Alright, let’s be very clear about something. I like my movies like I like my orange juice, with lots of pulp (this is a lie; I hate pulpy orange juice). Do I appreciate good filmmaking? Yup. Do I tend to enjoy those that make their way to Oscar-caliber best lists? Typically not. So I want to lead with that as this is my debut contribution to We Bought a Blog. I don’t want you, dear readers, to think, “Oh, this guy liked “The Book of Henry.” I can just go ahead and skip this non-credible wannabe movie-lover.” I did, in fact like “The Book of Henry.” It didn’t make my top 10 so you are welcome to speculate as to why. To clear it up, I was not drunk, drugged, or under duress when I saw it. I just enjoyed it. Fight me.
Still here? Terrific! Read on and have fun picking the pulp out of your teeth.
10. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”
Not since the “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” have the exploits of Captain Jack Sparrow been so much fun. If the film is, in fact, the swansong of the franchise as the marketing suggests it is, it provides satisfying conclusions to every character presented in the original film. There are some gorgeous visual sequences, particularly near the climax, and the direction is more guided than the previous three haphazard sequels. Was it necessary to return to this world where pirating and treasure-hunting are the norm? Most would argue, no, the wind was out of those tattered sails by the time of “At World’s End.” However, the filmmakers found a way to breathe new life into the franchise which ultimately allowed them to bow out gracefully rather than with the stinker that was “On Stranger Tides,” which, as iconic as Sparrow, Turner, and crew have become over the last fourteen years, was exactly what they deserved.
9. “Battle of the Sexes”
Like many entries on my list, the performances are what escalate many of these movies to my top 10 list. So it is that Emma Stone and Steve Carell‘s performances here are the driving force behind “Battle of the Sexes.” But also, similar to “The Post,” the dialogue of the country and the Time’s Up movement help make this movie relevant. What could have otherwise been a fairly generic retelling of a major sports event turns into a celebration of women’s rights and the first steps toward gender equality.
8. “Goodbye Christopher Robin”
What is it about adapting famous authors of children’s works into movies that is so appealing? Perhaps it is the juxtaposition of the darkness that surrounds the authors and the joy of the material they create. A.A. Milne exploited his son to the point where the relationship could never be repaired for a character that has created such abundant happiness since its introduction. Much like Barnum portrayed in “The Greatest Showman,” the filmmakers take many liberties with the truth but here the performances seem more authentic. From Domhnall Gleeson‘s PTSD-inflicted Milne to Margot Robbie‘s spoiled housewife, the characters portrayed in “Goodbye Christopher Robin” are troubled and that makes them more interesting. The reverence and love for Winnie the Pooh are what draw you in and the performances are what sell the movie.
7. Spider-Man: Homecoming
“Spider-man: Homecoming” does what many other superhero movies fail to do. It seamlessly incorporates itself into a larger world but maintains its own identity. Unlike “Thor: Ragnarok” it incorporates humor appropriately and features some great action sequences. But where Homecoming shines is in how it handles its villain. Michael Keaton finds the right balance between doting father and menacing antagonist, giving him a depth not often seen in Marvel movies. Additionally, the relationship between Peter Parker and Tony Stark give both characters a new depth that will surely pay dividends pending the outcome of “Infinity War.”
6. “The Post”
“Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it.” That adage is shared in nearly every history classroom around the country. Why else is it relevant to learn about those long dead? “The Post,” rushed into production and finished within just a few months by Steven Spielberg holds a mirror up to the world we currently live in. Fake news, government conspiracy, and journalistic responsibility are as important now as they were in the Nixon era represented here. Would “The Post” be as successful if our country weren’t on the brink of a true mid-life crisis? Quite possibly not. It would still be a riveting historical race against the clock, but without that context, it may not place amongst the year’s best. But viewed through the lens of the world as it is now, which is impossible to ignore, propels the movie to a higher level.
5. “The Greatest Showman”
Sure, it is not historically accurate. Sure, the poppy songs don’t match that of the time period. Sure, Jenny Lind belts a ballad and not opera. But the music is catchy. The performances charming. And the visuals vibrant and exciting. For an original musical, that’s all I ask for. I was smiling from the first upbeat to the closing chords. Again, the pure escapism offered by Michael Gracey‘s movie musical likens to the very same source material the film depicts. People didn’t go to the circus to see animals in their natural habitat, to see a riveting story unfold, or to learn about history. They went to escape the humdrum world around them, to see the colors, lights, and music. Unlike, Hugh Jackman‘s other entry on my list, this movie is all about the spectacle. And for that I could ask for nothing better.
