Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Ten Best Movies of 2017 + 3 bonus reviews

Before we get to my annual list of the best from the past year, here are a couple films i saw in the past week.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle - A quasi-sequel from the 1995 Robin Williams vehicle updates the board game concept into an immersive video game experience, sucking a group of high schoolers into a video with avatars played by The Rock, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan.  The concept of having these stars play high school fish-out-of-water roles is very clever and Dwayne Johnson especially gives it his best.  Hart and Black provide the right amount of comedic support while Gillan is spunky and very cute as a nerd-ish girl coming out of her shell, but overall I just wanted more from the story within the game.  We get a cookie-cutter plot to steal a jewel with an underwhelming Bobby Canavale as the big baddie. Still really entertaining and watching Jack Black playing a girl who is trying to use a penis to pee for the first time is highly enjoyable to watch.  3.5 JRs 

Phantom Thread - Paul Thomas Anderson's latest offering details the life of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis with the best character name EVER), a fashion designer in 1950's London who stumbles upon a waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps) who ends up being his muse and wife.  Like a lot of PTA's work, this film deals with internal conflict and a strive for perfection.  Day-Lewis (in his FINAL film, so he says *sniff*) takes PTA's well crafted script and runs with it.  He is refined and proper through so much of the film that when he lets his rage through near the end (not as aggressive as in There Will Be Blood) it comes across so powerfully.  It really is a joy to watch Daniel Day-Lewis spew curse words.  The film itself is very enjoyable to watch as PTA shows so much detail in the stitching and assembling of fabric into designer clothes.  The tension between Reynolds and Alma (a wonderful out-of-nowhere performance by Krieps) ramps up over time and PTA does a remarkable choice in amplifying all of the mundane sounds at a dinner table (buttering toast, sipping tea, etc..) to showcase how meticulous Reynolds is and how these seemingly innocent actions end up ruining his calm and craft. The sound design in this film is excellent as is the classical accompaniment of Jonny Greenwood's (Radiohead) score.  I failed to see Inherent Vice, but I feel like I should go back and watch it now.  PTA rubbed me the wrong way with The Master (after liking all his other films), but Phantom Thread has him back on course.  I feel like I need to see this again to see some of the intricacies I missed.  4.5 JRs

All the Money in the World - A solid effort by Ridley Scott who tells the story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty's grandson on an epic scale and with off-camera extraordinary circumstances.  Kevin Spacey was originally cast in the role of Getty but got removed from the final cut due to his real-life issues with sexual harassment.  In steps Christopher Plummer (who does an amazing job) in a whirlwind re-shoot that took a few weeks.  It's hard to notice any major issues and the film flows well.  Mark Wahlberg is lukewarm as an ex CIA agent whom Getty hires to find his son.  The real star of this film is Michelle Williams who play the kidnapped Getty's mother and gives yet another tense and believable performance.  Give this woman an Oscar already!  4 JRs

By my count I saw 46 films in the theater this year, a count that ramped up significantly after getting back in on Moviepass.  I'm sure i'll blow this number out of the water in 2018.  There are some films I missed and still need to see like The Florida Project, but I think now's as good a time as ever to publish my list.

As always, here we go in reverse order...

#10 - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

In a Jordan Blog first, I TOTALLY FORGOT to write a review of this film after I saw it.  I was looking back to review my ratings and this movie never received a review.  I'm honestly not sure what happened, but ... here we go with a mini review.  Francis McDormand plays Mildred, a no-nonsense mother who recently lost her oldest daughter to a brutal rape and murder.  Furious with local law enforcement in a small Missouri town, she resorts to renting out three billboards to antagonize and call out the town's police chief (played with raw zeal and zest by Woody Harrelson).  McDormand is a foul-mouthed dynamo in her best performance since 1996's Fargo.  Director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) crafts a smart, crass, touching and wonderfully entertaining movie that has helped McDormand and Rockwell become Oscar favorites at this point.  Blindingly funny at times, the film does have some serious messages about law enforcement and women's rights.  Rockwell entertains me in just about anything he does (including last weekend's SNL hosting stint) and he and McDormand are the main reasons this movie works so well.  This film sneaks into #10 on my list as a result and simultaneously earns a 4.5 JR rating.

#9 - Molly's Game

A bang-up job by first-time director Aaron Sorkin who slings his patented dialogue at us through the muse of Jessica Chastain.  Chastain's Molly Bloom is fierce, focused and fiery as she runs an underground poker game and unintentionally rubs elbows with the Russian mob.  The drama is tense throughout and peaks with an amazing speech by Idris Elba (Molly's lawyer) near the end of the film.  I was engrossed in every minute of this movie.

#8 Spiderman: Homecoming

In a year of well-made superhero films, this was a breath of fresh air.  Taking the first two incarnations of Spider-Man in Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield and putting an eager youthful spin on the webslinger, Tom Holland gives the very best performance of Spidey that the big screen has seen.  Michael Keaton is a solid villain and the pacing and effects are really well done.

