12 Best Movies of 2017

12 Best Movies of 2017

Shootin’, Drivin’ and Survivin’

I feel I should clarify something about this list before you give it a read: I don’t love all of the movies here. You’ll notice that it’s compiled of 12 films, which is a strange number, right? “Why 12”, you ask? Because I only actually managed to see 13 films in 2017, and It wasn’t getting anywhere near this fuckin’ list. I mean, I would still recommend every one of the following titles; just bear in mind the proportional degree of recommendation that corresponds with each movie’s placement. For example, the 12th slot has gone to a film that I would grade a solid 6.5/11 (which isn’t bad), while the 1st would get a 10/11. Capice? Oh, and, something about how all these movies are secretly about Trump. Hope that covers it all…


12. John Wick: Chapter 2

In the first John Wick, there was a cabal of underground assassins that seemed to have gained a foothold in every faction of American society. Fairly improbable, but it was some entertaining stuff, so we let it slide. In John Wick: Chapter 2, there are maybe three people in the entire country who aren’t secretly assassins, and one of those people is a dog. Seriously, there’s even a scene at the end of the film where the omnipotent Winston (Ian Mc-fuckin’-Shane!) makes a crowd of pedestrians stop on command and turn ominously towards our hero Wick. It’s a silent, absurd show of strength in a movie that could easily be described likewise.

These winking moments typify the appeal of the John Wick film series. Yeah, it’s proficiently made action, with slick as fuck fighting choreography and a predictably watchable turn from Keanu Reeves (which contains only half a dozen more lines than most silent film roles). But it’s the biting self-awareness that elevates the movie from easy competence to batshit levels of enjoyment. John Wick is unkillable, a proverbial boogeyman, and not a scene goes by where someone doesn’t make that point. He uses his gun as an extension of his body, and his body is a unit meant only for vengeful slaughter. With that in mind, Laurence Fishburne seems to have the most sensible line in the movie: “Somebody please get this man a gun!


11. Mother!

I’d rather watch an interesting failure than a boring success any day, and Mother! is most definitely closer to the former. In his ambition, director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) has crafted an unwieldy yet truly grand film, one that deserves to be gazed at in awe of its scope as much as chided for its indulgent tendencies. It attempts nothing less than a retelling of creation, with Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as Mother Nature and God, respectively. They’re a married couple, living in a secluded manor which gradually becomes the setting for the history of the Bible and the unflinching carnage of humanity. Bearing that in mind, it’s beyond impressive that the film isn’t an embarrassing shitshow.

Actually, it kinda is that, but in a way that’s so entertaining and expertly filmed that it’s hard to be mad about it. It doesn’t hurt that Lawrence is at the top of her game here, pulling off the near-impossible task of making an allegorical figure seem like a fully-rounded character. Of every aspect of Mother!, her performance is the most consistent, a throughline from which the film’s ludicrousness dangles; she’s like a sustained note that keeps an apocalyptic orchestra from descending into ruin. Meanwhile, Aronofsky’s whirlwind direction and straight-faced script (which, unsurprisingly, he wrote in five days) prevents the absurdity of everything from festering. So ultimately, as a parable Mother! is painfully unsubtle but, as a film, it’s hard not to admire the sheer audacity of it.


10. The Disaster Artist

If there’s one thing I took away from The Disaster Artist that I never fully appreciated beforehand, it’s that Tommy Wiseau – the star, writer and director of The Room, the worst film ever made –  is a truly awful person. That might not be a revelation for anyone who’s ever met or interviewed him, or read Greg Sestero’s book detailing the making of The Room, which this film is based on. But personally, I’ve always assumed that Wiseau (for all his eccentricity) is simply a man of passion and spirited, inscrutable creativity. Nope: turns out he’s just an arsehole, which makes The Disaster Artist something of a downer. It’s not that you can’t make a great movie about a shitty person, it just rings kinda hollow when the film tries to reframe that person as a triumph by the end, even if it’s accidental.

