It's not too late to see the best (and the weirdest) movies of 2017.
What movies did you miss this year? There is no shame in it. Going to the cinema is super spensy; video shops don’t really exist anymore; Apple Movies is annoying; Netflix is hit and miss (the recent addition of all three Human Centipede films does not an inspiring new releases page make); and I would never endorse the nefarious practice of pirating.
Missing movies is easy. I, myself, know that there are several movies released this year that I feel very sorry to have so far missed: Call Me By Your Name, The Disaster Artist, The Shape of Water, *very quietly* Star Wars: The Last Jedi, are all still on my to-do list.
But you know what? It’s always good to have something to look forward to, and if you power through every good movie the day it's released then you never will. For this reason the end of the year - a time of great peace and relaxation for everyone I’m sure - it’s the perfect time to revisit the little gems of the year that may have passed you by. Here - in my humble opinion - are the 10 movies of 2017 that you shouldn’t let fly under your radar.
10 - Wonder Woman
Superhero origin stories and kick-butt girl power narratives are two of the most tired tropes in cinema - which is perhaps why for many Wonder Woman was a quiet revelation.
Directed by Patty Jenkins of Monster fame, she is one of the first female film directors to helm a Marvel or DC movie and boy does it pay off. Through the lens of a female filmmaker, a story of war and battle takes on a new dimension: Diana’s empathy and warmth permeate the film, her comic naivety quickly becoming a powerful sensitivity to the world around her. Formally too, the subtle shift in cinematic perspective and an unreservedly female point of view create something that is neither compromised nor condescending, instead telling a story that goes beyond just some corny definition of female empowerment.
9 - The Fate of the Furious
Bear with me. In the age of the unnecessarily prolonged franchise, you could be forgiven for approaching The Fate of the Furious - the eighth film in the Fast and the Furious franchise and the first since the tragic death of star Paul Walker - with a bit of trepidation. I know I did, so guess who spent the rest of the year going on about how bloody great this movie was? (me, it was me).
While the Fast and the Furious movies may have begun with a simple story about the trials and tribulations of illegal street racing, The Fate of the Furious goes full-on Bond movie with Russian conspiracies, cyber terrorists, blackmail, and cockney Jason Statham having tea in a pub with his mother Helen Mirren. Yes, it's improbable. Yes, it's a bit of a detour. Yes, it’s all extremely extra and you know what? It's bloody amazing.
8 - Mother!
The completely ridiculous, totally over the top, wildly un-self aware Blasted rip-off we never knew we needed, Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! Was hated by just about everyone except me, and even I kind of hated it. Yet, as everyone with an internet connection knows, hating can be fun: therein lies the joy of Mother!
Starting out as the story of a woman whose jerk-off husband won’t stop inviting random people to dinner, Mother!’s determination to present a hilarious biblical analogy for climate change as a really relatably bad relationship may be completely stupid, but it’s completely stupid in the best way. It also resulted in this fabulous story about how on the publicity trail star and Aronofsky’s former girlfriend Jennifer Lawrence got really sick of having to hear him talk about it.
Thank you Mother! and RIP Lawrenofsky :(
7 - Beatriz at Dinner
In a year when dystopian fiction struggled to keep up with the real-life hell in which we now find ourselves (*cough* It Comes at Night *cough*), Beatriz at Dinner took a different and deceptively simple approach. Planting their feet very much in the here and now, director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Mike White’s story of a Mexican-American holistic healer getting stranded at the bougie dinner party from hell was the most contemporary - and scathing - critique of class warfare this year.
