The 10 Best Movies Of 2017
It's been a hell of a year.
An introduction: Remember when 2017 was meant to be the antidote for 2016? Well, we’re all beaten and bruised after 24 unrelenting months, but at least it was a good year for the movies. Here are my 10 (well, 11) favourites of the year.
A caveat: This is based on the Australian cinema release schedule, which means the likes of Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Phantom Thread, Coco, and The Post have yet to be released.
And the best of the rest: the stylish carnage of John Wick: Chapter 2, the haunting Personal Shopper, Takashi Miike’s opus Blade of the Immortal, the problematic, idea-filled Blade Runner 2049, Logan‘s brutality and finality, the kinetic, controversial Detroit, the acting showcase that is Wind River, Alien: Covenant’s magnificently effective Frankenstein parables, and T2 Trainspotting for showing that you really can go home again.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The Last Jedi is the exact opposite of The Force Awakens. The latter was designed to be euphoric on first viewing, a sugar rush of familiarity that dissolved and left you hungry for more. The Last Jedi is harder to parse; it’s one fig from Sylvia Plath’s tree, which is tasty enough on its own but leaves you achingly aware of all the other figs that can never and will never exist because of the one you have in your hands. This is why it merits a second viewing; to see it for what it is instead of what it isn’t. What it is is one of the boldest moves in million-dollar franchise filmmaking to have ever hit a cinema.
The Last Jedi dispenses with JJ Abrams’ mystery-box nonsense swiftly and decisively, it zags every time you think it will zig, and it makes what threatened to be a claustrophobically small universe so much wider. This is a film about acknowledging the importance of the past, but not being so beholden to it that it blots out the future; about the beautiful inevitability of children and students growing beyond parents and mentors; about how the Force isn’t just a part of everyone, it’s a part of anyone. Director Rian Johnson literally sets fire to all that has come before, but takes care to leave behind not an ember, but a spark. A new hope, indeed.
I’ve written this about Lion before, but it bears repeating: its boldest move is to look so tenderly at an upbringing so far removed from these shores, and count it as part of the Australian experience because it was experienced by an Australian. To understand just how rare that is, you need only look at the persistent spectre of Section 44 of the constitution this year. As hilarious as it is that it keep biting white politicians in the nethers, there’s a lingering whiff of xenophobia to it all; as if anyone with a connection to a country outside Australia is deemed unworthy. Of course that’s frankly ludicrous. Census data show 49 percent of the population had either been born overseas or had a parent born overseas.
Put that in the context of Lion, the miraculous tale of Tasmanian adoptee Saroo Brierley’s quest to find his family in India through a fugue of memory and the still-nascent Google Earth technology. Even more miraculous, it’s a film that gives equal weight to the joy and pain of his childhood in India as it does to the strength and heartache he experienced as an adult in Australia. It understands that a whole can contain these messy halves.
Lion tells us that we don’t have to stop looking for where we belong, that feeling out of step with nationality or geography or community doesn’t make us out of step with humanity. And, best of all, it’s the story of a man with two roads in front of him who comes to realise that instead of being forced to choose one or the other, he has the opportunity to walk down both before heading off in whatever direction he pleases.
Read more: What It Means To Love Lion As A Third Culture Australian, by Hari Raj.
The Disaster Artist
The year’s most meta film is also one of its best. There are beautiful contradictions hardwired into The Disaster Artist’s DNA: it’s a meticulous recreation of the very antithesis of anything meticulous, it’s a genuinely funny take on a movie feted for being unintentionally hilarious, and it’s as good as its subject is terrible.
It’s also a love letter to cinema, which is a phrase as hackneyed as much of the acting in The Room, but how else to describe it? The Disaster Artist has Hollywood stars playing jobbing actors to reproduce a work that’s instantly recognisable for being unrecognisable as a film. The Room was trippy enough, but The Disaster Artist stretches and warps the viewer’s perception with equal parts craft and joy.
Still, as much as it pokes fun as the many, many indiscretions and inabilities of Tommy Wiseau, The Disaster Artist also realises that there is a sweetness and a bravery to passion this large. It celebrates the messy, sweaty, painful process of creation, unflinchingly asserting that there is merit in putting something in the world that wasn’t there before.
