The best films of 2017 (including many we never saw coming)
Binge watching on a New Year's Day doesn't sound so bad...
Lions, Porgs and Super Pigs: The Best Movies of 2017 according to science
*May not include actual science
The end of year list is a tradition that dates back to Saint Nicholas, the real one, who in the 17th century would make a list of the best and worst films of the year and distribute them on Betamax to the children of the village. The naughtiest child in the village received an extended cut of Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill.
To that end we sit today and assess the best movies of 2017. This is not a ranked list from 1 to 10 - though there is a Best Film - rather a group of the good films are sorted roughly into genre / sub-genre / vague similarities and then the best of that bunch is nominated. It’s not perfect, but it means we avoid ten ‘Oscar worthy’ films, we avoid ten comic book films, and we aren’t choosing between oranges and apples but comparing oranges and Trumps.
And so to the categories:
BEST BIG KID ACTION ADVENTURE - Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Honourable Mention - Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Two huge surprises here. That the reboot of Jumanji would turn out to be such a terrific fun romp, including a touching nod to Robin Williams, may have been one of the greater shocks of the cinematic year.
It is the schism surrounding The Last Jedi that is one of the greatest surprises however. Speaking as a film critic and massive Star Wars nerd, I loved this film. The reworking of tropes from the original trilogy, the use of the Porgs to prove cute can work again in this Universe, the choice to actually progress Luke Skywalker’s character in the decades since we last saw him to make him a very different person - all were brilliant.
The best part of Star Wars: The Last Jedi however was the theme of failure. All of the new characters failed in their aims. Luke and Leia acknowledged failure in Ben. The Resistance failed. The First Order failed. To structure a narrative around so much failure and yet deliver such a thrilling romp speaks to the genius behind it. Bravo!
BEST CYBER PUNK USE OF SCI FI FOR PHILOSOPHY - Blade Runner 2049
Honourable Mention - Colossal
Sci Fi used to be a genre of big questions. How would humanity react when the horizons were shifted? If anything is possible what would we choose? What is humanity? Then the space operas and galactic adventures came along and we romped off in a new direction. As such its fascinating to see the old school Cyber Punk style return.
Colossal was a brilliant, twisting analysis of micro and macro, fantastical play and deeply real consequences, and easily be used as a metaphor for a year in which the mistreatment of individual women by Hollywood has (finally)( had global consequences.
The return to Blade Runner was a decision steeped in fear for many audiences. After all Ridley Scott had had so many bites at the original cherry it was highly likely this would just turn out to be another reworking. Instead we got not a sequel to the plot of the original, but a sequel to the philosophy. It was mind expanding, eye bending and utterly captivating. Normally avoided at all costs, the audience was almost invited to step out of the plot on a semi-regular basis to contemplate the deeper issues. Then it chose to have its big reveal at the turn into the third act rather than the end of the film, allowing even further exploration of ideas rather than cheap drama. It was a master piece whose weakest element was its climactic action sequence purely because it was the one scene that could have appeared in ANY film and as such had no right to be in this one.
BEST ACTUAL KIDS FILM - Beauty and the Beast
Honourable Mentions - Captain Underpants; Despicable Me 3; Coco
Sometimes we have to acknowledge that the kids films are aimed primarily at that audience, not at the adults who still cling to their childhood stories shouting “mine, mine, mine!” The best of them are entertaining for the whole family, be it through comedy with Captain Underpants and Despicable Me 3 or with heartbreaking emotion as in Coco.
Of course when a film is remade a generation or two later, those who grew up with it often feel threatened. With Beauty and the Beast there was nothing to fear. The loving reverence for the original animated film was matched by the inventiveness of the new narrative elements brought to the party. It was a delightful romp, a melodic feast and visually brilliant. The individual performances were pitch perfect, with Josh Gad dangerously close to stealing the whole show.
BEST TALE OF A BROKEN HERO - Logan
Honourable Mention - Manchester By The Sea
The broken hero is a narrative staple and as such tough to tell with genuine originality, yet two films did so in superb fashion this year. Manchester by the Sea moved quickly to the top of many “best film I will never watch again” lists with its deeply traumatic tale of loss and despair. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri does not release in this calendar year but will be a prime contender in this category for next year’s list.
The revelation however was Logan which prompted one sentence above all others: “Even if you don’t like X-Men films you’ll love this one”. That fans adored it is triumph enough but the evangelism this film inspired was stunning as it was cited time and again as an example of the real power of comic books, beyond the tale of superheroes battling super villains. At film’s end fans and non-fans alike were left shedding a tear as Hugh Jackman paid the greatest farewell to his signature character. Vale Wolverine.
BEST OUT THERE QUIRKY HEART-WARMER - Okja
Honourable Mentions - Collateral Beauty; Wonder; Madame; Ali's Wedding
Thank goodness for the bizarre feel good films. In a year of big hitting dramas and genuinely terrifying thrillers, we needed some moments of escape, of emotional catharsis and dare we say it laughs. Wonder was lauded for its willingness to wear its emotions on its sleeve, but Collateral Beauty was pariahed unfairly as it ambitiously crafted a questionable reality to explore grief and in doing so approached a variety of heartstrings by stealth. Ali’s Wedding and Madame were equally odd but utterly enjoyable.
