The Year In Review – 2017

On January 2, 2018 by Jack Falvey

While I’m a little late this year as I tried to squeeze in a few more films, here’s my Year in Review for 2017.  There’s a lot of familiar stuff here as 2017 may have been the year I appeared on more podcasts than ever, but still this is a nice signpost of my year in film and I felt like I had to do it, so hopefully you get something out of it.  Of course, it’s always impossible for me to see everything, and there are still a few big films I have yet to check out, but at this point it’s either do or die, so I chose to write this now.  Anyway, on with the list.

Alien Covenant – 2/10

While it was close, I don’t think there was a movie I disliked more than Alien Covenant this year.  An utter failure from top to bottom, that you can hear about right here, Covenant seems to be made by a director that didn’t give a rat’s ass about basic logic.  I didn’t expect much from this, so I wouldn’t call it a disappointment per-se, but this is likely my last time watching a film in the Alien franchise (which should be dead now anyways).

It Comes at Night – 3/10

A decent premise, some good atmosphere, but utterly pointless by the end, for a micro-budget character drama this film had no discernible meaning, theme or point to me.  The acting performances were decent enough but they really don’t amount to much.  Boring, poorly paced with an interesting idea for an ending (that’s completely un-earned), this is a strong pass from me.

Justice League – 3/10

Trash.  Absolute trash.  I honestly don’t know why I didn’t give this a 1/10.  Terrible in every way.

Split – 5/10

This was hailed as the great return of M. Night Shyamalamadingdong to good filmmaking.  I found Split to be slightly better than Shyamalan’s recent efforts but still a clunky script with some bad casting.  McAvoy, the more I thought about it, was good for most of his performance but can’t sell his transformation into *SPOILER* The Beast during the finale.  While part of me is excited for the sequel, it’s because of its ties to Unbreakable and not Split.

The Fate of the Furious – 5/10

These movies tend to be big, lound, dumb and, most of all, fun.  I didn’t find this one to be all that much fun.  Charlize Theron doesn’t really add much to the equation and the cheesy, 4th-wall-breaking references to Paul Walker didn’t do the movie any favors.  At the same time, my favorite aspects of the flick were any time The Rock and Jason Statham were on screen together, saving what would have otherwise been a super cringey suckfest.

Jim & Andy – 6/10

I think a lot of film nerds find Milos Forman’s Man on the Moon and become somewhat obsessed with Andy Kaufman for a time.  Clearly no one got more obsessed with Kaufman than Jim Carrey preparing for this performance.  While that’s all well and good, Carrey expounding upon his life beliefs, spiritual values and methodology is grating and idiotic.  This is a guy who believed that vaccines cause Autism in young children, so I won’t be taking anything he says with any seriousness.  That all being said, there’s some interesting insight into the behind the scenes of Moon, but at the end of the day Carrey’s “method” acting seems exploitative, especially to Kaufman’s family.  Not a horrible documentary, but if you don’t enjoy Carrey’s perspective you’re going to have a tough time getting on this movie’s wavelength.

Kong: Skull Island – 6/10

This is your standard, disposable action flick.  The design of Kong is cool in a sense that they brought back the original Kong design from 1933 and made him look great.  Some of the CGI on screen here is pretty solid and there are some genuinely colorful, great action sequences, but there’s not enough here to care.  The supporting cast is far superior to the finished product.

Beauty and the Beast – 6/10

I don’t have anything negative to say about this movie…other than the fact that it is nearly a shot-for-shot remake of the animated film.  Disney clearly knows how to make money, with this being another example of their business acumen.  I just find myself not really caring about this movie.  I like almost everyone involved, the music is snappy and it looks shot well enough, but I don’t love the fact that all Disney has to do is remake their animated films and make another boatload of money.  Sorry but it’s annoying and bad for film in general.

Wonder Woman – 6/10

The outpouring of support for this film was, and continues to be, ridiculous.  This film isn’t all that interesting, does nothing fresh and becomes a huge CGI brawlfest by the end.  Gal Gadot is charming in the role, but if all anyone had to do with the first big female superhero film was remake Captain America then Patty Jenkins shouldn’t be praised as a visionary but an opportunist.  This movie is the best DC has released since The Dark Knight Rises…but that’s not saying much when you’re comparing it to Batman V Superman, Justice League and Suicide Squad.

