Hello, movie lovers. I am reviving this blog, partly to celebrate the tenth anniversary of SNiC3, partly as the home base for a new podcast, partly to start writing new material for a book, and partly to log my movie-watching activities for this year and possibly beyond. As I write this it is the afternoon of January 1st, 2018, the last day of my holiday vacation, and I am slowly easing myself back into doing some creative work.
But first, let’s look back at the films we saw in 2017. I’ve been making these top 10 lists for at least 20 years now, and bottom 10 lists for almost as long. 2017 was a bit of an unusual year for me in terms of movie-going. We moved to Halifax in 2016, which has given me more options (one multiplex within walking distance, plus 2 others within driving distance, plus a great second-run theatre which closed in the fall, and an excellent film festival). Because of this and other factors (including free passes to several films through my local comic shop), my viewing patterns changed a bit from past years. According to my count, I saw 38 of this year’s releases: most on the big screen, which is a bit less than previous years, but actually more than I had expected before I made the list.
Since I am a cartoonist, it’s not surprising that I might be more likely to sit through films that most people would not just because there is a connection to the comics world. A prime example of this is Valerian, an unfortunate misfire from Luc Besson based on a long-running French series. On the other hand, I didn’t bother going to Justice League, even though I very much liked Wonder Woman. What was surprising about this year in comics-related movies was how great most of them were: Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Wonder Woman, Spider-man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok are all very different and all very enjoyable. If Hollywood insists on tentpole films and shared universes, I hope that films like these will be the result.
The political background of 2017, especially the shocking and revolting tenure of Donald Trump and his cronies, was a useful backdrop for several of last year’s films as well; most notably the race-based horror of Get Out, the post-9/11 anxiety of Lady Bird, and the health-care anxiety of The Big Sick. Much to the chagrin of some so-called fans, it is not hard to see liberalism and social progressiveness flexing its muscles in the biggest film of the year, Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Anyway. Enough foreplay, here are the lists. First, here are the films that I liked well enough to keep out of the bottom 10, but not enough to put in the top 10:
The Lego Batman Movie
John Wick 2
The Girl with All the Gifts
Kong: Skull Island
The Belko Experiment
The Fate of the Furious
Transformers: The Last Knight
The Little Hours
Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton
And here are my bottom 10 films of 2017, in no particular order:
Underworld: Blood Wars
xXx: The Return of Xander Cage
The Great Wall
Ghost in the Shell
Probably no huge surprises there. The Aronofsky film is an honourable mention, because while there is no doubt in my mind that the production and performances in the film are good, the end product is such an unpleasant experience that it would be silly to pretend otherwise.
There were a lot of films that I missed this year that I would have liked to have seen, and some others that are being celebrated which I had no interest whatsoever in seeing (most notably the biopic about Maud Lewis). Of the films that I did see, here are the ones I enjoyed most in 2017:
10. Free Fire. This was a smart, profane, and darkly funny period crime picture from British director Ben Wheatley, who made the even more outrageous adaptation of High-Rise. You could be forgiven for comparing this one to Reservoir Dogs.
9. Lady Bird. A smart and funny coming of age film set in the recent past, written and directed by actor Greta Gerwig, starring the always solid Saoirse Ronan. Laurie Metcalf steals every scene she is in as the main character’s mother and it would be surprising if she does not take home some awards for it.
8. Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Rian Johnson injects a welcome dose of darkness into the “final” trilogy of the franchise, while exposing and dismissing a number of tired Joseph Campbell conventions. I did not enjoy every moment of it – it feels overstuffed but also weirdly slow at times – but I respect how Johnson and his cast and crew managed to unify and execute so many disparate demands. As a Buddhist, I also enjoyed how the film takes the mythology and ideas that George Lucas and company borrowed over the years and reframes them in a less orientalist, more practical fashion.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Lots of films dive into daddy issues, but none are quite as amusing and subversive as this. If I had a Cosmic Cube, I would replace every DVD of There Will Be Blood with this.
6. Wonder Woman. It drags in places, and suffers from the Zack Snyder school of third acts, but the sheer joy of Gal Godot’s performance and her supporting cast carries us through the awkward bits to create an excellent template for a DC superhero film. It remains to be seen whether Warner Bros. will take the hint.
5. The Big Sick. Another smart dramedy, this one is based on the true story of star Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon, directed superbly by Michael Showalter. As with Lady Bird, excellent supporting work by comedy veterans playing their parents.
4. Get Out. There were not many horror films this year that I found interesting or exciting, and on paper, Get Out sounds like something that could have been a sketch on writer/director Jordan Peele’s former comedy series. He and his cast do an excellent job of walking a difficult line, embracing and subverting the conventions of horror films where innocent white kids find themselves fighting for survival in a strange and hostile environment. A perfect film for Trump’s America.
3. Blade Runner: 2049. Denis Villeneuve brings his considerable skill to a film that, like its predecessor, was as much about atmosphere and ambiguity as it was about solving a mystery. In the ever-growing ranks of films based on or inspired by Philip K. Dick, it easily drops into the the top 5.
2. Baby Driver. Like Quentin Tarantino, Edgar Wright has made a career out of finding fresh and funny ways to tell stories that we have seen before. It’s not a perfect film, but it is a lot of fun, with some great action set pieces and a smart script. It will probably be a little weird to watch now with the revelations about Kevin Spacey, but if you can get past that, there’s a lot to love about Baby Driver.
1. Thor: Ragnarok. You probably don’t need me to sell you on this one, so I’ll simply reiterate what others have pointed out. This film is a glorious, freewheeling ride into the minds of Jack Kirby and others who created and developed the Marvel characters; one which brilliantly employs the theme of Ragnarok – the death of old gods, and their replacement by the young – to set the stage for a new phase of the Marvel films that have dominated Hollywood for the last decade. People complain about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, sometimes for good reason; Thor: Ragnarok addresses those complaints and brings a much-needed evolution to its title character and the MCU.
There you have it, another year behind us. If you want to stay up to date on this blog and the upcoming Sunday Night in Cinema 3 podcast, you can follow the blog itself through WordPress’ various methods, or you can follow SNiC3 on your social media of choice:
The first episode of the new SNiC3 podcast will be posted on Sunday, January 7th. I hope you check it out and that you enjoy it. Until then, thanks for reading and have a great 2018.