As a new year beckons us—like a bored toddler slapping a sleeping parent in the face at 6 a.m. to get them to rise from bed and retrieve a bag of fruit snacks—it is our duty as human beings to take a look back at the year trailing sadly behind us and ask ourselves “How did I spend the precious hours, days, weeks and months of my life this past year?”
For many, the answer to this powerful question may contain joyous moments spent with family and friends, the exploration of new cultures through travel abroad, or the advancement of a burgeoning career through hard work, innovative thinking, and achievement born from years of singular focus. For others, the answer may revolve around drug-induced memories of morally suspect sex acts performed in the back alleys with out-of-state strangers met on Craigslist. Wherever you fall in that mix, we hope you were able to find a little time to take in a movie or two, complete with popcorn and a large ICEE. Yummee!
If big screen escapism was not in the cards for you and yours in 2017, though, no need to worry. Stink Whispers has you covered with our fourth-annual list of the best and worst films of the year (and the return of the Whispy Awards).
Best of the Lot
1) The Big Sick (trailer) – Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl but is kinda noncommittal. Girl find photos of women boy’s family wants him to marry. Girl breaks up with boy. Girl falls into a mysterious coma. Boy, who has never met girl’s parents, guides them through the awkward weeks that follow. For those who have yet to see “The Big Sick,” I won’t go any further in an effort to avoid spoiling it for you. Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani—the real-life boy and girl on who this story is loosely based—do a bang up job of writing a story (and dialogue) that draws laughs and tugs at the heart in equal amounts. Director Michael Showalter (a funny man in his own right) does a fabulous job bringing it to the screen. Nanjiani is hilarious as the film’s lead, and Ray Romano and Holly Hunter turn in surprisingly deep performances as the parents forced to reevaluate not only their relationship with their daughter, but also their own tenuous marriage. And please don’t worry. Just because Ray Romano is present, doesn’t mean that any other “Everybody Love’s Raymond” characters make an appearance. If they did, I swear I’d tell you. Nobody deserves that kind of pain.
2) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (trailer) – Find me a bad performance in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and I’ll take you out to an all-expense-paid dinner at any Twin Cities-area White Castle on the date of your choosing. If that doesn’t prove my dedication to this film, I don’t know what does. “Billboards” is the story of a mother monumentally frustrated by the continued lack of progress in the search for the man who raped and murdered her daughter seven months prior—so much so that she rents three billboards to very publicly chide local law enforcement for their lack of forward momentum in the case. Woody Harrelson is cast as the main target of the billboards, and what ensues is a dark, strangely funny and morally complex battle between helpless people with no way to come to terms with their failings. As I mentioned, there isn’t a bad performance to be found—from Harrelson as the billboard-outed police chief and Sam Rockwell as his dimwitted but loyal deputy to Caleb Landry Jones as the sleazy billboard salesman who profits off of the pain the billboard battle-of-wills causes. Of course, the star of the show is Frances McDormand, but more on that in the 2017 Whispy Awards below. This film is a keeper, even though you may feel a little less than chipper afterwards. Yeah, I threw in the word “chipper” in honor of another McDormand gem, “Fargo.” God, that movie rocks!
3) Dunkirk (trailer) – I admit it. I’m a sucker for any World War II story told on the big screen (with the exception of “Red Tails”). It’s a bias I can’t escape. Another bias of mine is that, aside from his work with “The Prestige,” I think Christopher Nolan is one of the three worst things to ever happen to the planet—right behind greenhouse gas emissions and Harvey Weinstein. So, I was torn when I saw Nolan’s name attached “Dunkirk,” a story of the momentous British evacuation of stranded troops from northern France during the early days of WWII. Turns out, I didn’t need to be. This well-paced, thoughtfully directed gem was very anti-Nolan in its execution. It wasn’t overly long, the dialogue was sparse and impactful, the action wasn’t over-CGIed, and the drama and intensity throughout feels anything but manufactured. There aren’t really any standout performances—although Mark Rylance is wonderful—but that’s the point. The story is the star in this flick. I look forward to despising Nolan once again in 2018 and beyond, but for one moment in time, he did something right. Kudos.
