30. Logan Lucky
Hoo boy. Okay, we’re getting to that really awkward early 30’s/late 20’s ‘good, but not Top 10’ point in my list where I end up not really having that all much to say about the movies in question aside from ‘Yeah, they’re good.’ Said movies don’t have much in the way of major flaws, yet neither do they really get me all that passionate about singing their praises. And so, a few exceptions aside, the best I’ve usually got is just a ‘Yeah, it’s pretty damn good. I just have other movies I preferred this year.’
Case in point? This movie is pretty damn good. The plot was solid, the acting great all round, Daniel Craig in particular was a ton of fun and overall the entire film was very very watchable. Stephen Sodenberg is a bit hit and miss for me, but this was a very firm hit that I enjoyed plenty. I just ultimately have other movies I preferred this year.
29. John Wick 2
Yeah, it’s pretty damn good. I just have other movies I preferred this year.
Honestly, it’s pretty much just solid action movie goodness. I was a pretty big fan of the first John Wick so it was nice to see this movie lived up to its predecessor’s quality. I’ll admit I don’t quite think the story was as tight as needed and I’ll confessed to being confused at a few of the character motivations towards the end, but it was still a fun watch and it’s nice to see them expand on the worldbuilding. Looking forward to Wick 3.
28. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Yay for polygamy?! Honestly, no jokes, there were a lot of ways that this movie, about the creator of Wonder Woman, William Marston, and his polygamist relationship with his two wives, could’ve gone badly wrong. Creating a sympathetic polygamist relationship without it devolving solely into just male wank fantasy is not easy. But, no, this movie makes it all entirely work and gets to really make you buy into the relationship these three had and why and how it developed. It also helps that all three characters are played by great actors and have both genuinely good chemistry and plenty of funny/dramatic moments with each other. It’s not just two hot women coming onto hunky Luke Evans, it’s a complicated relationship formed on all sides with unique dynamics between all three. So, definite kudos there.
I will say that, despite ostensibly being about the creator of Wonder Woman, the movie itself doesn’t actually really focus all that much on the actual creation of Wonder Woman (at least not to the extent of something like, say, The Man Who Invented Christmas), but what does do it is contextualise the original comics and point out an additional interesting subtext to all the kinky fuckery in the mythology (or in the original WW comics, at least. The recent 2017 WW movie was notably lacking in said kinky fuckery, unfortunately, but I’ll get to that later) and really makes you look at the whole thing from a different point of view.
So yeah, in conclusion, this definitely wasn’t the sort of movie I was expecting when I went in to see a movie about the origin of Wonder Woman, but what I got was very interesting in its own right. So it was definitely overall a fun watch with plenty of kinky fuckery to enjoy.
(I’ll be honest, at this point, I just enjoy typing kinky fuckery too much to stop.)
27. Big Fish & Begonia
So apparently China is making big animated movies now? Good on them.
No seriously, that wasn’t sarcasm. Good on them. The more different animations out there the better. Especially if they’re as gorgeous and engaging as this movie.
Seriously though, as I’ve already mentioned a few times on this list, I’m a fairly big fan of animated movies. Especially ones with traditional hand-drawn animation. So when I got the chance to check this movie out at the London Film Festival, I was practically chomping at the bit. Not only did the trailer look gorgeous, but it was also animated by Studio Mir, the same studio who did such shows as Legend of Korra and the recent Voltron show. So did it live up to my expectations? Pretty much yeah.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a fantastic movie and it’s certainly no Ghibli, but as far as a first effort goes, it was really damn good. Not only did it look absolutely amazing, but it was able to pull some really damn strong emotional chops. No joke, this movie got me closest to crying than other movie I saw this year. And trust me when I say I’m not the sort of person who cries at movies. At all.
Okay, a brief explanation of the premise of the movie. The film takes place in a mystical realm beneath the human world, where mythical beings with magical abilities watch over the world and help keep the laws of nature balanced. I suspect it’s highly based on Chinese mythology, because I didn’t recognise fucking jack shit about it, so it was certainly fascinating to see these strange and interesting designs and ideas translated into animated form.
Anyway, to get back on track, Big Fish & Begonia is about one such inhabitant of this realm, a young girl named Chun, who goes on a coming-of-age visit/exploration of the human world while taking the form of a dolphin. However, on her way back home, she is caught in a fisherman’s net and is only saved by the intervention of a young boy. Unfortunately, said boy is drowned in the process of saving her, naturally leaving Chun with a fair amount of guilt.
As recompense, she travels to the underworld and bargains with the grumpy and morally ambiguous Soul Keeper, who makes a deal with her to restore the boy’s life. In exchange for half of her lifespan, the boy’s soul is resurrected in the form of a baby dolphin. Chun must successfully raise the dolphin, nicknamed Kun, to adulthood to fully restore the boy back to life. Which easier said than done when most of the other inhabitants of the realm believe Kun will bring disaster to them all (which, unfortunately, isn’t exactly inaccurate). So Chun, with the help of her best friend Qui (who is also one of the best characters in the movie) must keep Kun’s existence hidden until he can be restored to life.
