2017’s Best Films

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It’s time to talk about my favorite films of 2017! ItMother!, Wonder WomanSpider-Man: HomecomingSplitYour NameLogan LuckyThe Lost City of ZDetroitThor: RagnarokThe Killing of a Sacred Deer, and Wind River were all standouts, but these next ten films are my personal favorites of 2017.

10) The Shape of Water – Guillermo Del Toro’s latest fantasy film is as stunning and bizarre as his previous films, but more restrained. Del Toro focuses on an ensemble of outcasts played wonderfully by Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, and Octavia Spencer. The Shape of Water also excels as a romantic comedy and cold war thriller.

9) A Ghost Story – Arguably the artsiest film on my list, David Lowery’s self-financed supernatural drama is an unforgettable experience. A Ghost Story follows a ghost (Casey Affleck) trapped in an endless time cycle and we’re stuck with him. It’s a mesmerizing little film that explores time, loneliness, and love, bending our minds in the process.

8) Logan – We had a handful of great comic book films in 2017, but Logan is my  favorite! Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s final outing as Wolverine and Professor X is a glorious one. Jackman and Stewart both shine as broken versions of their beloved characters; newcomer Dafnee Keene also rips up the screen as young mutant, Lara. Fans of the Old Man Logan comic should be pleased since Logan has its dread, gore, and Apocalyptic Western aesthetics.

7) The Big Sick – The Big Sick is a gem. Kumail Nanjiani delivers a moving-yet-hilarious performance as a selfish comedian torn between culture and love in this insightful semi-biographical comedy. I’m picky with rom coms, but The Big Sick is the best one I’ve seen in the last five years.

6) The Disaster Artist – The versatile James Franco directs and stars in this chaotically funny Tommy Wiseau biopic. The Disaster Artist follows the troubled production of The Room, and doesn’t just poke fun at the film or the eccentric Wiseau. It also honors Wiseau’s passion, resulting in a surprisingly inspirational comedy.

5) Baby Driver – The summer’s best movie didn’t have superheroes, intelligent apes, or aliens. It had a likable getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) who relies on his iPod to outrun the police in a series of thrilling car chases. Reminiscent of True RomanceHeatDriveThe Blues Brothers, Point Break, and La La Land, Edgar Wright’s explosive jukebox musical thriller is for fans of musicals and crime films alike.

4) Lady Bird – Greta Gerwig brings new life to the coming-of-age genre with the emotional roller coaster, Lady Bird. This is a film that balances humor, warmth, and sadness by focusing on a teenaged Lady Bird’s (Saoirse Ronan) complex relationship with her hardened mother (Laurie Metcalf). Ronan and Metcalf are the frontrunner contenders for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress due to their powerful work.

3) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Leave it to Martin McDonagh to craft an unconventional revenge film that doesn’t have revenge in it. This is a scathingly funny character study of broken people seeking both redemption and retribution. Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell deliver the best performances of their respective careers as an angry, grieving mother and a redeemable sociopathic cop. Don’t miss Three Billboards!

2) Blade Runner: 2049 – The masterful Denis Villeneuve carries on Ridley Scott’s legacy in this mesmerizing sequel. 2049 continues Deckard’s (Harrison Ford) storyline, leads to some brilliant twists, and introduces us to Ryan Gosling’s mysterious protagonist, K. It’s a mind-bender that makes us question our perception of reality, and it’s packed with amazing visuals (courtesy of Roger Deakins).

1) Get Out – What? Because Get Out has an A, it can’t be #1 over the A+’s? Grades are arbitrary and Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is the best film of 2017. It’s a bloody, creepy, and darkly funny commentary on racial politics. Every time I rewatch Get Out, it gets better because I notice more easter eggs and certain details. Watch it once for the entertainment value; watch it a second and third time to catch all of the subtleties. Either way, you know a movie is number one due to its rewatch value.

This was a terrific year for film and I can’t wait what next year has in store. What were some of your favorite films?

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2017’s Watchable Flops

I figured I’d write a fun countdown leading up to my best films. These are films that either underperformed at the box office or panned by critics, but films I still thoroughly enjoyed. Here are my top five watchable flops!