Read more: A Deep Dive Into The Absurd Legacy Of The Room With The Disaster Artist’s Greg Sestero, by Tara Watson.
Wonder Woman & Thor: Ragnarok
We’re cheating a bit here, but 2017 had two very different and very good stand-out superhero films. Wonder Woman hailed back to classic heroism, an uncomplicated but still nuanced look at good and evil and how strength is better used to protect than attack. Maybe it’s the fact that it was a period piece, but it was incredibly refreshing to see old-school heroism in the first ever female-led superhero film; Wonder Woman dodged the DC trap of deconstructing heroes that really don’t need to be stripped down, and ended up much the better for it.
Thor: Ragnarok, on the other hand, demonstrated the merits of the exact opposite approach. The 17th (!) film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe took the studio’s most pompous character and its most unwieldy series and elevated them both by descending into high farce. From start to finish, Thor: Ragnarok is a poke in the eye of overblown superheroics, constantly seeking to undercut and undermine the genre’s tenets with a winning combination of affection and wit. It’s laugh-out-loud funny while sharing some of the themes as The Last Jedi — the understanding that to move forward, it is sometimes necessary to let go of what came before. Plus, it rocked.
I think about this shot from Ragnarok a lot. It's literally a comic panel come to life, also reminiscent of Frank Frazetta art, finally showcasing the full extent of Thor's power pic.twitter.com/Ul3WfXl2xP
— Manny Castellanos (@Manny_Castell) November 29, 2017
Read more: A Journey Through The Absolute Joys Of Thor: Ragnarok, by Hari Raj and Wonder Woman Is Both Radical And Radically Fun, by Matilda Dixon-Smith.
Moonlight is one of the most beautiful films ever made, and not just because it’s one of the only films that knows how to light people of colour (there’s a reason the unpublished play it’s based on is called In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue). The film is a look at how beauty and hope grow like weeds between the cracks of thick slabs of hardship, and a gentle examination of the way desires and whole personalities can be sublimated or suppressed when someone is starved of acceptance. It hurts to watch young Chiron suffer, then take his first tentative steps towards personhood, before locking away all that he is and hiding it under grills and grunts.
The love story at the film’s heart is sweet and quiet, but so are many of the people in young Chiron’s life. Mahershala Ali deservedly won a best supporting actor Oscar for his role here; his stumbles and struggles when discussing Chiron’s queerness are remarkably tender, his voice and his heart breaking in tandem as he starts to understand a little of the journey the younger man has in front of him. But for a last word, here is a bit from Angelica Jade Bastien’s brilliant essay on the film: “Moonlight touches a raw nerve, underscoring how where we’re from and where we live are just as important as the choices we make when it comes to identity. The architecture of our homes, favourite dives, and cities come to shape us in ways we’re not always aware of. And we, in turn, shape these places back … Moonlight illuminates a truth I learned a long time ago: geography is identity.”
Read more: Why Is Everyone In Love With Moonlight?, by Glenn Dunks.
This is only going to be a short entry, because Raw remains criminally underseen, and more than any other film this year its brutal, quirky blend of tones needs to felt and experienced. Yes, it’s a cannibal coming-of-age film, but it’s as bloody as it is bloody funny. Part of its draw is the young-adult appeal of watching people navigate waters we have charted before, whether or not we’re still lost at sea; but Raw also has things to say about how you consume the things you love. The soundtrack is great, the execution better, as director Julia Ducournau keeps the focus very much on family — blood is thicker than water, sure, but so is flesh.
In the same way that his Magic Mike was secretly a film about the state of the economy in the early 2010s, Logan Lucky is Steven Soderbergh’s look at the people ground into the dirt under the bootheel of capitalism at the end of the same decade. It’s an anti-glam Ocean’s 11, a heist film that is low-tech but high on ingenuity that never once condescends to the people or the setting it’s portraying.
The people inhabiting its frames are predominantly poor, white, and confused that the world they were meant to inherit has moved on. But instead of lashing out at the usual targets, Soderbergh has them punching upwards, taking aim at the systems intent on keeping them where they are — knowing, all the while, that those systems’ fatal flaw is their inability to concede weakness or liability even when they have been exposed or dismantled.
