60. The Limehouse Golem
This is one of those movies that I suspect I would’ve enjoyed a lot more if it hadn’t been for the trailer. Not because it gave too much away, mind, but more because it completely missold me as to what the movie was about, much like ‘It Comes at Night’ (which, before anyone asks, no I haven’t seen). From the trailer, I was under the assumption that this was going to be a dark horror/mystery with Detective Bill Nighy trying to hunt down the mysterious serial killer roaming Victorian London’s streets. In actuality, what I got was more a study of the life of Olivia Cook’s character, an ex-music hall star with a troubled past, all wrapped around the framing device of a serial killer mystery. Which was not really what I’d been expecting and thus obviously kinda disappointing. Especially since I worked out the big twist about 20 minutes, killing a lot of that tension.
That said, the more time I’ve had to think on this movie, however, the more I do actually kind of appreciate it. It’s really solidly written and paced, with good acting from Olivia Cook and especiallyDouglas Booth as real-life music-hall star Dan Leno. Probably one of my favourite under-appreciated performances of the year from the latter. Bill Nighy’s part is a bit underwritten, more of an observer and listener than an actual developed character. Plus it got a bit frustrating towards the end when it was ridiculously clear who the murderer was and he just refused to see. That said, Nighy is charismatic enough and did a decent enough job with the performance that it’s not a major distraction.
Ultimately, this is one of those movies that I kinda recommend, even if I don’t think it’s great? There is definitely a lot to like about it and it is one of the more structurally sound pieces I’ve seen this year. I don’t know whether it’ll be anyone’s massive favourite, but there’s plenty to like. Just… y’know, don’t pay attention to the trailers.
59. Beauty and the Beast
Uuuuuuuurgh, this movie. This is a movie I simultaneously want to put both higher and lower on this list. Higher because the original animated Beauty and the Beast is really really good and I think this movie managed to capture at least some of the original magic from it… but I also want to put this movie much lower because of its blatant and uninspired copy & paste of the original material, with barely any attempts to try anything new or worthwhile for itself.
Honestly, a good comparison to this for me is the Snyder Watchman movie, which was so slavishly devoted to the original comic than it spent much of its running time just reenacting half the frames from the comic book, while simultaneously missing much of the context and meaning behind it. But, I honestly think that’s unfair on Watchmen. Watchmen was at least adapting the story across mediums, which is difficult to do while remaining loyal to the source altogether and had to fill in the gaps itself (to questioning degrees of success). This movie has no such excuse. Plus, it’s still clear that Zack Snyder obviously loves the original comic (even if I don’t think he fully understands it) and was passionate about getting it right. This just felt like a lazy uninspired cash grab, both outside the screen and behind it.
I mean, okay, sure the movie makes tiny changes here and there, but either said changes are barely substantial or, in some cases, actively hurt the point of the movie. In particular, I was pretty damn annoyed at the way they turned the Beast from an impulsive, uneducated, uncivilised ‘beast’ who learns from Belle and grows as a result, to a condescending know-it-all prick who just thinks Belle’s taste sucks. It sapped a large amount of what made the Beast so sympathetic in the original as well stripped Belle of a lot of what made her interesting in the relationship as well. And while I might’ve accepted it if it was actually a case of them going off in a different direction and deconstructing that sort of real-life behaviour, it’s not the case at all. They just stick to the original redemption arc from the movie, except instead of Belle teaching the Beast how to read, she just makes him appreciate the poetry he already knew and had read by… I don’t know, being pretty or something. Plus, all that makeup was a waste of a perfectly good Dan Stevens. Half of that guy’s acting charm comes from his face and you want to cover it all up with make-up and crap?
Still, the fact remains that, like the Watchmen movie, by so slavishly copying the original source material, the movie does still manage to capture a fair amount of the strength of said source material, so I can’t really say I didn’t enjoy it and I entirely get why others like it a lot more and why it made a ton of money. But while it’s a movie I can’t say I didn’t enjoy, it’s also a movie I really can’t respect either. So that’s why it’s all the way down here.
Also, jesus, that autotune on Emma Watson. Just… no
58. Lu Over the Wall
Okay, unless you’ve been keeping a close eye on the Best Animated Feature race, chances are you’ve probably not seen or heard of this recent animated film from Japan. If you want me to sum it up… basically, it’s Ponyo on acid. Which, yeah, is pretty damn awesome.
This movie is kind of the opposite for me of Beauty and the Beast (2017) in many ways, in that it definitely has a lot of problems and is kind of flawed up to the wazoo. The main story is ostensibly a coming-of-age film about an emo teen befriending a cheerful mergirl, but the main male character is such a whiny, annoying shit, the main plot is such a drag, most of the human characters aren’t that great and the story doesn’t really do a very good job of handling or even really explaining the male protagonist’s emotional issues. But, where BatB directed quality material in a dreary, half-assed way, this makes up for most of its problems when it gets really going, by being so utterly insane and colourful and imaginative and just plain fun!
Director Masaaki Yuasa is someone I’ve only fairly recently been introduced to in regards to animated films, but he has a such a distinct and crazy style that it’s almost impossible not to fall in love. The animation in this movie is energetic, weird, bright, colourful and off-model in the most delightful ways and every time to movie decides to get crazy, it’s just tons of fun to watch. Okay, sure the movie fails to reach the levels of dull competence that Beauty and the Beast (2017) had but, like I said, when it gets going it’s so imaginative and fun that it blows that movie out of the water. If only the main plot/male lead wasn’t so crap, this would be much much higher up on the list.
