THE FIVE BEST/WORST FILMS OF 2017 SO FAR
By Nathan Evans
Believe it or not we’re already halfway through 2017. It seems like just yesterday I was procrastinating on putting together my best and worst lists for 2016. To make it easier to put together this year’s end of list, and because I thought it’d be fun, *whisper* and because I just can’t bring myself to sit through a bad two and a half hour 2-Pac biopic, I thought it’d be an opportune time to look back on the year so far and rank my picks for the five best and worst films.
In keeping with the tradition established last year, I’ll begin with my picks for the five worst. Though a full year has yet to elapse, 2017 has already seen fit to provide us with some truly awful movies, including one that I’ve scored lower than my celluloid nemesis from last year, ‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’. The films that round out the bottom five aren’t exclusive to any one genre or style of film. It’s a wide span of cinema that ranges from a two hour filmic masturbation session featuring a chrome domed, gravelly voiced narcissist, to a dull comedy about a group of octogenarians that’ll make you feel like you’re at death’s door. These are the films you’ll want to avoid at all costs if you value your time even a little bit (no matter what your friends who are easily susceptible to nostalgia say).
5 WORST FILMS OF 2017 SO FAR…
5: ROUGH NIGHT
The fifth worst film of the year is also the one I’ve most recently reviewed. I don’t want you to think it ended up on this list just because it’s freshest in my mind, though; it truly earned its position here. Though the tone of my initial review was pretty neutral, ‘Rough Night’ is by no means a good film. Sure it isn’t as offensively bad as the movies that follow it on this list, but it’s rarely funny and the characters and subject matter are so scummy you’ll probably feel pretty gross by the time the film’s finished.
If you’re anything like me you’ll find yourself wondering how a cast this talented was roped into doing a film that touts such an awful script. It can’t be money. With its singular location there’s no way this film could even rank at a mid-level budget; most of which, I’m sure, most likely went to the film’s headliner, Scarlett Johansson. Though she’s always a welcome addition to any film, the filmmakers would’ve been better off spending their money for another pass on the screenplay. You know, one that would completely change the film’s premise.
4: KONG: SKULL ISLAND
2017 has unfortunately already served as the attempted launching pad for several shared cinematic universes. I say “attempted” because most of these efforts have failed. Though I was fortunate enough to dodge the first entry in Universal’s Dark Universe franchise, the Tom Cruise vehicle ‘The Mummy’, and I actually didn’t mind Guy Ritchie’s failed attempt at an Arthurian shared universe, ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’, I wasn’t able to avoid the one that I think actually worked for most filmgoers. I’m writing, of course, about Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ ‘Kong: Skull Island’.
‘Skull Island’ isn’t technically the launching point for this particular shared universe. That honor (or dishonor) belongs to Gareth Edwards’ 2014 remake of ‘Godzilla’. Since I haven’t seen that film and can’t comment as to its quality, ‘Kong’ is serving as my first experience with this particular iteration of the franchise. Unfortunately it’s an experience I wish I could wipe from my memory.
‘Kong: Skull Island’ is one of the most brain dead films I’ve seen recently. I wrote about how off-putting the characters in ‘Rough Night’ were, but at least those were actual characters. There’s nobody within the span of ‘Kong’s’ runtime that actually manages to leave an impression. Not even Samuel L. Jackson’s crazed military general. Everyone that shows up onscreen is instantly forgettable, which would be forgivable if the film at least provided some decent creature feature throw downs, but like every giant monster film that’s been released in the past few years, the filmmakers decide to focus on the boring as hell human cast; relegating the film’s admittedly cool kaiju designs to the background. It’s called ‘Kong: Skull Island’— GIVE ME MORE KONG!!!
*pant* *seethe* Sorry… on with the list…
3: xXx: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE
Have you ever wanted to watch Vin Diesel make love to himself on camera? If so, the unwanted-by-everyone third entry in the ‘xXx’ franchise is the closest you’re going to get. At least until those personal tapes I’m almost positive Diesel has stashed away somewhere get leaked online (the guy’s quite fond of himself).
The movie simply takes the formula that made the ‘Fast and Furious’ films such a success and removes all of the things that make those movies work; except for the brain dead plots and everyone’s least favorite cast member. In place of ‘FF’s’ cast are a new team of mostly unknown co-stars that pose no threat to Diesel’s top billing. He’s quickly upstaged anyway by the film’s only mildly interesting characters: Ruby Rose’s sniper and Donnie Yen’s would be villain, Kung-Fu Guy (I forget their actual character names and don’t feel like it’s worth my time to look them up).
