As 2017 draws to a close we look back on a year loaded with many great films, many really good films and—sadly—many stinkers. Despite so many high quality movies, Hollywood suffered through its worst summer season in over a decade. Many movies that were expected to be huge, were received coolly by ticket-buyers, some movies that were hoped to be franchise-starters bombed out of the gate, and there just weren’t as many surprise mega hits as there have been in years past. It’s not been a good year, financially, for Hollywood, but looking beyond the bottom line, 2017 still produced a fair number of great films.
Let’s break them down, from the pretty good ones, to the pretty great ones, to the simply incredible ones, and hopefully settle on one as the best movie of the year for cult-film enthusiasts.
THE PRETTY GOODS
LIFE was held back by seeming like a cheap Alien (1979) knock-off. And to be fair, in a lot of ways it was, but in hindsight—with the under-performance of Alien: Covenant—the movie was actually a pretty solid thriller with a pretty great twist ending.
SPLIT was the first surprise hit of the year. M. Night Shyamalan hadn’t seen a genuine hit since Signs (2002) and his most recent movies had been not only critical and commercial bombs but also were outright mocked for their stupidity. He had a mild comeback in 2015 with The Visit and followed it up with this simple, tight, Hitchcockian horror movie with an ending that wasn’t so much a twist as it was a pleasant surprise.
LOGAN LUCKY didn’t set the box office on fire but it did provide a fun, light, two hour romp. The expectations were non-existent, the pressure was off, and Steven Soderbergh pitched it as just “redneck Oceans Eleven.” It had a niche market to appeal to, but those who gave it a chance walked away more than satisfied.
ANNABELLE CREATION was released a full month before IT, but it was never able to escape the shadow of the biggest horror movie of the year. It was a stronger film than its predecessor, but failed (like the first Annabelle) to achieve the horror movie bliss of its Conjuring source material.
JUSTICE LEAGUE is either a spectacular failure or a disappointing improvement, depending on your viewpoint. On the one hand, it fixed a lot of the problems that plagued Batman v Superman, going with a tighter, simpler story, filled with more humor and comic-bookey action. On the other hand, it was a tonally disjointed mess of a film, featuring some terrible CGI work and a nonexistent villain. It will end its theatrical run with a box office haul well below Wonder Woman, proving that ticket-buyers are not giving DC movies the benefit of the doubt.
THE PRETTY GREATS
LEGO BATMAN didn’t land as perfectly as 2014’s THE LEGO MOVIE but it did bring us the most purely “fun for all ages” Batman movies since Adam West blew up a shark with an aerosol can. On the surface it was more LEGO-esque mania, but underneath was a surprisingly character-driven story exploring Batman’s own insecurities and flaws. The CGI-LEGO animation continues to be awe-inspiring and there’s no limit to the amount of great stories they can tell in that environment. Hopefully we get a DC follow-up soon. I’d love a LEGOized Justice League mini-franchise.
A MONSTER CALLS flew under the radar when it received a wide-release in January, but as stated in our review of the movie, it’s a powerful film that forces young people to learn hard truths: Life isn’t always fair and sometimes stories don’t have happy endings. I took my ten year old son to see the film and I have a feeling it will be one of those movies that sticks with him forever, much the way E.T. or The Neverending Story did for me.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was never going to recapture the magic of Disney’s animated original, but it did occasionally come very close. It needed Angela Lansbury more than anything else. Beyond that, the movie’s effects, musical-feel and dedication to reimagining childhood memories makes it a hit. The Jungle Book established the template for these CGI-infused remakes of old Disney classics, Beauty and the Beast solidified it as a winning formula, and now it’s up to the upcoming Lion King and Aladdin remakes to keep the magic going.
GET OUT should never have been a surprise, in hindsight. With “Key and Peele” Jordan Peele had already proven his ability to frame a satire and shine a spotlight on tropes, conventional presumptions and society’s blind eye. Turning a “Key and Peele” sketch into a passable “good” movie probably could have been done in his sleep. Instead Peele opted to refine his screenplay, giving it pass after pass until it was a multi-layered satirical exposé on race and American culture in general. Instead of hiding his truths behind humor, he uses a different genre, horror. Nevertheless his natural comedic chops reveal themselves on more than on occasion, and the end product is a delightful blend of many different genres. Whatever category you put the movie in, it’s one of the year’s best, held back only by a slightly rushed third act.
IT is the latest in a long line of Stephen King adaptations but it’s one of the few that both stayed true to the source material and was well-made. For every Stanley Kubrick’s Shining that was good but totally original, there’s an ABC’s Shining that was terrible but faithful to the source. IT managed to produce a horror movie that felt fresh, standing out from the scores of others in the genre that are released every year, while also capturing the core of the original book. It’s a coming of age story wrapped in a horror movie blanket. Strip away the killer clowns and psychotic visions and you’re left with a movie that elicits a lot of the same nostalgic feelings that makes Stranger Things such a mega-hit.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2 had a lot of pressure on its plate. It was released in May, as Disney’s big tentpole for that critical month. It was the follow-up to the biggest surprise hit of 2014. It was hyped as well as Disney can hype anything (which is a lot) while fans were worried it would not live up to the original’s…originality. For the most part James Gunn juggled everything skillfully. The final product was a movie that didn’t try to be another romp, but instead turned introspective and focused on the relationships within the team. That part of the movie was great, thought a few of the one-liners came off as trying too hard to remake the effortless charm of the first.
