I saw ten more movie in 2017 than I did 2016 (that’s 117 for those who are counting), and the reason I bring that up is because there was one less movie (57 as opposed to 58) that earned a grade at A- or above. (I’ll let you be the judge of what that actually means!) Like all year-end lists of the past, this one will only include films I saw in 2017 (or that came out in 2017, but earned award recognition), which means films like Molly’s Game (which, after seeing it, would have landed in the #4 spot had I seen in two weeks ago), I, Tanya and The Post weren’t considered, but films such as Patriot’s Day (which was officially released in 2016) were. With that said, here is what made going to the movies in 2017 both great and a bit terrible.
Top 10 Best
Bonus Choice (#11) — Wind River
Wind River surprised me. I wasn’t sure what I was going to be getting when I went to see it, but the film was able to draw me in with nothing but its hypnotic atmosphere. It’s a quiet film that uses a murder mystery to paint a portrait of two people who have been broken by their pasts and are looking for some type of redemption, even if that’s as simple as accepting the truth they’ve been hiding from. Much of the credit goes to both Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, who hold our attention with great chemistry and nuanced performances that make it feel as if a whole lot happens, even when it doesn’t.
It’s probably inevitable that at least one Marvel film makes this list every year. Last year, both entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe ended up in the top ten, and with three films this year, only one missed the mark by a hair (that being Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, mostly because it came off a little too cartoonish for my taste in a few spots). This opened the door for Thor: Ragnarok, which finally found the perfect formula for a Thor film — third times the charm, I guess! Everyone is having a blast, including Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo, who together form a terrific new comedic duo. Add in a twist that will change Thor’s life forever (not to mention set up a few key points in this year’s Infinity War), and Taika Waititi is welcome back to give his unique voice to future chapters anytime.
#9 — Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
When I first heard Hollywood was green-lighting a reboot of Jumanji, I was extremely disgruntled. Then it was announced that Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black and Kevin Hart were cast, and I became intrigued. Then it became a pseudo-sequel, and I became a little more okay with it. Then I saw the trailer and found myself hooked. By the time the credits rolled on the actual film, I was a believer. The core four players have a terrific chemistry, all while performing against type playing high school characters that are each actor’s complete opposite. This leads to some very fun scenes that never get tired. Although the villain feels a bit out of place, the experience is nothing more than sheer, gleeful fun.
A lot of people might say that Pixar was hitting a bit of a slump, and it was feared that with the subject matter, Coco would finally break Pixar’s winning streak at the box office. But when a film tells a great story with endearing characters, none of that should (or did) matter. When you wash away all the opinionated rhetoric, Coco is seen for what it is — a well-written, well-acted journey with a terrific message about why your heritage should never be forgotten. Directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina provide a beautiful backdrop to support the story of Miguel, who accidentally upsets the spirits during the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos and must earn forgiveness from his long dead relatives in order to return to the living. But more importantly, what Coco proves to any naysayers out there is that Pixar knows how to make a quality film that will make you laugh, love and, of course, bawl your eyes out!
#7 — It
Much like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, I wasn’t all that excited by a return to one of Stephen King’s most acclaimed novels. Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown was a staple in my youth — who could possibly upstage him? It turns out, Bill Skarsgård could; not by upstaging him, but by turning the comic sarcasm of Curry into a frightening darkness, morphing this adaptation of the first half of the novel into a smart, gritty masterpiece. The kids they cast as the loser’s club are all excellent, and although I wasn’t sure about a couple decisions toward the end, the film left me salivating for part two.
War for the Planet of the Apes is a great example of a how to end a trilogy. Where Rise of the Planet of the Apes helped shape the origin, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes gave us the first opportunity to relate to the plight of Caesar and his family, War provides a tribute to the original films while ending Caesar’s journey the only way they could — with aggressive anger, integrity and flair. Andy Serkis continues to provide a stellar motion-capture performance (alongside a biting Woody Harrelson and a subtle turn by Amiah Miller, who is able to imbue her character with a remarkable amount of emotion without ever saying a word), and the artists at Weta Digital create incredibly authenticity in not only every hair on each ape, but with every small hint of emotion.
#5 — The Wall
One of the smaller, independent films that came out this year was The Wall, a movie that stays locked in one location but feels so wide and grandiose. It’s incredibly hard to make a film wherein a single person is alone for the majority of the film, but when it works, it can be as intriguing and suspenseful as any big-budget action flick. Aaron Taylor-Johnson does a great job keeping our interest as a soldier desperately attempting to contact his superiors while avoiding (and locating) the gun of a militant hiding somewhere in the distance. Although it’s nearly an hour and a half of Taylor-Johnson hiding behind a wall, The Wall was one of the most gripping movies I saw all year.
Major plot twist aside, Split shines as a stand-alone psychological thriller. M. Night Shyamalan finds a way to continue to work in his distinct style while delivering a compelling study of a mental illness that has its ideas rooted in reality, but allows it to blossom into much more exaggerated comic book surrealism. Most of the praise, though, has to go to James McAvoy, who turns in four stellar performances by giving each personality a unique touch, as well as an anguish that keeps them fighting to prove their overwhelming capacity for control.