There’s also far less insight to be gained about the behind-the-scenes mayhem of The Room from this movie than I would’ve hoped, and more than a few moments would’ve been better served had they not been spoiled by the trailer. Still, it’s nothing short of a minor miracle that this movie even got made in the first place, let alone that it could attract the star power and studio investment it did. James Franco – who also directs – is a surprisingly convincing Wiseau and has fantastic chemistry with his brother Dave, appearing as the put upon Greg. And, while it leaves something to be desired as an exposé, the film is a supremely well-crafted comedy, complete with a third act redemption that you can’t help but feel a little inspired by. Or, at the very least, laugh hysterically at.


9. / 8. Wonder Woman / Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Superheroes are usually more defined by their shortcomings than their abilities, as is often the case when it comes to the films that are made about them. In Wonder Woman, the Amazonian warrior Diana Prince (an immediately iconic Gal Gadot) is a prodigious fighter, a scourge on wrong-doers and a true companion to the downtrodden. That said, her concepts of good and evil are tragically basic, to the degree that she can’t fathom that killing The Ultimate Bad Guy doesn’t magically fix everything. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the problem’s even simpler: the guardians keep forgetting how well they work as a team, largely because Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord, played by a typically dashing Chris Pratt) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper, in a far less dashing capacity) can’t stop bickering.

These are issues that both drive the movies and hinder them, somewhat. For one thing, Diana’s own misconception of war is weirdly confirmed by Wonder Woman’s final act fake-out, while GotGV.2 largely seems to be treading water whenever it’s in the process of bringing its heroes back together for the final battle. Still, at a time that’s almost a decade removed from the high water mark of The Dark Knight, it’s reassuring that there remains a well of humour and vitality to draw from when adapting comic book stories for the screen.

An abundance of both traits allowed these movies to stand out amongst the deluge of modern superhero fare, but there’s a uniqueness to them that certainly helped. Wonder Woman’s is obvious, being the first superhero film to be directed by a woman (Monster’s Patty Jenkins), while also easily being the best of its ilk to have a female lead. GotGV.2’s greatest achievement, meanwhile, is that its character remain more interesting than the effects surrounding them. These days, that’s no mean feat.


7. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

I’m not usually enthralled by Jim Carrey, but I have immense respect for his commitment to the craft of being a human wad of silly putty. His facial and bodily contortions – not to mention his flamboyant vocal performances – are already the stuff of legend. In films ranging from The Mask to Liar, Liar, Dumb & Dumber to Bruce Almighty, he proved he was the greatest silent slapstick star who just happened to be born at the end of the wrong century. But Carrey himself would have you believe that those roles are him at his most shielded; you have to look elsewhere to find the real Jim peeking through the curtains.

In the intensely revealing documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, Carrey and director Chris Smith turn the focus on one of the actor’s most acclaimed roles, that of the alternative comedian Andy Kaufman in the biopic Man on the Moon. Feeling an innate, spiritual kinship with the deceased Kaufman, Carrey found that he was able to channel him for the role, as well as his obnoxious alter ego, Tony Clifton. What resulted was essentially a method performance that was an ordeal for everyone involved, including Carrey himself, it seems.

Watching never before seen footage of Carrey wreaking havoc on cast and crew members might sound like an obnoxious excursion, but it’s the depths he plumbs in retelling this story (and, ultimately, the story of his whole career) that truly resonates. He discusses the insight he gained from Kaufman, as well as what he was able to mine from Truman in The Truman Show and Joel in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He’s undergone some heavy soul searching, has come out the other end a hirsute creature of immaculate zen, and he’d like to share with us what he discovered: we are nowhere, and it’s now.


