10. A Silent Voice
Okay, this movie may not have gotten much attention outside of anime fans/Japan, but trust me when I say it is really really damn good. Seriously, I saw this all the way back in March and I knew on the spot that it was almost certainly going to make my Top 10. Quite frankly, I was expecting it to make my Top 5 and it’s only due to the unexpectedly high quality of filmmaking this year that it isn’t even higher on this list.
Based on an acclaimed manga series (which I admit I’ve not actually read yet), A Silent Voice covers pretty hefty topics, such as bullying, isolation and disabilities and does so in a way that feels realistic and meaningful. The movie itself is about a boy who, as a kid, led a bullying campaign against a deaf/mute girl in his class (in a frighteningly realistic depiction of serious bullying among children). However, when the girl transfers out, he finds himself the new target of the bullies. Years later, the boy, now quiet, depressed, socially awkward and regretful of his former actions, runs into the girl again. Drama, emotion and character development ensue.
Like I said though, this is a really really good movie. It’s uncomfortable in all the right ways and is frighteningly realistic in its depiction of a lot of real modern issues, such as bullying or social isolation. The characters are complex and not always 100% sympathetic and the emotional twists hit hard. Admittedly the deaf girl seems a bit too ‘perfect all-loving protagonist’ as first, but even she’s revealed to have a lot of deep-seated issues of her own. But the movie also has its fair share of heartwarming and happy moments as the characters change and grow and become closer, so it’s not all doom and gloom.
In conclusion, yeah, this is really a fantastic movie. It covers topics that you don’t usually see covered in animations (especially Western ones) and it does it with care and realism. There’s a good reason I was almost certain this would score high on my list come years end and needless to say, it’s no strike on this movie that it didn’t score even higher. It’s just that this year was really really good.
9. The Shape of Water
God, did I ever mention how much I love Guillermo del Toro? Because I really love Guillermo del Toro. I dare you to find another director with such passion for his work, who isn’t afraid to jump into weird, fantastical genre stories and treats said genres with the same respect and dignity that he does with straightforward dramatic work. Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone are among my favourite films of all time and, while I don’t think this quite reaches the same heights, even second-tier Del Toro films reach hiiiiiigh above what most other directors are able to manage.
As for the movie itself, I doubt I need to talk that much about how good it is. After all, it is one of the frontrunners for Best Picture, after all. It’s a Cold War fairytale, a love story, an fascinating reflection of the early movie monster flicks like King Kong or Creature from the Black Lagoon. Except where in those, the monster’s approaches on the ‘pretty white girl’ is a thing of terror to be destroyed by macho men with machine guns, here, it’s much more of an equal romance, where both are attracted to each other by their own outcast natures. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the movie is set in the time period where those sorts of old monsters were being made, nor that there’s a big scene involving a black-and-white Hollywood dance number. But maybe I’m just in a reflective mood, having recently watched Lindsay Ellis’s excellent video essay on the subject.
As for the cast, Doug Jones continues to be the Andy Serkis of modern monster make-up, Sally Hawkins is obviously great in a challenge mute role (as the second mute protagonist in my Top 10) and Michael Shannon brings a weird sort of depth to a villain that could’ve (and arguable is) fairly cartoonish. Strickland is a violent, bigoted asshole, yes, but there’s a weird insecurity to him played below the surface. It’s not enough to make him sympathetic, certainly, but like in The Breadwinner, it’s enough to make him feel more rounded than just a cutout.
Overall, as mentioned, I’m really glad to see this movie succeed the way it has. Even if I didn’t quite enjoy it to the extent of Del Toro’s best works, it’s still nice to see him be recognised in these sorts of awards ceremony. Honestly, this is nominated for Best Picture for a good reason and I genuinely hope it wins. (Admittedly though, that’s less because it’s my favourite of the BP noms and more because the idea of the Academy awarding a movie about a woman fucking the Creature from the Black Lagoon the top prize is just hilarious to me.)
