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?

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

2017 #4
Taika Waititi | 101 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | New Zealand / English | 12 / PG-13

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

The most recent feature from the director of the very-different-to-each-other What We Do in the Shadows and Thor: Ragnarok, this very-different-again* adventure-comedy-drama was a surprise hit in its native New Zealand, then around the rest of the world, before it wound up as Empire magazine’s pick for the best film of 2016.

Young Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a delinquent who’s been rejected by every foster family in the city, so in a last-ditch attempt to avoid juvie he’s homed at the remote farm of kindly Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her terse, irritable husband, Hec (Sam Neill). Despite initial misgivings, Ricky warms to his new home, so when child services threaten to take him away again he runs away into the bush. He’s soon found by Hec, but as child services launch a nationwide manhunt for the missing pair, they decide to go on the run as fugitives.

So yes, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Ricky and Hec end up bonding and working together and all that jazz. But this isn’t the kind of movie where it’s all about developing mutual respect and having heartfelt hugs and making declarations of everlasting father-son love. Well, maybe it is a little, in its own way — but it’s also the kind of movie where they (spoilers!) write awesome birthday songs, end up in a punch-up with some hunters, steal all-important loo roll, meet a girl worthy of the old Flake adverts, eat relaxing sausages, stumble into a vicious fight with a giant boar, and engage in the wildest third-act police car chase since… I dunno, Blues Brothers or something.

Skuxx 4 life

Writer-director Waititi (adapting the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump) keeps a fairly tight hand on the film’s tone, a slightly leftfield view of the world that isn’t as extremely stylised as, say, Wes Anderson, but nonetheless is heightened beyond the normal boundaries of real-life. I only say a “fairly tight” grip because a couple of comic cameos arguably stretch things a little too far, but that’s a minor complaint. Mostly he’s skilful in balancing the comedy with genuine emotion, so that the former never neuters the latter, but equally the latter never dares become too sickly. The events of the plot may not be plausible, but the emotional underpinnings are.

Nonetheless, it’s regularly hilarious, especially when centred on Dennison and Neill’s interactions. It’s the kind of role and deadpan performance that will no doubt have some hailing Dennison as a real find, and maybe he will be, or maybe he’ll go the way of most child stars with “breakthrough” roles like this and never be heard from again. Pardon my cynicism, but it seems to be such a perfect marrying of actor and role that I’m not sure it marks the start of a glittering career so much as one superb turn. Maybe I’m wrong; time will tell. Neill, on the other hand, juggles grumpiness, likeability, and pathos in a manner that suggests his near-relegation to “the guy from Jurassic Park” for the last quarter-century is a real shame. I’m not intending to dismiss everything he’s done between then and now (some of which I’m a definite fan of), but this is likely the best showcase of his abilities for a long time.

Unhappy campers

The rest of the cast don’t shirk, with particular note to the kind of double act performed by Rachel House and Oscar Kightley as (respectively) the ‘dedicated’ child services agent and her escorting policeman who lead the manhunt. Whoever was in charge of the soundtrack did an excellent job with several amusing song picks, while the highlight of the score (credited to three composers) is an unusual use of the increasingly ubiquitous Christmas tune Carol of the Bells (the scene in question has nothing to do with Christmas, for starters). Cinematographically, DP Lachlan Milne makes marvellous use of New Zealand’s truly majestical scenery — well, why wouldn’t you?

Whether or not Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the best film of last year is immaterial — I mean, it’s a little film from a small country on the other side of the world: it’s not like it’s going to be in competition this awards season, is it? But maybe it should be. Few films get to be this funny without being overworked, this sweet without being cloying, and this quirky without being keraaazy, all at the same time.

5 out of 5

In the UK, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is available on Netflix now, and is released on DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow.

It placed 4th on my list of The 17 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2017, which can be read in full here.

* Well, from what I know they all seem very different to each other — I’ve not seen the other two. ^