Oscar Goff is the managing editor of Film Flam for Boston Hassle and the Boston Compass. He eats more popcorn in a year than you eat bread, and has strong opinions about the Human Centipede franchise.
Hey, here’s something I’m not sure anyone’s said on the internet yet: 2017 was a weird fucking year.
Longtime Hassle readers might recognize this space as where I usually wring my hands and gnash my teeth about the futility of the year-end list ritual. I’ll agonize over the fact that my tastes are so idiosyncratic that to label my list the “Best” of the year seemed absurd, and point out once again that to read criticism of any sort is not to declare something “good” or “bad” but to read the critic’s tastes and measure them against your own. My lists rarely correspond to those of other critics, let alone the award shows, and mostly tend to be reflections of my own psyche rather than the cinematic landscape as a whole.
But, once again: weird fucking year. Looking over the list of my favorites, it’s not radically different from years past– horror, genre-comedy, true crime, the obligatory superhero film– but this year, the rest of the world agrees with me! Of my ten picks, six are up for above-the-line Oscars (seven if you include Editing, which I’m inclined to). A horror film is up for four of the big five categories! A superhero movie is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay! A film in which a woman has repeated consensual sex with the Creature from the Black Lagoon is widely seen as the “safe” pick for Best Picture, and it’s not even the one I’m rooting for! What is going on!
I don’t know what any of this means. What I do know is this: what follows are the ten films I saw in 2017 which most match my particular sensibilities. Ordinarily I’d tell you to check them out, but this year there’s actually a chance you’ve seen most of them. I’m not sure what that is, but I’d like to think it’s progress.
(Oh, and in true 2017 fashion, there’s a game-changing post-credit sequence at the end, so you’ll have to hold your bladder and tough it out if you want to be up on the cultural conversation!)
10. THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER (dir. Oz Perkins)
All that being said, let’s start with a film that almost no one saw (until Grrl Haus Cinema’s Anastasia Cazabon included it on her list, I thought I might have been the only one). The Blackcoat’s Daughter took a long, peculiar journey to public consumption: it premiered to glowing reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015 (under the equally opaque title February), only to languish on the shelf for a year and a half, before being unceremoniously dumped last winter into the Redbox machine at your local supermarket. Which is a shame, because it’s pretty great: a chilly, paranoid Satanic Panic thriller following two students killing time in an empty boarding school, and a third hitching her way there. The key to the whole thing is the mood. As the plot slowly reveals itself, you feel yourself going crazy along with the girls. Director Oz Perkins is shaping up as a new master of horror (his sophomore effort, I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House, beat its predecessor to release as a Netflix original). His lineage might have something to do with it.
9. DUNKIRK (dir. Christopher Nolan)
As a rule, I’m not crazy about war movies; with no disrespect to the genre or the real-life stories that serve as their inspiration, they’re just not the sort of stories that speak to me. The handful of war movies I do love– Apocalypse Now, Inglourious Basterds, Fantasy Mission Force— stand out by defying conventions. Dunkirk is far less flamboyant than any of those films, but structurally it’s just as daring: a handful of intertwined stories surrounding the Battle of Dunkirk, covering various lengths of time, but ratcheting up the tension at the same pace. Hans Zimmer’s score alone is avant-garde in a manner uncommon in mainstream Hollywood, vamping on a single, nerve-shredding drone for more or less the film’s entire 106 minutes. (It’s also worth noting that I happened to see Dunkirk at Øst for Paradis, a wonderful cinema/cafe in Aarhus, Denmark. It’s a good time for Nazi-whomping movies in general, but seeing it in such a distinctly old-world setting added to the experience immeasurably.)
8. LOGAN (dir. James Mangold)
Regular readers may recall that, in an act of critical face-saving, I traditionally relegate my unironic love of superhero movies to the #10 spot. With Logan, I feel no need to hedge my praise; it takes its characters to places no comic book adaptation has gone before, both viscerally and emotionally. As with The Dark Knight before it, critics have been keen to point out that it would stand on its own feet without being a licensed property– and it would, to be sure– but, as our own Anders Croft points out in his review, this does a disservice to how much these characters have meant to generations of fans. Wolverine and his mentor, Professor Charles Xavier, are a part of our cultural consciousness, and these particular iterations– Hugh Jackman in the role that made him a star, Sir Patrick Stewart in the role he was destined to play– have been with us for nearly two decades. In Logan, they receive something rare among popcorn idols, and literally unheard of in superhero comics: an ending, and one which both honors and befits their legacy.