1922 – 6/10

Tom Jane is one of the great, criminally ignored actors of our time.  His work speaks for itself, and when he’s given quality material, like The Mist, he really knocks it out of the park.  1922 may not be truly great material, but Jane is playing a great role nonetheless, and one worthy of some recognition.  Basically a reworking of Poe’s Tell Tale Heart, the atmosphere and direction of 1922 set it apart, slightly, from other Stephen King adaptations, but it suffers, in the end, from familiarity of this kind of story.  One of the better King adaptations of 2017, but not the best (more on that later).

Logan Lucky – 6/10

I’ve always liked Soderbergh’s filmography, despite not having seen all of it.  I feel like he doesn’t typically make the same movie twice, Ocean’s trilogy excluded.  That makes Logan Lucky all the more weird, since it is, essentially, a remake of his previous heist films.  It has a cadre of celebrity cameos, revolves around a heist and wraps up with a sequence of scenes that the audience never could have seen coming.  It’s oddly manipulative and, for me, only really worked well once (the original Ocean’s Eleven remake).  Adam Driver and Daniel Craig are both good here, but my personal distaste for Nascar made this fairly dull.

Star Wars The Last Jedi – 6/10

While I originally gave this a 7/10 because of the series, I’m settling on a 6/10.  I likely won’t ever watch this again and have trouble seeing past the plot holes.  I respect the idea of taking Star Wars in new, bold directions, but I disagree with many of Rian Johnson’s choices.  I also have problems with the nonsense of the script at times, going places that only make sense because the script says they have to.  Definitely a disappointment.

The LEGO Batman Movie – 7/10

Making Batman a spoiled man-child who gets off on being a loner was such a funny take on the character, and while the flick is aimed at children I still had a good time.  The voices were a big odd to adjust to, with Zach Galifianakis’ voice for Joker being the strangest of the bunch, I really dug the amount of references to Batman lore across all incarnations of the character.  My big gripe from the flick is the fact that the movie’s message doesn’t resonate the same way the one from The Lego Movie does.  Still a good time, and a decent addition to the Batman film saga.

Spider Man Homecoming – 7/10

Tom Holland is easily the best Spider Man and Peter Parker we’ve had.  His performance takes all the aspects of the character fans have been pining for and puts them together in a solid representation of the character.  As the Vulture, Michael Keaton also puts in great work here, harkening back to some of his best work.  Homecoming’s strength comes from its focus on Parker’s experience as a high school student, both to the movie’s strength and detriment.  Marvel continues to kill the comic book competition and this is another great addition to their cinematic universe, if an at times familiar one.

Good Time – 7/10

Another movie mired with hyperbole, Good Time was a raw look into the life of a supreme “f***-up”.  Robert Pattinson likely gives a career-best performance as Connie Nikas and it’s clear the directors, the Safdie brothers, knew the streets they were shooting on as the whole movie has a very home-grown feel to it.  I can’t deny the craftsmanship that went into this one but I simply found this to be average.  I couldn’t connect with the characters and had some issues with the tone.  All that being said, I think others may find more to like here, so I’d definitely recommend it.

The Trip To Spain – 7/10

The third film in Michael Winterbottom’s trilogy, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are still great as caricatures of themselves.  The threadbare plot of two successful actors traveling the countryside reviewing restaurants is good enough where it allows the leads to improve relentlessly and keeps me, as a viewer, invested in their performances.  If I had any issues with the film they’re simply from the fact that the ending is much more weird than the previous two entries.  I have a feeling we’ll see more from this team in the near future, so if you liked the last two films you’ll like this one.

Kingsman The Golden Circle – 7/10

While there are some seriously weird messages in this flick the fact remains that I really liked this movie.  The first one was a pleasant surprise and this one pretty much matched it in terms of quality.  Taron Eggerton is an incredibly likeable lead and I hope we get to see a lot more from him in the future, but Matthew Vaughn still has the chops to direct quality action scenes.  I’m also a mark for Elton John so seeing him on screen was great.  The low point of the film for me is likely Julianne Moore as she really just seems like a copy/paste of Sammy J from part 1, but otherwise I dig this movie.

Brigsby Bear – 7/10

If you told me at the start of the year that Star Wars would be my second favorite Mark Hamill movie of the year I’d call you insane, but here we are and Brigsby Bear is a nice little flick.  Kyle Mooney, a current member of the SNL cast, wrote and stars in a film about a guy who loves the show Brigsby Bear to the point of obsession.  Saying anything else is in and of itself a spoiler for this movie, but without delving too deep this is a pretty wholesome, strange look at creativity through extreme positivity.  This is an admittedly weird movie and I would warn anyone that takes a look that if they aren’t buying into the premise by about 15 minutes in then shut it off as it really doesn’t get any more normal than that.

