Sunday 31 December 2017

My Top 10 Films of 2017

With 2017 coming to a close in just a few short hours, it's time to look back at the year that was and recount my favourite films from the last 12 months. 

2017 has been a fantastic year for film – piles upon piles of thrilling, entertaining and compelling films have graced our cinema screens this year and I struggled to whittle this list down to 20 films, let alone 10. Picking a personal top 10 might seem a little redundant when you consider the hundreds of other end of year lists, but I think it's fun and this feature always feels like a nice way to bookend the year.

So now that everyone reading this post has gotten bored and skipped straight to scrolling through my list (who am I kidding, no-one reads the intro to these things), let's get down to business and look at which 10 films made the cut this year...

Note: Similar to years gone by, my list is pooled from films that were released in Australia during the current calendar year. This means that certain films that might be considered 2016 releases for non-Aussie readers (like Moonlight, Hidden Figures or Jackie) may be included purely because they actually didn't open in cinemas here until January, February or March 2017. The same goes for films like The Post, I Tonya, Molly's Game and The Shape of Water – they don't open here until 2018 and will have to wait until this time next year to be in with a chance of being included. It sucks but that's how it is.

Honourable mentions: Jackie, Logan, Hidden Figures, The Beguiled, Colossal, Alien: Covenant, Free Fire, Logan Lucky, Lion, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Moonlight, A Ghost Story, Mother!

10th. Wonder Woman (dir. Patty Jenkins)

I've unpacked the success of Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman a number of times since it opened in June so I don't think it needs to be covered again. Simply put, Wonder Woman is a modern cinematic landmark of the superhero genre, akin to The Dark Knight and The Avengers.

That's not to say it is up there with those films in terms of overall polish – Jenkins' film suffers from a number of bugbears, particularly in its third act – but it is just as significant to say the least.

It contains a number of moments and scenes that were instantly iconic on first viewing, such as the lauded no man's land scene, the beach skirmish and Diana and Steve's slow dance. Rupert Gregson-Williams' truly excellent score and Gadot and Pine's sizzling chemistry deliver a surprising emotional punch, combining to create a film that is powerful, stirring and inspiring. As origin stories go, this is one is up there with the best.

9th - Dunkirk (dir. Christopher Nolan)

Having redefined the superhero genre and ventured into deep space, Christopher Nolan changed tack in 2017 by delivering a straightforward war film.

Except, it's not that simple. As always with Nolan, there is more to it than first meets the eye. Split across three divergent storylines that converge at the end, Dunkirk bends time to present its audacious true story in an inventive and intriguing way. The stopwatch, courtesy of another excellent score by Hans Zimmer, is always ticking, and some immersive sound design places the audience in the midst of the action, from a sinking battleship to a shrieking Stuka bombing run.

Nolan's hunger for realism ensures that Dunkirk eschews convention wherever possible; there is no rousing speech, soaring fanfare or longwinded exposition. The namelessness of the British soldiers is complemented by the fact that not a single German solider is seen on screen. The visual storytelling element of Dunkirk is so strong that it could almost function as a silent film, such is Nolan's determination to keep things simple yet still refined.

8th - The Disaster Artist (dir. James Franco)

Who would have thought a film about the worst film ever made would turn out to be one of the best of the year? And that it would be directed by and starring James Franco no less?

Overflowing with genuine affection and fondness for Tommy Wiseau's infamous 2003 trainwreck The Room, The Disaster Artist sees an all-star cast pull out all the stops to pay tribute to the dreamers who leave it all behind in pursuit of greatness (and still fall woefully short).

A love letter to cult cinema and the also-rans of Hollywood, The Disaster Artist successfully turned a meme machine ("You're tearing me apart Lisa!") into a hopeful, authentic and endearing experience that is equal parts absurd, sincere and hilarious. The prospect of Franco being nominated for playing a kook like Wiseau alongside names like Daniel Day-Lewis at the Oscars in March would be the icing on the cake.

