My usual joyous experience of going to the movie theatre was somewhat limited to a handful of films last year. Yes, I know, I’ve missed out on some really great films in 2017. I heard for instance that Get Out was an amazing terrifying psychological thriller, worthy of anything the has come before it. While the slick Baby Driver was apparently, one of the best crime thrillers of recent years, steered by one of the coolest music soundtracks ever. I also heard that Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled was a worthy remake of the 1971 film of the same name, set during the Civil War with plenty of sexual tension, jealousy and betrayal to boot.
In spite of missing out on seeing these wonderful pictures and many more, I did instead see a handful of others, all cherry-picked because of my fondness for something specific about them. So, without further ado, here is a rundown of my six favourite movies of 2017. And by the way, if I do ever manage to keep just one New Year’s resolution, I hope that it is that I will go to the movies a little more often this year!
The appeal of superhero characters with initiative, purpose and heart found itself in unchartered new territory with the release of Wonder Woman, with actress Gal Gadot’s powerful, yet human performance of Amazon warrior princess Diana. It’s fair to say we were all blown away by Patty Jenkins-directed heroic and spirited version of Wonder Woman. It is arguably one of the best superhero films of recent years. Although Wonder Woman made her impressive debut in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it is here in her origins story that she arrives from her mythological world of Themyscira, to help the allies defeat the villainous German General Ludendorff, whom Diana believes is in fact the incarnation of Ares, the God of War.
In short, Wonder Woman is an enthralling spectacle from beginning to end. (I’m still awestruck by that ‘No Man’s Land’ sequence. It is arguably the most important scene in the whole movie, where Gadot truly becomes Wonder Woman!) And while Wonder Woman’s exploits may be fictional, the reaction from thousands of girls and young women around the world is very real. Many truly see Gadot’s powerful and compassionate portrayal of Wonder Woman as nothing sort of inspirational, a statement of female empowerment. Personally, I cannot wait for the sequel!
The Zookeeper’s Wife.
Some of my favourite films are about my fascination with the Second World War. It is not from a morbid fascination with the horrors of war, but from my humanist view to understand its futility and on occasions to be surprised by the triumph of the human spirit against all odds. I am also in awe of the many remarkable people of The Holocaust like Oscar Schindler, who saved over 1,200 Jewish lives and Miep Gies, who helped hide and protect the Frank and van Pel families and Fritz Pfeffer. Interestingly, Meip Gies was also responsible for retrieving Anne Franks diary and hiding it. After the war she would pass on the diary to Anne’s father Otto, who would have it published.
Stories like these are touching and humane, as is the story of Jan and Antonia Zabinski and their daring rescue of 300 Jewish refugees during the Holocaust in Warsaw, Poland. This great and untold story of heroism comes to life for the first time via the World War II historical drama, The Zookeeper’s Wife, starring Johan Heldenbergh and Jessica Chastain, as both Jan and Antonia Zabinski. It shows the chaotic and brutal nature of being ooccupied by an enemy force, who has no moral compass. And it is here from the depths of despair, that both Jan and Antonia step up in their duties as Polish citizens, truly carrying out superhuman feats. But our attention is for the most part fixated on the courageous Antonia, who is forced to befriend the Reich’s chief zoologist, Lutz Heck in an attempt to keep him in the dark, as the Zabinski’s rescue hundreds of Jews from the Warsaw ghettos, by hiding them in their zoo. Even after Jan is captured while fighting with the Polish resistance during the Warsaw Uprising, Antonio dutifully carries on despite her own fear and grief.
The Zookeeper’s Wife is a brave attempt at telling a worthy story, but falls short of the class of films like The Pianist or Schindler’s List. In spite of some flaws, I really liked this period drama, especially Jessica Chastain’s warm and compassionate portrayal of Antonia.
The Blitzkrieg (lightning war) of the Nazi war machine had caught the allied forces by surprise in May 1940. In a rapid push through the Ardennes, the Germans isolated the British, French and Belgium forces, back into a small pocket around the port of Dunkirk. It is here that Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk opens with scenes of a small group of British soldiers fighting their way through the streets of Dunkirk, before Nolan sweeps his camera across the large expanse of beach filled with exhausted allied forces. The sight of ten of thousands of stranded troops on Dunkirk’s beaches is mind-boggling and thanks to Noolan’s ingenuity as a filmmaker, he successfully illustrates the sheer scale of the danger of that is about to take place at “the Miracle of Dunkirk”.
The idea of one of my favourite contemporary directors making an epic World War Two about Dunkirk, could have gone either of two ways. It could have ended up being an exercise in indulgence by director Christopher Nolan, turning the “Dunkirk spirit” into a bigger mythological beast than it should be, or he could have stripped it back to truly recall the danger and growing alarm faced by the thousands of men trying to evacuate and survive in the midst of the hopelessness. In the end he chose to ultimately focus on the latter, but for the most part I think he created an intimate epic, focusing on a handful of individuals seamlessly switching the story from land, sea and the air.
