Summer is not over according to the calendar, but it’s Labor Day weekend in the United States, kids are going or already have been back to school, and Hollywood is done releasing blockbusters for a while, so it at least feels over. Which makes this a good time to make a list of what my favorite films of the year are, so far.
This has been a strange summer in that it has given us one of the best batch of films the movie going public has seen in a very long time, but it’s also a summer that set record lows for box office numbers. People keep saying they are sick of superhero movies, yet those are the only movies making any money, at all, so Hollywood must be getting at best mixed messages right now, but most likely the message they are getting is keep making superhero movies and nothing else. So, if you are one of those complaining about Hollywood output, it’s time to put up or shut up.
Before I get to my top 5, here are some of the great films that weren’t great enough to make the top 5 we were treated to this year, plus a short synopsis of why they didn’t make the top 5.
Raw – This truly original family coming of age film masquerading as a horror gorefest was just a little too grotesque for most audiences. It’s brilliance would probably be overshadowed by its depravity for most movie goers.
Wonder Woman – It kind of killed me to not put this on the list, but its importance as a feminist milestone was unfortunately mixed with some fatal flaws in its script. Wonder Woman will end up being one of the most historically important films of this year, but horrible villains and a retched third act keep this off my list.
It Comes At Night – This small indie thriller showed just how much can be done with an infinitesimal budget making one of the most horrific and thought provoking films of the year on a shoestring. However, it’s going to be a bit too much for most audiences. Much like Raw, it may be ahead of its time.
Baby Driver – If I were giving an award for most slick movie of the year, this would win. But, with a poor love story which is central to the plot and little intellectual merit, this one couldn’t make the final cut.
Spider-Man: Homecoming – The opposite of Wonder Woman in that it had a nearly perfect script and a great villain, but it was just a really great popcorn movie with little importance outside of the entertainment it provides.
Dunkirk – Arguably the prettiest movie of the year, and an interesting experiment in how to write a war movie, but in the end it’s really just a really good looking pseudo-documentary. I love documentaries, it’s the pseudo part that’s the operative word here.
Girls Trip – While this movie is really just an excellent take on The Hangover style movies except with African American women, it’s the fact that this ended up being the 10th highest grossing film of the summer which makes it important and hopefully sends a message to Hollywood that when people are represented in a film, they will come see it.
Detroit – The fact that no one saw this movie is a shame. It doesn’t make the list due to the fact that I don’t feel its unusual plot structure entirely works, but this is one of the most important films of the year so far in that it’s horror, and this is largely a horror movie, comes straight out of reality and gives us a warning much needed today.
Logan Lucky – This movie is charming on nearly every level, and is also excellently filmed and acted. It doesn’t make the list only because it is another film that seeks to entertain and nothing else.
Wind River – This is Taylor Sheridan’s least film, which is why it barely misses the list, but it’s still a Taylor Sheridan film. This means it is both thoughtful and entertaining, it can be enjoyed both as a think piece and a popcorn flick, and it kind of hurts to leave it out of the top 5.
And, now the list proper –
Wonder Woman wasn’t the only feminist movie to come out in 2017, just the biggest. No one saw Colossal and that’s a shame because this is one of the smartest movies to be released this year, smart not only in the nuance of its message but also in the way it presents that message. It seems at first that Colossal is a film about an irresponsible party girl trying to get a grip on her life, and the giant monster attacking South Korea is a fun but obvious metaphor for that.
One of the biggest twists in the movie shows that that isn’t what Colossal is about at all. It’s actually about how relationships can become abusive and controlling even when the signs aren’t obvious on a physical or confrontational level. It’s about how men see women as objects to be controlled just because the men find them attractive. It’s about how passive-aggressive abuse is still very much abuse, and is no less dangerous than more commonly understood abuse. It also somehow manages to get across this message by being weighty exactly when it needs to be but never forgetting that a film also needs to entertain.
The original Godzilla (Gojira for the purists out there) was a metaphor for a culture trying to cope with the aftermath of being attacked with nuclear weapons. Giant monster movies since have largely dispensed with the metaphors and have focused more on the fun of gigantic creatures hitting each other. Colossal returns to the giant monster as metaphor trope, and it does it as well as any film has since the original.
4. The Big Sick
While I’ve never done a list on this site aside from these occasional best of the year lists, I have been known to make them for fun and post them on my Facebook page or just keep them in a notebook or computer folder somewhere. After leaving the theater having seen The Big Sick, I knew my “Top 10 Romantic Comedies of all time” list needed to be updated. The true story of how Kumall Nanjianni met, fell in love with, and ultimately married Emily Gordon is funny, charming, and poignant all at the same time, and will enlighten you while also plastering a big smile on your face.
