Top 10 Films of 2017

Here are my 10 favourite films of 2017.

10. Baby Driver – Edgar Wright

Baby Driver

An irresistibly enjoyable film made by one of the most inventive directors working today. Bringing together the car-chase thrillers of Burt Reynolds and Steve McQueen and the classic musicals of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, Baby Driver is a splendid, song-filled joy ride from beginning to end. Telling the story of a hearing-impaired, baby-faced getaway driver trying to leave his life of crime behind so he can run away with his sweetheart, this is a film bursting to the seams with life and energy. Wright is on top form as he takes through Baby’s musical world with all the creativity and imagination he’s known for. In one scene where Baby is simply walking down the street to pick up some coffee, Wright matches his surroundings with the tone and tempo and song he’s listening to and lines him up with a variety of visual cues. By doing so he is showing us how completely in sync Baby is with the world around him and he brings them together in a perfect harmony. The story itself isn’t anything great, but who cares about that when you’ve got style, character, and heart? This movie has got plenty and it is a delight to sit through. This is an idea that should’ve definitely not worked, but those kinds of ideas are Edgar Wright’s bread and butter. Review here.

 

 9. The Death of Stalin – Armando Iannucci

The Death of Stalin

This was one of the funniest and most agonising movies I’ve seen in a while. Depicting the death of a man who was so feared by his own people that a simple request for a recording of a radio broadcast was enough to send a studio into pandemonium, The Death of Stalin finds humour in the terror and shows the chaotic, morbid aftermath for the horrifying farce that it was. Plots were schemed, backdoor deals were struck, and shots were fired, all in the interest of consolidating power in this tyrannical state where saying the wrong thing (or even appearing to) will get you killed before you can say “long live Stalin”. Even as Stalin lay their on the urine-soaked floor, nobody even dared suggest that he might need a doctor for fear that he would hear them, recover, and regard them as traitors for their lack of faith. It works because the characters do not realise that they are in a comedy, they are simply subjects of the pressures and anxieties of Stalinist Russia scrambling to get ahead of each other by any means necessary. They hatch their diabolical plans and exploit their hapless subordinates and the humour comes with the ever-rising absurdity, desperation and horror of it all. Iannucci assembles a first-rate cast and together they’ve deliver a comedy so unbearable you won’t know whether to laugh or tear your own hair out. Review here.

 

 8. War for the Planet of the Apes – Matt Reeves

War for the Planet of the Apes

I still cannot believe that a movie about sentient apes fighting a war against humankind ended up being one of my favourite films of the year, but here we are. It is the conclusion to an epic trilogy about evolution, survival, and humanity where it all builds up to an all out war between the humans and the apes, both of whom are fighting for their very existence. It is a costly war for both sides and, when Caesar ends up paying a price that is too terrible and tragic to bear, it becomes about nothing more than vengeance. So it is for The Colonel as well, a leader being confronted with the very extinction of his species and responding in the only way he knows how: blood, revenge, and death. Serkis and Harrelson are both excellent at playing these mirror images of each other, two men (so to speak) shaped by a lifetime of violence and misfortune who no longer have anything left to lost except their humanity. It is a brutal and deeply tragic war, more so because in the middle of it all we can see that the possibility for compassion and co-existence is there, if only things had gone differently. Review here.

 

7. Coco – Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina

Coco

Based heavily on Mexican folklore and culture, Coco marks a bigger departure for Pixar than usual, but one that works wonderfully. Through the story of a young boy with dreams of becoming a musician who ends up meeting his ancestors in the Land of the Dead, the film tells a moving, poignant tale about family and legacy and the power of music to bring people together. Like the best Pixar movies it is complex yet comprehensible, huge yet intimate, and fun yet emotional. It depicts the tale of a journey, again like all Pixar films do, one full of twists and turns, many of which you may very well see coming but which still feel no less touching or rewarding because of it. It captures a tone that you don’t see often in American films (never mind animated or Hollywood films!), one that assumes a distinctly Central-American point-of-view. With the way it expresses its views on spirituality and family, Coco feels like an honest representation of the culture it portrays as opposed to an Americanised version of that culture. The animation is breathtaking, the music is delightful, the performances are wonderful, there is no end to the list of what makes Coco great. It is Pixar doing what they do best: telling great stories to an audience of all ages.

