TOP 20 FILMS OF 2017

This year, cinema has given us jaw-droppingly beautiful visuals, heavy drama, hysterical comedy and unfortunately, Ridley Scott’s horrendous Alien: Covenant. 2017 has been a mixed bag for blockbusters, with Warner Bros. failing to deliver the goods with the mind-numbingly boring Justice League, and Disney’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi managing to divide its fanbase in two.

Amongst the midst of the CGI-filled blockbuster movies released this year, there’s been a vast selection of indie films that have fallen under the radar for many. We’ve had truly fascinating documentaries, and Netflix has now become a major platform for film releases. Whether or not that’s a good thing remains to be seen, but they’ve provided viewers with some interesting documentaries, some spectacular indies and David Ayer’s Bright. As it appears, you can’t win ‘em all.

World cinema has yet again reminded us that there are some spellbinding stories to be told across the border, and we’ve had films such as the visceral Raw, The Lure and Blade of the Immortal. Anime has seen yet another boom, with the wonderfully poignant A Silent Voice and many more releases impressing regular cinemagoers.

Television has also played its part this year, with David Lynch’s ambitious and stunning Twin Peaks: The Return. Running at 17 hours long, some critics consider it Lynch’s finest ‘film’ in years. The jury is still out on whether The Return was a success, but in years to come, I believe it will be revered as Lynch’s masterpiece. Got a light?

So, what has been my personal top 20 films of the year? What has left me dazzled and in sheer awe of a filmmaker’s brilliant scope and vision? Well, you’ll find out by scrolling down below, with a list that is mostly based on UK releases, in cinemas or on streaming services.

  1. AMERICAN MADE

Starring Tom Cruise, American Made is a biographical tale about Barry Seal, a former TWA pilot who ends up working for the CIA. Not content with working alongside the government, Barry ends up smuggling drugs for the Mexican cartel, which unsurprisingly, doesn’t end very well.

It’s a riveting flick, and viewers will be left charmed by Tom Cruise’s performance as Barry Seal. Despite his criminal exploits, he’s extremely likeable, and amusing to watch when everything falls apart around him. The rest of the cast is terrific too, with Domhnall Gleeson further proving that we need to have him star in more supporting roles (he was easily a favourite character in The Last Jedi).

American Made brilliantly chronicles Barry Seal’s out of the ordinary life and its proof that director Doug Liman and Tom Cruise need to work together more often. After providing us with Edge of Tomorrow and now American Made, it appears that Liman manages to present to us the best version of Tom Cruise, and not the one we received in that garbled mess that was The Mummy.

  1. LA LA LAND

We kicked off this year with the dazzling and stupendous La La Land, which arrived a little later over here in UK cinemas. Directed by Damien Chazelle, this musical starred the spectacular Emma Stone and the charming Ryan Gosling, who play two lovers with their own separate aspirations, which may or may not lead them down their own separate paths.

La La Land establishes itself as a future classic, as it harks back to the golden age of Hollywood musicals. There’s sound chemistry and footwork between both Gosling and Stone, and their performances are splendid. Of course, the musical numbers a sheer delight, as the film opens with an outrageous sequence which perfectly sets the tone of the film.

Damien Chazelle blew us away with Whiplash, and he’s managed to do it again with La La Land. We can’t wait for his next project featuring Ryan Gosling again, in a biopic about Neil Armstrong. After the success of La La Land though, Chazelle can probably tackle any genre and produce gold.

  1. COLOSSAL

Colossal presented viewers with one of the more unique ideas of the year, as director Nacho Vigalondo managed to blend an indie drama with a monster movie for one marvellous cocktail. In this unusual comedy, Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, an unemployed writer who returns to her hometown. Attempting to break free from her drinking habit, she befriends the friendly Oscar, played by Jason Sudeikis.

As she attempts to string her life back together, chaos ensues over in Seoul. A gargantuan monster has appeared and is leaving death and destruction in its wake. For some strange reason though, Gloria has a connection to this monster, so she attempts to make amends with the hope that everything gets fixed.

It’s a surprisingly dark little film, boosted by an excellent script and solid performances from Hathaway and Sudeikis. Colossal manages to take the best aspects of both genres, and in doing so creates something totally different. It’s engrossing, and it might just be one of Hathaway’s strongest roles in a long time. Colossal needs more love and appreciation, so track it down right away.

  1. THE LOVE WITCH

A compelling contender for cult film of the year, The Love Witch is written and directed by Anna Biller and stars Samantha Robinson as Elaine, a beautiful young witch who uses her love magic on vulnerable men. Shot in the style of a 1960s camp horror film, The Love Witch is an exemplary piece of work, and it switches up the genre conventions of exploitation movies, by putting us in the mind of women and their desires, for a change.

