I’m so tired of year end movie lists, and you probably are too. Whats the point of reading 30 lists from the same 20 critics who tell you to watch the same 10 Sad White People movies? Knowing this, I decided to use my powers for the greater good and make a fun, moderately useful list about films I saw in 2017 that may not necessarily have gotten their due elsewhere. The list is divided into seemingly random categories, but I assure you there is method to my madness. Why am I posting this list after Christmas/New Year when most critics have already published theirs at the beginning of December? Is it because I’ve been busy working all Christmas break at my customer service movie theater job and I have a bug up my ass about it? Is it because I’m exhausted from my college finals? Or is it because I’ve been too lazy procrastinating playing video games? Only The Shadow knows.
Best Cinematic Ass Whooping
This first category is in many ways the most all-encompassing and the most important. It is our soul’s own reflection on celluloid. It’s why we go to the movies. The nominees are:
John Wick 2: Down a Stair, Backward
Atomic Blonde: To the Window, to the Wall
Fate Of The Furious: Jailhouse Rock
Villainess: Custom Choppers
The Last Jedi: No Fighting in the Throne Room
Wonder Woman: All Violent On The Western Front
Power Rangers: Slip, Grab, Lift
Kong- Skull Island: Monster Mash
Underworld- Blood Wars: Blood & Bone
Fist Fight: Three O’Clock High
Kidnap: Dont Talk To Me or My Son Ever Again
Blade Runner 2049: Neck Deep
Get Out: African-American History X
As it happens, this category covers a pretty broad spectrum of this years movie releases; Action movies, foreign cinema, comic book movies, franchise tentpoles, niche genre schlock, breakout indie debuts, crude comedic farce, big budget sequels, and high minded hard Sci-Fi. Conflict is the cornerstone of drama, and to see how these different works manifest confrontation makes for a fascinating study. Pop cultural juggernauts and smaller projects alike display decades worth of classic cinema, international influence, and millennial mash up aesthetics. Down & dirty grittiness melds with cutting edge choreography and cinematography. More serious films use moviegoers’ lust for visceral violence as a way to emphasize deeper thematic statements at play. A myriad of novel narrative and visual techniques have been employed to varying degrees in attempts to push popcorn blockbusters and their respective franchises forward.
All these admirable achievements make any of the nominated films a worthy choice for Best Ass Whooping. In the end though, my vote will have to go to John Wick 2. With its action cinema pedigree, narrative and world building that expands the franchise, and inventive action film techniques, it is the epitome of modern kinetic cinematic achievement. It is a top flight showcase of martial arts in the truest sense of those words. And dammit, that crazy spinning spider leg lock Jujitsu sweep that Common pulls off is a work of art that belongs in a museum.
Worst Screed on Police Brutality and The Racist Criminal Justice System: *Tie*
Detroit and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
I am not opposed to white people making stories about racism and oppression against minorities in principal, but shit like this is exactly why there is so much consternation against it in the first place and why there is such an outcry for more representation of people of color in front of and behind the camera.
I already have a difficult relationship with Katherine Bigelow’s recent movies to begin with. The Hurt Locker features a significantly poignant scene surrounded by a joke of a movie. Zero Dark Thirty is a spot on with its portrayal of intelligence analysis minutiae, but we’ve come to find from Senate committee reports that much of the DoD funded film’s details regarding torture were incorrect. Detroit blatantly declares in its opening that it’s making shit up, and what follows is confused torture porn that doesn’t know what audience it is actually for.
I have similar feelings towards Martin McDonagh’s work; I appreciated and enjoyed In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths to certain extents, though I think after Three Billboards, the limit of his artistic scope is clear. If you’re going to continue to do explorations on the psyche and emotions of crazy broken white people, next time leave black people the fuck out of it.
