We’ve been treated to a host of fantastic films this year and here at HeadStuff we’ve gathered the collective minds and opinions of the Film section to bring you our picks for the 20 best movies of 2017.
#20 Okja – Dir. Bong Joon-ho
Okja, like its title character, is a hybrid beast. Bong Joon Ho has made an ‘E.T. but with a GMO pig’ kids movie that is half in English, half in Korean, that features swearing and scenes of butchery and that mixes a vegan critique of capitalism with gurning, cartoonish performances. And just like our hero pig it’s totally loveable.
The story of one kid and her pig spins the classic ‘child protects their magic friend’ bit into something altogether more odd. As ten year old Miya (An Seo Hyun) determinedly tries to prevent her porcine friend from becoming a fry up she encounters animal liberation types lead by Paul Dano, is forced to take part in a PR event thrown by a multinational (think of a Thanksgiving parade crossed with a Ted talk crossed with a Japanese game show) and crosses paths with a Psychotic Steve Irwin-esque TV presenter played with wild fucking abandon by Jake Gyllenhaal.
You can use Gyllenhaal’s performance as a litmus test for whether or not you’ll enjoy any of this. His pampered, screaming, narcissistic, drunken coward is, in may ways, a villain who is more pathetic than the loveable creature he tortures. Those who enjoy watching him swing for the fences will, I suspect, be the ones to go with Okja‘s flow.
Bong Joon Ho has a Verhoven like ability to sneak subversive messages into a piece of OTT entertainment. Here he’s taking shots at not just meat eating but Capitalism itself. Initially Okja’s tormentor is a CEO who delights in fluffy, manic Silicon valley style stunts. Over the course of events her twin sister, a much more old school industrialist, one who does not give a shit about public opinion, swoops in. Not much changes for the unfortunate pigs but the mask has come off. They’re now to be slaughtered by someone with the honesty to admit that she sees these living things, things that would very much like not to die, as units of currency. The film is also painfully aware of the limits of ethical consumerism and individual action.
Okja is the equally heartwarming and heartbreaking, pro vegetarian, anti capitalist, violent farce that we didn’t know we needed and thank God it exists. Ged Murray
#19 Wonder Woman – Dir. Patty Jenkins
There was a lot of baggage attached to Wonder Woman before its release this year. Warner Bros’ attempt to answer Marvel with a DC Cinematic Universe was floundering, but Gal Gadot’s performance in Batman vs Superman had been a highlight of both that film and the series of films so far. Would Wonder Woman be the one to turn things around? The answer so far is a hard “maybe”, but on its own merits Wonder Woman is a damn fine movie. Hiring Allan Heinberg (a comics writer with a well-respected run on the Wonder Woman comic) to pen the screenplay was a good move that lent the film some of the authenticity previous DC film entries had lacked.
The film is smart, funny when it’s appropriate (Lucy Davis as Etta Candy being a particular highlight) but somber when it’s needed to give respect to the grim World War I setting. Patty Jenkin’s direction is inspired, with the No Man’s Land scene rightfully being lauded as one of the best set-pieces in any movie this year. If anything lets the film down it’s the somewhat formulaic ending, but the journey getting there has been such a blast that it seems churlish to complain. In a parade of grimdark flops, the hope and optimism of Wonder Woman shines all the brighter. Ciaran Conliffe
#18 The Disaster Artist – Dir. James Franco
The Disaster Artist is not just a film. It’s part of a larger organism. What’s known in German as gesamtkunstwerk. Modern usage of the word comes from two essays by Richard Wagner that upheld the “total work of art”. He was referring to art that disrupted the steadily upward traveling trajectory of aesthetics. The Room, the movie that The Disaster Artist is based on, was created by a mythological figure emerging from the opaque haze of L.A., speaking with an indistinct drawl (yet claiming to be a New Orleans native). His mannerisms sometimes seem like someone impersonating a human. Tommy Wiseau though is a Grimm’s fairy tale character. The Room being one part of a larger, bafflingly unnecessary mystery. A performance art piece with him as only part and yet the fulcrum of it all.
