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Evan's films of 2017 - best, worst, overrated and underrated
Here is my list of the films that which formed the highlights and lowlights of 2017 at the cinema. Further down the page, I also reveal one film which I thought was somewhat overrated and another I thought was underrated. Before I run down the list, here are a few disclaimers:
- These are my personal choices, yours may well differ.
- These are films that have been released in the UK in 2017. I am aware that some of them have been released in other countries before then.
- I haven’t seen every film released this year - just a sizeable selection of them. There may be some excellent or terrible films which I simply haven’t got around to seeing.
The top 10
10. The Work
Gethin Aldous and Jairus McLeary’s documentary expose of a group therapy session run in the maximum-security Folsom Prison in Sacramento County is an intensely difficult film not to feel moved by. It’s truly harrowing and emotionally overwhelming to see these hardened gang members and career criminals being pressed into opening up and exorcising their own demons. When three non-inmates are brought into the session, the results are equally startling.
9. Thor: Ragnarok
My pick of this year’s slew of superhero films and also the second-best space adventure of 2017 (to find out which one was the best, simply read down this list). Thor: Ragnarok maintains the same cheeky and inventive sense of fun that director Taika Waititi’s previous films had. It’s a colourful visual feast that simply flies by with fantastic character interactions and insanely over-the-top setpieces.
8. La La Land
OK, so Damien Chazelle’s musical revival received a bit of a backlash after its record-breaking Golden Globe haul. However, while it arguably doesn’t quite deserve such lofty plaudits it’s still a charming and spectacular venture packed inventive numbers, genuine humour and a love story between the high-chemistry coupling of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling that’s believable in its ups and downs.
7. Lady Macbeth
This adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s novel Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk relocated to 19th-century England, featuring Florence Pugh as a psychologically-abused young wife, turns into a dark rollercoaster ride of adultery, scheming, violence and pure psychopathy. It’s truly the movie equivalent of a page-turner.
As with Korean director Joon-ho Bong’s previous film (Snowpiercer which, lamentably, has never received a proper UK release courtesy of the obnoxious arrogance of a certain Mr. Harvey Weinstein), Okja proves that it is possible to create a spectacular, FX-heavy fantasy without kowtowing to the usual commercial or genre straitjackets, and without treating the audience like they are babies. If you’re not charmed by Mija’s quest to retrieve her beloved “super pig” companion (the titular Okja) then you must be as stoic as a statue.
5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Few truly knew what to expect with the latest entry in the Star Wars saga - and even fewer would have expected it to be one of the most divisive films of recent years. Many loved it, many hated it. I’m in the former category. It’s a spectacular, tragic, hopeful and heart-in-mouth exciting entry which, for the first time in the series, truly connects with themes relevant to today’s world as well as those of a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
4. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
It’s another suffocatingly tense, skin-crawlingly surreal nightmare from the director of Dogtooth, Yorgos Lanthimos. Now, if only I could get that damn Ellie Goulding song out of my head…
Cannibalism becomes a metaphor for discovery of hitherto-forbidden adult pleasures as Justine (Garance Marillier) enters a veterinary college in Julia Ducournau’s subliminally gory horror. This French/Belgian production is a must for those who like some meat with their blood.
2. The Handmaiden
Another Korean director features in my top 10 this year - Chan-wook Park. His latest film is an adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith transplanted to early 20th-century Korea during the Japanese occupation. It’s a sumptuous, twist-filled tale of deception, manipulation and subterfuge given heart by its central tale of love between two women from opposite ends of the spectrum of social respectability.
1. A Ghost Story
There were a large number of films which I was genuinely impressed with during 2017 and paring it down to just 10 has been a challenge. However, I am in no doubt as to my overall favourite. A Ghost Story is no supernatural horror. The ghost is merely a man in a white bedsheet with eye holes. Scenes frequently play out in near-stasis. However, the narrative has both emotional depth and a staggering breadth of ambition which almost takes it into 2001 territory. It’s a film that’s far easier to experience than describe. Hence, if you haven’t watched it already… what are you waiting for?
The bottom 5
5. Ghost in the Shell
This live-action adaptation of the popular anime looked fantastic in the trailer. Unfortunately, the film itself, while retaining those terrific holographic visuals, is inordinately dull beneath its glittering surface. Scarlett Johansson is at her stiffest and the action sequences are poorly-assembled PG-13/12A-friendly damp squibs.
4. The Mummy
Universal’s Dark Universe started (and probably ended) here. A messy hodgepodge of unremarkable CGI creations and various story ideas yanked in from other films which you wish you were watching instead (the Indiana Jones series, An American Werewolf in London and Lifeforce). This Mummy is a dummy.
Along with The Last Jedi it’s the year’s other big divisive film. This time I fall on the naysayers’ side and proclaim this to be a case of Emperor Aronofsky’s New Clothes. It clearly wants to be profound but ultimately amounts to a whole lot of unpleasant nothing. The Mother of Pretension.
2. The Snowman
Add up all of this talent: a source novel by Jo Nesbø, director Tomas Alfredson, executive producer Martin Scorsese, editor Thelma Schoonmaker and a cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Val Kilmer, J.K. Simmons, Toby Jones, Chloë Sevigny and others. All that and a bunch of murders by a snowman-fixated serial killer armed with a mechanical decapitation device. How did it all go wrong? According to the director, production time limitations meant that about 15% of the original screenplay was never shot. That explains the film’s disjointed feel. However, it doesn’t explain its criminal lack of tension, wasted cast and baffling accents. You would be much better off watching the Raymond Briggs animation The Snowman for the 500th time than watching this even once. It would be my worst film of the year if it wasn’t for the fact that it goes off the rails in ways that are utterly fascinating.
1. Fifty Shades Darker
The world’s most chemistry-free screen couple return in the second entry in a franchise which has singlehandedly achieved what many had hitherto believed was impossible: it made S & M boring. There’s the odd unintentional chuckle here and there but it’s hardly worth wading through acres of leaden dialogue and the occasional tame “sex scenes” to pursue these dubious nuggets.
Most overrated film of 2017
Don’t get me wrong; Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is a good film. On a technical level, in terms of direction, editing, production design and sound design it’s well worthy of its plaudits. The pacing is faultless, the evocation of the horror of war is truly disturbing despite the lack of overt Saving Private Ryan-style gore. However, it never really digs more deeply and widely than its startling “in the moment” sensations. Stick your hand up if you can remember any definable trait or background detail that any of the film’s characters possessed. Nobody? Thought not.
Dunkirk is definitely worth seeing but doesn’t justify the five-star reviews it has been getting left, right and centre.
Most unfairly maligned film of 2017
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Luc Besson’s latest is a flawed beast, to be sure. The central performances by Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne are weak and what little plot there is here is full of glaring holes. However, the film’s non-stop mushroom-dream imagination is a pleasure all of its own. A great film it’s not, a great guilty pleasure it is. It’s bound to be seen as a cult favourite in a decade or two’s time.