Alright, I’ve put this off long enough. I don’t want to linger any longer on a movie year that frankly felt so standstill and depressingly ordinary that I was very close to declaring the third season of Twin Peaks the best movie of 2017 and that is very pointedly not a movie.
But I may as well not linger on the numerous unimpressive and occasional bad of 2017 and celebrate the glimmers of wonder and hope of 2017.
Well, I can gripe a little bit.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
WORST TITLE (and a funny story attached)
I was going to the library last summer in the self-checkout cause I’m thinking I’m enough in the mood to review it, but there was apparently an issue that demanded I take it to the front desk and I’d be fucking damned if I fucking lose my librarian’s respect when I walk over and check out a movie called The Bye Bye Man.
“Piss off, ghost!” -Korg (Taika Waititi) in Thor: Ragnarok (Written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost)
“Fairy lives don’t matter today.” -Officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) in Bright (Written by Max Landis)
WORST CRIME OF SHORTENING A TITLE
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is already a damn long title, but bruh Laureline’s name should be right up there next to him. This some John Carter shit.
Guy, it used “Black Skinhead” better than The Wolf of Wall Street‘s trailer and has plenty of reds and blues for days, yo this was so exciting.
It’s like it’s trying to sell itself as the “dark gritty reboot of God’s Not Dead” because that’s what the kids are into. Yeah, we got punches and shadows and shit. I’m dying, yo.
Alien: Covenant‘s orgy poster. Whatever else can be said about Covenant (and I’ve said more than a bit against it), it is designed nightmarishly well and sexual twisting and writhing of the violence witnessed in this poster gets right to the core of what makes Alien and H.R. Giger the sort of visual works they are (not to mention the painterly element of the monochrome presentation and the lighting).
Ready Player One‘s poster one. What the fuck did they do to that boy’s leg?
OTHER WORST POSTER
I forgot about this fuck-up job.
BEST SONG THAT TOTALLY SHOULD HAVE BEEN FOR A MOVIE BUT WASN’T
I understand Tonya Harding’s personal grievance with Sufjan Stevens’ song named after and about her, but it’s such a florid description of the figure skating form and a subtle criticism of celebrity culture and the phenomenon arc we go from praise to hate that I’m kind of disappointed the makers of I, Tonya didn’t jump on that song as an angle for them. Even if it doesn’t really fit the old-school rock schema of that movie’s needle drops.
Hell, it’s better than both of the songs Stevens wrote for an actual movie.
And yet still “Visions of Gideon”, in its relentless melancholic power, provides a heavy appeal to the heart dragging long after leaving the theater and reminding one of any heartbreak they’ve had to endure in learning that a former lover has moved on. Nothing against “Mystery of Love” (which is also fantastic), but it’s really crazy to me that this was the song from Call Me by Your Name that got the snub.
And I mean, this is just by the song in a vacuum. Added to the final shot of the movie like it did, it is devastating.
BEST MUSICAL MOMENT/”NEEDLE DROP”
This is pretty damn tough to decide in a year between Atomic Blonde, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Happy Death Day, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 but it’s also painfully obvious which one I’m gonna go for when there’s a movie that literally is about music energizing our lead character’s actions.
WORST MUSICAL MOMENT
Who the fuck is responsible for letting Audra McDonald begin the final reprise of “Beauty and the Beast” at the end of that fiendish fucking remake and then having her interrupted by Emma Thompson’s warbling blender version of an Angela Lansbury impression? That’s some fucking disrespect to a legend, yo.
WORST NEEDLE DROP
We have a whole Kong movie full of a grab bag of Vietnam cliché songs to desperately ape (pun intended) Apocalypse Now and yet the real disappointment is that First They Killed My Father is a great movie and should know better than to indulge in it from their very first (and only) misstep in the opening montage with “Sympathy for the Devil”.
BEST USE OF JOHN DENVER
Not to put doubt on the sincerity of any other movie’s usage of John Denver’s music in 2017 (especially not Okja or Kingsman: The Golden Circle), but I must say that Farrah Mackenzie singing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” for her pageant in honor of her dad and getting the entire proud parents of Charlotte to sing along with her was the only usage of Denver’s music in a movie that actually moved me.
BEST STEPHEN KING FILM
Another thing we’ve seen around these parts regularly – though I do have my particular gaps here, namely 1922 due to my allergies to Thomas Jane – and yet easily the best crafted of the bunch is the one that didn’t really get to have a theatrical release. Gerald’s Game had a role that gave itself over to the long overdue-in-recognition Carla Gugino exploring abuse and trauma and the small-scale interiority of the horror was something Mike Flanagan definitely knew his way around (in fact, the film feels weakest leaving the very house Gugino’s Jessie is trapped in).