It’s wickedly dark, as it embraces the technicolour 60s style, and Samantha Robinson is a pure delight to watch. It just oozes with style, and it’s a provocative piece of filmmaking, which couldn’t be more relevant today. It’s a film that feminists can be proud of.

The Love Witch certainly flew under the radar for many, and it only made a few appearances during film festivals in the last year or two, but it is worth tracking down. Anna Biller is set to be an interesting new auteur to follow, and The Love Witch will soon be revered as an enchanting insight into feminism in film, as it soon receives the credit it deserves.

  1. IT

Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, It, appeared in cinemas earlier this year to a thunderous box-office taking. Now one of the highest-grossing horror films of all time, Andy Muschietti’s It amazed viewers with just how carefully it tackled its source material, keeping in all the unwavering horror throughout.

Bill Skarsgård plays the grotesque Pennywise in this remake, and he deserves all the credit he’s received for such a performance. The casting director also deserves an accolade, for giving us a splendid ensemble of young actors who portray the kids who are traumatised by the evil that haunts the fictional town of Derry.

It doesn’t necessarily rely on cheap jump-scares either, and despite being classed as an outright horror movie by some, it takes plenty of tropes from different genres as well. It’s a coming-of-age comedy/thriller, with a spooky scary clown and floating children. It may depend on how a viewer perceives its themes, but there’s a well-balanced combination throughout.

The film is now classed as Stephen King’s most impressive movie adaptation yet, and it’s easy to understand why. It stays true to the book, it’s frightfully eerie in places, and it’s also surprisingly funny. It’ll be interesting to see how they tackle the upcoming second part, considering the 27-year gap. We can only hope that the Losers are as brilliantly cast as they were in this film.

  1. SILENCE

A historical period drama directed by Martin Scorsese, Silence is not for the faint of heart. It’s a gut-wrenching, punishing tale of two missionaries who embark on a journey to locate their missing mentor, whilst spreading their religious beliefs across Japan. It’s set in 1637, and it stars Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson and Adam Driver in some of their toughest parts to date.

It’s Scorsese’s third work based on religion, and he tackles some extremely heavy themes throughout. It feels like his most personal work yet, and it might not be for everyone. At two hours and 41 minutes, viewers will have their endurance tested by the numerous scenes of torture, and the moments where faith is tested.

Unsurprisingly though, the cinematography is gorgeous. Scorsese masterfully tackles the source material with great care, and in doing so presents us one of his most remarkable films to date. Andrew Garfield is brilliant also, reminding us of just how talented an actor he is. It’s easy to say, but it might be Garfield’s greatest work yet.

  1. INGRID GOES WEST

Aubrey Plaza has always been wonderful to watch onscreen, but she’s also been accused of consistently playing the awkward weirdo in most of her roles. However, in 2017, she proved all the naysayers wrong with a variety of performances that blew people away. She surprised us all in FX’s television series Legion as the seductively dark Shadow King, and she even played a foul-mouthed nun, in The Little Hours.

Still, it was Ingrid Goes West that boasted her best performance of her career to date, as she plays the social media stalker Ingrid, whose obsession with an Instagram model slowly ends up taking over her life. It’s a biting comedy directed by Matt Spicer, and it takes an unflinching look at how social media has negatively impacted society.

Plaza is captivating as Ingrid, and despite her shortcomings, she’s quite relatable. It’s a topical piece of filmmaking, and it even features one of the funniest sex scenes of the year. It’s nice to see Aubrey Plaza getting the recognition she rightly deserves, so here’s to seeing more unconventional roles from her in the future.

  1. DUNKIRK

Perhaps Christopher Nolan’s greatest work to date, Dunkirk is a war film based on the events of the evacuation of Allied forces on the beaches of France during World War Two. It’s a suspenseful, gripping tale of human survival, starring a grand selection of actors, such as Fionn Whitehead, James D’Arcy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy.

The evacuation effort takes place across the land, air and sea, and viewers are left on the edge of their seats, as Nolan lets the cinematography and music create the atmosphere. It’s a gut-wrenching film, and it surprises everyone with Harry Styles’ commendable performance as one of the distraught evacuees.

It’s an intense movie, and at times it’s eerily quiet, allowing for thunderous bellows of gunfire to be heard booming over the speakers. The evacuation effort is all perfectly recreated down to the finest details, such as the aircraft and ships used throughout the film. It’s a meticulous labour of love, and Nolan clearly put his all his heart into Dunkirk.