4) A Monster Calls (trailer) – This is the story of a bullied, nightmare-having boy whose single mother just so happens to have terminal cancer. Get me some popcorn and let the fun begin! In actuality, it’s so much more than a story that requires its viewers to go on suicide watch for the next week or so. Conor O’Malley faces the troubles in his life (and a recurring nightmare) by drawing dark and disturbing illustrations of a monster. Eventually, said monster comes to life and leads Conor through three stories designed to help him understand and overcome his nightmare. The animation is out of this world, the story is truly unique, and Felicity Jones is absolutely heartbreaking in her muted role. Sure, Liam Neeson as the voice of the Monster had me picturing an old man trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter, but that’s not his fault (or it is?). Technically, this film was released the last week of 2016, but it didn’t make it to Minnesota theaters until the first week of 2017, so I’m counting it. Deal with it, ya punk!
5) Brigsby Bear (trailer) – I know what you’re thinking. What the fuck is Brigsby Bear? Well, I’d appreciate fewer curse-filled questions, but okay, I’ll answer you all the same. “Brigsby Bear” is the quirky story of an isolated man named James (Kyle Mooney) who has known nothing of the real world his entire life except the oddly mesmerizing life lessons of his over-protective parents and the fantastical stories of a space-traveling TV bear names Brigsby. Once released from his isolation, he is exposed to a reality far less fantastical than he had imagined and far more complex than he is equipped to handle. Mooney plays James to perfection, in a performance that’s equal parts funny, innocent and vulnerable. Mark Hamill knocks a modest role as James’ storytelling father out of the park. This is a small film with surprising emotional impact, and one that will have you wishing more writers and directors were willing to take leaps of faith in their storytelling. That’s what the fuck Brigsby Bear is, okay?
6) The Glass Castle (trailer) – It’s very possible that this was Woody Harrelson’s best year of acting. Before you get your undies in a bundle, of course I mean with the exception of his second season as Woody on “Cheers.” He was one of the highlights of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” but it was his role in “The Glass Castle” that punctuated his off-the-charts year. It’s the story of a woman reconciling a nomadic, up-and-down childhood with her new life as a new-age urban professional. The film is steeped heavily in flashbacks of her close-knit family, loving but wildly erratic parents (particularly, her alcoholic dreamer of a father, played by Harrelson), and the joy and utter heartbreak that followed each new home town and broken promise. Brie Larson is also incredible as Harrelson’s daughter, the lead character on whom the story pivots. At its core, the film is about of the imperfection of family. There are laughs and truly heart-warming moments interwoven throughout, though. Would it have benefited from an appearance by Norm Peterson or Cliff Clavin? Sure, what film wouldn’t? If you can get past that fact, though, this one is worth your time.
7) The Shape of Water (trailer) – The modern day Hollywood big-studio production line has a knack for creating an endless array of quasi-entertaining and somewhat generic offerings, but mostly fails to create art. Guillermo Del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” feels like a rare exception. The story of a mute cleaning lady at a Cold War-era government facility and her fascination with a top-secret fish guy that likes hard-boiled eggs and old-timey music. As you can tell, the Fox Searchlight Studios didn’t hire me to write the marketing copy. Please, just take my word for it. It’s something else. Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, and Octavia Spencer are all out of this world in their respective roles. Del Toro’s vision for the film is otherworldly, and one can’t help but leave the theater feeling that this is what film making is supposed to look and feel like. Yes, there is some awkward inter-species erotica involved, but don’t let that sway you. And if awkward inter-species erotica gets your motor running, then by all means, get out on on the highway and look for adventure. I guess. Stay away from my goddaughters, though. Freak.
