Best of the Decade: 2017

With the decade having drawn to a close, One Large Popcorn, Please! is continuing to honour the greatest films of the past ten years. This week, the year 2017 is in focus.

This year was one which saw Hollywood shaken to its core, with the #MeToo movement heralding a momentous social change few thought possible in Donald Trump’s America. It gained traction after a number of high-profile figures were ousted for sexual misconduct, including actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis C.K., director Brett Ratner and, most notably, film producer Harvey Weinstein.

2017 heralded another change that was most significant for this author: the beginning of his journey into broadcasting. Having contributed to a discussion about television on RPP FM, he soon after joined as a guest presenter on the same station and immediately fell in love with the medium of radio. The experience prompted him to join SYN Media, which would provide him with even more hosting opportunities in the months to come.

For the majority of the year though, attention was largely focused on the superhero genre. Marvel Studios released a sequel for Guardians of the Galaxy, and gave the Thor franchise a colourful make-over with the Taika Waititi-directed Thor: Ragnarok. The DC Cinematic Universe counteracted by releasing the better-than-anticipated Wonder Woman, before faltering once again with the lacklustre Justice League.

This article was probably the hardest to write of the Best of the Decade series thus far, due to the sheer number of quality pictures released in 2017. This author had great difficulty deciding which movies were most worthy of recognition, and as a consequence, there are a total of six films being discussed below, rather than the usual four or five.


Free Fire

Free Fire - Australian poster

Ben Wheatley is to independent cinema what Trump is to politics – a figure who is either madly loved or intensely loathed. The action-comedy Free Fire, which was intended to find a more mainstream audience, only further enforced this notion with its screenplay about an ill-fated weapons exchange between America’s Central Intelligence Agency and the Irish Republican Army in a mangy warehouse.

Led by an ensemble cast of Hollywood heavyweights and character actors – including Armie Hammer, Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy – Free Fire is a movie of old-school thrills, combining cool action sequences, dark humour, flashy visuals, groovy music, oddball personalities and tension galore. Though occasionally a frantic experience and sometimes a sombre one, there is no denying how much fun this picture is.

Free Fire’s theatrical release in April 2017 came after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival the year prior and subsequent showing at the South by South West Festival. Critics were polarised by the picture, gifting it with a 69% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 63% score on Metacritic, and its box-office returns suffered as a result – just $3.8 million in ticket sales was made from a budget of $7 million. Even so, this author still counts himself as a fan.


Spider-Man: Homecoming

Homecoming poster

It took five films, a reboot and a cameo in Captain America: Civil War to make it happen, but at long last, Spider-Man had a feature-length picture that everybody could appreciate. Now integrated into the Avengers universe, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is back in high school and trying to win the affections of Liz (Laura Harrier) while his alter-ego must do battle with the villainous Vulture (Michael Keaton).

Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t so much a superhero flick as it is a wholesome Eighties blockbuster that refuses to be pigeonholed into a particular genre, having elements of drama, romance, science-fiction and (of course) action. Yet if the film were to be placed into a single category, it would most likely be a comedy, simply because there are so many hilarious moments with the most perfect of timing.

One of the more successful instalments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Homecoming earned $880 million at the worldwide box-office and an approval rating of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, with Tom Holland’s performance being particularly lauded. A sequel, Spider-Man: Far From Home followed two years after with Jon Watts returning as director, while a third movie is confirmed to be in the early stages of development.



Dunkirk poster

History’s bleakest moments have often brought out the best in humanity; Operation Dynamo is one such occasion. In May 1940, as British forces became surrounded and outnumbered in Northern France, a group of civilian ships – aided by the Air Force – took part in a mass evacuation that saw the lives of over 300,000 servicemen saved. These events would later serve as inspiration for Christopher Nolan’s tenth feature.

Nolan’s screenplay is split into three separate conflicts, all of which focus on different individuals involved of the operation – the soldiers stranded in France, the non-combatants who assisted the Navy, and the pilots who protected their countrymen. More exceptional is how accurately and closely it captures these horrific events, with the aid of large-scale practical effects, deafening sound, sharp cinematography and convincing performances.

