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The best (and worst) at the movies - 2017’s film highlights and lowlights

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We’ve arrived at the end of another year, a year of films good, bad and in-between.

That means it’s time for a look back at what 2017 has wrought in terms of cinema. These lists – both best and worst – are accurate as of press time, though there are some highly-regarded movies that I simply haven’t yet had a chance to see. I imagine that films like “The Shape of Water,” “The Post,” “The Florida Project,” “The Disaster Artist” and “Call Me By Your Name” – just to name a few – would likely compete for spots on this list.

(Note: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” probably warrants inclusion here, but I figure the massive review elsewhere in this week’s edition will serve to make clear my big feelings about that particular offering.)

And again – there’s no denying the subjectivity of lists such as these. In truth, things could break very differently depending on my mood when asked. Still, to my mind these are good, representative lists of movies that you should either a) see as soon as possible, or b) avoid at all costs.

(All films listed alphabetically)



Atomic Blonde

If you’d told me 10 years ago that Charlize Theron was going to become one of the best action stars in mainstream cinema, I’d have laughed at you. But here we are.

“Atomic Blonde” is indicative of the evolutionary leaps taking place within the action genre. There’s a hyperkineticism to the film that blurs grace and brutality to such a degree that you forget which is which. And Theron is straight-up badass; she practically glows as she brawls her way through Berlin against the backdrop of the falling Wall. The stylized violence is mesmerizing to behold.

There’s more to a good action movie than bullets and fists. Finding the beauty behind it all, spinning a narrative out of the explosions – that’s when you make that jump, the one that takes you from workmanlike escapism to legitimate artistry. Thanks to Theron, “Atomic Blonde” makes that jump – and kicks you in the face while making it.

(Full review:

Baby Driver

I honestly wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I sat down to watch Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver.” I knew it was a heist movie – sort of – and that it had an exceptional cast to go along with Wright’s impressive pedigree.

What I got was the chance to bear witness as a talented filmmaker made the leap from using genre as a tool for pastiche and parody to creating something altogether new. “Baby Driver” is an action movie whose foundation is a carefully-curated iPod playlist; forgive the pun, but music is what drives this film. It’s worth seeing for its stunning six-minute opening sequence – a car chase set to the killer Jon Spencer Blues Explosion tune “Bellbottoms” – alone.

Great performances, great action, great music – all the pieces are there and they fit together exquisitely, thanks to Wright and a surprisingly solid leading man turn from Ansel Elgort. I didn’t have more fun at another movie in 2017.

(Full review:

The Big Sick

It’s often said that truth is one of the most important aspects of comedy. Laughs brought forth through the genuine and the honest are almost always the best laughs.

So it’s no wonder that “The Big Sick” – the real-life tale of the courtship between comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his now-wife Emily Gordon – proved to be perhaps the funniest purely comedic outing of 2017. Sharp and sweet in equal measure, it’s a lovely portrayal of an unconventional relationship.

There’s no disputing that the romantic comedy has fallen off from its heyday of ubiquity. And one could argue that the rom-coms we’ve been getting in recent years are lacking in quality. Even so, that doesn’t mean that the genre is dying. It just means that filmmakers are going to have to work a little harder to make one that can put forth humor and heart in equal measure – just like the makers of “The Big Sick” did.

(Full review:


This film brought together two things that I’ve been known to love at the movies – war stories and Christopher Nolan. So I wasn’t surprised that I liked this movie. I was struck, however, by just how much I liked it.

“Dunkirk” tells the story of the largest evacuation of military personnel in history. Hundreds of thousands of British soldiers trapped on a beach and waiting for rescue. And that story is told in a delightfully Nolan-esque way – three different stories unfolding at different speeds; one over the course of a week, one in a day, one in just an hour.

No one uses the tools of blockbuster cinema to greater effect than Christopher Nolan. He’s perhaps the only big-budget auteur left in Hollywood, the one guy who can get nine-figures to make a movie without superheroes or a number at the end of the title. And we’re the luckier for it.

(Full review:

Get Out

Getting a movie made is no small thing in this day and age. And getting to direct the script that you wrote – when it’s your first time doing either – is even more impressive. Jordan Peele did just that when he made “Get Out.” Be warned – this ain’t “Key & Peele.”

