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2017: The Year in Reviews (Part III)

This’ll cover all the films I saw between September and now. These will feature heavily over the next two weeks as I start wrapping up the year and posting all the reviews articles.

Of note: I’ve still got stuff to see, so I will be seeing new things as the articles go up. These are just the films I’ve seen as of this moment. The individual articles will contain the full reviews of the stuff listed below that I’ve yet to see that I’m able to see between now and the end of the year.

For those of you waiting patiently to find out what I thought of that Charlie Sheen 9/11 movie, your time has finally come.

9/11 — * * (2 stars)

It’s a movie with Charlie Sheen and Whoopi Goldberg about 9/11, how good did you think it was gonna be? I… did not like this movie. I just… there’s something about it that feels very wrong. You made a movie about five people trapped in an elevator and their personal dramas. And you’re using 9/11 as a gimmick. It doesn’t need to be set then. You’re trying to enhance the drama by putting a national tragedy in there. I’m not okay with that. So not only is it bad, but I’m actively against what they did with it.

13 Minutes — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Interesting movie about a lesser known Hitler assassination attempt. It grabs you within its first few minutes, as it shows you all the effort that went into pulling this off. The rest of the film details the guy’s capture, torture, and backstory that led to him trying to pull this off. It’s solid. Directed by the guy who did Downfall. If you like movies with Nazis and assassination plots, this one’s worth seeing.

1922 — * * * (3 stars)

One of the more straightforward Stephen King stories. Like the “Tell-Tale Heart.” Guy murders his wife, and then guilt ad ill fortune happen. It’s perfectly fine. Thomas Jane gives another under-the-radar, solid performance, and Molly Parker is great as the wife. Overall, a decent movie. Netflix seems the perfect place for it.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail — * * * (3 stars)

This was shortlisted for Documentary Feature. About a small, neighborhood Chinese bank that became a sort of scapegoat after the housing crisis. Remember when The Big Short said “they blamed it on immigrants and poor people”? This is the ‘immigrant’ portion. The documentary keeps it open as to whether or not the bank is wholly innocent, but it’s hard not to feel for them when the major banks all got bailed out and not a single person ended up going to jail for it. As far as documentaries go, it was fine. Would never have watched it outside of the Oscars.

All I See Is You — * * * (3 stars)

The “Blake Lively is blind” movie. I thought it would be more of a thriller than it was. It was set up/sold as some sort of thriller. She’s blind, miraculously gets her sight back, and starts to realize things aren’t what they seem. I thought it was gonna be some kind of Hitchcock movie. Now that she sees, she realizes her husband was up to some shady things. And they sort of hint at that possibility, but it never goes anywhere. It’s more of a drama than anything. But it’s disjointed and never really goes anywhere. It spends way too much time on scenes of, ‘Oh my god, I can see again!’ Blake Lively canoeing and being able to see colors. And then when it sort of gets into the thriller-y aspects of the plot, it takes too long and doesn’t dip its toe into it deeply enough. Overall, it’s a movie that should have been a VOD disaster that instead is made watchable but forgettable by its director. Marc Forster has made some solid movies and I’m not quite sure what he’s doing here.

Almost Friends — * * * (3 stars)

Decent little movie. The kid from Finding Neverland (who I guess is now known as the kid from Bates Motel) is a high school kid who falls for a girl who works at the local coffee shop. He finds out she has a very serious boyfriend, but manages to become her friend instead. And the film is about their relationship. Not the greatest film in the world, but it has a certain amount of charm. All things considered, you could do worse.

American Assassin — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Completely generic in every way. These ‘people get recruited to work for the CIA’ thrillers are less fun now in a tech age. They aren’t made better by knowing exactly how they’re gonna go from moment to moment. Not worth it.

American Made — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

It’s fun but completely inconsequential. Doug Liman’s an interesting filmmaker. He disappeared for a few years, came back with Edge of Tomorrow and now seems to be churning out decent, but unspectacular films that are gonna be good watches for people when they discover them years from now. This one is trying to be something like Blow, a movie that plays pretty fast and loose with the facts but gives you a good time. Which I’m okay with. You know for a fact that they went real light on this guy because Tom Cruise played him. There’s no way the real dude was way more of a scumbag than he’s portrayed. But, overall, solid little movie. It’s fun. This should be the average level film we get nowadays. Perfectly watchable, with a degree of fun to it. It adheres to the standard playbook for this kind of movie, even down to the ‘pretty soon you’re gonna get a phone call that says I’m to be released’ scene. But at least they tried. And it’s nice to see Cruise at least do something moderately different from the limited space he’s boxed himself into over the past decade. I’d prefer if he completely went back to the stuff he did early on or even when he branched out with stuff like Collateral. But I feel like that time is coming and he’s starting to (hopefully) realize he can’t be the action star forever.

Amityville: The Awakening — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

So this happened. Don’t worry, it’s not really worth your time. Though shout out to whoever managed to get that cast. This is a movie that does not deserve the likes of Jennifer Jason Leigh, Cameron Monaghan, Bella Thorne, Jennifer Morrison, Thomas Mann and Kurtwood Smith. That’s way too many people you’ve heard of for a movie like this.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power — * * * (3 stars)

We’re still fucked. That’s pretty much all you need to know from this.

The Babysitter — * * * (3 stars)

It’s about the same as every Netflix movie. They’re one of two things: totally fine and watchable but unspectacular or ‘whatever’. This one’s totally fine and watchable. It’s a comedy horror with coming-of-age elements. I thought it was gonna be generic and forgettable, but it’s fun. It’s got moments that are enjoyable. So three stars. Not something I need to see again, but it’s adequate. About the same as anything else McG has made. (Oh, did I mention McG made this?)

The Bachelors — * * * (3 stars)

Very solid movie. J.K. Simmons is a widower finding love again while his son finds romance with a classmate. Somewhat by the numbers, but it has enough strong moments to make it through without being too generic.

Bad Day for the Cut — * * * (3 stars)

Awesome Irish revenge thriller. Fifty year old dude still lives with his mother… until she gets murdered. And then violence ensues. It’s a lot of fun. This is gonna be a great Netflix watch one day for people.

A Bad Idea Gone Wrong — * * * (3 stars)

Interesting, not great movie. It almost lost me in the opening scene, which features two people sitting in a diner discussing a robbery they are going to commit, while also name-dropping Pulp Fiction in that scene. That took a lot to overcome. After that, it mostly won me back. It was decent enough. The plot is two guys deciding to rob a house, only once they get inside, they accidentally activate the alarm system, which will prevent them from getting out once they’re done. And to make matters worse, they find a house sitter inside. It goes a couple of places that are slightly interesting. It’s not well-written enough to be good, but has enough moments to where I was invested enough to actively pay attention. The female lead, Eleanore Pienta, was very good. I’ve never seen her in anything else (and I reckon you haven’t either), and she’s someone I’d be really interested to see in future things. (It reminds me of when I saw that indie Night Owls and saw Rosa Salazar, who I had no idea about before that. She was fantastic in that. And after it, she started showing up in a bunch of things, including that Robert Rodriguez movie that’s coming out, where she plays the android with the creepy anime eyes.) Hopefully she gets more cool parts. She’s the highlight of an otherwise meh-plus movie.

A Bad Moms Christmas — * * (2 stars)

Why are we doing this?

Battle of the Sexes — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I wanted to like this more than I did, but still, the result is solid. This felt like a prestige project going into the year and then by the time we got to its release date it felt a lot more like a wannabe Oscar contender that’s just a decent movie. The problem this movie makes is giving me an interesting story that could be its own movie before it gets to the movie it sold me on. The first thirty minutes of this movie is Billie Jean King, her agent and her fellow female tennis players fighting for equal purses in the tournaments as the men. And when the misogynist owners of the tennis federation refuse, they break off and start their own organization to rival the men. And I loved that story. By the time they started getting into the actual match vs. Riggs, I didn’t even care about it and wanted them to stick with the other story they promised me. The third story, which is her coming into her own sexuality, is very good and also my other favorite part of the movie. The Riggs part — I didn’t really care. The whole thing felt staged. It was a publicity stunt. It made it very clear that they were both pretty friendly and had no real animosity toward one another and that Riggs was playing up the image of himself as a chauvinist just to sell the match more and make money. Which is less compelling. If Rocky and Apollo are buddy-buddy before their match, I’m not as invested in the match. I know that it’s a huge match, but this movie, rather than making me remember what a big deal it was for women in sports, almost said, “Hey, check this out, this was kind of a sham that is more of a spiritual victory.” The first 2/3 of this movie do more to promote gender equality in sports than the actual match does. But that said, it was fine. Emma Stone was very good. Steve Carell was fine. The movie was solid. And, I will say — I am here for every shot of a dude looking forlorn as Billie Jean won that match. Nothing made me happier than the parade of upset men watching the woman beat the guy straight up.

The Beguild — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

For better or worse, I watched the original for the first time like a month before I saw this movie. Purely by chance. I had meant to before it came into theaters, and then saw neither, and then watched the original and happened to get a chance to see the new one not long after. And… having seen the original… this is the exact same thing. The story is exactly the same. So watching it felt like going through the motions. The costumes looked better and the actresses were better, but overall it’s the same story, not really changed. I thought there would be some sort of feminist bent to it, but not really. This one is slightly focused on the women more than the original. That one was more about Eastwood seducing them all, and this one was more focused on all of the women being attracted to Colin Farrell in different ways. But Sofia Coppola movies never feel like they have any depth to them. I didn’t feel any of the subtext that should be there. It looked nice, and it was well-made, but I didn’t feel anything more there, which was exacerbated by the fact that it was exactly the same movie as the original. So, I liked it, but it felt unnecessary.

Best F(r)iends — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I saw this as part of a double feature with The Room, with Tommy and Greg in attendance. So that was fun. This movie was written by Greg, meant to capitalize on the success of the previous film. It’s hard to tell if it’s deliberately bad or was written totally straight, knowing that it would turn out the way it did. It’s definitely nuts. Tommy is left to be Tommy, and there are straight up callbacks to The Room in here (specifically a scene where they toss a basketball around and just play for like, no reason). The only way to really enjoy a movie like this is in a theater full of fans of The Room. The reactions were riotous, and when the end of the movie happened (which I won’t spoil), it got legitimate screams and shouts and applause. If you put this on at home by yourself, much like The Room, I can’t imagine you’d get anything out of it. But man, was this a fun watch in the moment. Oh — I guess I should also mention what this is about. Sestero plays a homeless man (it’s never explained why) who meets Tommy, an undertaker, who takes him in. Sestero realizes that Tommy has a store of gold teeth and such from his years of apparently looting dead bodies, and enlists Tommy in a plan to sell them for money. And — well… things get weird. It’s not The Room, but it works if you like The Room, because it’s the gang getting back together again. And while they’re in on the joke, they’re not able to overcome the joke to the point where it’s not bad-funny.

Better Watch Out — * * * (3 stars)

A very twisted Christmas movie. The trailer makes it look like one thing, and it’s very much not that. In a way, it’s more interesting than what they set up, but it leads to a very weird movie. I definitely enjoyed it enough to say it was okay, but this is definitely not what you think it’s gonna be.

The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales — * * * (3 stars)

This is by the people who made Ernest & Celestine. I didn’t like it as much as I liked that film, but it was fun. It’s a madcap kind of movie, comprised of shorts. It’s fun, it’s fine. I’m a fan of anything hand drawn.

Birdboy: The Forgotten Children — * * * (3 stars)

No idea what the fuck this was, but hey, it looked kinda nice, so sure. Does he grow up to be Birdman?

Birth of the Dragon — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

It’s a biopic of Bruce Lee released by WWE films, how good do you think it is?

Bitch — * * * (3 stars)

Interesting movie. Marianna Palka wrote, directs and stars. The opening scene is her trying to hang herself. She plays a housewife who has a psychotic break and ends up in the basement, naked and acting like a wild dog. So yeah, interesting is the word. It takes a lot of weird turns, almost going too big on the comedy in the first act, with the undercurrent of the whole dog thing going throughout, and then it pivots into a pretty emotional drama in the final stages of the film. It’s definitely something I respect as a creation. I’m just not sure how much I liked it past a weird fascination with the fact that it exists and is absolutely nothing like anything else out there.

Blade Runner 2049 — * * * * (4 stars)

This was one of the most anticipated films of 2017 for a lot of people. I guess I could sort of count myself among them. Though other people loved it because they think the original is a complete and utter masterpiece. I don’t fully count myself in that camp. I love the first Blade Runner, but I don’t hold it on as high a pedestal as others do. My reason for being excited for this was purely because it was a Denis Villeneuve film shot by Roger Deakins. And the idea of Deakins having a crack at Blade Runner was more than enough to get me excited. And I must say — going in with almost zero expectations (and everyone else trying to spoil it as much as possible for me, with the revealing trailers and the non-spoiler talk that gave everything away), this absolutely surpassed everything I could have ever expected it to be. I’ve watched it twice now, and it’s only getting better in my estimation. It’s really engaging, and I really like almost everything they tried to do. I had some doubts the first time — I liked it, but I felt certain things might have been unnecessary or pushing it — but it works for me. There’s something about the way Villeneuve shoots his films that draws you into the story and rewards you when you watch it again and again. I don’t really want to get into specifics on the story itself, but — it’s not like the first movie had this amazing story. It’s a guy looking for four replicants and killing them. That’s it. This branches it out way more and tells a pretty emotionally satisfying story on multiple fronts. If anything I could say that certain aspects were underdeveloped. So, in all, a huge accomplishment here and something that I am less hesitant now than I was two months ago to call one of my favorite films of the year.

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I’m so happy they made this. At first, people didn’t know who she was. Then she became a sort of trivia answer. The frequency hopping and all that. But someone needed to tell the story. Maybe they’ll make a feature out of the story one day and it’ll be great. She lived such a fascinating life. First, she does a nude scene in Germany, one of the first nude scenes ever. So she’s infamous for that. (The movie is called Ecstasy from 1933. There’s even a ‘masturbation’ scene in it. ) Then she marries a dude who has close ties to the Nazis — to the point where she hosted both Hitler and Mussolini at parties in her house. Eventually she (with her Jewish background) needs to get the fuck out of there and hops on a boat to America. On that boat, she meets Louis B. Mayer and charms him enough to get a studio contact. Her first American movie is Algiers, and she becomes a huge star. And on top of all that, she helps the fucking war effort by inventing frequency hopping. Which helped torpedoes not get jammed during the war and became the basis for fucking BLUETOOTH. So yeah, interesting life. Oh, and by the way, she was one of the most beautiful women who ever lived. So yeah. No documentary could have captured how interesting the story is, but at least this one did a solid job of it.

