Jon’s Top Ten Movies of 2017

Save the best for last.

Another Top Ten list? Damn, man, wasn’t Top Ten List Season over, like a week ago? Believe me, I hear ya’. Every year, the Holiday season seems to last even longer than it did the previous year. Halloween bleeds into the horrible spectacle of Hatesgiving, and before you can catch your breath, it’s Buy All The Toys Time. Then, out of nowhere, it’s Movie List Season. Again! Now, here it is, the middle of January, and I don’t even have my Superbowl decorations up yet! It’s so stressful. But, I did a list anyway. I figure, after an endless slog of unqualified opinions… what’s one more, right? I mean, it seems like everyone else has had their say.

Everyone, that is… except me…

Thanks, Vanessa.

These are my favorite films of 2017. It was a hard list to put together, because this was a really good year for film. As a result, I consider these films to be the best for a myriad of reasons. However, if, for some reason, you think I’m mistaken, please refer to my bio at the bottom of this post, and then feel free to rage about it in the comment section, or on Twitter, or perhaps in a longer screed on your own personal page, maybe something like this.

Basic Internet 101, I’m sure you know the drill. First up…

Ten Films I Haven’t Had A Chance To See Yet, Even Though I Wanted To, But I Didn’t, So Don’t Bother Asking Me Why They’re Not On My List, or Do, Because You Feel Like Being A Butthole, Whatever, I Don’t Care:

Ladybird, The Shape of Water, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Mother!, Phantom Thread, The Post, Call Me By Your Name, Mudbound, and Coco. I didn’t see them. I’ve heard good things. They’re not on my list.

And now…

My Top Ten Films of 2017

10. War for the Planet of the Apes

The original Planet of the Apes franchise is a genre all-timer. Even the terrible ones are fantastic. So when the reboot was announced, it seemed so unnecessary it was almost offensive. But… it turned out to be amazing. So did the sequel. And now here we are, the third film in the set, and it’s the Hat Trick.

I love these movies. They’re amazing to watch, and even more amazing that they actually exist. They’re visually interesting, and technically impressive. They’re cool and dark and smart and entertaining all at once. There’s hardly any stars in any of them, and instead, they mostly feature talking apes. I don’t think that can be said enough. Just think about that. Most of the films are just scenes of people pretending to be chimps seriously emoting.

And I’m all in. The whole time! That’s amazing.

War is definitely the grimmest of the trilogy, but it’s also the most fun. It’s finally the twilight of man, and we see humanity begin to become the savage beasts of the series’ famous prophecy. The action is fast and brutal, the characters are strong, and the allegory is thick, my dudes, as lead chimp Caesar’s very Professor X-ian world view is sorely tested by a wild-eyed and super bald Woody Harrelson, doing his best Brando meets Duvall and looking to kick some monkey ass, all while while manning the last outpost at the end of the world. This is a film that very clearly paints war and militarism and imperialism as terrible things, with America as its chief propagator, and again, it does it with a bunch of talking apes as the heroes.

I have no idea why this amazing series doesn’t get more notice…

9. Blade of the Immortal

This was my favorite film at this year’s Fantastic Fest. In a nutshell, it’s wildly entertaining.

Weaker “cinephiles” might try to claim that it’s too long, but I never noticed. Based on an manga that I’ve never been a fan of, Blade of the Immortal is the story of a samurai cursed with an inability to die, and a young woman who wants revenge on a group of warriors who killed her father. It’s a pretty classic story frame, with some pretty recognizably anime-rooted flourishes, all done in the familiar stylings of the legendary Director Takashi Miike.

This is his 100th film, which is god damn impressive. I’ve probably seen… six of them

But don’t let that fool you, I love his stuff, and his samurai films are my jam, folks. They are the perfect mix of classic samurai films and modern sensibilities. Plus, the gore is usually on point. If you’re a fan of the “one guy walks along, occasionally encountering somewhere between one and one hundred bad guys, and then kills them” genre, this film is the peak. Fun, funny, brutal, with some great characters, I’m not sure what to call it… Hack and slash with heart and style? It’s definitely that. The fight choreography is incredible. There are massive battles in this film, seemingly hundreds of people ebbing and flowing across the screen in separate but side by side fights, which means there’s rivers of blood in this. Geysers. There’s no skimping on any of that. The villains die bloody, and the heroes stagger away even more bloody. It is blood, blood, blood time as alliances are made and broken, enemies become friends, friends become enemies, and red shirts die by the hundreds.

It’s a good time, folks.

Also, one of the craziest parts of this ridiculously bloody samurai film is the fact that the main villain guy is the most anime-looking guy I’ve ever seen in real life. He looks like he was drawn into existence!