It’s a darkly comic satire exploring the African-American experience in a world that’s not nearly as far beyond racial issues as it wants to be. It’s smart as hell and unafraid to take big swings at big ideas, and while not all of those swings connect, the majority of them do. And when Peele wants to scare you, you better believe he finds some pretty brutal ways to do just that.

“Get Out” is one of the most thought-provoking films of the year. Not genre films, films. It’s a movie that warrants inclusion in the horror-as-social-allegory pantheon alongside the best work of Romero and Carpenter.

(Full review:


There were some superb horror offerings this year – with at least a couple that almost made their way onto this list. However, my favorite horror film of the year was this one, a story of the monsters that can be found lurking in childhood’s many shadows.

Nobody creates stories that blend coming of age narratives with horror tropes quite like Stephen King does. And that’s what “IT” is – a tightrope walk between two styles of story creepily and efficiently executed by director Andy Muschietti and a writing team led by Cary Fukunaga.

“IT” is a film that had a lot to live up to – the novel is considered to be one of King’s best, while the 1990 miniseries achieved an iconic status. But with a downright incredible ensemble of young actors and a gleefully malevolent turn from Bill Skarsgaard as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, the film offered up some of the most frightening moments of the cinematic year.

(Full review:

Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig’s talents – as an actress, as a writer, as a director – are no secret, though she’s flown under the mainstream radar in a lot of ways. But with the autobiographical “Lady Bird,” her abilities have truly taken flight.

This is one of the most genuine, painfully honest coming of age stories that I’ve ever watched unfold on the big screen. This tale of one odd young woman’s struggles through the everyday banality of high school is completely relatable and unwaveringly compelling. It also features two of the year’s best performances, courtesy of Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, along with a dynamite supporting cast.

“Lady Bird” feels like a story that Gerwig is telling herself about her own origins as an artist; it’s so personal as to almost make the audience into voyeurs of a sort. This film serves as equal parts love letter and attempt at closure; it’s intimate and truthful and beautiful.

(Full review:

Spider-Man: Homecoming

If I was really a stickler about it, I’d probably put “Logan” in this spot instead of among the Honorable Mentions. But I can’t see beyond my own deeply-held biases on this one – I have loved Spider-Man since I was a kid. He was, is and shall always be my favorite.

And “Spider-Man: Homecoming” – the character’s first full foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe – finally gave me the Spider-Man that I wanted. In Tom Holland, we finally saw the perfect blend of geeky teen/novice superhero that was why I loved Spider-Man in the first place. His Spider-Man is good, but his Peter Parker is GREAT. And that matters.

If you want to argue that “Spider-Man: Homecoming” isn’t one of the 10 best movies of 2017, I won’t fight you on it. But it presented a character that I legitimately love in precisely the way that I wanted him presented; if that’s not top-10, I don’t know what is.

(Full review:

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Finding a way to convey the grieving process without succumbing to sentimentality or other storytelling parlor tricks isn’t easy. That’s why relatively few films wind up successfully doing so; too often, we get emotionally manipulative stories that come off as disingenuous or outright false.

But writer/director Martin McDonagh paints a truly haunting and heartbreaking portrait of grief in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” One woman’s quest to find closure following the brutal murder of her daughter leads her into emotional conflict with almost the entirety of her small town. It’s riddled with exceptional performances – France McDormand and Sam Rockwell shine brightest, but literally everyone is outstanding. Both will certainly receive ample attention come awards season.

“Three Billboards” certainly isn’t a feel-good movie. It explores some dark territory – though not without moments of equally dark humor – and finds a way to mine a modicum of hope from seemingly hopeless circumstances.

(Full review:

Wonder Woman

Superhero movies have become big currency in Hollywood. The box office numbers are staggering and the source material inexhaustible. However, DC has struggled to make films that allow their characters the same impact that Marvel has wrought.

But then there’s “Wonder Woman,” which warrants all manner of superlatives. Best DC movie? Absolutely yes. Best female-led superhero movie? Yes - and it isn’t close. Gal Gadot brings the character to life, but it’s director Patty Jenkins who’s the real star of the show. It’s a story that features both compelling characters AND awesome superpowered set pieces; Jenkins juxtaposes the two with enthralling ease, along with a healthy feminist perspective.