I told my sister that Okja the super-pig reminds me of our dog, Bruno, in her floppy ears and soft snout and interminable appetite and total area destroying clumsiness and his belly fat. She thinks I’m wrong and that our dog looks like Dobby the House-Elf from Harry Potter. I don’t give a fuck, Okja still wins this round.
Big up to the cats of Kedi, though.
Am I gonna say The Boss Baby? Yeah, I’m gonna say The Boss Baby. It was smarter and funnier than it had any right to be with such a premise and somehow didn’t wallow in Dreamworks Animation’s worst tendencies, challenging it to aim higher in its animation styles. It deserved that Oscar nomination, fuck you.
You’d have to tell me that Rian Johnson was personally involved in the death of my grandmother to make me not excited for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. A Rian Johnson Star Wars movie is a total dream come true, one of the most inventive American storytellers of the living.
And the movie we got wasn’t only uninventive, it made a point of calling attention to how uninventive it was – the lack of development in the plot, the sudden reliance on a plot full of idiot characters, the repeating of arcs some characters already went through except, as Han Solo once said, “so it’s bigger!” Anything in the script not involving Luke or Rey is a frustrating mess or waste of time. The one bit of solace being in how Johnson used his anime enthusiasm to craft some busy setpieces and dynamic images, but he still has that with one hand behind his back considering it is the bar-none worst special effects in the entire franchise.
BEST POPCORN MOVIE
Speaking of y’all being really wrong about The Boss Baby, you’re all also really fucking wrong about the overwhelming spacey spectacular eye candy adventure of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Stars.
BEST SPACE OPERA
I’m fucking serious about Valerian, y’all.
There is practically nothing good about The Greatest Showman, least of all its overproduced pop numbers or the juggling of several different plot intentions it can’t carry entirely in its hand. But goddamn, it’s got heart and passion and joie de vivre and I’m down with that way too much in any musical, good or bad.
MOST LIKELY TO BECOME A CULT CLASSIC
The Bad Batch covers itself in nothing but world-building and attitude – no less than Amirpour’s superior debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – and while that strains the hell out of two hours, to the right sort of niche viewer that sort of material could be catnip.
I just don’t think I’m that viewer (or will ever be) as long as Jason Momoa’s Cuban impression makes me mad.
There’s an abundancy of surprisingly great cameos from 2017, I’ll give it that much. Given how I’m uncertain whether or not a certain appearance in John Wick: Chapter 2 truly gets to qualify since it was heavily featured in the marketing, let me take this moment to say something NICE about Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Veronica Ngo practically stars in the first 20 minutes of the movie – an isolated and desperate story of bravery and sacrifice in the midst of war and it’s the most resonant performance with barely a word leaving her lips.
Will Oldham being THAT FUCKING GUY at a party, but also being THAT FUCKING GUY for A Ghost Story, overelaborating on the very themes the movie has already done a great job communicating without him (also not happy with the idea that Casey Affleck may have been in the same room as Ke$ha).
CAMEO THAT WAS EASILY THE BEST PART OF A BAD MOVIE
I regret that I was so done with The Disaster Artist‘s bullshit that I left the theater the second the credits started and thus could only see Tommy Wiseau’s post-credits appearance AFTER the movie. Because maybe it was something to do with them both being over-labored anti-talents trying very hard to take control of the scene and move it somewhere (Tommy evidently wants more screentime and to make his character have a closer relationship), but they both make fascinating scene partners who gave that moment more energy than all the “let’s robotically recreate scenes from The Room” that otherwise energized the movie.
MOVIE I MOST WISH I COULD HAVE SEEN IN AN INSTALLATION
How the fuck does Miami, home of ArtBasel in the US, not have an actual installation of Manifesto? Had to see it in a theater like any other pleb.
There was no more gripping a moment in any film in 2017 than Kristen Stewart texting back and forth with an unknown entity in Personal Shopper in a casually invasive way towards her, especially in the heart-pounding hotel room sequence.
Shout out to Jeffrey Wells’ dumb ass for asking for an answer to who it was at the Cannes Press Conference.
“Somebody stop this fucking subway, I swear to God”, me during the subway scene of Darkest Hour where Winston Churchill listens to a little girl give him his “fight in the shores” speech and treats the black passenger with so much more respect than Churchill probably would have thought he deserved.
SECTION FOR THE APPRECIATION OF LAURA DERN AND NICOLE KIDMAN
The title says it all. Dern and Kidman have gone hella above and beyond killing it in 2017 in their respective filmographies, frequently giving interesting or at least grounded performances in the likes of The Last Jedi, Downsizing, and Twin Peaks: The Return in Dern’s case – Twin Peaks potentially is the best performance of her career – and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Beguiled, and Top of the Lake in Kidman’s case.
