#MeToo is another milestone in the reckoning that Hollywood is long overdue facing (coming just a couple of years after #OscarsSoWhite). The world’s largest and most influential film industry has always portrayed itself as a bastion of liberalism and yet it was plain to see that beneath its tissue-thin veneer, there were appalling prejudices and systems in place to grant the best opportunities to a select few. The industry not only tolerated but openly celebrated known abusers such as Harvey Weinstein, Roman Polanski and Woody Allen. The wave of revelations that broke after Harvey Weinstein’s outing has claimed the reputations of some of the most popular actors in Hollywood including Kevin Spacey, Ben Affleck and Louis CK. ‘Open secret’ was a commonly used phrase to describe their misdeeds.
If the astonishing breadth and scope of this abhorrent behaviour wasn’t bad enough on its own right, we also got a taste of just how institutionalised this culture still is as a depressing line up of well-liked and respected Hollywood actors – Matt Damon (‘not all men’), Kate Winslet (‘how great is Roman Polanski you guys’), Angela Lansbury (‘women had it coming’), Ian McKellan (‘women brought it on themselves’) – all came out and said something stupid or dismissive in relation to the allegations. That so many prominent and influential actors willingly outed themselves as enablers of this culture was eye-opening and sobering.
Although the current impact of #MeToo feels significant, I don’t think anyone can feel certain that Hollywood will be able to self regulate and clean itself up in the aftermath. But we can definitely be sure that there are voices in the industry who are doing their damnedest to affect that change. Voices like Jordan Peele, Ava DuVernay and Cheryl Boone Isaacs are rattling the cages in Hollywood and changing the preconceptions of who can be a powerful figure in one of the most culturally influential industries in the world.
It’s been a miserable couple of years in the world of current events and to that end, its probably no surprise that audiences have flocked to films that offering respite in the form of colourful escapism – most notably super hero films. I’m one of those people. Don’t get me wrong – I appreciated Yorgos Lanthimos’ creepy psycho-sexual thriller The Killing Of A Sacred Deer as much as the next guy but generally speaking I had a better time watching Chris Hemsworth hitting people with a hammer in Thor Ragnarok. To that end, this is probably my most blockbuster heavy top ten I’ve put together in a number of years.
The film industry is undergoing a tumultuous cultural upheaval and its not yet clear what lies ahead. The pre-amble for my 2016 Top Ten movies list remarked ‘boy there sure are a lot of sequels coming out!‘. This year I’ve written a 500 word screed on institutional sex offenders in the Hollywood system. Here’s hoping that twelve months from now, we can look at the movie industry with a sunnier disposition.
Anyway, here it is, my ten favourite films of 2017. The usual rule applies. To make the list, the film has to have had its wider cinematic release in Australia in 2017.
Film of the Year
Director: Jordan Peele
Writer: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Alison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford
“Now you’re in the Sunken Place”
Jordan Peele hit it big with his debut feature film Get Out which was one of the best reviewed films of 2017 as well as being a huge hit at the box office, clearing a cool $245 million on a budget of just $4 million.
Get Out is an entertaining satirical thriller that draws its best moments from subverting audience expectations. It is simultaneously the scariest and funniest film I have seen this year. Get Out starts out as a modern day Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner as Caucasian Rose Armitage brings her black boyfriend Chris home to meet her parents in their WASPy neighbourhood. But Chris quickly works out something is very wrong in the Armitage household and…well, the less you know going into the film, the better really.
Get Out is a film that really goes there. It is an incredibly timely film, arriving in theatres mere months after the 2016 Presidential election and it has some sharp commentary on race relations, crime in America, and the attitudes of politically correct ‘West Wing’ liberals towards black people (which is mined effectively for many of the gags). It is a film where the viewing experience is absolutely enhanced when watched in a packed cinema screening. Hearing an audience reacting so audibly to the twists and turns of Get Out (‘where are the keys Rose’, the cop car pulling up at the end) was hands down my favourite movie-watching experience of 2017.
Director: Theodore Melfi
Writer: Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
Cast: Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae
“We get to the peak together, or we don’t get there at all.”
Katherine Johnson turned 99 years old this year. An accomplished NASA mathematician, she was so brilliant that she calculated the trajectory for the Apollo 11 mission by hand. BY HAND. Such was quality of her work that legendary astronaut John Glenn trusted her calculations over those produced via a computer.
Frankly, it’s a crime that it took until 2017 for her and two other pioneering African American women in aeronautics, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, to star as the subjects of a film that gives them their due recognition.
