Friday, February 2, 2018

Jamie's Non-Competitive List Of Really Good Movies (2017)!

by Jamie Marshall  

I don't think there's any argument at this point that 2017 is going to go down in history as one of the most important years in film. In a year that seemed dead-set to kick us in the teeth at every possible juncture, where the box office tanked and Hollywood lost its last remaining shred of glamour, we watched more interesting, uplifting, confusing, questionable, unforgettable movies than have hit us in a good long while. Even the bombs seemed to have a certain game-changing magic to them, with Ghost In The Shell finally turning the issue of Hollywood white-washing from thinkpiece fodder to a national conversation, The Mummy burning itself alive as a warning of everything that could possibly go wrong with a modern blockbuster, and Justice League proving just how much money a studio is willing to throw away to prove a point. So here I am, about two months late on the draw, with my top however-many-I-ended-up-putting-on-here movies, assembled in no particular order because movie fans have gotten a bit crazy about their favorite film beating up all the other films, and this shit is supposed to be fun. (Disclaimer: There are plenty of smaller-release movies missing from this list that would probably be on here if I had been able to see them, notably The Disaster Artist and Lady Bird, and plenty more I don't even know about yet and will discover in the years to come.)




- The Lego Batman Movie
This  film  seemed  to  get  lost  in  the  shuffle  very  quickly  last  year,  both  for  the usual  prejudices  that  follow  merchandise  tie-ins,  and  for  coming  out during the prelude to one of the busiest years in recent movie history. A shame, since this CGI cartoon based on a toyline based on a comic book which is also a sequel to another CGI cartoon based on a toyline developed with the most cold, hard capitalist intentions imaginable... is also the purest love letter to a fictional character and what he means to the world I've ever seen. Like The Lego Movie before it, Lego Batman could have gotten away with being an extended Robot Chicken sketch (Hey look, this thing from your childhood, but he's farting!) and found a warm audience, but instead chose to put its very reason for existing under a microscope. Where its prequel satirized the corporate greed that greenlit it, Chris McKay and co. set their sights on the all-encompassing, unchecked Bat-mania that's gripped us since the late 2000's and turned a beloved character into a monstrous parody of himself. At a time where a lot of the discussion around fantasy characters in general, and superheroes in particular, is how seriously their more colorful trappings should be taken, this movie makes the case that the only thing broken about the Batman universe is Batman himself, if only he could pull the batarang out of his ass and get down with the BIFF BAM POW again. Plus, it's a comic book movie where "The Man In The Mirror" gets a heroic reprise. Who said deconstruction couldn't be fun?


- Logan
Speaking of deconstruction! One day someone a lot smarter than me is going to write a paper on how 2017 was the year we broke down the heroes of the previous decade, got a good look at their moving parts, and discovered just how well those pieces worked together with a little spit-shine. Logan took the only new action hero to latch onto pop culture since Keanu Reeves told you his name was Neo (a crown Keanu's only recently won back), stripped him of the restraints of continuity and world-building, and showed audiences what the lives of violence and pain we haphazardly assign to these characters actually cost. Like its tonally-opposite companion, Lego Batman, it confronts us with a hero being crushed by the weight of his own mythology, then rewards us for believing in that mythology in the first place. In a culture that rebels against its own increasing cynicism by clinging tighter and tighter to fictional heroic ideals, I can think of no more worthy story to tell than of a man who dies trying to live up to those ideals, and comes close enough to pass that hope on to a new generation.


- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
I've already written Some Words on this, so all I'm going to say here is that stories about the struggle to find forgiveness from others and within yourself are going to become vital to us in the coming years, and that Sam Rockwell's obsession with Incorruptible is the best out-of-nowhere comics reference since Simon Pegg's Invincible shirt in Paul.


- Colossal
Here's a movie with a dynamite trailer promising a funny romp with Anne Hathaway doing her cute New Yorker thing, Jason Sudeikis doing his cool slacker boyfriend thing, and a goofy, light-hearted premise. Colossal delivers on none of these things, instead subverting your expectations with a morbid fairy tale about addiction, a grim look into the varying ways men and women self-destruct, as well as the sinister implications of the tropes found in many of the quirky, adorkable rom-coms Colossal disguises itself as. In a movie that revolves around a giant monster terrorizing South Korea, a scene of true-to-life violence and its aftermath remains one of the most unnerving things I saw in any movie last year, and its surprisingly moving finale one of the best.


