Cannibalism, bad dates and ice skating:some of the best movie moments of 2017

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Guardian critics pick their favorite cinematic bits from the year, taking in scenes from films including Steven Soderberghs heist comedy Logan Lucky and ribald hit comedy Girls Trip

The paint accident The Florida Project

Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project: no time to lose. Photograph: Freestyle/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock
There is a moment in Sean Bakers The Florida Project as sharp and unsettling as a gunshot. Kids are running innocently around a budget motel in Florida called Magic Kingdom, designed for long-stay welfare claimants and their families. The manager and odd-job man Bobby (Willem Dafoe) is painting the exterior a lurid but cheerful purple. One afternoon Bobbys up a ladder and drops the bucket it crashes down, almost hitting someone and creating a spectacular impact-splat of purple paint on the asphalt.

This heart-stoppingly serious accident (near-injury or death, certain loss of expensive paint) was caused by a moment of inattention due to Bobby noticing from his high vantage point a strange old guy hanging around the kids playing on the wasteground. A paedophile? The paint-splash is a complex kind of metaphorical catastrophe omen. It appears to denote a professional carelessness, but also a more important kind of caring. Bobby didnt hurt anybody with his dropped can. But now he has the chance, and the responsibility, to prevent those kids being hurt and there is no time to lose. He descends the ladder and prepares to confront the stranger. PB

The first competitive skate I, Tonya

Margot Robbie in I, Tonya: poetry on ice. Photograph: AP
The first act of I, Tonya is a sharply edited info-dump packed with tart invective, teasing the juicy incident weve all come to see. (Cue Nancy Kerrigan whyyyyyy?)

But I, Tonya goes beyond the headlines, prompting us to reflect on our zeal for tabloid camp. These are, after all, real people, and Tonya Harding, Americans best Bad Girl Olympian, has her own story to tell. And whats often lost is that she was abundantly talented, which brings us to her first competitive skate. When we get there, I, Tonyas frame opens up from documentary-style dialogue, allowing the camera to soar with grace and athleticism.

There is, however, a great punchline. Harding, discriminated against for her low economic upbringing, makes her first major presentation to ZZ Tops Sleeping Bag, arguably the most dirtbag song ever recorded. Its synth drums, cheesy Fairlight samples and prurient lyrics set against Margot Robbies enthusiastic choreography is some kind of poetry on ice. JH

The party The Square

Terry Notarys ape-man moment: straight-up, grip-your-arm-rest horror. Photograph: MIFF
Its debatable whether Ruben Ostlunds Palme dOr-winning art-world satire The Square is itself an outstanding film its a shade too baggy at over two hours, and theres a callousness to its tone that grows a little wearing but it certainly boasts one of the years unforgettable moments.

Im talking, of course, about the gaspworthy eight-minute sequence where shirtless performance artist Oleg (played by the remarkable motion-capture actor Terry Notary, of Planet of the Apes series fame) terrifies patrons at a swanky donor dinner by pretending to be a monkey. What starts off as a bit of a lark, with Oleg hopping on to tables and hooting, soon becomes unbearably uncomfortable as he grows more violent and unpredictable towards the guests. It was great, pointed satire, of course, but it also operated as a moment of straight-up, grip-your-arm-rest horror. Next time Im at dinner Ill definitely be checking over my shoulder for the topless ape-man. GM

The second sex scene Gods Own Country

Alec Secareanu and Josh OConnor in Gods Own Country: the sexiest film of the year. Photograph: Picturehouse Entertainment
Francis Lees Gods Own Country tells the story of a closeted young farmer named Johnny (Josh OConnor) and the awakening that happens when he meets handsome Romanian farmhand Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu). Its also, by a country mile, the sexiest film Ive seen this year.

The first sex scene between Johnny and Gheorge is a libidinous, grasping, early morning fumble; a pale pair of buttocks is lustily smeared with mud, a post-coital pot noodle is eaten. The second sex scene between the couple is the films a-ha! moment. Johnny is lying inside a barn, nestled among the hay like the vulnerable, quivering lambs theyve spent the spring delivering. Gheorghe holds Johnnys gaze, lets his fingertips graze Johnnys cheekbones, rests his hand on Johnnys throat, kisses him. OConnor nails Johnnys flickering reactions; eyes wild and utterly vulnerable, hes both bewildered by Gheorghes tenderness, and turned on by it too. SH

The zip line Girls Trip

Jada Pinkett-Smith in Girls Trip: no shaming, no judgment, just japes. Photograph: Universal
A few floors above Bourbon Street in New Orleans, uptight Lisa (Jada Pinkett-Smith) is being persuaded by her friends to take a zipline across. This is not a good idea, she says as her pals egg her on and dozens of strangers chant her name, I really have to pee. But she goes for it. Except that she doesnt have the required momentum, and despite invoking Baby Jesus, the inevitable happens an outstanding spray over the crowd of revellers.

Its the kind of gross-out comedy thats familiar from films in, for example, the Hangover franchise, but this is a rare gem: a gross-out big bang in a big-studio movie about four black women having a shamelessly good time celebrating their friendship. Damn! How much did she drink? Ryan (Regina Hall) remarks as they watch the golden shower: unlike so many films about women, this is a gem of a moment in a film thats not about men or shaming or judgment. Just japes. And the highest-grossing comedy of 2017. JHE

The baby mother!

Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence in mother! ecstatically grotesque. Photograph: Paramount Pictures
It certainly wasnt the prettiest moment of the year at the movies, but its the one embedded most vividly in my head. The fate of Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardems newborn, once handed to a craven, hysterical crowd of poet worshippers, pretty much marks the precise point at which audiences for Darren Aronofskys already thrillingly demented vivisection of the male creative ego divided irreparably into two camps: the exhilarated and the appalled.