To be involved in the NASA program in any capacity, requires a person to be one of the very elite in their field of expertise. But for Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson, they not only had the intellectual excellence to make important contributions to NASA’s burgeoning space program, they did so whilst navigating the severe prejudices impeding black women in the workforce in the Sixties.
Hidden Figures is a film that delights in celebrating the accomplishments of three extraordinary women and despite the film’s trappings which are rooted in prejudice, it is an optimistic film at heart, preferring to focus largely on how the women overcame setbacks and reached the heights that they did. Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae all put on wonderful performances as the central characters. We feel their frustrations when they are hindered by bigots around them then share in their jubilation as they persist and achieve the impossible.
Hidden Figures is a film that made my heart sing.
Director: Patty Jenkins
Writer: Allan Heinberg
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright
“Be careful in the world of men, Diana. They do not deserve you. ”
Considering Hollywood smashes out a million super hero movies a year, it took an absurdly long time for Wonder Woman, the most famous female superhero in DC Comic’s stable, to receive her due. Well, in 2017 we finally got the film we’ve been waiting an age for and the results are plain to see. It’s the highest grossing super hero origin film of all time and its quite easily the only super hero film in DC’s current catalogue that isn’t completely dreadful.
Gal Gadot puts in a star-making performance as Wonder Woman, where she is every bit as iconic as Christopher Reeves’ Superman and Heath Ledger’s Joker. Her Diana Prince is someone who is righteous, altruistic and compassionate. The juxtaposition of her incredible might and her naivete about human nature draws parallels with Reeve’s Superman from the Donner films of the Seventies. In fact Jenkins draws on those films very closely, with two scenes – one involving an alleyway shooting and another with a revolving door – both lifted directly from Superman .
I haven’t much cared for DC’s recent output of super hero films. To me they seem needlessly dark and obtuse, not to mention overly long. By comparison, Wonder Woman was a refreshing tonic. It is buoyant and uplifting film full of wide-eyed optimism. Seeing Wonder Woman lay waste to Nazis, particularly in that memorable ‘No Mans Land’ scene was one of the best things to come out of 2017.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Barry Keoghan, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance
“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air.”
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is an impressive film and one of his finest works to date. I was initially a little dubious about a contemporary WWII film carrying an M-rating but I needn’t have worried. Nolan’s largely bloodless production still viscerally captures the horrors of war and the lower age classification broadens the audience Dunkirk can reach.
Dunkirk is a film where actions speak louder than words. There is very little by way of dialogue. Most of what happens speaks for itself. Nolan once again asserts himself as one of the most assured directors in Hollywood, delivering a film with complicated themes and intricate composition, which he trusts that his audience can follow.
Like the pocket watch that inspired the soundtrack, Dunkirk is a triumph of craftsmanship. Each shot, each edit and each action ratchets up the tension to unbearable heights. The highlight for me was a sequence intercutting a pilot drowning in his downed spitfighter and a French soldier’s deception slowly being uncovered by the English troops. That passage of the film had me completely enthralled and holding my breath for the better part of a minute.
Unusually for a big budget WWII production, Dunkirk clocks in at a snappy 106 minute running time. It has the pace and action beats of a thriller. The film doesn’t ever really feel grandoise. The few wide shots we see of the soldiers on the beach and the boats in the water don’t feel momentous. The film sets its lens much closer to the action and follows its cast from moment to moment.
Nolan has made plenty of fine films in his accomplished career and Dunkirk ranks right up there with the best of them.
Blade Runner 2049
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista
“I always told you. You’re special. Your history isn’t over yet. There’s still a page left.”
Making a sequel to the seminal science fiction classic Blade Runner  feels like the best and worst of ideas. On one hand, it seems like a terrible proposition because in this age of remakes, reboots and sequels, it feels like hardly any of these projects works out the way you want them to or come close to matching the quality of the originals.
On the other hand, in the year 2017, it feels like the themes explored in the original Blade Runner, both politically and technologically, have never been more relevant. And if you’re going to do a new Blade Runner, what better person to have at the helm than Denis Villeneuve who not only has a spotless record with the catalogue of films he has directed (Sicario, Prisoners, Incendies etc), he most recently produced one of the most interesting contemporary science fiction films since Contact, with last year’s Arrival.
