The Last Word On 2017 Our Top 10 Of The Year And More...
So here we are again, that time of year and stuff. Only this year, it wasn’t looking too good for a while there. There was a point, not even too long ago, when we were finding it hard to pick a Top 10 for 2017. (Please remember – as per, we base this on Awards Season movies – so some of them might not have come your way yet.) Sure, there were lots of good movies this year. Even some very good movies. But we were – as ever – bucking for great. And those took their time to emerge.
That said, we’re glad that a wealth of wonders did finally reveal themselves. So, as is tradition, to see the old year out – and to give you a list of things you may need to catch in the next one – here is The Last Word On Earth’s Top 10 Films Of 2017. Which for once is only 10 (well, sort of.)
1: Lady Bird – Greta Gerwig turned full-on writer-director for this gorgeously moving comedy drama, somewhat autobiographical, and beautifully universal in its examination both of the pains of adolescence and growing up in general, and a mother-daughter relationship in particular. Inspired by her own teenage desire to escape the awful obviousness of Sacramento, Gerwig found her perfect alter-ego in a simply brilliant performance from the always elusive but captivating Saoirse Ronan, so note perfect in what will surely have to be her last teenage role. Equally important, she found an immaculate mother figure in Laurie Metcalfe – the several interchanges between Metcalfe and Ronan throughout the film manage to mix hilarious dialogue with almost heart-breaking tenderness. Which is probably the best definition of this strikingly assured debut all round. Expect Oscar noms for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress as well as Screenplay, Director and Film – and if any or all of those walk away with that statue, we’d be more than happy.
2: Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan’s beautifully composed triptych of action on, over and offshore of that famed and presumed doomed beach in WWII was the sign of an absolute cinematic master finding both an emotional connection and a unique means of conveying his feelings on that subject. Given that is was Nolan of course, his method of delivery was subject to anything but the ordinary, employing a triple time frame overlap that was as compelling as the sheer spectacle that he seemed to so effortlessly convey.
There’s a school of thought that Nolan is more of an intellectual filmmaker than an emotional one, and that this finally broke that long welling dam. Anyone that ever watched Matthew McConaughey return through time and space to become his own daughter’s ghost, or witnessed Batman die to redeem Bruce Wayne’s life know it’s never been that simplistic. Yet, the massive global audience that Dunkirk somewhat unexpectedly found proves that as a filmmaker, Nolan connects with audiences – and delivers amazing movies – in a manner that no other contemporary filmmaker is doing In fact, maybe in a way that no filmmaker ever has before.
3: War For The Planet Of The Apes – Very few were holding out much hope for a Planet of the Apes revival being up to much. But, through initially Rupert Wyatt and, more significantly, the last two entries by Matt Reeves, the new Apes proved itself something of an epic modern trilogy, awash with the mythology of the original series, but taking it into new and fascinating territory.
However, how much would it have worked without the mighty performance of Andy Serkis is the main question. It’s simply impossible to imagine these movies without the titanic work of Mr Serkis. Just get off your fucking high horses and give this man the Best Actor nomination he so richly deserves. Hell, the one he has deserved for several years now. How many actors have taken a character from infancy to death? Yes, there’s digital stuff involved, but it’s time to realise this is just make up, nothing more. The work is still done by the actor, never more so than in this third and final part. No one went around in 1981 saying “That John Hurt – it’s all plastic stuff glued on his fact, innit?” Same thing – time to play catch up.
As for Reeves, he delivered a visually stunning final movie that took the Apes’ saga to an epic level in a magisterial way. Ape-ocalypse Now indeed.
4: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – One thing that Martin McDonagh’s film shares with our number 1 choice of Lady Bird is how both films have the ability to move from outrageously acerbically funny in one instance to absolutely gut-wrenchingly heart breaking in the next (just check out that interview scene with McDormand and Harrelson.) It’s a delicate balance that both films handle with supreme aplomb, here with help from a standout cast that sees Frances McDormand offer up the only serious completion to Ronan in this year’s major awards race. (Actually, we see McDormand as the one picking up the Oscar.) McDonagh positions his small town slice of deeply grieving Americana as something of a contemporary western, with McDormand elegantly channelling her inner John Wayne as she (st)rides into town – her boiler suit uniform always in place – to get her some justice. As much of a star turn as she delivers, it’s a film that elicits great work from all those concerned none more so than Woody Harrelson (who over the last couple of years has become the MVP of modern American cinema) and Sam Rockwell, who plays dumb redneck with such proficiency that eventually he becomes as heart breaking as the film itself.
(And by the end you could almost read the whole thing as a vigilante superhero origin movie, a kind of “Mildred Begins” as it were. Or not. Depending.)
5: The Disaster Artist – For years we’ve had a weird relationship with James Franco. Indeed, we always used to bill him as “The Increasingly Weird James Franco” as he seemed to be making something new more or less every week of the year, a case of rampant proliferation for what often seemed like limited (if any) return.