PS. By the way, what is it this year with people wanting to fuck fish in movies? Between this, Big Fish & Begonia and maybe-sorta implied in Lu Over the Wall, I count three on my list alone. Which is about three more than I expected.
Okay, so this movie doesn’t have a mute protagonist, but it does have a guy who stutters, so…?
Seriously though, if I had to pick one movie this year that I thought had the best chance of being a real enduring classic (discounting long-running series like Marvel and Star Wars), I think I would surprise you by picking this movie. Not only did it obviously explode at the box office, but there’s a real timeless charm and quality to it that reminded me of the likes of classic Spielberg movies like Jaws or E.T (and, yes, Stranger Things and all the other stuff that obviously inspired it). And while
It also gets credit for being one of the few movie adaptations that I think is unambiguously better than the book. I don’t dislike IT the book, but even ignoring the child orgy (which is not exactly easy), IT the book had a nasty habit of ridiculously over explaining everything which, while working in ways to further the worldbuilding of Derry as a town, also makes the Alien Covenant mistake of explaining stuff that was better off never being explained. Pennywise is a child-eating transforming clown. That works just great. You don’t need to go into all the ridiculous details of it being an alien with deadlights and the Ritual of Chud and the Turtle because seriously, fuck that shit.
The film adaptation, however, manages to successfully slim down the book, trim the fat, all while keeping the stuff that really works. The camaraderie of the kids, Pennywise’s terrifying/taunting nature, several genuinely thrilling sequences, all in a story that feels well-paced and structurally tight. Even changes that some people thought were bad (like Beverly being kidnapped in the climax) I thought genuinely worked in the context of the whole movie. The kid actors were uniformly great (although Mike and the Jewish kid both got fairly shafted in terms of screentime and development), Pennywise was sufficiently spooky and, a few dodgy moments of CGI aside, the effects was honestly fairly good. I’m not going to pretend it’s all that scary, aside from a couple jump scares, but it makes up for it with some fun and inventive horror setpieces and really making good use of Pennywise’s transforming ability.
Overall yeah, this was a fantastic movie and I entirely understand why it more or less smashed the September OW record. While I mentioned at the beginning how it obviously takes a lot of influence from stuff like E.T and Stranger Things, it does so in an effective way that manages to capture what made those properties so appealing and memorable in the first place. Admittedly, I’m little iffy about how they’ll handle Part 2 since making the protagonists adults really undermines a lot of the atmosphere that makes this movie great, (plus that’s generally where the weaker material in the book lies,) but I’m at least willing to give it a chance.
7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Well, this should be a nice uncontroversial pick.
Seriously though, I don’t know what it is with this New Star Wars Trilogy, but people keep coming up with the most bullshit criticisms for them and making them mainstream. I didn’t think TFA was the best movie of 2015 and I also think there are plenty of legitimate flaws to be found with it, but neither ‘Rey is a Mary Sue’ nor ‘It’s just a rehash of ANH‘ are either of said flaws. And now you’ve got this movie, a genuine potential successor to ESB in the franchise, a movie with deeper themes, more complex characterisation, that isn’t afraid to deconstruct previous elements of the saga and genuinely manage to pave new ground for the franchise to continue in the future. And what are people complaining about? Fucking Snoke not getting a backstory.
(Personally, I blame Cinema Sins.)
Okay, my bitterness at the general fanbase aside, this was really something bold for a Star Wars movie. As mentioned, I liked TFA plenty but watching it back to back with TLJ made me realise just how hollow the former was in comparison. TFA is pretty, yes, with lots of enjoyable action and sequences and characters and laugh-out-loud moments, but ultimately, there’s not really that much beneath the surface, aside from maybe Kylo Ren. TLJ, on the other, just went full out in making its own path and wasn’t afraid to challenge and explore key Star Wars conceits, deconstructing and reconstructing them at the same time, from Poe’s rogueish arrogance to the dangers of deifying figures like Luke (something which, ironically enough, applies true both in and out of universe.)
