The best 50 films I’ve seen in 2017

Gurur Sarbanoglu
18 min readDec 22, 2017

50. Why Him? (2016)

Directed by John Hamburg; written by John Hamburg, Ian Helfer; production country — USA, Cambodia

Plot: The Flemings are visiting their daughter on the West Coast for the holidays … and to meet her millionaire boyfriend.

The silly premise that has a lifetime of a few minutes is stretched to a feature length film. And the result is … surprisingly good. Though the crazy factor is taken to a little too extreme by the ending, there is an old school charm about this.

49. Get out (2017)

Directed by Jordan Peele; written by Jordan Peele; production country — USA

Plot: An African-American college student spends a weekend with his white girlfriend’s WASP parents in wealthy suburbia, where something wicked might be brewing.

Certainly benefited from the current socio-political climate for the adoration it got, and deservedly so. Perhaps the most politically astute horror film in decades.

48. It (2017)

Directed by Andy Muschietti; written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman; production country — USA, Canada

Plot: Children are disappearing in Derry, Maine and a group of teenagers are sure that a ghoulish clown living in the sewers has got something to do with it.

It was always going to be pale in comparison to the source material considering the limitations of its running time — and the inevitable comparisons to the far superior Stranger Things didn’t help. Plenty of jumps and a handful of really good set pieces makes it worthwhile.

47. Insidious (2010)

Directed by James Wan; written by Laigh Wannell; production country — USA, Canada, UK

Plot: A comatose child’s soul might be held hostage in a nightmarish realm called The Further and a long-buried family secret might be his only way out.

Finally got to see this and it is much more polished than I expected. There is a real sense of dread throughout and the way the Further is handled is what makes this such an effective horror film.

46. Logan (2017)

Directed by James Mangold; written by James Mangold, Scott Frank, Michael Green; production country — Canada, Australia, USA

Plot: Logan and Professor X are living in isolation in Nowhere, USA when a young mutant shows up with heavy a baggage in tow.

Who’d a thunk it? An X-Men film that actually shows its subject matter the respect it deserves. Although missing the character interplay of X2, this is by far the most interesting film in the X-Men franchise. Scratch that — it is the most interesting film in the Marvel universe.

45. Baby Driver (2017)

Directed by Edgar Wright; written by Edgar Wright; production country — UK, USA

Plot: To pay the money he owes to a local mob boss, Baby works as a getaway driver for a number of high-profile heists in the city.

Self-aware and relying a little too much on irony with Tarantino-esque character interplay, Baby Driver has a little too much form than substance at best. But it is one hell of a fun ride.

44. The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)

Directed by Colm McCarthy; written by Mike Carey; production country — UK, USA

Plot: In a zombie-infested near future, a group of adults vow to protect a child with special gifts.

Certainly the most entertaining zombie-themed film since 28 Days Later …

43. Don’t Breathe (2016)

Directed by Fede Alvarez; written by Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues ; production country — USA

Plot: Three teenagers decide to rob a blind man, only to find themselves in deep peril.

This is a truly terrifying film with great set pieces. What derails it is it insistence to find a clever ending when the natural flow of the story would have delivered something more powerful.

42. Free Fire (2016)

Directed by Ben Wheatley; written by Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley; production country — UK, France

Plot: A shootout ensues when a drug deal in a deserted warehouse goes haywire by in-fighting.

This is a high concept shoot-em-up that surprisingly manages to stay watchable beyond its claustrophobic premise.

41. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Directed by Luc Besson; written by Luc Besson; production country — France, China, Belgium, Germany, UAE, USA, UK, Canada

Plot: More than a millenium in the future, two law enforcement agents are trying to uncover the danger that lives inside Alpha, the City of a Thousand Planets.

It is all over the place plot-wise, but it is also immensely fun, incredible to look at and boasts two very likable leads.

40. Arrival (2016)

Directed by Denis Villeneuve; written by Eric Heisserer; production country — USA

Plot: A linguist is asked to communicate with an alien species visiting the Earth.

Although quite cold (and very predictable), there is a sense of intelligence that sets Arrival apart from all of the other blockbusters around.

39. The Beguiled (2017)

Directed by Sofia Coppola; written by Sofia Coppola; production country — USA

Plot: Towards the tail-end of the American Civil War, a wounded Unionist soldier finds refuge in a private girls’ school in the Confederacy.

Slow, but very well-acted, this is an intriguing story that makes you second-guess at every turn. Nicole Kidman is simply brilliant here.

38. Fences (2016)

Directed by Denzel Washington; written by August Wilson; production country — USA, Canada

Plot: The story of an African-American working class family in the 1950s.

This is not really a film, but a filmed play so it’s hardly cinematic. But it is so watchable, mostly because of Denzel Washington. Best piece of acting I’ve seen all year.