8) Wind River (trailer) – I live in Minnesota. The high temperature is presently -4 degrees. If a mysterious murder were to pop up in my neighborhood, I’d mourn for the loss of life, but you’d have a better chance of pissing diamonds than you would of having me volunteer to traipse through the bitter cold and snow to solve said crime. Luckily, the main characters in “Wind River” were mentally and physically stronger than me when asked to solve the rape and murder of a young native woman found frozen in a desolate and bitter cold patch of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent (Jeremy Renner) and FBI special agent (Elizabeth Olsen) weave through a minefield of reservation politics and intercultural distrust as they attempt to solve a crime that few seem interested in solving. This film has drama, action (including two wonderfully constructed shootouts), and some very real expressions of how unthinkable loss can look very different to people. The film’s conclusion may not surprise you as much as you’d hoped, but the journey taken to get there is expertly constructed and executed. Just be sure to where a warm coat to the theater.
9) Darkest Hour (trailer) – When it comes to diversification of performances, Gary Oldman remains nearly unrivaled. Whether playing a drug-addicted, corrupt cop in “The Professional” or a drug-dealing pimp in “True Romance,” Oldman owns some of the most memorable performances—big and small—of the past few decades. It’s very possible that none match his latest role as the drug-dealing British prime minister Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour.” Okay, so Winston wasn’t a drug dealer (at least to my knowledge), but he did drink a lot, so there’s that. All of the intensity that “Dunkirk” brought to the big screen while telling of the massive evacuation of stranded British troops during the early months of World War II, “Darkest Hour” matches in spades while exploring the controversial prime minister’s role in galvanizing a divided British political system on the brink of either war or surrender. The film houses a different kind of intensity than “Dunkirk,” but it is equally as effective. Let’s be clear, though, it is nothing more than a whisper without Oldman’s performance.
10) It (trailer) – Perhaps it’s not fair. Comparing an R-rated film in 2017 to it’s network TV miniseries stepbrother from the 1980s. They’re simply fighting the same war with different ammunition. The story is similar to my experience in 7th grade. Only instead of a group of childhood chums, it was just me. And instead of being tormented by an evil force disguised as a fanged clown, it was acne and a physique ideally suited for eating disorder pamphlets. Scary, huh? Actually, “It” isn’t as scary as its wonderful trailer portended, but it sure as hell is big screen fun from start to finish. There are creepy moments and a few jump scares, but the film is as much a character-driven thriller as anything. The child actors are all incredibly entertaining, and it’s fun to see their stories come to life. Bill Skarsgård, as Pennywise the Clown, plays just about every creepy note perfectly. And there is a wonderful message about keeping your bathroom clean too, so it’s perfect for any parents trying to get their kids to help with chores. It’s the first of two films, but it works as a stand-alone flick, which is minor miracle in today’s Hollywood. Bring on the sequel!
Always the Bridesmaids (i.e. – just missed the list): “Gifted”, “Logan”, “Get Out” and “Split.”
The Dirty (Downright Stanky) Half-Dozen
I don’t know how it happens, but with each passing year 1) I become crankier, more stubborn, and more opinionated and 2) Hollywood studios green light more and more (and more) truly horrendous projects for the big screen. It’s almost too much to take, but then I remember that I love to point out the flaws in terrible movies (or any other aspect of life, for that matter), so I’m in an odd sort of heaven.
With great regret and oodles of embarrassment, here are my selections for the six most gut-wrenchingly bad films of 2017 (which, yes, I actually paid to see):
Baywatch – If you loved the original “Baywatch” television series, you’ll probably love the comedic tribute that is the “Baywatch” motion picture. Of course, if that’s the case, you’re an idiot the likes of which few have ever seen in person. You’d be the Sasquatch or Lochness Monster of idiots. Congrats. As for this pile of llama shit, Dwayne Johnson is a yawner, Zac Efron has zero comedic chops (and is disturbingly physically fit), and the jokes throughout land with the impact of a eyelash dropped in a pool of tar. Alexandra Daddario is insanely gorgeous, but that shallow comment aside, there is nothing about this film that is redeemable in my eyes. Sure, Alexandra Daddario is insanely gorgeous, but…wait, did I already say that? Whatever. Avoid this one like the plague.