Boo 2: A Madea Halloween — * * (2 stars)

Didn’t we say all we really needed to say with the first Boo! A Madea Halloween?

Boys in the Trees — * * * (3 stars)

Came across this randomly and thought it was worth watching to see if the director might have been right for a project we’re working on. It was all right. Definitely an interesting film that doesn’t particularly stick the landing. But it does all right for stretches. Not something I particularly recommend, but you could do worse.

B.P.M. — * * * (3 stars)

French movie about AIDS activists in the 80s that’s been all over the Foreign Language circuit. Wasn’t for me. It was fine, but all of those things just added up to a movie that was not my speed. So it didn’t do a whole lot for me. It happens.

Brad’s Status — * * * (3 stars)

I can’t stand movies about unlikable people. Or maybe just this kind of unlikable person. Ben Stiller in this movie is a guy who is just fucking miserable all the time because all he sees is that his three best friends from college are all way more successful than him and he can’t get over it. So I have to watch this asshole for 100 minutes bemoan the state of his life only to realize, “You know, things aren’t so bad.” I don’t give a shit. I really don’t. I saw immediately where the movie was going and couldn’t get over how much I hated this guy along the way. It did absolutely nothing for me, even if it was competently made. This is just like that movie Greenberg, which I also fucking hated because Ben Stiller was so goddamn annoying to me in it. This was not a movie for me, and the only scenes I really gave a shit about were the ones with the kid. Just — no. I can put up with a lot of things, but this type of protagonist is something I cannot abide.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 — * * * * (4 stars)

I saw the world premiere of this movie at the Egyptian back in October. I was interested because I loved Bone Tomahawk and was interested in anything this guy was gonna make next. Then I saw a trailer — Vince Vaughn, looking the way he did — it intrigued me. I went in with no idea what I was in for. And ho-ly fuck. My god, did this not disappoint. It does an interesting thing where it starts off really emotionally, with this great scene between Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Carpenter, and then it gets more B movie as it goes along. And there are moments in this film, just like with Bone Tomahawk, where the violence happens and you’re not ready for it and actively laughing and screaming and wincing at the same time. I saw this in the exact right audience, and it only enhanced the experience. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough, and if you’re a fan of Bone Tomahawk, just put this on and know as little about what you’re getting into as possible. Because you will not regret it.

The Breadwinner — * * * * (4 stars)

This was awesome. Directed by one of the two directors of The Secret of Kells. It’s about a young girl in Afghanistan whose father is taken by the Taliban. So in order to make ends meet, she disguises herself as a boy and goes to the market to earn money, which she does by reading things for the people who cannot. It’s a really lovely film and one of those films that works as a work of art and a piece of entertainment. Not a lot of adult animated films out there, especially not ones that look as good as this one does.

Breathe — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

It’s that movie with Andrew Garfield getting polio. Andy Serkis directed this. And it’s a very sure-handed debut. Not that anyone should be surprised. He worked second unit on the Lord of the Rings movies and I’m pretty sure was Peter Jackson’s A.D. on the Hobbit movies. Most of this movie definitely works. Though, given the subject matter, the story is prone to being overly sentimental and all that. But, fortunately, the main character isn’t one for sentimentality, so that cuts it a bit. Though the film is still trying to be that classical Oscar bait kind of movie and can’t help but indulge in those things. So it’s kind of uneven, but ultimately works. One of those movies you’ll see and go, “Yeah, that was good,” even though it won’t really stay with you. You’re never gonna call this your favorite movie of the year, but you will look back on it and go, “Yeah, that was a good movie and a good notch on Serkis’ filmography.” Which, for a debut, what more could you ask for?

Brigsby Bear — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I had zero expectation for this until it came out, at which point I thought, “This could be pretty good.” And of course I missed it in theaters and had to wait until almost November to even see it. But man, was this an utter delight. It’s such a twisted premise that could so very wrong. What makes this work is Kyle Mooney’s utter likability and the way in which he plays it. There’s so much to like about his character, which never makes the set up feel ridiculous. This is a very charming movie with a lot of heart that feels very satisfying by its end.

Broken Mile — * * * (3 stars)

This is a movie shot in one long take, which is becoming a fun thing to do nowadays. I must have seen like three or four of these in the past five years. I always enjoy them. I’d rather a mediocre movie done in a single take than a slightly better than average movie that’s a step above generic. This — not great. The story unfolds slowly and you never really know what’s going on or care that much. But it was one take, so that was nice.

Bunyan and Babe — * * (2 stars)

An absolutely atrocious animated movie about — honestly, who gives a shit? I watched it because it was terrible because I’m fascinated by these this year, and it’s just amazing to me that people get these made and apparently make some money off of them.

California Typewriter — * * * (3 stars)

I love this. Typewriters are amazing. That’s one of those things I’ve always wanted to own, ever since I was a child. Seeing people talk about how much they love them is great. Though I wish it was more about the creativity and people talking about their processes than following the dude who destroys them and turns them in to robots that look like people. But I liked this. I liked the idea of it, and I’m glad this exists.

Call Me By Your Name — * * * * (4 stars)

This was delightful. I’ve been a fan of Luca Guadagnino for a little while now and I knew that this was gonna be something I liked. I also knew I wouldn’t like this as much as everyone else — because this was destined to be the overrated film of 2017. But I’m honestly even okay with that. It’s good. It’s not that good, but you know what? If you wanna push this as a masterpiece over something like Wonder Woman, go for it. This was really captivating. I loved how laid back it was and how simple all the scenes were. Timothee Chalamet was really good (there were times I felt he was acting too childish, but he was playing 17, so I get it), and that final shot was really incredible. Armie Hammer was nice. The highlight for me was Michael Stuhlbarg. He wasn’t in the movie as much as I’d want, but that monologue he has near the end — my god. That is what elevated the movie for me from some nice romance to something truly remarkable. Definitely one of the better films of 2017.

Chasing Coral — * * * (3 stars)

The token ‘we’re fucking up nature’ documentary with cool footage. An Inconvenient Truth is the ‘we’re fucking up nature’ doc, but there’s no footage there, unless you count Al Gore getting his pant legs soaked in a swamp. This has some nice shots of coral. I didn’t care so much when they spent a lot of time telling me how we’re killing it, but the shots of it alive were nice!

A Christmas Prince — * * * (3 stars)

Netflix movie. This sounded like it was gonna be awful. And even ten minutes in I thought it was gonna be awful. But it slowly won me over. It’s a cheesy version of those 90s romantic comedies, but I don’t know. I kind of liked it. I don’t know why? It’s not good, but it reminded me of those movies I saw as a kid in the 90s, so it got me to smile occasionally. That’s really all I needed.

City of Ghosts — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

This is by the guy who did Cartel Land. Cartel Land didn’t do much for me, and this didn’t do much for me. I generally don’t like documentaries about real world problems, and one about ISIS really wasn’t ever gonna be my thing. I leave stuff like this to the people who like it.

Coco — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

Pixar did it again. The first fifteen minutes, I kept going, “It’s fine, it’s fine, but I’m not that into it.” Maybe it’s because I was subjected to that never-ending shitty Olaf cartoon beforehand. By the midpoint of the film, I was totally in, and by the end, I was in love. This was absolutely wonderful. I don’t understand how they can be this good at coming up with original material. And it only makes me angry that they’re gonna do nothing but sequels for the next two or three years. Please tell me they have more of these in the pipeline, because my god, are these movies amazing.

Columbus — * * * (3 stars)

This looked beautiful. Kinda boring, but it looked great. Haley Lu Richardson is someone I’m starting to really like seeing in things, and John Cho is fantastic as well. A nice little movie worth seeing.

Crash Pad — * * * (3 stars)

This was directed by Kevin Tent, who edited all the Alexander Payne movies. This had ‘awful’ written all over it. From how much of a little bitch Domhnall Gleeson’s character is from the get-go, to the awful set-up, to just about everything. But it got a few laughs out of me. I’m not sure how. But it did. So I gave it three. Not great, though.

Crooked House — * * * (3 stars)

If Gosford Park were structured like an Agatha Christie detective story. That’s what this is. Didn’t do much of anything for me, but there are some cool actors in it, so there’s that. Otherwise — meh.

Crown Heights — * * * (3 stars)

It’s fine. Haitian dude gets thrown in jail for a crime he didn’t commit and his friend fights twenty years to get him out. Lakeith Stanfield is the main guy and Nnamdi Asomugha (yes, the cornerback) is the friend. It’s okay. Didn’t do a whole lot for me. Completely glossed over like nine years of the prison sentence without so much as blinking an eye. That was an odd choice. But a perfectly fair movie.

Daddy’s Home 2 — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

One of the unfortunate byproducts of the comedy genre is — when a movie hits, they almost immediately rush a sequel into production. And think about it — how many legitimately good comedy sequels are there? LEGITIMATELY good, not, “Oh I like that one.” Not many. They’re doing it in order to make money and almost nothing else. They don’t care about you, or making a good movie. They’re like, “Well it worked, so let’s just do that again.” Here they add Mel Gibson, which is an interesting way to bring him back into the fold of Hollywood, but otherwise don’t do a whole lot to make the original experience that much better (which, spoiler alert, it wasn’t that great the first time). I think there were only two moments in the movie where I laughed. One was a small chuckle, which was probably based on some delivery or wording or look someone gave, and then there was one moment that actually made me laugh, which was the moment the little girl starts murdering turkeys. That’s really what kept me from going lower than 2.5. But you know what? This is where comedy is. The lowest common denominator is the norm, and that’s just what it is. I’m not gonna punish this movie for making a quick buck, but I also don’t have to like it or ever watch it again.

Darkest Hour — * * * * (4 stars)

This was a safe movie for Joe Wright. Pan was a huge bomb, so what he did was take a movie that was a surefire critical success. That doesn’t diminish what this is, but that is what is going on. The minute Gary Oldman was cast as Churchill, we knew what the deal was. And the minute we saw that photo of Oldman as Churchill, it was sealed. There was no way this would be anything less than a four-star movie. Oldman is incredible as Churchill, and will finally win his Oscar for it. He is not Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln good, where I’m watching the movie and straight up believing I’m seeing President Lincoln on the screen. But there were a few moments where I did lose myself in the performance. Which was enough to counter the few moments where it was very obvious I was watching Gary Oldman. The writing is very, very good (and often going unnoticed, I feel, in the reviews for this), and Joe Wright brings his visual sense and crafts a very classical, very gorgeous film. Can’t wait to see this one again.

Dealt — * * * * (4 stars)

So this is a documentary about one of the best card mechanics in the world. He can do things with cards that almost no one else can. He’s so good at manipulating cards that he counts as a magician. Also, he’s fucking BLIND! You watch the documentary and they show him during the show, and you’re amazed at what he’s doing, and then they’re like, “Oh, yeah, he’s blind,” which just makes it even more nuts. The documentary focuses a lot on his lack of sight and all that, but you need to see this purely for what he does with the cards. It’s incredible.

Dean — * * * (3 stars)

Demetri Martin wrote and directed and stars this. Not sure I ever really got his comedy, and this pretty much seals that deal. This just wasn’t for me. It feels like the script you right just out of high school as your first screenplay that feels like a big deal that’s just the same usual shit everyone writes. It’s fine, but it’s almost every trope you can imagine. At least with him, there are moments of honest sincerity, and if this were someone else, those probably wouldn’t have been there. Really, I spent this entire movie going, “At least it’s not Zach Braff.” That’s really what I’m glad for here.

The Disaster Artist — * * * * (4 stars)

Every time I try to talk about this movie, I constantly find myself stopping and going, “I can’t believe this fucking movie exists.” It’s nuts. Everything I want to say about it is couched in, “How the hell did this happen?” Everything about it is like one giant inside joke that somehow even the people who aren’t in on it can sort of get and appreciate. I remember in the late 2000s when The Room was starting to gain cult status. It was back in the Netflix DVD days. And everyone would have it in the Queue and be waiting for the local distribution center to get it back (because fucking everyone wanted to rent it). Then one person would get it, so we’d all gather around and watch it and get shitfaced. It’s a right of passage for everyone around my age. I suspect a lot of people way older don’t quite get it and people way younger only see it as a meme if anything at all. But still — you’re making a movie about the making of a cult movie. And I’m not sure I can really see this as its own entity. Am I watching this movie if it’s just its own thing? I don’t know. You can’t separate The Disaster Art from the Disaster Artist. But — I saw this in the wrong theater with the wrong people (screening like six weeks before it came out with mainly 40-60 year-olds, many of whom only went to see it because they knew it was buzzed about and one of the hottest tickets in town), and even they laughed. It’s a funny movie. I got taken out a bit because the studio where they shoot the film in the film (that is to say, in The Disaster Artist film, the location where Franco as Tommy and the crew shoot The Room) is like right around the corner from my office and right in my neighborhood. You look outside and you’re like, “I know that building,” and I’m spending half the scenes trying to figure out exactly where they shot it. But only I’m crazy enough to think that. James Franco is hilarious here, and Dave Franco is the emotional crux of the movie and does a fantastic job. The scenes at the end where they do the back to back are incredible. (And you know Franco shot the entirety of the movie with his actors. You know he did, and it’ll come out one day.) Of course the requisite end credits scene had to happen as well. It’s just a really fun movie. Not sure I can really say this was one of my absolute favorites of the year, but I liked it a lot and it’s one of those movies I’ll always appreciate because it’s just fucking nuts. I’m sure it’ll rate highly for me come year’s end, but how do you even rate a movie like this? Again, I’m more amazed that this even exists. I’m not even capable of being amazed at people’s reactions to it, because if I spend a nanosecond considering someone’s opinion of it, I go back to wondering how in the hell this got made.  It’s amazing to me.

