My top 5 movies of 2017

Another year is nearly over (the ever increasing passage of time isn’t scary…no, not at all…), and what a great year it’s been for film. From big blockbusters to weirder more subversive films, I can’t remember the last time so many great movies came out in one year.

So, I’ve decided to pick my top 5 movies of 2017 (beware a few spoilers), just because I love every single one of them!

5) Okja

Bong Joon-Ho’s Netflix movie is a slightly off-beat play on the usual Disney-sounding set-up of a girl and her pig. But Okja is NOT a Disney movie. As wonderful as it is to see the cute CGI creation running through the forest playing with her friend, it’s a disarming moment before the film takes a descent into hell for its final act and we get to see the absolute horrors of the slaughterhouse. To watch a cute super-pig who looks exactly like Okja take a bolt gun to the head is really quite affecting – there’s something so off-balancing about a Disney-like creation going through real life trauma.

Okja isn’t perfect but it’s a movie with balls. The horrors that happen to these poor creatures isn’t done by evil entities, but by big corporations looking to satisfy our desires. In that way, all us meat-eaters are complicit and, really, responsible for the horrendous mistreatment of such beautiful animals. Don’t be surprised if you feel a tinge of guilt when you next tuck into a sausage.

But the movie isn’t preachy (not that I think there would be anything particularly wrong with preaching on this topic.) The animal rights activists are portrayed as weird at best, prone to strange and violent tendencies. And the ending is less an optimistic statement about saving the world, and more a simple personal victory, as the lead goes back to live happily with her pig. It’s almost as if we can live with animals and treat them like family members, and yet be indifferent to the suffering of thousands of other creatures equally deserving of our protection…


4) Guardians Of The Galaxy 2

What a year it’s been for Marvel. Three out of three for 2017, with each movie largely achieving what it set out to do. Some may say that Thor Ragnorok was the standout, with director Taika Waititi’s distinct brand of irreverent humour giving the weakest Marvel property one of the best Marvel movies.

But for me, Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 is still my favourite. In fact, I stand by my post earlier this year that it’s my favourite Marvel movie so far. It brings everything I loved from the first one back, the wacky sense of humour, the awesome soundtrack and sincere emotion, but tells a deeper story. There’s a surprisingly effective exploration of familial abuse, and how Nebula blames her favoured sister for her childhood suffering before realising it is her father, the abuser, who should be at the end of her wrath.

Sure, Ragnarok might be the better flowing movie, but Guardians 2 is the first Marvel movie to truly make me feel (well, beyond a vague sense of ‘this is awesome.’) As Rocket, a frickin’ CGI racoon, has an emotional coming of age story, realising he can be, and is in fact, loved, his watery eyes stare out at fireworks for a Ravager’s funeral, all to the soundtrack of Cat Stevens ‘Father and Son.’ I’m not gonna lie…I cried.


3) Mother!

If the recent Star Wars film has been somewhat divisive, it ain’t got shit on Mother! It’s one of the few films to get the F Cinemascore, the worst audience reaction a movie can have. And yeah, let’s be honest, no-one’s gonna ‘like’ this film – you’re either going to totally dig what it’s doing, or you’re going to hate it. I happen to be one of the people who love it.

If you’re familiar with any of Aronovsky’s previous work, you know you’re going to get something a bit weird, but even by his standards this is pretty bat-shit. Advertised as a home-invasion movie, Mother! is actually much stranger. People catch on at different times but slowly you’ll realise that it’s a retelling of the opening chapters of Genesis (and, perhaps, a little beyond).

As a Philosophy/Theology graduate, this is clearly of immediate interest to me, but such obvious symbolism could just end up as pretentious posturing (I mean there’s literally a scene where two brothers fight, for no discernible reason, before one kills the other. Obvious symbolism is obvious!) But what gives it power is the film feels like a primal scream, an existential cry, about the destructive nature of humanity. This isn’t the ‘humans can be bad’ cliché, it’s a full acknowledgment of how we’re a consuming, destructive disease, incapable of much more than destroying. There’s a scene where Javier Bardem (representing God) tells Jennifer Lawrence (Mother Earth) that the people need saving, and she’s like ‘Are you fucking crazy?!’ Mother! suggests we may not be worthy of forgiveness.

