Best & Worst 2017

Best & Worst 2017: Movies

Dunkirk stars Fionn Whitehead. PHOTO: WARNER BROS


Dunkirk (PG13, 107 minutes)

Like The Red Turtle (also in the Best List), director Christopher Nolan's depiction of an actual World War II event is a masterclass in the use of silence. In this powerful recreation of the military disaster that shattered national confidence, war is a series of lulls, punctuated by seconds of terror. Nolan also bucks war movie trends: No evil Germans are visible and there is little gore. Yet the film has more moments of hair-raising terror than any war film in recent memory.

Raw (R21, 99 minutes)

Horror movies should be horrific. But they can also be thoughtful and relevant. French import Raw, winner of the Critics' Week prize at the Cannes Film Festival, has plenty of ideas to go with the shocks, starting with the phrase "cannibal coming-of-age story". Writer-director Julia Ducournau's story concerns student Justine (Garance Marillier), who is dealing with a new school, bullying and a sexual awakening, while coping with a trait she inherited from her parents - a taste for human flesh. She is a Little Red Riding Hood who is turning into a big bad wolf.

The Red Turtle (PG, 81 minutes)

Cinema still of The Red Turtle. PHOTO: THE PROJECTOR

The most visually arresting movie of the year comes from London-based Dutch animator Michael Dudok De Witt, who does things with line and colour that leave audiences wishing they could linger in his world long after the lights come up. With no dialogue and a subliminal soundtrack, this tale of a castaway and his fairy-tale adventure is a modern, magical take on silent movies.


The Emoji Movie (PG, 92 minutes)

Hi-5 voiced by James Corden, Gene voiced by T.J. Miller and Devil voiced by Sean Hayes with other emojis in Sony Animation's The Emoji Movie. PHOTO: SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT

This animated work and the eco-disaster epic Geostorm (PG13) competed for the title of worst movie. Geostorm is a stinker, but for its power to gnaw away at your will to live, this one wins.

In this attempt at "youth branding", a "meh" emoji (voiced by T.J. Miller) chases his dreams in a world set inside a mobile phone, while other characters tell him to stay in his lane. That premise, unpromising as it sounds, might not have led to this mess if just a few talents on this project cared about more than their pay cheques.

John Lui


Call Me By Your Name (R21, 132 minutes )

Call Me By Your Name has Armie Hammer (left) and Timothee Chalamet (right) in the lead roles. PHOTO: SONY PICTURES CLASSICS

American writer Andre Aciman's 2007 novel of the same name is a thing of beauty, an account of a love affair between 17-year-old Elio and visiting 24-year-old scholar Oliver in a small town in Italy in the 1980s.

Against an idyllic backdrop of rural Italian gorgeousness, director Luca Guadagnino conveys the headiness of first love and sexual awakening. Timothee Chalamet slips thoroughly under Elio's skin and gives a sensitively tuned performance as he swings from heady rapture to being lacerated by doubt. Armie Hammer is also well-cast as the athletic American academic who wants to do right by Elio.

Adaptations are tricky things, more so if the original is beloved, but this movie is its own kind of wonderful. After two sold-out screenings and winning the Audience Choice Award at the Singapore International Film Festival, the drama is slated for a run at The Projector from Jan 4.

Midnight Runners (PG13, 109 minutes)

Cinema still of Midnight Runners starring Kang Ha Neul (left) and Park Seo Jun. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES

A thoroughly entertaining and satisfying South Korean buddy action flick, thanks to the chemistry between the two charming and likeable lead actors, Park Seo Jun and Kang Ha Neul.

They play a pair of police academy trainees who witness the abduction of a young woman and decide to follow up on their own time, even at the risk of getting expelled.

Writer-director Jason Kim Joo Hwan deftly mixes comedy, action, crime and morality drama. Hopefully, there is a sequel.

Mad World (PG13, 101 minutes)

Cinema still of Mad World starring Shawn Yue (left) and Eric Tsang. PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE FILM FESTIVAL

Young Hong Kong film-maker Wong Chun's debut feature is a compassionate look at the often-ignored topic of mental illness. The 28-year-old depicts the maladies of intolerance and fear, but does not pretend there are easy remedies.

The drama is also grounded by fine performances from Shawn Yue, as a bipolar disorder sufferer trying to navigate his way in society, and Eric Tsang, as a father who is faced with difficult questions about how to best care for his mentally ill son.

Kudos to the Singapore Chinese Film Festival for screening it in its original Cantonese.


Love Contractually (NC16, 98 minutes)

Cinema still of Love Contractually starring Sammi Cheng and Joseph Chang. PHOTO: CLOVER FILMS

Yet another dire and dour movie which purports to be a romantic comedy. Sammi Cheng's nitpicking executive-type taskmaster is a cold and cheerless creation that is hard to warm up to and there is no chemistry between the Hong Kong star and Taiwan's Joseph Chang. He is a paratrooper-turned-courier who ends up as her assistant, only to realise later that he was picked to be her sperm donor.

When a movie shifts its location to scenic Paris for no good reason, that is a sign that the film-makers are clutching at straws.

Boon Chan

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 17, 2017, with the headline Best & Worst 2017: Movies. Subscribe