Saturday, January 06, 2018

The Movies of 2017

I saw 78 movies last year, 34 of those on the big screen. Those numbers are up, which may be an indicator that both of my boys are grown and at university, with the younger one away from home. I have more time, even with Peak TV still being on us.

On a downward trend was the countries of origin, down to 10 from 11, and a previous peak of 16. Something like 50 of the films were American, which is a tad frustrating. Less focus on blockbusters would probably correct some of this trend. The countries were:

New Zealand
South Korea

Anyhow, here's the list. Short descriptors and thoughts accompany each title, and an asterisk (*) shows which films were in the theatre. Keep in mind these aren't proper reviews. Most films are from 2016 and 2017, but the only reason a movie from 2016 would qualify for my top ten list would be if it was not released here until then. And remember, I'm not writing these blurbs as a critic; other people have written excellent reviews you can find if you're curious about any of these titles.

*Hidden Figures (2016) USA - Tremendous film. In many ways it’s a standard biopic, but well-acted, with an appealing story that was important to tell, too long unknown.

*Manchester By the Sea (2016) USA - Some outstanding performances, and told without attention paid to normal storytelling structures. It ends when it damn well wants to, there are few satisfactory resolutions. and characters drop in and out as they please. In other words, just like life. Too white, too male, perhaps, but still riveting and heartbreaking.

Train to Busan (2016) South Korea - An astonishing and thrilling zombie film, on of the best of that type I have ever seen. Absolute rush, with characters of great depth and surprise.

*John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) USA - Crazed and violent and with a strange but nicely logical world. Odd for me to praise such a violent film as such, but this is gorgeous to watch.

Queen of Katwe (2016) USA - Lovely true story about a girl in Uganda who helps lift herself and her family from destitution thanks to her skill at chess. And such a great final credits sequence.

Twenty Feet From Stardom (2014) USA - Excellent doc about backup singers.

Our Kind of Traitor (2016) UK - A decent Le Carre spy thriller, but nothing extraordinary.

The Legend of Tarzan (2016) UK - I didn’t dislike the movie, but even though it tries, it still can’t shake the colonialist background. Also, it tries too hard to behave like a superhero film a few times.

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (2016) USA - A Werner Herzog documentary, and therefore much more interesting than one would imagine.

*Get Out (2017) USA - Outstanding horror/thriller/race commentary.

*Logan (2017) USA - A magnificent and moving superhero movie, dark and gritty and powerful.

Pete’s Dragon (2016) USA - Fun and light remake of the cartoon.

*Paterson (2016) USA - I loved this movie. Peaceful and a gentle pace, full of poetry and where the most exciting scene, involving a gun, involves not a single shot. Beautiful.

Pandora (2016) South Korea - Exciting film about a disaster at a nuclear power plant. The Koreans can make a thriller like nobody’s business, and add features Hollywood can hardly ever manage to handle, or even think about.

Kill Command (2016) USA - A decent SF film, although not anything to make me sit upright.

Allied (2016) USA - Brad Pitt as a Canadian in a WW2 spy drama with Marion Cotillard. Decent, but again, nothing to write home about.

Cold in July (2014) USA - I’m sorry I missed this when it first came out. A very good revenge thriller.

*T2 Trainspotting (2017) UK - This was excellent, and I think at another time it might have made a bigger splash, but really, only the first one could truly capture the zeitgeist.

Department Q: The Keeper of Lost Causes (2013, 2016 in NA) Denmark - The first of three crime films (perhaps done for TV originally: I’m not sure). Good solid Scandinavian fare.

*Personal Shopper (2017) France - An outstanding and disturbing ghost story, quiet and with a nice turn by Kristen Stewart.

*Colossal (2017) USA - A wonderfully feminist movie, not willing to pull punches in showing us just how screwed up and unlikeable people can be and yet how you can still care for (some) of them. Anne Hathaway is tremendous in this.

*Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) USA - A fun but noisy superhero film, second verse, same as the first.

Tickled (2016) New Zealand - A startling and unsettling documentary about, believe it or not, what purported to be the world of professional tickling. Really, this one gets dark very quickly.

Deepwater Horizon (2016) USA - Effective enough. About what you would expect from a Peter Berg film starring Mark Wahlberg. Lots of macho but emotional heroics.

Desierto (2015) Mexico - A very good thriller, about Trump’s America before Trump. Jeffrey Dean Morgan and his dog hunt Mexican immigrants for sport.

Get Me Roger Stone (2017) USA - A documentary about one of the worst people in America. It was good, but I’m still having trouble processing whether or not it was worth watching, as he is such a horrible man.

The Boy and the Beast (2015) Japan -  A good but not great anime about an orphan boy who finds himself in another world and apprenticed to a beast with a temper.

The Tiger (2015) South Korea - Excellent film about an old Korean who helps in a tiger hunt under the Japanese occupation. Highly recommended.

