With reality continuing to crumble in the wake of David Bowie’s death, 2017 has certainly given us some interesting political times. Not surprisingly this has been reflected in many of the films we’ve seen released this year, as they directly address themes of race, gender and sexuality in a wide variety of ways. It’s also been a great year for escapism, with a slew of superhero films from both Marvel and DC, and another strong showing from the horror genre. To help you make sense of the year that was (at least in celluloid), DAVID O’CONNELL, NATALIE GILES, DAVID MORGAN-BROWN, and LLOYD MARKEN take a retrospective look at the 20 films that were the cream of the crop.
20. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
DOC: A late addition, and unlike the other films on this list one that is very reliant on the other films in the series to give it context. However The Last Jedi delivers all the spectacle you have come to expect from the Star Wars franchise, in a very unexpected way, and takes the new trilogy in an exciting direction. For manipulating our expectations so skillfully, it rightly earns a place here.
19. Top Knot Detective
DOC: A gag filled journey through Australia’s obsession with cult Asian TV in the 90’s (and beyond), Top Knot Detective starts as absurd satire, but manages to deliver so much more. Part of this is through a thorough understanding of genre, but what comes through most is a deep love of the material. The result is a film that is capable of being cutting about the industry and the production quality at the time, while still celebrating its unique contribution to so many people’s lives. More so, at its heart TKD is not just an excuse for cheap laughs, but an interesting study of a tragic character.
18. 20th Century Women
LM: This film features one of the great Annette Bening performances as Dorothea, single mother of a teenage boy. Mike Mills wrote and directed a film about his own mother and adolescence. Certain montages have voice over narration where characters show clear insight into the desires and flaws of not just themselves but others. Yet when these same smart people talk to each other they find it more difficult to communicate that insight. Mills has a good ear for the nuances of life and he has made a great quirky comedy about some oddballs who got to live together for one beautiful moment in time.
17. The Salesman
DMB: A slow burn to begin with, that carefully builds the pieces to its deceptively simple story, leading to a very long and very engaging ending that is a stunning piece of drama to watch. All the elements of film, particularity the writing, acting, editing, and lack of music, strengthen this work to be the most impactful it can be as it delivers an enormously divisive moral concept that is sure to get fiery conversations started. A bravely complicated and stunningly crafted piece of work that should’ve garnered more awards-season attention.
16. Good Time
DMB: This has cult film written all over it. It’s not just a wild ride, but a brief gaze into the wild ride that some inner-city folks live. Over one night trying to get his brother out of jail, Connie (Robert Pattinson) is taken on the most unusual path to desperately make some money and look out for his brother, even if he almost always hopelessly fails. The cinematic scale of this low-budget indie will leave you breathless, with the fantastically fitting electronic wonders of Oneohtrix Point Never, gorgeously neon-lit cinematography, intensely tight close-ups, frenetic editing, excellent cast of supporting players, and the sheer experience of the lives of those who live on the edge.
15. Wonder Woman
NG: In the year of #metoo, which saw women in film finally draw a line in the sand, director Patti Jenkins’ (Monster) big screen Wonder Woman is an incarnation of our hero could not have come at a more sublime moment in herstory. An enduring symbol of feminism, strength through love, and the empowerment of women, it only took 76 years for us to finally get a live action feature from her first appearance in print. Definitely worth the wait. Wonder Woman smashed all expectations, both in quality and at the box office, achieving the status of top five superhero movies of all time. We women needed this. Us women nerds are particularly happy about it. DC desperately needed this breath of life. Pity they largely blew it with the tiresome Justice League. Here’s hoping the return of Wonder Woman in the sequel runs closer to Jenkins’ original and far, far from DC’s poisonous hands.
14. Battle of the Sexes
DOC: Emma Stone and Steve Carell battle it out in this comic sports bio-pic. Both actors giving stunning portrayals, one lighting up the screen with their bravado (Carell), while the other loses themselves to the role (Stone). The result is an amazing trip into the 70s, but one that feels timely and relevant to the political landscape of today (see Wonder Woman, above).
DOC: An uncompromising vision, Raw does not lead it’s audience to easy answers, instead allowing you to explore the horrendous mystery at the heart of the film. What eventuates is something that will haunt you long after the film has stopped rolling, and weeks later you will still be grappling with it in an attempt to tease meaning from it.
DMB: With much spoken about the viscerally conveyed allegories, mother! taken at face value is a purely awesome and cinematic experience, conveying a surreal and deeply worrying mood that feels like a never-ending fever-nightmare. This is arthouse darling Darren Aronofsky at his wildest, most hysterical, and certainly most misanthropic, resulting in arguably his best film to date. mother! surrounds its love story, brought to such wonderful life by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, with a bitingly savage, upsetting, and violent portrayal of society’s great follies, both making this throat-grabbing film so memorable.
11. Thor: Ragnarok
DOC: An unadulterated, pure joy of a trip through 80s sci-fi/ fantasy films, wrapped in a Marvel movie – it’s like Taika Waititi has been reading my teenage dream journal (Seriously; vikings, space ships, Jeff Goldblum… it’s all there). This must be one of the best times offered on celluloid this year, and the most fun that could be had in a Marvel film. No mean feat considering the Hoff’s cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, yet here we are.
