Lightsabers, caped crusaders, fast cars and fairy tales — if you went to the cinema this year, we're betting that you saw at least one of the above. And, if you caught more than a couple of flicks, you probably roamed your eyes over creepy clowns, cheeky spies, immersive accounts of war and an acclaimed Aussie drama as well.
From Star Wars, Wonder Woman, The Fate of the Furious and Beauty and the Beast, to It, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Dunkirk and Lion, they're the movies that Australians flocked to in 2017. Of course, they had company. Nearly 400 films were released onto Aussie screens over the past 12 months, and even the biggest cinephiles among probably skipped a couple. Based on box office figures, here's ten we think you might've missed, and should make the effort to catch up with.
One of the year's best films, under-seen or otherwise, is also one that arrived with a bloody splash. When Raw premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016, audience members reportedly fainted during its tale of a vegan teenager turned cannibalistic college student — and while they might've been overreacting, the French film isn't for the gore-averse. What it is, rather, is an unforgettable and visceral take on the savagery of growing up from first-time writer/director Julia Ducournau. She's matched in talent by her leading lady Garance Marillier, who makes viewers understand both the reluctance and excitement that comes with going to university, breaking free from her usual personality and casually snacking on severed limbs.
2017 was a wonderful year — for films with 'wonder' in the title, at least. While Wonder Wheel is completely missable, and Wonderstruck only played select festivals, Wonder Woman kicked superhero ass. And, it wasn't the only movie about the famous comic book character to make it to cinemas, or the best. In Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, movie-goers received the origin movie they didn't know they needed, following the story of Diana Prince's creation by William Moulton Marston. The psychologist turned comic book author (Luke Evans) took inspiration from his own life with his wife (Rebecca Hall) and live-in girlfriend (Bella Heathcoate), as relayed with passion and personality by writer/director Angela Robinson.
Mark our words: in the next couple of years, an English-language version of this Thai thriller will reach our screens. A high-stakes high-school exam flick, it's smart and slick, funny and fast-paced, tautly made and tension-filled — and it turns a situation we can all relate to into a nail-biting heist caper. Straight-A student Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) is the misbehaving high-achiever of the title, who first hatches a plan to make money by feeding her classmates test answers, and then bands together with her customers to cheat the biggest test there is. The premise was taken from reality, and part of the movie was shot in Sydney, but the real highlight is Bad Genius' lively style and thoroughly entertaining narrative.
THE LOST CITY OF Z
Because these things always come in pairs, The Lost City of Z is one of two 2017 features that send former film franchise heartthrobs into the jungle. It's the only one you won't want to end, however. Robert Pattinson plays second fiddle to Charlie Hunnam in this account of geographer and explorer Percy Fawcett's life, and to James Gray's astutely measured direction, as well as cinematographer Darius Khondji's lush and striking images. Indeed, Hunnam does some of his best work as the man determined to find the fabled locale, while Gray shows that his skills apply not only in urban settings, but to vast Amazonian wilds too. A visually precise and painterly effort result, one that's an existential adventure, a lush-looking portrait of feverish obsession and an engaging biopic all in the same mesmerising package.
This Australian-directed, New York-shot documentary only received a tiny cinema run earlier this year, so you can be forgiven for missing it. That said, if you were a fan of Bill Cunningham New York or Iris, or like factual looks at real-life creative types doing what they love — and wearing their eccentricity on their sleeves — you'll want to redress that oversight as soon as possible. A small film that leaves a big imprint, it focuses on three elderly residents of Manhattan's Far West Village for retired artists, each coping with their advanced years by immersing themselves in their chosen fields. Guided by their tales, Aussie filmmaker Rohan Spong crafts an insightful and empathetic doco that's never anything less than revelatory.
IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD
With gorgeous watercolour animation and a bittersweet but graceful approach, In This Corner of the World turns a dark chapter of the past into a thing of beauty. That applies both emotionally and visually, in a film that enchants even as it delves into life in World War II-era Hiroshima. Teenager Suzu Urano (Non) finds things forever change when she weds a naval clerk in 1943 and moves to city where he's based; however, history dictates that more is still to come. It's the type of multi-layered wonder that Studio Ghibli would usually make, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that writer/director Sunao Katabuchi worked as an assistant director on Kiki's Delivery Service. His work here is certainly worthy of the comparison.
HEAL THE LIVING
In her third film, French writer/director Katell Quillévéré wades into tricky waters, but never forgets to admire life's beauty. Given that organ donation is her main topic, that's a simply stunning feat. Based on the book of the same name, Heal the Living follows the many people affected when a 17-year-old surfer's existence is cut short: his grief-stricken parents and girlfriend, the medical professionals charged with his care and the ailing woman in another city who might get a second chance through this tragedy. As well as the sensitive handling of the subject matter, the detailed depiction of hospital routines and the spot-on charting of intricate, intimate emotional terrain, the feature boasts movingly lyrical sensibilities, and a mastery of both poetic and clinical imagery. A word of warning: if you've ever been through something similar, you may find the experience especially devastating.
John Wick: Chapter 2 and Atomic Blonde aren't 2017's only ace assassin films. From South Korea, say hello to The Villainess. The latest in a long line of kinetic, frenetic action flicks from the country's shores, it follows a woman trained to kill, forced to lend the government her skills and sporting one heck of a backstory. If it sounds familiar because you've seen plenty of similar fare — Luc Besson's La femme Nikita and Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill included — don't worry; this isn't a mere walk down a well-worn path or an easy clone. Understandably, it's the fast and furious displays of carnage that particularly stand out thanks to director Jung Byung-gil's high-octane approach, as well as a memorable score.
Did a teacher change your life? Did you discover your true passion at school? Even if you answered no to both of those questions, there's no doubting the influence that education has on our identities — not just in the things we learn, but the people we encounter and the experiences we go through. Still not convinced? Let Irish documentary School Life show you. Set at a boarding school, it's a movie about many things: bright minds facing the future, dedicated teachers determined to do their best at their important task at hand, and two specific veterans still shaping the next generation as their own days fade. As they step through all of the above, documentarians Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane find the right balance between observation and emotion, and between affection and insight.
SONG TO SONG
Love him or hate him, no one makes movies like Terrence Malick. As a result, when it comes to his dream-like explorations of human existence, you're either on his whisper-soundtracked, roaming camera-shot, attractive actor-starring wavelength, or you're not. Song to Song won't change anyone's minds, but those eager to go along for the ride will find the iconic filmmaker in top form in this particularly prolific phase of his career. Partially set and shot at SXSW, and featuring Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Iggy Pop and Patti Smith (among others), Song to Song proves an intoxicating dance-filled picture with oh-so-pretty folks coping with the complexities of love and life.