It’s Oscar Season, so let’s look back at the films of 2017.
2017 was a strange year. As long-time readers of this yearly round up of films knows, I usually have trouble putting together a list of 10 films. Yet this year has a strong 15 movies I wanted to include. And a healthy amount of honorable mentions to round out the list.
However, this year was also the year that it became clear the studio system is hopelessly broken and almost rigged to ensure we will never get anything of true depth in Hollywood as long as this broken system persists.
Let’s start with the honorable mentions:
Flatliners (which somehow managed to be a remake that was better than the original, primarily by having characters that are not complete assholes), Kingsman: The Golden Circle (which while not as good as the original, was still fun, and included a great scene of Mark Strong singing), Baywatch (for admitting how stupid the original was and making fun of it completely), King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (stupid but fun, would have been nice if we could get a sequel but that probably won’t happen. Guy Ritchie should probably go back to independent film and stop trying to make blockbusters, I love his style but it will never work as a mainstream vehicle), Underworld: Bloodwars (this series somehow keeps getting better with every film, this one had all of the depth the previous entries have but none of the terrible dialogue. Maybe if there’s one more they’ll actually rise above adequate and actually be a good movie), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (odd numbered entries in this series just seem to be more satisfying…a pattern I hope will be broken with the next and hopefully last entry into the series), The Zoo Keeper’s Wife (not the best Holocaust film, but a good one), and Jumanji (for actually being funnier than the original).
So, let’s get to the actual top 15 movies of 2017
15. The Dark Tower
Stephen King is hit and miss. Sometimes it would be great if Hollywood would read his books and follow them very closely (It, The Stand until that terrible ending, Green Mile), other times, it’s best to just take a general impression of what King wrote because while it was a really good idea King is, in the end, not that good an author. The Dark Tower more than any work falls into this last category. The story had so much potential and then it was capped off with some of the worst writing of King’s entire career (and that is saying something) along with the most unsatisfying ending possibly in the history of horror or fantasy literature. Thankfully the movie The Dark Tower took all the good parts of the story and just ignored the rest. Yes, some diehard King fanboys raised holy hell over the idea that they didn’t follow the book, but for the rest of us this was a great movie. Idris Elba, always underutilized by Hollywood, is given for the first time a chance to be the lead role in a major motion picture and he does a better job at the role of The Gunslinger than even Clint Eastwood (whom the character was based on) could ever have done. And playing Walter O’Dim/Randall Flagg was a job that most actors would have failed at miserably, and yet Matthew McConaughey did a spectacular job in conveying not just evil but someone who revels in being evil.
I look forward to the TV series that is coming as the sequel to this with more hope than I ever had for the written counterpart.
14. Wind River
Probably the best depiction of life on the Res in years. It is neither preachy nor ignorant of the reality of the government created hellhole that are the Indian Reservations, but while making this point about the insanity of the reservations it doesn’t get bogged down and lose the actual story. It is always difficult to make a film that also wants to make a point, you either sacrifice the point for the plot or the plot for the point and thus the film is never really a fully story—but Wind River is able to balance these two needs perfectly. Jeremey Renner, when given a serious role shows that he can be so much more than the most useless Avenger, and I think we all were surprised that Elizabeth Olsen can really act.
Now if only people could actually realize that this deplorable lifestyle on the Reservation is the direct result of government incompetence and we need to forever close the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
13. Murder on the Orient Express
And here we have one where reading the book was an advantage. Certainly, it made this better than Hollywood’s previous attempts to put this on film. I was worried they would either (A) change the ending and it would be as fulfilling or (B) not change the ending and it would be boring. Somehow though they kept the original ending and still managed to turn in a great film. I can only hope they now let Kenneth Branagh make Murder on the Nile.
This was marketed as a comedy. It most certainly is not. It is a very sobering discussion of abuse, addiction, codependency and learning to take control of your life. With giant monsters and robots. I’ll admit that this one does not have a lot of re-watch value as one time is uncomfortable enough
Unlike The Dark Tower, this is one of those rare Stephen King books that need to be followed very closely. And while Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise in the TV miniseries was spot on, the rest of the movie in terms of cast, script, and direction was just trash. This movie however actually read the book, and instead of making yet another cheap and forgettable horror movie that was out to bring a sense of terror to the audience, this movie understands that It is about the fear that the children feel and that this is the aspect that should be the focus of the film not just putting cheap jump-scares into the audience. We can only pray that this quality of filmmaking continues to the sequel (although given that this movie was produced by worthless idiots at Warner Brothers, it is almost guaranteed that they will fuck it up beyond the telling of it).