Much like ‘Kong: Skull Island’, ‘Xander Cage’s’ one saving grace should’ve been its action, but those scenes are few and far between, and they’re not impressive when we get them anyway. The motorcycle water skiing scene the film’s promotional material featured so prominently is not only nonsensical, but boring too. Instead of decent action, what we do get is a lot of Vin Diesel mugging at the camera while sexually assaulting various women throughout the film’s runtime. Not unlike this YouTube video I’m posting below:
2: GOING IN STYLE
If you’d told me that there could be a film that featured Alan Arkin, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman that was directed by Zach Braff that would suck, I’d say you were lying to me. As a true blue, lifelong ‘Scrubs’ fan I’m willing to give anything Braff does a shot, even if he seems intent on squandering that goodwill over the past few years. That willingness to support Braff’s creative efforts came back to bite me in the ass when I slapped down ten of my hard earned dollars to suffer through his remake of the forgotten Martin Brest film ‘Going in Style’.
‘Going in Style’ is almost offensive in its strict adherence to every heist movie/ old guy comedy cliche you’ve seen a thousand times before. This film does nothing new or original, it doesn’t even do justice to it’s well worn material. Arkin, Freeman and Caine look like they’re half asleep throughout most of the movie, flub their lines several times, and almost look too wistful when they do successfully deliver one of the film’s many flat jokes about their oncoming demises.
To add insult to injury, Braff shoots the whole thing in such a dull, sitcom-y fashion that the film’s slim runtime seems to stretch on for an eternity because there’s never anything visually interesting to look at. You can’t make a film with a bland script, with bland visuals, and bored actors and expect to come up with a quality finished product. If the film was hoping to pull in the elderly crowd (the only goal I could see the producers having in mind for this flick), they were horribly mistaking. Old people don’t go to the movies that often and when they do it’s to matinee showings anyway, so you’re not even getting full ticket prices out of them. And you know they’re not visiting the concession stand. They’re stashing snacks in their oversized old person handbags…
Wait, what was I talking about?
1: SABAN’S POWER RANGERS
Ugh. I don’t want to jinx myself, but I honestly don’t see how there can be a worse film that’ll come out this year than ‘Saban’s Power Rangers’. The film is a boring, lazy, nonsensical cash grab of a reboot that blatantly plays on the nostalgia of its target audience to make up for its lack of anything worthwhile.
The film doesn’t know whether it wants to please the fans that grew up with the original show or if it wants to rope in a new generation of adolescents that don’t know any better, but I can only imagine that it fails both (Well, maybe not the latter set. Kids tend to give most things a break. For instance, when I was ten or so, ‘Batman and Robin’ may have been my favorite movie ((I won’t confirm or deny it)). My usual refrain when discussing lackluster films is, “At least the cast wasn’t bad.” While that remains true here, the young actors that round out the film aren’t good either; they’re just bland. They’re all good looking kids with superficial issues (or legitimate issues like autism that the film treats superficially) that I can’t buy as social outcasts even for a second (we can smell our own).
My other go to refrain, one I’ve been unable to uses twice in this list already, is, “Hey, at least the action was good.” Martial arts action has long been a staple of the ‘Power Rangers’ franchise. You know what was missing throughout most of ‘Saban’s Power Rangers’? We get one, count’em, one action set piece where the rangers face off against the film’s updated version of the putty monsters from the original series, and it’s over long before the film can bore you to death with the CGI puke fest of a giant monster battle that closes the film. A monster battle that concludes with the Power Rangers’ giant robot literally bitch smacking Elizabeth Banks into space.
You read that last sentence correctly.
Now that we’ve got the crap out of the way, let’s move onto the films that didn’t make me want to slit my wrists this year. 2017 has been as good as it’s been bad, and has seen the release of some pretty surprising independent film breakouts as well as a handful of accomplished studio blockbusters. While we’re still a few months away from prestige picture season, the spring and summer haven’t been resting on their laurels. The following are my picks of the best films of 2017 so far.
FIVE BEST FILMS OF 2017 SO FAR…
5: GHOST IN THE SHELL
I know I risk losing any kind of credibility I may have with you by putting this film on my top five list, but I’d like to remind you that a) we’re only halfway through the year and b) if you can get past the whitewashing that crippled the film before it was even released, you’d find ‘Ghost in the Shell’ to be well worth your time.
Making up for her appearance on my worst list in the exact same spot on my best list, Scarlett Johansson proves with her performance in ‘Ghost in the Shell’ why a major studio should feel safe structuring a big budget blockbuster around her (even though in this case it turned out they shouldn’t have; you know, because of the whole whitewashing thing… I’m confused.) She’s already shown in her appearances in the Marvel Studios pictures that she can handle action, but with a film that features her as the main focus, she also proves she can get across the pathos that’s so important to a character like, Major Motoko Kusanagi.
Johansson’s performance, a performance I called “soulful” in my initial review, is backed by an equally accomplished script. One that uses the trappings of the sci-fi genre to do what every great film should do: tackle subject matter and social issues relevant to modern society. ‘Ghost in the Shell’ intelligently tackles themes pertaining to identity and the human soul while also thrilling with accomplished action sequences that may or may not feature a mechanized weapon called a “Spider Tank”.
How badass is that?
