ICO's Best of 2017
David Sin, Head of Cinema
My stand-out film screening this year was Alain Cavalier’s 1964 film L’Insoumis (The Unvanquished) which I saw at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna.
It’s an emotionally rich and politically complex film noir set during the French Algeria war, about the kidnap of a lawyer with sympathies for Algerian militants and her relationship with one of her captors Thomas, an ex Legionnaire played by Alain Delon, then somewhere near the height of his powers with impressive performances in some of the great European films of that era. In spite of Delon’s presence (he also produced) the film was not successful on its original release in France, and was later reduced by 20 minutes following a successful lawsuit brought by the lawyer on whom the story is based.
So the festival’s screening of the original version would have been a genuine re-discovery for some audiences. I had never seen it before, so a real discovery which made me want to seek out more films by Cavalier and especially, more films from that period of French Cinema that were not part of the Nouvelle Vague.
James Calver, Project Co-Ordinator
Having moved from a cinema to the ICO office in the middle of the year, the vast majority of my film viewing occurred before the summer, as I haven’t quite adjusted to paying for my tickets since! That being said, not having to watch films everyday gave me the urge to catch some repertory screenings of a few of the films I really should have seen up till now; no longer need I be ashamed that I hadn’t seen “the greatest film of the 21st century”. So, alongside my top five, here are my five favourite repertory screenings I caught up with this year as well.
Top Five of 2017
God’s Own Country
Call Me By Your Name
Blade Runner 2049
Manchester by the Sea
Top Five Repertory Screenings of 2017
Metropolis (with a live, electronic soundtrack – possibly my greatest cinema experience of the year!)
2001: A Space Odyssey
Catharine Des Forges, Director
My favourite screenings of 2018
The Marriage of Maria Braun at the NFT with Hanna Schygulla and editor Juliane Zenke: It was fabulous to see this on the big screen and listen to a radiant Hanna Schygulla talking about working with Fassbinder. I felt very privileged to be there.
Hell Drivers with my good friend David Sin at the Horse Hospital.
Point Break: a classic that has ended up in my revised top 10, after seeing it again on the big screen for the first time in 25 years at the Prince Charles Cinema. Kathryn Bigelow and Keanu Reeves together: as much of an adrenaline rush as ever.
Paddington 2 which tops the original, a very hard thing to pull off. An accomplished, truly cinematic, really enjoyable and funny film that makes everyone feel welcome and which is truly celebratory. With Hugh Grant demonstrating his acting chops and invoking the spirit of Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets.
Jo Duncombe, Film Programmer
My 2017 films as teen magazine boyfriend tropes…
In honour of the sometimes arbitrary means through which we make lists – particularly end of year top ten film lists – I have decided to frame my year of film viewing through the lense of romantic character tropes. Not all of my faves are included here due to shoe-horning restrictions.
The one that grossed me out, but I will probs go there again…
Raw (April 2017, Universal) – dir Julia Ducournau
I went to see this cannibalistic, coming-of-age thriller at 9.30am on a rainy London morning having necked a bacon croissant en route to the screen. Little did I know I’d have to fight the croissant back two hours later. I don’t eat meat anymore. Raw is a bit gross – but being a teenager is sometimes a bit gross. Learning about your body, and other people’s bodies, can be as terrifying as it is hedonistic and electrifying. Raw beautifully captures the contradictions and bodily urges of adolescence through disturbing, extended metaphor.
The creepy texter…
Personal Shopper (March 2017, Icon) – dir Olivier Assayas
A number of filmmakers made clever use of phone footage this year. Haneke’s Happy End, for example, opens with an iPhone frame, tracking a domestic moment. It’s a smart comment on our growing surveillance culture and the things we choose to see, or not to see. But for me the most thrilling was Olivier Assayas’ use of instant messaging in Personal Shopper – capturing the adrenaline of secretive flirtatious texting, and managing, somehow, to make it immensely cinematic.
The one that teaches you to love, completely, even when it breaks you…
Call Me By Your Name (October 2017, Sony) – Luca Guadagnino
Love is brave and mad, painful and ecstatic. Love is deep yearning and vast pleasure. Amidst the sensual abundance of Italian summertime, Call Me By Your Name dives into the centre of sexual desire and explores its potential as the physical manifestation of love. So often we see sex presented as the lowly sibling of intellectual love. Here, sexual desire is given equal footing; in the film’s world of renaissance intellectuals, the greatest connections are both corporal and spiritual. Elios is seventeen and, as his sexuality blossoms, he learns that the risk of emotional aching must be embraced in order to feel love at its most vivid.
