10. THE WALL
Producer/Director, Doug Liman is perhaps best known for his 2002 box office hit, “The Bourne Identity”, along with other films such as “Swingers” and “Edge Of Tomorrow”. With a script penned by Dwain Worrell and Liman at the helm, The Wall is a confined Drama/Thriller set amidst the war on terror in Iraq. It sees two American soldiers, but primarily, Issac (played by Aaron Taylor Johnson of the “Kick Ass” franchise) become trapped by a lethal enemy sniper, with only the most basic of makeshift walls separating them from the mysterious soldier. On a budget of just $3 Million, one location, and with only two actors (neither even close to A-list quality performers), Worrell’s slow-burn but tension filled story turned out to be far better than many first thought (including myself). I caught this one in theatres in August and was pleasantly surprised. At just 88 minutes, the pacing is good and the clear-cut three act structure works wonders. Roman Vasyanov’s (Fury and Suicide Squad) cinematography looks great and Johnson’s performance is super, even Ex-Wrestler, John Cena turns in a commendable performance. Roman’s camera work puts you right into Isaac’s escalating conflict with the sniper, each interaction between the two becoming seemingly more personal. It’s a travesty to know that a film as good as The Wall actually lost money. Do yourself a favor and check this one out, I can recommend it to fans of films like Tom Berenger’s “Sniper” and “Buried”.
9. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER TWO
Pulling in three-quarters of it’s estimated budget in revenue during its opening weekend, Chad Stahelski’s 2014 smash-hit Action/Thriller “John Wick” eclipsed everything the genre had to offer since Simon West’s, “Con Air” back in 97′. Who’d have thought Keanu Reeves would ever be that guy you’d say was born to play a certain character. Well he was, and it’s this one. I’ve never really been a fan if I’m honest. Bill and Ted was too stupid for me, Point Break calls to mind one word,: overrated, and the themes of The Matrix were similarly covered in David Cronenberg’s far lesser known but equally cryptic, “Existenz”. The original John Wick wastes no time, immediately introducing the audience to the titular character and his loveable dog (a final gift from his dying wife). Who doesn’t love the notion of man and his best friend. Those of you who’ve done your research on Reeve’s personal life will know he’s experienced more than his fair share of loss and tragedy, perhaps Wick has served as catharsis and an eventual rebirth for the actor. Who knows? But what I do know is that I dug Keanu in the film and a sequel was imminent after the films reception and subsequent following. While I don’t think this years sequel quite lived up to the heights of the original, they still got a lot right. Writer, Derek Kolstad delves deeper into the criminal underworld and its various players as John attempts to pay the debt that is owed. Familiar faces like Lance Reddick and David Patrick Kelly return, while Stahelski introduces Ruby Rose (Orange Is The New Black), Common (Smokin Aces) and Ian McShane (TV’S Deadwood) to the franchise. Hell, there’s even a Matrix reunion with Laurence Fishburne popping in. The fight choreography is equally as impressive, Reeves dedication to pre-production training evident in every hit and shot. The strobe lighting and heavy drum and bass soundtrack get a little much at times but the showdowns between Wick and Cassian (played by Common) are a blast. I preferred the local setting of the original film rather than the partial Italian presentation here. The mirror sequence has to be mentioned for the sheer logistics that go with shooting that footage. John Wick 2 is a pure masterclass in action filmmaking.
8. GET OUT
The eight entry on the best films of 2017 list comes in the form of Jordan Peele’s debut Horror/Mystery/Drama film, “Get Out”. Peele’s interesting and fresh script which is layered with some subtle nuances (and some not so subtle), transcends the typical genre tropes to become somewhat of a social commentary on themes like racial prejudice, class divide, and ultimately the makeup of our anatomy and how that varies among different ethnicities. The story centers around a wealthy family who are gathering upstate, where, Chris (an impressive Daniel Kaluuya), a young African/American man has been invited by his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams) to meet the rest of her family. They don’t know Chris is black, and he’s reluctant to say the least, but he wants to make a good impression so he agrees. Shortly after meeting the charming and unflappable man of the house, Dean (played by the underrated Bradley Whitford) and his therapist wife, Missy (Catherine Keener of The 40 Year Old Virgin) things start feeling a little strange on the Armitage property. Dean is hosting some type of auction for a number of family acquaintances, Rose’s reckless brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) arrives to stir things up, and Chris starts to notice the black employees of the estate acting rather strangely, all this leading to a shocking revelation. Blumhouse Productions have churned out a number of extremely successful horror films, such as the “Insidious” and “Purge” Franchises, as well as Shyamalan’s “The Visit”. What makes Get Out so great is the unnerving tension it continues to build until the final act reveal (much like The Visit did). Even when LilRel Howery’s, “Rod”, the comedic relief of the piece, begins looking into the situation in the most humorous of ways, it never loses that sense of uneasiness. The performances are good and there’s a handful of limited but effective jump scares, and while some of the plot development is perhaps a little predictable, it’s never boring. If there’s one thing I would’ve liked to have seen done, it would have been a different take on the perception vs reality aspect of the racism. Peele could have done something clever there, but instead opts to come at it from a different character driven, envy fueled direction that just isn’t as strong. (MINOR SPOILERS), The question remains, would anyone back in the heyday (at the height of racism) have admitted how they truly felt about someone like Chris? You have to believe that in order to believe a core part of the film. It’s easy to see it now we know the progress of the evolutionary chain, but that’s in hindsight.
