While it’s customary to write ‘Best Of’ lists at the end of each year, the risk is that the more highbrow and arthouse movies get all the acclaim, while popular mainstream successes are snubbed.
How to counter that? We’ve decided to instead broaden the scope, by asking some of the Frame Rated writers to reveal their ‘favourite’ film or TV show from 2017.
This could be the best, but it could also be something that simply delivered the most entertainment, or you haven’t been able to forget since you saw it first.
‘BLADE RUNNER 2049’ by Dan Owen.
I’m not fanatical about Blade Runner (1982), as the movie left me cold during my impressionable teenage years, but I admired its ambition and the ahead-of-their-time F/X. A sequel was unexpected considering Blade Runner was a notorious flop at the box office, but excitement built when Harrison Ford agreed to return, with Arrival’s Denis Villeneuve directing with cinematography by the incredible Roger Deakins.
As expected, Blade Runner 2049 was a mesmerising sensory treat. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie this accomplished, in terms of convincing me a world existed. You can’t see the seams between what’s real and imaginary. It’s astonishingly good. Every frame takes your breath away with its beautiful architecture and sublime cityscapes, while Hans Zimmer’s music seems to totally envelop you into the experience. There were moments when I felt rooted to my seat, almost lost in what was happening on screen.
I loved Blade Runner 2049 because it’s the kind of sequel audiences need and studio should aim to deliver. It takes the story forward in a natural and exciting way, which deepens the existing movie in retrospect. It even managed the incredible trick of refusing to be drawn on a particular question regarding someone’s true nature, which has fuelled debate for a few decades now, in a way that didn’t feel evasive and frustrating. It was perfect.
The two Blade Runner movies are true cinema siblings, separated by 35 years, and I think 2049 is a better exploration of artificial intelligence. The subplot with a holographic girlfriend was arguably more interesting than the central moral quandary over how replicants should be treated by mankind. There was also a great deal more detective work being done by blade runner ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling), compared to Harrison Ford’s meagre sleuthing in the original.
Maybe it’s a touch too long, but I savoured every gorgeous second of Blade Runner 2049 and almost didn’t want it to end. It’s just a shame the movie cost so much to make, and didn’t attract big enough audiences this summer, which has put the kibosh on the further sequels it foreshadowed. Oh well, maybe in another 35 years we’ll catch up with this world through the eyes of another visionary filmmaker, or even go “off world” for the first time?
‘ATOMIC BLONDE’ by Amelia Nancy Harvey.
In the year of women hitting back, nobody did it quite like Charlize Theron’s character in Atomic Blonde. David Leitch’s Cold War thriller, based on graphic novel The Coldest City, is told through an unreliable narrator flashback about Mi6 agent Lorraine Broughton’s mission to Berlin in 1989. This espionage tail double-crosses itself into a possible plot wormhole, saved by aesthetics and Theron’s powerful performance. It looks like Drive but punches like John Wick.
The film’s graphic novel origins are worn like a badge of honour, with razor-sharp neon-infused visuals, a remixed 1980s soundtrack, and breathless set pieces. The highlight is a real-time fight where Theron fends off KGB heavies with household objects, to the strains of George Michael’s “Father Figure”. Not only is Theron a slinky blonde bombshell, she’s brutal and tough, using anything she can lay her hands on as a weapon. Atomic Blonde’s violence is about intense hand-on-hand combat, with rarely a gun in sight. Toby Jones and John Goodman provide decent support as Lorraine’s superiors, together with Sofia Boutella as her French lover, but its James McAvoy as a vodka-soaked rendezvous who’s having the most fun.
It was actually a pleasure to find a female-led story suffer the same genre problems as most male-led action flicks: plot holes, a protagonist devoid of backstory or character development, a perfunctory love interest, and inebriation never resulting in a missed shot. Issues some critics had with Lorraine have been celebrated with Bond and Bourne. Male fantasy disguised as feminism, or a celebration of a middle-aged woman executing a gruelling fight scene only rivalled by The Raid (2011)? Atomic Blonde isn’t an exploitation flick, nor is it a feminist landmark, but it’s a slickly choreographed spy caper teamed with the year’s best retro soundtrack.