Well now, all that is behind us – and, it appears, behind him. His take on Tommy Wiseau’s making of The Room (still a terrible movie, don’t let this one make you see that one) seems like the masterpiece Franco has been struggling to find inside himself. Odd that he found it in this homage to the modern day Ed Wood, but, like the film that Tim Burton made about that equally dismal auteur, Franco’s movie becomes more about the sheer redemptive power of film than it does about one film or one man in particular.
As a director, Franco found a means of conveying love for film as much as he did award respect to an individual. As an actor he found both humour and, more importantly, understanding and empathy for a formerly ridiculed outsider. If you want a single moment to see how great his performance is it’s the moment where he throws a football around with his star/muse/crush Greg (Franco’s younger brother Dave) – which is both stupidly funny and touchingly sad in a heartbeat. If they’re stupid enough not to give the Best Actor to Serkis (and they are!) then please give it to the finally redeemed Mr Franco.
6: The Post – It would be easy to label Spielberg’s homage to the freedom of the press old-fashioned, with its note-perfect evocation of the 1970s and such things as moral responsibility, even more so, obligation. But it’s not. It’s a newspaper drama dressed up as a taut thriller with more contemporary resonance that the filmmaker could ever have imagined, even though he knew when he started making it that it was likely. And despite star turns from Streep and Hanks (both at the very peak of their games) it’s also the standout ensemble performance of the year from a wide-ranging supporting cast (Odenkirk, Paulson, Coon, Greenwood, Letts, more), each of them so on the money that it’s ridiculous that they lost the SAG cast nomination. Ridiculous.
7: Blade Runner 2049 – Isn’t it terribly ironic, and more than a little sad, that 35 years after Ridley Scott’s incredibly influential science fiction classic failed to find an audience, that Denis Villeneuve’s sequel would manage to emulate that amongst all its other glories? (Whether it fails to win always-the-bridesmaid DP Roger Deakins his long-overdue Oscar remains to be seen. But probably.) The Canadian’s take on the Replicant heavy dystopian future of both Scott and Dick was not only one of the most visually gorgeous films of the years (production designer Dennis Gassner take a bow alongside Mr Deakins) but one of the most emotionally compelling. A lengthy film that found its own speed very early on, refused to deviate from it, but never less than compelled, this new Blade Runner both added to and expanded on the mythology of a true cinematic original. And even left the whole “Is Deckard a Replicant or not? argument up for grabs. (For some. We know where we stand.)
8: Phantom Thread – Paul Thomas Anderson has had a few missteps of late. The Master was somewhat confused, despite some utterly compelling moments, whilst Inherent Vice was more a messy thing of indulgence. Reteaming with his There Will Be Blood star Daniel Day Lewis invigorated both men to their best levels. What resulted was a film set in a rarefied and very precise world – brilliantly captured in both tone and detail, populated by illusive personalities, whose motivations and even instincts were either shrouded or inscrutable for the most part. Yet it became something of a gripping quasi-thriller that stylistically harked back to 1940s Hitchcock at times – both visually and thematically – and yet found a way of being utterly unique all at once. All of which led towards an unbalancing but deeply satisfying denouncement.
And if this really is to be Day Lewis’ last tip of the hat, then his study on quiet, uncertain obsession is a delightfully satisfying way to bow out.
9: Get Out – Some people still have a hard time calling this a horror movie. But it is. Some also have a hard time calling it a comedy. But it is. And it’s a delightfully smart take on both, with writer-director Jordan Peele hugely impressing with his satirical look at not just race but – by default – class in modern-day America. Yes, it owes a huge debt to Ira Levin’s vision of the town of Stepford and its spousal politics. But it’s a clever update and one that – like The Post above – found what might well have been unexpected resonance in the current climate of the country in which it was made.
Plus, and this often seems to be overlooked in most of the praise heaped upon his debut, Peele really know how to make a thriller in a tight economical way. Barely a moment is wasted here as the tension piles on. As it moves along, Daniel Kaluuya is not the only one sweating.
10: Paddington 2 – What can you say about the sweetest, nicest, most heart warming film of the year? The first Paddington was an unexpected treat – this is even better. And it’s even better firstly because writer-director Paul King and producer David Heyman don’t mess with the formula. And secondly, because the one thing they do do is to add some Hugh Grant. Partly through his own (often brilliantly funny) public displays of self-deprecation, Hugh Grant is rarely acknowledged for being the incredibly efficient light comedian he is. He is a one of a kind and is to be applauded at every opportunity. Never more so that in this utterly charming film that will delight children, adults, families, bears, dogs, cats and grumpy old bastards equally. Go on – you know you want to…
THE NEARLY MADE ITS – If we were going to make it a Top 12 as opposed to a Top 10 (and we’ve done that before) these two would most likely have made the list above –
T2 Trainspotting – It could have been a folly. In some ways it was a disappointment. But it was the right kind of disappointment. Danny Boyle’s return to all our yesterdays could never have hoped to match the sheer vitality, urgency and zeitgeist defining qualities of the original – so it chose not to, with Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and even sicker boy Begbie, reunited in the depths of middle age. Worse still, the depths of unfulfilled middle age. It was a movie haunted by itself in the same manner that its characters are haunted by their youth throughout the streets of this new Edinburgh. Still funny in places, and full of Boyle’s typical stylistic brio, but also deeply rooted in melancholy. And with an ending that managed the unique trick of being incredibly energetic and vibrant, yet deeply, deeply depressing all at the same time.
