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Our favourite 20 films of 2017

2017 may have been a stinker in terms of the summer blockbuster season but it delivered some genuinely stunning films around that time of year. We’re talking about the likes of sci-fi stunner Blade Runner 2049, musical Oscar winner La La Land and emotional drama Manchester By The Sea.

There were some superhero highs (Logan, Thor Ragnarok) to offset the lows (Justice League), some genuinely innovative mainstream entries (Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver) and films to make you think, Lady Macbeth, Loving, which made up for another diverse and largely enjoyable year at the movies, if you looked in the right places.

But which films, if any, made our list of favourite films of 2017 (bearing in mind we didn’t seem them all – hence no mentions for Oscar big winner Moonlight or indie horror hit Get Out)…

Atomic Blonde

20) Atomic Blonde

What’s the story? MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton is sent to Berlin following the death of her former lover at the hands of a KGB agent in order to retrieve a priceless dossier and uncover a potential double agent.

Why so good?: If Atomic Blonde can’t reach the 5-star status of the best spy thrillers, it still has plenty in its own armoury to make it fantastically enjoyable, including one particular fight sequence that begins on a staircase that will undoubtedly be held up as an all-time classic of its kind (rivalling the choreography and bone-crunching nature of Gareth Evans’ The Raid sequences)… [It’s] a tremendously entertaining action-adventure that deserves to kick-start its own franchise.

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19) Sing

What’s the story? Luckless koala bear Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), a theatre impresario facing the loss of his dream theatre, hits upon the idea of staging a singing competition in a bid to wipe out of all his debt.

Why so good?: Given the enduring popularity of reality TV shows such as The X Factor and American Idol it was only a matter of time before someone seized upon the idea of building a film around that conceit. Yet as hideous as that idea sounds, new animated family film Sing actually hits all the right notes. A new work from the studio behind Minions (Illumination), the film is as funny as it is emotionally compelling, as well as populated by a top-notch vocal cast.

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The Big Sick

18) The Big Sick

What’s the story? Kumail is a part-time Uber driver and stand-up hopeful, who is also attempting to resist his family’s desire to set-up an arranged marriage. When he finds himself being heckled one night by an audience member named Emily (Zoe Kazan), Kumail inadvertently becomes attracted to her and the two share a night of passion, which in turn leads to an unlikely friendship and relationship. But as Kumail becomes increasingly reluctant to introduce Emily to his family, for fear of being cut off, the ensuing romance gets strained. And then Emily falls ill and is placed into a coma as the doctors attempt to find out what is wrong with her.

Why so good?: Judd Apatow has directed some of the best comedies of recent years. He now produces another gem in the form of The Big Sick, a romantic comedy-drama that was inspired by its leading man’s own life experiences. Yet far from being the out-and-out laughter-fest that some reviews suggest, this also tugs at the heart-strings in a surprisingly endearing way, while probing attitudes to race that should resonate for everyone.

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T2: Trainspotting

17) T2: Trainspotting

What’s the story? Danny Boyle revisits the lives of Renton, Begbie, Sickboy and Spud as they attempt to atone for past sins, find new ways of making money and stay alive on the streets of Edinburgh.

Why so good?: The big question surrounding Danny Boyle’s decision to revisit Trainspotting 20 years on was whether he could ever come close to recapturing the iconic nature of the original? Or would it prove to be an even bigger folly than recent decisions to revive the less revered likes of Zoolander or Independence Day. Well, the answer is a resounding yes to the former. T2: Trainspotting is a triumphant return… Choose T2 because it’s that rare sequel that works just as well – and maybe sometimes better – than the first…

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Battle of the Sexes

16) Battle of the Sexes

What’s the story? The story behind the 1972 tennis match between then World No1 women’s player Billie Jean King and former No.1 men’s player Bobby Riggs, which was devised by charismatic misogynist Riggs to conclusively prove that men were better than women on the court.

Why so good?: [The film] offers audiences a genuinely good time but one that isn’t afraid to confront the issues of the day in a way that resonates still. The pay divide between men and women still exists and – given recent headlines from Hollywood and beyond – sexist/chauvinist attitudes still prevail, albeit with signs of change. Battle of the Sexes shows how those seeds of change were sewn. As such, it’s game, set and match to female empowerment that deserves to be a smash hit with audiences.

