The Top 15 Movies I Reviewed in 2017!

List by Derrick Carter

Throughout the course of 2017, I posted 206 movie reviews on this blog. Though about a quarter of those were rewatches (covering the SAW and CHILD’S PLAY franchises before their latest installments, and also paying tribute to the passing of genre legend George A. Romero), I managed to catch plenty of fresh new films, forgotten flicks, and classics that I simply hadn’t gotten around to watching. As with last year, 2017’s “Best of” list will cover movies that I watched for the first time in my life. This means that old and new films are on the table, regardless of what year they came out. If a film was new to me and I loved it, then I’m including it with my favorite films that I watched in 2017!

Before I get into my 15 favorite films that I reviewed this year, there are some honorable mentions. I had previously seen THE EXORCIST, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THE THING, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and ALIENS before this year. Otherwise, they would be on this list. As far as first-time watches, I truly enjoyed the groundbreaking drama MOONLIGHT and adored the 80s throwback STRANGER THINGS. Concerning new horror films, THE EYES OF MY MOTHER seriously disturbed me, THE VOID was a phenomenal Lovecraftian nightmare, and THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS was one hell of a zombie film! WONDER WOMAN also wound up as my second-favorite superhero film of 2017. As for indie thrillers, WIND RIVER was a gripping ride and GOOD TIME was a neon-lit throwback to Martin Scorsese’s early work.

Now, without further ado, onto my top 15 favorite films that I reviewed during 2017…

15. MY FRIEND DAHMER: Most serial killer films focus on chilling murders of their subjects, but MY FRIEND DAHMER is not like most serial killer films. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, MY FRIEND DAHMER is a chilling drama that chronicles the pre-murderous life of Jeffrey Dahmer and examines him as a high school weirdo. By somewhat “humanizing” this psycho, the film doesn’t attempt to elicit sympathy towards its titular cannibal killer and instead shines a light on the fact that people we went to high school might very well turn into monsters seen in news headlines. Though there isn’t a single (human) murder to be found, MY FRIEND DAHMER joins the ranks among the best films about real-life serial killers (MONSTER, ZODIAC, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, and THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS).

14. FOUR LIONS: The idea of tackling Islamic terrorism through a darkly comic lens might sound completely misguided on paper, but FOUR LIONS is the best comedy that I sat through all year! The film follows four idiotic would-be terrorists as they attempt to execute a devastating attack, but constantly fumble over their own stupidity and reveal themselves to be bumbling morons. In my opinion, painting Islamic terrorists in this ridiculous light strips some of the power away from them in a similar way to what Charlie Chaplin did to Hitler in THE GREAT DICTATOR or what Rogen/Franco did to Kim Jong-Un with THE INTERVIEW. If you’re down for dark comedy and don’t mind totally offensive punchlines, you should give FOUR LIONS a watch in the near future!

13. HARD BOILED: Last year, LADY SNOWBLOOD wound up being one of my favorite movie-going experiences as I saw it in a packed cinema pub screening. This year, that cinema pub moviegoing experience belongs to HARD BOILED. This shoot ’em up actioner is over-the-top to the point of being ridiculous. Ridiculously awesome! Each gun fight plays out like a carefully choreographed dance and the film features one of the most jaw-dropping single take sequences that I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. Though it relies on a few cop movie clichés, it utilizes these in a loving way that makes the familiar material seem fresh. If you’re into action films and you haven’t seen HARD BOILED, then you need to remedy that immediately!

12. T2 TRAINSPOTTING: In all honesty, I didn’t know what exactly to expect from a sequel to TRAINSPOTTING. I love that film and I know that novelist Irvine Welsh wrote a follow-up novel, but I didn’t know how that might translate into a cinematic sequel. Over two decades after its predecessor’s release, T2 TRAINSPOTTING serves as an amazing companion piece to the original. Using the same cast and experimental visual style (albeit through a much more polished lens), TRAINSPOTTING 2 delivers stellar performances and naturally follows the lives of the four ne’er do wells from the previous film. If you loved the first film, then you’ll probably love this one too. For a full experience, it’s best to watch both of them back-to-back in the space of a single night!

