Remember; as most of you I'm sure already know - I'm not really a film guy. Films, those pretentious and dialogue heavy things that unravel at a snail's pace and meander with fuzzy and often black & white or sepia toned shots, quite often obscured by sub-titles.
Nah. I'm much more into movies. Movies - big explosions, big bare breasts and bigger than life stories and adventures. World building, heroes soaring and adrenaline pumping. That's where I'm at.
Also, I'm not really a movie critic; that is, I seek out films that I know that I'm almost certain to like AND I go in WANTING to enjoy myself. I would never spend money on a flick that potentially could be totally shitty. So if you're looking for critical analysis, I'm sorry to disappoint you.
And as with the rest of this blog, there is very little editing here. This is a first draft, basically untouched after I write it except for the occasional typo or redundant descriptive term that I switch out with a different word from the thesaurus.
As always, here first are the honorable mentions. Movies that I loved or really really liked, but didn't quite crack the top 10. Also included here are flicks that were trounced by the critics and/or underperformed at the box office - ones that I actually kind of dug despite their failings.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Tell No Tales
Okay, this one does have a few problems; but overall it's a lot more fun and well made than I expected. That's probably why I enjoyed it so much. Disclaimer: I didn't pay money for this, well at least not directly. I saw it on a Disney Cruise, and I must say, the scenes on the boats worked really well with the added realism of the actual boat we were on rocking to and fro. Go in with low expectations and you'll have a lot of fun.
I watched this one with a wary eye, fully prepared to be turned off by SJW nonsense, but I'd had enough conservative friends who had allayed my fears and told me this one was a blast. I went with their recommendation, though still suspicious, and I'm glad I did. This movie was pretty flipping' awesome. A masterful thriller/horror that plays on our expectations. Yes, there is a racialism component, but it's done so well and so fluidly. This movie's obvious top priority is to entertain, not to preach, and it does so very very well. Super fun, and scary in a good way - if you've got doubts, don't wait! Get "Get Out!"
Awesome war movie that is both very exciting and very moving. Nolan is a master visualist, and what he lacks in character development and dialogue he more than makes up for in shot selection, composition, editing and sound design. Like Tim Burton, Chris is less concerned with a tight story and snappy patter - he wants to work with big themes and broad strokes. If you're a historical nut like me, you'll love this one even more, but it's not a requirement.
War for the Planet of the Apes
I went into this one with sky high expectations, so I couldn't help but feel a little bit let down. I still enjoyed it very much and there's tons of great moments and visuals. I do feel the story was a bit grim simply for grim's sake - and I wish the denouement had packed more punch. This is my least favorite of the trilogy, but it's still a ride worth taking and a worthy chapter in the story.
John Wick: Chapter 2
If you loved the first one like I did - a hyper violent, highly allegorical fable of vengeance and redemption - you will love this one as well. Dope ass action sequences, gory and severe, but rooted in a righteous framework that keeps us riveted and rooting for the good Mr. Wick.
This one JUST misses my top 10. I enjoyed but didn't love Prometheus, though I will say it has grown on me over the years and I find myself re-watching it often. This one though, this one is awesome! Great gore, great thrills and an awesome performance by Michael Fassbender. I love the look of the film, I really like the lead protagonist, and I love what they did with James Franco. Brilliant!
First They Killed My Father
A magnificent film (yes, a true film) directed by Angelina Jolie (who knew?) that tells the true and harrowing story of a Cambodian child and her family's destruction at the hands of the genocidal Khmer Rouge. Beautifully shot, and unflinching, this one is a lock for a best foreign film Oscar nom. Yes, it's entirely in Cambodian, and for once I don't mind the subtitles at all. It makes it all that more real and desperate. This is not as gruesome as Schindler's list, but at times it is every bit as upsetting; it's not really what I would call entertainment, but it is a must watch for young people and for those of us old enough to remember when these events unfolded.
Blade Runner: 2049
Almost forgot this one! Yes it was too long, yes it was slow in parts - but I was pretty mesmerized through the whole thing. A much more compelling movie than the original Blade Runner, which I watched before seeing this - and it really doesn't hold up that well, not that I was much in love with it in the first place, I think it's easily the most overrated movie of my generation (but that's a whole other blog post). Really enjoyed watching this on the big screen, there's a lot going on visually but also story wise. Looking forward to watching this again.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Just saw this two days after Christmas. Lots of fun and a good amount of heart. The Rock as always is great. Kevin Hart plays himself but is still good. Jack Black actually stretches a bit, playing a teenage girl trapped in a fat middle aged man's body. And the young woman who plays Nebula on Guardians of the Galaxy is smoking hot without her elaborate makeup and a good actor as well. Had a smile on my face the entire time through this one, a very good family film!
