My Top 50 Films 2017

The best thing that happened to me this summer was watching Twin Peaks: The Return. I knew then it would be number one in my end of year list, I was certain I won't see anything better, and I was right. Nothing moved me, challenged my thinking and occupied my mind this year as Twin Peaks: The Return.

The debates "is it a movie or is it TV" started a few weeks ago (after appearing on Sight & Sound and Cahier du Cinema's end of year film polls (no. 2 and no. 1), but has recently calmed down and many pieces have been written arguing both sides, but I will hold on to this one by Vadim Rizov arguing that it's both.  

Unlike the past three years, I will start with my number 1 and end at 50, sharing a few thoughts along the way. The list includes theatrical releases in the UAE and elsewhere, plus fims I watched at festivals and a few on VOD. 

(Films I missed out on and hope to see them in 2018:  Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, Western, Song of Granite, Claire's Camera, The Day After, Song to Song, 24 Frames)  

1. Twin Peaks: The Return (Mark Frost and David Lynch, 2017)  

Monday mornings between 22nd May and 4th September were dedicated to Twin Peaks: The Return (in Dubai the new parts were available the morning after it aired in the US). There was humour and sadness in almost in every new hourly revelation, and there was also mystery, questions and a few other things that I am still trying to articulate.

Both Frost and Lynch offered us a narrative that many of us are still trying to comprehend. I knew from the start we will not be getting easy answers and I recall telling myself I'm happy if we don't get the answers, I am just enjoying the journey.

The deep chills, the utter sadness and the sinking feeling I felt at the very last scene is something I will never, ever forget. 

I enjoyed connecting and bonding with others who were dedicated to this show. We will no doubt be thinking about and discussing Twin Peaks: The Return over many years and I for one feel lucky to have been able to experience and savour each new hour between May and September. A feeling I truly miss. I have not really watched anything that has made me feel the same way again. Not sure if I ever will.

I look forward to revisiting all 18 hours again, and I hope that one day I can watch them on the big screen. MoMA already announced it will screen all 18 hours over three days early January 2018 (herehere and here) and I am devastated I can't go. I hope more cinemas will try to schedule something similar in the coming year and hopefully I will be able to attend too. 

2. Zama (Lucrecia Martel, 2017) 

Lucrecia Martel's Zama is a masterpiece. It's hypnotic, visually stunning and intellectually complex. About existentialism, the subconscious, masculinity and colonialism. There's a lot to unpack in this film which requires more than one viewing for me to be able to articulate myself better about this film. 

3. Silence (Martin Scorsese, 2016)

Silence is the Martin Scorsese film we don't deserve. It shamefully didn't do well at the box office. I just hope it will be considered one of his best in the future. An incredibly moving film about the complexities of morality and faith. Regardless what your personal beliefs are about religion, Scorsese has made a masterpiece that has yet to be appreciated by many.    

4. Columbus (Kogonada, 2017) 

This first feature film by Kogonada is about family and melancholia and Modernist architecture. An elegant, soothing and touching film. So much in it is conveyed in its many quiet moments.  

5. Lucky (John Carroll Lynch, 2017) 

Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, life and a turtle.   

6. Angels Wear White (Vivian Qu, 2017) 

Vivian Qu's Angels Wear White is an urgent and devastating film about the patriarchy and society's implicitness in sexism and covering up sexual violence.  

7. Princess Cyd (Stephen Cone, 2017) 

Princess Cyd is a joyous, graceful and loving film. It celebrates women, intellectuals, solitude, the city of Chicago, food, reading, friendship and the joy of discovering. Miranda Ruth (Rebecca Spence) is one of my favourite characters in film this year. One particular scene I love where Miranda responds to Cyd's sarcastic "Maybe if you had a little more sex in your life you wouldn't eat so much."   

I understand you’re finding your own joy, you’re engaging with your own stuff. That’s great. That’s how it should be. It’s a beautiful thing. But hear me, it is not a handicap to have one thing but not another. To be one way and not another. We are different shapes and ways and our happiness is unique and there are no rules of balance. 

8. Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)

"Now you are in the sunken place" still gives me the chills. 

9. You Were Never Really Here (Lynn Ramsay, 2017) 

Brutal, haunting and absorbing.  "Wake up, let's go, it's a beautiful day."    

10. Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler, 2017) 

A stand out role for Vince Vaughn in this film that is very violent - bone crunching violent. The car bashing (the least violent scene) at the beginning is one of my favourite scenes this year. Also, we get Udo Kier and Don Johnson in this.    

11. A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017) 

It is understandable that a film with someone covered in a sheet acting as a ghost can't be taken seriously, but trsut me, this film is extraordinary. About grief, the passage of time, about the ones that are left behind. 

12. Marjorie Prime (Michael Almereyda, 2017) 

This film could be paired with A Ghost Story as it also about loss and grief. The role and meaning of memories is the main theme of this film, about the use of holograms to reincarnate dead family members to remain with them. The film is subtle and thought provoking. I've been thinking about it frequently ever since I watched it. 

13. Ex Libris: New York Public Library (Frederick Wiseman, 2017)

The knowledge and generosity shown by the many people appearing in this documentary moved me to tears. There's a scene in it where Khalil Gibran Muhammad describes the New York Public Library as "mind building" and "soul affirming". Many institutions could learn from this film.     

14. John Wick: Chapter 2 (Chad Stahelski, 2017) 

Pure action film pleasure. The Reflections of the Soul fight sequence is the cherry on top.      

15. Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017)

A film for the big screen. The bigger, the better. A well crafted film with memorable images, colour and sound. I watched this on IMAX Digital in Dubai and on 70mm in Amsterdam. The IMAX version was MUCH louder. 

16. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)

Sensual, melancholic and touching. Sexual awakening and self discovery. Scenes of summer in Italy, Armie Hammer's voice, Psychedelic Furs' Love My Way, the peach scene, Michael Stuhlbarg's monologue and the tear inducing closing scene. 

17. 120 Beats per Minute (Robin Campillo, 2017) 

Solidarity, activism and love in the face of state and health system prejudices. Energetic and tender.        

18. The Disaster Artist (James Franco, 2017)

Hilarious, meticulous and empathetic. I loved watching it in the packed 1000 seater Madinat Arena during the Dubai Internayional Film Festival. There was such a great energy and by far my favourite cinema experience in Dubai. 

19. Scarred Hearts (Radu Jude, 2016) 

Set in Romania, 1937, the film is about Emanuel, a 20-year-old young man who spends his days bedridden at a sanatorium on the Black Sea coast, suffering from bone tuberculosis. We follow the lives of Emanuel and the other patients, there is no room for pity here, as they are all still trying to live a full life. It's smart, funny and beautifully shot. The film is inspired by Romanian author Max Blecher’s autobiographical novel Scarred Hearts, who died after ten years of suffering, at the age of 29.    

20. Let the Sunshine In (Claire Denis, 2017)

Juliette Binoche is superb in this film about love and desire expressed through words and face expressions. 

21. On the Beach at Night Alone (Hang Sang-soo, 2017) 

About love, broken hearts and cinema. Personal and confessional.   

22. 3/4 (Ilian Metev, 2017)  

A subtle and intimate film about a father and his son and daughter and the relationship with each other. It is their last summer together. There is great composition in this film, creating spaces between the family members. Emphasising a gap in their lives. I hope this small film gets seen by more people in 2018. 

23. Wajib (Annemarie Jacir, 2017)  

The strongest Arab film I saw this year. A tender and moving film about a father and son set in one day in Nazareth. About disappointments, regret and missed opportunities.  A film about family struggles told without resorting to the political melodrama. 

24. Arabia (Affonso Uchoa, João Dumans, 2017)   

A universal tale about the exploitation of the working class. Poetic, political and devastating.        

25. The Seen and Unseen (Kamila Andini, 2017)   

The Seen and Unseen is mythical and spiritual, about sibling connections, child ghosts, and the lunar rhythm of life.       

26.  Wonder  (Stephen Chbosky, 2017)

This is a about kindness that we all need to see, especially in a year that has left us feeling so exasperated for so many reasons.      

27. Coco (Lee Unkrich, 2017)        

I wasn't expecting to be so moved by this film. An extremely touching film about family, memories and legacy. It is visually spectacular too and must be seen on the big screen. The Land of the Dead is absoutely dazzling. 