11. NORTH BY NORTHWEST: This may be blasphemy for a cinephile, but I actually haven’t seen many Alfred Hitchcock films. I love PSYCHO, THE BIRDS, and DIAL M FOR MURDER, but the rest of his filmography is basically a mystery to my movie-craving eyes. My first viewing of NORTH BY NORTHWEST took place in the best possible environment (a packed movie theater) and I was blown away by how thrilling this film is. This is basically a James Bond film before Bond ever hit the screen. Cary Grant serves as a charismatic leading man who’s on the run for a murder he didn’t commit. Over the space of his death-defying adventure, we gets lots of suspense, action, and unexpected plot twists. I was on the edge of my seat for this entire film and walked away extremely satisfied. If the rest of Hitchcock’s filmography is anywhere near this great, then I’m in for a real treat as I continue to watch his work.

10. I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE: Blending a Coen brothers style of humor with indie thriller sensibilities, I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE might just be the most underseen and underrated film of 2017! This movie won an audience award at Sundance and then went directly to Netflix, where some people talked about for a couple of weeks and then it just kind of seemed to vanish out of the public eye. This is a vigilante thriller that’s believable in how inept real-life wannabe vigilantes might be and frequently dishes out shocking spurts of graphic violence. This might be the best Coen brothers film that the Coen brothers never made and I can’t wait to see what first-time director/writer Macon Blair cooks up next!

9. BABY DRIVER: What can I say? Edgar Wright consistently makes great films. BABY DRIVER is a passion project that Wright had in the works for years. In a similar fashion to how George Miller carefully planned out every scene, shot, and effect in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, Wright constantly lets the viewer know that they’re in the hands of a visionary storyteller. This stylish crime tale about a getaway driver who (ironically enough) wants to get away from his criminal lifestyle is loaded with colorful characters, hilarious humor, and adrenaline-pumping action that’s synced up to one of the best damn soundtracks you’ll hear all year. I gushed over this movie back in June and I am still gushing about it now. If you want a joy ride of pure fun, BABY DRIVER will satisfy your cinematic craving!

8. THE DISASTER ARTIST: Never in a million years did I think that anything to do with Tommy Wiseau’s so-bad-it’s-good THE ROOM would ever wind up on any “Best of” list. Yet, here we are. James Franco lovingly adapts the nonfiction book about the creation of THE ROOM to the big screen in a way that’s not only hilarious, but also genuinely touching. THE DISASTER ARTIST doesn’t take the easy route of being a goofy comedy about a loser who fails so spectacularly that he kind of succeeds. Instead, this film takes a more complicated drama-comedy approach and shows us the more serious side of oddball Tommy Wiseau…and his strange friendship with would-be aspiring actor Greg Sestero. THE DISASTER ARTIST is a moving must-see for ROOM fans and cinephiles who just love great movies in general.

7. BLADE RUNNER 2049: I’m saying it right now, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is one of the best sequels to ever hit the silver screen. Over three decades after its predecessor’s debut, BLADE RUNNER 2049 recaptures the bleak sci-fi/noir spark that made the original into the cult classic that it is today. 2049’s cast all deliver amazing performances across the board, with supporting actors making the biggest impressions in their small minutes of screen time and Ryan Gosling serving as a fascinating new antihero. Besides delivering a complex mystery that unpredictably shifts directions as it goes along, 2049 also has one of the most beautiful romantic subplots in years and it features a literal “one-dimensional” character. For those who were bummed out by this film’s disappointing box office returns, remember that the first BLADE RUNNER was a box office flop and is now considered to be one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time. A similar classic status will undoubtedly follow BLADE RUNNER 2049 in future years!

6. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES: Seven years ago, if you had told me that a PLANET OF THE APES prequel trilogy would be one of the best cinematic trilogies ever, I would have laughed in your face. It turns out that’s exactly the case though. 2014’s DAWN drastically improved upon the minor flaws of 2011’s RISE, but 2017’s WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is stellar storytelling from beginning to end. Themes of revenge, survival, and forgiveness are examined throughout the film’s ever-changing plot. Performance wise, WAR fully shapes out intelligent ape Caesar (played wonderfully by Andy Serkis) as animal protagonist who’s more compelling than most human protagonists in films and also introduces Woody Harrelson as a monstrous villain who we want to see die in the most painful way possible. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES was the best possible way to conclude the APES prequel trilogy and is one of the best summer blockbusters I’ve ever sat through!

