Sunday, December 31, 2017

Best movies of 2017

2017, here we go!

12. INGRID GOES WEST – This movie begins with a tear filled girl looking at the Instagram of someone who didn’t invite her to her wedding. She shows up to the wedding, walks right up to the bride and straight up maces her right in the face. This was the most cathartic cinematic moment of 2017 and a great way to open a movie. We then learn a bit more about Ingrid, a girl who has suffered a nervous breakdown and has a dependency on social media since she has no real friends or life of her own. She discovers a new obsession through the profile of a pretty young woman with a massive following seemingly based on her own style and tastes. Ingrid worms her way into her life by aping her styles and tastes and a relationship builds upon a massive and creepy lie. Along the way, Ingrid meets a man that is obsessed with the 1995 hit BATMAN FOREVER, and I was satisfied with the endless references to this timeless classic. The movie is very dark, and very funny and has excellent performances from Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson and a real hopeful turning point for Aubrey Plaza. Who graduates her usual creepy girl persona into something multilayered and more human.

11. BRAD’S STATUS – There were a lot of great surprises this year and with the expanded benefits of MoviePass from this year compared to last year, I get to take some risks again. BRAD’S STATUS doesn’t have a great title or trailer so none of that factored into my decision to see it. It simply started next after I finished a play of vague mall Asian cuisine. It’s about this father Brad, played by Ben Stiller, who is about to take his son on a tour of colleges who is also reflecting on his own life choices and where it’s taken him. He had a group of friends when he was in college who all went on to become rich and famous people while he, who leads a comfortable middle class life, seems to find extra pain in the struggle that he thinks his friends don’t have to deal with. Brad’s inner monologue is constantly talking to the audience and we are aware of every insecurity and conceived slight that’s coming from everyone he interacts with. Even his wife and son. It barely edges out Ingrid with the dark and creepy. It’s definitely the most uncomfortable movie of the year. The best example of that being a scene where Brad has a drink with one of his son’s student advisors, confesses lament for his place in life and this young woman tells him his white straight male suburban complaints aren’t gonna amount to people giving shit one about him and it’s all together stomach obviating and rejuvenating. Like a cleansing rain. I think there is something here for those willing to venture into a middle aged white guy’s brain in 2017.

10. KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD – Another fantastic surprise of 2017. Admittedly, the only Guy Ritchie movies I have seen have had the words SHERLOCK HOLMES in the title. Wait, I think I saw his MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and that was pretty shit. So there was really no reason for me to even set foot in this theater. But I love the Arthurian legend and they haven’t made a good movie about it yet so I gave it a chance. Lucky for me, I was hooked within the first five minutes when King Eric Bana protected his kingdom from these evil wizards riding gigantic elephants with his flaming blue magic EXCALIBUR, MOTHER FUCKERS. King Bana is betrayed by his closest confidant, Jude Law who steals the crown from him but loses the sword. Arthur ends up hidden from Law and grows up a pauper raised by prostitutes and learning how to hustle on the mean streats of jolly old England. This movie is fantastically edited, as all this is shown during the credits in a cool montage. There are even scenes that happen and then happen again in different context right after the other. When Arthur finally does get the sword in his hands, he can’t control it. Like a video game he has to learn to wield the sheer power of Excalibur and do cool berserker combos to take back the throne and save England. Every moment of this was a blast and it failed miserably. I get it. All the promos and advertising were pretty bad and people don’t like the lead but it’s a great time. They had planned 7 films for this franchise, playing out the full Arthurian story with Lancelot and Guinivere and the Knights of the Round Table but we aren’t getting that now because none of you take risks! Think of the Round Table pizza promotions we are missing out on.

9. THE BIG SICK – I had the opportunity to see this movie last year in a test screening. Before Sundance and all that. I went because Judd Apatow is trying to right the ship with comedies and gave Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon a shot to put this amazing script on the screen. But since someone is dying in the movie, big studios wouldn’t touch it. So instead they released comedies like THE HOUSE, FATHER FIGURES and have BLOCKERS all ready to go for 2018. But the good movies are being made, you just have to look for them. This one is about the true story of how Kumail met Emily, fell in love, broke up and how she fell into a mysterious coma not long afterwards and Kumail and Emily’s parents had to deal with it together. The true stand out is Ray Romano, who plays Emily’s dad. Ol’ RR has secretly been amazing for a long time now. His role on PARENTHOOD showed great dramatic range which is showcased here as well. Ray does not need to work anymore. He had a giant hit sitcom that will run forever in syndication and yet he’s putting his best foot forward now with roles like this. Everyone knows Holly Hunter rules. I think people have finally gotten their Hogwarts letter about how great Zoe Kazan is. And finally, FINALLY, Kumail can stop appearing in bit parts in things like FIST FIGHT and BRA AND HEATHER HAVE A SPRING BREAK or whatever the fuck that movie was and is now a lead! Amazon Studios released this movie in theaters and they are showing us what our movies could be. And they are basically what movies were 20 years ago but I guess we lost our way somewhere. I blame Transformers.

