This is the very last year end Deadshirt film list.
After four years, gallons of blood/sweat/tears and countless fixed commas, we’re calling it a night. While obviously a shady corporate billionaire didn’t sue us or shutter us to save five bucks a year, the very ordinary truth is the folks handling the day to day (Editor Kayleigh Hearn, myself and chairman emeritus Dylan Roth) don’t have the kind of free time we used to between burgeoning freelance careers and up-and-coming power pop bands. When discussing *gently* closing Deadshirt.net, the three of us realized (for us, for current staff, and certainly for the folks who have gone on to other passions) that the four glorious years of Deadshirt have been a lot like high school. We all learned a lot from this plucky little site with a terrible name and, most importantly, we made some of the best friendships of our lives. None of us would be the writers we are now without the work we put into this unpaid passion project and it’s been an honor to be guiding the ship these last couple years. The site will be in operation through January and, hopefully, available as an archive for much longer.
Which brings us to, y’ know, the actual film list.
(Some spoilers ahead for Star Wars & Thor.)
2017 was an incredibly strong year for movies, so much so that it felt like a real oversight if we didn’t include an honorable mentions list (for real though, Monster Trucks is the business). This year felt a decade long thanks to Trump’s moron government, non-stop horrible news internationally and good old fashioned general malaise. The plus side of this is we somehow got five superhero movies this year and the only one that sucked was Justice League!
If any kind of pattern emerged in this impressively balanced list of films selected by Deadshirt staffers and contributors, it’s a general vibe of “fuck all this old bad shit.” Thor: Ragnarok, which is listed below, blew the comics-mandated status quo apart when Thor and co. realized they had to let Asgard die in a prophetic furnace if its people were to move onward and upward from its genocidal past. A defeated aged Luke Skywalker was only able to look past his pain when Yoda burned down the first and last Jedi temple, reminding his wayward pupil that Rey will inevitably surpass them both even without the help of some old books and transferred generational trauma.
“Asgard is a people, not a place” a now-one-eyed Thor assures us from the helm of an intergalactic refugee ship. What a necessary perspective to hold tight to after a year that has seen institutions fail the very people they were built to help, a year that has shown the true colors of powerful men we’re so quick to idolize. No allies came to save Leia’s cornered Resistance on Crait in the zero hour, no one pulled the wreckage of a warehouse off Spider-Man and certainly nobody handed dubious celebrity to Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero on a silver platter. It’s just us, we’re all we’ve got in this mess and maybe we can make it through this long night if we’re good enough to each other.
In 2018, let’s burn the boats on the shores of this new country and start fresh. Let’s be our best selves, let’s write our hearts out and perhaps make the world a little better. 2017 saw the end of Asgard and the Jedi as we knew them. 2018 will, soon enough, see the end of Deadshirt as we know it. We’re all still here, though, with limitless potential at our fingertips. And isn’t that exciting?
– Max Robinson
- Get Out
What else can be said about Get Out, 2017’s breakout hit, that hasn’t been said already? The numerous genre parodies on his sketch show told us Jordan Peele had a taste for and admiration of horror films, but Get Out proved this year he also has the skill and acumen. Conceived as a brash, Obama era wake up call, a thrilling klaxon aimed at the myth of a post racial America, it was retooled into the first great film of the Trumpian End Times. It’s a bold, lean distillation of race relations in this hell country, soldered onto a mindblowing genre piece. For Peele’s directorial debut, however, it’s merely a good start. – Dom Griffin
- The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro’s fairy tale is the culmination of a career spent empathizing with outsiders. Set just before JFK’s assassination, back when the dream was The Nuclear Family, his heroes are the ones who don’t have access to that dream. His central character is Eliza (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman who gets by cleaning floors at a government lab. She’s enslaved to her routine, unsure of what place she’s supposed to have in a world she can’t interact with, until a strange, sentient, water-based creature (Doug Jones) is brought in for observation. Eliza develops a powerful romantic bond with him, and before you can sing “Part of Your World,” she’s planning a daring jailbreak.
