It’s time for the 7th annual look back at the year that was in film!
Before we dive into my list of the worst films of the year, as I always do, let’s review any trends, successes and failures of the year.
Superheroes dominated the box office with half of the Top 10 highest domestic grosses. The others were sequels (Despicable Me 3, Fast and Furious 8, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi) and remakes (Beauty & the Beast, It).
In a year full of sexual assault allegations and #MeToo, women had a great year in film with Wonder Woman becoming the highest-earning film directed by a woman (and the 3rd highest-grossing film of the year) and great women-lead films like Lady Bird, Colossal, Personal Shopper, Raw, and The Beguiled.
This was, however, not a great year for animation with a run of poor-to-mediocre efforts like The Boss Baby, Rock Dog, The Smurfs: The Lost Village, and The Emoji Movie. Only Coco and The LEGO Batman Movie were real stand-outs.
That seems like a great way to segue into the worst of the year. Here are my picks for…
This was a really rough year for comedy. Usually there’s at least one stand-out comedy. That was not so much the case this year. Girls Night was a huge financial success, making nearly $100 million above its budget, but fell short of pop culture fame like comedies of previous years (i.e. The Hangover). The first three entries on this list represent the worst the year had to offer, starting with CHiPS. Dax Shepard, who wrote, directed and stars in CHiPS, is an incredibly likable guy. So likable that you keep pulling for him throughout this limp adaptation of the ‘70s TV series. He never pulls it off, relying more on homophobic and dick jokes than a decent story. The rest of the film is competently made, however everything that fails here falls on Dax’s shoulders. And that’s a shame. Because it’s really hard to hate on the guy. It just makes CHiPS one of the year’s biggest disappointments.
4. Rough Night
Oh boy… the name really tells you exactly what you’ll get when you watch this film. How does the writer and director of the critically-lauded Broad City and the combined power of such heavyweights as Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, and Ty Burrell all add up to such a terrible movie? This should’ve been a smashing success. Perhaps the material, a gender-flipped Very Bad Things (a film that also delivered on its title), was the first problem. Even Scarlett and the brilliant McKinnon are struggling here. It just isn’t nearly as funny as it thinks it is. Rough Night is a terrible waste of talent and time.
The third comedy in the trifecta is another attempt to recapture the 21 Jump Street magic. This time it’s the long-in-development adaptation of the ‘90s drama known best for its slo-mo running and hot bodies. This film is a disaster. It doesn’t know what it wants to be (a raunchy comedy or a straight action film?), it actually manages to make Dwayne Johnson look like a jerk, it relies heavily on dick and boob jokes, and its villain’s plot makes very little sense (city control via real estate and drugs?). Kelly Rohrbach and Alexandria Daddario are fine (get these girls decent movies!) and Johnson and Zac Efron have easily bounced back since from this turd. But it’s truly an example of a film being as bad as they say it is.
An art film by two big names in the fashion industry, the Mulleavy Twins, starring Kirsten Dunst sounds promising. Hell, Tom Ford found great cross-over success with A Single Man and Nocturnal Animals, so why not these girls? Well, they sure can make a film look good, but they know nothing about storytelling or pacing. Long has it been since a movie exemplified tedium so well. There is the kernels of something interesting here (a woman, stricken with grief, tries to kill herself with a poisonous drug and instead experiences trippy hallucinations). But all interest is lost with the tedious pacing and unengaging characters. The actors are flailing their arms for a life ring, but ultimately drown in the pretension.
1. Ghost in the Shell
There honestly wasn’t much hope for this live action remake of an anime classic once it was clear the director of Snow White and the Huntsman took the helm and Scarlett Johansson (2017 should be wiped from her resume) was cast in the lead. Fears of white-washing an inherently Japanese story were high. The result was a visually-stunning film with all the elements that made the original a classic virtually stripped away. Jokes flew through the reviews about the story being nothing more than a ‘shell’ of the original, with no soul. Ghost in the Shell is the cliché Hollywood remake that every fan of anime or foreign film fears; a commercial product that is light on everything that made the original what it was – and therefore completely useless.
Dishonorable Mention: The Circle, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Alien: Covenant, Justice League
Now, as is always the case every year, there are films that just couldn’t be crammed in by the time this list is published. Sometimes it’s due to time, others are due to inaccessibility, as several films aren’t released in our area. This year, I’ve yet to see Call Me By Your Name, The Darkest Hour, The Disaster Artist, The Florida Project, Molly’s Game, The Post and I, Tonya. Those are a lot of significant releases, so feel free to take this list with a grain of salt.
10. Band Aid
It’s unfortunate that this film - written, directed, and starring Zoe Lister-Jones – was seen by so few people. This tale, about a bickering married couple (Zoe with Adam Pally) who decide to channel their fights into music and form a band with their neighbor, is the best movie about relationships of the year. Zoe largely avoids broad strokes – both comedically and tonally – and ends up tapping into some real truths about marriage. The music also happens to be really, really good! Add a dose of Fred Armisen in a quietly comedic, yet layered performance and you’ve got yourself the year’s most underappreciated film.
9. Personal Shopper
Kristen Stewart has had a solid few years with Camp X-Ray, The Clouds of Sils Maria, Still Alice, and Certain Women all proving her worth as an actress. This year saw her reteam with Olivier Assayas on this indie about a personal shopper for a celebrity who is also an medium attempting to make contact with her deceased brother. It’s a fantastic drama with an incredible performance by Stewart and unlike any ghost story you’ve seen before.
