My top seventeen films of 2017

This year has been a bit of a bumper for good films. Putting together a list, yet again, I realise there are so many I haven’t seen. Here’s those that I have, a top seventeen and the order in which I liked them. Plus a rather large number that I am yet to see, but want to, and have heard good things.

1. Get Out

Off-kilter and deeply unsettling. The first two thirds of this film puts certain deeply held prejudices into stark focus. Little micro-aggressions of racism that people of colour experience, in a way that white people simply cannot comprehend. This film achieved big at the box office, from a miniscule budget – doing strong numbers in the States. Frightening, vital storytelling.

2. Thor: Ragnarok

Taiki Waititi is an odd man. This is not an understatement. His past work includes a documentary style vampire film, What We Do In The Shadows and a highly unusual road chase movie Hunt For The Wilderpeople. Then Marvel gave him a superhero sandpit in which to play. The result is Ragnarok, the funniest, strangest film to come out of a studio that’s seventeen films in.

3. Baby Driver

Edgar Wright left Ant-Man over creative differences to go and make this. Silver lining and all that, because this is, by far, Wright’s best film. It’s practically a musical, in terms of how effortlessly and brilliantly songs are weaved into its DNA. And the performances across the board are surprising and inspired. A helluva lot of fun.

4. A Monster Calls

This came out New Year’s Day 2017, so you can be forgiven for forgetting it. But you shouldn’t, because it’s one of the most emotionally affecting films I’ve ever seen. Utterly heart-breaking stuff from director Juan Antonio Bayona.

5. Moonlight

Oscar winner (eventually), this film should be on your ‘must watch’ list. A big break for director Barry Jenkins, with outstanding performances from all three leads, playing the same man at three key points in his life. Languid, dreamy, painfully well observed.

6. Logan

It’s nice that director James Mangold got another crack at Wolverine as a character, because he could finally create the film he wanted to create, with the studio giving him a huge amount of freedom. The result being a very much stand-alone X-Men film, but also the best Wolverine story by some distance. And a fitting send-off for Jackman in the role.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2

The first Guardians film had little expectation, but surprised everyone, particular in terms of comedy. And then came the difficult second album. It doesn’t quite have the emotional impact of the first film, but there’s loads of good stuff in it, and it comes darn close to topping the first.

8. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, two chaps that had a crack at the role. Neither are as good a fit as the latest bloke, Tom Holland. It helps that this film is now part of the MCU and Iron Man’s inclusion adds a nice wrinkle to Peter Parker’s progress as a hero; in that Tony becomes a sort of surrogate father figure. Plus, Michael Keaton as a bad guy. Someone you’d want in any movie, if you can get him.

9. mother!

Darren Aranofsky is no stranger to controversy. He wrote this script in what he described as a ‘fever dream’, with star Jennifer Lawrence reportedly throwing it across the room after reading it and telling the director there was something wrong with him. Only to later say he was a genius. This film works on many allegorical levels and granted, it’s a tough watch, but a visceral one from an auteur filmmaker.

10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Coming from a background of indies such as The Brothers Bloom, Brick and Looper, Rian Johnson was an interesting choice for Disney, in terms of continuing the story of Luke, Leia and the gang with all that force stuff. It’s hugely polarised a small portion of the internet but still opened to the second biggest weekend in movie history, so it can’t be that bad. For me, I thought it was a great story and possibly the best of the new films yet.

11. Wonder Woman

Finally, DC came up with a movie that was less of a CGI-fest, although they couldn’t resist descending into this territory come the film’s final third. Luckily, the rest of the movie was more progressive and engaging, and all the fish out of water stuff with Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince was a delight. It also gave us a female superhero as the lead of a blockbuster for the first time, one that has gone on to inspire countless women and girls around the world.

12. Free Fire

Ben Wheatley, as a director, is no stranger to dark stories and messed up visuals. And he’s always had mostly a British cast to work with. As his name has grown everyone wants to work with him now, and this film represents his biggest, most A-list cast to date. So what does he do? Stick them all on the floor in a dirty warehouse crawling around shooting at each other for an entire movie. Hilarious and genius.

13. Hidden Figures

This film is about racism AND sexism. It tells the story of the amazing work done by three women of colour who worked at NASA during the space race with Russia in the ‘60s. All three were instrumental in some of NASA’s biggest achievements at the time. Definitely file under ‘feel good’ movie, but it’s also one that highlighted the true story of three women who dealt with ingrained racism and sexism in the most magnanimous, humbling way.

