Cinema Dispatch: Top 10 Best Movies of 2017

Hark!  Is it that time of year again!?  Yes, it is time for the film critics to have their yearly ritual of ranking the films we saw in order of how much (or how little) venom we can summon up for it, and while I would love NOTHING more than to get this crap-tastic year over with and race towards the future, we can at least afford one more look in the rear view mirror before leaving it all behind.  Also, it’s worth pointing out that I didn’t get a chance to see all the movies that came out this year like The Florida Project, and there were films that I couldn’t have seen even if I wanted to like The Post, Phantom Thread, and I, Tonya, due to them getting extremely limited releases in the last weeks of the year.  If the studios can’t be bothered to let me see the movie, then I can’t be bothered to wait several weeks to finish up this list.  This is a 2017 list, so I’m finishing it in 2017!

So without further ado, ON WITH THE LIST!!

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Honorable Mentions: The Big Sick & Kidnap

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The Big Sick Review; Kidnap Review

Sure!  Let’s start this off with a pairing so disparate that it’s likely to cause whiplash!  Then again, it’s a probably a good indication of what to expect from the rest of the list as I try to find room for a little bit of everything… and by everything I mean legitimately good movies that everyone likes and amazing B movies that only I seem to like.  The Big Sick was one of the better comedies of the year as I’m sure it’s been mentioned on several best of the year lists other than this one, and rightfully so!  It didn’t quite make my top ten due to a bit of shaky structuring (time is a bit elusive in it) and the fact that it’s hard to overlook how much of this story is coming from only one viewpoint within it (being written by Nanjiani and Gordon who DID end up working out, it feels a BIT antagonist towards his parents who are drawn more broadly than hers are in the telling of this story), but there’s genuine heart in the way that Nanjiani is trying to navigate such an awkward situation where the right thing to do is kind of murky and his feelings about it all are even more so.  It’s a situation, like many in life, that could have ended VERY badly for everyone involved but Nanjiani and Gordon’s script is smart enough to walk that line between genuinely trying to express one’s feelings for someone and having a character realize when that’s not enough and when they need to walk away.  It ended up working out for these two but only after Nanjiani left her to live her life and to make her own choices which is certainly a worthwhile lesson for many of us to learn and for Hollywood to pick up on considering how much the BIG ROMANTIC GESTURE is still a staple in so many so called romance films.  Kidnap on the other hand… look, I just really had a lot of fun in it, alright!?  I know it’s not going to be to EVERYONE’S taste (hence why it didn’t make the list) but it’s damn near perfect in being exactly what it wants to be.  Calling something a NON-STOP ACTION THRILLER is about the most hack bit of marketing imaginable, but in this case it’s quite literally true and the film’s greatest asset.  Halle Berry is chasing after the people who have kidnapped her son and she can’t stop moving.  She can’t lose focus, can’t lose momentum, otherwise she’ll lose everything; and she knows that.  Yes it’s over the top and barely makes any sense (there’s maybe three cops in the ENTIRE state) but the tension is there and if you’re willing to get behind its rather ludicrous concept you’ll surely stay engaged all the way to the bloody end of her bloody quest to save her son.  Yeah, it’s goofy and has a few less than stellar editing shortcuts (why do they keep reminding us how low on gas she is when she NEVER RUNS OUT OF GAS!?), but they did a lot with what they had to work with which is often the sign of a great film more so than a film with many more resources not taking full advantage of them.  Not a bad double feature if you ask me!

