Here’s a round-up of the movies I remember watching in 2017. I don’t watch nearly as many as I should, partly because of all these damn shows, but here are some that I did get around to checking out. This is not a ranking, but I do start out with the movies I liked, then move onto the others. (Note: This does include SPOILERS, including LAST JEDI SPOILERS)
Blade of the Immortal – Found myself thinking this is my kind of comic book movie. A ridiculous amount of violence, but somehow never got boring and I still felt the emotional stakes even as the body count reached the hundreds. Taking an over-the-top premise super-seriously usually works for me. And constantly slipping on guts in the final fight scene was a nice touch.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Sam Rockwell should get an award for this one. He starts as a pathetic racist cop who lives with his mom and seems to exist only to serve as comic relief. But as the story evolves, he becomes the heart of the film. Its an amazing piece of writing and Rockwell played it perfectly. McDonagh’s films have a strange way of starting off feeling like compact slice-of-life films that then manage to expand into something you never expected.
Get Out – One of my favorite films is “American Werewolf in London,” and someone on the internet noticed that they used the same font in the opening credits of “Get Out.” I think its an amazing accomplishment to make a film that works as a satire and gets huge laughs without detracting from the suspense and horror elements. Apparently the trailer gives away the whole movie. Luckily I didn’t see it in this case, and it hammers home my new commitment to not watching trailers. Disclaimer: the crowd I saw it with on opening weekend was going crazy for this movie, so that probably affected my reaction.
Logan – I was a big Marvel kid growing up, so its been a disappointment that I haven’t been able to get on board with all these new Marvel movies. Even the Singer X-Men films just didn’t do it for me. Out of nowhere, I end up at Logan and I was blown away. It actually felt like the Wolverine I loved in the comic books for the first time. Strange that it took his last movie to actually get the character right. I love that its basically a road trip movie at heart. I prefer a simple backbone to a movie.
The Last Jedi – All the divisiveness over The Last Jedi has really thrown me for a loop. Given the lukewarm platter of recycled gruel that Abrams served up, I thought Johnson did the best he could to make something interesting. Subtly trolling the films that came before it might not sit well with super-fans, but for me it gave a much-needed breath of life to a series that seemed doomed to go through the motions. In particular, I thought Luke’s arc in this film created by far the most complex character in the series. Like Yoda and Obi-Wan before him, he’s a hermit with a notable failure behind him. Unlike them, he has completely lost faith in the Jedi order, as well as in the idea of heroism in general. We keep expecting him to find his heart/determination/hope and save the day. Instead, he begrudgingly offers a mirage of heroism and practically dies with a sigh. He started as a regular dorky kid and died as a regular sad old man. Seemed pretty real to me for a Star Wars movie.
Paris, Texas – This film was astonishingly beautiful. One of the best-shot films ever, no question. I loved everything about it, and was convinced it would be a new entry in my personal top-10. Unfortunately, the ending knocked it down a bit (for reasons that will be obvious to many of you). Everyone MUST see this movie, so I don’t want to discuss the ending.
The Sound of Music – I had never seen this film, and there was so much serendipity around it in my life this year that it made perfect sense to go see it in 70mm at Hollywood Theater. I was scheduled to make a music video for a medley of Christmas tunes, and the topic came up of whether or not “My Favorite Things” was really a Christmas song. Its one of my all-time favorite tunes, and I didn’t even realize it was from “The Sound of Music!” Later I visited Glacier National Park, and hiking through the mountains there, I was in awe of the scenery and stupidly mentioned that it was like we had been transported to “The Sound of Music.” And our guide said that Glacier used to be known as the American Alps! So I wasn’t so far off base, having never actually seen the movie (or the Alps). ANYWAY it was amazingly charming and entertaining throughout. I’m not sure what the message of the film is… “act like a huge abusive asshole to your children and maybe a beautiful angel will come into your life and magically fix everything?” But who cares? Julie Andrews is smiling and singing and dancing. Usually, when a film breaks every box office record ever, there’s a reason (at least before shit like Avatar).
Mother! – I’ll probably catch some flack for this, but I actually enjoyed this movie. Is it a ham-fisted allegory of the Bible? Probably. I can’t be sure, because I cannot seem to retain any information regarding what the Bible is even about. The biggest failure in my personal education, and I can’t even bring myself to watch “The Bible” the movie or read the damn cliff notes. Oh well. So if you can imagine coming at it from that angle, it actually had game performances, very lively filmmaking, and some satisfactory shocks. The crowd I saw it with actually booed. I figured it was because they were annoyed they had been subjected to a film that was all symbolism, but maybe its just because they actually know the story of THE BIBLE.
The Shape of Water – This is a beautifully written and acted film. The script is incredibly creative in its detail, and everyone is perfectly cast. Michael Shannon is terrifying as the villain, and his decaying fingers were a beautiful touch that I think serves as a prime example of “good-to-great” writing, in that his character would have worked well anyway, but that addition created a palpable image to coincide with his decent into insanity. The touch of having a sexually empowered female protagonist in a fantasy film was refreshing. Also, points for creating an emotionally complex creature with minimal CGI. Finally I want to mention Sally Hawkins, who gives an amazing performance in this film. She stars in one of my favorite films by Mike Leigh, “Happy Go-Lucky.” I really hope her newfound fame will inspire people to check that out, because it’s a brilliant, devastatingly sad film (like all of Leigh’s work) that may have been overlooked because of its title and cheery pink and yellow box art.
