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My Films of 2017

Year end lists are tricky because there is a permanence to them that opinions just don’t have. But opinions are all they are. For example, if you asked me today what my favourite film of 2016 was I would tell you it was Creed. Yet last year when I was putting together my list of favourites, it didn’t make the top five, coming in at sixth. I would also tell you that Park Chan-Wook’s The Handmaiden was in my top three. That didn’t make the list at all.

So what am I saying? I’m saying lists are subject to change, especially when it’s impossible to see every great film that comes out in a single year. Some films you have seen might seem lesser on the second viewing, some may be drastically improved.

So why bother making a list at all? Because it’s fun.

So as of today, at this particular moment, these are my top films of 2017.

Honourable Mentions

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

My favourite on going franchise, and the most likely film to be higher on this list when you ask me about it next year.

What I said in my initial review:

“This is a film where over 50% of the dialogue is subtitled sign language and yet we are never in the dark as to what these characters are thinking. Their faces tell us everything. And that is not down to computer generated effects, that is actors acting their asses off.  Unlike many modern blockbusters, the effects are working for the story, not instead of it.”

“These are big movies with big, surprisingly complicated themes. The cost of hate on both a personal and societal level. The fear of being replaced. Tribalism. All wrapped up in a religious allegory. The Apes movies have always been about so much and War proudly carries on that tradition. These are adult films, well made and fantastically performed.”

LOGAN

The first superhero movie I’ve seen that had the entire audience trying to hide the fact they were crying. No one wanted to admit they were bawling over a comic book movie, but trust me, we were.

What I said in my initial review:

“Hugh Jackman started playing this character seventeen years ago. Before that role we did not know him. He arrived as the Wolverine. He will always be the Wolverine.”

“And here, in Logan, the summation of seventeen years worth of stories about pain, prejudice, fear, hope, strength, and redemption, it all culminates in Jackman’s finest performance.”

“What makes Logan such a strong film is not only the weight of history, but that it is an end. A full stop. Long form storytelling, being most prominently used in the Marvel movies currently, undoubtedly has its pros, but a lack of a definitive end point sometimes robs those stories of power.

Here, director James Mangold and Jackman get to bring their lengthy experiences with the character to bear. Jackman’s love and fatigue with the Wolverine are all felt. Logan feels old and tired, world weary and defeated, but not without life, and not without light. And when Laura comes into his life, that spark ignites in him and for one last time, The Wolverine is an X-Man again”.

JOHN WICK 2

“The opening garage gun fight is a highlight, but the action doesn’t ever really dip in quality. It’s a ludicrously OTT bullet ballet throughout and we love it for it.

But as ridiculous as the action gets, Keanu Reeves keeps things grounded. His melancholy performance holds everything together. The slight cracks in his otherwise flat voice, and his deep, sorrowful eyes reveal the human behind the terminator. Wick is an interesting character in a wonderfully layered world, and I hope we get the chance to return to both of them.”

5. BABY DRIVER

“Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is a muscular Walter Hill movie re-imagined as a romantic jukebox musical.  A modern remix of a classic song, and one of the most entertaining, original, and purely cinematic movies of the year.”

“The plot is standard crime movie stuff. The mob boss, the one last job, the volatile gang member, the girl and the promise of a better life. But it’s the change of rhythm that Wright brings that breathes new life into the tale.

This is a movie that pulses with life and much of that comes from the music and how it is used. The songs aren’t playing because they make a scene “cooler”, though many of them do, but because they inform and reflect character.”

“Wright has really outdone himself here. His direction is crisp, the cutting precise, and the script tight. He nimbly jumps from humour to tension to sweetness then back to thrilling us, sometimes all in the same scene. The character work is strong and the film contains some genuine surprises. It all adds up to the finest movie of the summer. This is Wright’s version of Walter Hill’s The Driver and Michael Mann’s Heat. He clearly acknowledges his influences, but remixes them into something original. Baby Driver comfortably sits alongside those classics. The tune may be familiar, but it’s catchy for a reason, and it’s one you don’t want to stop yourself from humming along to.”

