It's one thing to follow up a film as revered as Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. It's something else entirely for the sequel to step out of its predecessor's shadow and emerge as an extraordinary piece of art in its own right.
But then we should have expected such things from Denis Villeneuve, one of the finest directors working today. A master at fusing cerebral smarts with eye-widening spectacle, as the likes of Arrival attest, he's the perfect choice to articulate both the visual splendour and complex philosophical undercurrents laid down by Scott's movie.
If anything, Blade Runner 2049 could be said to have more emotional resonance than the somewhat aloof original, courtesy of its heartbreaking central portrayal in the form of Ryan Gosling. His agent K helps spin the narrative in tragic new directions, further blurring the boundary between human and replicant, prodigal son and artificial entity, all while cinematographer Roger Deakins transforms every frame into an achingly beautiful work of art. If we were looking for a movie that matched beauty with brains, this was it.
Shot with a lusty, atmospheric air akin to looking back through the haze of memory, Luca Guadagnino's sensual drama is built around two towering central performances.
Brilliantly adapted from Andre Aciman's bestselling debut novel, the story centres on the brief but impactful love affair between hormonal teen Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and his father's research assistant, Oliver (Armie Hammer). Mining considerable impact from the physical contrast between its two stars - Chalamet, rangy and gangly, Hammer, sculpted and handsome - the film is an evocation of a time and place, in this case northern Italy in 1983.
But more than that, it's a deeply affecting account of two people at different stages in their lives, attempting to articulate emotions that are difficult to put into words. Guadagnino's take on the story has a wistful feel, a love story as old as the hills whose resonance finds its mirror in the ancient cobbles and timeless architecture of the Italian landscapes. Plus, with a pitch-perfect Sufjan Stevens soundtrack and devastating closing speech from Michael Stuhlbarg as Elio's kindly dad, it's guaranteed not to leave a dry eye in the house.
3. The Red Turtle
We're in a golden age for animation at the moment, the medium ranging from cutting-edge CGI (Pixar's Inside Out) to homely, homegrown claymation (Aardman's upcoming Early Man, due for release in January). Amidst all of that, it's heartening to note that masterpieces like The Red Turtle are still flying the flag for handdrawn animation - whilst relatively humble compared to its glossier contemporaries, the application of pencil and paper is capable of generating stunning results.
The Red Turtle is surely one of the finest recent examples of its type. This silent movie is a heartrending portrayal of a shipwrecked sailor and his complex relationship with the red turtle of the title. What starts as a Robinson Crusoe story then wondrously spins off into an awe-inspiring look at life, death, our place in the universe and our troubling relationship with nature, the story sneaking in moments of uncomfortable darkness alongside stretches of heavenly beauty.
Dutch director Michael Dudok de Wit's film, produced by animation masters Studio Ghibli, is one of the year's most transcendent and beautiful experiences, aided by Laurent Perez Del Mar's gorgeous score.
At what stage does your personality solidify? At what stage in your life do you become... well, you? This is one of many provocative questions raised in Barry Jenkins' masterful drama, adapted from Tarell Alvin McCraney's unpublished play, In Moonlight, Black Boys Look Blue.
Exploring three stages in the life of young African-American Florida man Chiron - moving from his childhood to adolescence and haunted adulthood - the movie transcends its stage origins to become a profoundly cinematic look at identity and sexuality. Luminously shot by James Laxton in shades of melancholy blue, the movie shimmers like moonlight over the surface of water.
Yet the real reason Moonlight works is because it's a human drama, first and foremost. The performances are exceptional across the board: embodying the fractured psyche of Chiron across the generations, Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes break the heart, whilst Naomie Harris gives a career-best as the central character's wrung-out, drug-abusing mother.
However it's Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali who embodies the compassionate heart of the movie. His sympathetic drug dealer Juan subverts our usual expectations of such characters, reflecting that this is a movie capable of finding kindness and beauty in the most unlikely of places.
1. Get Out
No other film this year has been as confidently realised, wickedly funny or skin-pricklingly timely as Jordan Peele's tremendous directorial debut, a fusion of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner with Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Cannily targeting liberal-fronted racism, as opposed to the more overt melodramatics we've come to expect from Hollywood, the movie reveals itself as both a hilarious satirical comedy and also a deeply chilling horror. The joy is the way Peele aligns all these elements at the same time with effortless verve, swinging us from provocative social study to amusing fish-out-of-water comedy to gory horror and back again. The aim? In the director's words, "to challenge anybody who feels like they're not racist".
It's a movie with its finger jammed firmly on the button, holding up a cracked mirror to 2017 and daring us to look back. And yet, for all its intelligence, the pleasure of the movie is that it never loses sight of its origins - this is a movie proud to act as both entertaining genre homage and lacerating social commentary.
Anchored by Brit Daniel Kaluuya's assured performance as the young black guy menaced by his girlfriend's white, outwardly liberal family ("Dad would have voted for Obama a third time"), it's a film that gets your heart pounding in the short term, and worms its way into your mind in the long term. Peele's next movie can't come soon enough.
Well, those are my top five films of the year, so what are yours? Tweet your choices @Cineworld.