Hi there, High-Def Gang! As promised, your trusty theatrical film critic is back with more pointless awards celebrating the finest cinematic achievements of 2017. Last time, I did all the classic accolades that you’ll find in any movie awards show, from the prestige of the Oscars or Teen Choice Awards to the dreck of the Golden Raspberries or the Golden Globes. Now that all those big categories are mercifully out of the way, it’s time to get weird.
From here own out, these categories will be selfishly organized to give me an opportunity to celebrate my favorite flicks of the year that didn’t cozily fit under titles like Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, etc. Some categories will make sense (many are celebrating the finest achievements in specific genres). Others will somehow make less than no sense. All choices are entirely selfish.
As always, no prizes will be given to the winners nor will they ever be contacted. However, I solemnly swear that if anyone involved in any of the movies I’ve given awards to this year spots me in public, they will get one free hug and a handshake from good ol’ Phil Brown. That’s a promise and a rare honor that few in this world get to experience. You snooty Hollywood types had better appreciate it!
Best Cinematic Experience
No night spent sitting in a movie theater could possibly compare to watching Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster play out in IMAX. The stripped-down yet massive ‘Dunkirk’ has no protagonist or even much of a conventional plot structure. Instead, it’s an almost purely sensory experience that plunges viewers into the battlefield from a variety of perspectives to give a sense of the vast madness of war. Every inch of the IMAX screen and thunderous sound system was used for maximum visceral impact. It was a movie that you experienced like a theme park ride, executed with the artistry of a master filmmaker. Hopefully, there will be revival IMAX screenings of ‘Dunkirk’ someday.
It’s still possible to appreciate what a beautifully made and thoughtfully executed film ‘Dunkirk’ is from home, but nothing compares to the pants-filling intensity of watching it explode all over an IMAX screen. That shit was magical.
Best Fantasy Film
Speaking of shit that’s magical, master genre-bender Guillermo del Toro just might have made his finest film in 2017. If nothing else, ‘The Shape of Water’ is definitely del Toro’s finest hour sans subtitles. Essentially, it can be described as ‘Amélie’ meets ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’. It’s a beautiful and whimsical romance between a mute woman and a sea monster. That would be enough to grab my attention, but with del Toro being del Toro, that’s only the first layer of the onion.
‘The Shape of Water’ is also a work of Cold War paranoia and a beautiful parable about what it means to be a societal outcast. All of it is executed with stunningly sumptuous style and acted perfectly by a remarkable crop of performers. This is one of the most moving and magical cinematic experiences to come along in years, with more imagination and insight within single sequences than most movies manage in their entire running times. It’ll be tough for del Toro to top this one, but given that no one else but him could have even dreamed of something similar to ‘The Shape of Water’, it’s safe to say that the man has a few more tricks up his sleeve.
Best Comic Book Movie
Yeah yeah, I know that ‘Wonder Woman’ was the bigger hit and more culturally relevant. ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ was way more fun too. But when you step back and look at all of the superhero blockbusters to hit screens in 2017, James Mangold’s thoughtful ‘Logan’ is the most fascinating.
Hugh Jackman’s feature-length farewell to Wolverine is a thoroughly demystifying look at hero worship. Mangold’s movie rips apart conventional notions of heroism, presents a painfully believable dystopic future, and explores Wolverine as the tragic and damaged loner he always was. This is a superhero blockbuster for adults the likes of which we’ve all been waiting for since ‘The Dark Knight’, and it’s arguable that not even the comic books have ever explored Wolverine with such depth, darkness and insight. It was a shame to see Bub disappear into the sweet cinematic night when it was all over, but it’s not like Wolverine was ever going to get a movie better than ‘Logan’. That just doesn’t even seem possible.
Runners Up: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’, ‘Wonder Woman’, ‘The Lego Batman Movie’, ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’.
Best Science Fiction Movie
Good lord, would it have ever been easy to screw up a sequel to ‘Blade Runner’. Ridley Scott’s moody classic might have become iconic for its groundbreaking visual effects and world-building, but it’s also a rather alienating and difficult meditation on the nature of existence that was never a particularly entertaining blockbuster. Following up that template required an artist like director Denis Villeneuve. The Canuck auteur behind ‘Polytechnique’, ‘Sicario’ and ‘Arrival’ managed to not only assemble a team of geniuses to deliver the single most stunning cinematic creation of 2017 on a technical level, but also wove together a complex narrative that built on all of the heady themes of the original film.
True, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ was a divisive box office disappointment, but ‘Blade Runner’ was also an infamous bomb on release that was only appreciated slowly over time. The same thing will happen again. This was the best possible ‘Blade Runner’ sequel that we could have gotten. The only problem was that ‘Blade Runner’ was never meant for mass consumption or appreciation. Give it time. The people who enjoy this sort of heady and harsh sci-fi will embrace ‘Blade Runner 2049’ soon enough.
Best ‘Star Wars’ Movie
Speaking of divisive, let’s talk ‘Last Jedi’. The responses to the latest episode in the endless space saga George Lucas dreamed up a long, long time ago has been ridiculously polarizing. Some people love the way director Rian Johnson challenged the status quo, toyed with expectation, demystified, and just generally fucked around with ‘Star Wars’, and realize that it’s the new ‘Empire Strikes Back’. Others were confused and frustrated because they can’t let go of the past. Ironically, that’s one of the key themes of ‘The Last Jedi’.
Over time, I’m sure this beautifully bizarre ‘Star Wars’ flick will be embraced by all. For now, it’s nice to know that filmmakers are allowed to step into the ‘Star Wars’ universe and take enough risks with the material that some viewers won’t know how to respond. If we’re going to keep getting ‘Star Wars’ movies every year, then they should at least be daring. Say what you will about ‘The Last Jedi’, but Rian Johnson and crew took big and bold risks. They almost all turned out well, too. That guy’s personal ‘Star Wars’ trilogy can’t come fast enough.