- Professor Marston And The Wonder Women
Elizabeth Marston and Olive Byrne were not lovers. All accounts say they were strictly heterosexual and their relationship was only one of friends and sister-wives. And you know what? Professor Marston And The Wonder Women is a film so good, so lively, and above all so necessary, that this embellishment should get a pass from even the most stringent sticklers for historical accuracy. This could have been a glorified 50 Shades knock-off, wallowing in the sordid details of Marston's sex life and the irresistible salaciousness that he did all this while writing a superhero comic oh my god, but Angela Robinson instead used the honestly-not-as-interesting-as-you-think story of Wonder Woman's creators to say something of far more relevance. Professor Marston is a story about the surrogate families we make when the "normal" world won't take us for what we are, and how there's always something new to discover within ourselves if we open up to the world as it is, and not how we're told it's supposed to be. Yes, it took a heterosexual story and inserted queerness where there probably was none, but the scene of Elizabeth coming home from work and greeting her beautiful wife with a kiss, as wholesome as Ozzie and Harriet, nearly reduced this young queer to tears.


- Wonder Woman
There were technically better movies that came out this year, there were technically better superhero movies that came out this year, but there was not a single pop culture moment in 2017 that made me stand up and cheer like Wonder Woman, and I am far from alone. Even if it didn't belong to a film universe that desperately needed a win, and wasn't released in a year where people desperately needed a hero, Wonder Woman would have been a slam dunk. Having less in common with the modern superhero movie than it does with Donner's Superman and Raimi's Spider-Man, it doesn't waste any time apologizing for the eccentricities of its mythology or trying to make Diana fit some cynical idea of what a hero needs to be in the 21st century. It just gives you Wonder Woman, full, unadulterated Wonder Woman, more Wonder Woman than you would have ever thought possible in a movie. Detractors can moan about the finale's wonky CGI boss fight, but when those credits rolled and that now-iconic theme song played, my audience gave it a standing ovation, and that's an effect I haven't seen any movie have on an audience in a long time.


- Get Out
The problem with satire, as we've all heard a hundred times before, is that it doesn't get a whole lot done. Its aim is usually to preach to the choir, giving them a fun reminder that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Where satire really proves its worth is when it gives its target just enough reassurance that they're the good guys who are in on the joke... then reveals the joke is on them. The best directorial debut since Reservoir Dogs, Get Out gave a much-needed catharsis rarely afforded to those outside of the mainstream, while making those in that mainstream wonder if they're really as well-meaning and enlightened as they'd like to believe. Like the best horror films, Get Out uses the familiar trappings of the genre to devastate the audience with harsh truths about their world they may have already knew, but might not have wanted to accept, with a rare understanding of the intersection between the cartoonish and the terrifying. Everything that happens in Get Out is ridiculous. Nothing that happens in Get Out feels ridiculous. The moment you realize that your worst nightmare suddenly feels all too tangible is something horror writers live to create, and Jordan Peele did it on his first goddamn try.


- Blade Runner 2049
The second-most high-stakes gamble to play out this year, a sequel to Blade Runner seemed to be an almost predetermined trainwreck. Even if it was good, even if it was really good, showing us a single moment of this world after Deckard picked up that origami unicorn would be cinematic blasphemy, wouldn't it? Further cementing his position as one of our most vital new storytellers, Denis Villeneuve reminded us of just how good blasphemy can be, with a movie that somehow acts as both a latter-day response to Ridley Scott's original, and as a direct sequel, answering its questions-- both practical and philosophical-- in ways that feel not only satisfying, but inevitable. Like The Last Jedi would a few months later, 2049 reminded us of the power science fiction has to unite thought with entertainment, a visually stunning open-world video game that also left us questioning our own perceptions of reality. This is a movie that can leave you feeling like the loneliest person in the world in a theater full of people, or connected with the human race without another soul around, and of all my favorite films of 2017, I have a feeling this is the one I'll be revisiting the most in the coming years.


