Fish-men, dressmaking and peaches: The top 10 movies of 2017

With a few weeks left before what has quite loudly morphed into the most unpredictable Oscars in years, it’s finally time to take stock of what we had in 2017 at the cinema.

In brevi: It was an astounding dichotomy of auteurs operating – or continuing to operate – at the height of their powers (Guillermo Del Toro, Paul Thomas Anderson, Denis Villeneuve) and first-time directors yielding surprise gems and excitement for the future of film (Greta Gerwig, Jordan Peele).

In a year that ended with Hollywood beginning to form a new identity – the result of which may not be evident on the big screen until at least 2019 – it also gave us much to cry, scream and ponder about in the theater.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that in the months following an incredibly epic and incredibly awkward Best Picture win by “Moonlight” – itself a eulogy to identity and the winding road it can personify itself as – some of 2017’s best movies featured heroes, villains and everyday characters grappling with theirs.

Sometimes it involved busting out a move at an impromptu dance party in Italy, other times it was shedding your identity for the entertainment of others.

And, at other times still, it involved fish sex. 2017 truly had it all.

Adding to the sea of similar pieces that represent closing a chapter and opening a new one more than anything of actual substance, here is this film critic’s top 10 films of the year. Continue reading →

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Review: In ‘Darkest Hour,’ a resplendent Gary Oldman is the highlight, but not its sole strength

The year is 1940. Hitler’s Nazi regime is forging a merciless trail across Europe. France is under siege. England is backed into a corner both metaphorically and, in the case of the 300,000 British soldiers stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, literally.

If you watched Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” over the summer, you know the story and you know what’s at stake for these soldiers. But what you may not know about is the chaos unfolding at Parliament. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain has been pushed out for a replacement much less suitable for the office, not to mention at wartime – the easy-to-scrutinize Winston Churchill.

Churchill may be commonly discussed in high school textbooks, and cited in epigraphs of WWII videogames, but as told in “Darkest Hour,” he was just a benchwarmer until peace negotiations could begin. Continue reading →

Review: With Dunkirk, Nolan matures as a director and visionary

When it was announced that Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to the polarizing space epic Interstellar would be a much more grounded film rooted in the history, it was a bit of a surprise.

Here was a director who has made a career (and, generally, huge box office returns) on the fantastical – imaginative works grand in vision and scope – looking to bring to life a much more straightforward premise by comparison.

But Nolan is also known for taking risks, and as it turns out, Dunkirk is no different. It’s a reinvigoration of the war genre, and its most innovative offering in decades.

There’s certain elements you can expect every time you go to see a Nolan film: a certain visual aesthetic that borders on broody without ever fully entering Kubrick territory, a pounding score, iconic imagery and emotional heft. Continue reading →

Most Anticipated Movies of 2017

Picking out which films we are most excited for at this point in the year is an interesting task.

It’s an opportunity to guesstimate how a movie will turn out based on the footage and information we have up to this point, but by no means do I expect (at least right now) any of these movies to in the running for Best Picture at the 2018 Oscars.

The best films in any given year usually spring out of nowhere. At this point in 2016, most audiences and critics knew little – or nothing at all – about “Moonlight,” “Manchester By The Sea” or “La La Land.” At this point those are the frontrunners for the top prize at the Academy Awards. Some of this year’s critical darlings might not even have a distributor yet, though the season’s first big film festival, Sundance, begins in just a few weeks.

So there’s some optimism to be had knowing that the best films of 2017 won’t be listed here (although you could potentially make the case for one or two by year’s end). Instead, most of these are movies that we know have been in the works for a while, have built up some hype, and mostly fall into the category of “popcorn flick.”

This list provides a chance at sucking up to particular franchises and filmmakers as excitement levels are fairly high, before they hit the theaters and we get to see if they meet our expectations.

Check out the trailers, mark your calendars, and revel in the fact that this will easily be the most gushing I do about franchise sequels this year.


10. “The Emoji Movie” – August 4

Ha. Just kidding.


