Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
I attended my first film festival this year, so it felt wrong not to include the films I saw there despite a good portion of them not being picked up for distribution just yet. I also disliked the titles that are currently loved by critics and/or receiving Oscar buzz; Lady Bird annoyed me to no end, Call Me By Your Name failed to trigger my emotions effectively despite an incredible finale and fantastic music, and films like Phantom Thread, The Post, and Darkest Hour all put me to sleep. Meanwhile films like I, Tonya and Get Out are great, but were just shy of making this list. Try to keep an ear out for the films you've never heard of here and seek them out if they're out on Blu-ray or streaming now. What were your favorite films of 2017?
25. mother! – I think I enjoyed this one for the same reasons so many hated it. People are so incredibly frustrating and infuriating in this film and yet I was drawn to its eccentricities; like the bizarre characters and blatant metaphors. The performances are strong, but unusual and it’s basically cinematic brain glue; the imagery sticks to the walls of your head and remains there long after it should. It was also the only theatrical film with the balls to do unspeakable things to a newborn baby. It wasn’t quite A Serbian Film territory, but Darren Aronofsky has a vision he doesn’t sacrifice for anyone even when the studios are basically like, “LOL, nope.”
24. Junk Head – One guy, Takahide Hori, made this stop-motion animated science fiction film pretty much by himself over an eight year period. It has its flaws, but it was also one of the first films I fell in love with at this year’s Fantastic Fest. For a first time filmmaker, Hori brings something different to animation that is both refreshing and worthwhile.
23. Logan Lucky – From my review of the film: “Logan Lucky isn’t the most hilarious or action packed film of 2017, but it is surprisingly ingenious with an ensemble cast loaded with chemistry and chuckle-worthy humor. It feels criminal to call these characters white trash since there’s so much more to them than what is on the surface, but Logan Lucky is pure redneck genius and Daniel Craig delivers an absurdly awesome performance that is one of the most memorably comical of his career.”
22. Wheelman – It is criminal that most of you weren’t able to see this in the theater since it is a film that feels like it was made for the big screen. Jeremy Rush’s directorial debut has the constantly kick-ass Frank Grillo as a getaway driver of a bank robbery that goes sideways. Wheelman is a lot like Steven Knight’s Locke if it had more action and swearing. Except for a few instances near the end of the film, the camera never leaves the car which adds this confined dynamic to the film that explodes with ferocity at every turn. The film is on Netflix now and obviously comes highly recommended.
21. Mary and the Witch’s Flower – The English dub for Studio Ponoc’s first animated feature film is being released in limited theatrical distribution by GKIDS on January 18, 2018 but the English subtitled version of the film debuted at this year’s Fantastic Fest. From my review: “With a playful score to match its carefree atmosphere, Mary and the Witch’s Flower submerges itself in Studio Ghibli levels of imagination, beautiful color, likeable characters, and dazzlingly fluid animation for a final product that is creatively captivating to audiences of all ages.”
20. The Endless – Another Fantastic Fest darling from the guys who brought us Spring and Resolution. While an official release date has not been set, Well Go USA has picked up the film for distribution. From my review: “The Endless has shades of both the horror and sci-fi genres with sequences that make the hair on your arms and the back of your neck stand on end one minute before stumbling into The X-Files levels of perplexing strangeness. How flawed the two main characters are makes them all the more realistic. The Endless delves into this unknown and seemingly unexplainable phenomenon and successfully allows the audience to wrap their head around something repetitiously terrifying.”
19. Band Aid – Zoe Lister-Jones writes, directs, and co-stars in a comedy about a struggling married couple who start a band with songs based on the fights they’ve had. The film also stars Adam Pally and Fred Armisen and is seriously one of the most hilarious and genuine of the year. The married couple feel like an actual couple attempting to re-capture the magic they once had while the characters have flaws and complexities that make them feel authentic. Runner-up in a similar category; Craig Elrod’s Mustang Island.
18. The Disaster Artist – The Room is considered to be one of the worst movies of all time. Its existence is a universal enigma made from money that seemed to materialize out of thin air created by an outlandish wizard of a human being of unknown ethnicity with questionable credentials. James Franco found a way to bring heart and humor to something ridiculous while completely and perfectly embodying the bizarrely memorable Tommy Wiseau; a man whose actions are so outrageous and over the top that you’d believe it if it was confirmed he was an alien or a vampire. The Disaster Artist adds a layer of sympathy wrapped in an outer crust of sentimentality to something originally thought to be nothing more than a bad movie turned cult classic resulting in a one of a kind cinematic experience. Runner-up in a similar category: Brigsby Bear.
17. Tigers are Not Afraid – Another Fantastic Fest debut without an official release date, Issa Lopez’s fantasy horror film feels like it’s heavily influenced by The Devil’s Backbone; which makes it no surprise that Guillermo del Toro named the film as one of his favorites from last year. Set in the slums resulting from the drug war taking place in Mexico, a group of young boys find refuge on a rooftop and band together by stealing to survive and relying on the fantastical to give them comfort. Surviving something horrific is seen through the eyes of children as their imaginations add a perspective that is unseen in most American films.
16. A Ghost Story – Ranked on the list for the same reasons as mother!, A Ghost Story is purposely slow moving with unshakeable imagery that seems to just speak to you. The beautiful score is one of the best of the year while the film puts a fascinating spin on a concept that could be seen as absurd on paper. Who knew that someone walking around in a bed sheet could be so memorable? And yes, this is partially here because of Rooney Mara eating that pie for what felt like ten minutes straight. You’ve never seen anything quite like A Ghost Story and that’s what makes it so wonderful.
© 2018 Chris Sawin