15. The Disaster Artist
Oh hai tired and overused Room joke.
Honestly, I have to admit, when this movie was announced I wasn’t amazingly thrilled for the idea. Sure, I’m a pretty big connoisseur of famously bad movies (to the point where I’ve actually seen Plan 9 from Outer Space and Samurai Cop in cinemas, because why the fuck not). And yeah, among said bad movies, I enjoyed the Room plenty and I’m sure there was an interesting story behind the whole thing (although I’ve never read the Disaster Artist book myself), but I was honestly pretty certain that this movie was just going to be an excuse for James Franco to put on a wig and do a funny accent for two hours. But honestly… James Franco’s performance genuinely blew me away here. He was outstanding. It wasn’t just a silly accent with a silly wig, he really managed to incorporate Wiseau’s bizarre speech patterns and movements to an almost frightening degree. Yet he also managed to capture that weird sense of charisma Wiseau had and makes entirely believable as to why Greg Sestero would be interesting in this guy in the first place. It really was one of the best performances of the year… which kinda made it a shame when he soured the whole thing with the sexual assault allegations against him, but I digress.
The rest of the movie was also really entertaining. I enjoy reading stories about behind-the-scenes stuff regarding films, not just the drama and problems but seeing how certain plot/directorial decisions came to be or developed over the course of a shoot is genuinely fascinating to me. Of course, the behind-the-scenes drama is fun as well. I’ve heard a lot of people complain that the movie doesn’t do a great job or fully showing how toxic Wiseau kinda was and fell a bit into the trap of glorifying him a bit and… yeah, I can kinda see where those people are coming from, especially towards the end. Like I said, I’ve never read the Disaster Artist so I don’t know exactly what really happened, but I severely doubt the first screening of The Room went like that. However, the movie doesn’t shy away from his assholishness entirely, so I’ll give it that.
In conclusion, yeah, this was really a lot of fun, especially if you’re familiar with the Room and the culture surrounding it. Sure, there are certainly issues with this movie here and there, but it’s still a fascinating look at one of history’s great bad movies and the weird-ass character behind it.
14. Paddington 2
Yeah, this movie was just plain sweet and pleasant and adorable and exactly the sort of thing I needed after the year that was 2017. I really don’t have much more to say about it than that.
Okay, this is probably one of, if not the most obscure movie on my list, but it’s also one that I really want to get more people to hear about. Like Wrath of Silence, it’s a movie I saw at LFF that I had almost no idea what to expect going in, aside from the premise which was basically The Raid but in a prison. Before the movie started we had a short talk from Jean-Paul Ly, one of the film’s stars, who told us a bit about the film’s production. It’s a Cambodian Martial Arts movie, possibly the first Cambodian action movie, one that was made on a shoestring budget of $260,000 with a team of extras who, before Jean-Paul, barely knew the slightest thing about martial arts.
And don’t get me wrong. The low budget definitely shows. The sets look clearly fairly cheap and the movie reuses them like crazy, (in particular this one prison cell corridor which I swear appears like 10 times). In addition, both the writing and some of the acting is fairly rough and the movie doesn’t really manage a proper conclusion, instead finishing with a weird kinda-sorta cliffhanger? So, with all those issues, why is this so high up on the list?
Because the action in this movie is fucking amazing.
Seriously, I mentioned The Raid and it’s an appropriate comparison, because, at least in my opinion, the martial arts in this movie are easily on the same sort of level. After the titular jailbreak gets going, it’s almost more-or-less non-stop action and it never fails to stop entertaining, not even for a second. Hell, even the token female cop kicks every bit as much ass as her male counterpart (and gets a really awesome fight near the end with the main protagonist).
And, while I said some of the acting is kinda rough, that’s not true across the board. Some of the actors are hilarious in this, especially the villains, led by Madam Butterfly (aka Queen of the resting ‘I am done with this shit’ face) and her legion of leather clad action girls (who to my eternal disappointment never got a fight). I fucking loved her so much. So so much. There are also a few comedic actors who got a few genuine laughs from me here and there and added some much needed levity to the occasional scene.