Downsizing — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

If you’re making a list of the most disappointing films of 2017, this might be #1 on that list. I don’t know why I have a compulsion to say this, but it seems like I’m the only one who saw this coming. Even from when I first heard the concept I went, “I guess that could work. But really?” But it’s Alexander Payne, so you go, “It’s gonna be good no matter what.” Then you see it’s gonna come out Christmas and you figure everything is as it’s supposed to be. Then that trailer comes out. I see that trailer and I go, “That… does not look like a good movie.” And everyone around me went, “What are you talking about? It looks great!” No joke, every single person I talked to told me how great that movie looked and how much they were excited to see it. And it got to the point where, when I’d say, “Are you sure? It doesn’t look good,” their reactions would only get stronger. Everything about it just looked bland. But even then, I went, “It’s Alexander Payne, so I’m sure I’m wrong and that I’m just not seeing what everyone else is.” Then it started screening places and I heard reviews were mixed. And I went, “Huh… maybe I was right.” Yet, all I heard was, “I can’t wait for that, it looks great!” And the whole time I kept up with, “I’m just not seeing what looks so good about it.” Then finally, the movie shows up and I get to see it — and it’s exactly what I thought it was gonna be. This is the We Bought a Zoo of Alexander Payne movies. (Matt Damon has a really unfortunate growing track record of appearing in down movies for good directors.) It’s the first act of a script stretched too long. Alexander Payne had a great concept and seemingly didn’t know what he wanted to do with it. It’s like he wrote a first draft and just went with that in order to start shooting something. Because the movie builds to a very particular moment — which works, on paper. In the movie, ehh (also — the second trailer for this movie completely ruined the twist for me, which I wouldn’t have seen coming. But then, once that happens, the movie has no idea where it wants to go. There’s social satire and a message behind the idea, but he never really goes down that route. The movie just becomes aimless and amounts to nothing. Hong Chau is the only real good thing about it. She’s the one getting the acclaim, and with good reason. (She was in Inherent Vice as one of the more memorable parts and it’s likely that which got her this.) Outside of her, there was so little that I actually gave a shit about. It’s a real shame. This is Alexander Payne’s worst film, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t even like Sideways all that much. I’m not thinking that hard about it, but I’m not sure I can think of a more disappointing film for 2017 than this one.

El Camino Christmas — * * * (3 stars)

You say, “Tim Allen Netflix movie” and I say, “I was in yesterday.” It’s — it doesn’t add up to a whole lot. I feel like there’s like fifteen minutes of character development and subtext that the movie was missing. But you know, Tim Allen plays against type (whatever that type is), and Vincent D’Onofrio is always worth seeing. So there’s that? I don’t know. It was fine. Not the worst thing Netflix put out but also not something I’m gonna remember in six months.

Ethel & Ernest — * * * * (4 stars)

Lovely, lovely, lovely movie. Animated film based on a graphic novel, I believe, about the author’s parents, who are not particularly important and led a very average life. And it’s that which makes this such a great movie. It’s two people meeting and falling in love and raising a family and having to live through a World War. It’s simple, and beautiful, and an animated movie I cannot recommend highly enough.

Everything Beautiful Is Far Away — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

So there was a kernel of a good idea somewhere in here. But A Boy and His Dog this is not. A guy is traveling across a post-apocalyptic desert landscape with a robot head that’s basically a computer he talks to. And then a girl shows up, and they set out looking for that paradise they’ve all heard about but no one’s seen. I couldn’t get invested in it. I kept thinking of other movies that were somewhat similar that were way better. I also kept having the same two thoughts throughout: 1) “I like Julia Garner. She’s been solid in stuff. But there’s nothing for her here.” and 2) “Man, this lead guy looks like he’s played a serial killer in something I’ve seen.” Turns out, for #2, he hasn’t played a sociopath. But holy fuck, someone better cast him as one soon, because he’s got that look down. And I don’t think he’s trying to.

The Exception — * * * (3 stars)

Thriller about Kaiser Wilhelm. (If I had a nickel…) Jai Courtney is a soldier sent to determine if there’s a spy in the Kaiser’s house. While there, he starts fucking Lily James, the maid. Christopher Plummer is Wilhelm. You’d think it would be better, but it’s just okay.

A Fantastic Woman — * * * (3 stars)

Transgender woman’s longtime partner dies and has to deal with his family’s attitude toward her. Daniela Vega is great here, and the movie is pretty solid. Definitely one of the better foreign films of the year.

Ferdinand — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Why does it seem like no one but Disney or Pixar knows how to make a good American animated movie? Jesus, man. Why are they all so bad?

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool — * * * (3 stars)

It’s a strong 3, but still a 3. Not sure how I feel about this. The acting was strong. Bening was good (though I can never get over the fact that I’m watching Annette Bening. I never see her as her characters. Especially here, where she’s playing Gloria Grahame, who we actually see in the movie in a film clip), and Jamie Bell was really good. Overall, this worked (also, nice repairing of Bell and Julie Walters, after Billy Elliot). There’s just something about it — it felt pretty boring at times. I liked parts of the romance, and some aspects really did work for me, but overall it was just kind of okay. I do recommend people see it. But it is uneven and kinda boring at times. So be warned about that.

First They Killed My Father — * * * (3 stars)

I know this is a good movie, but it just didn’t draw me in. I just wasn’t that interested in what I was watching. Movies about atrocities in foreign countries tend to go that way for me. Beasts of No Nation kind of did it for me. That seemed the epitome of what a child soldier movie is all about. I know there’s good stuff here, but there’s something about Angelina Jolie as a director that leaves me cold. Something about her style doesn’t feel natural to me. I want to like her stuff, but I’m just never as invested as I want to be. Passion projects about causes done by the stars themselves are always dicey. If The Last Face is the low end of the bar and Beasts of No Nation (I am aware that is not a star-driven vehicle) is the high end, this is definitely closer to the latter, though I’d definitely put it somewhere firmly in between. This is one of those movies where I’d say, don’t listen to my review. It’s only a reflection of how I, personally, liked the movie and not necessarily indicative of how good it might actually be. Use your own judgment here and see it for yourself. That said, I was not that big of a fan of it.

Flatliners — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Did we really need to remake Flatliners? It’s not really considered a cult classic, and it’s not like updating it could have made it any better. I’m not really sure what the point of all this was. I kept waiting to give a shit. And guess what? I’m still waiting.

The Florida Project — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

LOVED this. Sean Baker follows up Tangerine with an even more exciting and vibrant follow-up. I loved the use of non-actors, with Willem Dafoe there, seamlessly filling in to make everything work. He’s the backbone of the movie, while Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite are the heart and soul. This movie is so great. He shoots this entirely on film, with a very pointed and deliberate use of handheld in a very specific moment, which takes the film from the beautiful to the sublime. I really, really loved this movie and am so glad it’s getting all the acclaim it’s been getting. This is one of my absolute favorite films of the year.

The Foreigner — * * * (3 stars)

Overall, decent. Jackie Chan is really good, and they use him the way they’ve been using Schwarzenegger recently, which is limiting his screen time and letting him not say as much to add dramatic resonance. Plus here, he gets to use his age in his action sequences to really help further the film. The scene where he’s hiding in the forest and taking dudes out was awesome. Overall, the story is whatever. But the action mostly works and Jackie Chan is good. So it’s fun. Worth your time.

Friend Request — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I feel like every two years there’s a horror movie that tries to use social media. Guess what? They all suck. Just stop doing it. None of you know how to use social media properly in movies, and every time you use it, it seems clunky and really poorly worked in. So just stop.

Gangster Land — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Sounded like it might be watchable. I found out pretty quickly that was not the case. It’s just boring. It’s by a guy who hasn’t made a movie anyone has seen, and it’s just a completely generic movie that happens to be set in the 40s. Nah.

Geo-Disaster — * * (2 stars)

This is the shitty, straight to VOD ripoff of Geostorm, designed to get people looking for Geostorm to think this is it and accidentally spend $10 on it while scanning their DirecTV. I watched the two films back to back, and I wanted so badly to think this was the better film. But it’s not. The only way it could be was if Geostorm was truly awful and this was bad-fun. This is just bad-bad. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but this is the non-fun equivalent of those SyFy movies with desert shark tornado vampire transformers or whatever they have now.

Geostorm — * * * (3 stars)

Dean Devlin is a guy who wrote Independence Day and seemingly came up in the 90s, when batshit crazy action movies with ridiculous premises flourished and were actually considered good in certain cases. And apparently he thinks it’s still the 90s, because the minute we all saw this we went, “What? Seriously?” Because everything about this is dated as hell. And maybe he could have turned a corner and made it fun. But no. 2012 barely worked, and that was almost ten years ago now. I’m not really sure why they made this or how they managed to get so much money put into it. It’s perfectly fine. You can watch it and not despise it, which is the worst thing possible. Because now we’re left with a fairly competent movie that accomplishes nothing and isn’t good enough to like or bad enough to say is a huge piece of shit and laugh at. The worst part is they didn’t even change the playbook from twenty years ago. They build an-almost compelling story and then cut away to random acts of disaster and lots of people dying. But you never give a shit about them and it just feels forced. So many movies now just feel like people out of touch trying to go through the motions of what worked before.

Gerald’s Game — * * * (3 stars)

This was not a movie about an old guy playing chess with himself.

Gilbert — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Great documentary about Gilbert Gottfried. I love that after thirty years he decided to do this documentary and drop the act he’s been putting on in public. And on top of that, he allowed them to talk about things that I’m sure he wouldn’t normally want people saying. Like how cheap he is, and stuff like that. It’s a really amazing documentary, and is just a lovely tribute to a comedian most of us either take for granted or pigeonhole as a particular thing. One of the best documentaries I’ve seen this year.

The Girl Without Hands — * * * * (4 stars)

One of the three most gorgeously animated films I saw in 2017. It’s absolutely beautiful. The story is just good, but the animation is so good I didn’t care. The story is — a guy sells his daughter to the devil in exchange for prosperity. So later on, when he’s successful, the devil comes to collect. Because she’s so clean (pure/clean, you get it), the devil has her father cut off her hands. She then runs away, and ends up on this beautiful little adventure. It’s just great. I really liked this a lot. Definitely one of the five best animated films of this year.

The Glass Castle — * * * (3 stars)

This was disappointing. The director is the same guy who did Short Term 12, and he gets Brie Larson back and has Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts. Based on that alone you’d think it would really good. But I’m not sure what the point of this was. It’s based on a woman’s memoirs about her family, and it’s a bunch of family drama that doesn’t seem like it comes together. Like, there’s some good ideas here and Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts are trying to put in good work, but the movie never really gives them anything good to do. Either that or it just doesn’t know what it wants to be, so all the good work they are doing is left to languish in a movie that doesn’t really feel like it has a story worth telling. Oh well. Maybe it’s just a sophomore slump.

Goodbye, Christopher Robin — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

It was designed to be no less than a 3.5 star movie. Seemed like it could have gotten to 4, but I really didn’t feel like I cared that much about it. Here’s a guy haunted by the war who created Winnie the Pooh. But we don’t feel the joy there. We don’t see him really create it so much as we see his life and his relationship with his son, the byproduct of which is that he creates this thing, which ultimately ruins his relationship with his son. I could have used a little more of the fun and whimsy that you get from actually watching Winnie the Pooh. But as it is, it’s very well-made. Domhnall Gleeson is good and Margot Robbie is fine. Kelly Macdonald is the standout in this for me.

Good Time — * * * * (4 stars)

Thought I might like this as it got closer, and then I started hearing friends say they loved it, so I went to see it. And man, was I really impressed. Robert Pattinson is amazing, and it’s just a really well-made, gripping movie. Not sure how I feel about him making out with a fourteen-year-old, but outside of that, this is just a thrill ride from start to finish and one of those movies that you can be sure most people are gonna like because it’s just so well made and keeps you invested from start to finish. Definitely something I consider one of the most solid films of the year.

Gook — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Really terrific debut by Justin Chon, who writes, directs and stars. It’s about a Korean guy dealing with a failing shoe store on the eve of the LA riots. Shot in black and white, and really well done. Not the greatest movie ever made, but I really liked it as a new and exciting voice. Definitely worth a watch.

Gun Shy — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

It’s bad when less than four months later, I’m struggling to remember what this movie even was. I’m not looking it up (because that’s for suckers), but I think this is Antonio Banderas and some sort of kidnap plot. I should just come up with a plot on the fly and pretend that’s it. Because 1) none of you will ever see this movie, and 2) it doesn’t fucking matter. The fact that I can’t even remember what this is tells you everything you need to know.

Hampstead — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

This was by the guy who did Last Chance Harvey, so when I came across it I jumped at the chance to watch it. Because that movie was great. And Brendan Gleeson in a romantic lead? Inspired. Diane Keaton — sure. But this movie — not interesting at all. Very boring, in fact. Definitely not something I’d recommend. I prefer to use this time to tell you to go watch Last Chance Harvey instead, a far superior and rewarding movie.

Hangman — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Al Pacino paycheck movies. I’ve become fascinated by these kinds of movies. On the one hand, they’re working, but on the other — is this really all that’s out there for them? Yeesh. This is about a serial killer who is playing a game of (insert title here) with the cops. Doesn’t amount to much.

Happy Death Day — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

It’s Groundhog Day, only the protagonist gets brutally murdered at the end of each day. It’s an ingenious premise. She gets murdered and has to solve the murder or else be stuck in the loop forever. The movie’s a lot of fun. As far as these Blumhoues releases go, this is a smart one. A smart concept, fun execution, and not enough money against it that it has to overachieve at the box office. The lead was good, and overall, this was way more fun than I expected it to be. Definitely one of those movies I’d recommend from this year, and one that I would say will be a cult, Netflix favorite in a few years once people start to get the ability to see it.

Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story — * * * (3 stars)

What a lovely little documentary, about a storyboard artist and his wife, who became one of the most trusted film researchers in the business, whose library was legendary. It just makes you happy, this movie. Not necessarily for people not very invested in Hollywood as an industry, but it still should work either way.

The Hero — * * * (3 stars)

Nice little indie with Sam Elliott as an aging, dying actor with one major role to his name, looking for that one final movie on the way out. It’s nice. Has its moments. Doesn’t really do anything particularly new or unique, but it gives Elliott a chance to have a nice performance on his resume.

Hired Gun — * * * * (4 stars)

Great music documentary about studio musicians. The guys who come in and work on a track and, god-willing, get hired to tour with bands. What’s great is that it gives all the unsung people a chance to shine, but also shows just how talented these guys are. They have to come in and immediately be able to come in and help a track on the fly, but also be likable enough to be tolerated by the rest of the band for a tour. Some great stuff here. I usually love music documentaries, and this is probably the best one of this year.

Home Again — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

This was written and directed by Nancy Meyers’ daughter. And it just feels like something that was designed to ‘work’. It felt manufactured in every way. That’s kinda what happens when you cast Reese Witherspoon in your rom com. It becomes manufactured. But it’s about a single mother (and when ‘Reese Witherspoon’ and ‘single mother’ are in the logline, I automatically know what the first five minutes of your movie are) who is the daughter of a very famous film director who just kind of lets three dudes move in with her because they like her dad or something? I don’t know. This is a movie trying to straddle the line between a Nancy Meyers movie and a more traditional romantic comedy. It doesn’t work at all. Though I will say, I didn’t hate it enough to truly despise it. I was waiting for it to be Unforgivable, and every time I thought that, it kept doing things to make me go, “Okay, fine, I don’t hate it, I just don’t like it.” So here we are. I’d have preferred to hate it just as much as you guys. Nothing would have made me happier than the ability to shit on this mercilessly. But instead I just didn’t give a shit. So I’ll just leave you with the warning of — don’t watch this. When a movie in 2017 looks like your standard ‘Reese Witherspoon vehicle,” I hope you all have the common sense to avoid it. (Because This Means War and Hot Pursuit worked out so well in the past.)