And I haven’t even seen Big Little Lies, with both of them, yet.
5 WORST MOVIES OF 2017
- The Emoji Movie
- The Bye Bye Man
- Tom and Jerry Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
- The Book of Henry
- Beauty and the Beast
Listen, I don’t wanna say no more about these movies. I’m astonished they fucking exist enough without having spend more energy on them.
And now… let’s really wrap this up with my favorite movies of the 2017…
25 HONORABLE MENTIONS
Not necessarily movies that would find their way into my top ten, but ones that I really enjoyed and probably wouldn’t hesitate in recommending to folks depending on what they’re looking for.
Atomic Blonde – Cold War nihilism turned punk rock
The Beguiled – surpasses the original as an isolated tale of malaise turned curdled
The Big Sick – an effortlessly amiable cast of characters guiding us through a sympathetically stressful moment.
The Boss Baby – Dreamworks Animation breaking away from their house style to augment and illustrate the imaginations of young boys and their anxieties about sibling responsibilities.
The Breadwinner – A serious concern about the stifling patriarchy and wartorn fatigue of the Middle East handled delicately enough to function as children’s fable.
Coco – Pixar still maintains it knows just how to manipulate the fuck out of your tearducts, whether with a warm story of memory and loss or an inhumanly gorgeous ghost metropolis lit by warm oranges.
Contemporary Color – David Byrne’s still got it.
A Cure for Wellness – I wish trash would be this pretty.
Happy Death Day – Jessica Rothe made this better than it should be and she’s gonna fix movies forever.
Félicité – Gomis crafts a giant nightmare around a lovely performance.
In This Corner of the World – Katabuchi sneaks a broken dream within the visual language of a war tragedy.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer – Lanthimos gets meaner than he’s ever been before.
Logan Lucky – Homegrown small-town heist moviemaking.
Lost in Paris – Physical comedy of the purest form.
Okja – Bong’s on the same old living political cartoons he loves making.
The Ornithologist – sexy man vs. wild
Marjorie Prime – Black Mirror now on stage.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower – Studio Ponoc promises to live up to the reputation of its predecessor through an exciting anti-chosen one narrative.
A Quiet Passion – Terrence Davies makes Emily Dickinson answer to death with dry wit.
Raw – Sexual awakening is bloody messy.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – I’m fucking serious about this.
The Villainess – Makes the double crossing spy work of Atomic Blonde look like desk work.
The Void – Small-scale locked house style horror turned to fear of the unknown.
War for the Planet of the Apes – All the emotions the prequel trilogy worked to gather in its audience brought to a jailbreak climax.
Wonder Woman – The DCEU gets it together and does not become less interesting for it.
AND MY TOP 10
10. First They Killed My Father (dir. Angelina Jolie, Cambodia/USA)
Angelina Jolie and company stream together like a river pieces of memories of Loung Ung watching her home country Cambodia fall apart. A human being in the middle of such an affecting and transforming moment bravely reliving their experiences (Ung was the co-writer) is already interesting to me, but the decision to firmly plant itself in her perspective towards and thereby looking at it from an undivorced upper angle of a child.
I don’t know, it’s Oscarbait but it is my kind of Oscarbait, so very conscious about its craft and letting it work for the material.
9. Blade of the Immortal (dir. Miike Takashi, Japan)
Japanese legend Miike Takashi made it to the big 100 of his feature films and he pays that off by hearkening back to both his identity when he’s at his most restrained and silently revisionist about the state of the jidaigeki picture (as some of his recent works showed interest in, such as 13 Assassins and Hara-Kiri, both of them remakes… this one adapted from a graphic novel) in a relationship surprisingly earned when it could have easily dipped into shallow cliché AND the unhinged ridiculous gorehound Miike happily taking advantage of the material’s comic book roots to bring out cartoonesque fight choreography and weapons, most especially in the gleeful gushiness of the film’s bloodworms and how it allows Miike to constantly subject the game Kimura Takuya to constant dismemberment.
The result is Miike’s reflection on genre, tradition (both in Japanese history and filmmaking), and his own output. He picked his 100th for a reason.
8. Mudbound (dir. Dee Rees, USA)
It’s like a new Great American Novel for this decade, Dee Rees expanding the scope of her storytelling ambitions and nailing her observations in a way few directors can accomplish. I don’t remember if I’ve said it before on this site but at this point, Rees can and should be able to make whatever movie she wants now that she’s proven her versatility in themes and film vocabulary. And I certainly can’t let that alone without acknowledging the dedicated cast at the center of this film, all of them so lived-in within their characters as to know they’re each the star of the movie but measured well enough to give the scene to certain arrangements and perspectives.
