Cal still isn’t done with 2017. Here’s his picks for the best and worst of last year’s movies.
Rather than a bog-standard best and worst of 2017 list, here we have my cinema wrap-up which covers more ground. I do feel a bit guilty doing this so “early,” since many of the Oscar contenders have not yet reached cinemas close to me, and I have not had the opportunity to watch them all – most notably Phantom Thread, Darkest Hour and The Shape of Water, or any other acclaimed film festival favourite that only seven people saw. I did try to see as much as possible, but I only have so much time. In addition, for my bottom five, I tend not to seek out bad movies, so there are probably a lot of other terrible movies released during 2017 more worthy of being on the bottom.
As per usual, this is all my opinion. Disagree? Post your own below.
Top 5 Best Movies of 2017
1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Any new motion picture masterminded by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh is worth our attention, especially given the strengths of In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, but this is his most mature and haunting directorial endeavour to date. A dark comic masterpiece, Three Billboards feels like a Coen Brothers movie in some respects, with its deliberate pacing, black humour and achingly gorgeous cinematography, but it’s endowed with McDonagh’s unique filmmaking sensibilities, and he’s able to juggle tones with the confidence of a seasoned veteran.
At its core, Three Billboards is about the stages of dealing with grief and about the misplacement of anger, although it has additional societal commentary on its mind. It is certainly unpredictable and does not play out as one might expect, but the twists and turns make the movie all the more absorbing. McDonagh continues to display an uncanny ability to write amazingly three-dimensional characters; people who have their flaws and make mistakes, but are innately human. Frances McDormand’s Mildred Hayes is the strongest female character of the year (yes, stronger than Wonder Woman), and the role is played flawlessly by the veteran character actor. Sam Rockwell, too, is marvellous, managing to turn a repugnant character into somebody who’s sympathetic and redeemable.
This is definitely more of a drama than a comedy, and it won’t be as eminently rewatchable as In Bruges, but it is mature adult entertainment with incredible staying power. You just need to be willing to have an open mind and let McDonagh find his unique vision. This one deserves to take home Oscar gold.
2. Blade Runner 2049
It took thirty-five years, but Ridley Scott’s highly-acclaimed 1982 box office flop Blade Runner has finally spawned a sequel. At once, Blade Runner 2049 is the follow-up that Scott’s science fiction classic deserved, and its also better than it had any right to be, standing alongside the likes of Aliens, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Godfather: Part II as one of cinema’s all-time greatest sequels. Bolstered by outstanding technical specs, smart writing and immaculate acting right across the board, 2049 is a breathtaking extension of Blade Runner, overseen by visionary French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve who proves to be an ideal successor to Scott. Written by Michael Green (Logan) and Hampton Fancher, the story is intrinsically tied to Scott’s movie in ways that cannot be spoiled, but it also confidently stands alone.
From a visual standpoint, the film is unequivocally flawless, emerging as one of the most aesthetically unique and distinctive science fiction movies of the 21st Century. From top to bottom, the set design represents an organic extension of the original movie, preserving the futuristic, Tokyo-esque vision of Los Angeles filled with industrial-looking buildings, flying cars and gigantic advertisements, while the metropolis is bathed in perpetual darkness and rain. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is breathtaking, brilliantly capturing the intricate production design. He needs to earn an Oscar for this one.
Villeneuve builds upon the original movie’s thought-provoking themes, with existential questions about humanity and the power of memories. And even though it is a longer movie, 2049 arguably surpasses its revered predecessor due to its understated emotional and dramatic resonance, and more sure-handed pacing. To be sure, not everyone will take to it, just as certain viewers did not take to Blade Runner back in 1982, but the movie works like gangbusters if you have the patience to appreciate it. This is not just an amazing sequel, it is also an outstandingly original sci-fi and another winning effort for Villeneuve. Blade Runner 2049 is the purest and most rewarding cinematic experience of the year.
3. The Disaster Artist
Who would have thought that a movie about the making of The Room – one of the most infamously bad movies of all time – could be so damn great? Especially considering that it is from director James Franco, who has never created anything remotely Oscar-worthy. And yet, with a strong source to work with, The Disaster Artist is a near-masterpiece. In the tradition of films like Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, it’s an engaging and edifying true-life chronicle, as well as a dramatically satisfying and entertaining motion picture in its own right. Whether or not you have actually seen The Room, you will still be able to appreciate this compelling dramedy.
Franco’s voice may not perfectly mimic Tommy Wiseau, but he impeccably embodies the man and he’s eminently watchable to boot, making his Golden Globe win completely well-deserved. The Disaster Artist is also just a fun-ass movie – there are laughs to be had, the recreation of scenes from The Room is magical, the little cameos are side-splitting (Zac Efron had me wiping away tears of laughter), and it is seriously well-made despite the modest budget. (The recreation of the late 1990s and early 2000s is underrated.) Plus, it manages to be touching as all hell, and it’s just an uplifting tribute to the art of filmmaking. I wish it was twice as long, as I liked being with these characters so much (fingers crossed for mountains of deleted scenes), but I suppose anything more might cross over into indulgence. The Disaster Artist is a damn good movie.