#3 — Patriots Day
Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg have developed a great rapport with one another, delivering a great wealth of compelling films based on true events. Following Lone Survivor (one of the best films of 2013) and Deepwater Horizon (which made my top ten list last year), Wahlberg and Berg once again find the humanity among the tragedy with the heartbreaking and inspirational look at the Boston marathon bombing. Much like Horizon before it, the reason Patriots Day works so well is because Berg doesn’t focus on the tragedy itself, but on the people and the heroes that lived through it. I don’t know how many more times this duo can make outstanding films together, but you know I’ll be there waiting with open arms when they do.
Funny, clever, exciting. These are just three words that best describe the newest installment of Spider-Man. With Marvel taking back the reigns of one of their most popular characters and pulling him into their growing cinematic universe, Marvel has delivered an origin story that really has no origin. Tom Holland gracefully moves through what is essentially a coming-of-age story as Peter Parker, a fifteen-year-old kid who continues to seek the adrenaline rush of fighting alongside (and against) the Avengers, but feeling sidelined by people he believes are trying to keep his talent from blossoming, even as he continually causes most of the problems he has to fix. Seeing a young kid grow and mature into the superhero he is destined to be (and all the growing pains that come with it) is what makes this Marvel film one of the best of the year. (Oh, and having Michael Keaton on board doesn’t hurt either!)
Watching Rey and Kylo Ren’s relationship grow into a contradictory mesh of heightened expectations and failed attempts at pulling the other to their side sums up the perspective of fans arguing over the merits of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. My bias aside, I understand most of the naysayers’ issues, but it seems to me that most of the problems people bring up in regards to why they absolutely loath the film are because their personal expectations weren’t met. That’s all well and good, but it shouldn’t be the sole reason you despise a film. When you take a step back, realize that there is one more film to go that may add context and depth to the ideas presented here, it may change your tune as to why things were done the way they were. Although I will say that the casino side trip could have been handled better, and there were a couple of moments I felt they could have altered in different ways, I trust the producers know what they’re doing. (Did we know anything about Palpatine in Return of the Jedi before he met his end? No. Did it matter? Not at all!) There are a lot of excellent visuals, terrific performances and the conclusion of a character arc that many will argue went against type, but which I felt fit into the character’s growth and animosity toward what he’d been through quite well, and who was given a fitting end to an incredible journey.
Top 5 Worst
#5 — Before I Fall
One of two Groundhog Day-style films to be released this year, this YA adaptation had a good concept behind it, but came off incredibly disingenuous. Where Happy Death Day had a least a few fun moments while the character trapped in the loop investigates the mystery, no one in Before I fall feels real or authentic, and do everything they can to be tiresome cringe-inducing high school bully stereotypes who add nothing to Zoey Deutch’s Samantha’s journey or her character. Not only that, but the lesson Samantha is supposed to learn is arbitrary; I never felt Samantha was trying to learn anything, even as she “changes” for the better, and the end didn’t feel at all earned.
Because I was a fan of the first two Ring films, I was intrigued by a new sequel that would continue the mythology of that dastardly video tape and its freaky inhabitant. But then they had to go screw things up by making everything incredibly generic with a complete lack of respect for the audience. Director F. Javier Gutiérrez spends so much time making sure his characters do stupid things while keeping information to themselves until the very last minute to add arbitrary suspense, you almost miss the fact that a lot of what’s being presented may contradict what’s come before. Add in a new section of the video that’s been hiding for all this time, and you get the reason why some movie franchises are best left in the depths of the well where they were found.
#3 — King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword
I’m always up for a good King Arthur story — except when it takes the mystical fun and smashes it into the mud. In the hands of Guy Ritchie, the story of King Arthur and his rise to power after pulling the sword from the stone (a moment that fails to garner any intrigue, even as the camera angles, music and effects try their very best to add plenty) becomes a bland review of a story that deserves so much more. Charlie Hunnam isn’t bad as Arthur, and Jude Law does his best with what he’s been given, but the overly-bloated story doesn’t know what to do with itself, leading us to gorge on an overly-produced artsy story that demystifies any sense of legend.
#2 — Wilson
Woody Harrelson appeared in six movies in 2017, and in most cases, was able to create vivid characters that we could relate to, if not completely like in the end. But with Wilson, Harrelson felt lost as a lonely, middle-aged man who finds out he has a daughter. He tries to give the title character a sense of sarcastic wit and “old-man” honesty, but it only comes across as a desperate attempt at being funny, and in so doing, distances himself from the audience, pushing us away to the point that we hope he never finds his daughter or gets back together with what we’re supposed to believe is his soul mate. For what we know Harrelson is capable of as a comedian and actor, this film is a major misfire in both regards.
#1 — Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul
I’m not quite sure why I went to see this film. Based on the previews, it looked like it was going to be a disaster, but a couple of the other films in the franchise weren’t terrible, and I always say you never know until you actually see it. Well, it turns out I was right about the movie being a horrible mess. I don’t care much for Alicia Silverstone as an actress, but even I felt sorry for her having to lower herself to this tripe. The film washes itself with all of the family road trip clichés and relies heavily on every gross-out humor trope it could get its hands on. The child actors don’t seem to be having any fun, and although Tom Everett Scott tries to hold everything together, you could almost feel he knew this was destined to be nothing but roadkill.
What do you think? Did I exclude any? Did I add something that never should have made the list? Give me your top ten lists in the comments below.