WONDER WOMAN is, thus far, the only DCEU film not to have Zack Snyder behind the camera in any capacity. Yes I know Suicide Squad happened. I choose to believe it didn’t. The difference in tone, style and approach was apparent from the initial trailers. To be fair to Snyder, it was Wonder Woman’s extended cameo in Batman v Superman that gave her solo film its initial burst of momentum (she was the best part of the movie, hands down). The movie succeeded for three reasons: The desire among nerd/genre fans for a critically-praised DC movie, the desire among critics for a female-led movie that nerd/genre fans would love (after Ghostbusters bombed) and the fact that the movie was, unlike the Snyder films, straightforward, simple, fun, well-acted, and not overly wannabe artsy.
THE BEST MOVIES OF THE YEAR
Looking back on the best of the best movies of this year, it doesn’t seem like there was any one in particular that stood out above the rest. There wasn’t one that was “just perfect” from top to bottom. With that said, here are the ones I consider the best, why each of them deserves the top spot and why each is held back.
BABY DRIVER is pure surface-level enjoyment. There’s not much going on under the surface, but what you get on the surface is a roller coaster blast from beginning to end. For that reason it both deserves and doesn’t deserve the top spot.
LOGAN offered a fitting send-off to the most important character in the history of Marvel’s cinematic success. Without Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine there would be no Iron Man, no Captain America, no Guardians, no Thanos. He was and has continued to be the brightest bright spot in an otherwise hit and miss X-Men franchise. It’s a shame his previous two solo movies under-performed, but Logan sends him out on a high note. It’s held back from being the overall number one movie by a middle act that drags, and a finale that, while moving, was also occasionally corny whenever the wannabe lost boys were on the screen.
DUNKIRK was the first Christopher Nolan movie based on true events. As such, many wondered how he would translate his unique storytelling style, which usually depended on a shocking third act twist or revelation, to a story whose ending is well-known. Nolan instead focused on the way in which the story was told, offering a three-pillared story told across multiple timelines. It’s a mind-bender to explain, but when seen on screen it becomes a thrilling work of cinematic art. If you’re looking for a flaw that might keep it out off the top spot it’s the fact that the movie’s human characters are underdeveloped and mostly serve as stand-ins for the dazzling spectacle happening around them.
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES should have grossed twice what it did. It’s the finale of a trilogy whose quality increased with each film and whose second installment was one of the bigger hits of the year in 2014. Typically with trilogies, the middle movie is the lowest grossing installment and, assuming the quality remains high, the final entry will be the highest. Yet here, despite rave reviews, WAR will end up the lowest grossing entry in the trilogy. It’s a terrible shame to see such a stellar movie be overlooked in what ended up being a relatively quiet summer movie season. Is it perfect? No, like the previous movies, it spends a little too much time with the humans and not enough with the captivating Caesar, but it’s still far better than its disappointing box office haul would indicate.
SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING only ended up grossing about thirty million more (adjusting for inflation) than Amazing Spider-Man, but the sense of momentum and enthusiasm hasn’t been this strong for the web-slinger since Spider-Man 2 rocked everyone in 2004. All it took was the partnership with the MCU and a return to high school drama to bring the series back to the top. Homecoming worked for the same reason all MCU movies work: good casting, simple plots, a tangible “fun” feeling throughout, and some great setpieces. After six movies and three reboots it can’t help but be a little derivative, but on it’s own and within the context of the rapidly expanding MCU, the movie just works.
BLADE RUNNER 2049 will, fittingly, end up as a movie its fans adore and everyone else either ignored or was left mystified by. It’s a throwback movie to the days when films were slower, deliberate, in love with visuals and of tracking shots. It’s not frenetic. It’s not spastic. It’s not manic. It’s not whiz-bang. It’s the perfect sequel to Blade Runner…though not a perfect movie. It probably could have lost about thirty minutes and then added back in a different ten minutes to help explain the plot (which sometimes seemed arbitrary to the visual feast).
THOR: RAGNAROK is the movie Chris Hemsworth deserved. After two previous solo movies that failed to capitalize on his wonderful comedic talents, the franchise finally fell into the hands of a director willing to let him cut loose. Taika Waititi made a Thor movie that undid everything that was wrong with the previous Thor movies. It wasn’t overly theatrical, it wasn’t dark and brooding. It was light, fun and self-deprecating. If you want to criticize it, you could go to the villain—Hela—who is yet another MCU one and done baddie that talks a big game and is undone very easily. Beyond that, Thor, who had previously been the custodian of one of the worst movies in the MCU, has now released a movie that’s one of the best in the MCU.
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI, actually received a 9/10 score on this site after my initial viewing. After seeing it a second time I desperately wanted to revise my rating to a ten. It’s still not a perfect film, but its flaws shrink exponentially with each successive viewing, while the best moments seem to get better and better. This is a movie that will blossom in time, much like the initially-divisive Empire Strikes Back has done. On the one hand, it deserves the top spot only because I anticipate it will end up my favorite movie of this year…in a few years time. It doesn’t deserve it right now, though, because that first impression left me so conflicted. Still, if there was only one movie from 2017 I could take with me to a desert island, this would be it.
Those are my favorite films of 2017. What are yours? Let us know in the comments below.
Here’s to 2018!