pop culture | no politics
2017 was one of the best movie years in recent history. Most of the summer blockbusters lived up to the hype and even films that I found disappointing, like Alien: Covenant, It Comes at NIght, and IT, were able to deliver experiences worth the price of a movie ticket. It wasn’t easy to narrow my favorite films of the year down to just ten, but here is what I came up with. Please note that I’ve yet to see Kingsman: Golden Circle and Blade Runner 2049, both sequels to movies that I loved and were likely candidates to appear in my top 10.
We got our first taste of Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, and the young actor showed he could fit right in alongside veteran characters like Captain America and Iron Man. In Homecoming he gets the spotlight to himself (with a handful of cameos from Tony Stark) and the result is a fun detour into a corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that we haven’t gotten to explore yet due to Sony’s exclusive rights to the character. It’s a funny film with plenty of action, and shows that the future of the MCU remains bright as it becomes time to retire some of the veteran characters. Holland’s heroic Spider-Man is balanced by a great villain in Vulture, brilliantly portrayed by Michael Keaton.
I’ve been an outspoken critic of the DC Extended Universe, Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad were two of the worst movies of 2016 so I was pretty skeptical of how Wonder Woman was going to turn out. Gal Gadot was one of the few bright spots of Dawn of Justice so her portrayal of the character gave the film some momentum, but a leaked review spoiled that claiming that the film was as big a mess as BvS was. I was happy to see that was nothing but nonsense as Wonder Woman delivered a very human story, one full of hope and optimism in what has been a very dreary cinematic world up to this point. It is the unquestionable queen of the DCEU and should have set DC and Warner Bros. up to deliver a slam dunk in Justice League, an opportunity they fumbled away.
I was late to the party on the John Wick films having missed the first movie in theaters. So I actually experienced both entries in the franchise for the first time in 2017, and was surprised at how strong the movies are, I had expected nothing more than a generic shoot-em-up but was treated to a well fleshed-out story and strong performances from a surprisingly big name cast. I’ve never been the biggest Keanu Reeves fan but he’s stellar in the title role, bringing a quiet confidence to the intimidating character of John Wick. I was also impressed by the amount of world-building done in the two films as so much work was invested in creating the unique rules of this assassin-heavy story. The sequel could’ve easily fallen into the trap of being a rehash of its predecessor, but it takes chances that pay off and leaves the story in a place that has me impatiently waiting for the conclusion.
I’ve been a Star Wars fan all my life, and now that we’re in the Disney era of Star Wars and are guaranteed at least one new movie a year it will always be the franchise that other films have to beat for me. The Last Jedi is very much a bipolar film, one half of the movie boasts some of the best storytelling in the franchise’s history but it's held back by the other which is a bitter cocktail of confusion and poor decisions. Strong performances by veterans Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher are complimented by equally powerful deliveries from Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver as the torch is passed from one generation to the next. The film is too long and tries too hard to be different from the movies that preceded it, but in the end the good outweighs the bad. It will be interesting to see how The Last Jedi ages, especially when this new trilogy can be consumed as a whole rather than its individual chapters, but right now its a worthy addition to the Star Wars saga.
I appreciate any movie that can defy my expectations and deliver something fresh and surprising, a task that has become increasingly difficult given how saturated contemporary movie marketing has grown. After watching the trailers I thought I had a good handle on what Get Out was going to do, and while the story did follow a relatively predictable path the tone and events that lead to the climax were surprising. The movie kept me guessing through the second and third acts, and the outstanding direction by Jordan Peele put me in the protagonist's shoes as I felt the walls of the theater closing around me.
The original Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the crown jewels of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a film almost on par with movies like Captain America: Winter Soldier and the original Iron Man which started the whole thing. Guardians Volume 2 doesn’t reach the same heights as the first film but it does an excellent job of rounding out the characters that were introduced in the original GoG. That’s no easy task given how big this movie is, along with the core Guardians team the movie spends plenty of time with supporting characters Yandu and Nebula as well as introducing Mantis and Ego. It could’ve turned out to be a mess but snappy writing and tight pacing keep the story on track, and a great performance from Kurt Russell provides the film with one of the best villains in the MCU.
I feel like this latest Apes reboot doesn’t get the love it deserves, the first two entries were really well-done and this year’s War delivers a powerful conclusion to the story. I’ve developed a strong distaste for CGI in the last few years, but the team at Weta Digital have done a great job on this franchise and it's easy to suspend your disbelief and accept the apes as reality for a couple hours. There’s nothing I can say about Andy Serkis’ talent for bringing CGI characters to life that hasn’t already been said, he’s just so good in the role of Caesar. Woody Harrelson compliments Serkis’ performance perfectly as an unhinged lunatic obsessed with eliminating the ape threat in an apocalyptic nightmare, and the last game twist was a genuine surprise.
I missed Dunkirk in the theater and after seeing the film at home I really regretted that. While the events and characters are no different I could immediately tell it was a film best-enjoyed on a big screen in full surround sound glory, the images and audio are as powerful as any movie I’ve seen in recent memory. Watching Dunkirk is a physically and emotionally draining experience, the hopelessness of the situation delivering the viewer genuine anxiety as they watch the events unfold on the screen. I’m not the biggest Christopher Nolan fan as I find his movies to be overly complicated and pretentious, but in Dunkirk he delivers a masterpiece that might be his best film to date.
Logan works on so many levels and even though it comes in at number two on my list it’s arguably deserving of the top spot. While it’s not my favorite film of the year it’s certainly the best made and most powerful, and serves as the perfect goodbye to Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. There have been just as many terrible X-Men movies as good ones but the one consistent in all of them was Jackman. No matter how big or small his role was, you knew he was going to get the most out of the character when he was on screen. Logan brings rest to both character and actor and serves as a reminder that even superheroes have an end, and can be interpreted as a metaphor for the genre itself. The only other returning face is Sir Patrick Stewart reprising his role as Doctor Charles Xavier, and the R-rating allows the veteran actor to take the character in an unexpected direction that is simultaneously tender and tragic.
The Thor franchise has been the stubbed toe on Marvel’s foot since the very first movie with the previous films either falling flat or being outright terrible. I always thought Chris Helmsworth looked awkward and uncomfortable in the role when playing in his own movies but was fine in the ensemble Avengers films. The marketing campaign for Ragnarok promised a different take on the character and the movie delivered from the get go, the tone is set as soon as the movie begins and it doesn’t let up until the end credits roll. The third Thor film is everything its predecessors were not: it’s funny and interesting, it moves at a lighting pace due to its lean story that trims off all the bloated fat that plagued Thor and The Dark World. Like both Spider-Man: Homecoming and Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 this movie delivers a strong villain in Hela, portrayed by veteran actress Cate Blanchett. The movies boasts one of the best supporting casts of the year with Tom Hiddleston returning as Loki and Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk while adding both Jeff Goldblum and Tessa Thompson to the MCU. It’s just such a fun, weird movie, the events onscreen complimented perfectly by what has become my favorite soundtrack of 2017. If this is indeed the final film in the Thor franchise it has gone out on the highest of notes, and it was the most fun I had at the movies this year.