Now, unlike most years, where I list my 10 favorite “rotten” films of the year, I’m only listing five this year. I saw the same amount of good, bad and ugly movies in 2017 as I did for any other year, so either the movies are getting better, or critics are getting softer. Hmm. (Note: I’m using the Rotten Tomatoes scores each film had on December 31, 2017.)
If you have an interest in making films, you need to put yourself through one movie like The Snowman every year. Think of it like a star quarterback rewatching game tape of a really bad game they played. A lot can be learned by occasionally focusing on what not to do, and The Snowman is a magnificent disaster of everything to avoid while making a film.
There’s no spinning it – The Snowman is damn awful. Seemingly everyone involved with the film is talented, yet it somehow turned into one of the worst movies I’ve seen in years. The director has blamed the studio, saying they inexplicably decreased the number of shooting days while they were shooting, leaving roughly 15 percent of the script unfilmed. If that is true, it is baffling to me that the studio would even bother marketing and releasing the film. But, alas, they did. And there’s a lot to be learned.
Rarely is it so easy to pinpoint where a movie veers off course, but George Clooney made it easy for us with Suburbicon. The film is clearly two movies in one. Movie 1 is an effective, twisty home invasion/revenge thriller set in ‘50s suburban America, written by Joel and Ethan Coen. Movie 2 is a well-intentioned but confusing social commentary on racism in ‘50s suburban America, written by George Clooney and Grant Heslov. Both movies have the potential to work, but not together. Noting those faults, I still attest that Suburbicon was unfairly shit on by critics. Hell, Oscar Isaac’s quick turn as an inquisitive insurance investigator was worth the price of admission alone.
4. The Bad Batch
Rotten Tomatoes score: 41%
For some of The Bad Batch, the film felt like it had nowhere to go. Which is probably why, at 118 minutes, the movie could be 30 minutes shorter. But there was a lot to appreciate about Ana Lily Amirpour’s dystopian-set survival flick. Creating such an immersive world on a $6 million budget is a good place to start. And capturing universally great performances is another. I wish I had seen this one on the big screen, though. Lyle Vincent’s trippy cinematography deserved a large canvas.
3. Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Dan Girloy’s second film may not have been as visceral as his debut, Nightcrawler, but there were some worthy things to take away from Roman J. Israel, Esq. Colin Farrell’s against-type performance, and Denzel Washington’s hyper-intelligent, rambling work made the movie worth it. But I get it. There was little in Roman J. Israel, Esq. we hadn’t seen before, and given the talent involved, it felt like Gilroy could’ve dug deeper and delivered something more meaningful. But I enjoyed my time with the movie all the same.
I didn’t like Alexander Payne’s Downsizing as much as The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy, who called it the best film of the year, but critics came down too hard on this one. As we often see in gimmick movies, Downsizing presents a fascinating and unique idea (that people can choose to shrink themselves in order to start a new life, and better the environment), but doesn’t do as much with that idea as it could. I thought the film ran long, but was fine. And Hong Chau owning the third act made for a great, unexpected arc.
1. Song to Song
There is so much value to be found in a master filmmaker bending the medium in refreshing ways. Terrence Malick’s last three films, To the Wonder, Knight of Cups, and Song to Song, have no conventional plot. Instead, they are moving poems of human behavior, shot through a dreamlike lens. Song to Song often seems like a film that doesn’t know what it wants, which is a perfect way to capture the emotional confusion plaguing all of the characters. I understand that some are frustrated by Malick’s shifting narratives, but if you let go of filmic convention for two hours, you can be exposed to something wholly unique, and worthy of discussion.