Molly’s Game – Ain’t no party like a Sorkin party, and Aaron certainly brought his customary sharp witted, brilliantly verbose dialogue to his latest true-life tale. But as a first time director he also brought not only a firm faith as a filmmaker in his own screenplay, but a distinct ability to bring the best out of a fine cast. (To be fair, a lot of that does indeed start with his scripts, which normally have actors lining up and falling over themselves to be cast in the first place.) Here, Chastain was impressively commanding, even if it did feel that too much of her performance was left in her voice over. Both Idris Elba and Kevin Costner however brought more than their A-game to scenes that just bristled and leapt off the screen.
THE ALSO RANS – And here are the ones we really liked. We just didn’t really like them enough –
The Florida Project - If only for the last two minutes, which was by far the best ending of any movie this year, moving unforgettably from social realism to magic realism in a life-affirming film-stock changing kinda way. A genius end to a very solid movie.
I, Tonya – Setting yourself up as the Goodfellas of ice skating movies is a tall call. Thankfully, director Craig Gillespie had the award-worthy work of Margot Robbie and Alison Janney to back up that ambition. (Missed a trick by not sticking Loudon Wainwright’s Tonya’s Twirls on the end titles though.)
Coco – Pixar back doing what they do best (and that’s not sequels or dinosaur movies.) And when they do what they do best, that’s better than anyone else doing it. Exquisite to look at, beautifully moving to be told.
The Killing of A Sacred Deer – Yorgos Lanthimos delivered the most unsettling film of the year, moving from an arch, antiseptic, very precise form of black comedy, into a unique kind of horror movie shot trough with quasi-Greek tragedy – and consequently an even darker level of cruel humour. At once removed, chilled and distant, it also managed to be remarkably moving in the very lowest of keys, all leading to a climax that was at once absurdist and hugely disturbing.
Maudie – Way back when we reviewed the sadly little seen Maudie, we said even then that we doubted whether we’d see two finer performances this year than those of Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke. All these months later, that still stands.
The Man Who Invented Christmas – Just when you think the modern Christmas movie has become the province of Bad Moms and Worse Dads, Bharat Nalluri and co delivered a new Christmas classic (with nary a Muppet in sight – if you don’t count Miles Jupp’s Thackeray.) Expect to be watching it for years to come over stuffing and stuff.
WORST FILM OF THE YEAR
1: Brigsby Bear – How bad was this? We almost can’t count that high. A film so needy that its very desperation to become something of a cult classic just bled from every frame. Another mark against The Lonely Planet, this SNL-connected flick tried to mix mock ‘80s nostalgia (note the stunt casting of Mark Hamill) with sci-fi nerdism (note the stunt casting of Mark Hamill) and some kind of idealistic morality that just felt 100 % false. Ill-conceived, dreadfully performed, lamely delivered - nobody wants to hate a movie, but Brigsby Bear almost made it easy.
SUPERHERO MOVIES – THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE JUSTICE LEAGUE
As the amount of super hero movies on screen increases almost exponentially every year, we thought it was time to give them their own category. Here are 2017’s big players – in the order they should be remembered -
1: Thor Ragnarok – Marvel refusing to rest on their laurels by turning one of their main pieces of superheroic real estate into an out and out comedy. In anyone else’s hands this God of Thunder gamble – and it was a huge gamble – could’ve fallen flat on its face. But Feige and co had the good sense to bring Taika Waititi on board – and the rest is history.
2: Wonder Woman – Who knew women go do this shit as well? Well, anyone who had any sense. The biggest surprise is not how good Patty Jenkins’ film was – but the fact that it was DC who actually got this right. For once – see below.
3: Logan – “Come back Shane, come back” – proof that the genre can grow old. Not just gracefully, but with lots of neck ripping violence. Keep the hard Rs coming everyone.
4: Spider-Man – Homecoming – Feige’s Marvel Studios finally got their mitts on possibly Stan Lee’s ultimate hero and turned it into the best Spidey yet. And for one basic reason – they remembered he was a teenager. It was always what set him apart in anyone’s superhero universe, it was always what made us kids reading him relate to. Having debuted in Civil War – Tom Holland now officially owns this web-slinger. (Until he outgrows him of course – we don’t want to be back to that emo stuff!)
5: Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 – Hey, it’s not our fault Marvel seem to be dominating this list. It’s simply they know how to make really fun movies like this. And nobody else seems to be able to do that right now.
6: Justice League – What a fucking mess!
Happy New Year!
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