Top Ten 2017

1. Phantom Thread
2. Dunkirk
3. The Shape Of Water
4. Loving Vincent
5. Call Me By Your Name
6. The Florida Project
7. Faces Places
8. Good Time
9. BPM (Beats Per Minute)
10. Lady Bird


Call Me By Your Name is the kind of film that is for the most part a very personal experience, it either reminds you of discovering sexual desire as a youth or it doesn’t; either way it’s impossible to believe that whatever depths the film touches aren’t mainly the responsibility of Timothee Chalamet’s gorgeously indelible performance in the lead.  The look on his face when the object of his desire, played by a godlike, towering Armie Hammer, first touches his bare shoulder during a volleyball game is the kind of thing that would have made him a star during the silent era, while the emotional responses to his sexual situations with Hammer are full of the kind of impulsive spontaneity that make really great acting seem like a magic trick.

Honour Roll:  Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread; Colin Farrell, The Killing of a Sacred Deer; Ethan Hawke, First Reformed; Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.


The opportunity that movies have to get up close to a subject and really examine a character’s choices is one that some movies do a beautiful job of capturing, as is the case with the wonderful Meg Wolitzer adaptation of The Wife.  Sure it has a few Screenplay 101 elements, like the foreshadowing of the conclusion by Jonathan Pryce constantly eating fatty foods, but it’s also an opportunity to watch Glenn Close really live a great day on film, chewing up scenery in her more exciting scenes while enjoying great moments of subtle and quiet reactions in others.  Close beautiful participates in the complexity of this amoral film, one in which a captivating, flawed woman makes some pretty problematic choices and, thanks to Close’s steely gaze, we’re told we’re just going to have to like it or lump it.

Honour Roll:   Annette Bening, Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool; Juliette Binoche, Let The Sun Shine In; Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water; Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread


Lead roles, supporting roles, cameos, heroes, villains, collaborations with great directors and hacks, Willem Dafoe has seen it all, playing everything from vicious killers to Jesus Christ and, while not being regularly showered with awards, is frequently blessed with that greatest of holy grails in the business called show: work!  If he has developed any diva-like demands because of his vast range of experience, there’s no evidence of it in The Florida Project, in which he provides seamless grounding for a series of characters who are spinning through life without much to anchor them.  In a film populated by a high number of non-professionals, Dafoe also blends in quite organically with the film’s world, interacting with adults and children alike with effortless panache and performing the role of motel manager in a motel that was actually in operation during filming (those are real phone calls and customers in the scenes shot at the reception desk).

Honour Roll:  Christopher Plummer, All The Money In The World; Adam Sandler, The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected); Michael Shannon, The Shape of Water; Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name/The Shape of Water


The most competitive acting category this year is one that provides an embarrassment of riches, remarkable actors doing so much with roles that are not unfamiliar to women of a certain age (three tough moms and a black cleaning lady, what is this, 1964?)  The fiercest and finest of them, though, is the incomparable Lesley Manville providing all the punches in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, her steadfast presence providing such a brutal backdrop to the power of wills that form the film’s central romance.  One constantly expects Manville’s Cyril Woodcock to have the typical motivations of the jealous sister, nervous about her successful brother’s new romance because it will threaten their livelihood as well as her lifelong ability to control him.  Not long after we meet her, though, Cyril turns out to be full of surprises, happy to let anyone try and be her brother’s nemesis and keeping deep reserves of sensitive understanding hidden well beneath the exterior of her steely gaze and razor-sharp perfect appearance.  Manville can rarely be in a movie without making a lasting impression, and it’s wonderful to know that it is not just Mike Leigh who knows what to do with it.

Honour Roll:  Holly Hunter, The Big Sick; Allison Janney, I, Tonya; Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird; Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water


The idea of a director like Christopher Nolan making a war film is the kind of foregone conclusion that makes mainstream filmmaking such a bore: of course the guy who makes guy films starring guys is going to make a battle movie, and of course I don’t care if it’s good.  Walk into the theatre to see Dunkirk with this expectation and you’ll be amazed at the depth and intelligence that Nolan adds to the well known technical skill and craftsmanship for which he is rightfully celebrated.  Nolan focuses on one key event in Britain’s role in World War II with subtlety and grace, completely ignoring the kind of heroic grandstanding common to the genre and instead unfolding with a nervous, tense, naturalism.  Its most famous cast member is hidden behind a mask, while the closest thing the film has to a lead actor barely speaks, allowing the spirit of a nation to be the film’s main hero while the technology (boats or planes) is always kept looming large and tall over the many desperate humans.  The result is so very moving:  after a couple of hours of waiting and worrying, the simple handing of a bottle of beer to a returning soldier is enough to reduce one to blubbering tears.

Honour Roll:  Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread; Sean Baker, The Florida Project; Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water; Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name