Mike’s Top Ten of 2017
This is one of the strongest years of the decade. I wouldn’t have immediately pegged it as one of those, but it is. It’s deep. There’s a lot of great stuff here, and this top ten could easily have been swapped out for a bunch of the 11-20.
At the time of the initial posting of this list, we’re not that far removed from these films coming out, but it does feel like some of the choices on it are undisputed great movies. Some are films that people generally like, even if they won’t appear on everyone’s lists, and there’s maybe one or two that I know are gonna go down as the films of the decade over time even though they weren’t as universally well-received.
I will also say that this the only year of this decade that has, at this point, managed a film that has found its way to my list of all-time favorite films. It’s a good year.
Mike’s Top Ten of 2017
The Big Sick
Blade Runner 2049
The Florida Project
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
11-20: Baby Driver, Brawl in Cell Block 99, Call Me By Your Name, The Death of Stalin, The Disaster Artist, I Tonya, Logan, Loving Vincent, Roman J. Israel, Esq., The Shape of Water,
Tier two: All the Money in the World, Atomic Blonde, Darkest Hour, Detroit, Good Time, Hostiles, John Wick: Chapter Two, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Lady Macbeth, Mother!, Murder on the Orient Express, Okja, Patti Cake$, The Post, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Stronger, Thor: Ragnarok, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Wind River
Tier three: Battle of the Sexes, Brigsby Bear, Colossal, Dave Made a Maze, Five Came Back, Free Fire, Get Out, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Landline, The Lost City of Z, Mary and the Witch’s Flower, Mudbound, Novitiate, Rolling Stone: Stories from the Edge, Their Finest, Tramps, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wheelman, Wonder, Wonder Woman
Tier four: Alien: Covenant, American Made, The Bad Batch, Borg vs. McEnroe, The Breadwinner, Carrie Pilby, Girls Trip, The Greatest Showman, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, It, Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Last Flag Flying, Loveless, Norman, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Prevenge, Raw, Score: A Film Music Documentary, Split
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1. Phantom Thread
“Kiss me, my girl, before I’m sick.”
It only took about six months for me to realize this was my favorite movie of 2017. Originally it was my #2 film when I posted the initial list. But it really only took a short time after that for me to realize that this not only was my favorite film of the year, but that it had already ascended into all-time favorite film status. It typically takes the better part of a decade for something to even be considered close to achieving ‘all time’ status for me. If you go and look at the list I have of my favorite films, there are still only two movies on it that came out after 2007. I’m very respectful of time being the great indicator of what my true favorites are. But sometimes, you just know. And I knew almost immediately that this film belonged on that list.
This is a masterpiece. To go along with Paul Thomas Anderson’s, what, three or four other masterpieces? That’s what this dude does, is churn them out every single time he makes a movie. I saw this film three separate times in theaters, twice in 70mm. I could not get enough of this movie.
The fact that it’s Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis alone should tell you that you’re gonna get greatness. To this day, my favorite film of his is There Will Be Blood, which is the first time the two of them worked together. So it was really no surprise that this one so quickly also ascended to that status.
Day-Lewis plays a master dressmaker in 1950s London. And that’s really all you need. The film is ultimately a romance between him and Vicky Krieps, a waitress he meets while getting out of town for a bit who he falls for and brings back to London with him. And the film is ultimately about their relationship. Which is just wonderful. What I love about the film is how it gets funnier every time you watch it. I saw it the first time and was just rapt with attention throughout. And by the third time, I was actively anticipating lines and scenes and practically cackling with laughter. Every little expression of Day-Lewis’s, or every moment of him being overly fussy is just incredible. It’s just a perfect movie.
I don’t even know what else to say. Everyone needs to see this movie, because I think this is on its way to truly going down as one of the absolute best films ever made. I think that is a legitimate contender for all-time cinema status. It feels like it’s headed that way. And I couldn’t be happier about that.
2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
“What’s the law on what ya can and can’t say on a billboard? I assume it’s ya can’t say nothing defamatory, and ya can’t say, ‘Fuck’ ‘Piss’ or ‘Cunt’. That right?”
“Well, I think I’ll be alright then.”
Martin McDonagh. How I love him so.
After In Bruges and his numerous plays, McDonagh established himself among the top five writers working today. He’s one of a few people for whom I am 100% certain, every time he has a film coming out, I will love it. But even here, while I expected this movie to be good, I did not expect it to be this great. This was initially my #1 film of 2017 until it (through no fault of its own) got overtaken by Phantom Thread.
Frances McDormand stars as the grieving mother of a girl who was attacked, raped and set on fire and whose killer has yet to be identified or captured by police. So she takes it upon herself to buy three run-down billboards outside her home to send a message to police to get off their asses and do something. Which sends the entire town into a giant firestorm and sets in motion, well… the plot. It’s just a great film. McDormand is incredible here and won an Oscar for her performance, as did Sam Rockwell, who is also tremendous as one of the cops in the town. Woody Harrelson also got nominated as the chief of police, and the film is just loaded with amazing scenes and moments that truly mark it as one of the best films to come out this year. I just love this movie so much and it’s already going down as one of my absolute favorites of the decade.
3. Lady Bird
“I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.”
“What if this is the best version?”
I love this movie so much. And I had no idea I was gonna get this movie going into 2017, which makes me love it even more.
I knew Greta Gerwig had made a movie and it was a coming of age indie based very loosely around her own childhood. But I figured, “How good could it be?” No one could have figured anything more than “solid” at best. People generally don’t come out with movies like this their first time out. But Greta Gerwig does.
This movie is just an absolute joy of a film that should speak to everyone who remembers what it was like being 17. I didn’t grow up in Northern California, I wasn’t a theater kid and also I’m not a girl. But all of that is incidental. This movie feels exactly like that age in every way. The specificity of it all is what makes it universal. It’s just so well written and well acted. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf (and Lucas Hedges and Tracy Letts) are incredible here, and the movie remains one of the ones I go back to most from this year. It’s so damn watchable and so damn touching in every way. The scenes with Ronan and Metcalf specifically are just wonderful.
I cannot say enough great things about this movie. When all is said and done, I suspect this to go down as one of my all-time favorites from this decade. This one is really special to me.
4. The Florida Project
“These are the rooms we’re not supposed to go in… But let’s go anyways!”
I knew this movie was special when, during the very last scene of the film, a much (much) older couple behind me said, out loud, “Oh, wow.” They’re not the target audience for this film, nor did I expect them to even like the film, let alone have an audible reaction to it. And the “oh, wow” felt like it encapsulated everything I was feeling during the other 110 minutes before that scene happened.
This is Sean Baker’s followup to Tangerine. I had only seen Tangerine going into this, but I knew that Tangerine was special and that he was a special filmmaker because he literally made a movie on an iPhone in an actual neighborhood with non actors and made it feel fresh and alive. (I’ve since gone back to watch Starlet, which is also incredible.) And, watching the trailer for this, I knew it was gonna be great. It just has that feel of something that speaks to my very soul.
This movie takes place at a motel about five minutes from Disney World in Florida. The main character is six and lives with her mother in one of the rooms. And it’s just about her roaming the hotel grounds and getting into mischief with her friends. And it’s just amazing. Willem Dafoe is perfect as the hotel manager (and he earned an Oscar nomination for the performance), and it’s just a beautiful film. The thing about Baker’s films is that you can’t really explain why they’re good, but as soon as you put one on, you can feel it. His movies come alive as you watch them. And that’s a rare talent for a director to have.
“You can practically see it from here.”
This might be Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece. Though knowing him he’s yet to fully make that. But this is the closest he’s come to it thus far.
It’s a war film centered around Dunkirk. And it’s split into three sections: land, sea and air. (The same three mentioned in Churchill’s famous “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech.) The land section takes place over the course of the week, the sea section takes place over the course of a day, and the air section takes place over the course of an hour. And all three are edited together perfectly. The land section deals with the soldiers who are stuck on the beach, surrounded on all sides by Germans and unable to be evacuated because German planes are shooting down every ship sent to get them. The sea section deals with the civilian boats that were sent to pick up all the soldiers. And the air section involves the pilots giving cover to those boats so the men can be safely evacuated.
It’s incredible. The cinematography is some of the most stunning you will ever see. What Nolan and Hoyte van Hoytema achieve is nothing less than one of the greatest films ever shot. The cast are basically all there to serve the greater story, but all do their part well, with Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy being the specific standouts. It’s just an amazing experience, all around, and one of the finest war films ever made.
