It’s time to be positive. When looking back at 2017 so far, it’s easy to look at the high-profile flops and ongoing row about whether films are made for general “audiences” rather than snooty and out of touch critics. In fact, just the thought of Transformers: The Last Knight still playing in my local cinema is enough to bring me out in hives. Elsewhere, though, 2017 has been an impressive year for cinema, whether your taste lies in the best superhero blockbusters or horror with a rich thread of social commentary running through its heart.
Just as with the worst films list last week, all three hosts of The Popcorn Muncher Podcast listed our five best films of 2017 so far. We’ve awarded points for the rankings, crunched the numbers and here are, according to the three of us, the ten best films that have been released in the UK during the first six months of 2017.
9=. Kong: Skull Island (1 pt)
Prior to his big smackdown with Godzilla a few years from now, giant ape King Kong made his return to the big screen in Kong: Skull Island. It was a fun movie, capped off by some impressive CGI on the eponymous beast himself.
Patrick said: “I was the first to make jokes at the expense of a monster expanded universe but I was promptly put in my place by Skull Island. The movie takes B movie sensibilities and blows them up for a modern big budget movie which creates a fun and exciting creature feature that works gangbusters.”
9=. Manchester by the Sea (1 pt)
Casey Affleck won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role as a grief-stricken man caring for his nephew in Manchester by the Sea. It certainly didn’t get the love from audiences that was bestowed upon the glitzier La La Land – more on that later – but it was a real awards contender.
Tom said: “Affleck delivers a heart-breaking performance in this chilly and measured, but incredibly human, drama. It’s a sophisticated portrayal of grief that delves deeply into a complex and tortured character.”
7=. Free Fire (2 pts)
British filmmaker Ben Wheatley made his first big American movie with Free Fire – and it’s essentially a 90 minute shoot-em-up peppered with witty comedy and some delightfully flamboyant A-list performances.
Luke said: “This lean and hilarious creation is easily one of the most entertaining movies you will see this year, even though it’s light on character and choppy at times. A rewatch of this movie might not be kind to it, but for 90 minutes in the cinema it’s fantastically good fun.”
7=. John Wick: Chapter 2 (2 pts)
We’re thinking he’s back. Keanu Reeves returned to what may well be his best role as an unstoppable assassin on course for revenge in John Wick: Chapter 2. The film saw Reeves take on an array of villains with the now trademark mix of Hollywood gunplay and Asian martial arts cinema.
Patrick said: “I’ve stated on the podcast that John Wick is one of my favourite movies, so it had a hard act to follow. Thankfully, they nailed it. The action is once again phenomenal and directed with absolute precision as it expands the universe.”
6. Okja (3 pts)
Of all of the movies released straight to Netflix, eco-fable Okja may well be the best. It followed a girl who befriends a superpig in rural Korea, only to see it snatched back by the American corporation that wants the creature for meat.
Tom said: “With great performances and a potent message about capitalism and the meat industry, Okja is an intense and compelling movie. It starts with simple Spielbergian charm and ends with sophisticated social commentary, handling multiple tones with ease.”
5. Wonder Woman (4 pts)
The DC franchise finally got a film worth seeing this year with Wonder Woman. The star quality of Gal Gadot created a compelling character who should be the heart of the upcoming Justice League movie and the franchise that will follow it. A First World War setting kept the Princess of Themyscira away from cross-continuity nonsense and free to kick as much arse as she could get close to.
Luke said: “Our first female-led superhero movie is one that can hold its head high among the genre’s best. Lifting DC out of the critical doldrums, while keeping the elements of Zack Snyder’s movies that work, this has effectively relaunched the franchise. Packed with humour, emotion and genuinely original fight scenes, this is a movie you will come back to time and again.”
4. La La Land (5 pts)
Appearing on this list solely by virtue of it winning top spot from Luke, La La Land is certainly a memorable movie. Damien Chazelle swept just about everyone in the world along with his glitzy, glamorous blockbuster musical. It won a record number of Golden Globes and looked set to run away with everything at the Oscars before the now infamous cock-up that ended the night in rather weird fashion.
