Hello fellow Laymen! Back from a long hiatus, I've returned to finish what I started. A few months ago, I gave you my 6-10 favorite movies from 2017, with the promise of revealing my 1-5 soon after....Well, while it may have been longer than I originally anticipated, I'm a man of my word and am here to give you my last thoughts on my favorite movies from last year.
Before I finish the list, here are a few Honorable Mentions that I still think you should check out but that just didn't quite crack the Top 10.
Third time's the charm! Tom Holland brings Spidey back to life, but this time, he's in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and, surprise surprise, it's great.
M. Night Shyamalan is back! James McAvoy plays a schizophrenic maniac with 27 alternate personalities with a horrifying 28th on the way, and he's fantastic (honestly deserved Oscar recognition for the sheer versatility alone). Creepy, unsettling, and thrilling from start to finish, Shyamalan proves once again that he is a great storyteller if he puts his mind to it. And that twist.........do yourself a favor and see it!
Anything directed by Christopher Nolan has a good chance of making my Top 10 in any given year. While I don't feel Dunkirk is among his top films, Nolan still delivers a visceral war movie experience unlike any other. Unfortunately, due to a lack of any tangible character arcs or stories or focus of any kind, Dunkirk just misses the cut for me. I'd still recommend seeing it for the spectacle alone though.
It Comes At Night
A genuine surprise, I chalked up It Comes At Night to be a by-the-numbers horror, haunted house movie that people have seen a million times and that I normally hate. Call it misleading or bad marketing, but It Comes At Night was not at all what I expected, and that worked heavily in its favor. More of a psychological thriller, It Comes At Night examines a common post-apocalyptic situation from one of the most grounded, realistic perspectives I've ever seen. There's no real protagonist or antagonist, or at least no clear good guys or bad guys. It simply places a scenario in front of the audience and asks "What would you do in this situation?" While this strategy wouldn't work for most movies, it's dreadfully effective for this movie. By all means unconventional, It Comes At Night was the dark horse of the 2017 movie pool.
Blade Runner 2049
The brilliantly stylistic and unique director of Sicario and Arrival, Dennis Villeneuve, directs the long-awaited sequel to the Ridley Scott classic, Blade Runner. Much like its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 does an excellent job of asking existential, philosophical questions about the human experience, reality vs. the artificial, and the consequences of man's insatiable desire to play God, all set against the backdrop of a decaying human civilization that has lost most of its grasp on basic morality. Though a bit over-rated in my opinion, Blade Runner 2049 surpasses the original in just about every way for me and is a thought-provoking story with a satisfying conclusion.
Now that we've seen some of the movies I wrestled with putting on the list but ultimately felt were not quite up to par with the rest, here is the rest of my Top 10 List, starting with Number 5!
5. Wonder Woman
Returning to the list at hand, my Number 5 spot belongs to one of the most successful blockbusters of 2017, both financially and critically. Wonder Woman is the first big screen adaptation of the member of the mighty DC Comics Triumvirate not named Superman or Batman, and is directed by Patty Jenkins and stars Gal Gadot as Diana Prince and Chris Pine as ace World War I pilot, Steve Trevor. Hailing from the mythical, Amazonian women haven that is the island of Themyscira, Diana is a promising young Amazonian warrior and the daughter of Queen Hippolyta (played by Connie Nielsen) who is trying to learn the extent of her powers. As she deals with this struggle, she teams up with Allied pilot Steve Trevor and his motley crew of mercenaries and seeks out the God of War himself, Ares, who is supposedly corrupting the hearts of men and is the root cause of the Great War, "the war to end all wars."
Wonder Woman is an instant superhero classic. While it's not quite in the top tier of superhero flicks, such as The Dark Knight, The Avengers, or the last 2 Captain America movies, it is a thrilling addition to the genre that has inspiring themes of hope, optimism in the face of daunting odds, and humanitarian love in the face of war and destruction. Wonder Woman also pulls off a difficult balancing act between drama and levity. The other entries in the DCEU that came before Wonder Woman have been rebuked and criticized by many for being too dark. Therefore, this movie had the risk of falling victim to one extreme or the other: either go against the grain of its predecessors and be excessively silly and "fun" and be a complete departure from the rest of the series, or stick to its creative guns and be another overly-serious adaptation of a superhero. Luckily, Patty Jenkins pulled off the balancing act and was able to infuse a believable sense of humor that was based on the characters presented and the situations they found themselves in, rather than being the by-product of nervous execs who are desperate to get laughs at the expense of a quality story. The result? Wonder Woman is a hyper entertaining superhero action movie with strong, charming characters, a believable love story, plenty of laughs, and even more thrilling action and drama. Gal Gadot is sure to be a household name and an inspiration to many after this movie, and it's with good reason.