  1. GOOD TIME

Directed by Benny and Josh Safdie, Good Time is a fast-paced, character-driven crime drama starring Robert Pattinson. In Good Time, Pattinson plays the hapless criminal, Constantine ‘Connie’ Nikas. After inadvertently landing his disabled brother in jail, Connie attempts to bail him out, whilst adding a few more criminal offences to his long resumé.

Good Time is a slick, stylish picture, which is tightly put together with a sharp script and some solid cinematography. Pattinson is simply incredible as Nikas, and he’s pretty much unrecognisable, reminding viewers of just how versatile an actor he can be. Nikas’ various attempts at rescuing his brother will leave viewers squirming, but it makes for one hell of a story.

It’s neat to see Pattinson branch out a little more, and he’s also accomplished that in The Lost City of Z. The studio behind Good Time, A24, has provided us with some of finest first-rate films in recent years, such as Swiss Army Man, Ex Machina, The Lobster and more recently, The Disaster Artist. So, rest assured that any film bearing that logo will be practically unmissable.

  1. SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING

This year, the web-head returned to its rightful owner, Marvel Studios, with Jon Watts’ Spider-man: Homecoming. Starring Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-man and Michael Keaton as the Vulture, this high-school superhero comedy had shades of John Hughes crawling all over it, and it stands superior over previous Spider-man films. Sorry, Doc Ock.

It’s a much more grounded superhero film than the ones before it and having Parker portrayed as a much younger kid helped change up the tired formula from previous movies. Whereas Tobey Maguire’s Parker was just awkward, and Andrew Garfield’s was slightly annoying, Tom Holland’s portrayal of the beloved character was extremely likeable. We had already seen snippets of Holland’s Spidey in Marvel Studios’ Civil War, but in Homecoming, he may have proved to be the definitive actor for the role.

It will come as no surprise, but Keaton manages to hit all the right notes as the deadly Vulture, a character who feels betrayed by the government. To protect his family financially, he creates and sells advanced weapons technology, salvaged from the original alien attack witnessed in Avengers Assemble. Of course, that becomes a problem when a certain high-school hero attempts to put a stop to his criminal activities.

Spider-man Homecoming was the film that fans have desired and deserved for so long, and they’ve finally got their wish. It stars an impressive cast, the superb Tom Holland, a stellar script and some solid jokes to boot. Here’s to Marvel Studios finally acquiring all their original comic book properties, just so they can get the proper treatment.

  1. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2

Marvel Studios kicked off their amazing year with James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, which brought back the weird and wonderful heroes for yet another insane adventure. The fate of the universe rests in the hands of the Guardians yet again, but first Peter Quill has some father issues to get through.

Volume 2 stars the much-loved cast from the previous film, but this time around, we’re introduced to Kurt Russell as Ego and Pom Klementieff as the pleasantly cute Mantis. The story mainly revolves around Star-lord, who meets his father Ego for the very first time. At first, it seems to be a happy reunion, but other members of the team aren’t convinced.

James Gunn provides another tremendous soundtrack here, along with his trademark style and humour. It’s one of Marvel Studios prettiest films too, as the vibrant colours quite literally burst out from the screen. The team dynamic is further explored in greater detail here, and the merchandise machine Baby Groot surprisingly turned out to be inoffensive.

The Guardians of the Galaxy are one of the greatest families in cinema today, and Volume 2 showcased action, drama, and a surprisingly emotional climax that nobody was ready for. It’s a mighty fine addition to the impressive Marvel Cinematic Universe, and there’s no telling where Gunn will take this much-loved dysfunctional space family in the future. Either way, we’ll be patiently waiting for more Mantis, because she is delightful.

  1. KONG SKULL ISLAND

Kong: Skull Island was one of the biggest blockbuster surprises of 2017, as director Jordan Vogt-Roberts reminded us that not all monster movies need to be an exercise in mindless CGI scraps. Taking place in the seventies, the film concerns a group of explorers and Vietnam vets who travel to an uncharted island full of mysterious and magnificent monsters.

Skull Island featured one of the most distinguished cast ensembles of the year, with heavy-hitters such as Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly and Brie Larson. Remarkably, each character in the film has a well-balanced and developed storyline, with Jackson’s character playing out like Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab.

The visuals are stunning, and it’s evident that the director took inspiration from Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. The CGI is ace, and Kong undoubtedly looks the part. He’s an intimidating figure, and thankfully there’s no hackneyed love interest with this version of the great ape. There is, however, one scene in Kong: Skull Island which really shouldn’t work on paper because it’s utterly ridiculous, and yet somehow, Vogt-Roberts pulls it off.