Don’t sneer at me, dude, it’s true.

8. Raw

There were a lot of great really horror films out this year, a lot of which horror snobs seemed to trip all over themselves in their rush to dismiss. It seems to me that this is mostly due to a very restrictive definition of what is and what isn’t horror. Plus, fandom is fucking terrible, of course. Conversely, there were a lot of great films this year that happened to be horror films, or at least genre films, and there was a ton of film snobs spilling a lot of ink trying to explain how these films actually weren’t horror or genre films at all. I can’t really say for sure why that is, but it seems like it’s a personal thing. Whatever, in the end, it’s a weird place to live, standing between two opposing forces desperate to accomplish the same goal, but for different reasons.

Anyway, Raw was one of those films.

It’s the story of a young woman studying to at a well-known veterinarian college, all while dealing with familial and peer issues, and discovering her inner cannibal. Been there, right? Truly a tale as old as time. This is Julia Ducournau’s first feature, and it is tense and smart and has confidence in spades. It’s such good stuff. In many ways, it reminds me of The Invitation. Same confidence. Same masterful control of tension. You know what’s going to happen, you’re pretty sure you don’t want to see what’s going to happen, and then when it finally does, more crazy shit than you were expecting happens too.

I was eating chicken wings during the bikini wax scene, people. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

7. Colossal

I’ve been waiting for more than a year to include Colossal on my list. It was the closing film two Fantastic Fests ago, and wasn’t officially released until a year or so ago, so the fact that it’s still around and still making my list should give an indication of how much I enjoyed it. I was ready for it to hit big too. It’s so smart and well-written, with a great tonal balance, I figured people would rightly love it. I was expecting writer/director Nacho Vigalondo to be as much of a known talent as James Gunn, Guillermo del Toro, and Taika Waititi are now.

But it didn’t happen.

Telling the story of a young woman dealing with alcoholism, personal failure, and the bitterness of old acquaintances, who discovers she has an odd connection to the giant monster attacking Seoul, South Korea, this is a film that deserved a much bigger audience than it got. Maybe it was too weird sounding for mainstream audiences? Maybe the marketing push wasn’t enough? Maybe they pushed the genre aspects too much? Or maybe not enough? I don’t know what it was exactly, but I really expected larger crowds to show up for it, expecting a regular-ass rom-com, and discovering instead a funny, endearing, and very human film about addiction, bad choices, and finally exerting some personal responsibility. A film where Anne Hathaway both is and isn’t the idealized Quirky Girl, and Jason Sudeikis plays the most unexpected and the most accurate “Nice Guy” ever, a film with some giant monsters…

But that didn’t happen…

It’s too bad, because Colossal is great. It’s a film of surprising depth. It’s fun. It’s cute. It’s entertaining, and it doesn’t do what you expect. I hope people catch up to this someday. It deserves the love.

6. The Transfiguration

Milo doesn’t fit in. He’s a little strange, so he’s bullied. He’s isolated and quiet. He lurks. He’s also obsessed with vampires. In fact, he’s so obsessed, watching old VHS tapes over and over, and packing a journal with tightly scribbled notes and drawings, that he thinks he might actually be one. He might be right too. Of course, whether he is or not isn’t important to the trail of victims he leaves in his wake, quietly hunting among the concrete towers and linoleum halls, pouncing on the alone and the vulnerable, drinking their blood as they die.

Whether or not he’s actually a vampire, Milo is, at the very least, a little… hmmm… troubled…?

Is he a vampire? How did he get like this? The film provides a lot of answers. There’s sadness and loss in his past, as well as suicide, and some mental health issues, not to mention the poverty he lives in, and the dangerous nature of his daily life. The film even rubs maybe a little too close to that bullshit “inner-city super predator” theory (although that’s something I’m not sure the film actually intended), but either way, in the end, the film never says definitively. Milo kills. His victims are vulnerable and cornered. He might actually be a vampire. He might just be disturbed. He’s definitely a monster. Eric Ruffin‘s performance is strong enough to make both options seem equally possible, and with nothing more than a disquieting stare.

Much like Julia Ducournau’s RAW, this is Writer/Director Michael O’Shea‘s first feature film, and it is confident and assured. It’s a slow-burner, deliberate and purposeful and always tense, terrifying in the brutal and believable simplicity of its violence, and ultimately leaving you in the end with a sad and lonely feeling, helpless before its inevitability.

5. Logan

I like comics.