Best Screed on Police Brutality and The Racist Criminal Justice System: Crown Heights
So many stories about corrupt law enforcement and an unfair judicial system seem to focus either on the mindset of the police officers engaging in brutality or the broken bodies of their victims of color contorted and disfigured in graphic detail. But in all this hedonistic obsession with black pain and physical trauma, no one ever stops to explore the mental and emotional toll of these unjust systems on our citizens. Crown Heights is like a breath of fresh air in this regard.
The movie is based on the true story of Colin Warner, a man wrongfully convicted of murder who served 20 years in prison, and how his best friend Carl King devoted his life to proving Colin’s innocence and eventually succeeding in overturning the conviction and setting Colin free. Director Matt Ruskin uses beautiful artistic flourishes to weave us in and out of Colin’s arduous spiritual and mental struggle (brought to life by the increasingly impressive Lakeith Stanfield), while employing a more muted and realistic documentary style as he details Carl’s long legal struggle. While there are brief moments of physical violence, the film truly succeeds by instead focusing on the power of Black Love, friendship, forgiveness, and the sense of community that moves people to do right by their fellow man in spite of all their past transgressions and the harshness of life on the street. This is how it’s done.
Worst Japanese/Anime Western Adaptation: *Tie*
Ghost In The Shell and Death Note
In the never ending wave of sequels, reboots, and live-action adaptations, Hollywood has been increasingly stepping outside of the bounds of conventional western intellectual properties. Cultural cache and name brand recognition mitigates the inherent risk of investing in major film productions, but when studios fundamentally misunderstand the property, they are almost certain to doom themselves to failure. This has been true for many years, to include bombs such as Judge Dredd and Aeon Flux. This becomes an even bigger gamble when adapting foreign properties, as lack of cultural context makes for particularly painful translations. Of note, this year’s adaptations of the famous cyberpunk classic Ghost in The Shell and the supernatural crime-drama phenomenon Death Note proved to be despicably horrid western adaptations of Asian properties.
The original Death Note plays on the Japanese concept of the ideal prodigal student, twisting the genius overachieving main character into a psychotic misanthropic serial killer. The American Netflix adaptation would have done well with a similar approach as a parable of rich white privilege, but instead we got some limp dick manifestation of the loner school shooter type. This still could have been interesting, especially with a gifted young black man as the foil, but the movie was too inept to do anything substantial with any of its pieces. The same can be said for Ghost In The Shell. The film was mired in racial controversy prior to its release, a unique circumstance that it could have been used to set up a masterful audience fake-out that had something meaningful to say about culture and identity, as per its source material. Instead, it doubles down on the racism everyone feared it would display in a disgusting reveal that was almost as boneheaded as the studio actually kicking out a black man from their press screening for joking about whitewashing. Fuck these movies.
Best Japanese/Anime Western Adaptation: Castlevania
Did anybody even know this thing was even being made before this year? Out of nowhere, Netflix dropped a four-part, hard-R animated series in the middle of summer that would turn out to be one of its best pieces of content this year. Based on the legendary long running video game series, Castlevania is an adaptation of one of the earlier games about the never-ending battle between Dracula and the Belmont vampire hunter clan. The renowned comic book writer and author Warren Ellis serves as the main screenwriter and executive producer, imbuing what could have been a generic adventure with a surprising amount of pathos, a vicious anti-organized religion slant, and some fiendishly outrageous dialogue.
Worst Movie About Supernatural Ancient Egyptian Royalty Possessing a Modern Hero: The Mummy
Speaking of video games, Tom Cruise’s most recent blockbuster outing feels like a proof of concept/first draft version of Uncharted: The Movie, which makes me wonder why that actual movie is still even in development. This mirthless attempt at birthing an entire cinematic universe is $125 million worth of boredom. Not even a bizarre beatdown administered by a bloated Russel Crowe could save this movie. A waste of time, money, intellectual property, Tom Cruise’s career rushing yards, and, worst of all, Sofia Boutella.