Upon its release and in the short years since, Dunkirk has been hailed by many as one of the greatest war films ever made. At the 90th Academy Awards, it earned wins for Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, while also being nominated in five other categories, including Best Picture and Best Director. Additionally, Nolan also picked up an AACTA for Best Direction.


The Disaster Artist

Disaster Artist poster

Although its most infamous quotes had already entered folklore, it wasn’t until the release of this James Franco-helmed project that Tommy Wiseau’s The Room – a film oft-described as “the Citizen Kane of bad movies” – truly entered the public zeitgeist. This biographical comedy tells of an outsider living in the shadow of his younger, more successful friend, an experience that prompts the former to write, produce and direct his own Hollywood movie.

The Disaster Artist is based on Greg Sestero’s memoir of the same name, yet doesn’t follow the events of that book verbatim; instead the film examines the friendship/bromance between Wiseau and Sestero, played by siblings James and Dave Franco, respectively. Both characters are portrayed with a grace, warmth and humility that make them identifiable, while the humorous script is insightful and profound.

Fans of Wiseau’s work warmly received The Disaster Artist, as did critics, with Rotten Tomatoes indicating an Approval Rating of 91%. The picture received two nominations in the Musical or Comedy category at the 75th Golden Globes, with James Franco winning Best Actor; sadly there was no such luck at the Academy Awards that followed, with its sole nomination being in the Best Adapted Screenplay category.


I, Tonya

I, Tonya poster

Nobody asked for a movie about the life of Tonya Harding – least of all Nancy Kerrigan – but her story is one that needed to be told. As this biopic about her life explains, Harding grew-up as part of not one, but two abusive relationships, all while rigorously training to become the world’s best figure skater. She came close to achieving her dream, only to have her life fall apart because of an impetuous, monumentally stupid act.

I, Tonya is very unconventional in the way it tells its tale, much like its eponymous protagonist, cleverly relying on interviews with its characters to deliver the plot whilst they interrupt proceedings with fourth-wall breaks every so often. There’s also plenty of visual fair, songs of yesteryear and poignancy, all of which make for a very engaging narrative.

The performances of I, Tonya were particularly lauded, with Margot Robbie garnering numerous nominations for her lead role and Paul Walter Hauser becoming a breakout star for his portrayal of enforcer Shawn Eckhardt. Yet it was Allison Janney who collected the most accolades for playing LaVona Golden, including a Golden Globe, BAFTA, AACTA and Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actress category.


Lady Bird

Lady Bird poster

Just when one thought the coming-of-age genre had nothing left to offer, along came Greta Gerwig with a resonant film based on her own adolescence. It tells of a defiant teenager who goes by “Lady Bird” (Saoirse Ronan) – rather than her birth name, Christine – and her experiences during her final year of high school, including failed romances and the fractious relationship with her family.

There is so much to appreciate about Lady Bird, chief among which is the character development – every protagonist is superbly written, holding a personality that is multifaceted, complex and idiosyncratic. Additionally, the screenplay takes great strides in sympathising with the struggles of the supporting characters, in doing so prompting viewers to reflect upon their own adolescence.

A recipient of universal acclaim, Lady Bird holds a near-perfect rating of 99% of Rotten Tomatoes. Greta Gerwig made history at the 90th Academy Awards by becoming just the fifth woman in history to be nominated in for Best Director, while the film also earned nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress (for Saoirse Ronan) and Best Supporting Actress (for Laurie Metcalf).


Other notable releases: Jordan Peele provided one of the most profound directorial debuts in history with Get Out; the gritty Logan was adored for its serious take on the titular, much-loved mutant; Charlize Theron shone in the flashy action flick Atomic Blonde; Martin McDonagh’s biting Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri examined the depravity and power of humanity; Pixar continued their winning streak with the Mexico-set Coco; queer cinema was once again brought to the mainstream with Call Me By Your Name; action-comedy Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was an unexpected success at the box-office; likewise The Greatest Showman, which drew only mild interest from critics; and most surprisingly of all, cinemagoers were left divided by Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

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