6 - Gerald’s Game
In the year of the Netflix movie, the Stephen King adaptation and the gradual acknowledgment of the everyday abuse suffered by women, it’s interesting I think that Gerald’s Game didn’t get more attention. Adapted from the novel of the same name by up and coming horror director Mike Flanagan, Gerald’s Game tells the story of Jessie, a woman who finds herself chained to a bed in remote house in the middle of nowhere when her awful husband dies of a heart attack in the midst of sex act gone wrong. Trapped, the incident forces Jessie to reconcile the trauma of her past with her current predicament while figuring out her escape. An old-school style Stephen King movie, Gerald’s Game mixes the psychological horror of trauma with the very real threat posed to women by men and in doing so becomes a kind of evolved rape-revenge movie - one in which female subjectivity, and healing rather than the image of sexual violence - drives the narrative.
5 - My Year with Helen
For the moment in history in which we find ourselves, the story of Helen Clark’s 2016 campaign to be UN Secretary general could hardly be better timed. Not because it’s a story of defeat - but because it’s a story of strength. A quiet, thoughtful film, My Year with Helen sees through the eyes of Kiwi filmmaker Gaylene Preston as she accompanies Clark to UN meetings, trips around the world, and on visits to her father’s house in Waihi Beach. Clark’s ultimate defeat, coming right before the US election of Donald Trump, may expose a flawed and antiquated system but it also reveals her own resilience - a virtue which, for many women, has defined 2017.
4 - Dunkirk
When Christopher Nolan announced that his next film would be a WWII epic my immediate thoughts were 1. Oscar bait! And 2. boring!
Well, what a fool I was because Dunkirk was amazing. Less about battle than the primal struggle for survival, Nolan’s film is a beautiful, harrowing and haunting take on a story that is so often obscured by meaning imposed by dominant historical narratives. Rather than distance viewers from the action, Dunkirk’s hyperreal images, minimal dialogue, maximised sound effects and totally naturalistic performances achieve the near-impossible feat of giving war an immediacy - and thus a horror - rarely seen on film.
3 - Thor: Ragnarok
When our beloved national treasure/huge traitor/New Zealand’s best-ever director (suck it, Peter Jackson) first became attached to Thor: Ragnarok, the latest installment in Marvel’s conveyer belt of super people movies my brow, initially, furrowed. Whatever you think of them, Studio Franchises are good at a lot of things, but not at fostering the careers of original and talented young directors. Thankfully, Thor: Ragnarok became a rare exception to the rule, delivering a story that is both thoughtful and entertaining and brimming with the recognisable hallmarks of Waititi’s vision. In a cinematic landscape utterly oversaturated with franchises sucked dry of originality by overbearing studios, Thor: Ragnarok proved that such projects can be as fertile a ground as any other for truly bold, audacious filmmaking.
2. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
If you’ve expressed any interest at all in The Killing of a Sacred Deer you've probably also had the pleasure of hearing a million wanky film boys giving you their deepest thoughts and explanations for it, but do not worry they are definitely wrong. The second English language feature from Greek director and Cannes darling Yorgos Lanthimos, The Killing of a Sacred Deer tells the story of a surgeon whose idyllic and luxurious domestic life becomes threatened by a weird 16-year-old boy he for some reason keeps hanging out with. Mysterious, dread-filled and perversely comic, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is an exercise in abject discomfort from beginning to end. If that sounds good to you then definitely see it! If it doesn’t then definitely don’t.
1. Get Out
You haven’t seen Get Out yet? I shake my head dolefully at you.
Made by Key and Peele comedian Jordan Peele, Get Out is the story of Chris, a young black man who goes to visit his white girlfriend’s affluent but apparently woke family for the weekend. Of course, all is not what it seems, and even though Rose’s family ostensibly seem like the kinds of white liberals all too keen to identify themselves as allies, there’s something much more sinister going on underneath their interest in Chris.
Transitioning from dark satire to full-on horror, Get Out’s plot may ultimately veer towards science fiction but, like Beatriz at Dinner, the implications of what happens to Chris are all too real in their reflection of modern race relations. Cinematically Get Out is masterful: nixing jump scares for an atmosphere permeated with utter dread, the ultimate bloody climax is as politically loaded as it is exhilarating. If you haven’t seen Get Out see it! Now!