20. Better Watch Out
A genuine surprise of a movie. Read nothing about it. Just watch it at the earliest convenient Christmas. Ostensibly a home invasion movie, this little 'nightmare before Christmas' has a few tricks up its sleeve. It's cheeky, a bit more rough than it lets on, and it'll make you want to hug everyone in your family a bit harder when you see them at the Christmas dinner. Yes, even the ones you don't really care for.
I'm told that when kids get the latest animated movie on DVD they watch it incessantly for months. I hope that's the case with Zootopia. I hope kids from every corner of the Earth watch this film on repeat and learn from its lessons. This film could literally make the world a better place. Oh, and it's really funny too!
18. Girl Flu.
Yeah, it's a film about menstruation, get over it. It's also a little gem of an usual coming-of-age film, which manages both a nostalgic magic, and a certain raw honesty. Jade Pettyjohn is fearless in the lead as the 12-year old girl who is woefully unprepared to bleed for a week, every month for the foreseeable future, while Katee Sackhoff absolutely kills it as the girl's ditzy mother. Sackhoff has always been cool as hell, but she rarely gets to play this type of naturalistic, vulnerable role. It's delightful to watch. And so is the film.
17. Table 19
Anna Kendrick takes the lead as the discarded maid of honor who is forced to suffer through a wedding from 'the worst table with all the losers', after she's dumped by her best man boyfriend.
It sounds like a dumb comedy, it looks like a dumb comedy, but there's more at play here than meets the eye. As Table 19 begins to nurture its lovesick heroine back to life, it becomes obvious that the traditional rom-com solutions hold no interest for the film. Having said that, this is still a fun comedy, cute as a button, and full of amusing supporting characters and zany moments.
16. Justice League
Most people will probably agree that flawed, struggling heroes are more interesting than perfect saviors who never doubt themselves. I guess for me that extends to the actual quality of the films in which those heroes appear. That would explain why I'm much more drawn to DC's stumbling cinematic efforts than Marvel's soulless assembly line productions. Yes, Justice League is a mess. A deeply flawed, barely contained, doomed to fail, mess. I can't wait to see it again!
15. War on Everyone
Now, this is a silly one, I admit that, but what's wrong with a bit of silly? Especially when it's as well done as this. Alexander Skarsgård is the Will Smith to Michael Peña's Martin Lawrence, but in the hands of writer-director John Michael McDonagh these Bad Boys break the conventional cop-buddy movie in two, stuff the pieces up the rear end of the nearest suspect, and push the poor sod off a roof. That's the kind of film this is. Rough around the edges, anarchistic to a fault, and utterly unconcerned about making nice with everyone, to insure a sequel. That is refreshing as all hell.
14. The Conjuring 2
The original The Conjuring was a tough act to follow, but James Wan pulled it off! It wouldn't hurt The Conjuring 2 to be about 20 minutes shorter, but once it gets going it gets going with a vengeance. Few films can really scare me these days. This one terrified me to the core! I'm not sure I can watch it alone again. THAT means it's doing something right.
13. February (The Blackcoat's Daughter)
February takes place on an almost empty boarding school during the winter break, when two girls are forced to stay behind. The cold weather, the empty halls, and that feeling that they're trapped with something dark soon gets to them and then.... murder.
This is a sinister, dark, and quiet film. It's also a bit more complex than it initially appears. This is not just a film about a serial killer stalking some girls. It's much more original and much darker. The film requires a certain amount of patience, and it's important to watch every detail closely, but if you do, this is a very rewarding one-way ticket to hell.
What an inspired story. The link between a lost girl, forced to return to her hometown and a giant monster on the lose on the other side of the world, turns into a strange combination of twee rom-com, vicious wannabe-superhero movie, and dark satire.
The star of this show is Anne Hathaway, who manages a careful balance that makes you both hate and love her character, as she makes one catastrophic decision after another. While the finale may be a tad too silly for most, I must admit that I enjoyed every second of this crazy ride. This is the definition of a unique film. It's worth watching for that reason alone.
11. Super Dark Times
Two teenage boys, best friends for life, get caught up in a terrible incident that slowly begins to tear them apart. The film takes place in the 90's - Clinton is on the TV, CD's are a new thing - but it still has that unmistakable Stand by Me, Spielbergian, suburban vibe in its blood.
80's nostalgia is on the verge of becoming a lazy shortcut to the hearts and minds of a certain kind of audience. Super Dark Times may be the cure for that. Slowly the film starts to veer off the predictable path. Soon it takes a sharp turn, and then we're in super dark times indeed. It's not a pleasant film to watch, there's a near constant feeling of uneasiness once the film gets going, but it's a wonderfully assured film, with some great performances from the young cast.
When her twin brother dies a young woman's life begins to unravel. As she struggles to hold on to reality, her brother returns. Is he a ghost, a figment of her imagination, or something much darker? Feed takes the shape of a supernatural thriller, but lead actress Troian Bellisario wrote the story based on her own, very real experiences, as she suffered from body image problems. It's the convergence of those two completely different storylines that makes Feed so compelling. It's not just a ghost story, but it IS a frighteningly intimate and disturbing portrayal of a woman, who's falling apart at the seams, delivered with relentless honesty by Bellisario.
