Movies of the Year 2017

Plenty of themes at play this year: imprisonment; forbidden love; heroism in combat.

2017 was a decent year for grown-up comic book adaptations and it was also a year where, bizarrely, John Denver’s Take Me Home (Country Roads) played a crucial role in the plot of not one but two high-profile movies. (Even more weird was that both movies featuring Katherine Waterston.)

When Sam Riley slammed a John Denver 8 track into his stereo in Free Fire I thought the universe was playing a cosmic trick.

In no order,

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
In rural Missouri, it’s been seven months since a local girl was murdered. The police have made no progress and have more or less closed the case. The girl’s mother decides to push for justice and the ripples from that stone in the pond affect almost everybody in the county.

In what’s now typical Martin McDonagh style, the film is chock full of unpredictable standoffs, violence eliding with moments of tenderness and characters that turn on a dime to surprise and thrill.

Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky
At its heart Logan Lucky delivers one of the most perfectly-plotted and intricate heists I’ve ever seen, hardly surprising from the director of Out of Sight and the Ocean’s series. Much like Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder, Jimmy is a master planner who can never catch a break. This is his chance to finally extinguish the bad luck that curses the Logan family.

good time
Good Time
Speaking of losers with a criminal bent, Good Time opens with two brothers, one mentally handicapped, the other sociopathic, pulling off a near-perfect crime whose aftermath immediately descends into farce then tragedy. As Robert Pattinson’s Connie selfishly grapples for a way out in the following 24 or so hours, the life of everyone he encounters is destroyed. Kinetic and brilliant throughout.

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story
At times this moves slowly, like molasses rolling uphill slow, but stick with it and it pays off quite beautifully. Casey Affleck plays the spirit of a dead man who has to learn how to let go and within that story director David Lowery does things with time that are the very essence of filmmaking.

Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth
Not a work of Shakespeare, rather an adaption of the Russian novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. This is the slow burn story of a teenage girl, sold into marriage to the son of a mine owner and kept prisoner in his country house. Trapped, she gradually discovers an ability to manipulate the staff and family to her will.

There is a lot to commend here from the beauty of Northumberland landscapes to the sonorous Geordie accents to the constant ratcheting of tension, sexual or otherwise. At the centre of it all is newcomer Florence Pugh. She is magnificent.

Handmaiden
Handmaiden
Another literary adaptation seeing an imprisoned woman manipulating those around her. Superstar director Park Chan-wook transposes Sarah Waters’ The Fingersmith from Victorian London to 1930s Korea and loses nothing in the journey. Intricate long cons and schemes within schemes unfold toward an unexpected ending. Probably the best looking picture of the year with near every scene resembling a renaissance masterwork.

Get Out
Get Out
Part horror story, part social satire, part repudiation of heart-on-sleeve liberalism, Get Out even delivered some laugh out loud comedy. A young black man, dating a white girl goes to visit her parents for the first time. Something is amiss from the beginning but he can’t figure out what. Nor will you until the very end.

mother!
mother!
I’ve avoided most of Aronofsky’s films since 2000’s Requiem for a Dream on account of his simplistic religious overtones and the trying-too-hard nature of his work. This was both religious and trying very hard but it somehow succeeded. A retelling of Genesis that sees a married couple’s pastoral solitude invaded then destroyed by an increasingly hostile horde of intruders. Cinema at its most intense.

tower
Tower
An innovative account of the University of Texas tower shooting of August 1966. This unfolds in almost real time with actors reenacting scenes & giving testimony to camera, interspersed with surviving eyewitnesses accounts, police scanner chatter and live radio broadcasts from the terrifying day. The disparate footage is bound together by rotoscoped animation on top of video footage with an effect that is other-worldly and adds a weird layer of remove from the violence.

I am Not Your Negro
I am Not Your Negro
More intelligent documentary work, this time piecing together James Baldwin’s final, unfinished book from letters, drafts, interviews and archive footage. The combination of Baldwin’s precise dialogue and Samuel Jackson’s resonant narration is perfect.

Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner 2049
There were massive expectations for this sequel, 35 years in the making. It mostly met them and at times even exceeded them. Science fiction has always been a genre to engage with grand themes and in Officer K’s quest, he discovers what it means to be human and whether humanity is an ideal to strive towards or something on the edge of obsolescence.

At 164 minutes the film very nearly outstays its welcome but it’s breathtakingly beautiful throughout.


Just Missed

  • Salesman
  • Wind River
  • Killing of a Sacred Deer
  • Elle
  • Dunkirk (brilliant; beautiful but a bit too ‘worthy’)

Good Lookin’ but Lackin’ a Certain Somethin’

  • Wonder Woman (excellent in places, glacial in others)
  • The Death of Stalin (not quite the sum of its parts)
  • Logan
  • Baby Driver