When I looked back on 2017 in preparation for this list, I realized I actually liked most of what I saw. Maybe it was a rare quality year for cinema (unlikely), or maybe I’ve just become increasingly scrupulous about the films I choose to view (bang on). Whatever the case, after slotting the eight films I loved enough to purchase on DVD, I found it was a bit of a challenge to sort through the plethora of other films I just sort of liked in a ‘Good 7’ kind of way but don’t harbour much enthusiasm for. This pool of films included The Founder, John Wick 2, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wind River, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and The Meyerowitz Stories, which were all certainly good but not good enough that I’d brand any of them Top Ten material.
So here’s what I did end up branding:
10) Thor: Ragnarok. I’m a little surprised at Thor 3’s continued ability to endear itself to me, for reasons I’ve already discussed at length. Maybe it’s director Taika Waititi’s idiosyncratic humour (watch What We Do in the Shadows and then watch this – you’ll see which bits were his). Maybe it’s all the weirdness I’d wanted from the largely restrained Doctor Strange script. Maybe it’s the effective usage of Led Zep’s Immigrant Song. Maybe it’s Mark Mothersbaugh’s kinetic score that’s dominated my Spotify playlist for the past month. And maybe it’s the fact that everyone involved finally realized that a Thor movie is conceptually silly and so cranked the silliness factor up to 11. Whatever the case, Thor: Rumpelstiltskin wormed its way into my annual good books, and not just because I want Jeff Goldblum on the Avengers. Though there were moments where I laughed at it, I mostly laughed with it, which is one of the nicest things I’ve ever said to anything or anybody. 7/10
9) Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. This quasi-black comedy is so spiritually similar to Fargo it even borrowed its lead actress. Frances McDormand stars as a jaded mother who picks a fight with her small town police chief over his failure to solve her daughter’s recent rape and murder, renting three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (hey!) to call out his supposed ineptitude in front of the entire county. This sparks a Coen Brothers-esque chain of events that involves a lot of nasty name calling and ends – well, not entirely how I expected. I was reminded of the tip top British series Broadchurch, which shows the affect a child’s murder can have on a friendly, idyllic town, only Three Billboards depicts the ramifications a teenager’s murder can have on a town where literally everyone is pathologically horrible – including Frances McDormand. Some genuinely WTF plot turns and a pervading sense of murky tension made this an emotionally taxing, but overall worthwhile, watch. 7/10
8) I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. To quote Ron Burgandy, “That escalated quickly.” In an age where empty spectacle and superhero showdowns dominate the public’s interest, I’m pleased that Netflix is still willing to release quirky Indie films that tell simple Character stories. Melanie Lynskey has an existential crisis after her house is burglarized and recruits Elijah Wood and his collection of ninja throwing stars to retrieve her grandmother’s spoons from the criminal underworld. I largely gravitate to comedies that allow the humour to flow naturally from its characters and their reactions to absurd situations rather than through the typical ‘setup-punchline’ joke formula, and here IDFAHITWA soars. Utilizing subtle humour, empathetic characters, choice narrative curveballs, genuinely loathsome villains, and a climax rife with gratuitous violence, this was a rare treat that compels me to stay rooted in Netflix’s corner when Disney officially declares open war. 8/10
7) Baby Driver. Edgar Wright graduates from accomplished writer-director to full blown auteur with this energetic crime extravaganza, which a good friend of mine described as “Drive with a giant smiley face.” There’s romance, there’s thrills, there’s violence, there’s humour, there’s adrenaline-pulsing car chases that actually service the story and aren’t just hyper-masculine auto porn sequences (**cough cough** Fast and Furious), and most notably, there’s a killer track list that guides every physical beat of the action. Baby Driver is indeed something to see – rhythmically directed (not a pun), slick, lively, and stylish. My only caveat is that it’s perhaps a little too stylish – I think I was more engrossed by the direction and diegetic sound implementation than the actual story, which admittedly came into its own towards the end of the second act courtesy of some wild handbrake turns. I entered the theater expecting hilarity on the level of Wright’s previous ventures (Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim) and was treated to something entirely different and altogether cinematic. I confidently predict OscNoms and deserved wins in all categories of sound design, mixing, and editing. You heard it here first. 8/10
