Twelve movies that dominated the social conversation throughout 2017. The list also notes the financial impact of these movies, with their budget and worldwide gross. These films shaped the water cooler discussions and reflected the entertainment values of America.
The Comeback Story: after finding his footing again with ‘The Visit’ the master of the twist M. Night Shyamalan brought us the first big hit of the year by finding his first studio since bouncing from Disney and making a great movie with his own money. He found the right distributor in the burgeoning Blumhouse who also released the ‘woke’ social thriller “Get Out” and reasonable well marketed hit ‘Happy Death Day’. The movie did catch some flak for being considered exploitive of mental illness but fortunately it turned out to have surprisingly sympathetic views. It’s a good movie in its own right thanks to its performances particularly from James McAvoy in what could be an unlikely Oscar Nominated role. Tight music and good cinematography, it’s all wrapped together by a director who in his 10th major film has finally gotten hold of what he does and doesn’t do well and pulls those levers perfectly.
Horror on the Left! – Universal and Blumhouse had a tough promotional job on their hands with this original film, which plays like a mix of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and The Stepford Wives. Coming off the odd trailers it was clear this was something that was going to be very different, but the studio’s strong track record, stunning reviews, and great word of mouth allowed this movie to stay in the social conversation for a long time after it left the theatre. Its a film I believe whose reputation will continue to grow with time.
Finally a sense of ending!: Hailed from the beginning as the last stop on the Wolverine X-MEN train the Western inspired superhero film was seen by some as a bit of a risk. Its magnificent trailer, one of the best of last year had it look nothing like previous entries in the franchise with its slower pace and R rated tone. The film showed all the signs of a curtain call as said as much by star Hugh Jackman and heavily echoed the long gone Westerns that were one as big as superhero movies are today. The film earned much praise for its relaxed pace, gritty tone and Oscar worthy performances from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. It, along with the Deadpool trailer that premiered with it ushered in the twilight age of the Superhero boom. Finally convincing studios to take chances on billion dollar franchises.
Beauty and the Beast
Another bloody remake: One with the ability to cash in on nostalgia harder than any other product of your milennial childhood or fond nineties memories. There wasn’t a strong need for an update of the 1991 Best picture nominee but what little changes that could be made appeared in two noticeable ways: Emma Watson’s ‘Belle’ becoming the inventor her father’s character was, (my mother, who did not like the original liked this version in part of that) and the gay subtext made text in the form of Josh Gad’s character ‘Le Fou’. Such an open move led to the film being rated 16+ in Russia and banned in a theatre or two in Alabama. I didn’t like it because it was too much of a cash grab, but that didn’t stop other critics from talking about its lavish production design or progressive politics that helped it become the highest grossing film for most of the year.
Polarizing Views: The worst reviewed film on this list by way of Metascore, if you were to go by Pauline Kael’s scale of how a film made you react, this would land much closer to the top. Ridley Scott’s follow up to ‘Prometheus’ was a more spiritual precursor in tone to his original 1979 ‘Alien’ masterpiece and full of philosophical underpinnings and a smarter than average Hollywood sensibility with occasionally dumber than average characters. Whether audiences had had enough after ‘Prometheus’, that it was too much of an odd hybrid and too darkly adult for summer fair, or that the shift in attention towards androids over aliens pissed the fan base off, there’s enough to debate about the movie even for website Joblo to give two completely different polarizing reviews.
The Hero We Deserve: It took a miraculous seventeen years after the superhero boom to create a blockbuster for the oldest set superhero (shockingly, according to director Patty Jenkins no superheroes predate Wonder Woman’s timeline) and the last one audiences know on queue to come to the silver screen, but when she arrived she was greeted with thunderous applause by DC fans who finally got a decent movie brag about and more importantly Women everywhere. I watched this film in theatres and my viewing partner and I disliked it. Me finding it reminiscent of 2011’s ‘Captain America’ which I also disliked (unlike its sequel which I loved) among other derivative superhero films. By the time the smoke cleared he changed his tune buying it on Blu-Ray. I, upon ‘miring the special features was taken by the production details and decided to give it another go, this time watching with a female viewing partner. We both didn’t like it. It’s style is too broad and it’s not particularly detailed. It is just not for me, but at least little girls everywhere willl have an important thing to be inspired by. Wonder Woman is a good start, maybe a sequel will improve on that. She was one of the best parts of ‘Justice League’.
Here-and-there in a Flash: My favourite movie of the year upon its release; the movie earned style points for its flashy rhythmic sensibility (a bit too much for some), earned a small demerit by some for not having any independent female characters, but proved worthy for simply being a completely original tale that was directed down to the -t- while playing with enough wall to wall action and somehow not being exhausting. Ansel Elgort received a Golden Globe nomination for his lead performance, but Jamie Foxx steals the show in a turn so oscar-worthy he even name checks the Academy. For a zippy ride this much fun, ‘Baby Driver’ should not be missed.