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15) Detroit

What’s the story? An examination of the riots that gripped the city of Detroit in 1967, and which shines a light on one particularly horrific incident of police brutality fuelled by racism that – perhaps most alarmingly – has chilling parallels with events now gripping Trump’s America (in places like Charlottesville, Virginia)..

Why so good?: Kathryn Bigelow follows up the unmissable Zero Dark Thirty, about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, with another similarly must-see film about another complex and controversial chapter in American history. Detroit is a harrowing and utterly gripping pressure cooker of a film that thrusts you into a nightmare from which many, sadly, are still unable to wake. It is cinema at its most potent and relevant that demands and deserves to find the widest audience possible.

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Wind River

14) Wind River

What’s the story? When the body of a teenage American Indian girl is found amid the frozen wastelands of the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, it’s left to fish-out-of-water FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) and professional animal tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) to hunt for those responsible. For both, the case becomes increasingly personal.

Why so good?: Having penned the screenplays for the excellent Sicario and Hell Or High Water, Taylor Sheridan now turns his hand to writing and directing in Wind River, the riveting third part of his so-called ‘Frontier trilogy’. Taking its inspiration from several grim statistics, the film functions as both a first rate thriller and the type of movie that highlights an American social injustice while posing serious questions for anyone willing to listen.

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Hacksaw Ridge

13) Hacksaw Ridge

What’s the story? The astonishing true story of Army medic Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who refused to bear arms, even in combat. He nevertheless saved the lives of over 75 men at Hacksaw Ridge, aka the Battle of Okinawa, and earned himself the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Why so good?: Hacksaw Ridge rates as a triumphant return for Mel Gibson, the director, in the way that it celebrates heroic endeavour and sacrifice while delivering an often wince-inducing insight into the horror of combat. It is the type of robust filmmaking we have long come to expect – and admire – from this filmmaker.

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12) Manchester By The Sea

What’s the story? Lee (Casey Affleck) is an ill-tempered loner living in Boston, who works as a janitor. When he is called back to his hometown following the death of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), he must contend with the emotions his return stirs, stemming from a tragedy in his past, as well as the surprise news that he is now legal guardian of Joe’s teenage son.

Why so good?: Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea may offer a sombre reflection on grief but far from being the kind of misery-fest that suggests, it’s a richly rewarding and highly absorbing character study anchored by a superb, Oscar-winning performance from Casey Affleck… The film is a thoughtful, intelligent human drama that tugs at the heart-strings in all the right ways. It is fully deserving of the critical adulation and awards recognition it has received thus far.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

11) Star Wars: The Last Jedi

What’s the story? Picking up in the immediate aftermath of The Force Awakens, the film starts as the Resistance, led by General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher) and fellow heroes Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega), are relentlessly pursued by First Order Star Destroyers intent on ending their rebellion once and for all. It’s eventually left to Finn and newcomer Rose Tico (a fellow soldier played by Kelly Marie Tran) to embark on their own mission aimed at thwarting this. Rey (Daisy Ridley), meanwhile, has found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a remote island and persuaded him, albeit reluctantly, to train her in the ways of The Force – a task that unsettles him once he begins to realise the true extent of her powers.

Why so good?: Having restored balance to the cinematic force that is Star Wars at its best with JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens two years ago, Rian Johnson now looks to take things further with the eighth episode in the saga, The Last Jedi. The result is a film played out on the grandest of scales, that confidently encapsulates the best Star Wars traits while also expanding its horizons. The Last Jedi is fresher and more forward thinking than Abrams’ predecessor, opening up intriguing new possibilities and bringing in interesting new characters. It’s very much a changing of the guard.

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Thor Ragnarok

10) Thor: Ragnarok

What’s the story? Thor returns to Asgard to find a new threat posed by Hela, the goddess of death, who also happens to be the sister he never knew existed. Within moments of reuniting with both Hela and the continually mischievous Loki, however, Thor finds himself thrust across the other side of the universe and onto a planet ruled by the Grandmaster, who swiftly sentences Thor to gladiatorial combat for his own amusement. Thor must subsequently survive the arena (and a battle with old friend Hulk) before summoning his own army and returning to Asgard to defeat Hela.