If you had of told me at the beginning of the year that something like “Logan” would make my top 10 list I’d have probably laughed at you. Seeing as this is the latest entry in both the “X-Men” and “Wolverine” universes (or at least in part), two franchises I’ve never watched a single film of, you’d understand my sentiments. Keeping in mind my thoughts on the comic book universe don’t stem from any proper research on the matter, nor are they necessarily grounded in reality (much like the films themselves). It’s just my perception of what these types of films are usually feeding audiences. Do we really need countless Captain America and Iron man sequels? Not to mention the cross-over films, especially when the original films had little going for them in the first place. Yet audiences take issue with something like “The Suicide Squad”, which is more adult in nearly every facet. These big franchise studio films are a big part of what’s killing creativity in modern filmmaking and cinema, and in that sense I don’t always partake in them. What we have here with Logan though is far more story driven, something rarely seen in the world of comics and that makes James Mangold’s latest film an anomaly, and that in a nutshell is why I liked it. It helps that our Aussie patron saint, Hugh Jackman (arguably the nicest and most watchable Australian actor going around) is the face of the film, and when you add the likes of Patrick Stewart and young Dafne Keen, in her first film none the less, you’ve got a good platform. The action and violence levels are fittingly graphic novel esq in execution, leave the kids at home for this one. In this one, it’s 2029, Logan is caring for a slowly declining Charles and despite his best efforts to stay off the grid, is thrust back into the mutant world when a young girl arrives (played by Keen) with dark forces slowly closing in on her. It’s not all great, there’s a T-1000 (Terminator) inspired cloning sequence that sees the X-24 fighting himself. On another occasion ,Charles weakened state of mind is depicted through some shuttered editing and it’s never really explained how Logan, despite being a mutant, can break through that force field with no side effects (so to speak). Hugh’s great in the role though, there’s some welcomed comedic relief and the movie thoroughly entertains with its fresh adult presentation. Logan just might be the first adult comic book film adaption, and that in and of itself surely makes it worthy of its accolades.
6. 47 METERS DOWN
“47 Meters Down”, aka “In The Deep” is perhaps the surprise packet of 2017. This year, like most, was yet another anchor for an abundance of B-movie and non-sensical creature feature schlock, particularly from America’s infamous SyFy Channel. Now most people fall into one of two camps, you’re either a fan who knows what they’re in for with the B movie, the intention being to revel in the cheese and so you do, or you despise these shitfests usually consisting of poorly conceived digital creatures, lack-lustre deaths and some less than stellar acting. I’m personally a fan of the B movie but given their often sub-par quality ,and more notably the sheer number of them released every year, is it any wonder when something half way serious but made on a budget comes along, like Johannes Roberts “47 Meters Down”, audiences don’t know quite how to take it. Gerald Rascionato’s “Cage Dive” was another shark film released this year that I thoroughly enjoyed, but I have to say that 47 Meters Down would certainly be a candidate for the best shark film since Spielberg’s iconic, “Jaws” in 1975. I own a lot of these types of films and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not that difficult to impress with this particular sub-genre. 47 Meters Down is just about the most frightening premise for a film set in the ocean. Two sisters, Lisa and Kate (played by Mandy Moore and Claire Holt) who are vacationing in Mexico, decide to go cage diving and end up trapped at the bottom of the ocean in a cage, sharks circling and oxygen fast running out. If you take one thing from this film it should be that we humans, don’t belong in that environment. Any film that costs just over $5 million to make and pulls in double that on its opening weekend, is worth a look. Moore was harshly criticized for her somewhat whiny demeanor as Lisa, but that was simply the nature of the character, she felt like she could never live up to her sister and that she hadn’t accomplished anything in her life. As for Holt, she’s the level-headed one of the two and you pray if it was you in the situation you’d want someone like her with you. The suspense truly stems from the viewer staring into the murky waters and the girls fading flares, which are the only form of light in an ever-growing darkness, and that’s before the hungry sharks even make an appearance. The film isn’t without its flaws, such as oxygen tanks lasting far longer than they would in real life. Not to mention characters leaving the cage for extended periods of time, travelling quite a distance, but also being able to find their way back. At those depths the lack of light would make that an almost impossible task. Nit picky gripes aside, 47 Meters Down gave me the same adrenaline rush I got from last year’s “The Shallows” and the re-watchabiliy factor is high with this one. Hell, we needed something other than guilty pleasure fan-fare like “Deep Blue Sea”.
5. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL. 2
James Gunn’s 2014, Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi epic “Guardians Of The Galaxy” was one of the purest films I’ve ever seen regarding its entertainment value. With unique and ultimately memorable characters, high-class action and great comedy (mostly through voiceover work by Bradley Cooper, despite Pratt being a genuinely funny guy), Guardians quickly became that child friendly space epic that everyone wanted to get out and see. Bobbleheads, action figures and various collectables began lining the shelves of stores, and not only of star Pratt’s, “Peter Quill”, but “Rocket” the Racoon (voiced by Cooper) and his big gentle tree, “Groot” (Vin Diesel) who only ever mumbles his own name (one of the many clever quirks in Guardians). The original film boasts quite a diverse cast, and that suits the material because of the multitude of very different characters in the world of the galaxy. From their appearances, to their temperaments and character arc, it all ends up making for a great watch. It came as no surprise that when the credits started rolling at the end of volume one, audiences were privy to the promise of a volume two. It’s rare for sequels to ever surpass the success of their originals. You could probably count the number of films on one hand that have achieved that feat. Guardians volume two sees our favourite intergalactic protectors fighting to keep the universe safe, while Peter attempts to unravel the mystery behind his ancestry. Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana) has a little more life in this one and Drax (Bautista) is much more front and centre when it comes to the comedic relief, Dave continues to surprise me with that character. Those of you who saw volume one know the fate that befell Groot, but fear not, Baby Groot is ten times as cute and the scenes between him and Rocket are some of the best in the film. Michael Rooker and Karen Gillan play a more integral role in this sequel and I loved the direction Gunn went with their characters. Add iconic players like Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone and you’ve got a pretty handy cast. The third act becomes a little farfetched (even in the framework of a space epic) and the motive behind the war is rather out of left field, but in the greater scheme of things Guardians is the pinnacle of the Sci-Fi/Action film, it’s the film to which all others in the genre should be measured against. I’ll take this over Star Wars any day.
4. KONG: SKULL ISLAND
Dan Gilroy (Writer/Director of “Nightcrawler”) Co-Wrote this latest script in the Kong Universe, “Kong: Skull Island”, Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. It’s been 12 years since Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” epic (which I still think stands the test of time today) where not only did he break new ground in the world of digital effects, pre “Avatar” of course, but he conceived a successful modern telling of the iconic story of a giant ape who falls for a young woman. Prior to 2005 there were countless Kong films, but none even remotely on the scale of Jackson’s blockbuster. I believe 1933 was the first time it had been Americanized and shot on film, and at that time it was only feasible with the use of puppeteers and miniatures. Credit to those pioneers of the industry who used what little they had at their disposal in order to commit an ambitious, bigger than life story and character to screen. Fast forward to 2017 and Kong: Skull Island, the latest installment in yet another franchise (for lack of a better word). In spite of the underwhelming response from critics in regard to Skull Island (which was seemingly unwarranted), I thoroughly enjoyed the film and most of its aspects. It boasts a great cast including Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson, as the main duo. John Goodman as an opportunist and businessman and the constantly under appreciated, Samuel L. Jackson as the villain. Topping it all off we have an extremely fresh and layered performance from the always reliable, John C. Reilly (who most would agree steals the show here). Let’s get to Kong himself, because he’s the reason you watch a film like this. The action in this latest film is of epic proportions, and surprisingly there’s some pretty violent and bloody kills. If there’s one scene people take away from Jackson’s film it’s usually the huge battle between Kong and the T-Rex, now, while there’s no dinosaurs (despite the creatures that have a similar exoskeleton) in this one, there’s a battle between Kong and a huge creature in the final act and it’s equally as impressive. The CG in this film is impeccable, the attention to detail is superb in every frame, most notably a sequence where Kong rises from the water and you can see every individual feature clearly, down to the hair and the water pouring off of it which looks so lifelike (something all too rarely seen). I don’t necesssarily think the 70’s setting was crucial to the storytelling, Jackson’s character arc was rather predictable and the eclectic group of ethnicities on the expedition seemed a little unlikely at that time. I can’t say I enjoyed Tom’s performance all that much, he didn’t project a lot. Then there’s a handful of dumb writing choices, e.g Hiddleston’s character “James” being able to do some Matrix level sword fighting through clouds of radiation without a mask on… A film like Kong: Skull Island is always going to have its shortcomings, but what a great experience seeing it in theaters in glorious 3D, that and of course you’ve got Sammy L voicing “Bitch, please” at Larson’s character “Mason”. What more could you want?