10. “The Belko Experiment” – March 17

Heavily influenced by the gleefully violent foreign flick “Battle Royale,” “The Belko Experiment” explores what would happen if a regular office full of 9-to-5 workers was suddenly forced to participate in a game of kill or be killed against their colleagues.

The film – written by James Gunn, who is always full of surprises – looks like sheer bloody, self-aware fun, in a way that we expected 2014’s “The Green Inferno” to be. If you’re going to hire a babysitter for any film on this list, “The Belko Experiment” would be the one.


9. “Coco” – November 22

coco

Though Pixar has yet to release any footage for its upcoming Día de los Muertos-themed flick, “Coco” will seemingly be the last original offering by the animation giant before a wave of anticipated sequels are released in the next few years. Following in the footsteps of “Moana,” “Coco” looks to explore another culture that is underrepresented on the big screen, that of Mexico.

Though there are little plot details at this point, early artwork for the film suggests a vibrant, engrossing, and totally Pixarian exploration at a holiday that is vastly misunderstood outside of Mexico.


8. “Dunkirk” – July 21

Christopher Nolan has spent the better part of the last 15 years reinventing the Batman story, taking us farther into the cosmos than we might have thought imaginable (“Interstellar”), and creating a legitimate sci-fi masterpiece in “Inception.”

Now he’s turning to history for inspiration, bringing to the big screen the untold story of nearly half a million Allied forces who were staring death in the eye during World War II on the beaches of France.

Harry Styles of One Direction fame joins Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy in what is sure to be another Nolan offering that can only be truly appreciated in IMAX. “Dunkirk” also looks to continue the theme of emotional, ominous scores pervading the directors’ recent works.


7. “Logan” – March 3

Judging from its beautifully made trailer, “Logan” is trying  to single-handedly save the annual period of despair between Oscar season and the summer from being another cinematic landfill of Hollywood excrement.

Hugh Jackman returns in what is presumably (maybe? Maybe not?) the final turn of his iconic incarnation of “Wolverine,” while director James Mangold seems to be fully embracing the newfound potential of R-rated comic book movies in a post-“Deadpool” world. Expect Jackman to unleash a fury like we have yet to experience, balanced with the most vulnerable state we have ever seen Wolverine in.

But if you’re trying to figure out where this fits in the timeline of X-Men flicks, that’s a futile effort. Here’s hoping “Logan” doesn’t concern itself too much with saving it.


6. “Okja” – TBA

lily-collins-movie-set-okja-tom-lorenzo-site-1

If there is one foreign filmmaker that American audiences should turn to as providing the most accessible of unique and wholly original films, it’s South Korean director Joon-ho Bong.

After bringing us the criminally underrated “Snowpiercer” in 2013, Bong returns with what is sure to be another standout vision in “Okja,” in which a young girl tries to prevent a massive creature from being taken by a powerful company, presumably for experimentation. Think “E.T.” with more complex themes, a tonally all-encompassing screenplay, and some Jake Gyllenhaal for good measure.

The best part? “Okja” will be available on Netflix from the onset. So the vast majority of you don’t have an excuse to miss this one.


5. “War for the Planet of the Apes” – July 14

If the franchise reboot “Rise” was “Batman Begins,” 2014’s “Dawn” was its “The Dark Knight, improving on it in nearly every way to provide a thematically complex popcorn movie with memorable action sequences.

The third entry arrives this summer, one in which simian leader Caesar is grasping for whatever semblance of respect he has for the human race. Meanwhile, series newcomer Woody Harrelson’s military commander is hell-bent on annihilating the species in what can only be called a complete encapsulation of the film’s title.

Expect fantastic action, and another motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis that makes an Oscar category for CGI-ified actors all the more necessary.


4. “Alien: Covenant” – May 19

The next entry in the Alien saga, directed by franchise creator Ridley Scott, is the most “high-risk, high-reward” entry on this list. The legendary director has said that this film is going back to the series’ horror roots. It’s also officially a sequel to the polarizing “Prometheus” while taking us closer to the original story of the doomed Nostromo.

The initial trailer promises slimy, bloody mayhem – in other words, the fulfilled promise to the hard-R glory days of one of cinema’s most imaginative (and monstrous) creatures.