Watching The Disaster Artist, more than any other movie this year, is like actually taking part in a larger cultural phenomenon. I couldn’t process The Room upon first viewing because it was an organic process. One more absurd caveat of life. It’s not a “good” movie and, considering some of the studio-approved “good” movies farted out this year, that’s a good thing. Nick Hilbourn
#17 It Comes At Night – Dir. Trey Edward Shults
It’s hard to think of a film with more misleading marketing than It Comes at Night. Trailers, and that title itself, would lead anyone to think that this was some kind of monster movie.Anyone hoping for a neo-Shyamalan spook ’em up will be disappointed. It Comes at Night is one of the bleakest, most despairing films of recent years.
Taking place in an isolated, woodland house after an unspecified pandemic has all but destroyed society, It Comes at Night is less concerned with ghouls going bump in the night and more interested in desperate people mistrusting and turning on one another in the face of forces they don’t quite understand but know to fear.
Given the subject matter this is a surprisingly dreamlike and beautiful 90 minutes. Many scenes of deep shadows cast by lanterns are frightening, lonely and blur the line between reality and a death-wish fantasy. Cinematographer Drew Daniels has crafted one of the best looking pieces of the year and Director Trey Shults uses these visuals to make something that feels like some kind of disconcerting, quiet nightmare where we walk slowly and passively into that good night.
The screenplay is every bit as ruthless as our desperate survivors in what it’s willing to do. Shults doesn’t flinch and isn’t afraid to twist the knife. This isn’t an experience filled with jump scares but one that will linger long after the film’s truly shattering third act. This is The Road without a road. Ged Murray
#16 Free Fire – Dir. Ben Wheatley
I’ve become underwhelmed by typical action spectacle in cinema, particularly when nearly every superhero film ends with the leads fighting faceless CGI hordes as a beam of light from the sky threatens to destroy earth. What a delight then for movies like Free Fire. A Tarantino-esque crime-comedy about a gun-deal gone wrong in a warehouse in 70s Boston, Ben Wheatley’s latest is an exercise in bringing action back to its grittier, more intimate origins where the viewer felt every punch.
Essentially a ninety-minute shoot out, Free Fire never drags. The chaotic, shambling depiction of violence is impeccably staged by Wheatley. The cast comprised of terrific character actors (Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley to name but a few) and the script filled to the brim with zingers (“It’s beard oil!!!”) possess a swagger. Meanwhile, the ace period décor and soundtrack bring another level of cool to proceedings. In fact, the movie is so cool that it could be easy to overlook its themes of toxic masculinity and gun violence. Trap a group of guys in a warehouse with an endless supply of guns and ammo, soon bullets will fly – even when there are so many chances to walk away peacefully. Stephen Porzio
#15 Spider-Man: Homecoming – Dir. Jon Watts
When Disney announced in 2015 that a deal had been struck with Sony Pictures wherein both companies would share cinematic usage of Spider-Man, fans across the web were united in celebration. Finally we would see Spider-Man swinging around with the Avengers. However, filmgoers were less than enthused when it was revealed that a) the generally well-regarded Andrew Garfield would be recast and b) in addition to Spidey jumping into Avengery flicks, another solo Spidey film was now in production (the sixth in fifteen years). Amidst cries of superhero fatigue, critics moaned that there was nothing else to say, that there were no more webs to spin. Coupled with drab, Iron Man-centric marketing Spider-Man Homecoming quickly became the film no one wanted to see.
