Sunday, December 31, 2017

BEST & WORST OF 2017

Let's get something straight right off the top: Twin Peaks: The Return is absolutely the cultural high point of 2017...but it's TV, not an 18-hour movie. You will find no entries on this list devoted to Episode 8's atomic brilliance. Unlike this blog's facetious French namesake, we play by the rules here at Cashiers. This blog is about CINEMA. And this Best/Worst list is reserved for movies that have played in at least one legit first-run theatre during the year (your MoMA run don't count, yo). Let me repeat: Twin Peaks is TV, and all the better for it. If I were to cheat and consider TP a movie, then there would be only one entry on this list, for every movie-movie that came out this year pales in comparison. And what kinda fun is a Best/Worst List with one entry? Answer: None kinda fun.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, onto the list! This year, I caught a whopping 127 new 2017 film releases (3 less than last year). If it hadn't been for jaunts to South By Southwest and Fantastic Fest where I was seeing 3 films a day on average, I probably wouldn't have broken the 100-movie barrier. Granted, many of the "films" on this list were viewed streaming at home on my widescreen. But I did finish out the year seeing Phantom Thread in a theatre on 70mm, so I feel like I'm absolved.

One last thing: I'm 99.9% sure this will be my last Best-Worst ever. So savor it while you can. Got some stuff to do in 2018 other than watching way too many movies. Like writing/making them again! Without further ado, here's how 2017 stacked up for me...

THE BEST


10) THE LOST CITY OF Z: Underappreciated helmer James Gray finally leaves the confines of NYC to get his Amazonian Heart of Darkness on in epic scale. Ill-advised colonialist obsessions & gross jungle-borne diseases ensue. Not quite Aguirre but still a worthy trek.



9) ENDLESS POETRY: At the ripe old age of 88, Alejandro J is still serving up fresher images than any of Hollywood's greenscreen-weaned young bucks. Shame that few people saw this, his delightfully surrealistic sequel to Dance of Reality. I'm hoping Son of El Topo corrects that.



8) SUPER DARK TIMES: Imagine Stand By Me but much darker directed by Tim Hunter (River's Edge) instead of Rob Reiner. First-time feature director Kevin Phillips charts the harrowingly realistic ripple effect of an accidental death among a group of '90s teens. Super recommended.


7) THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEEROnly Yorgos can infuse seemingly benign discussions of wristwatch straps ("Do you prefer leather or metal?") with so much dread. Only he can make a gawky, acne-spotted teen eating spaghetti seem this menacing. No one does disturbing deadpan better.


6) MOTHER!No other movie this year rendered my typically clenched jaw agape quite the way Aronofsky's loony coil of celluloid provocation did. Whether his purpose was Biblical, environmental or a cruel F-U/apology to past loves, I don't care. Dude earned his exclamation point.


5) BLADE RUNNER 2049I never asked for a sequel to the 35 year old classic sci-fi/noir of my youth, but, boy, did this one deliver. Give Denis V all the franchises. Not just the sci-fi ones but ALL the franchises. Bond, Bourne, Indiana Jones, whatever. #GiveDenisAllTheFranchises


4) GRADUATIONNo one does ethical quandary like the Romanians. Watching this father's moral compass slowly erode as he does anything necessary to get his recently assaulted daughter into college is a study in white-knuckle emotional suspense. Mr. Mungiu, you aced the test.


3) GET OUTGuess Who's Coming to Dinner re-tooled for the post-Obama era as creepy '60s Twilight Zone episode meets hilarious '70s SNL sketch. Believe da hype. No movie had more to say about race in 2017. I mean, is there anything more horrifyingly "white" than a basement foosball table?



2) GOOD TIMEModern crime movies rarely come so believably skuzzy, alternately streetwise and Queens knucklehead dumb like a '90s Abel Ferrara indie high on methamphetamine. The Safdie Bros are the real deal. I just worry they'll lose their mojo going big on a 48 Hrs remake.


1) THE SQUAREIn a year rife with "fake news" & weekly White Guy in Power takedowns (Weinstein, etc), nothing captured the wildly unstable tenor of the times quite the way this ruthlessly satirical 2hr+ performance art piece did. There's an ape loose in the dining room, folks. He is a man but also...not a man.

HONORABLE MENTION


DOWNSIZINGAlexander Payne took a lot of risks in this coolly received miniature Matt Damon comedy. Not all of them connect, but when they do it feels like a tiny revelation. Payne invented his own genre: the environmentally conscious end of the world rom-com. No small feat.


LADY BIRDWhaddya know, indie darling thesp Greta Gerwig can also direct! Droll coming of age suburban comedies are a dime a dozen, but Gerwig adds her own believable blend of Sacramento spice to the mix. Ronan is great, Metcalf even better. Interested to see what GG does next.


LET THE CORPSES TANThis kaleidoscopic French crime collage/assault on the senses never got a proper 2017 U.S. release. I caught a late-night screening at Fantastic Fest & can't wait to see it again. For those who dug Amer, Strange Color of Your Body's Tears, a must-see.


THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURINot the most visually kinetic movie of the year but maybe the best screenplay. The joy comes in watching great actors chew juicy dialogue. McDormand, Harrelson, Rockwell, Dinklage. Get them together & it can be a Geico ad for all I care.


WORMWOODIt took six hours, the genius of Errol Morris, the subtle blend of documentary and docudrama to make me finally appreciate Peter Sarsgaard (a perennial whipping boy on this list). Perhaps it was the LSD in my drink?

THE WORST


10) WHEELMANTake the fine Tom Hardy "vehicle" Locke from a few years ago, dumb it down with goombah getaway driver Frank Grillo & a script held together by f-bombs shouted into smartphones and, wa-la, another forgettable Netflix Original to gridlock your queue.


