30 December 2017

The Must See Films of 2017

One the one hand, it's deeply depressing that almost everything I said in my introductory paragraph to last years The Must See Films of 2016 article also applies handily to 2017, because it means that like 2016, 2017 has been an awful year for any number of reasons. One the other, it's also really convenient that I can change the year and have an introductory section to this article ready to go, so I'm going to do just that. You've gotta take the small victories where you can, after all.

2016 2017 may have been a shit year for a vast number of reasons, but the sheer number of high quality films released means that by and large, cinema wasn't one of them. Sure, there have been a few quite high-profile disappointments (I'm looking at you, Warner Bros), but on the whole there have been an awful lot of really great films released this year, to the point where this list became surprisingly hard to narrow down to a reasonable number.

But narrow it down I did. Below are a list of the films released this year in the UK that I would consider to be "Must See" movies - not necessarily the most "worthy" or the most important, just ones that I personally think any fan of cinema owes it to themselves to see.

So, in release date order;

La La Land

It's been almost a full year since I saw it, and I still find myself humming "City of Stars" and "A Lovely Night" from time to time. La La Land's lasting legacy might have been tainted somewhat by an unfair backlash and a now infamous Academy Awards cock-up, but that doesn't stop it from being a beautifully crafted and emotionally resonant film, one that handily puts to bed the idea that "they don't make 'em like they used to". Between 2015's excellent Whiplash and now this, writer/director Damien Chazelle has established himself as not just a director worth keeping an eye on, but one whose films I will always make the effort to see.

You can read my full review of La La Land here.

T2 Trainspotting

Danny Boyle's sequel to arguably his most highly-regarded film might not have had the same cultural impact as its predecessor did back in the 90's, but then again it was never going to, and was probably never meant to either. Rather than trying to replicate the anarchic spirit of the original, T2 Trainspotting instead offers a thoughtful and compelling examination of the dangers of being unable to let go of the past, all contextualised wonderfully by seeing how these characters have changed (or more importantly, how they haven't) over a period of twenty years. If Trainspotting is a film defined by the vitality of youth, certain that everything will turn out OK in the end, then T2 Trainspotting is older, wiser, and capable of recognising that its best years may well be behind it.

You can read my full review of T2 Trainspotting here.

Get Out

Horror and social satire have always made a fine pairing in the right hands, and Get Out - a body-snatcher commenting on the fetishisation of blackness in the modern United States - is no exception, offering a movie so well-crafted on both a technical and textual level that it's hard to imagine it ever existing in any other form. I can't think of even a single aspect of it that if changed would make for a better movie - it's so tightly structured and masterfully directed that it's as if it sprang fully formed from director Jordan Peele's brain and directly onto the screen, a feat only made all the more impressive by the fact that this is his directorial debut. I don't want to overstate things, but it might just be a perfect film - it's definitely one we're still be taking about years from now, and I can't wait to see just what Peele does next.

You can read my full review of Get Out here.

The Handmaiden

It's no surprise that Oldboy director Park Chan-wook's latest is a film about revenge - it's something that all his films have focused on to one degree or another, after all. What's interesting is how it uses that as a stepping off point for something else entirely, representing maybe not a revolution but certainly an evolution in the directors repertoire. Over the course of several distinct acts, The Handmaiden's constantly twisting plot tells a captivating story about the reclamation of female sexuality in the face of an overbearing patriarchy, which when combined with Chan-wook's meticulous sense of direction makes this charming, erotic, disturbing, darkly comic and oddly heartfelt movie nothing less than one of the finest films 2017 has to offer.

You can read my full review of The Handmaiden here.


It took me the best part of a week to be able to eat without feeling slightly nauseous after seeing Raw, and I'm pretty sure that writing this article will see me suffering from another few days of difficult meals. Still, it's been 100% worth it - Raw is one of the most viscerally affecting films of the year, a movie able to get under your skin and stay there in a way that very few can. Director Julia Ducournau's coming-of-age/body horror/cannibal movie is simply an incredibly well-made film with more to say than you might think, backed up by a phenomenal performance from lead actress Garance Marillier and Jim Williams' haunting, instantly memorable score.

You can read my full review of Raw here.

War for the Planet of the Apes

In 20 years, people are going to be amazed - bewildered, even - that the Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy was as under-appreciated in its time as it by and large has been, if not critically than certainly culturally. From the largely slept upon but solid Rise of the Planet of the Apes to the flawed but still deeply engaging Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, this is a franchise that is like nothing else in modern blockbuster cinema, and War for the Planet of the Apes concludes the trilogy with one of the most atypical, singular, artistically interesting big budget films I've ever seen. CGI apes in a post-apocalyptic wasteland might not sound like the kind of film that deserves this level of praise, but War for the Planet of the Apes is just that good.

