My round-up of the best cinema of 2017 starts right back where my movie-watching year began. Manchester by the Sea, written and directed by the extraordinary American film-maker Kenneth Lonergan, came out in January and set a standard that only a handful films that I saw after it were able to match.
Casey Affleck plays the troubled caretaker, Lee Chandler, forced to return to his eponymous hometown following the death of his brother, with the unfolding story asking the question: how does someone move on from a dreadful tragedy that they are responsible for?
One honking mistake with the soundtrack aside, it explores this vexed question in brilliantly stark and haunting terms. Affleck was just superb as the fractured, haunted Lee, as was Michelle Williams as his estranged wife. The power of Manchester by the Sea is summed up late on in proceedings when the pair bump into each other in the street. Years of pain, anger and regret are evoked in one brief but heartbreaking exchange.
At the other end of the emotional scale, but every bit as good, was Paddington 2, a sequel that somehow managed to improve on the excellent first cinematic outing by the bear from darkest Peru. Director Paul King and writer Simon Farnaby can be very proud of this witty and genuinely heartwarming adventure that was brought to the screen with no small amount of visual flair. My two-and-a-half-year-old cried his eyes out at the end because he was so sad it was all over.
There were tears on my cheeks, too. Meanwhile, another animated film out this year, The Red Turtle, about a man stuck on a desert island, was a subtler, trickier film than Paddington 2, but proved to be no less memorable and enchanting.
I loved Armando Iannucci’s Death of Stalin, which boldly emphasised the evil of Russia’s communist regime by placing it within an absurd comic milieu.
City of Ghosts, a documentary by Matthew Heineman about the brave citizen journalists striking back against ISIS in Raqqa, also comes highly recommended. It’s a devastating and important piece of work that deserves to seen more widely.
Of course no year in cinema can go by without its fair share of stinkers. There is a brilliant film to be made about the Armenian Genocide. Sadly, The Promise is not it, as it somehow manages to turn a dreadful slaughter into a facile and poorly realised love story.
Hampstead is the other film from the past 12 months that sticks out as being particularly appalling. It’s another dumb romantic tale, this time featuring a soppy American divorcee who wafts around Hampstead in a beret before falling for a remarkably well-kept hobo living in a remarkably well-appointed shack on the heath. It pained me to watch Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson stuck in such dross. But at least the latter was able to redeem himself with his turn as Knuckles McGinty, the terrifying prison chef in Paddington 2.