8. SPLIT – M. Night Shymalan’s comeback would be one of the most shocking things about 2017 if 2017 wasn’t just a crazy netherworld of impossible and improbable things happening almost every day. If you still haven’t seen this, I am not going to spoil it for you suffice it to say that it will probably take more than one watch to truly get all that is being served to you in SPLIT. It’s wonderful to see that after more than a decade of constant and uninterrupted suck from this guy, that he has returned to power and right at the dawn of what will hopefully be one of his greatest achievements. Ana Taylor-Joy and James McAvoy are fantastic together and apart. This movie makes miracles happen.

7. IT – All but two of these movies so far, I thought were gonna suck. So I think 2017 was a great year for movies. I’ve read plenty of Stephen King and have watched a lot of King adaptations. I was never a big fan but out of all of his works, to me, this is the one that had the most potential to be something great. The book has its moments and so does the mini-series that came out on television in 1990. But none of those felt like they lived up to the potential. This does. The movie scales back some of the more fantastical elements of a story about a killer alien demon clown who feeds off kid’s fears and then the actual kids, and focuses on character and relationships. This cast is so amazing. Trouble is the whole story takes place over decades and the characters get much older, which means any subsequent movies will have to deal with other people playing these roles that were given such soul by these kids. Typically, horror movies end with one last scare to show you it’s not over. And while they could have done that here because there’s a lot to go, they chose to leave off on a hopeful, peaceful, loving moment. Because things are gonna get a lot worse. I’ll take a cue from the movie and just cherish what we got here in case things really hit the fan.

6. LOGAN LUCKY – There’s a big theme of surprise in this movie year. The surprise here is that Steven Soderbergh retired from directing movies a few years ago and came back. He made this one in secret and set up his own distribution as to not have to deal with the studio system that made him quit in the first place. Independent movies used to primarily feature controversial subject matter or content, which is why a big studio would feel they reached too broad of an audience for niche dealings. Now independent movies are just any movie without big robots or superheroes in it. It’s a bit of a shame, but like I said before, if you look for it, the good movies are still there. There is nothing about LOGAN LUCKY that is controversial or potentially offensive. It’s a big crowd pleasing adventure with big name stars filled with laughs and excitement. A laid off driller decides to get a band of relations and second hand nut job colleagues together to rob a race track during NASCAR’s biggest event, whatever that is. It didn’t get the audience it deserved, but film is forever. It will always be there for you. So why not find it sooner, rather than later?

5. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING – It’s no surprise that Marvel Studios would make the one Spider-Man movie that I truly love but the idea that they would have the opportunity to do so is a god damn miracle. After 5 movies, Marvel had their work cut out for them. They could have simply delivered on the minor details we have yet to see on screen from our beloved wall crawler, but instead, they rested on no laurels but still represented the spirit of the character better than any film ever has. No origins. No Daily Bugle. No Norman Osbourne. No J. Jonah Jameson. Aunt May is hot. Spider-Man has siri. AND IT’S ALL SO GOOD! The best I ever had. And Michael Keaton is in it. And he’s one of the best villains Marvel ever had. Out of a character that I didn’t really care about before. Hearing Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige talk about these characters makes me tear up from time to time. Because he’s able to deliver on his passion. He once made reference to Captain Marvel’s power level stats on early 90’s Marvel cards to describe how powerful the character is gonna be. When talking about this movie, he states very simply “Spider-Man is the greatest super hero ever created” and he believes it. And he makes you believe it. And I have faith they will keep us believing it.