Best Movie About Supernatural Ancient Egyptian Royalty Possessing a Modern Hero: Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions
If you’re gonna try and get supernaturally crazy, go hard or go home. This feature film adaptation of the wildly popular Yu-Gi-Oh! Anime/Manga/trading card game has that craziness in spades. At times, the movie borders on incomprehensible, even for those well versed in general anime tropes and the property’s own strange lore. However, once the big budget animated CGI fireworks start flying, you quickly forget the inconveniences of plot and become invested in the real reason you’re even watching in the first place: Monster Duels! The card based dueling game brought to life in this series via holograms/magic have always had an absurd idiosyncrasy that has endeared itself to fans. A combination of long winded blustering braggadocio, a repeating cycle of nerve-racking set-ups and counters, and an oddly appropriate Deus Ex Machina make for some entertaining viewing once you surrender yourself to the insane wave that Yu-Gi-Oh! is riding on. Featuring a fun dub that also is keenly self aware of its own craziness, The Dark Side of Dimensions is an enjoyable nostalgia/acid trip. Check out this terrific review by our pal Adam Pilfold-Bagwell for more details.
Best Wonder Woman Movie Not Called “Wonder Woman”: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
This might be the most narratively beautiful movie I’ve seen all year. This film tells the tale of William Moulton Marston, the creator of the comic book phenomenon Wonder Woman. More precisely, it tells the story of how his brilliant wife Elizabeth and their relationship with teaching assistant Olive Byrne were integral to its creation. I wasn’t previously familiar with Isabella Heathcote, but her turn here as Olive is truly magical work. Rebecca Hall has been in the entertainment business for a long time, but her role here as Elizabeth is truly a career highlight. And Luke Evans…hot damn he is a revelation in this as the professor. For so long he has been relegated to B-movie schlock (in which he performs admirably consistently), but this guy is a true MovieStar doing the kind of work we laud Hugh Jackman for.
Fighting the social mores of their day, the trio’s real life struggles, triumphs, and explorations into their sexuality are transposed onto the iconography of the comic book superhero that is loved the world over today. Professor Marston is intensely erotic, but I was pleasantly surprised to see it was all executed without a hint of male gaze. Just as Patty Jenkins was praised for her vision in Wonder Woman, director Angela Robinson deserves equal recognition for her terrific work. She is further proof that we all benefit when we take a look back at important yet seldom told history, especially through new eyes.
Best Dunkirk Movie Not Called “Dunkirk”: Their Finest
Their Finest stars Gemma Arterton as Catrin Cole, a young British writer trying to make her own way in a man’s world while also doing her part for the war effort during England’s darkest hour in WWII. Catrin is recruited by the British Ministry of Information to write scripts for propaganda films, specializing in writing “slop”, the term used for women’s dialogue deemed insignificant compared to the grander idea or product being pushed. Seeking a more worthwhile tale, she investigates a story about a pair of sisters who attempted to be part of the famous civilian rescue of stranded soldiers at Dunkirk. The ministry catches on to the story and green lights a film production of the event, but sexist institutional attitudes and external political pressures yield a story wildly divergent from reality.
Catrin fights a two-front war for the recognition of her own capabilities as an intelligent woman and as an artist fighting for artistic integrity and the truth. All the while, she must also contend with the shooting war that surrounds them all, as the German bombing campaign escalates and threatens the lives of her, her companions, and the entire nation. At times, I was taken aback by how maudlin the film could be, having an almost TV-movie lightness about it, particularly with some of the more distracting musical cues. Despite this apprehension, I was eventually overwhelmed by the charm, enthusiasm and honesty on display. Their Finest understands that truth, wisdom, and above all, love are just as important in our battles as any military might, for they are the very things worth fighting for in the first place.
Least Fun Chinese Propaganda: The Great Wall
A lot of people were up in arms about this movie and its purported white-washing, with Matt Damon being heavily featured in the advertising of a Chinese production. As it turns out, his role in the movie was far more nuanced (relatively speaking) and made certain sense from a story perspective. The movie was still kinda wack though, but for reasons mostly unrelated to racism. Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal star as a pair of roguish European mercenaries searching for the secret of gunpowder. They encounter an order of elite warriors of the Song Dynasty garrisoned at The Great Wall, guarding against what turns out to be a mysterious army of strange invading monsters.