But the way Bardem’s character is so indifferent towards his wife’s suffering is also deeply disturbing. No matter how much pain she is caused, he always makes excuses for everybody. He seems not to care for her at all. And, in perhaps the film’s most disturbing moment, he finally takes her baby and hands it to the mob who do what humans always do…they consume it. Why does he care so much about the people? Well they’re in utter awe of him. They worship him.

Shit man, this movie is blasphemous as hell…and I adore it!


2) Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Well this was a very nice surprise! I’m a huge Star Wars fan, in fact it’s the reason I fell in love with cinema, so I have a special kind of emotional attachment to the franchise. But when 2015’s The Force Awakens came out, I was a little dubious of the franchise’s future. Sure, TFA was a charming enough reminder of why we enjoyed Star Wars in the first place but it was so insular looking that I really wasn’t sure that Star Wars was relevant to modern cinema-goers.

So it’s my pleasure to report that The Last Jedi isn’t good, it isn’t great…it’s a fucking masterpiece! It’s a deep, thematically-rich, progressive and often subversive film made by a genuinely talented auteur. Remixing moments from the original trilogy to, at times, genuinely shocking affect, it marks a distinct break from simply worshiping the movies of the past.

It’s also the most human of all Star Wars movies. You really believe in the characters, their relationships, their struggles and their inner-demons. No-one in The Last Jedi is perfect, everybody can make a mistake…but that’s okay, the movie reassures us. We learn most from our failures. Mark Hamill kills it as an older guilt-ridden Luke Skywalker, but the standout has to be Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. If everybody else is giving it exactly what they need to, Driver is going above and beyond. He’s utterly captivating in every scene, totally believable both as a terrifying monster and as a vulnerable young boy who has simply lost his way. The very fact he has done so much terrible stuff yet remains bizarrely sympathetic is a real testament to Driver’s performance.

And the film is packed with interesting themes about life, about storytelling and the meta-narrative of Star Wars itself. It argues that Star Wars and the characters within need to move on from the past. The history of the Jedi, Luke reminds us, is a history of failure. Should it all be burnt down then? No, that’s Kylo’s way. But to be a Jedi has to come to mean something different. It can’t be simply falling back into arrogance and hubris (there’s so much meat here that’s begging for a full dissection in relation to its exploration of progressive religion.)

And that’s just one of the themes. The movie also explores what it means to be a hero, the dangers of becoming a legend and even has time to throw some shade at the 1% who actually benefit from the continuing cycle of war.

Sure, some fans have reacted with disdain to this new direction (not surprising, really, when the movie’s message is basically ‘all that shit you obsess over, it needs to change to survive’), but I have no doubt this movie will eventually be viewed as one of the greatest of the series, and just a great work in its own right. Don’t get me wrong, the decisions it makes are risky – even Hamill himself has admitted he didn’t agree with the direction they took Luke, especially at first. But great art is birthed from this creative tussling. This is a Disney tentpole movie taking big storytelling risks…can we just celebrate that for a moment?!

Some of the fan complaints seem the result of a generation raised on Cinema Sins, as if that kind of plot nit-picking is actual film criticism, as opposed to stupid, misinformed garbage that totally overlooks character, theme and story for the first quick dig it can get in. If they did one for ‘Goldilocks and The Three Bears’, you know they’d be like “Bears have a house. Ding!”

But when the movie itself has bore out such thoughtful think pieces, like the way the movie refocuses Star Wars, the necessary disappointment of epilogues and how it has created one of the most compelling villains in modern cinema, I’m happy to ignore the initial fan whining.

It is precisely because of the risk taking and the thematic depth Rian Johnson brings to the movie that it significantly transcends everything Marvel has done so far, and is at least the best Star Wars film since Empire…if not the best one ever.

It’s everything I could have wanted a Star Wars movie to be, and it’s a genuinely fantastic shock to see a Star Wars movie representing the best of populist blockbuster movies again.


1. La La Land

This didn’t arrive in the UK until January 2017, which is why this beautiful film makes this list’s top spot. Those who read my review know I adore this movie – if it’s possible to be in love with a film, I am. Ryan Gosling’s charm and Emma Stone’s…everything, make this movie an absolute pleasure and one of the best cinema experiences of all time.

The tunes are catchy, the direction and cinematography gorgeous, the acting sublime – this movie really is joy encapsulated. There’s not a moment of shame for being a good old-fashioned musical, and nor should there be!

But what makes La La Land really special is it goes beyond simply telling a love story.  In fact, one of the comments about the new Star Wars movies is they go beyond the happy ending, to the inevitable struggles that continue to be faced after the credits have rolled. In much the same way, La La Land has a moment in the middle where you could stop it and you’d have had a fantastic romantic story.

But the second half of the film goes beyond that happy ending and explores the real strains put upon, what looks like initially, a fairy-tale romance. And, in the end, they don’t end up together. There’s a brutal melancholic sadness that these two people’s lives aren’t destined to be aligned forever, but it also brings home a relatable truth. Just because something doesn’t last forever, doesn’t mean it wasn’t real or important. For a moment, they really were the centre of each other’s worlds.



And so that’s my list, folks. What a great year for movies it has been. I also think it’s interesting that in times of uncertainly and anxiety (Brexit and the awful Trump administration), art seems to become that bit more impactful. This might simply be because it has greater meaning or it could well be the art itself is reacting. There’s something more powerful about fighting space fascists when real-life Nazis are beginning to become a new norm, inspired by inflammatory remarks from the US President.

And it’s not just in the darker movies this reaction can be seen. It’s been noted that musicals are often at their most popular at times of hardship. The escapism they offer becomes invaluable. Just an interesting observation.

Thankyou for reading, and I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 – the best MCU movie so far? (spoiler free)

I’m not ashamed to say I, along with many others, wept at the end of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2. Yep, I cried during a Marvel movie…the one about talking raccoons and baby trees no less. The general tone of a Marvel movie isn’t hard to predict, largely a lot of laughs and a little bit of ‘that’s awesome’ thrown in, but tear-jerking…I wasn’t expecting that!

Truthfully I’m not really sure what I was expecting. The first Guardians movie is my favourite of the MCU movies largely because it strays a delicate line of irreverent humour and absolute emotional sincerity perfectly, with a tonal dexterity that other Marvels tend not to have. Equipped with a killer retro soundtrack on top of that (which informs the emotion of the film as well as simply being great fun), the original flew its way straight into my heart.

The trouble is, a sequel to a movie that was essentially lightening in a bottle was always going to be difficult. On the one hand, if the sequel simply doubles down on the elements that work well in the original it’ll almost always be met with the accusation of diminishing returns. On the other, doing something completely different might risk losing the charm of the original and alienating the existing fanbase.

James Gunn, however, finds a steady compromise between the two approaches. Vol. 2 certainly does bring back everything people loved from the original (namely the humour, tone and retro soundtrack) bigger and better than ever before. As Baby Groot dances around to ELO’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’ during the opening as the Guardians fight a big tentacled monster, it’s pretty clear we’re in familiar territory (and, quite possibly, operates as a simple metaphor for the film’s focus throughout.)

Yet Vol. 2 does offer new experiences as well. This time around the team are broken up into smaller groups to pursue their own individual stories, which gives everything a slightly different flavour. It’s also a deeper and more personal movie than the first, with clearer and more thoroughly explored themes. It’s not quite The Empire Strikes Back or The Godfather Part II of sequels, but it’s certainly not a simple re-tread either.

It’s helped by different characters taking centre stage. Certainly Peter Quill is still the main character and it’s ultimately his story, but it does feel even more of an ensemble piece this time. Yondu, in particular, is given a lot more to do than in the first movie and I imagine he may well end up being many people’s favourite Guardian after this. New character Mantis is also an adorable addition to the team, forming a genuinely moving relationship with Drax – despite being the complete opposite in many ways.

Speaking of adorable, Baby Groot is insanely fucking cute. He really does steal the movie and just a tiny change in his expression can (and will) break your heart. As Guardians Of The Galaxy does best, Baby Groot isn’t just an opportunity for laughs (and merchandise), but actually works really well with the film’s focus on family and parenting.

The plot could be accused of being a little on the slight side. In fact it’s very much like an early series Star Trek story played out over two hours, but to say much more would be to enter into spoiler territory. I do think this gives us one of Marvel’s better villains, which is admittedly faint praise. It’s not quite Loki standard, but it’s a bit better than a lot of the other disposable villains Marvel has gotten through (Malekith, Ronan, Whiplash etc. )

There’s also mercifully little connection to the MCU at large, in fact I think this might be the most standalone Marvel movie yet. Whereas even the first Guardians movie was burdened with The Collector and explaining the infinity stones, Vol. 2 is given free-reign to tell the story it desires free of interference. Even the five (yes, five!) post-credit sequences don’t really inform on the MCU at large. Ironically, however, the little we do learn of Thanos (the MCU’s ‘big bad’) in a brief but powerful conversation between Gamora and Nebula actually does more to build him up as a horrific villain than all the hints and appearances of Thanos in the entire MCU to date. But this mention isn’t forced, it’s entirely organic to the story and very much important to the theme of family that Vol. 2 orbits.

The film also looks gorgeous. It’s an explosion of vibrant colours, psychedelic and vivid. For those who sometimes think Marvel movies look a bit bland (I mean I enjoyed Civil War, but did it have to be SO grey?!), then Vol. 2’s delightfully garish colour palette will be welcome (and it looks like we’ll be getting more of this beauty in the third Thor outing!)

Vol. 2 certainly isn’t perfect. By breaking up the team and focusing on the individual storylines it loses some of that leanness and simplicity which gave the first outing such a wonderful source of momentum. Equally, a cynical viewer might say some of the scenes exist to serve the soundtrack, rather than the other way around (parts come close to feeling like a music video). I also think a little more could be done with the sci-fi action aesthetic. I know the movie always has its tongue firmly in cheek (there’s an alien race who fly spaceships as if they’re arcade machines) and that’s all part of the fun, but I did sometimes wish for a little more weight to the space battles just so the action set-pieces don’t feel so disposable.

But the reason this isn’t a deal-breaker is no-matter how weightless the action may seem, James Gunn realises this and always keeps the characters front and centre – their journeys are what give weight throughout. And I really have to applaud this movie for ending in such an emotional and kind of downbeat way (yes, back to the weeping). When you think about it, nearly every MCU movie (with very few exceptions) ends in a way which could be summed up as ‘the hero’s ready to kick ass in the next movie’. That isn’t the case in Vol. 2, which instead ends on a moment of entirely earned emotional poignancy.

It’ll be interesting to see what the status of Marvel movies will be once the MCU reaches its inevitable end. Whilst most of the movies are good (some, indeed, are excellent), they are a bizarre blend of film and product, the likes of which cinema hadn’t really seen before. Marvel movies can virtually act as advertisements for future installments (Iron Man 2 and Age of Ultron being notable culprits for this.) When there is no future, so to speak, will these films stand up as something that can be watched at any time (something I’d feel comfortable replying positively for in the case of The Dark Knight and the first two Raimi Spider-Man movies) or are they so of the moment that they will eventually fade into obscurity, like filler episodes of a TV show?

It’s hard to say, but I do believe that if any of the series are going to standout then it’s going to be the Guardians movies (based on the first two, at least.) They transcend the MCU in many ways, and operate on a total different level of quality. Largely free from the shackles of being an advertisement or having to reference events of earlier movies, they are able to be their own thing and do genuinely feel like the work of a visionary director as opposed to a studio committee. The ending of Vol. 2 really reaffirms my faith that this series has the maturity and freedom to tell its story with absolute integrity to the plot and characters, rather than service a franchise.

The next time we see the Guardians it will be in the eagerly anticipated Infinity Wars, teaming up with the Avengers. Whilst it’ll certainly be a treat to see them there, it doesn’t feel necessary – if the Guardians never crossed-over it wouldn’t matter a bit and that’s why these movies work so well, the continuity connection is an added bonus, not a pivotal part of their appeal.

With James Gunn having just confirmed he’s signed up for Vol. 3, we know these wacky bunch of space misfits are in good hands. I, for one, can’t wait to see what they get up to next.