In this instance, the gamble has paid off. Despite some occasionally ponderous pacing, Blade Runner 2049 is a worthy companion piece to the original with stunning visual effects and a terrific neo-noir journey that feels like a solid successor to Ridley Scott’s original. I think this is due in no small part to the return of Hampton Fancher (who worked on the original all those years ago) as one of the screen writers.
If you have a fondness for the original Blade Runner, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what Denis Villeneuve has accomplished.
Director: James Mangold
Writer: Scott Frank, James Mangold
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen
“A man has to be what he is. Can’t break the mold. There’s no living with the killing. There’s no going back. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand that sticks. Now you run on home to your mother… you tell her everything’s alright. ”
It doesn’t really seem probable and yet here we are. The best X-Men movie is the tenth film in the series. They should be out of ideas by now and yet James Mangold and his team have produced the most unique and interesting film about Marvel’s mutants in this latest installment.
Set in the future where mutants have been wiped out by a virus and only a handful survive, we follow the fortunes of an aged Logan and a terminally ill Professor X. The world is now a harsh and unforgiving wasteland and a disillusioned Logan has little to live for.
He is given a renewed sense of purpose when he is unwillingly granted custodianship of Laura, an eleven year old with mutant powers of her own who is pursued by the sinister Donald Pierce, a cyborg security officer of Transigen corporation.
What makes Logan so interesting is that the film uses the framework of a classic super hero tale and then constructs it with the look and feel of a Western. If you really want to go the whole nine yards, the Blu Ray copy even comes with a black and white edition to make it look even more like High Noon.
This isn’t the first time 20th Century Fox have tried this type of genre-blending with the X-Men. X-Men First Class opens with a riveting first act that plays like James Bond with mutants. Unfortunately, that film eventually lost its nerve and reverted to being a more conventional super hero film by the third act. Where Logan succeeds so smartly is that it has the heart and soul of a Gary Cooper or John Wayne Western through and through, right to the last. It’s one of the most innovative and interesting super hero films of recent years and is a fine send off for Hugh Jackman’s time as Wolverine.
Director: Lee Unkrich
Writer: Lee Unkrich, Jason Katz
Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt
“I will never forgive you. But I will help you.”
I don’t know how Pixar’s latest film Coco is doing at the box office but I feel like it is sailing under the radar. Nobody I know is talking about this thing. Which is a pity because Coco is excellent – one of Pixar’s best in recent years – and deserves to find an audience.
Set in Mexico at the time of the Day of the Dead festival, it tells the story of Miguel, a boy raised in a family of shoemakers, who aspires to break away from the family vocation and become a musician, against their wishes.
There’s a lot to enjoy about Coco. By animated film standards, it has a unique setting and soundtrack. As you’d expect for a Pixar production, the aesthetics are sumptuous and the writing is sharp and engaging. It is also a film that transcends the usual limitations of All Age’s entertainment and has meaningful things to say about family legacies, dementia, valuing your work and respecting the experiences and wisdom of your elders. In short, I loved it.
Director: Andy Muschietti
Writer: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga
Cast: Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jaeden Lieberher
“Ain’t nothing like a little fear to make a paper man crumble.”
In retrospect, you can see what Steven Spielberg was trying to do with Super Eight six years ago. Mixing horror with Eighties nostalgia. Creating a mish-mash between Stand By Me and a creature feature. It just took a little longer before Stranger Things and It perfected the formula for television and film respectively.
It was a surprise hit in 2017. A remake that no one was asking for, director Andy Muschietti struck gold by centering the film around the first half of Stephen King’s novel, where the story unfolds from the perspective of the kids in the town of Derry. Despite its horror movie trappings, It feels like a love letter to summer holidays as a kid, where you ride around on BMX bikes all day with your friends, looking for adventure and getting up to mischief. To that end, there is a genuine disconnect between all the adults in It and the dangers facing the children. Where the kids see a bathroom with walls caked in blood, the adults see nothing at all. The world that the kids and adults inhabit are completely separated and I kind of like that.
It is a fantastic horror film because it accomplishes precisely what it sets out to do. It isn’t the scariest film in the world and nor does it try to be. But it does a wonderful job of recreating the dynamics of childhood friendship as well as the anxieties and fears that you have at that age. This is that rare instance where a remake improves upon the original film.
The Big Sick
Director: Michael Showalter
Writer: Emily Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani
Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Zoe Kazan
“What’s my stance on 9/11? Oh um, anti. It was a tragedy, I mean we lost 19 of our best guys.”
