Anyone who knows me well could tell you that I don’t see a lot of new films. As a matter of fact, of the 116 films that I saw in 2017, only 7 were new, and 109 were old. Thus, my annual Top 10 Best and Worst lists are necessarily different than most. With me, any film that I saw for the first time in 2017 was eligible for either list. If the film made me laugh, or think, or tear up, or sit suspensefully on the edge of my seat, or amazed me with something that I had not seen before, it had a good shot at being considered. On the other hand, for me, boredom is the worst thing that any film can be guilty of; I don’t care if a film is cheaply made, but please do not torture me with tedium. Anyway, with no further ado, my Top 10 Best and Worst Lists of 2017. The films are listed in the order that I saw them…
TOP 10 BEST:
1) THE RACK (1956): I watched this one because it happens to feature my main gal, Anne Francis, in a supporting role, but as it turns out, this Korean War court-martial drama, written by Rod Serling, showcases an early Paul Newman performance of very great emotional weight. Walter Pidgeon also impresses as his scandalized father.
2) IN THIS OUR LIFE (1942): Bad girl Bette Davis, almost unrecognizable behind face-altering makeup, steals away sister Olivia de Havilland’s husband, leading to numerous sequences of unbelievably high drama. A very underrated Davis vehicle, featuring sterling support by George Brent, Dennis Morgan, and especially the great Charles Coburn.
3) LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER (1963): Working gal Natalie Wood, knocked up by trumpet-playing boyfriend Steve McQueen, goes looking for a back-alley abortion in this surprisingly realistic, adult film, told in B&W, semi-documentary fashion. The two leads are marvelous, as is Edie Adams in a sexy supporting role. One of the very best of my year.
4) INSIDE DAISY CLOVER (1965): This film is not highly regarded, but I found it strangely wonderful. Here, Natalie plays an up-and-coming actress in 1930s Hollywood, learning of its inside rot the hard way. Robert Redford and Christopher Plummer both make strong impressions, and the promotional film within the film, featuring Daisy singing “You’re Gonna Hear From Me,” with borderline psychedelic backdrop, might have been the year’s most remarkable cinematic moment for yours truly.
5) GOD’S LITTLE ACRE (1958): Quite the risqué sensation 60 years ago, this film, concerning an oddball family in rural Georgia, still manages to impress today with its moving and, yes, erotic story line. Robert Ryan is as good as he always was; Aldo Ray, Jack Lord, Michael Landon and even Buddy Hackett turn in effective support; and (OMG!) Tina Louise has never been sexier.
6) CRIMSON PEAK (2015): A young woman (Mia Wasikowska) goes to live with her new husband (Tom Hiddleston) and sister-in-law (Jessica Chastain) in this neo-Gothic wonder. A generally scary ghost story, with gorgeous use of color and set design, that grows more and more astounding and grotesque as it proceeds. Yet another winner from Guillermo del Toro.
7) THE VISIT (2015): Another superlative horror film from 2015, in which two young children spend some time with the decidedly strange grandparents whom they’d previously never met. Director/writer M. Night Shyamalan manages to insert yet one more of his trademark twists into this decidedly unsettling picture. Projectile vomiting has never seemed scarier.
8) SÉANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON (1964): A remarkably fine British drama, in which eccentric “clairvoyant” Kim Stanley and her husband (a typically excellent Richard Attenborough) kidnap a young girl in order to later demonstrate the medium’s occult “powers.” Some first-rate acting highlights this truly outstanding and suspenseful film.
9) BABY DRIVER (2017): Tinnitus sufferer Baby (Ansel Elgort), a getaway driver for crime boss Kevin Spacey (hiss!), falls in love and hopes to get out of the racket, in this fast-moving, colorful, action-packed, ultra-stylish winner, featuring a dynamite soundtrack and terrific performances by Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and super-sexy Eiza Gonzalez.
10) GLORIA (1980): G-L-O-R-I-A, a former Mob moll, goes on the lam in full mother-bear mode when the parents of her cute little Hispanic neighbor are rubbed out. Gena Rowlands gives a performance here that is as tough as it is sympathetic. A highly satisfying ending caps an enormously entertaining film by the legendary John Cassavetes.