5) Justice League – I expected Justice League to flop given the DCEU’s track record. Thanks to Joss Whedon stepping in (though under unfortunate circumstances), Justice League was a fun adventure movie instead of more destruction porn. Also, kudos to Whedon for finally getting Superman right!

4) Colossal – This quirky indie film was sadly overlooked last April. Colossal is part dark comedy and part giant monster movie, focusing on two self-destructive characters (played wonderfully by Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis). That’s all I’ll say without spoiling Colossal.

3) Power Rangers – As a 90’s kid, I had some serious excitement for the new take on Power Rangers. I was pleasantly surprised with the movie’s craftsmanship, the ensemble performances, and the film taking on social issues without pulling too hard on my heart strings. Power Rangers is a lighthearted superhero movie that never takes itself too seriously.

2) Alien: Covenant – I get why some fans loved Alien: Covenant (it was arguably the best Alien film in 30 years) and I get why some fans hated it (what was the tone?). I enjoyed Alien: Covenant specifically because it explored the androids’ mythology, depicting them as gods to the xenomorphs. Perhaps people wouldn’t have been disappointed if the film were titled Android?

1) Logan Lucky – Steven Soderbergh’s directorial return is a blast. Think of Logan Lucky as a satirical version of Ocean’s 11, but in the South. It’s a shame Logan Lucky flopped since it’s one of the funniest heist films and features a great comedic performance from Daniel Craig.

What were your favorite underrated movies of 2017?

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

I saw a funny tweet earlier where mentions fans hated The Force Awakens for being “too safe.” The tweet also mentions how fans hate The Last Jedi for “taking too many risks.” Can we just all stop being angry fanboys and agree that The Last Jedi is fun?

Without spoiling anything, Rian Johnson’s follow-up to The Force Awakens takes place right after the first one ended. We focus on four storylines:

  1. Rey (Daisy Ridley) trains under the guidance of Luke Sywalker (Mark Hamill), but questions his guidance.
  2.  Finn (John Boyega) meets a Resistance member Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and they embark on an adventure to stop the First Order from defeating the Rebel Alliance.
  3. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) rebels against the Resistance leaders while trying to outrun the First Order in a never ending chase.
  4. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) questions his destiny and must choose his destiny.

The Last Jedi has a lot going on within 150 minutes. I admire that auteur Johnson expands on the Jedi and Force mythologies; The Last Jedi excels when it focuses on Luke, Rey, and Kylo Ren. Part from that, I found The Last Jedi fairly disappointing. I attribute the disappointments to the film’s running time, which should have been 120 minutes.

Starting with the pros, the opening act is a mini Poe Dameron adventure reminiscent of the prologue of The Force Awakens. Isaac once again delivers a charismatic performance and has much more to do in The Last Jedi. Laura Dern plays a seemingly antagonistic admiral to Poe. When they meet, it’s built as a predictable Top Gun narrative, but I was left surprised. Poe’s story brought a lot of humor and heart to The Last Jedi. We’re also treated to the late Carrie Fisher’s final outing as Leia, who now acts as a mentor to Poe.

Johnson also turns Kylo Ren into a more complex character filled with anger, contradictions, and guilt. We see him go from mercilessly attacking the Rebel Alliance to briefly regretting his actions. Kylo Ren’s arc is unpredictable throughout the film and easily the strongest character arc. Driver’s portrayal of Kylo Ren here is a huge improvement over The Force Awakens.

Rey and Luke’s segment together is the film’s highlight due to Johnson’s fresh take. Hamill delivers a multi-layered performance as Luke; Luke is no longer a whiny kid, but a burned out Jedi in his prime. Ridley is just as good in this segment as she goes from idealistic to disillusioned. Also, we get to see the cute little Porgs here.

Now for the cons, I hated Finn’s segment. There, I said it. I’m in the minority and liked Finn in The Force Awakens, but his adventure with Rose is pointless. It serves no purpose to the film and neither does Benicio Del Toro’s eccentric thief character they encounter. This segment is an excuse to see another part of the galaxy and serves no purpose to Finn’s arc. It also causes several pacing and tone issues when we transition from this segment to the others.

