It’s nearly Christmas, and that means film nerds everywhere are tallying their best of the year lists. Ranking movies can seem contrary to the elusive and shifting nature of cinematic art, needlessly constricting an open table; like choosing only a few of your relatives to welcome for the festive feast. But if there’s anything such lists are good for, it’s drawing attention back to special work. Arthouse films often fly under the radar, and in the spirit that no attention for them is bad attention, here we remember highlights from the global festival circuit – some of which made it already to UK screens, and some which, tantalisingly, are still to come.
1. Call Me By Your Name
It’s easy to see why such adoration has swirled around Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name – its tale of a languid 80s summer is deliciously erotic, tenderly humorous and gorgeously sad in perfect measure. Teenager Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is lazing the days away at his family’s villa in northern Italy when his father’s brashly confident American research assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer) turns up, unleashing forceful emotions that will reverberate through all the relationships in the film.
2. Let the Sunshine In
Juliette Binoche has never been better than in Let the Sunshine In, a subtle, emotionally intelligent romance (or anti-romance) from French auteur Claire Denis, inspired by A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes. The actress plays a divorced artist in Paris, who has outgrown idealism but not that eternally regenerating thing called desire in matters of the heart (in a side role, Gérard Depardieu as a two-bit psychic is also inspired casting).
Let the Sunshine In is out in the UK on April 20, 2018.
3. On Body and Soul
Love tentatively rears its head in a slaughterhouse in Ildikó Enyedi’s On Body and Soul, when two workers discover they share a recurring dream in which they meet in the forest as deer. The winner of the Berlinale’s Golden Bear award, the film is the Hungarian director’s first in nearly a decade. It delights in whimsically imaginative black humour, as it explores whether inner desire can survive if manifested in the brutal world of reality.
4. Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?
Bill Spann is the name of an African-American man murdered in a general store in 1940s Alabama. It was a name absent from his unmarked grave and kept from history books, condemned to erasure, while the killer went unpunished. Radical agitprop filmmaker Travis Wilkerson – whose own white supremacist grandfather was the culprit – struggles to piece together what happened in this stylistically innovative and haunting documentary, imbued with Southern Gothic dread, which premiered at Sundance.
5. A Fantastic Woman
Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s star has been steadily rising over the last decade, cemented this year by his moody, noir-tinged Berlinale hit A Fantastic Woman. Daniela Vega stars as Marina, an aspiring singer who is plunged into a struggle for her rights after her live-in lover dies suddenly and his relatives, who are not willing to accept his relationship with a trans woman, treat her with callous suspicion and cruelty.
A Fantastic Woman is out in the UK on March 2, 2018.
6. Scary Mother
If you’re wondering where the latest hotspot is for arthouse talent, look no further than Georgia. The latest case in point is Scary Mother, the wildly imaginative and surrealistic debut feature from 27-year-old Ana Urushadze, who has been scooping awards, including Best Director at Spain’s Gijón International Film Festival. Manana (Nato Murvanidze) who lives in a Brutalist tower block in Tbilisi is dead set on getting an erotic vampire novel she has penned published, despite her husband’s disapproval.
Audiences loved or hated Darren Aronofsky’s mother! with the kind of fervour reserved for only the most audacious of provocations. It was thrilling to see such a batshit crazy, extreme work of cinema welcomed into multiplexes. Like Polanski’s The Apartment Trilogy on acid, it portrays marital breakdown under the weight of male narcissism with the darkest camp absurdism, ratcheted up to a fever-pitch finale. Jennifer Lawrence used her ample talents to dig deep for her role as a besieged young wife, conveying the full horror of a parasitic union in which not even her entire being is ever enough.
8. The Square
Swedish director Ruben Östlund mixed glossy style with wicked-humoured glee in social dysfunction to hilarious effect with his previous Force Majeure. He turns those elements up a notch with Cannes Palme d’Or winner The Square, a riotous and sprawling satire of the art world and an acid-sharp take-down of the hypocrisy between public image and private truths. Claes Bang stars as the curator of a gallery in Stockholm, whose life spirals into disarray when he endorses a provocative PR stunt.
The Square is out in the UK on March 16, 2018.
9. Good Time
Safdie brothers Josh and Benny had already gathered a small, loyal following for the fierce viscerality and gut-driven authenticity of films such as Heaven Knows What, embodying a street rawness rare to come by in indie filmmaking today, by the time they made Good Time. With a scuzzed-up Robert Pattinson in the main role as a desperate robber, the NYC heist caper has propelled the directing duo to wider attention, while staying true to the DIY dynamism they do so well.
10. You Have No Idea How Much I Love You
An estranged mother and daughter, and a therapist: the camera moves between their three faces as they speak in a series of sessions in Polish director Paweł Łoziński’s frank and unsentimental You Have No Idea How Much I Love You, which lies somewhere between documentary and re-enacted performance. It’s a deceptively simple and static set-up that foregrounds a complex weave of emotions with gripping, raw power, as the women move back and forth through memories, endeavouring to overcome their tense impasse.
You Have No Idea How Much I Love You is out in the UK on February 16, 2018 at the ICA.