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 see 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 added the 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?

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The Driven Monthly Update for July 2017

It may be the silly season in cinemas, the time when summer blockbusters are at their most prolific, but July is traditionally one of my worst months for viewing — it has the lowest average (just 7.1) and is also the only month in 10½ years of 100 Films when I’ve failed to watch a single film (back in 2009). The story’s a little different this year, though…


#91 Big (1988)
#92 Headshot (2016)
#93 Inferno (2016)
#94 Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
#95 ’71 (2014)
#96 Planet of the Apes (1968)
#97 Jersey Boys (2014)
#98 War for the Planet of the Apes 3D (2017)
#99 22 Jump Street (2014)
#100 City of God (2002), aka Cidade de Deus
#101 The Driver (1978)
#102 Dunkirk (2017)
#103 Lion (2016)
#104 Get Out (2017)
#105 Free Fire (2016)
#106 Drive (2011)
#107 Sing 3D (2016)
War for the Planet of the Apes

The Driver

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I observed lots this month, as you can see…

  • 17 new films watched makes July the second best month of 2017 so far (behind February’s 20) and by far my best July ever (beating the 12 of both 2015 and 2016).
  • Obviously that surpasses the July average, increasing it from 7.1 to 8.1 — still the lowest of any month. It also beats the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 14.2, now 14.6) and of 2017 to date (previously 15.0, now 15.3).
  • As you may’ve noticed, one of those was #100. I know it’s the title of the blog ‘n’ all, but, frankly, this is the fifth consecutive year that I’ve passed #100 before even reaching December — it hardly feels worth commenting on in depth. That said, its the second earliest I’ve got there, behind 2016’s May 28th and, having watched it on July 15th, just ahead of 2015’s July 27th.
  • Also: the #100 club is still a small group with just nine previous members (including one #200), so I did bother to try to pick a worthy film. City of God has been on my must-see list for almost 14 years, ever since it topped Empire’s “best of 2003” list, and was included in my 2015 WDYMYHS selections too, so it seemed a good pick.
  • This month’s proper WDYMYHS film: as if watching both Baby Driver and The Driver in the space of a month wasn’t enough, I also flung in Nicolas Winding Refn’s modern classic, Drive.
  • This month’s Blindspot film: in honour of the franchise’s latest instalment arriving in cinemas, I finally watched the original Planet of the Apes. It’s good, but I must admit I prefer the new ones. I still intend to watch the remaining four originals.
  • Weird coincidences: last July I watched Zootropolis, this July the broadly similar Sing; last July was when I last watched a new Ben Wheatley film, High-Rise, while this July it was Free Fire; and last July I watched the archetypal heist movie, The Sting, while this July I rewatched all three Ocean’s movies. None of those were intentional. Good thing I’d already watched Split (which shares a director with The Visit) and haven’t got round to Passengers (which shares a director with The Imitation Game), otherwise this would be going beyond a coincidence.
  • Finally: it’s the first time since records began (i.e. June 2008) that I’ve watched a film on July 12th. Yes, I have records of funny things like that. The fact I’m mentioning it now when I don’t normally shows how rarely this happens. Relatedly, then: how many days are there on which I’ve ‘never’ watched a film? Eight. That’s 2.2% of the year. Those dates are January 5th, May 23rd, June 29th, July 16th, July 19th, September 2nd, November 4th, and December 22nd. There’s no special significance to any of those (not that I can think of, anyway), it’s just random.



The 26th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
It was a pretty good month all round, looking back on it. Still, apes together strong — so strong that War for the Planet of the Apes is my pick this month.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
No outright stinkers this month, so, living up to the category name, I think my least favourite film of the month was also my last: Illumination Entertainment’s Sing, which is decent fun but no Pixar movie.

Greatest Meet Cute of All Time
If the rest of 22 Jump Street was humourless dross (which it isn’t), it would’ve all been worth it for the sublime ‘meet cute’ gag.

Best Death Involving a Motor Vehicle of the Month
Sure, The Driver and Drive may be all about using cars for action, but generally that’s for escaping. For murderousness, you have to turn to Free Fire, which (spoilers, cos it happens near the end) uses a van to go all Oberyn Martell on one of its characters.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Everyone has something to say when there’s a new Christopher Nolan film, and it appears people like to read what other people say too: the clear victor this month was my review of Dunkirk.



I’m still more than a month behind on my Rewatchathon, but hopefully now that I’ve passed #100 I’ll be able to drag myself away from new stuff a little more often. I’ve got a long list of “must rewatch”es raring to go, so it shouldn’t be so hard.

#21 Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
#22 Finding Nemo 3D (2003)
#23 Ocean’s Twelve (2004)
#24 Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)

Rewatching the Ocean’s trilogy, I came to the conclusion that Twelve is a much better and more interesting film than Thirteen, though the first is clearly the best of all. Anyway, as seems to be becoming my MO with these rewatches, I wrote a little bit about Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen on Letterboxd.


has already begun.

