Here, in no particular order, are my choices of the Top 20 cult films of 2017 that I have really been impressed by during the year. I hope you agree with my choices and if you’ve not seen some of the films I have chosen I hope I can convince you to check them out.
Gerald’s Game, (Dir: Mike Flanagan)
This adaptation of Stephen King‘s novel is among the best adaptations of his works I have seen. It is quite possibly Mike Flanagan‘s best film. Whose previous films include among others “Absentia” and “Ouija: Origin Of Evil“. Carla Gugino in the lead role has never been better in a psychological drama that is totally unpredictable and more disturbing than I ever expected.
I also have to mention “1922” which also is a really good Stephen King adaptation with a brilliant lead performance from Thomas Jane. Although I do prefer “Gerald’s Game“. Hopefully we will see more Stephen King adaptations of the quality of these two from Netflix in the future.
Personal Shopper, (Dir: Olivier Assayas)
Olivier Assayas’ film does something completely different within the horror genre. “Personal Shopper” maybe is not a film some would consider a horror film. Personally I do. It is an entirely character driven horror film. With the characters having a depth and complexity to them that is lacking in many horror films. I particularly loved the fact that there was an ambiguity to the film. The character depth and the ambiguity made it a genuinely disconcerting film. However, the standout for me in the entire film is the perfectly nuanced lead performance by a never better, and very underrated actress, Kirsten Stewart. Who Olivier Assayas has worked with before in his previous film. the superb “Clouds Of Sils Maria“.
Get Out, (Dir: Jordan Peele)
This is one mainstream film that actually delivered on the hype. It was really refreshing to see a mainstream horror film that does something different within the genre. Writer and director Jordan Peele had a well deserved hit with this, his debut film. What I really loved about it is that the majority of the film consists of anticipation and build up of dread rather than the jump scares of many mainstream horror films. The film works because, as with all the best horror films, it is character based. All the actors are superb. Pitching their performances perfectly. “Get Out” is intelligent and thought provoking. It is one of the most challenging and unpredictable mainstream horror films I have seen in years.
The Ghoul, (Dir: Gareth Tunley)
I really cannot recommend this British produced psychological horror film enough. A brilliantly original debut feature film that is both written and directed by Gareth Tunley. With an incredible lead performance by Tom Meeton. Gareth Tunley cleverly uses the basis of a mystery film to explore the issues of mental illnesses. It is without a doubt one of the best psychological horror films I have seen in years.
A Dark Song, (Dir: Liam Gavin)
This Irish and Welsh co-production is the debut feature film written and directed by Liam Gavin. “A Dark Song” is an intelligent horror film with a very unique tone. It depicts ritualistic magic with a realistic feel that made it seem more like the social realism films of Ken Loach rather than a conventional horror film. Coupled with this is a perfectly constructed build up of creepiness and dread rather than jump scares. I found it a very unpredictable character driven horror film with brilliant lead performances by Steve Oram and Catherine Walker. “A Dark Song“, along with “The Ghoul“, has me very excited about the future of the horror genre in the UK.
mother!, (Dir: Darren Aronofsky)
Darren Aronofsky made one of the most audaciously original studio films of 2017, or of any year in recent memory for that matter. It is unbelievable, but fantastic, that Paramount Pictures gave him full creative freedom and backed his vision all the way. mother! will, and has, split opinions. With as many loving the film as disliking it. I found it to be far more than just the horror film that was suggested in the marketing. It will definitely have everyone coming to their own subjective feelings as to what the film is about. After watching “mother!” it left me with very similar feelings I have after watching David Lynch‘s films and “Twin Peaks“. The only way to describe those feelings is WOW! in a very good way. Although not really Lynchian in style, it does work on multiple levels as David Lynch’s films and “Twin Peaks” do. “mother!” is actually, along with “Blade Runner 2049“, one of the first films I have seen at the cinema in quite a while that I wanted to watch again straight after it finished just to begin to process what I had just seen. The more I thought about “mother!” in the days after I saw it the better the film became, and is actually becoming even better as I keep thinking about it months after seeing it. “mother!” is a film that reminds me of the cinema of the 70’s when studios were daring. And in this day and age that’s a really good thing.