Twentieth Century Fox’s series of X-Men movies has been decidedly hit-and-miss, and the notion of a third Wolverine movie probably didn’t excite many people on its own. But goodness me, the producers finally did it, pulling together the best Wolverine adventure to date which serves as a fitting farewell for Hugh Jackman. Rather than another fluffy big-budget blockbuster, this is a futuristic western which deconstructs the contemporary superhero movie genre and is vehemently for adults. Indeed, we finally get to see appropriate bloodshed whenever Logan unleashes hell, and it’s truly a sight to see. Director James Mangold uses the R-rating well. But more than just a viscerally exciting and smart superhero movie, it’s also unexpectedly poignant in a number of ways.
Logan is the complete package. It’s excellent.
It’s Pixar, so of course you know it’s going to be worthwhile. Coco has received a dizzying amount of acclaim, which is encouraging given that the studio’s only truly idiosyncratic, great film since 2010 is Inside Out. Masterminded by directors Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) and Adrian Molina (a credited co-writer on Monster’s University and The Good Dinosaur), this is an exhaustively researched and unbelievably flavoursome adventure which takes a peek into Mexican culture. Purists can rest easy, as there is no white-washing here – the cast is filled out with authentic actors, rather than big names to fill out the poster. Hell, you can’t even accuse Disney/Pixar of trying to cheaply exploit the culture for the sake of a movie, as it’s entirely respectful and edifying.
The adventure elements of the story are predictably excellent – there are so many wonderful set-pieces throughout the movie, and it’s easy to both latch onto and sympathise with the protagonist, a young boy named Miguel. Much talk has been made of Coco turning audiences to pudding for its finale, and you better believe it – the movie had me bawling like a child as it drew to a close. The animation is sumptuous, the writing is remarkable, there’s an amazing sense of emotionality, and the movie is a lot of fun to boot. Don’t miss this one.
Honourable Mentions: John Wick: Chapter 2, The War for the Planet of the Apes, Baby Driver, Paddington 2, Thor: Ragnarok.
Bottom 5 Worst Movies of 2017
1. Fifty Shades Darker
Yes, I watched this movie, and you don’t have to! Putting aside the fact that the books started life as bad Twilight fanfiction (will we ever be free of that shit?), these movies are simply incapable of providing any sort of meaningful entertainment. The story of this second instalment is numbing and inherently uninteresting, while the sex scenes – which are meant to be the cornerstone of this franchise – are as boring as the rest of the movie. A cheesy B-movie with wall-to-wall sex would be much more interesting than this half-hearted, straight-faced waste.
2. The Emoji Movie
It’s not often that we witness a movie as brazenly soulless and lazy as The Emoji Movie, and it’s still unclear why we needed this piece of crap in the first place. Seriously, a movie about sentient emojis? The set-up actually makes very little sense in the first place and there are dozens of holes in the universe – I mean, why do the emojis have to perform whenever the owner of the phone wants to use them? Why can’t a saved emoji image be transmitted? And emojis appear instantaneously as soon as they are pressed on a phone, but this movie suggests a ten-second lag or so. And what happens when the emoji “stage” isn’t manned? What if the owner wakes up at 3am and wants to send emojis to his friends when the sentient emojis are off-duty? The lore isn’t even consistent, for crying out loud. Ah, fuck it. Why am I thinking too hard into this lazy piece of shit?
The movie also tries to plagiarise Wreck-It Ralph, as characters go inside video games and are forced to get involved. But there’s a difference between the retro-style games in Wreck-It Ralph and forcing us to watch blatant advertising for games like Candy Crush. Half the movie revolves around the characters playing mobile games. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, The Emoji Movie is pure poop. And speaking of poop, Sir Patrick Stewart voices the poop emoji… and gets all of five lines. Wait for the twenty-second YouTube compilation of Stewart’s lines if you’re curious, as opposed to watching the full movie.
3. xXx: Return of Xander Cage
Who actually wanted a third xXx movie in the first place? I can’t think of a single person who was actually anticipating it, and it’s laughable that Sony actually thought they would be able to see Fast & Furious-sized box office returns (it didn’t even get close). xXx: Return of Xander Cage is a love letter to Vin Diesel by Vin Diesel – it’s a vanity project for the actor, who also serves as producer. Every female character is obliged to drool over him. Every character in the movie is obliged to admire his “mad skills” in any situation. In his first scene, he does crazy stunts on a skateboard and everybody knows his name and admires him. Even Ice Cube shows up, only to kiss Diesel’s arse and talk about how much he wants to work with “the legendary Xander Cage.”