Don’t be put off by the fact that this the nth Kong to grace our cinemas. It’s an exceptional movie, and it will be interesting to see where they take the ape when it comes to his inevitable encounter with the almighty King of Monsters, Godzilla. Hold onto your butts.

  1. DEATH OF STALIN

Directed by Armando Iannucci, Death of Stalin is a political satire concerning the Soviet power struggle after Stalin’s death, and it’s one of the funniest films of the year. It’s a strange mixture of English-speaking actors placed in the role of Russian officials, and you haven’t experienced anything yet until you’ve seen someone with a Yorkshire accent playing the leader of the Red Army.

Armando Iannucci is the king of political satire, and Death of Stalin is yet another crowning achievement. It sports a sharp and witty script and some of the most amusing lines of the year. The cast is stellar, featuring the likes of Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Isaacs and Paddy Considine. They’re all on form, and when the film slightly lowers its comedic tone, the realisation of this utterly bleak situation comes to light.

It’s dark and grisly in parts and a miserable reminder that despite it being set in the 1950s, it’s still a relevant piece of filmmaking for today’s political climate. Based on the graphic novel of the same, Death of Stalin is compulsory viewing for anyone who has enjoyed Iannucci’s past work, such as BBC’s Thick of It. When Gerard Butler’s Geostorm outperforms Death of Stalin in the UK box-office, you must wonder what’s profoundly wrong with society, but do check out this hilarious material as soon as possible.

  1. YOUR NAME

Now the highest grossing anime movie of all time, Your Name is directed by Makoto Shinkai, and was available on limited release in IMAX theatres this year, after having a brief stint throughout UK festivals in 2016. It’s one of the most visually striking movies of the year, and it deserves all the credit it’s currently receiving.

The film follows two characters, city boy Taki and country girl Mitsuha, who mysteriously end up swapping their bodies. It’s not an atypical body swap story though, and it is peppered with some truly touching moments, as Taki attempts to locate Mitsuha in rural Japan. It is as emotionally satisfying as it is beautiful to look at.

The soundtrack in Your Name sticks out, too, and helps reflect on the characters developments through the film. The animation is simply mesmerising, and it’s quite surprising to see that director Shinkai wasn’t happy with this project, especially considering just how magical Your Name is. Don’t be put off by the fact it’s an anime, either, as it’s easily accessible by anyone.

  1. THE BIG SICK

Directed by Michael Showalter and written by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick impressed cinemagoers this year with this down-to-earth romantic comedy, which included a sharp and hilarious script and some fantastic performances.

The film stars Kumail Nanjiani as himself and Zoe Kazan as Emily, as it tells the true story of Kumail and Emily’s unusual courtship. It has an interesting concept too, which helps revitalise the standard rom-com formula. After a rough break-up, Kumail and Emily are brought together yet again when she suddenly falls ill.

Kumail Nanjiani is a charming, disarming lead character who eventually engages with Emily’s parents whilst she’s in a coma. Of course, this results in some particularly awkward, humorous scenarios and the important question hangs over the viewer – will they get back together if she survives?

The Big Sick isn’t necessarily ground-breaking, but it sports a clever script, endearing characters and it’s an interesting insight into Kumail’s heritage. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and Ray Romano even makes an appearance as Emily’s dad. What more could you want there? It’s a fine addition to the romantic comedy genre and a nice reminder that it’s not all idealistic shlock.

  1. FREE FIRE

Directed by Ben Wheatley, Free Fire was one of the shortest yet most explosive films of the year. Starring Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy, Free Fire takes place in the 1970s, during a dicey arms deal. As weapons are about to be supplied to members of the IRA, everything goes terribly wrong when a dealer recognises a deadbeat from a previous altercation.

It’s a fast-paced movie, full of bullets, explosions, and Sharlto Copley’s beautiful hair. It’s another A24 title, and it’s a big departure from Wheatley’s previous film High Rise, which divided a few critics upon its release.

There’s a favourite actor for everyone in this cast, with Armie Hammer providing some of the funniest lines during the epic shootout, further demonstrating that he’s the gift that just keeps on giving (The Lone Ranger is still misunderstood, damn it).

Free Fire plays fast like a climax from one of Tarantino’s movies, and it’s almost unrelenting once the first bullet is fired. There’s plenty of thrills to be had with Wheatley’s Free Fire, and it boasts some of the strongest gunfire sounds ever recorded. It’s ridiculous, action-packed and straight to the point. Don’t miss out on this smooth little comedy shoot-out, which again, needs more appreciation.

