01st Jan2018

Phil’s Top 10 [Cinema] Films of 2017

by Phil Wheat


2017 has been, at least for me, a fantastic year for movies. There has been some great films in the cinema, on DVD and VOD and the film festivals we’ve covered have been jam-packed with quality movies. Which makes it VERY hard to narrow down a list of the Top 10 of the year!

So, with that being said, I’ve decided that this year I’d split my picks into two distinct lists – the ten best films I saw in cinemas, be it at the local multiplex or at film festivals; and the ten best direct-to-market titles of the year, be they DVD or VOD.

Up first, my Top 10 picks of the cinematic releases of 2017 – in the order I saw them… And yes, even under this criteria, it’s still hard to pin down JUST a Top 10!

The Warriors Gate

(Screened at Frightfest Glasgow 2017) The Warriors Gate sees Jack (Uriah Shelton), a bullied teenager mistaken for the video game hero he plays in his favourite game, magically transported to China, on a mission to save  Su Lin, the princess he had been tasked with protecting. He teams with warrior Zhoo (Mark Chao) and a flaky wizard (Francis Ng) to stop the evil Arun (Dave Bautista) from marrying the princess and get back home. Along the way he learns bravery, inner strength and, of course, kung-fu! Not only is The Warriors Gate a throwback to kids action/adventure cinema of the 80s – even featuring a BMX bike chase that could have stepped out of BMX Bandits or RAD, whilst the idea of having a hero be bullied by other kids at his school is ripped straight from The Karate Kid (writer Robert Mark Kamen also having penned all THREE of those movies). Even having a video game being a key plot point screams The Last Starfighter. Yet for all it’s 80s influences, The Warriors Gate is also a love letter to Wuxia cinema, and in particular the fantasy epics of Tsui Hark such as Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain and Detective Dee; and earlier wuxia films like John Woo’s Last Hurrah For Chivalry (1979) and King Hu’s Dragons Gate Inn (1970). It’s the combination of genres, influences and cast (a veritable cornucopia of nationalities) that made The Warriors Gate, despite seeing it way back in February 2017, still open this Top 10 list with a bang!

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

When the first Guardians of the Galaxy hit cinemas many would have predicted the film about a gaggle of strange heroes – including a living tree and a talking racoon – would fail miserably. It didn’t in fact it was quite the opposite. But there was still some question over whether lightning could strike twice for writer/director James Gunn – it did, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 turned out to be not only a great new Marvel movie, but also one of the best sequels to a Marvel movie (the best is undoubtedly Captain America: The Winter Soldier)  and upon repeated viewings may even surpass that classic film. Gunn knows this niche of the Marvel Universe and he is at home making loveable unknowns into household names.  The film is a fun ride and is actually more hilarious and action packed than the original. With GOTG Vol. 2 its clear that the future of the MCU is wide open to new (and somewhat strange) tales with unfamiliar characters and as many laughs as there is action – and it can only benefit from films like this, films that offer a whole new perspective on what “comic book movies” can actually be.

Wonder Woman

If there’s one thing I can say, it’s that I’m an equal opportunities comic book moie fanboy… DC, Marvel, even indie comics – if you turn it into a movie you can be sure I’ll at least check it out. Whether I’ll enjoy it or not is another matter. Case in point: the DCEU. Out of all the post Man Of Steel, “Zack Snyder universe” DC Comics superhero movies, there’s only one true cinematic hero. Wonder Woman – the most proactive, openly heroic superhero since Captain America in The First Avenger. And, as a result, Wonder Woman is the most sincere superhero movie since Captain America: The First Avenger, and it’s a relief to see a DC superhero act like a true hero for a change.

Taking what is, even in the comics, one of DC’s most difficult characters and creating a film that not only does justice to the history and histrionics of Diana Prince but is also a superb example of female empowerment (in front of and behind the camera), the Patty Jenkins helmed comic book movie sets the standard for all other DCEU films to live up to. Shame none have so far… *cough* Justice League. Oh, and THAT “No Mans Land” scene? A sublime piece of action movie-making.

Sequence Break

(Screened at Fantasia 2017/Frightfest 2017) Sequence Break tells the story of Oz (Chase Williamson) an antisocial loner who only finds solace in his love for ’80s arcade games, refurbishing and restoring them to their former glory. That is, until he meets Tess (Fabianne Therese). The two quickly become romantically entwined, but their budding romance is slowly threatened by a mysterious game that seems to be drawing the two deeper and deeper into its void of slime and Cronenbergian horror.