37. The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

Directed by André Øvredal; written by Ian B. Goldberg, Richard Naing; production country — UK, USA

Plot: A father and son team of coroners begin to uncover a dark secret whilst examining the corpse of a young woman.

This is a surprisingly effective horror that does a wonderful job of using its location, while delivering enough scares to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.

36. Cafe Society (2016)

Directed by Woody Allen; written by Woody Allen; production country — USA

Plot: A young New Yorker moves to Los Angeles to work with his movie-mogul uncle and falls in love with his assistant.

Trying to revive the Hollywood’s Golden Age, Woody Allen’s latest is a relaxed film. It lacks emotional depth and some characters are left hanging (I’m looking at you, Blake Lively’s Veronica), but it is charming, with a little dark undertone.

35. The Hateful Eight (2015)

Directed by Quentin Tarantino; written by Quentin Tarantino; production country — USA

Plot: On a cold winter night in the Old West, a group of outlaws and oddballs find refuge in a cabin.

Much like the Kill Bill films, this is Tarantino at his most superficial. There is hardly any substance here, but the inimitable dialogue and the inevitable twist just about make up for it.

34. The Light between Oceans (2016)

Directed by Derek Cianfrance; written by Derek Cianfrance; production country — UK, New Zealand, USA

Plot: In a remote Australian town, a lighthouse keeper and his wife raise a baby they find drifting on a dinghy in the ocean.

Slow and slightly melodramatic it may be, but Derek Cianfrance once again nails it when it comes to depicting a couple in crisis with a child in the middle of it all.

33. Demon (2015)

Directed by Marcin Wrona; written by Pawel Maslona, Marcin Wrona; production country — Poland, Israel

Plot: A groom is possessed by an evil spirit on the eve of his wedding day.

A strange little take on a dybbuk story, this Polish-Israeli film takes its time to slowly reveal what is happening and the mostly dark settings (and the drunk cast), it becomes a very disturbing watch.

32. Killing Ground (2016)

Directed by Damien Power; written by Damien Power; production country — Australia

Plot: A young couple on a camping trip in a remote corner of Australia find a small baby in the apparently deserted tent next to theirs.

It doesn’t try to be an Australian Deliverance, but it is just as menacing in its depiction of the urban vs country conflict. The mini reveal is not too difficult to discern as you watch it, but that won’t stop you from enjoying it.

31. Department Q: The Keeper of Lost Causes (2013)

Directed by Mikkel Nørgaard; written by Nikolaj Arcel; production country — Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Norway

Plot: Two detectives are put in charge to solve the case of a kidnapped woman.

The first film of the Department Q trilogy, and the best one. It has everything you expect from a Nordic Noir thriller.

30. Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Directed by James Wan; written by Laigh Wannell; production country — USA, Canada

Plot: The evil that haunted the Lambert family in their previous ordeal has not left them just yet.

It’s a cliché that only a handful of sequels are better than the first installment and we must add this to that list. The story is tighter, the scares are more effective, and the characters are better fleshed out.

29. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Directed by George Miller; written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nicl Lathouris; production country — Australia, USA

Plot: In a post-apocalyptic Outback, a group of women break away from the local ruler to find their homeland.

Not sure if it’s the masterpiece it was made out to be (the acting leaves a lot to desire, to be honest), but its refusal to adhere to the action guidelines of the blockbusters and how it pays homage to the source material without straining too much into the unknown makes it a special film indeed.

28. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Directed by Matthew Vaughn; written by Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn; production country — UK, USA

Plot: A civilian British spy organisation hires a promising young man from an underprivileged background.

This is pure entertainment and (dare I say it?) beats any James Bond film out there.

27. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Directed by Mel Gibson; written by Robert Schenkan, Andrew Knight; production country — Australia, USA

Plot: The story of a pacifist soldier who refuses to kill anyone in WW2.

A little cheesy, yes, but this is also an old school film that harks back to the Golden Age of Hollywood.

26. The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

Directed by Chris McKay; written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, Jon Whittingdon; production country — USA, Denmark

Plot: Bruce Wayne must fight off the baddies, while looking after a teenage orphan.

Of course it’s a giant product placement exercise with zero intellectual value. But, let’s face it, this was the funniest thing in a long, long time.

25. The Club (2015)

Directed by Pablo Larraín; written by Guillermo Calderón, Pablo Larraín, Daniel Villalobos; production country — Chile

Plot: In a remote Chilean village, disgraced clergymen and nuns are anonymously housed to live the rest of their lives, while people they’ve impacted are finding out about their identity.

As expected from Larraín, this is darkly funny, immensely touching (no pun intended) with really serious questions about guilt and responsibility. A very underrated gem.

24. Moonlight (2016)

Directed by Barry Jenkins; written by Barry Jenkins; production country — USA

Plot: The story of a gay African-American man living in a rough area of Miami.