6. Molly’s Game
Aaron Sorkin directed his first film, and honestly, if there was anyone who’s scripts are director proof, it’s his. It’s all talking. So you don’t have to do many flashy things behind the camera to make them pop. But also, he acquits himself really well. There are some editing choices in this that feel very assured for a first-time director (though he’s been around the business for a while and directed some TV, so I’m not remotely surprised).
A Sorkin script is basically guaranteed to hit my top 20 (in fact, looking at it.. Few Good Men, Charlie Wilson’s War, Social Network, Moneyball, Steve Jobs and this… all top ten. American President, 11-20. Malice is the only one that didn’t make either of those, and even Sorkin’s basically disowned that script), so its inclusion here should surprise no one. It stars Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom, famously known as the ‘poker princess’ — she ran a high stakes poker game in LA and then NY and then got indicted on federal charges. And the film is about her and her story, framed around her indictment.
It’s just a wonderful film. Chastain is great, Idris Elba is amazing as her lawyer (his deposition monologue is pure Sorkin), and Kevin Costner is so wonderful as her psychiatrist father (the scene with them near the end of the film is just stunning). The thing with Sorkin’s scripts… they’ll entertain everyone. They’re so perfectly written that it’s impossible to not be entertained by them. Plus you have the poker angle and the fun tone of this — I’m surprised how this wasn’t on most people’s top ten list for this year.
7. Blade Runner 2049
“Dying for the right cause. It’s the most human thing we can do.”
I was skeptically optimistic about this one when they announced it. On the one hand… I like Blade Runner a lot but I don’t love it (mostly owing to all the different versions of it) and it’s not a movie that needed to have a sequel. On the other hand, Denis Villeneuve has established himself as someone who makes great movies. And Roger Deakins was shooting it. So you had to assume it would be good, but I still had my doubts.
Honestly, after all is said and done, I like it more than I like the first one. You have to see the first one in order to fully appreciate this, but I love this movie. I was shocked at how much I loved this movie.
It takes place thirty years after the first film and stars Ryan Gosling as a cop investigating the last of the runaway replicants from years past and stumbling on an even greater mystery that is just better to not spoil. They really do a terrific job of reestablishing this world and giving you a story worth telling. Harrison Ford doesn’t even show up until about 90 minutes into the movie and you honestly don’t even miss him until then. It’s really great.
And Deakins — man, does he shoot the hell out of this. He finally earned his Oscar for this film. It’s just greatness all around, and it’s a sci fi movie with a world people know that really asks deep philosophical questions about the nature of humanity. I saw it at the time but it’s even more apparent now that this is one of the best films of 2017.
♫ “Remember me
Though I have to say goodbye
Don’t let it make you cry
For ever if I’m far away
I hold you in my heart
I sing a secret song to you
Each night we are apart” ♫
I truly don’t know how Pixar does it. They’ll convince me that’s it. They’re done making great original films. And then boom, here we are. Their tagline might as well be, “Bet you didn’t think we could still make you cry.”
This film is a lovely story of a Mexican boy on the Day of the Dead. He dreams of playing music, while his entire family has, for multiple generations, made shoes. And after a fight with his family, he runs off and winds up being transported to the land of the dead, where he meets all of his ancestors, as well as his idol, a legendary singer who seems like he might also be his great-great-grandfather.
It’s so touching. It really is. I don’t know what else to say. It’s another masterpiece by them. They just know how to make ’em.
9. The Big Sick
“I didn’t heckle you, just woo-hoo’d you. It’s supportive.”
“Okay, that’s a common misconception. Yelling anything at a comedian is considered heckling. Heckling doesn’t have to be negative.”
“So, if I… if I yelled out like… ‘You’re amazing in bed’, that’d be a heckle?”
“Yeah. It would be an accurate heckle.”
I typically have zero expectations for Sundance comedies, and that was the case for this movie. People were talking about it coming out of the festival, but to me, talk of something is totally meaningless. The Birth of a Nation got talk out of Sundance (I’m talking the Nate Parker movie, not D.W. Griffith). Everything gets talk out of Sundance. So I just assumed this would be nothing more than a decent, possibly good, little movie. And then I saw it.
This movie is a perfect entity. Based on the real story of its writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, it’s the rom com we deserve, but unfortunately not one we get all too often. Kumail stars and Zoe Kazan (eternally underrated) fills in as Emily, and it’s a film about their meeting and casual dating before it turns into something more serious, even as Kumail’s family is trying to arrange a marriage between him and a Pakistani girl. But then things go south and they break up (badly), only for Emily to fall into a coma soon after. So now he’s the one who has to tell her parents, and he soon starts going to the hospital every day to make sure she’s okay, and then he starts getting to know her parents (which, after the break up, you can imagine is not too smooth at first), and it just becomes this wonderful, unorthodox love story.
It is impossible not to be charmed by this movie. I’m usually very even-keeled about these things and will usually understand if someone doesn’t like something. But this movie… I feel like if someone were to watch this movie and say they didn’t buy it and that it didn’t do anything for them, I would seriously question whether or not I would want to know that person and be around them. This movie is just great, and it runs you through the gamut of emotions before making you feel good by the end. All the performances are great (especially Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily’s parents), and it’s one of those movies that makes you feel good that it got made. Something like this is not an easy sell, and the fact that it got to exist is the biggest win we have.
10. Logan Lucky
“No, hold on. That’s it? That’s a plastic bag, bleach pens, fake salt and gummy bears. That’s our bomb?”
“Don’t call it a bomb. Now, how many yards away is the vault?”
“About 20 yards. I don’t know, maybe 30.”
“Is it 20 or is it 30? We are dealing with science here.”
Steven Soderbergh’s first film back after his self-imposed ‘retirement’ from filmmaking in 2013. I think his retirement was due to the changing landscape of film and the difficulty he faced in getting his types of films made. Since he was always the king of the mid-range budget film that would be great but never make any money because either you couldn’t properly market them or they’d just not be mainstream enough to recoup the money spent to make and market them. So here, he tried a different approach to releasing a film, and the result is a movie that people heard about but no one saw. Which is disturbing to me because this is one of the best films of the entire decade. I love this movie.
It’s a heist movie starring Channing Tatum and Adam Driver as brothers who decide to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway on the day of a NASCAR race. And it’s incredible. Every character is perfectly drawn. Every performance is note perfect. Daniel Craig is amazing. Riley Keough is amazing. Even Hilary Swank, who shows up out of nowhere in the third act and upon first viewing feels totally out of place in the film, is perfect. The film is consistently funny and never once feels like it’s meandering in any way (like all Soderbergh films. The man knows how to trim fat, I’ll tell you that).
There has not been a single person I’ve shown this movie to since it came out who didn’t say how much they enjoyed it. I don’t know why people never saw this, but I do know that it’s one of the best movies in recent years and that everyone can change that right now by just going to see it. This will end up on the lists as being one of the best films of this decade, and you don’t want to be one of the people who has to pretend like you always knew that. You can get on that bandwagon now and start convincing other people that they’re being idiots.
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Baby Driver — Edgar Wright makes a car chase movie. Somehow, when we all heard that, we knew it was gonna work out. I think he said he wrote on the first page of his script, “This is the kind of movie that gets nominated for Sound Design at the Oscars.” He knew what he was making. It’s about a young getaway driver who works for a crime boss, helping the actual criminals escape custody after their jobs. And he finds himself falling for a local diner waitress and wanting to get out of the game after a while, only to be pulled back in… you know how that works. Ansel Elgort is the driver, Lily James is the waitress, Kevin Spacey is the crime boss and you’ve got Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez and Jon Bernthal as the criminals (oh and Flea is in there somewhere too). It’s just wonderful. The car chases are amazing (and practical!) and the soundtrack is great. And because Wright is directing, he’s really tight on the visuals and the editing is top notch. It’s just a wonderful, entertaining film from top to bottom.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 — This is S. Craig Zahler’s second film and the one that really made me a fan of his for life. I liked Bone Tomahawk a lot, but that could be considered a bit of a trick film based solely around the end sequence. This one, though, sustains it, and really is just a great piece of work. It’s a prison film, but Zahler does much more than that. He gives you this B movie crime opus of sorts. It’s sold as “Vince Vaughn in prison,” but the opening sequence is this… not to spoil too much… indie husband and wife drama for a minute. And then it builds to the point where he ends up in prison, and the movie just spirals from there. Zahler really builds the film and it gets more pulpy and Grindhouse-y as it goes on. To the point where, when you reach that final act, you’re just totally on board with the absolute insanity that’s happening on the screen. Vaughn, which most people don’t always notice in the films, is 6’5”, and the film shoots him like Fred Astaire, full frame, so you are totally convinced he can beat the absolute shit out of anyone you put in front of him. It’s also the kind of movie that, for a time, use violence sparingly, but when it does… you feel the impact. And then at the end the violence just becomes cartoonish, to the point where you’re laughing and cringing at the same time. I saw this in a packed theater and it was the best possible audience to see it with, because it really made you feel how entertaining the whole film is. It’s also a movie I’ve shown to a handful of people who knew nothing about it, and they all came out saying how awesome it was. It’s not gonna be for everyone, but this continues to be one of the movies I go back to and love to just put on and watch. It’s so great.