Also, Business Shark Dad for Best Character of 2017. Seriously, just look at this guy. He’s amazing.
57. Molly’s Game
You know, once upon a time, when I was doing my Screenwriting Undergraduate, I wrote a sci-fi script that I honestly thought was pretty damn good. However, when I handed it in to be marked, I ended up getting back pretty middling marks for it. When I naturally asked why, my teachers pointed out to me that far too much of the script was made up of dialogue and not nearly enough of everything else. And while that’s certainly something that reads well in a script on its own, film is a visual medium and thus overly-dialogue heavy screenplays don’t translate nearly as well as you might think.
That’s… kinda this movie in a nutshell.
Aaron Sorkin is probably one of the best known scriptwriters working today and the fact that he’s so well known, plus that this is his debut as a director, almost entirely explains why this movie has the flaws it does. Which is that the entire movie is almost all dialogue. All of it. If it’s not characters trading Sorkin-esque dialogue, it’s Jessica Chastain Sorkin-esquely narrating over everything. And while the dialogue isn’t necessarily bad, after all Sorkin is a pretty good writer, there’s just so much of it, with not nearly enough visual flair and it all starts to get so samey and tiring after a while and thus it just begins to get boring, for me at least.
I will give credit to the actors for doing their utmost to give life to the material, but what this movie really needed was someone to tell Aaron Sorkin to lay off a little and also someone to give him much more of a pointer in regards to interesting visual narration and narrative, because it’s clear he doesn’t have a clue. The scene with Chastain in the ice-skating rink, while ostensibly supposed to be a big emotional moment for her is so amateurishly directed that it comes off as laughable.
Overall though, I don’t think I’d necessarily call it a bad film, just a very overindulgent one. It’s an interesting story and, as mentioned, the actors are trying their best, but it really needed someone other than Sorkin behind the wheel to give it more of a visual panache. As it is, it’s just okay. Not awful, but not transcendent either.
56. Blade Runner 2049
Boy, first Dunkirk and now this? I’m just shitting all over the forum favourites on this list, aren’t I?
Seriously though, the original Blade Runner has always been a movie I respected more than I actually enjoyed. I respect it for its excellent style and visuals and for more or less pioneering neo-noir visually, but as for the movie itself, I found it slow, kinda confusing at points and, while having some truly great moments (like Tears in the Rain), never really lived up to its reputation as a classic. And yeah… I kinda feel the same about Blade Runner 2049. I respect it. I really do. But I also can’t really say I enjoyed it that much.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to love about the film and I entirely get why other people do love it. Visually, it’s absolutely gorgeous, with great sweeping shots of futuristic city blocks stacked upon one another. The actors do an excellent job and the story itself has a number of interesting themes and twists and turns that I thought worked really well in subverting your expectations. I can entirely understand why a lot of people ended up loving it so much.
So why didn’t it work so well for me?
Well, for one, the running time was probably too long. It takes a very skilled movie to keep people’s attention for a full 160 minutes without them drifting off and this was not that movie. It doesn’t help that a lot of that run time is made-up of sweeping visual location shots which, while an impressive work of CGI, is something I’ve never really found all that appealing, even with visually gorgeous futuristic cities. But even then, I couldn’t help feel that something about the cinematography here felt really… sterile. Which is weird because I can tell Villeneuve is very passionate about this movie and its world, but his shots always feel cold and distant.
Admittedly, there’s a decent chance a lot of this may be my own personal foibles. I alluded to this briefly when I talked about Arrival last year, but Villeneuvre’s style, while I can appreciate its technical brilliance, has always left me feeling rather cold, even in his previous critically acclaimed features. Something about his muted colour pallet and drawn-out style of storytelling has always left me feeling rather bored. I can never quite get into the atmosphere he creates, but whether that’s a fault of the filmmaker or just plain simple incompatibility is up for debate.
As for the story itself, it’s very slow-paced which, while working to help create a palpable mood and atmosphere, can sometimes end up making things feel unnecessarily drawn-out and make the relatively interesting plot feel sluggish and unmoving, which can easily frustrate if the atmosphere isn’t working for you. The acting is fairly solid across the board, Ryan Gosling doing a good job and embueing a fairly stoic part with some life, Jared Leto’s mugging actually serving a purpose and Harrison Ford actually giving a shit about a part for once is all good. I also really enjoyed the ultimate conclusion of the whole Joi subplot which, while I wasn’t all that fond of the character or relationship at first, really threw for me a loop and made me appreciate much of it in hindsight. Honestly, there’s a lot of really strong storytelling and themes woven into the movie which is part of the reason I respect it so much. But while I can appreciate the storytelling for what it did, nothing really managed to knock me out of my growing boredom and keep me engaged with the movie.
Overall though, again, while I can appreciate this movie’s technical brilliance, it just didn’t hit me as much as it did other people. It’s still a good film, I can admit that much, I just didn’t find it to be the knockout classic everyone else claims it to be. But hey, I threw out any hopes of not pissing off most people when I ranked Dunkirk so low.
(On a related note, if you think this is the last critical favourite I’m going to shit on in this list, you are all sorely mistaken…)