The Best & Worst of 2017

Having listed all I watched in 2017 and analysed it thoroughly, it’s time for the finale: what I thought were the best films I saw last year.

After that, a list of major new releases that I missed, thus explaining why they’re not in my best selection (i.e. because I haven’t seen them).

But first, the less honourable list: the five worst films I saw in 2017.



The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2017

In alphabetical order…

Into the Wild
Youthful Pretentiousness: The Movie. That it was written and directed by a 47-year-old, but seems to have gained none of the perspective maturity should afford, makes it even worse. It’s also a true story, and we should maybe feel sorry for the guy involved, but… well, he kind brought it all on himself, didn’t he?

London Has Fallen
You can just about enjoy this unwelcome sequel as a dumb actioner if you switch your brain off, but you really have to try to have a good time with it thanks to the cheap production values, rampant xenophobia, and furious American patriotism. If you still need putting off, consider this: I bet Trump loves this movie.

Space Jam
Last year Space Jam was recommended as one of the 50 “Must See Movies Before You Grow Up”. I disagree. It’s not funny, it’s not clever, and, even allowing for the limits of mid-’90s technology, it’s not very well made. It’s joyless and flat; a waste of time and effort. Also, one of this year’s two one-star films.

Vehicle 19
This is the other. It’s a low-budget thriller starring Paul “the one from Fast & Furious who died” Walker as a regular guy who gets in the wrong rental car and finds himself embroiled in a political conspiracy. It’s also all shot from within the car. That’s the kind of filmmaking conceit I enjoy, but Vehicle 19 provides nothing else entertaining to go with it.

Warcraft: The Beginning
Writer-director Duncan Jones, who showed such promise with Moon and Source Code, wasted several years of his career making this. Apparently he was keen to live up to what fans of the franchise expected, not just produce a generic fantasy movie with a brand name. Maybe for those guys he succeeded. For the rest of us, it’s… well, to be frank, it’s just crap.



The 17 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2017

This is the top 10% of my viewing from 2017. I saw 174 new films this year, which means this year’s “top 10” has 17 films. Should you think that’s excessive, just scroll on down and start reading wherever you please.

As always, this list is culled from all the movies I watched for the first time this year, not just new releases. However, I did watch 44 films that had their UK release in 2017, and seven of them are on my list, so I’ve noted their ‘2017 rank’ too.

2017 #7 Luc Besson’s gorgeous-looking Euro-comic space opera is a strange, sometimes messy movie, but somehow it keeps getting better the more I think about it. (Full review.)

Disney’s Polynesian princess has fantastic tunes, exciting adventure, hilarious gags, and, of course, a lot of heart. Also, a storyline that isn’t at all about finding romance. (Full review.)

2017 #6 Matthew Vaughn’s spy sequel endured a pretty mixed reception back in the summer, but I loved it. It’s inventive, provocative, irreverent, and fun. (Full review.)

The zombie subgenre should be played out ten times over by now, but then you get something like this. As with the best zombie flicks, it’s more about the humans than the monsters. But also it’s about the intense and suspenseful action sequences.

This French-Danish animation delivers understated beauty in its deceptively simple visual style, and an equally subtle but strong feminist streak in its story of one girl’s mission to reach the North Pole.

If there’s any horror creature more played-out than zombies, it’s vampires. Unless you’ve got a new angle, of course, and this fly-on-the-wall ‘documentary’ about a gang of Kiwi vamps imbues its subject with hilarity and new, er, life. (Full review.)

Grown-up sci-fi in this thoughtful and plausible exploration of man’s first contact with alien life. Would surely make a great double-bill with Arrival. (Full review.)

2017 #5 The latest attempt to bring the giant ape to the big screen is a creature-feature B-movie writ large, emboldened with all the CGI modern Hollywood can afford. Despite the marvellously pulpy story, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts brings a surprising amount of class to the endeavour, with some gorgeous cinematography and strikingly staged sequences. This may be 2017’s most underrated blockbuster. (Full review.)

2017 #4 Christopher Nolan’s first non-sci-fi/fantasy movie for 15 years is ambitious in other ways, trying to condense a massive military operation into a single movie — with the added pressure of it being a story both not often told and of immense importance: it represented a massive turning point in the Second World War. He carries it off with bold filmmaking that focuses on the intensity of the experience for the men in the thick of it, which is where he places the viewer. It’s 90 minutes of non-stop ratcheting tension, with a bit of well-earned patriotic catharsis at the end. (Full review.)

