Nate’s Best, Worst of 2017, and Improbably Makes America Great Again (at the Movies)
We did it America. We made it through a whole new year together and under such calamitous news delivered on a daily basis. This was most certainly a year where the movies were looked to as an escape, and plenty came through. It was a banner year for genre filmmaking, beginning just weeks into the new year with M. Night Shyamalan’s comeback, Split, followed up by Jordan Peele’s zeitgeist breakout Get Out, a rock-em-sock-em Kong: Skull Island, and the mature, elegiac conclusion of Logan. It was another great year for Marvel, an iffy though maybe rebounding one for DCU, and even high-profile sequels of much-beloved genre classics turned out agreeable, like Blade Runner 2049 and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (possibly the only time both movies will be in the same sentence). This was a year of precise artistic visions that straddled tones from Darren Aronofsky, Guilermo del Toro, Martin McDonagh, Yorgos Lathimos, Greta Gerwig, Andy Muschietti and Taika Waititi. Also, of the 100+ movies I saw this year, none earned a lowly F grade, so that’s a relief (see you again soon, Dinesh D’Souza). I invite you, dear reader, to follow along as I review the finest films, the lowest lows, and many of the intriguing and mystifying moments that highlighted the world of cinema.
But before going into all that 2017 had to offer at the theater, let’s turn back the clocks once more as I take another crack at my top ten list from 2016. There weren’t too many changes after catching later releases but upon review:
2016 Top Ten List 2.0
10) Pete’s Dragon (unchanged)
9) Moana (moved down from 8)
8) Zootopia (moved down from 7)
7) Midnight Special (moved down from 5)
6) The Lobster (unchanged)
5) The Handmaiden (moved up from 9)
4) Captain America: Civil War (unchanged)
3) Moonlight (unchanged)
2) Swiss Army Man (unchanged)
1) O.J.: Made in America (unchanged)
And now ladies and gentlemen, on with the big show.
PART ONE: BEST/WORST FILMS OF 2017
Thank goodness for the success of Deadpool because Logan is the X-Men movie, and in particular the Wolverine movie, I’ve been waiting for since the mutants burst onto the big screen some seventeen years ago. We’ve been watching Wolverine and Professor Xavier across nine films. These characters have gotten old, tired, and they carry their years like taciturn gunslingers looking for solitude and trying to justify the regrets of their lives. It’s a surprisingly emotional, serious, and altogether mature final chapter, one that provides just as many enjoyable character moments and stretches of ruminative silence as it does jolts of gritty, dirty, hard-charging action and bloody violence. It’s as much a character study as it is a superhero movie or Western. I cannot imagine this story as a watered down, PG-13 neutered version of what I saw on screen. This is a movie for adults and it pays great justice to the characters and the demands of the audience. The final image is note-perfect and can speak volumes about the ultimate legacy of Wolverine and by extension Xavier and his school for gifted youngsters. Logan is the second-best X-Men movie (First Class still rules the roost) and a thoughtful and poignant finish that left me dizzy with happiness, emotionally drained, and extremely satisfied as a longtime fan.
9) The Killing of a Sacred Deer
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a movie that invites discussion, analysis, and just a general debriefing in the “what the hell did I just watch?” vein. This is a movie experience that calls upon the full range of human emotions, and sometimes in the same moment. Lanthimos’ modern Greek tragedy serves up a self-aware critique of its own genre, as he puts his personal stamp on the serial killer thriller. This is also an alienating film that doesn’t try to be accessible for a wider audience. It almost feels like Andy Kaufman doing an experiment replicating Stanley Kubrick (and it was filmed in Cincinnati). Even if you loved Lathimos’ most high profile work, The Lobster, I don’t know if you’d feel the same way about Killing of a Sacred Deer. It wears its off-putting and moody nature as a badge of honor. I found it equally ridiculous and compelling, reflective and over-the-top, sardonic and serious. Dear reader, I have no idea what you’ll think of this thing. If you’re game for a demanding and unique filmgoing experience and don’t mind being pushed in painfully awkward places, then drop into the stunning world of Lanthimos’ purely twisted imagination. Killing of a Sacred Deer just gets better the more I dissect it, finding new meaning and connections. If you can handle its burdens of discomfort, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is one of the most memorable films of the year and also one of the best.