Call Me By Your Name — When they write the book on 2017, you can’t talk about it without this film being featured very prominently. Honestly, when all else fades away, this will go down as one of the five most important films to have come out this year. Like it or don’t like it, this is one of the definitive films of this year. It’s a Luca Guadagnino-directed romance film with Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer. Guadagnino had directed A Bigger Splash before this, which put him on my radar, but this is the film that put him on everyone’s radar. Chalamet burst onto the scene this year, featuring in a number of high profile films, and earned an Oscar nomination for this one. And Hammer had always been likable but hard to pin down in various roles, and here delivers the finest work of his career. Chalamet plays a kid on summer vacation in Italy and Hammer plays a grad student coming to do research with Chalamet’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg). And eventually the pair come together and have this beautiful little summer affair that is just wonderful. The acting and directing in this movie is just sublime. Michael Stuhlbarg’s monologue at the end of the film is, to me, possibly the greatest single scene of this entire year. I adore this movie so much. There’s something about this movie and its tone and pacing that just makes me like it more as time goes by. It feels like the memory of a fleeting summer vacation I had when I was a kid, which is exactly what it should be. It’s a masterpiece of a film.
The Death of Stalin — Armando Iannucci’s second film, after In the Loop, and his first since Veep, which means that people now know who he is and can better understand his style when going into a film. This is based on… well, look at the title, you can see what it’s based on. But it’s just a fucking hilarious film. It’s based on all the in-fighting that happened when Stalin died and it’s one of the funniest things I have seen this entire decade. Steve Buscemi and Jeffrey Tambor are so fucking funny in this. With the state of comedy being what it is and people watching absolute juvenile dog shit… go watch this movie. This is truly one of the funniest films to come out in a long time.
The Disaster Artist — Whew boy. This… how did this turn into one of the best films of 2017? It’s about the making of The Room, which is one of the great cult films of all time, because it started out as being a ‘so bad it’s good’ film that is just inexplicable on every level. And so one of the film’s stars wrote a book about his experiences making the movie, which was then adapted and turned into a movie starring a lot of famous people and even ended up getting nominated for an Oscar. Crazy how Hollywood works sometimes. James Franco directs and plays Tommy Wiseau and, I’m not exaggerating, gives the performance of his career. His Tommy is spot-on, which is both really easy and really difficult to do. Because everyone knows Tommy and everyone can do their own impression of him. But Franco plays it in such a way that it’s both an impression but also a fully-formed character. Which is kind of wonderful. And the film is just insanely funny and impeccably casted, culminating with the side-by-side comparisons of the actual scenes from the original film and the recreations using this movie’s cast. I adore this movie, and I find that even people who haven’t seen The Room love this movie, which is insane, since so much of it is predicated on knowing how crazy that one is. But that speaks to how good it is, I guess.
I, Tonya — It’s “Goodfellas with Figure Skating” as the tagline says. It’s the story of Tonya Harding, built largely around the incident with Nancy Kerrigan. It came from the writer having interviewed Harding, her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and most of the people involved and realizing they all told wildly different versions of the same story. So what he did was build a movie around those different versions, having all the characters narrate it at different points and openly contradict one another and even break the fourth wall at times. It’s wonderfully entertaining and features an incredible lead performance by Margot Robbit and a scene-stealing (Oscar-winning) performance by Allison Janney as her mother. I think everyone’s seen this movie and knows how great it is and would have it on or near their top ten for this year, but if for some reason you haven’t, then I say what the hell are you doing. The ‘Goodfellas with Figure Skates’ line isn’t a joke. That’s literally the tone and editing style of this movie, and if you love one, you’re gonna love the other.
Logan — This movie is Unforgiven but with Wolverine. That’s what it is. Hugh Jackman decided he was finished with the character after 17 years, and they decided to give him one last rodeo and have him go out with a bang. And the result is one of the greatest superhero movies ever made, and something that holds up against the Christopher Nolan Batman movies as a film that rises above the genre and becomes something truly beautiful. It’s aided heavily by Jackman having played the character for so long and being so beloved as that character. Wolverine was always the focal point of the X-Men movies, and even when they weren’t very good or when the standalone Wolverine movies weren’t any good, people still saw them and still held an affinity for the character. Which helps here, when they really went all out to make a movie about Logan, rather than having him be in another adventure. It takes place in the future when most mutants have died out and the X-Men are long gone. Logan now lives in Mexico with a 90-year-old Charles Xavier who is in the throes of dementia and is just slowly awaiting death. And then a little girl makes her way to him, on the run from some scientists and mercenaries, and he finds a reason to live again. And the film is this wonderful road trip with Logan, Xavier and the girl. It’s so incredible. Jackman gives one of the performances of his career that beautifully culminates the story of this character, and Stewart also gives a tremendous performance that really allows him to gracefully culminate his time as Xavier. I cannot say enough great things about this movie and it will go down as one of the greatest films of its genre ever made, to the point where it’s not even just a great superhero film but rather just a great film.
Loving Vincent — This film is a masterpiece. Technically speaking, this is the kind of movie you have never seen before and likely will never see again. It’s a mystery of sorts about Vincent Van Gogh, and the postman who is sent to deliver his final letter and gets involved in all the people of the town and finding out just what happened in the man’s final days. What makes the film a masterpiece is the fact that the film is comprised entirely of oil paintings. That is to say, every frame of the film was literally painted. Over 100 artists painted 853 different oil paintings that were then edited together to create the film you see. It’s a stunning achievement and by far the most beautiful-looking animated film of the past 30 years. You may not care about the film’s story at all, but if you put this movie on and just watch it for its visuals, you will be absolutely blown away by what they achieve with it, especially when you know the entire thing was made by painters, by hand. It’s one of the greatest achievements of the entire decade and probably ever.
Roman J. Israel, Esq. — Dan Gilroy’s second film, after Nightcrawler. This one was definitely misunderstood and is a much better film than the ratings and reception would suggest. Like Nightcrawler, it’s essentially an elevated B movie noir. Denzel Washington stars as a brilliant lawyer (with Asperger’s) who has been working in a broom closet firm in Downtown LA for a crusading Civil Rights attorney for the past 30+ years. Only now, when his mentor has had a stroke and is near death, he’s basically forced out. Only Colin Farrell, one of the other lawyers his mentor took on, now works at a high-priced firm and decides to take Denzel on as a favor to the mentor’s widow. Denzel, of course, hates the idea of making money without doing ‘good’, but does take the job. And the film is about Denzel, through various ways and means, ultimately losing sight of who he is and becoming the person he used to despise. I won’t spell out the entire plot here, but it’s definitely a movie that you could clearly see being made in the 50s. The character wouldn’t have Asperger’s and attention wouldn’t be paid to some of the more dramatic aspects of the story, but it’s exactly that type of movie. And I think when you watch it like that, it helps you understand what they were going for with it. Plus, Denzel is so good here. Mental disorders are tricky to play on screen, and people too often dismiss them (the way they do people with the actual disorders). I’m glad Denzel got nominated for it, because I always felt this was one of the absolute best films of this year that deserved a much wider audience than it got.
The Shape of Water — I’m surprised this movie had the impact it did. Even when I heard about it, it was “Cold War movie set in the 60s where a woman falls in love with a fish creature.” And you go, “Okay… I guess.” Because it’s Guillermo. And Guillermo makes great movies that only he could make work. But even when this came out, it is great, it was great, but then it won Best Picture, which is still insane for me to think about. But that is the film — a fairy tale of sorts with Sally Hawkins as a mute woman working at a CIA facility in the 1960s as a cleaner. And the scientists end up bringing in a mysterious sea creature they caught in the Amazon. And most of the military guys (led by Michael Shannon) want to torture it and figure out what the hell this beast is, while most of the scientists want to study it and see what they can glean from it. But Hawkins is the only one who engages the creature on its own terms, coming to an understanding with it and finding a kindred spirit. And it’s a beautiful little film. It is. Pan’s Labyrinth is Guillermo’s masterpiece, but this one is damn close. It’s just a wonderful piece of work, with great acting all around, beautiful sets and costumes and cinematography, exquisite direction and one of those stories that will just stay with you. It’s a beautiful piece of work.