What a great delight then, that it’s so bloody good. Its star, Tom Holland is the centrepiece of its charm – younger than any of his predecessors, he exudes the youth and vitality Spider-Man is supposed to have (Garfield and Maguire both felt like men pretending to be boys). Michael Keaton is a fabulous villain, representing the kind of blue-collar, working-class frustration so often missing in films predominantly about rich people crashing buildings into each other. In addition to the small-scale plot (itself a breath of fresh air in a series besieged by the threat of citywide destruction), what truly sets the film off is the wonderful ensemble of teen-aged characters, each with their own agency and identity. They create a criss-crossing soap opera environment that feels not unlike a John Hughes film (a similarity not lost on the marketing department). More importantly however, this makes the film truly feel like a Stan Lee comic. With respect to its ill-fated predecessor, this Spider-Man actually is ‘Amazing’. Rob Ó Conchúir
#14 The Death of Stalin – Dir. Armando Iannucci
One of the more impressive feats a comedy can achieve is to make you laugh while simultaneously horrifying you. The Death of Stalin is in essence that sensation: the movie. Taking the real world events that surrounded Stalin’s sudden death and the scramble for power that followed, the film reimagines both the situation and the regime itself as a farce. Anomalous accents, preposterous clothing and the occasional joke in the worst taste; the film relishes in reminding you that no monster of history is safe from being ridiculed and depicted literally dying in a puddle of their own piss. Yet the film never shies away from depicting the horrors that took place. The humour is biting but it sinks its teeth in that much deeper because you know these massacres and injustices took place. But make no mistake, this is not a ridiculing of real people’s suffering but instead the thoroughly enjoyable evisceration of some truly terrible people, a mocking of their self-importance and a hot stream of indignity on pompous leaders who think themselves gods. How very 2017. Richard Drumm
#13 John Wick: Chapter 2 – Dir. Chad Stahelski
Keanu Reeves might be the greatest action star ever. His commitment to the form, rigors and execution of action cinema is commendable considering he was 50 when he did the first John Wick which he also did most of his own stunts for. The sequel is exactly what was needed. The underworld of assassins of the first film becomes globalised as everyone from bookkeepers to Chinese laundromats supply John Wick with the tools of his trade.
Director Chad Stahelski, a stunt double for Reeves on The Matrix, directs with a sure hand. Everything from lighting to cuts are carefully considered. When someone gets punched or shot in John Wick: Chapter 2 it looks like it hurts which is something every action movie should strive for. Fight scenes are balletic and brutal and take place in Roman catacombs and modern art museums. Whether its killing hired goons with a pencil or shooting a man, pinning him with the gun he’s just been shot with, reloading and then shooting him again John Wick: Chapter 2 always ups the ante and rarely lets us forget the capability of its master assassin and the actor who plays him. Andrew Carroll
#12 Baby Driver – Dir. Edgar Wright
For me, one of the highlights, if not the highlight, of 2017 was Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, and 200 words is just not enough to wax as lyrical about it as it really deserves more. But I’ll try! Expertly crafted, Baby Driver is a film made with a love and enthusiasm blatantly evident in practically every scene, from the energetic, almost balletic car chases to the minutely choreographed street scenes of just everyday life. I use the word “choreograph” deliberately as Baby Driver is virtually a musical, a proper song and dance routine of a movie just without the singing. Look at the laundromat scene, with Baby and Debora sharing his ear buds, the banks of washing machines behind them spin at full tilt with red, yellow and blue clothes, like a troop of backing dancers. Even the way they move around each other appears as if they are dancing. It’s just so clever and so well executed. Of course, the cast is universally excellent too; Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx in particular stand out.
What is unique to Baby Driver (I’ve never seen it before anyway) is the pacing. Every scene is paced perfectly to a song on Baby’s iPod, the music he is listening to in that moment, not incidental but totally intentional music. And the killer soundtrack is one of the key selling points, hip hop, rock, glam, easy listening, it’s all there. And because of the soundtrack, of the craftmanship, the art and the enthusiasm that went into its making, it is impossible not to find the fun in Baby Driver, one of the best films of 2017. Graham Connors
#11 I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore – Dir. Macon Blair
“Everyone are arseholes, and dildos and fuck-faces” Melanie Lynskey pretty much sums up the worldly view of Ruth in this superb line after her house gets robbed. The world is full of dicks and Ruth has had enough. Teaming up with an oddball, nunchuck-weilding neighbour Tony (Elijah Wood) she intends to get her stuff back and teach those responsible that stealing stuff is just not cool. After a small victory the naive duo quickly become embroiled in a series of escalating situations as they attempt to track down the thieves responsible.
This is an incredibly accomplished debut from writer/director Macon Blair. The dialogue is tight throughout, often hilariously highlighting how much the two are out of their depth. Blair also does a great job on keeping the audience on their toes with scenes turning on a dime often with violent consequences. The use of violence throughout I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is jarring against the humour in the best possible way.
Lynskey and Wood are a perfect team and Blair’s debut is a perfect addition to the Netflix Originals catalogue. This is possibly the finest feature length Netflix have produced and ninety minutes well spent. Paddy O’Leary