Runner Up: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’.
Best Action Flick
Are you one of those special movie lovers who adores nothing more than watching a bad guy get punched in the face in the most creative way possible? Well, then you likely already know by now that no current action franchise serves up stylish face punches quite like ‘John Wick’. The Keanu Reeves-headlined franchise was a pleasant surprise when it debuted, and after the sequel, already feels like a genre classic and staple. Combining some of the finest and most tastefully shot action scenes ever staged with a delightfully insane and semi-ironic assassin fantasy universe, ‘John Wick’ is pure joy for anyone weaned on the action genre. ‘Chapter 2’ is a rare sequel every bit as good as the original. Maybe even a little better. (Certainly, it’s a little more insane and stupider in the best possible way.) ‘John Wick 3’ can’t come soon enough.
Best Horror Movie That Isn’t ‘Get Out’
Some particularly nostalgic 1990s kids may have felt otherwise, but Stephen King’s magnum opus ‘It’ was long overdue for a decent cinematic adaptation. We got a damn fine one this year featuring a Pennywise so horrifying that even Tim Curry cowered in fear, and a brilliant young cast who carried just barely into puberty. Director Andrés Muschietti delivered a master class of almost every type of cinematic scare without ignoring King’s icky yet vital subtext. Best of all, the movie focuses exclusively on the first half of the book where all the good stuff happens. That means that the inevitable sequel will almost certainly stink, but oh well. We’ll deal with that later. At least we have a damn fine version of the far superior half of ‘It’. That’ll make it easier to pretend the disappointing sequel doesn’t exist in a few years.
Runner Up: ‘Raw’
Nastiest Genre Movie
‘Brawl in Cell Block 99’ might not be a horror movie, but if you like lean and mean shock pictures there was nothing else like it in 2017. ‘Bone Tomahawk’ director S. Craig Zahler delivered a crime/prison odyssey that shaves Vince Vaughn’s head and sends him on a slow-motion journey into hell. Spoiling anything more about the movie would be unfair, but if you’re someone who enjoys having their buttons pushed and wants to have nightmares involving Don Johnson, look no further and accept no substitutes. This nasty, dirty, and downright mean movie will scratch your gross itch.
Oscar bio-pic season is typically a dour and joyless affair, so thank god for ‘I, Tonya’. The movie takes the notorious tabloid figure skating queen and transformers her into a tragic redneck heroine in a breathlessly paced and hysterical dark comedy filled with humanity. Margot Robbie and Allison Janney are so damn good that they are guaranteed acting nominations, but don’t let that put you off the movie assuming that it exists purely for stunt-casting. This is easily one of the most lovably oddball and madcap movies of the year. The fact that it’s about Tonya Harding just makes it all that much sweeter.
Runner Up: ‘The Disaster Artist’.
The sequel to ‘Trainspotting’ shouldn’t have worked and probably shouldn’t have existed. Somehow, Danny Boyle reunited his entire team and transformed a story about heroin addiction and reckless youth into a bleakly hilarious study of the pains of aging, the childish challenges of enduring male friendship, and the painful traps of nostalgia. To wrap all that within a satisfying sequel to ‘Trainspotting’ was a cinematic miracle that far too few folks acknowledged.
To be fair, it’s not like anyone outside of Scotland was begging for a ‘Trainspotting’ sequel. However, anyone with even a passing affection for the original film who has been so bold as to age and change since they last saw it really needs to sample ‘T2: Trainspotting’. It’s an absolute blast of entertainment and also far more thoughtful than it has any right to be.
Runners Up: ‘Blade Runner 2049’, ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’, ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’, ‘Thor: Ragnarok’, ‘Guardians of the Glaxay Vol. 2’.
Most Uncomfortably Awkward Comedy
Ever found yourself scrolling through Facebook with pangs of jealousy? Guess what, we all have. Writer/director Mike White’s brilliant ‘Brad’s Status’ captures what makes that experience so addictive, pathetic, and self-destructive in blisteringly funny ways that’ll make you sick to your stomach. This movie deserved so much more attention than it received and hopefully everyone who enjoys laughing while cringing will find it eventually.
Runner Up: ‘Brigsby Bear’.
Anyone wondering why they don’t make good rom-coms anymore needs to sit their eyeholes in front of ‘The Big Sick’. It’s an instant classic of the genre that’ll have you sling-shotting between laughter and tears until you have all the feels at once and can’t control your emotions. In other words, it’s everything that you could possibly want out of a rom-com… plus a fantastic Holly Hunter performance for good measure.
Runner Up: ‘The Disaster Artist’.
Most Lovable Movie
Show me someone who doesn’t love Greta Gerwig’s ‘Lady Bird’ and I’ll show you someone without a soul. The beautiful coming of age comedy will endure for decades.
Best Stupid Movie
Runner Up: ‘The Fate of the Furious’.
Most Underappreciated Actor of the Year
Honestly, what is it with people underrating Mark Hamill? The guy never seems to get his due. Then finally in 2017 he not only got to return to Luke Skywalker in a completely unexpected form that added new depth and shading to the role, he also got to deliver the strangest, darkest, and possibly funniest performance of his career in Brigsby Bear. Either of those performances should have had people screaming about how great Mark Hamill is now and has always been. Neither of them got the attention they deserved. That’s a shame. But good news, Mark! You have my respect, sir. That was a hell of a pair of performances. I know that you’ll never read this nor do you even care what I think, but I still want you to know. Well done, buddy. Great job!