Rather than go into a thing I don’t have room for here about what makes this movie so great, I’ll just lay out three things that justify Water’s placement on this list. One, this is probably the most beautifully shot film of del Toro’s career. Two, it bristles with empathy for nearly every character, including Michael Shannon’s vicious G-man, indicting petty institutions and short-sighted bureaucracies as the true villains of this story. Three, that shot of the erotic, mischievous joy in Eliza’s eyes after her best friend (Richard Jenkins) walks in on her and the creature. If del Toro ever thinks he can ever do better than this he’s welcome to try, but I’m frankly not sure I could survive the attempt. – Chuck Winters
- The Disaster Artist
It’s possible that there’s nothing Hollywood loves more than making movies about itself, but James Franco’s The Disaster Artist feels like every plucky “Hey gang, let’s make a picture!” movie as filmed through a distorted funhouse mirror. Franco plays Tommy Wiseau, a wannabe movie star who has the wealth of Lex Luthor and the murky origin of the Joker. His craggy face peeking through a curtain of black hair, Wiseau is one of the greatest characters of 2017, at turns hilarious, pitiable, and tyrannical. His mutual obsession with fame and his younger, blonder actor friend Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) mutates into The Room, an absurd vanity project (and future cult classic) in which Wiseau plays an “All-American” hero betrayed by his loved ones. (The Disaster Artist is based on Sestero’s hysterical book about making The Room, which reads like a true crime story where the murder victim is cinema itself.)
Franco’s film is a surprisingly affecting tribute to outsiders—Wiseau is rejected from mainstream Hollywood for being too weird, too ugly, too foreign—and it’s just really fucking funny. And honestly, the real Tommy Wiseau showing up at the Oscars would be the perfect epilogue to this weird-ass year. “Haha, what a story, James!” – Kayleigh Hearn
I’ve admired the work of Christopher Nolan but with the exception of his dueling illusionist tale, The Prestige, it was mostly at a distance and always with a dose of skepticism. Dunkirk essentially blew away any remaining skepticism I had. Using the framework of a famous battle and evacuation during WWII on the shores of France, Nolan creates a ticking white knuckle horror-thriller about survival in the face of encroaching, inevitable and sudden death. If that wasn’t enough the filmmakers toy with decades of cinematic techniques and methods in astonishingly clever ways. This is cinema stripped down to its raw visceral power.
Clocking in at perhaps the most intense 106 minutes of recent film, Dunkirk also proved to me that you don’t need blood and gore or what have you to make a genuinely horrifying war film. You don’t even need patriotism. You don’t need to put soldiers on a pedestal. You don’t even need to state anti-war messages out loud to get them across. It has in common with movies like Wages of Fear or Speed perhaps even Final Destination than it does Saving Private Ryan. Dunkirk may not be “a 2017 movie” in terms of topics, issues or representation. However, it’s a movie where survival, finding a way to live another day amidst a destructive hellscape, is the ultimate act of heroism above all else. Is that not a truly pertinent, inspirational and timeless message? – Stefano De La Cuesta
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi
I’ll admit it—I wasn’t sold on The Last Jedi until the second time I saw it. I loved some moments, was put off by others. I stewed with this for the ten days between my first and second viewings, as the online discourse became fiercely divided between praising The Last Jedi as the far-and-away best Star Wars film, and fuming against it in an ugly nerd-rage meltdown. Was there room in the universe to just like The Last Jedi, without loving or hating it? But on that second viewing, without the two years of built-up expectations and anticipation, without the burden of countless lazy fan theories buzzing in my head, and with the benefit of hindsight, The Last Jedi leapt up my best movie of the year rankings. What do you call a film that’s better the second time you watch it? “Challenging.”
Rian Johnson’s first Star Wars is visually stunning, thematically consistent, and it gleefully throws out the series’ rulebook in favor of giving audiences something they haven’t had in my lifetime: an unpredictable Star Wars. A challenging Star Wars. Heroes make terrible mistakes, villains speak cruel but indisputable truths, but compassion, trust, and friendship still hold out as the most important forces in the galaxy. What’s coming next? What does Episode IX, presumably the final chapter of the Skywalker saga, even look like? I have no idea. It’s a wonderful feeling. Is there room to only “like” The Last Jedi? Of course there is. But I don’t like it. I love it. – Dylan Roth
- Lady Bird
Coming-of-age stories where the protagonist is trapped in a stagnant town and has a bad relationship with their parents and peers are so commonplace in indie dramas now that, going into Lady Bird, I wondered why everyone was so excited about this movie. Even as a fan of Greta Gerwig, I had my doubts. And then I saw the movie.
The answer is that Gerwig and her actors dare to give us a movie with a sometimes unlikeable and unpleasant female protagonist, whose relationship to the people and places in her life is more complex than even she realizes at first. Saoirse Ronan does an astonishing job bringing to life a teenage girl struggling to figure out her identity and showing how she hides her growing pains and turmoil underneath an exterior that is by turns prickly, pathetic and ridiculous. But the film has incredible generosity, giving us glimpses of the complexities within every other character. especially Laurie Metcalf (as Lady Bird’s mother) in a performance that deserves as many awards as it can be given. It even shows us how a place as uncelebrated and overlooked as Sacramento has its own specific character and kind of beauty.