I’ve also got to give it credit for being willing to take risks and go to genuinely dark places here and there. A lot of people think that being ‘dark’ is all about looking grim and gritty and killing off lots of people, like Rogue One, but TLJ is pretty damn dark in its own way. Hell, I’m not that surprised at its lackluster legs because, unlike TFA, it’s really not a comfortable rewatch (although clearly the divisiveness online didn’t help either). ‘Failure’ is a reoccurring theme in the story and it’s largely failures that come about directly to the mistakes and character flaws of our heroes. And that’s something that’s a lot more rare than you might think in modern blockbusters and not always comfortable to watch. Yet it still ends on a note of hope in the face of overwhelming odds and, for all the complaints of ‘betraying the Star Wars mythos’, I honestly can’t think of anything more Star Wars-y than that.
In conclusion, I feel pretty confident that this is the kind of Star Wars movie that, while controversial now, is likely to be much more uniformly well regarded as time passes (like Iron Man 3). Honestly, I’d place a large amount of the backlash thus far on simple culture shock from TLJ stepping off the usual rails of what we expect from these movies. As much as we all love it, Star Wars does usually tends to stick to fairly basic story paths (which is no way a bad thing, fyi), so a movie that challenges that in such a brutal way is certain to get at least some level of backlash. Or, you know, maybe I’m talking out my ass and this movie will always be hated by some people. I don’t care either way. I enjoyed it plenty.
(Seriously though, fuck Cinema Sins.)
Okay, this should actually be a nice uncontroversial pick.
Seriously though, I’ve not made any secrets about being a bit of an animation snob/hipster (in case my No 1 pick of last year, my No 1 pick of this year, the 10+ foreign animated movies I have on my list thus far and the fact that I bring it up on every possible occasion didn’t tip you off). And, in my official regard as animation snob, I honestly do feel that Pixar is a bit overrated as an animation studio? Maybe not to the extent of outright disliking them, but there are a lot of their movies which are deemed as true classics where I watch them and I’m like ‘Yeah, I liked it, but I’ve seen better.’ But then, every so often, a movie comes out, like Wall-E or Inside Out, where I watch it and I’m like ‘….Yeah, okay, that was genuinely fantastic. I entirely see why that got so much praise.’
I’ll admit, this was actually a movie I was expecting to be relatively good when it was first announced. The whole Day of the Dead festivities idea is such a unique thing with so many potentially good ideas to be potentially spun off that I thought Pixar would/could probably do a great job with it (especially since world-building is probably one of their biggest strengths as a studio, along with their handling/execution of themes and messages). And then the trailers started and I remember feeling somewhat… underwhelmed. Yeah, it didn’t look bad, but it looked more like some normal kids movie than anything truly transcendant. Then the movie actually came out in the UK (several months after the US because ) and …yeah, it really ended up being something special, huh?
Honestly, most people already know why this is great, so I won’t go into too much detail, but this manages to hit almost all the marks. Good characters, good worldbuilding, good pacing, genuinely strong emotional moments, both tragic and heartwarming. The animation is solid and the music is definitely excellent as well I already have a decent amount of the soundtrack on my ipod) and really manages to elevate the material as opposed to being there for musical’s sake. While it maybe it doesn’t quite have that same punch and Inside Out did (although not for lack of trying), this is definitely a Pixar movie that deserves to be counted among their stronger entries. Heck, I’m not even that mad about it inevitably winning the Best Animated Oscar. (…y’know. If I bothered to care about that award.) It’s a genuinely fantastic movie all round.
So yeah, Coco’s great. You all know this. I doubt I need to elaborate further. Is it my favourite animated movie of 2017 though? Well, I guess you’ll just have to find out the truth later….
(The answer is no, though.)