The best films of 2017 so far

After the Storm

Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest is part family drama, part hardboiled noir, as a novelist-turned-private-investigator (Hiroshi Abe) tries to reconnect with his family.

What we said: In the hands of another film-maker, this situation might be the focus of a queasy black comedy … There is such intelligence and delicacy in Kore-eda’s film-making, such wit and understated humanity.

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A Ghost Story

Part of a loose movement of films some are calling post-horror, David Lowery’s haunting meditation on love, loss and letting go stars Casey Affleck as a deceased musician whose sheet-wearing spirit form proves poignant, not preposterous.

What we said: The unquiet spirit of Terrence Malick roams through this film’s rooms, and finally the ectoplasmid hands of M Night Shyamalan shimmer into view, grabbing the loose ends of the story’s beginning and end and tying them together.

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Sônia Braga stars as an intellectual who refuses to vacate her apartment when the developers come calling, in a film that has been perceived as a comment on the cronyism and corruption plaguing Brazil.

What we said: Aquarius is a rich and complex character study from the Brazilian auteur Kleber Mendonça Filho: densely observed, scrupulously realised, and with a wonderful lead performance.

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Baby Driver

Baby Driver
‘Terrifically stylish’ … Baby Driver Photograph: Webb/Sony/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Edgar Wright’s inventive wheel-spin on the car-chase movie stars Ansel Elgort as a getaway driver whose tinnitus causes him to pump out banging tunes at high volume while performing some miraculous escapes from the law. John Hamm, Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey are the surly crims taking advantage of his gifts.

What we said: It is a terrifically stylish and exciting piece of work, a summer movie cool enough to induce brain freeze, like an episode of James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke directed by Walter Hill.

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Blade Runner 2049

A belated follow-up to Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking sci-fi saga, Denis Villeneuve’s blockbuster stars Ryan Gosling as a replicant seeking some sense of humanity in a dystopian, neon-flecked Los Angeles.

What we said: The 2017 follow-up simply couldn’t be any more of a triumph: a stunning enlargement and improvement … This film delivers pure hallucinatory craziness that leaves you hyperventilating.

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The Beguiled

Sofia Coppola provides her own deadpan take on Southern Gothic, with an adaptation of Thomas P. Cullinan’s civil-war-era novel about a Union soldier who sets hearts a-flutter in a Confederate ladies seminary. It’s attracted approving reviews, as well as awkward questions over whitewashing.

What we said: Coppola won the director’s prize at Cannes for this hugely enjoyable melodrama that more or less allows bodices to remain unripped until an uproarious third act, when passions are declared, animals killed and acts of mutilation carried out … a tremendously watchable movie, with its teasing flecks of noir and black comedy.

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The Big Sick

Emily V Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani wrote this much lauded and socially groundbreaking cross-cultural romcom from their own experience – with Nanjiani starring in the resulting film opposite Zoe Kazan.

What we said: A stranger-than-fiction date movie of enormous charm and sweetness, which plunges you into a deliberate seriousness after the setup. There is a sudden stab of anxiety at the point where most romcoms begin their semi-intentional slide away from irony.

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Call Me By Your Name

Luca Guadagnino’s follow-up to A Bigger Splash stars Armie Hammer as a grad student who enjoys a summer romance with a younger man in sun-dappled northern Italy.

What we said: The debt to pleasure is deferred in exquisite style for this ravishingly beautiful movie set in Northern Italy in the early 80s … a summer romance saturated with poetic languor and a deeply sophisticated sensuality.

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Life’s work … Cameraperson. Photograph: Dogwoof Pictures

Veteran documentary-maker Kirsten Johnson taps into her vast library of footage to piece together a collage memoir on her career in cinematography and the nature of authorship.

What we said: A fascinating and unique meta-documentary or quasi-professional memoir; it challenges the question of personality and authorship in the act of seeing, filming and editing.

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Certain Women

Kelly Reichardt’s latest is a characteristically low-key look at the intersecting lives of four restless women, played by Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone and Kristen Stewart.

What we said: It is a movie that declines to detonate the traditional climactic revelation or catharsis that pulls everything together, and some might find it frustrating. I found it entirely absorbing. You must take time to immerse yourself in its quiet mystery.