And because Xander spends the movie trying to do as much cool stuff as possible, I’m pretty sure Diesel’s stunt double has more screen-time than Diesel himself. And aside from the stench of narcissism that pervades the movie, it’s just boring. The action is vanilla and unexciting, the plot is uninteresting and unnecessarily convoluted, and the digital effects are a special brand of terrible. Particularly during the ridiculously over-the-top climax set on a plane; all semblance of realism is thrown to the wind and the resulting sequence is phoney as all hell. Yes, over-the-top and cartoonish is fun if done right, but I was left face-palming.
4. Pitch Perfect 3
This brings me absolutely no joy. Against all odds, I actually liked Pitch Perfect, and I laughed my arse off whilst watching the sequel. But Pitch Perfect 3… should never have happened. It’s a lazy, joyless, forced and dull desecration of a once-wonderful franchise. I had a sinking feeling in the cinema after such a lacklustre opening half an hour, and it only got worse. It took every ounce of strength to stop myself from walking out – and that’s rare, especially since I wanted to see this movie and hoped for good things.
Pitch Perfect 3 just isn’t funny enough. Compared to the wittiness and energy of the first movie in particular, this third movie is fucking dire. Yes, Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy gets a few laughs, but that’s it. One of the biggest issues is that of story. A competition angle is forced out of nowhere, leading to a hopelessly contrived riff-off between the Bardem Bellas and their competition that’s an embarrassment for all involved. And then the competition is not really glimpsed again, as the story instead concentrates on Fat Amy’s shady father (John Lithgow trying out a woeful Australian accent) orchestrating a kidnapping – and the Bellas turning into action heroes. Yeah, that happens. Fat Amy knows kung-fu and dispatches armed, trained henchmen.
The set-pieces throughout Pitch Perfect 3 are just fucking uncomfortable. Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins follow the Bellas throughout the movie, filming everything, but the shtick has grown old, and they are no longer funny. Charismatic actors Skylar Astin and Adam DeVine are MIA here, as well. New director Trish Sie is simply incapable of infusing the material with any energy, as it’s a slog to get through. This is being advertised as the final Pitch Perfect movie, and that’s fine by me. Perhaps the studio executives watched the movie and decided they would not fund anymore.
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, this long-delayed sequel to The Ring (itself a remake of a creepy Japanese horror movie) is total garbage. Horror movies that spend a few years on the shelf are always terrible, and yeah, Rings is further proof of that. It isn’t scary and not even visually interesting, while performances are half-hearted (Johnny Galecki from The Big Bang Theory cannot handle drama). There was potential here to do something relevant in our technology-driven age, but the movie squanders said potential. Rings is also highly forgettable, which I suppose is a blessing.
Dishonourable Mentions: Jeepers Creepers 3, Baywatch, The House, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, The Greatest Showman.
Best Movie You Probably Didn’t See: Wind River
Wind River is from writer-director Taylor Sheridan, making his directorial debut after writing Sicario and Hell or High Water. Thankfully, this is another superb slice of adult entertainment, anchored by terrific performances, relevant themes, a worthwhile message, eye-catching visuals and a compelling narrative. There’s even an amazing shootout that had me firmly gripping my armrests. I do kind of wish the movie had more scope, but taken as a self-contained story, this is a very good, sophisticated thriller that deserves a wider audience.
Runner-Up: Logan Lucky
Most Fun: Thor: Ragnarok
Leave it to the director of What We Do In the Shadows to create the wildest, most entertaining Marvel blockbuster to date. Thor: Ragnarok is flat-out fun from the first frame to the last, with exciting action and plenty of witty comedy to supplement the spectacle. This is a real auteur effort as opposed to a generic studio blockbuster, as director Taiki Waititi’s fingerprints are all over the final product – he even voices a rock monster who provides delightful comedic relief. Ragnarok is epic in scope, and it never feels like a chore to sit through – it even has more energy than both Guardians of the Galaxy movies so far, and that’s high praise. This is one for the Blu-ray shelf that will be enjoyed for many years to come.
Most Underrated: Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Despite the fact that Matthew Vaughn himself returned to oversee this sequel as director and co-writer, Kingsman: The Golden Circle received something of a lukewarm reception, and I’m still struggling to see why. I saw it three times in the cinema and have fired up the Blu-ray a number of times, and I still never tire of the creative action sequences or the cheeky comedy. Yes, it’s certainly bloated, but the length doesn’t even bother me during rewatches anymore, and I’d certainly be interested in seeing the mounds of deleted scenes that were excised from Vaughn’s first 3.5-hour assembly cut. This is a fun-ass movie, providing exactly the same sort of thing that Vaughn gave us in both the first Kingsman and the first Kick-Ass. And I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us when Kingsman 3 rolls around.