But the burden is also on Scott to provide us with answers teased in “Prometheus” so as to more fully flesh out the mythos at large. If all the right notes are hit, this could be the sleeper hit of the year, providing “Rogue One”-esque fan service while also being simply a bloody good time.

The film’s cast is certainly intriguing, as Michael Fassbender returns to join James Franco (?), Billy  Crudup (!), and Katherine Waterston in a role that seems like a throwback to everyone’s favorite Alien asskicker, Ripley.


3. “Blade Runner 2049” – October 6

When a sequel to the 35-year old sci-fi classic “Blade Runner” was first announced, I probably wasn’t the first one to break out in nervous sweating. An extremely long-gestating sequel to a movie that, by many accounts, probably shouldn’t have worked in the first place with its incredibly heavy themes and broody aesthetic? Good luck with that.

Then a director was announced for the job: Dennis Villeneuve, and pessimism turned to heavy-handed excitement.

Villeneuve has established himself as one of the premiere directors in Hollywood, having churned out incredible film after incredible film in recent years, the most recent being critical darling and Oscar contender “Arrival.” He’s shown a propensity for handling complex themes with grace and delicacy, which is precisely what is needed for “Blade Runner 2049,” a film that we can expect won’t connect automatically with a mainstream audience.

The cast of Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, and, yes, Harrison Ford’s return is also compelling.

At the very least, this could very well be the most technically proficient blockbuster of the year, especially with masterful cinematographer Roger Deakins lending his talents behind the camera.


2. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” – May 5

The second entry in Marvel’s oddball franchise certainly has high expectations, but this is the film on this list I’m most optimistic about being a critical and commercial hit.

The first “Guardians,” brought to us by James Gunn, was entertaining and endearing to the point of total satisfaction. If Baby Groot isn’t enough to make us want to buy a ticket, there’s also the introduction of Kurt Russell to the MCU that we can look forward to, as well as how Gunn integrates classic rock hits into the spectacle and humor once again.


1. “Star Wars: Episode VIII” – December 15

star-wars

How many spots in the all-time top 10 grossing movies will be filled by a “Star Wars” flick when it’s all said and done? Hell, will the franchise ever reach a point that it’s truly “all said and done”?

It’s too soon to worry about that, but for now we can look forward to a probably much more mature second entry in this trilogy of movies.

Rian Johnson of “Looper” and fame takes the reins this time around, and he’s provided the most minimal of details for his vision: It will begin moments after the end of “The Force Awakens,” with Rey having found Luke, isolated and presumably in a dark place.

Knowing Johnson’s style, that may just be the start of how he intends to break away from “Star Wars” precedent. And, of course, fans will want to see the late Carrie Fisher as the iconic Leia one more time on the big screen.


Five movies we really don’t need this year…or any other year

Because Hollywood is Hollywood, and Hollywood wants money.

 

5.  “A Dog’s Purpose” – January 27

Don’t worry, I can hear you say it. “How dare you not be simply ecstatic about a movie about DOGS?!”

Because a movie that encourages you to mistake a ridiculous premise and (judging from the trailer) a screenplay devoid of substance for canine sympathy doesn’t deserve my attention, nor yours.


4. “The Mummy” – June 9

This one could beat my expectations, I’ll admit. But only because my expectations are for this to be nothing more than a cringeworthy, hypermasculine reboot of a franchise that once upon a time commanded respect.

Can’t wait to read about what stunts Tom Cruise insisted he take on this time, though.


3. “Halloween: The Night Evil Died” – June 23

The only thing more disappointing than this franchise’s willingness to continue chipping away at the legacy of the 1978 horror classic is that subtitle.


2 “Transformers: The Last Knight” – June 23

Why, Michael? Truly, why?


1. “Justice League” – November 17

Remember that one Thanksgiving where your uncles got in a politically-charged argument, ending with plates being thrown, people screaming, and you slipping in the vomit your baby cousin just deposited on the carpet?

Yeah, the DC cinematic universe is, right now, a bigger mess than even that. And the fact that Zack Snyder is still in charge of it all doesn’t create any hope for the future.

 

 

Thanks for reading. Here’s to 2017.