4. The Founder
Next up is one that apparently no one besides me saw, The Founder. Simply put, this movie is The Social Network, except with McDonald's.....Have I sold you on it yet? What if I told you Michael Keaton and Nick Offerman (a.k.a. Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation) were in it? Ok, in case you need a little more convincing, The Founder is the true story of Ray Kroc, a down-on-his-luck entrepreneur trying to find the next big thing to sell, and his fateful partnership with two well-meaning, folksy brothers who run a local burger joint bearing their name, McDonald's.
I actually watched this movie on an international flight as I scrolled through the in-flight movie list. I had seen a trailer for it months beforehand so I was intrigued, but I hadn't heard much about it since to be honest. I figured, "Hey, it's free. If it ends up being crappy or boring, it's just an in-flight movie. Besides, I'm watching it on a pixelated 7-inch screen on the back of the airplane seat of the guy in front of me who decided to lean his seat all the way back the moment he got on and then passed out for the rest of the flight..." In other words, I didn't have much to lose financially, emotionally, or in terms of time either way! Despite the circumstances surrounding watching this movie, The Founder was such an engaging story to me, and it's one that I still think about a lot to this day. I don't know what it is exactly about this movie, but I can't get over how much I liked it.
First off, Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc is absolutely riveting. The resurgence of Michael Keaton's career in the last 5 or so years has been amazing to watch, and this film is simply another fantastic step in the right direction for him. His dynamic with the McDonald's brothers, played non-ironically by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch, is shockingly gripping. With all their performances keeping you invested from start to finish, the story itself is told extremely well; watching the simple, clean local McDonald's operation transform slowly into the global mega-franchise we know it to be today was surprisingly dramatic and full of intrigue. At its core, The Founder explores the themes of making a name for yourself, the financial gain vs. the moral cost of ambition, and what that all does to you and your family. What's more? Much like Breaking Bad, it puts the audience in a position where by the end, it has to question whether or not the lessons taught in the story are justified or if they're despicable (it was really hard to get this point across without spoiling key parts of the movie so just watch it!).
3. John Wick: Chapter 2
Next up is probably the most fun I had in a movie theater in 2017, John Wick 2. Call me a sucker for seemingly substance-less popcorn action flicks, but like Die Hard, Predator, Lethal Weapon, The Running Man, Rambo and basically any Arnie and/or Sly picture that came before it, the John Wick franchise is pure, unadulterated shoot-em-up action fun, and I can't help but love it.
Having already come out of retirement in the first movie in order to exact his revenge on that Theon Greyjoy-lookin' punk and the rest of the vaguely Russian crime syndicate he once helped create, John Wick, played by veritable bad-ass and super humble guy Keanu Reeves, is once again trying to live in peace outside of the crazy assassin underworld in which he once thrived. This is until he is visited by a former colleague who coerces him into taking on one more job. As you can imagine, 2ish hours of marvelous "Gun-Fu" action ensues.
What I love about this movie is that it took aspects of the first movie and developed an intricate mythology surrounding the nature of "The Continental" hotels and the mysterious assassins that frequent them. There's a brilliant "honor among thieves" element that adds a whole other layer to what John Wick is doing and the dangers he faces. There's even elements of James Bond thrown in the mix. This is world building at its finest, and it accomplishes what most sequels fail to do in that regard. On top of enriching the franchise's lore, John Wick 2 has fantastic action fighting sequences. There's a breathtaking scene in particular that takes place in Rome, as well as one later on that involves a pencil...and if you love over the top fight sequences like I do, you'll have a blast with this film. Keanu Reeves, I commend you good sir.