When I was a kid, the X-Men were my thing. I had a full run of issues all the way from The Fall Of The Mutants to The Age Of Apocalypse, and on to when Joss Whedon and Grant Morrison were writing. I remember when the X-Men were living in an abandoned town in the middle of Australia. I remember when Gambit was introduced, and his outfit didn’t seem that weird. I remember when Psylocke was a white woman. I also remember when Psylocke was turned into a Japanese woman, and basically stopped wearing pants. I remember when Cyclops made out with Emma Frost, while standing on Jean Gray’s grave. I remember when Prof. X ate his twin sister in the womb, so she came back later and tried to kill him. What I’m saying is, before the general dip in quality got to be too much, I was a big fan. I’m telling you this so you’ll understand that when the X-Men movies started coming out, I was pretty excited.

However, in the years (and films) since, my excitement has soured…

This is due to the fact that they’re all pretty much all terrible. Terrible! Logan is so much better than the rest of this worn-out franchise really deserves. Despite that low bar, it’s still laudable as maybe the best X-film (except for maybe Deadpool). It deftly walks the line between being the type of film that fans have claimed they’ve always wanted, while still giving them something else entirely. It embraces not just its genre roots, but the film franchise history as well. It’s a perfect cap for a series that has been winding down for a while now and frankly just needs to be done, or at least rebooted with a new vision. Best of all, it’s got something you almost never get with these types of films, a fitting end for a character with over 40 years of fan history, and nearly 20 years of film history with the same actor. Sure, the whole Shane thing didn’t quite land, but that didn’t intrude too much for me, especially not when weighed against the rest of the film.

I’ve heard people talk about how they have to “prepare themselves” before watching this film, as if it were some emotionally wrecking experience, and I just… I have no god damn idea what they’re talking about. Yes, this film is about endings. Yes, there are some sad, very heavy drama moments. Yes, it is grimy, it is gory and it is rough, full of regrets and betrayals and failures, but it is still just a regular comic book adventure road trip film, albeit a more well-told and melancholy one than usual. For all its substance and theme, it is still filled the brim with comic book/superhero flourishes. I mean, it’s basically Old Wolverine doing a Blade of the Immortal/Lone Wolf and Cub type thing… except this time the baby is also a savage fucking killer.

In the end, it’s just a good film, one I’ll revisit a lot more in the future.

Seriously, though… X-23 is awesome.

4. The Florida Project

Six year old Brooklynn Prince is incredible in the role of Moonee in this film. A big part of that is due to her obvious electric nature and natural talent, but her performance goes well beyond some adorably precocious moments and some hilariously foul-mouthed ones; beyond the trick of just letting the camera roll and catching child actors in a few “natural” moments, and lays squarely at the feet of writer/director Sean Baker. I wasn’t familiar with Baker’s stuff until Tangerine popped up a few years ago, which was almost my favorite film of the year (beaten out by Creed and Fury Road), but between those two films, it’s clear he has a talent for capturing human truth.

Set in the sun-baked concrete and weed-choked motels surrounding Disney World, The Florida Project tells the story of a summer with Moonee and her friends and family, people stuck for one reason or another in this gloriously faded and worn-out bit of the American Dream. It’s an inherently sad film, even when it’s outright hilarious, but what really struck me was the honesty. The scenes of Moonee and the other kids wandering between the hotels and shops, joyfully pestering everyone they come in contact with, reminded me so much of being a kid, and that seemingly endless and wandering freedom of long summer days. It was fantastic to watch, but also terrifying. These children seem to dance at the edge of lurking danger all the time, blissfully unaware, and so while you love Mooney’s wild life, you really just want someone to give her a safe and loving home. You don’t want to see her taken from a mother that clearly loves her, but you also clearly see that she’s not doing a good job, that she might never do a good job.

And that’s why the film works. Baker is a deft hand at making characters so real and familiar, despite having unfamiliar lives. It’s really impressive. Couple that with Brooklynn Prince’s performance, not to mention the ever-excellent Willem Dafoe, and you’ve got a movie about the simple honesty of humanity with all its wonderful flaws and failings.

It’s a joy to watch. And it’s kind of sad.

3. Personal Shopper

There are films on this list that I kind of expected to be here before I even saw them. There are films on this list that I had no idea they even existed before I saw them.

And then there’s Personal Shopper… This was a complete surprise to me.

I’m not a Kristen Stewart hater or anything, I think she’s talented, but I’m not really a fan either. I’m not really interested, so I don’t really seek out her stuff. I just haven’t been too into her performances for awhile now. I was beginning to think of her as more of a one trick pony—a one trick pony who tucks her hair behind her ear over and over—but writer/director Olivier Assayas has reopened my eyes to her talents with his story of solitude and loss of control and a young woman who is floating through life in Paris, working as a personal shopper for a celebrity model, and a medium for wealthy believer house buyers, all while trying to make contact with the spirit of her dead brother, when she ends up getting entangled with a texting stalker and murder mystery. An odd mix, right? It’s a lot to juggle, and if I had had a full picture of what the film was really about beforehand, I would’ve been pretty skeptical. Being part ghost story, part erotic thriller, part crime story, and part character study is a pretty tall order, but the end result works.

