In a Meh Year for Movies, These Releases Won the Battle

7 Jan

So, 2017 was a funny year for the movies.

Not funny ha ha, but more like, it was just a meh year overall. With few exceptions, many of the movies I saw were good, not great. And it wasn’t just me: There appears to be little consensus across critics groups and award nominations so far because of it.

To that end, movies like Get Out and Call Me By Your Name I liked but didn’t love. (In the latter case, I thought Armie Hammer was miscast.) Same with Wonder Woman, which I liked but didn’t think was even the best superhero movie of the year. And on the flip side, movies I did really like, you won’t necessarily see on other top 10 lists. And some would never make my list in another, better year.

It isn’t because I didn’t see a lot of movies this year. All told, I saw 85 movies in 2017. Or rather, 85 movies that are considered 2017 releases. In fact, part of the reason my list was delayed this year is because I wasn’t able to see two of them until after January 1. (A full list of what I saw is at the bottom of this post.)

It should be noted that, beyond this list, in that grey area of “good” movies, there were some real moviegoing pleasures. For example, King Arthur wasn’t a great movie, but I really dug the musical score. Logan Lucky was fun, and it was a trip to see Daniel Craig cut loose and show some comedic chops for a change. The production design and cinematography of Blade Runner 2049 were very cool. The “This Is Me” scene in The Greatest Showman was a definite emotional high point in a hit-and-miss film. I enjoyed The Disaster Artist, in part because I was able to see The Room for the first time, with a really rowdy audience, just a couple weeks earlier. And speaking of memorable experiences, kudos to the Regal Fenway theater for showing the Pearl Jam concert documentary Let’s Play Two with the volume turned way up, so it felt like we were actually (kind of) at the show.

But which movies really stood out for me this year?

Honorable Mention

Before we get to my top 10, let’s look at a few honorable mentions, listed in alphabetical order.

All the Money in the World
Christopher Plummer’s brilliant last-minute performance as J. Paul Getty is just one notable aspect of Ridley Scott’s true-life thriller.

Coco
Not as sophisticated as, say, Inside Out, but a wonderful story about family and faith, told with imaginative, richly rendered animation that’s a real feast for the eyes.

The Darkest Hour
Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in this sort-of prequel to Dunkirk was one of the best performances of the year.

Hostiles
Let he who is without sin shoot the first gun in Scott Cooper’s beautifully shot Western.

Molly’s Game
Aaron Sorkin makes his confident directorial debut with this crackling, fast-moving and fast-talking film about high stakes gambling.

The Post
Steven Spielberg’s ode to newspaper competition in the early 1970s couldn’t be more timely, as it covers the power of the press, government corruption, and female empowerment.

The Shape of Water
A Cold War–era fairy tale for adults about a strange creature and the mute woman who loves it.

War for the Planet of the Apes
The brilliant trilogy comes to an end in satisfying fashion.

The Top 10

And now, my top 10 favorite films of the year.

1. Dunkirk
My very favorite movie of the year was this epic war film by one of my favorite filmmakers. With Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan, the director of the The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Prestige, and Inception, provides a definitive account of one of World War II’s most heroic and miraculous — not to mention, pivotal — events, and does so with a size, scale, and intensity that never sacrifices human emotion. Nolan’s film isn’t just a movie; it’s an immersive cinematic experience that puts you right in the thick of the action on three fronts: Land, sea, and air. With its you-are-there perspectives, shifting timelines, and pulse-pounding Hans Zimmer score (plus an ever-present ticking stopwatch that Does. Not. Stop!), Dunkirk puts audiences through the ringer. See this movie on a big screen (IMAX or 70mm), if possible. It’s just awesome.

2. Phantom Thread
Like There Will Be Blood, their last film together, Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis’ latest collabo is all about a power struggle — one of Anderson’s favorite themes (see also: The Master). Here, Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a fussy fashion designer in a bit of a creative funk, who finds the inspiration he desires (creatively and otherwise) from a waitress played by Vicky Krieps. The film looks good, but that’s not all — it sounds good too; Jonny Greenwood’s score is so lush and wonderful that Woodcock could play it during breakfast and it wouldn’t disturb him one bit. If this is really Day-Lewis’ last movie before he retires (say it ain’t so!), he’s going out on a very high note.