7. LUCKY (dir. John Carroll Lynch)
Even if it weren’t any good, John Carroll Lynch’s Lucky would be worth seeing for what it is: the final performance from venerated character actor Harry Dean Stanton, and, in a career hundreds of films long, his second leading role. But Lucky is more than that– a warmly funny meditation on aging, leisurely paced and filled with likable characters. Plot takes a back seat to performance, but that’s as it should be. Stanton gets to stretch his creaky old legs one last time, and a murderer’s row of fellow journeyman actors (including Tom Skerritt, Beth Grant, Ron Livingston, and, in several stolen scenes, David Lynch) are all given generous roles filled with meaty monologues. Stanton was and remains one of my favorite actors of all time, and Lucky is among the most perfect swan songs in film history. (An aside: how odd is it that 2017 gave us Logan, Lucky, and Logan Lucky in the space of a few months?)
6. THE DISASTER ARTIST (dir. James Franco)
To be clear: James Franco is a creep, and this slot is by no means intended as an endorsement of him as a person. That being said, this is a list of my favorite films of the year, and I can’t deny how great a time I had with The Disaster Artist. Granted, Franco and his crew benefit from a wealth of material, but they bring it to the screen with the love and respect usually afforded to adaptations of literary classics. Countless scenes play like perfectly constructed comedy scenes despite being nearly verbatim reenactments of true events (at least as presented in Greg Sestero’s essential tell-all of the same name). And while the Academy did the right thing (and dodged a huge bullet) by not nominating Franco, it is slightly disappointing that Tommy Wiseau will likely not attend the ceremony– though, per Wiseau’s Instagram, both he and Doggy are pleased with the film’s Adapted Screenplay nod.
5. I, TONYA (dir. Craig Gillespie)
As an early-thirtysomething, I have officially reached the unnerving point in my life where events I vividly remember seeing on the news are receiving the historical dramatization treatment. The results thus far have ranged from the sublime (FX’s sprawling, transcendant The People vs. OJ Simpson) to the ludicrous (Lifetime’s Menendez: Blood Brothers, starring Courtney Love as the spectral presence of the boys’ mother). Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya effectively splits the difference, presenting a nuanced, sympathetic portrayal of its titular anti-heroine while also leaning into the inherent black comedy of the characters’ singularly ill-conceived plot. The film has taken some flack for both approaches– Does Tonya Harding deserve redemption? Can scenes of brutal domestic violence coexist with Coenesque hick comedy?– but I found its true-crime perversity irresistible. Margot Robbie and Allison Janney are hilariously profane as Harding and her monstrous mother, and the many Scorsesean classic-rock figure skating montages will make this prime Winter Olympic counterprogramming for years to come (for added fun, play in a double feature with Cool Runnings). But perhaps most brilliant of all is its approach to the nebulous truth of the situation, with the cast contradicting each other in in-character “interviews” and characters occasionally breaking the fourth wall to inform you that “This didn’t happen.” There are those who this film will rub the wrong way, and I get that. But, ghoulish true crime fan that I am, I couldn’t get enough.
4. THE SHAPE OF WATER (dir. Guillermo del Toro)
Earlier this year, Universal’s shared “Dark Universe” monster mashup began– and likely ended— with The Mummy (which, as several of our writers have pointed out, is no great loss). But imagine if, rather than that misbegotten whimper, Universal had chosen to begin their revival with The Shape of Water? While technically an original screenplay, the being at the center of Shape (played by legendary creature actor Doug Jones– not to be confused with the Alabama senator or the Black Lodge tulpa) is the Creature from the Black Lagoon in all but name. What’s more, few directors– few humans, for that matter– have a deeper love of monsters than Guillermo del Toro. That love, along with del Toro’s obsession with film in general and affection for outsiders of all stripes, is evident in every meticulously constructed frame of The Shape of Water. A wonderful film by one of our most terrifically idiosyncratic directors, and its success warms my heart to no end.
3. KEDI (dir. Ceyda Torun)
In my review of Kedi, I described my difficulty in expanding my thoughts beyond “Yay, kitties.” I have no more words, beyond the fact that I adore this film and will probably rewatch it many times when I’m in need of something comfortable and fluffy. Yay; kitties.