8) Molly’s Game
Molly’s Game is Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, clearly having studied at the altar of David Fincher, and he packs a lot into his 140 minutes chronicling the rise and fall of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a former Olympic hopeful who found herself running an expensive, private series of poker games. She’s drawn into an unfamiliar world and through her tenacious grit, preparation, and fortitude, she is able to become a fixture amongst the rich. Then the FBI comes knocking and wants to charge her in conjunction with being part of a Russian money laundering operation. Driven by a fierce performance from Chastain, Molly’s Game is a gloriously entertaining movie that glides by. It burns through so much plot so quickly, so much information, that you feel like you might have downloaded Bloom’s book while watching. The musical Sorkin dialogue has never sounded better than through the chagrined, take-no-prisoners Chastain. The snappy dialogue pops, the characters are richly realized, and even during its more outlandish moments, like a surprise paternal reunion therapy session, Sorkin packs multiple movies of entertainment in one brisk, excellently manicured production.
7) The Big Sick
The Big Sick succeeds wildly because it gets the most fundamental principal of storytelling right: we care about the characters. The movie’s sense of people is so warm-hearted and open, you just want to spend more time with them all, and it’s a simple yet beautiful pleasure to watch them connect. I was laughing from start to finish and there’s a consistent placement of jokes doled out in regular intervals. And when I was laughing it was the room-clearing guffaws. I can’t remember a movie in recent years that had me laughing as hard. The Big Sick is a big crowd-pleaser, lifted to great heights by terrific acting, writing, and direction from Michael Showalter. The director actually lampooned rom-com clichés in the hilarious satire, They Came Together, so having someone as instinctively skilled like Showalter guide the production helps steer away from the more expected genre moments. There are a handful of moments that feel pulled in from the Hollywood version of this story (Kumail’s big break timed with a very personal crossroads) but it mostly works on its own terms. These people are layered, allowed to be flawed and interesting human beings. It’s an unsentimental movie that finds ways to big emotions that feel completely earned. If you’re ailing for an enjoyable, funny, and heart-warming movie that respects your intelligence, try The Big Sick.
Taking a cue from Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, Pixar’s newest animated wonder is a leap into a fantasy world with a young protagonist trying to get back to his family through trials of courage. This is a pretty dense film with a lot of rules to remember and yet the movie’s wonderfully structured story doesn’t give you more than you can handle. One rule leads to another organically, and you’re fully invested in the world and the characters. The Mexican culture and heritage is portrayed with extreme reverence while still being playful. This is a movie about death that treats it seriously but can still have fun when it counts. It’s lively, joyful, and sneaks up on you emotionally, as all great Pixar movies seem to do. I was wiping away tears by the end, and I’m sure fathers will be wiping away even more. The screenplay takes staid concepts (power of dreams, importance of family, respect for elders) and finds meaningful ways to personalize them. It’s ultimately a story about sacrifices and relationships between generations, how we honor and remember those we cherish. Coco is a funny, charming, heartfelt, poignant, and vastly entertaining movie that soars with great imagination, story development, and an enrichment of characters to fall in love with.
5) Blade Runner 2049
What separates 2049 and makes it better than the original is that here is a film that takes big ideas and knows what to do with them. This is an intelligent film that finds time to develop its ideas and to linger with them. Blade Runner 2049 is one of those rare sequels that not only justify its existence but also improve upon its predecessor (again, not the biggest fan of Scott’s movie). It’s reverent to the older film and its film legacy while still charting a path all its own that it can stand upon. It takes a far more interesting narrative perspective to jump forward, possibly serving as a corrective to the original. I was fully engaged from the start as it challenged and entertained me to its concluding image of snowfall. This is a long movie but your patience pays off and then some. This is a deeper dive into the themes of author Phillip K. Dick and a better development of them. See it on as big a screen as possible, make sure to get your bathroom visits out of the way before it starts, and prepare for your eardrums to bleed from Hans Zimmer’s blaring tones. Denis Villeneuve has created a thoughtful, mature, exciting, and absorbing work of art that will stand the test of time. It won’t be as monumentally influential as the original Blade Runner but it is the better movie, and right now, in 2017, that’s a much more important factor for me as a viewer.
4) War for the Planet of the Apes
War for the Planet of the Apes is a movie so rewarding, so engaging, that you walk away angry that other Hollywood blockbusters can’t be this good or aren’t even trying to be. It’s emotionally rich and resonant, hitting you in the heart just as often as it quickens your pulse. Because of the investment in the characters, and their ongoing progression, we genuinely care about what happens like few blockbusters. I cannot even remember another major summer tentpole that triggered that kind of emotional response (maybe a Pixar title or two). I think once the initial dust settles, it’s time to start thinking about this new Apes trilogy place among the all-time great movie trilogies. It’s been consistently enthralling from the beginning and has treated its animal cast as equally worthy of the greatest stories movies can deliver. War for the Planet of the Apes is powerful proof of what blockbuster filmmaking is capable of offering at its absolute finest. War for the Planet of the Apes is a blockbuster with soul.