I was mesmerized with this film. Kristen Stewart was so appealing. She’s understated and intense. It’s a fantastic performance. The whole thing is still in my head. I’ve been thinking about it so much, especially once I started to put this list together that it’s now on my re-watch list, and honestly, most of my re-watch list is just superhero films these days, what with how tight my schedule is, and how many good films there are out there still to see, so I think that’s saying a lot.

2. The Square

The synopsis on the IMDB page for The Square reads: “A prestigious Stockholm museum’s chief art curator finds himself in times of both professional and personal crisis as he attempts to set up a controversial new exhibit.” 

That’s… I mean, that’s right, but so, so doesn’t give any where close to the full picture.

Writer/director Ruben Ostlund‘s last effort was Force Majeure, a squirm-inducing comedy and psychodrama about how a split-second bad decision can rip apart a family. It was beautiful torture to watch. Well, The Square is the suped-up version of that, where a bad decision leads to more, which causes ripples upon ripples that crash together over and over, and things get weird, they get worse, and it falls apart. Saying that this film is a manipulative roller coaster of emotions feels like too little. It’s a sprawling, brilliant satire about art and sex and entitlement, and political correctness, but not in some dumb asshole “just saying it like it is” kind of way. This film is smart and pointed, ridiculously tense and incredibly funny, skewering polite society, and thriving on awkward hilarity.

But what really sets this film apart from something like Curb Your Enthusiasm is the way the film never allows you to be separate from the characters. You don’t get to just laugh. You identify. You understand. You see yourself there. The film is honest, even at its most absurd, it sees humanity clearly. It’ll make you squirm and wince, but you still laugh, because you understand and empathize, but also because you’re relieved that it’s not actually happening to you.

And Jesus, that Terry Notary scene…

1. Get Out

The easiest part of this year’s list was picking the number one spot.

Jordan Peele‘s first feature film really needs no introduction or explanation. It is at once a horror film, a sci-fi film, a mystery, a thriller, a comedy, a satire, and a viciously pointed indictment of race relations in America. It’s sharp and smart, well-written and really well-made. It’s confident, mindful of the big points and small details. It’s brutally honest and completely on-point, so much so that there’s a healthy amount of people who just assume that Allison Williams‘ character was coerced, because they feel the razor-edge of the very timely and important message deep within their bones. Most of all (best of all), it’s a fucking good time.

How many films can do that all at once? And from a first time director?

Come on. This spot was an easy choice.

Get Out is a masterpiece.

Believe it, Chris.

But before we go…

Ten Films I Liked But Didn’t Make My List

I had a lot of films that didn’t make my list, but I wanted to mention these specifically. You’re probably aware of I, Tonya, Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and Spider-man: Homecoming, so there’s no need to really fill you in on those, other than to say that I really liked them. I will, however, single out The Last Jedi to say that I thought it was the best Star Wars thing in decades, and the first one in a long time that I plan on seeing more than once in the theatre.

Some lesser known gems you might want to check out: Sleight is the story of a young street magician, a genius, and eventual vigilante, trying to survive the poverty and gangs in his neighborhood. Hounds of Love is a horror film kind of based on a true story. It is intense and truly terrifying in some parts, to the point that some might find it to be too triggering. The scene where Emma Booth is trying on dead girls’ clothing and dancing in front of the mirror is jaw-dropping. It’s just incredible, and I was absolutely riveted by it. Step is a documentary about the trials and triumphs of a high school girls’ step team in Baltimore, specifically three young woman as they finish their senior years and are about to step out into a larger and much more perilous world, and there are few films that will make you cry and cheer as much as this one. Brigsby Bear is the story of an odd young man in an odd situation, and his all-consuming obsession with a TV show that only he has ever seen. It’s funny and sweet—maybe a little too sweet—but still, it’s pretty all right. Finally, there’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I know. I know. This one is actually a bad film. Not “bad bad” as in awful, of course. More like dull. In fact, it’s too dull to be entertaining in a “so bad it’s good” way. And when the stars aren’t flat, unengaging, and completely lacking in any kind of chemistry (despite the film’s continual efforts to force it), their interactions are actually kind of creepy, but (I know, it’s a big but…) there’s some amazing shit in this film. Amazing visuals. Amazing set-ups. Amazing designs. Even while it’s being bad, it’s also being big and weird and goofy, so despite being a failure, I think it’s still worth watching at least once.

And that’s it. See you next year!