3. Stronger
It would be easy to recreate and dramatize the events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing and celebrate the civic pride that resulted. That’s basically what Peter Berg did with the awful, overly bombastic Patriots Day. Yuck. On the other hand, Stronger isn’t the story of a survivor as much as it is a love story about Jeff Bauman and his girlfriend, Erin (Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany, both excellent), and how she helped him find the strength to move on after the tragedy. What I appreciate about it even more, though, is that Stronger is a movie about the divide between the mythic celebrity the public creates after such events, and the reality of actually dealing with such life-altering circumstances. In that respect, David Gordon Green’s movie is humbling and moving, it provides necessary perspective, and it really does define “Boston Strong.”

4. Ingrid Goes West
Matt Spicer’s pitch-black and very funny comedy about the dangers of getting too attached to minor online celebrities nails it when it comes to the social media zeitgeist and why all is not as it seems on Instagram and elsewhere. Aubrey Plaza stars as the unhinged title character, who moves to Los Angeles and ingratiates herself with Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen, from Martha Marcy Mae Marlene), an “influencer” fond of avocado toast and documenting her boho lifestyle. With its sharp, clever script that skewers in equal measure those who put forth a carefully curated identity of “authenticity” and the fans who eat up every bit of it, and amusing performances (including Billy Magnussen and O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Ingrid earned its double-tap.

5. Logan/Spider-Man: Homecoming
I’m cheating here by making this one a tie, but that’s because I really couldn’t choose between these two superhero movies — even though they really couldn’t be much more different. Logan is a dramatic story about what happens at the end of the road, after the fighting is over: Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) powers aren’t what they once were, and he’s walked away from the heroic life. On the other hand, Spider-Man is more of a comedy that takes place at the exact opposite time, when Peter Parker (Tom Holland, a hoot) is still getting used to his powers — and dealing with high school pressures as well. Both films were well acted and told excellent stories, raising the game for the genre in the process.

6. The Florida Project
Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is an absolutely delightful movie about a group of kids who make up for in dreams and imagination what they lack in financial resources — especially precocious Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), a six-year-old who makes every day an opportunity for adventure. Raw and profane, the film doesn’t shy away from showing the desperation of living at or just below the poverty line. And that ending will stay with you.

7. Baby Driver
A movie for anyone who lives life with a constant soundtrack of music playing, Baby Driver hits the gas and barely slows down for nearly two hours. Edgar Wright’s hip action film has laughs (“This is Mike Myers!,” “Who doesn’t like hats?“) style, and swagger — not to mention memorable characters, each with their own distinct personalities and quirks. The film is expertly edited to sync with the beat of its awesome soundtrack, and the camerawork puts you right in the middle of high-speed car chases — especially the thrilling, unforgettable, instant classic opening sequence, which is scored to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms.”

8. The Big Sick
A sweet, heartfelt film and a truly relevant modern romance, The Big Sick tells the real-life story of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s courtship (they co-wrote the screenplay). Michael Showalter’s sensitive direction is an impressive balancing act, resulting in a film that doesn’t lag and never loses its momentum — especially when it pivots from hilarity to something much more serious. And while all the acting across the board is great, special mention must be made of Holly Hunter. Kumail may be the movie’s center, but she is its tough, beating heart.

9. The Only Living Boy in New York
This film barely made a peep when it was released late in the summer, but I was charmed by its story of a young New Yorker (Callum Turner) who has an affair with his father’s mistress (Kate Beckinsale), all while receiving counsel from the mysterious novelist who lives upstairs (Jeff Bridges). Yes, there are definite echoes of other films by Noah Baumbach and Woody Allen, but Allan Loeb’s screenplay and Marc Webb’s direction allow this film to establish its own identity.

10. Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig’s bittersweet, richly observed, semi-autobiographical directorial debut, which she also wrote, is filled with moments that are joyous, awkward, and frustrating, but always true. Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) plays a determined high schooler desperate to fly the coop, and Laurie Metcalf is the anxious mother who pushes her away because she just can’t bear to let her go. I don’t always enjoy Gerwig’s work (loved her in Greenberg, hated her in Mistress America), but with Lady Bird, she made me a fan again.

The Bottom 10

I hope to never see any of these 10 films again. They’re listed alphabetically.

Baywatch
It’s as if the writers and director learned nothing from watching the 21 Jump Street movies.

The Book of Henry
Maybe there wasn’t any real connection, but soon after this lame film was released, director Colin Trevorrow lost his job on the next Star Wars film.

The Circle
Not even a cast including Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, and Patton Oswalt could save this paranoid, over-the-top social media satire.

Home Again
Oh, Reese. You can do so much better.

Last Flag Flying
After the heights of Richard Linklater’s last two films, Boyhood and Everybody Wants Some!!, this one was a huge disappointment.

mother!/The Square
Sorry, but I didn’t like either of these polarizing movies.

Rough Night
This was supposed to be a comedy.

Suburbicon
I’ll say this much: At least it was better than Monuments Men!

Table 19
I should have RSVP’d no to this movie about a bunch of random guests at a wedding.

Wonder Wheel
To follow the alliteration of the title, this may have been Woody’s Worst.

All of ’Em

If you’re wondering, here’s every movie I saw this year.

  1. Split
  2. The Lego Batman Movie
  3. Fist Fight
  4. The Great Wall
  5. Logan
  6. Get Out
  7. Table 19
  8. Kong: Skull Island
  9. Beauty and the Beast
  10. Colossal
  11. Gifted
  12. Fate of the Furious
  13. The Circle
  14. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
  15. King Arthur
  16. Snatched
  17. Alien: Covenant
  18. Everything, Everything
  19. Baywatch
  20. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
  21. Ingrid Goes West
  22. Wonder Woman
  23. The Mummy
  24. 47 Meters Down
  25. The Book of Henry
  26. Rough Night
  27. Beatriz at Dinner
  28. Baby Driver
  29. The Big Sick
  30. Spider Man: Homecoming
  31. The Hero
  32. War for the Planet of the Apes
  33. Dunkirk
  34. Atomic Blonde
  35. Detroit
  36. Girls Trip
  37. The Dark Tower
  38. Wind River
  39. Logan Lucky
  40. The Only Living Boy in New York
  41. Patti Cakes
  42. Good Times
  43. It
  44. Home Again
  45. American Assassin
  46. May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers
  47. mother!
  48. Stronger
  49. The Adventures of Captain Underpants
  50. Brad’s Status
  51. Kingsman: The Golden Circle
  52. The Battle of the Sexes
  53. American Made
  54. Let’s Play Two
  55. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
  56. Blade Runner 2049
  57. Only the Brave
  58. The Florida Project
  59. Suburbicon
  60. Thor: Ragnarok
  61. Mudbound
  62. Coco
  63. Murder on the Orient Express
  64. Lady Bird
  65. The Square
  66. Justice League
  67. Wonder
  68. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  69. Last Flag Flying
  70. The Disaster Artist
  71. The Shape of Water
  72. Wonder Wheel
  73. The Greatest Showman
  74. I, Tonya
  75. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  76. The Darkest Hour
  77. All the Money in the World
  78. Pitch Perfect 3
  79. Molly’s Game
  80. Call Me by Your Name
  81. Downsizing
  82. Jumanji
  83. Phantom Thread
  84. The Post
  85. Hostiles

And there you go. Cut, print, moving on. Bring on the 2018 releases!

What was your favorite movie of 2017? Share your answer in the comments section below!

One Response to “In a Meh Year for Movies, These Releases Won the Battle”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The 2018 Happiness Project | Martin's Musings - April 22, 2018

    […] 21 Rewatched Stronger tonight (which I’d purchased for just $5 earlier in the week — score!). Even on a second […]

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