As anyone who watches a bunch of movies knows, every year is full of mediocrity; the majority of what I’ve seen will most likely be forgotten by January 1st. Still, there are always certain films and moments that stick, whether as a source of pleasant thoughts, or a scar on my brain. Or maybe they’re just weird. Anyway, I’m no expert at costume design or sound editing, and picking best actors in a year that saw art imitate life when Kurt Russell played a god seems pointless, so I’ve decided to go a different route in awarding merit. We’ve already listed our Top 10 films of the year (which I’ve had my say in), but since any evasion of forgettable mediocrity deserves some sort of recognition, there are a few other movies I’d like to personally single out for their achievements.
I certainly won’t recommend every film below (it’s not that kind of list), but whether what follows was an example of excellence or ineptitude, they all made an impression on me in some way, and that counts for something. With that said, here’s some recognition for the 2017 crop…
Best Western – Logan
Sure, there were some movies with cowboys and gunfights and all that stuff, but did any of them capture the spirit and motifs of the western as well as Logan? Nope. The grizzled mutant gunslinger formerly known as Wolverine and his retired outlaw gang are lured back in for one more job, and set out across the wide-open desert to a better place. Go north, old men! Along the way they fight off dastardly cattlemen posing as a security force, make a pit stop to assist a homesteader with bandit problems, and try to suppress the guilt over the violence they’ve wrought. Recalling such classics as Unforgiven, Shane, and countless others set against the dusty, Logan gently nails so many genre tropes (right down to an action scene involving a locomotive) that it makes a fitting ride off into the sunset for its titular character.
Best Syfy Channel Movie – Kong: Skull Island
I’m a sucker for cheesy Saturday-afternoon monster movies on everyone’s favorite schlock network. It’s not that I like to mock the silliness; on the contrary, it’s because I love movies so much that I’m endeared toward anyone who gives it their all, even if they fail miserably. I also love monsters. So what would happen if one of these things were actually good? Well, Kong: Skull Island answers that question, showing me the Syfy masterpiece I’ve always wanted — a B-movie with A-level filmmaking. A movie that doesn’t take its ridiculous premise too seriously, yet doesn’t feel the need to constantly elbow the audience with self-awareness. In short, it’s a blast from start to finish, with characters that play it mostly straight (irony and sarcasm are the death of this genre), imaginative compositions, and just the right amount of operatic goofiness. This is how you do it, folks. One of my favorite films of the year, period.
Best Superhero Movie – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Any thought that Star Wars would return to its former mystical, ancient, fairy-tale ways was effectively light-sabered through the chest with The Last Jedi, but that doesn’t mean things are all bad. In a year full of superhero movies that continued to stretch the boundaries of believability with their characters’ super powers, this time the Force wins out. When Wonder Woman somehow survives a massive explosion, or some guardian of some galaxy falls 1000 feet off a cliff, then gets back up like nothing happened, I start to roll my eyes before yawning. What are the rules with these people anyway? But magic space samurai who can project their image to another planet or resurrect themselves and fly kind of works. Kind of. Don’t get me wrong — The Last Jedi is chock full of hilariously ridiculous stuff, but at least the Force has always been portrayed as all-encompassing, so I’ll roll with it. Just give them capes already, Disney, and make it official.
Best Marvel Movie – Wonder Woman
While 2017 certainly reaped plenty of profit for Marvel movies, it really didn’t produce much of anything memorable outside of the outstanding last appearance of Hugh Jackman’s muttonchops. Guardians 2 got lost in its own ambitiousness, Spider-Man’s homecoming felt more like an Avengers road game, and Thor’s hammer has all the weight of cotton candy. Is the formula getting stale? Well, not if you’re DC, who borrowed it for Wonder Woman, and out-Marveled Marvel in the process. Ditching their gloomy universe for something a little more colorful and appealing, DC finally got the hint as to why their butts are being kicked, and connected with fans who don’t want to wallow in mopeyness for nearly three hours. No, Wonder Woman is not as great as everyone wants it to be, but Diana Prince’s first foray onto the big screen still has enough sincerity to go along with the quirky, self-aware humor, and the actual human feeling elevates (at least temporarily) the pupil over its master.
Best Temper Tantrum – mother!
