The 20 Best Movies of 2017

by The Listener / 15 December, 2017

Listener reviewers James Robins and Peter Calder pick the best films they’ve seen in the past year.

Blade Runner 2049.

Blade Runner 2049.

RelatedArticlesModule - Best Movies 2017

A Date for Mad Mary

A winning Irish adaptation of a solo stage play featured an irresistible title-role performance by Seána Kerslake as an ungovernably angry young woman who has to find a plus-one for her best friend’s wedding. The mix of farce and deadpan humour never obscures the character’s complexity and humanity. (PC)

After the Storm

The Japanese maestro Hirokazu Kore-eda’s new film was more delicate and nuanced than his recent ones, the story of a novelist with writer’s block who longs to be a good father but can’t work out how. Its tone is of rueful melancholy. As always, Kore-eda is supremely attentive to the beauty of daily life. (PC)

Battle of the Sexes

The 1973 tennis match between ageing former men’s champ Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King, a woman at the top of her game, was only a showbiz stunt, but this film about the backstory, by the duo behind Little Miss Sunshine, dug down to a richer vein of material and created moments of real magic. (PC)

Blade Runner 2049

Honouring the languorous tone and bleak dystopian aesthetic of its predecessor, Denis Villeneuve’s probing of what it means to be human in the age of robots was a titanic achievement. It thrived on doubt and ambivalence, but you could just as easily ignore the thematic interrogation and simply marvel at its sheen, mood and style. (JR)

Battle of the Sexes.

Battle of the Sexes.

The Big Sick

One of the best romantic comedies in recent years, Kumail Nanjiani’s biographical story (co-written with his wife, Emily Gordon) of a blossoming relationship almost tragically cut short was a delicate blend of wit, anxiety and sweetness. (JR)

Call Me By Your Name

Director Luca Guadagnino finally makes good on the promise of his previous films I Am Love and A Bigger Splash and produces something sensuous, tender and utterly heartbreaking. Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg give warm and humane performances in a love story set during an idyllic Italian summer. (JR)

In cinemas from December 28

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Following Dogtooth and The Lobster, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos hones his considerable manipulative skill, making us writhe with unease at this disquieting psychological horror in which Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman head a family subject to the vengeful whims of young Barry Keoghan. (JR)

In cinemas now

Call Me By Your Name.

Call Me By Your Name.


Anyone else would have directed Dunkirk as a straightforward war epic. But Christopher Nolan turned this legendary tale of British resolve into a remarkably tense thriller of endurance and desperate survival. As he did in his best work, Memento and Inception, Nolan fractured time and set the clock ticking. (JR)

The Florida Project

American indie director Sean Baker’s superlative latest shares its DNA with Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake in its examination of lives that have slipped into poverty and despair. An energetic and poignant film told from the wide-eyed perspective of children. (JR)

In cinemas from December 26

Get Out

Although wedged into the comedy category at the upcoming Golden Globes, Get Out was a horror story for our time. Blending Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with The Stepford Wives and Night of the Living Dead, it is a bloody satire on the illusion of a post-racial America. (JR)



God's Own Country

The debut feature from British director Francis Lee was an intense gay romance set against the rugged Yorkshire Dales and driven by the vulnerable and affectionate performances of its leading men, Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu. (JR)

Human Traces

Christchurch writer/director Nic Gorman’s ambitious debut feature is a pacey thriller of madness, megalomania and conflict between three conservation workers isolated on a sub-antarctic island whose individual perspectives are looped into the film’s impressively knotty narrative structure (JR)

In cinemas now

I Am Not Your Negro

An unfinished memoir by James Baldwin was the raw material of an enthralling documentary that brought the great black writer to imperious, passionate life. Soberingly, and not incidentally, it spoke directly to our age in which We Shall Overcome has been replaced by #BlackLivesMatter: if dots must be joined, it is for white people, Baldwin would say, to join them. (PC)




Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton played the Lovings in Jeff Nichols’ downbeat drama, an interracial couple who challenged the injustice of racist marriage laws in Virginia with dignity and decorum. (JR)


Not even a Best Picture Oscar is a high enough honour for Barry Jenkins’s masterpiece. Covering three periods in the life of a poor, gay, black man in Florida, it defied stereotypes. Directed with subtlety, grace and empathy, Moonlight remains one of the most important, beautiful and moving films in a generation. (JR)

One Thousand Ropes

The second feature by Samoan-born director Tusi Tamasese, after The Orator (O Le Tulafale), gave up its secrets slowly as it peeled back the layers in the life of Maea, a traditional healer with a dark past. Handsomely filmed in central Wellington, it mixed workaday social realism with elements of folk-tale and myth, and if there were references that eluded Palagi viewers, it was the work of a storyteller at ease with the ineffable. (PC)

Their Finest.

Their Finest.

Their Finest

A surprisingly funny look at WWII British propaganda cinema, with charming performances from Gemma Arterton, Bill Nighy and Sam Claflin, was also a testament to the power of movies: “Real life with the boring bits cut out.” (JR)

Wind River

This backwoods murder tale was the final panel in writer Taylor Sheridan’s triptych about the fraying of the American social fabric, following Sicario and Hell or High Water. Less supercharged than those films, it was still a disquieting and coolly disturbing meditation on the damage that has been inflicted on the Native American population. (JR)

War for the Planet of the Apes.

War for the Planet of the Apes.

War for the Planet of the Apes

The impressive final instalment in a reboot trilogy that has exceeded its previous incarnations became the best, smartest Hollywood blockbuster franchise to emerge since The Hunger Games. (JR)


Eight films by eight female directors explored the lives of the people in the wider whānau and hapū after the death – unexplained, but presumably from abuse or neglect – of a young boy. The oblique approach kept the viewer on edge and there was real formal boldness at work in a project that argued, in contrast to the liberal piety, that it may take a village to kill a child. (PC)

In cinemas now

This article was first published in the August 19, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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