Why so good?: Thanks to the presence of New Zealander director Taika Waititi, Thor: Ragnarok emerges as one of the best films in the MCU. Shot through with self-deprecating wit, slapstick [and knockabout] humour and all kinds of eccentric characters and elements, the film feels fresh, exciting and hugely entertaining. [It]‘s a genuine cinematic treat, deserving of a big screen experience, that leaves you in a good mood from start to finish.

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War For The Planet of The Apes

9) War For The Planet of the Apes

What’s the story? Set some time after the events of Dawn, the film picks up as the war between apes – led by Andy Serkis’ Caesar – and humans is still raging. Caesar, for his part, carries the emotional scars of his journey so far, including his involvement in the death of angry traitor ape Koba (Toby Kebbell), as well as a continued hope that some kind of peace can be found. But in his current nemesis, Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), he faces a formidable opponent, who will stop at nothing to ensure that ape-kind is wiped out. When McCullough stages a shock attack on Caesar’s encampment that strikes deep at the heart of all that Caesar holds dear, Caesar sets out on a path to revenge that could spell disaster for everyone concerned.

Why so good?: War For The Planet of The Apes manages that rare feat of delivering a third film that maintains, and possibly sharpens, the value of what has come before. It is a powerful, emotional [possible] climax that engages the heart and the brain in a manner not usually associated with blockbuster movie-making of this type.

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8) Logan

What’s the story? Set sometime in the future, when there have been no new Mutants reported, the film picks up as Logan, aka Wolverine, is carving out a living as a limo driver near the Mexican border and caring for an ailing Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose bouts of dementia, if uncontrolled by medicine, gives rise to brain seizures that cause telekinetic earthquakes all around him. Living with them is a fellow mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant), another character attempting to atone for past sins. But their world is shattered by the arrival of Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen), a young girl who appears to have similar abilities to Wolverine (right down to his claws), who is being pursued by shadowy government figures led by the robotically armed Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook).

Why so good?: It’s not often that a film embedded in a franchise is allowed to break from its shackles to offer something genuinely different… which makes Logan, the final outing for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, even more remarkable. But far from seeking to tie things up in a manner that would please the studio at the expense of the fans, James Mangold’s film opts for the opposite, thereby delivering a love letter to Wolverine’s followers who have stuck with the character through the highs and lows of both X-Men and stand-alone spin-off films… As a parting shot to a much beloved character, it’s a genuinely memorable conclusion that should not be missed.

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My Life As A Courgette

7) My Life As A Courgette

What’s the story? Nine-year-old Icare, otherwise known as Courgette, is at home suffering more abuse from his drunken mother. A torn family photo reveals the absence of his dad. But after an altercation on a staircase leads to a tragedy, Icare is sent to a children’s home. En route, he befriends a sympathetic policeman (voiced, in the English version, by Nick Offerman), who frequently calls in on him as he settles in with the other kids. But it also becomes quickly apparent to Courgette that he is among friends at the home.

Why so good?: I’ve often thought that animation offers some of the most brave, intelligent and unique films of any given year, whether it’s the likes of Pixar’s Inside Out or French-Swiss stop-motion gem My Life As A Courgette. Based on Gilles Paris’s book Autobiographie d’une courgette and directed by first-timer Claude Barras from a screenplay by Girlhood writer-director Céline Sciamma, the film offers a triumph against the odds tale that isn’t afraid to tackle some big issues… It is, without a doubt, one of the films of the year: an affecting, compelling and thought-provoking mini-masterpiece that could well transcends its cinematic boundaries for anyone seeking help of their own.

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Patriot's Day

6) Patriots Day

What’s the story? A multi-stranded account of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, this predominantly unfolds from the perspective of the trio of law enforcement officers who both witnessed and then investigated the double explosions that claimed several lives and injured countless others on April 15, 2013.

Why so good?: Peter Berg follows-up his angry but brilliant real-life disaster flick Deepwater Horizon with an unexpectedly compassionate look at the Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath in Patriots Day… Berg doesn’t shirk away from showing the devastation caused by the actual attack, as well as the confusion of being caught in the moment. And he delivers some genuinely haunting images – with that of the body of a child being watched over by a lone policeman lingering for some time afterwards. Crucially, however, he doesn’t dwell to manipulate emotions and avoids becoming too jingoistic or flag-waving. He even restrains the anger, somewhat… This is an exceptional movie… and one that, sadly, feels even more relevant with the passage of time.