Dan Gilroy’s neo-noir thriller foregrounds Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as a guy looking to make his fortune by racing around nighttime L.A. filming bloody crime scenes. There’s a state-of-the-nation element in the satirisation of trashy TV news and its bloodthirsty producers, but the real star is the, er, star: Gyllenhaal’s well-measured turn as a driven, unpredictable, possible psychopath. (Full review.)

The director of Once delivers another fable about people finding love through music. This time it’s about a gaggle of school kids, lending a coming-of-age universality and a kind of nostalgic melancholy — you don’t have to have been in a band, or grown up during the film’s 80s setting, to relate to the bittersweetness, the horrors and the wonders, of young love. (Full review.)

I watched It’s a Wonderful Life out of a sense of duty: it’s an iconic Christmas film, well rated on polls like the IMDb Top 250, but (obviously) I’d never seen it. I set out merely to rectify that, expecting to find something a bit saccharine and twee… but, blow me down, it’s not that at all: it’s a beautiful, brilliantly made, genuinely moving film. I even got something in my eye during the (inevitable) conclusion. My only regret is I didn’t watch it sooner.

2017 #3 I don’t think many people (if anyone) expected much when they rebooted Planet of the Apes back in 2011, but what’s followed is one of the great movie trilogies of our time. This concluding instalment could’ve lived up to its title and been an epic battle extravaganza, but that probably would’ve been a soulless disappointment. Instead, it remains focused on its characters — primarily Andy Serkis’ remarkable performance as the apes’ leader — to tell a tale that’s as much about internal battles as external ones. (Full review.)

Empire magazine picked this as their best film of 2016, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with them (even though, today, I’ve ranked another one higher). The story of a young delinquent bonding with his reluctant foster father, it features the kind of quirky comedy, but with heartfelt dramatic undertones, that you only tend to get from small countries and their indie movies. It manages a perfect tightrope walk that renders it both sidesplittingly hilarious and sweetly moving. (Full review.)

I watched Kubo and Wilderpeople back to back all the way back in January, and felt at the time they were dead certs for my top ten — and here they are, almost a full year later, side by side again in the very upper echelons of my list. I thought long and hard about that, dear reader, because I didn’t want to be placing them here on the autopilot of 12-month-old suspicions. Now, I’m sure I’m not. Kubo is a majestic adventure movie, with truly stunning stop-motion animation and a powerful story, that deserves to be recognised outside of the confines of “animation” or “kids’ movies”. (Full review.)

2017 #2 This is the third movie in my top ten driven by music (the others were Kubo and, of course, Sing Street) — which is neither here nor there, merely a connection I literally just noticed. In this instance “driven” is the operative word, because it’s about a brilliant young getaway driver who choreographs his escapes to music blaring from his iPod. Writer-director Edgar Wright extends that conceit outward into the entire movie, with almost every key sequence perfectly underscored by an eclectic soundtrack. The action is thrilling, the dialogue is snappy, and the whole concoction is pure movie-magic entertainment. (Full review.)

2017 #1 Talking of placing things on autopilot, here’s another I made sure to have a good think about. When I first thought, “I wonder what my #1 movie will be this year?”, my mind immediately fired back with, “Blade Runner 2049.” But I made sure to think it through, in ways I won’t bore you with, and I came fairly close to putting Baby Driver here, but in the end I settled on Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi sequel (meaning the Canadian director tops my list for the second year in a row). I’m not even sure where to begin praising or explaining why this film is my favourite of the year, there’s just so much about it that’s perfect: the numerous thought-provoking sci-fi concepts that are carefully explored; the endlessly gorgeous cinematography (if Roger Deakins doesn’t get that Oscar now…); the way it builds out of the first movie but doesn’t entirely rely on it (as Drew McWeeny put it in his top ten article, “Blade Runner 2049 stands as a work of science-fiction that is so packed with ideas and invention and character that the single least interesting thing about it is that it also happens to be connected to another movie”)… I could go on (but that’s what my full review is for). It’s an incredible piece of work that can stand proudly alongside the classic original — which is perhaps its greatest achievement.


As usual, I’d just like to highlight a few other films.