8. Baby Driver
Edgar Wright is at it again with his best film since Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a bank robbery film that’s less about the robbery or its robbers and more about the getaway driver, a kid (Ansel Elgort) with a “hum in the drum” who always keeps a pair of earbuds blaring music in his ear to block out the hum and time his escapes. Baby Driver is zippy, escapist fun with a killer soundtrack and great action, proving that Wright can still excite and surprise audiences. Here’s hoping he surprises us again very soon.
James Mangold, the director of Cop Land and Walk the Line, tried his hand at comic book movies with 2013’s decent The Wolverine, which was 2/3 of a solid film before dissolving into comic book camp. He didn’t have to do another. But he had an idea that paid off big time: make Wolverine old and living virtually alone in a dystopian future and have to road-trip it with a feral child (Dafne Keen) who needs his protection. The result was one of the grittiest, original, and mind-blowing comic book sequels to date – and one of the best films of the year.
The less said about Colossal, the better. I mean that in a good way; sometimes it’s best to let a story unfold before you. I can say that Anne Hathaway stars as an alcoholic who returns to her hometown after hitting rock bottom. Oh, and there’s a kaiju wreaking havoc in South Korea. From the visionary mind of Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes), this film about female empowerment and male chauvinism is one of the most creative you’ll find recently. It also features a surprise turn by Jason Sudeikis and adds to Anne Hathaway’s growing stack of indie dramas (her best work, really).
5. Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig proves she’s not only a staggering talent in front of the camera, but behind the lens, as well with her directorial debut, Lady Bird. Lady Bird is the second of three impressive directorial debuts in 2017 (the 2nd by a woman). The film’s basic premise – teen girl can’t wait to grow up and leave her hometown – has been done numerous times before. But Greta paints with small strokes and gives us an insightful portrait of what it means to grow up a girl and the complicated relationship one can have with her mother. Saoirse Ronan is fantastic, as always, as the title teen, going from anger or embarrassment to friendly within seconds around Laurie Metcalf’s Mom, another great and nuanced performance. Lady Bird is a mature look at that age when women want to mature too quickly.
4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Yes, a Star Wars movie has made it to Top 5. It’s been decades since we were able to say one is not just a good Star Wars film – but a great film. Director Rian Johnson has managed to give us this. J. J. Abrams’ popcorn thrill-ride The Force Awakens re-energized the franchise. Gareth Edwards Rogue One sustained our hope. Now, The Last Jedi tops it all. With themes on hero worship, how the past defines us, failure as destroyer and teacher, and the balance of all things (good and evil), The Last Jedi has given us more to chew on, take apart and discuss than anything since the 1977 original. Is it better than Empire Strikes Back? That’s a question guaranteed to spark furious debate. But most who would say this film isn’t any better than any of the prequels are merely fanboys challenged by Johnson flipping the table on their expectations and taking us in directions few considered. What does Episode IX have in store for us? Who knows? Thanks to The Last Jedi we have no idea how the Skywalker Saga will complete. And that’s pretty fricken exciting.
3. Get Out
Nearly 150 critics can’t all be wrong – and they aren’t. Get Out is one of the year’s best films. It was, perhaps, the year’s first great film. Horror. Social satire. However you look at it, Get Out is an incredible directorial debut by Jordan Peele. It is so expertly crafted, so tightly wound, and so clever it’ll keep you guessing until its secret reveals itself to you. On top of its filmmaking, it also is one of the year’s most prescient films, hitting hard notions of race, class, and even law enforcement at the very end. Get Out is a small film (only $4.5 million budget) that does a lot with a little. It is the film for a Black Lives Matter era.
2. Blade Runner 2049
If Get Out is a small film with big ideas this is a big film with big ideas. How could anyone not be skeptical about a sequel to a 35 year-old sci-fi classic? TRON is a lesser film than Blade Runner and even it didn’t have much luck with the sequel treatment. Why should Blade Runner fare any better? Well, it did. The key ingredient is Denis Villanueve. The director behind Sicario and Arrival turned heads when he signed on to this project. His style married perfectly with the visual canvas Ridley Scott had established. And Villanueve ended up creating a more fascinating film than the original (that’s right… come at me!). It’s sort of shocking that the film failed to make more than 60% of its budget domestically. It certainly represents everything movie lovers have been craving in film: great writing, acting, visuals, and direction. It is the anti-Ghost in the Shell.
1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
A young woman is sexually abused and burned to death. A mom seeks justice. Local law enforcement are dragging their heels. Mom decides to do something to get them off their ass. That is the simple premise behind Martin McDonough’s latest film, starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell. It’s a film full of complexities, where nobody is one-dimensional, as bad or good as you might expect. It’s a film that touches on the abuses blacks face against law enforcement, but mostly those that women face in a chauvinist world. If Get Out is the film for the Black Lives Matter, then Three Billboards… is the film for a year of #MeToo and #TimesUp. It’s also a damn good crime dramedy with damn fine performances by its three leads – possibly the best you’ll see from 2017.
Honorable Mentions: The Shape of Water, Coco, The Big Sick, Thor: Ragnarok, Meagan Leavey, Raw.
So, that's the year 2017! What do you think are the best and worst of the year? Comment below!