Department Q: The Absent One (2014) Denmark - Another in the very good Danish police series of films.

*Wonder Woman (2017) USA - The best of what is admittedly a mediocre string of DC superhero movies. Overall very good, but I have to admit the ongoing carnage is beginning to lose me, and the big set piece at the end was also something of a letdown.

Department Q: A Conspiracy of Faith (2016) Denmark - The 3rd and, I believe, last of the Department Q films. The trauma the lead has suffered throughout this and how he deals with it is quite affecting.

*It Comes at Night (2017) USA - An excellent and disturbing  kinda-horror starring Joel Edgerton, who as of late has been ending up in a lot of movies I like.

Catfight (2016) USA - A fine dark comedy that takes a very dim view of human nature.

*Birth of a Family (2017) Canada - A moving documentary about a family of four First Nations children who were sent away from their mother by the government and did not find each other again until they were adults. The camera tags along on a reunion trip as they get to know each other.

The Girl With All the Gifts (2016) UK - A zombie movie with a difference is going to start to sound tiresome, especially since this is one of at least three I saw and enjoyed in 2017, but this was, and it worked.

*Baby Driver (2017) USA - If this was nothing but style it would be a successful venture, but Baby as a character is a winner. Tremendous film.

Okja (2017) South Korea - An excellent Netflix original full of great adventure and ethical questions. Although I will say Tilda Swinton is leaning more and more to over the top roles as time goes on.

*Dunkirk IMAX (2017) UK - Seeing this on IMAX was a smart decision. A gorgeous film to see in that format, thrilling, and with a tremendous use of time.

*Logan Lucky (2017) USA - One of the funniest movies of the year, a great cast that does not go wasted, and director Soderbergh again shows how well he can pace a caper flick.

*Lost in Paris (2017) Belgium - A funny and odd duck of a movie that might put a few people off, I suspect. In English and French, so you don’t always have to deal with subtitles. Something of an homage to silent film comedies, with plenty of slapstick and situational humour.

Megan Leavey (2017) USA - About what you would expect for a fact-based film about a woman who gets her life together by joining the military and becoming a dog handler then fighting to bring that dog back from Afghanistan.

The Candidate (2010) USA - An all right short film from DUST, and you can watch it here:

*The Trip to Spain (2017) UK - If you’re seen the other two films, you’ve seen this one, and if you’ve enjoyed the other two you will enjoy this one. By this point, though, these movies are just comfortable trips with a couple of friends, and the antagonisms and and plot points are just minor contrivances to remind us this is marginally fictional. Still, I have fun with the interactions between Coogan and Brydon.

My Love, Don’t Cross That River (2014) South Korea - A sad and beautiful movie about the last few months together for a Korean couple after 76 years of marriage.

Rules Don’t Apply (2016) USA - Warren Beatty does well to make this movie (which he directs and plays Howard Hughes) not about him. A decent comedy.

The Awakening (2011) UK - A decent horror film, the type with a surprise but not with blood and guts.

*It (2017) USA - An excellent horror that in many ways felt like a Spielberg film. And the clown was, to me, horrifying. And I'm not afraid of clowns.

The Lost City of Z (2016) UK - Slow moving but excellent fact-based film, and I have to say I am really enjoying seeing the roles Robert Pattinson is picking for himself after the Twilight movies.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) USA - Quite mediocre, really offering much of the worst superhero movies are capable of.

*Blade Runner 2049 (2017) USA - As close as any SF movie (barring one that was clearly allegorical) came to making my top ten of the year (and I’m still vacillating on that as I write this). Gorgeous, a tremendous set of relationships, and some stunning world building.

1922 (2017) USA - A very good Stephen King adaptation, released on Netflix.

Cameraperson (2016) USA - A convoluted and impressive documentary about Kirsten Johnson, interweaving many of her own documentary subjects with footage of her own life shot by herself.

Split (2016) USA - In a perfect world James McAvoy would see an Oscar nod for his multiple parts in this almost-return-to-form for M. Night Shyamalan. And the delight I felt at the end is no surprise considering my love for one of Shyamalan’s earlier movies.

*Lucky (2017) USA - A wonderful, moving, fitting sendoff for the late and great Harry Dean Stanton, a movie that is entirely about death but one in which nobody dies (not even President Truman, David Lynch’s escaped tortoise).

The Big Sick (2017) USA - An excellent comedy in which one of he main characters lies near death for much of the film.

*The Florida Project (2017) USA - My choice for film of the year. Human and humane, heart-breaking and heart-lifting, with incredible performances by a very young Brooklynn Prince, by (believe it or not) Instagram star Bria Vinaite, and by Willem Dafoe as the nicest motel manager ever. The stunning final shot was captured on the sly using an iPhone.

A Monster Calls (2016) UK - AN all right YA novel adaptation in which Sigourney Weaver, presumably to attract American investment, plays an English grandmother. Nice ending.

