2017 was a bit of a rough year for blockbusters, but I did see some all-time great films. As archived per my ratings on Letterboxd, here are the 10 best new films I saw this year.
10. The LEGO Batman Movie
In January this year DC superheroes seemed doomed. Other than the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, these heroes couldn’t catch a break. Warner Bros’ new Justice League universe of films stumbled repeatedly. But, apart from all that, the filmmakers at LEGO created the best DC superhero film since Nolan’s The Dark Knight with The LEGO Batman Movie. Batman, voiced by Will Arnett, has an emotional character arc but the film never forgets to amuse as it teaches. The lampooning of other Batman movies, plus the inclusion of so many Batman baddies, and bad guys from surprising places, it’s a solid POW of enjoyment that bests both Wonder Woman and Justice League as best DC film of the year!
It’s a great time for kick-ass women in movies. The epitome of that seems to be Furiosa, Charlize Theron’s one-armed warrior in Mad Max: Fury Road. Theron continues her streak with Atomic Blonde–a cold-war era period piece spy film. Theron plays MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton. On the surface she’s “Jane Bond”, but when the fights begin she pulls out fight moves that would take Bond out with one kick. The action is balanced with great performances from Theron, James McAvoy, and Sofia Boutella, and scored to a slew of ’80s New Wave hits. The fights and the story make this the movie I wished Kingsman: The Golden Circle had been.
Stephen Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven holds a special place in my heart for being the epitome of the ensemble heist movie. But I don’t need to wait for next year’s Ocean’s Eight to experience that same thrill–Soderberg recaptured that magic with Logan Lucky. The movie follows a group of blue collar criminals who plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The able cast keeps our allegiance with the criminals, and the plot has more turns than the Speedway itself. The script is tight and the characters fun. Forget Ocean’s Twelve or Thirteen—this is Soderbergh’s best follow-up to Ocean’s Eleven.
7. The Disaster Artist
The Room is widely considered the worst film ever made–a Rocky Horror for the 21st Century. When a film is that obviously broken, where is the fun in picking it apart? Can there be a bigger punchline than the film itself? James Franco clearly proved the answer to be “Yes.” Disaster Artist starts off like many movies of wannabe actors dreaming of becoming stars in Los Angeles–but one of these wannabes is the mysterious and strange Tommy Wiseau. In that way the first half of the movie feels like a comedy-drama. But when Tommy has the idea to write, produce, and fund the picture himself the laughs truly begin. Rarely is Tommy the butt of the jokes (pun intended), but his actions, borne of ignorance, are funny just the same.
You don’t need to have seen The Room to understand the comedy of The Disaster Artist — but it helps. Either way, the film is a sensitive and funny portrayal of perhaps the most enigmatic figures in Hollywood.
Blade Runner is one of the all-time great sci-fi movies, and great noir detective films. There was great skepticism in my mind if 35 years later any follow-up could match the original. Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t quite hit that mark, but it is close.
The plot centers around new Blade Runner K, played by Ryan Gosling. On his latest mission K uncovers a trail that may indicate he may be the first child ever born to a supposedly-sterile replicant. And not just any replicant–Rachel, the love of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford reprising his role from the original).
With this plot 2049 takes the subtext from the original, the never answered “is Deckard a replicant” question, and makes it the plot. Is K a new messiah for replicants, or is he all-too-human?
More, 2049 deepens the series’ mythology. We learn replicants are not androids, there’s no circuitry inside those bodies, they are simply genetically engineered and constructed beings. “If you cut them, do they not bleed?” This makes the “retiring” of replicants even more cagey, for how human are they? Do they have a soul?
2049 also has a love story that mirrors the original–our protagonist in love with a machine. Only now, like in Her, it is his personal assistant. It begs the question of what love means, and is love strictly human.
With a visual style that echos the original while making it to heights of nearly-unreal color and a score that, while not being by Vangelis, is a suitably atmospheric replacement, Blade Runner 2049 is a feast for the eyes, ears, and mind…be that mind natrual-born or created.
I’m seemingly one of the few who remembers the 1990 TV-miniseries It as being a dull, sometimes laughable, failure. Trailers for this new theatrical It had me thinking it would repeat the mistakes of the past. I simply couldn’t envision, even from trailers, how a supernatural clown played by Bill SkarsgÃ¥rd could be scary.
I was dead wrong.