The one that nearly got away…
In Between (September 2017, Peccadillo) – dir Maysaloun Hamoud
One of the immense privileges of my job is that I get to see and discuss lots of films. I don’t see all the films but usually, between my colleagues, we have the art-house bases pretty well covered. But In Between is a film I missed, professionally. When the glowing reviews came out in September, I saw a rare opportunity to take a trip to the Rio with a group of friends. In Between is a film about finding kindred spirits and empowering camaraderie in times of adversity, confusion and social restraint. It’s a gem.
The one that taught me to understand the world better…
I Am Not Your Negro (April 2017, Altitude) – dir Raoul Peck
I have thought deeply this year about the contexts through which stories are framed – who is telling the story, who are they telling it for, and whose version is omitted. Raoul Peck’s documentary I Am Not Your Negro animates James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House, and is narrated impeccably and sensitively by Samuel L. Jackson. The film is a powerful provocation on how we frame and consume history – exploring Baldwin’s perspective, as a black and homosexual writer, on the personal relationships and political binaries that underpinned the civil rights movement. It is a striking reminder of how the political can be tender and humane, as well as impassioned, infuriating and progressive.
And for next year… the one that is full of hope and promise…
Visages Villages (Faces Places) – dir Agnès Varda & JR
After seeing this film in Cannes (and crying intensely in the cinema) I wrote this for our blog:
“This film is so honestly about love and kindness, and the joy of sharing stories with friends old and new.”
Visages Villages is beautifully optimistic about friendship – some relationships will inevitably pass, despite their intensity, and new friendships can surprise us at every turn. What matters most is remaining open to people, and embracing the ride.
Jemma Buckley, Britain on Film on Tour – Project Manager
Throughout 2017 the ICO have produced and distributed six specially-curated film programmes, bringing treasures from BFI Player direct to audiences across the UK. I’ve so enjoyed managing this project, the highlight of which has undoubtedly been the opportunity to view such a large and diverse range of our amazing screen heritage. Unfortunately, not everything made it into the tour, but here is my top ten of what did…
Conway Castle (1898)
Day in the Hayfields (1904)
SS Olympic (1910)
Moslem Festival at Woking (1928)
Miss Norah Blaney (1932)
Dover, Spring 1947 (1947)
Coloured School Leavers (1965)
African Student Families (1975)
Cold War Villages (1981)
I’m British But… (1989)
Rose Baker, Administrator
Writing this list has made me realise how many films from this year I have yet to see! However, here are five films of 2017 that I enjoyed and would recommend. In no particular order:
Exprmntl, dir. Brecht Debackere
Exprmntl was a Belgian film festival that ran for just five editions between 1949 and 1974 and was devoted entirely to avant garde film. This documentary affectionately tells the story of these five festivals, the talent and ego on display, and their ongoing battles with the censors.
The Love Witch, dir. Anna Biller
This is a bright and bold feminist work from writer, director, editor, producer, art director, costume designer, composer (the list goes on…), Anna Biller. Here she draws on her encyclopaedic knowledge of 20th century cinema to make a Technicolor comedy with a dark side.
Get Out, dir. Jordan Peele
This film is truly chilling. Horror is the medium for subversion and social commentary and Jordan Peele deftly expands this tradition. It’s a must-see.
Call Me By Your Name, dir. Luca Guadagnino
The filmmaker and writer Mark Cousins once wrote that watching a film in the cinema is like sitting in winter looking at summer. He didn’t mean it literally of course, but I saw this film on a cold afternoon in Covent Garden and didn’t want it to end.
Moonlight, dir. Barry Jenkins
I don’t often agree with the Academy’s choice for Best Picture but this time they picked a humdinger.
Honourable mention goes to Mica Levi’s score in Jackie; the weird and wonderful dreamscape of Oliver Laxe’s Mimosas; Carrie Fisher’s incredibly poignant, posthumous appearance in The Last Jedi.
These films excited and moved me in different ways. They all highlighted some kind of change in film, subverting narrative and cinematic norms. But the most meaningful occurrence in film this year was and continues to be the ongoing fight against sexual abuse in the film industry (and society at large), so let’s support each other to continue that vital conversation into next year and beyond.