And now the top 10. This year is a little bit different because there's a cluster of flicks in the middle that are pretty much interchangeable with each other in my ranking depending on what kind of mood I'm in at the moment. I love all three of them so much, and they are all connected to each other.
10 - Kong: Skull Island
Outstanding period piece that is a tightly wound adventure and also has a bit of horror thrown in for good measure. The characters are fantastic, the scenery chewing Sam Jackson as a bad ass military man, the always watchable John Goodman as the doomed instigator, the fantastic Loki (aka Tom Hiddleston) as a dashing leading man, and the equally luminous and just as good looking Brie Larson as the damsel who is rarely in too much distress. This is a really great monster movie at it's heart, and I just love movies like this that take us on a big adventure to a different world and slather on the excitement, wonder and awe. Bravo!
9 - Justice League
I loved the Super Friends when I was a kid and I love superheroes today - so this one is a slam dunk. Even if it was as problematic as Batman v. Superman, I still would've enjoyed it I'm sure. But thankfully, this installment is a LOT better and a lot of fun as well. Seeing Aquaman on the big screen (finally) teaming up with Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman and the Flash - what's not to love? Tons of humor, a good amount of heart, and great action sequences with characters that I care about. Can't ask for much more.
My expectations were low because the critics were unkind, and the neck beards were also negative - but when I finally saw this with the wife and kid, I enjoyed it thoroughly. Can't wait to buy it and watch it again and again.
8 - Baby Driver
Hot damn is this one good! A brilliant and groundbreaking edit is what sets this one apart from other thriller/caper/pulpish movies. Director Edgar Wright takes an approach that I've never seen done so well - he cuts his movie directly to the music. While others have employed this technique obliquely, Cameron Crowe, or even overtly, James Gunn, Edgar goes all in with the approach. The cuts are on the beat, the lyrics literally show up on screen, it is truly masterful. Plus the acting is top notch (though it's tempered a bit now that we know Kevin Spacey is a creepazoid POS) and the story is engaging. A great time at the movies in the very best traditions of Tarantino and Shane Black.
7 - The Lego Batman Movie
Yes, this one has all the fun and humor that made the Lego Movie so enjoyable, but what kicks it up a notch higher is it's absolute mastery of the character of Batman. The director and writers absolutely did the work here, the R&D is exhaustive and even better, the examination of the character of Batman is easily the best that has ever shown up on any screen. That's right, a fanciful and frenetic cartoon with computer generated plastic bricks, absolutely NAILS the character of Batman better than any incarnation before it that isn't in a comic book. BY FAR.
The ace in the hole the movie has to accomplish this is that it is able to break the 4th wall and literally look back at all of these previous incarnations. We see Snyder's Batman, Nolan's Batman, Burton's Batman, the hippy Batman from TV and even Batman from the serials of the 1940's on screen! And then, with a simple device of Batman looking longingly at a portrait of him as a kid and his parents about to meet their fate outside of a movie theater - The Lego Batman movie hammers home the very essence of the Caped Crusader better than has ever been done. It is truly amazing.
Yes it's silly, yes it's goofy, but even Nolan's 'The Dark Knight' doesn't drill down as well on the character as director Chris McKay does. Fantastic!
Okay, here we are at the cluster that I mentioned above. This movie, and the next two, are as far as I'm concerned, interchangeable in how I've ranked them. I will go in chronological order - but rest assured I pretty much love all three of them equally.
6. - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
James Gunn has done it, he has made a sequel that is a worthy follow up to his original ground breaking and generation impacting cosmic space opera masterpiece. GOTG 2 defies all expectations in that instead of being what most sequels are - bigger, louder and more expensive - he turns it on it's head. This is a thoroughly character driven story with emotional resonance and satisfying arcs for every one of our heroes and a new one as well. So much to love in this very dense and emotional movie that expertly navigates to and from each player, giving just the right amount of time to explore and observe all of them on multiple levels. Love Nebula, love Ego, and especially love Mantis. Good stuff!
5. - Spider Man: Homecoming
This one has all the trappings that great Marvel movies have. A kick ass superhero that we love bolstered by equally impressive design and effects. A story that moves and resonates. And plenty of heart stopping moments, both in spectacle and in emotional impact. But what elevates this one even more is - 1) It's Spider-Man, and Tom Holland plays Peter Parker and his alter ego note perfect, right out of the comics. Yes, that Spider-Man, the one who is the biggest and most popular superhero in comics like, ever. As great as Toby was, and as good as Andrew was, Tom is the best. 2) It's a John Hughes movie! Simply awesome, and it totally fits. 3) The best scene in the entire movie, in a movie that is FULL of impressive action set-pieces, is a dialogue scene with two people inside a parked car. Absolutely fantastic moment that will forever be one of my favorite scenes in a Marvel movie ever.