I count myself in the former group, but either way, it was a jaw-dropper. As I watched the baby enveloped by the mob, sensing where the scene seemed to be hurtling, I kept taking myself out the film with industry logic: Aronofskys not going to go there, not in a major Hollywood studio film with Jennifer Lawrence, they wont let him wait surely not is he? He went there all right: the outcome was brazenly, even ecstatically, grotesque, and a milestone of multiplex provocation. GL

The chase Okja

Okja: Bong earns points for sheer technical chutzpah. Photograph: Jae Hyuk Lee/PR
South Korean film-maker Bong Joon-ho intended his latest feature Okja as a primarily ideological assault, and he massages his critique of capitalist industry into the grace notes of the films finest sequence.

The nefarious Mirando Corporation has separated our girl Mija from her beloved pet super-pig, and when the youngster infiltrates their headquarters on a rescue mission, the movie leaps into a exhilarating 10-minute chase scene. Bongs camera keeps pace with her through the office building, out on to the street, across several blocks, during a showdown in a tunnel, and finally into an underground shopping mall. The director earns points for sheer technical chutzpah and his antic tone (the sprightly klezmer score is worthy of an independent listen), but most pleasing of all is a high-ranking executive getting smacked in the face with a car door after declaring This is what company loyalty looks like! CB

The surprise dinner Phantom Thread

Vicky Krieps in Phantom Thread. This scene works so beautifully against the films finely manicured surroundings. Photograph: YouTube
The surface of Paul Thomas Andersons subversive romance Phantom Thread is all deceptively pristine elegance. The lovingly tailored dresses, the boujee London locations, the carefully styled lifestyle of Daniel Day-Lewiss dressmaker and the constant, exhausting precision that surrounds him all superficially making the film seem like a recognizably sumptuous, perhaps a little stiff, period drama. But behind the facade lies a brutally perceptive study of not just a relationship but any relationship; horribly familiar, fantastically petty and darkly amusing.

The scene that works so beautifully against the films finely manicured surroundings is a show-stopping dinner that arrives just as Vicky Krieps waitress/muse has settled into her new home with Day-Lewiss control freak designer. She surprises him with a home-cooked meal, disrupting his strict routine, and after he finds out that shes cooked asparagus with butter, a knowing rebellion against his preferred accompaniment, the two spar. Its a brilliantly played duel, at times feeling almost improvised, nailing the specific difficulty of compromising with a new partner with the two descending into childish retorts and arguing without fully realizing what got them there. Its hilarious, sad and wince-inducing all at once. BL

The money pit explosion Logan Lucky

Daniel Craig in Logan Lucky: disturbingly hilarious. Photograph: Allstar/Trans-Radical Pictures
Steven Soderberghs unretirement heist film has been a bit unlucky in the movies-of-the-year polls; maybe the humour was just too deadpan for the critics, or maybe it seemed like Soderbergh was serving up a lo-cal version of his blockbuster Oceans Eleven series (which get a cheeky name-check in Logan Lucky late on). But for me, it was one of the best: funny, clever, and stuffed with great performances: a monosyllabic Adam Driver, kitted out with a prosthetic arm; speed-merchant Riley Keough with a chewy tough-babe role, and Channing Tatum as the dopey-seeming mastermind of the centrepiece robbery, of a Nascar racetrack in North Carolina. But taking the honours is Daniel Craig, who from the moment he lopes on screen in a dyed-blond buzzcut and hillbilly accent, is disturbingly hilarious from start to finish. Not least because of his characters name: Joe Bang.

You wouldnt guess hes an explosives expert, would you? Theres so many great moments in the film from Joe Bangs demand for pickled eggs when Channing and Driver visit him in prison, to Bangs younger brothers, Sam and Fish, demanding a morality clause as a condition for their help in the robbery but the bit where everything comes together is the fantastic scene deep in the bowels of the racetracks money pit, when Bang blows it open using a small plastic bag, two bleach pens and low-sodium salt. AP

The prom night Lady Bird

Beanie Feldstein and Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird: a joyous, subversive friendship. Photograph: Allstar/A24
Lady Bird is a spiky film about relationships with rough edges and soft centres. I squirmed in recognition during every excruciating second of Lady Birds battles and reconciliations with her mother, but the films most joyous moment is the climax of its central love story. Not mean Lady Birds dalliances with the opposite sex, but her passionate, dippy love for her schoolfriend Julie. Their upside-down masturbation chat while giggling and scarfing down communion wafers sets the tone for a joyous, subversive, intimate female friendship. We dont see enough of that at the movies.

So the film moment of 2017 I most enjoyed was watching Lady Bird ditch her shabby new mates on prom night to eat cheese and sob cathartically with her one true bestie. It gets better: although the spectre of separation threatens their happy ending, like all the best fairytale couples, of course they went to the ball. PH

The club scene BPM

Arnaud Valois in BPM: lurking and malevolent. Photograph: Allstar/Memento Films
It starts with a moment of hedonism in a club. The climbing musical motif which recurs throughout the film temporarily sheds its shadow of caution and takes on a joyous, exultant air. Away from the frontline, the Aids activists of the Paris branch of Act Up are carefree; flirting and forgetting for a moment the life sentence that some of them face. The blissed-out camera drifts up, shifting focus until it locks on to a few motes of dust, caught, suspended in the strobing lights of the club.

As we watch these flecks, they gradually take on an abstract form, before mutating slowly into something else: magnified images of white blood cells. Its both an elegantly audacious edit and a subtle reminder that, even at a moment of joy and abandon, the HIV diagnosis is inescapable, lurking, malevolent, on a molecular level. WI

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