Irish Times films-of-2017 reader poll distorted by online campaign

Rustling through this year’s ballot papers, there is something puzzling going on...


A film about a brave British withdrawal in the second World War has triumphed at the 2017 Ticket Awards. With Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan managed the tricky business of keeping both critics and mainstream movie fans happy.

Among other things, the picture is a celebration of old-school cinematic exhibition. The 70mm screenings at the Irish Film Institute sold out faster than a Stuka can strafe a beach. Further glory almost certainly awaits in awards season.

The bookies currently have Dunkirk as a default favourite – more Oscary than the many indie challengers – to take the Academy Award for best picture in three months’ time.

Fionn Whitehead in Dunkirk
Fionn Whitehead in Dunkirk

Rustle through this year’s ballot papers, however, and you will find a very different film registering puzzlingly strongly. Alex Gibney’s No Stone Unturned, a documentary on the Loughinisland massacre, came very close to beating Dunkirk in that best film race. Indeed, it was ahead the night before voting closed. It ended up in second place ahead of Moonlight, winner of the Oscar for best picture, and Jordan Peele’s hit satirical horror Get Out. In the competition for best documentary, Gibney’s film beat I Am Not Your Negro, Raoul Peck’s brilliant picture on being black in America, into first position.

The Irish Times covered Gibney’s film more extensively than any other Irish release this year. Pieces by Susan McKay and Amanda Ferguson addressed issues raised in the film. Tara Brady reviewed No Stone Unturned and I interviewed Alex Gibney. The subject of the state collusion that hampered prosecution is one that deserves to be under constant scrutiny. Nonetheless, the film itself – which names the suspect, but otherwise echoes much in the ombudsman’s report – did not strike us as serious competition for documentaries such as I Am Not Your Negro, Cameraperson or Casting JonBenet. It, thus, did not appear in the relevant chart for 2017. 

Relative fortune

At time of writing, not a single critic has voted for it as best documentary in the ongoing Dublin Film Critics’ Circle poll. The picture made a relative fortune in Northern Ireland, but did not much register with box offices in the Republic.

It does not seem utterly bonkers to conclude that an online campaign has gone on here. A brief glance at Facebook does, indeed, dredge up accusations that The Irish Times is revealing “an agenda” in selecting its 10 favourite documentaries. Those who agreed were urged to make a write-in vote for No Stone Unturned.

Anyway, as Churchill almost certainly didn’t say, democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. Fair enough. Oddly, it looks as if nobody thought to urge voting for No Stone Unturned in best Irish film (for which it certainly qualified). It finished outside the top 10 in that race.

Winner by a mile was Len Collins’s delightful, joyful, singular Sanctuary. Made with the participation of Blue Teapot Theatre Company, the picture tells the story of two people with intellectual disabilities who get together during a trip to Galway for Christmas. Nobody who saw the picture failed to connect with it.

We are willing to bet that the people behind The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which came second, would not begrudge the Sanctuary team their triumph.

Mark O’Connor’s smash gangster flick Cardboard Gangsters ran that Cannes hit close in third place. People also loved Pat Collins’s Song of Granite and John Butler’s Handsome Devil.

Emer Reynolds’s The Farthest, a wonderful film on the Voyager programme, didn’t quite make the Irish top five, but it compensated by taking third place in best documentary. We are not just coming down with good Irish films; we are coming down with good Irish films that punters actually want to see. In your face, other small nations.

The best director race was interesting in that, as most film writers will attest, many, many punters have, for the past year, been expressing astonishment at the strong reviews and awards traction for Damien Chazelle’s La La Land. Yet the picture made a lot of money here and Chazelle pretty much walked away with the director’s prize. It is clearly a film that divides, but a lot of people like it very, very much. It will be interesting to see if any great surge in original musicals follows its success.

Best performance

Mahershala Ali and Alex R Hibbert in Moonlight
Mahershala Ali and Alex R Hibbert in Moonlight

La La Land did not, of course, win the best picture Oscar in the end. That went to Moonlight and Mahershala Ali, who also took home an Academy award, won our readers’ prize for best performance. Ali triumphed comfortably, but kudos to James Franco who, despite the fact that The Disaster Artist only went on wide release in the last days of the vote, managed to take second for that madly enjoyable film. Who knows what would have happened if punters had another week to glance at his hilarious take on Tommy Wiseau?

What else? The egg-headed readers of The Irish Times proved predictably keen on egg-headed comedy The Death of Stalin. The picture ran away with best screenplay and the film’s company ran the team from Hidden Figures close in best ensemble. Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe, stars of that last film, will no doubt be overjoyed to here that they are embraced in Ireland.

Barry Keoghan, formerly of Love-Hate
Barry Keoghan: an eerie performance in Killing of a Sacred Deer

Nicole Kidman confirmed her recovery after some years of dross by taking the comeback award. Our man Barry Keoghan, eerie in Sacred Deer, just snuck ahead of Ruth Negga, an Oscar nominee for Loving, to grab the gong for best Irish performance. We’re betting it won’t be the last time he manages that.

Not much needs to be said about Fifty Shades Darker “winning” worst film. The first film was worse than it needed to be. The second was even worse than that. It is, however, always fun to look under the bonnet of the worst film competition and discover what picked up scattered votes.   

A year and half after its release, some readers are still voting for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. That’s some sort of achievement. A few voters remembered that The Dark Tower actually existed (which is more than I managed). Was Snatched – that thing with Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer – really a 2017 release? It seems so. Well done, sir or madam.

More than a few maniacs voted for David Lowery’s excellent A Ghost Story. But our final mention must go to the reader who voted for: “What sort of a category is this?”

It’s an existential question worth pondering.

Best Film

No Stone Unturned
Get Out
The Florida Project

Best Director

Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name
David Lowery, A Ghost Story
Rungano Nyonie, I Am Not A Witch
Julia Ducournau, Raw

Best Irish Film

The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Cardboard Gangsters
Handsome Devil
It’s Not Yet Dark

Best Irish Performance

Barry Keoghan, The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Ruth Negga, Loving
John Connors, Cardboard Gangsters
Charlene Kelly, Sanctuary
Kieran Coppinger, Sanctuary

Best Cinematography

Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049
Kate McCullough, The Quiet Architect
Chung-Chung Hoon, The Handmaiden

Best Screenplay

Armando Iannucci, The Death of Stalin
Michael O’Shea, The Transfiguration
David Branson Smith, Matt Spicer, Ingrid Goes West

Best Performance

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Kristen Stewart, Personal Shopper
Florence Pugh, Lady Macbeth
Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Best Ensemble

Hidden Figures
The Death of Stalin
The Big Sick

Best Documentary

No Stone Unturned
I Am Not Your Negro
The Farthest
Whitney Can I Be Me
Casting JonBenet

Best Animation

Lego Batman Movie
The Boy and the Beast
The Red Turtle

Best Score


Best Comeback
Nicole Kidman

Best Breakthrough
Brooklynn Prince, The Florida Project

Best Franchise

Worst Film
Fifty Shades Darker

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