Hostiles — * * * * (4 stars)

Scott Cooper has an interesting filmography. Four movies, none of which are any worse than “quite good.” Black Mass, I think, is the weakest of the four, and even that is really engaging and really well-acted. I just think its flaws are that it’s the same ten-minute movie over and over again. Out of the Furnace, meanwhile, is a so-so story with great performances. Crazy Heart remains the best of the bunch, with very good marks all around. This, I think, is a pretty decent story that is a bit overdrawn, with very good performances. I think it marginalizes too many different things (specifically the Native American family, who seem to be the point of the whole thing) and takes a couple of interesting turns slightly too late. It gets kind of jumbled about two-thirds of the way through. At one point I checked out for a full ten minutes, aware of what was going on, but mostly daydreaming while it was happening. But still, a very good movie, and you might even say it’s his second best of the four. Christian Bale is good, though slightly retreading old territory from previous performances. The performance gets more nuanced as the film progresses. (I also think that, based on a lot of the roles he’s taken over the past decade, that he’s using his job as an excuse to get history lessons on certain things. Between The Flowers of War and The Promise and this, I wonder if he’s taking jobs just so he can research stuff he never learned in school. Or maybe it’s just me projecting.) Rosamund Pike starts off with a bang but never really has anything to do the rest of the way through. And there’s a fun addition to the film that comes about midway through, which I won’t spoil, and was nice to see. Though at that point, it feels like it brings extra screen time and needless complications to what should be a pretty straightforward plot. I don’t know. I liked it quite a bit, but like all Scott Cooper movies, there are problems. But he’s a very good filmmaker, and has yet to make a bad movie. It doesn’t really matter past that, does it?

The Humanity Bureau — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I’ll never give up on Nic Cage. No matter how many paycheck movies he does. And there will be a lot more. I heard from one company that they have four with him right now. The problem with these paycheck movies, especially lately, is that he doesn’t seem to be trying with most of them. This one especially. It just feels cheap, and he doesn’t seem to care. So I didn’t care. But I’m still going. I’ll see every one of these pieces of shit, hoping he decides to start caring again soon.

I Do… Until I Don’t — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Lake Bell really likes ellipses in her titles, doesn’t she? I really liked In a World… I really didn’t like this. I don’t know what it was supposed to be. There was no real tone here or purpose to any of it. Didn’t like any of the characters and was bored out of my mind the entire time. So let’s just leave it at — this didn’t work — and hope the next one is back closer to the level of the first one.

I Love You, Daddy — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Whoa, boy. There’s… a whole lot to unpack here. But since they pulled this from theaters and no one is gonna get to see this anytime soon, I have to hold most of it back. From the fact that it’s both a slight parody of a Woody Allen movie while trying to be a Woody Allen movie, to all the other shit going on with him and all of that, to the fact that there’s a weird… there’s something going on here underneath the surface. It’s easier to talk about when other people have seen it. But — he writes in conversations about feminism in this movie. He also tries his usual thing of casually using words like ‘retarded’ and the n-word, to whatever end he’s aiming for. It’s like an episode of Louie put through the filter of a Woody Allen movie that’s directed like a 40s movie, even with the old school score playing underneath it. I’ll leave it as, on its own, I did enjoy the movie. It wasn’t great, but I did like it. It feels icky after all the other stuff, but since I’m the ultimate “separate the art from the artist” person, so as far as that goes, it was fine. But the most telling scene in the entire film, which was so crazy that my jaw hit the floor and immediately afterward I had to tell everyone about it, happened about 70% of the way through. I can’t do it justice in writing, but here it is, presented without comment:

That is a scene in this movie. What more is there to say after that?

I, Tonya — * * * * (4 stars)

This movie is just gleeful anarchy. I loved it. Margot Robbie is phenomenal, Allison Janney steals the show, and Sebastian Stan is great as Jeff Gillooly. Paul Walter Hauser was so great here, and is the secret weapon of the movie. He deserves every “Comedy Supporting Actor” prize out there. Also, Julianne Nicholson again giving a great performance in a thankless role. I loved how they took to telling this story, with the fictionalized interview footage based on real interviews, the subjective flashbacks (which may or may not be true), and the use of the real interviews at the end. Once you get to those, you’re like, “Holy shit, they nailed it.” This movie is just so, so good. And I bet when I watch it again, it’ll only get better in my eyes.

Icarus — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Amazing, amazing documentary. I love the crazy turn it takes midway through. The idea was, originally, Super Size Me, but with steroids. A guy was gonna dope to see if it actually makes him better in cycling races. So he finds this Russian doctor who is gonna help him with this program to keep him going and able to pass drug tests undetected. And after a few races the guy realizes he’s just never gonna get any better than he is. And then is where the crazy turn happens. The big Olympic doping scandal hits, and we find out that Russia cheated like fucking crazy in a state-sanctioned doping program in Sochi, and the doctor who’s helping our guy is at the center of it. So the dude ends up escaping to America to hide, and the documentary becomes entirely about that. And it’s just fascinating. Absolutely one of the best documentaries of the year and recommended for people who aren’t even sports fans. The doctor is just such a great character and the kind of guy you’re immediately going to love, which makes the second half even better, when you know that if Putin finds him, this dude is fucking dead. This was so, so good.

In This Corner of the World — * * * (3 stars)

This is a movie that feels like 60% Ghibli and 40% anime. But because it was 60% Ghibli, I was mostly with it. It’s a nice little movie set in Hiroshima. During World War II, but I feel like saying that is redundant. Because it’s not like people set things in Hiroshima in like, 1875 or 2017. It’s good. It’s like a lightweight Grave of the Fireflies. I suspect other people will like it more than I did, but it was fine. It felt way too long, for one, but I was generally invested in it. So sure.

Ingrid Goes West — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This was fucking nuts. I liked it, but it was nuts. Movies that deal with social media are typically anathema to me, but maybe it was the couple of cocktails I saw before this, but I really liked it. Audrey Plaza gives a really great performance and it’s just so dark and cynical that it actually won me over. It works. Like I said, it’s very fucked up, but it works. The ending is — yeah. It’s kinda perfect for a movie like this and completely sticks the landing. I like that it stayed true to what it was and that is gonna help it to be this weird little hidden gem for years to come.

It — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

So I heard they were making this and I thought, “Okay,” and thought nothing more. Then I saw a trailer for this and thought, “You know, that actually looks okay.” And as time went on, my hopes for this raised significantly, to the point where I actually went to a theater to see it. Which is very unlike me. And I have to say — I really enjoyed this movie. It works. It’s not perfect, but it works. Has the scares, has the heart, which is something I wasn’t expecting, and it’s just a really fun movie to watch. I had every reason to not want to like this movie, but I did like it quite a bit, and that is something I was not expecting.

It Comes at Night — * * * (3 stars)

I still have no idea what the goddamn title means. It’s a good title, but it doesn’t fit the movie at all. This felt like a movie, just like Krisha, that I appreciated but didn’t particularly like. It was well made and it’s clear there’s a lot of good stuff in it, but I just didn’t really care a whole lot. I was watching, but nothing felt particularly gripping. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the genre. I liked it just fine, but okay. It’s generally post-apocalyptic and people have some sort of illness, and these people don’t want to get it. Cool? I don’t know. I appreciated this, but I’m gonna leave it to people who actually like it.

It’s Only the End of the World — * * * (3 stars)

Xavier Dolan. This was shortlisted for Foreign Language Film last year, and I think I got a copy of it just after I closed the book on last year. And, knowing it was officially coming out in the US this year, I just waited and watched it when I could. I sat on this for like eight months until Thanksgiving weekend when I had five days to kill and completely exhausted my entire backlog of movies. That’s how it works. Like four foreign films sit there until I have so much time off that I can knock out everything else and only have these left. So I convince myself, “Fuck it, let’s just get them over with,” and do them all one day. So that’s what happened here. As for the movie itself — it was fine. All good actors with juicy parts, all of which seem somewhat against type. Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel, Lea Seydoux and Gaspard Ulliel. You’re gonna get a watchable movie from that. It’s mostly a chamber drama too. It’s pretty good. Not something I’d have nominated last year, but overall something that was worth the watch.

Jane — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Incredible documentary. I don’t necessarily care that much about the subject matter, but it does use never-before-seen footage of Jane Goodall living with the apes, which is beautiful. The highlight of the entire film is the Phillip Glass score, which is absolutely astounding. It’s so good that it might legitimately be nominated for Best Original Score. That, to me, took a good film and made it way better. This also could win for Best Documentary at the Oscars, so that’s something to pay attention to.

Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I love that the rest of the title is “Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton.” That’s awesome. Otherwise, this might be my favorite documentary of the year. I really haven’t put a whole lot of thought into it, but it’s so good. Man on the Moon is one of my favorite movies, and this was such a wonderful watch. I was 11 at the time, so I had no idea this kind of stuff went down. I think maybe I caught wind of the story where Carrey faked going to the hospital, but I immediately thought it was meant to be like a wrestling feud, where we all knew it was fake but went along with it. Other than that, I had no clue about any of this until now. And it was just fascinating to watch. Jim Carrey is one of the best actors who is also one of the more interesting people. He’s in a place right now — some would say it’s not a good place — that makes for a perfect watch. Because he’s so reflective and so open in his responses, and that, along with the footage (which is just nuts), is absolutely incredible. It says so much about art and artist and the lengths some people go to create art, and so many other places that I don’t even want to get into here. Just see this. Everyone should see this movie, even if they haven’t seen Man on the Moon. It’s an amazing piece that this exists.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle — * * * * (4 stars)

What a fucking delightful movie this was. I saw a sneak peak a few weeks early, and while the trailer made it seem good, I still had some doubts, mostly because Sony has fucked up literally everything they put out the past year or two. (Sony proper. Baby Driver is TriStar, and it was Edgar Wright. I’m talking all the studio-influenced stuff. Like, The Post is a Spielberg movie, but War for the Planet of the Apes is a Fox movie.) But within ten minutes, I was totally in. The conceit is genius. Rather than remaking Jumanji and having the animals come out of the game and into the real world, here, the characters are transported into the video game (how it becomes a video game is done quickly and easily, and it works). And then you have the nerdy, scaredy cat main kid becoming The Rock, the shy, smart girl becoming a badass warrior, the big football player becoming little Kevin Hart, and the hot, shallow girl becoming Jack Black. Jack Black in this movie is doing incredible work, and people need to realize that. When you see this, pay attention to the great work he’s doing to emulate the girl he’s actually supposed to be. Karen Gillan is also quite terrific in this, and it’s nice to see her getting more exposure in things. The Rock is good as usual, and Kevin Hart is also pretty good. The writing is top notch and makes the whole thing work. Bobby Cannavale as the villain is underdeveloped, but is what he needs to be. The idea of video game logic helps this movie immensely. Also, the other avatar in the movie, who you meet halfway through, is played by Nick Jonas. And I had no fucking clue until they told me at the end. He was good, though. There’s a scene where Jack Black teaches Karen Gillan how to flirt with men that is so fucking funny. Also, there’s a moment in the market about forty minutes in where there’s a cameo that I have no choice but to assume is deliberate. There’s a game character who is selling bread in the marketplace, and he walks around shouting, “Rations! Get your rations!” And when you see him — at least when I saw him, I immediately went, “What the fuck? That’s the killer from Too Many Cooks!” It’s actually kinda brilliant, on all the different levels. But yeah. This isn’t out yet, so I don’t wanna spoil it for anyone. But go see this. It’s a whole lot of fun and is completely on par with the original film (the difference is the amount of nostalgia you feel for the original). There’s also a brief but nice (and fitting) tribute to Robin Williams. It’s there, it works, and it never feels hokey. It’s quick and gets the job done quite nicely. They really don’t ruin this at all. And I’m very, very happy about that.

Jungle — * * * (3 stars)

Harry Potter and the Lost Jungle. That’s the movie

Justice League — * * * (3 stars)

Why, D.C.? Why are you doing this? I have a lot of thoughts on this movie, but we should probably save them. You’re either gonna get them in the November recap article, or perhaps a few days after that. I’m still deciding. But trust me — they’re not good.

Killing Gunther — * * * (3 stars)

This doesn’t really work. It has a few fun moments, but overall it’s uneven and not overly funny. The joke is that Schwarzenegger is Gunther, but they ruin that surprise in all the marketing and then don’t have him show up until over an hour into the movie. That’s when the movie gets interesting, but it’s a bit too-little, too-late. Oh well. Shit happens. Decent idea, though. Just didn’t quite work.

Killing Hasselhoff — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

We know the writer, and one of the interns at the office said he loved the script this was based on. So I saw by chance it was coming out and decided to give it a chance. It… wasn’t for me. It just never really came together. It lost me in the opening moments, with the literal freeze frame, record scratch and, “… you’re probably wondering how I ended up here.” News flash: I’m never wondering how you ended up there. Just show me how you ended up there and let me care about that. But it’s a movie about Ken Jeong as a dude who tries to start a club and ends up fucking it up through some weirdly contrived comedy way. So the only way for him to get the money to save it all is by winning his celebrity death pool, which means David Hasselhoff needs to die. And now he’s gonna try to do it. The premise is fine, but the movie doesn’t really go anywhere. Wish I liked it more. Good people in it, too.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

One of the funniest moments of the year for me was watching Colin Farrell spinning in a circle. I don’t even know how to begin to explain this movie or my reaction to it. The Lobster at least has that great premise, and then you can talk about how darkly funny and fucked up it all is. This — what the fuck, man. That story he tells his son… or Alicia Silverstone wanting him to taste her tart… Lanthimos is nothing if not one of the most unique voices working today. I remember a few years ago when Rubber came out, and I thought that director was gonna be the guy with the weird, awesome movies. But it turns out Lanthimos is the guy. This movie is so fucked up, and so funny in the most fucked up ways. See it, it’s great.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

The first Kingsman was very good, and I had no reason to think this would be as good as that one. But I did have every reason to expect that it would be a very solid sequel that was almost as good as the other one. And that’s what I got. Sure, the plot was ridiculous, but it was fun. And sure, while it completely dispensed with logic at times, it overcame that with completely crazy choices (like that cameo) or moments with real heart that helped it endure. So I enjoyed it. As long as you’re not expecting a legitimately good movie and just something that’s fun, then you’re good.

