Ballots and Best-of Lists


Michelle Rodriguez The Assignment

By Daniel Barnes

In addition to all of my other freelance writing work, I penned roughly 200 movie reviews in the calendar year 2017.  Whatever you think of the results, I worked on hard on that shit (I did!), so before all this work gets swept into the dustbin of yesteryear, I have compiled my sharpest movie reviews from 2017.


*The Assignment (posted 3/9/17)
The mot juste: “It’s vintage meat-and-potatoes Walter Hill – gritty and funny, brusque and stylishly economic, with a fun streak of fuck-it trashiness throughout.  Unfortunately, any sense of low-brow, comic book fun continually crashes against a concrete wall made of one-note performances.”

*The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki (posted 5/4/17)
The mot juste: “The Happiest Day in the Life… is more of a dithering hangout movie – warm and enveloping like the afternoon sun, luxuriating in gliding bike rides and long walks through the woods, easily digestible and easily forgettable.”

*Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story (posted 7/20/17)
The mot juste: “When Andy Warhol opined that “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” he forgot to mention that even those that never achieve fame will still get kid-glove documentaries made about them.”

*Endless Poetry (posted 7/20/17)
The mot juste: “The film practically swoons with magi-delic realism, vicious satire and fourth-wall perversions, and he clearly feels liberated by the intimacy and logistics of digital cinema.  The mix of vulgarity and spirituality, of affectionate freakshow and savage political theater, is pure Jodorowsky, and you can feel his restless invention swirling through every scene.”

*The Last Face (posted 7/26/17)
The mot juste: “Dental hygiene as foreplay.  Yes, there is a scene in this film where Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem’s painfully dedicated relief aid doctors initiate sex by flirtatiously brushing their teeth. I just thank God cinema wasn’t alive to see this.”

*The Untamed (posted 8/3/17)
The mot juste: “The film earns maximum points for sheer “What-the-shit?!”-ness, offering an unholy blend of Cronenberg-ian body horror and domestic misery porn, and yet it all feels unusually empty.  As was the case with Heli, there is a potentially fascinating and wholly original film flickering on the fringes of The Untamed, but Escalante’s navel-gazing sadism still takes center stage.”

*The Unknown Girl (posted 9/20/17)
The mot juste: “This disaffected, by-the-numbers effort feels more like the work of the filmmakers that [the Dardenne brothers] influenced than the real McCoy.   I’m sure there’s a Christian allegory that I’m missing here, but a blandly sturdy, stutter-stop drama is a blandly sturdy, stutter-stop drama in any denomination.”

*Ex Libris – The New York Public Library (posted 10/11/17)
The mot juste: “Wiseman’s approach is the essence of democracy.  Ex Libris portrays the library not just as a storage space for books, but as a place where the community gathers for self-betterment and the free exchange of ideas, whether that means students doing research or seniors dancing to Kool and the Gang.”

*78/52 (posted 10/24/17)
The mot juste: “Bloviating dude after bloviating dude gives their mostly unnecessary takes on Hitchcock, naturally leading to spurious claims about how Psycho was the first film to ever do everything.  Obviously, I’m interested to hear what film scholars and qualified experts…have to say about Hitchcock, but not narcissistic windbags like Eli Roth and Richard Stanley.  Not Bret Easton Ellis.  Not Elijah Wood.”

*Antiporno (posted 12/28/17)
The mot juste: “In the alternate timeline where film critics don’t act like border patrol guards for pseudo-woke mainstream culture, Antiporno is racking up Best Foreign Film awards and Tomite and Tsutsui are dark horse Oscar contenders, while “topical” vomit like In the Fade barely get acknowledged.”


*Elle (published 1/5/17)
The mot juste: “Elle is exploitative in all the right ways—i.e., as a means of carving beneath the false, polite surfaces of civility to find some kind of meaning in a chaotic world—without neglecting Michéle’s obscene trauma.  Verhoeven gives Huppert a role worthy of her honesty and unpredictability—she’s practically incapable of falseness, the perfect star for a film obsessed with ugly truths.”