If you ever feel like you’re being lulled into a false sense of cinematic security, like maybe movies don’t respect you enough to tell you what they really think, just watch mother!. A brutal assault to the senses and one’s own sense of self-worth, Darren Aronofsky’s unburdening of his soul starts off as a tense discussion, but ends in an out-of-control outburst unlike anything I’ve seen on the big screen. This isn’t just a lecture about how mankind — and thus, you — is an utterly selfish, destructive, poisonous plague to everything it comes in contact with; it’s a full-on explosion of passionate imagery that presents the entirety of our apparently disgusting species’ existence as evidence. No one likes being punched in the face, but damn if I didn’t admire the hell out of mother! for having the balls to do it. Watch this with someone you love, so you can see the look of horror on their face before they get up and leave the room.
Best 20-Year High School Reunion – T2 Trainspotting
Nothing reminds us of how awesome it is to be young more than seeing the middle-aged lumps that youths eventually become. T2 Trainspotting is upfront with its fondness for better days, when being a loser junkie was fine as long as you were a charming, energetic loser junkie. Using callbacks that would make the new Star Wars producers blush in shame, Danny Boyle makes this slower, stupider attempt at recapturing magic extremely watchable. Unfortunately, this tactic also elicits constant memories of a far superior film, but it’s still comforting to see the whole gang back together again — even if time has not been kind. T2 is a sad, pathetic high-school reunion in which a collection of former hopefuls has seen their vitality fade into utter disappointment (possibly like ourselves), but their attempt at reigniting that fire makes for pleasant reminiscing.
Best Remake – The Trip to Spain
Have you seen The Trip? You know, the one where Steve Coogan and some other British comedian play themselves as they drive across the English countryside, eat lots of food, and do Michael Caine impressions? Or maybe you traveled along on The Trip to Italy, where Steve Coogan and that same other guy play themselves as they drive across the Italian countryside, eat lots of food, and do Michael Caine impressions? If you like pretending that the same movie is actually different, then you’ll enjoy The Trip to Spain, where Steve Coogan and that other guy once again play themselves as they drive across the Spanish countryside, eat lots of food, and do Michael Caine impressions. Whatever. I like these movies.
Biggest Franchise Wrecking Ball – Alien: Covenant
Never has the line “please…kill…me…” been more apt. I’ve written plenty as to my thoughts on why this year’s entry does nothing for the Alien series, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I believe Covenant does serve a purpose. It takes an eraser to Prometheus, poisons the original Alien by trying to ape it, and finishes the dynamite job started by Resurrection and the AvP movies. The franchise was face-hugged, then impregnated, and now there’s a big ugly monster running around ruining everything. Just let Ripley, the Nostromo, Hicks, Newt, Hudson, and everyone else that behaved like a real person in a real horror situation have a decent legacy, please. Just kill Alien. Or at least put it to hypersleep for a few decades.
Best Movie Made By a 14 Year-Old – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Man, I bet there was a time when I thought VatCoaTP was awesome. I mean super awesome. The kind of awesome you get when two hot young actors fake a love-hate relationship with absolutely zero chemistry but no one cares because they’re hot. You know, the kind of relationship where he says he loves her and proposes marriage basically to get her in the sack, and she feigns disgust but is actually kind of into it? And then in the meantime they fly spaceships, shoot aliens, travel through alternate dimensions in pursuit of a shiny, glowing Macguffin, all while concocting simple emotional conundrums that are so unrealistic that only a tween would nod and think “this movie totally gets me!” Still, it’s got a stupid, good-natured sincerity that one can’t help smile at. I mean, there’s some raw talent on display from this kid Luc Besson that might pay off someday. It’s nice to encourage young directors to pursue their dreams, and this was better than most high school films I’ve seen. Most.
Best Extended Cameo – Blade Runner 2049
Since the whole movie is basically a reminder of the first one, it was nice to see 2049 give in to its base impulses and have Harrison Ford reprise his role as Rick Deckard. Before anyone disagrees with my classifying this as a cameo, I will agree that the role is sizable and has importance these things normally don’t have, but c’mon — Ford’s there to please fans of the original, not because his story is worth continuing. Still, the old man injected some life into a beautiful but sterile world. A comment on today’s youth culture, perhaps? Ryan Gosling is great at playing a robot (which the replicants aren’t, so not sure why they act that way), but he’s totally upstaged by the guy who shows emotions. Who would figure?