- Star Wars: The Last Jedi
If Blade Runner reminded us what a sci-fi movie was capable of, then The Last Jedi is a reminder of what pop culture itself is capable of when everything goes just right and everyone is bringing their absolute A-game. The decision to deconstruct (take a drink) and rebuild the character of Luke Skywalker and the mythology around him is going to go down in history as one of the biggest no-brainers in any film series, a necessary move to prevent things from either becoming too much of a nostalgic retread or venturing off into bizarre territory like the prequels, but I hope its never forgotten just how massive a risk this was. This movie is masterfully made and is still the subject of a near civil war in our popular discourse, if Rian Johnson had done all this and bungled it, he would have derailed every ounce of good will from The Force Awakens, soured another generation of fans against the series, and dealt a massive blow against any future filmmaker who wanted to take a serious chance with beloved characters. If pulling that off were this film's only strength, it would still have gone down as the greatest magic trick of 2017, but beyond the controversy The Last Jedi is also a heartfelt, fist-pumping crowd-pleaser, a landmark in the battle for diversity in media, a lesson plan for dealing with rage and disappointment in a post-Trump world, and a great exploration of one of the most compelling universes in fiction.

- IT
For better or worse, nostalgia has become the driving force in modern pop storytelling. Where this gets really interesting, though, is when nostalgia is used not to repackage something we once enjoyed, but to recover something that may not have been there in the first place. This trend of "corrective nostalgia" has given us cult favorites like Turbo Kid and Hobo With A Shotgun, VHS throwbacks far more polished and imaginative than any authentic video nasty, and new cultural touchstones like Stranger Things, a love letter to an 80's that exists only in the imagination. In this new sub-genre of revisionist history is Andrés Muschietti's IT, a movie that aimed to be the epic ensemble odyssey you thought the baffling mini-series was when  you were eleven, and succeeded far beyond what any of us thought possible. IT treated its story like The Lord Of The Rings, its characters like comic book superheroes, and its scares like a J-Horror inexplicably given all the money in the world. Bill Skarsgård's Pennywise gave us a genuine movie monster to haunt our dreams for the first time in a generation, with a brilliantly spare, leave-em-wanting-more performance that was always always always doing something interesting. A luxury mostly afforded to Marvel characters these days, The Losers Club have had their place in our continuing mythology secured. For the next twenty-seven years, anyway.


- Baby Driver
For my money, Edgar Wright is the only director alive who makes perfect films. Even when things in his films are wrong, when Scott Pilgrim is kind of a creep and the gender politics of Shaun Of The Dead are a bit wonky, you can't really picture them being any different, can you? His films have an almost inhuman precision, with every individual line, shot, and music cue feeling like an inseparable linchpin, without which the entire thing would collapse. Never is this on display more than in Baby Driver, an endlessly-rewatchable testament to what can be done in cinema when every single contributor knows exactly what they're doing, exactly how to do it, and most important of all, how to make it look as fun as possible. A noir written in a comedian's voice, a love story filmed with a movie buff's eye, Baby's quest to pull off One Last Job, rid himself of The Bad Guys, and drive away with The Girl Of His Dreams was like hearing a song you'd heard a thousand times covered by your favorite band, and feeling those notes click for you like they hadn't in ages. Ansel Elgort is a bona-fide star in the making, and if finally playing to this underused actor's strengths wasn't enough to convince you of Wright's skill, his directing even makes the presence of Actual Pedophile Kevin Spacey tolerable.


- The Shape Of Water
"Life is just the shipwreck of our plans". No quote greater describes the career of Guillermo del Toro, and specifically The Shape Of Water, a work of art born out of his decades-long struggle to bring his own vision of The Creature From The Black Lagoon to life. That failure led to his greatest triumph as a filmmaker, a movie so original, so immediately iconic, and so goddamn gorgeous that I declared it my new favorite film before I'd even reached the third act. Where similar movies would be content with resting on the laurels of their metaphor, The Shape Of Water wasn't afraid to show you the real-world racism and homophobia its love story stood in defiance against. Del Toro knows, perhaps more than any artist alive, that there is no such thing as "a simple fairy tale". They are not windows into other worlds, but mirrors that reflect back at us, reminding us of the beauty capable within ourselves, if only we could strip away everything that is not us. The story of Eliza and her otherworldly lover was a celebration of sexuality, a screed against fascism and conformity in all their forms, and a rallying cry to any who have been on the wrong side of "normal" to stay strong, stay beautiful, and keep on loving each other for as long as the sun still burns.

Honorable Mentions: Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok, Raw, Gerald's Game, That Harley Quinn Movie Where She Farts In The Batmobile, The Autopsy Of Jane Doe