3. ANNABELLE CREATION
Number 3 on the list, “Annabelle Creation”. This one was almost as surprising as the previously mentioned, 47 Meters Down. Okay, so I didn’t have the level of contempt for John Leonetti’s original “Annabelle” that many seemed to have. Those of you who aren’t familiar with the story of the possessed vintage doll Annabelle, modern maestro of Horror, James Wan (Insidious and The Conjuring) first introduced the character in his film “The Conjuring” in 2013, a year prior to the eventual release of Annabelle. I thought the original film was okay and I particularly enjoyed the opening sequence, it was unnerving to say the least. Once Alfre Woodard’s character of “Evelyn” entered the fray, something felt like it was lacking. The film just didn’t maintain the same white knuckle atmosphere in the things we’d previously seen in the Wan universe. After the smashing box office success of “The Conjuring 2” and the continuation of the “Insidious” franchise (which has now coincidentally spawned another spin-off film called “The Nun”, slated for 2018) audiences were open to the idea of revisiting the Annabelle branch, enter, David Sandberg (Lights Out). Last years underrated chiller “Lights Out”, which was initially just a micro short on YouTube, proved that Sandberg might just be the right someone to point Annabelle in the right direction, and point he did. Writer, Gary Dauberman’s choice to set this one in the mid 50’s automatically gives it a sense of style aesthetically speaking (something Wan never fails to do). In Creation, A dollmaker (played by Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife lose their daughter in a tragic accident. Having struggled for years, they offer refuge to a nun and her small group of orphans on their country property, but those in the house soon become the target of one of Samuel’s possessed dolls, Annabelle. I loved almost everything about Annabelle Creation. Firstly, the casting of Lulu Wilson and Talitha Bateman as the two leads and best friends, Linda and Janice was a wonderful choice. They look like young girls from that time period (aided by an amazing wardrobe and wonderful set design). The dynamic between the pair is so natural that you can’t help but root for them as the situation escalates. The pacing and intensity of the suspense/jump scares is perfect. The house is truly a character in and of itself and the doll is certainly the scariest it’s ever been. Don’t be fooled though, in typical Wan fashion (he produced), there’s a handful of easter eggs referencing his other films and plenty of the scares are generated through alternative means and not just the Annabelle doll. The film doesn’t get it all right though. A couple of the lesser known orphans disappear for sizeable chunks of the film, I guess they’re expendable but given it’s set in one location that’s a bit of a stretch. Stephanie Sigman who plays “Sister Charlotte” falls in an out of character on occasion, and she’s primarily responsible for a few of the dumb decisions made by characters throughout the film. Note to self: When you’ve seen someone’s body twisted and contorted beyond belief, every bone clearly having been broken in a supernatural death, maybe you don’t want to stay in the creepy old house that night, just a thoughts. Annabelle Creation is the best pure paranormal Horror film of the year, I guarantee you’ll have a blast and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not scary. Do yourself a favour, watch it on your own, with the lights out, at 1am… then come back and see me.