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Defiantly contemporary study of a single woman’s odyssey through the difficulties of sex, drugs and relationships in modern London. Emily Beecham stars as the eponymous Daphne, a sort of contemporary answer to Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray.

What we said: Beecham is excellent as Daphne, portraying a character who has grown up with a certain level of entitlement but is now beginning to see how she is going nowhere and looking down through the gaps in the rope bridge to glimpse the emptiness below.

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The Death of Louis XIV
Wigging out … The Death of Louis XIV. Photograph: PR company handout

The Death of Louis XIV

Albert Serra’s eerie and sombre period drama brings to life the final days of the man they called the Sun King, with New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud donning powdered wig for the lead role.

What we said: Léaud gives a superb approximation of what the slow approach of mortality looks like: the retreat into fatigue, into a strange combination of fear and calm, into mysterious stillness … I can’t think of any actor who has over the space of a feature film given such a brilliant portrayal of the protracted moment of death.”

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The Death of Stalin

Satirist Armando Iannucci leaves our current political maelstrom behind to tackle one half a century prior, as a unruly bunch of Soviet lickspittles (played by an all-star cast that includes Steve Buscemi and Michael Palin) scramble for power in the wake of their dear leader’s demise.

What we said: The Death Of Stalin is superbly cast, and acted with icy and ruthless force by an A-list lineup. There are no weak links. Each has a plum role; each squeezes every gorgeous horrible drop.

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Kathryn Bigelow lasers in on the 1967 Detroit riots, telling the story of the gruesome “Algiers motel incident” as a microcosm of the wider uprising. Brits John Boyega and Will Poulter lead the cast.

What we said: A sombre, grieving movie which appears to gesture to the ghost-town ruin that is still in Detroit’s future … it has relevance and passion, and by finding the story’s heart in the music of the Dramatics, Bigelow creates a humanity amid the anguish.

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The remarkable rescue of hundreds of thousands of soldiers from the beaches of Northern France is brought to life in Christopher Nolan’s war movie spectacular, which abandons the director’s high-concept trickery for something tense and elemental.

What we said: This is a powerful, superbly crafted film with a story to tell, avoiding war porn in favour of something desolate and apocalyptic, a beachscape of shame, littered with soldiers zombified by defeat … it is Nolan’s best film so far.

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Endless Poetry

‘A need to excite, shock, bewilder’ … Jodorowsky’s Endless Poetry.
‘A need to excite, shock, bewilder’ … Jodorowsky’s Endless Poetry. Photograph: Publicity image

The second instalment of a loose autobiographical trilogy of films from surrealist master Alejandro Jodorowsky covers the director’s introduction to the bohemian lifestyle in early 50s Chile.

What we said: It doesn’t look like an old man’s film to me: there is gusto and energy, a need to excite, shock, bewilder. You can sense here something you rarely experience, even in the very best films: how much the director is simply enjoying himself.

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Paul Verhoeven’s gleefully controversy-courting black comedy stars Isabelle Huppert as a businesswoman trying to track down the man who raped her.

What we said: Preposterous is, as it were, this film’s middle name … or one of them, along with gripping, mind-boggling and hilarious. It is a bulging package of twists, ironies and jaw-slackeningly scandalous moments.

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Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Based on Peter Turner’s memoir, Annette Bening and Jamie Bell star in a moving, true-life tale of Turner’s relationship with former noir queen Gloria Grahame.

What we said: The movie makes the right decision to focus on the humanity and compassion. It’s a beguiling story and Bell and Bening are tremendous as the star-crossed lovers

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The Florida Project

The followup from Tangerine director Sean Baker, a loose freewheeling drama about an unconventional family living in a rundown motel in the shadow of Walt Disney World.

What we said: A glorious film in which warmth and compassion win out over miserabilism or irony, painted in bright blocks of sunlit colour like a child’s storybook.

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Free Fire

Ben Wheatley flexes his genre-flick muscles in a tightly choreographed, vividly bloody shootout movie. Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson and Sharlto Copley are among those spilling the claret.

