And it's time once again for my annual wrap-up of movies that came out this year.
Or, more accurately, a "wrap-up of movies I saw that came out this year." As always, there's a bunch of movies I never saw that would have probably ended up on my list (we'll get to that later). And here we go...
THE TWELVE BEST...
These are my favorite movies from this year that I actually saw.
#1 Thor: Ragnarok
While critics were kind of meh on the first two Thor movies, I loved them. The first captured the grandeur and majesty of a prince of Asgard and set up Loki as a major player in all that would follow. The second faltered a bit on story, but had the best Thor action we had seen to date. And now we get Thor: Ragnarok which heads into new, more comedic territory to deliver one of the most entertaining Marvel Studios films to date. Writer Eric Pearson, who came out of nowhere with only episodes of television's Agent Carter under his belt absolutely nailed the perfect balance of action to laughs. Director Taika Waititi went full-on Jack Kirby with the visuals and made the script absolutely sing. And then there's the flawless cast headed by Chris Hemsworth and his way underutilized comedic chops... plus Tom Hiddleston being the best Loki yet, Cate Blanchett taking the crown as Marvel's best villain yet, Jeff Goldblum being the most Jeff Goldblum we've seen yet, Mark Ruffalo giving us (by far) the best Hulk yet, Idris Elba finally being given something substantial to do and bringing the best Haimdall yet, plus Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie... easily one of the best additions to the Thor saga yet. The plot is almost incidental given the amazing cast and visuals, but it doesn't suck. Thor and Hulk in a buddy movie and it's glorious. By far my favorite film of this year. Of most years.
#2 Spider-Man: Homecoming
The Sony Spider-Man films went from pretty good and took a slow slide to comic book tragedy. I was always glad when a new one was released, but never cared much for what I saw. Until Marvel got the character back and made him exactly the character he needed to be. Spider-Man: Homecoming is easily the best Spider-Man to ever hit the screen. Painfully respectful to the source material (holy crap... Spider-Man is just a kid!) with some fantastic updates (Aunt May isn't ancient! Tony Stark is his mentor!) and laced with dazzling special effects that never overwhelm the story, I loved every minute of the movie. Michael Keaton adds new dimension to The Vulture, who is stealing all the tech in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and creating powerfully-armed super-criminals which Peter Parker stumbles upon. Trying to balance being a super-hero with school, his friends, his aunt, and his love-life gets to be quite a challenge, but makes for fantastic entertainment. Robert Downey Jr. popping up from time to time is just the icing on the cake.
#3 Wonder Woman
It's no secret that I positively loathe the new "cinematic universe" being created by DC Comics and Zack Snyder. Dark, depressing, and absolutely no fun... Man of Steel, Batman vs. Superman, and Suicide Squad just plain suck. I hated them all. But then Patty Jenkin comes along and plucks Wonder Woman from the gloom to create a glorious representative of what the DC films should be. Taking place in World War I, Steve Trevor crashes into the ocean near Themiscyra, home of the Amazons. Princess Diana, born into a destiny for greater things, leaves paradise to search for Ares, god of war and whom she is convinced is behind the horrors emveloping the world. Things don't go quite as she planned, but Diana becomes the hero we need along the way. Kudos to Gal Gadot and Chris Pine for their amazing performances, which elevate an already remarkable story. When Diana climbs out of the trenches to cross "no-man's land" and save a village in France, we were treated to one of the most surprisingly emotional moments on film in 2017. It was that moment that Princess Diana became Wonder Woman, and Patty Jenkins brought hope to the future of DC Comics on film.
#4 Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2
The original Guardians of the Galaxy has long been one of my favorite Marvel films. It was a complete surprise. I held no hope at all it would be any good, but James Gunn figured out a way to make it more than "good" and I loved everything about it. The sequel didn't capture my imagination like the first... the story is a bit convoluted and lost a bit of the emotional charm... but it's still a wholly entertaining ride that I loved to watch. Kurt Russel pulled off the character of "Ego" the way few others could, which just added to an already flawless cast... the highlight being "Baby Groot," who absolutely nobody can help falling in love with. But above everything is the emotional center that Gunn put at the core of it all. Peter Quill's self-discovery and need for family drives the story in ways that most super-hero flicks can't match, and that's why the movie works as well as it does. Cannot wait for Volume 3.