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

2017 #98
Matt Reeves | 140 mins | cinema (3D) | 2.35:1 | USA / English & American Sign Language | 12A / PG-13

War for the Planet of the Apes

Previously on Planet of the Apes… the rise of intelligence in apes resulted in them establishing a new ape society in the woods. After humanity was mostly wiped out by disease, the actions of a few apes, still angry about their treatment at the hands of humans, led to the dawn of war began between peaceful apes and vengeful humans.

Now, ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) has been in hiding for years. After a human sortie into the forest leads to them finally discovering his location, the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) executes a stealth assault on the apes’ home. Incensed, Caesar and a small band of his most dedicated followers set out to find the humans’ stronghold and bring the Colonel to justice, hopefully ending the war in the process.

When it was announced that the follow-up to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was going to be titled War for the Planet of the Apes, it only made sense. The previous film ended with that war beginning, for one thing. More than that, the clear point of this prequel trilogy has been to show how the world as we know it ended up on the path to becoming the one Charlton Heston encountered in the original Planet of the Apes — and you just knew mankind wasn’t going to give up without a fight, making some kind of war all but inevitable. However, as it turns out, the title is almost a misnomer.

Cheeky monkeys

This is not a war movie in the sense of it being two hours of epic battles. There’s a set-to at the start (one which reminded me of the opening of Saving Private Ryan without in any meaningful way being a rip off of it), and a big battle forms the backdrop to the climax, but in between the film is something else. Or, rather, somethings else: there are multiple genres one could cite as an influence on the film as it transitions betweens phases of its story. There’s a bit of the “men apes on a mission” thing going on, with an edge of the Western in there, before it turns into a POW camp movie of sorts, with a healthy dose of Apocalypse Now for good measure. If that makes it sound restless, it’s not; it’s just not beholden to picking one set of tropes and sticking to them — it goes where its story dictates. That works.

Similarly, the film is a tonal masterclass: as befits the subject matter of its title, there is grim and serious stuff here, but it’s laced with splashes of comedy, heartfelt emotion, moral debate, and social commentary, the vast majority of which is handled with understatement rather than Hollywood grandstanding. And if there’s one throughline to connect all this, it’s the characters. In a summer blockbuster?! I know, right? But that’s been a marker of quality throughout this new Apes trilogy: a willingness to be thoughtful and considered, not just trade on shoot-outs and explosions.

Military might

Andy Serkis is once again phenomenal in the lead role. Caesar’s story this time is almost Shakespearean, the film’s biggest war being his internal battle over the right course to take, and what his desired actions mean for his soul. He was always the sensible, reasonable, merciful ape, but events provoke another side in him — is he just like his old enemy Koba after all? Through him the film considers themes like justice vs revenge, the needs of the few vs the needs of the many, the rights and wrongs of actions in wartime. Caesar may be the hero, but he’s certainly not perfect.

On the flip side, Woody Harrelson is a clear-cut villain — a heartless bastard; a thoroughly nasty piece of work… or so it seems, because, when he eventually gets a chance to state his case, to explain where he’s coming from, the things he’s seen and decisions he’s had to make, you can see understand his point of view. That doesn’t mean we necessarily agree (it’s pretty clear that, like Kurtz, he’s gone off the reservation), but it does make him a character rather than a cardboard cutout. As the film manoeuvres its way around these two characters, their differences and similarities, It’s abundantly clear that this is a much more complex film than your usual blockbuster fare of “always-right good guys shoot at thoroughly-evil bad guys”.

Talk with the animals... or not

Serkis and Harrelson are the stand outs, but there are brilliant performances elsewhere. Steve Zahn plays a character called Bad Ape, who’s both funny and touching, while Amiah Miller is a human girl the apes pick up on their travels, and the way she conveys a genuine emotional connection with the apes helps to sell them as real characters. Not that the CGI work of Weta needs much help there — it’s once again phenomenal, so real you don’t even think about it anymore. They had to break new ground for Dawn, for the first time taking performance capture outside of specially-designed studios (aka The Volume) and onto location filming. Perhaps that innovation explains why some of Matt Reeves’ direction last time was a little stilted and TV-ish. More years of development have removed those constraints, however, and his work on War is marvellously cinematic.

It’s also a true trilogy capper. They may choose to continue the story after this point (we’re still a couple of thousand years away from Charlton Heston showing up), but if they don’t then this will happily serve as an ending. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that, although each film of this prequel trilogy has been quite distinct (pleasingly so, I’d say), there’s still a sense of this one rounding off things that were set in motion back in the first movie. There are also Easter egg-like nods and hints towards the original film; and to some its sequels too, apparently (I’ve not seen those yet so I’ll have to take other people’s word for it).

They don't wanna be like you-ooh-ooh

War for the Planet of the Apes is possibly not the movie we were expecting, but that’s no bad thing. I’m not sure how well it’ll go down with the crowd that pushes things like Transformers 5 to over $500m (and counting), but it has to be applauded for sneaking emotionally and thematically considered material into a huge-budget summer blockbuster. It’s not just great science fiction, it’s great drama. It’s also cemented these Apes prequels as arguably the greatest movie trilogy of the decade.

5 out of 5

War for the Planet of the Apes is in cinemas most places now.

It placed 5th on my list of The 17 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2017, which can be read in full here.