 

6. Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Rian Johnson

The Last Jedi

After The Force Awakens played it safe with its revival of the epic sci-fi/fantasy saga, The Last Jedi has sought to take more risks and take the story into new directions. It was a bold move and I think it paid off. The Last Jedi does more than any Star Wars movie since the Original Trilogy to lead the franchise into uncharted waters and expand on the mythos in unprecedented ways. It harkens to the past and considers the role it does and should have on shaping the present before ultimately passing the torch and moving the story onwards into an unknown but promising future. Along the way it provides us with superb action, enjoyable laughs, and incredible character moments particularly where Rey, Kylo Ren, and Luke are concerned. All three characters feel trapped and lost by the traumas of their pasts and through them the film is able to explore fascinating ideas around the themes of legacy, destiny, and redemption. With such sequences as the fight in the throne room and the showdown on the salt planet, The Last Jedi also triumphs as the best-directed, most visually magnificent Star Wars film to date. The Force Awakens left me feeling relieved about the future of Star Wars. Today, The Last Jedi has me feeling excited. Review here.

 

5. Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan

Dunkirk

Probably the single most cinematic experience I’ve had this year, Dunkirk is truly something to behold. The scale of this film is epically immense and it is bursting with breathtaking images and earth-shattering sounds that will shake you to your core. Telling the story of the 1940 British evacuation from Nazi-occupied France across three separate timelines, Nolan has constructed a masterwork in tension and suspense that perhaps not even Hitchcock could have believed. The movie picks up its momentum from the first frame and never lets it go for a second. Even when it appears that things have calmed down for some of the characters, we can never relax because we know that it’s just the calm before the next storm. There is very little of the brutal war imagery that you might have seen in the likes of Hacksaw Ridge, but the emotional turmoil that Nolan taps into through his characters is so agonising and dreadful that Dunkirk proves every bit as devastating as even the bloodiest, most barbaric of war films. And yet, in all of the film’s sheer range and scale, the humanity is never lost. You feel like you really are there with the characters, which makes you root all the harder for their survival. In the end, when the survivors do finally make it out, it’s almost like you’ve been holding your breath the entire time and now, finally, you get to let out a sigh of relief. Review here.

 

4. mother! – Darren Aronofsky

Jennifer Lawrence in Mother! Credit: Paramount Pictures

Honestly, I keep going back and forth on this one and I debated whether to include it on the list at all. On one hand it is a difficult film to watch; it is antagonistically inaccessible, often grotesque, and relentlessly inscrutable. On the other, it is a fascinatingly crafted and dreadfully compelling film that demands to be watched, analysed, and debated. In the months since the film’s release I’ve talked about mother! to numerous people and have yet to encounter a mild or indifferent take on the film. It is an extreme film and everyone who has gone to see it has had an extreme reaction, both positive and negative. Even my initial reaction, indecisiveness, was extreme. The more I’ve thought and read about mother! though, the less interested I’ve gotten in determining whether it is a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ film. It certainly has good aspects; Aronofsky’s direction and Libatique’s cinematography made for a visually engrossing experience and Lawrence was stellar throughout. What’s more important, to me anyway, is that mother! is truly unlike anything else I’ve seen this year (and most of what I’ve seen full stop) and it left me all at once astounded, perplexed, confounded, disgusted, traumatised, and deeply affected in a way that I cannot explain. I will take that over mild amusement any day. Review here.