5. IRREVERSIBLE: I originally heard about Gaspar Noe’s rape-revenge drama from a podcast in 2008, but hadn’t bothered to give it a look until earlier this year. Though not strictly a horror film by any means, IRREVERSIBLE is a terrifying cinematic experience as events are told backwards. Unlike other linear rape-revenge stories, we see the revenge come first and travel backwards through the moments that eventually lead up to the violent act of justice. As the film plays out in reverse (ironic considering its title), we put pieces of this depressing puzzle together for ourselves and this already tragic event becomes even more tragic with each new revelation. This isn’t a film for the faint-hearted and it’s about as bleak as they come, but IRREVERSIBLE is an uncompromising masterpiece that deserves to be seen by anybody who loves the serious artistic side of cinema!

4. LOGAN: There will never be a better Wolverine than Hugh Jackman. I’m saying that right now. Over a decade has been spent watching Jackman in the role of this weaponized mutant, so LOGAN serves as a suitable final chapter for Jackman’s reluctant do-gooder. The future X-MEN films have a tough act to follow, because LOGAN is a special kind of superhero story. Relationships between the small cast of characters drives the emotional core of this film forward, whilst the R rating finally delivers something that X-MEN fans have wanted to see since 2000: a bad-ass Wolverine slicing and dicing his way through bad guys. This film also has shades of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD crossed with a comic book story that’s about as unconventional as they come. Now that Disney is in talks to own the X-MEN franchise, we likely won’t see another film like LOGAN coming from this mutant-based series. LOGAN is a one-of-a-kind superhero film and one of the best comic book movies ever made!

3. EYES WIDE SHUT: Stanley Kubrick’s final film is an underrated masterpiece about the way in which people delude themselves into believing that they’re happy…and also there’s a creepy sex cult involved too. The entire film has a dream-like atmosphere as we watch the main character (Tom Cruise) venture through a single night odyssey that explores the sexual possibilities of cheating on his wife. Kubrick masterfully shows the dire consequences that might result from following our instinctual desires, whilst also putting us into the place of Cruise’s character. This is especially true of the ending which offers two distinct possibilities: one of them is easy and comforting…and the other one is ambiguous and dangerous. Whatever you might think of it or how you might interpret it, EYES WIDE SHUT is sure to keep you talking about it long after it’s over.

2. YOUR NAME: Eat your heart out Studio Ghibli! YOUR NAME just might be one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever sat through. This film has gorgeous animation from beginning to end, while also delivering an entrancing tale of emotions and body-swapping. It’s initial set-up sounds like the anime equivalent of FREAKY FRIDAY, but drastically becomes something far more charming and moving as its complex plot moves along. This might be one of the strangest love stories ever put to the screen, but its emotional resonance is undeniable! The characters are all built up to the point where the viewer feels for their struggles and deeply cares about them. This makes the film’s final third into a very suspenseful and gripping ride. Also, the climax is utterly perfect. YOUR NAME is a masterpiece and deserves every bit of praise it has received so far (and will continue to receive)!

1. MOTHER!: Much like my favorite film of 2016 (HIGH-RISE), I know that there will be people who loathe and downright detest MOTHER! Some will hate it for its sheer artsy nightmare-logic style and others will despise its controversial message, but I adored every single frame of this fucked-up little ditty. The film follows a woman and her husband in an isolated countryside house. After a strange couple pop in and just decide to stay, their lives are shifted in horrifying ways. I can’t get too into details, because it would spoil some of the film’s nasty surprises and metaphorical madness. I will say that MOTHER! is my favorite horror film of the 2010s so far and one of the ballsiest films to ever receive a nationwide theatrical release. People either really love this film or totally hate it. There isn’t much middle ground to be found and you will likely walk away with a very strong opinion about it. One of the film’s trailers promised that “you’ll never forget where you were the first time you saw MOTHER!” and that statement is completely accurate. I’ve been thinking about this unforgettable horror film since its release and I can’t wait to dive into it again and again in future years to come!

Well, 2017 was a wild year for me…both on this site and in my personal life. I’m currently in the process of moving, so reviews will resume sometime in January! I plan to keep this little movie blog rolling, with plenty of reviews (both old and new) being pumped out on a mostly regular basis! A huge “thank you” to anyone who’s read this blog at all during the past year or any new readers who are discovering it for the first time. There was plenty to love in the world of film during 2017 and here’s to a just as great (if not better) 2018!