It’s interesting how a movie about dead relatives can be anything other than depressing. Personally, though, “Coco” came at the right time for me. Struggling with a major personal loss, I was warned that perhaps Pixar’s latest would hit a little too close to home. Instead, I walked out feeling hopeful and surprisingly content. The care and detail Lee Unkrich brought to this animated masterpiece provided a culturally significant movie that is full of heart, hope, and beauty.
3. “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”
If we are judging based on what expectations were heading into a movie and how far the film exceeds them, “Welcome to the Jungle“ hits the very top of the list. 22 years is a long time to wait before making a sequel. By that point, the question becomes what’s the relevance? Plus, the glaring absence of Robin Williams was perhaps the biggest hurdle that “Jumanji” had to clear. Yet the movie manages to circumvent all these concerns and create something new and relevant. In a time when VR video games are becoming more mainstream, the idea of getting lost within a video game seems to make even more sense than the original. The cast collectively surpasses that of the original in terms of charm and humor (it’s easy to forget given Williams’ reputation that the “Jumanji” was not a broad comedy). The result is perhaps the funniest movie of the year and the biggest unexpected success.
2. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
Okay, I’ll level with you. I did not love “The Last Jedi.” Rian Johnson‘s addition to the Star Wars franchise was lazy and too focused on creating something new rather than something good. I did not have the same issues as many long-term Star Wars fans. The humor was fine and on par with other films in the series, Luke’s arc was fulfilled in a satisfying way, and many of the visuals were quite stunning. However, the biggest issue was that Johnson wanted to create his own thing; many choices retconned plot points, hints, and threads that his predecessor carefully laid out in “The Force Awakens”. He’s not a team player and for a direct continuation of the new trilogy, this is abundantly clear.
However, all of that can be forgiven because it is Star Wars. For me, any movie that takes me to a galaxy far, far away is a shoe-in for any best of the year list. And this is because of the residual effects that George Lucas‘ original created. These movies are pure escapism. The feelings of excitement and joy I experience while watching Star Wars pay no heed to whether or not what I’m watching is a “good” movie. My favorite is “Attack of the Clones“ for goodness sake. So I will forgive the 18-hour “car chase,” the inconsistent character development, the unnecessary and irrelevant subplots, and sudden, previously unknown Force enhancements. That doesn’t mean that I’m not anxiously waiting for J.J. Abrams to come and fix the mess that Johnson left behind. After all, no sense in settling, right?
Of all the superhero movies released this year (that’s arguably seven for those counting), “Logan” holds the distinction of being the one to elevate the genre to a new height of storytelling. Whereas the other films released this year are working to build and continue shared universes, Fox’s tent-pole X-Men series is unique in not giving much care to what comes before or what comes after. This allows Logan to hold real stakes for its characters. One of the downsides of a shared universe (Marvel, I’m looking at you) planned out years in advance is that as an audience you don’t need to worry about your favorite characters coming out alive and well (Quicksilver, sorry, but you didn’t matter enough to count). Good guys win, bad guys lose. The X-Men franchise, with its sporadic, confusing, and disjointed timeline and expansive roster, never had this problem. Characters could die; no bigger stakes than that.
Those stakes are what gave “Logan” its power. Masterfully directed by James Mangold and showcasing a career-best by Hugh Jackman, the film is bleak from the word go. The audience can see the writing on the wall but given Wolverine’s status as the poster boy of the X-Men, they are lulled into complacency. The end is truly not shocking and that’s what makes it successful. Every moment of the movie builds to the outcome slowly, deliberately, allowing the weariness and fatigue that Logan is feeling to show.
The rest of the cast shines brightly as well, including newcomer Dafne Keen and the glorious Patrick Stewart, both bringing life into what could perhaps otherwise been a true downer. Mangold manages to balance his cast and draw out the best from them. This is a superhero movie where the characters are the main feature, not the spectacle of battle and general destruction. The action sequences, instead, are more grounded, guttural, and essential to push the characters to their destinies. Ultimately, these elements are what propel “Logan” to the top of my 2017 top 10 list.