LA 92 — * * * (3 stars)

Movie about the LA riots, sort of commemorating the 25 year anniversary of the event. I appreciated that it was an in depth look at everything that precipitated it and showing all this unseen footage of the event without trying to make the comparisons to current day. That was definitely a good element. Plus the footage was awesome.

Lady Bird — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

When I heard Greta Gerwig was directing a movie, I thought, “Okay, sure.” And the logline was innocuous — about a girl growing up in Sacramento. Sure. I figured it would be fine and that’s it. What expectations could I have had? And I hadn’t really heard a whole lot about it before I saw it. I mean, it came out in, I think, Telluride, and reviews were positive, but reviews from there are generally positive. It probably was at Toronto to, with a similar deal. It wasn’t long after those that I saw it. So I had no expectations for it other than I was excited to see it for Saoirse Ronan. And I was blown away. I did not expect it to be as good or as emotionally satisfying as it was. I truly did not see this one coming, and I’m so glad that it was as good as it was. This is not only one of my absolute favorite films of the year, but I know that when I show this to a good number of people, it’ll be one of their favorite films of the year too. And, it’s apparently among a lot of people’s favorite movies of the year, because it was the highest rated movie ever on Rotten Tomatoes for a short while. This is a real joy of a film that everyone needs to see.

Landline — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I really liked Obvious Child, so I was excited to see this. I didn’t get a chance to see it when it was in theaters, so I was really keen to see it as soon as I could once it was out on home video. I was very excited the day I was able to get this to see. And man, was I not let down. It’s funny. It’s really well-done. The highlight of the movie for me wasn’t Jenny Slate, who was so great in Obvious Child, but Abby Quinn as her sister. She’s incredible here. John Turturro and Edie Falco are good as per usual, but Abby Quinn was the revelation here. The opening scene alone, where they’re in the car, and she responds to a barb with, “I can see your boyfriend’s cum stain.” It’s even better when Edie Falco yells at her a second later, only to correct her by saying, “Fiancée. You can see her fiancée’s cum stain.” This movie is such a gem. Please seek this one out. It’s great.

Last Flag Flying — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

The thing with Richard Linklater movies is — I always go in thinking, “Okay, sure. It doesn’t sound great, but he makes good movies, so I’m sure it’ll be fine.” And then I come out going, “Damn, man, why are his movies always better than I expected them to be?” And what makes this movie so weird is that this is the first time that didn’t happen. This was exactly as I expected it to be. And because I’m so accustomed to them being better than I expect, I actually felt a bit disappointed by this. But if you see the trailer, the movie is exactly that. The three of them hanging out. It’s literally nothing more than what you see in the trailer. Which is just fine. That’s good. Cranston is fine, if a bit of a caricature at times, trying to do Nicholson, and Carell is a bit too understated to the point of being boring. But Fishburne is great. (He’s always great, though, isn’t he?) Overall, this works just fine and doesn’t need to be anything more than just solid. Richard Linklater is nothing if not a man that can make anything watchable, and this is another solid notch into his already great filmography.

Last Men in Aleppo — * * * (3 stars)

I liked this movie a lot better when it was called The White Helmets and was an hour shorter. The footage was nice, and it’s well made, but I just didn’t care. I saw this story already.

The Layover — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Holy shit, dude. William H. Macy directed this. His previous movie, Rudderless, wasn’t great, and this was more of the same. The story is so fucked up, too. Alexandra Daddario and Kate Upton are best friends who are both struggling to get where they want to be in life. And while on the way to a friend’s wedding, they get stuck because of inclement weather and meet a hot guy along the way. And suddenly, out of nowhere, they’re both trying to fuck the hot dude at the expense of one another. This is the kind of awful comedy premise you see in the really bad movies that end up as Unforgivables. Fortunately, here, because it’s not a studio movie, it doesn’t do anything that bad. But it’s still not good. Mostly it’s an excuse for Upton and Daddario to look hot. It certainly doesn’t let them be funny (or maybe it tries to, and they’re just not good enough to? I don’t want to think that’s the case, so I’ll be positive and assume it’s the other option). I don’t know. I’m just gonna leave this one alone and move on.

LBJ — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This was solid. I had my concerns, specifically with the casting of Woody Harrelson. But I was able to look past the makeup and all that pretty quickly. He was good, and the movie was pretty good. Never gonna be remembered as a major presidential biopic, but for what it’s worth, it’s a worthwhile film. Rob Reiner finally makes something solid after years in the wilderness, and it’s one of those midlevel movies that is above average. These needs wider audiences.

The Lego Ninjago Movie — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

The first Lego movie was cute. Lego Batman worked because it was Batman. This — I just didn’t care. Not even a little bit. Are we gonna get stuck with more of these, or are they done now? I kinda hope they’re done now.

The Limehouse Golem — * * * (3 stars)

Not great. The only interesting thing about it was the period. Olivia Cooke is someone I like seeing in things, and Bill Nighy is always good, but the movie just didn’t really work for me. Three stars for the period and nothing else. The crazy turn it takes was something I saw coming within the first three minutes, but even when it happens it’s like, “Where the fuck did that come from?” Not for me.

Little Evil — * * * (3 stars)

Great premise — what if you get married and your new stepson is the antichrist? Unfortunately it’s a Netflix movie and feels like a Netflix movie. So it doesn’t rise above the level of ‘low budget comedy’. It has some moments where it’s good, other moments where it’s on the nose, and other moments that don’t work. Standard bag. Overall, I enjoyed it and it didn’t ruin the premise, so it’s got that going for it.

The Little Hours — * * * (3 stars)

It’s a movie about foul-mouthed nuns, what more do you need? There’s no story here to speak of, and there doesn’t need to be. It’s just complete insanity and very, very funny along the way.

The Little Vampire — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Yes, just like that Disney movie with the kid from Jerry Maguire like twenty years ago. This is an animated movie that was made for a scarily low budget in either France or Germany. It’s some European country. Since I’m on this run of watching really terrible, Z-grade animated movies, I sought it out. But don’t worry, you never need to. Ever.

Long Strange Trip — * * * (3 stars)

It’s a four hour documentary about the Grateful Dead, which itself is the most Grateful Dead thing ever. I sat through this entire thing one Saturday morning — totally sober! It’s good. The music is nice to listen to and it’s an interesting history of the band. I’m not a huge Dead fan, nor can I really name any other song of theirs besides “Casey Jones.” But what I heard sounded good and I liked seeing the whole thing. So sure, good job.

Love, Beats, Rhymes — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

This movie was directed by RZA. It’s his second film after The Man with the Iron Fists. This is way different in tone. It’s about a college student who is also an underground rap battler who gets involved in slam poetry. It’s your standard romance/college movie. She clashes with a poetry teacher who doesn’t think rap is art and starts a romance with her TA. All the tropes are there. It’s fine. Didn’t do much for me, but it at least shows that RZA is a competent filmmaker. I hope he keeps getting better. I’m excited to see what he can do.

Loving Vincent — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

This gets the rating it does purely because of its artistic achievement. They made a movie about Vincent Van Gogh and literally hand-painted every frame of the film. That is, every frame of the film is a hand-painted oil painting. Which is absolutely stunning to behold. The story itself is just okay, and keeps you going. But it’s the imagery that’s the real star of the film. It’s a 3 star plot on 5 star animation. The extra half-star is because it even exists. I loved this because someone had the audacity to make it. I hope it becomes financially successful, because this really deserves to be paid back in spades for all it gave to the world.

Manifesto — * * * (3 stars)

This is just a movie of Cate Blanchett delivering different monologues dressed like different people. That’s it. She’s just delivering monologues and is made up to look like a bunch of different people. Not sure why I felt I needed to see this, but I did. It shows that Blanchett can act (which we knew), and that sometimes weird little art films get made.

The Man Who Invented Christmas — * * * (3 stars)

This story is essentially Shakespeare in Love but with Charles Dickens. It’s the exact same thing. It shows how he ended up writing A Christmas Carol. Some of the moments work, others — he’s sitting in a restaurant and the waiter comes in and goes, “I’m Marley, sir, can I get you anything,” and he looks at him curiously and goes, “Marley, ehh…?” and writes down the name. And it’s like — all right, we fucking get it. It’s a perfectly lovely movie. Some people will really love this. It’s very likable and very fun. Destined to be a nice little hidden gem, much like the director’s previous effort, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, which is fucking lovely and people should go out and see immediately because it’s so good and so underrated. Today (that is, when I wrote this, which is not far off from when it was published, for all of you in the future), we were talking about it at the office and someone said, “Spoiler alert: He doesn’t.” Which, not he didn’t. Which got me to thinking — that title kinda makes him the Christopher Columbus of Christmas. You can say he invented it, but we all know how many brown people died under that flag. But anyway, it’s lovely. Go see it. One of the nice little gems of the year that no one knows about.

The Man with the Iron Heart — * * * (3 stars)

Our second movie about Anthropoid in two years. It’s fine. Kind of the same as the other one. Ends the same way. Water filling up, the whole thing. Gets the job done. Perfectly decent. Great cast, too. Jack O’Connell, Jason Clarke, Mia Wasikowska, Rosamund Pike, Jack Reynor, Stephen Graham. Cast definitely helps it out, even if it’s just okay.

Marjorie Prime — * * * (3 stars)

This had to have been based on a play. It’s set up like acts, and each time we switch acts, I’m not entirely sure what the fuck happened in between. The original premise is that it’s a near future where people can get holograms of their dead loved ones that look just like them. And by talking to them, you sort of tell them about the person they’re supposed to be so they can act like that person. And a couple — Tim Robbins and Geena Davis — get one for her mother, Lois Smith, who recently lost her husband. So here she is, slightly in the throes of dementia, talking to a young version of her dead ex-husband (played by Jon Hamm). So the characters all interact with this hologram. And then, later on, some shit goes down, and there’s another hologram. And then there’s the third act, where it seem like there’s another hologram. And I’m not really sure what the fuck it all means, but at least I liked the actors and it was remotely engaging. So yeah. It was fine. This is also by the guy who did that modern version of Hamlet with Ethan Hawke, so if that does it for you, you should know that.

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I guess you couldn’t call it Deep Throat, right? Or “The Man Behind the Throat.” Or “Going Deep.” Did the subtitle add anything to it? Even with that qualifier, does that help you immediately remember who he is? But I digress. Liam Neeson is quite good as Felt, and it’s a really well-made movie. Peter Landesman has made three movies now, and all of them are really solid. The first two were Parkland and Concussion. They’re really well made. This is no different. I thought that Laura Linney was terribly marginalized as his wife, and Maika Monroe was barely a cameo as the daughter. But it was really engaging, and I liked it. Not something people are gonna particularly remember, but this is a solid movie from the year that is gonna get unfairly lost to time and is worth a watch and consideration.

Marshall — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Solid. These movies are always solid. They’re never great, but they’re always fine. Chadwick Boseman is good, Josh Gad is fine. It’s a trial movie. Those are always interesting. This is that kind of midlevel movie they try to push for Oscars, that everyone knows is not really that good, but we’re all just kind of positive about. Which is fine. Chadwick Boseman has cornered the market on slightly-above-average biopics.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower — * * * * (4 stars)

It’s an almost-Ghibli movie. You can tell what parts aren’t, but other than that, it certainly feels like one. It’s a fun little adventure that feels like an updated version of Kiki’s Delivery Service. Like, if they remade that for 2017, adding more action and stuff that they’d have to. It’s just a really delightful little animated movie that is definitely one of my favorites from the year.

Mayhem — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Destined to be the forgotten cousin to The Belko Experiment. And you know what? This is a better movie. Why? Because it doesn’t give a fuck. Belko is fine and kinda fun, but this is just balls to the wall nuts. Same general premise — bunch of people locked in an office building and murder happens. Though while there, it’s an outside force that tells them if they don’t start killing each other, they’ll all die, here, it’s a virus that causes people to go nuts and the world has deemed murder legal to those under the effects of the virus because they’re legally not in control of themselves. So we watch all hell break loose. It’s a lot of fun. I enjoyed the shit out of it. Also, major shout out to Samara Weaving, who was a major standout in three movies this year. Technically she had four, but I don’t remember her in Monster Trucks. She was the babysitter in The Babysitter, she plays John Hawke’s new girlfriend in Three Billboards, and she’s the sort of female lead/love interest here. And she’s awesome. I really liked her work in all three of those movies and I’m very excited to see her in the future. She’s definitely got a career ahead of her. For those of you who thought The Belko Experiment was good, check this out. I think it’s better and I think you should see it because you might just like it better too.

Menashe — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How fucking A24 is this movie? A movie about Hasidic Jews that’s entirely in Yiddish? Holy shit, talk about on brand. This was really good. The main character was great, and this is a lovely little movie. The last major all-Yiddish movie (since I’m sure there aren’t that many of them) was Hester Street back in 1975. This is on par with that. That was really good, and this is really good. This is also worth watching alongside One of Us, a great documentary about the insular Hasidic Jewish community. And, having grown up around that community in Brooklyn, this is all very fascinating to me.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I’m generally not a Noah Baumbach fan. Frances Ha (of all things, and maybe that has a lot to do with Greta Gerwig more than him) is the only one I can really say that I liked. The rest, either I hate them, or I just don’t care. This one, closer to don’t care, but I did kind of like it. Adam Sandler is good, and Dustin Hoffman is good. Elizabeth Marvel is great as the sister, and Emma Thompson is great in limited screen time. It’s more the performances than anything else. Because I can’t stand the New York intellectual thing. People going to art exhibitions and complaining about one-percenter problems. Not for me. But there was enough other stuff to overcome that for me. The scene where Marvel tells them what that other guy did to her and then they beat up the car — great. Overall, I’d say they liked this. Which is an improvement.