Highly effective drama with some of the best ensemble acting of the year.

23. Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Directed by Tom Ford; written by Tom Ford; production country — USA

Plot: The draft of her ex-husband’s new novel opens up old wounds for an art gallery director.

On the surface, there is so much to look and admire that it belies the emotional complexity that lies in the heart of thr story. This is hard to look away from.

22. Dunkirk (2017)

Directed by Christopher Nolan; written by Christopher Nolan; production country — UK, Netherlands, France, USA

Plot: A glimpse of a rescue operation to get British and Allied soldiers stranded on a Belgian beach during World War 2.

Toying with the concept of time and narrative, this is the most audacious film of Christopher Nolan. He has always been a little distant emotionally from its subjects and this is the one he is the remotest. Which is a shame, because coupled with the technical brilliance, a warmer touch would have made this the best film of the year.

21. The Swindle (1997)

Directed by Claude Chabrol; written by Claude Chabrol; production country — France, Switzerland

Plot: A man and a woman are trying to con a man out of the $5m he’s carrying for a business transaction, but neither of them trust each other.

A joyous little caper film that does play its hand deftfully throughout. The revelations and twists are truly there to serve the story rather than shock the audience.

20. The Big Sick (2017)

Directed by Michael Showalter; written by Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani; production country — USA

Plot: A Pakistani-born comedian and his white American girlfriend are struggling to keep their relationship alive due to cultural clashes. Things get worse when she contracts a mysterious illness.

It could have been a proseltyzing tearjerker with a heavy-handed Message, but it is bittwrsweet comedy that boasts a great cast and some really touching moments in between subtle comedy.

19. The Exterminating Angel (1962)

Directed by Luis Buñuel; written by Luis Buñuel; production country — Mexico

Plot: The upper-class guests of a dinner party are physically unable to leave their hosts’ house.

A bizarre and slightly muddled film, but it is a fascinating look at the intricacies of the social workings of the upper class. It’s not a subject that’s not been handled before or since (and in some case, even better handled), but Buñuel’s surreal touch makes this a very remarable film indeed.

18. The Visit (2015)

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan; written by M. Night Shyamalan; production country — USA

Plot: Two young siblings are visiting their estranged grandparents for the first time ever.

What is really remarkable about The Visit is that the tension never wanders off from the screen. There is a palpable unease at every corner. And, rarest of all, the ‘found footage’ style really works well here. This is a fantastic return to from for Shyamalan after years of misfires.

17. Diary of a Chambermaid (1964)

Directed by Luis Buñuel; written by Luis Buñuel, Jean-Claude Carrière; production country — Italy, France

Plot: The story of a chambermaid hired by a dysfunctional couple and their estate.

Buñuel’s obsession with the bourgeois lifestyle is evident here again and, much like Viridiana (1962), we are seeing things from an outsider woman’s point of view. Political subtlety trumps surrealism in this very down-to-earth film.

16. Christine (2016)

Directed by Antonio Campos; written by Craig Shilowich; production country — UK, USA

Plot: The real-life story of a TV reporter’s struggles with her depression.

Much like the main character, the film really doesn’t give too much away as to what was really happening to Christine Chubbock. We see her frustrations, but she really does a good job of hiding the real emotions bottled up inside, with occasional glimpses are given to entice the viewer. It’s very effective.

15. Raw (2016)

Directed by Julia Ducournau; written by Julia Ducournau; production country — France, Belgium, Italy

Plot: A vegetarian student turns cannibalistic after hazing in her first week at university.

Not much is left unturned here and sometimes the subtlety is thrown out the window. But among all of the superficial blood and gore, there is a tender story of a young woman trying to find her real identity in a cold and calculated work. Both as a horror film and a high-brow drama, this works perfectly.

14. Split (2016)

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan; written by M. Night Shyamalan; production country — Japan, USA

Plot: A man suffering from multiple personality disorder kidnaps three young girls.

You could argue the veracity of the depiction of multiple personality disorder, but as a plot element it works brilliantly. And James McAvoy is absolutely brilliant in the multiple characters he depicts. After The Visit and this one, I can be excited about Shyamalan once again. That’s great news.

13. Menashe (2017)

Directed by Joshua Z. Weinstein; written by Alex Lipschultz, Musa Syeed, Joshua Z. Weinstein; production country — USA

Plot: A widower from the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn is forced to find a wife so that he can keep his teenage son.

A fantastic little film with a heart as big as it gets. With a completely non-professional cast and a rare glimpse into a society we are only aware of superficially, there is a lot to like about this film. And Menashe Lustig’s performance (the film is based on his own story) is probably the best of the year.

12. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Directed by James M. Dagg; written by Benjamin China, Paul China; production country — Canada, USA

Plot: A motel owner in a small Alaskan town befriends a loner staying in one of his rooms.