The triumvirate of Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig and Adam Driver are exceptional here — seriously, how good an actor is Adam Driver? — but in typically Soderberghian fashion, the cast is stacked. Riley Keough and Katie Holmes are excellent, as is Hilary Swank. They all have a part to play as Logan Lucky meanders to a witty, winsome conclusion; this is one of the least tense heist films ever made, which may be why it’s also one of the most satisfying.
Read more: Logan Lucky Is A Slick Heist Film, But Does It Have Anything More To Say?, by Dave Crewe.
Mother! is cinema as crescendo, tension and madness spiralling ever higher as we hurtle towards an abyss. It’s also a meditation on the cycles of violence performed against women, over and over and over, and the shackles of love and duty that play such a big part in domestic abuse. People loved or hated it, the sort of lack of ambivalence that characterises a polemic — Mother! is the result of a singular vision, whether you think that’s for better or for worse.
It’s also the film Darren Aronofsky has taken his whole life to make. On first glance, Mother! has much in common with Requiem for a Dream, in that they’re both unflinching looks at the nature of addiction; but there’s also a bit of Black Swan in there, in the mix of arch psychodrama with Cronenbergian body horror. But Mother!’s ending also calls to mind Aronofsky’s underseen, underrated The Fountain, which looked at death as part of a cyclical process, a chance to start anew. Mother! is its dark flipside, with a head full of the implicit horrors of resurrection and renewal, of Promethean punishment for affection and progress through the curse of eternal repetition.
Read more: Is Mother! Actually Worth The Pain?, by Dave Crewe.
The Big Sick
The Big Sick is a fairy tale overflowing with the knowledge that “happily ever after” is a beginning, not an ending, which makes it all the sweeter that this actually happened. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s real-life romance is awkward and messy and true, a love story that is about the first flutterings of romantic love as much as it’s about the love to be found in friendship, in family, and even in repairing a decades-old marriage. It’s also the purest romantic comedy to be released in years, a romcom with abundant heart and pathos delivered by a lifelong aficionado of the genre.
Nanjiani is one of those actors who has been bubbling away in small roles for some time now, and if The Big Sick is anything to go by, he’s more than earned his shot as a lead. But the film is also a wonderful ensemble, with winning turns from Zoe Kazan (playing Emily) and Vela Lovell (as Khadija, the most human of a rotating cast of potentially arranged brides). Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are trying to keep going in trying times, and are simply wonderful; as are Zenobia Shroff, Anupam Kher and Adeel Akhtar, Nanjiani’s on-screen mother, father and brother. And it’s worth saying this again — The Big Sick also has the single greatest 9/11 joke of all time.
Read more: Love And Chronic Illness: Why The Big Sick Is The Rom-Com I’ve Been Waiting For, by Kylie Maslen.
Get Out is smart and sly and savage, an experience that satisfies in the cinema but leaves its teeth embedded in you long after you’ve left. It would have been glorious, it would have been sufficient, if it were just a rare and precious on-screen depiction of the minority experience, but it’s infinitely more than that. It takes aim at allies seeking to put themselves on centre stage, and understands that fetishising race can be as isolating and as damaging as hating it.
Yes, it’s Jordan Peele’s feature-film debut, but it’s no surprise that someone as versed in the tension-and-release mechanics of comedy can use that skill to deliver gut punches with the same aplomb as punchlines; the only show to do it better this year is Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette.
On top of all of that, Get Out is more dense and more subtle than you might think. Watch it again, and delight in the cold, serrated nuances of Alison Williams’ performance, and how Lil Rel Howery’s TSA agent gets it right every single time. Check out how Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) bests Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) with his brain, despite being told all he has going for him is brawn, or how his eventual salvation from a lifetime of slavery comes by picking cotton — this time, from the stuffing of a chair. Get Out is a feast of rich little details wrapped in timely themes delivered in a fierce, funny package, and it is the very best film of the year.
Read more: Get Out Is Even Better Than Woke White Critics Have Told You, by Hari Raj.
Hari Raj has worked as a journalist and editor in Malaysia, China, and Australia. He tweets about pop-culture ephemera at @jarirah.