31 December 2017

2017 in the Ground: Top Movies of the Year

Here we are, folks. It's the greatest post of the year - the TOP TEN! This is what it's all about - distilling a year's worth of movie-watching into a nice shareable, debatable, arbitrary list. I'm pretty proud of this this year, although of course I'm always shifting this around? You remember 2016? Fuck that, here's a new updated list of how I feel about those movies:


The Witch
Train to Busan
Green Room
The Love Witch
Everybody Wants Some!!
The Neon Demon
American Honey
The Lobster

I want to do something fun this year, which is also sort of a cop-out. I'm going to be honest with you. I haven't seen every movie I wanted to see in order to make this list. Oftentimes I'll just make it up and fake it based on how I think I'd enjoy something, but this year I'm going to be honest. So, to start, here is a list of films I think I might like but did not get a chance to watch, in descending order of anticipation:

The Shape of Water
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
The Disaster Artist
Get Out
Girls Trip
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Phantom Thread

These are definitely films that will crop up at the end of 2018 in either lists like this or the new evaluation. Anyway, next I ranked all the films I watched that I liked. Sorry, no Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) on this one. This was really contentious and the top four here came in and out constantly:

War on Everyone
The Belko Experiment
The Meyerowitz Stories
A Ghost Story
Atomic Blonde
Wonder Woman
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The Last Jedi
Logan Lucky
John Wick: Chapter 2
Brigsby Bear

So now that you know that I've seen a lot of movies, let's get into the Official Top Ten for 2017, which will be ironclad and unflappable until at least this time next year:

#10: The Big Sick - directed by Michael Showalter ft. Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter

The Big Sick isn't really a comedy, although it's about comedians and has some genuinely funny parts. That's part of what makes it amazing, though. It's like Funny People (2009) without being an overlong and toothless critique of Adam Sandler's career. In addition to deconstructing and updating romantic comedy tropes it also takes a keen look at the casual immigrant experience in the United States, giving voice to the Muslim Pakistani Kumail, who proves himself an adept writer and actor for the story of his own courtship of future wife Emily. Ray Romano is somehow an actor in this and does a stellar job, which is the most unbelievable part to witness.

#9: The Lost City of Z - directed by James Gray ft. Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland

Charlie Hunnam is still kind of flat, to the point where his natural English accent sounds fake. Still, the film surrounding him is gorgeous. It centers on the tragedy and hope of human obsession for discovery, picking the journey of Percy Fawcett through the Amazon, which is still one of the most impenetrable places on earth. It's cautious with its depiction of native tribes, and the core conceit that the people we dismiss as savages could have once had a glorious and technologically advanced civilization serves to expand our perspective and reconsider our own biases and worldview. Also bearded weird Robert Pattinson, who along with Kristen Stewart this year are proving themselves actors as far as Twilight as can be.

#8: Ingrid Goes West - directed by Matt Spicer ft. Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, Wyatt Russell, O'Shea Jackson, Jr

This is a more intricate film than it lets on, and surprisingly lets its visuals set up the story better than anything else. Aubrey Plaza effortlessly floats through this film being whoever she thinks she needs to be, obsessive in singular Instagram-stalking focus and ultimately driven insane by chasing what she thinks is cool. It's a sad and tragic film, even its happy ending is caked in eye-opening irony. It's a mix of vapid Californian culture, failed dreams, and constantly faking with ourselves. I dug it.

#7: The Bad Batch - directed by Ana Lily Amirpour ft. Suki Waterhouse, Jason Mamoa, Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves

Just Google search any still from this film and you get what I'm talking about. This was a decisive film that constantly bordered on pretentious over-philosophizing, but I think if we read the main character's arc of considering Keanu Reeves' mindless blathering as worse than cannibalism we get what this flick is trying to do. Despite having a slew of A-listers somehow being the most ridiculous of their careers (see Jim Carrey above), this film never loses focus on Arlen, played by model Suki Waterhouse in a tortured role, both literally and metaphorically. She does not make wise choices here, and her final fate is driven by such selfish and horrible feelings that defy catharsis and switch around every character this film set up. The Bad Batch constantly dares you to hate it, and I called its bluff.

