2017 came and went. A year that had its many ups and downs. Mostly downs. But I’ve come to realize that writing an extensive Worst Of list isn’t something of interest any further. After a year as filled with horror & mean spirited bickering in real life, listing out bad films in elaborate detail isn’t something I care to spend much time on… though for the record, The Mummy had the most hot garbage packed into a feature film possible this past year. Now that the year has passed and we’re well into 2018 with at least a sliver of hope and a fighting chance, it’s time to finally do a Top 20 list after doing some final catch up. Before we do that…
Christopher Nolan’s war epic that put the event first over the backgrounds of the characters around it, while giving us enough in event drama to get invested. The drama doesn’t come from Titanic-style backstories around the event, but the soldiers & civilians existing within that event from varying perspectives. Nolan sucks us into these perspectives and allows the drama to unfold with heart wrenching action that gets us truly immersed in the horror of a situation like the battle of Dunkirk. Also, that One Direction kid can actually act quite well.
Massive surprise on every level. The winning ensemble, genuine heart & consistent laughs make Girls Trip stretch beyond the stereotypical broad comedy it could have been and become something worth investing in between the big laughs. Tiffany Haddish needs to become the next big comedy star, becoming a breathless comedy machine that rarely stops to let you breathe. Still, the emotional grounding of Regina Hall and Queen Latifah is what really made this surprisingly emotional, as two women try to find their place in a world dominated by men who give them little individual opportunity.
Good Time is a near brilliant addition to the “one crazy night” genre. Robert Pattinson delivers a nuanced performance that shows desperation at its most authentic. One can tell from his John Cazale-level amounts of sweat on his forehead that he’s only thinking far enough ahead to get him a few steps ahead. And even then, those steps could easily lead him to a far bigger problem. The Safdie Brothers show off true visual panache that transcends crime cliches as directors, writers and even musicians. Seriously, Benny Safdie’s music may be the best original soundtrack album of the year. I do wish he was a better actor, though.
Perhaps the kinkest of the Best Picture nominees. Obviously gorgeous costumes aside, the true intrigue comes with the back & forth between Daniel Day-Lewis & Vicky Krieps who are on far more equal footing as things progress than one might fear. Phantom Thread could have been yet another “love an abusive genius” story. It’s far deeper than that. The power dynamics that shift in increasingly engrossing fashion (pun maybe-not-so-but-totally-intended). By the end, there’s no one to really side with. One must take this strange couple as a whole, to the point where it walks the line between adorable and parasitic.
The film that gave the modern DC films hope. Gal Gadot really lead the charge for an origin story movie that advanced far beyond the gloom and doom of the previous films in universe. Her empathy mattered just as much as her prowess and she wasn’t going to sit idly by and mope when her people were in trouble. Truly, the hero we need in a weary world.
And without further ado, the list:
20. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
The most controversial Star Wars film of late is still far better than sterile familiarity. Aside from issues with the Canto Bite subplot & Finn’s lack of a solid arc, this is the best Disney produced Star Wars film so far. The subversive twists on Star Wars aren’t there simply because. They are there to bring characters to intriguing new places. The ways director/writer Rian Johnson plays with elements of The Force and where people like Luke can be after so many decades breathes life & conflict into a galaxy that seemed in danger of growing stale. Hope to see this spirit continues into Episode XI.
19. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Call Me By Your Name is slow burn to a fault at moments. The first 45 minutes or so definitely keeps the listless attitude of an 80s summer in Italy that ranges from charming to slightly insufferable. However, Call Me By Your Name transcends meandering as Timothee Chalamet & Armie Hammer make a potentially questionable age gap romance tender & heartbreaking. Their gradual building chemistry and Chalamet’s budding sexual exploration serves for a quiet yet engrossing look into someone finding themselves in a third act for the ages. Michael Stuhlbarg – a major player throughout 2017 – also rings out plenty of tears as the new standard for cinematic father figures.
18. BLADE RUNNER 2049
Blade Runner is a great piece of science fiction filmmaking on a world building level. Blade Runner 2049 took that world and spun a more enthralling slowburn neo noir story than the original. Mainly in terms of having a lead character with far more compelling motivations and a subversive bent on the traditional chosen one narrative. Roger Deakins’ luminescent cinematography and Denis Villeneuve’s large scale shot composition give this world a realistic coldness, especially for a world as compartmentalized and impersonal as this one.
17. CREEP 2
With the original Creep, the main issue really was writer/director Patrick Brice as the lead audience surrogate. He was such a scipher that never engaged us nearly as much as Mark Duplass’ incredibly charismatic yet off putting character. Creep 2 takes the concepts of the original & adds a far more engaging protagonist into the mix with Desiree Akhaven. The duo of her and Duplass allows for a far more engaging dynamic based in gender roles and a murky sense of revelation for who is telling the truth or not. Duplass is chilling yet believably sad in ways that make watching him consistently mesmerizing while Desiree serves as a strong rock that knows things are going downhill.