3) Spider-Man: Homecoming
Spider-Man: Homecoming actually manages to give new life to a character that has already appeared in five other movies. That’s an amazing feat. Another amazing feat is that six different screenwriters, including the director, are credited with this movie, yet it feels fully coherent in its vision and presentation. This is Peter Parker, the teenager struggling with self-doubt, hormones, and an eagerness to grow up, and the movie feels much more human-scaled, forgoing giant CGI smash-em-ups for something more grounded, personally involving, and ultimately successful. Just because Homecoming is fast-paced and funny doesn’t mean it lacks substance. I was elated during long portions of this movie, impressed by the steady stream of setups and payoffs, the incorporation of the many characters and comedic voices, and the varied action set pieces that were focused on character progression. If you are tired of superhero stories, I’d still heartily recommend this movie. Dear reader, I feel like I’m failing you and turning into a frothing fanboy because I can only think, at worst, of negligible quibbles against the film. Everything in this movie works. Everything. It’s everything I was hoping for and then some.
2) Get Out
Jordan Peele has established himself as an immediate visionary in the world of horror, taking the black protagonist who might usually be the first to get killed in a Hollywood slasher flick and widening the boundaries of horror. The real-lie horror film is day-to-day existence in the United States as a person of color. Get Out was conceived in the Obama era but has even more renewed resonance under the beginnings of the Age of Trump. I remember people saying that America now existed in a post-racial world, but we live in the kind of world that takes a call for innocent black lives to stop being executed by police officers and transforms it into All Lives Matter. It’s a hazardous world and Peele has created a marvelous movie where the insidious, ever-present force that cannot be escaped is not a maniac with a chainsaw or some cranky ghost, it’s white society itself. As the news has indicated, from Trayvon Martin to Sandra Bland and numerous others, there isn’t exactly a safe territory to escape to. Danger and death can come at any moment as long as a larger society perceives black skin as a threat first and a person second. Get Out is a timely movie but also timeless, thanks to how brilliantly conceived, developed, and executed Peel’s movie performs.
And the best film of 2017 is…..
1) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri feels like a Coen brothers’ movie played straight, and it’s borderline brilliant in its depiction of homespun characters allowed tremendous emotional latitude. These are people with complex depth who are allowed the power to be contradictory. Three Billboards is an impressive, absorbing, searing film gifted with some of the best-developed characters in 2017. The portrayal of the characters is so complex and given startling life from such amazingly talented actors. You’ll watch three of the best performances of the year right here. You get a really strong sense of just how life has been irrevocably altered from this heinous crime, not just with Mildred (Frances McDormand) but also for the town as a whole. Things cannot go back to being the way they were. The characters you like can make you wince. The characters you don’t like you might find yourself pulling for. Thanks to the complexity and nuance, the film delivers a raft of surprises, both pleasant and painful. These people feel closer to real human beings. Martin McDonagh’s brilliant handling of tone and theme is a remarkable work of vision, cohesion, and execution. This is a darkly comic movie that can make you bust out laughing and an affecting human drama that can make you cry. It takes you on a journey that feels authentic and wildly entertaining. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri subverts typical Hollywood clichés by making sure, even during its wilder flights of comic fancy, that everything is grounded with the characters first and foremost.
Honorable mention: Brigsby Bear, Wind River, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water
10) 50 Shades Darker
Ironically, 50 Shades Darker is a curiously reserved romance that lacks serious heat. The actors have very little chemistry and are fighting losing effort to convince you just how sexy they find one another. I know people aren’t going to this movie for the story, but some better effort could have been afforded rather than false conflicts that are arbitrarily resolved one after another. It’s an empty fantasy with boring characters and timid sex scenes that register as sub-soft-core eroticism. I wrote of the original film: “Surprisingly boring and rather tepid, 50 Shades of Grey feels too callow to be the provocative film experience it wants to be. It needs more of just about everything; more characterization, more organic coupling, more story, more romance, more kink. It is lacking in too many areas, though the production values are sleek, like it’s the most technically accomplished episode of Red Shoe Diaries.” Every criticism is still valid and even more so. Whereas the first film was about the flirtation and exploration of the coupling, the sequel inevitably treads the same ground, watching pretty dull people get dressed in pretty clothes and then take them off. For a book series so infamous for its tawdry smut, I was expecting more smut or at least better smut.