#5 Blade Runner 2049
It's an unnecessary sequel with a story that was in desperate need of editing, but it was also a revelation with stunning visuals that made it a worth successor to the original film. Most people I know either loved it or hated it with nothing in-between, and I totally get that. And it's part of the reason I liked the film so much... it totally went for the brass ring and took risks that could alienate its audience. Was it the story I most wanted to see? No. But it was still very much in keeping faith with the original, and Ryan Gosling as the Replicant "K" has once again upped my opinion of his talents (the first time being in The Good Guys where he was amazing). Harrison Ford's return as Deckard was in many ways underwhelming, but this isn't his story, so it works. Yes, the film dragged on with every scene feeling far longer than it needed to be, but it was also amazing to look at, has one of the best sound mixes I've ever experienced, and packed an unexpected emotional punch. Dismal box-office practically ensures we won't be getting any more Blade Runners until the inevitable reboot seven years from now, and that's probably okay. Though, by the end of the movie, I was left very much wanting to see more of the dreamy future world that K lives in. I guess that's about as good as an endorsement as I can give.
#6 Atomic Blonde
Charlize Theron is a fantastic actress who knows exactly how to inhabit the roles she takes on. Never is this more apparent than with this 1989 Cold War spy thriller that is filled with some of the best "James Bond" action you will ever see. Relentless action highlighted by some of the most brutal fight scenes you'll see by a woman... or a man. The fact that it was such an amazing 80's soundtrack attached is just the icing on the cake (though I honestly can't picture the movie without it). The twist on a twist at the end was not as surprising as it could have been, but it wraps things up well and has me dying to see a sequel.
#7 Get Out
Who knew? I dismissed Get Out as another Key and Peele bit of funny fluff like Keanu and had no plans to ever see it in theaters... thinking maybe I'll catch it on video. But the critical acclaim built up so fast and was so overwhelmingly positive that I had to see it. I was not disappointed. Jordan Peele has stepped away from comedy (while leaving one foot in the pool) to craft a remarkable thriller that has a running commentary on society that few others could handle so deftly. And yet... wholly entertaining on top of that.
#8 LEGO Batman: The Movie
Amazing. DC should just scrap everything they're doing and just LEGO everything. I laughed more time in this film than any film in recent memory. I was sorely tempted to just slap this at #1 and be done with the list... but... so many good films this year.
It's as if Pixar releases shit like Cars 2 and Cars 3 then compensates for it by releasing stunning works like Brave, Finding Dory, and now Coco.... A heartfelt story married to lush, colorful, gorgeous visuals. Seriously, this is one of the prettiest films ever made.
It took owning cats for me to fall in love with cats. Kedi is a love-letter to the stray cats of Istanbul... thousands of them... and the people who interact with them. If you're fascinated by felines, documentaries, and other cultures, this is your movie. Heck, even if you're not into any of those things, this is still your movie.
#11 Baby Driver
A lot of movies tout themselves to be "thrill-rides" and end up being anything but. This movie is a thrill-ride that actually delivers. Edgar Wright took both car chase movies and heist movies to another level by combining gritty action with a phenomenal cast and a killer soundtrack. It's a real shame that Kevin Spacey turned out to be a shit, because this movie typifies him taking on a subordinate role in a film and just killing it.
#12 Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name)
Just when you thing the body-swap trope has been done to death and you never want to see it again, director Makoto Shinkai uses it to craft a beautiful, compelling, complex love story unlike any other. Besides being beautifully animated, the story has real emotional impact and a twist you feel. It's a real shame that so few Westerners will see this movie because it's well worth seeing.
I love a good standup film. I live for a great standup film. Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King is a standup film to die for. I've seen it five times. I will undoubtedly watch it a dozen more...
Because I am not an Indian-American Muslim, Minhaj cannot speak to my experience being an Indian-American Muslim. But he makes it so that I can relate to his story and reach a place where I can better understand what it means to be an Indian-American Muslim in this country... and only the very best comedians can do something like that. This is game-changing, groundbreaking, beautifully-realized, entirely entertaining comedy film that is not to be missed. And that's true no matter who you are or what you believe.
Last year my #9 movie was La Tortue Rouge (The Red Turtle), which was a 2016 movie for me because I saw it on the festival circuit. It was put in general USA release this year, so I'm mentioning it again because it's just too beautiful to overlook...
Gorgeous animation from Studio Ghibli that's a warm blanket in visual form (there's no dialogue). The story is a tale of survival that unfolds like a classic fairytale... but ends up being so much more. I feel incredibly fortunate to have seen it on the big screen where it's visual grandeur can truly be appreciated, but it will resonate with you when viewed at any size. Watch it. And watch it without distraction so you can soak it all in the way it was meant to be experienced.
HAVEN'T SEEN YET, MIGHT HAVE MADE MY LIST...
NOT AS BAD AS THEY SAY...