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10. The Disaster Artist

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Full Review

Yes, I was somewhat disappointed that this didn’t turn out to be THE best movie of the year, and I certainly have problems with the film that only become more and more pronounced as the film heads towards its rather awkward ending.  Despite all its flaws though, we have one of the most unique and interesting concepts for a film in quite some time as it’s a film ABOUT an unexpected (and underqualified) auteur making a movie out of sheer force of will and ego being directed by a guy who could have very easily found himself in the same position if he didn’t make the right friends and get the lucky breaks at just the right time.  As Judd Apatow says in the movie, there are a thousand actors as good as Brando that will never make it, and you can tell from the way this movie is shot, written, and framed, that Franco is in awe of Tommy Wiseau’s ability to find his way to success outside of all that.  Now to be sure, Tommy Wiseau wasn’t some STARVING ARTIST with a unique vision that no one understood; he was already a rich dude who had no idea what he was doing and ended up making a crappy film that reflected his inexperience.  That dichotomy between what the filmmakers WANTED Tommy Wiseau’s story to be and the real life circumstances around it is the root cause of many of my issues with the film, but it also makes it fascinating as Franco tries (and kind of fails) to balance these two ideas at the same time.  Aside from that, it’s still very well written, has some great performances from a solid cast (especially Dave Franco), and all the scenes involving the making of The Room are an absolute delight to watch; especially if you’re someone who’s fascinated with the filmmaking process and want to know what it looks like when a production is barely hanging on by a thread.  I wonder if we’ll get a movie about the making of THIS film in a decade.  The Disaster Artist’s Disaster Artist?  Son of Disaster Artist?

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9. Kong: Skull Island

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Full Review

There were a lot of terrible to mediocre action blockbusters this year (some of which we’ll get to on the BAD list), but thankfully we can confirm that quality big bombastic action movies can come from studios OTHER than Disney as King Kong proves to live up to his title in this big budgeted and wildly creative creature feature.  It’s the kind of movie that I wish Roland Emmerich still knew how to make and that his buddy Dean Devlin got SORT OF right in Geostorm as the film not only knows how to bring the big booms and the gargantuan enemies, but fills it with characters as larger than life as their monstrous counterparts.  For a minute there you almost BELIEVE that Samuel L Jackson has enough willpower to overcome the giant ape (until it’s made quite clear that he doesn’t), and Tom Hiddleston proves to be yet another great actor with the chops to be a great action star despite never really going for those kind of roles (*cough* Adrien Brody *cough*).  It’s got enough characters with depth and personality to make it engaging on that level alone (especially with John C Reilly stealing every scene that he’s in) but it also never falls into the trap of that last Godzilla movie where the attempts at HUMAN EMOTIONS overshadows the sheer fun of seeing a giant monkey tear monsters to shred and watching people shoot at oversized bugs.  This blending of in depth character moments with over the top genre awesomeness is what makes this movie stand out from the deluge dull blockbusters we got this year and is probably why director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has been tapped to make the Metal Gear Solid movie.  I don’t know if what we saw in here is good enough for me to have faith in THAT turning out well, but after this I at least feel compelled to give it the benefit of the doubt now that I know what the guy is capable of when given the right material.

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8. Logan

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Full Review

Easily the best movie of the year that I NEVER WANT TO SEE MADE AGAIN!  Look, there have been some decent adult oriented Super Hero films like Watchmen and Punisher: War Zone, but the very strange alchemic mix that made this one of the BEST super hero movies of all time is not something that anyone can replicate except MAYBE Robert Downey Jr a decade from now.  It’s not the copious amounts of ultraviolence, the explicit language, or even the themes about an old man trying to find one last good thing to do before he dies (even though those are all elements that work here), it’s the culmination of nearly two decades of films with this character played by this actor that brings it to such great heights.  Like comic books in the wake of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, I fear that this point will be lost on upcoming imitators who will focus on the griminess of the aesthetic and male power fantasy aspects of the story to try and bring any number of crappy GRIM AND GRITTY comic book characters from the dark days of Image to the big screen.  Logan stands alone with the weight of nine prior entries on its shoulders that are just as informative of the events on screen as the bleakness of its story and the phenomenal acting from its cast, so while I wouldn’t say that something like this COULDN’T be made again given the right circumstances, we’ve seen badly it can turn out when a film tries to fabricate the kind of history and gravitas that came so naturally here (*cough* Batman v Superman *cough*).  The comic book movie genre isn’t going away despite one of its earliest figureheads hanging up their claws for the last time, but you couldn’t have hoped for a better sendoff from Hugh Jackman than the one we got here; ESPECIALLY considering this is the same dude who thought X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a good idea.

