The 10 best films of 2017 – BBC

The Collection
Despite its title, Downsizing sees Alexander Payne’s ambition growing to vertiginous heights. His specialism is wistful comedies (Sideways, Nebraska) set in a recognisable contemporary US, but his latest film is an apocalyptic science-fiction mind-bender set at some unspecified point in the future, in the US and beyond. Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig play the Midwestern couple who wonder whether they should cut their living costs by being shrunk to the size of Barbie dolls but this droll premise is just the beginning. As soon as you think you can see where it’s going, Downsizing ventures somewhere startlingly new instead. (Credit: Paramount Pictures)
What’s it like to be a ghost, sloping through eternity with no way to affect the physical world except by making the odd lightbulb flicker? David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon/Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) ponders this topic in a strangely poignant indie mood piece with a unique central performance: the film’s conceptual master stroke is that it has an Oscar-winning leading man (Casey Affleck), but he has almost no dialogue, and he spends most of the running time hidden by a floor-length white sheet. Depending on how mystical you’re feeling, A Ghost Story is either a poetic meditation on transience and isolation, or an extended joke about a man who is too immature to move on after a break-up. (Credit: A24)
The British film industry was obsessed by the 1941 evacuation of Dunkirk this year: two of its most award-friendly offerings were weighty epics chronicling the nerve-flaying action (Dunkirk) and the behind-the-scenes political wranglings (Darkest Hour). More satisfying than either, though, was Lone Scherfig’s multi-layered romantic comedy drama in which a secretary (Gemma Arterton) researches and co-writes a morale-boosting weepie about the evacuation. Their Finest is a blissful tribute to the camaraderie and compromises of movie-making, with a cast so lovable that you want to hug every character, and yet it never lets you forget the constant tension and danger of life during wartime. (Credit: STX Entertainment)
Having co-written Frances Ha and Mistress America with Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig scripts and directs a film of her own, a flawless coming-of-age comedy that balances polished wit with deep affection for its heroine. The heroine in question, played by the stunningly self-possessed Saiorse Ronan, is a 17-year-old who isn’t quite as confident or as clever as she would like to be. The details of the setting (Sacramento, California) and the period (2002) are so abundant and specific that you have to assume that Gerwig is remembering her own younger self. But the character’s pretensions, insecurities and family quarrels will make every single viewer wince with recognition. (Credit: A24)
Sean Baker follows his breakthrough hit, Tangerine, with another caring, vivid and buzzingly energised study of marginalised Americans on the wrong side of the poverty line. Set in and around one of the motels which tourists drive past on their way to Disneyland, The Florida Project invites the viewer to spend a long, lazy summer with a mischievous six-year-old girl, Mooney (Brooklynn Prince), her defiant mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), and the motel’s tireless caretaker, Bobby (Willem Dafoe). As Mooney and her friends roam between traffic-crammed roads and unspoilt meadows, the film forces us to ask whether they are having an idyllic childhood or an awful one. (Credit: A24)
Jordan Peele’s writer-directorial debut was unmatched this year in terms of pure start-to-finish entertainment. The mysterious tale of a young black photographer (Daniel Kaluuya) who goes to stay with the impeccably liberal parents (Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford) of his white girlfriend (Allison Williams), Get Out is gripping, explosively funny and as wonderfully creepy as the 1970s horror classics which inspired it. But that’s not all. As well as getting audiences laughing, screaming and cheering, Peele got them talking: his sly satire has prompted more debate about race relations in America than any number of earnest historical dramas. (Credit: Universal Pictures)
Robert Pattinson may be famous for playing a vampire in the Twilight series, but he seems a lot more predatory and a lot less healthy in Good Time: you can almost smell the sweat dripping from his gaunt, pasty, pop-eyed hustler as he cheats and robs his way around the grubbier corners of New York. And there is more to this outrageous urban crime farce than Pattinson’s career-best performance. A fizzing cocktail of audacious style and painfully raw authenticity, the film marks out its directors, Josh and Benny Safdie, as two of America’s most exciting and distinctive new talents. (Credit: A24)
Very few live-action children’s films are as joyous as Paddington 2 although to call it “live-action” might be to denigrate its delightful animated sequences. As meticulously designed and constructed as a clockwork music box, Paul Smith’s superior sequel excels both as a colourful cavalcade of Laurel-and-Hardy-level slapstick and as a sincere ode to the power of kindness and inclusivity. Its mild-mannered ursine hero (voiced by Ben Whishaw) emerges as a genuine inspiration in these troubled times. Hugh Grant’s self-parodying turn as a foppish has-been actor is the icing on the cake or rather, the marmalade in the sandwich. (Credit: Warner Bros)
Like the bleakest-ever episode of Arrested Development, Michael Haneke’s Happy End is an abyss-black comedy about three generations of a business dynasty, each one psychotic in its own particular ways. Isabelle Huppert, Matthieu Kassovitz and Jean-Louis Trintignant play the Calais grandees who embody first-world callousness both at home and in the workplace, but who are chillingly sure that they’re in the right. They’re a loathsome bunch, but if the film’s grim view of humanity is upsetting, its ingenious structural trickery should raise a smile. Happy End is a series of murder mysteries. Haneke gives us tantalising glimpses of various crimes and misdemeanours, but we have to wait, each time, to discover what happened and who was to blame. (Credit: Sony Pictures Classics)
Squeaking in at the very end of 2018, this gorgeous spy-monster-romantic-comedy-musical has everything you could want from a Guillermo del Toro film or any other film, for that matter. Sally Hawkins sparkles as a mute cleaner who falls for a humanoid amphibian (Doug Jones) in a secret government laboratory in early-1960s Baltimore. Their unlikely relationship is enchanting and steamy in and of itself, but del Toro also uses his sci-fi fairy tale to comment on the era’s Cold War paranoia and civil rights struggles. The reason it all works so beautifully is that The Shape of Water isn’t just a ravishing celebration of the love between a woman and a fish-man, but between a director and the magic of cinema. (Credit: 20th Century Fox)


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