9) The Shack
When it comes to faith-based movies, especially those based on best-selling books, you know that they’re going to be preaching to the choir and more determined to give its intended audience the message it wants first; everything else is secondary. With The Shack, I got the start of an interesting film scenario and then it became the most boring, laborious, and theologically trite Ted Talk ever. I was fighting to stay awake and it was a battle that I was losing. The opening twenty minutes presents a story with dramatic possibility: Mack (Sam Worthington) is a family man who is grieving the loss of his youngest daughter. On a camping trip, she was abducted by a pedophilic murderer and killed in a shack in the woods. Mack is a shell of himself and his family doesn’t know how to reach him. He gets a mysterious invitation from “Papa,” his wife’s nickname for God, inviting him to the murder shack. However, all remote sense of entertainment is snuffed out once Mack enters the confines of the titular shack. The next 100 minutes is a series of talk show interview segments with each divine person to engage in full-on flimsy spiritual psychobabble to explain why God lets bad things happen and forgiveness is key. The characters stop being characters and become different mouthpieces for the spiritual clichés. It’s like the filmmakers threw up their hands and gave up. This is not a movie. It’s an inspirational exam told by the most cloying professors. Other movies have dealt with heavy loss but rarely has one felt so detached from making that loss personable and empathetic. The Shack is a maudlin fable that wants to make people feel good even during the dark times. That’s admirable but it doesn’t make this 135-minute sermon any more of a worthwhile movie to watch.
8) The Bad Batch
Vacuous and increasingly monotonous, The Bad Batch valiantly tries to create an arty mood piece where it re-purposes genre pastiche into some kind of statement on the broken human condition. Or something. The story is so thinly written and the characters are too blank to register. They’re archetypes at best, walking accessories, pristine action figures given life and camera direction. It’s flash and surface-level quirks with distressed art direction. It’s a vapid film that has too much free time to fill, so you get several shots that are simply people riding motorcycles up to the camera. I grew restless waiting for something of merit to happen. It feels like it’s trying so hard to be a cult movie at every turn. I’m certain that, not counting Keanu’s cult leader, there might only be 100 words spoken in the entire film. How can you make something about dystopian cannibals be this singularly boring? I feel like The Bad Batch is going to be a favorite for plenty of young teenagers that respond to its style and general sense of rebellion. Until, that is, they discover movies can have both style and substance.
7) Free Fire
Free Fire wants to be a scuzzy, crazy, fun movie that knows it’s trashy and revels in its bad taste and loony characters with nose-thumbing glee. Instead, Free Fire is a nihilistic and tedious enterprise lacking entertaining characters, coherent action, and most importantly any general sense of fun. Watching characters that are unmemorable, who you don’t care about, fire guns indiscriminately for a long time is not a movie, and it’s most certainly not a good movie. It’s a glorified training manual for firearms. Free Fire takes too long to get started with poorly developed characters and when it does kick into action the movie doesn’t really improve too much. Free Fire is a Tarantino knockoff that doesn’t have the courage of its own B-movie convictions. It thinks just dressing the part is enough, substituting style and a blithe attitude for not even substance but the appearance of substance. It only has one truly memorable, queasy death, so even when it comes to bizarre violence it falters. This is one movie that wants to look cool and irreverent but ends up merely firing blanks.
6) The Snowman
I thought at worst The Snowman was going to be a high-gloss Hollywood equivalent of a really stupid episode of TV’s really stupid yet inexplicably long-running show, Criminal Minds. This is far, far worse. At least with your casual Criminal Minds episode, it’s garish and lousy and icky in its sordid depiction of grisly violence against women, but you can still understand what is happening on the screen. You can still follow along. The Snowman is impenetrable to decipher, not because it’s complicated but because it’s all misinformation and filler. According to interviews, director Tomas Alfredson was unable to film about 10-15 percent of the script because of hectic schedule demands, so no wonder it’s so difficult to follow. Very little makes sense in this movie and what does has been done better in a thousand other movies. With a dull protagonist who doesn’t seem exceptionally competent at his job, paired with a dull antagonist with no larger game plan or purpose, or even personality, and a mystery with a dearth of clues to actively piece together, the movie turns ponderous, punishing, and psychologically shallow. It’s a dumb, dumb, dumb movie that thinks it’s smart and contemplative with a cold streak of nihilism. This silly thing takes itself so seriously that, if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself cackling at its desperate attempts to make the visage of a snowman into the stuff of nightmares. This feels more like genre parody. The Snowman is an aggressively bad whodunit that fails to make an audience care about any single thing happening. You’re better off staying home and watching the worst of Criminal Minds.