Everything about the film is performed at a top notch level, but the actors need to be given special credit. Zoe Kazan gives a performance which is practically over a quarter of the way through the movie, yet you feel her presence hanging over everything that follows. Kumall manages to be straight man and comic at the same time as he both brings big laughs and provides an anchor. Holly Hunter is great as always, stealing the show on multiple occasions, and Ray Romano gives the best performance of his career.
Tne Big Sick manages to be one of the funniest films of the year while also giving real insight into racism, cultural pressures, family, and love. It’s the whole package.
3. Get Out
The horror genre graduates to a new level with the release of Get Out, in fact, story telling in Hollywood in general took on a new facet with its release. It’s not new for a horror film to be a metaphor for a weighty subject. It’s not new for a film to focus on an African American star, nor is it new for a mixed race couple and their parents to be central to a film’s premise. What is new is a horror film made to show the white majority in the United States how the black minority view them through both a general paranoia and through the lens of cultural appropriation.
Get Out uses horror as a metaphor for racism, but not the more obvious hateful form of racism, it focuses on the racism that wants to take on the elements of black culture that are viewed as positive and throw the rest away into the trash bin of history. In short, liberal racism, a new, important, and pretty great subject for a horror movie to take on.
Jordan Peele shows he does horror at least as well as he does comedy as he keeps up the suspense, the creep factor, and the investment in the characters from beginning to end. Plus, this is a film that can be watched over and over again and you will see something new every time so layered are the script and the visuals. Get Out is both a great horror film and a great commentary and is one I’m sure will go down in history as important.
2. War for the Planet of the Apes
If War for the Planet of the Apes weren’t the last film in a trilogy I’m not sure I’d rate it this highly, but it is, so I am. Starting with Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011 audiences have been treated to a film trilogy that is epic in scale, thoughtful in its commentary on our society, deeply emotional, and always entertaining. Every chapter in the story of Caesar, given life fantastically by Andy Serkis, so fantastically there is a lobby to get him a Best Actor nomination despite the fact he is never actually seen on screen, is an excellent look at how humans treat outsiders while also giving us trilling action and engaging, realistic characters.
War for the Planet of the Apes closes the story of Caesar in spectacular fashion giving us an epic fantasy which mirrors our own real world in how it portrays fear of the unknown, how we act when paranoia overtakes our reason, and the ultimate consequences of arrogance. It does all this with glorious camera work, beautiful art direction, and CGI work which has to be seen to be believed.
War for the Planet of the Apes manages to have it all and at an epic scale. Caesar’s character arc, if you follow it from the first film, will be remembered as one of the best in film history, the visuals are nothing less than breathtaking, the action is thrilling, the themes poignant. War for the Planet of the Apes is the nearly perfect closure for a nearly perfect trilogy.
You’ll notice that every film on this list has one thing in common, they all manage to have some excellent insight while also remaining entertaining. No film released so far this year does that as well as Logan, the final film in Hugh Jackman’s long run as the character Wolverine of X-Men fame. When I initially gave my review for Logan, I compared it to The Dark Knight and wondered at the time if I was perhaps going too far in my praise for the film. Upon multiple rewatches and a few months of looking back on it, not only was I not going too far, but I think Logan is the movie that all superhero movies will be compared to going forward instead of The Dark Knight.
Choosing to make a movie giving us an aging Wolverine who is slowing down while also having to care for an ancient and decrepit Professor Xavier whose mind has become a weapon of mass destruction due to onset of dementia is a stroke of genius. Add in a young girl who has way too much in common with Logan for it to be coincidental, and you suddenly have a superhero movie which surpasses anything done in the genre before as it uses the abilities of the characters to send us a message reflecting on familial ties and responsibilities, the horrors of old age – in addition to Xavier being a danger to the entire planet, Logan has to literally fight his younger self in an on the nose but excellent metaphor, and the importance of making sure we pass on the best of ourselves to later generations.
Logan uses its R-Rating for far more than just making things bloodier and cussing, though those two additions really do add a lot to the story, it makes for a film with real consequences and tragedy, something all too rare in standard superhero fare. But, with all that taken into account, it is still an immensely entertaining superhero movie with some excellent action set pieces, great special effects, and moments of true elation. Logan is a movie that allows its audience to have it all and then some. Entertaining, thought provoking, insightful, and deeply emotional – can anything more be asked from a film?