Normally I don’t write anything for runner-ups or honourable mentions, but Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is a special type of movie and it deserves a shout-out. This is a horror movie first and foremost that’s designed to make you feel uncomfortable, particularly with the complete lack of a score. More or less the entire story is told from the point-of-view of Jennifer Lawrence’s unnamed “mother” character; the camera is almost always looking over her shoulder or looking directly at her. When she feels frustration because she cannot understand what is happening, we viscerally feel it as well. The movie builds terrifically, culminating with a batshit crazy finale that’s truly hard to predict and is so beyond what we come to expect from mainstream cinema. (This is the type of ending I envisioned Get Out having when people fawned all over it.) I normally enjoy movies that stir up controversy and piss people off, so mother! was a fine use of my time. It’s kind of awesome, and I’m not telling you a goddamn thing about what happens.
Most Overrated: Dunkirk
Upfront: I did not dislike Dunkirk, and I found it to be a worthwhile war movie. The production values are top-notch, thanks to the use of practical effects and the choice to shoot on a combination of 65mm and IMAX. It looks exceptional. But can we please stop pretending that the movie doesn’t have problems? The structure is all over the place, which can be confusing at certain times when you can’t tell if you’re looking at the same event from another angle or not. But according to hardcore Nolan fans, we’re just too stupid and the confusing narrative makes it superior to actual masterpieces like Hacksaw Ridge and Saving Private Ryan.
But the big problem with Dunkirk – putting aside the lack of characters, context and emotion – is the PG-13 rating, which is a bigger deal than Nolan fans would like to admit. No, the movie is not wall-to-wall combat, but it’s hard to get a sense that war is hell when Dunkirk beach looks so damn clean and weapons produce no discernible wounds. A bomb dropping on a soldier early in the movie should have yielded flying entails and limbs, but the aftermath is clean. When the Stuka dive bombers fire massive rounds into crowds of soldiers, said men should be ripped apart, but we see no such thing.
Dunkirk is overrated to the max. I appreciate it as a technical exercise, but it’s not a patch on Hacksaw Ridge. It’s not even close.
Most Disappointing: Justice League
I enjoyed Justice League more than I thought I would. I left the cinema thinking it was fine, but it started falling apart more and more in hindsight. There is so much wasted potential thanks to such a half-baked story, and one cannot help but think how much better it could have been if Warner Bros. ensured a truly great script was in place before the cameras began to roll – the last-minute reshuffling and reshoots makes the movie feel disjointed. Yes, I enjoyed the action scenes for the most part, but the movie can’t come close to the wittiness or the excitement of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, which still holds up and remains the gold standard for superhero team-up movies.
Again, better than I thought it would be, but not as good as it should be. Still disappointing.
Biggest Surprise: Paddington 2
Those who saw the first Paddington back in 2014 probably knew they were in for a delightful sequel, but I don’t think anybody knew that Paddington 2 was going to be this good. I mean, it’s still at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with over 160 reviews counted – it’s impossible to dislike this lovely, charming British fantasy adventure. It’s also a movie with the potential to appeal to multiple demographics – children, teenagers, adults, and even older folks who grew up with Paddington Bear. Ben Whishaw’s portrayal of Paddington remains note-perfect, as if the character just leapt off the pages of Michael Bond’s old stories. Humour is omnipresent, and there’s so much charm to the material that it’s never a chore to sit through. And the ending left me with a tear in my eye. Paddington 2 is Pixar-level brilliance, and I plan to be first in line for Paddington 3 whenever we get to see it.
Deserved to Flop: The Dark Tower
An adaptation of Stephen King’s expansive Dark Tower novels has been in the works for years, but this is the best they could come up with? I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily unwatchable, but The Dark Tower is just an 85-minute fantasy adventure which barely penetrates the surface of its world and the mythology. Yes, some of the action sequences are enjoyable, but it’s not enough considering the attention and acclaim the novel series continues to enjoy. And including a child character feels like the movie is pandering to the teen crowd, while the PG-13 rating solidifies this. I can’t say I felt sorry for the movie when it landed with a thud, greeting with negative reviews and terrible box office. It’s back to the drawing board for this franchise.
Deserved Better Box Office: Blade Runner 2049
One of the biggest and most disheartening injustices of 2017 was watching Denis Villeneuve’s sensational Blade Runner sequel founder at the box office. It’s by no means a disaster, having grossed over $250 million on a reported budget of $150 million, and it may perform strongly enough in the home video market given the cult status of its predecessor, but this imaginative science fiction masterpiece deserved more attention. Its length and the art-house appearance probably kept certain movie-goers away, despite every action beat in the movie being showcased in the trailer. This movie is a gift, and I wish there were more daring motion pictures like it. Personally, I paid to see the movie twice at the cinema, and paid for the 4K Blu-ray the moment it became available.