You can read my full review of War for the Planet of the Apes here.


Darren Aronofsky's latest may well be the most divisive film of the year, and while I ended up coming down on the side of "it's a masterpiece", there were points in mother! in which I genuinely hated it too. Not because of problems with the filmmaking (which is impeccable throughout) but because of the sheer cruelty of it, to the point where I was left genuinely shaken and upset by what I'd seen. As such, I simply can't blame those who loathe it - but that it was able to provoke such a strong reaction from everyone who has seen it without ever betraying the thematic purpose that drives it throughout is, at least to me, a testament to how brilliant it truly is as a piece of art. Love it or hate it, mother! is simply the most powerful and confrontational cinematic experience I've had all year.

You can read my full review of mother! here.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

If upon leaving the cinema following Star Wars: The Force Awakens you'd have told me that the next film in the trilogy would go on to be one of my absolute favourite films of 2017, I'd have laughed in your face. And yet Rian Johnson's entry into the franchise is exactly that, a film that I'd happily rank amongst the most enjoyable cinema-going experiences I've had this year. No, it's not perfect, but the great films rarely are, and despite its problems it's ultimately the first Star Wars film that I can genuinely say that I love. It's thematically rich, deeply layered, and contains some of the best moments, action scenes, cinematography and characters arcs a Star Wars movie has ever contained - what more can you really ask for?

You can read my full review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi here.

And as usual, here are a list of honourable mentions, films that while not quite as vital as those listed above are still worth seeing for one reason or another. In any other year, most of these would have been considered "Must See" - I think that speaks volumes about just how many great films have been released in 2017.

John Wick: Chapter 2 - The story might be a little looser than that of its predecessor, but the payoff to that is that the action scenes - which were already incredible in John Wick - are even better, even more impressively choreographed and perfectly executed. Visually stunning, delightfully pulpy and endlessly exciting - this is inarguably the best action film of 2017. Full review here.

Colossal - They might not seem like the most natural of bedfellows, but it turns out that small town indie rom-com and Korean monster movie actually make for quite an interesting pairing, especially when taken alongside Nacho Vigalondo's examination of self-destructive behaviour abusive relationships. You're unlikely to see a more purely original film this year. Full review here.

Wonder Woman - It's really only its bloated, ugly finale that stops Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman from being the best superhero film of the year, offering a solid, female-led origin story that while borrowing more than just a little from Captain America: The First Avenger, handily reminds us all that earnest optimism and hope don't have to be cheesy. Full review here.

Okja - Subtle? Hardly, but it wouldn't really be a Bong Joon-ho film if it was, and ultimately Okja's willingness to be so unabashedly on-the-nose only makes its fictional super pig industry feel all the more horrifying - and as such, all the more effective. Add to that Joon-ho's sheer talent behind the camera, and I doubt there are many who could walk away from Okja without being affected by what they'd seen.

Spider-Man: Homecoming - Director Jon Watts' take on Spider-Man had a lot to live up to thanks to previous films (no, not the Amazing Spider-Man series, obviously), but his knack for tonal balance combines wonderfully with Tom Holland's note perfect Peter Parker, a stellar supporting cast and Michael Keaton's brilliant Adrian Toomes to ensure that the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first Spider-Man film isn't a disappointment. Full review here.

It - Director Andy Muschietti's adaptation of half of Stephen King's most famous novel may well be one of the most purely entertaining films of the year. The reason? Deceptively simply, really - a great cast in well-written roles, directed by someone who knows how to balance the story's inherent ridiculousness with the horror it also needed to invoke. Full review here.

Blade Runner 2049 - Even if it is a rare example of a film that ends up being less than the sum of its parts, director Denis Villeneuve's sequel to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner is still a film well-worth seeing thanks to just how jaw-droppingly beautiful and intellectually interesting some of those parts are. Full review here.

The Death of Stalin - One of my biggest regrets this year is being unable to find the time to write about Armando Iannucci's frankly brilliant political satire/farce. It's nothing short of hilarious throughout - but it's also one of the darkest films of the year, never afraid to remind you that the characters we follow throughout are truly evil monsters. It's a careful balancing act, but it's one The Death of Stalin never even comes close to fumbling.

Thor: Ragnarok - Taika Waititi's first (and hopefully not last) entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn't just one of the funniest and most entertaining films of the year - it's also surprisingly subversive, hiding an interesting examination of colonialism beneath its pitch perfect humour. Full review here.

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