2. BABY DRIVER (dir. Edgar Wright)
Baby Driver, on the other hand, I can’t find enough words for. After a couple of decades directing beloved cult comedies across the pond, Edgar Wright finally brought his pop culture obsessions and hair-trigger editing to Hollywood and made a goddamn MOVIE. Any conversation about Baby Driver will obviously center on its thrillingly bonkers action scenes– and, to be clear, its only real competition for Best Car Chase Movie of the Century is Mad Max: Fury Road— but even if the cars were left in the garage, the film would stand on its own feet. At heart, Baby Driver is a film about the transformative power of music, and the joy that comes from a perfectly curated playlist. The music doesn’t just underscore the car chases; rather, the chases exist to illustrate the songs. And while it’s decidedly less fun to watch a certain co-star emotionally manipulate a beautiful young man than it was a few months ago, that should in no way diminish Wright’s accomplishment. Baby Driver was the most fun I’ve had at the movies in ages, and will make you fall back in love with your iPod Classic.
1. GET OUT (dir. Jordan Peele)
It’s been many years since I’ve truly had a horse in the race for Best Picture (I’m not counting Fury Road, as that was less about the big awards than seeing how many it could rack up before smashing into the wall of respectability). But if the Oscars are as serious as they say they are about dragging themselves into the twenty-first century, they could scarcely do better than to crown Jordan Peele’s “Stepford Brothers” nightmare. It’s not just that Get Out is urgently political (and not in the safe, back-patting manner of, say, Argo), or that it’s by a black auteur about the black experience, with no apologies to white audiences (though, to be sure, those are the two most vital factors). It’s that it also represents every other type of film the Academy has traditionally ignored: a horror movie with a hard sci-fi core and a searing sense of humor, by a first-time director, released nearly a year before the ceremony, to nearly unanimous acclaim among critics and audiences alike, which taps directly into the cultural moment. If Oscar (that OTHER Oscar) is to get with the times, Get Out is a veritable road map.
Of course, each of the above points would be moot if not for a single fact: Get Out is just really, really good. Even among the recent renaissance of festival-hit horror, Get Out is singular, its script and direction remarkably assured– doubly so for a comedian-turned-first-time-director. Everything about Get Out is so solid, so right, that it’s almost difficult to believe it hasn’t always been with us, its place in the horror canon already secured. Simply put, there has never been a serious Oscar contender like Get Out. With any luck, we won’t have to say that for long.
[ten minutes of credits]
THE REAL #1: TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN (dir. David Lynch)
Not since the taxonomic classification of hot dogs has a debate so hotly inflamed the more pedantic corners of the internet: is Twin Peaks: The Return a TV show or a movie? Creators David Lynch and Mark Frost have both described their guns-blazing return to the small screen as “a movie in eighteen parts,” and snob-beatified film rags Sight and Sound and Cahiers du Cinema both included it on their year-end lists (at #2 and #1, respectively). Scores of TV and movie critics subsequently called foul, claiming that the reclassification demeans both mediums. For my part, the question is simpler: can I get away with including Twin Peaks on my year-end list? So instead of a decision, please accept this cop-out: if you consider Twin Peaks a TV show, stop reading and pretend this post ended with Get Out. If it is a movie, though, you can bump off The Blackcoat’s Daughter and shift everything down one spot, because if it’s in the running, there’s just no beating it.
Shortly before the premiere of The Return (or Season 3, or The Limited Event Series, or whatever we’re calling it now), I expressed some trepidation— I was excited, but I worried about how a follow-up to such a beloved work would be received. I don’t think anyone, though, was prepared for what we wound up with: a postscript which not only honors, but arguably surpasses the original; a series which manages to be just as ahead of its time in the New Golden Age of Television as the first two seasons were in the early ‘90s; the most ambitious work– and by far– in the career of a master filmmaker many considered functionally retired. Twin Peaks has been a major part of my psyche since my teens (I reckon it inhabits a similar space in my heart that Tolkien or the Beatles hold for others), but The Return offered at least as many scenes, characters, and moments that will stay with me for the rest of my life (a few standouts: Dougie’s first cup of coffee; Mrs. Palmer’s true face; James’ turn at the open mic; every second of Part 8). I could go on for many paragraphs (and I may, in due time), but Twin Peaks: The Return was simply one of the most exhilarating cultural experiences I’ve had in years, and I feel genuinely lucky to have witnessed it. Now then: Will someone please get this man a light?