When the segments tie together in the final 45 minutes, The Last Jedi is sensational. Johnson choreographs some innovative and brutal lightsaber sequences, gives us some stunning visuals, and writes some emotionally satisfying moments that made the final scenes unforgettable. I’m already looking forward to the next film because of The Last Jedi’s ending alone.

The Last Jedi is arguably the most polarizing Star Wars film of the franchise, but I still admire it for its risks. It’s downfall are Johnson’s overlong script and lack of restraint on callbacks. Maybe he’ll learn from his mistakes when his trilogy is released.

Grade: B

 

 

“The Shape of Water”

The Shape of Water

Who can make a movie that has the kinkiest sex scene, the creepiest sex scene, and one darkly funny cat death? I’d say Guillermo Del Toro since The Shape of Water has all of those scenes.

Mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works as a janitor at a military facility where an amphibian creature called The Asset (Del Toro veteran Doug Jones) is imprisoned. The lonely Elisa sees something special in The Asset as she shares eggs and music with him. Elisa’s closeted neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and neurotic coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) are concerned for her, but agree to help her free The Asset after sadistic government agent Strickland (Michael Shannon) vows to kill it.

The Shape of Water is the closest Del Toro will get to making either a romantic comedy or Beauty and the Beast. This is an R-rated Disney movie; Elisa and The Asset are the Princess and Prince Charming while Zelda and Giles are Elisa’s comic relief sidekicks. In addition to the obvious homages to Disney films and Creature from the Black Lagoon, Del Toro explores ostracism and loneliness.

The film takes place during the Cold War and Civil Rights Movement; Elisa, Zelda, and Giles are all outcasts. Elisa is often taken advantage of for being mute, Zelda’s discriminated against for her race, and Giles often finds harsh rejection instead of love. Hawkins, Spencer, and Jenkins are all wonderful in their performances and portray characters in pain. Hawkins in particular is a strong Best Actress candidate as the expressive Elisa.

As Elisa, Hawkins is committed in portraying a lonely, caring, and devilishly clever hero. We feel bad for Elisa when she makes a tough decision with The Asset, but we also root for her when she taunts Strickland through her sign language.

Shannon owns every scene as Strickland. Del Toro has a knack for writing memorable villains and Strickland is my new favorite of his. Unlike the film’s heroes, Strickland has it all. He’s a respected authority figure, has a beautiful wife, an active sex life, loving kids, a big house, and a teal Cadillac. Yet Strickland’s strive for perfection, acceptance, and decaying hand make him increasingly unhinged.

MILD SPOILERS ABOUT STRICKLAND

There’s a great visual motif with Strickland that emphasizes his growing insanity. After The Asset bites off two of his fingers, he gets them reattached, but we see them turn black and more infected as the film progresses. We also see him grow increasingly unattached and uncontrolled as the hand rots. It’s a gross visual motif, but a brilliant one.

I have to praise Del Toro for restraining himself and exploring psychologically complex characters. This is Del Toro’s most character-driven film to date. Yes, the film has some gore and a couple of bizarre sex scenes, but unlike other films, the sex serves a purpose. Elisa and The Asset’s sex scenes are intimate and highlight their love for each other while Strickland’s disturbing sex scene subtly depicts his lust for Elisa.

Though the film is set during the Cold War, I wasn’t too invested in Michael Stuhlbarg’s soviet spy character. Every time he appears on screen, The Shape of Water derives from its dark fairytale roots and turns into a spy movie, losing some focus and tone.

Still, The Shape of Water is a visual treat and delightful to watch. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a huge competitor for all visual categories in the awards season.

Grade: A-

2017’s Worst Films

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Though I saw quite a few great films this year, I definitely saw some stinkers. The Mummy and Little Evil won’t make the worst films, but these next top ten will!

10) The Snowman – This convoluted, misogynistic mess of a movie relies too heavily on convenience to move the plot along. Seriously, how’s a raging alcoholic with no driver’s license a detective?

9) The Belko Experiment – Speaking of convoluted, we never learn what the point of the Battle Royale-like experiment is in The Belko Experiment. Instead, we just see a bunch of peoples’ heads explode, which is boring after the second head explosion.

8) King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – One cool, flashy montage is fine, but a dozen?! Guy Ritchie should have just made a 20-minute short film instead of making this lazy retelling of the Arthur fable.