The movie features colorful costumes and inventive set pieces, but the thrill of that spectacle is often counteracted by an overly serious tone (this sentiment is best exemplified by the scene in which a fierce corps of warrior women clad in royal blue capes and armed with lances bungee jump into battle against the monsters, only to suffer high casualty rates as signified by the bloody harnesses pulled back up from the fray, picked clean of human flesh by the ravenous beasts). The Great Wall extols the virtues of fealty to greater institutions, sacrifice to the greater nation, and the technological and cultural magnificence of The Central Kingdom. In many ways it plays like the inverse of a typical American comic-book movies that promote and indulge in individualism and vigilantism. Ultimately, I had about as much fun with The Great Wall as I have with most superhero movies; watchable but mostly forgettable.
Most Fun Chinese Propaganda: Wolf Warrior 2
This movie is the fucking business. Wolf Warrior 2 is wolf-shit crazy, most immediately because it is such a nakedly jingoistic, nationalistic, racist, and violent piece of state funded messaging being proliferated to the furthest reaches of the globe in order to facilitate national interests. In other words, China has beat American blockbusters at their own game.
Wolf Warrior 2 feels like a Wakaliwood movie backed by the full economic and cultural weight of the Peoples Republic of China. It is a fever dream of martial arts, gunfights and melodrama establishing China as the savior of Africa from the tyranny of the White Man. Everybody this year has been going on and on about which movie is the first film about “Trump’s America” or which one is “The Movie We Need Right Now”. How typical that even in the rush to condemn our incompetent leaders, we still can’t see passed ourselves. This movie has a lot going on metaphorically, culturally, and economically, far beyond just having a better “Frank Grillo Gets His Ass Whooped In Africa” scene than Captain America: Civil War. This movie is the 6th highest worldwide grossing film of 2017; that’s higher than Trans5mers, Logan, Justice League or even Guardians Of The Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok. Movie-goers and critics need to start paying serious attention to Chinese blockbuster cinema. Wolf Warrior 2, for good or ill, is a great place to start.
Best Horror Film For The Black Youth That Might Also Legitimately Be The Best Movie Of The Year: *Three Way Tie*
The Girl With All The Gifts
I am not a fan of the horror movies. After years of growing up with violence in and around my life, followed by the carnage I witnessed and peripheral trauma I experienced during multiple combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, engaging with cheap gory exploitation films made by sheltered artists feels like a huge waste of time. To my great surprise, 3 of the most bold and resonant films I’ve seen this year are deeply beholden to psychological thrillers and slasher flicks, carving their own notch into horror history and raising the bar for others to come.
You probably don’t need me to extol the virtues of Get Out, the most (proportionately) profitable movie of 2017. Still, you’re probably wondering what the only black writer on this site (so far) has to say about it. I’ve heard and read some very thought provoking criticisms and questions in regards to who this film “is for”, but I think it’s crystal clear through the universally positive reception that black audiences get it and Jordan Peele most certainly gets it. Beyond that though, I am supremely impressed at how much of a singular vision a movie this is in regards to its theme. Peele touches on various issues common to many black people, but had a very specific almost literal POV. The lead character is a black artist with skill behind a camera that is coveted. I can easily imagine however many times Peele and his partner Key have been trapped in auditions, meetings, board rooms, and fancy parties surrounded by rich old white executives and lenders lusting for what the duo represents. They don’t see people, they just see expendable cash cows/status symbols/trophies that they will chew up and spit out. We are in the presence of greatness.
