Now that the other stuff is out of the way, let’s look at my favorite films of 2017. The ones that, for various reasons, I connected to or appreciated in a pretty major way. Was I able to see everything? Of course not. I have a full time job and a reasonable social life for someone that spends a ton of time absorbing media, you weirdos. (And sometimes have to drive an hour to see obscure releases in the theater.) So take this for what it is: a heavily biased, personal opinion meant to sway you.
LET’S GET STARTED!
25. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2- I started out as an admirer of the film John Wick, but it was repeat viewings that really drove home just how good it is. If there’s a flaw in the sequel, it’s that it’s so effective in trying to provide a breathless follow-up to the original sleeper hit, that it ends up being exhausting. Beginning a short, but undefined, time after the end of the first film, it finds his recent revenge coming at a high cost as he is drawn back into the belly of the death trade he left behind. There are few pleasures in action films equal to seeing the faces of men who underestimate Mr. Wick, and there are many such pleasures to be had in this slam bang sequel. The world building is well done, drawing out details of the underworld he inhabits, but never overexplaining things. It also does a good job introducing us to new characters played by genre favorites like Franco Nero and Laurence Fishburne. As what is obviously supposed to be the middle installment of a trilogy, it certainly delivers on putting the titular character through the wringer and leaving him on the other side, broken, battered and in a worse place than he started; the viewer may just end up a wreck as well.
24. WONDER WOMAN- How good was the majority of Wonder Woman? So good that even a CGI clusterfuck of an ending couldn’t ruin it. And so good that it alone will almost single-handedly keep the current iteration of the DCU afloat, despite Justice League having to be a massive financial disappointment for Warner Bros. Gal Gadot is absolutely transcendent in the role, giving me the kind of “my Wonder Woman” feelings that others describe Michael Keaton and Christopher Reeves with, for their respective roles. Chris Pine takes to Steve Trevor with aplomb, showing us a character who exists in shades of grey, but is never an antihero. In the end, we can see why a literal goddess would catch feelings. Even the switch to a World War I setting manages to work, thanks to some deft wrangling of the film’s themes. The bold use of color alone, with her iconic outfit blazing in a sea of monochrome, puts this a step ahead of its brethren. (Or is it sistern?) Patty Jenkins deserves a lot of credit here, for making a movie that just plain works in an era where origin stories are often dismissed out of hand as old hat. It’s even grown on me through repeated viewings, elevating itself onto my list.
23. DAVE MADE A MAZE- This may at least partly be the result of a Kickstarter project, but don’t let that fool you; it’s a real movie and you may even recognize some of the people in it, if you watch the same TV that I do. It would be easy to call this the Michael Gondriest movie that Michael Gondry never Gondried, but that’s not giving it enough credit. This is the story of a man who wants to make something great, and gets swallowed up by his project as it spirals out of control and takes on a life of its own. Most of us try-hard artists can certainly relate. In this case, he creates a cardboard labyrinth in his living room, which takes on magical (and dangerous) properties. It’s one of a few movies this year (see my top 10) that do a great job examining the various reasons a person feels a need to create. In this case, it’s a warped frustration, lashing out against feelings of mediocrity and not having accomplished anything major. (This is possibly why one of my favorite bits is when some of the characters roll their eyes over the idea that the maze is “powered by imagination.”) It’s a wonderful pairing of subject matter and filmmaking, as the low budget feel adds to the home-made quality that permeates the entirety of its being. And there are definitely some fun things on display, with a production design that really manages to wow, using nothing more than acres and acres of cardboard, string and paint. Again, that doesn’t give it enough credit, however, because it also manages to incorporate stop-motion, animation and any and every type of practical effect you can think of to create this extraordinarily ordinary world of deadly whimsy. (How often do you get to use that descriptor?) Ultimately, even though I identify with it, I acknowledge there are plot threads left dangling and it can be a bit messy, character-wise. But if you’re the kind of person that loves inventiveness, you’ll find it worth watching just due to the visuals and wackiness on display. Hopefully, you’ll find that you’re like me though, and you’ll appreciate it in a broader way.
22. BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99- A strange movie that breathes the same air as 70s prison exploitation films, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is every bit an update of that kind of skewed message movie. The underlying current seems to be a pretty big statement against the prison system and the still continuing war on drugs. The harshness of the visuals matches the tone as a noble “loser” seems to be smacked down every time he tries to do the right thing, and finally goes crooked. Even then though, he can’t keep from being punished for having a conscience and the licking the universe seems intent on inflicting upon him begins to take on more and more vicious physical representations as he ends up on the bad side of a drug lord. The thing that makes the character surprisingly endearing though, is that he’s developed quite the tolerance to the utter heaping of pain that is constantly being dropped on him, and he can rage back against it with a righteous fury. Vince Vaughn has shown to have more range than people expect of him, going from broad comedies like Dodgeball to more dramatic fare like True Detective, but Brawl uses him in a way few people probably ever expected. Taking advantage of his size, something that is often overlooked thanks to his relaxed demeanor, the film reimagines Vaughn as a physical powerhouse. The kind of character Jack Reacher probably should have been on film, should he have been captured as he exists on the page: a quiet, thoughtful, imposing hulk who can overcome nearly any physical trauma due to the single-mindedness of his purpose. It’s his performance that helps keep the movie on track from its start as a fairly grounded drama, through it’s methodical morphing into something more pulpy, ending with a sudden burst of unreal ultraviolence.
21. THE HERO– Sam Elliott needs to be the star of more movies. That one sentence honestly should be all I need to say about this film, wherein he plays an aging actor, renowned for his Western roles. Typecasting, right? He spends his days getting high and ambling towards obscurity and the grave with an ex-wife, an estranged daughter and a legacy of one film that he is truly proud of in his wake. There is a great supporting cast here, with Nick Offerman, Krysten Ritter and Laura Prepon, but it all comes back to Elliott and you can see that, like his character, when given a choice to rise above commercial voice overs and crappy Netflix sitcoms, he is doing the best he can to really sink his teeth into a role that had to have been written just for him.