John’s top 10 movies of 2017

For me, 2017 goes in the books as the year when we don’t have to comment on special effects anymore. In major motion pictures, they are almost universally good now, and if they aren’t, it’s because the studio purposely cut corners. As such, several blockbuster science fiction movies find spots on my list, starting with the year’s most pleasant surprise.

1. “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” – Fifty years after its debut, the cult classic French comic-strip and comic-book series by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières gets a triumphant big-screen treatment from “The Fifth Element’s” Luc Besson. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne are in fine form as galactic cops and potential lovebirds Valerian and Laureline, although it’s forgivable if they are sometimes upstaged by the sights and sounds. Between Rihanna’s shapeshifting lounge singer and the vibrant sets on the sprawling space station of the title, “Valerian” makes a viewer want to move to this world and live in it. The undercurrent about how individuals can propel wars gives the adventure a purpose.

2. “War for the Planet of the Apes” – The pre-make trilogy (for now; there could be more films) beautifully wraps up with an engrossing – if mistitled – Western-style feud between ape leader Caesar (Andy Sirkis plus state-of-the-art motion capture) and a human military leader (Woody Harrelson). The fact that most of the movie features CGI simians (including Steve Zahn’s lovable Bad Ape) and we don’t stop to think about it is incredible, but “War” also offers up food for thought on the reasons why modern military conflicts tend to be endless.

3. “The Big Sick” – In a down year for comedies, this personal work from “X-Files Files” podcaster Kumail Nanjiani adapts the real-life story of his wife Emily’s (Zoe Kazan in the movie) illness and subsequent coma. Struggling comedian Kumail’s touch-and-go bonding with Emily’s parents – played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano – rings true, and Nanjiani finds the right balance of jokes and bittersweet life and career struggles.

4. “Logan” – This marks Hugh Jackman’s final turn as Wolverine, and what a way to wrap up 18 years as the most popular X-Man. The capper of the “Wolverine” trilogy is a superhero flick that eschews the superhero trappings, as – in a deeper version of the arc from 2000’s “X-Men” – Logan reluctantly becomes a father figure to a girl mutant with a lot of similarities to himself. That girl’s adamantium-claw-aided dispatching of soldiers is a notable gleeful/violent sequence in a year filled with them.

5. “Wonder Woman” – After years of mostly too-grim fare in the Marvel and DC cinematic universes, director Patty Jenkins and writer Allan Heinberg remind everyone how to make a superhero movie. And it doesn’t hurt that Gal Gadot is somehow able to combine goodness, humility, beauty and power in one package. Diana’s weird but rich backstory about her upbringing on a magic island of women warriors is followed by her navigation of World War I-era Europe and fun fish-out-of-water gags as she’s accompanied by an American soldier (Chris Pine).

6. “Kong: Skull Island” – 2005’s “King Kong” set the bar high in the genre of action extravaganzas, and it didn’t seem a reboot was necessary. But this version finds new entry points into the familiar “Kong” mythos, as American soldiers in the wake of the Vietnam War are dispatched to the fabled Pacific island. Seventies music and characters with various motives (including Samuel L. Jackson’s lieutenant, John Goodman’s scientist, Brie Larson’s photographer and John C. Reilly’s marooned WWII pilot) provide momentum, but the action sequences still stand out, whether Kong is swatting down choppers or squaring off in an epic bout with the island’s big, bad skullcrawler.

7. “Get Out” – Writer-director Jordan Peele delivers a horror thriller with a social message that’s catnip for critics making end-of-year lists, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a clever movie. A young black man accompanies his white girlfriend to her family cabin for the first time, and what starts out as parents trying too hard to be too cool around him gradually transforms into a deeper mystery.

8. “John Wick: Chapter 2” – After establishing this unique world of principled hitmen in the 2014 original, the sequel revels in it. Man-of-few-words Wick (Keanu Reeves, continuing in the career-revitalizing role) goes through challenges like stages in a video game, whether he’s using his apparently reinforced car or his bevy of guns as weapons. But he’s worth rooting for as he moves toward revenge in a single-minded yet measured fashion.

9. “Split” – 2015’s “The Visit” gave us hints, and now “Split” confirms that writer-director M. Night Shyamalan is back in a creative groove we haven’t seen in 15 years. An acting showcase for “X-Men’s” James McAvoy – who plays various personalities within the same body — and “The Witch’s” Anya Taylor-Joy, the film works as a straight-ahead kidnapping-and-escape story. But also, enough time has passed that revelations in the style of 2000’s “Unbreakable” have become fresh again.

10. “Gifted” – “(500) Days of Summer” director Marc Webb returns to the genre of sweet and humorous character studies in this story of Frank (“Captain America’s” Chris Evans), whose rather informal custody of orphaned 6-year-old niece Mary (Mckenna Grace) comes under legal fire. Webb and writer Tom Flynn know how to tee it up for the talented young actress, whose math-prodigy Mary is mostly big-hearted but can get entertainingly (yet believably) snarky with adults such as her teacher (Jenny Slate).