4: IT COMES AT NIGHT
‘It Comes At Night’ was a film I initially had no interest in seeing, but luckily ‘The Mummy’, premiered in time to stink up the joint and force my hand. I’m glad it did, because ‘It Comes At Night’ is a deep, thought provoking study about the fragility of modern society and the tenuousness of civility. It’s a film that takes its time to raise moral questions and dilemmas without ever spoon feeding its audience the answers. It also features amazing performances from Joel Edgerton and a tragic, complex one from young actor Kelvin Harrison Jr.. You won’t know what to make of it right after you see it, but it’ll stay with you for a long time afterward. A trick only the best films can accomplish.
3: GET OUT
Much like ‘It Comes At Night’, ‘Get Out’ was a film I had little interest in seeing. The initial promotional material for the movie posited a premise that seemed ridiculous, and instilled little faith when it touted Jordan Peele as its director. Don’t get me wrong, I liked ‘Key and Peele’ as much as the next guy, but I couldn’t see Peele’s talents translating well to a horror film. Fortunately I was dead wrong.
Like ‘Ghost in the Shell’, ‘Get Out’ is more than the sum of its parts. The aforementioned ridiculous premise proved itself to be frightfully relevant to today’s current racial climate, and though unbelievable, Peele delivers it in such a clever, earnest way you just might find yourself looking over your shoulder the next time you’re walking alone down a suburban street.
‘Girls’ star Allison Williams is one of the standouts of the film, proving she can pull off big things when she’s not under Lena Dunham’s troll like thumb. She’s joined by Lil Rel Howery as the film’s other standout performance. His overzealous TSA agent, Rod, provides the film with some much needed comic relief.
There’s nothing I love more than a film that’s able to surprise me, and ‘Get Out’ did that in spades. Not only with its quality, but with its unique approach to horror. Though the film does feature a few grisly moments, it mostly relies on psychological themes to unsettle its audience. Combine those themes with a haunting score and Peele’s fresh approach, and the end result is a film that easily cracks into the top five films of the year.
2: JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2
‘John Wick Chapter 2’ is a perfect sequel. It's a film that brings back the definitive elements of the original without repeating itself. The ultra sleek style introduced in the first film is perfected here, and the assassin underworld we only caught glimpses of the first time around is fleshed out considerably while still leaving ample room for a future installment. With that said, the film never presumes that that future installment will happen and is content with providing a complete story that doesn't even require you to watch the original film; an important distinction that separates this film from the films on the bottom of my list.
The film’s economical world building is only the icing on the cake. The film's greatest achievements are the insane, chaotic action sequences captured by the director, former stunt man, Chad Stahelski. Quite simply, they're some of the most inventive, propulsive action sequences ever put to film, ensuring John Wick Chapter 2 a spot, not only on this list, but a spot as one the greatest action films of all time.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t point out the film’s excellent ending. I won’t spoil it for those poor souls who still haven’t gotten around to seeing the movie, but I will say I left the theater smiling from ear to ear. No small feat for a film that spends the bulk of its runtime following a tortured assassin as he offs half of New York City and at least a quarter of Rome.
1: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2
‘Guardians’ coming out at number one probably isn’t surprising for those who follow the blog, but what can I say: it’s a great movie. Yeah, it’s part of the MCU, and yeah it’s a sequel to one of the best films of 2014, but that isn’t why it takes the top spot on this list. James Gunn’s sequel is the rare Hollywood blockbuster with a soul. Between the superhero action sequences we’ve grown accustomed to over the past decade, Gunn manages to explore the dynamics of various familial relationships: the relationship between a son and his absent father, the strained relationship between sisters vying for their father’s attention, and the torment of an orphan putting up walls between himself and his new family. It’s a film that will touch your heart before spending ten minutes on a murderous raccoon killing a band of evil space pirates; set to the tune of a forgotten pop hit from the 70’s of course.
Not only does the hilarious chemistry between the principal cast return this time around, but the film organically adds two new characters that are immediately engaging; Pom Klementieff’s Mantis and Kurt Russell’s charismatic Ego: The Living Planet. Russell’s Ego is particularly intriguing. He’s the rare Marvel *SPOILERS* villain that serves as more than a simple plot device. Russell provides his usual charm, and Gunn’s screenplay gives him something truly unique to bring to the big screen. The result is a villain I can easily see charting on various best villains of all time lists in the future.
So there you have it: my picks for the best and worst films of 2017 so far. We have six more months before the end of the year, and I already can’t wait to see what’s coming up. ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’, Edgar Wright’s ‘Baby Driver’, and ‘The House’ are just a few of the films I’m most looking forward to. If you’ve made it this far through the article, I’d encourage you to share your favorite films of the year so far, or even your thoughts on the list in the comments section below or on the Nerd on Film Facebook page. If you’re one of the few people that actually liked ‘Saban’s Power Rangers’, well, I’m sorry you have such bad taste, but feel free to tell me about it there too. See you at the end of the year, folks.
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