THE TOP TEN FILMS OF 2017

20th December 2017
In a year where Fox studios is swallowed up by Walt Disney and more and more celebrities rapidly delete their internet before the journalists arrive, cinemas continue to attract huge numbers through the doors.

2017 has been a year of high-concept tentpole films. With the most recent Star Wars movie making almost half a billion dollars (enough to fund Dr Evil’s plans for about six months) in just four days it appears that those mega budget films that offer spectacle over script are the order of the day. Maybe that explains why this year’s list contains quite a bit of popcorn-friendly, super-powered titles…



Dunkirk

With the Axis powers closing in on the Allied forces, a massive retreat is organised in order to stop this stalled campaign from being a bloodbath. With limited access to escape vehicles, we see the situation for the remaining forces becoming more and more desperate as they try to find any way to escape to safety.

With Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg gave cinema audiences a close proximity to how it might have felt invading the beaches at Normandy during World War Two. Here, Christopher Nolan takes that same premise of realism and documentary style filmmaking and raises the stakes by introducing a real sense of impending doom that pervades the entire film. The almost dialogue-free storytelling and Hans Zimmer’s brilliant score (which occasionally includes a ticking sound to subtly emphasise how drastic the situation is) really give the relatively short running time some serious pace.

The somewhat star-free casting is also a great touch. Not knowing who is likely to make it to the end credits in one piece keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. While Dunkirk represented a failure for Britain in wartime, the Dunkirk Spirit is not in short supply here. This is masterful filmmaking. As beautiful and classy as a Spitfire.



Paddington 2

Last year saw the passing of Michael Bond, the creator of everyone’s favourite marmalade obsessed bear. Though that news is unbearably sad (pun unfortunately intended), his legacy, it seems, is in safe hands.

The expertly written plot introduces us to a nefarious, hammy actor (played with great aplomb by Hugh Grant) stealing a pop-up book containing a puzzle that leads to hidden treasure. The puzzle takes us on a madcap dash around London and the beautiful locations form the backdrop to many memorable set-pieces. Paddington’s reasons for wanting the very same book are, of course, much more altruistic but by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, our fuzzy hero takes the fall and finds himself in jail.

This has all the best elements of classic Ealing comedies and wonderful British Caper Movies of the type that simply aren’t made anymore. Throw in some wonderful scene-stealing cameos from high calibre actors and comedians and a huge dollop of genuine soul and you have a classic family film that will warm the heart of even the most stoney-faced ursine-hating audience member. Highly recommended to bears of all ages.



Logan

Hugh Jackman has been playing the titular character of Logan (Wolverine to you) for almost 17 years. That’s about as long as it takes for an MP to answer a direct question or an egg to boil if you stare at it. Clearly, during this two-decade long journey, he’s pretty much mastered it, right? The culmination of the character building work Jackman has invested pays off in spades here as we see a more fragile, broken portrayal of Marvel’s surliest comic book star.

Taking off years after the events of recent X-Men outings, we find our protagonist down-at-heels working as a limo driver and keeping a low profile. His pay keeps both himself and his old mentor Charles Xavier (played by Patrick Stewart) alive but with both heroes in poor health and getting worse, the writing is on the wall for them.

Into this bleak existence comes a teenage girl with very similar powers to Wolverine. Despite his best interests, Logan decides to help keep her safe but at what cost to himself?

In many ways this movie feels like a super-powered version of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. Though we have seen the ‘aging hero taking on one last mission’ cliché many times, this particular story element is just a hook to hang a wonderful character study to. Jackman plays the past-his-prime hero with sensitivity and, with great support from Stewart, this becomes more about humanity and altruism than claws and explosions and opens the doors to other comic book movies to try something bolder.



Get Out

In a new relationship, is there ever a scarier sentence than ‘I’d really like you to meet my parents’? Well, ok ‘Those test results are back’ probably rank quite highly too but let’s stick to the point. Meeting the parents for anyone is likely to set stress levels to eleven but for the central protagonist Chris (played by Daniel Kaluuya) in Jordan Peele’s nightmarish pitch-black comedy thriller it’s particularly taxing.