Molly’s Game — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

Okay, so we knew Aaron Sorkin wrote this. So automatically it was going to be of a certain quality. But when they said he was going to direct this too, that’s when I got nervous. Because who knows if he can direct? Fortunately, for him, he knew the kind of writer he had, so all he needed to do was be a B/B- director in order for this to be decent. Since the writing was gonna be A+. I sat down to see this with nervous excitement, and I must say — he does a good job. It’s a very sure-handed effort for a first time director. A lot of choices I did not expect him to make. There’s confidence there, and it makes the film work way better than I expected it to. I knew I’d like it, but I didn’t think I’d love it. And I loved it. Jessica Chastain is really good, having understudied in Miss Sloane, which was an Aaron Sorkin-lite film, and Idris Elba fits in so seamlessly. He’s so wonderful here. And the two of them together just light up the screen. Kevin Costner too — he has an incredible scene near the end of the movie with Chastain, which in itself is worth of a Screenplay nomination. Costner delivers some of his best work in years, and even a look in the Supporting Actor category. Elba also gets a showstopper monologue about two-thirds of the way through the movie that makes you wanna stand up and applaud. This movie is just great, and I am so excited to watch it again before the year’s through.

Moomins and the Winter Wonderland — * * * (3 stars)

I had no idea what a Moomin was like a month ago. I had no idea this was a thing in other parts of the world. But — this is for people who are high, right? Because that would explain so much.

Most Beautiful Island — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I liked this. I respected it more than I liked it, but still. Ana Asensio wrote, directed and starred in this, and I like that she went out and made a movie for herself. She’s an immigrant struggling to make ends meet, taking all these odd jobs. Eventually, through a friend of hers, she gets into some shady stuff that might turn into something pretty horrible. By the time you get to the third act, the film has taken a kind of ridiculous turn, even though I stayed with it for longer than most would. And even though what happens in the climax is nuts, the moment itself is pretty tense and well done. So, overall, I liked it. It’s not perfect, but I definitely appreciated it.

Mother! — * * * * (4 stars)

Well this is one of the most divisive movies of 2017. But what do you expect from Darren Aronofsky? He makes very interesting, very divisive movies. I think we all know where I stand on him — I LOVED The Fountain, The Wrestler and Black Swan. I like Requiem for a Dream but never really need to see that again, and Noah was whatever. This — is somewhere in between. Probably closer to those last two than the first three. I liked it a lot, but it’s not something I’m gonna revisit a whole lot. First off, maybe some people didn’t spark to this immediately, but I got like ten minutes in before I said, “It’s a religious allegory.” It’s not a 1:1 allegory, since Bardem is God and she’s Mother Nature. But you get it. It’s a broad retelling of the Bible. They’re building a Garden of Eden — Ed Harris is Adam, Michelle Pfeiffer is Eve. Cain and Abel. I tweaked to the religion thing early and then the moment where Harris is missing a rib the scene where he’s puking gives it away. So they follow that til a point, and then the midway point happens and it turns into a double allegory about what people do to religion and what they do to the planet. It’s quite an ambitious film. Plus, that third act — that’s impressive. He shot all that in the house. Good for him. It’s a really ambitious movie that is worth a couple of rewatches for sure. I really like ambitious Aronofsky, and this felt worth everyone’s time. Plus, I’m a fan of movies where the message is about how nuts religious fanatics are. But that’s just me. Also, are there any better lines from 2017 than, “That sink is not braced!”?

The Mountain Between Us — * * * (3 stars)

This certainly seemed like a good idea at the time. Survival movie with Idris Elba and Kate Winslet. I was in. But the movie — ehh. It’s got all the elements to make it watchable, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good. It just gets boring in the middle. And the third act — yeesh. Let’s just call this a disappointment that didn’t quite work and go from there. Maybe if this were 1956, and it starred Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones I’d give more of a shit, and it might work, but not in 2017.

Mudbound — * * * * (4 stars)

I was extremely hesitant about this for two reasons. One was for quality and the other was practicality. The practicality aspect was — there’s no way this is gonna go anywhere with Oscar voters after being on Netflix, right? And that seems to be proven true. The more important part was that I had heard nothing but amazing things about it, and while I had decent expectations that it would be good, I didn’t want the noise to be so loud that there was no way for me to like it. (I was worried about Call Me By Your Name for similar reasons. You can always tell which movies are getting overrated too much.) When I started this, I was bored. It’s a really slow movie in its opening moments. Took me like a half hour to get into it. But once it found its footing (mostly once Garrett Hedlund took over, hanging out with Jason Mitchell), I was very invested. By the end I was totally on board with it and liked it a lot. But man, is it slow in the beginning. I also am not sure where all the love is coming from for Mary J. Blige. She’s good in this. Everyone is good. But are you guys seeing something I’m not? Because from what I saw, she’s barely in the movie. I want to love the performance, but she’s got no screen time. Otherwise, I really liked this. I’m not going near the word ‘masterpiece’, and I’m also not gonna make this out to be anything more than it is — which is a really solid film and a great sophomore effort from Dee Rees.

Murder on the Orient Express — * * * * (4 stars)

Okay, so I saw the original film from 1974. And it’s good. Albert Finney is great as Poirot and the cast is fantastic and Sidney Lumet directed it and it’s a classic film. So I hear they’re remaking it and I think, “Okay, sure, that makes sense.” You can really only find out the twist (or reveal. It’s a whodunit, so once you know whodunit, cat’s out of the bag) once, but otherwise it’s a film that is worth remaking. I heard mixed things about this from even when they were shooting, and I also really wasn’t a fan of that trailer (Imagine Dragons? Really?). But, when it came out, I realized that Kenneth Branagh shot it in 70mm and that I was gonna be able to see it in 70mm. An option I took. So I saw this on Thanksgiving in 70mm, with really no expectations other than “I hope it’s actually pretty good.” Since the reviews said, “It’s not great, but it gets the job done and it looks nice.” Which is all I needed. So I sat down to watch it. And there’s the opening sequence at the Wailing Wall. Which was fun. And then it got us onto the train without too many extra frills (though that weird karate scene made no goddamn sense to me and still doesn’t. I’m thinking it’s because they felt they needed more action overall to keep people interested). Branagh was quite good as Poirot, and I was invested. But then when the murder happened, I became even more invested than even I thought were possible. By the end of the movie, I was all in. Though I will say, I heard that the ending was there, where they literally call out a sequel (“You’re wanted, sir…. on the Nile”). That was and is cringeworthy. But I was prepared for it. I loved that Branagh made the train look great and got outside of it as much as he could. I think the few ‘action’ beats were wholly unnecessary and took me out of it, but overall, I really, really liked this. I know a lot of people didn’t, but I don’t know. I was completely invested. I may have even liked it better than the ’74 version, which sounds like sacrilege, and I’m not prepared to actually make that statement just yet. But I will say that I came out of that theater going, “You know, with as little from this year that I really, really liked, this actually was one of my favorite movies.” So there it is. I really liked this movie. Did not expect that going in, and am totally fine with it.

My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Really lovely little animated film. Looks great. I’m not crazy about the voice cast, but that’s the least of my concerns. It’s a very off-the-wall kind of movie, which will make it a difficult recommend for most people, but if you’re down for any kind of animated movie as long as the animation is great, then definitely check this one out. It looks fantastic, and the plot is just off the wall, like one of those weird kids books I’d have read in the 90s.

My Little Pony — * * (2 stars)

I don’t understand this, but I thought I’d try to watch this to see if I could figure it out. Nope. Still no clue. Moving on.

Napping Princess — * * * (3 stars)

I watched all the animated feature eligibles. Some of them I knew I shouldn’t have. This was in that category. It’s basically straight anime. And I don’t do straight anime. So this did nothing for me. Can’t like ’em all.

Newness — * * * (3 stars)

Drake Doremus directed this. He started off really strong with Like Crazy, which was a very autobiographical film. Since then, he’s just kind of descended into similar territory with diminishing returns. His last movie, Equals, felt like a director-for-hire job. This feels a bit closer to what he usually does. Nic Hoult and Laia Costa (she was the lead in Victoria, that terrific one-take action movie from last year) play two people who meet on Tinder. And the film is about their relationship. It’s about the dating culture as it currently stands. The two go through their lives, one swipe at a time, and find a kinship after they get together. Soon, it’s a full-on relationship, which we see begin to get tested after one of them is unfaithful, and then the relationship evolves in a very 21st century way. I was more invested in the early stages than I was in the later ones. I never felt fully invested in them after a certain point. It’s a solid enough movie, and the leads are very good, but it never really amounts to anything.

The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee — * * * (3 stars)

This was nice to see after The Post. Everyone knows All the President’s Men Bradlee, but Pentagon Papers Bradlee is just as interesting. Now all we need is a Janet Cooke movie and we’ll complete the trifecta. As far as documentaries go, you probably could have gotten deeper about Bradlee’s character and his specific involvement in things, but considering what this is meant to be, it got the job done. Mostly all it made me want to do is watch All the President’s Men. More journalism movies, guys! But yeah, Bradlee is a hugely important dude and people should see this just to see what real print journalism (and actual journalism) is like and how that’s all just dead now. Which is a goddamn shame.

November Criminals — * * * (3 stars)

Not sure what the point of this was, but it was watchable. So there.

Novitiate — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This is a great movie about the dedication it takes to join a cult. (I’m only partially kidding.) You know it’s about nuns from the poster, but the title refers to the period where women train to become nuns. It’s like getting your Master’s. Only at the end, you get married to the big invisible dude in the sky. Think about this as like, An Officer and a Gentleman but with nuns. Only, in their mind, they gots some place else to go. You know, in the afterlife. It takes place in the 60s when Vatican II came together and modernized the church. It’s like a reverse Cabaret, but with nuns instead of Nazis. Rather than a carefree society being taken over by fascism, this is about a medieval church loosening up. Like when that old, mean teacher is forced to bond with the students more because no one wants to take their class anymore. Okay, jokes aside (which is hard for me, given that it’s a film about religion), Margaret Qualley plays a girl raised without religion who decides she wants to become a nun. So we watch her going through that process, along with some other girls, and we see all of their spiritual and otherwise trials and tribulations along the way. It’s really well done. I, of course, being someone who laughs at religious stuff, saw exactly what I said up at the top of the review. To me, the first part of the movie was just like watching an old gangster movie, with the impressionable youth being seduced into a life of crime. To me, this and cult indoctrination are the same thing. So I have a very particular view about what I was watching. Which should be admitted at the top. That said, I do have a strange affinity to certain religion-themed films (including one mentioned within this one, A Nun’s Story). I’m also a fan of process. I like watching movies about the specific ins and outs of worlds to which I am unaccustomed. So I liked seeing how nun school works. Plus there was good drama on top of that. Melissa Leo was basically Nurse Ratched of the nunnery for half the film. Which was nice. She never went as far overboard as I thought she would, and I like that the film allowed room for complexities within the characters (especially hers) and also left room for the audience to fill in some blanks along the way. All the performances were really strong, and it was a very sure-handed effort by the director Maggie Betts. Also, huge shout out to Julianne Nicholson, who is sort of an unofficial MVP of this year. I’ve seen three performances of hers (all of which in like, a ten day span) that are all fantastic. Between this and I, Tonya I am firmly convinced that she is 2017’s Shirley MacLaine. She’s so good here as Qualley’s mother. One of the most underrated actresses working. I know Leo is gonna get all the credit, but Nicholson is the one who impressed me here. Anyway, despite being a heathen who has zero respect for the church and all the shit they do, who also does appreciate faith when done the right way, I will say I liked this movie quite a bit. Plus, I saw it in a theater in West Hollywood, which was definitely the best way for me to experience it. We all laughed at the right moments. It’s nice to be reminded you live around people who also find the same shit ridiculous that you do.

One of Us — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

One of the most fascinating documentaries I saw this year. It’s about the Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn and how insular it is. To the point where, they don’t let people get out, and they almost hurt people by not letting them out. It follows three different people: one, a guy who left to pursue an acting career (who kind of has one now too), another who had some horrible trauma as a young boy and ended up going down the path of drugs and such, and a third — the most fascinating of the group — a woman who was sent into marriage at 18, and now, twelve years later, she has like four kids and is divorcing her husband, who she says has been abusive to her for years. And now, because she’s leaving the community and wants custody of her kids, the community has hired a high-priced lawyer to try to get sole custody for her husband. And the film shows how, almost like Scientology, the community uses threats and all these legal loopholes to make life miserable for anyone trying to break out of it. It’s really good. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough.

The Only Living Boy in New York — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

The second of the Simon and Garfunkel song-named films of the year (after Baby Driver). This one — not that good. A coming of age movie where a guy finds out his father is cheating on his mother, but ends up sleeping with the mistress, and then there’s a mysterious man in the building, who acts as a sort of mentor. The problem is, you see all the tropes there and you know where it’s going every step of the way. Plus, a movie set in New York City featuring writers and academics — ughh. Definitely not for me. A mixed bag of a year for Marc Webb, with this alongside Gifted, which I liked but wasn’t particularly well-received. Definitely one of those movies I’m gonna let go and hope he overcomes in the future. (I also wonder if this may have something to do with — I remember he had something like a two picture deal with a studio, and then after Amazing Spider-Man happened, they wanted him to do the sequel, so they set up some sort of deal where he owed them an extra movie in exchange for letting him go do the sequel. I wonder if this was done as payment for that and not for any particular creative reason.) Also, the movie was written by Allan Loeb, who has under his belt the screenplays for: The Space Between Us, Collateral Beauty, Here Comes the Boom, Rock of Ages, Just Go With It, The Dilemma and The Switch. So yeah. Lots of reasons for this to have turned out the way it did.

Our Souls at Night — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Great little movie. Robert Redford and Jane Fonda having a romance at 80. Lovely idea, lovely execution, just a really swell film. Not gonna say it’s anything great or stuck with me at all. But it’s like The Lovers with Tracy Letts and Debra Winger, but older. It goes part-On Golden Pond near the end, too, with the kid. It’s just a really charming little movie that deserves to have an audience. And in this case, Netflix might actually have been the best place for it.

Patti Cake$ — * * * * (4 stars)

I knew it did well at Sundance and people liked it, but I still wasn’t sure what to expect when I sat down. I saw a trailer and liked it, but I didn’t know if it would be truly as winning as it seemed. But man, was this a charming movie. Danielle Macdonald was terrific, as was Bridget Everett, who played her mother. All the raps were fantastic, and by the time you get to the end, that final, climactic song (which you know the movie is building toward), it really hits, emotionally. The director, on top of writing and directing the film, also wrote all the raps. Which is tremendously impressive. It’s just one of those movies that’s hard not to like. Definitely one of those gems of the year you can recommend to anyone because they’re probably going to enjoy it. I’m such a fan of this movie.