14. Blade Runner: 2049

Living up to the original film must be a tough gig, and it’s a brave director that takes on the challenge of giving us a sequel, but Denis Villeneuve, hot off of films such as Arrival, Sicario and Prisoners, thought himself up to the challenge. It helped that he had the legend that is Roger Deakins on cinematography duty. It’s too long, but a decent sequel and Gosling was a good fit.

15. The Lost City of Z

Based on the true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett, played by Charlie Hunnam, and his forays into South America and the Amazon in search of an ancient lost city. The film is too long, but takes its time setting everything up, and has a real Apocalypse Now feel about it at times. Recommended.

16. What Happened To Monday

Netflix release, this film went under a lot of people’s radars but it’s pretty darn good. Starring Noomi Rapace it’s a sci-fi set in a world where families are only allowed one child, due to the population. Willem Defoe’s character ends up with seven identical girls, which he names after each day of the week. On their name day they take turns going out into the world. So Monday goes to work on Monday, Tuesday on Tuesday and so on. Then Monday vanishes. It’s up to the remaining sisters to discover what happened. Outstanding performances from Rapace as all of the sisters.

17. okja

Okja, this year, was one of those modern oddities, in that it was released exclusively on Netflix and featured an A-list cast, including Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal. It tells the story of a world where food is scarce so a corporation grows super pigs. A girl becomes attached to hers and fights to save it from slaughter. Directed by Bong Joon-ho it’s supremely strange but lovingly told.


There’s also a rather hefty list of films I have yet to see. These are:

Dunkirk
Lady Macbeth
The Meyerowitz Stories
Call me by your name
The Florida Project
God’s Own Country
Personal Shopper
The Shape of Water
Mudbound
Raw
War For The Planet of The Apes
The Death of Stalin
La La Land
John Wick: Chapter 2
Logan Lucky
The Beguiled
Detroit
Elle
Jackie
The Handmaiden
Paddington 2
Manchester by the Sea
Split
Lion
Prevenge
The Love Witch
Collosal
My Cousin Rachel
Patti Cake$
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
A Cure For Wellness
Gerald’s Game

Five unexpected song and dance moments in film

Now the obvious answer to this is something like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Flashdance. But those are lazy choices. And those films were some time ago. So with that in mind, here are my more contemporary offerings.

‘Dancing in the dark’
The Place Beyond the Pines

Here, Ryan Gosling’s tattooed motorcyclist bank robber celebrates his first heist by dancing around in a shack with his mentor, played by the ever shabby Ben Mendelsohn. Memorably, Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the dark’ plays as they both jig around with the dog. Weirdly, it’s impossibly cool.


‘Tear up the dance floor’
Ex Machina

Reclusive genius coder Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) ups the weird factor in a scene loaded with creepy intensity. One where he launches into an unannounced dance routine with his assistant, unnerving the already suspicious Caleb (Dohmnall Gleeson).


‘What do tigers dream of?’
The Hangover

You’re hungover with a tiger in your bathroom. You’ve drugged the beast and now you’re killing time till it passes out. So what do you do? Sing a little song, of course. A tune made all the more inspired by the fact actor Ed Helm came up with it inbetween takes, and director Todd Philips liked it so much he stuck it in the movie.


‘TeKillYah’
Baby Driver 

Perhaps an easy one, as Edgar Wright’s – possibly best – film has music baked into its very fabric. From the opening scene to the closing credits, it’s such a well executed treat. As close to a musical as you’ll see in an action film. I couldn’t find the ‘tequila’ track from the film, so have put the trailer up. Just go see it, and you’ll see the scene I mean.


‘Just can’t get enough’
Son of Rambow

Set in the summer of the ’80s, this delightfully cute and quirky film was littered with wonderful moments. One was a little dance routine where the cool French exchange kid starts dancing to electro, and everyone copies him.

Baby Driver: the musical that wasn’t

Edgar Wright first came to most people’s attention with his Cornetto trilogy: Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013). In-between, he threw in a career highlight – the utter batshit curveball that was Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010). For lo, it contained a truckload of cool music and a baby-faced lead (Michael Cera), whose character was part of the delightfully named indie band Sex Bob-Omb.

Uber cool, and oh so fun.