Having already appeared in Almost Human and The Mind’s Eye (easily one of the best genre films of 2015) for director Joe Begos, Graham Skipper continues his journey into the films of the 80s – this time behind the camera rather than in front – with Sequence Break, a film that reunites the ever-underrated Chase Williamson with actress Fabianne Therese, both of whom previously starred together in the awesome Don Coscarelli opus John Dies at the End (another personal favourite of mine). Visually Sequence Break looks amazing, from the ominous Tron-like way Skipper portrays the arcade games Oz lives with and repairs – especially the killer cab that he obsesses over – to the gooey, overtly sexual nature of the, lets just say, “malleable” arcade controls and the amazing biomechanical way in which man and machine combine… This does for the videogame generation what Videodrome did for tapeheads in the 80s.

Poor Agnes

(Screened at Fantasia 2017) A bleak look into the twisted mind of a serial killer, Poor Agnes is, to put it bluntly, is the female equivalent of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer – just as dark and just as powerful. Director Navin Ramaswaran’s film is an intriguing look at someone with no empathy and a strong desire to kill and torture, told from the killers perspective and with the involvement of the audience too. You see Agnes has a creepy tendency to talk to herself in reflections, all of which are caught squarely in the camera’s lens, which in turn feels like she’s breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience – making us privy to her innermost homicidal thoughts, and making us accomplices in her actions.

Canadian actress Lora Burke really convinces as Agnes – blending an assured insanity with a sultry sexuality that makes the character even more dangerous than a male equivalent. Much like Christian Bale in American Psycho, Burke revels in the madness of her character, yet here she also imbues Agnes with a depth that somehow – despite her evil actions – makes the audience feel for “Poor Agnes” (a title that could not be more apt). Poor Agnes is one serial killer film that should be held in the same regard as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, American Psycho and, yes, Hitchcock’s Psycho – only this film proves that women can be just as deadly, if not deadlier, than men!


(Screened at Fantasia 2017) M.F.A. explores the consequences of rape, not from the perspective of acheiving justice in the courts, but how it affects people in real terms: victims being put through the ringer by the authorities AND their friends; how rape becomes a “he said, she said” situation and how everything falls on the victim to PROVE things happened, not for the attacker to prove it didn’t; how social media echoes male bravado to the point that rape videos are spread around in a kind of “bragging rights” act. This is a very feminine perspective on rape and one that is much needed in horror cinema – we’ve had the story told from the male gaze, now it’s time to see women take on the genre.

Of course, rape-revenge movies have been a staple of genre cinema for years. Yet their power to shock has never diminished. Rape is still one of THE taboo topics in cinema, so to approach the subject is always a brave move – even moreso when it comes to horror. Anchored by actress Francesa Eastwood, whose stunning central performance runs the emotional gamut – from timid to terrifying – really showcasing Eastwood’s range and skill; M.F.A. is both a denunciation of the college rape culture and a fantastically eerie, and surprisingly emotive, take on the rape-revenge film and a perfect example of genre films being used to tell a much bigger, and in this case much more terrifying, tale.


(Screened at London Frightfest 2017) Radius sees Liam (The Blacklist’s Diego Kalttenhoff) wake from a car crash with no memory of who he is. As he makes his way into town to look for help, he finds only dead bodies, all with strange pale eyes. Liam’s first assessment is that a virus is present in the air and starts taking every precaution. But he soon discovers the horrible truth: anyone who comes within a 50-foot radius of him dies instantly. Then he meets Jane with whom he seems to have some sort of bizarre connection. However neither is prepared for the terrifying and appalling truth that binds them together. Our protagonists both have no recollection of who they are or why they are in this particular situation. Both only know that they are tied together by the bond of life. We will discover, throughout the course of the film, that it is a much more complicated bond than that as the story unfolds. But it’s credit to the films script that even with the same lack of knowledge as our leads, the audience is still enthralled, invested and impassioned by what will (and does) happen to Liam and Jane.

For a small, sci-fi-tinged horror made in Manitoba, Canada, Radius manages to leave its audience asking deep, meaningful, philosophical questions about life, humanity, whether we can ever escape our past, and if our past can, and should, dictate our future… Oh, and did I mention that ending. That ending! Let’s just say it’s not often a genre films conclusion can bring you to tears. Another superb slice of Canadian genre cinema, Radius should be on the radar of horror fans everywhere. It truly was one of the true surprises of this years Frightfest.