‘MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE RETURN’ by Stacey Shaw.
Rising from the ashes after three cancellations during its original run, my highlight of 2017 was Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return, which found a new home on Netflix after a successful Kickstarter campaign to bring it back. With original creator Joel Hodgson at the helm and a raft of celebrity MST3K fans involved, The Return managed to evoke the old days of the series, refreshed for a new generation of film nerds.
For those who’ve no idea what MST3K is, here’s the premise: an average guy called Jonah (Jonah Ray) is captured by a mad scientist (Felicia Day) and her assistant (Patton Oswalt) and subjected to evil experiments out in space on the Satellite of Love. What are those experiments? Watching the worst and cheesiest B movies imaginable. Accompanied by his robot friends, Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo, Jonah has to endure the worst that cinema has to offer, and only gets through the torture by providing a wry commentary.
Having grown up loving the original, I’ll admit I was nervous about how it would measure up. Tjere was nothing to fear; the films are just as silly, the jokes are just as funny, and having a cast of fans means that a lot of love and hard work has gone into recreating the show’s magic. The season premiere focused on Reptilicus (1961), a bonkers Danish-American monster movie with a cast chewing poorly-made scenery, was classic MST3K fare. And an impressively complicated rap performed by Jonah and the Bots made it clear the Satellite of Love was in safe hands.
There were weaker episodes, such as Avalanche and Carnival Magic, as the films were just too painful despite the leavening jokes and insults being throw their way. But there were also plenty of fantastically funny instalments, including 1987′ Cry Wilderness (a strange little Bigfoot movie) and 1978’s Starcrash (a Star Wars rip-off starring a young David Hasselhoff).
‘BLADE RUNNER 2049’ by David Bedwell.
As someone who studied Blade Runner to death back at university, knowing it inside out, and having learnt about the behind-the-scenes struggles, etc, it almost got to the point where I couldn’t watch it anymore. To have the opportunity to revisit that world, with a whole new story, was as exciting to me as any new Star Wars. I was apprehensive about Denis Villeneuve’s sequel, but my concerns turned to sheer joy and appreciation within a few minutes. The stunning visuals and Hans Zimmer’s score captured the look and sound of Ridley Scott and Vangelis perfectly.
It’s not for everyone, however, as the mixed response and box office takings can attest, but Blade Runner 2049 isn’t a movie for mass consumption. It doesn’t sacrifice anything to become a crowd-pleasing science fiction movie. I’ve never been a huge Ryan Gosling fan but he’s perfectly cast as the blade runner ‘K’, while it was an absolute pleasure to see Harrison Ford back as Deckard.
The diverse supporting cast also helps, with Ana de Armas and Robin Wright delivering strong performances, while the polarising Jared Leto has one of his best roles since Requiem for a Dream (2000). But the lasting memory will be of Villeneuve’s mastery, as he creates an all-consuming world that makes you feel like you’ve been dropped into a very real future. It’s beyond argument he’s one of the best directors working today, and for my money he’s number one.
‘THE GOOD PLACE: Season One’ by Simon Cocks.
There’s inventive comedy, and then there’s The Good Place. Arriving on Netflix a year after its US debut, Michael Schur’s fantasy sitcom is the most delightful new show of the year. The premise is bold and unlike anything else you’ve seen, telling the story of Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) in the afterlife with infrequent flashbacks to when she was alive. We follow her initial surprise at the crazy situation, and then her realisation that she didn’t live a virtuous enough life to be in “the good place” and there’s been an administrative mistake.
The world-building is sublime, and it’s no shock to find out that Schur consulted with Lost co-producer Damon Lindelof to create twists and turns that feel both surprising and in-keeping with its strange universe. The developments at the end of the first season are especially ingenious, and it’s great to see that imaginativeness continue into season 2.
The Good Place is also perfectly cast, with the incredible talent of star names like Ted Danson and Kristen Bell mixing wonderfully with those of relative newcomers like Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto, and scene-stealer D’Arcy Carden as Janet (the afterlife’s all-knowing artificial assistant, who’s full of brilliant one-liners and may well be the show’s best character).