5) The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is a horror movie that’s so bad it can be outlandishly funny. It starts off well and deteriorates rapidly, abandoning sense and atmosphere for jumbled scares. There’s an extended bit during a climactic dramatic moment where a father has to convince his daughter to pee out in public. I felt so bad for every actor involved. Any power the Bye Bye Man has as a concept, a mimetic virus, is wasted as a goofy Boogeyman knockoff with vague powers and intentions. Apparently, one of the insidious side effects of the Bye Bye Man is his ability to cause erectile dysfunction. At one point, the Bye Bye Man sends himself as a GIF, knowing how to reach millennials. I don’t understand why these kids don’t accept that if they see something horrific it’s probably false. They know the Bye Bye Man is terrorizing them with their fears and yet they fall for it every time. When you’re talking with someone and all of a sudden they start seeping blood from every orifice, maybe that should be a clue. The Bye Bye Man is fun bad but oh is it still bad.
4) King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
So what if the story of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is dumb and feels like it’s being randomly made up on the spot? So what if the characters are underwritten, lacking in distinguished personalities, and are rather pointless? So what if the main character has to learn to better give up his agency to a stupid magic sword? So what if the only significant female character doesn’t even merit a name? So what if the action often resorts to a slow-motion frenzy of a CGI dust cloud? So what if there are 300-foot sized elephants in this movie and then never appear again? So what if I don’t understand anybody’s personal relationships besides good and evil designations? So what if I was so bored and disengaged from the movie that I started contemplating strange subjects to pass the protracted time, like why does Charlie Hunnam’s natural British accent sound so fake? The ultimate question is whether or not something as ostensibly irreverent as a cockney crime King Arthur is fun, and the answer is unequivocally no. If you’re still wondering how poorly conceived and executed this movie is, I’ve saved the best doozy for last, which coincidentally is also one of the final moments in the two-hour film. I kid you not, the movie ends with the eventual Knights of the Round Table actively befuddled by the existence of a round table. They cannot apply their knowledge of tables to this new, rounder model. They gawk, shake their heads, and wonder what it is exactly. There you have it, a group of heroes mentally defeated due to the absence of corners.
3) Boo 2! A Madea Halloween
I don’t automatically hate Tyler Perry’s alter ego/monstrous matriarch, Madea. I didn’t even hate the first Boo film, but its sequel is exactly everything Perry’s critics have accused his films of being. This is the movie everyone thinks the Madea films are. This feels like 90 minutes of vamping, where there clearly wasn’t a script and Perry hoped each new scene would somehow stumble into hilarity. The premise could have worked, placing Madea in a Friday the 13th scenario, but they play it as a lesson to teach the youth about their fool ways. It’s so listless and repeats itself often, stretching to fill out the running time of a feature film. It’s poorly developed, poorly planned, and none of the characters matter as they sometimes change abruptly by the moment. There was clearly no plans to do a sequel for the first Madea Halloween movie, until it became the second highest-grossing film of his career. Everything about this movie smells of desperation. Everybody is just dancing around on screen, speaking in circuitous improv jags that go nowhere, and there’s even an extended sequence of twerking from a famous dancer. This is a punishing movie that plays to Perry’s worst instincts. Let the Boo franchise die.
2) The Only Living Boy in New York
The Only Living Boy in New York may have made me hate New York. I was rolling my eyes at about every moment of this movie, not just because it wads cliché, not just because it confused the cliché with transcendent and relatable commentary, not just because the characters were aggressively loathsome and inauthentic, and not because it appears to be someone’s idea of Graduate Lite (though, yes, these are all contributing factors). It’s because the movie takes the easy way out at every route and wants to be congratulated for its artistic integrity. Not one character feels like an actual human being in this screenplay by Allan Loeb (Collateral Beauty). This is the kind of elitist, out-of-touch, artificial, self-involved characterization of New Yorkers that hacky conservative writers like to cling to when criticizing their big city targets. I wanted the cameraman to abandon the film and run a few corners and join a new set. The Only Living Boy in New York is insufferable, haughty, pretentious, privileged navel-gazing masquerading as deep thought; it is smug New York hipster twaddle.
And the worst film of 2017 is….