What we said: The restlessly inventive director Ben Wheatley gives us the crime-thriller equivalent of a violently atonal jazz suite lasting an hour and a half, like a Sam Peckinpah movie storyboarded by Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra.

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Get Out

The year’s breakout horror movie is a distinctly modern take on the 70s paranoid thriller as an African-American man falls victim to the liberal racism of his girlfriend’s family.

Get Out: watch the trailer for Jordan Peele’s comedy horror.

What we said: This fantastically twisted and addictively entertaining horror-satire on the subject of race plays like an Ira Levin rewrite of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner … a hypnotically nasty gem.

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Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami

Sophie Fiennes-directed documentary about the iconic singer and clubland figure who attained notoriety for – well – slapping talkshow host Russell Harty, among other achievements.

What we said: It’s a celebration of her musicality and extraterrestrial scariness, and a reminder that films about female singing stars need not be gallant tributes to tragically doomed fragility.

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A Romanian doctor goes to desperate lengths to get his daughter into a British university in another dose of dark drama from director Cristian Mungiu.

What we said: Tragedy is a genre that isn’t talked about much in cinema, but Cristian Mungiu’s dark and compelling drama Graduation can only be talked about in this way … It is a film of enormous power and moral seriousness.

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The Handmaiden

The erotic thrills of Sarah Waters’ Victorian-set novel Fingersmith are transported to occupied 1930s Korea in Park Chan-wook’s eye-opening thriller.

Eye-opening … watch the trailer for the Handmaiden.

What we said: This film’s outrageous sexiness might just create an international fad for filing down your lover’s crooked tooth in the bath with the finely serrated surface of a thimble. It’s a quasi-blowjob scene that sounds bizarre in print. On screen, it was so extraordinary that I almost forgot to breathe.

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I Am Not Your Negro

Samuel L Jackson narrates an affecting history of racism in the US as told through the words and ideas of essayist and activist James Baldwin.

What we said: James Baldwin re-emerges as a devastatingly eloquent speaker and public intellectual; a figure who deserves his place alongside Edward Said, Frantz Fanon or Gore Vidal … It is vivid, nutritious film-making.

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Ingrid Goes West

Single White Female for the Instagram age, with stalker Aubrey Plaza inveigling her way into the life of social media star Elizabeth Olsen.

What we said: Ingrid Goes West sees social media as a carnival of narcissism, sociopathy and that most toxic, most ubiquitous and least acknowledged of the seven deadly sins: envy.

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It Comes at Night

Part of an informal scene of movies the Guardian’s Steve Rose termed post-horror, this psychologically chiller has more about it than your average slasher flick, as a family cautiously welcomes guests into their home in a virus-assailed America. Mutual mistrust and worse follows.

What we said: At its most effective, it achieves a combination I associate with British television post-apocalyptic drama from the 70s and 80s, like Survivors or Threads: scary-plus-depressing… It is a fiercely watchable film.

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer

The new film from Yorgos Lanthimos, unofficial leader of the “Greek freak” generation, with another disquieting tale of a heart surgeon’s friendship with a teenage boy.

What we said: It’s an intriguing, disturbing, amusing twist on something which in many ways could be a conventional horror-thriller from the 1970s or 1980s.

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Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth.
Smart, sexy, dour … Lady Macbeth. Photograph: Allstar/Sixty Six Pictures

A darker-than-dark period drama from debut director William Oldroyd, as a scheming ingenue embraces adultery and murder in rugged Northumberland.

What we said: William Oldroyd’s movie does an awful lot with a limited budget. It is smart, sexy, dour: qualities that are weaponised by a lethally charismatic lead performance from Florence Pugh as the eponymous, unrepentant killer.

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La La Land

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone find jazz and each other in Damien Chazelle’s homage to the golden age of studio musicals, although it is likely to be remembered more for a certain Oscars snafu …

What we said: It’s a primary-coloured homage to classic movie musicals, an act of ancestor worship, splashing its poster-paint energy and dream-chasing optimism all over the screen.

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The Lego Batman Movie

The Dark Knight gets a well-deserved sendup in another brightly coloured block party from the Danish brick purveyors. Will Arnett again voices the self-important superhero.

The Lego Batman Movie: watch the trailer for the superhero spin-off.