Picking up on the themes of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and a little splash of Ben Stiller’s ‘Fockers’ movies, we explore the perils and pratfalls of making a good first impression with the future in-laws. However being of a different ethnic background to his partner becomes the least of his worries as he slowly learns that something much more sinister is lurking below the surface of this idyllic WASP-ish society.

Playing much like an episode of the classic show The Twilight Zone, this familiar, suburban story transforms into something much darker throughout the running time. It has a great deal of pace and keeps up the creeping tension all the way to the final act. While the biggest reveals in the last twenty minutes occasionally may be a little broad and clumsy, there’s too much good work put in place beforehand to ever run this story off the rails. A splendid directorial debut, great performances and a plot guaranteed to make you think about who exactly all your neighbours are.



The Red Turtle

A lone survivor washes up on the beach of a deserted island. He slowly gathers his senses and investigates his new home- finding fruit and a fresh water supply and becoming familiar with the other creatures that share this land. As the weeks pass, he attempts to make an escape – he builds a raft and sets off but after a mile or so, his raft is destroyed by a large red turtle. The man tries again but the same result occurs and soon he realises he is trapped.

Over the course of this wordless, beautifully animated feature (produced by the Japanese masters of animation, Studio Ghibli), the man goes through an entire life’s journey and finds an unexpected castaway to share his life with along the way.

This is fantastic storytelling that seems almost effortless. Both simple in its narrative yet with a layer of complexity below the surface. Set some time aside and turn off your mobile phone and let this one wash over you.



Wonder Woman

When a World War Two pilot falls out of the sky and almost literally into the arms of an Amazonian princess, he reveals to her the details of the bloody conflict. Sensing her destiny is to help others who cannot help themselves, our titular heroine makes the choice to leave the island paradise and help save the world.

While Marvel’s film output has led the way over the last dozen summers, the same can’t be said for their competitors over at D.C. Comics. An unfocussed set of films has so far not set the world apart and the most recent super team-up film, Justice League looks to be seriously underperforming at time of writing. One of the most vocal complaints about D.C’s stable is ‘tone’ and in particular, the lack of joy. With most of their heroes going around brooding and snarling like they’ve just had their favourite TV show cancelled, it’s understandable why audiences are staying away.
Enter Diana (Gal Gadot), an Amazonian goddess wearing red and gold who lives life to its fullest every day. Her chemistry with war pilot Steve (Chris Pine) is wonderful and playful and despite not currently displaying the range of more seasoned actors, she is incredibly likeable and down to earth.

Upon release a lot of attention was given to the film due to its strong female lead. Wonder Woman became an icon for feminism and was, for a short amount of time, the UN empowerment ambassador. While it’s easy to let these politics side-track this fun adventure tale into something deeper, this is, at its heart, a simple three-act hero story where good triumphs over evil and the audience gets to cheer at the end.



War for the Planet of the Apes

In this third and final instalment we find the leader of the ape resistance, Caesar (Andy Serkis), struggling to keep his relatively small band of loyal friends alive. Winter has set in across California and survival in the wilderness is becoming more and more of a challenge. Caesar wants to find a new home for his tribe of intelligent primates but standing between him and his promised land is a ruthless army colonel (Woody Harrelson), who believes that humans cannot survive without the total destruction of this new species.

Digital effects have come a long way since Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories back in 1985. Over the last thirty years there have been huge leaps forward in perfecting that blend between technology and reality. From Jurassic Park through to the recent Star Wars movies we have seen more and more digital creatures seamlessly integrate with live action. War for the Planet of the Apes is a standout moment for computer generated action – the computer generated apes are as real as any of the actors they perform with.

Andy Serkis has championed motion capture technology for over fifteen years and this film certainly shows that he is a true master of the art. His performance is subtle and nuanced. A gesture or a flick of the eyes capture the mood and thoughts of the ape leader as easily as the human counterparts sharing scenes with him. This culmination of the recent Apes saga does everything a good sequel should. It ramps up the excitement, enriches the characters and has a satisfying end to the tale.