Gremlins – Every now and then I’ll watch a movie I only remember from early childhood. Its usually pretty interesting, and sometimes very disappointing. I could have never predicted how much I would like this. The protagonist is dull as hell, and nothing makes sense, but its still goddamn delightful. The thing that gets me about this movie, is how no one is amazed by Gizmo at all, its just “Aw, he’s cute.” Then, when the town is overrun with terrifying reptilian humanoids who can sort-of talk, everyone immediately accepts it and jumps in the fight. The mom gets right down to business, quickly dispatching one in a food processor and another in the microwave. By the time Gizmo is driving around in the pink Barbie corvette, you’re knee-deep in the insanity and begging for more. My favorite part was a maudlin monologue by a dead-serious Phoebe Cates telling the story of how her father was burnt to death in the chimney trying to impersonate Santa and that’s why she hated Christmas (!?) It was a beautifully subversive moment for a Spielberg-produced blockbuster. (for Breaking Bad fans: it was cool seeing Jonathan Banks as a young man playing a cop in this movie.)
E.T. – Another film I hadn’t seen since VERY early childhood (probably four years old). Unlike Gremlins, which this film likely inspired, E.T. did not hold up well at all. Its sappy Spielberg, which I’ve never been able to stomach, whether its “Saving Private Ryan” or this. There’s simply too much fucking crying in this movie. The end was just a shameless waterworks. And unlike Gremlins, the creature effects were laughable. E.T. doesn’t have legs, which doesn’t make for a believable alien. I will say, the cinematography is awesome; I love that early Spielberg flavor (master of the fog machine!). And the John Williams score is perfect. Mark Hamill said it best: Star Wars and many of these other films may have been forgotten if not for Williams’ music.
Wonderstruck – The new Todd Haynes movie. It was a solid, if forgettable, tear-jerker. The filmmaking was excellent and I actually enjoy a highly straight-forward, predictable story. But it made me miss that subtle subversive element you’d find in a Haynes movie like “Far From Heaven.”
Blade Runner 2049 – Wow, I was surprised by how boring this movie was. The first one was also slow, but it had mind-blowing, ahead of its time effects and production design, and also iconic performances by Ford, Young, Hannah, and Hauer. Everything, and everyone in that movie looked perfect. The Vangelis score was perfect. I read that Vonnegut freaked out when he saw it because the images were so close to what he’d imagined. Today, jaw-dropping visuals are the norm, and Gosling seemed to be doing next to nothing. In the original Ford gave a minimal performance, but he was charismatic enough to make you curious. Gosling just seemed, well, robotic. Don’t get me wrong, there were some interesting moments in this film, and Leto was convincingly creepy as the villain, but I was just not invested enough in the main character to give a damn about the mystery. At the end of the day, I’d rather watch a good episode of “Black Mirror.”
Dunkirk – This is tough one, because the technical filmmaking here is incredible on every level. And I love the idea of this big collage of a moment. The goal is beautiful and ambitious. You might say its an Altman-like approach to a war movie: a giant filmic tapestry. Unfortunately I had this sinking feeling as it went on that there wasn’t really a perspective. Nothing emotional was getting across for me, and I was left with a feeling that I was watching a WWII fan flick. It felt like a grown man reenacting one of his favorite battles with an unlimited budget. Maybe I missed something? Based on my experiences with other Nolan films, I don’t think so.
Good Time – Another decently-crafted film that seemed soulless to me. The main character is completely despicable, and while I’ve been known to enjoy those kinds of films (“Buffalo 66”) in this case he was also poorly realized. Or maybe there was a disconnect there, in that the filmmakers didn’t intend for him to be despicable(?) In any case, it was a gloomy, forgettable experience. I also discovered that I really don’t agree with using a heavy analog synth score when there isn’t a sci-fi or supernatural element. Seemed really out of place.
Green Room – I’m usually very forgiving on plot holes. I don’t watch movies for plot, I watch them for a style and a feeling, and to be carried away as with a piece of great music. But the plot of this film made no fucking sense to me at all. It was so senseless that I wouldn’t want to waste anyone’s time getting into it. It gets points for an interesting premise, for an unexpected turn by Patrick Stewart as a white supremacist, and for creatively intense violence. But goddamn that plot made no sense.
Baby Driver – Here’s another amazingly crafted film that didn’t resonate with me. The filmmaking skill is off the chart, with every shot coming straight from one of the masters’ playbooks. Unfortunately, unlike “Get Out,” where the fun stuff didn’t disrupt the suspense, here the quirky-cuteness of it all dragged down any real drama or stakes. A common problem for me in modern films is that they have TOO much style, as if every scene has to be a carefully story-boarded music video montage, and the result is you never really feel like you’re IN the movie. Its as if you’re watching a 90-minute credit sequence, and it gets fatiguing and frankly feels a little insecure.
Lost City of Z – Oh God this was bad. Just don’t watch this.
..if you made it this far, thanks for reading! And happy New Year! Would love to hear your thoughts. -Adam