This is the type of sitcom that quickly becomes your next addiction, with rewarding episodes that are as hilarious as they are intriguing. One never gets the sense it’s preachy, but it’s always philosophical. Above all, though, The Good Place is so exciting because it’s completely different to anything that’s come before.
‘CALL ME BY YOUR NAME’ by Davide Prevarin.
The infamous Best Picture debacle at the 2017 Academy Awards is still too cringe-worthy to think about 10 months later, but it proved La La Land and winner Moonlight both had everything they needed to be considered the best film of the year.
Making a list of the best of 2017 puts me in a tight spot, as at least three films are worthy of the top position so far. One of these is Baby Driver: its rhythm and astoundingly impeccable execution (especially of the action and musical sequences) make it very hard to match, even allowing for some character development in a shaky third act that didn’t convince. I know that, from an objective point of view, Edgar Wright’s heist movie is the best film, but if we’re talking personal favourites, Darren Aronofsky’s mother! and Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name are movies I’d recommend.
The first is an allegorical and nerve-wracking tale built around protagonists Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence. The mixed reaction from critics and audiences aren’t surprising, considering the bleak outcome, its dark themes, and the director’s heavy-handed style, but Aronofsky has a precise vision, a powerful idea, and doesn’t pull any punches. mother! is a very peculiar, one-of-a-kind type of film that I’m glad found its way to mainstream cinema.
Call Me By Your Name, on the other hand, should be taught in schools. It says so much about youth, growing up, love and family, and makes full use of its stunning Italian locations: bucolic countryside, fascinating medieval towns, a typical villa surrounded by creeks, lakes, and orchards. Every shot reveals all the care Guadagnino put into the setting, even if it’s just to show sunlight filtering through a kitchen window.
But his is not only a love letter to the land: the director shows the same passion and attention when he’s directing his actors, developing the relationships between his characters, and taking us through their unforgettable journey. Call Me By Your Name is the love story of Elio, a smart teenager spending his days with his family at their summer retreat, and Oliver, an exchange student coming from America to study with Elio’s father. With Oscar-hopeful Timothée Chalamet in the role of Elio, a gorgeous Armie Hammer as Oliver, and a sensational Michael Stuhlbarg playing the father, Guadagnino created a little gem.
The strong cultural background of the characters makes for a rich and well-thought out coming-of-age story, slowly built and full of detail about everyday life. Although younger audiences may not completely appreciate some of the particulars, I am not joking when I say sixth-formers should watch this film as part of their studies. It would also be a sensational step forward for the normalisation of non-heterosexual relationships: something new generations won’t have any problems accepting, but would have been unthinkable until 15 years ago.
‘A GHOST STORY’ by Alex Mullane.
Unquestionably my favourite film of the year, David Lowery’s A Ghost Story could’ve been made for me personally. It’s a quiet, understated meditation on everything from loss and grief and letting go, to the futility of life, to the emotional value we ascribe to physical spaces. Its story is intensely close and personal, yet simultaneously spans millennia. It’s a film of contradictions and existential paradoxes that confounds and delights at every turn.
The central conceit (that a man returns as a hilariously childlike vision of a ghost to linger in his old house after his death) is wonderful from the off. The ghost costume is both funny and evocative, and you’ll be amazed at how much pathos can be wrung from a simple white sheet. Subtle shifts in the creases of the blank canvas evoke more emotions than many actors can manage.
Largely dialogue free, perhaps its most striking scene sees Rooney Mara eat an entire pie over the course of an unbroken five-minute sequence. It works brilliantly, forcing you to consider what the grieving process might look like when nobody’s around to see it — or so her character thinks…
A Ghost Story, with its marriage of the melancholy, the absurd, and the heartfelt, works to magical effect. It’s a film of cosmic wonder and a testament to what can be made on a tight budget when creativity and imagination is applied.
Honourable mentions: The Leftovers (S3), Logan, Rectify (S4), Paddington 2, Fear the Walking Dead (S3), Rick & Morty (S3), The Expanse (S2), Brigsby Bear & Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge.