Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Top 10 best movies of the first half of 2017...

I'll refrain from saying too much and just get to the list. There are quite a few obscure movies on my list, so I've included trailers for the lesser known movies.

It should be noted that my #7 and #1 pick are actually movies I saw at TIFF last year, but I chose to refrain from adding it my 2016 list, because they never got a theatrical release in 2016. Now that both #7 and #1 got actual theatrical releases in 2017, they're now on my list.

Honorable Mentions:

Hidden Figures, Kong: Skull Island, Logan, Beauty and the beast, Hush, Catfight, Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Now for the rest of the list, and I guess I better defend my #10 pick since it got A LOT of hate.

10. The Great Wall ****

Yes I know, it's yet another movie where a white guy saves the day. Yes, the movie isn't all that smart, and for people who are big fans of Yimou Zhang, this movie lacks the depth of the House of Flying Daggers and Hero. But god damn it, this movie is a visual feast; especially in Imax 3D, it was the trippiest movie of the year so far with spectacular 3-D (and best use of shit flying out of  the screen effects in a long time). It's like Lord of the Rings battle scenes with the gorgeous color pallette of House of Flying Daggers with The Great wall of China as a backdrop, awesome wire work, and Zhang Yimou even out-Michael Bays Michael Bay with absolutely over the top epic explosions, often exploding into your face in 3-D. Come on, people! The battle scenes absolutely fucking ruled, and the movie was gorgeous to look at. I have the feeling I may look back at this review and shake my head when I watch this movie sober on a regular TV. Oh well, time will tell.

9. Heel Kick ****

To the die hard wrestling fans, this movie is an absolute must see. To the non-wrestling fans who love a good low brow sense of humor, give Heel Kick a chance; wrestling knowledge isn't required to laugh, but the smarks will appreciate it just a little more. Not only is this easily the funniest wrestling movie ever made, but it's also the funniest mockumentary in the past few years.

I'm sure most wrestling fans will agree that most wrestling movies suck; especially comedies. In fact, I'm hard pressed to think of one good wrestling comedy. Leave it to a low budget Canadian film to finally break that curse, with knowledge of the industry that doesn't insult the audience's intelligence, great performances and improv that feel so natural (to the main actor's credit, I had a beer with him after and he is absolutely nothing like the character he plays), and even a nice coming of age story for characters that seem redeemable. The ending is actually quite uplifting.

It's not an easy movie to find. Film festivals were too pretentious to accept a wrestling movie, they've toured it around U.S and Canada and I think it'll get an online release. I'll just say follow their facebook page and hopefully it'll get a release soon. I will very gladly watch this again.


8. John Wick: Chapter 2 ****

A rare sequel that has one hell of a conundrum that has plagued my mind since seeing it...was this better or part 1? I still don't know. It's a question that can be deeply pondered, debated and may need repeat viewings of both to come up with a good answer. Unlike TAKEN, where that sequel seemed to forget what everyone loved so much about the original (PG 13 sequel? Get the fuck out!), John Wick 2 absolutely remembers and delivers everything that was so great about part 1, from the absolutely brutal violence (I'm hard pressed to find a movie with more point blank shots to the face than this one) to the quirky characters to some great dark comedy. While I preferred the simplicity and sillyness of part 1's plot, part 2 may have had the more memorable action sequences. The scene of Keanu Reeves and Common trying to discreetly kill each other in a very public area is one of the most absurd, but hilarious moments, and what a great, quirky feud they have. Another The Raid Redemption series better or John Wick? I think we need a part 3 of both to answer that question.

7. My Entire Highschool sinking into the sea ****

This was one of my favorite movies at TIFF. It's a very funny, creative, abstract, random and trippy as fuck animated movie. What struck me about it, you just get a sense of the director and animator having so much fun making it, throwing the rule book out the window, doing whatever the fuck they want. There's even a charm to some, "the director clearly couldn't give 2 shits how this scene was animated" scenes which lead to some of the biggest laughs, ie: the lunch lady bearing the shit out of a bunch of high schoolers, which looked like it was animated by a 12 year old. And talk about randomness, there is that one part where the director is clearly fascinated by a single dot on a page which leads to a psychedelic, fractal zoom deep into the dot, in the middle of a chaotic scene. 

Beyond raving over the randomness and trippyness, its premise for a highschool sinking into the sea actually makes for a great metaphor for highschool itself and trying oh so hard to fit in. Remember back in the day when being popular was the most important thing? Here's a movie that captures that stupid teenage angst in a very zany, random as fuck way and it's one of the most unique highschool movies ever made.


6. Wonder Woman ****

I know a lot of people will pick LOGAN as best super hero movie of 2017, but I'm going with Wonder Woman, to which I went in skeptical about whether it could live up to all the hype, and walked out surprised as fuck at how much it actually exceeded all the hype. Wonder Woman's screenplay and performances are what elevate the movie to greatness; the action scenes are just the icing on the cake.  

I hope Wonder Woman isn't just lazily labelled as a girl power movie. It's actually a thoughtful, profound look at human morality, and I like how Wonder Woman's power grows the deeper she understands both the bad and the good of humanity; of violence, greed and jealousy vs. love and selflessness. Wonder Woman is also surprisingly a great comedy for the first half, with not just great fish out of water comedy with Wonder Woman trying to act like a normal human being in London, but I'm hard pressed to find a duo this year with better comedic chemistry than Gal Gadot and Chris Pine (who delivers one of the best straight man performances in a while), and a relationship that grows into something far deeper later in the movie. Congrats to Patty Jenkins for one hell of a return to the big screen after only took 14 years. 