DC needed a win this year, and “Wonder Woman” is it. There may be struggles ahead, but at least in this case, they’ve got a foundational piece of the franchise. One of the best super offerings of the year.

(Full review:

(Honorable Mentions: “Logan Lucky;” “Detroit;” “Battle of the Sexes;” “John Wick: Chapter 2;” “It Comes At Night;” “Split;” “Logan.”)



47 Meters Down

I think we can all agree that what the world needed this summer was a movie about vaguely stupid attractive people trapped underwater in a shark cage, right? Who doesn’t want to watch idiots choose between drowning and being eaten?

Thus we get “47 Meters Down,” an erstwhile thriller that is so interminable that you’ll find yourself rooting for the sharks. And considering star Mandy Moore’s performance, you might actually be rooting for the sharks before they even show up. I certainly was.

“47 Meters Down” is a floundering misfire. While it might provide some visceral thrills to devotees of horror and/or sharks, they’d have to be awfully forgiving; in truth, even they might be better served by just staying home and watching the Discovery Channel.

(Full review:


It seemed important that - in a year that saw plenty of comedic misfires - I find space for at least one comedy on this list. While most floppy comedies were more mediocre than bad, one stood above the rest. Well … BELOW the rest.

Based on the late-70s motorcycle cop show, “CHiPs” sprang from the mind of visionary auteur Dax Shepard, who wrote, directed and starred in this dumpster fire. He dragged the far-too-good-for-this Michael Pena into this trash, along with a couple of other actors who should have known better. It’s really bad.

“CHiPs” makes a lot of mistakes, but perhaps the biggest - other than giving Dax Shepard the keys - is trying to substitute crassness for cleverness. It’s a film that is perfectly content to travel the low road, but without any effort at elevation, resulting in a comedy built on boobs and F-bombs that ultimately just isn’t very funny.

(Full review:

The Emoji Movie

The sole animated offering on our “worst” list, “The Emoji Movie” lives up to the billing. There’s no world in which the whole “emojis, but sentient” concept remotely resembles a quality movie, but this one might be close to the worst-case scenario.

I’m not going to bother talking to you about the plot. It doesn’t matter. It’s a bunch of stupid low-hanging fruit jokes about what studio executives understand the internet to be. It’s the kind of movie that makes you feel both dumber and sorry for the kids that are the target of this garbage.

“The Emoji Movie” is basically “Inside Out” featuring fabrications of feelings rather than actual feelings. It is shallow and bland, a feature-length commercial for the necessity of the internet entwining itself with every facet of our lives. And yet, even all of that could have been rendered somewhat palatable if the movie was any good. But it is not.

(Full review:

Fifty Shades Darker

Look, I’m well aware that I am far from the target audience for the “Fifty Shades” series. I recognize that there are plenty of people who are fascinated by the weird, wooden relationship between hunky robot Christian Grey and Mary Sue cipher Anastasia Steele. But popular isn’t the same as good.

Perhaps the worst part of the whole off-putting experience is the utter lack of chemistry between the two leads. Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are attractive people whose disinterest in one another is painfully obvious. And since the whole foundation of this story is how hot these two are for each other, well … it doesn’t really work.

Again, I heard plenty of oohs and aahs during the screening I sat through, but ultimately, this is my list. And this film – along with its predecessor – helped me relearn a valuable lesson when it comes to the movies: there’s no accounting for taste.

(Full review:


Remakes and reboots have become de rigueur in Hollywood, which is sometimes OK, but mostly not. Sometimes it is EXTREMELY not. Such is the case with “Flatliners,” an inexplicable effort to recreate the “remember that” 1990 pretty people/afterlife drama of the same name that anyone with HBO in the early ‘90s saw a hundred times.

It’s basically the same – attractive med students messing with forces they don’t understand, dying and coming back to life only something FOLLOWED THEM BACK. Or something. It’s as unclear as the reason for making this in the first place.

“Flatliners” is a movie that simply shouldn’t be. It’s stunning; you’d think a film that misfires this spectacularly would have been put out of its misery long before reaching theaters. Instead, we’re treated to a meandering two hours of nonsensical plot driven by extended stretches of expository emptiness and unlikeable cardboard cutouts passing for characters. DOA.