Luke said: “Chazelle’s astounding musical captures the glory of cinema old and new and is the only movie this year to flawlessly sweep me off of my feet for its entire runtime. It has wonderful music, great charm and is a bittersweet story about what you need to sacrifice to succeed. I have tried to convince myself time and again that I liked other movies more this year, but I’ve been lying every time.”
3. Baby Driver (6 pts)
After the disappointment of his Ant-Man experience, Edgar Wright roared back into cinemas this summer with his fiercely ambitious action thriller Baby Driver. Starring Ansel Elgort as a wheelman driven by the eclectic music he plays while his colleagues rob banks, it was a precise work of cinematic choreography that benefited from being seen on the biggest screen possible, with the loudest available sound system.
Patrick said: “A masterpiece in editing and rhythm. Wright is known for his kinetic editing style, but this takes it to the next level. The performances are solid, the soundtrack is phenomenal and as a work of cinema it’s flawless in execution. It harkens to the adrenaline-fuelled vehicular thrillers of the 60s and 70s, yet plays out closer to a musical with car chases.”
Tom said: “No one can match Wright for the controlled chaos of hyperactive filmmaking and Baby Driver is the absolute epitome of that style. It’s a precision-tooled thriller choreographed with music running right through its heart that wedges itself deep within your brain. The tyre squeals are as catchy as the soundtrack.”
2. Logan (10 pts)
Hugh Jackman has been playing Wolverine for almost 20 years. The character, though, has always felt neutered and sanitised by the 12A ratings of X-Men movies. This was not a problem for Logan, which was a proudly adult-rated and utterly ruthless superhero movie that showed you can make these films for adults without resorting to Deadpool-style goofball comedy. Following Logan and an ailing Charles Xavier on a road trip with a Wolverine-esque young girl, it was a shot in the arm for the superhero genre and a bittersweet final adventure for the man with the adamantium claws.
Patrick said: “Logan presents a story of redemption and finality to the Wolverine character in a near flawless manner. Highly influenced by westerns, the movie is a character study with real grit and heart that uses the conventions of the superhero genre to tell a personal story that works as a perfect send off for Jackman’s portrayal of the character.”
Luke said: “This lesson in how to reinvent a character we’ve known for 17 years should be watched by all producers currently running comic book cinema into the creative middle. Jackman and director James Mangold’s older, battle-hardened Logan is the perfect encapsulation of a character who’s been handled unevenly. This is an indispensable comic book movie in an era where they are increasingly throwaway.”
Tom said: “Logan is the best superhero movie I have ever seen. It’s a mature, sophisticated and beautifully emotional tale, in which nobody is particularly super or heroic. Jackman is grizzled perfection in the lead role and the brutality of the violence is delivered with claret-stained poetry by Mangold’s direction.”
1. Get Out (11 pts)
And here we have it, the best film of 2017. Jordan Peele made the move from sketch comedy to socially-conscious directing with Get Out, which told the story of a black man who became involved in something very strange when he went to meet his white girlfriend’s parents. It married chilling horror with sharply-written comedy and genuinely potent depictions of modern American racism.
Patrick said: “In this horror tale of a young black man meeting his white girlfriend’s peculiar parents and their friends, the target of ridicule is not the far right, but liberals. It provides a unique perspective on racism through the lens of horror that hits its notes perfectly. While the premise is a little overstretched for a feature movie, the sharp writing and direction makes up for it and produces an excellent piece of cinema.”
Luke said: “There’s nothing I can say about this movie that Tom hasn’t already said with better synonyms and in more tightly honed groups of three, but this searing social commentary/horror debut is just fantastic from uncomfortable start to its skin-crawling finale.”
Tom said: “I have seldom been as affected by a film as I was by Get Out. Not only was it a terrifying film, but it also challenges the insidious racism of right-on liberals rather than the easier target of alt-right MAGA trolls. The performances are phenomenal, the comedy comes thick and fast and the final scene is a beautifully-pitched depiction of how a great horror film can completely put you in a protagonist’s shoes. If there’s a better movie this year, I will be stunned.”
And here are our full lists. For our weekly reviews and chat, check out the podcast. If you want to yell at us for what we have chosen or indeed what we haven’t chosen, feel free to pop down to the comments section and scream your heart out.
Manchester by the Sea
La La Land
John Wick: Chapter 2
Kong: Skull Island