IRREVERSIBLE (2003)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

(French with English subtitles)

Directed by: Gaspar Noe

Written by: Gaspar Noe

Starring: Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel & Jo Prestia

Often listed as one of the biggest examples of the New French Extremity movement, IRREVERSIBLE is an amazing feat of filmmaking. Originally pitched by Gaspar Noe as a tragedy done MEMENTO style, the film tells its deeply depressing story through reverse-chronological order. This means that we start the film with the end credits and end the film with an opening shot. It’s an artsy experiment that constantly keeps the viewer engaged, even when the story’s slower-paced beginning arrives at the tail-end of this emotionally draining experience.

Loving couple Alex (Monica Bellucci) and Marcus (Vincent Cassel), along with their best friend Pierre (Albert Dupontel) go to a drug-filled, alcohol-fueled party. However, the night spirals out of control after bad decisions are made and a tragic chain of events sets off that will forever shape the course of these people’s lives in a matter of hours. Think of this artsy rape-revenge flick as a rewound story of revenge-rape. We see the ultimate outcome first, then watch the events initially spiraling out of control, and then go back to the initial build-up.

IRREVERSIBLE’s reverse-chronological narrative isn’t just a fascinating experiment from a cinephile’s perspective, but it also serves as a tool to keep the viewer constantly engaged in the narrative. We want to see how things wound up where they did and it’s a tense journey, even after we know the worst scenes have passed. The final 30 minutes of this movie (a.k.a. the first 30 minutes of the story) contain lots of foreshadowing and manage to make the tragic events even more tragic through small details. There’s one horrifying revelation that comes midway through (even though we already know what’s coming) that had me floored. It’s as if Gaspar Noe thought of every possible way that he could make this film as depressing as possible and then wrote them all into a single script. Still, the backwards-foreshadowing never seems over-the-top and further gut-punches the viewer’s already damaged emotional state.

IRREVERSIBLE’s cinematography is purposely erratic and wild. It’s like they gave the cameraman a cocktail of drugs and then told him to go crazy while filming. Characters have conversations as the lens zooms in on their faces and various body parts, and scans the background. Remarkably, this doesn’t feel distracting or nearly as pretentious as it sounds. Instead, this technique helps cement the viewer into the movie and blends right into the unconventional backwards narrative. The music score seems natural to the various environments (fading in and out of a club, playing in another room as a couple tease each other in bed), while the classical score at the end of the movie (beginning of the story) hits the viewer like a ton of bricks.

The performances come off as entirely natural and the dialogue almost seems ad-libbed. Monica Bellucci’s Alex is innocent and caring, making her fate even more difficult to watch (even though we’ve already seen it happen before we truly meet her). Vincent Cassel has a remarkable screen presence in nearly every role he’s taken, but his stint as Marcus just might be one of his all-time best performances. Albert Dupontel plays supporting character Pierre, but his story arc winds up as one of the most fascinating bits of the film. Dialogue from the beginning of the story (given during the final third) highlights just how much he evolves as a character over the course of the night.

If you haven’t already guessed, IRREVERSIBLE is a tough film to watch. One of the early sequences contains a graphic piece of violence that is highly disturbing. The detailed gore effect mixed with a faint lighting of a club and the wild camera work is downright cringe-inducing. The build-up to that moment is tense too as we see lots of sexually explicit shots and get the sense that some bad stuff is about to go down. This film is also notorious for a grueling 10-minute-long rape sequence. Even though Monica Bellucci is breathtakingly beautiful, director Gaspar Noe successfully makes this scene absolutely horrifying and it won’t seem the least bit erotic to any sensible human being (unless you’re a sicko or a possible psychopath). This haunting scene lingers long after its ended (even though nothing truly terrible happens in the final third of this film).

IRREVERSIBLE is a fascinating experiment in filmmaking and storytelling. If a fan were to edit this film in chronological order, I feel it would still make a deep impact. The reverse-chronological order adds to its depth and gets the viewer thinking about this rape-revenge tale in new ways (revenge-rape). The acting feels completely natural and the frenetic camera work adds to this film’s sheer artistic power, never once feeling pretentious or distracting. This film is amazing, but it’s not one that I’m likely to stick on much in my lifetime. IRREVERSIBLE is a work of art that repeatedly pummels the viewer’s emotions, sometimes in ways they least expect. To put it simply, IRREVERSIBLE is a stunning masterpiece of transgressive cinema!