2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Bewildering, I know. Yet another Star Wars movie ending up in my Top 10 (The Force Awakens and Rogue One were both on my 2015 and 2016 Top 10 Lists, respectively). Yes, I have a soft spot for Star Wars movies, but when they keep making good ones, my hands are tied, as far as I'm concerned. I'll admit, this movie isn't perfect, or rather certain storylines don't work quite as well as the central storyline (which is phenomenal). But the more I thought about it after seeing it the first time, the issues I had with it bothered me less and less; in addition, I also continued to appreciate the aspects of it I liked more and more.
Not wanting to risk taking up an entire post's-worth of your time, we'll take the state-of-the-art special effects, high production value, and outstanding acting performances across the board as givens. The thing that stands out about this movie is its ability to subvert expectations from a story perspective. There were several story elements that The Force Awakens set up and had people asking questions that they assumed The Last Jedi would answer. Rian Johnson, the director, found a way to not let these expectations and questions hinder him from telling the best possible story, and I have to respect that. The dynamic between Rey and Kylo Ren was fantastic, every character's actions had legitimate consequences to them, and the direction they took with Luke Skywalker's character was absolutely pitch perfect for me. The Last Jedi also has one of my favorite lightsaber scenes in the entire series (for several reasons I won't mention here because they are MAJOR spoilers).
I know many people had problems with this film, for many of the same reasons that I actually love it. The Last Jedi is certainly the most divisive Star Wars movie amongst its die hard fan base. But I ultimately think the risks Rian Johnson and the rest of his team at Lucas Film took paid off, delivering a truly unique cinematic experience that deepens the lore of Star Wars and keeps the great aspects of this series alive and well moving forward.
At long last, here is my favorite film from last year, Logan. Reprising his role of Wolverine for the 8th time (9th if you count his hysterical cameo in X-Men: First Class) over a 17 year span, Hugh Jackman delivers perhaps his best performance as the character and one of his best performances of his career period. Logan follows the rugged, adamantium-laden hero as he struggles with on-set mortality in his twilight years. The X-Men as we know them are seemingly gone and no where to be found. All that is left is Logan and Professor Xavier, who is now suffering from some form of dementia making him mentally unstable (for a mutant whose power is mind reading and telekinesis, that could be a problem...); both are in hiding in the middle of the desert, seemingly waiting to die. This all changes when Logan is confronted by a little girl with a similar set of powers and abilities as him who is on the run from a mysterious group of mutant bounty hunters of some kind. Will Logan continue to hide from the world he once reluctantly protected, or will he risk it all for this one girl who seems to be the one glimmer of hope left in his life?
A common characteristic of today's best superhero movies is taking an established genre and disguising it as a superhero movie and, in the process, transcending the superhero genre. The Dark Knight is a crime thriller in the stylings of Heat and The Departed, Captain America: Winter Soldier is an '80s action spy flick like any Harrison Ford-led Jack Ryan movie, and now Logan delivers a John Wayne Western.....if John Wayne had metal claws and mercilessly eviscerated dozens of baddies at a time in blinding rage. The point is Logan is amongst a good company of stellar superhero flicks in the last 10-15 years that have continued to push the boundaries of what the superhero genre is capable of. The fact that Logan received a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars this year, a feat no other comic book movie has ever accomplished, is a testament to this milestone film and its importance to the genre and movies in general. All in all, Logan has a beautifully crafted story with phenomenal performances, in particular from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, and touching moments of family relationships, paternal responsibility, and giving everything you have to save the ones you love. Also, it has some amazing *SNIKT*erific action of Wolverine going banana-sandwich on all the bad guys. For all these reasons and more, Logan was my favorite movie of 2017.
In summary, my Top 10 List is as follows:
10. War for the Planet of the Apes
9. Baby Driver
8. Get Out
7. Wind River
6. Thor: Ragnarok
5. Wonder Woman
4. The Founder
3. John Wick: Chapter 2
2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
There it is! I apologize that this post has been several months in the making. These past few months have been characteristically busy with work, and I just haven't had the energy in the little time off I've had to put in the 100% effort I feel that I owe you guys with these posts. For those of you who still stick around and read these whenever they're available, you are the ones I owe the most and I promise to do better to bring you movie reviews and other faith/movie based content more consistently. I hope you enjoyed this post and hopefully you reach back in this last year of movies to watch some of these great pictures if you haven't already!
As always, have a great day and God Bless!