Ruin Me

(Screened at London Frightfest 2017) It’s been over a twenty years since Scream reinvented the slasher genre, heralding a new age of post-modern, self-referential horror. In the two decades since, the genre has found its way back to its more horrific, and in a lot of cases cliched, ways – with modern filmmakers, many of whom grew up in the 80s at the height of the slashers popularity, rediscovering what made the much-maligned genre so great. However, given that film, like life, is cyclical, it means its probably about time for yet another “reinvention”. And to that end comes Ruin Me…. Packed with references to cliches, tropes and stereotypes of not only slasher movies, but the horror genre in general, Ruin Me is – honestly – the perfect successor to Scream. However, as a huge fan of traditional slashers, this movie rises above Wes Craven’s film thanks to the woodland setting, a la every Friday the 13th rip-off you’ve ever seen; and the SUPERB way in which – despite telling the audience what is happening, and what the possible outcomes could/will be at each and every turn – the film subverts and plays with the very tropes it’s cleverly playing up to! It’s a wonderful dichotomy, and one the really makes Ruin Me feel fresh, new and exciting.

The End?

(Screened at London Frightfest 2017) What’s that? An Italian zombie film making my end of year Top 10? Hell yes! Reinventing and revitalising a genre that, at one time, was a staple of Italian genre cinema, The End? manages to find the humanity, the human story, within a much larger plot. Much like their directorial effort, The Arrival of Wang, the Manetti Bros. latest production, helmed by one of their longtime collaborators Daniele Misischia, focuses on a smaller part of a much bigger story, really showing the impact it’s having on one person, not an indiscriminate number of random “heroes’ a la a number of big-budget apocalypse movies – for that’s what this film is about: a zombie apocalypse, set in Rome. You could almost call it the Italian answer to 28 Days Later.

There’s also an interesting dichotomy at play here too: trapped inside the broken elevator the protagonist is in danger from the zombie horde outside the door, but at the same time he’s actually safe from the zombie outbreak outside the elevator door because he can’t get out and they can’t get in. The duality of the situation is also played upon very well. The End? is not only a story about a conflict with outside “forces” but an internal conflict for Claudio too. He wants to be free, to get home to his wife, but at the same time he’s in the safest place on the planet. The emotional struggle, the knowledge that he is, ultimately, powerless to help anyone in need – not only his wife at home but the co-workers who pass the elevator – is at the core of the characters journey. A great example of small-scale storytelling used to tell part of a much bigger tale, The End? also manages to tell a truly human story in an inhuman situation; and as such is a fine return to form for the Italian zombie genre.

Thor: Ragnarok

The Thor franchise has, unfortunately, been something of the “ugly step-child” of the MCU and have never really received the love that most other solo superhero films have. It’s not that the first two films are bad – far from it – it just seems audiences don’t find the character as appraling as Tony Stark or Steve Rogers. Maybe it’s because unlike those two heroes Thor has less flaws, and is portrayed as more the human, so the empathy for the character is not there. Whatever the reason Thor: Ragnarok goes a LONG way to correct that – by adding the same wacky, outrageous humour that fans loved in the GOTG franchise and reintroducing Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk, in a way that not only gave the character more humanity but also allowed Marvel to touch upon one of the characters most beloved storylines, Planet Hulk.

Hemsworth is a joy to watch as Thor, his performance a perfect blend of beefcake physicality and warm humour, offset with just a hint of buffoonish arrogance. His back-and-forth chemistry with Hiddleston’s Loki is one of several comic highlights, as is his relationship with both Ruffalo’s Banner, both in and out of Hulk form. Here’s hoping Marvel keep director Taika Waititi on board for more MCU movies – he, like Gunn, seems to have found the perfect timbre for making Marvel movies fun.

Honorable Mentions: John Wick Chapter 2, Shin Godzilla, It Stains the Sands Red, The LEGO Batman Movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, War of the Planet of the Apes, Savage Dog, Replace, Indiana, Assholes, Atomic Blonde, The Untamed, Freehold, King Cohen, Still/Born, Devil’s Gate, The Terror of Hallows Eve, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, The Disaster Artist, Better Watch Out, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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