I don’t generally keep an exact count of how many movies I see every year, so coming up with a complete “top ten” list is difficult. What it comes down to is when I sit down and look over the reviews I wrote for Gabbing Geek (and I wrote a review for every single movie I’ve seen this year), I think of which ones stuck with me for one reason or another, which ones I recommended, and then I think of the five most disappointing for a bottom five list.
Anyway, here’s my Top Ten List for 2017.
Overall, let me start by saying this was a strong year for movies. We had new films from directors like Edgar Wright, Guillermo del Toro, Christopher Nolan, Alexander Payne, Kathryn Bigelow, Darren Aronofski, and Steven Soderberg, all of which are worth at least a mention. I saw a summer where the movies tried to do more than remakes and sequels. I don’t generally go to horror movies, but I went to two and both made my Top Ten list. So, here we are, the Top Ten from Tom.
10. Logan Lucky
When I mentioned to the others here that Logan Lucky was probably going on my Top Ten list, both Ryan and Watson were a little perplexed. They both saw and liked the movie, but not enough to include on a Top Ten list. And true, in terms of pure quality, there were better movies than Logan Lucky that aren’t on my list like Detroit, The Disaster Artist, or Molly’s Game. So, why is it here? Besides the fact that it marked the return to big screens from director Steven Soderbergh after his “retirement,” I found myself recommending it to people looking for a fun time at the movies. It’s just a fun heist movie with a scene-stealing performance from “newcomer” Daniel Craig. That’s about all a movie needs to be sometimes.
True confession: I’m not really a fan of the original Blade Runner. I’ve seen it a few times, and for whatever reason, it never really grabbed me. But it does ask a lot of Big Questions that good sci-fi should. I just think Blade Runner didn’t answer those questions in a movie I particularly like.
By contrast, the many-years-delayed sequel Blade Runner 2049 asks those questions in a fairly contemplative manner, questions about what it means to be human, and answers them very well. Director Denis Villeneuve did a heck of a job of improving over Ridley Scott, and somehow I don’t think he’ll need to go back and re-edit his movie a couple times to make it “his” version.
8. Wonder Woman
This was a good year for superhero movies. There weren’t any I found particularly weak or bad, but this one from director Patty Jenkins was perhaps the best superhero origin story since Christopher Reeve first played Superman. Taking a naive heroine from her secluded existence on an island without men, thrusting her into the moral quandary that was the first World War, and then having a surprisingly effective Gal Gadot as the title character was an unexpected treat on so many levels. Factor in Chris Pine in the usual damsel-in-distress role as the love interest, and you have a heck of a good movie.
7. I, Tonya
The review for this one is forthcoming this week, but who would have thought it was possible to make a movie that made disgraced 90s era figure skater Tonya Harding sympathetic? Actress Margot Robbie pulls that off by making Tonya, if not wholly innocent, than at least someone recognizable as a flawed human being with a rough life. Filled with unreliable narrators, the movie challenges your assumptions by taking the most well-known incident from Harding’s life and then giving background on how she clawed her way through sheer talent to get as far as she did despite roadblocks in the form of an abusive mother and later an abusive husband. The movie challenges and indicts the viewer as part of the problem of a scandal-driven news cycle that follows a human train wreck and then moves on to the next one. It’s also actually darkly funny in places. Check it out when it goes into wide release.
6. IT Chapter 1
Normally, I skip horror movies. I was a jumpy kid who grew up to become a jumpy adult. But I saw two this year, and both of them are on this list. IT may appear first, but the other one will make sense when you see it if you haven’t guessed what it is already.
In the meantime, 2017 was, The Dark Tower notwithstanding, a good year for Stephen King adaptations. Adapting only half of King’s magnum opus of a novel about a Lovecraftian creature living under the streets of Derry, Maine, where a group of outcast kids realize they need to put the thing down once and for all because there really isn’t anyone who can. Updating the time period from the 50s to the 80s, the movie both captures the edge of childhood well and the terrors that live in this seemingly idyllic town as the youthful protagonists played largely by little known kid actors square off against the dreadful Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Between a creepy performance by Bill Skarsgard and the special effects, Pennywise never seems quite human (he isn’t, obviously), and there’s something disquieting about his every appearance. I know I left the theater psyched for the eventual Chapter 2.
Christopher Nolan apparently wanted to tell this story for years and finally got to it. With a cast of mostly-unknowns, Dunkirk tells the story of the English evacuation of that tiny strand of French beach at the start of World War II. Told in three different stories with three different spans of time, it’s a story of fear and determination in equal measure as the English do whatever they can to get their boys off the beach. It doesn’t glorify war or the British military (many of the soldiers seen are clearly doing everything they can to get home as quickly as possible, no matter how). And the movie ends with Churchill’s famous words about where and when the English will fight the Germans, only it isn’t Churchill speaking the words: it’s a scared soldier who finally got back to England, hammering home that the war for this young man is far from over and he’s only gotten a brief respite at best.