Blade Runner 2049

Talking of old franchises, here’s another. In this follow up to the 1982 seminal Ridley Scott movie we follow ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling) a Blade Runner sent to arrest or destroy illegal replicants (sophisticated cyborgs who look exactly like humans) living on Earth. During his routine work he finds himself embroiled in a plot that will make him confront his past and force him to question his own reality.

When Blade Runner was initially released, the key critical response was that the film looked stunning. Set design, wonderful photography and beautifully blended special effects helped create a believable, lived-in world that made some of the more alien concepts more palatable. It’s clear that the aesthetics were in the forefront of director Denis Villeneuve’s mind when he approached this project as it is one of the most spectacular looking films of the year.

Fans of the original can leave their worries behind. Villeneuve’s vision does not trample over Scott’s cult classic though it does share some of the same problems of the original too. Some may find the lead character to be too cold to care about and the film has a deliberate slow pace which might make those in the audience wanting something resembling Star Wars to fidget before the end credits roll.

This is a stunning piece of work and one that really should be seen on the biggest screen possible. Its visuals are accompanied by a beautiful score by Hans Zimmer, which emulates the gorgeous Vangelis soundtrack of the original while adding a few new motifs into the mix. The plot is intelligent and intriguing and shows that you can offer more than just explosions and chases in a big budget film. Overall, there is enough here for nostalgia fans and newcomers alike to enjoy. It is a worthy sequel and a great example of how to do science fiction without dumbing-down to the audience.



Toni Erdmann

Hands up who wants to watch a two-and-a-half hour German comedy film? Wait…come back! Yes, that was my initial reaction too. On paper this sounds like it would be a nightmare but I was genuinely surprised by how quickly this film whizzes by.

The plot revolves around a practical joker father who is never without a set of dodgy false teeth and a whoopee-cushion, attempting to reconnect with his hard-working daughter. After a slightly frosty visit to her workplace, he decides to not get the next plane home and starts a campaign of showing up at her various business meetings and social gatherings over the passing weeks. Looking like a slightly less disgusting version of Barry Humphries’ Les Patterson, his initial appearances in her life do nothing but irritate and confound her but, as time goes on, the ice begins to melt.

Guaranteed to be Hollwood-ized at some point, this is a film that should be seen in its original form as many of the best moments come from elegant nuanced performances from the main cast members. There are also moments which feel very European, which would likely be exorcised from an international re-telling. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry but it shouldn’t make you bored despite ‘German Comedy’ being an oxymoron.



Thor: Ragnarok

For those concerned that “superhero fatigue” is setting in, this is the antidote to your worries. In this light-hearted romp through the galaxy we join the titular demigod Thor blasted to the other end of the universe and out of his depth. On a crazy junkyard planet he confronts the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum acting like a sixties Star Trek villain of the week) who ‘invites’ Thor to take part in his gladiatorial arena. Thor meets up with fellow Avenger Hulk and this intergalactic Odd Couple must find a way to work together if they are to ever get back home.

New Zealand director Taika Waititi ramps up the comedy and plays to the strengths of his main cast members. Chris Hemsworth has never been funnier and he gets ample opportunity to flounce his comedy chops AND his muscles throughout the story. Jeff Goldblum has never been more Goldblum-y (I’m copywriting that) as the egotistical ruler of a colourful, brutal world. It’s clear that everyone is having fun hamming it up, yet this ad-libbing and prat-falling never derail the story.

If there are faults, it would be that the main villain (Cate Blanchett) is really just there to give a sense of purpose to this space age road movie and to add a reason for our heroes to act quickly. Blanchett’s performance is superb however and she does the best she can with what she has to work with.

This is great fun for all ages. Like a puppy, this is a film that really wants to entertain you and make you like it - it definitely succeeds.

Written by Smylexx