Hatice Özdemirciler, Head of Training and Professional Development
My cinematic highlight of the year has to be watching Ghost in the Shell on a dark, rainy afternoon in Tokyo in March (opening weekend). Japanese cinema audiences are so quiet and respectful and it was such a beautiful experience. They still have these signs up on screen before the film just in case anyone gets rowdy…
Jonny Courtney, Senior Film Programmer
Top Ten Films of the Year
Manchester by the Sea
I am Not Your Negro
The Florida Project
Call Me by Your Name
La La Land
A Ghost Story
Blade Runner 2049
The Love Witch
Daniel Horseman, Adminstration Co-Ordinator
Whilst putting together a list of some of my favourite films of the year, I’m struck by the sheer number of releases that I’ve yet to see! So while I have some serious catching up to do – Aquarius, Loveless, Personal Shopper, Elle, A Ghost Story, God’s Own Country, Ladybird, The Red Turtle, I Am Not A Witch, 120 BPM (to name but a few) – I can also say that I am grateful to have seen cinema this year which has left me thrilled and ecstatic, devastated and horrified, that has exposed me to lives and experiences that I otherwise wouldn’t have seen, cinema that has asked difficult questions but has left me thoughtful and hopeful.
You Were Never Really Here
Call Me by Your Name
The Florida Project
Duncan Carson, Marketing and Communications Manager
My five favourite new films were all about taking a trip with a person, going deep into their subjectivity. I want to see people’s lives dealt with in their true complexity and ambivalence. Being able to capture that is what draws me, whether it’s experience that is very similar to experiences I have had – Toni Erdmann‘s thoughtful depiction of what the world of work is really like I found subtle and devastating – or radically far from them (Good Time and You Were Never Really Here). This is what keeps me coming back to the cinema
My Top Five New Films in 2017
You Were Never Really Here: Having seen this in Cannes, I felt certain that nothing I saw this year would top it and so it’s turned out. Compassionate, moral and genuinely searching, this hit me like a steam train and I can’t wait to see it again. Will make you see the immense existential sadness in jelly beans.
Jeune Femme: Having rewatched Mike Leigh’s Naked this year, I realised one of my favourite film experiences is to go through that experience of seeing, start to finish, how someone who is impossible to be around also manages to be someone who we are drawn to. Both Good Time and Jeune Femme share unlikeable protagonists, but have the deftness to show why difficult people (sociopathic in Good Time‘s case) end up beguiling us.
Toni Erdmann: The world of work, which is a huge part of our lives, is very rarely depicted on screen, and if it is, it’s mostly as a drab counterpoint that the film invites us away from. Besides being devastatingly funny, I really respected Toni Erdmann‘s commitment to showing the triumphs and pains of doing a job.
Get Out: This year has given me a lot of experiences that remind me that the cinema is more than just films. Seeing films in Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore, finally seeing Point Break on the big screen at a packed Prince Charles and being packed in for lots of great films at Deptford Cinema with my neighbours: these were all experiences that enhanced and changed my experience of the film on screen. But none of that compares to seeing Get Out at a packed Peckhamplex (where I do the overwhelming majority of my cinemagoing). The whooping, clapping, laughter and sheer catharsis in the room gave the film’s story a dimension that cannot be replicated.
My Top Five Films New to Me in 2017
Drifting Clouds: Deptford Cinema, for my money perhaps the best programming in London right now, once again brought the goods with this delight from Aki Kaurismaki’s back catalogue. It was exactly what I want from cinema: hand over a five pound note, take your seat and then something beguiling, elegant and from another world spreads out before you.
West Indies: I am on a one man mission for this to become a cult classic. It’s the exquisitely shot anti-colonial, Technicolor musical the world needs right now.
The Gleaners and I: Agnes Varda reminding me how open and exciting the documentary can be at its best.
The Leather Boys: One of the reasons I love working on archive films is the constant reminder that there is nothing new under the sun. I loved God’s Own Country, and this film from 1964 tells a similar story of frustrated gay love. I’m glad that the 2017 ending is much brighter though.
Peppermint Soda: This coming of age story was the second highest grossing film in 1977 in France behind Star Wars, but I had no clue it existed before the lovely BFI Blu-Ray came out earlier this year. It has shades of some of my favourite films, including If…, Innocence and One Sings, The Other Doesn’t but it’s very much its own concoction of personal change against changing politics. No film this year more made me want to pause and delight in the deliciousness of its images.