For sheer surreality though the South Korean adventure of Super Pig Okja was a heavyweight in this category. Having made headlines in Cannes just for having the audacity of being made by Netflix, the film seemed to declare nothing off limits from the moment Tilda Swinton announced her world saving food program and soon we were travelling with animal rights terrorists around the world in the company of a Korean girl with a golden pig to trade. It was brilliant. It was bizarre. It was just what we needed.
BEST COMIC BOOK MOVIE - Wonder Woman
Honourable Mentions - Spider-Man: Homecoming; Thor Ragnarok
There is a fear that one day soon none of the comic book films will warrant a place on end of year lists, but once again this year proved to have several genuine champions. Thor was probably the best comedy of the year in a year where most mainstream comedies were merely passable. Spider-Man: Homecoming proved the web-slingers revival in the Avengers’ universe had not been a fluke. He works best as a kid. He works best when he’s funny.
The biggest and best surprise was Wonder Woman. Another character who pivoted from an impressive bit part into a grand stand alone effort. The difference was Spider-Man is a proven success. With Wonder Woman the fear was magic lassos and invisible jets would detract from any integrity - it was a groundless fear and not just because the jet was wisely left in the hangar. It broke box office records for female direction. It laughed at the Bechdel Test as it spent a whole first act without a male character. But best of all it rose swiftly above praise based in gender to be rightly lauded for its objective excellence by any standard. This was a super movie. It’s nice that DC finally had something great and new to offer.
BEST FILM BASED ON A TRUE STORY - Dunkirk
Honourable Mentions: Hidden Figures; Detroit
As ever the ‘true’ stories came thick and fast in 2017 but, as ever, the majority of stories got lost in the subject matter. Becoming Christopher Robin was a case in point as a fascinating tale and strong performances were dulled by heavy direction. Kathryn Bigelow was ambitious in her choice of Detroit as a project and it paid huge dividends exposing a dark and toxic tale of racial abuse in a country that saw too much of its modern self in the 60s secret shame. Equally Hidden Figures rightly received Oscar attention at the beginning of the year as it structured a powerful narrative around an even more powerful reality that warranted a spotlight.
At the other end of the scale was the Dunkirk evacuation, a historical tale of heroism and escape that felt well recounted in cinema. Yet Christopher Nolan proved otherwise - and that Harry Styles could possibly act - with this silver screen gem that truly demanded to be seen in the biggest cinema possible. Sparse in dialogue and embellished in some physics (oh hai Tom Hardy’s magical Spitfire) this was a genuinely epic tale of an epic event that defied expectations of sailing along with a domestic armada by focusing on individuals and making an inspired structural decision to split into three separate chronologies that collided to brilliant effect. If you missed Dunkirk in the cinemas this should be the best film you DON’T watch at home. Wait. It will return to a big screen. It’s the only place this should be seen.
BEST HORRIFIC THRILLER - Get Out
Honourable Mentions: IT; Happy Death Day; Split
What an incredible year for scares. M Night Shyamalan turned James McAvoy into a multi-faceted freak in Split, we got Groundhog Day for horror films in Happy Death Day and a whole new generation learned to be terrified of clowns in It.
But there was never any doubt that Get Out would make this and every other top ten list. A twisting thriller that demanded to be seen, it achieved that cinematic alchemy of transforming a series of seemingly implausible concepts into a far too believable living nightmare. It shunned blood and guts and gimmickry to deliver an inspired psychological thriller lead by the breakthrough performance of the year by Daniel Kaluuya and directed by Jordan Peele a man previously associated with outstanding sketch comedy. An absolute must see.
BEST MUSIC DRIVEN MOVIE - Baby Driver
Honourable Mentions: T2: Trainspotting 2; Three Summers; Emo the Musical
Music and movies came together in some grand blends this year. The Trainspotting sequel proved a grand romp through 90s drug-induced flashbacks, Three Summers was unjustly criticised for its heavy handed moral message as critics ignored the fact it was very funny and a lot of fun, and anyone who missed Emo the Musical - which box office numbers would suggest is all of you - should make the effort to look up this fun and genuinely bizarre offering.
Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver was the clear champion in the movie music field however, as the soundtrack driven automobile action romp defied any expectations as it focused on fun and technical wizardry. The criticism thrown at it by some was “one big music video” which is a badge this should wear with pride as it took all the best elements from forty odd years of that form and wove an incredible, captivating, toe-tapping ride that was fun above all things and almost, ALMOST the film of the year.
BEST COMING OF AGE BRAVERY - Lion
Honourable Mentions: Moonlight; Call Me By Your Name
The quirks of the cinematic calendar mean that films we think of as belonging to last year didn’t arrive until the first months of 2017. It is bittersweet that Moonlight will always be remembered firstly for the Oscars debacle. It is a rightful Best Picture winner. It could well be joined in a few months by Call Me By Your Name. These two are true masterpieces.
To stand above them requires something genuinely unique. And that is one of the infinite plaudits that can be laid at the feet of Lion.
It would be implausible were it not true. It would be overly traumatic were it not also delightful. Lion tells a story that represents the very best of humanity. The tears flow. The heart swells. The mind boggles. Lion roars.
Lion was the best film of the year and to say so is not an insult to the other great movies that were delivered, but a recognition of the individual magic that sets it ever so slightly apart in the memory. What an amazing year it was.
Lead Image: Get Out
ENOUGH WORDS! RELAX YOUR EYEBALLS WITH THIS VIDEO
Nick Jonas chats to Smallzy about the reboot of Jumanji