It was the worst of years — in politics, at least — but in movies, it was a mediocre year at best. Most of the releases were franchises or sequels and most of those — apart from Civil War, Finding Dory and Rogue One — were rubbish (yes, Batman v Superman and X-Men: Apocalypse, we’re looking at you). Still, it wasn’t hard for ten films to rise above the muck of the ordinary. And this year, we’re leaving off the worst, but if pressed the ultimate honor would go to Roland Emmerich, whose Independence Day: Resurgence continued to assure his legacy as the world’s worst director, dead or alive.
Ryan Reynold’s subversive superhero is a breath of sweaty, leathered, flatulent air. Deadpool was sexual, sadistic, violent, intensely meta, profane and ran totally against type. Heads literally rolled, bodies exploded in blood, knives ripped through flesh, bullets left gaping holes. As for the main character, he drinks, dabbles in drugs, masturbates. He’s a three-dimensional being with a sassy mouth, flaws, idiosyncrasies, and a list of psychoses a mile long. We can’t wait for the sequel. (Read the full review here.)
9. The Witch
Writer-director Robert Eggers conjures a chilling tale, set in the 17th century, of bleakness and dread, as a family exiled from their Puritan community contends with an evil force lurking in the woods. The film’s horror descended gradually, building to a climax as sudden as it was alarming. Richly atmospheric, The Witch leaves as much as possible to the imagination — and then, suddenly, it doesn’t in a revelatory final scene as creepy and unnerving as ever has been committed to film.
8. Jungle Book
When Disney first started to remake its animated classics as live action films, the world balked. But Jon Favreau, of all people, gets it right with this largely CGI take on the 1967 classic about a feral Indian lad named Mowgli and his animal family. One of the most technically, visually dazzling pieces of cinema in recent memory, with a sturdy voice cast, including Bill Murray, Idris Elba and Ben Kingsley, The Jungle Book succeeds because it dares to be more than a simple remake. It’s strives for greatness and gets there within the first five minutes alone. (Read the full review here.)
7. Don’t Breathe
From the previews, writer-director Fede Alvarez’s thriller seemed like a silly idea: a trio of young thieves rob a blind hermit. How scary could that possibly be? Turns out, incredibly. With a twist you can’t possibly see coming, it’s Hitchcock on steroids and meth. This is what terror should feel like.
6. Nocturnal Animals
Pulp collides with realism and surrealism in Tom Ford’s brutal tale of revenge. Ford plays with time and space as his narrative lurches between a tangible present and wistful past, while detouring into a harrowing fiction that feels more real than anything else on screen. The narrative is masterfully complex but not impenetrable, and the performances by Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and an unrecognizable Aaron Taylor-Johnson are utterly, absolutely perfect. (Read the full review here.)
5. Sing Street
Picture it: 1980s Dublin. A 15-year-old lad from a broken home — both financially and emotionally — sets out to win the heart of a girl. So he forms a band and starts writing songs. Turns out, the band is actually good. John Carney (Once) continues his trend of finding romance and uplift in the most bleak of settings. Deftly anchored by the apple-cheeked Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Sing Street is a joy from start to finish.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Arrival is one of those movies that appears to be yet another film about first contact with aliens, but it quickly deepens into something so far more profound, permeating you on almost every conceivable level. A lot of this has to do with star Amy Adams, who is magnificent as a linguist brought in to decipher an alien language. She pretty much blows you out of your seat. Villeneuve’s next film is the sequel to Blade Runner. We can’t think of a better director to take on what should be the pinnacle film of 2017. (Read the full review here.)
A rare and extraordinarily drama that pulls you deeply into its narrative. The cinematic triptych tells of the story of a young boy who evolves from bullied runt to drug dealing thug. Oh, and he happens to be gay (though in a hugely repressive state). At a time when most dramas fail to ignite a spark of genuine feeling, Moonlight exists in a class of its own. It’s not epic or big, but it evokes epic, big emotions. (Read the full review here.)
2. La La Land
The old-fashioned movie musical has been fitfully revived by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) and, oh, what an amazing ride it is. Complete with an infectious score that simply will not leave your head, and lithe yet deeply felt performances by a luminous Emma Stone and a shamefully handsome Ryan Gosling, La La Land wraps itself in a technicolor mystique and lets both the music and dance flow in a way we haven’t seen since Herbert Ross’ 1981 landmark, Pennies from Heaven. It’s the escapism we need right now. And it’s perfect.
1. Manchester by the Sea
Kenneth Lonergan’s tale of one man’s burden of guilt is not especially uplifting, but, like the writer-director’s stunning 2000 debut, You Can Count on Me, it packs so much dramatic punch that it leaves you on the ropes, gasping for breath. Casey Affleck gives the performance of his life as a man hollowed out by an event so painful it’s virtually unthinkable. He’s matched by Lucas Hedges as a cocky 15-year-old left in his charge. The centerpiece of the movie, however, is a scene between Affleck and Michelle Williams, as his ex-wife, that is so authentic and painful, you feel you should be looking away. Brutal and yet so, so good.
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