#6: War for the Planet of the Apes - directed by Matt Reeves ft. Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson

In a year filled with surprisingly good franchise blockbusters and superhero films, War for the Planet of the Apes stood out. It finds a way to test main ape Caesar to the limit and mo-cap actor Andy Serkis has never been better, which says a lot. The ramifications of war and hatred between man and ape push everyone in this film to become things they don't want to be, and they grapple with these changes for 150 minutes that never feels that long. This is all not to mention the plot that borrows from everything from Spartacus (1960) to The Great Escape (1963), which ought to sound really surprising. Best of all, it takes the campy insane 1970s Planet of the Apes presence and gives it immense gravitas without ever becoming overblown. None of this mentions the CGI ape effects, which somehow has yet to win an Academy Award.

#5: Okja - directed by Bong Joon-ho ft. Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano

Let this forever be remembered as the film that put Netflix on the map. Sure, Bright (2017) is doing fine the last few days, but Okja was actually good. It's a global sprawling epic look at pet relationships, the food industry, and a corporate culture that tries to be your friend while chasing profits. It's also a stern look at revolutionaries with questionable motives and methods despite noble goals. The structure of the film is perfect, Jake Gyllenhaal is absolutely nuts, and the madcap chase sequences are thrilling, with stakes no more than the fate of a CGI super pig. It works.

#4: Dunkirk - directed by Christopher Nolan ft. Tom Hardy, Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Harry Styles, Cillian Murphy

Dunkirk is a sprawling film that never feels so grand. It's meticulous and surprisingly lean, with an unflinching focus on its three major storylines, all more or less depictions of different time spans (this is ultimately thrown out the window). It's a remarkably efficient movie, giving us just enough to know each of the many characters through simple action and reaction, with hardly any dialogue to distract us. They all pull their weight, from the cowardly soldiers on the beach just trying to get home to the civilians on the boat trying to save them, and the pilots in the air trying to defend them. It's the most triumphant film about a defeat ever, and finding new ways to define success is the only thing that makes this story a success. That's all not even mentioning the crystal clear editing, blocking, and cinematography that makes everything feel real and beautiful at the same time.

#3: Baby Driver - directed by Edgar Wright ft. Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx

It's kind of crazy, but my favorite scene in this movie full of gangster shoot-outs and car chases is the one above, particularly their feet in sync. It's such an adorable movie and the best love story of the year. There has been some weird backlash against Ansel Elgort, who I thought was incredibly engaging here. Of course Kevin Spacey. Listen, we can't get too up in arms about Kevin Spacey's last legitimate film here. He is definitively a rapist and awful human being, but it'd be damned hard to discount everything he's ever done. That's probably a debate that belongs elsewhere. Baby Driver is such a positive, exciting, and easily recommendable film in an age where you need to watch twelve movies and read fifteen different comic books to understand the most basic aspects of most other franchises. It's a trip and wonderful through and through.

#2: Colossal - directed by Nacho Vigalondo ft. Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell

I was floored when I saw this flick. Yeah, it's weird. I mean, it's really damn weird, but I dig bizarre high concepts in indie flicks. This is one of the best. For the uninitiated, Anne Hathaway finds out that when she gets drunk and walks through this certain playground during the early morning hours, she manifests as a giant monster in Seoul who mimics her actions. From there it's full of somehow more unexpected twists, mostly centering around Jason Sudeikis, who plays a Jason Sudeikis-type but in a film that understands that he's an asshole. This is not only the best Anne Hathaway movie ever, but a scary look at relationships that teeter that line between helpful and intrusive, friendly or manipulative. It's got tremendous heart at the center of a totally bonkers core conceit that continually works to both distract, then amplify the main story. It's fantastic.

#1: Blade Runner 2049 - directed by Denis Villeneuve ft. Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Robin Wright

Here's another film that requires a Google Search. Every damn shot is beautiful as hell. If you want to know how to do a good revival film, this is how. Hire one of the best working directors today after he's done a big movie like Arrival (2016) and knows how to handle a budget. Hire the best un-awarded cinematographer, Roger Deakins and tell him to go nuts. Continue the story from the previous installment and honor that story while branching out on your own, improving in every way. Hire a slew of the best actors and give them all characters with sincere arcs and motivations. Cake it all in a fully-developed world that expands from the original. Cake it all in themes as basic and elemental as we've grappled for all of human existence. Should be a piece of cake, right? And dammit, there's sloppiness. I covered it here. So damn extensively. This is a journey to be sure and you need to set aside a whole day to watch it, but if that's too much for you, why are you even watching movies?

That's 2017. We've got about 11 hours to go until 2018 strikes. That's some wild stuff. What did you like this year?

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