#7 - The Post

Steven Spielberg at his finest at the top of his craft.  He weaves a true story that most people know the ending to into a brilliant dramatic endeavor that keeps all of us on the edge of our seat, watching the mastery of Streep and Hanks carry the narrative. This is a celebration of the freedom of the press and while it didn't totally blow me away like Spotlight, it's a great film on its own and shows the range Spielberg has as a living legend.

#6 - Thor Ragnarok

With all due respect to Spiderman, THIS is the FUNNIEST superhero movie of the year.  Director Taika Waititi gives his own unique spin on the (up to now) tired Thor storyline and allows Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and especially Mark Ruffalo to shine through a perfect mix of action and humor.  Cate Blanchett is fierce and delightful as the main nemesis in this movie.  Let's hope Taika gets to make more big budget bonanzas in the near future.

#5 - Logan

Logan takes the SuperHero Crown of 2017 by simply letting Wolverine be WOLVERINE.  At the end of his great career as the metal-clawed indestructible bad-ass, Hugh Jackman delivers a nuanced performance as a legend entering the twilight of his life.  Director James Mangold brings us an X-Men western that makes the most of its R-rating by letting Jackman run wild with both violence and extreme dialogue.  Patrick Stewart gives one more excellent turn as Professor X and Dafne Keen is a revelation as a younger mutant who adds a bit of heart and vigor to the gruff proceedings.  Hugh had quite a year in 2017 balancing brawn and anger here with true movie-star showmanship in The Greatest Showman.

#4 - Coco

Re-mem-ber... this film.... One of the best ever entries from the Pixar machine, Coco is skewed more towards adults as it tries to make sense of the great unknown that is life after death.  Set in Mexico during the Day of the Dead, Director Lee Unkrich and company paint a beautiful vision of this unique holiday with a pastel of gorgeous colors and intricate skeletal animations.  The voice acting across the board is excellent and shines most bright with young Anthony Gonzalez who belts out the infectious score with thrilling bravado.  Miguel and his family brought one of the best stories to the screen in 2017 in what is easily the best animated film of the year.

#3 - Get Out

The brilliant mind of Jordan Peele delivers the biggest surprise film of 2017.  An original idea that explores race relations in a unique way is both hilarious and horrific at the same time.  Daniel Kaluuya becomes the conduit for the audience as we go along a fantastically strange ride with him. This movie is even more rewarding on second viewing as I recently watched it again on HBO.  So well crafted and wonderfully paced, I only wonder what Peele has up his sleeve for his next film.

#2 - Blade Runner 2049

This film NEARLY made it to #1 and completely stands out as a true sci-fi gem, well surpassing the original 1982 Ridley Scott film.  Ryan Gosling excels in the lead role as a gritty cop (Blade Runner) moving from amazing set piece to amazing set piece.  Denis Villeneuve is the new master of setting a tone in his films.  From Prisoners to Sicario to Arrival and now this futuristic smorgasbord of light, color and mood, Denis paints the movie screen like his own personal canvas.  Cinematographer Roger Deakins has been nominated for an Oscar 13 times and hasn't WON.  Hopefully #14 changes everything in 2018 as this film is shot so beautifully.  Hans Zimmer's cyber-score drones over vast post-apocalyptic land-and-city-scapes and gives this Blade Runner a new voice of its own.  If you missed this in theaters, definitely queue it up on the loudest home theater system you can find.

#1 - Dunkirk

There are so many haters that dismiss this movie as a film without characters you care about or a meaningful story.  While I understand people who absolutely have to have those elements in a film, I simply did not have a more memorable movie-going experience in 2017 than I did in sitting in the Smithsonian IMAX watching Christopher Nolan's experimental masterpiece.  From the moment German gunshots rip through the walls, floors and ceiling of the theater I was instantly transported into World War II along with the young men depicted on screen.  It doesn't matter that we forget their names, don't know their entire back stories or that there are only three established actors in major roles (Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance and Kenneth Branagh - sorry Harry Styles).  The no-name newness of these men help bring us in closer.  The only thing that matters is survival and getting out of Dunkirk.  Nolan weaves three separate narratives paced by different time-spans in an effective way.  We see certain shots from multiple camera angles at different times in the film.  Everything is done raw and realistically with attention to detail.  As I said in my earlier review, Nolan is able to make a single fighter plane seem so menacing as it screams in to mark its prey.  Buoyed by a punishing, gripping Hanz Zimmer score, Dunkirk is a film that stayed with me for days and one that I wished I went back and saw in the theater.  It doesn't look like Nolan is going to win his long overdue Best Director (thanks Del Toro!!!) award for this one, but I hope the best director working today keeps trucking along, thinking outside the box and making great art like this film.  Remarkably, of Christopher Nolan's last 4 films, THREE have landed at #1 on my year-end list and the other was #4 (Dark Knight Rises).

Honorable Mention goes to Lego Batman Movie, War of the Planet of the Apes, Star Wars The Last Jedi, Phantom Thread and Alien Covenant (yes... I was one of the few that really did like this film) that just missed the list.  Oscar nominations are coming out soon and look out for some episodes I'll be involved with on Omar's Arts Review and Commentary podcast.  Overall I feel that 2017 was a step up from 2016 in terms of delivering quality films.  The top six movies on my list all earned 5 JRs along with Lego Batman (which I retroactively dropped a bit in my mind).

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