Mike's Top Films of 2017
If you had asked me even a month ago what my favorite film of 2017 was, I probably wouldn’t have picked the movie I did out of the air initially. It only became apparent after I began seeing the big awards flicks this year and none of them really floored me. Don’t get me wrong, most of the “awards darlings” are worth a watch – some even made this list. I just didn’t think they stood out from other films I’d seen earlier in the year. Also, to be fair to both sides here, it’s been a fairly strong year for blockbuster film-making, so the gap in quality – in my eyes at least - is less apparent. So, without further jibber-jabbering….my top flicks of 2017……………..
With the above in mind, when I sat down to parse my thoughts on the year in film, I kept coming back to Logan.
Not only is Logan the best solo Wolverine movie, it’s the best X-Men movie…and possibly one of the best superhero movies of all time. Unlike most superhero flicks, it’s largely character driven. Patrick Stewart (Professor X) and Hugh Jackman really get to reveal the guts of their characters in this final chapter. Their characters feel far more lived-in and three-dimensional. They’re messy, poetic, violent, and sometimes downright bleak. Yet, with how dark the movie is, Logan somehow manages a feeling of hope, thanks largely in-part to newcomer, Dafne Keen. It’s sad that Oscar and Golden Globes voters don’t seem to want to acknowledge these performances (especially Hugh’s – who leaves it all on the table) simply because they’re comic characters. Talk about going out on a high note…NUMBER ONE WITH AN ADAMANTIUM BULLET, BABY!
2.) Baby Driver
Baby Driver is one of the most fun first-viewings I’ve experienced in a theater. Edgar Wright uses all of his growing directorial powers to create one of the most original action movies in recent memory, combining a heist movie with a musical – complete with action scenes fully choreographed to the main character’s musical choices throughout the movie. My only minor issue is that the plot isn’t anything to write home about; however, the execution is so fun and the performances are so fantastic that you don’t really mind knowing what's coming.
3.) The Shape of Water
No one else could make The Shape of Water work like Guillermo Del Toro – I say this with 100% certainty. The Shape of Water is the culmination of all of Guillermo’s work up to this point, visually, dramatically, sub textually, etc. For the uninitiated, all I’ll say is that Shape is a beautifully made fairy tale love story between a mute janitorial worker and a sea monster set in 1962 – it’s classic Guillermo and it’s something completely new at the same time. The film is filled to the brim with amazing performances from Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Stuhlbarg. While the movie works completely on the surface, Del Toro works in the subtext and parallels between 1962 and the present time elegantly and without too heavy a hand. I have a feeling this one will reveal more and more with each viewing, which I will certainly put to the test. Two webbed thumbs up!
4.) Thor: Ragnarok
Not only is this the best Thor movie (I know…low bar there), it’s probably in the top 5 Marvel films yet. It certainly gives Guardians of the Galaxy a run for its money on the “Most Fun and Funniest Marvel Movie” list. Great visuals, great humor, great action, great direction, and a great character re-defining lead performance from Chris Hemsworth. When I initially heard director Taika Waititi would be taking over the Thor franchise I was happy, but extremely confused, as his style didn’t exactly seem to mesh with Marvel’s style. Cheers to Kevin Feige for taking another great risk on an indie director with no blockbuster experience. Yet again, it paid off in spades. I suppose it’s about time we just admit that Marvel & Kevin Feige know what they’re doing, right?
5.) Wind River
If you’ve read a bunch of my reviews and year-end lists, you know I LOVE Taylor Sheridan (writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water), so to say that I was anticipating his directorial debut, Wind River, is understating things a bit. Not a lot of people take the time to make these mid-budget thrillers anymore, but with Wind River, Taylor establishes himself as an absolute master of the genre, if his previous two films hadn’t done so already. Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen ditch the superhero leather for heavy winter gear in this dark, politically tinged thriller about a murder that takes place on a Native American Reservation in Wyoming. Taylor’s writing, as usual, is astoundingly good with barely a hint of exposition – just the way I like it. He knows enough to treat his audience with as much respect as he does his characters. As usual, it really pays off. Wind River is an intimate and astounding look at life on the reservation and the people Americans seem to prefer to forget during a period of deep tragedy. In Sheridan’s hands it still remains taught and entertaining while not coming across too heavy handed or preachy. How it’s not a part of the current awards conversation, I have no idea.
6.) Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Look – when the controversy fades away I think The Last Jedi will be more appreciated as a film that tried to break the Star Wars franchise from its self-imposed shackles. Some fanboys are going to need to get their feelings out, but when push comes to shove, except for the whole Finn & Rose in Canto Bight storyline, the movie and the decisions director Rian Johnson made hold up fairly well. Is it my favorite Star Wars movie? No. But it’s filled with some truly great and unexpected Star Wars moments and pushes the franchise into new territory. If this is the film that pushes away fans that can’t accept that, then so be it. It’s not like they haven’t already bought their tickets to the next one…
7.) Spider-Man: Homecoming
Just when you thought you couldn’t take another Spider-Man reboot, Marvel takes over creatively and shows you what you’ve been missing. Effortlessly blending the vibe of 80’s John Hughes-era teen flicks and the Marvel formula we’ve come to know and love, Spider-Man: Homecoming is what Spidey should have always been. Plus, we’ve finally got a guy who can portray both Peter Parker and Spider-Man with equal quality and likability. Throw in a hilarious sidekick, several fantastic secondary characters, and a fully-realized villain in Michael Keaton’s The Vulture, and you’ve got one impressive superhero flick on your hands.