Phantom Thread — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

I saw the second ever screening of this for an audience. (The first one was earlier that day, so not bad.) I didn’t know what I was in for. The idea didn’t particularly intrigue me, but Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis had me in no matter what. And the trailer — not great. Not particularly intriguing. But I was still in. I was hoping this wouldn’t be a let down. And as it began, I remained nervous that I wouldn’t like it. And then about… oh, twenty-five minutes in, I realized, “He did it.” Paul Thomas Anderson has become the Stanley Kubrick of his generation. I say that because — look at a movie like Barry Lyndon. You shouldn’t be as invested in that movie as you are. Just like I shouldn’t have been as invested in those dresses as I was. I was on the edge of my seat watching that stuff go down. The little intricacies of the costumes and set design. And watching Daniel Day-Lewis be so fussy. It’s a way funnier movie than you expect it to be. Also, it takes a turn like two-thirds of the way through where you go, “Oh fuck.” By the end of the movie, you’re like, “Oh my god, this is amazing.” I won’t spoil it, since the movie’s not out for another week or so, but my god, he made a movie that should not be as great as it is. AND HE FUCKING SHOT IT HIMSELF. He’s the cinematographer. The movie looks flawless. On every level. Vicky Kriepps is great as the lead, and Lesley Manville is terrific as the sister. It’s just a great, great movie, and really puts Anderson firmly among the all-time greats. I’m so shocked that I loved this as much as I did. Because it’s about a fucking DRESSMAKER. Why should I care? BUT I DO. Just wait til you get to the last twenty minutes of this movie. I’m not even gonna tip it. You won’t believe where he took you. It’s great. Also, Daniel Day-Lewis’s character is named Reynolds Woodcock. So…

The Pirates of Somalia — * * * (3 stars)

About a twenty-something journalist who embedded himself among the Somali pirates when no one else would go near there. Decent story about a guy who would go where others wouldn’t, but the fact that the dude is the typical annoying millennial outside of it diminished the whole thing for me. Also, Al Pacino shows up for like ten minutes for like no reason. And Barkhad Abdi is in this, but isn’t one of the pirates. Which is interesting. It has its moments. Definitely decent enough to watch, but not good enough to really get anywhere.

Planetarium — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

This wasn’t for me. Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp are two sisters, and one of them is kind of psychic (?) and then Natalie become an actress in France — I have no idea what’s going on here. Just not for me at all.

The Post — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

I went to a screening of this that was followed by a reception with Tom Hanks. That has nothing to do with my review, I just wanted to point out that I met Tom Hanks. That was pretty dope. Anyway, this movie positions itself as a prequel of sorts to All the President’s Men (quite literally at times, but that’s another story). It’s Ben Bradlee and Kay Graham dealing with the Pentagon Papers and the issue of Freedom of the Press, as Nixon is trying to stifle the press. Clearly this was made with the modern times in mind. But what begins as an indictment of the current political climate and the president, and as a historical record of a moment in time, becomes so much more. There’s such a feminist undercurrent to this movie that’s just wonderful. There’s so much more going on here than I caught the first time, and I’m excited to see it again to catch more of it. The performances are really solid. Hanks isn’t as good as Jason Robards, but who can be? And Streep has moments of sheer brilliance along the way. And the cast, as all Spielberg films are, is loaded. It’s a really good movie that I will be able to elaborate on fully after another watch. But man, was this great. Oh, and Steven — stop with the endings. You’ve been doing this for like fifteen years now. You have perfect ending shots built into your movies, and then you keep going! Why?! YOU HAD A PERFECT SHOT HERE. And then you literally ended your movie like it’s fucking Marvel. It’s like you’re trying to detract from your own greatness. What is that about?

#RealityHigh — * * (2 stars)

The title says it all. This was a giant piece of shit, and you’ll probably be hearing more about this in about two weeks. (Spoiler alert: It fucking sucked, and it represents everything I hate about movies, culture, and young people in 2017.)

Roman J. Israel, Esq. — * * * * (4 stars)

Here’s a movie that I went from being crazy excited about to very tepid about. Because early reviews on this were not good. It screened somewhere and Dan Gilroy cut about fifteen minutes from it. And reviews were about 50/50 for a while. I had a chance to see this early and almost skipped it because I was worried about how it would be. But I ended up going. And I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I liked the film. The movie does feel slightly compromised. It’s as if Gilroy wrote a great script that became lopsided once Denzel signed on. Because then the movie had to be about Denzel’s performance. And there are times when it feels like we’re stopping the film to show how great Denzel is (more on that in a second). And then the ending — the very end, I’m talking about — feels like it might have been something that was added for Denzel. I think that ending kind of detracts from the rest of it, but it is what it is. Anyway, back to the movie — it’s a movie that could have been made as a noir in the 50s. And I love when that’s the case. If you focus the story to its essentials, that’s what it is. A lawyer who has been working in the trenches for Civil Rights for decades, with no pay and no real success, sees his partner die (essentially) and now is forced to take a job at a high-priced firm where money seems to be the motivating factor, as they use deep resources to handle mostly guilty clients. And slowly, after deciding to use privileged information for a reward, begins to lose his morals. That’s the plot of like every crime film. The guy who is ultimately good, who, after one decision, trades his morals for success, losing track of who he is. That’s what this is. And I liked that aspect of this. A lot. And Denzel — okay. Denzel gives one of his best performances in twenty years. This, Fences and Flight are the three best in the past decade. And going back even further — Training Day is great, but it’s not heavy acting. And Man on Fire is great too, but I think these more recent three are better. He’s really amazing here. Because he’s playing completely against type as an on-the-spectrum lawyer who is brilliant, but cannot handle the social side of things. And Colin Farrell is terrific as the slick lawyer who could be both a villain and a redeemable friend at the same time. There’s a great gray area in that character that I love. Overall, I really liked this movie. It’s not perfect, but it’s very good, and reminds me of the kinds of films I love. And after watching this movie a second time, my feelings about it only rose. This is legitimately one of my favorite films of the year. I loved it. I will warn all of you — if you’re looking for something like Nightcrawler or as good as Nightcrawler, this is not that film. If you just go in to watch a movie, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Score: A Film Music Documentary — * * * * (4 stars)

This was awesome. A bunch of film composers talking about their craft. Loaded with film scores and all the famous stuff you remember. There’s a whole section on John Williams, because you kind of have to. My favorite moment in the entire thing is when one composer comes into a converted church that they use to record scores in London, and he says, “John Williams was in here for Star Wars, and he conducted this opposite way, so the sound traveled in this direction. So he had the choir from ‘Duel of Fates’ over there.” And then they immediately cut to real footage of the score being filmed, with the choir starting the beginning of ‘Duel of Fates’. It gave me fucking chills. This should remind everyone of how important a good film score is (and how badly we’re in need of them now, in this era of absolutely terrible scores), and how great these people are at their jobs.

The Shape of Water — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

This is Guillermo’s best film since Pan’s Labyrinth. I still prefer Pan’s Labyrinth, probably because of the tone of that movie as compared to this one, but this movie was such a delight. It’s just so beautiful. Sally Hawkins is amazing, Doug Jones is incredible as the creature. Richard Jenkins is great, Michael Shannon is great, Octavia Spencer is great — Michael Stuhlbarg is great. It’s just a joy to watch, and the visuals are outstanding. I was also shocked at how much human on fish fucking there was. Was not expecting that much. But he preps you for that pretty early, when one of the opening scenes is her masturbating in a bathtub. But the entire film was just a joy ride. Everything I want out of a film. I’m a fan of Guillermo’s, and really liked Crimson Peak, which seemed to be a bit of a mixed bag from people. Some people loved it and most either didn’t get it or thought they were getting something else and therefore didn’t like it. This is legitimately one of his best films and the true work of an auteur. I am so happy this movie exists and can’t wait to see where this ends up in the hierarchy of this year when all is said and done.

A Silent Voice — * * * (3 stars)

Anime that was eligible for Animated Feature. Kid bullies a deaf girl in his class really badly, and things don’t go well, and later on, he tries to atone for his behavior. It’s fine. Didn’t do much for me, but I got through it just fine.

Singularity — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

John Cusack was one of the first to descend into paycheck VOD movies. Him, Bruce Willis and Nicolas Cage were the first generation. But now — jesus. It’s tough to say which one’s doing worse. I have no fucking clue what this movie is. It’s just — I’m just gonna move on. Maybe there was half an idea here, but my god is it not interesting at all.

Smartass — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Didn’t particularly care about this. Not really sure what the deal was? Girl sort of runs away and gets into some shit that seems like it was based on real events but so embellished for film that I couldn’t find myself caring about any of it. There’s no real cohesion there and the tone was so uneven. I couldn’t get into it at all.

The Snowman — * * * (3 stars)

Once this was announced, I bet we were all crazy excited. Tomas Alfredson, coming off Let the Right One in and Tinker Tailor, and Michael Fassbender in a detective movie set in the snow. Sounds awesome. And yet, as this got closer, things started to look bleak. And by the end, no one should have been surprised that this turned out the way it did. I mean, they gave you all the clues. You know it’s bad when your director, while doing press for the movie, goes, “Yeah, we were supposed to shoot 15 days in Norway, but the studio said we couldn’t, so we literally didn’t get to shoot a bunch of stuff we needed to make the movie work.” It makes sense. It felt like this movie was cut down from something better, but in this case we know for sure — there wasn’t actually enough footage to even finish the damn thing! It’s crazy. The whole thing is so turgid and boring. Fassbender is playing a depressed alcoholic, and he looks like he’s miserable and going through the motions. It’s a shame. I had such high hopes for this, and it ended up as one of the five most disappointing films of 2017.

The Son of Bigfoot — * * (2 stars)

Why am I watching these fucking low grade animated movies?

The Star — * * (2 stars)

So this is an animated movie about the animals that were present at the birth of Jesus. As you can gather — it’s not very good. And on top of that it’s faith-based, so I like it even less than I do these usual bad animated movies. I can accept a bad movie, but a bad movie that’s also trying to teach me religion — nah. Let’s just be glad I probably don’t hate it enough to make it Unforgivable. But holy shit was this bad.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi — * * * * (4 stars)

I’m conflicted on this. I’m gonna see this again pretty soon with my family, so that will decide how I ultimately feel about it. But when I was sitting in that theater, all I kept thinking was: “This is too long,” “Why should I care about some of this?”, “Some of this doesn’t need to be here,” and “Why is it trying to hard to be funny?” Also, once I got out, the only thought I had about it was Colin Farrell saying, “I wanna join the Rebellion if they’ve got the Vietnamese.” But yeah — The Force Awakens had a lot of built up anticipation to it. A long time before there was a good Star Wars movie plus the fun of bringing in the feel of those old ones — I liked it, but it got a bit overrated because of that. This one… I might have swung too far in the other direction given how badly it seems the franchise is being handled behind the scenes, and it just feels like too much. Maybe that had something to do with it. I don’t know. I’m left with a movie I really enjoyed, but not something I consider truly great. We’ll give it another watch to see if that changes.

Step — * * * (3 stars)

Fun little documentary about an inner-city girls step dancing group. It’s like the movie The Fits meets Hoop Dreams. Worth seeing.

Stronger — * * * * (4 stars)

Jake Gyllenhaal, you got new legs! New legs! This is, in case you didn’t know, a David Gordon Green-directed movie about the guy who lost his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing. Its thunder got stolen last year by Patriots Day, which rushed into production and came out last for an Oscar push and was just okay at best. This got pushed into this year and they sort of released it in a limited way and have tried to push Gyllenhaal for Best Actor. Doesn’t seem to have taken. But this movie — really good. It’s like The Fighter. It’s not so much about the bombing as much as it is about this dude and his family. And the family are these crazy Boston people with these larger than life personalities. And it’s about him and his own personal shit (it’s not kind to him, which I appreciated), dealing with his on-again, off-again girlfriend who is now his wife. Gyllenhaal is really good, as per usual, and Tatiana Maslany is fantastic as well. I really want to see her in more stuff, because she’s just tremendous in everything. Don’t sleep on this movie, because it’s not about what you think it’s about, and it’s really well done and really entertaining. Definitely one of the more under-appreciated gems of the year.

Strong Island — * * * (3 stars)

Solid documentary about a woman trying to get closure about her brother’s death. I’m not overly invested in stories like this, but the manner in which she presented it was compelling.

Suburbicon — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Well this was one of the most disappointing films of the year. Which is the second time that’s happened with Clooney. It’s because he’s made one near-masterpiece already and always manages to get insane casts for his movies. This one, though, on top of all that, had a script originally by the Coen brothers. So you’d think there’s no way this could be screwed up. But, here we are. It’s not that the movie is bad. It’s interesting. There’s some good stuff in it. It’s just that George Clooney isn’t the right guy to direct a Coen brothers movie, and also that it’s clear that the movie was made right as Donald Trump became president, so they changed a part of the narrative to reflect that. And the result is a movie that just feels pretty angry. And it alters the tone of the whole thing to something that was not originally intended. It’s very uneven, but I liked it as an interesting artifact for the time. Not really something I can recommend, but I will admit to liking it more than most have.

Sweet Virginia — * * * (3 stars)

Low rent potboiler thriller. Jon Bernthal and Christopher Abbott and Imogen Poots are in it, so that was nice. Otherwise it did absolutely nothing for me.

Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I watched it just so I could saw I saw every film eligible for Best Animated Feature. This one is the most straight anime of the bunch, and I just did not care about this for even a second. So we’ll just leave it at that and move on.

Thor: Ragnarok — * * * * (4 stars)

This was fun as hell. The Thor franchise has always been pretty ho hum. Hemsworth’s been great, Hopkins has been fine, and Hiddleston has been one of the highlights of the entire Marvel universe. The first Thor was fine. The second one is one of the three worst Marvel movies (along with Incredible Hulk and Doctor Strange). But the characters (Loki and Thor) have been well-developed throughout everything, so once we got here, they were able to pay off a lot of history with the way they did things. First — Taika Waititi was a great choice. The humor he brought to the movie was very needed, and makes the entire movie fun. It’s basically two movies in one. And like the first Guardians, you want the fun, weird stuff more than the plot. Every time they cut back to Cate Blanchett, I didn’t give a shit. I wanted more of Thor fucking around with Hulk on Jeff Goldblum’s planet. But overall, this was just a good time, capping off a very fun year of Marvel movies. (Also, for those interested, I put this in the upper second tier of Marvel movies. I think Iron Man is still the best thing they’ve done, and then Guardians and the two Captain America movies are the ones just below that. I put this along with Spider-Man in that next tier of very solid movies. Then the rest is just a mix of, “fine, okay, mediocre and ehh.”)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

I am predisposed to loving a Martin McDonagh movie, so this should surprise no one. I saw this movie at a screening with a Q&A from McDonagh and Woody Harrelson afterward. (Spoiler: Woody was high as hell.) I could not get over how amazing the whole thing was. In Bruges was a film that tried to balance comedy and tragedy, leaning much more heavily to the comedy. Seven Psychopaths was just gleefully a comedy. This, in a way I was not expecting, perfectly balances comedy and tragedy seamlessly, and constantly gets you going from laughing to completely pulling the rug out from under you within moments. There’s a flashback scene that happens fairly early on that ends with an abrupt cut, and the minute that cut happens you actually stop mid-laugh and go, “Oh shit.” It’s one of the best cuts I have ever seen in a movie. Frances McDormand is incredible here, and Sam Rockwell I hope wins an Oscar for his performance. Holy shit, does his character keep growing and changing in the best way throughout this movie. Everyone in it is so great and the minute I saw it, I thought it might be my favorite film of the year. That was back in October. I’ve seen a bunch more stuff since then, and I’m not sure if that’s changed. We’ve still got about two weeks to figure that out. But man — this might be an overall better movie than In Bruges. Sure, I probably like In Bruges better, but I think this might be a better movie.