2. HAPPY DEATH DAY
So no surprises to see that another Blumhouse Production release makes it into the top 10 films of 2017. They seem to know what works and the same can be said about Writer/Director, Christopher Landon. I only recently recalled Landon having written the script for Larry Clark’s, “Another Day In Paradise”, a wicked Sid and Nancy like Crime/Drama that’s about as gritty as they come. Christopher also had his name on the screenplay for “Disturbia” as well as being attached to the four sequels in the “Paranormal Activity” franchise (some of which were better than others). With his 2015 film “Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse”, which for mine is probably one of the best Zombie, Horror/Comedy films since the original “Dead Snow”. Landon showed that he’s an extremely entertaining filmmaker that puts emphasis on stylish editing and individual characters plights. His association to Scouts Guide had slipped my mind until the second or third time of seeing “Happy Death Day”, the number two film on my list (I think I went four times to theatres to see it). Marketed pretty much as a “Groundhog Day” meets “Scream” mashup (although I’d say something more like “Valentine”), Happy Death Day just might be the most genuinely entertaining film of the year. Ordinarily I’d be bothered by the PG-13 rating, which sees it almost completely void of blood and gore, which is a big red flag in the slasher genre. However, this time it didn’t really matter. Landon immediately throws us into the day that you better be prepared to live over and over again alongside the bubbly college student, girl next door type, Tree Gelbman (played by the lovely Jessica Rothe in perhaps the best young performance of the year). See, Tree is murdered by a killer in a baby face mask on the night of her birthday and seems destined to repeat the same day until she finds out the mystery behind the attacks. Everything in Happy Death Day is on point. Rothe unequivocally carries the film from start to finish, she’s so inherently watchable and that’s a big part of why it works. Landon constantly adds to the repetition of each day (or the same day), giving us one more piece of the puzzle so it never gets boring. Tree’s morning interactions with her recent drunken one night stand, Carter (played by Israel Broussard) are entertaining as hell. It’s got a feel good hook about it, a surprising amount of heart and the soundtrack is energetic. The editing is some of the sharpest I’ve seen in a long time too. Minus a couple of minor continuity things and a fairly weak motive from the killer, there’s nothing to pick at here. Often the most obvious problem with a film like this is that the body size of the masked killer never ends up matching the build of the killer that’s inevitably revealed. That aside, you’ll be hard pressed to have as much fun in a film this year as you will Happy Death Day.
Here it is (pardon the pun). The number one film of 2017. Andy Muschietti’s re-imagining of the infamous Stephen King story, “IT”. IT was originally adapted for TV with a two-part mini series released in 1990, starring Tim Curry (Rocky Horror Picture Show) as the iconic “Pennywise” The Dancing Clown. It was only about six months ago that I watched the original film for the first time. Having never read the book I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I thoroughly enjoyed the 60’s setting where youngster, Bill Denbrough and his friends of the self-proclaimed, “Losers Club” first discovered they were being haunted by a mysterious entity manifesting itself in the form of a clown. Contrary to popular belief, Curry’s performances isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sure, perhaps for the time period it was new and exciting, but after I heard “We all float down here” for the 27th time, I started to question the unjust admiration for his one note portrayal. It was simply tonally awkward. The original Pennywise also struck me as unintentionally comedic, like a bad birthday clown, and the cost of that was evident in an 120 minute run time that completely lacked even a hint of suspense. The most positive take away from the original film was the wonderful casting of the respective Losers in their transition from childhood to adulthood, that and the coming of age element to the story. When the film fast forwards 20 plus years, the likes of Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Richard Thomas and the late, John Ritter perfectly matched their child actor counterparts. If there was a film adaption of a King novel needing a reintroduction or modern adaption though, it was IT. Driven by an entirely new and sinister performance by Bill Skarsgard as a far darker “Pennywise”, IT hits all the right notes. From the original one-sheet, and promise of a new look clown, to the early marketing for the film well over 12 to 18 months ago, New Line Cinema did everything right to give this a chance at being successful and successful it was. IT grossed over $120 million in its opening weekend. First and foremost, this is a coming of age story about seven young teens in the town of Derry, Maine (this time set in the 80’s and not the 60’s like the book). Initially the horror element takes a backseat as we come to learn about the lives of Bill, Ben, Beverly, Richie, Eddie, Mike and Stanley. Each character is given a sufficient arc and memorable screen time. The raw interactions and natural timing between all of these young actors is as good as I’ve seen. The cinematography is striking, the score haunting and the lighting perfectly conceived to evoke the desired mood. The film isn’t without its light-hearted moments and comedic relief, mainly in the form of the brilliant pairing of Richie and Eddie (played by Finn Wolfhard of “Stranger Things” and Jack Dylan Grazer). There’s a surprising amount of violence in this remake too. The infamous sewer sequence leaves the original film for dead, it quickly shifts from innocent to ominous in a matter of seconds and the uncertain nature of Pennywise is clearly evident from word go. I do agree with the masses on the shoddy digital look of his teeth when he makes his move on poor innocent Georgie. Minus a couple of other disproportionate effects during a number of Pennywise’s attempts to lure the children via their own fears, everything was solid. As for the highlights, there’s plenty. There’s Pennywise’s manic shuddering as he rises out of the flooded waters of Bill’s basement and peers his head through the side of the stair well only to slither away. On another occasion Beverly discovers a shocking revelation in her bathroom, suddenly turning to reveal Pennywise towering over her, and then there’s the contortionists sequence that sees the clown extract himself from an old fridge, the scene culminating with a close up of his large and sharp finger nails as he taunts nervous Eddie. IT may not technically be the best film of the year but I saw it four times in theaters and it had everything you could possibly want from the genre/s. I can’t wait for Part two!