The Girl With All the Gifts is an incredibly visceral and moving tale structured within the conventions of the played out zombie movie genre that miraculously breathes new life into the paradigm. Part of what makes it special is its heartfelt tale of human/zombie hybrid experiments yearning for humanity. The cast also puts everything into the story, with Gemma Atterton being reliably awesome and a terrifically complicated and nuanced performance by Paddy Considine. The real standout of the film is the breakout performance by newcomer Sennia Nanua as Melanie. Although the book on which this film is based wrote Melanie was white, casting a black girl in the role makes for profoundly deeper allegory, much in the same way that casting Duane Jones as Ben perhaps unintentionally transformed and cemented the central racism metaphor in the granddaddy of them all, Night Of The Living Dead. Melanie is a shackled prize,a dehumanized object who the world needs to survive. Powerful stuff for a zombie flick.
The Transfiguration. Man….this one is still hard to talk about even now. An unorthodox take on vampire mythology that cut bone deep into me and my experiences. I think I’ll simply leave this link to my review, where you can really to the heart of the matter as you read me spill my guts in a confessional. This movie is not to be missed. I might actually declare this as the best movie of the year…..
…If not for one other film that fucked me up with its combination of masterful technical film-making and deeply resonant story.
Best Movie That Fucked Me Up With Its Combination of Masterful Technical Film-Making and Deeply Resonant Story aka Best Film Of The Year: Mudbound
Mudbound is based on the award-winning 2008 novel of the same name, detailing the lives of two families–one white, one black–in the Mississippi delta during the 1940s. The McAllens are educated urbanites facing the increasingly harsh realities of maintaining their new farm. The Jenkins are a family of sharecroppers living on the McAllens’ land, the very same land that their parents and grandparents once toiled on under the yoke of slavery. As a young man from each family is sent off to the war, the families experience shared trials and tribulations, forming a tenuous bond. Upon the return of their soldiers, the terrors of the war and dark secrets of the past build up to a breaking point, the likes of which can only end in pain and tragedy. Mudbound deftly weaves its themes of racism, poverty, jealousy, family rivalry, and PTSD into a cohesive and spellbinding whole. Featuring a murderer’s row of onscreen talent and supremely impressive skill behind the camera, the movie truly feels like a great American novel come to life.
Garret Headlund’s turn as Jamie McAllen really showcases how drastically war can change a person, the sharp and charming playboy being reduced to a barely functioning drunkard by his experiences as an Air Force bomber pilot. The graphic flashback sequences in the B-17 cockpit are brief but effective, displaying the very unique hell of frost, flame, and blood that pilots of the time endured. At the same time, the film also speaks to the psychological schism that technological advancements of warfare incur when we see Jamie tormented by the realization that he can never truly know just how many people he has killed from 30,000 feet in the air. Pilots continue to endure this schism, and it is particularly true of our modern UAS pilots, completely removed from the danger of combat yet responsible for major portion of the deaths involved.
Jason Mitchell adds another outstanding role to his career as Ronzel, a kind and loving young man forged into a fierce warrior in the hellfire of the European front. Ronzel is part of the legendary 761st Tank Battalion, a segregated combat unit of African-American soldiers known as “The Black Panthers” who were integral to many victories in the push into Germany. Over There, he is lauded as a liberator and honorable man, falling in love with a Bavarian woman who recognizes his inner beauty. However, the end of the war means a return home to the life of a second-class citizen, regarded as less than human by the very country he fought for. Ronzel’s reintegration is doubly tragic in that his combat stress leaves him constantly on edge and eager for a fight that he can never return to, yet unable to fight back against the cruel racist injustices of the white men at home, lest he and his family face certain death. As a black veteran with three deployments returning to a nation boiling over with racial tension, this story resonated quite deeply with me. Though I haven’t faced Nazi Reich or Klan lynching outright (though that is sadly and disgustingly becoming more and more a possibility), I must still contend with the sobering reality that statistically I am more likely to be killed by a cop than a terrorist.
So there you have it, The National Board With A Nail In It 2017 Review has come to an end. I’d love to hear what you have to say about my choices for best and worst, and I’d particularly enjoy seeing what your choices for Best Ass Whooping are. If you enjoyed this little foray into madness, let us know in the comments and by sharing this article on social media. Who knows, if we can survive this year, I just might do this again! Peace.