A near-perfect thriller with a heavy, emotional heart. Has the potential to be a cult classic in years to come.

11. The Salesman (2016)

Directed by Asghar Farhadi; written by Asghar Farhadi; production country — Iran, France

Plot: An actress is assaulted at home, after which her husband is adamant to find the culprit despite her objections.

It’s remarkable how accomplished Asghar Farhadi’s films are, nearly all of them bona fide masterpieces. And this is no exception. Truly deserving all the awards it won last year, the way Farhadi always hides something from the viewer and only resolves them by small glimpses into the reality of the situation is the work of a true cinematic genius.

10. 20th Century Women (2016)

Directed by Mike Mills; written by Mike Mills; production country — USA

Plot: A young boy is raised by his single mom and the women lodgers in their suburban house in California of the late 70s.

Going with low expectations (for no real reason), I was floored by the end of this. It’s such a well-made film with very good performances throughout and just a touch of distance from reality. It plays its had perfectly at every turn and becomes a fantastic drama.

9. Frantz (2016)

Directed by François Ozon; written by François Ozon, Philippe Piazzo; production country — France, Germany

Plot: A French widow meets a German who lays flowers on her husband’s grave in the aftermath of World War One.

What an incredible film. Take your pick from the gorgeous cinematography, the undeniable chemistry between the actors, the mise-en-scene, the gravitas with which Ozon pulls all of these out of the hat … it will likely leave you speechless.

8. The Student (2016)

Directed by Kiril Serebrennikov; written by Kiril Serebrennikov, Marius Von Mayenburg; production country — Russia

Plot: A high school student in a small Russian town is convinced that the apocalypse is nigh.

Not sure I’ve seen religious zealotry handled this well in a contemporary film. It is a borderline thriller, coupled with the pace and setting, it’s also an almost sci-fi. But regardless of the genre games, this is one that needs multiple viewings to truly appreciate its nuances.

7. mother! (2017)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky; written by Darren Aronofsky; production country — USA

Plot: A couple receive uninvited guests who refuse to leave.

Admittedly, I’ve missed the whole religious allegory that was going on and was purely admiring the superficial qualities of the film. The claustrophobic setting, the sepia-tinged hues, the sounds, the violence, the weird and the wonderful. If there is a director that does better than anyone else to divide the audiences, then I’d like to meet them.

6. Hell Or High Water (2016)

Directed by David Mackenzie; written by Taylor Sheridan; production country — USA

Plot: Two brothers resort to rob rural banks to save their family ranch.

A near-perfect Western that was without doubt the best film from last year’s Academy Award nominations. The cast and director David Mackenzie rarely put a foot wrong and the end result is an immensely enjoyable film.

5. A Ghost Story (2017)

Directed by David Lowery; written by David Lowery; production country — USA

Plot: A man’s ghost refuses to leave his home after his death.

How to desribe what this made me feel is futile as it’s something to be experienced on one’s own.

4. Elle (2016)

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; written by David Birke, Harold Manning; production country — France, Germany, Belgium

Plot: It’s complicated.

There is a very good reason for not writing a plot, because there isn’t really a plot. Things sort of happen in a linear fashion that anyone can follow, but this is more of a film about a snapshot of a woman’s life at a certain time. Although the infamous rape scene appears to be the catalyst, I’d argue that it’s one of the many things that you can argue being the anchors to the story. It certainly is the most controversial one.

3. Stalker (1979)

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky; written by Arkadiy Strugarskiy, Boris Strugarskiy; production country — USSR

Plot: A Guide is taking two men to the Room in a high-security disaster zone.

What to make of Stalker? It is a science fiction, but it’s too contemporary to be one (or timeless, if you like). It is incredibly high-brow, but also bizarrely accessible. It is circular, but linear in many ways. It is frightening, but also uplifting. And don’t even make me start on that ending.

2. The Handmaiden (2016)

Directed by Chan-wook Park; written by Seo-kyeong Jeong, Chan-wook Park; production country — South Korea

Plot: A young woman joins a Japanese household as a chambermaid as part of an elaborate con.

Highly erotic (and occasionally hilariously so) and deeply affecting drama. The running time of nearly 3 hours breezes by with the web of intrigue, melodrama and romance. Chan-wook Park, once again, delivers the goods.

1. The Wailing (2016)

Directed by Hong-jin Na; written by Hong-jin Na; production country — South Korea, USA

Plot: A mysterious sickness engulfs a small village when a stranger arrives.

Up there with the greatest horror films ever made. Simply perfect in every imaginable way.

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Gurur Sarbanoglu

Design Consultant at Kainos. Watches films, listens to r’n’r, binge-reads books, codes, supports Galatasaray. Sometimes all at the same time.