Yeah, strike me as surprised as you are that I enjoyed this movie so much. Hell, I wasn’t even originally planning on actually seeing it, considering how much I disliked the trailers. Wouldn’t have been the first unappealing Western animation I skipped this year based on trailers/general feeling alone. (Also why you won’t be seeing Boss Baby, Cars 3, Despicable Me 3, or Emoji Movie on this list, mind). But then Ferdinand ended up getting surprisingly decent reviews on RT and an animated Oscar nomination (which, to be fair, doesn’t mean much) and I decided fuck it, might as well take the plunge.
And… honestly, I really quite enjoyed it.
Personally, a large part of what actually made the movie for me was the titular character of Ferdinand. When I saw the trailers I was expecting him to be your typical goofy wimp who thinks he needs to toughen up, etc etc, cliche and annoying. But in the movie itself, he’s a genuinely really nice guy who’s comfortable with himself, never lacking for bravery, wins over friends because he cares about other people and doesn’t fight not because he’s a wimp but because he genuinely doesn’t like fighting. It’s the sort of protagonist you really don’t see enough of in these sorts of movies and made him very endearing in a lot of ways. He’s like Chris Evans’s Captain America if he was an animated pacifist bull.
Honestly, a large part of what makes this movie work is the characters and the way they grown and develop through the movie via their interactions with Ferdinand. Even the token jerk has his own Freudian excuse and character arc and growth through the movie. (Speaking of, I was not expecting the movie with John Cena as a talking bull to be one with a message about toxic masculinity).
That said, if there was one thing that kept this movie down, it was the animation. Blue Sky have never really been outstanding in terms of their animation or direction. Competent, perhaps, but never outstanding. And the animation in this was so standard, mediocre and uninventive you could mistake it for an Illumination film. Especially when it comes to the action. Almost all the chase sequences are about as forgettable and unexciting as you can get and even the big arena fight at the end isn’t exactly a wower. The only vaguely action related segment I remember that kept my attention throughout was the dance-off and that was more due to sheer WTFness than actually quality of animation.
That said Ferdinand was still a genuinely pleasant surprise. It has its flaws yes, but makes up for them with its surprisingly endearing main character and genuinely positive messages. So kudos. It was a lot better than I was expecting.
Speaking of movies that I was not expecting to secretly be about toxic masculinity…
Okay, can I just get this out of the way now and talk about how great Jason Sudekis’s villain was in this movie? I know it’s technically spoilers, but his character genuinely got under my skin more than any other antagonist in any movie this year, in large part because he felt so much more real than any other villain this year. Film has far too often conditioned us to imagine domestic abusers as the typical gruff, angry violent asshole, but far too often they’re also familiar figures, charismatic, friendly and manipulative and controlling in a way that you don’t see coming. I went into this movie already knowing the twist and I still thought Sudekis in the first half or so was a pretty cool guy. And when his true nature comes to light, it’s not some sudden switch into abuse mode, it’s a slow exaggeration of traits that were already there but that take on a much darker light in this new context. It’s genuinely great writing and acting.
The rest of the movie was alright too.
Okay, that’s maybe a bit harsh. Hathaway was genuinely really good in this and did an excellent job with her character. Plus the premise itself is a really good one. That said, it did maybe feel like the whole ‘giant monster’ thing was kinda let down by what I assume was a limited budget. I’m as much for visual shorthand and symbolism as the next guy, but when we get to the point of Jason Sudekis stomping around a child’s playground while dramatic and heartbreaking music plays, I start to get the impression that maybe you’re covering up because you can’t afford any more monster shots. Don’t get me wrong, the monster shots that are there are pretty good, but it really felt like the movie needed more of them here and there to really punch up the drama. Because again. Jason Sudekis stomping around a child’s playground. Not the most dramatic of things.
Still, I enjoyed it a lot and for reasons that I didn’t entirely see coming. It was very much ‘come for the premise, stay for the villain’ sort of movie and they pulled it off reasonably well.
So stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A washed-up actor, who was formerly famous before his life went to shit… Okay, you know the rest.
Alright, maybe that’s a little bit unfair. Mindhorn is a British comedy movie about Richard Thorncroft, the washed-up ex-star of a popular (fictional) 80’s sci-fi/detective series called Mindhorn, whose life went to shit after a failed attempt to make it in Hollywood and now largely lives in disgraced squalor. However, he is called back into his most famous role to help deal with a serial killer who believes that the show is real. Shit happens, Richard makes a tit of himself, then has to redeem himself in the climax, yada yada, you know the rest. Like I said, it is a very predictable movie. A lot of the character beats, a lot of the story beats, even some of the twists are more or less as standard as you’d expect from reading that premise. There were a couple surprises here and there, but aside from that it’s not anything amazingly original.
So why is this so high up on this list? Well, it’s funny. It’s really really funny.
