Say what you will about 2017 as a whole, but the films released this last year were a good harvest of cinematic entertainment. I’ll refrain from any sort of top ten lists of the best or worst variety and simply talk about the movies that I saw and enjoyed. Below are the films that evoked the most powerful responses from me, be it slow and meditative science fiction, excellently choreographed action and fight sequences, or simply the films that gave me the largest laughs and the most to dwell on afterwards. As most years there are almost as many, or more, films that I missed due to one reason or another and will likely catch up on later. So if you see a popular film missing I either didn’t think it did enough to merit being on the list, or I didn’t see it. Here’s to hoping that 2018 continues this trend and gives us more quality films to soak up and revel in.
Blade Runner 2049
While this was a good year at the theater, for myself there was no film that surpassed the cinematic glory that was Blade Runner 2049. A sequel releasing thirty-five years after the original film might seem like a detractor for most films, but not here. Director Denis Villeneuve and Cinematographer Roger Deakins (along with cast and crew) have spun a transfixing web of powerful and immense sights and sounds across this science fiction epic. Harrison Ford returns to his lesser known sci-fi icon Rick Deckard and gives us one of his best performances in the last ten to twenty years. Meanwhile Ryan Gosling’s K, the new Blade Runner of 2049, sets out to track down the crimes and mysteries left behind in Deckard’s wake. This film is a slow burning science fiction epic that rapidly escalates the scale apart from the first film’s relatively smaller set of events in the best ways possible. I cannot recommend this film enough, though I know it won’t be every audience’s favorite flavor.
John Wick Chapter 2
Forced back into the world of cordial killers that he left behind ages ago, this sequel brings back Keanu Reeves’ latest hit character John Wick and throws him into a gauntlet of violence and feigned civility. Rarely giving the audience time to soak into Wick’s brooding life after his successful revenge in the first flick, Chapter 2 quickly forces Wick’s hand into fulfilling a blood oath after blowing up his house a few scenes in. This film is a continuation of the surprise success of the first film by allowing what worked there to be thoughtfully expanded upon here. The legend of John Wick hinted at in the first film is realized here by having Wick operate in Italy for his mission, thereby having many people quickly recognizing, and fearing, him. This film cracks open the doors to his old community of killers that was merely peeked at before and it’s a joy to watch Wick do what he does best. If you’re looking for near relentless and creative gunplay in a refined atmosphere then you can do no better than John Wick Chapter 2.
Kong: Skull Island
As a fan of the giant monster movie sub-genre, I always look forward to new and evolving versions of old favorites, and this interpretation of cinema’s most well known giant ape may well be my favorite. The largest Kong yet towers above the rivers and peaks of Skull Island set during the waning days of the Vietnam war in which a few madcap scientists talk their way into a military escort onto the isolated and volatile isle of legend. Once they arrive their suspicions of the giant ape are confirmed as Kong is quick to prove who is King in this untamed land. I love the adoration this film has for it’s monstrous locales and unique creations-this is a film that knows it is first a foremost a creature feature. It doesn’t hurt that the cast involved knew how to embrace the tone, some particularly fun additions were John Goodman as the conspiratorial lead scientist, Samuel L. Jackson’s cynical and bombastic Major Packard leading the military support, and John C. Reilly’s wary but good-hearted WW2 fighter pilot who crash-landed on the island when an aerial dogfight went awry. It’s also worth mentioning that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts maintained his sense of style and kept his cinematic voice intact in a major studio release, that’s no small feat and deserves some recognition.
As someone who isn’t all that in love with horror movies, this year gave us two absolutely stellar additions to the genre. The first of which was the outstanding directorial debut of Jordan Peele’s Get Out. What makes this film so magnetic is the way it plays on the real world anxieties that still thread through American racial relationships to this day. Peele slowly settles the audience into unease with his clever use of pacing and throwbacks to some of his most adored film inspirations from the likes of Guess who’s coming to dinner?, The Stepford Wives, and The Shining. This is my preferred style of horror, it never relies on jump-scares or cheap thrills, instead the film unnerves you with each passing minute until the spellbinding hypnosis scenes begin-then the film accelerates the madness only hinted at before. This psychological thriller will likely be among many favorites lists for years to come, and Peele has earned every second of adoration for it.
IT Chapter 1
The other surprise horror hit last year was IT Chapter 1. This latest rendition of a Stephen King classic rose to legendary horror movie heights as the highest grossing R rated movie of all time earning close to 700 million worldwide on a budget of only 35 million. With only another lackluster Saw comeback to challenge it’s box office reign roughly a month after it’s release, the film about a killer clown dominated the silver screen for weeks on end. What really made the film stand out from the crowd though wasn’t the scares-which were plentiful and effective, but rather the chemistry of the Losers Club and how they not only interacted with each other, but how they dealt with the overwhelming presence of Pennywise the evil shape-shifting clown. The film was funny, charming, creepy, and intense. If you (somehow) missed this one at the theater, then check out the video release-it’s definitely worth your time!