– – – – – – – – – –
- All the Money in the World
- Atomic Blonde
- Darkest Hour
- Good Time
- John Wick: Chapter Two
- Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
- Lady Macbeth
- Murder on the Orient Express
- Patti Cake$
- The Post
- Spider-Man: Homecoming
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi
- Thor: Ragnarok
- Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
- Wind River
Lady Macbeth is one of my absolute favorite hidden gems of this decade. I was somewhat excited for it, just because I saw it was coming out on the same weekend that a lot of my favorite small costume dramas in previous years had come out (don’t ask. My brain works in mysterious ways), but I didn’t fully expect it to be as important a film as it was for me. It’s the story of a woman who is sold into marriage to a much older man. And the early stages are her first impressions of him, the new house, etc. And then at one point he just ups and leaves without any indication of when he’ll return. And while he’s gone, she finds herself starting to get attracted to one of the workers on the estate. Which… complicates things. And then… well, just watch the movie. It’s only 90 minutes long, and it’s incredible. Florence Pugh instantly becomes a star with this performance, and it’s one of my absolute favorite performances of the year and of the decade. She is so good in this. And the film is also really, really good. I cannot say enough great things about this movie. Hostiles is a Scott Cooper film. And he seems to be on this weird path where one of his films gets noticed and does well and the next one no one bothers to watch. Crazy Heart — everyone knows it and everyone likes it. Out of the Furnace… almost no one saw it. Black Mass — everyone knows it. And then this. This is somehow even less seen than Out of the Furnace. It’s a revisionist western that stars Christian Bale as an army captain who is tasked with transporting a Cheyenne chief and his family to his ancestral home. The idea is that Bale is a captain who’s been through the wars with the Natives and hates them because he saw the bloodshed on both sides, but of course seeing this man and his family and understanding their plight, he’s gonna come around and respect them and so on and so forth. It’s a really strong film. Stronger than anyone would ever think, especially those who don’t like westerns. The cast is insane. Aside from Bale, there’s Rosamund Pike, Jesse Plemons, Timothee Chalamet, Bill Camp, Adam Beach, Q’Orianka Kilcher, Wes Studi, Stephen Lang, Rory Cochrane, Peter Mullan and even Ben Foster shows up. It’s just a really engrossing drama that unfortunately never found the audience it deserves. I understand, to an extent, because this isn’t something I could automatically recommend to people, since given the subject matter and pacing, some people just are gonna refuse to ever see it. But it’s really good and underscores the fact that Scott Cooper has yet to make a bad movie.
Patti Cake$ is a disturbingly underseen movie that is one of the most likable I’ve seen this entire decade. It was positioned as the late summer crowd-pleaser but somehow never took off. It’s about an aspiring rapper growing up in New Jersey who only wants to become successful and get the hell out of her small town. And it’s fucking wonderful. The writer-director Geremy Jasper wrote every song that appears in the movie and they’re all so good. This movie is one of those ‘misfits coming together to make something’ movies. The way they record their album is so great and even if you don’t care about rap, you’ll find yourself invested in this one. And then there’s a great mother-daughter story alongside that to boot. It’s just a real joy of a movie that I cannot recommend highly enough. Detroit is Kathryn Bigelow’s film about the 1967 Detroit riots, centered around an incident that occurred at a motel where white officers respond to a complaint at a largely black hotel. It’s really good. Bigelow, continuing the style she started with The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty makes a really intense film that is built around sequences. And the hotel sequence itself, which takes up a good 90 minutes of the movie, is really an achievement. The film as a whole is not perfect, but it’s really good, and really worth seeing. It puts you in the middle of all this social unrest and racial tensions that sparked one of the most important events in the last half-century (not to mention the comparisons to current social events). It’s a really strong film and holds up among her previous two. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is Luc Besson’s space epic that is still relatively new and people still see as a giant disaster. Naturally, I’m here to say that I think that’s an incorrect classification. Yes, it’s expensive. No, it’s no perfect. Yes, it’s basically running the exact Fifth Element playbook to the point where you can pinpoint actual specific similarities down to narrative structure (and literal ‘same’ scenes that occur). But it’s fun as hell and there are some amazing moments in it. I think if you just take this one as pure entertainment you’ll get something out of it. Maybe it’s not as amazing as its placement on my list would suggest, but I also think it’s good enough to where if people gave it a shot, they’ll be sufficiently entertained by it. I had a real fun time with it, and I saw it in a theater (I think even maybe in 3D to boot).
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is one of the greatest surprises of the entire decade for me. I knew they were trying to make a Jumanji movie for a while and was kind of ambivalent about the whole thing. Then they made it, and while I like the cast, I wasn’t convinced that automatically meant it would be good. But the trailer seemed kinda fun and I thought I’d give it a shot. And then almost immediately, you realize that the movie’s not only good, but it’s great. The genius of the film is how they set up the characters in real life and then introduce The Rock, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart and Jack Black as the game characters as played by the real life characters. So the main/kinda shy kid becomes The Rock, who is The Rock but also kinda shy and nervous. And then the quiet girl becomes Karen Gillan, the badass “killer of men.” And the big football player becomes Kevin Hart. And then the hot girl becomes Jack Black. It’s so fucking funny and so well-written. The way they handle the characters and video game tropes is one of the most entertaining things I’ve seen in a long time. This is a movie I would not hesitate to put on for anyone. It’s so fun and so watchable and so deserving of the franchise they’re creating from it. Atomic Blonde was billed, at the time of its release, a “female John Wick.” Which I get. One of the Wick directors made the film, and it’s got that same kind of fighting style in the action scenes. If it gets people to see this, then I’m fine with it, even if it’s kind of a different thing altogether. It’s based on a graphic novel and stars Charlize Theron as an undercover agent in Berlin during the Cold War investigating the murder of another agent and finding the whereabouts of a list that contains the names of all double agents in Berlin. So it’s kind of like the first Mission Impossible meets John Wick. It’s also very 80s. The soundtrack is very pop-y, there are lots of neon colors, and it’s just a really fun movie. It’s one of those I’d be confident in saying most people will like, because it fits the mold of all the other ‘obvious’ early films people get into when they start liking movies. It’s an easy one to get a hold of and enjoy the hell out of. It’s just pure, fun action.
All the Money in the World is one of the most notorious films of the decade, given the fact that they, within the span of about a month, kicked one of its actors out of the movie (Kevin Spacey) and completely reshot the role with a different actor (Christopher Plummer). But when you get past that, it’s actually a really strong film. It’s about the John Paul Getty (III) kidnapping in the 70s and the refusal of his grandfather to pay the ransom. It’s part kidnapping movie, part ‘desperate mother trying to get her child back’ film and part family drama, dealing with Getty himself and all the shit going on there. It’s really good. Plummer arguably should have been the actor they initially cast in the role, because he’s wonderful here, and earned an Oscar nomination for his performance. Michelle Williams is also really good as his daughter-in-law, and you’ve also got Mark Wahlberg as the hired detective trying to find the kid. I really like this movie and I almost wish there weren’t any controversy surrounding the film, because it clouds how good it really is. Though of course the catch-22 there is that if there weren’t any controversy, people probably wouldn’t even know it came out and it would be harder to try to get people to see it. Still, I think this is one of Ridley’s better movies this decade and well worth the effort to go see. Wind River is the third film in Taylor Sheridan’s ‘Frontier Trilogy’, which includes Sicario and Hell or High Water. This one stars Jeremy Renner as a hunter/tracker who helps the FBI with an investigation into the death of a young girl who was found murdered on a Reservation. It’s not as flashy as Sicario and not as fun as Hell or High Water, but it’s very well made and a very emotional film. All three films in the trilogy are fantastic and this one remains the most underseen and lesser known of the group. I highly recommend people complete the entire set. Murder on the Orient Express is a Kenneth Branagh-directed (in 70mm!) adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel that was famously made in the 70s by Sidney Lumet with Albert Finney as Poirot and an amazing cast led by Sean Connery and Lauren Bacall. This version is very colorful and meant to be broader, so it includes an opening action-type sequence set in Jerusalem, but it settles into the exact murder mystery you know if you’ve seen the other version. People tried to shit on this, but I don’t see what the issue was. It’s got a big cast, it’s big, it’s emotional, it’s the same as the one I saw with Lumet. I really liked it. Branagh is fun as Poirot and the rest of the cast is very good. Production values are strong — I thought this movie was very underrated and very unfairly maligned.