8.) Good Time
Never did I think I’d be typing these words, but here we are….My name is Mike and I think I’m a Robert Pattinson fan. Look – I hate the Twilight films. I found no redeeming value in them whatsoever. The acting, the directing, the effects, the overall blandness – all of it just rubbed me the wrong way. As a result, I largely wrote off Robert as “that Twilight guy” and refused to watch most of his films. When I broke and checked one out, I was generally disappointed (I'm looking at you, Cosmopolis). Good Time changes everything. Robert isn’t just serviceable in the role of Connie Nikas, he’s fantastic.
Indie up-and-comers, the Safdie brothers, write and direct a whole new take on a heist film. Co-director Benny Safdie also turns in a great performance as Pattinson’s younger, mentally-challenged brother that gets dragged into everything by his dirt-bag older brother. It starts with the robbery and goes off the rails from there. I was hooked from minute one.
9.) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Martin McDonagh made quite a splash in the indie film community with his directorial debut, In Bruges, his decidedly European, darkly comedic crime thriller starring Colin Farrell. His follow-up, Seven Psychopaths, was meant to be the American-set version of that, but didn’t pack the same deft, irreverent punch as its predecessor. After four years away, McDonagh returns with a darker, more mature rumination on the same crime thriller/dark comedy mixture that so few can do well.
As with his previous films, the cast in Three Billboards is phenomenal and elevates the material to even higher heights. It’s hard to see anyone but Frances McDormand playing the lead character Mildred, who is at-once body-shakingly hilarious and heartbreaking in nearly every scene. Beyond that, she has Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Caleb Landry Jones, John Hawkes, and more to play off of – that cast can make Michael Bay sound good….OK, maybe not Bay. Regardless, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri somehow succeeds in being horribly depressing, hilarious, and thrilling over and over again until it ends….likely not how you’d think, but certainly how it should.
There’s been some controversy with how this film treats the Midwestern racism bits, but McDonagh has expressed a desire to not make the film about that – no matter how much some want it to be. I understand where people are coming from, but I can also appreciate the film for what it is….hence, it still making the list!
10.) Blade Runner 2049
The original Blade Runner is an acquired taste that’s best known for its outstanding visual style (the FX still hold up to this day) and for being an interesting, thoughtful, & futuristic take on the standard noir film. Yes, it’s slow, but that’s kind of part of its charm. Blade Runner 2049 can be described in exactly the same way. It’s not for everyone, but damn is it beautiful (visually and otherwise). You can also tell that Harrison Ford really cares about this character, as his performance is fantastic. Don’t worry, Ryan Gosling still makes a dreamy robot, but thankfully, unlike some other robot franchises I know, there’s more to this movie than meets the eye.
OTHER DAMN GOOD MOVIES FROM 2017 THAT WOULD LIKELY MAKE MY TOP TEN ON ANY OTHER GIVEN DAY:
While I very much enjoyed Wonder Woman, I’m not falling all over myself trying to praise it as the best superhero movie of the last 5 years…or even this year. Also, let’s face it, DC had a lower bar due to their recent critical misfires, Suicide Squad (yikes) and Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (which I still don’t think deserves the amount vitriol it got). Plus, it had a lot going for it when it comes to the social and political wave that hit it in stride – let’s chalk it up to the right place at the right time. People were ready to raise this movie onto their shoulders and parade it around. It just needed to be halfway decent to do so.
As a film overall, the first half is nearly perfect – that “No Man’s Land” scene is jaw-droppingly good. Gal Gadot turns in a fantastic performance as Wonder Woman, and Chris Pine shines in his supporting role as Steve Trevor. The third act, however, devolves into the heavy-handed CGI mess that DC superhero films were known for up to that point (and have yet to grow beyond) and keeps the film from being truly great. Regardless, it was better than anyone expected it to be – that in itself is its own victory.
The Disaster Artist
A movie about making the “worst movie ever made” ends up being one of the best films of 2017 – I never thought James Franco had it in him. I’ve always been pretty “middle of the road” when it comes to Franco; however, you can’t deny both his spot-on performance and directorial ability in The Disaster Artist. This movie could have gone horribly off the rails at so many turns, but, for the most part, Franco keeps the focus off where most would concentrate (the crazy production of The Room itself) and puts it squarely on the friendship of its two leads. It’s an underdog tale – granted, an extremely strange and at times off-putting one, but walks the line beautifully. And, yes, it’s possible that James Franco is a creep – that doesn’t change the quality of the film.