 

3. Get Out – Jordan Peele

Get Out

Perhaps the most timely movie to come out all the year, Get Out is a film that needed to be released in 2017. It takes the story of a young black man meeting his white girlfriend’s left-wing, suburban family and turns it into a horror film. It’s a comedy as well, except the subject is so relevant to what’s happening in the USA today that you can barely bring yourself to laugh for fear you might cry. Peele displays an uncanny understanding of what it really means to be black in America today and he unpacks it here in a terribly clever way while still allowing the film to be enormously entertaining. It pays to rewatch this movie because it is only the second (or third, or fourth, or…) viewing that you start to appreciate the attention to detail in this meticulously crafted story with its subtle clues and expert use of foreshadowing. What is immediately apparent on the first viewing though is the eerie sense of dread and uneasiness that Peele is able to convey that takes us from the fish-out-of-water sensation that Chris feels in this setting to his increasingly overwhelming suspicion that something is seriously amiss. If I could only recommend one movie on this list to everyone, it would be Get Out. It’s too good and too important not to watch. Review here.

 

2. Logan – James Mangold

Logan

This was somehow both the Wolverine film I always wanted and didn’t know I wanted. It delivers all the R-rated cussing and bloodiness that the character has always needed to truly come into his own, but it also tells a profound, sophisticated story through the character that raises him to greater emotional and thematic heights than ever before and it provides an eye-opening commentary on the superhero movies as a genre. Logan was of course Jackman’s final outing as the mutant that made him a star and he has never been better. He is old, haggard and disillusioned and the father-figure who once inspired him is now a raving loony who can no longer control his immensely powerful and dangerous mind. When circumstances force him to escort a young girl to the Canadian border, the journey that unfolds is a turbulent one that forces Logan to confront the ghosts and demons of his past and challenges the superhero mythos that has developed in the 17 years since the first X-Men movie in a way that no other movie in this genre has ever done. The character work done with Logan, Laura and Charles Xavier is wonderful and the film’s deconstruction of superhero movies (the never-ending cycle of violence, the paradoxical morality, the inherent trauma of self-sacrificing heroism) makes it the best contribution to the genre since The Dark Knight. This is great and touching a swan song as you could possibly give a character this popular and iconic. Review here.

 

1. Blade Runner 2049 – Denis Villeneuve

Blade Runner 2049

The most visually stunning film of the year and also, I think, the most profound. A common mistake often seen in ambitious science fiction is this tendency to focus on complex, philosophical themes without taking the time to establish an emotional connection with the audience, resulting in a film that feels convoluted, self-indulgent, and empty. Blade Runner 2049 is an ambitious film but it is also a deeply moving one with great characters and a gripping plot, both of which add emotional stakes to the themes being explored. It takes the ideas of humanity and existence that Scott’s 1982 masterpiece explored so beautifully and expands on them in astonishing ways, aided in no small part by Deakins’ stunning imagery. Every single frame is a breathtaking work of art and the poetry they bring to the story being told is what elevated this film beyond all the others I saw this year. In the scene where K is approached by a giant hologram at his greatest moment of despair, I was moved not just by the beauty of the image but also by how it perfectly encapsulated the devastation and loss he feels in the face of the cost he has had to pay to get to the truth. It is a perfectly crafted film that tells a wonderfully constructed story. Review here.

 

Honourable Mention: Twin Peaks: The Return – David Lynch

rr-21097.r

I could not in good conscience include Twin Peaks in my top 10 film list because it is, despite what Lynch himself says, television. Even so, I still want to take the chance to write about this 18-hour tour de force because I found it to be my most emotionally tumultuous viewing experience of the year. At times I loved it and at others I hated it. Sometimes I felt like I could see the order and meaning beneath all the madness and at others I found myself utterly baffled and completely lost. And yet, no matter how confusing, frustrating, or downright impenetrable this show got, I was captivated by every single second of it. Rejecting the rules of traditional storytelling, Twin Peaks is instead more like a composition of dreamlike images and sounds that follow their own internal logic and it is a series that defies categorisation and convention. Lynch has always been one of those directors who has never had any interest in straightforward narratives or playing to an audience and he has only gotten more cryptic with age. Here he takes countless unprecedented chances with the absolute confidence of a master and has created something truly new, strange and transcendent unlike anything else in the history of television. From the mystery of the Black Lodge to the silliness of Dougie Jones to the darkness of the atom bomb and the evil force it created, this was a wild rollercoaster of a series and was more challenging and confounding than anything I saw in the cinema, but also more fascinating and overwhelming.