In a year which has frequently been about us and them or love and hate, Lady Bird dramatized how much love and hate can be intertwined and confused. Most importantly, it shows how sometimes only time and experience can help you realize that fact. – Robby Forbes-Karol
- John Wick: Chapter 2
Where do you go from John Wick, wherein the Cal Ripken Jr. of hired killers returns to the clandestine world of secret assassin currencies and high stakes murder he left behind long ago? If the first film was John’s blood-soaked fall off the wagon, Chapter 2 is the hangover. Returning director-writer duo Chad Stahelski and Derek Kolstad aren’t content to deliver a re-do of the first movie, instead opting to explore the deadly serious ramifications of John Wick’s rampage in the form of a literal blood debt that must be repaid. Keanu Reeves clawed his way back to serious stardom with the first movie and it’s even more interesting to watch him inhabit Wick here now that the bloodlust has cooled and he has bigger problems than avenging a murdered puppy. With the heavy lifting worldbuilding of the prior film out of the way, Kolstad’s script has a chance to show off some strange new corners of John’s universe (including Rome’s version of the Continental hitman hotel and a delightfully hammy Laurence Fishburne as a former assassin-turned-satanic hobo king). A stylish further descent into John Wick’s beautifully ludicrous crime Hell with plenty of inventive action to spare, Chapter 2 proposes that our anti-hero’s greatest adversary isn’t a purring mafioso or mute assassin, it’s his own worst impulses. – Max Robinson
- Thor: Ragnarok
Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok is best summed up as “what if you made an entire movie out of a 70s pinball machine?.” The Thor film series is by far the most uneven in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: The first was solid enough, no person on planet earth has any memory of what happened in the second, and the third was seemingly made precisely for every single person I know. Marvel movies are undeniably following a formula, but 3hor showed us that the best way to break that formula is to think outside the box from the get-go—in this case, hiring an eccentric Kiwi indie director and letting everyone involved have fun.
Marvel movies are consistently better when they’re a couple steps away from the Avengers movies, and setting Ragnarok largely far from Earth while still having callbacks to as far back as the first Avengers movie made for a nice balance. Even better, an off-kilter space case script gave the entire ensemble of actors a chance to shine on their own. Hemsworth finally got to show off how funny he is and Space Jeff Goldblum is exactly as Goldblumesque as advertised. Perhaps more than anyone else, we should appreciate that a Thor film finally got to use “Immigrant Song”. How has Thor appeared in six movies and THIS is the first one to feature Led Zeppelin? You’re singing it now, aren’t you? – David Lebovitz
- Logan Lucky
If Hal Needham (of Smokey and the Bandit fame) directed a Danny Ocean movie it’d probably look something like Soderbergh’s instant classic NASCAR heist film Logan Lucky. From Adam Driver’s moody Iraq War vet Clyde Logan to Daniel Craig’s criminal everyman Joe Bang to an eleventh hour appearance by Hilary Swank as a persistent FBI agent, this aptly dubbed-in-the-film “Ocean’s 711” caper feels like a good paperback that can’t be put down. It’s also the best use of filmic John Denver songs this year—“Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone)”—no small feat given tracks of his appeared in movies throughout 2017. Soderbergh deftly makes a heart-wrenching scene where Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) makes it to his daughter’s pageant to hear her sing “Take Me Home” the centerpiece of the movie: a cathartic moment after the Logan brothers’ daring heist goes horribly wrong (or so it seems). A sweet, simple moment that drives home the fact that Logan Lucky is about working class people who struggle everyday in a society that values wealth and fame above all else. – Andy Niemann
- Spider-Man: Homecoming
After five Spider-Man films of wildly varying quality, Homecoming is the first time (for me, at least) a movie take on Marvel’s crown jewel character truly clicked. Faced with potentially rehashing prior big screen adventures, director Jon Watts cuts the web fluid Gordian Knot by swerving from the Spidey guidebook just enough to stand alone. Peter’s still unpopular and awkward but in the context of a (notably diverse) magnet high school of geniuses; Flash Thompson’s still in the picture and he’s still a jackass but he’s a far cry from the hulking jock we’re used to. Uncle Ben (and his famous words of wisdom) are nowhere to be found but his notable absence hangs over awkwardly quiet domestic scenes while the classic quote informs the entire film’s philosophy. Even Watts’ version of Queens feels fresh and vital in a way the locales of prior Spider-Man films’ just didn’t, swapping the comics’ dated Forest Hills neighborhood for “this is where broke people actually live in 2017” LeFrak City and the insidiously richer outer ‘burbs. All of this, plus an almost painfully earnest Peter in the form of Tom Holland and the MCU’s first truly human villain in Michael Keaton’s “Scorsese mob movie protagonist” incarnation of The Vulture make Spider-Man: Homecoming a refreshingly bold spin on a very well-trod wallcrawler. – Max Robinson
Blade Runner 2049
Call Me By Your Name