1) Transformers 5: The Last Knight
Transformers: The Last Knight is exactly what the detractors have railed against from the start: a cacophonous ejaculation of incomprehensible nonsense. The charge has often been made against Bay’s long filmography that his stories are unintelligible, but Transformers 5 proves to be the new measuring point for incensed incredulity. It feels like the Transformers 5 writers were on a week-long cocaine bender when they cobbled together this impenetrable narrative. The movie is a nonstop barrage of yelling and movement, an assault on the senses that leaves you dumbfounded and dazed, and without anything to moor onto. Almost every single actor is on screen for one of two purposes: quips or exposition. Bay’s films have always possessed an alarming sense of urgency but it rarely feels earned. Characters yelling, running, and explosions going off like fireworks isn’t the same thing as genuinely developed stakes. Oh and the aspect ratios, the aspect ratios (more on that later). There’s really no reason a movie about brawling robots should be this long. There’s no reason it should have to resort to so much dumb comedy. There’s no reason that the women should be fetishized as if they were another sleek line of sexy cars. There’s no reason why something labeled a “popcorn movie” can’t deliver escapist thrills and have a brain too. Transformers 5 is exhausting and exhaustively mechanical, and if this is the first start in a larger Expanded Transformers Cinematic Universe (ETCU?) then resistance may be futile.
Dishonorable mention: Below Her Mouth, Subrbicon, Cars 3, The Emoji Movie
PART TWO: VARIOUS AWARDS AND ACCOLADES
Best titles of the year: I Am Not Your Negro, A Cure for Wellness, My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, Happy Death Day
Worst titles of the year: The Bye Bye Man, The Book of Love, iBoy, Only the Brave, Suburbicon, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House
Titles that could be confused with porn: The Girl with All the Gifts, How to Be a Latin Lover, The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature, It Comes at Night
Biggest Disappointment of 2017: Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. Dunkirk is less of a cohesive movie and more a series of moments, never eclipsing the next or coalescing into a larger, more meaningful, more satisfying whole. The characters are so indistinct that most of them in the end credits didn’t even merit names (Irate Soldier, Shivering Soldier, and Furious Soldier are among the lot). This is one of the biggest mistakes of Nolan’s movie. By not providing characters that an audience can engage with he’s handicapped how much an audience can care. After a while, your mind drifts when all you’re watching is poorly written characters, many of whom you can’t identify, jump from one crummy situation to another without a stronger storytelling drive. If you want a more personally involving retelling of the heroes of Dunkirk, just watch the film-within-a-film of the underrated 2017 gem, Their Finest.
Bad Corporate Synergy: In 50 Shades Darker, the childhood bedroom of Christian Grey has a framed poster of 2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick. I know Universal is trying to play some studio synergy here, but come on. How old is Christian supposed to be? Also, HE HAS A FRAMED POSTER OF THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK.
The Best 10 Minutes of 2017: the nightmarish descent of Darren Aronofsky’s mother!. The film builds in intensity as it careens toward its hallucinatory final act. It’s here where Aronofsky unleashes his targeted condemnation with extreme vigor. It’s one confusing moment cascading upon another, strange images that ripple like a nightmare. There are some pretty upsetting and offensive acts meant to provoke outrage, and Lawrence is always the recipient of much of the cruelty. Like a Lars von Trier film, Lawrence plays a heroine whose suffering serves as the film’s thematic underpinning. Aronofsky’s commitment to his vision is complete. He doesn’t leave anything behind.
Runners-up: extended hallway fight sequence, Atomic Blonde; opening car chase, Baby Driver; the brilliant gas station comic set piece with Rough Night.
Best Time I Had in a Theater in 2017: Get Out
Proof You Don’t Need to End Your Story with a Child Orgy: 2017’s It
Best Opening to an Otherwise Not Good Movie: (tie) Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and The Bad Batch
We Need a ‘W’ Title, Quick!: Wonder, Wonderstruck, Wonder Wheel, Wonder Woman, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Film as Confession: Louie C.K.’s I Love You, Daddy, which was promptly cancelled from release. Here he’s Glen, a highly regarded television writer and producer who seems to keep making new highly regarded television series. There are too many moments and lines for this movie not to feel like C.K. is confessing or mitigating his misdeeds. One of his daughter’s friends, a fellow teen girl, makes the tidy rationalization that everyone is a pervert so what should it all matter? Sexuality may be a complicated mosaic but that doesn’t excuse relationships with underage minors and masturbating in front of women against their will. Glen says that people should not judge others based upon rumors and that no one can ever truly know what goes on in another person’s private life. There’s a moment late in the film where Glen is irritated and bellows an angry apology with the literal words, “I’m sorry to all women. I want all women to know I apologize for being me!” I almost stopped my screener just to listen to this line again. In the end, Glen has a fall from grace and loses his credibility in the industry. He’s told by his producing partner, “So you were a great man and now you’re not.” Yikes.