The Big Sick is a rom-com movie that uses the same formula you have seen a million times. Two single people from different cultures have a meet-cute. They fall in love. Have a falling out. Overcome their differences and live Happily Ever After. You know exactly how it goes.
What makes The Big Sick so great then is that it is written and performed by Kumail Nanjiani of Silicon Valley based on how he came to meet and marry Emily Gordon which means two things: 1. It has an air of authenticity that makes individual scenes and lines of dialogue ring true and feel authentic in a way that they seldom do in this genre. 2. It’s genuinely funny and has a generous number of gags that’ll make you laugh or smile.
Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan have a natural rapport and a warm chemistry between them. But the film also comes alive thanks to the excellent supporting cast including Emily Gordon’s parents (played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) as well as the entire Nunjiani clan. I thought Adeel Akhtar was especially great as Kumail’s brother.
The Big Sick is a funny film that will make you feel warm and fuzzy about the romantic leads and laugh in exasperation at the eccentric family members that enrich their lives. That’s a movie worth watching in my book.
War for the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves
Writer: Matt Reeves, Mark Bomback
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn
“This war is madness.”
It’s been a long road but this is the end of the line for Caesar. After leading an army of apes to freedom in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and surviving a bloody battle with humans and apes alike in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar plots to lead his simian brethren to the promised land in War for the Planet of the Apes. Standing in his way is the demented Colonel (played by Woody Harrelson), who leads humanity’s last stand against the apes.
I’ve been carrying the flag for Matt Reeve’s Planet of the Apes trilogy ever since Rise improbably overcame the casting of James Franco as a neuro-scientist and delivered one of the most satisfying and heart-felt Apes movies since the original way back in 1968.
These films are so well made. The visual effects for the apes by Weta Workshop are some of the finest I’ve seen of any film. The physicality and emoting of the apes is utterly convincing. Andy Serkis’ motion capture performance is every bit as good as his turn as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. And the breadth and scope of the storytelling is as satisfying and engaging as any fantasy film trilogy I can think of. I genuinely don’t think these films get the praise and attention they’re due.
War for the Planet of the Apes is a worthy conclusion to Caesar’s story. It’s a rather predictable road to the finish line but its the journey that counts. And when a film is made with this much finesse and expert craftsmanship, you can’t help but admire the results.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – I don’t understand what the fuss is all about. The Last Jedi is a fantastic follow up to The Force Awakens and bravely sheds a lot of the baggage from the Original Trilogy so that future iterations can carve out an identity all of their own. (p.s I thought the porgs were great)
Kong: Skull Island – An entertaining romp through Skull Island. Creatively, the film makes an interesting choice to draw aesthetic and thematic parallels to the Vietnam War. I look forward the upcoming clash between Kong and Godzilla in the next film.
The Villainess – If the last great Asian action movie you saw was The Raid or Ong Bak, you owe it to yourself to see Ok-bin Kim lay waste to the Korean mafia in The Villainess. That final scene involving the take down of the bus is really something.
The Handmaiden – Another Korean film that is worth checking out is Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden. Chan-wook is best knowing for his eye-watering thriller Oldboy but this time he has tried his hand at creating an erotic period drama. Gorgeous to look at with lavish production values, The Handmaiden has a memorable final scene you won’t soon forget.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer – Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow up to The Lobster is an unnerving thriller where people talk with a strange affectation and a jarring soundtrack in the background never lets you get comfortable. It’s creepy, unsettling and gets under your skin. If you’re up for a challenging film that takes you places, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the film for you.
Thor: Ragnarok – When a well liked indie film director gets put at the helm of a big budget Marvel movie, you want the soul of their film making to shine through the cogs of the machine. Thor: Ragnarok does exactly that. It may have been a production made in collaboration with a cast of thousands but it is unmistakably a Taika Waititi film.
Baby Driver – Edgar Wright’s latest is an entertaining thriller with great tunes and even better car chases. If I’m honest, it didn’t hit quite the heights that I hoped it would (those early trailers showed so much promise) but its still a damn fine movie.
Worst Film of 2017
A Christmas Prince – I don’t exactly know what was going on with Netflix’s holiday season production A Christmas Prince but it appears someone lost a bet and had to make a movie that crammed in every terrible Christmas movie trope and cliche into a single ninety minute show. A Christmas Prince is a terrible movie to be sure but it is so jaw-droppingly awful that I wouldn’t be surprised if it breaks through the so bad it’s good barrier and becomes a cult classic in years to come. It really is a very, very bad film.