6) Logan Lucky. Another oddball comedy – probably the best of the year. I’m delighted by the level of quality original scripts currently being given mainstream attention in this grim Age of Cinematic Stupidity. Luckless brothers Channing Tatum and Adam Driver decide to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway and recruit incarcerated demolitions-wizard Daniel Craig, who proceeds to steal all his scenes. All the deadpan deliveries, absurd logic, subtle humour, and low-brow comic brilliance reminded me profoundly of Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket, though with more modern glamour. Tatum, Driver, and Craig are all equally memorable, hilarious, and bizarre in their performances and their banter is endlessly quotable. It should come as no surprise that this was directed by Steven Soderbergh of Ocean’s 11 fame, because Logan Lucky bears the same narrative hallmarks, though the obstacles are hurdled rather easily and the obligatory third act “how we pulled it off” reveal is, well, obligatory. Still, the characters, humour, and North Carolina setting give this an entertaining edge. 8/10
5) It. I’ll bet you a stack of ham sandwiches some studio exec had just finished binging the first season of Stranger Things when the pitch doc for Stephen King’s clown-horror-epic landed on his desk, scattering his mountain of cocaine and nearly dislodging his hidden door-lock button. Netflix’s nostalgia-fest can indeed be thanked for It’s success, especially since the odds were stacked against it. The 1990 TV miniseries was laughably campy even then and the source material is famously around 17,000 pages long and reads like a sex pervert’s hate letter to childhood. Had It’s cast of kids not been so damn phenomenal this surely would have been a misfire because as a horror it largely fails, relying too heavily on obvious jump-scares that actually function as a disservice to the otherwise chilling Pennywise. However, as a comically dark coming-of-age tale involving misfit kids facing their fears (and also a demonic clown) it stands tall. So Stranger Things with a Clown is imperfect, occasionally unnerving, and overall fun. I can’t wait for Part II to completely suck in two years. 8/10
4) Logan. The secret to making me love a comic book movie is to make me forget I’m watching one, so Logan automatically gets accolades for that feat. This was altogether sublime, which is not something I ever expected to say about an X-Men movie (a franchise I largely wrote off after First Class back in 2011). For probably the first time in this series I actually empathized with Wolverine as a three-dimensional, nuanced, vulnerable character – I felt his weariness with the world and found myself truly wanting him to find a hard-earned rest. The narrative eschewed the atypical destruction of major cities and elected for a subtler and more impactful road story with a redemptive arc. Everything that transpired served to flesh out Wolverine’s character, ushering him through beat after excruciating beat to a completely justified and, dare I say, sentimental swan song. I also appreciated Logan for everything it didn’t do, such as bloat the character roster with “old” incarnations of beloved characters for fan-service or shoehorn in tonally inconsistent humour to appeal to a wider demographic. Jeez, just when FOX was starting to show some promise… 8/10
3) Mayhem. I already sang this film’s praises at length in my most recent post, so I won’t retread old ground by telling you how wildly entertained I was by this schlock blood-spectacle. I will, however, touch on a minor gripe I’d neglected to include in my full writeup, which is similar in nature to a major gripe I’d had with the lofty-in-intent-but-sloppy-in-execution movie Equilibrium, which was: if everybody is chemically suppressing their emotions then how is it possible for characters to still smile or panic, and how then does nobody else seem to notice? Similarly in Mayhem, I found myself asking at several points: how is it possible for quiet, introspective moments to occur between Yeun and Not-Margot Robbie if they’re afflicted by a rage virus that’s making them about as rational as the Tasmanian Devil on flakka? I realize the answer is that a script needs room to breathe between action sets and our characters need moments to interact, but I needed a fresh observation to fill an entire paragraph, dammit. Anyway, Mayhem is straightforward and fun for all ages, especially young children and the elderly. 8.5/10