Strangest Rocky III Knockoff: Cars 3
Most Gratuitous Moment of 2017: The pie-eating scene in A Ghost Story. I have felt the urge to walk out of other movies but never acted upon them. I was minutes away from walking out on A Ghost Story, and it was the pie-eating scene that almost pushed me to bail. The idea of binge eating your feelings is a suitable metaphor for grief, and it works on its own initially, as she sniffles and holds back tears with every bite. And then she keeps eating. And then she keeps eating. The scene goes on for like ten minutes, uninterrupted, and with no further commentary. You are literally watching Mara eat a pie in real time and then throw up. After the sixth or so minute of pie consumption, I started laughing out loud, and then other people around me joined in. What can you do?
Runner-up: the commercial tie-ins with The Emoji Movie; the Auto tune excess and entire existence of a live-action Beauty and the Beast.
Best ‘King’ Cameo: Elton John, who provides the best payoff in Kingsmen: The Golden Circle.
Worst ‘King’ Cameo: David Beckham as King’s Henchman #6 in King Arthur.
Sometimes a Nipple is Just a Nipple: The Zookeeper’s Wife has a PG-13 rating and one of the reasons is for brief nudity from Jessica Chastain. Now the actress has gone nude before in other movies so that’s not much of a shocker, but it’s the context and execution that got me thinking. Antonina and Jan are lying together in bed after sex and Chastain does the usually Hollywood habit of the bed sheet being at her shoulders while it resides at the man’s waist (those typical L-shaped bed sheets). No big deal. Then, during their discussion over what to do, Antonina rolls over and exposes her breast for a second before she covers herself up again. The reason this stood out to me, beyond the prurient, is because it felt like a mistake. It seems obvious that Chastain was not intended to be seen naked in this intimate post-coital conversation but it was used in the final cut anyway, which made me wonder. Was the take so good, or so much better than the others, that director Niki Caro and Chastain said “the hell with it” and kept the briefly exposed breast? Did they enjoy the happily accidental casual nature to the nudity, creating a stronger sense of realism between the married couple? Or in the end was it just another selling point to help put butts in seats?
Big Year for Amputees: The Beguiled, Downsizing, The Bad Batch, Logan Lucky, Stronger, Ghost in the Shell
The Real Culprit: I think La La Land has a shadowy culprit to blame for the big slip-up at the 2017 Academy Awards where it mistakenly was declared Best Picture before the rightful winner, Moonlight, was crowned. Actress Faye Dunaway was the one who spoke aloud the infamous slip-up, but I think she had something else on her mind. She was so preoccupied with trying NOT to think about the Bye Bye Man that she wasn’t fully paying attention to the moment. Fortunately, Moonlight got its rightful due. Unfortunately, The Bye Bye Man exists as a horror film and Dunaway within it.
Most Ridiculous Plot Element of 2017: Dane DeHaan as Lothario/leading man in Tulip Fever and Valerian and the City of 1000 Planets. DeHaan can be a capable actor playing brooding anti-heroes or misfits, not a traditional leading man. In the recent sci-fi bomb Valerian, he chose to speak in a bizarre voice that mimicked 90s Keanu Reeves. With Tulip Fever, I understood the origin of that voice, because in this movie he sounds like 90s Keanu Reeves gamely attempting his woeful British accent in Dracula. Does Dane DeHaan have range or is he incapable of playing anything without ironic detachment?
Runners-up: the strange endorsement of child molestation as future saving grace, Split; the mysteriously incomprehensible calling card of The Snowman
DCU vs. Mustaches: Wonder Woman had a big bushy mustache, even in its centuries-old flashback, that almost had me burst out laughing, and even in the final battle the villain makes it so you can still see his mustache through his battle helmet. Then during the costly reshoots for Justice League, Warner Brothers had to pay millions to digitally erase Henry Cavill’s mustache. He was shooting Mission: Impossible 6 at the time and they forbade him to shave it. Looks like the greatest DCU villain yet is facial hair.
Thora Birch Award for Hottest Actress in 2017: Sofia Boutella, Atomic Blonde and The Mummy.