What we said: The fact that the movie can satisfy its commercial imperatives, smuggle in some satirical jabs, and wrap it all up in an apparently irreverent, self-satirising comedy for all ages could be viewed as admirable or sinister, but this is, undeniably, a sophisticated product.

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The Levelling

A trainee vet returns to the farm of her childhood to confront her estranged father in a tale of rural and familial unease from debut director Hope Dickson Leach.

What we said: Dickson Leach’s excellent debut feature The Levelling is a superbly shot and piercingly acted realist tragedy, like a really disturbing folk horror movie with the horror amputated, so that only the folk remains.

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True story … Sunny Pawar and Deepti Naval in Lion.
True story … Sunny Pawar and Deepti Naval in Lion. Photograph: Allstar/Screen Australia

Another feature directorial debut, this time from Australian film-maker Garth Davis. It is the real-life story of an adopted Indian man (Dev Patel) who reconnects with his birth family via the wonder of Google Maps.

What we said: This big-hearted film does full justice to the horror, the pathos and the drama of its lead character’s postmodern odyssey.

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Hugh Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine sees the X-Men stalwart accompany a young girl through a rusting, dystopian US. Brooding and operatically violent, it is a comic-book movie with claws.

What we said: It is more like a survivalist thriller than a superhero film, and signals its wintry quality with the title itself. It is like seeing a film entitled Banner or Parker or Kent. With the approach of death, maybe super-identity is cast off. Superpowers start to fade along with ordinary powers.

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The Love Witch

This lavish 60s-themed flick nods to Russ Meyer, giallo and hammer horror in its tale of a liberated witch who uses potions to win over prospective beaus.

Watch the trailer for The Love Witch.

What we said: The Love Witch goes beyond camp, beyond pastiche; it ignites the pulpy surfaces of its tale and produces a smoke of bad-dream sexiness and scariness. It’s a B-movie with A-grade potency.

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Manchester by the Sea

Casey Affleck took home the best actor Oscar for his portrayal of a grief-racked janitor forced to care for his late brother’s teenage son in Kenneth Lonergan’s raw family drama.

What we said: This is about life as it is lived in the real world, with unassuageable pain, loose ends untied, life lessons unlearned. Life with no narrative closure … This film has already been hailed as a masterpiece and I think it is.

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This year’s Oscars’ best picture winner is an affecting coming-of-age tale about a young African American boy confronting his sexuality in an impoverished Miami suburb. It is the sort of story rarely told onscreen.

Moonlight: watch the trailer for Barry Jenkins’s Oscar-winning drama.

What we said: The combination of artistry and emotional directness in Moonlight is overwhelming … It is the kind of film that leaves you feeling somehow mentally smarter and physically lighter.

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Unquestionably the year’s most divisive film, Daron Aronofsky’s horror allegory sees Jennifer Lawrence wrestle with childbirth, death and oh, so much more in a haunted, hellish homestead.

What we said: This toweringly outrageous film leaves no gob unsmacked. It is an event-movie detonation, a phantasmagorical horror and black-comic nightmare that jams the narcosis needle right into your abdomen.

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Post second world war drama about friendships that cross the race lines when returning troops had to face the same Jim Crow life they had left behind in the war.

What we said: There’s a rich, arterial force in this film’s storytelling: director Dee Rees handles the material with flair and real passion.

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Netflix makes its first foray into blockbusters with Bong Joon-Ho’s quirky animal rights-themed tale. Action and anarchy ensues as a Korean girl fights to keep her giant genetically modified pig out of the hands of an evil multinational corporation.

What we said: The digital creation of Okja is itself brought off with terrific skill. The pure energy and likability of this film make it such a pleasure.

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The Other Side of Hope

Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, best known for poker-faced comedy, takes on the refugee crisis. A Syrian stowaway establishes kinship with a cafe owner, who gives him a job and helps him out – and in doing so allows Kaurismäki to establish the common ground between the asylum seeker and the social outcast.

What we said: Kaurismäki’s mannered, controlled comedy might just induce alienation in the hands of another film-maker, but here it is quite the opposite. However ridiculous the story is, there is always sympathy, a lightness of touch.