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7. Happy Death Day

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Full Review

Yeah that’s right!  While you’re out there waiting for something like Ladybird or Blade Runner 2049 to show up on this list (they’re not), I’m making room for a PG-13 horror film that’s blatantly ripping off a classic Bill Murray!  Now if you read my Best of 2016 list you’re probably not all THAT surprised since my number one choice ended up being The Purge Election Year (and I even found room to put The Boy on that list as well), but what can I say?  I love the genre and I also feel it’s important to spotlight films that exemplify what can be done with it when genuine effort is put forth.  It’s a brilliant use of a rather simple gimmick (one that sadly goes underutilized outside of genre television) and the writing is far above what you’d expect from a slasher film as it has a really solid cast and goes for broke on the various ways the rules of its premise can be manipulated in fun and interesting ways!  Heck, there are movies with even MORE ingenious premises than GROUNDHOG’S DAY WITH MORE MURDER that drop the ball entirely (like the recent and VERY disappointing Downsizing), so being able to pull this off with such ingenuity and flair absolutely earns it a spot on this list.  Some movies are great because they elicit raw human emotions in ways you never would have expected; others are just really good at stabbing people in unexpected ways.  THERE’S ROOM FOR BOTH IN THIS WORLD!!

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6. IT

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Full Review

Speaking of horror films, so did everyone just remember all at once that Stephen King is a great author?  I mean sure, he’s never REALLY gone away as movies and television shows based on his work are still frequently released, but in this year alone we got THREE rather high profile adaptations and while I did enjoy all three of them (even the oft maligned The Dark Tower), IT was clearly the one that stood out.  Now the movie isn’t perfect as some of the characters do get shoved to the background and I’m also incredibly skeptical of a sequel being made out of what remains of the book (the weakest parts of it on top of that), but what Andy Muschietti was able to craft is one of the most monumental horror films to come out in a long time.  It’s not just an extremely effective fright fest (or maybe even a… CREEP SHOW!?) that has engaging characters and a fascinating villain; it’s a straight up crowd pleaser of the variety we haven’t gotten since the eighties like An American Werewolf in London, Poltergeist, or even Army of Darkness just after the decade ended.  Now there are a lot of horror movies that can break into the mainstream and be just as much fun as they are horrifying (just look at The Purge movies or Paranormal Activity), but this film works on a much deeper level to evoke a sense of nostalgia and timelessness that you get from old school Stephen Spielberg movies which is CLEARLY an intentional move, but it WORKS here!  The best horror films know how to be something MORE than just jump scares and gore effects, and while this movie does indeed gets those things right, it never forgets that none of that is truly effective until you care about the characters and are invested in the story before the blood starts to flow.  Maybe it’s a bit too soon to be calling this a horror movie classic considering it just came out, but I get the feeling that this is gonna be a cultural touchstone to a whole new generation of movie goers the same way the original IT mini-series was for the generation before them.

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5. Wonder Woman & Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

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Wonder Woman Review; Professor Marston and the Wonder Women Review

It’s rare that you get two movies in the same year that make the perfect double feature like these two do and yet are COMPLETELY different from each other; so much so that an unsuspecting viewer might get whiplash watching them back to back.  Wonder Woman was not just a great action movie that blew all other DCCU movies out of the water, it became an international phenomenon as many of the old guard Hollywood Studio Heads realized all at once that the problem with female led super hero movies wasn’t that they were female led; it’s that they were REALLY BAD versions of that kind of movie!  Patty Jenkins had one of the most infeasibly monumental tasks imaginable that would have crushed a lesser director, not just in making the first viable female super hero film, but doing so within the context of the already failing DCCU franchise, and she pulled it off with aplomb.  A bit shaky on the ending for sure, but the success of this film, both commercially and critically, made Patty Jenkins worthy of being called Wonder Woman in her own right, and it set the stage perfectly for what would come later by a completely different studio that had absolutely nothing to do with the DCCU and only by proxy to Patty Jenkin’s film.  The story of William Marston and the women that shaped his life during the creation of Wonder Woman is a fascination one, and while I’m still a bit unsure of its accuracy (seems PRETTY sexed up compared to what I’ve heard about the real story), it’s still an altogether unique achievement on so many levels.  On its own terms, it’s a fun and engaging tale of what is perceived by the rest of the world to be an unconventional romance, but when coupled with the a movie that is the end result of nearly a century of evolution and innovation from their initial idea, it provides such a great context to why it was important to tell this story in the first place.  Not a lot of creators get to have their story told on the silver screen, and even fewer of them are told as well as the one here.  Now think of how many of them were not only told well but told in the same year that their creation was the biggest thing in the world, and you can’t help but marvel (nyuk nyuk nyuk) at how well this worked out in a year where EVERYTHING went so wrong.

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4. Get Out

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Full Review

If there’s one movie where my opinion of it is of little importance, well that would be a trick question because I’m pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things (at least for now…), but if I DID have a modicum of gravitas in the world of film criticism, then Get Out would be that movie.  I loved it by the way (would have given it a third thumbs up if I could!) in case it wasn’t clear by me placing it so high on the list, and while I would consider it to be the best John Carpenter film that John Carpenter never made, it’s a heck of a lot more than that.  As a middle class nominally left wing white dude, I can say that this movie, while not QUITE an eye opener considering how much my twitter feed is filled with the kind of problems that the movie is aiming to address, it IS probably the most brazenly vocal film about white supremacy and the mundanity of its sheer vileness (as well as pointing the finger at those apathetic to it) that we’ve gotten in quite some time.  I honestly don’t know HOW someone can enjoy this film without engaging in its politics on some level, but if we WERE to take that out this would still be an absolutely marvelous thriller that shows Jordan Peele has a phenomenally good sense for staging chilling set pieces and an eye for uneasy visuals.  There are a lot of movies that convey messages through its use of genre as much as through metaphors within the written work itself, and explaining white privilege by way of a suburban thriller is right up there with Godzilla as far as ingeniously infusing themes into the fabric of a movie.  Probably the biggest MUST SEE movie of the year in regards to cinematic impact and cultural importance, but there’s still three more on this list so let’s get to them!

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3. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Full Review

Are there legitimate criticisms to be had about this movie?  Of course.  Do they pale in comparison to the overwhelming success of this movie in continuing the franchise’s efforts to usher Star Wars into a new and exciting era that’s relevant to the new generation who will grow up with them AND deeply fulfilling for the fans that have stuck with it for the last forty years?  ABSOLUTELY!  I honestly cannot fathom how so many people can outright HATE this movie and would find it utterly depressing if it wasn’t so perfectly reflective of the themes this movie was trying to present.  Okay, it’s actually STILL pretty depressing that so many people are missing the point, but at least the backlash further confirms just how necessary this movie is if Disney wishes to look towards the future for this series instead of hanging onto the past like we have been doing up to this point.  Everything we love will either change or come end; whether it’s franchises we like, relationships we cherish, or even loved ones who aren’t with us anymore.  To ignore this fact is to perpetually look backwards with rose colored glasses and to ignore what greatness still lies ahead of us, so getting caught up on minutia about force powers, light speed travel, or even the necessity of granting a much larger scope to the traditional GOOD VS BAD Star Wars storyline is in and of itself an indication of just how much this affected people on a personal level.  Now all of those things aren’t BAD criticisms to have of the movie (I wasn’t the biggest fan of Casino Planet either!) but to fixate on them with such myopia as some fans have done… well maybe they’re just trying to think of something else rather than the fact that Star Wars isn’t the same as it used to be.  There are new people with new ideas steering this ship, and some of what we once cherished can no longer be a part of it which isn’t the easiest pill to swallow, but it’s a bold step to take and as far as I’m concerned this wonderfully crafted movie earned every gut wrenching moment and glimmer of hope that it could squeeze into its two and a half hour runtime.