Firstly, I can’t end this without mentioning the 31 films that earned themselves 5-star ratings this year. Already included in my top 17 we had these 13: Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, Contact, Dunkirk, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, It’s a Wonderful Life, Kubo and the Two Strings, Long Way North, Nightcrawler, Sing Street, Train to Busan, War for the Planet of the Apes, and What We Do in the Shadows. The remaining 18 were: The 39 Steps, Black Swan, City of God, The Conversation, Drive, The Exorcist, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Girl with All the Gifts, Her, In the Loop, It Follows, Manchester by the Sea, A Matter of Life and Death, Moon, Moonlight, Nocturnal Animals, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno, and Yojimbo. Plus there was also full marks for the Black & Chrome version of Mad Max: Fury Road, and for two films I reviewed after watching them during my Rewatchathon, Jaws and The Terminator.

Additionally, let’s recap the 12 films that won Favourite Film of the Month at the Arbies, some of which have already been mentioned in this post and some of which haven’t. They were all in contention for my top 17, but obviously they didn’t all make it in. So, in chronological order (with links to the relevant monthly update): Kubo and the Two Strings, Fandango, Long Way North, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Nightcrawler, Baby Driver, War for the Planet of the Apes, Shin Godzilla, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Blade Runner 2049, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Finally, a special shout-out to several of this year’s big superhero movies, which I enjoyed a lot but didn’t quite make it into my top 17: The LEGO Batman Movie, Logan, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok. I liked most of the others too (even Justice League, as my review attests) but, unlike those four, they were never seriously in the running for my top 17.


I watched 36 movies from 2017 during 2017, including most of the big blockbusters, but that still leaves a considerable number of notable releases that I missed. As is my tradition, then, here’s an alphabetical list of 50 films that I’ve not seen and are listed as 2017 on IMDb (with a couple of exceptions for films that are really from 2017 but happened to screen at a festival or two in 2016). In many cases these ‘missed’ films are awards-y movies that aren’t actually out in the UK yet (there are “2017” movies scheduled through until at least July 2018).

The films in this list have been selected for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety — some of these are films I have no intention of watching!

Beauty and the Beast
The Death of Stalin
The Hitman's Bodyguard
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
mother!
The Shape of Water
The Dark Tower
Fast and Furious 8
It
Logan Lucky
The Post
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
All the Money in the World
American Made
Battle of the Sexes
Baywatch
Beauty and the Beast
The Big Sick
The Boss Baby
Call Me by Your Name
Cars 3
Coco
The Dark Tower
Darkest Hour
The Death of Stalin
Despicable Me 3
The Disaster Artist
Downsizing
The Emoji Movie
Fast & Furious 8
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
The Florida Project
The Foreigner
Geostorm
The Greatest Showman
Happy Death Day
The Hitman’s Bodyguard
I, Tonya
It
It Comes at Night
Jigsaw
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Lady Bird
Lady Macbeth
The LEGO Ninjago Movie
Logan Lucky
The Lost City of Z
Molly’s Game
mother!
Okja
Phantom Thread
The Post
Power Rangers
The Shape of Water
The Snowman
Their Finest
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Transformers: The Last Knight
Victoria & Abdul
Wonder

…and many more.


And that’s 2017 all wrapped up. Well, apart from the fact I’ve got 54 reviews left to write. That’s the worst it’s ever been. I’ll be a while getting through them yet (even if I posted one a day from tomorrow, I’d still be going in March).

Anyway, a belated Happy New Year to you all. May 2018 bring you the viewing of many films — at least 100, amiright?

The Hum in the Drum Monthly Update for June 2017

There was so much hummable music in this month’s movies that I considered a music-related category for the Arbies then dropped it because I didn’t want to have to decide.

So I’ll leave it up to you what track you choose to listen to (I’m going with Mike Relm’s Baby Driver remix) while we reflect on the month that was…


#76 Space Jam (1996)
#77 The Muppet Movie (1979)
#78 Gran Torino (2008)
#79 Contact (1997)
#80 That’s Entertainment! (1974)
#81 Wonder Woman (2017)
#82 The Mummy (2017)
#83 Moonlight (2016)
#84 The LEGO Batman Movie 3D (2017)
#85 Moana 3D (2016)
#86 John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
#87 The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
#88 District 9 (2009)
#89 Baby Driver (2017)
#90 Transformers: Age of Extinction 3D (2014)
Contact

Baby Driver

.