In conclusion, this is definitely one of the more obviously flawed movies to grace the top tiers of my list. But, while it’s definitely rough around the edge, it delivers itself with such passion and technique and sheer style that it just makes you want to root for it anyway. So kudos to Cambodia. I hope to see more movies like this in the future and I definitely recommend anyone interested to check it out
12. The Breadwinner
Aka, that one token indie film that made it into the Oscar nods but has no chances of winning.
Okay, it’s a bit cruel to dismiss it solely like that, because this really is a good movie and one of the only two animated Oscar nominees I actually think is worthy of a nomination. (And yes, the other one is Coco, I’m not even going to bother pretending that that’s not the case). The story, apparently based on real events (?), is about a young girl in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan who, after her father is arrested, must disguise herself as a boy so that she can provide for her family (since women aren’t allowed to work/do almost anything). And yeah, you can imagine a lot of what comes after that. It’s a harrowing look at the mistreatment women face in some countries while not falling too hard into the gratuitous territory.
As for the main protagonist, she’s also great, an inspiring figure working to help her family, but the movie also doesn’t forget that she’s still a kid, prone to childish actions or moods. While the denial in regards to her father gets a bit irritating, some of the strange friendships she makes along the way are easily some of the more compelling parts of the story, including her tenative friendship with an older taliban fighter, dealing with his own personal losses in the endless war, and her friendship with another girl who dresses up in the same way she does.
One thing I will criticise it for is that the story-within-a-story in the movie felt a bit cliche and wasn’t really as interesting or relevant as I thought it was going to be, but that’s a minor nitpick in the grand scheme of things. The animation is nice, the characters are fully formed and dimensional and it doesn’t feel the need to hold back on humanizing some of its villains, vile as they may seem. Even the biggest asshole in the movie gets a moment that reminds you that he, like most of these sorts of extremist fighters, is basically just a dumb kid caught up in something he doesn’t fully comprehend.
So yeah, while I’m usually of the opinion that the Best Animated Oscar is kind of a joke, this is one that was definitely nominated for a good reason. Go see it. I’ve heard it’s apparently on US Netflix at the moment? (I have the UK version, so I don’t know for sure). Either way, go see it.
11. Thor Ragnarok
Do I really need to explain this? Reeeeeally? …Good, didn’t think so.
Seriously though, this movie was just so much fun. Light-hearted, colourful and goofy in the way that only a Taika Waititi movie can be. Sure, structurally it’s a bit of a mess, thematically it’s a bit undercooked and there were a few emotional moments that really could’ve used toning down the goof and jokes. Yet, even though my brain recognises the underlying flaws here and there, my heart doesn’t really care because, as mentioned, it was just so much fun. And it really doesn’t feel like enough blockbusters these days embrace the goofy fun sides of themselves. It’s all po-faced, grey blandness, so seeing this movie deliver a nice injection of colourful, goofy ecstasy is very much appreciated. I can’t think of a single minute that I was bored, even with the structural/thematic/dramatic problems. And, in the end, isn’t that all that really matters when it comes to a fun film?
That said, it’s not just the comedy that made me like the movie so much. A year or two ago I started reading some classic Thor comics (mainly Walt Simonson’s run, since I heard that’s widely considered the best) and was blown away by how interesting they were compared to the first two movies. I don’t dislike either of those Thor movies, even Dark World I thought was fairly fun albeit very very flawed, but the Simonson comics were on another level altogether. They were inventive, dramatic and almost mythic in their storytelling. It visited strange far-off places with characters and mythologies larger than life and forced the protagonists to make difficult choices. Thor Ragnarok is a very funny movie, yes. But it’s also, I think, the closest we’ve gotten to that classic mythic storytelling. The locales, the larger than life characters and dramatic twists and the occasional ‘punch the air’ Hell Yeah moment. It’s not exactly the same and is very distinctly tinged with that Waititi flavour, but it’s also much more than just a GOTG ripoff.
So yeah. S’fun. Waititi is awesome. Definitely interested to see how/if they continue the Thor saga from here.