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Paddington 2

5) Paddington 2

What’s the story? Paddington (once again voiced by Ben Whishaw) takes on a variety of odd jobs with a view to affording the perfect gift for his beloved Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday – a unique (but expensive) pop-up book of London. But once the book is stolen by local actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), who views it as a way of turning his own fortunes around, Paddington is framed for the crime and sent to prison, leaving the Brown family (once again headed up by Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins) to clear his name.

Why so good?: By turns charming and hilarious, Paddington 2 is that rare sequel that actually betters the original in almost every way. Buoyed by the runaway success of its predecessor, screenwriters Paul King (who also directs), Simon Farnaby and Jon Croker have delivered a crowd-pleasing follow-up that delivers eye-catching spectacle, knockabout fun, self-deprecating wit and a genuinely heart-warming vibe that honours the legacy of original creator Michael Bond (who died in June this year at the age of 91) in effortless fashion.

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La La Land

4) La La Land

What’s the story? Struggling wannabe actress Mia (Emma Stone) and passionate but luckless jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) are both looking for the opportunity that will help them to realise their dreams. When they eventually meet each other and start a relationship, it’s their enthusiasm for each other’s ambitions that provide each with something of a catalyst for change. But as their dreams look like becoming a reality, the couple soon realise that there’s a price that may been to be paid.

Why so good?: Damien Chazelle’s film is so much more than just a throwback to a golden age of filmmaking. It’s a movie that extols the virtues of the past while keeping an eye on the future. It feels fresh and of its time while tipping its hat to everything from Fred and Ginger to Rebel Without A Cause. And while several moments do sweep you along on a tidal wave of feel-good romanticism, there’s a bittersweet poignancy underpinning the story that could just as easily leave you wiping a tear away come the closing credits. For those reasons, and more, Chazelle’s movie is a must-see experience and an instant classic, entirely worthy of the adulation and awards that have come its way.

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Blade Runner 2049

3) Blade Runner 2049

What’s the story? K (Ryan Gosling) is a new generation blade runner who is programmed to hunt down the last remaining Nexus 8 replicants that occupied the first film. After one brutal encounter with a protein farmer (Dave Bautista), K makes a discovery that has life-altering implications, and which puts him on a path to finding Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the rogue blade runner from the first film, who has long since gone into hiding.

Why so good?: It’s a film that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible, to properly take in the spectacle. But it’s also one that resonates on a human level, working just as well during its smaller, more intimate moments as it does the grand-standing set pieces… [The film] may take its time to unfold (clocking in at two hours and 43 minutes) but it allows Villeneuve and company (including regular cinematographer Roger Deakins, back on Oscar-worthy form) the time to really preserve and enhance the look of Scott’s original, while building a set of characters who are genuinely worth spending that much time with.

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Baby Driver

2) Baby Driver

What’s the story? Talented getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) relies on the beat of his personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. After meeting the woman (Lily James) of his dreams, he sees a chance to ditch his shady lifestyle and make a clean break… if only he can break away from his crime boss (Kevin Spacey) and the various jobs he has in store for him.

Why so good?: Edgar Wright has delivered the film of the summer, and one of the best of the year, with Baby Driver, a heist movie that tips its hat to past classics while retaining an energy and style that’s steadfastly its own. [It]‘s a cinematic gift that keeps on giving. So, buckle up and enjoy this ridiculously glorious ride.

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1) Dunkirk

What’s the story? Dunkirk unfolds from three differing perspectives. Firstly, there’s a squaddie named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) whose repeated attempts to escape the beach, or The Mole, with fellow soldier Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) appear doomed to fail. Then there’s the Spitfire pilots, led by Tom Hardy’s Farrier, who offer the last line of defence from the aerial assault. And, finally, from the home front, there’s Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son (Tom Glynn-Carney) and local helper George (Barry Keoghan), who join the people’s armada in a bid to rescue the troops stranded on the beach.

Why so good?: It’s not overstating things in the slightest to describe Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk as an exceptional piece of filmmaking. A vivid, heart-pounding, emotional rollercoaster of a film, Dunkirk is also one of the most immersive experiences you could ever wish to endure. But therein lies its genius. By putting the viewer at the forefront of the action – whether on land, in the air or at sea, which is how the film divides itself – you feel every emotion, whether it’s fear, anger, compassion or relief. And you endure every bullet and/or bomb blast… It really is easy to run out of superlatives for this one.

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