It was a suspenseful, terrifying horror film. It’s ’80s setting did make it seem like a Stranger Things clone, but unlike that Netflix series It never pulls It’s punches. SkarsgÃ¥rd is indeed chilling as Pennywise the Clown, and while his screen time is minimal, his presence permeates every frame of It. Aided by solid performances by its young cast, It restored King’s cinematic legacy to glory (let’s just all forget about The Dark Tower) and has me salivating for the 2019 conclusion!
Now Playing will review It (2017), It (1990) and the It sequel upon its release September 6, 2019.
4. Ingrid Goes West
In an era of YouTube celebrities and Instagram professionals, people measure their self-worth through “likes” and retweets. Doctors have recently discovered that social media is not just a psychological addiction, these online interactions and responses trigger a dopamine high. Getting your post “liked” can chemically make you feel as good as a hug.
This idea is taken to its extreme in Ingrid Goes West, a dramatic comedy starring Aubrey Plaza as an aimless young woman obsessed with Instagram, and the perfect lifestyles portrayed in that media. We watch as she tries to shape her life as many people shape what they share online. It’s a manipulative car-wreck from which I couldn’t look away. Plaza shows a dramatic range I’d not seen in her mostly comedic filmography, and it enabled me to root for her while knowing tragedy is inevitable. It helps that most movie-goers will be able to relate to her obsessive phone-checking. It’s a film that has a message I endorse, and performances that rivet.
3. Thor: Ragnarok
Of the original Avengers‘ movies, Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, and Thor, the Thor franchise is the one that hasn’t found a footing. It took Ragnarok — the mythic Norse view of apocalypse — to give actor Chris Hemsworth the superhero he deserves. Literally, everything about Thor is wiped away over the course of this film, including his mighty hammer and his homeworld (and these aren’t spoilers–they’re in every trailer). Yet with all the cataclysmic events, Thor: Ragnarok finds its heart in Guardians of the Galaxy-esque humor. Of course the “He’s a friend from work” line was (over)played in the trailers, but from start to finish Ragnarok left me with a smile on my face…and a lead-in to 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War.
Though Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 was released this year, Ragnarok was the film that best captured the mirth and magic of 2014’s original Guardians and has become my favorite film in Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Odds are you’ve seen The Belko Experiment. While the movie only grossed $11 million worldwide, you’ve still seen it. Perhaps it bore the name Battle Royale, or The Hunger Games — movies in which groups of people are trapped in an arena and forced to murder each other. Those who don’t will have their heads blown off by explosives planted on their bodies.
But Belko sets itself apart by adding in a healthy dose of humor. In this movie the setting is an office building in Columbia filled with American employees. The usual corporate alliances and rivalries are stretched to homicidal extremes, with fun results. It helps that our protagonist Mike, played by John Gallagher Jr., bears a striking resemblance in both looks and performance to John Krasinski, making this feel like the best Office series finale ever!
With a dose of Cabin in the Woods type world-building, Belko was my single biggest cinematic surprise of 2017. I walked in expecting okay horror–and walked out with a grin on my face having had a great time. That is one successful Experiment
1. Baby Driver
If for no other reason than the three-minute continuous, highly choreographed, opening credits sequence scored to “Harlem Shuffle” Baby Driver is the best made, most artistically ambitious film I saw this year. Yet it has so much more going on than just that spotlight scene. The car chases are equally devised (and done almost entirely practically) creating a vehicular dance that is mesmerizing to behold. It’s a musical in which they only sing along to songs they’re playing, and most of the dancing is done on four wheels, but I can’t look away.
The soundtrack has been on near-constant rotation in my life since the movie’s June release. I can’t get enough of it.
More, the film has heart. Ansel Elgort’s Baby may be a criminal getaway driver, but his caring for his deaf foster father Joe, his pure love for waitress Debora, and his “one last job” mentality make him a complex, yet relatable, hero. Add in some Edgar Wright humor (the sunglasses scene is pure gold), a stellar cast, and as many plot turns as U-turns, and Baby Driver speeds past every other movie to be my top of 2017.
I think that’s your franchise going down in flames
Worst of the year: Transformers – The Last Knight
And I’d like to give special mention to the absolute worst movie of the year: Transformers: The Last Knight.
The movie was so loud, obnoxious, stupid, and incomprehensible that it makes Transformers 2 look like The Godfather Part II. It’s complete abuse of respected and returning stars like Anthony Hopkins, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, and Stanley Tucci is horrifying. And (other than Hopkins at Stonehenge) it’s not even funny-bad, it’s just excruciatingly painful to your ears and your mind. Don’t try to figure out the plot…this film is actually less than meets the eye.