4. - Thor: Ragnarok
The first of it's kind in the Marvel Cinematic Universe - a straight ahead, 100% comedy. There has been plenty of humor in the MCU over the years, some fanboys say too much, but this is the first flick where comedy truly takes the lead. From the first gag (Thor spinning slowly and telling the big baddie to hold on until he comes around) we know we are in for something different, a thoroughly fun and frothy comedy on a cosmic level. It's like someone looked at the Guardians movies and said, "They're pretty funny but I think we can crank it up to 11 on the humor scale". And yet for all of the silliness and irreverence (the only superhero movie I can think of that's more subversive is Deadpool) there is still a good story and great characters at play here who get us invested in the outcome despite the never ending jokes and gags.
3. - Star Wars: The Last Jedi
There's a good chance this ranking will change, as of this writing I've only seen this movie once. Hardly enough times to truly digest and appreciate what I saw. But what I do know after only one viewing, is that this movie is three things that I love - different, engaging and masterfully executed. The trailer said it perfectly - "This is not going to go how you think" and boy they weren't kidding. I was enthralled from the first action sequence, and the movie never lost it's grip on me. It certainly isn't a perfect film, but it's fresh and original and is very dense. Can't wait to see it again.
2. - Logan
When I think about my top ten films of the year, the ones that inevitably go at or near the top of the list are the ones that made me feel the most. Well Logan brought all of the feels and hard. It is grim and bleak, and yet somehow still up-lifting. Logan is dying, the X-Men are gone, and there are no Hollywood conventions to be found. The movie defies expectations, keeps us guessing and gets us to care not only about Logan but the young one under his charge. Great, and I mean GREAT, action sequences that are unconventional and brutal, but so well done. A shocking development 2/3 of the way in that I'm still amazed went the way that it did - but somehow the movie still clings to hope in the end. Absolutely magnificent movie making. The very best that comic book cinema has to offer.
1. - Wonder Woman
Okay, maybe not THE very best. While Wonder Woman doesn't have the grim gravitas or even the superb craftsmanship of Logan, it does have an ace in the hole - a true north superhero who is righteous and unwavering in her commitment to truth, justice and the American way. Yes Zach Snyder, thanks to Patty Jenkins, you guys finally got it right. There is no moral ambiguity with the mighty Amazon of Themiscyra. Diana Prince is 100% committed to what is right and is fully dedicated to battling evil.
The movie brilliantly plays on this aspect of her character - she naively believes that a God of war is responsible for the evil in men. When she vanquishes the villain and realizes that men are still shitty, it's a very satisfying moment for the audience and a monumental moment for Wonder Woman. A beautifully laid out and executed story.
What lands the movie at the top of my list is the chills that I got from several scenes, but none more powerful than Wonder Woman's ascendance into no-man's land to fight the Hun. I was absolutely enthralled by Diana's stubborn insistence to climb the ladder and fight the bad guys. The dialogue, the editing, and most of all the music, all work together to create a very powerful sequence that culminates in many goosebumps and a few tears of joy as well from this mushy old man.
And then there's a ton of stuff I still want to see but haven't gotten around to -
The Disaster Artist
EDIT: Saw it, loved it! Not a 'poker movie' per se, but a thoroughly enjoyable true life story of the inimitable Molly and her amazing game.
All the Money in the World
EDIT: Saw it, loved it! I was a blubbering mess by the end. No doubt it would've cracked my top ten had I seen it in 2017.
Murder on the Orient Express
The Greatest Showman
And then there's a couple that I'm going to do my best to avoid -
The Post - a preachy, screechy talkathon that holds up the media as heroes for spilling military secrets. Pass.
The Shape of Water - looks about as subtle as a jackhammer in it's virtue signaling and messaging. Another Guillermo mess most likely.
And finally, my usual short (and this year shorter than usual) list of disappointments.
Beauty & The Beast
Please don't mistake me, the movie is well made and the story is tight. Emma Watson is a wonderful choice, and I understand her taking the role as it gives her two once in a lifetime chances to be a role model for girls - but I really dislike Disney's latest obsession with turning all of their animated classics into shot for shot live action remakes. It's lazy and it's boring. I've seen this before, it was an amazing animated feature film that was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. This, very simply, is not. It's close to a carbon copy of the original, and there is next to nothing original about it. Meh.
Transformers: The Last Knight
Another hot and bloated mess from Michael Bay. I've enjoyed Transformer movies in the past, but really, enough is enough. This one, like the last one, just goes on forever and is relentlessly loud and bombastic. Even Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Hopkins can't save this leviathan. Time to give it up Mr. Bay!
And so that's it - thankfully, no other disappointments. There were quite a few movies that I thought were just fine, not bad, not great - but I won't blather on about them here. The ones above, even the disappointments, are the ones that had an impact on me, and so I'm glad I get to share my thoughts on them here with you. If you're still here, thanks for reading!