  • I watched 15 new films this month, exceeding the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 14.1, now 14.2) and equalling the average for 2017 to date (which was and is bang on 15).
  • At the halfway point of the year, I’ve reached #90, which suggests a final tally of 180. Of course (as I mentioned last month, actually), this time in 2015 I was also at #90 and eventually turned that into 200, while this time in 2016 I was way ahead at #115 but only turned that into 195. So… it’s basically meaningless, is what I’m saying.
  • At the risk of spoiling one of my year-end stats, The Mummy marked the most cinema trips I’ve made in a single year since 2008. And there’s half the year to go yet, with at least the same number of films again earmarked as must-sees.
  • This month’s Blindspot film: Neill Blomkamp’s Oscar-nominated allegorical sci-fi actioner, District 9, which came to Netflix UK this week, I believe for the first time, but I didn’t get round to reviewing it.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: Clint Eastwood’s retirement from acting (until it wasn’t) in Gran Torino, which I also haven’t reviewed yet.



The 25th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
I haven’t got round to reviewing most of them yet so you wouldn’t know it, but there are a good number of favourite-able movies this month — at least five solid contenders for my year-end top ten, I’d say. But setting aside tales of alien instruction manuals, black boys looking blue, toy superheroes, and musical Polynesians (not to mention wonderful women and gun-toting boogeymen), for my favourite movie this month I have to pick Baby Driver.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Conversely, this was easy. Several movies this month may have underwhelmed me, either in themselves or compared to the hype, but the only one I outright hated was Space Jam.

Best Serious Drama About First Contact with Aliens of the Month
It’s taken me 20 years to see Contact and I loved it. I’m not sure if I would’ve loved it as much 20 years ago, mind, so maybe now was the right time.

The Silicon Valley Producers’ Favourite Movie of the Month
I wonder if Transformers: Age of Extinction is popular in the Silicon Valley writers’ room right now, considering it features T.J. Miller (spoiler alert!) suffering a horrible demise.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
For the third time this award goes to the latest edition of The Past Month on TV, which covered the start of the new Twin Peaks, the “Monk trilogy” on Doctor Who, and more.



It was another good month for my Rewatchathon. I’m still behind where I should be (we’re halfway through the year, so that’d be at #26), but across the last two months I’ve averaged six rewatches a month — if I keep that up, all will be fine.

#16 Mamma Mia! (2008)
#17 John Wick (2014)
#18 Transformers (2007)
#19 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Big Screen Edition (2009)
#20 Transformers: Dark of the Moon 3D (2011)

I didn’t intend to watch Mamma Mia, but the other half put it on and, while I still only half watched it, I paid more attention than I’d expected to. It’s a very daft movie, but it’s so deliberately silly and cheesy that I can’t help but find it amusing. I re-read my nine-year-old review and it pretty much still stands.

Rewatching the Bayformers films was interesting. I wrote a little about Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen, and Dark of the Moon on Letterboxd if you’re interested, but in summary: I liked the first less than I remembered, enjoyed the second a surprising amount, and completely changed my opinion of the third. I technically watched a different cut of the second one (it’s all of 30 seconds longer), so I’ll probably include a little bit about that in a future review roundup.


Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever another Marvel Studios character can.

Baby Driver (2017)

2017 #89
Edgar Wright | 113 mins | cinema | 2.35:1 | UK & USA / English & American Sign Language | 15 / R

Baby Driver

It felt like half (at least) of the film-loving internet had somehow had a chance to see Baby Driver before its release on Wednesday, but I’m going to throw my two cents into the ring anyhow. Not that it makes a great deal of difference because, like most other folks, I bloody loved it.

Written and directed by Edgar Wright, director of the Cornetto trilogy and not of Ant-Man, the story focuses on getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort), a fundamentally good kid who has ended up suckered into a life of crime, working for robbery kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey) and a rotating array of criminal compadres. An accident as a kid left Baby with “a hum in the drum” — tinnitus, if you want to get medical about it — meaning he listens to music all the time to drown it out, and also choreographs his daring drives (not to mention his walks down the street, etc) to the music he hears. One day he bumps into Debbie (Lily James) and falls in love, which happily coincides with his “one last job” for Doc. But once you’re in it’s hard to get out, and Baby again finds himself doing one more “one last job”, with a particularly volatile crew…

Baby Driver is a movie about three things: driving, music, and love. As Guillermo del Toro put it, it’s a kind of fable, or fairytale, with Baby as the prince and Debbie as the princess. In this respect it’s a change of pace for Wright, ditching the almost-spoof comedy of his previous successful movies for something more emotionally earnest. Not in a bad way, but in a kind of pure way, like a fairytale. This fairytale world isn’t all castles and dragons, of course — instead it’s full of violent criminals and fast cars; but it’s also a world where you can synchronise your getaway driving to the music on your iPod, so it’s hardly mired in gritty realism.

