Wow, what a year!  The Horror genre continued to impress, sequels continued to depress, and the Comic Flicks began to digress!  Virtually every one of the “sure-fire blockbusters” failed in one manner or another, and at least one CINEMATIC UNIVERSE crumbled under its own weight.  Only Disney seems to stand, unfaltered, sweeping up the rubble for the other studios and building the foundation for what could be a true creative monopoly.  But before we dive into ponderings of what 2018 could bring, let’s reflect over some of the best cinematic experiences of the past 12 months.  Now, these aren’t the same as what I would call “The BEST Movies”, but rather, the ones I enjoyed the most or the ones that provided the most unique experiences.
(Note:  One of the movies I despised most I also begrudgingly think belongs on the list of Best films, simply because of what it accomplished. But that’s a discussion for another time)

#10: Blade of the Immortal

Takashi Miike‘s 100ths feature film could be considered a guilty pleasure, but it’s a pleasure nonetheless.  Bloodworms grant a tortured samurai eternal life, which he mostly squanders until a young girl convinces him to avenge her parent’s death.   This ends up being far more than a mystical eastern version of True Grit though, as the story twists and turns in upon itself.  It’s not a story of black and white good versus evil, but instead one told through a spectrum of blood red.  The enemy of my enemy is my ally until my enemy is no more…
Creative, visceral, exciting, and occasionally humorous, this one is worth the 140minute runtime.

#9: The Disaster Artist

By now, everyone has heard the story of “The Room”, the worst feature film ever made, by one of the weirdest guys you’ve ever seen who also somehow self-produced the film for a whopping $6 Million dollars.
While “The Room” is just a joke to many, the story behind it’s making is one that crosses a number of thresholds.  Tommy Wiseau is such a fascinating character to study, and “The Disaster Artist” takes an honest look at him.  He’s an oddball, but he’s also a very inspiring person.  When you look at the whole of his life, he’s one of the few people to have truly accomplished the “American Dream.”

#8: Dave Made a Maze

While it was quite successful on the Film Festival circuit, still not enough people have been introduced to this beautiful gem of creativity.  On its surface, it’s about exactly what the title says it’s about.  This guy named Dave built a cardboard maze in his living room.  But once you buy into the premise it’s so much more.  It takes the fantasy films of our youth and crafts them into an adventure for adults trying to make sense of their lives.  Dave has so much he wants to express but his search for the right creative outlet has resulted in a stockpile of abandoned hobbies.  Will this corrugated labyrinth be the final straw for his girlfriend? Will the journey bring them closer together? Or will it kill them all in the process?
With cardboard sets and props, hilarious dialog, and great performances, this movie is dripping with more creativity than anything else I’ve seen this year.

#7: War for the Planet of the Apes

I’ll be honest, I tend to forget how good these recent Ape movies have been.  Each time another one is announced, I’ll do a quick roll of my eyes, and think, “Oh great, more damned dirty apes.”  But then I’ll see the talent involved, vaguely remember the last one being better than expected, and finally sit down at the theatre with mediocre expectations.  Each time I’ve been blown away, but “War for the Planet of the Apes” takes the cake.  There is so much “muchness” in it.  Everything is so good.  The stories clearly remember their roots and elevate the stories to our current cultural climate.  While the plot is essentially the book of Exodus, it never ceases to be enthralling.  Stellar writing, acting, and motion capture performances bring so much heart to these roles that when I left the theatre it struck me that these Apes gave better performances than most of the humans I had watched in the past month.

#6: Baby Driver

This is a musical.
Heists, shootouts,  and car chases choreographed to great music.
It’s… just… really, really, cool.   I haven’t stopped tapping my foot since I watched it.
Edgar Wright’s first true box office hit is a must-see for everyone, not just the ones who enjoy his unique style.

#5: Blade Runner:2049

Sadly, Blade Runner isn’t for everyone.
If you don’t appreciate the first one, there is no reason to watch this one.
However, if you love heady sci-fi, Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece and a very worthy sequel to the original.
Like all the best science fiction, it takes a remarkable situation to examine the most basic human thoughts.  What does it mean to be human? Do I have a purpose?  What defines if love is real or not?  Do we possess free will, or is our path in life destined?
Relax, grab a glass of Johnny Walker, turn off all the lights, and absorb this movie.  Then discuss it with your closest friends.

#4: Get Out

I’ve been a fan of Key and Peele for quite a while now.  But when I heard Jordan Peele’s first feature was going to be a horror flick I thought, “Whhhhhaaaaat?”   Again, I tempered that response by reflecting all of the genre skits he and Keegan Key had done on their short-lived series.  In retrospect, that series was like film school for them.  They mastered the look and feel of virtually every genre, but with (usually) razor sharp wit.
What Peele did with Get Out is what all great horror does.  It takes a basic, primal core fear, and makes it a reality which the character must endure, regardless if they survive or not.  Get Out honed in on the nagging anxiety that plagues any minority, especially when plunged into an area where racism is part of the local culture.   He also deftly shows how racism isn’t a clear-cut black and white thing. (pardon the pun)   Instead, it has many, many ugly facets, some that may seem harmless to the offending party.  It gets even more complicated when a person has to second guess themselves.   Is that person ignorant, offensive, or just cluelessly picked the wrong trigger words?
Get Out is absolutely brilliant, creepy, and psychologically taxing. (In a good way!)