16. THE VOID
The Void is the type of waking unending nightmare that made 2017 a great year for horror. The monsters on display are like something out of a an endless hellscape that even John Carpenter wouldn’t want to see come to life. It’s the type of recurring undying horror that makes dark corridors awful to walk down from fear of falling into a black abyss. The characters are broad, but only in the sense that they are ones we can connect to as some tether to the endless cosmic frights on display.
15. THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS
The Girl With All The Gifts is a film about accepting the future. Treating zombification as more of an evolutionary step that those in power can’t accept. Young Sennia Nanuna goes toe to toe with great actors like Paddy Considine & Glenn Close in ways that display fierce passion and righteous rebellion with a violent animalistic edge. All of which is harshly relevant during the political discourse we’ve had over the last 12 months. Also, if anyone is still trying to make a Last of Us movie… just stop. We have a winner. Shut ‘er down, boys.
14. SUPER DARK TIMES
Spoilers: The title is very accurate. Super Dark Times is a brutal and intense look into erosive power of toxic male insecurity. Charlie Tahan and Owen Campbell deliver incredibly grounded performances that are as chilling as they are painfully relatable. They capture the complete lack of supervision that can slowly breaks impressionable young men into ruining their futures through dumb decisions meant to impress others. Director Kevin Phillips gives this a moody look that results in one of the best lit films of the year. Super Dark Times is the brutal inverse of a Stranger Things, taking away the sci-fi and showing the horrific growing dread of youthful abandon.
13. THE DEVIL’S CANDY
The Devil’s Candy is an underrated gem screaming to unleash itself from horrific painting depicting cries of pain. The ensembl here is spectacular, including Ethan Embry as a family man desperately grasping for reality, Pruitt Taylor Vince as a deranged killer trying to quell his own mind and Shiri Appleby is just an honest to goodness young lady trying to keep her tether to her father. While boasting one of the most metal moments in cinematic history during the climax, the use of metal doesn’t feel inauthentic to the horror or devalue the drama. If anything, it strengthens both by binding a family while also trying to break them into pieces.
12. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
The new Apes trilogy cements itself as the modern blockbuster trilogy most worth celebrating. With rebooting a classic franchise, it’s hard to find the same type of ability to inject into the zeitgeist the same way. Luckily, Apes perfectly feeds into the type of socially relevant pessimistic edge, though War finds a bit of hope at the end of the tunnel… yet not really for humanity. This franchise is so damn good it makes us root against our own kind. It’s a summer blockbuster where the spectacle really comes from the subtle, quiet & heartbreaking character interaction between motion captured apes. There’s a few moments of action, but they’re reserved and compliment how the characters are built up by Andy Serkis & his fellow motion capture actors, along with director Matt Reeves’ intimate introspective gazes into those interactions.
Pixar’s knack for building up joy and crushing your soul into tear soaked ash is a skill surprisingly on the backburner at times. With Cars 3 and Finding Dory level mediocrities, one can forget the true power of their animated crafts. Luckily, Coco manages to bring that back in full force with a vibrant environment in the Land of the Dead that carries the charm of a culturally grounded human realm with it. There’s massive amounts of respect lobbied toward Mexican culture here, while also juggling incredibly relevant statements of celebrity worship and respect for one’s heritage. Helps to have a few songs that lift the spirit and turn one into a whimpering ninny.
The intense divisive nature of mother! doesn’t just have to do with its deceptive marketing campaign. Many have made the fair argument that it is Darren Aronofsky at his most self indulgent and blunt. The man has never been much for subtlety, but what translates from this is a roller coaster of fear, tension & surreal imagery that challenges perceptions of both Biblical times and our modern world all at once. It’s basically a Halloween Horror Nights maze of humanity’s atrocities. One that I couldn’t stop finding new details in with every corner I passed by.
9. THE FLORIDA PROJECT
This one has grown on me since the original review. Maybe it’s my own Florida upbringing, Brooklynn Prince’s mesmerizing performance or Willem Dafoe shooing away birds. But it’s such an intimate portrait of white trash that’s both horrible and oddly fascinating. These kids living this life of freedom and lacking parental supervision shows off their potential being squandered by a lack of nurture. It’s tragic, but compelling to see as this girl escapes an environment where she’s loved but not taken care of. Making the ending a big mixed bag of emotions, right down to the divisive final shot that signals the world around this young girl losing the last lingering tether to her old life.