7th - The Big Sick (dir. Michael Showalter)

Every now and again a film comes along that, although initially appearing innocuous, utterly hits you for six. For me, The Big Sick did exactly that; at first glance, this heartfelt rom-com seemed saccharine and sweet but also simplistic. However, that first impression couldn't have been further from the truth.

Kumainl Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon's real-life courtship serves as the backdrop for this honest and authentic rom-com that lends weight to the notion that happy endings are only fleeting and that sometimes the real work in a relationship comes well after happily forever after. Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter and Ray Ramano form one of the best casts of the year and are all award-worthy in their own right.

The Big Sick is one of those exceedingly rare films that effortlessly services not one or two but three genres in equal measure. You’ve got romance (who doesn’t love a good love story?), you have comedy and thirdly you have drama (the film deftly balances whimsy with sincerity and authenticity). Whether you’re nine or 90, there is a powerful resonance in this story that will pull at your heartstrings, an aspect that made The Big Sick one of my more memorable and unexpected pleasant surprises of the year.

6th - Baby Driver (dir. Edgar Wright)

Baby Driver is what you get when you throw a kinetic and original filmmaker, movie musicals and off-the-wall car chases into a blender and mash the maximum speed button.

It's Edgar Wright doing what Edgar Wright does best; taking a rich and compelling genre – in this instance, the car/heist movie – and giving it his own spin – by which I mean soundtracking every action sequence, emotional beat and transition to some an eclectic array of some of the funkiest soul, R'n'B, rock and reggae around.

Channelling influences that range from Vanishing Point and Bullitt to Reservoir Dogs, Wright constructs an all-time great opening sequence that winds through the streets of Atlanta and refuses to take his foot off the gas until the credits start to roll. With a colourful ensemble of kooky characters (Jamie Foxx as Bats and Jon Hamm as Buddy are particular stand-outs) and an effervescent whizz, bang pop editing style, nothing tops Baby Driver for sheer energy in 2017.

5. Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)

Cast your mind back to January and February and which film springs to mind? In the midst of a furious Oscar season (I'm still burned about La La Land's loss tbh), one small horror film made headlines at Sundance and then broke out into the mainstream, turning a tiny $4 million budget into a huge $253 million worldwide.

The success of Jordan Peele's Get Out is one of those rare occasions where critical praise and audience excitement align. Celebrated and feverishly consumed by both sides of the equation, this riotous horror blended humour with thrills and spills to delight and terrify me to equal measure. With a deft understanding of genre and tight, concise storytelling, Peele's debut film was able to meld together a whole range influences and concoct something enthralling from beginning to end.

Channelling everything from Scream and The Shining to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Hot Fuzz, Get Out wore its influences on its sleeve and distilled them into something distinct and original in its own right. A veritable rollercoaster of emotion, I won't forget how wrapped the theatre was during the breathless final act, making this one of the most enjoyable and memorable cinema experiences of the year.

4th - Wind River (dir. Taylor Sheridan)

A moody and tense procedural set on the fringes of society and anchored by great performances from Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, Taylor Sheridan's Wind River kept things pleasingly low-key by focusing on dialogue, its characters and a compelling mystery.

A thematic trilogy with Sicario and Hell or High Water, Wind River employed a taut script and deft direction to shine a light on the plight of American native population and the hopelessness of living life in the wilderness, with Gil Birmingham making a good case for supporting actor of the year in just two or three scenes. Punchy action and achingly gorgeous photography of the frozen landscapes are complemented by a haunting score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, all of which bounce around your head long after you've left the theatre.

3rd - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (dir. Martin McDonagh)

A deft mixture of drama and comedy, Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri was a simmering crockpot of laughs, tears and poignant moments. 

A trifecta of terrific performances from Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell power this film to greatness, particularly McDormand, whose seething rage, bottomless sorrow and take-no-prisoners attitude is deserving of every accolade under the sun. 