Ladies and gentlemen, they did it! DC films finally made a great superhero movie. Wonder Woman did what neither Batman, Superman, or Will Smith could accomplish- a truly wonderful superhero story. Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins deserve a hell of a lot of credit for infusing some heart and empathy into this dour and sour universe of grisly and uninspiring superheroes. Gadot and Chris Pine shared an excellent onscreen chemistry on their journey through worn torn Europe, they evolved as characters and weren’t used for glamour shots or crude humor. Wonder Woman is the shining light of the DC film universe and I can’t wait to see how Jenkins and crew return to the character in her untitled sequel, best of all though, we can rest assured that she’s in good hands until then!
Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2
I wasn’t sure how the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy would fare for me, the first was a surprise hit and became an instant pop culture icon. How would James Gunn handle these characters’ evolution and what kind of madcap adventures would they tumble into next? They may not have been chasing a macguffin stone this time around, but we did get a compelling story that dug into some deeper character work for a few of the characters on the team, and they had a far more interesting villain this time around in Ego the Living Planet, who just so happens to be Star Lord’s father.. Kurt Russell, because of course he is. Everything about this film was amped up from the last installment and the world building for the greater cosmic side of the Marvel universe was stepped up in scale as well. This was a visual feast of colors and special effects and the comedy (a detractor for some this time around) worked for me just as much if not more this time around. This was an excellent addition to not only the Guardians story but the greater web of MCU storylines as well!
This was my favorite superhero movie of the year, and that’s saying something because this year had some of the best offerings from Marvel and DC yet! Even the Justice League was an improvement overall (though it’s not on this list as it didn’t quite reach the mark for me). Introduced in Captain America Civil War this newest incarnation of the web slinger may be my favorite version yet! Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is the youngest web-head thus far and he’s got an innate natural sense of the big-eyed wonder that a younger Parker would have, especially since he’s the rookie in a world of Avengers now. Placing Spider-Man into the MCU allows him to be positioned into storylines and arcs that would have been impossible before now, a feat realized through the perfect use of Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark as the guiding hero and moral compass (Something Stark could only accomplish after years of being Iron Man). This was a wonderfully small scale super hero movie and I loved it all the more for keeping things grounded, lighthearted, and funny. There’s also the great benefit of having Michael Keaton playing the Vulture, a C-class villain from the comics that he made all his own resulting in one of the best villains of the MCU since Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. I can’t wait to see how this latest version of the Wallcrawler’s story evolves after this!
Taika Waititi threw out the rulebook with his Thor film and it was all the better for it! I was incredibly excited for this movie since hearing the rumors surrounding the creative team involved and the stories that they were going to adapt with Thor’s third MCU film. Soaked in neon colors, a synthy score crafted by Mark Mothersbaugh harkening back to his Devo days, and paired up with Mark Ruffalo’s Incredible Hulk, with a cameo from Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange-this film had a lot going for it, and everything worked beautifully! Plus, Jeff Goldblum! My ticket was sold to this film the moment I saw that first trailer (Although truthfully I would have seen it without the extra hype anyways). Waititi combined elements of the Planet Hulk storyline with Asgard’s apocalyptic Ragnarok event, all while serving up jokes and surprising character development from our recognizable favorites. This might be Marvel Studios’ strongest year yet, these three entries were the hat-trick of risky features and each of them paid off marvelously!
As a fan of every film that Edgar Wright has directed I was ecstatic about his next release after his fallout with Marvel Studios over creative differences on the Ant-Man film. This choice ended up being beneficial for everyone involved anyways. The Ant-Man film we got was a small (pun intended) and charming heist film with lovable characters introduced into the constantly growing Marvel movie machine. However, while Edgar Wright’s next project would also be a heist film, that’s where the similarities end. Baby Driver is a fast paced crime flick with music in it’s soul, but more than that the film is intelligently written and Wright’s whiplash editing is as fresh as ever and particularly important to this film. Each scene is dictated by the music that Baby’s listening to at that time resulting in eclectic shootouts set to everything from Run the Jewels to Brighton Rock by Queen. Full of blink-and-you-miss-it easter eggs and populated by an excellent cast firing on all cylinders, Baby Driver stole the summer for me.