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Paddington 2

A second helping of the adventures of Michael Bond’s eponymous furry refugee from Darkest Peru, this time with Hugh Grant as a baddie who frames Paddington for a dastardly crime.

What we said: The film is pitched with insouciant ease and a lightness of touch at both children and adults without any self-conscious shifts in irony or tone: it’s humour with the citrus tang of top-quality thick-cut marmalade.

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Personal Shopper

Exotic and creepy … Kristen Stewart in Personal Shopper.
Exotic and creepy … Kristen Stewart in Personal Shopper.

Kristen Stewart collaborates again with French director Olivier Assayas and the result is an exotic, creepy fable. Stewart plays a celebrity assistant who believes she is being haunted by her dead twin; she stays in his house to ascertain if his ghost is present.

What we said: Personal Shopper is stylish, mysterious and very strange. It is a ghost story and suspense thriller, yet also a sympathetically realist portrait of numbed quarterlife loneliness, and it is all held together by an outstanding performance from Stewart.

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A Quiet Passion

Terence Davies followed his Sunset Song adaptation with this biopic of reclusive American poet Emily Dickinson, which provided Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon with a standout showcase in the lead role.

What we said: This is a moving and engrossing film, and a wonderful performance from Nixon, who combines delicacy with angularity; vulnerability and defiance.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spidey gets the millennial-friendly update we didn’t know we wanted, as Tom Holland’s exuberant web-slinger takes on both high school and a new foe: Michael Keaton’s down-on-his-luck supervillain, The Vulture.

What we said: The refreshing joy of Spider-Man: Homecoming is that it’s a relatively self-contained piece of entertainment. Sure, it exists very much within the Avengers canon, but a finely crafted script builds the bridges with care, and storytelling rather than cold commercialism is apparently the film’s key concern.

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T2 Trainspotting

The cast and director of the 1996 hit Trainspotting reunite more than 20 years later, picking up the stories of Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie as they enter middle age.

T2 Trainspotting: watch a clip from Danny Boyle’s sequel.

What we said: Danny Boyle’s T2 Trainspotting is everything I could reasonably have hoped for – scary, funny, desperately sad, with many a bold visual flourish … This sequel was a high-wire act, but Boyle has made it to the other side.

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Their Finest

An adaptation of Lissa Evans’s comic novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, with Gemma Arterton as the writer drafted in to make propaganda films during the second world war and Bill Nighy as an over-the-hill matinee idol who agrees reluctantly to appear in one of them.

What we said: You’d need a heart of stone and a funny bone of porridge not to enjoy this sweet-natured and eminently loveable British film – a 1940s adventure, with moments of brashness and poignancy.

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Bizarre psychological thriller from Norwegian director Joachim von Trier, in which a shy young students anxieties appear to erupt into supernatural manifestations of erotic trance.

What we said: Thelma creates an uncanny accumulation of mood, an ecstasy of disquiet, like the film’s hostile and telekinetically induced starling-murmurations.

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Toni Erdmann

German film-maker Maren Ade earned an Oscar nomination with this unlikely comedy, in which ageing prank-player Winfried (Peter Simonischek) visits his uptight corporate daughter, assuming the guise of a life coach called Toni Erdmann.

Toni Erdmann: watch the UK trailer for the German comedy.

What we said: It is a movie that has some of the bittersweet comedy of something like Jack Lemmon’s Kotch (1971) or Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt (2002), crossed with the confrontational freakery of Lars von Trier’s The Idiots (1998).

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The Untamed

Undoubtably the year’s finest movie about a tentacular sex monster, this Mexican realist-fantasy parable sees a small community upturned by a seductive outsider.

What we said: It has the spirit of Buñuel in many ways, also Guillermo del Toro, and maybe even Ridley Scott’s Alien … a sly, subversive and disturbing black tragicomedy about a universal secret addiction.

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Wind River

After gaining a reputation for penning taut, understated crime dramas, Taylor Sheridan has a go at directing one, with Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen tasked with solving a murder in the wintry wastes of Wyoming.

What we said: A gripping movie, muscular in its confidence and storytelling punch, the kind you could call a western forensic thriller. There’s some Cormac McCarthy in here, and a tiny bit of Patricia Cornwell.

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