4. LADY BIRD – I survived the underwhelming follow ups to FRANCES HA. Never fully believing I’d see anything like it again. Luckily, Greta Gerwig wanted to direct something she wrote on her own and the torches were lit once again. Telling the story of a young teen in 2002 navigating the rites of passage and changing relationships with friends, parents, lovers was not something I found to be gender biased. It took awhile for me to deal with all these things, going well into my late 20’s but hey, movies are supposed to be condensed. Seeing Gerwig play out these things on the very locations I myself played out 2002 was a little extra special and made it all the more intense and authentic. Saoirse Ronan has been in plenty of good movies, a good handful of bad and a whole lot if middle of the road. But she’s always great. And for someone who grew up in movies, she is also a convincing teenager who longs for a life better than she has. Laurie Metcalf’s brilliance and Jon Brion’s best score in years round off a movie that deserves all the acclaim it’s getting. It’s permeating even the toughest of movie critics that I know personally and that really warms the heart.

3. Brigsby Bear – This year at Comic Con, I stayed behind after a panel to watch one for a movie I didn’t really know much about. They played the first 10 minutes of this movie and I said that showing any more would ruin it and that we should all go see it when it was released later that month. I was instantly hooked. The marketing suggests a bit of a nasty hipstery feel making fun of the fact that we had to use VCRs at one point in human history (isn’t video tracking  HILARIOUS?) but lo, they looked beyond the obvious sort of insecure musings they could have made and found the sense of wonder that feels the truest when remembering the shows and videos portrayed in this movie. This has all been pretty vague so far, and it’s because I don’t want to spoil the movie for you. But it has this positive energy and sincere disposition that you wouldn’t expect and this tremendous heart from Kyle Mooney, one of the new SNL guys behind some of the funniest, darkest, and vicious takes that show does these days. None of that darkness is shown here, just the pure joy that inspired him to become who he is. I think out of all the movies on this list, this is the one people probably wouldn’t have seen and probably wouldn’t pick up otherwise but I can’t see you not liking this movie, whoever you are. Unless you were a truly despicable person.

2. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 – What a year for being a Guardians fan. Not only have we got the best new Disneyland ride in years from these dopes but we also got this. This franchise was such an unexpected success that reached even the farthest depths of the audience (you have to remember your uncle or something telling you about the first one like you didn’t fucking KNOW already) that I expected the worse with a sequel. I’ve seen plenty of shoes drop and a lot of the time, the element of surprise being lost takes away a lot of the punch. Luckily for me (and us), James Gunn had a few aces up his sleeve. Even while watching it the first time, I thought to myself that it definitely wasn’t better than the first and then I kept watching and realized that it wasn’t plot driven. It was character driven. A first of it’s kind, a big deal summer popcorn hit with cereals and liquid soap tied into it decided to take a deeper, more intimate look into the way its characters worked and THAT WAS THE STAR OF THE SHOW. It lead to its exciting action packed climax but it was the characters that took it there, not the plot. It’s the most personal movie of the year to me, selfishly because I see so much of myself across all these guys. You can make an argument for any character as the best character and even now I couldn’t tell you which one wins. I look at the parental issues, feelings of family, feelings of regret, feelings of loss, feelings of hope and it all seems so familiar to me. And on top of ALL OF THAT, a soundtrack that feels like it’s been with me my whole life but like I’m hearing it for the first time. I knew what Marvel was capable of, but I didn’t know it was capable of something like this. We are living in a golden age.

1. THE FLORIDA PROJECT – Director Sean Baker has always been interested in showing you the lives of people you probably only at most deal with for a few minutes, if at all, and even then in a pretty sparse regularity. Here he takes a look at the people that live off the tourism brought in by Disney World. It focuses on these kids that live in a nearby motel to parents that don’t really work and get money through other ways. Sometimes illegal, or at the very least on the line of what is and is not legal. This is all they know. They are left alone most of the time as it’s the summer time, and the colorful bizarre eyesores that surround them are adventures yet to be lived. The dangerous around them. The people that look after them, taken for granted because they are kids. And that’s a good thing, that even despite their hardships, they don’t even realize it’s happening to them and get to be happy little trouble makers. Like a modern day Little Rascals. It’s proximity to one of my biggest fascinations, the theme park capital of the world, has been keeping me obsessed with it. I’ve seen it three times and it’s just a world that you wouldn’t see unless someone like Sean Baker rolled up his sleeves and decided to show you what it was like. It has the best performances of the year from a cast that mostly, has never acted before and a genius Willem Dafoe. Who per my research has indeed acted before. For my money it is the one masterpiece that was released this year and I urge you all to check it out.

I really loved the year of film that was 2017, and look forward to what the next year has to bring and talking about it with all of you even if you’re being difficult about it.

- D