8. LADY BIRD
On its face, the down to earth yet highly enthralling coming of age tale Ladybird is a film that can’t be spoiled. Every beat is familiar to anyone who has grown from high school to college. Yet, it’s a worthy reminder to those who are familiar with that awkward strange that it isn’t as simple as we perceived. Looking back at all the horrible behavior and realizing later how much one can take a constructive environment for granted. Laurie Metcalf & Saoirse Ronan are top tier here, portraying all the on-the-dime changes that make their interplay hilarious yet completely truthful.
7. BABY DRIVER
While not Edgar Wright’s best work, Baby Driver is still an energetic thrill ride that’s still better that 99% of the action films released this year or in recent years. Each action scene is orchestrated like a beautiful musical number. The kinetic energy has a wonderful choreography to it that makes every tire screech feel like a tap dance to the beat, full of obscure hits that are familiar to those who remember the songs that sample them. The characters can be broad, but all the actors, particularly with Ansel Elgort’s silent yet charismatic main turn and Jon Hamm’s surprisingly intense villainous turn. Glad to see this made as much money as it did, giving hope for small scale yet handsomely crafted genre efforts can win over generic schlock during the summer.
6. THE SHAPE OF WATER
Last year’s La La Land was a celebrated tribute to Old Hollywood that charmed the awards crowd quite a bit. Yet, The Shape of Water is far more of a tribute to Hollywood on a wide scale level. There’s a bit of that La La Land song and dance. However, there’s also a romance of star crossed lovers. A film noir spy plot that looms in the background. Monsters who end up being tragic heroes to admire. Guillermo Del Toro loves all these aspects of older cinema, but channels it into a beautiful story that speaks to modern concerns about the disenfranchised minorities in America trying to find their way. Whether they be disabled, black, Russian… or a fish man.
Logan is both an end as well as a new beginning for superhero films. The old ways seem to be dying out as the evolution continues past the very spotty X-Men franchise that ushered in this craze at the start of the new millenium. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart deliver beautifully tragic performances that showcase men far past their prime learning how to pass things on. Writer/director James Mangold creates a not-too-distant-future dystopia that uses superpowers for character driven pathos and allows newcomers like Dafne Keen to go toe to toe with experience vets in a brutal yet powerful way that sticks with you far more than most the numerous superhero films that also came out this year.
Toxic masculinity comes in many forms. It could be the Nice Guy™ who thinks he deserves more simply because he has outward decency. Or it could be a giant weapon of mass destruction controlled by a wreckless asshole. Either way, these varying forms are presented by Colossal, with a creative spin on the kaiju concept that blurs lines between comedy, drama, sci-fi and even horror to incredible effect. This is Anne Hathaway’s most dimensional turn and gives Jason Sudeikis the chance to unveil the darker sides of his usually affable performance. In a year full of exposing the horrendous actions of many famous men, Colossal is truly the most relevant monster film of its time.
3. THE BIG SICK
Hilarious and emotionally honest romantic comedies that comes from the heart are rare in these days. Luckily, star/co-writer Kumail Nanjiani and his co-writer/wife Emily V. Gordon gave The Big Sick the type of genuine moments that made this transcend the genre. And not just moments of romantic joy. Real fights and awkward moments that make a relationship a struggle at times help flesh this out into something beautiful, along with cultural clashes that only make the midway turn for the medical drama that much more engaging. Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon shine on screen, but Ray Romano and Helen Hunt are the MVPs. Their long lasting relationship breathes with natural conflict and heart that gives Kumail something to strive for and consider in continuing his relationship. Making this story that’s very personal incredibly universal.
2. GET OUT
The social relevance of horror is always something brought up when people dismiss the genre. In a year when we lost George A. Romero and have a country in such divisive territory, a film like Get Out can and did flourish. Even considering the fact that writer/director Jordan Peele put this together during the “post-racial” Obama administration, the declaration of lacking racism while an underlining fetishization of their culture fits our modern racial climate in a very brutally honest way. Of all the very strong horror films from the past few years, Get Out seems the most poised to stand the test of time as the most crucially relevant piece of horror cinema for the next few decades.
1. A GHOST STORY
The horror genre can often rest on old laurels. Often times, it takes recontextualizing the tropes to appreciate how inventive he genre can be. With A Ghost Story, the typical elements of the haunted house genre are told from the perspective of the ghost doomed to haunt the house they once loved in life. David Lowery paints the afterlife not as a hell full of torture, but an endless staring contest with the living that can’t be won. You’ll just look as they progress past your presence and move on as you dwell on the past. A Ghost Story asks the question “Are we meaningless in the vast vacuum of existence?” and answers with “Maybe… but just try to enjoy your life instead of living past it” in a touching an quiet fashion.