War for the Planet of the Apes
The final installment in the prequel trilogy of The Planet of the Apes franchise follows our main ape Caesar as he leads his clan of apes towards finding a peaceful territory all their own. However the ghost of Koba still haunts Caesar as the remainders of Koba’s faction work for the remnants of the humans’ military forces. This is my favorite of the Apes newest series of movies, the film showcases the most impressive visual effects I have ever seen onscreen with the performance capture of the apes- who we spend a majority of our time with this time around. The story simmers in a sense of ever present dread and tension as the apes must strive against the paranoid and ramshackle remains of humanity. This story depicts more of the brutality of war than an all out assault, though in a delightful turn of events this film accomplishes more in its quietest moments than most blockbusters ever do throughout their run-times. This completes an incredibly strong trilogy that every cinephile should watch at some point, especially if you have a fondness for thought provoking science fiction.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand planets
Despite having a vague science fiction subtitle and lacking some chemistry between the two leads, Valerian and the city of a thousand planets is a colorful and fast paced sci-fi flick that dazzles with spectacle. Directed by Luc Besson, of The Fifth Element and Leon The Professional fame, Valerian (and Laureline) stumble upon a conspiratorial plot aboard the infamous space station “Alpha” and have to traverse it’s many layers, regions, and sectors to find the answers they seek. While this film may be no Star Wars or Star Trek it is a unique enough offering to engage and entertain with its effective world building and absurdly fun technologies in play. If you’re looking for some science fiction fun but don’t want to go see The Last Jedi another time, Valerian should be able to sate your sci-fi needs this winter.
A Ghost Story
This one caught me off-guard. Nearly devoid of dialogue and cosmically melancholy, A Ghost Story is about a young couple in love when tragedy suddenly strikes the man and he dies. We spend the rest of the film with the departed musician as he wanders the earth incomplete in the, literal, sheets of his ghostly form. The film’s aspect ratio, a squared 1.33 Academy ratio with curved corners, add to the nostalgic and intimate nature of the film as the ghost experiences time and space becoming slippery and unrecognizable. This is the shortest film on the list and if you have the patience for it’s slower parts I would highly recommend giving this unique film a chance.
Fast and Furious 8
The Fate of the Furious is on this list because of the pure enjoyment I had with this movie. At this point, I know what I’m getting with this series- cars, explosions, heists, one-liners, punching, and a set-piece that’s slightly more ridiculous than the last installment in the series. It’s a long running series of Saturday morning cartoons for adults, and I’m okay with that. I had a theory with these movies that every other one was going to be not quite as good as the one that preceded it. For example: the first film was (and probably still is the best of the bunch as far as films go) pretty good entertainment, the second I enjoyed but it wasn’t quite as good. Tokyo Drift was excellent- but I wasn’t as impressed with Fast 4 the reboot of the series, while Fast Five was my personal favorite of the series. The sixth was a let down for me while the seventh was pretty good dumb fun. However, this eighth movie in the franchise was another solid entry for me-the curse of the even numbered Fast and Furious films was broken! I quite enjoyed the prison escape sequence between Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson, the spy stuff with Kurt Russell and Scott Eastwood as the newbie was jovial, and the twist with Vin Diesel being the villain this time around wasn’t as cheesy as I expected. I don’t know if each new episode will stay as fresh or exciting as the best of the series, but hey, I never expected perfection from my guilty pleasures before-why start now?
Finally unleashing Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine for his final performance, Logan was a different kind of superhero movie. I’ll admit, while I did enjoy this film, it never quite reached the heights for me as it did for so many audience members out there, though the opening and closing scenes were near perfection in execution. Years in the future an old and battered Logan strives to make money as a chauffeur for young rich assholes as he secretly cares for an increasingly unstable Professor X. Things go awry once Laura, his biological daughter created in a lab, comes into the picture. The performances were solid and the action was grisly and entertaining, although personally there were a few too many adamantium claws lodged into people’s faces for my liking. It was a solid film, an ode to Westerns and the Wolverine alike, and a good finale to one of the longest running character performances from comic book adaptions.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
This was the last film I saw in 2017 and it was surprisingly good! This film is a sequel to the Robin Williams led original film from 1995 and I enjoyed the fact that this film didn’t bulldoze over the original but took cues and inspiration from it while crafting a new adventure to enjoy. This time around it is four teenagers that all end up in detention with each other a la The Breakfast Club but instead of talking through their problems together they get sucked into the game reassembled as a cartridge based video game from the mid 1990’s. Each character is put into the body of their chosen avatars, Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, and Jack Black. Each has three lives and they must solve riddles and best challenges in the jungle to win the game. It was a joy to watch Johnson and Black play against their type while Gillan and Hart were solid in their roles they didn’t have personas quite as large as the other two, though there is some great character work between Hart as the former football quarterback quarreling with the studious nerd within the hulking body of Johnson. This was a welcome surprise and a fun way to end the year at the theaters.
Listed below are the films that I wanted to catch at the theater, but never got around to:
Disaster Artist, The Shape of Water, Lady Bird, The Big Sick, Dunkirk, It comes at Night, The Florida Project, Colossal, Good Time, Logan Lucky, Detroit, Lucky, Phantom Thread, The Post, Dave made a Maze, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Brawl in Cell Block 99, Call me by your name, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, & Wind River
P.S. Yes, I too saw Star Wars Episode 8 The Last Jedi, but I felt that this wasn’t the proper place to pile onto that film as it was/is one of the most talked about films of the year. This post is more about the year as a whole and Star Wars gets most of the limelight when it is released anyways. If you want to know my thoughts on that film I have posted a review on the blog as well. Enjoy!