No little green bags here

There’s a definite edge of Wright’s buddy Quentin Tarantino to this world: a cast of crooks delivering snappy, quotable dialogue to a near-constant soundtrack of deep cuts selected from the director’s music collection (plus a few familiar tunes for good measure) — the style of QT comes to mind more than once while watching. Fortunately Baby Driver’s style is more than homage or copycatting. Although it’s not a straight-up comedy, Wright does bring his own comedic touch (there are several big laughs), and the purity of emotion — that fairytaleness again — isn’t from Tarantino’s wheelhouse either. Plus, visually it presents a brighter and more colourful space than Tarantino normally inhabits. Most of the action takes place in the golden daylight of Atlanta and is filled with popping primary colours. There’s much great work by DP Bill Pope.

Though the soundtrack may have a Tarantino feel in its construction, that’s less prevalent in its usage. Characters communicate through song — not by singing them (most of the time — Baby first notices Debbie because she’s singing “B-A-B-Y”), but by connecting through them (that singing is followed by a discussion of songs featuring her name — both of them). The songs Baby chooses for boogieing around his small apartment, or for dancing down the street on a coffee run (in a title sequence that is marvellously choreographed, with dozens of small details timed perfectly to the track), help illuminate his true character — sweet and romantic — which is hidden by the sullen silence he adopts whenever around criminals.

B-A-B-Y Baby

Some have criticised the film for a lack of character, reckoning Baby’s silence distances him from the viewer so we never build a connection and don’t root for him. Frankly, I’m not sure what film they were watching. No spoilers, but Baby first opens up with something endearing and ingratiating in scene one. Right at the start. It could barely be any closer to the studio logos (and it kinda wouldn’t work if it were). I’m not arguing he’s the most charismatic lead ever to grace the silver screen, but Elgort makes fine fist of selling Baby as both a quiet, focused driver and a sweet, likeable, cheer-on-able hero.

And if you want character in general, the rest of the cast has it in spades, with an array of supporting roles that are as colourful as the cinematography. Recognisable faces like Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and John Bernthal get to cut loose as crooks who each have their own kooks, while lesser-known names like CJ Jones (as Baby’s foster father) and Eiza González (as the Bonnie to Hamm’s Clyde) make a mark too. Lily James may be placed in a dream-figure damsel role, but that doesn’t mean she can’t hold her own at times too. She’s not Wonder Woman, but she’s not a Manic Pixie Whatever That Phrase Was either.

Mozart in a go-kart

So, the one major thing I’ve only touched on fleetingly thus far is the main thing the film has attracted attention for: the driving. Done for real by stunt drivers with not a lick of CGI, that knowledge means it packs a viscerally real punch. But it’s not just snobbery: this is genuinely breathtaking action, slickly planned, masterfully performed, magnificently shot and edited. It’s this year’s Fury Road — a kinetic action spectacle made with skill rather than hand-waiving fast-cuts. Even more impressively, it’s been choreographed to music, but not in a draw-attention-to-itself dance-routine-y way. Perhaps saying it’s been synced to the music would be more accurate. Either way, it only heightens the effect. This extends beyond the car chases, too, including one marvellously musical shootout, the gunfire serving as percussion. The sound design throughout is exemplary. This is a movie that deserves to be remembered come awards season. Perhaps, again like Fury Road, some love will extend beyond the technical categories, too. Wright seems deserving of Best Director recognition, just like George Miller was.

But such back-patting is for much later in the year. For now, just revel in the gleeful moviemaking verve of a flick that already seems destined to be remembered as one of the greatest car chase movies ever produced.

5 out of 5

Baby Driver is in cinemas many places right now, but not everywhere. It’ll be worth the wait, guys.

It placed 2nd on my list of The 17 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2017, which can be read in full here.