The Great Wall – After all these months, it’s still difficult for me to talk about this film (see my review from earlier this year). Not because the plot is lazy and boring, which it is. Not because the evil monsters are ridiculous and nonsensical, which they are. No, I struggle to find words to describe how awful Matt Damon’s “accent” is in this “film.” Yes, I meant to use that many quotes. The story in a nutshell: ancient monsters attack China, so the Chinese build the Great Wall as a line of defense. The only way to defeat the monsters is to kill the queen. The only way to get to the queen is to disable the other monsters with magnetized rocks. The only way to look yourself in the mirror ever again, is to tell yourself that you didn’t pay $8.50 to see this piece of shit.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – If you expected Luc Besson’s next version of “The Fifth Element” when you walked into the theater for this one, I’m guessing that, like me, you left crestfallen. Some pretty stunning visuals could do nothing to hide a vapid plot and, hands down, the worst acting of the year. Out of the 100+ films I saw in 2017, no other film had a larger gap between my expectations/hopes and the finished product. Fuck you, Luc Besson. Just…fuck you.
Underworld: Blood Wars – If a dog somehow broke into my house, snuck into my bedroom, and took a shit on my face while I slept, I’d still have more respect for him that I do for everyone involved in “Underworld: Blood Wars.” This franchise should’ve stopped before the first film. Yes, I meant “before” the first film. Kate Beckinsale is beautiful, but choosing to hitch her wagon to these films is the second worst decision of the past two decades. Right behind my decision to buy a red Dodge Neon after college.
The Circle – Shame on Tom Hanks and Emma Watson/Hermione Granger for this abomination of a film. Ooooh, tech companies are big and evil and the world is about to become a place where your every move, thought and mistake will be captured by a computer and held over your head. It’s a buffoonish story masquerading as a techno-thriller. Hanks and Watson/Granger are both awful. John Boyega isn’t much better. The best peformance, in fact, may be the various drones used to terrorize people throughout the film. They don’t have any dialogue, but that means that they can’t butcher their poorly written lines.
Pitch Perfect 3 – Okay, I didn’t actually see this film. I did, however, see the first “Pitch Perfect” film, and to this day, the thought of having to ever see even one minute of it again frightens me more than ISIS or millipedes. Hell, it even scares me more than if ISIS had guns that shot millipedes. Between the various vomit-inducing trailers and the fact that it has a “3” in the title, I have to imagine this one is three times worse than the original. Luckily, I believe this will be the last film in the franchise. No more Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson singing their way to a paycheck. So, at least there’s light at the end of this travelling glee club shit fest.
The 2017 Whispy Awards
Kick Assiest Actor – Considering I basically performed oral on Woody Harrelson in my top-10 above, you may think this category is a bit of a formality. Alas, you’d be wrong. So, suck it! While I didn’t necessarily love every last bit of “Stronger,” Jake Gyllenhal’s performance as Jeff Bauman, a Boston Marathon spectator who lost both legs during the 2013 terrorist bombing, was nearly perfect. It is one of the most human performances of the year. Gyllenhal plays Bauman as likable as he is unlikable, as weak as he is strong. The film is a tough watch, but the performances are not. Honorable mention: James Franco in “The Disaster Artist,” Denzel Washington in “Roman J. Israel, Esq.,” Gary Oldman in “Darkest Hour,” and Woody Harrelson in “The Glass Castle” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Downright Shittiest Actor – In what was another abysmal year of filmmaking and acting, it is yet again painfully difficult to choose the year’s worst actor. It needs to be done, though, so the winner/loser of this award goes to Dane DeHaan for his performance (?) as Valerian in “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” Listen to him recite his lines and you’ll be convinced that Satan exists, and that he sent DeHaan to earth to remind us all of his power. Dishonorable mention: Zac Efron in “Baywatch,” Matt Damon in “The Great Wall,” Mark Wahlberg in “Patriot’s Day,” and Charlie Hunnam in “The Lost City of Z.”