Yeah, while the story may be somewhat generic, as far as the actual jokes go, this movie is more or less on point. I laughed a lot and had a pretty damn fun time watching it. There’s a lot of good British comedy talent on display, like Julian Barrett or Steven Coogan or, one of my own underrated favourites in a great minor role, Simon Farnaby (who you might remember from Paddington 1 and 2 as Beleaguered Security Guard!) It even has cameos from a suitably befuddled Kenneth Brannagh.
In the end, it’s certainly a very predictable sort of movie, but it is also a very funny one. And in the end, isn’t that all that really matters? …Well, yeah. It’s a comedy. Duh.
32. Ghost in the Shell
So yeah, this is basically my Warcraft pick of the year. Aka that one movie everyone else hated and shat on that I thought was actually genuinely fairly good. Maybe not great, but definitely overlooked.
Honestly though, while I’m rarely one to call out bias, it did kinda feel like this movie always had the odds stacked against to begin with. Not only was it adapting a very philosophical and complex work that never would’ve gone over great with blockbuster audiences in its original form (for proof of that just look at the box office for Blade Runner 2049), but there was also the whitewashing controversy which… honestly… I think was kinda unfair on it? Don’t get me wrong, I do sympathise with the motives behind the whole ‘whitewashing’ protests, if only because I agree Asian actors/actresses are horribly underrepresented in Hollywood, but considering this movie is all about artificial bodies and the like, it felt kinda weird that everyone was complaining about the ‘Shell’ rather than the Ghost.
(Hell, I actually thought the movie made a great subtle commentary on whitewashing, if you were paying attention. Corporations take a Japanese person, try to make her into their ideal of the next level of perfect humanity and turn her into caucasian Scarlett Johannson? You really think that was entirely coincidental?)
That said, I honestly enjoyed this movie quite a lot. It’s not the original, certainly, but I wasn’t expecting it to be and, as a far as a Hollywood translation of that story goes, I honestly thought it was fairly good. It was visually inventive and actually had some fairly solid writing behind it.
I can understand why people thought Johansson was a bit bland, but I thought it was made pretty clear in the movie that that was kinda the point of her character. Part of her arc is that she doesn’t really feel like she fits in with humanity, considers herself more of a tool or experiment than a person and an understated performance helped to bolster that. Plus she has fairly good chemistry with Batou, Binoche and Pitt (who was probably the MVP of the movie). And she does get a few good moments here and there (although probably not quite enough). There’s one scene after Pitt’s reveal where she just silently stares at Binoche’s character in her bedroom and I will admit it kinda freaked me out a little.
Now, I will admit the story is fairly cliche and predictable and I get why people might not be happy with it (especially since the non-Pitt villain ends up being a very generic corporate bad guy) but I honestly felt it kinda worked. It doesn’t elevate the movie, by any means, but it kept me interested and showcased enough of the characters/action/world that I didn’t really feel it dragged the movie down either. Sure it could’ve used a few extra bits of depth and originality here and there (although I did appreciate Pitt’s character being largely as clueless about his past as Major’s and the discovery the two of them both go through made him feel a lot fresher). A lot of the philosophical aspects from the original GitS are kinda dumbed down and Hollywoodised, for lack of a better word, but, as mentioned, that was something that I was kinda expecting anyway to make it more appealing to mainstream audiences (although it obviously didn’t quite work) and there are still some interesting ideas left behind that the movie does a good job of making digestible and understandable. Hell, possibly better than the original movie did. There was a lot about the original movie that I found confusing or underexplained, but I never really had that problem with this one. Of course, that’s a tradeoff for the themes lacking the same level of depth and insightfulness as the original, but, again, that was something I was expecting the whole time.
So yeah, honestly I enjoyed it a fair bit. I said before it’s probably not going be the sort of movie I’m going to go to hold up as one of the classics of the year, but as an action blockbuster with some depth below the surface (if you’re paying attention) I thought it worked fairly well.
31. My Life as a Courgette
*Shrugs* Yeah, it’s technically a 2016 film, but I didn’t get the chance to watch it in 2016 because it hadn’t been released, so I’m counting it here. Although weirdly I did almost get the chance to see it at the LFF in 2016, but I missed it because I went to see Birdboy: The Forgotten Children instead. Which, to add an extra layer on things, was shortlisted as a 2017 film by this year’s animated Oscars. Because fuck it, what even are years anyway?
Ahem, anyway, I don’t really have all that much to say here, but yeah this was a really nice little film, dealing with issues of abuse and abandonment at a young age and the like. The animation was nice, the kid characters were good, it did a good job of making its little world of the orphanage feel real and overall, there’s really not much to complain about. I’ll admit, it was much more of a kids friendly film than I was expecting, despite its hefty subject matter, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all.
So yeah, it may have taken me a long time to finally get to see this, but I’m ultimately glad I did. It’s a very sweet and likeable movie.