Advertisements

Baby Driver

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal

Director: Edgar Wright

Writer: Edgar Wright


Before working on this film Edgar Wright famously walked away from the production of Ant-Man over creative differences, stating that the studio would not allow him to make the movie he wanted to make. That experience must have had a profound effect on him because with Baby Driver what Edgar Wright has delivered is a movie that only he could have made. As with Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Baby Driver is a movie that is positively bursting with life and energy. There is always something happening on screen and it is always something interesting, creative and entertaining. There is also a clash in genre that is similarly typical of the director’s work as this movie brings together the adrenaline-fuelled car-chase thrillers of the 60s and 70s with the romantic musicals of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. Wright has distinguished himself before with his enormously funny and inventive films, but Baby Driver feels like more of a passion project than any other movie he’s made, making it his most personal work to date.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver in Atlanta, working off a debt he owes to the fearsome criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey). As a child Baby and his family were caught in a car crash that killed his parents and left him with an eternal ringing sound in his ears. He blocks this sound out with music, keeping a sizeable library stored on his iPods, and now choreographs his daily routines, including his getaway driving, around the songs he listens to. After his latest job he stops by a diner and there meets the waitress Debora (Lily James), whom he starts dating. After his next job goes awry Baby is ready to get out of the game, but Doc isn’t ready to let him go even after their debt is squared away. Instead Doc blackmails him into working on another heist, teaming him up with the psychopathic Bats (Jamie Foxx) and the happy-go-lucky couple Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza González). Stuck in this predicament where there are no happy outcomes, Baby has to decide what kind of man he wants to be and what he must do to save Debora and himself.

Baby Driver isn’t a musical in the sense that it has characters bursting into song and partaking in elaborate dance routines, but it has the mood, sensibility and logic of a musical. Baby chooses his music to reflect his state of mind and whether he’s losing the police to the tune of ‘Bellbottoms’ by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in a car that dances in its own way or skipping along to ‘Harlem Shuffle’ by Bob & Earl on his way to pick up some coffee, there is such seamless synchronicity to his movements. Wright shoots these scenes as if everything surrounding Baby were in perfect harmony with him, matching the tone and tempo of the song, lining Baby up with visual cues and even placing lyrics in the background. This synchronisation is vital to Baby’s process and when he loses it, that’s how we know things have gone badly. When Baby abruptly halts and delays a job in order to sync up with The Damned’s ‘Neat, Neat, Neat’, it’s a hint of the dark turn that the job is going to take.

The story isn’t as interesting as the execution, but then that tends to be the case with action films. Take some good characters and put them in the hands of a great director and you can make the plot almost irrelevant (just look at Mad Max: Fury Road). Baby himself however wasn’t as interesting as I would’ve liked and I cannot help feel that he was miscast. Elgort gives it a good try and he’s certainly baby-faced enough for the role, but he just didn’t have the charisma to pull it off. I think the role would have been better served by more of a Steve McQueen/Burt Reynolds type. Still the movie had some great side characters to pick up the slack, especially in Foxx’s Bats and Hamm’s Buddy. Foxx brings a volatile sadism to his role not unlike Joe Pesci’s in Goodfellas and every scene he’s in is rife with tension as we wait to see what will or won’t set him off. Hamm (and González for that matter) are both great as the criminal couple who are as dangerous as they are passionate.

The superb soundtrack, the inspired choreography, and Wright’s keen instinct for visual storytelling all make for a movie that’s as imaginative, as stimulating and as enjoyable as La La Land. There are some weaknesses like the lead and the rather bland romance that never quite hits the wild fairy tale love story of True Romance that it was going for, but compared to the sensationalist experience of watching this film I’m willing to dismiss those complaints as nit-picks. Who cares about that kind of stuff when you’re enjoying an adrenaline-pumping finale to the tune of ‘Brighton Rock’ by Queen? This is a Hollywood blockbuster that doesn’t get made any more, not based on any popular property nor part of any franchise. It pays homage to the dozens of movies that inspired it, but it is also modern and self-aware enough that it doesn’t feel in any way outdated. It is a movie of its time and of times gone by, a balance that not many movies can hit. Edgar Wright put his heart and soul into this film and it was a pleasure to watch from beginning to end.