9. Kong: Skull Island
Every summer we get a couple of films that everyone proclaims to be 'just like the old school adventures movies' or 'like a great 80's action film'. It's rarely true. It is with Kong: Skull Island, though. It's a fast-paced, fun, inventive action movie, and even though we know the story by heart, it still manages to surprise and enthrall. Grab your riffle, turn up that Black Sabbath and let's get to that fucking choppa'.
8. The Bad Batch
Defiantly off-key from the first to the last frame, this post-apocalyptic film is hard to categorize, as it goes through various permutations. Is it a revenge story? A love story? A cannibal story? Perhaps all of the above? Whatever it is, it requires you to zone out, forget the real world and just get carried away by the carefully assembled visuals, the hypnotic soundtrack and the mesmerizing tempo.
Suki Waterhouse seems refreshingly game in the lead. She has no qualms about getting down and dirty for this film, coming off like an adventurous indie actress, rather than the supermodel she looks like. Her scenes with Jason Momoa simmer with equal parts attraction and fear. It's quite irresistible.
7. 20th Century Women
Though somewhat narratively challenged, this insightful, thoughtful, and delightful trip down memory lane is utterly charming and heartwarming. It's just the story about a mother, her son, and a few scattered friends, at a particular time in their lives, but within that simple framework, the movie delivers a whole universe of emotions, guaranteed to bring you both heartache, an appreciation for life, and a smile now and then. "So what was the fight about?" the concerned mother asks her son, as she tends to a bruise, suffered in a fight with another boy. His matter-of-factly reply? "Clitoral stimulation."
6. What Happened to Monday
What's better than Noomi Rapace? Seven Noomi Rapaces of course - is how a hack writer would start his review of this film. Luckily I'm above such frivolities, but I won't deny my fascination with the mere technical aspects of having one actress play seven identical sisters. It's never not absolutely fascinating when multiple versions of this Swedish beauty run around in the same scene and interact with each other. On top of that, What Happened to Monday also tells a mean, little dystopian science fiction story, full of intense set-pieces!
5. Ghost in the Shell
Possible one of the most unfairly maligned major motion pictures of the year. This live action version of the classic Japanese animé is a near-perfect translation of the original animated story to alive-action format. The changes in the characters and plot are reasonable and work well, and only a weak bad guy prevents this from reaching the top 3 on this list.
Scarlett Johansson delivers a haunting, muted, melancholic performance. Her physical attributes take a backseat, and instead I find it impossible to look away from her face, out of fear of missing the slightest sign of that soul - or ghost - that the makers of the Major's robotic shell claim to have retained. It's a fascinating, beautiful film that goes above and beyond other similar big budget blockbusters.
By all accounts the story of the confrontation between a man and the young woman he abused when she was thirteen, should play out a certain way. Una, however, refuses to follow that dictate. It's on a completely different and much more complicated mission. It's based on a play, so of course it's a simple story, with few characters and a limited scope. That story, those characters, and this scope, however, make for a bone-chillingly naked film, both tantalizing and revolting. Few films manage to be as raw as this one, without spilling a drop of blood. Much praise must go to Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn who deliver two incredibly nuanced and intriguing performances in the leads. Sans pedophilia, this would have been a surefire Oscar contender.
3. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
I have watched The Force Awakens a total of 7 times so far. It holds up beautifully. I'm not entirely sure how The Last Jedi will compare. It's not without its problems, but perhaps they will fade with time and repeated viewings. If they do, what's left is a sprawling, adventurous story similar in parts to Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi, much the same way The Force Awakens echoes A New Hope. And yet, this is also a film determined to break new ground, move in new directions, and make bold choices regarding characters and plot. I applaud it all. Even the parts that aren't working completely for me (yet). I get a giddy tingle in my stomach just thinking about rewatching this film. That's a good sign.
Strictly speaking, on paper, the focus of Chris Nolan's Dunkirk makes the movie seem almost trivial. The plot is basic and the characters are almost non-existing. And yet, by choosing an inspired and bold angle for his storytelling Nolan elevates the material into pure movie-magic.
On top of that the sheer intensity, with which he tells his story, makes it an almost unbearable, heart-pounding ride from start to finish. One long action sequence that zeroes in on pure emotions - fear, hope, panic, isolation - rather than getting carried away with the spectacle of war, or the blood and guts of combat. Even with all this going for it, it's the somber mood that's so striking about this film, and it's there from the first moment to that last black frame. This is the work of a true master, a rare craftsman with a unique voice. Essential viewing.
1. Blade Runner 2049
What. Just. Happened? How in the world did Denis Villeneuve manage to make a film that not just matched the original Blade Runner, but surpassed it? A three-hour art film. A gorgeous $150+ million blockbuster. A satisfying detective story. It's both emotionally rewarding and intellectually stimulating. Villeneuve builds on the original movie, but expands the world, deepens the themes, and the film is even more gorgeous than that classic 1982 flick. I'm stunned, flabbergasted, floored. This film is an instant classic, and I'm filled with a near-constant desire to rewatch it.
We got through it! Unlike last year I managed to get the traditional top/bottom lists online in a descent time frame. A win for the good guys, surely. And with that, we're ready for 2018. I'd say 'do you worst 2018', but I'm afraid that's now 2017 turned out the way it did, so how about we just end this blog with a quiet plea... 2018, be gentle.