Mother! is Darren Aronofsky making what might be the most ambitious movie of his career. Which is impressive since part of his career is just making ambitious films (The Fountain being the biggest example). This is a deceptively simple story about Jennifer Lawrence as the wife of Javier Bardem, living in this beautiful country house that she’s trying to fix up, while he attempts to create a masterpiece. And then some uninvited guests knock on the door, and the whole thing starts to unravel. It’s a tough movie to talk about because, if one hasn’t seen it, then you kind of giving away the game by talking about the places it goes. But also, if you have seen it, it’s so ambitious, from both a technical and narrative perspective, because the things he’s trying to do and the themes and symbolism he’s putting in the work make it much more complex a piece than anything else that came out this year. And just the production design alone in that third act is just insane. I think this never got a proper audience because it was such an immediately difficult film for viewers who were expecting something straightforward. But when you start to unpack all the things going on in this, you realize that, while you may not think it totally works and while it may be too ambitious for its own good, it’s an incredible achievement and that things would be worse if it weren’t made. Darkest Hour is the movie that won Gary Oldman his Oscar. He plays Winston Churchill here, and he’s absolutely wonderful in the role. It’s about him ascending to the role of Prime Minister and the decisions he makes in deciding whether or not to negotiate with Hitler or go to war. It’s the second of three movies to involve Dunkirk this year (this one deals with it most tangentially, but it’s there), and is directed by Joe Wright, who directs a hell of a picture. The technical aspects (production design, costumes, score) are all wonderful and it’s just a really good, classy film. I really like this one a lot. Stronger is a hugely underrated drama from David Gordon Green starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a man who lost his legs during the Boston Marathon bombing. And the film is a story of him, his struggles and his relationship with his girlfriend (played by Tatiana Maslany). It’s a really terrific film that may even be David Gordon Green’s best film. Gyllenhaal is terrific here, as is Maslany, and it’s one of the most underrated films this year in what is one of the strongest years of the entire decade.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Episode VIII. Rian Johnson takes over for J.J. Abrams. And while there’s still a lot of mixed opinions about this movie out there, it’s Star Wars. I’m not even huge into the franchise and I’ll tell you that most Star Wars content is more enjoyable than a lot of the stuff out there. I do have my quibbles about this movie (the casino sequence for starters and the way it handles some of the characters. Mostly in terms of not really giving them anything to do for large chunks of the movie or, in certain cases, for the second straight movie), but largely it’s a really entertaining piece of work that continues this new trilogy that has become its own thing. It’s funny… the first movie gave you the same thing but different, essentially remaking A New Hope, and then this movie tried to be its own thing and grow on its own, and people flipped the fuck out over that. I think it was a really bold move to (literally) throw the entire previous movie over the side of a cliff, and I like that Rian Johnson made the kind of movie he’d want to see made within this universe. I don’t hold these movies sacred, so all I can tell you is about my own enjoyment of the film in relation to the others… and I really enjoy it. While I did enjoy Force Awakens more during the initial watch, I will say that in the long run, I’d rather them having went and tried stuff than play it safe and just placate the audience.
The Post is Steven Spielberg’s film about the Pentagon Papers. It’s a spiritual prequel (that he inexplicably turns into an actual prequel) to All the President’s Men, and it’s about Daniel Ellsberg discovering the Papers, getting his hands on them and then giving them to the Washington Post, who, under the leadership of owner Katharine Graham and editor Ben Bradlee (played by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, naturally), have to decide whether or not to print one of the biggest scoops in American journalism history. It’s a really strong film and highlight’s Spielberg’s strengths as a director. It’s like Lincoln. It’s about big political and historical stuff, yet he makes it watchable and helps you digest the material even if you don’t think you’re particularly interested in it. You get Hanks and Streep doing their thing (to which Spielberg gives a big, flashy unbroken take in their first scene together), but really where the film shines is when you get into the nitty gritty of the journalism, with all the staff members huddled inside Bradlee’s house, going through the papers and figuring out the legality and ethics of it all, while also just trying to write the damn story on deadline. It’s a really wonderful film. The worst thing I can say about it is that it continues a somewhat alarming trend of Spielberg adding extra unnecessary endings onto his movies. The 2010s feels like the decade of unnecessary endings from him, and I don’t understand it. But other than that, the film is fantastic. It’s Spielberg, though. You know what you’re getting. John Wick: Chapter Two is the sequel. And it confirmed what we all thought — that first movie was meant to be a franchise. The hints at the deeper world of the Continental and the other hitman — they just go nuts with it, and it’s awesome. They introduce some great new characters and give Keanu more chance to headshot some randos, it’s a perfect sequel. And it establishes this as one of the best action franchises out there.
Thor: Ragnarok is the third one, and the one that completely turned around the entire franchise, turning Thor into one of the best characters in the entire Marvel Universe. The first Thor was fine, the second one was the worst Marvel Universe film they’ve made, and Thor in the Avengers is just kind of there. Occasional jokes but mostly kept on the sidelines because for the most part he’s been more powerful than the threats they face. But here, they do something different. And all credit has to go to Taika Waititi for that. He builds Thor from the ground up. Odin dies, he loses the hammer, he loses an eye, and now he’s gotta reinvent himself. And so Waititi turns it into a road movie with Thor and Hulk (and Loki thrown in for good measure). And it’s truly one of the best movies Marvel’s ever made. It’s hilariously entertaining. This is one of those Marvel movies you can just enjoy on its own as a movie. Not only are Thor and Loki great, but you also get Tessa Thompson and Jeff Goldblum on top of a (for once) funny Hulk. It’s the total package. Spider-Man: Homecoming, meanwhile, was the first time Marvel was able to properly make a Spider-Man movie. And I had my doubts, just because Sony fucked up the franchise twice in less than a decade. But they take a different route to the character and remind everyone why Spider-Man is truly the best superhero in the entire Marvel comics universe. Cinematic universe, okay, take Stark, take Rogers, maybe Thor now. But comics? Spider-Man’s the best. Who doesn’t love Spider-Man? And they introduced the character in Civil War, which leads to a very fun opening sequence to the film and really just grounds you into the world of the character in a way that felt fun and refreshing. And really, the choice they make is to both make this a high school movie and also limit its scope. Stark is there, but he’s there to say, “Just stick to the neighborhood.” And that’s what the movie does. It’s smaller in scale and focuses on Spider-Man, and that’s what makes it work so well. Also, I’ve gotten on Marvel so many times for having underwritten villains in their movies (Thanos being the one real exclusion, though it took them about four movies to really make him worthwhile), but what they do here with Michael Keaton actually made me sit up in a theater and go, “Whoa.” Because that’s where this crosses over from good Marvel movie to straight up good movie. Pound for pound, this might be the single best year in the history of Marvel. They released three movies — two of them sequels and one basically a sequel since it’s the sixth film for the character in 15 years — and all of them are not only good, but among the best the studio has ever put out.
Okja is a Bong Joon Ho masterpiece and social satire. It’s about a giant company that has created giant, genetically-modified superpigs. They ship them to farmers in a bunch of countries around the world to be raised, with the idea being that whoever has the biggest at the end of a certain amount of time will be declared the winner. And so we follow one of these farmers, in Korea, and his granddaughter, who has become best friends with the pig. Only now, the company has come back to check on the pig. And, finding it to be the biggest of the ones they sent out, declare it the winner and take it away from the girl. Only she’s determined to get it back… and as she goes on her adventure to do so, we find out a lot more of what the deal is with the pigs and what exactly she’s fighting for. It’s a fantastic film. It’s really sweet and touching. Also, Jake Gyllenhaal is incredible in this. There’s no way to describe his character in this other than “perfect.” Also Tilda Swinton. The beautiful thing about her character is that you watch it and go, “Wait… that’s it? That seems pretty normal.” Because you’re always expecting that thing that makes it a weird, unique, Tilda character. And then about an hour or so into the movie, you realize, “Oh… there it is.” It’s one of the best movies of the year and one of the best Netflix has ever put out. Good Time is the Safdie brothers making one of the more thrilling films of 2017. It’s an indie crime drama that stars Robert Pattinson as a man who robs a bank in Brooklyn with his brother, only for it to go badly and for his brother to get arrested. So now, he’s on the run from cops and trying to get his brother back. And it’s just a great film that takes place over the course of a single day. It’s urgent, it’s beautifully shot, and Pattinson gives one of the best performances of his career. It’s just a wonderful film.