Now, first things first, this movie is fucking gorgeous. Seriously, this is eaaasily the best looking animated movie of the year. The landscapes are lush, the action is smooth, the character designs are pretty solid and it really goes to show why it’s so annoying that Western animated movies seem to have more-or-less abandoned traditional animation all together. Okay, sure, once or twice these distractingly bad CG whales showed up, but that was only at the beginning, I think, and the rest of the animation more than makes up for it. Trust me when I say these tiny images barely do the movie justice.
Now, as much as I do like this movie, there is one major issue I think really holds it back from being a real masterpiece of the genre. And it’s quite simple. Kun is a tremendously boring character. Seriously, when I think of animal companions in animated movies, I think of characters like Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon or Gromit in Wallace and Gromit. Both are almost utterly silent, yet they convey so much character and emotion through their expressions and movements and actions.
In comparison, Kun mostly just swims around looking sad. And, let’s not forget, he’s a large focus of much of the movie. Making a human-animal bond the focal point of your movie doesn’t really work when one half of said relationship is just dull as sin. He’s got a nice design and all, but as far as actual characterisation goes, he has the personality of a goldfish. He even drags down Chun somewhat. Before the climax, I was perfectly willing to put her in the same boat of being a bland main character solely based on her interactions with Kun. She’s fortunately redeemed by the third act, where she has some genuinely heart-breaking emotional turmoil to go through as the results of her actions start to take their toll on her home.
Now, I’m not saying this movie is just a pretty face with a lackluster story under the surface, because it’s really not. (Aside from the pretty face thing, obviously. Seriously, this movie looks gorgeous.) In particular, I have nothing but praise for Qui’s complex and utterly heart-breaking character arc. Seriously, I was not exaggerating when I called him the best character in the movie by far. He’s got a great design mixed with a full realized, three-dimensional characterisation that leads to a genuinely emotional conclusion. As much as the movie proclaims to be about Chun and Kun, Qui is really the emotional centre of the film and is damn compelling at that.
Indeed, while the first two thirds of this movie were a touch sluggish and uncertain, not helped by Kun’s dullness, the final third of this movie more than propels this movie into something special. It’s dramatic and epic and heart-breaking for Chun and Qui. I’m not exaggerating when I say I could hear genuinely sobbing from some people in my screening. And it wasn’t solely relegated to the kids either.
In conclusion, with a tighter script and better characterisation for our titular Big Fish, this movie could’ve been one of the real masterpieces of the animated genre. But even as it is, it’s still an absolutely fantastic watch with an emotional third act that deserves nothing but the strongest kudos. In a year where Western animation has been fairly underwhelming all around, it’s good to see other countries picking up the banner. This is definitely one to recommend if you’re curious.
26. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
This movie is… a bit awkward to talk about. Not just because it’s a movie that a lot of people here are condemning for a large variety of reasons, but because I completely agree with what those people are saying about it. Yeah, this movie is very much a Jurassic World kind of situation where, while I personally enjoyed the movie, I entirely fucking get why other people hate it and I’m not going to defend it on those reasons because I agree it’s problematic as all hell. And not in the ways that it’s trying to be.
Okay, I mean, sure, if you remove 3B from all kind of current-day political context then it’s probably more-or-less fine, an emotional little movie about grief, anger and learning to show kindness to those who you might not necessarily think deserve it. But when you put it in the modern day context of police shootings and brutality and racism and… it doesn’t exactly look great. Especially with the character of Dixon who, yes is amusingly portrayed by Sam Rockwell, but gets away with horrendous and racist abuses of power (that can easily be paralleled with a lot of real life examples) with little more than a slap on the wrist and a rather unconvincing character arc. That’s… not exactly something to cheer about. Hell, the movie’s treatment of black characters in general ain’t exactly something to cheer about.
So why, with all that, is this movie so high up on the list?
Well, because… honestly… ignoring the context, I did really kinda enjoy it. Frances McDormand is absolutely fantastic in the main role, playing a mother brimming with grief and such anger against the world that drives her to do questionable things. The deer scene in particular was a real standout, questionable CGI or not. Sam Rockwell’s racist cop, while horrendously uncomfortable considering the real world parallels, was still kinda entertaining and Woody Harrelson manages to really make his comparatively small role shine. And there are definite positives to be gleaned from some of the more intentional messages of the film and the like.
Overall, this isn’t exactly a movie I’m going to go to great lengths to defend on this list. There are a lot of shitty things about it and I entirely understand and sympathise anyone who can’t overlook them. To be honestly, I’m basically rooting against it for Best Picture if only for many of those same reasons. But, I personally found enough things to like and enough good to it that I’m willing to give it a decent place on this list.