10. The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Ryan Reynolds as the straight man in a comedy. It sounds a little odd, yet somehow it works. Every scene of this action comedy not only is hilarious, but it does something that hasn’t been done effectively in nearly two decades, it has effectively brought back the buddy-cop genre. I don’t expect this to be repeated, but if someone can figure out how to have these two together in another film (Deadpool and Fury?) it would be great.
9. Molly’s Game
Of all the films on this list, it is probably the most socially relevant for the times we live in to society as a whole. Prosecutorial misconduct, civil forfeiture, abuse of tax laws, Puritanical overreach—all the fun things that our government does to people. While also an excellent tale of the Molly Bloom herself, but this movie also shows how terrible the modern government is.
8. Atomic Blonde/ John Wick 2.
I couldn’t decide which movie was better but both of these are exceptional displays of action. No shakes cam, no terrible cutting, just the beautiful ballet of the fight. And in both you see the results of the battle—instead of two hours of mayhem leaving a character with only a small trickle of blood, both Reeves and Theron are covered in blood, bruises, and pain. Add to it that both films give us compelling heroes, thrilling plots, and strong desire to see a sequel to both. This is what action needs to be.
7. The Book of Henry
Not only a great thriller, but a great tale of growing up. Even though this movie has been out for a while, I don’t want to talk about it much because this is one of the few movies where spoilers are important and this movie has not gotten a lot of public discussion so I feel reasonably likely that you haven’t heard about this movie. You will cry, you feel terror, but in the end there is hope.
6. Logan Lucky
Red Neck Ocean’s Eleven. This movie was an under-appreciated gem. It is quite possibly funnier and craftier than Danny Ocean’s crew and it certainly has me wanting a sequel more than the Clooney ever did. Steven Soddenberg has clearly become the god of the heist film and Channing Tatum has surprised me with some real depth and range to his acting.
5. Wonder Woman
We have already praised this movie on Elementary Politics but just a quick recap: Patty Jenkins took Snyder’s desire to tear apart bad philosophers and lassoed Calvinist idiocy with the Lasso of Truth and brought it to its knees. Given how bad Justice League was, this may be the last serious comic book movie we get for a long time.
The long-awaited sequel to Unbreakable was everything I could have hoped for. We now have a super villain to match our superhero and Glass promises to be everything we ever wanted from M. Night but haven’t had in over a decade.
3. Darkest Hour
You might logically know that this is Gary Oldman, and you might logically understand that Gary Oldman is part chameleon and blends into any role…but that won’t for a second stop you from thinking they just resurrected Winston to star in a movie about himself. For all intents and purposes, Gary Oldman IS Winston Churchill. This movie will make you hate Chamberlin more than you ever thought possible because it shows you how terrible a person he really was (had he not died he should have been sitting with the other defendants at Nuremberg). This is the kind of film about virtue, courage and the best in humanity we need more of.
As always, a Christopher Nolan film will of course rise to the top of any intelligent person’s list. This time Nolan manages to make a powerful film without basic things like dialogue and much character development. It’s a fascinating accomplishment. Not only is it an excellently done film, but it is a story that has not gotten enough attention over the course of the last 80 years. This was a spectacular effort that showed the moral quality of a nation…strangely the same nation that now whines and wants out of the very systems and free trade it fought to create.
- Live by Night
This is technically a 2016 movie, it was one of those films that was released as an Oscar contender so regular people were not able to see it until 2017 so I’m counting it as a 2017 movie. Once again Ben Affleck proves to be one of those rare directors who can do no wrong (Nolan is the only other one still alive I would put in that category). While this film didn’t do as well in the box office you should go back and watch it. It is a moving tale of sin and redemption, of a failed attempt at finding happiness and of man holding to his own moral code in a world that doesn’t have any morals. That this did not get best picture last year at the Academy Awards is just a joke.
And the worst films of the year.
This year in addition to seeing some really great movies, saw some complete pieces of shit. All them in major franchises, all them bespeaking a core lack of ethics and morals in the minds of the people who run these studios, which is probably why 2018 is so far looking like a terrible year for movies, and I have very little hope for things as they move forward. Yes, movies about fucking fish by inept directors should probably also be on this list, but sane people never take anything del Toro does seriously because he’s the mixture of the baseness of a Disney/Marvel film with the insufferable pretentiousness of bad art house films. So, onto the movies that actually disappointed because we might have had hope for them.