10. Blade Runner 2049
LM: Delayed sequels to long dormant franchises have had a good run of late but nobody could’ve hoped this film would be one of the year’s best. Expanding every idea from the previous movie, the world of Blade Runner is only getting more timely. Not only in the sense of what it is to be human but also what makes our relationships real, how technology isolates us, how nature is rescinding from our everyday experiences. Ultimately how we connect and how connected we are to anything these days. Which makes it sound bleak but it isn’t because Blade Runner 2049 recognises how desperate we are to connect and finds something hopeful in that. The sequel sank at the box office quickly which is a shame since this is a visually stunning film which deserves to be seen on the big screen with images bound to endure in the years to come. There were excellent performances all around from a stellar cast but of particular note Ryan Gosling’s understated turn which is at the heart of the movie.
9. The Disaster Artist
DMB: Devout followers of the cult so-bad-it’s-good film The Room may get a little something extra out of this, given how much of a loving ode it is to 2003’s hilarious stinker. But the unbelievable antics surrounding the making of the film, as described in actor Greg Sestero’s tell-all book, are so hilarious that The Room’s cult following is sure to gain more members. As hysterical as the film-making moments here are, this wacky tale of two men (one unexplainably eccentric, the other normal to the point of boring) is presented as an inspirational story for aspiring artists – I think the message here is get seven million dollars out of nowhere and turn your ill-advised dreams into reality.
8. Meal Tickets
DOC: One of the most frank “access all areas” rockumentaries you are likely to see, Meal Tickets gives you a boots on the ground insight into the making of a gigging band with dreams of stardom. For director Mat de Koning it is a combination of right place/ right time, and dogged persistence that conveys not only the story of WA band the Screwtop Detenators, but the parallel story of Will Stoker and the Embers as well. Yet there is something even more universal about this story of dreams and disasters, that resonates with anyone that has picked up a guitar or an amp.
7. Baby Driver
DOC: This has had some of the shine knocked off of it by recent revelations about Kevin Spacey, but it is still hard to fault the wonderful vision that director Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Shaun of the Dead) brings to the screen. An ice cool driver film, with a tight pairing of vision and sound. Music as the driving engine for a film, seems like a bit of a theme for the year, but where Dunkirk is a precise symphony, Baby Driver is a finely choreographed dance.
DOC: The film that introduces the meaning of the word coulrophobia to a whole new generation, It manages one of the seemingly trickiest tasks in cinema history – making a good Steven King adaptation (something only a handful of films have done before). Taking the first half of the book (chronologically) this film places the emphasis on characters, allowing audiences to become invested in the lives of the “Losers Club”, and their battle against the evil that lurks beneath the town of Derry.
5. Hounds Of Love
DMB: It’s with great pleasure that we report an Australian film shot in Perth is one of the best films of the year, and one of the most downright disturbing. It wouldn’t be fair to call this intense film a thriller or a horror, as it seems more like a full-on drama that unrelentingly shows the utter horrors hiding away in suburban areas, inspired by the Birnie murders (as well as other killer couples). The performances from the three leads are stunning, including a coldly villainous portrayal never before seen from Stephen Curry. This one-of-a-kind experience in terror is a hell of a debut from local filmmaker Ben Young, a distressing and daring film to start off his promising career.
DOC: A deserving winner of Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, Moonlight is a stunning portrayal of identity politics through three stages of a man’s life. It is a film that will move the hardest heart to tears, as it takes you on an emotional ride, and again it certainly seems culturally relevant to numerous events this year, both at home and abroad.
DOC: Director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) has a knack for extending the tension and drama in a situation, then making the audience sit in that moment, and experience the situation as it unfolds. It is an uncomfortable and disquitening ability, and one that absolutely marks her as one of the great auters of our era. Here she uses it to explore the racial tension of the 1967 Detroit riots and the horrors of the Algiers Hotel incident. It is a stunning indictment of the misuse of power by racist elements in the police force, and a cogent warning for today.
DMB: The harsh realities of war are put on display in Dunkirk, which takes the audience through the harrowing experience many young men faced in the many battles of WWII. Focusing on the evacuation of troops from the Dunkirk beaches, we follow three different men as they work their best to get themselves and their comrades out of danger, with more of an emphasis on survival rather than fighting. If you thought Christopher Nolan’s recent other work was a bit too long-winded, Dunkirk is an appropriately concise tale that avoids being a political or moral lesson, instead letting the bullets flying past the heads of young soldiers tell the story.
1. Get Out
DOC: This whip smart horror film is certainly a thing of beauty. First time director Jordan Peele balances on a knife’s edge of horror and comedy to produce a startling piece of timely political commentary.
NG: Rewriting horror tropes in favour of an exploration of race relations for people of colour, this was a supremely brave choice for a virgin directorial feature by Jordan Peele, but one that paid off in every way for audiences. Smart, frightening and full of uncomfortable moments, it defies a genre. So to have been nominated for a Golden Globe for best musical or comedy feels like an insult when it addresses very serious race relation issues which are certainly not exclusive to the US, and resonated hard with Australian audiences and others worldwide.
Honourable Mentions: Patti Cake$, Logan, Lion, Lady Macbeth, Edge of Seventeen, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, The Lego Batman Movie, The Killing of the Sacred Deer.
Films to look out for in 2018: Lady Bird, Paddington 2, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri