The best and worst films of 2017 | Teodor Reljic

Our resident film critic TEODOR RELJIC sifts through a year’s worth of film reviews to pick the worst and best of the bunch

Sicilian Ghost Story (Piazza, Grassadonia) is our film of the year
Sicilian Ghost Story (Piazza, Grassadonia) is our film of the year

THE BEST

5. Toni Erdmann

Arriving to us a little late, but by golly is this living, breathing proof of better late than never. The soon-to-be-remade-in-the-US German comedy-drama about an eccentric father trying to reconnect with a high-flying businesswoman daughter works hard to give us a true emotional payoff that is shorn of all cliches and easy ways out. And boy, doe it pay off.

Toni Erdmann
Toni Erdmann

4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Auteur writer-director Rian Johnson’s contribution to the ongoing Star Wars “sequel trilogy” is a bracing and thoroughly satisfying blockbuster, balancing the expected thrills with a darkness and maturity that builds on the seasoned, wounded tone established by last year’s ‘Anthology’ Star Wars film Rogue One. The characters’ emotional arcs are as huge to take in as the laser sword fights and dizzying space battles, and a running theme of moral ambiguity – shady arms dealing is actually a detail in this newly-cynical universe – as well as the need to do away with the past add a poignancy that only contributes to the suspense and pleasure of taking in this huge, generous tentpole cinematic experience.

The Last Jedi
The Last Jedi

3. Thor: Ragnarok

Handing over the reins of this corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to Kiwi comedy director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople) turned out to be a genius move. This is is the superhero flick that out-Guardians Guardians of the Galaxy in its wacky, witty and hilarious overall tone. The laughs just keep coming, and best of all – they appear to be coming from a genuine place of heart and inventiveness. But the film also certainly delivers up what its supposed to – as the iconic confrontation of its title character with the Hulk confirms, as do its perfectly-timed action sequences set to Led Zeppelin’s legendary ‘Immigrant Song’.

Thor: Ragnarok
Thor: Ragnarok

2. Paterson

Adam Driver has become an international superstar after he was given the opportunity to embody the conflicted young Sith lord Kylo Ren in the Star Wars sequel trilogy. But he shows off some understated acting chops in this equally understated masterpiece from Jim Jarmusch, about a bus driver poet’s daily routine and poetic ruminations. An honest and thoroughly charming evocation of the pleasures of the mundane life, the film is like an antidote to an ever-interconnected, ever-panicking Brave New World.

1. Sicilian Ghost Story

Coming our way thanks to the Valletta Film Festival – with its writer-director team of Antonio Piazza and Fabio Grassadonia in attendance at the premiere – this harrowing and beautiful blend of fantasy and reality is a triumph to match the very best of what auteurs like Guillermo Del Toro have done. Taking the kidnapping and eventual murder of a young boy by the mafia as its starting point – a disturbing true story that shook an entire society – Piazza and Grassadonia showcase admirable skill and thoroughness to add an archetypal air to the proceedings that justifies the film’s title but never devolves into escapism.

Honourable mentions: John Wick 2, Logan Lucky, Insyriated, Moonlight, Baby Driver, Okja (Netflix), Blade Runner 2049

THE WORST

 

5. Bright Sunshine In

The French actress-director duo of Claire Denis and Juliette Binoche looked like a fantastic idea on paper. It’s a pity, then, that this directionless, ambling and rambling collage of a woman’s latter-day romantic entanglements managed to feel both fluffy and deadweight. A missed opportunity by a highly talented team, and perhaps the only real dud to be screened at this year’s – once again – brilliant Valletta Film Festival.

4. La La Land

Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to the brutal and thrilling jazz-mentor-vs-drumming-prodigy drama Whiplash made a lot of noise when it was mistakenly announced as this year’s Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards thanks to envelope-based cock-up, with the honours ultimately going to the LGBT coming-of-age story Moonlight. But its showering of 14 nominations was enough of an abomination (and something of an embarrassment) already. This is a hokey, cynical movie masquerading as a poignant and humane one, and no amount of earnest emoting from its attractive leads can rise above the contrived artificiality of its existence.

3. A Christmas Prince

Well, there has to be at least one of these on the list. With Netflix emerging as an industry game-changer even on the feature-length scene – over and above their rich selection of now internationally-available catalogue of TV shows – it’s no surprise that the streaming service would want to capitalise on holiday cheer. With clunky dialogue and acting to match, ‘A Christmas Prince’ – in which an ambitious young reporter (Rose McIver) is sent to interview the flaky playboy prince (Ben Lamb) of the the invented Eastern European country of Aldovia, where everyone miraculously speaks in crisp British accents – is bound to become a “so bad it’s good” favourite.

2. Alien: Covenant

Ridley Scott returns to direct the genre-defining sci-fi horror franchise that made his name and, once again, leads us all to ponder how maybe, just maybe, Alien (1979) might have been a fluke. A supreme waste of both cast and setting, this is a by-the-numbers schlock-thriller that runs the risk of actually undoing the greatness of the originals... which is saying a lot, considering the damage that the Scott-directed Prometheus (2013) and the not-Scott directed Alien: Resurrection (1997) have already done.

1. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

A King Arthur franchise (non)starter directed by the British gangster-geezer rallying point Guy Ritchie was always going to be a hard sell, but the ensuing mess that resulted with his attempt to give an urban criminal twist to Arthurian myth (hint: the once and future king is a benevolent pimp, in this version) just collapses under its own weight. Though this is also down to the director juggling this multi-genre “epic” – it is also a fantasy movie in which Jude Law’s throne-usurping professional sneerer is something of a Saruman figure – with the grace of a one-armed circus performer attempting to juggle hot coals.

(Dis)honourable mentions: The Mummy, Valentine’s Day (Netflix), Ghost in the Shell

 

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