Ingrid Goes West – 7/10

A dark story about social media and how it is at once pathetic and disturbing, Ingrid Goes West has a very standard, familiar trajectory.  Hell, even a character in the movie references the Singel White Female-ness of it.  Aubrey Plaza is good as the manic and obsessed Ingrid, but you do have to suspend disbelief a bit to go with her on this journey.  A plot point very conveniently delivers an unnamed sum of money into her lap, allowing her to go on this journey, without much logic.  It’s a minor quibble but since the entire movie is built upon it it’s a little annoying in retrospect.  Worth a look for sure, but not as hard-hitting as it could have been (think Nightcrawler).

Call Me By Your Name – 7/10

There are films that stay with you long after you’ve seen them, and this one just does not seem to leave my mind.  The story of an emerging romance between two young men in 1980’s Italy seems like it would be boring and uninteresting, but just like Moonlight last year this film has an odd knack for capturing the viewer in a complex tapestry of emotions.  I find this movie at times frustratingly tense while also profoundly moving, something that can’t be said for a lot of films I saw this year.  While it does stray, briefly, into the camp of “rich white people doing rich white people shite”, the emotional undercurrent of the flick is undeniably relatable.  This is one that may increase in score as time goes on, and a definite recommendation from me.

Gerald’s Game – 7/10

Described to me as the “scariest book I’ve ever read” by a friend of mine years ago, Gerald’s Game sounded like a crazy premise.  The idea of a woman handcuffed to a bed while her husband dies of a heart attack in front of her is horrifying, but the possibility of the lead hallucinating, or becoming insane, gives the story an entirely unique cerebral edge that I didn’t see coming.  Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood are both good in their respective roles, but it’s Henry Thomas as Gugino’s Jessie’s father in some flashback scenes that will really mess any viewer up.  Good story, unexpected turns and solid acting make this a solid effort from Netflix.

Wheelman – 7/10

Another Netflix film, Wheelman tells the story of our lead, the Wheelman, as he goes to do a job.  As the job is happening, however, things go south and the Wheelman has to react to what’s happening around him.  The film, in a somewhat bold move, takes place 90% inside the car with the Wheelman, something I didn’t notice until a good half-hour into the flick.  This makes for some interesting shots and perspectives, some of which reminded me of Drive.  Frank Grillo is well cast as the lead and sells the movie in a way that a lesser talent couldn’t have.  Again, Netflix does the script here right and delivers exactly the kind of movie they need to.

It – 7/10

The It mini series has always been a weird intersection of great character design and poor storytelling.  This version takes everything about that mini series and essentially gives it the finger.  Tim Curry is iconic in the role of Pennywise, but Bill Skarsgard’s performance, somewhere between pedophile creepiness and serial-killer insanity, is an entirely different animal.  What really makes this film work, however, is the strength of its cast, consisting of mostly child actors.  Had these roles not been filled by competent performers the movie would have failed, but the movie has enough halfway decent scares and great belly laughs that make it a very entertaining flick.

Get Out – 8/10

With some distance (after a truly miserable theater experience) Get Out has emerged as one of the better films I saw this year.  While the premise borrows heavily from Being John Malkovich, there’s no denying the social commentary and perspective of Get Out is unique, fresh and genuine.  This film was so interesting that I really can’t wait to see what else Jordan Peele has up his sleeve.

Wind River – 8/10

A surprise favorite of mine when considering the year’s releases, Wind River expands upon the gritty realism of Hell or High Water by telling the story of a murdered daughter on Native Reservation land.  Jeremy Renner is great, as is Elizabeth Olsen, but the standout for me is heavy-hitter Jon Bernthal in a supporting role.  Wind River works well because the story being told doesn’t flinch.  Hollywood films rarely get the ending as right as this one does, so that alone makes it a must-watch.

Logan – 8/10

A swan song for a performance spanning two decades, Logan, building off the momentum created by Deadpool the year prior, is a successful affirmation of both the mythos of Wolverine and a summation of Jackman’s commitment to the role.  By taking the template of the western and applying it to this character, James Mangold does a very solid job making what could have been lame into something great.  As a fan of Jackman this has everything you’re looking for.

Baby Driver – 8/10

A fun time at the movies and one of the most creative uses of music in a film that I’ve ever seen, Baby Driver is Edgar Wright at the height of his powers doing what he does best; entertaining at the highest level.  While I have a couple issues with the movie, specifically regarding the fact that there aren’t a whole lot of great car stunts in a movie with the word DRIVER in the title, this is an infectiously charming movie with maybe my favorite soundtrack of the year.  Highly enjoyable.