– – – – – – – – – –
- Battle of the Sexes
- Brigsby Bear
- Dave Made a Maze
- Five Came Back
- Free Fire
- Get Out
- The Killing of a Sacred Deer
- The Lost City of Z
- Mary and the Witch’s Flower
- Rolling Stone: Stories from the Edge
- Their Finest
- War for the Planet of the Apes
- Wonder Woman
Five Came Back
Rolling Stone: Stories from the Edge
Novitiate is a fantastic movie starring Margaret Qualley as a young woman who decides she’s going to become a nun. It takes place in the 60s, just as the Vatican was starting to ease their archaic rules for clergy members. Only Melissa Leo, the head nun at the convent where Qualley is training, very much wants to go by the strict, archaic rules. So, for a time within the film, she’s a sort of Nurse Ratched of the nunnery. And the film is about Qualley’s journey through her training as well as her own journey of self-discovery about who she is and what she wants. She’s terrific here, as is Julianne Nicholson who plays her mother. I really like this one a lot and I think it’s one of the great hidden gems of the decade. Get Out is the biggest film phenomenon of 2017. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut and one of the smartest social satires of the decade. It’s a thriller centered around a black man going to meet his white girlfriend’s family. And… well, things don’t go as planned. It’s a very darkly funny movie that hits on a lot of prescient racial topics. I don’t know if it’s as good as the hype would have you believe, but it’s a very good movie and sometimes the hype is necessary to make sure things have proper audiences. Battle of the Sexes is the story of the iconic tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Emma Stone stars as King and Steve Carell plays Riggs. And it’s directed by Dayton and Faris, who made Little Miss Sunshine. It’s just a really solid movie with great performances that works as both a social drama and sports movie. A little heavy-handed at times, but it’s evened out by a great central performance from Stone and a fun turn by Carell. Free Fire is a very cool action movie with a simple premise: a bunch of people in a warehouse shooting guns at one another. That’s it. That’s the movie. A bunch of people end up in there, each with an agenda, the shit hits the fan, and then everyone’s shooting at each other. Stars Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sharlton Copley, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor — it’s easy and it’s fun.
Tramps is a wonderful little indie movie that remains one of the best Netflix Originals they’ve ever put out. It’s only about 80 minutes long, but feels wholly complete in every way. It stars Callum Turner and Grace Van Patten. He plays the son of an immigrant whose brother gets picked up by the cops right before he’s due to complete a very important job. So he has to do it in his brother’s stead. It involves going to a train station, finding a woman with a particular bag who will leave it on the ground for him to make a switch, then picking it up and then giving it to a woman he doesn’t know, and getting some money out of the deal. Only, when he makes the switch, he realizes it’s the wrong woman and the wrong bag. So now he and Van Patten, who plays the person who was supposed to get the right bag from him, have to go around and find the woman who has their bag so they can deliver it to the right person. And while it’s a bit of a drama with some crime elements, at its heart it’s kind of a romance. It’s a really sweet movie with great lead performances that is one of the most underrated and underseen gems of this year and this decade. Mudbound is a racial drama that was touted as the ‘next big’ Netflix movie after Beasts of No Nation. It’s the story of two families in the South in the 40s. One family is headed by Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan and the other by Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige. Clarke’s younger brother (Garrett Hedlund) and Morgan and Blige’s oldest son (Jason Mitchell) both go fight in World War II, and upon coming back, become friendly, having shared the experience of being in war and being able to see past the petty racial shit that still inhabits where they live. It’s a really strong film, though I will admit… it takes a while to get going. The first 30 minutes are setting up the families and giving you family history and all that, and it can be a slog to get through. But once the Hedlund/Mitchell stuff gets going, the film certainly picks up. It’s a strong piece of work.
Wonder is a movie I was completely expecting to hate. I went to a theater on, I’m pretty sure, Thanksgiving Day or weekend, fully expecting it to be garbage. I was excited to hate on it and ready to tear into it on this site. And then, something happened… I found myself not hating it when it started. And then twenty minutes later I found I actually was liking it. And then, about forty minutes in, I was really liking it. There’s a point in the film where it completely shifts perspectives to the sister that made me realize, “Oh fuck, this is a really good movie.” It stars Jacob Tremblay as a boy born with a facial deformity that makes it difficult for him to go out in public without people staring and making him feel weird. Only now, he has to enter public school for the first time. And that’s it. That’s the film. That’s all you need. Tremblay is fantastic here, and even Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts are fantastic as the parents. I’ve shown this to a bunch of people, none of whom had any expectations for this going in, and every single one of them came out going, “I really liked that.” It’s truly a good movie. Go look at the reviews and the ratings… they’re really good. This is one of those movies that is truly one of the best of this year (in a year with a lot of great movies). Everyone should see this. It is good and it will make you feel good. Landline is Gillian Robespierre’s followup to Obvious Child. This one also stars Jenny Slate and also John Turturro, Edie Falco, Jay Duplass and Abby Quinn (who is fantastic in this). It takes place in the 90s, when, yes, people had (insert title here)s and had to use payphones and it was the early days of AOL and the internet. Quinn and Slate play sisters who discover that their father (Turturro) is having an affair. Falco is, of course, the mother. And it’s great. It’s a great mix of comedy and drama and just a really fantastic film. It didn’t get the notices that Obvious Child did but it’s every bit as good a film.
Colossal is one of the craziest premises you’ll ever hear, which is what made me as surprised as anyone when it was actually a really good movie. The premise is: Anne Hathaway discovers that she has the ability to interact with/control a giant Godzilla monster that is destroying Korea. Yeah, that’s the movie. It’s the Anne Hathaway/Godzilla movie. But it’s not even about that. It’s about her as a fuckup, drinking too much and making bad decisions, and it’s about her taking her life in her own hands and becoming a better person. And it’s fucking wonderful. Hathaway gives one of the best performances of the year and this is a movie that is the perfect package. It gets you in on a great concept and then gives you something you were not expecting, which is so much more than you ever thought you could get from this. It’s one of the most emotionally-fulfilling movies I saw this decade. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is Yorgos Lanthimos, and man, if you thought the Lobster was weird, Yorgos just said, “Hold my deer.” It stars Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy and Bill Camp, and it’s weird as shit. Don’t even know how to explain it except to say — did you like The Lobster? Do you want to go weirder? Then this is the movie for you. It’s hard to go back from The Favourite to this, but if you go from The Lobster or Dogtooth to this, it’s not the biggest jump in the world. This movie is admittedly not gonna be for everyone. But if you get Yorgos and you like Yorgos, you’re gonna enjoy this one. This is such a funny movie in such a weird way. I didn’t laugh harder at the movies this year then I did during this, watching Colin Farrell spinning around in a circle. Also, the line, “You have to taste her tart” alone… this is just a weird, hilarious, dark movie.
Dave Made a Maze is a movie that I absolutely adore. It’s one of the movies that brings out the inner child in me (not that it needed the encouragement, but you know what I mean). It’s the story of a guy who builds a giant cardboard box fort in his living room and, from the perspective of everyone outside, refuses to come out of it. So they go in after him. And it turns into this beautiful adventure, when it turns out there’s so much more to the maze than they anticipated. It’s just wonderful. The entire inside of the maze is made with boxes and paper and string and all art supply items, which only adds to the magic of it all. If this movie doesn’t bring out the inner child in you and remind you of that imagination we all had when we were six, then you might want to reconsider your choices in life. Wonder Woman is the movie that saved the DC Universe. Batman v. Superman was garbage and Suicide Squad was also terrible. So now, this was their only hope at having anyone give a shit about one of their movies leading into Justice League (which was also a disaster, leading into Aquaman, which was outright bland). And yet… this one shines through. It is a film that is less than the sum of its parts, and while I will admit to it not being a great movie, it’s also kind of a great movie. The plot is very standard and you know where it’s going and you can even spot the twist like 90 minutes before it happens. But there’s something that really works about this. Gal Gadot is utterly charming, her chemistry with Chris Pine is fantastic, and there’s just something really empowering and uplifting about this movie that shines above the pile of dogshit that is the rest of the DC Universe. That No Man’s Land scene alone is one of the best this year has to offer. And while it might not be a ‘better’ movie than some of the ones in the lower tiers on this list, it’s a movie that feels more important and just spiritually makes me feel like it’s better. I don’t know how to explain it. As much as I hate all of what DC is now, I will always speak well of this movie. War for the Planet of the Apes is the finale to the trilogy. It finishes up the story they started with ‘Rise’ and continued with ‘Dawn’. This trilogy is, essentially, the story of Caesar, and this finishes that up nicely. All three of the films are very solid and very well made. Not much to add. It’s just a good movie.