Swiss Army Man, (Dir: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Schienert)
This is among one of the most original and unique films I have ever seen. It seems on the surface, and from the mis-marketing, to be a gross out comedy. Yes it has comedic elements, but it is a film that has many more levels to it. “Swiss Army Man” is a very ambiguous film and is open to different interpretations. The focus has been on Daniel Radcliffe’s performance, and he is fantastic, but Paul Dano is equally as good. They play off of each other beautifully. Everyone will take something different from this truly unique film. The Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Schienert) are film-makers who I cannot wait to see more from in the future.
I Am Not A Serial Killer, (Dir: Billy O’Brien)
A brilliantly original film co-written and directed by Billy O’Brien based on the novel by Dan Wells. “I Am Not A Serial Killer” is a film that does something completely different with the serial killer genre. It is an intelligent and gripping character study that is creepy, disturbing and has a vein of jet black humour running throughout it. With the look and feel of a film made in the 1970s giving an added edge to the film and performances. Max Records is fantastic in the lead role. With Christopher Lloyd giving one of the best performances of his career. It is a film that is totally unpredictable from beginning to end. “I Am Not A Serial Killer” is one of the most original serial killer films I have seen in years.
I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, (Dir: Macon Blair)
I am really not surprised at all that Macon Blair’s directorial debut won the 2017 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize. It is a dark but heartfelt black comedy with lead characters many will relate to. As the film progressed it brought to my mind in some aspects Quentin Tarantino’s, -directed by Tony Scott-, “True Romance“. Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood in the lead roles are superb as totally believable, complex, and realistic characters. In their scenes together they have great chemistry. “I just want people to stop being assholes.” Says one character. Which sums up the message and themes of the film beautifully.
Colossal, (Dir: Nacho Vigalondo)
One of the films of 2017 that pleasantly surprised me the most. A very different take on the Japanese Kaiju (monster) films like “Godzilla“. The marketing of the film really did not do justice to the film at all. As with the director Nacho Vigalondo‘s debut feature film “Timecrimes” he does something completely different with a genre film. “Colossal” is actually more of a dramatic character piece rather than a monster movie. With a very surprising dark edge to it.
Lady Macbeth, (Dir: William Oldroyd)
A brilliant debut film from William Oldroyd that is elevated from the generic costume dramas by an amazing lead performance from Florence Pugh. Her performance in some scenes brought to my mind the intensity of Robert DeNiro in his early films. “Lady Macbeth“, however, is not another adaptation of Shakespeare‘s play ‘Macbeth‘ as the title suggests. The film is actually an adaptation of the Russian novel “Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk District” by Nikolai Leskov. The film is set in early 19th century rural England and Florence Pugh plays a young bride who has been sold into a marriage to a man twice her age. This might make it sound like a familiar story that’s been told before, but from beginning to end I found the film to be totally unpredictable. I cannot wait to see more from William Oldroyd and Florence Pugh. Hopefully working together again in the future.
Train to Busan, (Dir: Sang-ho Yeon)
This is one of the best and most original infected/zombie films I’ve seen in a long time. “Train To Busan” is exciting, scary, emotionally engaging, and unpredictable. Sang-ho Yeon‘s debut live action film is breathtaking. Having previously directed animated films like the brilliant “The King Of Pigs“. He also directed the animated film “Seoul Station“. Which is a prequel to “Train To Busan“. I cannot believe that no one has not yet used this concept before now. Zombies on a train. Although there’s far more to the film than just the concept. “Train To Busan” has a realistic emotional aspect to it that sets it apart from many films of this genre. At the core of the film are characters that I really cared about. Coupled with this are some brilliantly staged and edge of your seat set pieces that are not just there solely for the sake of scares, thrills and excitement. They are also used to add depth to the characters. “Train To Busan” yet again shows that Korea are producing some of the best and most original films around at the moment.