6. Okja

Film director Bong Joon-ho was already a mainstay in Korean cinema long before he had his international breakout with 2013’s post-apocalyptic action-thriller Snowpiercer. With Memories of Murder a decade earlier, he established himself as a quirky stylist, exhibiting firm control over the wild tonal shifts of his material, while The Host demonstrated that he could take a genre as ridiculed as the creature feature and rejuvenate it. With those and a handful of other accomplished films under his belt, it seemed it was only a matter of time before Bong would try his hand at that most revered of cinematic excursions: the adventure film between a human and her unlikely companion, in the same vein as E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

Of course, considering the idiosyncrasies that pepper Bong’s projects, it shouldn’t be a shock that the key relationship in Okja is between a young girl (Ahn Seo-hyun as Mija) and her gargantuan, genetically engineered pig. Nor is it surprising how sympathetic the creature of Okja is from the get-go, a marvel of special effects that seems as tangible as our innate desire not to see him slaughtered for mass consumption. And – while it might not be as implausibly thrilling as The Host or tightly-wound as Snowpiercer – there’s a charm to Okja that carries the film a long way, even during the lengthy second act when Mija and Okja are largely separated.

Still, perhaps the most exciting part of Joon-ho becoming a world-renowned filmmaker is the degree to which his unhinged vision impacts his actors. He elicited a career-best performance from Chris Evans in Snowpiercer, so it’s not surprising how many new levels of acting he’s able to extract from his remarkable cast. Tilda Swinton is her devilish best, Jake Gyllenhaal has never been so equally strange and detestable, Paul Dano is a muted firehouse and Steven Yuen somehow manages to leave behind The Walking Dead. That said, it remains Okja’s story, an oversised parable with the capacity to be tragic, rousing and delightful.


5. It Comes At Night

If it feels like I’m reaching every time I link a piece of art from this year to the Trump era, I would ask you to consider how deeply the political nature of a country tends to seep into its creative landscape. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible was born from the McCarthy era, while Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On shouldered the burden of Vietnam. And look, those are just some key examples, not necessarily works that are comparative in quality to It Comes At Night. But if I had to pick just one film from 2017 that perfectly captured what (I assume) it’s like to live day to day in Donald Trump’s America, it would be this one.

It Comes At Night has a barebones post-apocalyptic plot that only matters to the degree that it can enrich the film’s foreboding atmosphere. A devastating, physically horrific infection has wiped out the world’s population, and the survivors live in a constant state of paranoia. They can’t trust anyone, because of the secrets they might be harbouring. To cope, they stick to their rigid codes of family and routine, isolating themselves in a cabin deep within the woods. And, whether or not they ever express it, there’s the sensation that they’ve been forgotten and left behind by the world. Do you see where I’m going with this?

But, as astutely as It Comes At Night captures the currently fractured feel of the U.S., its most effective feature is its maddening ambiguity. Paul (a fraught Joel Edgerton) spends most of the film trying to work out if he can trust Will (Christopher Abbott), who appears in the woods one day and eventually brings along his family to join Paul’s in the cabin. In the process, there are scenes so uncomfortably specific to a tense domestic setting that they’re almost stunning, including a moment when Paul’s son gazes a little too long at Will’s wife. All of it is directed with confidence and impressive restraint by the 29-year-old Trey Edward Shults, establishing himself as a filmmaker very much worth paying attention to over the coming years.


4. Logan Lucky

Steven Soderbergh is pretty shit at retiring. Not that I’m complaining: his “sabbatical” from filmmaking that followed 2013’s Side Effects resulted in him executive producing and directing every episode of the turn-of-the-century surgery drama The Knick, which remains one of the greatest and most visually stunning shows of the decade. Between then and now, he’s also produced several other shows and documentaries, while keeping an intimidatingly comprehensive list of everything he watches in his spare time. “Retire” is not in this motherfucker’s vocabulary, is what I’m saying, which is how we wind up with something as effortlessly charming as Logan Lucky, a heist film comprising a bunch of misfits, ne’er-do-wells and irreverent southern caricatures.