Worst Extended Cameo – Blade Runner 2049
Ford is great as Deckard, but I’m not sure showing him as an old man was the best thing for the character. The mystery at the end of the original Blade Runner complements that film’s themes, a nice tidbit of discussion that can lead to interesting philosophical debates; bringing him back completely dismantles that, and causes the sequel to focus on something that never really mattered that much in the first place. Seriously, finding out what happened to Deckard doesn’t do a damn thing for this sci-fi, and takes a bit of coolness away from a classic. Thanks, 2049.
Best Homage to The Twilight Zone – Get Out
Get Out has a great premise that recalls Rod Serling’s eerie television series, one that puts society under the microscope with a skewed perspective that exposes some human truths. It also probably would have worked better as a half-hour episode, something leaner and more focused. Though it’s far from a masterpiece (c’mon, get real), it certainly smacks of the same freshness and imagination that The Twilight Zone exhibited week after week in its day. Peele takes on one of Serling’s favorite subjects — hypocrisy — in the sort of creepy satire the world could use more of.
Best Industry Hand Job – [TIE] 78/52 and Spielberg
If it’s your idea of cinematic comfort to watch filmmakers ceaselessly gush over other filmmakers, you can’t go wrong with either of these. 78/52 gets an edge for attempting to focus on just the shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, though it loses points for an abundance of crackpot theories that would have felt more at home in the hilarious Room 237. Meanwhile, Spielberg has the best talking heads (who doesn’t want to listen to Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma talk movies?), but misses an opportunity to explore some of the director’s less successful efforts. Regardless, both offer a slice of movie heaven that will be irresistible to cinephiles.
Best Use of the Song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in a Movie Featuring Channing Tatum – Kingsman: The Golden Circle
The other option was Logan Lucky, which I positively loathed, so really, this was the best option. The Kingsman sequel saw Tatum as a cowboy secret agent who is basically in a coma for the whole movie. It was incredibly stupid, but not as stupid as Steven Soderbergh’s terribly unfunny redneck heist film. I’m sorry, John Denver. you deserved better, but this is what we got.
Best Use of a Prosthetic Hand – Gerald’s Game
If you’ve seen it, you know the scene I mean. It’s called “degloving,” and hopefully I’ll never be witness to it in real life, because it was hard enough to watch in this movie. Also, for those who haven’t seen it, Gerald’s Game is one of the best Stephen King adaptations out there, and one of the best movies this year. Check it out.
Best Sex Scene – Sequence Break
Sure, I could watch two people get it on, but I’ve seen that a thousand times. Until watching Sequence Break, however, I had never seen a man pretty much express physical love with an arcade cabinet. No body fluids are technically exchanged, but it’s about as close as you can get. Look, I love video games too (I helped found a website called Goomba Stomp for Pete’s sake), but I’ve never, you know, loved them. And the gooey, sticky, moan-y way in which this whole thing plays out had me set down my controller for a few days. It’s a weird scene, man.
Best Emetic – A Cure For Wellness
No film in 2017 made me want to vomit more than A Cure for Wellness. What seemed like a pretty healthy dose of trippy psychological horror at first ended up betraying cinematic sensibilities to the point of being toxic. Seriously, that over-the-top last act poisons the entire experience with such awfulness that I actually walked out of the theater angry, and stayed that way for nearly a week. Even thinking about it now makes my stomach feel a bit heavy. If I ever accidentally drink Windex then at least I know a quick way to expunge it.
Best Actual “Movie” – Dunkirk
Great films these days are often anchored by towering performances or a crackling script, but rarely do we see cinematic work anymore that relies almost solely on the power of what popularized the medium in the first place: moving pictures. Yes, Dunkirk has dialogue (though I wouldn’t call it much of a “talkie”), and the razor-sharp sound effects certainly add to the immersion, but take all of that away and you would still be left with a dazzling array of images expertly assembled into one astounding, emotional, visceral experience. I had gone a little cold on Christopher Nolan after Inception, seeing a director in love more with his puzzle-box stories than the craft as a whole, but Dunkirk changed that completely. This is old-fashioned, masterful filmmaking that revels in the basics, tightly pulling strings like the best movies have done for over a century, but taking them to pulse-pounding new levels. Deserving to be taught in film schools everywhere, Dunkirk was simply the best film of the 2017.