You can really feel how high I was on this movie when it first came out. I still am in some ways, it is that much of a blast. But it is also a movie I am a little scared to go back to. I mention in that final paragraph that the script is tight, but that’s not really accurate. It is propulsive, and that momentum helps cover some of the cracks. This may drop down the rankings as time goes on. Many of the characters are thinly drawn, and the romance doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. These flaws and more become apparent with some time away from the movie, but when you are in it, riding along with Baby and the gang, you get caught up in the sheer excitement of it and it is just impossible to resist.

4. WONDER WOMAN

The film that most clearly illustrates the difference between a list of “Bests” and “Favourites”. Wonder Woman is not the fourth best film of 2017, but I put it above films like Dunkirk, and even other superhero fare like Thor: Ragnarok, because I personally think it is more important than those films. This is a female led superhero film, directed by a woman, that clearly wasn’t expected to be a huge hit as its budget was less than every other DC superhero movie. Yet it went on to be a world wide sensation, grossing over eight hundred and twenty million dollars at the box office.

The character was already an icon. Finally, she has a movie that does her justice.

“The reason for that success is Diana of Themyscira herself. Director Patty Jenkins, and star Gal Gadot, understand what makes this woman a wonder. They understand that her unwavering belief that she can save every single person is not naivety, but the empathy of a pure heart. They understand that heart is Diana’s superpower. Not her strength, or speed, or invulnerability, but the love she feels for us all.

It is a film without cynicism, and that is one of the reasons it is speaking to so many people right now. Wonder Woman is going over big with both critics and audiences, and it is all because of the central character’s optimism. People don’t want mindless bombast surrounded by gloomy navel gazing. We want hope. Wonder Woman, the character and the movie, is full of hope, and we are willing to overlook the film’s obvious flaws because of it.”

The No Man’s Land sequence is already an all timer. It’s the header image of this article for a reason. It is the moment that everything this movie gets right crystalises into a definitive statement. This is who the character is. She is hope.

It is a huge success for the DCU, and has finally earned them some good will. Patty Jenkins has done a remarkable job.

“She has given us a character to whom we should all aspire. That is what DC has seemingly forgotten about its own characters. We don’t need to deconstruct them, to break them down and question their reasoning. They are pure and absolute. They are bigger and better.

They are wonders.

And Wonder Woman has come to remind them.”

3. COCO

Sometimes a movie, much like a song, gets tied to a specific experience you have recently gone through. It elicits a feeling, or bolsters something you were already feeling, and helps you achieve some sort of catharsis. This is one of the reasons art is so powerful and so important to so many of us.

Pixar’s latest, Coco, follows a young boy who wants nothing more than to make music. But his great, great Grandfather was a musician, and that calling caused him to abandon his family. From that moment on, music was banned within the Rivera family. They don’t listen to it, and they most definitely don’t make it.

Miguel, the budding musician, discovers that his great, great Grandfather was Ernesto de la Cruz, the greatest musician to ever live, and adored by all. But still his family will not let him play. His life has been decided. He will make shoes for a living, not play music. Miguel, feeling misunderstood and betrayed by his family, takes a guitar from Ernesto’s grave, and soon finds himself in the Land of the Dead. He can no longer be seen by the living, only the long dead who are crossing over for the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday.

Once in the Land of the Dead Miguel comes to meet his family members from previous generations, including his great, great Grandmother. They too attempt to prevent Miguel from finding Ernesto, and so Miguel flees.

The final thirty or so minutes of the film, and I’ll avoid spoilers here, revolve around Miguel and his Granddad.

It is at this point that I should make something clear. The day before watching this film, my Grandfather, who has long been one of my best friends, passed away. He had been deteriorating for some time, so when it happened it was not a surprise. Family were with him and we were expecting it.