Jimmy Logan (a beer-bellied, hangdog Channing Tatum) has just been let go from his construction job at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. During his time on the site, however, he came into some knowledge of how the Speedway’s cash is transferred to its underground safe: through a collection of labyrinthine tubes in the tunnels. With this, he formulates a plan with his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver, perfect as a sour-looking southern catfish) to rob the Speedway, with the aid of a current prison inmate of their acquaintance, one Joe Bang (a revelatory Daniel Craig). Being as this is all from the same director of the Ocean’s trilogy, a ribald mix of ingenuity, double bluffs and close-calls ensues, all inflected with that particular southern charm that invokes the Coen brothers as much as Mark Twain.

The cast is great, the plot intricately layered, the dialogue whip smart about how dumb some of its characters are and the setting so well-realised you can almost taste drawling beer suds and smell the burning tires. But it might well have just amounted to an interesting take on the genre were it not for Soderbergh’s unparalleled direction. At once so alive it feels spontaneous and yet so precisely aligned it’s breathtaking, the renowned former-indie director has once again left his definitive imprint on another whirlwind piece of cinema. His shots tumble one after the other in a seemingly random sequence, yet result in a towering monument to the suave, bristling economy of the true auteur. If his retirement so far is anything to go by, it could wind up overshadowing his actual career.


3. The Big Sick

Really, really, really good romantic comedies come around once every five years or so. If we’re lucky. And I’m not trying to shit on whatever romcom you really liked that came out recently but, for my money, the last great one was 2009’s (500) Days of Summer, with a shout-out to 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook in the interim. Why is this the case with romcoms, when year after year we’re inundated with original, compelling drama films and even a handful of decent action ventures? I’d say it’s the same reason decent horror movies can be so rare, even though we are currently experiencing a resurgence of them. It’s because the format is so overdone that there needs to be a significant enough twist on the formula for it to be effective.

In that regard, it’s obvious why The Big Sick is such a success. Yes, it follows the tried and true pattern of most romcoms, but it’s the many heavier themes and charming detours it takes along the way that make it so easy to cherish. The film is a dramatised retelling of how Kumail Nanjiani (starring as himself) met his wife Emily V. Gordon, who spent several weeks in a coma after being diagnosed with a serious lung infection. In the ensuing weeks, Kumail bonds with Emily’s parents, while trying to hide his relationship with her from his own parents, who are devout Muslims constantly trying to set Kumail up with various Pakistani girls. Needless to say, there are spoilers inherent to the film just by knowing the backstory (yeah, she lives), but there’s still a frightening degree of emotional investment at play as Emily’s condition worsens and Kumail’s ties to his family are put under strain.

What stands out is that, in telling this story, the greatest decision Nanjiani and Gordon made was to write it together. Their collaboration does wonders for the richness of their characters, not to mention the even-handedness of their arguments. But what’s even more remarkable is that none of this is truly that original; indeed, some of the best aspects of The Big Sick are mere extensions of other film’s premises. My Big Fat Greek Wedding had similar cultural bias, While You Were Sleeping also had a coma-based plot, and movies from Funny People to Obvious Child have characters that find release from their struggles in stand-up. Think about that for a second though: what other film this year had the temerity to take on three such wildly divergent perspectives, and still be wildly funny? Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another five years for the next one.


2. Baby Driver

Baby Driver‘s characters have a lot to answer for. Baby, for one, is an enigma and not a super interesting one at that. Then there’s Debra, his newfound girlfriend, who needs to spend some time determining why, exactly, Baby’s worth risking her life for. Doc needs to learn how to invest his money, because even a handful of the insanely brazen scores his crew pulls off in the movie should really set him for life. Bats has gotta realise that the only reason no one has killed him out of pure frustration yet is dumb fuckin’ luck, and Buddy’s gotta cut down on the drama if he ever expects to get shit done.