Their Finest is a wonderful British ensemble film and a hugely underrated movie. This is the kind of movie that everyone will see and go, “That was really solid.” And you’ll wonder why you hadn’t heard about it before. I know, because I’ve seen it happen to a bunch of people, and the movie is relatively recent. It’s about a lot of things, but we’ll focus on the main story — Britain is looking to make a propaganda film to boost morale during World War II and the Blitz, so they decide to make a film about a particular boat that went out during the Dunkirk Operation (oh, did I mention, it’s the third of the three Dunkirk-related movies this year). And that’s the movie. They’re setting out to make this film. And you’ve got Gemma Arterton as the ‘woman writer’ who is talented but only is brought on to handle the dialogue for the women and is given no responsibility whatsoever. You’ve got Bill Nighy as the aging leading man who is slowly realizing it’s time he plays the ‘grandpa’ roles. It’s that kind of movie. It’s really likable, and it’s got comedy, drama, the full package. This is one of the better movies of the year and one of those movies that is sure to please almost anyone who sees it. Mary and the Witch’s Flower is not a Ghibli movie, but it’s basically a Ghibli movie. Its director was a Ghibli animator for many years and the film certainly feels like a Ghibli movie in many regards. And as such, it’s a wonderful film. It’s about a girl who is living with her aunt in the country and is bored out of her mind. Only when she ventures into the forest, she finds a rare flower and a broomstick that transport her to a magical realm where she is able to learn magic and train to be a witch. It’s really terrific. If you like the Ghibli stuff, just watch this. It’s as good as all of that stuff. Wheelman is an awesome movie. It’s an easy one to pitch. Did you see Locke? Tom Hardy in a car for the entire run time? Well this is that, only mixed with Drive. Frank Grillo is a getaway driver. Only the job goes wrong, so now he’s driving around town trying to figure out what the hell happened and stay alive. And the film takes place almost entirely inside his car (save the last like, five to ten minutes). It’s great, it’s tense, Grillo is fantastic, and it’s just an awesomely fun movie to watch. Pure cable thriller. And it’s one of the earlier Netflix movies, so it fits perfectly with the idea of a solid movie you can just watch anytime. I’m a big fan of this one.
The Lost City of Z is, to this point, James Gray’s best film, and went completely underseen upon its release. There’s something about his movies that people turn a blind eye to when they come out, even though they always get great reviews. This one is an Aguirre-type movie about a British explorer who is convinced there is a fabled mythical civilization in the Amazon and spends years searching for it. It’s a terrific film with Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson (who is particularly good here), Sienna Miller and Tom Holland. There’s a lot of jungle stuff here, but it’s a really engaging drama that I like a lot. Brigsby Bear is a really sweet little movie. It’s about a boy who has been raised in an underground bunker, separated from society, by his deeply religious parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams). All he knows of the outside world is this show, “Brigsby Bear,” which is a low rent kids show that imparts life lessons and teaches him things. And he loves it. Then one day, the FBI comes and raids the place. Turns out, his “parents” kidnapped him from another family. So they’re arrested and he’s now sent out into the world, which he knows nothing about. He spends time with his biological family and finds out that his favorite show isn’t actually real. Turns out, it’s something his kidnappers produced on their own to entertain him. But when they were kidnapped, the show stopped. At a cliffhanger. So now he’s determined (as a form of closure) to go finish the show on his own terms. It’s a very, very sweet film that is one that will surprise you with how good it is. I had very low expectations for this one going in and it turned out to be one of the more satisfying experiences of this year for me.
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- Alien: Covenant
- American Made
- The Bad Batch
- Borg vs. McEnroe
- The Breadwinner
- Carrie Pilby
- Girls Trip
- The Greatest Showman
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
- Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond
- Kingsman: The Golden Circle
- Last Flag Flying
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
- Score: A Film Music Documentary
Norman is a great little indie and another great, underseen, unheralded Richard Gere performance. The official subtitle of this film is “The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer,” which I always love mentioning because it’s just wonderful. Gere plays a hustler who is just trying to make something happen for himself. He always knows a guy who knows a guy who has an in and can help you with this or that. One of these times, it actually pays off. He helps a guy who is in need and that guy ends up becoming Prime Minister of Israel. So now, he actually knows a guy. But of course, as the subtitle will tell you, it’s not as easy as it seems. It’s a really good drama with a fantastic performance by Gere. Gere is one of the most underappreciated actors of our time and this film and performance really deserve to be seen. Loveless is Andrey Zvyagintsev. I love The Return a lot and most people will know Leviathan. This is probably somewhat known by people, as it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, but I’m sure it’s not something people will overly fawn over, because it’s not an easy movie to watch. It’s about a divorcing couple whose son disappears during one of their arguments. And it’s just fucking bleak. It’s an amazing movie, though. Zvyagintsev makes really solid, really intense dramas and this is a film I do recommend, albeit with a warning of how depressing it is. Raw is an awesome foreign horror movie. It’s about a girl who was raised as a vegetarian and goes through a college hazing ritual where she has to eat raw meat. And then, afterward, she discovers she has a real taste for it… and things go from there. Better if that’s all you know. It’s a really strong film. It’ll fuck you up. It’s some great body horror.
Borg vs. McEnroe is a great and underseen sports movie about the famous feud between the two tennis players, specifically detailing their 1980 match at Wimbledon. Borg was going for his fifth Wimbledon in a row and reaching the end of his career and McEnroe was the ascending star and ‘bad boy’ of tennis. And the film just details both of their attitudes going into that match. Sverrir Gudnason, who plays Borg, looks just like him, while Shia LaBeouf, who plays McEnroe, isn’t exactly a dead ringer but spiritually is pitch perfect casting. It’s a really tightly-directed film that’s very good and very worth watching. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is the fifth one. I’m surprised they got this far, but I think this was the one where they realized they can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting to keep making the same money. They tried to ‘get back to basics’ with this one, which basically just means bringing back the original cast. Orlando Bloom is back and trying to undo his curse, Geoffrey Rush is again a star (not that he wasn’t in the fourth one, but he’s back and playing off of Depp), Knightley even pops up for a second (they even hint at Davey Jones being alive) and Depp is doing more of his antics as per usual. They bring in a new young couple to take over for Bloom and Knightley. It’s… fine. Javier Bardem is a CGI villain. I enjoy this franchise and I always have, but at this point, while there were some interesting moments, it didn’t feel like there was anything really propelling this one like there was in the original three. So, if you enjoy these movies, it’s fun, it’s fine and it’s probably worth seeing over some other random stuff from this year. Though really, what you want are those first ones.
The Bad Batch is Ana Lily Amirpour’s followup to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Apparently no one liked this because it took them almost a year to put it out and even then they dumped it on VOD and no one saw it. It stars Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves and Jim Carrey. And you most likely haven’t heard about it. Isn’t that nuts? The premise is that America has decided to give up on certain criminals and has allocated a portion of Texas to house all the unredeemable criminals. It’s fenced off and anything that happens inside is legal. Basically, let the animals kill themselves. Waterhouse plays a woman who is sent to this place and it’s her story of survival. There are cannibals, Keanu Reeves is a cult leader called “The Dream,” Jim Carrey is this weird homeless dude who doesn’t speak — it’s a weird fucking movie. But I enjoyed the shit out of it. It’s not gonna be for everyone, but I thought this was a great experience. Only the Brave is a weirdly underrated firefighter movie. It’s directed by Joseph Kosinski, who did Tron, Oblivion and the Top Gun sequel and stars Miles Teller, Josh Brolin and Jeff Bridges and a bunch of other famous faces. And it’s about the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of firefighters who help put out California Wildfires. It’s kind of by the numbers as far as these movies go, and it’ll never compare to Backdraft, but it’s a really solid film that came and went and no one really paid attention to it. I had to see it on a plane because it had such a small release and no one bothered to see it. It’s really solid. Score: A Film Music Documentary is just a great documentary about film composers. And you hear about their working methods, the problems that often come with the job (typically having like three weeks to come up with a score after another composer quits or is fired, or fighting for their original music when the director becomes enamored with placeholder temp music that’s only meant to evoke what should be there instead) and the beauty that happens when everything goes well. There’s a moment in this that gives me goosebumps, where a composer goes to work at a place where he says “John Williams did Phantom Menace,” and then they abruptly cut to footage of that, of the choir singing the opening of “Duel of the Fates.” Which — man. Mostly this is a celebration of film music, which has started to become increasingly devalued in recent years, and it shows just how much a good score can enhance the overall experience of a film.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the sequel. And it’s a really bold choice for a sequel that I respect the hell out of. The film gets deeper into the characters. Gunn really dives deep on the sister relationship and goes into Quill’s past and his relationship to his father(s). It’s tonally a bit different from the first one, but I really respect it for trying to really do something different and not just stick with the same old thing by just doing the first movie again, only slightly differently. Of course, we’ll see if it means anything by the time we get to that third one to see if he can stick the landing, but this is a very worthy sequel and one of the better Part II’s that Marvel has put out. It is a movie that I had no expectations for when I heard they were gonna make it. Stephen King adaptations these days tend to be either mediocre or straight up bad (the Carrie remake with Chloe Moretz, Cell with John Cusack, The Dark Tower, Gerald’s Game, 1922, Pet Sematary). But then a couple months before it came out they released the trailer… and it actually looked good. And then you realize Cary Fukunaga developed the material for a long time (even if he didn’t end up directing it). And he’s not an assembly line horror director. So you think, “Oh, this might actually be good.” And then the reviews are good. So I did something I never do with these kinds of movies… go see it in a theater. And it’s actually a good movie. I have problems with it, but overall, it’s a very engaging film. Because it’s about the characters and isn’t trying to throw supernatural jump scares at you. It gives a shit about the people it’s about. And it limits the scenes of the clown so as to really enhance whenever he’s on screen. It’s just a good horror movie, which is something I never say for something of this budget level. Of course, they fucked up the sequel because they didn’t take the care Cary Fukunaga did with the characters and descended into assembly line horror, but this one still holds up as a really solid film that has a lot of heart in it.