A World at War: That Christopher Nolan’s 10th feature (there’s that number again) has an excellent score (both meta-review related and musical), direction and picture is supported by Golden Globe nominations (then again they also nominated ‘The Tourist’ once). The acting and presence of Mark Rylance & Tom Hardy and the cinematography by Hoyte Van Hotema along with the sense of scale and blaring sound are something to behold especially in IMAX. On the downside it can be completely confusing (as I found) and even historically misleading. Nonetheless the director has the vocal majority of the internet on his side (It is rated 176 on IMDB’s top 250) and it achieved two impressive feats; being a successful adult-led summer movie and miraculously matching the domestic gross of his previous film Interstellar which had much bigger stars and a more appealing premise. Whether or not it scores major Oscar attention we’ll never hear the end of it.
Fear is a powerful tool: The most aggressive and inventive marketing campaign of the year mined the dark memories of the 90’s TV movie childhoods and current retro 80’s craze to kick nostalgia into cash. ‘It’ was the most successful ‘original’ hit of the year and plans were immediately greenlit for a sequel which covers part two of the original book. The film improved on the original medium’s material in the Beverly Marsh character excellently portrayed by Sophia Lillis. It was photographed excellently by Chung-hoon Chung who in addition to creating several memorable images is one of the few cinematographers able to shoot on digital cameras and texture them not to look like blown up YouTube videos. To quote my dad upon seeing it in theatres in premium D-BOX AVX presentation style, “That wasn’t bad, I didn’t feel like I was ripped off.” ‘It’ is an exercise in the intensity of terror rather than being straight up scary but as far as skillfully made pictures go, there are harder things to watch. The movie does rightfully deserve its success.
Blade Runner 2049
Another Sequel Shockingly Well-made but not sold: “I make movies, I don’t sell them” said Canadian director Denis Villeneuve of his movie ‘Blade Runner 2049’, the long awaited sequel to the 1982 Ridley Scott film which miraculously lived up to the hype critically but commercially disappointed. On paper, I’d scratch my head at the prospect of a sequel to a film which bombed at the box office. But failing to learn from that film’s cult-only success major film companies Warner Bros. with Alcon and Sony teamed in a rare joint venture to throw $185 million dollars at the screen creating a long (but well worth-it) art film that became my favourite movie of 2017. Surprisingly, it’s a sequel that is a much better film than its predecessor which is borderline misogynistic. It answers some questions and offers many more deepening the puzzlebox nature of the series and expanding its vision. My favourite thing about it, among its rare pleasures is how Villeneuve is able to inject his natural feminist touch without it seeming out of place. Many critics have unfairly attacked the film by importing its precursor’s criticisms rather than judging it on its own merits but one thing no one can argue about is how astonishing it looks and is a shoe-in for the Best Cinematography Academy Award by 13-time nominated Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, No Country For Old Men, Skyfall etc.). It may have sold poorly, but for those who are patient it will find its way in your own dark hearts.
Corporate Comedy Capitalism at Work: The funniest addition to this list dominated November in the now endless parade of Disney-corporate hits. Indie Budget director Taika Waititi found his way into the Marvel Machine to adapt Thor’s most important comic book storyline with great humour to balance the darkening side of the MCU. Cate Blanchette as Hela Anthony Hopkins as Odin and returning MCU favourite Hulk were reliably great performers but it was the addition of new character Valkyrie played by (she’s British?) ‘Creed’s Tessa Thompson that distinguished the film best representing its varying colours (apparently she is the first openly LGBTQ+ character in the MCU if that bit of trivia does it for you). I share in the humour, but feel left out in being unable to give praise as much praise to the venture which feels more like a segmented stand up act than a crafted movie displaying the worst assets of 21st century comedy in that it feels pieced together like the last Thor movie but much more worth your time. If anything it at least shows that no one is better than Marvel at pleasing its audiences these days (Spider-Man: Homecoming was my favourite comic book movie of the year but it is too brought down in water cooler conversation by franchise fatigue).
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Nerd Talk Forever: Crossing a billion just before the new year, the biggest franchise in the world brought in its daring and risky middle-chapter in the sequel trilogy with ‘The Last Jedi’. A movie so miraculously silent in its divisiveness people are pretending to have hacked Rotten Tomatoes to explain away its polarizing audience reactions, nevermind the film’s main actor can’t seem to agree on its quality. Because writer-director Rian Johnson is the first person aside from creator George Lucas to approach the material with a unique artistic vision, the movie shifts further away from the spirit of Lucas’ imagination telling one identifiable nine-part story, to an open creative toy box passed around. IX will ultimately tell but as long as social conversations go on, there will always be endless talk and debate of Star Wars.