Score: A Film Music Documentary – 8/10

I love film scores, and I love hearing composers talk about their perspective on scoring a film.  It’s such a foreign thing to me, being able to create music to accompany the mood of a film, that I really have no way to relate to these people, yet I find their process fascinating.  Seeing people like Thomas Newman, Hans Zimmer and John Williams talk about their most famous work, and hearing their opinions of their peers, makes for a very entertaining documentary.  I could have watched another 4 hours of this with ease.

Hired Gun – 8/10

Another music documentary, this one taking a look at the idea of the “hired gun”, defined as studio musicians who may not have started with a particular band but were called in to fill a specific role and, potentially, move on to bigger and better things.  Multiple interviews are conducted with guys like Billy Joel’s drummer, Alice Cooper and, one of the most famous hired guns, Jason Newsted and his perspective on the opportunity to join Metallica.  There’s also a lot of hard truths in the film, like some musicians banking on stars touring only to find out at the last minute that the tour won’t happen.  It’s an overlooked piece of rock culture that I’m happy got a little exposure with this doc.

A Ghost Story – 8/10

In a world where Star Wars was the most divisive film of the year not directed by Darren Aronofsky, I can’t imagine recommending this to anyone.  Having said that, A Ghost Story is a truly unique, sad and moving story about the ghost of a widow’s husband not being able to move on.  Casey Affleck should get some credit here for acting in a silent performance beneath a sheet for most of this film, yet somehow he finds a way to sell this character.  You could throw the word “pretentious” at this film but I found it mesmerizing.

War for the Planet of the Apes – 8/10

A fitting end to one of the best modern trilogies of our time.  Caesar the Ape has quickly become one of the most complex, nuanced characters in cinema history and Serkis delivers the goods with this third performance.  While some aspects of the film are a little convenient, and Woody Harrelson’s character in particular has some cringeworthy villain monologuing near the end, this is a movie that is far better than it has any business being, making all three of these films into one, complete whole.  

Detroit – 8/10

The story of the 1967 Detroit riots is one that I had never heard of until watching this film.  I’m not a huge Kathryn Bigelow fan but I can recognize her talent, despite not being a huge fan of either The Hurt Locker or Zero Dark Thirty.  Detroit follows a similar visual style in that it looks as though the cameras are put in the middle of the situation with very little additional visual flair or style.  Without getting into spoilers the situation that unfolds in this film is incredibly screwed up and should have had more attention before now.  Whenever the subject of racism comes up it seems that people cannot fully grasp the real weight of it.  Detroit does a great job displaying the effect of direct racism on a group of somewhat innocent people.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer – 8/10

It’s been a long time since a movie truly creeped me out but The Killing of a Sacred Deer is like a tick that gets under your skin and stays there.  Everyone from Colin Farrell to Nicole Kidman to Barry Keoghan give standout performances, but my hat is tipped to director Yorgos Lanthimos for so effectively expanding on Stanley Kubrick’s visual style, not truly seen in this way since The Shining.  Another film that needs to be seen to be believed, Deer continues the trend of truly strange films released in 2017.

Thor Ragnarok – 8/10

A few years ago my favorite film of the year was a tie between Mad Max Fury Road and What We Do In The Shadows.  Those are still two of my favorite films, with Shadows being directed by the great Kiwi Taika Waititi.  Waititi is back directing Thor Ragnarok, and once again delivers a funny and altogether awesome film, complete with inter-universe callbacks, a phenomenal score from Mark Mothersbaugh and, most importantly, Korg, a rock-monster being with a fresh Kiwi accent who utters comedy gold at almost every moment he’s on screen.  I loved Thor Ragnarok and can’t wait to see it again.

I, Tonya – 8/10

In what might be the surprise of the year for me, I, Tonya kicked me in the balls and came back for seconds from minute 1.  Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan are both fantastic as Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly, but Allison Janney absolutely steals the show as LaVona Golden, Tonya’ s mother.  The best way I can describe her is as the female version of JK Simmons’ character in Whiplash…but with a 4 year old figure skating daughter.  This was honestly an out of nowhere favorite of mine and I strongly recommend everyone see it as the poster looks like it’s for a really lame film…something that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The Disaster Artist – 8/10

I’ve never been a huge fan of The Room in the way that some other people, and celebrities, claim to be.  The strangeness of The Disaster Artist, however, demanded to be seen.  Franco absolutely delivers in what I believe to be his best performance to date.  While not quite miming Tommy Wiseau he finds this weird middle ground between himself and a caricature of Wiseau, much the same way Frank Langella didn’t quite nail Richard Nixon but played a great version of him in Frost/Nixon.  I’ve watched this twice so far and see repeat viewings in my future with this as well.  