  1. THOR RAGNAROK

The mantle of superhero film of the year belongs to Thor: Ragnarok, and it might just be one of the sweetest Marvel Studios productions yet. The third movie in the Thor franchise, Ragnarok took the God of Thunder into brand new terrain, at the hands of director Taika Waititi.

Some may know that I constantly praise Waititi’s work, with Hunt for the Wilderpeople positioned as my number one film of 2016. Unsurprisingly then, his bizarre take on the much-loved Marvel character turned out to be utterly incredible.

Thor: Ragnarok does away of the tired conventions of the comic book character, by throwing him into the unknown. Without his trusty hammer and now lost on an alien planet, Thor must find his way back to Asgard to put a stop to Hela’s evil plans.

It stars the handsome Chris Hemsworth, Tumblr favourite Tom Hiddleston and Mark Ruffalo, and introduces some new faces into the mix. The striking Cate Blanchett adopts the role of Hela, and the magnificent Jeff Goldblum is the ruler of the alien planet Sakaar, the Grandmaster.

Again, Marvel Studios attempts to subvert the superhero genre and it works to their advantage. Ragnarok feels like a fantasy comedy, with dazzling visuals, side-splittingly funny gags and the big green monster, the Hulk. Taika Waititi gave us one of the sweetest villainesses in recent years with Hela, and he was kind enough to portray the role of new fan-favourite, Korg.

It’s just pure escapist fun from start-to-finish, and it’s what the superhero genre should aim to be. Whereas films like DC’s Justice League somehow set us back a decade or two, Marvel takes it in new and interesting directions. If Marvel does continue the loosen the reins on their directors, then hopefully we’ll get to see such marvellous visions more often.

  1. BABY DRIVER

Edgar Wright returned to our screens for the first time since 2013’s The World’s End, with this rambunctious, high-energy octane heist movie, Baby Driver. With one of the most impressive intros of 2017, Baby Driver straps viewers in for a wild, melodic and gripping ride.

The film stars Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx, who are all at the top of their game. The story mainly follows Baby, who acts as a skilled escape driver for bank heists. Working for a noxious kingpin, Baby’s actions gets himself and his new love interest in deep trouble.

Baby Driver is now Edgar Wright’s highest-grossing movie, and that really comes as no surprise. From the second ‘Bellbottoms’ hits the speakers, it’s all go from there. It’s an electrifying ride, and it features the finest soundtrack of the year. Each track has been carefully selected by Wright, as he even meticulously manages to add not only the beats but lyrics into his sequences.

It’s one of the best blockbusters of the year, and Ansel Elgort is an outstanding lead character. It’s a shame he wasn’t chosen by Disney to play Han for the doomed Solo film, but with The Fault in Our Stars and Baby Driver behind him, we’ll be sure to see him in future feature films.

Edgar Wright’s movies always benefit from a bit of academic deconstruction, and this is no exception. He’s a master of his craft, and I personally look forward to viewing all the details I’ve missed before. Once you’ve finished Baby Driver, steer yourself in the direction of the playlist by using the link below:

  1. GET OUT

A film that will be on everyone’s list this year, Get Out was written and directed by comedian Jordan Peele. It’s a horror/thriller film, that follows Chris, a black man who visits his white girlfriend’s family. However, not everything seems to be above-board, as Chris notices a few occurrences that just don’t seem to add up.

Chris is played by the fantastic Daniel Kaluuya, and his girlfriend, Rose Armitage, is portrayed by Allison Williams. Rose’s family, the Armitage’s, have some familiar faces, such as Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford and Caleb Landry Jones. Daniel Kaluuya, who has already made waves in one of Black Mirror’s strongest episodes, is truly excellent in the film.

Considering Get Out is Jordan Peele’s first directed work, we cannot wait to see what else he has planned. It’s a provocative movie, that deals with the weighty theme of racism. It’s tactfully done, and unfortunately, it’s still a very much relevant piece of filmmaking in this current day and age.

Get Out was wrongfully nominated as a comedy by the Golden Globes, which just goes to show how well award ceremonies understand the film. Peele corrected the Globes, by defining his movie as a documentary. Admittedly though, even if it has all the right horror beats to it, it does feel a little more like a thriller. Regardless of whatever genre it is though, it’s an imitable piece of cinema.

Since its release, Get Out has become one of the highest grossing films of 2017, and it’s now one of the most profitable movies as well. It’s topical, brilliantly-acted and it’s one of the fiercest directorial debuts from a director in years. If you haven’t checked out the thrilling Get Out yet, then do not hesitate to track it down.