9) BAYWATCHWhen you take a barely remembered TV property built upon Pam Anderson's jiggling bustline then turn it into a Rock/Zac Efron bros-before-ho's jet ski comedy, you can't be too surprised when summer movie audiences born post-90s opt for an actual beach instead.


8) GUN SHYYou've probably never heard of this generically titled direct-to-On-Demand action comedy. As well you shouldn't. It's based on a pretty funny book ("Salty") that someone optioned, threw in the trash and miscast atrociously with Antonio Banderas. Shy very far away.


7) SUBURBICONThe Clooney-Coens Curse strikes its most calamitous blow to date! If you thought Intolerable Cruelty painful or are still nursing 3rd-degrees from Burn After Reading, try watching George Clooney fumble a Coen Bros script BEHIND the camera. Ooofah! This one hurt.


6) THE BAD BATCHAmirpour's follow-up to the wonderful A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is textbook indie sophomore slump. Add more $$, a few stars (Momoa, Carrey, Reeves), a go-nowhere script & everything goes to shit. That said, I eagerly await her next attempt.


5) FIST FIGHTFor some inexplicable reason, a certain film critic whose opinions I normally trust gave this laughless Ice Cube-Charlie Day dueling teachers comedy high marks. I fell for it (on VOD at least), and now I'd like to meet said critic after class in the parking lot.


4) SPLITEverything in this M. Night  multiple personality manipulator was done 10x better 25 yrs ago by DePalma in Raising Cain. That it reveals its true colors at the last minute as a stealth sequel to Unbreakable (yet another extended universe cash grab!) only made it worse.


3) BRIGHTIs it possible to create a gritty, racially-charged L.A. cop movie that also contains orcs, fairies & magic wands? Director David Ayer proves resoundingly: "No, it is not!" Especially when your script is by Hollywood Nepotism's Favorite Son, Max "The Hack" Landis.



2) THE FLORIDA PROJECTDay-Glo paean to ostentatious child actors & bad white trash parenting. Some would cite the kid flicks of Truffaut, Bunuel or Babenco as TFP's progenitors. I'd argue it's reality TV poverty porn (i.e., Honey Boo Boo). Dafoe is the only honest thing in this.


1) THE ASSIGNMENTWalter Hill's woefully misguided gender reassignment hitman/woman actioner is asinine on so many levels, but to name just a few: Michelle Rodriguez with a beard, the insertion of random comic book style panels, little to no discernible "action."

DISHONORABLE MENTION

JUSTICE LEAGUEPerfunctory Exposition. Smart-Aleck Superhero Remark. Overly Busy CGI Fight Scene. Perfunctory Exposition. Smart-Aleck Superhero Remark. Overly Busy CGI Fight Scene. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat, Repeat to infinity (or until producers start losing money).


ROUGH NIGHTI didn't like this movie way back in the '90s when it was called Very Bad Things. Why did I think the gender-swapped version would do me any better? I blame legit funny Kate McKinnon for luring me in, rarely funny ScarJo for delivering the final death blow.


THE DARK TOWERI watched a LOT of Stephen King this year. Some good, some bad. But none more anodyne than this PG-13 yawner I caught on a Delta flight. This may not have put a major dent in the current Stephen King Renaissance. As for the fast-evaporating McConnaissance…


THE MUMMYOh, Mummy, we barely knew ye, the Universal Monsters brand extender that died before its time. Such big plans you had! A whole cinematic universe to rival Marvel's mega-millions! And now you lie in tatters, a pile of soiled Ace bandages. R.I.P., you presumptuous dummy.


THE SNOWMANMister Police, I gave you all the clues. I gave you a soused Michael Fassbender, Thelma Schoonmaker as editor, an overdubbed Val Kilmer, Chloe Sevigny's head on a sno-cone. I gave you everything you needed…except for 10% to 15% of a filmed screenplay.

SUPERLATIVES

Most Dumb Fun I Had At The Movies All Year
KONG: SKULL ISLAND (the Vietnam War really shouldn't be this enjoyable)

Least Dumb Fun I Had At The Movies All Year
AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL (not that impending climate apocalypses should be "fun" but…)

Good Horror
Berlin Syndrome, Better Watch Out, It, Raw, The Devil's Candy

Not So Good Horror
Amityville: The Awakening, It Comes At Night, last 10 minutes of Gerald's Game

Surprisingly Good Sequels
T2: Trainspotting, Blade Runner 2049, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Films Less Wonderful Than Twitter Would Have You Believe
Baby Driver, John Wick: Chapter 2, Logan, Wonder Woman

Films Less Terrible Than Twitter Would Have You Believe
I Love You Daddy, The Great Wall, The Belko Experiment, Wonder Wheel

Best 9 Minute Pie-Eating Scene
Grief-stricken (and hungry!) Rooney Mara in A GHOST STORY

Best Use of John Denver
Logan Lucky, Free Fire

Worst Use of John Denver
Alien: Covenant

Best ZZ Top Needle Drop That Was Not In Twin Peaks
I, Tonya

Best Altercation With Inanimate Object
Vince Vaughn versus his wife's car in Brawl in Cell Block 99

Best Performance By A Household Appliance
The Unbraced Sink in MOTHER!

Biggest 2017 Film-Related Regret
That I'm not presently in NYC to catch Haneke's HAPPY END at Lincoln Plaza Cinema on its last day of business. :(

Most Anticipated Movies of 2018
The Beach Bum (Korine), DOMINO (De Palma), GOLDEN EXITS (Alex Ross Perry), DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE (Zahler), Sicario 2: Soldado (dude I haven't heard of), The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (TV technically, but the Coens hit Netflix!)

Happy 2018, everybody!

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