Runner’s-up: Ana de Armas, Blade Runner 2049; Goth Cate Blanchett in Thor: Ragnarok; Tessa Thompson, Thor: Ragnarok; Karen Gillan, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
Not as Advertised Award Award: Colossal, It Comes at Night
Just Pick a Frickin’ Aspect Ratio Already! Another confusing aspect of Transformers 5 is Bay’s jumbled aspect ratios (i.e. how wide the frame of the movie is presented). Sizeable portions were shot on IMAX, which has become all the rage for action movie directors since Nolan’s The Dark Knight. I expected that. What I didn’t expect was three different aspect ratios that jumped from shot to shot. Two characters will be having a conversation and the aspect ratio will cycle and it rips me out of the movie every time (there are SIX credited editors). The Dark Knight‘s IMAX sequences worked because they were sustained sequences. I expect the higher-grade IMAX film stock for the expansive action or picturesque landscapes to take in the natural splendor. What I wasn’t expecting was measly interior conversations to be filmed in IMAX. Like much else in this perfunctory movie, this game of pin-the-tail-on-the-aspect-ratio makes no sense.
Best Onscreen Death: the awful, dread-filled conclusion of Killing of a Sacred Deer. Perhaps no other on screen death has mattered so much and built up with such heightened levels of anticipation. For the entire film we’ve been waiting for Colin Farrell to save his family from a supernatural curse by having to choose to murder one of them. In that final moment, as he tries to alleviate his guilt, he makes things even worse. I watched this scene with my hands over my face. No other death in 2017 is as memorable.
Runner’s-up: the wintry comeuppance in Wind River; the shattering, sigh-inducing conclusion to Lady Macbeth; Yondo’s sacrifice in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2.
Runner’s-up: Michael Keaton’s Vulture in Spider-Men: Homecoming; Pennywise the Dancing Clown, It; Will Poulter’s lead racist cop in Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit.
That’s Not How Courts Work Award: The plot of The Hitman’s Bodyguard hinges upon Samuel L. Jackson arriving at The Hague at an exact time to testify against Gary Oldman’s dictator. In a moment that made me blurt out laughing, an expositional device/news lady informs us that if nobody comes forward to testify then The Hague has to drop all charges, Oldman’s dictator goes free and apparently becomes the president of Belarus immediately again, and probably the end of democracy. First, this false sense of urgency requires witnesses to arrive at a court. That’s not how testimony works. You can give a sworn statement anywhere. You can appear in court via teleconference. The location is not the problem here. And then his testimony is aided by (slight spoilers) photographic evidence of the dictator’s genocide… except it’s all digital pictures. This entire movie hinged on the mad rush to get Jackson to The Hague when he could have just made an email attachment with the incriminating pictures at any wifi spot.
Favorite Line From a Review in 2017: “Oh no, CBGB’s closed down. Oh no, there are Starbucks on multiple corners. Oh no, a city of ten million plus people is now only a commercialized hell, worry the rich elites from their ivory towers and their faulty memories of New York City being more pure when it was older.” – The Only Living Boy in New York
Runner-up: “It’s like someone watched Peter Jackson’s agreeable if bloated 2005 King Kong and said, ‘Hey, what if we shaved off the first hour and spent the whole time on Skull Island, the undisputed best part of the movie?’ It’s the equivalent of an-all marshmallow box of Lucky Charms.” – Kong: Skull Island;
“Everything is, ironically, a bit too literal-minded with its use of metaphor.” – mother!
PART THREE: OVERALL MOVIE GRADES
I have reviews and mini-reviews for almost all of the graded movies listed below.
Blade Runner 2049
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
War for the Planet of the Apes
The Big Sick
The Disaster Artist
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
The Shape of Water
Battle of the Sexes
Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Kong: Skull Island
Only the Brave
The Belko Experiment
Bong of the Living Dead
The Fate and the Furious
The Greatest Showman
The Hitman’s Bodguard
The Last Jedi
Call Me By Your Name
The Florida Project
John Wick 2
Kingsmen: The Golden Circle
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
The Zookeeper’s Wife
All the Money in the World
Beatriz at Dinner
Dave Made a Maze
It Comes at Night
The Lego Batman Movie
Murder on the Orient Express
The Red Turtle
47 Meters Down
Beauty and the Beast
The Dark Tower
A Ghost Story
Ghost in the Shell
Going in Style
The Great Wall
I Love You, Daddy
The Little Hours
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House
The Mountain Between Us
Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
The Bad Batch
Below Her Mouth
The Emoji Movie
Fifty Shades Darker
Goodbye Christopher Robin
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Boo 2! A Madea Halloween
The Bye Bye Man
The Only Living Boy in New York
Transformers 5: The Last Knight