I have a feeling that a lot of teenage girls are going to call this their movie of the year. While I’m not a teenager or a girl, I still thoroughly enjoyed Lady Bird. It didn’t knock me off my feet, but it was just the right mixture of quirky, sweet, and truthful. Greta Gerwig proves herself to be not only a competent director, but a fantastic writer in her own right, pulling from her own northern California upbringing. Finally, Lady Bird wouldn’t work nearly as well if it didn’t have Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf at its center giving career defining performances as a turbulent, but eerily realistic mother/daughter duo.
While I wouldn’t call it Christopher Nolan’s best work, Dunkirk is still a damn good movie and a masterclass in technical filmmaking. Nolan makes the decision to gut the movie of plot and character in favor of style and technical wizardry. It’s simply a tale of survival from three viewpoints of the same battle – it’s both beautiful and thrilling, but I struggled to care for some of the characters due to his aforementioned decision.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2
Where most directors would have taken what made their first film a hit and doubled it, James Gunn sidesteps sequel expectations by not expanding outward, but inward. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is far different than I expected going in. It’s far more tied to the character journeys and less about a larger threat or adventure, making a fairly large scale movie feel surprisingly smaller than the first at times. While I don’t mind that at all, it does lose some of the overall drive that the first movie has, as the characters aren’t chasing some never-ending MacGuffin machine (like a purple orb). Bottom line, if you liked the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, you’ll undoubtedly find something to enjoy in Vol. 2.
War for the Planet of the Apes
It’s pretty astounding what the new Planet of the Apes trilogy has been able to do in terms of special effects and blockbuster filmmaking overall. Not only do the apes look better and better every time, but the dramatic weight and performances are equally amplified and impressive with each film. Some of this is thanks to the solid and reliable Matt Reeves, but at least equal credit should go to Andy Serkis for shining a light on the beauty and possibility of motion capture performance. War for the Planet of the Apes is Serkis and Reeves working together at the height of their powers to create a blockbuster film that should be the set template for other blockbusters from here on out – focus on character and story, and let that serve the spectacle. War is a beautiful, dramatic, and heartbreaking finale to a trilogy no one asked for, but, in the end, became a trilogy we all needed to see. Bravo!
Steven Soderbergh (Oceans 11, Traffic, Erin Brockovich, Magic Mike) decides to return after a short “retirement” from filmmaking – HUZZAH! What do we do as Americans? Ignore the movie altogether...
It’s sad that Logan Lucky made next to nothing at the box office for so many reasons. The most pressing and obvious reason is that it’s a genuinely entertaining movie. We all know Soderbergh knows his heist movies, but Logan Lucky allows him to put a new spin on the genre all over again by focusing on a bunch of southern buffoons played to perfection by Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, & Riley Keough. I loved every minute.
I’ve never been the type to feel bad for eating meat. Meat rules. Usually, movies made to make you want to give up meat-eating altogether don’t have much effect on me. Plain and simple – I love a good bacon cheeseburger too much.
Okja is the first film to give me pause on my eating habits. Yes, the movie is ultimately about the bond between a little girl and a fictional super-pig, but director Joon-ho Bong or Bong Joon Ho (yes, people call him both) creates a compelling argument against industrialized food production and corporate greed. Bong knows how to sell you on his message – by getting you to fall in love with a CGI super pig through his little-girl caretakers’ eyes. Throw in some absolutely wacky performances from Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, & Paul Dano, and you’ve got yourself one strange, but lovable little masterpiece.
In the end, I still eat meat, but I can see some people viewing this as the final push in to veganism. Okja is pretty damn adorable, after all.
There’s something about Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue that’s both mesmerizing and uniquely his. You’ll recognize it if you’ve ever seen the West Wing, The Newsroom, The Social Network, or any of his countless other writing jobs. It’s so fast-paced and witty (and a bit pretentious) – no one in the real world talks this way, and that’s why some people hate him. Regardless, he’s got a fairly large fan-base for the same reason. Molly’s Game is his directorial debut, and, while his directorial skills don’t quite match up to his writing skills, the film still works due to the usual Sorkin writing and some outstanding performances by Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba. It’s basically a more intelligent and character-based version of Rounders mixed with a legal drama– plus it has the added benefit of not having to make sense of a ridiculously over-the-top performance by John Malkovich.
Call Me By Your Name
Last, but certainly not least, Call Me By Your Name is both a fantastic love story and an outstanding Italian tourism video. Man, do I want to spend a summer in Italy after seeing this movie - the views are just gorgeous.
But as far as the film goes, Timothy Chalamet, Armie Hammer, & Michael Stuhlbarg (AGAIN!) all give brilliant and nuanced performances in this film by Sicilian director, Luca Guadagnino. I've heard the book is sprawling, spectacular, and heartbreaking - while I haven't read it, I can say all of those words are spot on when describing the film. You know what? Maybe this is my #10....Did I mention I want to go to Italy?
Congrats...you made it to the end. You, like me, likely have no life...or you're just a good friend/family member. Either way, ROCK ON!