McDormand's vulnerability, fragility and ferocity is makes her beautifully complex, and it's this complexity which is reflected in both McDonagh's screenplay and direction; zig-zagging deftly between black comedy, stirring drama and compelling crime thriller, Three Billboards' greatest strength lies in its unpredictability and nuance. Rarely does a film present such a layered lead character, let alone three – and when all was said and done, McDonagh offers up an open yet poignant and cathartic ending. Excellent stuff.

2nd - Star Wars: The Last Jedi (dir. Rian Johnson)

Right out of the box, Star Wars: The Last Jedi presented itself as a decisively different Star Wars adventure. Director Rian Johnson subverted expectation at every turn, undercutting the myriad internet theories and speculation to challenge audiences with a bold and unexpectedly complex deconstruction of the franchise. Unpacking ideas such as the how we enshrine heroes, covet bloodlines and the dichotomy between good and evil, Johnson's character-driven entry into this storied franchise zigs when everyone expected it to zag, bringing a breath of fresh air to proceedings.

Where The Force Awakens was expected, The Last Jedi was daring. The underlying mantra in Johnson's film is of letting go of the past, inviting audiences to unlearn what they have learned about some really fundamental Star Wars lore and instead look to the future. It's divisive, but a notion I've only grown fonder of the more I think about it.

Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver were excellent as Luke, Rey and Kylo respectively, as were newcomers Kelly-Marie Tran and Laura Dern. Some frayed edges in the middle act do weigh The Last Jedi down – did we really need such an elongated diversion to Canto Bight? – but the series of twists that Johnson rattles through in the final act are nothing short of masterful. The Last Jedi was the first of two films this year to leave be speechless when it ended...and the other just pips it to the top spot on this list.

1st - Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is a hypnotic, luscious, captivating poem. It’s a meandering and pensive neo-noir about the mystery of the self, empathy, connection, how we define what’s real and whether it matters at all. It's an exploration of artificial intelligence, human existence, environmental decay, drone warfare and emotional isolation. And it’s also a love story about a synthetic man and a digital woman.

It's a long, thoughtful saga that is ponderous and compelling in a visual, aural and emotional sense. It tells a complete story from A to Z and doesn't feel like table setting for a further six or seven films, as is the case for almost every major studio films nowadays. And while there are still some lingering questions when the credits roll, these only serve to deepen the central mysteries surrounding the universe and its characters.

In the lead role, Ryan Gosling proves once again that he's one of the best actors working today and Harrison Ford adds depth to an iconic role. Even actors will two or three scenes leave an indelible mark on proceedings – look no further than Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Dave Bautista and Jared Leto for proof.

In terms of the theatregoing experience, nothing else came close to surpassing Blade Runner 2049 this year. Armed with Roger Deakins' arresting cinematography and Hans Zimmer's sonorous score of pounding synth, Villeneuve's film was a powerful and inescapably gorgeous three-hour odyssey that kept you guessing right until that beautiful final shot.


  1. With the exception of The Big Sick and The Disaster Artist as I haven't seen either of these films. This list is awesome.

    1. Thank you! You're in for a real treat when you get around to watching those two, they're great.

  2. I've only seen 4 of these (2, 5, 6, & 10), so I've got lots of work to do. For what it's worth, I do like the ones I've seen a good deal.

    1. So much good stuff from last year to look forward to! Thanks for commenting Wendell.

  3. Awesome picks! I'm totally on board with you for Blade Runner 2049. It was a masterful sequel to such a long-awaited original, and what a shame it's not as acclaimed right now as it could be.

    1. Give it time and people will come round – just like the original Blade Runner ;)

  4. I wouldn't rate them as you did but I loved all of these but Blade Runner 2049. It just didn't work that well for me. Great picks!

    1. That's fair, I can see why it might not gel with some people – thanks for commenting! :)



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