*John Wick: Chapter 2 (published 2/16/17)
The mot juste: “While the first John Wick leaned heavily on the theme of grief, with Wick’s corpse-strewn revenge mission serving as cathartic therapy, the sequel focuses more on the theme of addiction. Whether by blackmail or bloodlust, Wick can’t escape his old life, and he isn’t the only person in John Wick: Chapter 2 who feels trapped by this life of hired murder and unforgiving moral codes.”

*Life (published 3/30/17)
The mot juste: “For all of its chin-stroking pretension, Life is almost endearingly dim-witted, frequently pausing for monosyllabic ruminations on life itself, even as it turns CGI space bacteria into a traditional horror movie antagonist.  I was more entertained by the low-rent crud that Life is than by the pedantic Interstellar hogwash that it wishes it was.”

*Their Finest (published 4/27/17)
The mot juste: “Arterton and Claflin have little chemistry, and there’s no spark in the writing, but the soundtrack insists that their characters are made for each other, so off we go.  To anyone who isn’t instantly tickled by the nonstop fetishizing of reductive and redundant stiff-upper-lip-ism, Their Finest feels like one long Keep Calm and Carry On meme.”

*Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (published 6/1/17)
The mot juste: “Don’t get snookered by that misleading title—dead men monologue almost nonstop throughout this fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise. Everywhere you turn, some ghost or ex-ghost starts blathering about their tortured and confusing backstory. One of the major reveals in Dead Men Tell No Tales: the origin story of Captain Jack Sparrow’s disgusting dread jewelry. Seriously.”

*Transformers: The Last Knight (published 6/22/17)
The mot juste: “As always, Bay provides some truly stunning images and shows a semimature tendency to laugh at his own excess, but we’re still trolling for pennies in a fountain filled with toxic waste. This is probably one of the better entries in the series, although picking your favorite Transformers film is a little like picking your favorite murder-suicide. At a certain point, I simply surrendered to The Last Knight. I don’t think I had a choice. The film had me surrounded, and I just wanted to see my family again.”

*Dunkirk (published 7/20/17)
The mot juste: “Stars still matter in the age of the never-ending franchise, but Christopher Nolan remains one of our few brand-name directors, a behind-the-camera presence who can be counted on to sell tickets. To his credit, it’s a responsibility that Nolan takes very, very seriously; to his discredit, what doesn’t he take very, very seriously?”

*Detroit (published 8/3/17)
The mot juste: “The opening third of Detroit, a rhythmically careening depiction of the early days of the riot, stands as one of the most electric and original pieces of filmmaking in Bigelow’s career. Bigelow usually thrives on iron-fisted control, but the opening passage of Detroit feels loose-limbed, spacious and expansive, quite unlike anything else in her frequently taut and claustrophobic filmography.”

*It (published 9/14/17)
The mot juste: “If nothing else, Andy Muschietti’s relentless coming-of-age horror film delivers the goods. Unfortunately, those goods are awful. The posters promise you a child-eating clown, the trailers promise you a child-eating clown, the TV commercials promise you a child-eating clown and, holy crap, do you ever get a child-eating clown.”

*Victoria & Abdul (published 9/28/17)
The mot juste: “Dench keeps the toothless one-liners coming: When Karim complains about his scratchy Scottish garb, Victoria replies, “Everything in Scotland is scratchy.” Take that, wool!  Unfortunately, Frears can’t figure out what to do with Abdul. He was apparently a pocket liner in real life, but the film chalks his dewy-eyed devotion up to a genuine and uncomplicated love of service. It’s sort of like Driving Miss Daisy, only way more racist.”

Read more of Daniel’s reviews at Dare Daniel and Rotten Tomatoes, and listen to Daniel on the Dare Daniel podcast.