★★★★★

Ant-Man

Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Wood Harris, David Dastmalchian, Michael Douglas

Director: Peyton Reed,

Writers: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd


As big a fan as I am of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I wasn’t expecting much from Ant-Man. Even after watching the trailer I still wasn’t convinced by the idea of a superhero whose power was shrinking to the size of an ant. I had faith in Marvel’s ability to turn this film into a decent flick but I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular. I think the filmmakers must have realised that Ant-Man was quite a silly concept for a film and so they wisely embraced that by making it one of their funnier, more unconventional films. This is both a strength and a weakness in this instance as Ant-Man proves to be an enjoyable if otherwise unexceptional film. It stands as something of an oddity in the MCU (in a good way) as it provides a hero and a concept unlike anything we’ve seen in this franchise. I think it’s fair to say that I enjoyed this film more than I thought I would, but I still don’t think it left that much of an impression on me. It is a decent film, but not one of Marvel’s best.

Upon being released from prison Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a well-intentioned thief, is determined to turn his life around so that he might be allowed to see more of his daughter. He tries to build a legitimate life for himself with the help of his fried Luis (Michael Peña) but finds that few people, least of all his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and her cop husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), are willing to give him a second chance. He is presently approached by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who wants to recruit him for a special job. Pym reveals that he has unlocked the secrets to shrinking people and objects and has harnessed that technology into a special suit. This is the suit that will allow Scott the power he needs to become the Ant-Man. Under the training of Pym and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Scott prepares for a heist that will prevent Pym’s former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from unlocking the secrets to the shrinking technology, a development that Pym feels would have disastrous consequences for the world.

There were a lot of things I enjoyed about this film and one of them was the main character. Casting Paul Rudd as Scott Lang was a stroke of genius. As well as bringing much charm and humour to the role, I like how down-to-earth and relatable he turned out to be. Of all the superheroes in the MCU, Scott is probably the closest they have to an everyman (except perhaps Hawkeye) and so I’m glad that they chose a normal guy to play the role as opposed to a buff, handsome Hollywood superstar. The film also had some great comic moments as it decided to have fun with the aspects of its story that would otherwise have been difficult to take seriously. Some of its funniest moments were provided by Michael Peña as the blissfully incoherent Luis. Scott’s training as Ant-Man was well done, in large part due to Michael Douglas who did an expert job of selling Ant-Man as a concept. Watching Scott master the shrinking technology and learning to command the different types of ants to serve their differing functions turned out to be the most enjoyable part of the film for me.

The two main characters who simply didn’t register with me were Hope van Dyne and Darren Cross. The former is a typically underwritten female love-interest who sometimes throws a few punches and the latter is a pretty forgettable villain. Both of their actors brought what they could to the roles but there simply wasn’t much for them to work with. While the comedy may have provided the film with many entertaining highlights, there is a significant downside as well. The comical tone the film decided to go with meant that I sometimes had a hard time taking it seriously when it was actually called for. With the exception of one scene at the end, I never really felt like there was a clear and present danger in this film nor did I ever really feel the stakes of what was happening. At times when an action scene was taking place, it would suddenly be interrupted by some sort of gag that, while funny, felt a bit disjointed. It may not have been out of place with the film’s tone but I did think that it stole from the excitement and thrills that the film was trying to provide.

Ant-Man may not be Marvel’s best film but it isn’t the worst either. The dispute that resulted in Edgar Wright leaving the project might explain why the film felt a bit disjointed but I still think Peyton Reed did a decent job of pulling it together. The film may not be as exciting as Marvel’s other offerings but it is never boring either. What the film lacks in thrills it makes up for in fun and humour. It is lacking in character and doesn’t have the best executed story but is still very enjoyable for all that it does offer. It took an idea that could have very easily been done terribly or ridiculously and instead pulls it off quite admirably. Ant-Man is a creative, funny and entertaining film that should please any Marvel fan or simply any moviegoer looking for a fun action film.

★★★★