A very queer year in cinema also manages to breathe new life into the horror and superhero genres.
The major takeaway, looking back at the year in cinema, is that 2017 has been an absolutely stellar year for queer cinema, and for queer cinema breaking through to mainstream audiences too. A remarkable 10 out of 15(ish) of my top picks feature LGBTIQ themes.
The year that was has also seen a fantastic shot in the arm for the horror genre after a seemingly interminable wasteland of empty torture porn, with two vibrant additions to my hit list smartly blurring the lines of what the genre can do.
With so much goodness on offer, I kept a strict cut off at 4.5 stars-plus, leaving a few excellent options like Colossal, Personal Shopper, Hidden Figures, The Innocents, The Wound, Good Time, My Friend Dahmer and The Killing of a Sacred Deer off to one side. I’ve also only included films with limited, national or festival releases in 2017, with a few plum picks like Phantom Thread, which I’ve had the privilege to see early, earmarked for next year
There aren’t quite as many foreign films at the top of my list as usual, at four and a half (one features intermittent bursts of French and Italian), and I’d have definitely preferred to list more than four films with female directors attached.
Normally a devourer of docos, the field of excellence was far less populous this year, so I have decided to focus exclusively on dramatic features. Major contenders otherwise would include Gurrumul (the name was not changed to reflect cultural sensibilities following Dr G Yunupingu’s death), Agnès Varda’s collaboration with JR, Faces Places, and Raoul Peck’s searing spotlight on the work of James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro.
Even a superhero fare managed to excel in 2017. Though they didn’t make it into my top 15, kudos is certainly due to Patty Jenkins’ myth-busting Wonder Woman, which proves that audiences most certainly are hungry for female-driven projects, Hugh Jackman’s melancholic swansong to Wolverine in Logan, and also Taika Waititi’s gloriously bonkers Thor: Ragnarok, rewiring of the cut and paste Marvel model (all four stars). Oh, and against all the odds, to a second reboot in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Without further ado, here’s the painstakingly selected final cut.
Written by and starring hemiplegic actor Daniel Monks, directed by Stevie Cruz-Martin, this stylish and button-pushing Australian film showcased at MQFF is a lightly speculative work that dramatises Monk’s early struggles with being gay and disabled. Positing the question what would you do if body swap technology were available, it also explores the complicated ramifications.
14) Battle of the Sexes
Though Emma Stone took home the Best Actress statuette for La La Land at the Oscars this year, for my money her turn as feminist hero and one-day LGBTIQ champion Billie Jean King was superior. Little Miss Sunshine directorial team Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton’s tennis biopic is a smart, snappy and hearty look at the showdown between King and chauvinist Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell).
Scooping the audience award for best feature at MQFF, Seána Kerslake is outstanding in the titular role of a troubled ex-con who finds her about-to-get-married best friend Charlene (Charleigh Bailey) has moved on when she gets out of jail in Irish writer/director Darren Thornton’s feature debut. Struggling to adjust, she finds safe harbour in the company of videographer Jess (Tara Lee).
Returning to Irvine Welsh’s beloved bad boys two decades later, the arrival in Leith of Ewan McGregor’s Renton triggers an earthquake. Once more helmed with spunk by Danny Boyle, this is a different beast, haunted by the weight of mortality and betrayed friendships. Also featuring ghosts of that iconic soundtrack, as Renton says, “it’s not nostalgia, it’s a memorial.”
Ok, I’m cheating a bit with this joint post, but the magnificent Annette Bening anchors both with career-defining performances. Bringing heart to faded film star Gloria Grahame at the end of her days in Paul McGuigan’s bittersweet love story played out far from Hollywood, Liverpool is adapted from the memoir of her younger lover Peter Turner (Jamie Bell). Mike Mills’ 20th Century sees her as a mixed-up matriarch determined to ensure a better life for her teenage son (Lucas Jade Zumann) with the aid of her kooky housemates.
Released in the wake of sci-fi behemoth Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I fear Sean Baker’s beautifully dreamy yet down and dirty follow up to his iPhone-shot hit Tangerine will fall by the wayside in Australia. That’s a real shame, because the hardscrabble misadventures of plucky young Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and co, played out in the shadow of Walt Disney World, deserve to be seen by all.
Okay, cheating again, but while this queer duo are very different, they share some DNA and I saw them back-to-back MIFF, inextricably linking them in my mind. Bigger in scope, French writer/director Robin Campillo’s ensemble-driven AIDS activism biopic BPM is a real heart breaker. So, too, in a much more intimate way, is Brooklyn-based writer/director Eliza Hitman’s Beach Rats, which explores the toxic internal homophobia of one closeted young man (an excellent breakout for young Brit Harris Dickinson).
Featuring an incredible turn by Daniel Kaluuya that puts both racism and white privilege into terrifying (often acerbically hilarious) perspective, Jordan Peele’s feature debut is a whip smart social satire purpose-built for these days of Trump and an America frighteningly divided along racial lines. Alison Williams also gets to shake off Girls in a brilliant spin on that series’ well-documented whiteness.
Russian director Andrey Zvagyintsev delivers yet another gut punch following 2014’s Leviathan, this time examining the bitter aftermath of a young boy’s disappearance in the midst of war between his separating and selfish parents. As winter’s chill sets in and survival hopes become more desperate, this icy slow-burn drama is one of the year’s most emotionally complex tour de forces.
Chilean director Sebastián Lelio continues his sterling run depicting empowered women on screen with this occasionally surreal ode to queer resistance in the face of casual homophobic cruelty. Daniela Vega, a trans woman, is a revelation as Marina, a cocktail waitress and lounge singer who just wants to keep the dog she shared with her late lover, his bullying, bigoted family be damned.
One of the most staggering films of the year, writer/director Julia Ducournau’s debut feature announces a startling new vision in French cinema. Pinned on a magnificent central turn from Garance Marillier, she plays a young vet student whose coming of age sparks an uncontrollable hunger that’s as biting a metaphor for the heady highs and the horrors of emerging sexuality as possible.
I’m staggered by the lack of love for Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s epic ode to American mythmaking over the Kennedys, unspooling over the days leading up to and the awful aftermath of JFK’s assassination. Natalie Portman should have taken home the Oscar for her pained depiction of grief both private and horrendously public, with Larraín’s outsider status offering a new perspective.
Luca Guadagnino casts an incandescent spell with his radiant adaptation of André Aciman’s queer coming-of-age novel. Announcing young star Timothée Chalamet as a keeper (catch him next in Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird) the delicate unfurling love with Armie Hammer’s 20-somehthing Oliver, played out in luscious Northern Italy in the 80s, is nothing short of swoonsome.
A gorgeous pastoral love story of happiness barely glimpsed through swollen silences and harsh countenances, Francis Lee’s heart-fluttering feature debut is one I have already gone back to multiple times with no lessening of its emotional impact. Stars Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu as the farmers struggling with their emerging feelings for one another make for a magnificent cinematic pairing.
Simply put, Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning masterpiece is cinematic poetry wrought in sound and light. Depicting a triptych of seminal moments in one closeted black man’s hard-fought life – as realised by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes – it is one of the finest films in at least a decade, a truly beautiful achievement that will surely stand the test of time.