By recounting the events of Dunkirk, Nolan helps us understand how the British Royal Air Force, together with a makeshift flotilla of destroyers, cargo ships, ferries and fishing boats, helped evacuate the besieged exhausted allies at the end of May, 1940. History tells us that over 340,000 British troops were evacuated from Dunkirk to Britain by the 4th June, including an estimated 120,000 French troops, which unfortunately Nolan fails to mention. He also fails to depict or mention how thousands of other Frenchmen, who had protected the evacuation in their rearguard action against the Germans (this actually would have been interesting to see in some detail), were unable to embark those British transports. Sadly, they were all taken as prisoners. In Nolan’s defence, this story or his vision, is a very British one. Is it a failure of story telling? I don’t know. My only other complaint is related to the overall depiction of British airmen in this film, whose reputation seemingly suffered greatly through the years, for not doing enough to defend the stranded forces on the beaches of Dunkirk. In reality, the British Royal Air Force carried out an invaluable service inland over the skies of France in aerial battles, unbeknown to those being evaluated on the beaches of Dunkirk.
Nolan’s Dunkirk is a personal and impressionistic view of Dunkirk and that fact doesn’t make it a failure as a film. It’s impossible to cover every aspect of all the important events without it turning into a three or more hour film. By tightly editing and focusing Dunkirk in the manor that he did, it makes it a gripping and at times an edge of your sit experience. It is truly a wonderful achievement in filmmaking.
Let’s Play Two.
Most fans will agree with me when I say every live Pearl jam show offers something new and interesting. Their performances are electric and most have gone down in rock folklore as legendary. That said, filmmaker Danny Clinch together with Pearl Jam, produced one of the finest rock documentary films of recent years, of the band’s infamous two-night concert performance at Wrigley Field in late August of 2016, which incidentally coincided with the Chicago Cubs historic winning season.
In a nutshell it’s story about Eddie Vedder’s long time obsession with the Chicago Cubs. Like all suffering Cub fans, Eddie has learned to embrace the good and the bad (mostly the bad) when it comes to his beloved Cubs. We come to see very quickly that it’s not always about winning, but the journey that comes with being a loyal fan. (In a real PJ fan moment, Clinch deftly intercuts nostalgic footage of Vedder wandering around Wrigley in 1992 which feels surreal.) We also get a glimpse of the inner sanctum of the Cubs home Wrigley Field and the many backstories and faces of superfans and locals, which includes the amazing people from the sports pub Murphy’s Bleachers.
Despite my indifference about baseball (being an Australian) I still love any good sporting story of the underdog overcoming the odds. The rest of the band is also very cool about allowing Eddie the luxury of indulging in his fandom, particularly onstage. But what the film also does well is allow us as Pearl Jam fans to indulge a little with our own obsession with them.
Blade Runner 2049.
It was a surreal feeling a few years ago now when I heard that Harrison Ford would be reprising his role of ex cop Rick Deckard from the original Blade Runner (1982) and that Dennis ‘The Arrival’ Villeneuve would be directing the new sequel. In all the years that I have been quietly admiring Ridley Scott’s sci-fi noir masterpiece, I honestly never thought the day would actually come. It was also exciting to think that the new sequel might finally help address some of the questions the ambiguous ending of the original left us with, especially whether Deckard was a replicant.
In the lead up to all the hype, I read all the stories about how Ridley Scott had given Villeneuve free reign to recreate the world of Blade Runner 2049. Interestingly, Villeneuve, and I’m so thrilled he did, kept many of the elements of the original, especially its rhythm and its dystopian atmosphere. But ultimately Villeneuve breathed new life into Blade Runner 2049 through a new protagonist, played by Ryan Gosling as K; an integrated replicant, working as a blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department, in pursuit of a new generation of rogue replicants. In his duties he stumbles across a mystery involving Deckard, and a mysterious child born to Rachael. (Rachael is the replicant that Deckard fell in love with. The two of them disappeared in the end of the original presumably on the run from the authorities.) The repercussions are massive contradicting the belief that replicants are sterile, setting in motion a multi-layered detective story, to untangle its implications.
Blade Runner 2049 may well be the best film I’ve seen this year. It is a landmark in modern filmmaking with stunning visuals, special effects and a very good narrative worthy of its predecessor.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
The Last Jedi has been surprisingly divisive, with hard core fans publicly denouncing it as the worst film in the saga, while others including most critics are calling it one of the most important Star Wars films yet, that leads us excitedly into unfamiliar territory. As a life long fan of Star Wars, I was initially quite underwhelmed by The Last Jedi and it took me almost two weeks to come to my senses. It is impossible to grasp everything that has changed my mind to now truly embracing a film with such heart. I guess I have come to appreciate how Rian Johnson wanted to challenge and provoke us and or maybe even shake up our long standing dogmatic view of Star Wars. (Maybe in hindsight I should have tempered my expectations of it in the first place?) In short, it is an entertaining film, probably like no other Star Wars film before it, and arguably fitting where we find ourselves and our love and desire to see this saga move on from the past. And I think that it is also fair to say that the faith Disney that has shown in writer-director Rian Johnson is justified. Read my extensive fan review here.
Photo credits: The film posters and movie still images used in this article are courtesy of, and in no particular order, Warner Bros. Pictures, Focus Features, Disney Pictures and Abramorama Films. I make use of them under the rationale of fair use because no free equivalent seems to exist and they serve as the primary means of visual identification to help establish my favourite films in question here above.