(Full review:


It’s always a shame when a good actor makes a bad decision. Occasionally, the right performer can rescue a film from itself. More often, even the most talented person is beaten down by the lazy madness of a lunatic script, left to simply try and get through the experience and cash the check.

This is Halle Berry in “Kidnap.” She’s a waitress whose kid gets kidnapped. Ridiculously convoluted circumstances leave her with no choice but to chase the kidnappers in her minivan. And then we get an hour-long slo-mo car chase consisting largely of Berry close-ups where she kind of looks like she has to poop. And that’s that.

A meandering pace, a nothing plot, some nonsense action and an ultra-hammy lead performance – that’s what you get from “Kidnap.” With less self-seriousness and a LOT more self-awareness, this movie potentially could have succeeded in the so-bad-it’s-good sense. Instead, it’s just bad.

(Full review:


2017 had its share of horror movies that warranted spots on various “Worst Of” lists. But while steaming piles like “Friend Request” and “Jigsaw” can be found amongst the Dishonorable Mentions, only one (“Flatliners” doesn’t count) made my top-bottom-10.

“Rings” might be the most unnecessary sequel of the year – and that’s saying something. The horror movie built around a technology that was already dead when it came out over a decade ago has a sequel that strives desperately – and fails utterly – to shoehorn itself into a world of modern technology. It doesn’t go well.

“Rings” is a perfect example of why even successful films don’t always work as franchises. It is an unentertaining and unnecessary experience, one that we can only hope will not be repeated – again. It’s not easy to create a film that genuinely feels like a waste of time in real time, but that’s what this is.

(Full review:

The Snowman

What would happen if you took a barely comprehensible screenplay and decided to only shoot about three-quarters of it and call it good? What if you filled that story with quality actors who, for whatever reason, didn’t really seem to give a crap? And what if your hero’s name was Harry Hole?

It’s “The Snowman,” an absolutely terrible Scandinavian noir thriller based on what we can only hope is a better Scandinavian noir novel. Michael Fassbender lurches through the film never once giving the impression of knowing what the hell is going on and the rest of the cast follows suit.

“The Snowman” is a perfect storm of badness. Each of these quality pieces was a delicious food that was consumed by the process of making the movie … and we all know what happens to food after it has been consumed. This film isn’t even yellow snow. It’s brown.

(Full review:

The Space Between Us

“Teen love story in space” seems like a decent pitch. But when it is executed like “The Space Between Us,” it’s always going to crash and burn.

This isn’t a good movie. It is pretty much the opposite of a good movie. Despite seeming competence in various spots in front of and behind the camera, almost nothing about this movie works. The central love story is unengaging and the narrative in general is unfocused and meandering. Basic logic doesn’t seem to apply in a lot of spots, leading to some ludicrous and inexplicable moments.

“The Space Between Us” is what you’d get if you hit John Green between the eyes with a ballpeen hammer and then demanded that he rewrite “Stranger in a Strange Land.” It’s like the screenwriter fell asleep during “The Martian,” woke up during “The Notebook” and wrote down a half-remembered dream. Call it “The Fault in our Mars.”

(Full review:

Transformers: The Last Knight

There are plenty of franchises out there that continuously spiral downward, but few pull the kind of box office numbers that Michael Bay’s “Transformers” still inexplicably draw. 

I could give you the story – some idiotic revisionist nonsense about Transformers and King Arthur that they prop up Anthony Hopkins to explain to Marky Mark – but why bother? Just know this: you can cram a LOT of explosions into two-plus hours.

“Transformers: The Last Knight” isn’t good. It’s absurd and ridiculous even for a film based on an animated toy commercial. But Michael Bay stopped caring about concepts like “good” and “bad” over a decade ago. He doesn’t care if this movie is good because he knows that people all over the world are going to see it anyway. Good doesn’t matter anymore. You’d like to think that cratering quality would be enough to bring this series to an end, but the franchise will undoubtedly keep right on trucking.

(Full review:

(Dishonorable Mention: “Monster Trucks;” “Jigsaw;” “Friend Request;” “Tulip Fever;” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales;” “Everything, Everything;” “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.”)

Last modified on Wednesday, 20 December 2017 13:54

1 comment

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