Moonlight, (Dir: Barry Jenkins)
This is an amazingly beautifully poetic and life affirming film that shows how hope and beauty can be found in the darkest of situations. “Moonlight” is a film about a person coming to terms with their sexuality through three stages of their life. This makes “Moonlight” sound like many other films to deal with this subject. However, Barry Jenkins has written and directed a film that felt to me to be completely different to any film I have seen before. It thoroughly deserves the praise it has been given, and the Best Picture Oscar. The Academy really should have also given the Best Actor Oscar jointly to the three leads Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes who brilliantly portray the main character at the three stages of his life. In fact there are brilliant performances throughout the entire cast. “Moonlight” is film-making at its finest and most realistically heartfelt.
The Transfiguration, (Dir: Michael O’Shea)
This is without a doubt one of the best vampire films I have ever seen. A brilliant debut film from Michael O’Shea. I really loved the ambiguity of it. The only way to describe “The Transfiguration” is that it is a cross between George A. Romero‘s “Martin” and “Let The Right One In“. Even that description does not do it justice. It actually feels like something completely different to both of those films and does not really feel like a horror film. In actual fact it is a realistic and tender character study. Eric Ruffin as Milo a 14 year old who has a vampire obsession and Chloe Levine as Sophie who comes into his life are superb and bring a realistic depth to their characters. I am really looking forward to seeing what they both do next and Michael O’Shea’s future films. Hopefully the three of them will get to work together again.
The Autopsy Of Jane Doe, (Dir: André Øvredal)
This was every bit as good as, and more than, I expected it to be from André Øvredal the director of “Troll Hunter“. A film that is well worth checking out if you have never seen it. “The Autopsy Of Jane Doe” is creepy, scary, and unpredictable. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch are superb as father and son morticians who get more than they bargained from a dead body. It is a far better and more accomplished film than most of the bland by the numbers generic multiplex friendly horror films I have seen in recent years. And contains possibly the best performance ever of a corpse by Olwen Catherine Kelly as the Jane Doe of the title.
Jackie, (Dir: Pablo Larrain)
The focus of this film is the immediate aftermath of the assassination of JFK, but it takes a very different approach to previous depictions. The whole perspective of the film is from Jacqueline Kennedy‘s point of view. By also utilising real life stock footage it gives an added depth of realism to the film. Chilean director Pablo Larrain has made among one of the best character studies I have ever seen. The standout in the film is an incredible career best performance by Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy. In all honestly I expected her to win an Oscar, and she really should have. The intensity and depth of her performance is on par with Robert DeNiro in “Taxi Driver“. As he did as Travis Bickle in that film, she almost seems to become Jacqueline Kennedy. “Jackie” is a brilliantly made film that shows the realistic human side of JFK’s assassination.
The Red Turtle, (Dir: Michael Dudok de Wit)
This is now among one of my favourite Studio Ghibli films, whose best known film is “Spirited Away“, which won the 2003 Best Animated Feature. Although “The Red Turtle” is primarily a French and Belgium co-production it still has all the elements that make Studio Ghibli films so unique. “The Red Turtle” directed by Michael Dudok de Wit is one of the most profoundly deep animated films I have ever seen. A beautiful meditation on Life, Death, and Everything in between. With every frame a work of art. “The Red Turtle” shows that hand drawn animation is alive and well. Bring on more Studio Ghibli co-productions.
The Handmaiden, (Dir: Park Chan-wook)
Park Chan-wook, the director of “Old Boy“, has delivered the unexpected yet again. He subverts what is expected from a period film. As he has done with all the genres of his previous films. “The Handmaiden“, inspired by the novel “Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters, is set in 1930s Korea during the Japanese occupation. A young woman is hired to be a handmaiden (personal maid) to a Japanese heiress who lives a secluded life. To say much more about the plot would spoil the film. As with all of Park Chan-wook’s films there is a depth and complexity to the story and characters that sets him apart from many other film-makers. Making the almost 3 hours long running time just fly by. The director’s cut I saw is film-making at it’s absolute finest. Park Chan-wook has shown yet again that he ranks alongside the best film-makers who have ever lived.