Thumper — * * * (3 stars)

I have a bad habit of watching VOD movies that sound remotely interesting. This is a completely by-the-numbers undercover-DEA agent trying to bust a drug dealer by getting inside. It’s like a bad version of Rush, without the cool drug scenes and more about the undercover identity stuff. Not for me.

Top Cat Begins — * * (2 stars)

I hope the next two are Top Dark Cat and Top Dark Cat Rises. No, but seriously, this is another of those cash-grab, bottom tier animated movies. I lost interest about four minutes in when, in a kids movie, they had a Reservoir Dogs reference whereby a bunch of people walk in a room in slow motion, set to “Little Green Bag.” So, yeah. Not sure who this was for, but it was awful. Like, beyond the usual awful. Just forget this exists and go watch the original show instead.

The Tribes of Palos Verdes — * * * (3 stars)

This ran the risk of being boring as fuck. I like Maika Monroe and Jennifer Garner was — I guess ‘going for it’ is the proper phrase. There’s a fine line between ‘great performance’ and ‘wildly over the top’ and I feel like we’re all gonna end up on one side of it. I’m mixed but lean toward, “Ehh, she was good.” Because usually she’s so vapid in movies that at least it looked like she was trying here. The dad was the guy who played the uncle on Weeds. Can’t remember seeing him in anything since that show ended. Otherwise — story did nothing for me, but it had enough moments I liked enough to give it a pass.

Tulip Fever — * * * (3 stars)

The minute they pushed this more than once, you knew what this was gonna be. Sure, the idea of a movie about tulips and whatnot didn’t sound all that good, but you figured — Christoph Waltz, Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Jack O’Connell, Tom Hollander, Judi Dench — gotta be at least pretty good, right? Even at a disappointment level the actors were gonna be good and the sets and costumes were gonna look great. But nah. This is just a complete disappointment all around. I wonder how Justin Chadwick feels. He had Mandela, which Weinstein completely cut to pieces and just destroyed for him, and now this, which was just an abject failure on every level. And it came out before the Weinstein stuff. So it was a failure on its own. It’s just not an interesting movie. Fifteen years ago, Weinstein would have gotten at least three Oscar nominations out of something like this. This is Girl with a Pearl Earring. That kind of period piece where you’re not sure why they’re making it, but hey, the actors are nice and it looks good and sure, we’re supposed to like it because it’s classy so we pretend like it’s great. But this — nah, son. This is the kind of shit you can’t make anymore unless you have a real passion for it. And it’s clear this is someone trying to work on an Oscar formula that doesn’t work anymore.

The Unknown Girl — * * * (3 stars)

The Dardennes. Didn’t do as much for me as Two Days, One Night did. The lead actress does a good job, otherwise not a whole lot outside of their usual verité stuff.

Viceroy’s House — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

The first of two British/Indian relationship movies of the fall. This one I did not particularly care for. It was fine. Nice colors (as apparently all India-set movies are required to have), and directed by Mira Nair. None of it really mattered to me, and it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Most of the movies about this period aren’t my cup of tea.

Victoria and Abdul — * * * (3 stars)

It just felt tired. You’d have thought it was a Weinstein movie by how badly it was going through the motions. Judi Dench is playing the same queen she was nominated for an Oscar for playing twenty years ago. Only here, it’s about her relationship with an Indian man in the years before her death. So she’s old and not really doing a whole lot. The movie’s meant to be about class and such, as all the British people think he’s some lower class piece of shit and untrustworthy. It’s completely by the numbers. It doesn’t even have the benefit of a great Judi Dench performance because her character is old as hell and falling asleep and/or dying the whole time. Stephen Frears doesn’t make bad movies, but this is definitely an unnecessary one.

Walking Out — * * * (3 stars)

Dad and kid go into wilderness to hunt shit. Stuff goes wrong. Kid has to man up and get dad out before they both die.

Wheelman — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

This was awesome. It’s Drive meets Locke. Frank Grillo is in a car for the entire movie, trying to figure out what the fuck to do as he gets himself in some shit. It was a lot of fun, and one of the best Netflix movies I’ve seen (which, I know, is not the highest bar in existence). Just pure adrenaline from start to finish, and just really well done. Definitely one of those movies I’d recommend for people to check out. Among all the streamers they have, this is one I wouldn’t hesitate to openly recommend to juts about everyone.

Who We Are Now — * * * (3 stars)

Solid little indie. An actor’s movie. Great performances. The narrative was a bit muddled and very bare. The movie didn’t tell you at all what the hell was going on, to its detriment at times. But Julianne Nicholson is great here, and for once I thought Emma Roberts was pretty good. So there’s that. Didn’t like it as much as his previous film, From Nowhere, but it’s still a worthwhile experience.

The Wilde Wedding — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

Generic “dysfunctional family gets together for a wedding” indie movie. All the tropes you’d expect. I only saw it for the actors, and even then it probably wasn’t even worth it. But hey, at least they’re working.

Wind River — * * * * (4 stars)

After Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan had my attention. Him directing this felt okay, even though I had some… wait for it… reservations. OH SHIT HE JUST WENT OFF WITH THE NATIVE AMERICAN PUN, SON!!!!! Anyway, this was very good. Thought it was gonna be too slow, but I was invested throughout. I thought Renner more than held his own. Graham Greene was awesome. I thought Gil Birmingham was underutilized. His scenes were powerful, but they definitely could have used him a bit more. Still, though, really interesting procedural with a great message behind it. Also, I was a bit concerned about how they were gonna pull off the climax — since they build toward them solving it, then immediately flash back to show you what happened and then start back up from there. I definitely liked that aspect (and that cameo was nice to see in that moment) of it. Overall, I really liked this a lot, and I feel like this will only hold for me over time. Definitely not one of those movies I’ll think less of as time goes on. One of the most solid films I saw this year.

Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming — * * * (3 stars)

It’s an animated movie about a half-Chinese, half-Persian girl going to Iran to a poetry festival. So yeah, pretty wide audience for this one. It looks really nice. Probably could have been a 35 minute short film and been way better and even nominated for Animated Short, but as a feature it’s fine. Definitely a more rewarding experience than most of the shit they put out there.

Wonder — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

I had such bad expectations for this. Back in January, you tell me a movie is directed by the Perks of Being a Wallflower guy, starring Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts, and is a family movie about a kid with a facial deformity, I think, “That’s gonna be garbage.” And I completely forgot about this until it was coming out. Had I paid any attention, I’m sure I would have been anticipating garbage. Even as it came out, I didn’t see the reviews. I caught wind that it did really well the weekend it came out, and I heard like, an hour before I went to see it, that it got great reviews too. I think the only thing I’d really heard was, “People are saying it’s actually pretty good.” Still, I wasn’t expecting anything. I went to see this over Thanksgiving weekend. It was a tossup between this or Daddy’s Home 2. I actually sat in the theater with this and went, “Okay, if in an hour, I know exactly where this is going and it’s as terrible as I think, I’m gonna go walk into that movie and see how bad that is too.” But within twenty minutes of this movie, I was invested. Within forty, there was no question I was staying until the end. This movie was really fucking good. (Relative to what I thought and how these types of movies usually go, of course.) They endear you to the boy really fast, they don’t get too on the nose with the situations they put him in, they don’t let the adults get into their usual… schticks, I’ll say (I had a countdown to when Owen Wilson’s first “wow” was gonna be — I don’t think there was one!), and it’s just a really likable movie. The ingenious aspect to this movie is that it switches perspectives. Once we get through the kid’s first day of school, it suddenly shifts gears and shows you what the sister was going through that day. And I really liked that. I really liked how it fleshed out all the different situations here, rather than going over different ways the asshole kid was gonna try to bully the main kid, and all that stuff. Count this as one of the most delightful surprises of 2017 for me, and I’m gonna be a big supporter of this film going forward.

Wonder Wheel — * * * (3 stars)

“Anyway, here’s Wonder Wheel,” said Woody Allen, pulling out his clarinet. Remember how I’ve been saying for like a decade that Woody Allen’s movies feel like the product of a tired, old man who seems to be going through the motions? Go back to 2000. Maybe three good movies? I love Small Time Crooks, so that’s in there for me. Jade Scorpion, Hollywood Ending, Anything Else, Melinda and Melinda — awful. Match Point is great. Scoop, Cassandra’s Dream — ehh. Vicky Cristina Barcelona, I don’t like it. Some people do. Whatever Works I love. Tall Dark Stranger isn’t good. Midnight in Paris is awesome. Since then — nothing good at all. Blue Jasmine is fine at best. The rest are varying degrees of not good to straight up, “Holy shit, dude.” It just feels like he’s recycling old ideas because he thinks that if he keeps making movies it’ll keep him alive or something. I don’t get it. This is a movie where the best thing I can say about it is that some of the lighting looks really nice. I like the red hues and such. But other than that — he’s ripping off Douglas Sirk in the beginning, the Kate Winslet character is a repeat of the Blanche Dubois thing he ripped off for Blue Jasmine, which felt stale when he did it then. Otherwise — Jim Belushi is completely one-dimensional as a character, Winslet has nothing to do, Timberlake is just sort of there (and he talks to the camera. What the fuck?), Juno Temple makes the most out of nothing. He doesn’t write movies anymore and just sort of lets his actors do things. The only reason he gets casts is because people want to work with him.

Wonderstruck — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Count this among the most disappointing films of 2017. You have Todd Haynes, whose last three movies are Carol, I’m Not There and Far from Heaven, and it’s based on a book by Brian Selznick, who wrote Hugo. Oh, and half the film was gonna be in black and white and is portrayed as a silent film. So there was really no chance of me not liking this. You would think. Then the trailer — not great. And as it came closer to coming out, the reviews were mixed and you didn’t really hear anything about it. And with good reason. Because it just doesn’t really work. Small parts of it do, here and there, but ultimately it just feels really uneven. The editing in the first twenty minutes is so choppy I had to stop the movie and watch it again a different day just because I thought it was me. But no — the movie is so crazily edited, it’s actually jarring. The pieces don’t sync together at all, and the transitions are not good. They actually take you out of the movie. It doesn’t do a good job of situating you in the story whatsoever, and by the time you’re well into the movie, you don’t care about the characters. Brian Selznick seems like a guy who writes stories that are kids going on adventures. They’re full of whimsy. Todd Haynes is a guy who knows melodrama. The two do not mix. That’s what happened with this movie. Todd Haynes was not the right director for it. It was worth a shot, but it just doesn’t work. And given that Todd Haynes is incapable of making a bad movie, you’re left with a movie that’s just hugely disappointing.

Woodshock — * * ½ (2.5 stars)

I have no idea what the fuck this is. I thought it was some sort of horror movie, and then the trailer was weird and looked kinda cool. And then the movie is — Kirsten Dunst does some sort of weed and goes batshit crazy. No fucking clue what the hell this was meant to be. Just gonna leave it right here and let someone else try to figure out what the hell it was trying to do. It was not for me at all.

The Films I Haven’t Seen Yet

  • Rebel in the Rye — It’s out on DVD in the next three weeks. I’ll see this.
  • Wetlands — You know why this is here? I tracked it and it came out. It came out in like one theater for like one weekend and no one else but me knows this exists. But I tracked it, so it’s here.
  • Lucky — The Harry Dean Stanton movie. Thought we’d get a screener. Guess not. No word on when I’ll get to see this. No DVD/VOD date currently set.
  • 78/52 — Hitchcock documentary. Not something I tracked but something I want to see. Available to rent on Amazon. I’ll probably do that next week when I’m home and have some time to kill.
  • Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman — I regret not seeing this in theaters when I had the chance. I thought we might get a screener so I took a shot. Still, I’ll see it in January.
  • Only the Brave — Screener hasn’t come yet. Worst case I see it in January, though I think I’ll sneak it in just under the wire next week.
  • Keep Watching — It came out in a theater for a week, and I (somehow) tracked this back in January. So it’s here. I’ll see it when I can, and if it’s not for this year, I don’t really care.
  • Same Kind of Different as Me — Barely came out in theaters and should be out on DVD within the next month or two. Maybe I see it in time, maybe I don’t. Not too concerned about it (even though something tells me it might have had a shot at Unforgivable).
  • The Square — We’ll get a screener. And it’ll probably be nominated. 100% I see this within the next six weeks.
  • Thank You for Your Service — We’ll get a screener for this. Hasn’t come yet. I’ll see it in the first week of January.
  • The Insult — Foreign language contender. Have a copy. Just need to watch it. I will within the week.
  • O Matador — Brazilian western on Netflix. Just haven’t seen it yet. I will this week.
  • Thelma — Have it. Just need to watch it. That’s what the next week is for.
  • Pottersville — That Michael Shannon Bigfoot Christmas movie. Have it. Was waiting til I got home to see it. Felt more appropriate to watch on the east coast.
  • Loveless — Have it, gonna watch it this weekend.
  • Just Getting Started — I was gonna see it this past week, but I saw it’ll still be playing next week and had way too much shit to do, so I’m just gonna see it now that I’m home. Over/under three people in the theater with me.
  • The Ballad of Lefty Brown — Have it, just need to see it. This weekend for sure.
  • Christmas Inheritance — It came out on Netflix today. Haven’t had time to watch it yet, so that’ll happen this weekend.
  • Cinderella the Cat — The last movie eligible for Best Animated Feature. I will see this within the week.

The Films I Skipped

  • Underworld: Blood Wars
  • Rings
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul
  • Annabelle: Creation
  • Jigsaw

The Films That Have Not Been Released Yet

  • Father Figures
  • Pitch Perfect 3
  • Bright
  • Happy End
  • All the Money in the World
  • The Greatest Showman

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