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The Worst and, more importantly, THE BEST of 2017, so far

So, as I am the grand arbiter of all things film, I’m officially calling the summer movie season at its close. Alas Logan Lucky, The Glass Castle, or Annabelle: Creation, you’re all part of the fall movie season. However will you survive?

And at the close of summer movie season, we’re essentially halfway through the movie year. I know we’re more than halfway through the calendar year, but trust me, that back half is always as packed as it gets. There’ll end up being things that are Oscar nominees that aren’t even on our radar right now. The worst movie of the year is likely still yet to come (though it’s hard to imagine right now).

But since I’m a fiend for lists, let’s make one, shall we? Let’s give a few check-ins and see where we are, starting with the worst (because it gets the attention) before taking a full celebration of the best.

Bottom 5 Films of 2017 So Far

5) The Dark Tower

Idris Elba

Ahh, The Dark Tower. The best franchise that will never quite be. Based on Stephen King’s series of epic fantasy western Lovecraftian meta-novels, some much smarter studio could have had a new Game of Thrones on its hands. Alas, it was in the hands of Sony and they instead produced a fall flat on its face. A mess of bad studio production, The Dark Tower wastes its actors, murders its pacing, and takes all the material and tosses it out the window for a mid-90s adaptation premise. Any film that features Matthew McConaughey saying “I see you’re still impervious to my magicks” with a straight face has an uphill battle. The Dark Tower doesn’t win it.

4) The Circle

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A bland mess of technophobia, I really just feel bad for the people involved here. The Circle is Black Mirror without the brains or heart, an aesthetic rip-off by a huge number of people who should be able to make some better stamp. Staring a pitch-perfect satire of late capitalism in the face, The Circle is content to shake its fist at social media and ultimately end up going nowhere.

3) Transformers: The Last Knight

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Look, who the living fuck expects anything out of this franchise at this point? The best Transformers has ever been able to aspire to is Bay’s weird hypercompetencies managing to shine through the material. But when they don’t, it’s the same thing that happens every goddamned time: A mess of story with awful design with a runtime that lasts for aeons.

2) Ghost in the Shell

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A pile-up of decisions so bad that you’re more baffled that it ever happened than mad that someone chose to do it. That all said, this is a film that was never going to be great and still manages to enrage far above its station. A messy script, terrible direction, and boring setpieces would sink any movie, but a movie that white-washes like this one does deserves all the ire that can be thrown. When your material is so fertile with intellect, you can’t be this fucking stupid in putting it together.

1) The Book of Henry

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Colin Trevorrow is a rare sort of filmmaker, one who in a past era would have perhaps been run out of town after town after the people found out his snake oil elixirs just weren’t working. The Book of Henry is his raw nerve put on screen. Excessively manipulative, baffling in every plot point put on screen, and a masterpiece of inhuman behavior, seemingly put together by a man who’s never met a human but is fairly certain he knows how they work. Fuck this movie.

Colossal is a brilliant movie where the monster is man

For everyone who’s ever knocked a few things over trying to get into bed after that last ill-advised shot, Colossal may stand in all too stark of a reality. A witty and deeply relatable movie that takes its indie movie premise and bends it so far that it runs joyously into originality, Colossal has so much on its mind that perhaps its greatest pleasure is simply seeing the layers here unfold.

Colossal has functionally two separate films (in the best way) unfurl in its runtime. The first is the story of Gloria (Anne Hathaway), an “internet writer” who breaks up with her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens), due to her excessive drinking and party lifestyle after a  and moves back to her small hometown. She reconnects with childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudekis), starts working in Oscar’s bar, and generally tries to get her life together.

During this time, she discovers that at 8:05 every morning, she can take control of a giant monster that manifests itself over Seoul and has generally wrecked up the place. You know, as you do.

In this, the monster becomes a literalizing metaphor for the destructiveness of Gloria’s alcoholism. I mean, that much is obvious, one of the first things you learn about literature is that the monster is always metaphor.

Yet it’s still a potent idea for precisely reasons that Colossal demonstrates. There’s a power in the way it addresses Gloria’s connection to the monster, turning it into the avatar of the lives that she’s wrecked. Writer/Director Nacho Vigolando handles it gracefully, never overblowing or underselling, but equivocating, using the same emotions.

That sense of learning what you did from others later, the hoping that you didn’t cause that much devastation. Vigolando handles these things extremely well, making them connect enough for even the person who’s maybe blacked out once to understand those darker worries of those who fall into the consistent habit.

It also helps that he has Anne Hathaway as Gloria. No stranger to public scorn that seems completely out of her control, Colossal feels personal for her, taking some of that darkness that she has demonstrated a penchant for before (think Rachel Getting Married, wherein she gives one of the finest caustic sniping performances on film) and makes it empathetic, understanding what a rough time of things does to people. Hathaway is phenomenal here, showing off the absolute and total performative control that makes her an actress worth talking about.

That’s movie #1. A “person needs to get stuff together in their hometown” movie that plays so effectively because it isn’t just that. It’s a genre picture that takes that tropes and uses the power of monster as metaphor to give a special punch, a sickening literalization that puts things together in their fullness.

Now, I want to discuss the rest of this movie, but understand that doing so means that I’m spoiling the biggest surprises this movie has to offer. My review isn’t complete without it. So, I’m going to put the trailer here and a recommendation. Colossal is a brilliant, pitch-perfectly put together piece of genre fiction, and is absolutely worth your time. Now, go see it, and then continue below.

Movie #2 is something that has its seeds first sown in the first half. Sudekis’ Oscar seems just a little too aggressively nice. He keeps trying to insert himself into her life, helping her out, being a nice guy. He’s got great friends, but you notice that he won’t stop pushing and pulling them, the ringleader of the group.

Then, one fateful morning, Oscar finds out that he too manifests in Seoul, as a giant robot. There’s a certain perverse joy he takes in that power, as he realizes he can use it to control Gloria, who needs him less and less as she’s getting her demons under control. And as he starts to let his rage and his desire to control come out more and more.

Yes, the real monster here? “Nice guys.”

We know them, those guys who fake kindness to expect returns. Vigolando has made Colossal an all too-modern metaphor, living with the particular phenomenons made apparent by technology and the 21st century. Colossal is not an “internet movie,” but there’s an understanding of what it’s like to live with the people it’s created and enabled.

Colossal has an understanding of masculine rage, of a specific kind of man who’s toxic to his own relationships and the relationships of others. Vigolando here has created a monster movie that effectively gets at how we can be the smallest monsters, of control and abuse and the entitlement to others.

Much of that is from Sudekis, who inverts his nice-guy persona and takes a far far more active role in the second-half. He uses his natural affableness and aloofness and turns it into a dark disconnect with humanity. He makes the slide so perfectly and lays the groundwork so well that it makes you look at him a little differently. That’s a performance.

With Colossal, it ultimately comes down to how incredibly well it tells the stories it tries to sell. Vigolando is a master of tone, wielding his control at every step and letting the story dance along the ridiculousness and the seriousness inherent in the premise. It’s told with such a casual hand that its more serious moments snap all the more into focus. Every element is wedded perfectly to its aims.

Colossal is simply great filmmaking, relevant and thoughtful and eminently enjoyable at every step. Vigolando took on a lot and here it absolutely all snaps into brilliant focus, a story of pain and rage and personal redemption with giant monsters. What more could you want?

Grade: A