What were your 10 favorite movies of 2017? Share your list in the comment thread.

4 Replies to “John’s top 10 movies of 2017”

  1. Nice list! We have some major differences in our lists, even though many of our tastes our the same. Here is my top 10 below. These are simply based on movies I enjoyed. Many movie lists look to find the hidden gems or movies that stand apart.. but instead, my list would be movies I want my friends to see, based on my own tastes.. so here we have it:

    Honorable mentions:
    Thor Ragnorak
    Spider Man Homecoming
    War for the Planet of the Apes

    10 – Dunkirk – Although it is basically a glorified “IMAX demo”, I feel it deserves to be on my list. It lacks any character development or story, and has a very convoluted sense of time, but the way the movie inserts the viewer into war, and into the shoes of those who did everything they could just to survive is spectacle in itself.

    9 – Wind River – This one snuck up on me as I hadn’t heard anything about the movie before finding it at Redbox. Based on true events and written / directed by the man behind ‘Sicario’ and ‘Hell or High Water’, it delivers great set pieces, great characters and shocking action sequences. The acting was also superb.

    8 – Patriot’s Day – This movie was also a very pleasant surprise. Going into it I thought “how exciting can it be to tell the story of the Boston Marathon bombing?”, but boy was I wrong. Fusing together real footage with the film added a great sense of realism and tension. It ended up being a great movie that showcased the heroes involved.

    7 – Baby Driver – Another movie I was excited to see, yet hesitant about was Baby Driver. Basically it comes off as a quasi-musical and it works. Although I wished for more amazing car chase scenes, what we got was good enough to get it the 7 spot on my list. I’m hopeful for a sequel – maybe Baby will get into 80’s music next..

    6 – Get Out – The trailer for this movie made me groan as it appeared to be another cheesy horror movie, but then the hype for the movie grew and grew. When I finally did see the movie I almost expected to be let down because it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype… but it did. In the vein of Hitchcock, Twilight Zone, or even Shyamalan it surprises, twists, turns and satisfies all at the same time. Although I don’t know that I can classify as “Horror”… it’s good to see a horror film get so much praise.

    5 – Kong Skull Island – This movie is just plain fun. It’s not going to win any awards but it looks great, sounds great (some of the best use of Atmos I have heard yet), and had enough substance throughout to keep me invested. I loved the Vietnam style and music choices as well. As with Godzilla, and now Kong, it will be fun to see the next chapter when they meet.

    4 – Wonder Woman – There isn’t much to say about this movie that hasn’t been said already. Gal Gadot is the perfect Wonder Woman and Chris Pine’s character was great. The last 1/3 of the movie could have been completely omitted and it probably would have been higher on my list.

    3 – Logan – There was nothing I didn’t like about this movie. In fact, it even had the best trailer I’ve ever seen. (Check out the first trailer that has the Johnny Cash “Hurt” cover). I think it was time for the ‘R’ rating, and dark themes. I’d love to see more, but at the same time, it was the perfect ending to Jackman’s Wolverine portrayal.

    2 – John Wick 2 – I may be a bit biased on this one as the original John Wick was one of my favorite movies in the recent decade. My hype for this movie was off the charts and luckily it didn’t disappoint. As we know, sequels are often setup to fail and driven only by the desire to make money. However, Wick 2 does a good job at expanding the universe, the supporting characters, and the stigma of the “Baba Yaga” (The Boogyman/Wick). The movie continues with the classic dry, action movie humor (“With a Fu***** Pencil!”) as well. Although I scored this movie half a star less than the first, it still excels at what it was meant to do. I’m looking forward to the third chapter!

    1 – IT – So this might seem like a crazy choice for the best movie of the year, but I tend to judge movies by one main quality… do I want to see it more than once? In this case, I have wanted to see this movie again since the moment I left the theater. I am a horror lover at heart, so taking some legitimately scary scenes and putting them in the middle of a ‘Goonies’ style movie was a sure hit in my book. The kid actors in the movie are great, the portrayal of Pennywise was great, and the movie was nearly perfect to me. As I mentioned above with ‘Get Out’, I am so happy to see the recent quality of horror movies increase, and the love they are getting from both critics and viewers. ‘IT’ simply just had it all.

  2. Wow, five of our picks are the same, and you also threw a nod to “War FTPOTA.” We must both have excellent taste. I am looking forward to “IT” when it hits Redbox, which shouldn’t be too long from now, and I might put “Wind River” on my radar as well.

  3. In looking back at 2017, I feel like there are about 15 movies worth talking about for a top 10 list. (Unless you were able to see a lot of independent films and are into the artsy type like a lot of critic lists tend to be). There are a few 2017 films that I still need to see (like Blade Runner) that I’m hopeful would push me to edit my list.

  4. Yep, “Blade Runner 2049” is definitely on my must-see list as well. I am looking forward to savoring it and probably taking a few breaks during the course of its run time, something that is not possible in a theater.

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