Thor: Ragnarok. Granted, I wasn’t expecting too much from this movie, but it failed to meet any of those low expectations I went in with. With the second entry in the Thor saga we already stripped all the greatness that Kenneth Bragnnah had brought to the first film, so I wasn’t too surprised those great Shakespearean themes didn’t return in the third installment…but they didn’t even try to have a real movie this time—and you can tell the actors knew it too. Great actors like Hiddleston and Cate Blanchett were just phoning it in. Remarkably good actors like Karl Urban, Anthony Hopkins, and Benedict Cumberbatch were sadly underused, and what little they gave Idris Elba was just disgraceful. It’s no shock that Natalie Portman didn’t want to come back for this joke of a film. Few times have I seen so many good actors assembled for a film that whose script demands little more than the acting chops of a high school drama department. Of course, the real problem with this movie is not the fact of the actors just didn’t care, because why would you with this pathetic script. The writing was just terrible because of the fact that we went back-and-forth between what should be a story of a genocidal lunatic and themes of finding your place in the world and mixed it with ridiculous meaningless humor. I could never care about the serious part of the film and I could never get comfortable with the funny parts anyone who is laughing while masses of people were supposedly dying under the hands of Hel. Should really wonder about what their moral compass is of the people who had no problem ignoring the death of all those people (or maybe it was just the inept direction that failed to make anyone care about any of the deaths). And I may be the only person on Earth who doesn’t find Goldblum’s lazy and unoriginal delivery god’s gift to humor, but I don’t think the man has done anything entertaining since Law & Order—and this movie did nothing to change that opinion. Overall, while Thor was probably the best of the Phase I origin stories in Marvel, it has become little more than a vehicle for cheap jokes and two dimensional characters…the direction Disney is pushing everything it owns (how I fear for Incredibles II).
Then we come to Logan, it should never have been regarded as good and yet this piece of trash was considered great by critics. We have already dealt with this film in previous Elementary Politics posts so I won’t rehash everything but this takes X-men franchise and reduces it to the most depressing elements, removes all hope and suggest that all life is meaningless. This is not what I’m looking for in any film let alone a comic book film. Granted the Wolverine movies have always proven to be terrible, but this was worse than sewing Ryan Reynold’s mouth shut by giving us a mixture of ignorant populist hatred of GMO’s, liberal depression about the future, and Luddite hatred of progress all tied together as the things we should be embracing…rather than the truth of treating those attitudes as the things hurting society. Also, any movie that references Shane is not a good movie because Shane is not a good movie. The only redeeming factor of this movie was vulgar Patrick Stewart (who I can only hope makes an appearance in Deadpool), but even the humor of those scenes didn’t save this abomination of a film.
And of course, how could we forget Star Wars The Last Jedi. Granted, Star Wars has never been exactly what you would call deep, but this would be a whole new level of stupid. The entire second act just didn’t need to occur, as Mark Hamill himself put it up this is not Luke Skywalker we’re looking at, the entire set up of the previous movie has no playoffs, and the only relationship that even slightly had any heart in it was the relationship between Finn and his droid. Star Wars has actually show itself to be quite well done but only in text, it just needs on the smart thing and go with Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy…but despite the fact that Thrawn and Mara Jade would’ve been great on film, Disney went with the lowest-brow crap they could find. Given they did the same with Marvel it seems to be what they’ll do with everything. Don’t expect anything of any depth coming out of the House of Mouse anytime soon. Walt must be so disappointed.
But, of course, the worst film is the one that actually had the potential to be greatest film of the year. Marvel, X-Men, Star Wars— these are not thinking man’s movies and they probably never will be. But Zack Snyder with the DCEU has given us some truly great films over the last few years and Warner Bros. ruined that by taking him off post production and giving the film to a man who can only seem to do any good work when all his writing is done by other people (no really the substandard work of Whedon over the last few years has made us realize that it was the other writers at Mutant Enemy Productions that were creating the quality we attributed to Whedon). There are some small hints of Zack Snyder‘s work left in the film to tell me that Justice League should’ve been a devastating critique of Ayn Rand’s philosophy and why it’s heartlessness deviates from the Aristotelian virtues she claims to follow. But while I can see the pieces there they are ruined by a poorly CGI’d Superman giving stupid lines, truly sexist jokes, and poor treatment of every single character in that film. This should’ve been a truly great film and the studio ruined it.
So where does that leave us for the coming year? Sadly, this is looking to be one of the worst years I can think of for film. I really don’t have anything I’m really looking forward to for much of the year because I don’t trust what Warner Bros. will do with future DC movies and I don’t have much faith in Disney ever producing anything in depth again outside of Pixar movies (and even they’ve been unsteady in the last few years). The few things I am looking forward to are mainly fluff piece things like Red Sparrow and Deadpool, but I don’t see any hope for anything of such serious filmmaking on the horizon. I’m boycotting Warner Bros. until I get the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League and of course would recommend everyone do the same in a message to studios that we are intelligent people and we deserve better films. But I worry that will not be happening anytime soon. So, I am prepared to say that 2018 is going to be terrible in film as 2017 has been in politics (not that 2018 politics look all that hopeful either).