4. Baby Driver
A musical without singing. An action film with car chases set to the sound track. Further proof Edgar Wright is something of a genius. A driver with tinnitus (something I have myself) sets his life to music, and that leads him to be the best getaway driver in the city. And then he falls in love. It’s a simple story told to music. Even the dialogue could double for song lyrics. It’s just a flat-out great experience.
3. Get Out
Here’s the other horror movie I saw this year. I don’t care for gore, but a good psychological horror story is another story, and this one, from writer/director Jordan Peele, isn’t just about conventional scares, but the special fears a black man might have where the real enemy might just be white liberals with their own brand of racism. The best horror is never just about what’s scary on the surface, but this one asked some big questions for the audience while setting up a movie where old white people got their brains transplanted into young black people. That takes some real talent from Peele, and he pulled it off excellently.
Imagine if instead of a horror movie, The Creature from the Black Lagoon was a romance where the female lead, here a mute woman, fell for the fish man locked up in a government lab. This oddly whimsical movie from director Guillermo del Toro is maybe one of the sweetest romances I’ve seen, as two beings who aren’t even the same species learn to communicate and the real monster might be a deranged human being trying to get between the two lovers.
Superheroes supposedly fight “never-ending battles”. Real people can’t. At some point, superhero actors need to move on. I don’t think anyone has done a better job playing the same character through multiple films and showing the full life of that character the way Hugh Jackman has Wolverine. Going back to the first X-Men movie, Jackman helped establish the modern superhero movie, and when it came time for him to move on after 17 years in the same role, he did so with a grace and style in this melancholy movie about endings, fatherhood, and what it means to be a retired legend. With a strong Western subtext and another final superhero performance from Patrick Stewart as a Professor X with severe mental problems of his own, this was the way to end a legend. With Disney buying Fox, Wolverine will surely be back with a new actor in the role, but Jackman got there first and put his stamp on the character for years to come. Remember: Jackman came first, before Bale’s Batman, Maguire’s Spider-Man, and especially Downey’s Iron Man. He showed them how it’s done.
Special Mention: mother!
Did any movie out this year cause more controversy than Darren Aronofsky’s mother!? I doubt it. How something like this got made with a pair of big-name leads in the form of Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem is a mystery all by itself. A bizarre Biblical allegory that confused and divided mainstream audiences, this was an arthouse flick that somehow got a big release. I really enjoyed this one, but at the same time, I can’t really recommend this one to other people without warning them that this movie is weird and disturbing, and that’s just for people who actually get it. It’s weird and infuriating to everyone else from the looks of things.
And the bottom five…
Just as there are ten that I set aside as the top ten, so there must also be a bottom five. Not everything that came out can be good, but these five stood out as especially bad.
5. Free Fire
Man, this one was a let-down. A really exciting trailer that looked like a Looney Toons-style shootout ended up a confusing mess with long stretches of not much happening. I had to get up and use the bathroom in the middle of this one and didn’t even mind missing ten or so minutes.
So, after the success of Jurassic World, director Colin Trevorrow used it to make a passion project in the form of this movie which aimed for quirky and landed in boring, where a genius kid gives out step-by-step instructions for his mother to eliminate the abusive stepfather living next door. Young actor Jaeden Lieberher also got the lead kid role in IT, so he’s doing OK, but the flop of this movie might have cost Trevorrow that cushy Star Wars Episode IX gig.
3. The Snowman
Some movies pretty much everyone knows are going to suck. No one, least of all me, expected a cinematic masterpiece from Geostorm. But then you have movies like The Snowman which had a talented director, talented cast, and was based on an international best seller, and it turned out bad. There may have been worse movies this year, but the fact that there was so much wasted potential in this one makes it feel worse. Special mention also for a similar such movie in the form of Roman J Israel, Esq.
It’s really hard for a movie to get less than a 6 out of 10 from me. A six is a failure. There’s little reason to go below that. And yet, Suburbicon managed. Director George Clooney took an unproduced Coen Brothers script, a black crime comedy, and then grafted on an incompatible political/racial allegory thing. Get Out it isn’t. Subtle it really isn’t. It’s just a mess. Matt Damon had a bad year this year when you consider his best starring role was the lackluster Downsizing and his overall best movie was a cameo in Thor: Ragnarok.
How bad was Matt Damon’s year? He was the lead actor in my two worst movies for 2017. The Great Wall is just a dull slog, made all the worse for the terrible miscasting of Damon as…an Englishman? What the hell accent was he doing? He seemed to sleep through the movie. A fantasy-action movie purporting the title structure was really built to keep giant lizard things out of China sounds promising in theory but was dreadfully bad in execution.
So, there you have it. I saw more than these sixteen, obviously, but they all stood out for different reasons. So, let’s see what 2018 gives us.