5. My Life as a Zucchini ****

I saw a critic label this French animated movie as a kids claymation version of SHORT TERM 12 to which I had to say, "If that's true, I'm 100% sold on this movie!" After seeing it, fuck yes that's accurate. It's not quite as poignant, but it's a kids movie; it shouldn't be. Both movies take place in a group home, with abandoned, damaged children and the caretakers who pour their hearts out to take care of them.
This is the most powerful movie I've seen this year, and to be able to get that type of emotion out of the audience using clay figures is a fucking accomplishment.

 I really am curious if parents were taking their kids out to this movie in France, because this is really heavy dramatic stuff for children to handle. It's charming and funny, but raw, and honest about the emotional scars children carry. Most importantly, it's a celebration of love in its many forms, in a group home where abandoned children feel like no one out there loves them. 


4. The Devil's Candy ****1/2

The Devil's Candy is the best horror movie of the past 2 years. It may not be a purely scary horror movie, but it's directed with such creativity and originality. How often do we get an artsy horror movie, let alone a heavy metal horror? We've seen many haunted house horrors, but none like this. I love the concept of an artist getting haunted through his paintings, where a demonic force takes over his mind, making him paint really fucked up shit. 

Beyond the artsyness, the movie is intense as fuck. It's not just a haunted house horror, but also a slasher movie with one hell of an unforgettable villain. The scene with the daughter duct taped in the bathroom is one of the most suspenseful scenes in recent memory. Give us something original, and give us characters that are well developed, that we actually give a shit about, and the suspense will work. If there's one knock against the movie, maybe the director doesn't understand how fire works, or simply didn't give a shit...ah fuck it, that scene still ruled. 

3. I Don't Feel at Home in this World Anymore ****1/2

What a nihilistic, misanthropic, but fucking hilarious, shocking movie. It starts with a character who's had steaming piles of shit thrown at her life non-stop. She just wishes that people can stop being assholes. Then people break in and steal her shit, and that's the last straw. What takes place from there is a brutally violent dark comedy that would make the Coen Brothers proud. One critic described it as Blood Simple meets The 3 Stooges; I think that's accurate.

I don't have too much else to say. I never knew where the movie was going, and it just never fails to be unpredictable, and to surprise and it holy shit does it build up to shocking, goofy, quirky, dark comedy at its best. You still take everything seriously, despite how silly certain things are and that's the mark of an accomplished dark comedy.


2. Dream Big: Engineering Our World (IMAX DOCUMENTARY) ****1/2

I am a huge fan of going to the Ontario Science Centre for 40 minute Imax documentaries for its breathtaking cinematography which this movie has plenty of, but from a pure storytelling standpoint I think DREAM BIG may be the best of them all. It is by far the most inspirational Imax movie of all time and surprisingly very touching.  

It's a great celebration of smart engineering ideas that have changed the way we live our lives, saved lives, and solved massive worldwide problems. The ideas they present are absolutely fucking brililiant and at times mind blowing. This will give you a sense of awe at the ingenuity, and creativity of engineers. It's not only educational, but it tells very human stories as well about ambitious engineers, of varying ages and varying dreams. The most touching stories were the bridge building in Cairo and the highschool robotics team competing against the top colleges. 

DREAM BIG should be required viewing for science classes in elementary school, highschool, hell, show the movie to first year engineering students in college. This is a movie that will fire people up about science and we need young minds to feel inspired to change the world, because there's going to be a shitload more problems in the future; but first they have to dare to dream big. Yeah I know, that was cheesy, fuck off.  


1. Colossal ****1/2

This was definitely my favorite movie at TIFF. My pick for #1 is actually the most absurd movie of the year and really requires a suspension of disbelief. If you cannot accept the movie's premise then it will be hard to get into. It was easy for me, because I admired the movie's audacity to pull off a premise like this. Absurdity + comedy + originality works for me, and if you're going to go absurd, go all the way and don't hold back.

This is the movie for people who utter that annoying phrase, "Everything's been done. There are no original ideas." That seemed to be the case for big creature movies. For those that seem to be getting bored of the big creature movies of the same CGI orgies of giant creatures destroying shit, along comes Colossal, a movie that's best described as Godzilla meets Being John Malkovich. Now that's a combination I never expected to see. Hell, maybe throw in a little Rachael Getting Married (though not nearly as depressing), as this is Anne Hatheway's best performance since that movie, and her character will remind you of her character from that movie.

Instead of summarizing the plot, just watch the trailer. As much as I've talked up the movie's absurdness and weirdness, it still is a good character study, showing the lives of small town people, not really going anywhere in their lives and their battles with alcoholism; Anne Hatheway gives an Oscar worthy performance, Jason Sudekis is great, and Tim Blake Nelson is so under-rated as an actor who is never not hilarious every time he's on screen, and he loves to play a dumb Hillbilly despite being one of the most profound directors. The emergence of the Godzilla monster, unknowingly controlled by Anne Hatheway can be seen as metaphor for alcoholism, but to me it's simply the funniest movie of the year. Even the fact that the CGI and visual effects are all for comedy is also a refreshing change from every big creature feature.

Earlier I said, if you're going to go absurd, then go all the way; just when you thought the movie couldn't be any more absurd, the climax happens, and I couldn't have asked for anything better.