In spite of enjoying a successful career throughout the first decade of the new millennium, acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh announced in 2012 that he would be retiring from filmmaking. This declaration didn’t last very long, as he returned from his hiatus just five years later with the very fun and underappreciated NASCAR heist thriller, Logan Lucky. While this was a definite return to form for the Academy Award-winning director of Traffic, Soderbergh’s second comeback feature, Unsane, isn’t nearly as successful.
Unsane (which is actually quite an awful title for a film) was created in secret sometime last year, having been shot entirely using iPhone 7 Plus cameras. And it is probably in this way that Unsane is most intriguing; not because of the narrative the film itself offers, but because of the bizarre story behind its unorthodox production. While Unsane may be rightfully billed as a psychological horror-thriller, the end result produces very few thrills, and the horrors that it retains are likewise disappointing.
Just about every year, a new horror film is unrealistically touted as being “the scariest movie ever made.” While they typically never live up to such hype, many can still contain positive results — 2015’s entry in the battle for horror’s throne, The Witch, immediately comes to mind. This year’s model is Paco Plaza’s Spanish possession horror, Veronica, which flourishes with some nice camerawork and interesting visuals, as well as the added benefit of being (loosely) based on a supposedly “true” story. It’s rather unfortunate, however, that Veronica ultimately lacks a unique enough premise and compelling narrative, while absolutely struggling to produce any real scares. I’m left honestly confused by the high praise and viral sensation surrounding its recent addition to Netflix’s constantly expanding lineup.
Set in Madrid circa 1991, Veronica centers around a 15-year-old girl — can you guess what her name is? Following the sudden death of her father, Veronica (Sandra Escacena) is left to take on the role of caretaker for her three young siblings, Antoñito, Lucia, and Irene, as her single mother works her days away in order to support them. One day, as her classmates and teachers at the Catholic school she attends are viewing a solar eclipse from the school’s roof, Veronica and a couple friends take the opportunity to hastily perform a seance via Ouija board, away from the watchful eye of authority figures. Veronica hopes to contact her father, but the entity that answers her call is something much more sinister.
I cannot think of another name in American horror that has the stature of the late, great Wes Craven. Craven, who sadly passed in 2015, is a name that many of you are likely aware of, perhaps subconsciously, even if you don’t necessarily recognize it in passing. To refresh the memories of those who are scratching their heads at my previous statement, Craven was responsible for some of the greatest and most well-known horror films and franchises ever made, including 80s mega-hit A Nightmare on Elm Street (that’s Freddy, for the less informed), his 70s midnight movie darlings The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, as well as some more obscure hits you may recognize like the Rachel McAdams-led and highly underrated Red Eye and, well, whatever the hell The People Under the Stairs is (has anyone seen that movie, by the way? It’s weird).
But I digress.
What I’ve written about here is what may be Craven’s ultimate masterpiece in my eyes, the 1996 phenomenon that is Scream. Scream is a film that single-handedly rewrote the canon of the slasher film. Scream satirized the many clichés that had made the subgenre as popular as it was in the 80s, while also bringing it forward into uncharted, postmodern territory, ultimately becoming the most successful slasher flick ever at the box office and paving the way for a resurgence in the genre in the following decade. This is where we would see eventually the releases of imitators such as Final Destination, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and yes, even Scary Movie.
While we’re only two months into 2018, the year’s most eagerly anticipated film has already arrived with Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, which is a decidedly stunning addition in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) directs the long-running franchise’s first black-led film with dazzling, groundbreaking results, ultimately becoming a true cause for celebration.
The character of Black Panther (played by the wonderful Chadwick Boseman) made his impressive MCU debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, instantly becoming a fan favorite through the slight appearance. Here, T’Challa, the recently-crowned king of Wakanda — which is a fictional, secretly prosperous African nation in possession of virtually infinite supplies of a made-up super metal called vibranium — is really allowed the chance to be the A-list superhero he was always destined to become. It was no question that this film and this character would end up being an important milestone in the superhero genre as well as an inspiration to countless children around the world, but it’s extremely gratifying to be able to relay that Black Panther is also the stellar solo-outing that so many of us wanted it to be.
Following several delays and months of speculation, the first look at the new entry in executive producer J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield franchise came in the form of an ad spot during the Super Bowl. It was the first-ever official announcement ofJulius Onah’s The Cloverfield Paradox, and with it came the surprise that just two hours later, the film would be released worldwide on Netflix. It‘s an absolutely unheard of, crazy marketing strategy that worked, instantly making me as interested in watching the new film as I was in continuing the excitingly close football game that, for a mere 30 seconds, a brief trailer had managed to steal the spotlight from.
But with the film’s unique release aside, Paradox unfortunately watches quite pitifully. Stocked with a complicated mess of a plot, a large cast of insubstantial characters (even more damning due to the sheer talent of the actors that comprise the roles), and barely any driving force behind its uninteresting narrative, Paradox as a film remains stranded — not so much unlike its focal-point space station and its crew when they’re seemingly left helpless in a separate dimension from their own.
Would it be a cop-out if I were to concede and say that there were simply too many exceptional films this past year? So many, in fact, that even ranking a top 10 is quite near impossible for me? Because in forming this list (which you’re likely eagerly scrolling through to the bottom only to see my number one choice), I’ve had to not only sacrifice a number of extraordinary films, but have also infinitely gone back and forth on where each of these movies fit into the order. Really, in a year with less competition, each of my top six choices could have easily sat atop a year-end list at the number one spot.
As always, I wasn’t able to catch every film that I wanted to — although I did make it out to theaters over 50 times this past year. And it’s because of that that I can safely say that 2017 was the best year for film in recent memory; I was consistently amazed week after week by the incredible work reaching into theaters and beyond. Before we get to the official list, I have included a handful of honorable mentions as well.
Netflix’s first big foray into blockbuster filmmaking, Bright, comes courtesy of End of Watch director David Ayer, Chronicle scribe Max Landis, and prominently stars the Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith. I’ve previously enjoyed the works of these three men, but haven’t felt quite right in recent years regarding each of their respective output in the industry. I mean, Ayer was also responsible for the absolutely reprehensible Suicide Squad from last year, Landis is now potentially (and perhaps unsurprisingly) a piece of human garbage, and Will Smith hasn’t made a truly good film since The Pursuit of Happyness all the way back in 2006 (I Am Legend is alright too, but that’s also 10 years old now). After viewing Bright, I may have to reconsider the quickly fading fandom I have for any of the people responsible in the making of this movie (except in regards to Landis, because if what is coming out about him is actually true, then there will be no reconsidering — only regret). What I’m trying to tell you, is that Bright really is as bad as all of the critics are saying it is.
But let’s start with the little that Bright does get right, shall we? Well, the film actually introduces a compelling enough premise; one in which the lore in fantasy stories like The Lord of the Rings aren’t only relegated to the Middle Ages, and have instead been fast-forwarded to a present-day Los Angeles that’s not too dissimilar to our very own version. Of course, what makes the film stand out is that this world inhabits humans among orcs, elves, and fairies, as well as the magic that come with them. In one of the film’s only noteworthy pieces of dialogue, we are even presented with the idea of a great, millennia-old war having been fought between the humans and the mythological creatures that still live beside them today. When you realize that this single, seemingly throwaway line is among the only notable pieces of dialogue in this thing — outside of the many quotable bad ones — you can truly begin to understand why Bright is as awful as it is.