10. THE VOID- Homage is kind of a dirty word these days. Back in the old days, everyone stole from everyone and it often didn’t matter because film wasn’t really a readily available commodity. Even in the days of VHS, it was sometimes hard to find the “lineage” of a film and where it found its inspiration. That’s a thing of the past as Wikipedia and IMDB give you more movie information than you could possibly know what to do with. Amazon, streaming, and a growing number of specialty labels will help you find entire filmographies and almost any cult title you want, with more and more obscure releases finding an audience. As such, it’s easier than ever to find inspiration, but harder than ever to hide it well enough to pass muster with the gatekeepers of genre, who have become ever more dismissive of anything that resembles something they love. One of the most difficult groups to impress is the horror crowd and I’ve surprisingly seen this chilling little film dismissed and hated, in part because the filmmakers obviously watched John Carpenter films growing up. But that doesn’t make what they’ve done, producing an incredibly effective, very Lovecraftian horror film on a tiny budget, any less impressive. This was a movie I was very glad I saw on the big screen as, much like Shin Godzilla last year, I think it made a huge difference and it made me sad that so many people were stuck seeing it for the first time on their home theater, regardless of how impressive their set-up may be. The effects are almost all practical and the vast majority of them look positively haunting. There is a strong feeling of dread that permeates the whole of the proceedings and the imagination on display makes up for any budget shortcomings. In short, it does everything you should want from a horror film, and does it extremely well. Well enough that it stuck with me, crowding out other thoughts for days after seeing it.
9. BRIGSBY BEAR- Is Brigsby Bear a feature-length advertisement for art therapy? If so, it’s the best one I’ve ever seen. I know that there are certainly some people out there who will probably hate this movie because they’ll find it skirts that “art movie” line where everything is kind of twee and the main character is a misfit. I feel sorry for those people. To share the basics of the plot would largely do the audience a disservice, as it is built in such a way that they find out what’s going on as the main character does, but I absolutely fell for its potent DIY aesthetic. In practice, the featured “Brigsby Bear” show, itself, is right there in some magic sweet spot where old-school Doctor Who, Land of the Lost, and Square One Television meet; making me a mark by feeling like a love letter to the PBS of my pre-school days. And before things are done, the film manages to make a statement about the nature of fandom, the shepherding of intellectual properties to/by the next generation, the aforementioned art therapy and the state of modern psychology. Frankly, as the challenges mount and things seem to spiral out of control, this film feels like a fantastic counterpoint/partner for The Disaster Artist. Like Tommy Wiseau, our hero, James, desperately needs to say something so he can connect with the world. Unlike Tommy, he isn’t doing it for fame or fortune or any mysterious motives, but so he can simply move on with his life. No other movie this year left me more inspired to get out and create. Add in Mark Hammill’s best performance of the year (and that’s saying something) and you’ve got something pretty special.
8. LOGAN- When X-Men arguably kicked off the whole modern Superhero movie era, this was the best possible end-game scenario. The culmination of 17 years, Logan completes Hugh Jackman’s run as Wolverine and does it in the style of a post-modern Western, complete with many of the trappings, albeit changed to suit a not-so-distant-future sci-fi setting. (I wonder if some critics who complained about a particular plot point are familiar with the trope of the aging gunslinger facing a rival that amounts to a younger version of themselves.) This isn’t some post-apocalyptic world. It is a world in slow decay, much like the future Logan, himself. It is a bloody, unblinking look at a man who has trafficked in violence his whole, long life having to come to terms with the things he’s done and doing it with a scowl. A fantastic performance by Patrick Stewart as a dementia-riddled Professor X helps a lot with that. Even more important, X-23, aka “Laura”, is played by a child actor who can, you know, act. It’s no wonder 20 Century Fox had been circling a spin-off about her, which may turn into one of many promising ‘never-was’ films that will undoubtedly follow Disney’s purchase of the studio. Not only is it by far the best of the Wolverine movies, and the best film of James Mangold’s career, but it’s in the upper echelon of X-Men films and superhero films as a whole. And among the best films of 2017.
7. THE DISASTER ARTIST- It’s hard to discuss any retelling about making a “bad movie” without talking about the shadow of Tim Burton’s masterpiece, Ed Wood. Thankfully for James Franco, The Disaster Artist, a somewhat-fictional account of the making of the trash “classic,” The Room, is able to proudly stand (and show off its backside) as a wonderfully entertaining movie with more than enough differences to avoid feeling like some retread. Franco’s portrayal of infamous director/weirdo Tommy Wiseau miraculously skirts parody or imitation and manages to actually be a fully functional, idiosyncratic character. What he makes look relatively easy on screen is actually worthy of a Best Actor Oscar nomination. Beyond that though, the story itself is more thought-provoking, more “educational,” and more outright fun to watch than the story of making great art could probably ever be. While Dave Franco probably would never be able to channel the kind of bizarre outsider his brother can, he provides a great point of view as the original book’s author, Greg Sestero, and he is able to play on his strengths (probably giving his brother the same quizzical looks in the movie he’s given him in their private lives.) Tommy may still be a mystery when the credits role, but we do get a pretty accurate account of what it feels like to want to move someone with what amounts to a piece of your soul, and to fail spectacularly. Who among us, as an artist or simply as a human being, can’t sympathize with that?
6. THOR: RAGNAROK- 2017 was an embarrassment of riches when it comes to comic book-based films, as they proved once and for all that even the “superhero” films that are disparaged by some snobs can’t be so easy pigeonholed. For every disappointment there seemed to be three great examples of what can be done when talent and artistry is behind these adaptations, from period films to post-modern Westerns to teen comedy to space opera. But the craziest, most fun, and outright batshit film (in a year that included an animated Adam West Batman movie and another chapter of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy series) was Thor: Ragnarok. Delivering on a blistering trailer that promised high adventure and comedy, Taika Waititi managed to completely blow away expectations, creating a film which is unlike anything he’s made before, but still a wonderful encapsulation of his unique voice. (And, in doing so, he makes my top 10 for the second year in a row.) It builds on the first two Thor films, while completely decimating them and commenting on the Asgardian’s mythology as a stand-in for post-Imperialism. (But never does it stop to wallow in these, letting the viewer pick them up on the fly.) As the film wrapped up, I leaned over to one of the friends I’d gone with and I said, “It’s like someone made a good version of Flash Gordon.” It’s a harsh thing to say, considering I enjoy that movie, but the thing Ragnarok does that so many pulpy space yarns do not, is not allow the zaniness and oddities (which are plentiful) to undercut the narrative. The story, while episodic and probably more flawed than it feels while swept up in its freight train of a good time, has so many welcome twists that it could have been birthed in a pretzel factory. When you attach splendid visuals, a marvelous Mark Mothersbaugh score (with an assist from Led Zepplin), and the strongest showing yet of the wonderful brotherly chemistry between Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth, Marvel has another winner. This is not the film that ends Thor’s story, but it certainly is the end of this chapter, and boy is it a good one.