But y’know what? This movie is just too damn good for any of that to matter. With Baby Driver, director Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim, The Cornetto Trilogy) stated that he set out to make a feature-length music video. If nothing else, he accomplished that goal with grace and equanimity, allowing room for the soundtrack to inform the visuals and the music itself to be redefined by its surroundings. Honestly, the sheer gall of using such renowned songs and managing to forge newly iconic status for them within the context of this film should be enough to make it a standout.

Of course, there’s the gauntlet throwdown of “Bellbottoms” in the film’s opening minutes, finding Baby (and his car) too enthralled to sit still. There’s Beck’s classic deep-cut “Debra”, signalling the film’s transition from a crime thriller into more wistful territory. Meanwhile, The Commodores’ “Easy” – which has been a mainstay of transitional scenes in movies for decades now – should forever be associated with Baby’s triumphant junkyard exit from a life of crime. Elsewhere, “Tequila” orchestrates a riotous firefight and Queen’s “Brighton Rock” becomes a harbinger of a Big Bad battle, as ominous in this setting as the first few notes of Sephiroth’s “One-Winged Angel”. And finally, “Every Little Bit Hurts” lends gravity to one of the most fraught and upsetting scenes of the year.

Obviously, though, that would all mean nothing without the inherent tension of the film, which is constantly heightened by the soundtrack. Basing such a variety of tunes around what is, at heart, a heist flick telegraphs the essence of each scene with crisp assurance, whether it’s Baby’s custom mixes or Blur’s auspicious “Intermission” during the final robbery. Each note and every tonal shift singes itself permanently onto the film’s DNA. You could call it bold, imposing or fuckin’ crazy, but you could never accuse Baby Driver of being anything less than an exercise in precision.


1. Get Out

[Hardcore spoilers inbound]

Racism 2.0 is hard to make a movie about, mostly because it can be too subtle for the stakes and conflicts required to propel a film. It’s hard to miss the point of 12 Years a SlaveThe Colour Purple or Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, because they take place in a time when racism didn’t need to be coded or talked around. Even more contemporary films like Do the Right Thing and Crash go out of their way to provoke direct conversations about racial tension and resentment. But how do you make a film about the quiet racists, the ones who aren’t marching in the streets and committing vehicular homicide? How do you offer commentary on the people who aren’t looking to conquer black people, but to appropriate them for their own means?

Jordan Peele found a way: he literalised the fuck out of “appropriation”. To us, it means Iggy Azalea and this abomination; to him, it’s the first step before subsumption. In the Black Mirror-esque premise of Get Out, black people are lured to an affluent white neighbourhood for some properly nefarious purposes. They aren’t enslaved, technically, but it seems like the sort of abominable innovation to slavery that might have happened had the technology been available. As protagonist Christ (a bristlingly fantastic Daniel Kaluuya) soon discovers, it’s not the labour or suffering of black people that these wealthy suburbanites crave. It’s their very beings; they wish, desperately, to become then.

“Why black people?”, he asks, and the answer is both simple and totally uncontainable. Because black is cool; because black is sexy; because black don’t crack; because black is different. The reasons are manifold, but the result is the same, as Peele has wisely surmised. Hatred is destructive, but there’s an even greater, more pernicious toxicity that comes from envy, especially when you can separate the subject of that emotion from their human characteristics. As a formerly-great, disgraced comedian once said, there’s no limit to what you can achieve when you don’t give a shit about an entire group of people.

So, with all the social commentary out of the way, how does the film itself turn out? Fucking superb. Few movies in recent years have more expertly played with audience’s expectations – both of genre conventions and race relations – to deliver such an intoxicating rush. For a directorial debut (and from a noted comedian, no less), it’s a stunning product, a true demonstration of control, focus, intent and razor-sharp cinematic intelligence. The performances are outstanding, the script is horrifying yet caustically funny, and the maddeningly uncomfortable overall tone is spot-on for a satire that only tilts reality a few degrees. Honestly, in a year where politics was everything and everything was fucked, there’s no other film that could take this mantle. Let’s just hope Jordan Peele’s joke about it being “a documentary” is still funny in four years.

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