10. The Handmaiden
Dir. Park Chan-wook
Adapted from Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, Park Chan-wook’s erotic thriller moves the action from Victorian Britain to Korea under Japanese colonial rule, to magnificent effect. The labyrinthine narrative sees Sook-hee, a maid, embroiled in a plot to steal the inheritance of a Japanese heiress named Lady Hideko, who lives under the watch of the sadistic Uncle Kouzuki.
What we said: “The Handmaiden is a sumptuously shot thriller that drips out its twist-filled plot in an endlessly rewarding way. Darkly funny and delightfully sexy, and also refreshingly feminist at heart, this is fearless but patient filmmaking from a director working at the top of his game.” (Agnes Demy)
9. A Monster Calls
Dir. J.A. Bayona
Released at the beginning of the year, JA Bayona’s modern fairytale earned favourable comparisons with Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). A Monster Calls is a moving story of Conor, a boy whose mother has terminal cancer. One night he is visited by a tree-like Monster, who will tell Conor three stories before Conor must tell the Monster his own.
What we said: “This is a deeply emotional but brilliantly imaginative insight into the way one young boy deals with mental anguish. […] What you are treated to visually is as impressive as it is wonderful. Not just the Monster himself – a gargantuan figure of incredible detail, topped off with Neeson’s aged and groaning voice – but also the storytelling sequences, which feature mind-bending colour and succeed in bringing viewers deep into the stories being told.” (James Hanton)
8. Blade Runner 2049
Dir. Denis Villeneuve
Denis Villeneuve’s belated sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi masterpiece marks a return to the original film’s dystopian metropolis. The film sees Ryan Gosling’s Agent K investigating the alleged natural birth of an artificial child – a shocking discovery that could result in an android uprising.
What we said: “The acting is excellent from every person involved, no matter how small their roles may be. Ryan Gosling continues to show his range as an actor, Harrison Ford delivers what may be a career-best performance, and Dave Batista shows that he has real talent. The sound design is immersive and real, and Hans Zimmer once again creates a beautifully atmospheric score which perfectly adapts to the changes in mood. Intellectual sci-fi films of this depth and calibre feel like a rarity in the modern cinematic landscape.” (Mert Kece)
Dir. Bong Joon-ho
Despite its release being overshadowed by its distribution method – its Netflix logo was mercilessly booed at Cannes – Okja nevertheless captured the hearts of most of its mainstream audience. The film tells the story of Mija, who lives in the South Korean countryside with her genetically-engineered superpig Okja. When Okja is taken away to be made into a new line of meat, Mija, with the help of the Animal Liberation Front, pursues her friend to New York.
What we said: “Okja seems more intent on bashing capitalist structures than promoting vegetarianism, until that final, brutal scene, which is as damning a critique on the meat industry as they come. In our current political climate, in which compassion and kindness have been thrown out the window, Bong Joon-ho’s call for sympathy is both powerful and necessary.” (Agnes Demy)
Dir. Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk recreates the second world war Dunkirk evacuation from three perspectives: land, sea, and air. Using minimal dialogue and maximal practical effects, and shot on rare 70mm film stock, the blockbuster was hailed as one of the best war films of the century.
What we said: “Dunkirk’s compositions are so suspenseful, that even if the film were silent, it would still be unnerving […] But the sound design, concomitant with Hans Zimmer’s evocative score, intensifies the terror. Luftwaffe planes dive overhead, and their engines scream as they dash the beach with bombs. Zimmer’s bewitching score, his best since The Thin Red Line (1998), is composed of discordant violins, percussive ticks reminiscent of clock hands, and incessant pounding; it’s ominous almost beyond belief.” (Marc Nelson)
5. The Florida Project
Dir. Sean Baker
Sean Baker’s follow-up to Tangerine (2015) is both a moving celebration of childhood and a powerful neo-verité snapshot of America in the style of American Honey (2016). It’s held together by some truly stunning cinematography, and standout performances from newcomers Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite, as well as a poignant turn by veteran Willem Dafoe.
What we said: “This is a film that successfully provides a jubilant, rose-tinted, juvenile perspective on what would appear to most as a harsh adult environment. With a sparse plot, the film really focuses on and savours the blissful ignorance of its protagonists, and demonstrates an optimism in the face of adversity that is addictively charming.” (Ivy Pottinger-Glass)
4. La La Land
Dir. Damien Chazelle
Damien Chazelle’s homage to the golden age of Hollywood musicals stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as artists who fall in love while attempting to pursue their dreams in Los Angeles. With kaleidoscopic direction and one of the catchiest scores of recent years, La La Land is a truly magical experience.
What we said: “Through the glitz and the glamour, La La Land’s surreal romantic storyline holds a purpose, and whether it is purely superficial or representative of the cost of ambition is open to the interpretation of the viewer. The final sequence acknowledges both the use of ballet in traditional musicals, and also that a flawless journey of the characters would be shallow and incomplete, leaving a question mark on the idealistic musical plot.” (Rosanna Marshall)
3. A Ghost Story
Dir. David Lowery
The summer’s surprise indie hit tells the story of a dead man who is confined across time to observe the house he lived in with his wife. What the ghost witnesses is at once perplexing and deeply emotionally stirring.
What we said: “Single takes can last minutes in this film, and they require a viewer to be patient, much like they do in the films of Tarkovsky. In what’s been referred to as the ‘pie scene’, Rooney Mara’s M devours an entire chocolate tart in two static shots, totalling around six minutes of screen time. […] As the minutes pass, every detail of this becomes excruciating […]. The sadness accumulates until the next scene, in which the ghost tries to comfort the grieving M; the result was, for me, a complete emotional wipeout.” (Marc Nelson)
Dir. Barry Jenkins
This year’s winner of the Best Picture Oscar presents three stages in the life of the main character’s youth, as he struggles with the difficulties of home life and his sexual identity.
What we said: “In an industry that would so often see black actors cast as ‘cool friend’, ‘badass gangster’, or indeed ‘unnamed terrorist’ stereotypes, Jenkins has produced a work that lets black people be people and, crucially, black children be children. […] This is Jenkins’ love song to the black communities of his home state Florida, its wonders and its ugliness being treated with equal care and nuance. In Moonlight, Barry Jenkins gives voice to the so often silenced queer identities of poor black communities and, without a doubt, the strength of what he makes must be seen to be believed.” (Maddie Haynes)
1. Call Me By Your Name
Dir. Luca Guadagnino
Topping our list is Call Me By Your Name, a boundlessly beautiful film about Elio, a 17-year old living in 1980s Italy, and his summer of romance with his father’s American assistant, Oliver.
What we said: “It would be to its discredit to refer to Call Me By Your Name as a ‘coming-of-age’ film, as its complex and yet entirely simplistic romance goes beyond anything produced in the last 20 years, bar perhaps Moonlight. Although one can’t help but feel a certain solidarity with Elio in his experiences, his both introverted and extroverted nature as a precocious teenager feels all too familiar to watch. […] The bittersweet nature of the film is only amplified by director Luca Guadagnino’s nostalgic eye for his native land, captured in vibrant 35mm.” (Liv Hughes)