But watching this film, at that moment, as Miguel bonded with his Grandfather and realised that family often don’t understand us, but are also usually the only ones willing to try, I fell apart. This barrage of feeling just overwhelmed me, the grief and sadness of loss, but also memories of happier times came flooding back. He was gone, but I still have these moments, these memories, of connection, of someone generations older than me, from a different time, and practically a different world, looking at me and seeing a part of himself, and me looking back and seeing the exact same thing.

And that is what Coco so beautifully communicates, when someone is gone, they aren’t, because you’ve got them. And you’ve got to keep hold of them. Because that’s what you do for each other.

The next day I watched Coco again. Regardless of what is going on in your own lives, if the story here is comparable to anything happening or recently happened to you or not, it is still hugely relatable. Because the characters are so well defined and the story so well told. Pixar have still got it, and this one hit me like a tonne of bricks.

2. GET OUT

Get Out could not have come at a better time. We are at a point where we haven’t felt this divided in years. Decades. Or maybe it has always been this way, and people just got tired of hiding it.

Get Out doesn’t show us the obviously monstrous. Those up front about their racism. Director Jordan Peele isn’t looking to take easy pot shots at Rednecks and Hillbillies, or the “Make America Great Again” crowd. What is seen here is more insidious.

The film shines a light on those that think of themselves as accepting of other cultures and backgrounds. As open to other points of view. But only as long as those cultures, backgrounds, and other points of view, can be exploited to bolster the narrative of these “accepting” people. It’s about status. They trade their association with people who are “other” for cultural cachet. To be superior.

As I said in my review at the time, “One of the more excruciating film going experiences of the year, and rightly so. Jordan Peele’s Get Out is a scathing look at race relations in today’s society. A perfect balance of awkward laughs, uncomfortable silences, and outright dread, this is one of the most impressive debuts by a director in a long time. Important and entertaining, cathartic and yet simultaneously blood chilling, Get Out doesn’t ask What If? It tells us this is how it is, and asks what are we going to do about it?”

1.BLADE RUNNER 2049

There is a moment in Blade Runner 2049 where central character K (Ryan Gosling) comes across a dog who enjoys a sip or two of whisky. K asks if the dog is real. The response he is given is “I don’t know. Ask him”.

This moment is a perfect encapsulation of the whole film.

The original Blade Runner asked what it meant to be human.

Blade Runner 2049 asks what it means to be anything. Humanity is a matter of perception. Blood and bone are not the key signifiers of life. Sentience is. You think and you feel, therefore you are. That whisky drinking dog is real if it believes it is. “It” becomes “He”.

And so it goes with K, and many of the other characters in Blade Runner 2049. When we meet them, they are artificial constructs designed for one purpose, to fulfill one duty. But then something happens that presents K with the possibility that he might be something more. And the moment he believes it, he is. Life finds him, and through it he finds love, purpose and meaning. He finds himself.

This is a world of walls and barriers, of subjugation, of men and woman reduced to tools and objects to be used and discarded. But within this darkness, buried deep beneath the city’s waste, there is hope, and empathy, and the embers that will light the fires of change.

Blade Runner asked what it meant to be human. But here director Denis Villeneuve (who also topped last year’s list with Arrival) makes it clear that the distance between real and unreal is not as vast as we once believed.

Where we find life and love has changed. We live in a time where many of us have friends we have never physically met. Lives are spent in online realities. Forums, chat rooms, Facebook, video game universes populated by thousands of players. Relationships are formed, experiences are shared. These are places where people find themselves. And if that is happening, can they truly be called unreal?

This is a film about all that and more. It is rich with thought, feeling, character and detail. It is beautiful and chilling in equal measure. Despairs at our mistakes, yet rejoices at our possibilities. It is a miracle. When it was first announced, many decried it, sacrilege we said, and yet here it is, despite all the odds, my film of 2017.

Flawed? Yes. But the most interesting often are.




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