28. Human Flow (Ai Weiwei, 2017)    

A harrowing and powerful documentary about the current refugee crisis around the world. The images in it are powerful, empathetic and urgent. The drone footage in it is one of the most effective I've seen, compared to lots of gimmicky drone footage we see in elsewhere. 

29. My Happy Family (Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Groß, 2017)  

About the suffocating level of entrapment women face due to cultural and family reasons. About wanting to be be alone, just to be alone. The film is filled with details and gestures that add layers to it. One of my favourite scenes is when Mañana is eating cake alone, listening to music and enjoying the breeze coming through her window.

30. Heal the Living (Katell Quillévéré, 2016)

A deeply human film about loss, grief and connections, without the melodrama. 

31. Dangal (Nitesh Tiwari, 2016)

We don't often get to see a film about fathers and daughters from Bollywood. Dangal is uplifting, inspiring and touching. The main song from it stayed in head for days, "Dangal, dangal." 

32. Secret Superstar (Advait Chandan, 2017)

This film me laugh and cry, a lot. It's an ode to mothers and daughters, the struggles against the patriarchy, and the right to dream. The second half of Secret Superstar lights up with Aamir Khan as the obnoxious, crass music producer. Both Meher Vij and Zaira Wasim as mother and daughter give moving performances. 

33. Good Time (Ben Safdie, Joshua Safdie, 2017)

I found this film intense and troubling, but it has grown on me more and more. Robert Pattinson is terrific in it. 

34. A Fantastic Woman (Sebastian Lelio, 2017)

Sad, defiant, assertive. Daniela Vega is the force that keeps this film going.

35. The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017)

Another film that has grown on me over the past couple of months. It is sadder than I expected, but there are moments of joy and hope.  

36. Faces Places (Agnes Varda, JR, 2017)

A film about personal histories, memories and legacies of different people across France. But it also has incredible moments with Agnes Varda reflecting on her life and work.  

37. My Life as a Zucchini (Claude Barras, 2017)

Melancholic, heartwarming and wonderful.      

38. Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2017)

A harsh fulm about egotism and family in crisis. Andrey Zvyagintsev is a thought provoking director holding a mirror to Russian society.     

39. In the Intense Now (João Moreira Salles, 2017)  

A skillfully edited and narrated film that weaves its way from the personal to the social to the political.     

40. I am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni, 2017)

A funny and poignant tale about Zambian witchcraft satire, addressing misogyny and control 

41. Bad Genius (Nattawut Poonpiriya, 2017)

Who would've thought a film about cheating at school exams could keep you on the edge of your seat? 

42. The Outlaws (Yoon-Seong Kang, 2017)  

An action-comedy-thriller about Ciniese/Korean gang war by Yoon-Seong Kang, his first feature. It's hilarious and gripping. Ma Dong- seok is brilliant in it.

My two favourite translated swear words from it:
Bitch dick

43. Logan Lucky (Steven Soderbergh, 2017)

A great ensemble and a fun film. 

44. The Nile Hilton Incident (Tarik Saleh, 2017)

A crime thriller set in Egypt and a scathing commentary on police corruption, violence and dirty politics. It's well written, acted and directed. It's a shame it has not gotten a release in the Middle East. 

45. God's Own Country (Francis Lee, 2017)

A touching and intimate film about love - to love and be loved. It's an accomplished debut feature film by Francis Lee and can't wait to see what he works on next.       

46. The Square (Ruben Östlund, 2017) 

Besides the art world satire which is brilliant on its own, the film also addresses civic responsibility, the marketing machine, politeness and respect versus political correctness.        

47. Colossal (Nacho Vigalondo, 2016)

A film that's really about resentment, jealousy, abuse, self worth and female empowerment. 

48. The Human Surge (Eduardo Williams, 2016)

This left me thinking a lot about time, boredom, the internet and creating human connections in today's hyperconnected world.         

49. The Work (Jairus McLeary,  Gethin Aldous, 2017)

Set inside a single room in Folsom Prison, we witness a four-day group-therapy retreat with a group of incarcerated men and the challenges they face when it experience of rehabilitation. The results are intense, harrowing and powerful. 

50. Lean on Pete (Andrew Haigh, 2017)

I was very moved by Charlie Plummer's performance. Steve Buscemei and Chloe Sevigny were the highlights in this film and my wish is for Andrew Haigh to direct a spinoff focusing on their backstory in the film.