7. Phantom Thread (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)
Alas, Anderson has given us another one of his stuffy films of my often boredom and yet Phantom Thread is not that. It’s not just gleefully ravishing for a narrative hungry boy such as myself, it’s hilarious to boot with three world-class performances right there at the center of it all. A fine final note for Daniel Day-Lewis playing a petulant manchild completely collapsing in front of the transformation of Vicky Krieps from essentially one role at the beginning to another.
And you noticed how I praised this very obviously “crafted” picture without talking one bit about its aesthetic? You must know how the phantom cinematography and sound design gives such visual tactility to the one-of-a-kind costumes by Mark Bridges, you can practically feel it in your cheek and lull yourself to the score.
6. The Human Surge (dir. Eduardo Williams, Argentina/Brazil/Portugal)
Even when it’s very obvious where Williams is going with all these observations about industrialization and the media’s distancing of humanity, the movie is in no rush or urgency about what it’s saying because it wants to say those things right. Nor does he take a straight line to that observation, taking detours on how the different societies The Human Surge focuses on respond to this dramatic imposing of modernization in their lives and its inability to totally remove the issues before it.
5. John Wick: Chapter Two (dir. Chad Stahelski, USA)
When I first watched it, I was looking for something similar to the first John Wick – emotionally direct movie that was. I was disappointed because I was looking for something different.
Now, it’s very clear between this, Atomic Blonde, and the first John Wick that the 87Eleven Action Design folk have actually found different storytelling usages of violence and aggression to communicate shockingly distinct dramatic cores. And John Wick Chapter 2 finds its way at the top of the three because it’s just so sleek and slick, I love looking at it just as much as I love watching the universe it’s in grow further internationally.
(I should not be as excited for Deadpool 2 as I am).
4. Personal Shopper (dir. Olivier Assayas, France/Germany/Czech Republic)
Speaking of style expressing emptiness of character, Personal Shopper is a lot more complex and significantly less shallow than John Wick but nevertheless it taps into the same issue: a person’s complete inability to deal with loss. And Assayas is impressively on the pulse of today’s young culture and what about our mentality makes grief so tough to process.
This same sort of self-stifling attitude leads to Assayas’ smart subversion of our expectations of genre within the film – a movie that very clearly wants us to want it to be a ghost story and refuses – and that sort of challenging usage of film conventions to pull the rug out from under us while succeeding at keeping us on edge just reminds me why I love Assayas in the first place.
3. The Girl Without Hands (dir. Sèbastien Laudenbach, France)
A one-man show basically, accomplishing that with a minimalistic style to begin with that it gets to cover itself on by using computers and yet it still remains one of the most visually impressive works I’ve seen all year, completely redefining the concept of space and color while knowing well enough how to use both of these just enough that the viewer doesn’t have to work to recognize characters or moods. Brilliant experimentation to kick off on an olden fairy tale with.
I literally waited until I had the Blu-Ray of this movie arrive on my doorstep to write this list because no way did I feel complete without it and it did not disappoint.
2. Faces Places (dir. Agnés Varda & JR, France)
A two-person film that feels totally collaborative with JR’s engaging and good-natured art style making up the base for Varda’s own self-musings about all the things we expect her to muse on: life, community, age… her own coming death, all things she’s better to speak on than most other filmmakers. And that collaboration only would get to spark if the two people in the middle of it were already in the middle of a very genuine and heartwarming friendship, one that spills over onto the work and takes over the film giving us a third act that melts away every ounce of cynicism in me from the year.
1. Twin Peaks: The Return (dir. David Lynch, USA)
1. World of Tomorrow – Episode 2: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts (dir. Don Hertzfeldt, USA)
You really want to talk about structure and visuals and artist’s identities informing the mood and narrative? Don Hertzfeldt possibly doesn’t have a ne plus ultra in his career, given how Episode 2 builds on the sort of exploring with digital animation for his primitivism that he engaged in with Episode 1 back in 2015 and we have some of the most persuasive imagery-as-emotion you can get from 2017. Or anti-imagery in fact, with its backgrounds fracturing and breaking apart, characters glitching as they pronounce slow amnesia or pain, and frustrating vortexes that aren’t the least bit subtle about mental conflict or anxiety and yet totally affecting. It’s completely funny like all other Hertzfeldt but its also distressing stuff…
… and then beautiful catharsis comes in the forms of new shapes and bright colors and a soundtrack drop that compels us to dance along with its characters.
Let me put it this way, it was the last movie I saw of the year, changed the absolute game, and I watched it no less than 7 fucking times during my vimeo rental of it. I’m probably not done with it by a damn sight.
But I am done with 2017 now, bring on the new fucking year.