#3: Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan does it AGAIN, but this time with an even better sound mix!
Told in three overlapping timelines of Land, Sea, and Air, Dunkirk examines the evacuation of over a quarter million Allied soldiers who were trapped on the French shoreline during World War I.   Don’t be quick to dismiss this as a “war film.”  While it certainly is about war, and there are some tense action scenes, this is instead a true, uplifting story of hope, courage, and people coming together.  Nothing like this ever happened before, and certainly never will again.   It’s a moment that had startling repercussions to the world, especially when considering how it could have turned out.
It’s not often I suggest watching two movies in tandem, but I would highly recommend starting with “The Darkest Hour” and following up with “Dunkirk” immediately after.   It’s a pairing of history that is both enlightening and highly entertaining.
**Make an effort to experience “Dunkirk” on the biggest screen and loudest speakers possible.

#2: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

I looked forward to seeing this one from the very first trailer I saw.  I will admit I was unprepared for what the movie was though.   Yes, it is everything like the trailer implied, but also so much more.  The story is deeper and darker than I expected but still punctuated with humor at the right times.  It doesn’t undercut the somber moments with a punchline, ala Marvel, but instead draws laughter from some of the main character’s actions.  Watching someone say or do something that bravely scoffs at social conventions can be quite delightful.  Especially if you’d like to do the same yourself.
I was also shocked at how human each of these characters was.  Even ones that seem to be over the top are well developed and we are given glimpses into their inner workings.
I should also note that my cinematic cynicism has been at an all-time high throughout 2017.  “Three Billboards” was the first, and one of the very few movies this year to completely choke me up.  Whether or not actual tears fell is still hotly debated.

#1: The Shape of Water

It’s a wonderful thing when you can watch a film and recognize it as the Director’s Magnum Opus.   There’s something to love in everything Del Toro has done, but in “The Shape of Water” he has taken the best elements and combined them into his most well rounded, beautiful, multilayered fairy tale yet.
This is NOT a monster movie, it is NOT a science fiction flick, it is a fantasy, a fairy tale for adults.  I also love that you can see so much of Del Toro’s personality in the film.  He believes that the best people in life are the creative outcasts.  The ones who don’t fit neatly in the boxes that have been made for them.  The broken, the lonely, the dreamers, THOSE are the people you should fill your life with, as these value life the most and have the most to offer.  Del Toro also had a strong Catholic upbringing, which always has an influence in his films.  What’s interesting in “The Shape of Water” is religion is referenced only by the villainous Michael Shannon character.  Fascinatingly, he uses the same biblical story twice in the movie, but each time twists it to suit his purpose, which is intimidating those who don’t “fit” into the world as he sees it.   We’re also given a glimpse into his personal life, which perfectly fits the “Perfect American Family” of the 50s.  A home, mortgage, 2.5 kids, overly supportive housewife, brand new Cadillac and a successful husband is exactly what everyone thought they should have.  But all of that is but a veneer over a hellishly empty existence.
Some have soured over one or two unexpected scenes in the film, but consider:  This is a fantasy, a parable!  If you can accept similar plot points in “Beauty and the Beast”, “The Little Mermaid”, and “La La Land”, why can’t the same be expressed in this film?

Honorable Mentions

These films ALMOST made it on my top 10, and are certainly worth experiencing if you haven’t seen them.
(In no particular order)

  • Molly’s Game
  • It Comes at Night
  • Killing of Sacred Deer
  • Happy Death Day
  • The Lego Batman Movie
  • Logan
  • Only the Brave
  • The Darkest Hour
  • Hostiles

Worst of 2017: The Dark Tower

And now the esteemed honor of being named the WORST film of 2017.  Or, in this case, it may be more accurate to describe it as the biggest disappointment.
The Dark Tower is such an immense and beloved collection of fiction(?) by Stephen King.  The tale it weaves is enormous and makes the term “epic” seem small.  Because of this, a film version of this story has been in film development hell for well over a decade.  Finally, in what seems like the equivalent of a studio throwing its hands up and admitting defeat, we’re subjected to the most generic, oddly dated, and pointless version of this tale possible.   It gives “generic” a bad name.
There are only two things that have ANY redeeming value in this movie.  Idris Elba proves he is always awesome, even when forced to deliver terrible lines.  The second is his wardrobe design, from the bottom of his boots to the tip of his gun, it looks convincing and cool.  Ironically, it seems like his character was designed separately from the rest of the movie.

The only glimmer of hope is now that a feature film has been made and bombed, it potentially opens up the chance for HBO, Showtime, or Netflix to create a compelling series out of the source material.