Grade: A+

SPECTRE (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Action and Violence, some Disturbing Images, Sensuality and Language

Spectre poster

Directed by: Sam Mendes

Written by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & Jez Butterworth

Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes & Jesper Christensen

SPECTRE just might be the hardest review that I’ve had to write this year and that’s not for reasons you might expect. While I’ve revisited many franchises over the course of the summer movie season in order to prep myself for certain reviews, SPECTRE lurked over me like a giant mountain that I had to scale. Before the month of August, I had only seen one 007 film (2006’s CASINO ROYALE). So I found myself going through a long (sometimes painful) process to watch/review fourteen entries in this behemoth of a movie series. This resulted in me gaining a newfound appreciation for the iconic secret agent character as well as a love for (most of) the series. To quickly recap on the Daniel Craig entries: CASINO ROYALE is one of the best reboots to ever grace the silver screen, QUANTUM OF SOLACE was a lackluster follow-up, and SKYFALL is my favorite Bond film of all-time. Where does SPECTRE fit into Craig’s stint as 007? It’s not as good as CASINO ROYALE or SKYFALL, but it’s definitely miles better than QUANTUM OF SOLACE. Though the early word-of-mouth has been mixed, I imagine that many Bond fans will find a lot to like in this film.

Spectre 1

After causing an international incident on an unofficial mission, James Bond has been grounded by M. As we all know, Bond has never been one to respond well to authority and takes it upon himself to complete his unfinished unofficial mission. What should have been a simple visit to a funeral becomes something else entirely as 007 discovers a massive international criminal organization known as S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion). The leader of this secret society is the author of all of Bond’s pain (as he so eloquently puts it). Soon enough, Bond and the daughter of a former Quantum agent find themselves hunted by S.P.E.C.T.R.E. as he tries to stop a diabolical plan that would cripple the 00 program and the world as we know it.

Spectre 2

Like the other Craig entries, SPECTRE is remarkably well shot and scored. The cinematography and gorgeous locations kept me invested in the film, even during the less exciting portions of the story. Speaking of which, SPECTRE is definitely the first Craig film in the 007 cannon that’s heavily relied on the stereotypical Bond formula. By this, I mean there’s a world-ending plan, a cat-stroking villain with a penchant for evil monologues, a seemingly unstoppable henchman with a weird quirk, a clichéd Bond girl, and some one-liners. Those elements aren’t necessarily bad things, but this is a definite change of pace for a rebooted series that seemed to be going out of its way to humanize the iconic character and deliberately throw cogs into the predictable formula.

Spectre 3

The plot for SPECTRE isn’t anything groundbreaking or surprising. You’ve seen this kind of Bond movie before with Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Pierce Brosnan. This just happens to be Daniel Craig’s turn to play the game. You can easily predict certain plot developments that are pretty obvious within the first third. It doesn’t necessarily lessen the fun to be had, but I do wish the script had kept a couple of these twists hidden. Running at well over two hours, SPECTRE just might be the longest Bond film to date and you can tell. As action-packed and exciting as most of the movie may be, there’s a noticeable patch in the middle that drags.

Spectre 4

As far as the cast is concerned, Daniel Craig is comfortable as ever in the skin of Bond. This might be his final entry in the series and I’d be happy with him going out on a high note rather than sinking to the embarrassment of Brosnan’s final entry. Lea Seydoux (BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR) is a serviceable Bond girl, though she isn’t exactly given much to do other than be a heart-throb for James. Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris all do well in reprising their roles as M, Q, and Moneypenny. Meanwhile, Andrew Scott is appropriately hateable as a cocky character with a very punchable face.

Spectre 5

The best characters of SPECTRE are definitely the villains. Christoph Waltz is having a field day as the main baddie. This man was born to play a Bond villain. Though it takes a while for him to really dominate the screen, he’s a ton of fun to watch. I loved every second that he was on the screen. Meanwhile, Dave Bautista (Drax the Destroyer from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) serves as a formidable Oddjob-like henchman. Though he doesn’t have any dialogue, the chases/fights between him and Craig are a blast to behold.

Spectre 6

SPECTRE is definitely not on the same level as SKYFALL or CASINO ROYALE, but it’s certainly an enjoyable fourth outing for Craig’s 007. The film’s problems stem from a predictable plot and pacing that drags in the middle. However, the returning characters are just as fun as ever, while the new additions really sell this film. The action scenes are exciting and I left the theater more than a little happy. If this had come out before SKYFALL, then I think the general reaction to it would be more positive. As a whole, I really enjoyed SPECTRE and it’s on the upper level of the 007 pantheon for me.

Grade: B+

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