7) Sandy Wexler – There’s nothing likable or charming about Adam Sandler’s titular character; instead, we’re forced to watch an unfunny loser for 2.5 hours (who told Sandler he could make a movie that long?). 

6) Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – The great Luc Besson kills all potential in his latest film by focusing on the protagonists’ awkward relationship. Plus the non-existent chemistry between leads Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne digs the film’s grave deeper.

5) Death Note – Adapting an anime to the big screen doesn’t always work, as shown in Death Note. This is a huge misfire. Death Note spends too much time focusing on angsty, horny teenagers killing people and having sex rather than building its mythology and giving a demonic Willem Dafoe more to do.

4) A Cure for Wellness – There’s no point or clear resolution in Gore Verbinski’s overlong style-over-substance exercise, A Cure for Wellness. Verbinski and the screenwriters are desperate to shock their audience with torture and pedophiliac undertones since they couldn’t think of anything interesting to say.

3) Unforgettable – I hate to say this, but this hack job erotic thriller actually had potential. Katherine Heigl makes a convincing ice queen stalker, but Unforgettable is too unrealistic, ridiculous, and generic to take seriously. Save this one for a bad movie night with your friends like I did.

2) Baywatch – Baywatch made me more conservative when watching Dwayne Johnson’s movies. He and Zac Efron had a good time, but I didn’t. Baywatch relies on punch lines and bodily gags that we’ve seen before in better comedies.

1) Wish Upon – Wish Upon is the worst movie I saw in 2017, but I still had a blast watching it. It’s The Room of horror movies! The main characters are all beautifully stupid like in every straight-to-video horror movie, but Wish Upon makes those characters look like Stephen Hawking. How many wishes does it take a person to realize the wish box is doing more harm than good? Clearly more than one.

That’s it for my worst of the year. Thanks to all for reading and making this movie season a great one. What will 2018’s worst be? Stay tuned!

“The Disaster Artist”

 

I did not hate The Disaster Artist. It’s not true. It’s bullshit! I did not hate it. I did naaaaaaaaaht…. Oh, hai reader!

Set between 1998 and 2003, The Disaster Artist follows Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) and Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and documents their bizarre friendship. They meet in an acting class where Tommy’s fearless and unapologetic nature inspires Greg. After they encounter brutal rejection in Hollywood, Tommy suggests they make their own movie. And that’s how we got the 2003 awful-yet-entertaining cult film, The Room.

The Disaster Artist is a case of life imitating art. While Wiseau produced, wrote, directed, and starred in The Room, James directs, produces, and stars in The Disaster Artist. Unlike The RoomThe Disaster Artist is good. Scratch that. It’s great!

James directs and acts with the same level of passion and showmanship; his performance as Wiseau is the best performance I’ve seen all year. It’s much more than a great Tommy Wiseau impression. James brings life, humanity, and spirit to one of the strangest and mysterious celebrities. Sure, he brings on the laughs, but we also feel sorry for him whenever he’s dismissed or belittled (even though Tommy does it to himself).

As Greg Sestero, Dave delivers his best performance. Greg is the straight man, though he has a stronger arc than Tommy. We see Greg grow from a naïve baby face (Tommy’s pet name for him), to a confident actor, and finally to an annoyed-yet-loyal friend. The Franco brothers both show their strong fraternal bond through their characters.

Screenwriting duo Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber ((500) Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now) deliver an insightful script that depicts one of the most disastrous film productions in history. The Room was infamous for going over budget, over schedule, being shot on two formats, and several cast and crew members quitting. The Disaster Artist dives into the chaos of the production and we see that some of the depicted moments weren’t funny, but rather horrific. I found myself checking imdb to see how much of the production scenes in The Disaster Artist were true and found myself in awe. Though they risked losing focus with a tame subplot involving Greg’s girlfriend (Dave’s real life wife Allison Brie), I still found myself invested.

At one point, we see Tommy’s cast talking about The Room and actress Carolyn (Jacki Weaver) says the worst day on a film set is better than a boring day in real life This line is one of the many inspiring moments in The Disaster Artist. by the end when Tommy embraces his cult status, I felt provoked to make my own movie.

Grade: A