Most Glorious Actress – Not even close. Frances McDormand just kills it in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” She finds a way to deftly pull off hilarious, vulnerable, caring, vicious and stubborn all in the span of two hours. In a film filled with wonderful performances, it’s hard to imagine any of it working without her touch. It’s no great stretch to assume that McDormand may win herself another Oscar. If so, well done. Honorable mention: Mckenna Grace in “Gifted,” Sally Hawkins in “The Shape of Water,” Brie Larson in “The Glass Castle,” and Tatiana Maslany in “Stronger.”
Most Putrid Actress – If I could give this to Rhianna for her small rabbit turd of a performance in “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” I would. But that would be giving Emma Watson a free pass for “The Circle.” She’s horrendous, and there’s no forgiving her. Or her family. Or people who live next door to her family. I would blame the writers and director for not giving her much to work with, but I think she might actually have been so bad that it impacted their work retroactively. Dishonorable mention: Kate Beckinsale in “Underworld: Blood Wars” and Julianne Moore in “Kingsman: The Golden Circle.”
Best Visuals – Many have had to listen to me decry everything Marvel Cinematic Universe for the past decade. With few exceptions, the corny, lazily written commercials disguised as films tend to hurt my spleen. That said, the Thor films have always seemed to be a class above the rest. “Thor: Ragnarok” was funny, action-picked and visually beautiful. And it’s not just the action sequences. The worlds to which the film travels are spectacularly crafted. I’m guessing if you muted the film and played Pink Floyd in the background, you’d have one hell of a night in front of you. Honorable mention: “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” “Kong: Skull Island,” and “Ghost in the Shell.”
Film that Needs Far Less Mark Wahlberg In It – Why does Mark Wahlberg exist? Apparently, it’s to star in Peter Berg films that I can’t wait to see until I notice Mark Wahlberg on the movie poster. First it was “Lone Survivor.” Next, it was “Deepwater Horizon.” This year, it was “Patriots Day.” Berg took an amazing true story filled with emotion and turned it into a laughable vehicle for inserting his buddy (a Boston native) in every scene. It should’ve been an ensemble flick where the story is the star. Instead, we get mumble-mouthed Mark ruining as many scenes as he can in two hours. Ugh. Honorable mention: “Transformers: The Last Knight.”
Most Laughs – It was another year of sub-par comedies, in my humble opinion. Yes, there were plenty of laughs in a variety of films, but no film brought about gut laughs from start to finish. I hate to say it, but “CHiPs” came as close as any. I can’t emphasize how uninspiring this movie is. That said, I’d be lying if I said that Dax Shepard (Jon Baker) and Michael Peña (Ponch) didn’t have comedic chemistry. It’s brainless humor for the most part, but the jokes hit more than they miss. And if you try to hold me to this statement, I’ll claim someone hacked into my block and wrote this.
Film that Forced the Most Salty Discharge from the Eyes – I’ve admitted it in the past. I water up at movies far more often than a 40-something male should. I’ll never admit to full-on crying (I claim “my allergies really acted up”), but I have to come clean. I love a film that tugs at the ol’ heartstrings. In 2017, plenty of films pissed off my allergies. “A Monster Calls,” “Only the Brave,” “Gifted,” and “Fist Fight.” Okay, that last one made me cry because I wanted it to end. None, however, touched the ticker quite like “The Glass Castle.” As mentioned above, it’s a heart-breaker of a story about family. Can’t explain it, but if you don’t at least entertain the idea of tearing up, you are the worst person ever. Just the worst.
Best Film You Never Seen…or Even Heard Of – Normally, I’d go with “Brigsby Bear” for this one, but since you’ve already heard of it in my review about, I’ll go with “Pilgrimage.” Tom Holland and Jon Bernthal (particularly the latter) lead a beautifully shot film that matches a relatively tight story with some interesting performances and raw violence. It’s not a “go out of your way to see it” kind of film, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it. Honorable Mention: “The Wall.”