By Noel Vera
WHAT I’VE SEEN OF 2017 with maybe three exceptions was good not great — which possibly reflects more on me and my viewing efforts more than on the year — but who can refrain from making year-end lists? I can’t. I didn’t.
32. The Lego Batman Movie
To paraphrase Snowball: First half funny, last half crap.
31. Murder on the Orient Express (Kenneth Branagh)
Gimmicky, crammed with CGI effects, too eager to please. But Branagh does try create a three-dimensional Poirot, and his investigation captures some of the tragedy of the Lindbergh case.
30. The Foreigner (Martin Campbell)
Mainly a showcase for the physical prowess of an older grimmer Jackie Chan, and the dramatic prowess (in a surprisingly intricate IRA plot) of Pierce Brosnan.
29. Split (M. Night Shyamalan)
Efficient fairly inventive horror thriller. Shyamalan with this and The Visit is commercially (and to a lesser extent artistically) on a roll; question is, will he tumble up a new career pinnacle or off yet another cliff?
28. Historiographika Errata (Richard Somes)
Somes’s historical anthology film touches on Jose Rizal, the Katipunan, Macario Sakay, the Japanese occupation, with satire applied to the first two (stripping away the veneer of unthinking worship that has coated them through the years), straightforward even poignant drama to the latter two — problem is you’re not sure the two halves form a cohesive whole. Still worth a look.
27. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
Well-made. Touching. Occasionally even funny.
26. T2 Trainspotting (Danny Boyle)
Sequel to Boyle’s most highly regarded movie, I think this is sadder, richer, better.
25. Good Time (Ben and Joshua Safdie)
Didn’t much like the shaky-cam filmmaking, but does give off memorably bad vibes.
24. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin MacDonagh)
The first half is abrasive anger coming out of sorrow; the second half devolves into Tarantino. Not a big fan, but that first half deserves recognition.
23. The Great Wall (Zhang Yimou)
Crawling wall-to-wall with CGI effects; has barely justifiable Jurassic-looking creatures; has Matt Damon. Still! Epic filmmaking not entirely in the Hollywood mold. The mold of the future, perhaps?
22. mother! (Darren Arronofsky)
Not as shocking as it thinks it is but I liked it. Barely.
21. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)
Tastefully — perhaps too tastefully — adapted by Guadagnino and James Ivory from the bildungsroman by Andre Aciman, the film is nevertheless fleetfooted and charming, taking a page from Eric Rohmer in its approach to sunlight and the reliably gorgeous Italian countryside.
20. Baby Driver (Edgar Wright)
Visually cheats — especially on the car chase editing — but aurally (physical deafness as a metaphor for moral deafness) one of the more interesting films of the year
19. Blade Runner 2049 (Dennis Villeneuve)
Villeneuve’s best which sorry to say only gets him so far. Fairly successful extension and expansion of the fairly superior Ridley Scott original, though neither come close to Dick’s classic novel.
18. It Comes at Night (Trey Edward Shults)
Horror at its slyest and most minimalist, with Joel Edgerton delivering a nuanced performance as a father in a plague-stricken world, doing what’s needed to keep his family alive.
17. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Paul WS Anderson)
Years before Wonder Woman, the definitive kickass woman action franchise, from a filmmaker with real kinetic talent and the occasional lyric image.
16. Kita Kita (I See You, Sigrid Andrea P. Bernardo)
A blind girl and a bum fall in love. City Lights, only with a Filipino immigrant subtext, a Filipino indie filmmaking vibe, and a neat if barely plausible twist some three-fourths of the way through. One of the biggest hits in the Philippines, proving that the common audience does on occasion appreciate quality.
15. Logan Lucky (Steven Soderbergh)
Much prefer genre Soderbergh over arthouse Soderbergh — he may be overqualified but that only means he overcompensates when trying to elevate his genre work, and the results still come across as witty and precise. Plus he goes a long way into proving that bluecollar is more fun than whitecollar, grimy more entertaining than glamorous.
14. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (James Gunn)
Disco lights + wayward humor + Michael Rooker as the ugly-duckling adoptive father, with Kurt Russell as his more glam rival for Star-Lord’s (Chris Pratt) affections. Hard to resist.
13. A Ghost Story (David Lowery)
Aside from the silly eye holes poked through the bedsheet, the film is so much more than a simple haunting, achieving a sense of the vast reaches of time that makes one think of small-scale Olaf Stapledon.
12. Get Out (Jordan Peele)
Wildly overrated nowadays perhaps, but this nevertheless slyly clever play on liberal guilt and subtextual racism is every nonwhite man’s most paranoid nightmares come true — is in effect a Key & Peele comedy sketch expanded to feature length and pushed to nightmare limits.
11. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (Angela Robinson)
A fairy tale about the creator of Wonder Woman — but isn’t the idea of a feminine superhero unlikely enough that you need to concoct another fairy tale to sell its equally unlikely origin story?
10. Okja (Bong Joon-ho)
A girl and her pig. Mouth-watering genetically modified supersized pork meets a great heart, with broadsides aimed at the food industry and generous helpings of Tilda Swinton — what’s not to like?
9. Respeto (Treb Monteras II)
First Filipino film to take on the Duterte murder regime and a joyous celebration of Filipino rhyme making, both classic and right-this-moment.
8. Three (Johnnie To)
A criminal shot in the head by a cop refuses to allow the doctor to operate (he has plans for revenge, and needs time to execute them); so begins an intricate scenario that grows ever more complicated and morally questionable the deeper you sink into the film — like wading into quicksand, only more thrilling.
7. The Death of Louis XIV (Albert Serra)
Probably the most minimalist film out of this lot and arguably one of the most eloquent: a king in his bed, his courtiers about him, and his towering hair. Think The White House only with considerably more taste and decorum.
6. The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro)
What if The Creature From the Black Lagoon had been captured by the Fascist captain in Pan’s Labyrinth? And fell in love with a mute Cinderella? Del Toro takes the ridiculously scatterbrained premise and wraps it in his seductively dank subterranean style, weaving together a fairy tale set in the Cold War ’50s but speaking to the here and now.
5. The Florida Project (Sean Baker)
Baker’s more visually accomplished, more emotionally rich follow-up to his Tangerine follows a group of children living under the shadow of The Magic Kingdom, both feeding off the tourism generated and parodying it (one motel-residence is called “The Magic Castle.”) Easily the best Disney film since The Straight Story, and perhaps the most corrosive.
4. The Lost City of Z (James Gray)
Most beautifully shot adventure film of the year, a fascinating meditation on the allure of civilization and wilderness both.
3. A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies)
One of cinema’s greatest living filmmakers (Davies) takes on one of America’s greatest poets (Emily Dickinson), the result a dialogue between Dickinson’s text (commenting on and complicating) and Davies’s visuals (contradicting and fulfilling),
2. Silence (Martin Scorsese)
And the rest is:
1. Twin Peaks: The Return (David Lynch)
Lynch’s magnum opus is the last word on sequels and prequels, reboots, and remakes (it’s all, neither, and a combination of the four) while being the most visually, aurally, intellectually, bizarre work on screen big or small, not to mention a harrowing depiction of the abuses men inflict on women. Easily the most generous work of the year.