2) Blade Runner: 2049. This was an art film, pure and simple. Like Baby Driver, BR2049 is a cinematic experience, but while Baby Driver strives to put a satisfied smile on our faces, BR2049 beckons us to sit back and bask in its gravitas. The pacing is methodical and precise, the performances nuanced and deliberate, the cinematography stunning, and the finale an appropriately intimate affair that captures the spirit of the original. Now, I’ve seen the original Blade Runner several times (the bastardized theatrical version and the superior final cut), and while I can’t claim to be in love with it, I do appreciate it – it’s an important film for the genre, an aesthetic achievement, and sporadically interesting. Its sequel, on the other hand, triumphs as an arthouse film, a sci-fi film, a quality sequel, and just an excellent film in general. It shifts away from the original’s more noir elements and cements itself as a science fiction masterpiece, even addressing many of the original’s shortcomings and rising above them. If Man of Steel once expunged my love for the theatrical experience, BR2049 may have reinvigorated it. 9/10
1) Get Out. This should really come as no surprise to my remaining loyal reader – I devoted my first official entry to extoling the virtues of Jordan Peele’s riveting horror flick and again have little else to add. Get Out is enjoying some deserved time in the spotlight and might arguably be the overall surprise hit of 2017. On the one hand, I’m delighted that humble independent films like this are receiving the recognition they deserve from the general public, who could stand to expand their horizons beyond the superhero fistfight. On the other hand, I’m a little perturbed that Hollywood is beginning to recognize films like this because Hollywood has proved that it doesn’t understand what makes films great, only how to butcher them. The soulless Hollywood machine assimilated the comic book genre (which admittedly prior to 2008 could have been the punchline for a joke), Star Trek, and Star Wars and morphed them into “celebrated” mass marketable products that have begun to alienate their original fan bases, and I now fear the same for the Indie horror as well. Anyway, Get Out is an excellent film that’s so straightforward and effective it has no hope of winning an Oscar. 9/10
EDIT: Had I seen Ingrid Goes West before publishing this list, it would have probably sat somewhere between Baby Driver and It and banished Thor 3 down into the (Dis)Honorable Mentions. Aubrey Plaza channels Rupert Pupkin from The King of Comedy’s and the titular Cable Guy in, well, The Cable Guy in this funny yet cringe-inducing satire about obsession, stalking, and social media. You may follow the link above for a full critique. 8/10
The “Best Alien Sequel, Prequel, or Installment” goes to… Life. The Alien franchise could use some. N/A
The “Wait, I Have So Many Questions! Award” goes to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. This. Was. So. BAD. I laughed the entire time. To quote my brother, Johnny Depp looked displeased to be alive. 1/10
I cast a giant “Meh” in Dunkirk’s general direction. I realize the individual battlefronts are supposed to serve as the characters, but I just couldn’t be compelled to care. Technical competency aside… 4/10.
The “DC is Capable of Producing Something That’s Not a Festering Kangaroo Turd Award” goes to Wonder Woman, which was surprisingly decent and closer to the sort of movie I’d wanted the first Captain America to be. Warner Bros doesn’t deserve Gal Gadot’s talents. 6/10
The “That’s Not How Mental Illness Works Award” goes to M. Night Shymamylormalon’s (sic) Split, which, incidentally, also wins the “This Pretentious Pile of S*** Movie Can Go F*** Itself Award.” 2/10
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Sigh. I truly wanted to love this movie, because on top of being fun and imaginative it hits home resonant themes of family, parenthood, abuse, trauma, maturity, belonging, and relationships… themes that, this time around, got a little lost amidst self-aggrandizing comedy. 6.5/10
Didn’t bother with Justice League, and judging by its opening weekend, I’m not sure anybody else did either. N/A
The Meyerowitz Stories. That’s right – I liked something with Adam Sandler in it, which only ever happens when competent people like Paul Thomas Anderson or James L. Brooks direct (Punch-Drunk Love and Spanglish, respectively). As far as Indie mumblecore pictures go, this gave me little to complain about. 7/10
Spider-Man: Homecoming was enjoyable. Definitely in the top six Spider-Man films of all time. 7/10
The “Hey, That Sequel Was Actually Good Award” goes to John Wick 2. The first John Wick was one of the surprise hits of 2014, and its sequel mostly upholds its legacy. I equate this to RoboCop 2 – it’s not terrible, though not as good as the first, and largely sustained by the world and side spectacles that were infinitely more interesting than anything its protagonist was up to. 7/10
The “Greatest Star Wars Film Ever Award” goes to… The Empire Strikes Back, reigning champ since 1980.
Good night, everybody!