  1. BLADE RUNNER 2049

This year, Denis Villeneuve proved to Blade Runner fans that he understands the universe better than they do and in doing so, managed to create one of the most divisive films of this year with his sequel to an old cult favourite, Blade Runner 2049.

Unfortunately – and unsurprisingly – Blade Runner 2049 performed terribly at the box-office. The marketing was all wrong, and the original film wasn’t massively popular, to begin with. It’s a shame because Villeneuve’s film is a beautiful, thought-provoking piece of work.

The film stars Ryan Gosling as Officer K, a Blade Runner who retires rogue replicants. In his assignment, K discovers a surprising find that could change everything humans know about replicants. Living alone with his holographical girlfriend, Joi, K starts off an investigation that reveals a hidden secret.

Blade Runner 2049 runs at almost 3 hours, and there were many reports of its slow-pace upsetting some cinemagoers. Perhaps some people desired to see more explosions? However, Blade Runner 2049 is a pure visual feast, with the smartest script of the year. Of course, Ryan Gosling is terrific as K, and he manages to portray the character’s arc spectacularly.

In all honesty, Blade Runner 2049 feels very much like The Godfather Part 2. It takes aspects of what made the original work and improves and expands on it. Officer K has a fleshed-out storyline, and there’s less ambiguity here. It may be sacrilege to put Blade Runner 2049 on a higher pedestal than the first, but Denis Villeneuve gives us a sci-fi movie that we desperately needed, especially after this year’s dreadful offerings.

Ridley Scott has gone on record to mention the film’s length is way too long, and he has numerous issues with the film. Apparently, Villeneuve has a much bigger cut which won’t see any release anytime soon, but Scott should just focus on his own work – like running the Aliens franchise into the ground.

Blade Runner 2049 is my film of 2017. It reminds me why I enjoy cinema. It’s thought-provoking, it’s beautiful to look at and the story is stimulating. After giving us Arrival and Enemy, I can’t wait to see what Denis has up his sleeve next. If you haven’t seen Blade Runner 2049 yet, do yourself a favour and get the biggest screen you have, get comfortable, and get ready to be enveloped in a rich universe.

Framed Recommendations – 08/10/14

So, here’s something I’m trying to restart on Sniktbubs.com. Seeing as I read a lot of comics every single week, I’ve decided to frame certain moments from some of my most enjoyable reads of the week. You’ll see a variation of panels from different publishers, and I encourage everyone to pick up these titles (or else), because they’re brilliant. These will probably be numbered randomly in the future, but I’ll try my best to showcase my excellent taste.

This week wasn’t so bad for DC, with Stewart’s eagerly anticipated Batgirl managing to entertain, and Batman finally returned to form after the dismal Zero Year event. Capullo is on form here, and I’ll go as far as to say it’s some of his best looking work to date. With Halloween soon approaching, look no further than Snyder and Jock’s Wytches, and Archie Comics’ new Sabrina title. Snyder excels with the horror genre, and it’s a decent first read. Sabrina is fantastic and it just shows that Archie Comics have really branched out this year. If you haven’t checked out Sabrina or Afterlife with Archie yet, then do so! Horror comics done remarkably well. Oh, and Gerry Duggan shows Bunn how to do a Deadpool miniseries. About time, really.

Sex Criminals #08 Fraction / Zdarsky IMAGE
Sex Criminals #08
Fraction / Zdarsky
IMAGE
Batgirl #35 Stewart / Tarr DC
Batgirl #35
Stewart / Tarr
DC
Wytches #01 Snyder / Jock IMAGE
Wytches #01
Snyder / Jock
IMAGE
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #01 Aguirre-Sacasa / Hack ARCHIE COMICS
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #01
Aguirre-Sacasa / Hack
ARCHIE COMICS
Batman #35 Snyder / Capullo DC
Batman #35
Snyder / Capullo
DC
Hawkeye Vs. Deadpool #01 Duggan / Lolli + Camagni MARVEL
Hawkeye Vs. Deadpool #01
Duggan / Lolli + Camagni
MARVEL

 

Exploring the Cult of: J-Horrors and Asian Extreme.

Asian extreme films come in the form of Audition, Oldboy and Ringu and are regarded as cult favourites by many. They’ve become so popular, that Hollywood has remade a small selection  of them for a mainstream audience.

In 2001, the label Tartan Asia Extreme was the first company to successfully distribute their films for a Western audience, including hits from their great catalogue for viewing pleasure. Since then, there has been a boom in the interest of J-horror and Asian extreme movies. But why is that?