The Shape of Water – 8/10

Having a filmmaker like Guillermo Del Toro is a great thing.  Here is a guy who doesn’t give a damn what the “conventional” thing to do is in a film.  Del Toro’s defiant, counter-intuitive choices in his films are the things I find myself enjoying most about them, which is again the case with The Shape of Water.  Where other filmmakers might find reason to relate this story to an audience through familiar messages and motives, Del Toro trusts his audience to go with him, something I found myself willing to do.  Sally Hawkins turns in a great performance as the mute “princess”, and Doug Jones again brings a unique creature to life, but I was most surprised with Rhode Island native Richard Jenkins and his subtle, nuanced performance.  This is another film on this list that may increase in rating over time as there was so much to see in it that repeat viewings will no doubt reveal more and more from this great flick.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 – 9/10

Marvel does a lot right (big if true, right guys?), but this year they didn’t do anything better than Guardians 2.  From the story staying relatively small and inward to Michael Rooker being given much more to do, I loved and appreciated all the choices made with these characters in this flick.  Kurt Russell remains one of my all time favorite actors (suck it Nate) and I can’t wait to see these characters again this May in Infinity War.

The Big Sick – 9/10

Some films just seem to be made at a charm factory, and The Big Sick is one of them.  With the perspective of a Pakistani/American comedian and his struggles to live his own life while also respecting his family, Sick won me over with its wit and candor.  The performances across the board were uniformly excellent, with specific mention of Holly Hunter and Ray Romano being justified.  Of all the Apatow produced comedies we’ve seen over the past decade and a half this has to be one of the most enduring and best.

mother! – 9/10

Described as a roller coaster ride of a movie, mother! never ceased to impress me.  With its bold camerawork and spirit of confrontation present in every frame, Aronofsky rebounds from Noah with a film that I absolutely loved.  While the parable and metaphor on display here are somewhat simple, the “fever dream of a film” we got is so much more interesting than any one person’s interpretation can pin it down to.  Another film I’ve revisited several times this year.

Blade Runner 2049 – 9/10

Alongside other films such as Apocalypse Now, the original Blade Runner took me years to truly enjoy.  I remember being underwhelmed by it initially but after seeing more and more films, and getting a bit older, I grew to love the film.  2049 comes out the gate very much as its own thing, not using Harrison Ford until we’re deep into the third act of the film, yet the story still feels like Blade Runner.  You have replicants, neon lights in Los Angeles, the rain, and a score that is somewhat reminiscent of the Vangelis score from the original, but 2049 is deeply concerned with the spirit of the original film and not just copying what was done before.  Ryan Gosling , while again slightly wooden in the role, does enough with the material to make you feel for him by film’s end, catering to his character’s portrayal.  I specifically liked the character of Joi and everything that came along with her (avoiding spoilers for now).  One of the year’s best.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – 9/10

While Shakespeare’s prose is pretty annoying, there’s no denying many of his stories are still powerful.  Case in point, there’s a reason why every few years someone tries to make another version of MacBeth.  One such story, The Merchant of Venice, deals with morality and justice in an age of racism and poverty.  The story presents a complicated moral conundrum between a character who owes a debt and the debt collector, demanding a pound of flesh from the borrower.  I mention this because Three Billboards, by story’s end, leaves the viewer with some similar moral conundrums.  If your film is evocative of Shakespeare without once referencing his work, you’re doing something right, and boy oh boy does McDonagh get a lot right.  The acting in this film is some of the year’s best, with it being almost impossible to not bring up that tired “should get an Oscar” statement and apply it to pretty much everyone in the film.  A modern classic.

John Wick Chapter Two – 9/10

It might be a bit of a high score but screw it: I loved this movie when I saw it and I still love it today.  The goofy nature of the plot, Keanu’s overacting and the sublime gun-fu fight scenes and action setpieces set this apart from all the other action flicks I saw this year.  A fun ride that leaves something on the table for a sequel…couldn’t ask for any more than that.  Plus, a role for our boy LARRY FISH?!?!  9 on 10, yep just justified it, fight me.

Dunkirk – 10/10

No surprise here since I talk about it pretty much every podcast I’m on these days but Dunkirk is still impressing me.  Even after seeing it so many times I can’t help but be in awe of how Nolan filmed this beast.  I especially love the time aspect of the film and how on repeat viewings you spot things earlier than the film presents them to you.  Great filmmaking from one of our modern masters, nothing better than that.

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