his emotional powerhouse skills by withholding most of them, writer-director Lynn Ramsay envelopes the audience into Joe’s world as harshly as possible, and Jonny Greenwood caps it all off with his music that ranges from tense to scattered to serene. They all elevate this hellish story into heavenly heights. It always seems worth waiting for a new Ramsay film, and she seems adamant about not disappointing the patient.
Also, Read – You Were Never Really Here  Review: A Masterclass in Aesthetically and Elliptical storytelling
Beginning quietly, calmly, and serenely, mother! slowly transforms into its own unique kind of hellish madness, like an anxious fever dream that cannot end.
Whereas folks usually tell others to look deeper within a film to find its layered meaning, mother! benefits mostly from taking it upon face value – it shows this mannered and loving relationship intensely disturbed by an increasing amount of intruders into their haven, separating the two as they have startlingly different reactions to this human horde.
Mother! Is the sort of grand filmic statement from a filmmaker burning with passion and intensity for their craft. Aranofsky and Lawrence put all of themselves and more into this dizzying brilliant head-fuck of a film.
2017 was apparently a tumultuous year or whatever, and the madness and cinematic balls of mother! made it all the more exciting.