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An article written by Steve Rose in 2002, stated that ‘US horror has had no new ideas since the slasher movies of the 1980s’, and Rose slated a plethora of American horror films, such as Freddy Vs. Jason and Halloween: Resurrection. He attempted to make the point that the genre was ‘squeezed dry’, and that’s pretty evident when you get the umpteenth Texas Chainsaw rehash every year.

To freshen up the genre, Hollywood’s decision was to purchase the rights to several Japanese films, so that they could be remade for their beloved Western audiences. Instead of receiving the generic slasher movie, viewers could now come across brave new ideas, which actually originated in Japan years before. Whilst it was a remedy for the genre, most of these films still tacked on awful casting decisions and severely mistreated the source material (for example: The Eye, featuring Jessica Alba…).

Nonetheless, this soon made Tartan Asia Extreme’s label wholly accessible, and these extreme films and J-horrors were starting to get a new lease of life. Original films were greatly appreciated by Western audiences, therefore creating a cult devotion to the genre. Tetsuo: The Iron Man is a clear example of this, which appears to be a favourite amongst many.

These films generally consist of themes not necessarily found in Hollywood horrors, with unique motifs throughout. The storytelling makes way for such distinctive scenes, such as Oldboy’s infamous one-take hammer brawl through a crowded corridor, or Audition’s cringe-inducing torture scene.

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Most of these movies have unique displays throughout, and cultists admire them for the nihilistic moralities, themes of urban alienation and advanced technology. These elements are encapsulated in slightly different elements from Japanese tradition, such as tokusatu (special effects monster genre), and yurei (traditional ghost stories).

There’s a huge appeal for films such as Ringu, which is considered as one of the first J-horror’s to be recognised from a Western audience. Ringu presented a fresh take on horror, with its victims being haunted by modern technology. There’s underlying metaphors here, as the victims disconnection with Japan’s cultural roots is essentially their ultimate downfall.

It’s these new storytelling elements that hold great appeal for cultists, as they get to experience a different kind of culture completely. Throw away the tired zombies or mutants, and make way for new horrors.

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One Asian extreme film in particular, Battle Royale, was received with absolute controversy, from both Japan and America. The Japanese parliament even deemed the film to be ‘crude and tasteless, with no redeeming value whatsoever’. Harsh words.

In America, Battle Royale was also banned and limited to film festivals across the country, and this is due to its story and violent themes (students killing each other didn’t exactly reflect well during the same time as the Columbine incident).

During its DVD release, the unfortunate murder of a 12 year-old girl also shocked Japan – known as the ‘Sasebo slashing’, an 11 year-old murdered a fellow classmate, citing Battle Royale as an influence.

All of a sudden, there becomes a massive aura surrounding Battle Royale, and in America it essentially became the equivalent of being a ‘video nasty’, holding great cult appeal for many.

The film also held a mirror towards the problems facing Japanese society, through the means of an ultra-violent fight to the death, set on an abandoned island. It manages exaggerated themes of reality television, as the film employs spectacular violence throughout.

Whilst it was opposed by some critics, it was wholly welcomed by cultists. Only in Japan though, will you find a film that concerns 42 students murdering each other for their own survival.

The father of J-horror is regarded as Takashi Miike, director of Audition and Ichi the Killer. His style is well-known as being hard-hitting, loud, radical and quintessentially cool. Ichi in particular shows a clear representation of violence that can apparently be painful and playful at the same time, and its reputation amongst film-fans is huge.

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Miike’s work provides answers towards why J-horrors and Asian extreme films are ‘cult’. Ichi set a new boundary for the portrayal of violence; it was a step up to what had seen before. It evolved the genre into something else entirely. It’s exciting for cultists, to discover something so unlike anything they’ve seen before.

Similar to Battle Royale, the film was dismissed by critics. It’s a cult favourite, because it’s explores the possibilities of cinema, by testing how extreme the content can be. Ichi manages to question the viewer as to why they’re watching such brutal violence, by interacting with audiences (in the same way Michael Haneke’s Funny Games portrayed).

The story concerns Kakihara, a sadomasochist that searches for the ultimate killer, known as Ichi. He believes that Ichi will finally be his true calling and amongst his journey, he creates hell in the criminal underworld. Throughout the film, viewers are treated to lovely scenes of nipple slicing, body slicing, people getting hung on meat hooks, and other general nastiness.