War For the Planet of the Apes (2017) USA - Yes, I liked it, but no, I’m not as big a fan of this series as others are. Andy Serkis and the mocap crew he works with do an incredible job, but it’s not in my wheelhouse, I guess.

*Thor: Ragnarok (2017) USA - AS Taika Waititi is one of my favourite directors, the chances were good I would like this movie. That was wrong, though: turns out I loved it. Great, geeky comic book fun.

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World (2017) USA - A very good documentary about native Americans and Canadians who led the way into rock and other popular music. Although not rap, which means there was nothing about groups like A Tribe Called Red.

Free Fire (2016) UK - Ridiculously violent and an absolute blast. The movie is essentially a two hour long fire fight.

*Tragedy Girls (2017) USA - Two girls addicted to getting attention on social media kidnap a serial killer and then begin to copy his crimes. A funny and clever conceit, done well enough, but perhaps with the distance of age it becomes more difficult for me to fall in more deeply.

*My Friend Dahmer (2017) USA - Excellent movie, based on a rue life comic book, about three friends who “befriended” serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer when they were in high school. Disturbing, with excellent turns by Anne Heche as his mother and by Ross Lynch, who seems to have been only in teen and Disney projects before, as Dahmer.

*The Villainess (2017) South Korea - There were two woman-as-unstoppable-weapon movies this year, and this one easily outstrips Atomic Blonde. It opens with a 1st-person camera view that is wild and bloody, which switches to 3rd-person in a way that took my breath away.

*Dave Made a Maze (2017) USA - Great fun, a movie about a bored artist who builds a maze from empty cardboard boxes in his living room one weekend while his wife is away, and gets lost in it. She goes in with a search party and camera crew to find him, and yes, it is as surreal as it sounds.

*Blade of the Immortal (2017) Japan - The 100th film from Takeshi Miike, I found it a little aggravating in some places. I felt especially that the young girl was wasted and left hanging. 

*Les affamés (2017) Canada - A Quebecois zombie movie, obviously done on the cheap but also done very effectively. As well, some of the things the zombies do are not only creepy but fresh, which added to my enjoyment.

Patriot’s Day (2016) USA - Another Peter Berg hagiography, another one where he teams up with Mark Wahlberg. There’s a formula here, and it’s effective.

I,Daniel Blake (2016) UK - A moving, frustrating, sad, happy film from great British filmmaker Ken Loach, about an older man trying to navigate the system after a heart attack means he can’t work anymore.

*Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) USA - Stunning and upsetting, not the comedy the trailers initially made this out to be. Some moments of rage, some moments of absolute humanity, and what looks like a cheat near the end turning into a powerful ending.

Wind River (2017) USA - Would make an interesting companion piece to Thunderheart (both films also feature Graham Greene as a local, native, police officer). This one does, I think, a slightly better job of avoiding the White Saviour fallback, and is in fact a very good and tense film.

Atomic Blonde (2017) USA - A decent movie with some great action sequences and a nice couple of plot turns, but see my notes earlier about The Villainess.

Supergirl (2016) USA - A fine doc about a young Orthodox Jewish girl who is also an excellent weightlifter.

*Star Wars (2017) USA - I enjoyed it, but was not as taken with it as so many others.  Frankly, I think Rose and Fin were given short shrift and Poe was too irritating and hot-headed. And that slow motion chase scene! And that planet with the gamblers! Ugh.

!The Shape of Water (2017) USA - Stunning. Gorgeous. And what a cast. Yeah, Michael Shannon was more of a pantomime villain, but it didn’t stop me from falling in love with this movie. Also, Sally Hawkins is The Bomb.

*Coco (2017) USA - When I watched Up I cried in the first ten minutes. This one I cried for the last ten. Another excellent Pixar film.

Detroit (2017) USA - While I am sure some parts were dramatized a bit more than where reality pointed, I was astonished and appalled to read up on this later and see just how much of his movie was based on actual events. 

*Lady Bird (2017) USA - Loved this movie, and it is another of several this year that found just the very right beat to end on.

My top ten for the year was difficult, and titles bumped around and in and out a few times. The only for sure choice was the number 1 position, and the top 4 stayed steady, although may have changed positions with each other now and again. Everything else saw some bigger movement.

  1. The Florida Project
  2. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  3. The Shape of Water
  4. Get Out
  5. Lady Bird
  6. Paterson
  7. Baby Driver
  8. Logan
  9. Train to Busan
  10. (Tie) Lucky/Colossal

My honourable mentions, in no particular order: Blade Runner 2049; Into the Night; Thor: Ragnarok; I, Daniel Blake (which was 2016); Wind River; Les affamés; It; The Villainess; My Friend Dahmer; The Big Sick; Logan Lucky; Okja; Dunkirk; Pandora; Coco; Personal Shopper.


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