He then went off to do Ant-Man and it all went tits up.

But a true measure of a person’s character is how you bounce back and, with Baby Driver, he’s come back blazing – with a crime flick he’s had brewing for quite a few years, and is quite possibly his best work to date.

The movie features a baby-faced getaway driver, Baby (Ansol Elgort), who’s prodigious behind the wheel but wants out of a life of crime. One last job and all that… However, bad boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) has leverage so Baby, for now, must play the game. Not just with Doc, but also his ragtag group of unhinged robbers, in particular Bats (Jamie Foxx) and Buddy (John Hamm) – who both can’t get the measure of Baby and suspect him of not taking this crime stuff seriously.

Hamm and Foxx are blinding casting. They practically steal the film from Elgort. But you’d expect as much. Ansol has to play the straight hero and it’s always the case that the baddest bad guys get to have all the fun.

Bats, like his name, is batty, batshit, a live wire, totally unpredictable and definitely not a team player – which begs the question as to why he’s there. But why not? He’s mad and has skills, which makes robbing banks more fun, no? Buddy, too, starts with the charm (easy for Hamm), doing his Bonnie and Clyde thing with wild wife and partner in crime Darling (Eiza Gonzalez). But he, too, is not a nice guy. Hamm plays him just on the right side of menacing and cartoonish. Close to caricature at times, but events unfold which cause him to turn on Baby in a deliciously evil way – and this arc is some of the best work Hamm’s done in years.

Moreover, inbetween burning rubber for bad guys Baby has another story. Of love, with the impossibly gorgeous Deborah (Lily James), who literally has nothing going on in her life and falls for Baby’s strong and silent shtick straight away (this only happens in the movies).

But first, he’s got bad guy stuff to do before they can run off into the sunset.

Now this may sound like I’m being cynical but I’m just poking fun.

Yeah, Wright steals a lot from loads of movies, but all filmmakers do. As long as you put your own spin on your work it can feel fresh and fun – and this film really does (96% Rotten Tomatoes). It’s also worth saying that not for a long time have I seen a film that weaves music into its fabric quite so effortlessly. It’s balletic at times and almost a musical (although there’s no bursting into song particularly).

Also, with Tarantino off the boil these days (close to retirement?) it’s left to directors like James Gunn and Edgar Wright to fly the flag for music in film in oh so delightful ways. (We can’t have Hans Zimmer do every score now, can we? And Christopher Nolan does seems to monopolise his time anyway.)

But other than music, there’s no real common ground between Guardians of the Galaxy and Baby Driver – except a sense of fun. I mean, the latter probably shares more DNA with Wright’s Scott Pilgrim and plays like the demented lovechild of Heat, The Town, Natural Born Killers and Reservoir Dogs, but hopped up on sugar, coffee and optimism.

Or Drive if it had a sense of humour. Boom.

There’s very little fat either.

Wright wrote the screenplay and it nips along at a decent pace, each character getting their moment. But Wright, smartly, keeps the focus on Baby, who’s in pretty much every scene.

And what casting Elgort is.

At the time of Scott Pilgrim I remember thinking THAT lead came out of leftfield, but turned out to be genius. I mean, who would’ve thought Michael Cera could pull off fight scenes so convincingly? And here, as Baby, Elgort is an inspired choice.

I knew little about him (The Fault in Our Stars fame and was on the shortlist for the young Han Solo movie) before this film, but reading up, he’s as much a musician as an actor. Even took ballet lessons as a kid, which makes sense, given some of the scenes in Baby Driver required, athleticism, shall we say? (And I don’t mean sex, if that’s what you’re thinking.)

His journey is interesting too. A strong and silent getaway driver (Ryan Gosling in Drive?) who connects to his past by listening to old cassette tapes (Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy?) means he’s following in the footsteps of some big actors. But he owns the role. Particularly when he could have been all but swallowed up by the bigger actors like Spacey, Foxx and Hamm swanning about the place.

Wright has talked about a sequel – which would be the first time he’s done that in his career. To me, this film feels fairly complete as a story, but I’d be open to the idea if it was a REALLY good story. The studio is keen, so we’ll see.

But if you were on the fence, go see this film. It’s so much fun. And if you were expecting a Hott Fuzz type affair, this ain’t it. Wright evolves with each film so you can’t really pigeonhole him. I’m excited to see what he does next.