Last week I posted a general review of 2017 in film. Now it’s time for the top ten. Let’s get right the fuck into this shit:
TOP FUCKING TEN FOR 2017, GO!
#10 – Free Fire
The easy joke here is that I had to include a movie on this list that featured a John Denver song because holy fuck did a lot of movies this year feature John Denver. Free Fire, Alien: Covenant, Okja, Kingsman, Logan Lucky and even Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul. I don’t know what sort of shifty backroom poker game the financier of the Denver estate lost all their royalties in but the winner is milking that magic money tree for all it’s worth this year.
Honestly though, not long after picking my Top Ten I saw another movie that threw my list into disarray. I loved all of the films that I’d picked and could barely stand to remove another. On my original list Free Fire was still in the Number 10 slot but the more I thought about it the less comfortable I felt about taking it off. In fact, it very quickly became apparent that a movie I’d originally placed higher was much more expendable.
I couldn’t tell you just why it’s so difficult to take Free Fire off the list. At first glance it’s a very basic little movie, well constructed and played out but nothing special. It’s not the funniest or the most exciting or original movie of the year, it’s just very good at what it does. It wasn’t until I started thinking about the casting and realised that there’s something incredibly charming about some of the most likeable actors working today playing a crew of total dickholes, all trying to double-cross each other at every turn. And honestly, I think that’s it. It’s entertainment in the purest sense of the word.
#9 – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
This entry is my cheat move because it wasn’t officially released in UK cinemas in 2017 but I managed to catch an early screening of it.
I’m a big fan of Martin McDonagh’s theatrical efforts. Seven Psychopaths was a wonderfully meta pitch black reflection on the self-absorbed nature of writing and In Bruges remains, for my money, quite simply the funniest film of all time. His latest feature, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a film that I walked out of a little jarred by. It’s nowhere near as clever as Psychopaths and nowhere near as funny as Bruges but it’s very likely a better movie than either of those.
Billboards is bleak as fuck and makes no apologies for it. Whereas McDonagh’s previous movies wielded emotion as a tool, delivering killing blows to punctuate tremendous narratives, Three Billboards is a movie built on emotion. It’s bleak and brutal from it’s foundation upwards and although it’s not lacking in redemptive material it’s never willing to shy away from the pain that lurks beneath and where that can take it’s wonderfully illustrated characters.
All the main players are fantastic but this is a movie that belongs as much to star Frances McDormand as it does to the director who wields a violent nature in a fashion that feels entirely appropriate but what’s incredible is how believable it is that her character is an ordinary working woman that has been pushed into such a dark place.
#8 – Raw
Any movie that can make me squirm is always worth considering for end of the year praise and Raw is squirm-inducing as fuck. It’s weird because I’ve certainly seen much worse gore with nary a stomach churn but Raw goes on to prove that context is everything when it comes to how we perceive violence or taboo topics.
As a cannibal movie, Raw is actually pretty tame. As a coming of age movie, it’s fucking strange but it doesn’t really break any new ground. But when you actually take the whole movie in, with all of it’s acerbic bite and a cutting humour enveloping the absurdity of carnivoyeuristic lunacy…it’s rare to feel so unsettled whilst you laugh and not really be able to tell where one emotion ends and the other begins.
#7 – Atomic Blonde
First of all, that title: Atomic Blonde. Cool.
Second of all, Jesus fucking Christ, did you guys see that fucking stairwell fight scene?! If you didn’t, then go and watch that fucking stairwell fight scene. It’s O.U.T.S.T.A.N.D.I.N.G. It looked at all the competition coming from all angles: Stairwell fight scenes? One-Shot steadicam action sequences? Your already fragile protagonist getting fucked-the-hell up and pressing ahead with nothing but a kidney full of blood and a serious over-reluctance to just succumb to a death that must be oh-so-enticing? Theron is a goddamn trooper in this sequence and she sells it all in a way that is vital to the success of the scene and secures her place in the action hall of fame, if she hadn’t already earned her spot (Spoiler Alert: SHE HAD).
The rest of the movie is, admittedly, pretty hit and miss. It’s not perfect but there’s a lot to enjoy in the political twistiness of the plot and the excellent retro-grade soundtrack. But if there’s one movie on this list defined by a single scene, it’s Atomic Blonde and it’s rad as fuck.
#6 – It Comes at Night
It’s starting to seem like I can’t put together an end of year list without including a movie that I’m sure most people will fucking hate. In 2014 it was Only Lovers Left Alive, in 2016 it was The Vvitch. This year it’s It Comes At Night. There’s a real trend approaching with all three of these movies. They’ve all got significant horror themes, they’re all fairly low budget and they’re all movies in which just about nothing happens for almost the entire runtime. It’s practically a genre unto itself that guarantees a spot on my lists.
It Comes At Night is borderline indescribable. Any potential success was brutalised by an entirely misleading marketing campaign and I absolutely cannot stress enough how little happens in this movie. There is no monster. There’s not really any real physical threat. There’s barely even a plot. What there is, within the confines of the narrative, is fear and It Comes At Night is a haunting meditation on everything that fear breeds. It is totally worth your time but I can’t guarantee you won’t walk away feeling that you’ve wasted just that.