Okja, (Dir: Bong Joon Ho)
This Netflix produced film was not at all what I expected. There is an almost Studio Ghibli feel to it, but with a far darker edge. “Okja” is a very thought provoking film that achieves a good balance between the darker aspects and the quirky humour. The humour actually accentuates the darker aspects. In the hands of any other film-maker the humour and darkness used together as it is in “Okja” would not work, but it does beautifully with Bong Joon-ho (“The Host“, “Memories Of Murder“, and “Snowpiecer“) writing and directing. His direction and writing is complimented by a great cast including Tilda Swindon, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, Giancarlo Esposito, and Steven Yeun. Although the standout is without a doubt, Seo Hyun in the lead role.
Baby Driver, (Dir: Edgar Wright)
This is quite possibly one of the most thrilling and enjoyably entertaining films of the year. Beautifully written and directed by Edgar Wright. Whose previous films “Shaun Of The Dead“, “Hot Fuzz“, and “The World’s End” are among my favourite films. “Baby Driver” is without a doubt his best film and is unlike any film I have ever seen. Although “Baby Driver” is an homage to many genres of film. Not just the obvious heist and getaway driver films. Every film fan is well aware Quentin Tarantino homages films, but Edgar Wright has taken it to another level with “Baby Driver“. The brilliant use of music is among the best I have ever come across. Feeling almost like another character. The melding together of visuals, sound, and the use of music is absolutely breath-taking. It is an incredible piece of film-making. Made by a film-maker who so obviously loves genre film with a passion. Who also understands film-making as not just an art form, but also as pure crowd pleasing entertainment. Edgar Wright with “Baby Driver” has melded entertainment with art beautifully, and has also created my favourite musical of all-time. It is quite possibly the best film of 2017. Definitely the most enjoyably entertaining. With “Baby Driver” Edgar Wright deconstructs and homages genre cinema so uniquely and unlike no other film-maker I can think of. “Baby Driver” ranks alongside Quentin Tarantino’s best films. Maybe even better. Edgar Wright has made a unique masterpiece. I cannot wait for “Baby Driver 2” that Edgar Wright has said is already being developed.
These following films are also among my favourites of 2017. I left them out of my list because I’ve highlighted them in pieces for Last Day Deaf and my blog throughout the year, and I wanted to focus the main part of my piece on films from 2017 that I’ve not yet reviewed.
I cannot finish my list of my favourite films of 2017 without mentioning one more. As many who know me are well aware I am a huge fan of “Twin Peaks“. I had to add this to my list for the simple reason that David Lynch has said many times that he views it as a film. How could I not agree with one of the greatest film-makers who has ever lived. It is possibly one of the best films ever made:
Twin Peaks: The Return (Season 3), (Dir: David Lynch)
A brilliantly audacious and ground-breaking TV show. “Twin Peaks” is a game changer yet again. As it was 28 years ago when the pilot episode was first seen. It has understandably divided opinion with fans. Which I can understand because it is totally different to either Season One or Two in tone and style. With less emphasis on some of the characters. Already I can subtly feel its influence is being felt even now within TV shows I have seen since its airing, and it will become more influential in the years to come. Episode 8 is the absolute standout episode. A mind blowing, awe inspiring masterpiece of surreal and abstract film-making. One of the best hours of TV ever made. Throughout the entire season Kyle MacLachlan gave the performance(s) of his career. At the time of me writing this he has a well deserved Emmy nomination. “He is a magician” David Lynch said. No one could disagree with that after seeing Kyle MacLachlan in “Twin Peaks: The Return“. This season without a doubt will continue to be discussed and theorized about for years to come as Season One and Two has been for over 25 years.
“Twin Peaks: The Return” was mind blowing in its ambition, scope and ideas. It has taken storytelling within TV and film to another level.