Kakihara’s persona is a well-known one, due to his unique features. His face is scarred, and he even has neat little cuts across his cheeks. In Japanese cinema, it seems that their cult figures are often exaggerated versions of normal characters, such as Sadako (Ringu) and Dae-su Oh (Oldboy).

To conclude, it’s obvious J-horrors and Asian extreme films are cult favourites, because they’re essentially different. They blend themes from Japanese culture, such as broken society, myths and traditional ghost stories.

That may not be very important to a Western audience, but thanks to these tales and their oddly unique culture, they reach towards an audience who are tired of the mainstream. It’s fresh material.

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Japanese films cross the boundaries of what is acceptable with its blatant exploitation, pushing the envelope to such extremes that cultists long for. It can be said that most cultists find some pleasure in becoming fans of these movies, because they’re the ‘anti-mainstream’, and that’s something a fan can take great pride in.

The cult appeal has waned slightly since 2009, as festivals have reported some audience fatigue with the genre. However, it still has a large devoted cult base, and these films certainly deserve their own recognition.

If you haven’t got round to watching any of the films mentioned, then please do so. They are readily available on demand and in stores. There’s always a special place for Battle Royale, and if viewers do find themselves enjoying the movies, do not hesitate to fork out on some of the collector’s editions.

 

– More cult features on the way, including those discussing Bruce Lee and the greatest cult movie ever made, The Big Lebowski.

Cult Classics – Re-Animator (1985)

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Released in 1985, Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator is based on H.P. Lovecraft’s short and strange tale, ‘Herbert West – Re-Animator’.  A science-fiction horror imbued with comedy, the film stars Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton and Bruce Abbot.  Currently maintaining an impressive score of 95% on reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film was loved by critics and soon after its release, it received a strong cult following.  A fan-favourite amongst many cultists, Re-Animator received two sequels, Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and the Spanish film Beyond Re-Animator (2003).

Re-Animator follows the story of one genius scientist, Herbert West (Combs), who believes he has the correct formula to bring people back from the dead.  He meets the young, impressionable Dan Cain, a colleague at medical school who is currently living with fiancée Megan Halsey (Crampton).  Together, the two med-students put West’s strange practices to the test.  Of course, bringing people back from the dead comes with a few surprises; animalistic, violent re-animated corpses.  Much to the dismay of Megan Halsey, Cain and West give birth to a terrifying set of events.

It’s essentially a modern day Frankenstein story, within the same vein of Sam Raimi’s acclaimed Evil Dead series.  It’s brought to life with some great lead performances, who perfectly work their way around some strikingly bloody scenes.  There’s a moment in the film when you realise Re-Animator isn’t your run-of-the-mill horror, and that’s clear when West and Cain are fighting off a frenzied, zombified cat in a basement.  It’s a ridiculous scene, but Combs and Abbot sell it perfectly.

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Of course, one of the main reasons Re-Animator has been such a hit with cultists is thanks to Jeffrey Combs.  Whilst Bruce Abbot and Barbara Crampton – amongst others – bring to the operating table some great acting, it’s down to Combs who leads with a truly memorable character.  He’s a crazed scientist, trying to bring people back from the dead.  He’s attempting to defy the laws of nature, trying to save mankind – but his methods to accomplish this are questionable and unorthodox, to say the least. 

Combs is a well-known figure with cultists – partly due to his appearances in the Star Trek series –  and fans have driven Re-Animator into its current status within cinema.  No stranger to horror and sci-fi conventions, Combs has attended many around the world for his fans.  Of course, the sheer level of gore and ridiculousness that the film contains is also a main reason for its cult, but without Combs, Re-Animator would not be the same film. 

Re-Animator is almost unrivalled with its slapstick horror, later providing audiences with one visual gag that is creepy, funny and downright disgusting all at the same time.  John Naulin, the make-up artist for Re-Animator, reportedly stated that 24 gallons of fake blood were used for the movie, and he faced his biggest challenges with some of the creative designs later used on the film.  That can clearly be noticed, especially towards the last 15 minutes of the movie.  An insane set of events lead to a superb ending, throwing shocks and surprises left, right and centre. 

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There is no doubt that Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator belongs with some of the greats in cult cinema.  It shook the genre up and injected it with some great displays of practical special effects, horror and humour.  It later spawned two sequels, a strong following and even a musical.  This was Stuart Gordon’s first feature film, and it can be argued that the director hasn’t matched this remarkable piece of work yet.  If you’re looking to grab Re-Animator, track down a copy that the BBFC haven’t got their dirty hands all over.  They’ve cut out just under two minutes, which undermines the horrors of one particular character.

“Who’s gonna believe a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow.”