And now, from the sublime to the ridiculous:
TOP 10 WORST:
1) THE TERMINAL MAN (1974): George Segal has a minicomputer inserted into his brain to help with his epilepsy; sadly, it only causes him to go into homicidal rages, in this disappointingly weak thriller, solely brightened by the presence of ever-charming Jill Clayburgh. The operation scene itself seems to drag on interminably…
2) LADY IN THE WATER (2006): Apartment super Paul Giamatti discovers a water nymph (Bryce Dallas Howard) living in the complex’s swimming pool, in this misstep from Shyamalan. Ridiculous and confusing, this fantasy grows increasingly more outlandish and improbable as it lurches toward its unsatisfying denouement.
3) THE PHYNX (1970): A rock group is formed by the U.S. government to go behind Communist lines in Albania and rescue several dozen kidnapped entertainment personalities (the number of star cameos in the film is staggering). Only sporadically entertaining, this farce is a real hit-or-miss affair; a time capsule curio the likes of which you have admittedly never seen. Still, objectively speaking, pretty bad.
4) INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN (1956): In which convict Lon Chaney, Jr. is gassed to death by the state but later brought back to life with 300,000 volts of juice by mad scientist Robert “Inspector Henderson” Shayne. Chaney, as usual, is fine, but the film is a shoddily made affair that is desperately in need of a shot of juice itself.
5) THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES (1956): A monster guards an underwater radioactive rock and kills the occasional encroaching scuba diver in this hybrid sci-fi/horror/spy film. This AIP effort fails to entertain on all levels. And, oh … points off for aping the title of one of this viewer’s favorite films, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.
6) THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (1971): A matter of taste, I suppose. Many people love this cult item, in which a bereaved man (George C. Scott) pretends to be Sherlock Holmes, and is begrudgingly assisted by his psychotherapist, Watson (Joanne Woodward). The film strains for oddball humor and an escapist sense of romanticism, but only came off as forced and somewhat silly for this viewer. Despite two excellent performances, a misfire.
7) mother! (2017): I hated having to include Darren Aronofsky’s latest offering here, as I thought the film was increasingly intense and genuinely astounding. But by the film’s end, the whole affair is revealed to be simply incomprehensible and borderline pretentious. But don’t blame the four leads — Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris, and particularly (an Oscar-worthy) Jennifer Lawrence — all of whom offer up fantastic performances.
8) THE MYSTERIOUS DOCTOR (1943): A headless ghost haunts a British mining village during WW2, in this cheaply made little potboiler, of interest today solely because it features a very early performance by the great Eleanor Parker, who IS admittedly both beautiful and wonderful here.
9) DEAD MEN WALK (1943): Another minor horror outing from 1943, in which the good and kindly George Zucco battles his twin brother, an evil Satanist who has arisen from his own grave. What sounds smashing in synopsis is actually a rather slow-moving affair, with not a single chill.
10) CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA (1961): A remarkably inane and slapdash affair from the usually dependable Roger Corman, combining gangsters, Cuban gold, a sea monster, and lustful Puerto Rican women into one bizarre hodgepodge. The film’s monster itself is a riot; the intentional humor, ever so painful.
Wishing everyone here many wonderful film experiences in 2018!!!
Always like to see what’s coming next from you!
I thought CRIMSON PEAK was gorgeous too, with a strange twist on a ghost story. Now I want to see SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON.
LADY IN THE WATER was one of the most baffling wastes of talent ever. Ever.
Thanks, Bill. Fortunately, I enjoy writing about my film experiences as much as I do my literary excursions, so stay tuned….
Oh, “Seance” really is wonderful, Marion. Hope you do get to see it soon. As for “Lady in the Water,” I agree: a real waste of time and talent!
Oh, and BTW, regarding that Daisy Clover film within a film…see what I was talking about?!?! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eNdLlxC9sk&t=28s