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2. The Shape of Water

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Full Review

Who would have guessed that the best romance in film this year would involve a Freaky Fish Guy?  I’ll tell you who!  GUIELLMO DEL TORO!  The guy’s films have ALWAYS been on my radar, but to be frank he was never really a name that I associated with GREAT FILMMAKING the same way I do Quinten Tarantino, David Lynch, Sam Raimi, and so on, but with The Shape of Water I think he’s just earned a spot on that list!  In a year that has already been great for female characters, Sally Hawkins’s Eliza Esposito stands out as a character who’s never made to seem weak, wanting, or pitiable despite not having super powers or spouting off one liners; not that that isn’t an AWESOME way to write female characters, but she’s uniquely characterized in that her story is not one of her trying to fix herself and is presented as is with no reservations about who she is or what she believes to be the right thing to do.  That’s not even getting into how wonderful the set designs are, the amazing effects work done for the Freaky Fish Guy, or Michael Shannon’s grim and menacing turn as an insecure and perpetually guarded chauvinist.  There’s so much to like in this film that what little problems I have with it (too many subplots that feel a bit overdeveloped and an animal death that left a bad taste in my mouth) are outshined by the sheer beauty and sincerity of what was being shown to us.  It’s a movie that will make you believe in true love; especially the love between a strong woman and a Freaky Fish Guy!

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1. Ingrid Goes West

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Full Review

So after giving my top spot to a Star Wars movie and a junky horror film in previous years, I’m finally giving first place to an indie film that most of you probably haven’t seen.  MY TRANSFORMATION INTO A TRUE FILM CRITIC IS FINALLY COMPLETE!!  Okay that’s a bit glib, especially with films like Mad Max Fury Road and Get Out topping several critic associations’ Best of the Year Lists in the recent past, and it’s not like big blockbusters or even low budget pulpy genre fare isn’t any less deserving of high praise when they’re done correctly.  This film though managed to outdo every other film this year in terms of creating a pertinent and evocative look at a societal ill that still manages to be a fun and engaging film in its own right.  Maybe it doesn’t QUITE outdo Get Out as that one feels a bit more urgent in its message and doesn’t hold back in the slightest in conveying it to the audience, but I still came out of Ingrid Goes West feeling like I saw a movie that spoke to me on a level that very few films have ever managed to do; like the unfathomably dark combination of A Clockwork Orange’s critical eye on the current generation’s worst instincts and Dr Strangelove’s uproarious sense of humor in the face of utter annihilation.  It’s smart enough to not simply be an hour and a half of dunking on Millennials for using their phones and goes for something much deeper that is wrong with many of us and only exacerbated by social media; a tool that has been used for great good, but in the wrong hands can ruin lives and bring out our worst tendencies.  Ingrid is a fascinatingly bleak character who I related too far too much for it to be healthy, as her utter cluelessness in social situations and obsessing over every like, retweet, and response that you get from someone you admire was much more true to life than I’d like to admit and is certainly true to life for so many of us who are still trying to find our place in the world in our mid to late twenties.  It’s incredibly uncomfortable while still being hilarious to watch, the entire cast is able to mine their given material for all its worth (especially Aubrey Plaza), and while it’s a bit TOO soft on the ending, it still manages to deliver a sobering message about obsession in an extremely entertaining package which is more than enough to make it my favorite film of the year!  Oh, and David Branson Smith tweeted me once, so now we’re best friends!  FOREVER!!

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And that’s the end of my GOOD list!  Disagree?  We’ll I’m assuming you do, and if so you can let me know just how wrong I am in the comments below!  Also, stay tuned for the OTHER list which should be just as enlightening, albeit with a lot more swear words…

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You can also check out my lists from last year at the links below!!

Best of 2016

Worst of 2016

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