Last Flag Flying is Richard Linklater’s sequel (of sorts) to The Last Detail. The author of The Last Detail wrote a sequel book and Linklater based his movie on that. It’s more of a spiritual sequel to The Last Detail, since you can never replicate Nicholson. He even renames the character so as to let the film stand on its own. But they’re essentially the same characters. Bryan Cranston plays the Nicholson character, while Steve Carell plays the Randy Quaid character and Laurence Fishburne plays the Otis Young character. And the film is based around the three reuniting thirty years later to bury Carell’s son, who died while fighting in Iraq. And it’s just a road trip movie. It’s really solid, as all Linklater films are, and it’s just a very underrated film (as most Linklater films are). American Made is an interesting movie. To me, it’s a bit of a disappointment, but to most people it’s a really solid movie that they might not have heard about when it came out. Which is odd, since it stars Tom Cruise and is directed by Doug Liman who directed him in Edge of Tomorrow. However, I will say that perhaps the film was better suited to have been directed by someone else and have starred someone else. Because it’s about a pilot who became a drug runner in the 80s during Iran-Contra. And the inherent issue in that is, sure, it’s a cool little crime movie with Tom Cruise, but the real dude is not a good guy. He fucking murdered people. And because it’s Cruise, they can’t really tarnish that likability, even if they try to. But the problem is, they don’t try to. It’s not like Collateral. He’s not playing a villain. So to me, the movie, while very fun and breezy and really worth seeing, does not achieve the kind of heights it could if it had a director that could have convinced Cruise to really get into the dark and dramatic undertones of the story rather than trying to make it like Blow. But, given that almost not one knows this exists or that their most likely reaction is “Oh, yeah, I heard of that but never saw it,” it’s really worth seeing.
The Greatest Showman is Hugh Jackman’s musical about P.T. Barnum that he’d been trying to make for at least a decade. I’ve been waiting for them to actually film this forever. And I think he sort of leveraged his run as Wolverine/Logan to finally get this one done. And honestly, the result almost was a bit of a mess, but this made a shit ton of money and a lot of people saw it. I don’t know what they actually thought about it, since no one really talks about it. But I remember going to see this in a theater, expecting a disaster and immediately cringing during the credits and seeing six credited editors. Plus, there’s the whole fact that Barnum isn’t really the proper guy to make a musical about, since it portrays him as a dreamer, yet clearly he had some unscrupulous business practices and took advantage of some marginalized people in his acts. But you know… you have to work your way through that. The film, is admittedly, a bit of a mess, but not a complete mess. I don’t know what they were trying to do here, but the finished result is an original musical that runs less than two hours. No musical should run less than two hours, and honestly most should probably be in the 130-150 minute range. You need time to stage the songs. This one is edited down almost to a giant music video, to the point where the opening song/scenes are literally edited down to a montage and you get no character development whatsoever. It’s crazy. And the movie just speeds along like a highlight reel. It was probably better served as a stage show first to see what works and what doesn’t, and then they make the film. Because, and this is the saving grace of the film… the songs are really good. The guys who wrote the La La Land songs wrote these. And every song in this movie is incredibly well-written, very catchy, and very perfect for a stage show. And I feel like if they gave the show/film the proper time to show all these characters, it would have been better. I still like it and see a lot of great clay for a better sculpture, but I just feel like they lucked into a major hit by savaging the actual product. Oh well. What we have is a decent movie with some great stuff in it that will eventually become a hit stage show because the songs are too good to just let die. And maybe that’ll ultimately be a good thing. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the sequel. Bigger, crazier shit, more technology, American counterparts. You know the franchise by now… it’s just fun. It’s crazy comic book action and never taking itself too seriously. What’s not to enjoy?
Prevenge is a wonderful horror film. Alice Lowe writes, directs and stars, and that makes the whole thing so much better. It’s about a woman who is seven months pregnant and begins hearing the voice of her unborn fetus telling her to murder people. It’s… so fucked up and hilarious. There are such funny moments in this movie and clearly, it’s the result of a woman who was pregnant writing about her situation. This is a great little horror comedy and should definitely be seen. Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond is a terrific documentary about the infamous behind-the-scenes of Man on the Moon, where Jim Carrey famously stayed in character as Andy Kaufman, which pretty much pissed off nearly everyone else who worked on the film. And it’s both a fascinating and psychotic look at just how far someone can go in service of playing a role. The stories here are just incredible, including the time when Carrey sent someone dressed as Tony Clifton to a Playboy Mansion party, and everyone just assumed it was Jim in costume… until Jim showed up as himself an hour later. It’s insane, even for people who work in film and see this shit all the time. Split is M. Night Shyamalan actually making a good movie for the first time in over a decade. Probably his best since Signs. It’s a low budget thriller that doesn’t try to do too much (for most of the run time, that is). It’s about a girl who gets kidnapped and held by a man with 20-something multiple personalities. We only see like six of them, but he’s supposedly got 20. And the film is her being locked up, learning about the different personalities and using her brains to try to get out of there. And it’s a really solid film. Anya Taylor-Joy is very good, as is James McAvoy. Even Shyamalan’s tendency toward bad writing doesn’t hurt the film that much. The worst thing it does is the final scene, which, I can say now, sets up the movie Glass, which is just an abomination and ruins every ounce of good will he earned with this one. Still, 95% of this movie is very worthwhile and reminds you of what a good filmmaker he can be.
Carrie Pilby is a movie that is very much up my alley that I’m sure will not be for everyone. I stumbled upon it because I saw Bel Powley in both Diary of a Teenage Girl and A Royal Night Out in the same year and immediately became interested in anything she was in. Here, she plays a very intelligent woman who is incapable of existing in the world because she’s simply too smart for it. So she overanalyzes everything and can’t function the way normal people do And the movie is her trying to come to terms with all that and becomes a sweet little romance. This is one of the kinds of movies I grew up on, so I’ll always be partial to it. I think this is a nice little gem that’s worth seeing. Alien: Covenant is a direct sequel to Prometheus. Though more of an indirect sequel to Prometheus, because literally everyone from Prometheus save Michael Fassbender’s android is dead by the time the movie starts. But it is intended to further bridge the gap to Alien and show you how the Xenomorphs came about. It’s got a similar plot to Alien in a way — group of people on a ship stop on a distant planet, and things go wrong. You get double the Fassbender here, which is great, and includes the sexiest recorder scene in movie history. It’s a solid movie, if a weak film for the Alien franchise, which is basically rife with weak films for the franchise outside of the first two. But the cast is good and it’s a solid movie with Xenomorphs. So I’m fine with it. Girls Trip is a comedy that came out of nowhere to become one of the biggest hits of the year. And I went in thinking there was no way it could be as funny as its success made it seem, but it is. It’s a really funny movie. Anchored, of course, by Tiffany Haddish, who became an instant star for what she did in this movie. It’s just a very funny comedy. Not destined to go down as an all-timer, but is definitely one of the funnier movies of this decade.
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