#5 – Get Out
I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon of being another liberal white dude praising Get Out but when writer/director Jordan Peele commits to calling Get Out a documentary then I have to admit that that’s exactly what’s happening. But here’s the thing: Get Out isn’t just a political statement (although it so obviously is that and one that I agree with) but also a really good movie. Like, really good.
Sure it’s absurd but that absurdity is entirely rooted in systemic issues that are clearly observable today. Sure it’s shlocky but well produced shlock has never gotten in the way of a movie being great. Does the humour undercut some of the frights? Sure but that sort of build up and release of pressure is not without purpose or effectiveness. At the end of the day I watched Get Out and found myself holding my breath, laughing uncomfortably and very impressed with the visual language that Peele employed to make a very personal statement. For a first time film-maker, even one of Peele’s accomplishments, that is fucking impressive.
Also, fuck racism.
#4 – John Wick Chapter 2
I love Keanu Reeves. I don’t actually think that any of the criticisms made at his expense over the years have any merit whatsoever. But even if I did, I would still defy anybody to watch John Wick: Chapter 2 and tell me that shit isn’t flat-out fucking rad.
Seriously, some of the shit in the opening sequence is action on the scale of Mad Max: Fury Road and anybody who knows my taste in movies should be aware that is literally the highest level of praise I can offer. I included Atomic Blonde on this list because it had one sequence that I will go back to and watch endlessly. John Wick 2 has, like, seven of those sequences. And not only are they all impeccably choreographed and produced, they are all utterly gorgeous. This neon tinged nightmare is an example of what can happen if film-makers go all in on the idea of taking what works from a previous installment and amping it up to eleven. This movie took the hall of mirrors trope and made it fucking exciting again.
I know in a decade I’ll probably regret saying this but honestly, if Hollywood is happy to churn out a new John Wick movie every three years or so, I’ll be there with bells on as long as they’re all as audacious as this one.
#3 – It
As far as I’ve always been concerned there’s only ever been one great Stephen King movie: The Green Mile. I like The Shawshank Redemption but it’s long been at the top of my ‘Most Overrated Movies of All Time’ list and although The Shining is a great movie, it’s not really a Stephen King movie.
2017 gave us a new great Stephen King movie. I hoped it would be The Dark Tower but it was actually It which is weird because I have never cared about It at all. Never read the book, saw ten minutes of the original mini-series and thought it looked awful. But this movie is a fantastic movie. Weirdly enough, it’s only an okay horror movie but just as a ‘movie’, there’s very, very little to fault.
One theory I’ve had about the direction horror is taking these days is thus: Take a modern horror movie and take all of the horror out of it. Do you still want to see that movie? Great contemporary horror movies these days tend to work without the frights and It takes that to the next level. It is not a very scary movie but I get the impression that it’s not especially trying to be. That’s not where the focus is. It is a coming-of-age story…that just happens to have a malevolent alien murderous thing masquerading as a clown stalking the kids that are coming-of-age. And that’s fucking cool because the kids are all really fucking cool. My favourite sequences of this movie weren’t in haunted houses or dank sewers with bad lighting. They were at school bike-racks and riverbeds in the middle of the afternoon. And although Bill Skarsgaard’s performance as Pennywise was terrific, he’s kept mostly in the periphery. And honestly, I think that’s where he belongs.
All that said, I’m not above admitting that the garage scene is the one moment of the movie that properly shit me the fuck up.
#2 – Wind River
I think at this point it’s worth admitting that I’m entirely on-board with whatever post-noir/political-western genre hybrid that Taylor Sheridan has been building. Sicario was one of my favourite films of 2015 and although my praise of Hell or High Water was a little more muted last year, it still made the Top Ten. Now Sheridan is adding directing duties on top of screenwriting and the result is Wind River.
By no means am I suggesting Wind River is perfect. I mean, the entire premise of the movie revolves around a woman who has been literally fridged which is…problematic. But gender politics aside (and there are a lot of less than generous ways to read into this movie in that regard) there’s something about the general tone of Wind River that I loved. It’s slow and soulful, angry but respectful. It’s fucking beautiful just to watch. The characters are understated but all feel very real. The pacing is methodical and abstract in ways that perhaps shouldn’t have worked but ultimately do. Interactions matter and I came away more choked up from this movie than any other this year.
#1 – mother!
I mean…fuck, guys.
What is mother! about? I’ll probably be asking myself that question this time next year. I think I’ve figured out where my reading lies but that could all change with another viewing. But here are my current ideas: It’s about Art and the Creator. It’s about Religion and Hedonism. The Environment. Misogyny. Self Indulgence. War. Fear. Life. Giving Up. History. Everything.
That’s what (I think) mother! is about. But what actually is mother!?
It’s a full-blown fucking assault on your senses. It’s 0-900mph in FUCK YOU seconds. It’s violent as shit and nasty as hell. It’s slow and deliberate and meticulous right up until it isn’t. It’s dizzying and unpleasant to watch. It kind of hurts to experience. It’s the Divine Comedy in reverse but also kind of totally in order? It’s a sprawling messy statement about everything the creators intended and a whole host of shit that they didn’t. It’s fucking terrifying without being explicitly scary. It’s a Jennifer Lawrence movie that seems to undermine the entire Jennifer Lawrence brand right when people seemed to be getting kind of sick of Jennifer Lawrence.
mother! a fucking crazy masterpiece and easily the best movie of 2017. And I’ll be astounded if 2018 can top this shit.