While we’re only two months into 2018, the year’s most eagerly anticipated film has already arrived with Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, which is a decidedly stunning addition in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) directs the long-running franchise’s first black-led film with dazzling, groundbreaking results, ultimately becoming a true cause for celebration.
The character of Black Panther (played by the wonderful Chadwick Boseman) made his impressive MCU debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, instantly becoming a fan favorite through the slight appearance. Here, T’Challa, the recently-crowned king of Wakanda — which is a fictional, secretly prosperous African nation in possession of virtually infinite supplies of a made-up super metal called vibranium — is really allowed the chance to be the A-list superhero he was always destined to become. It was no question that this film and this character would end up being an important milestone in the superhero genre as well as an inspiration to countless children around the world, but it’s extremely gratifying to be able to relay that Black Panther is also the stellar solo-outing that so many of us wanted it to be.
Following several delays and months of speculation, the first look at the new entry in executive producer J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield franchise came in the form of an ad spot during the Super Bowl. It was the first-ever official announcement ofJulius Onah’s The Cloverfield Paradox, and with it came the surprise that just two hours later, the film would be released worldwide on Netflix. It‘s an absolutely unheard of, crazy marketing strategy that worked, instantly making me as interested in watching the new film as I was in continuing the excitingly close football game that, for a mere 30 seconds, a brief trailer had managed to steal the spotlight from.
But with the film’s unique release aside, Paradox unfortunately watches quite pitifully. Stocked with a complicated mess of a plot, a large cast of insubstantial characters (even more damning due to the sheer talent of the actors that comprise the roles), and barely any driving force behind its uninteresting narrative, Paradox as a film remains stranded — not so much unlike its focal-point space station and its crew when they’re seemingly left helpless in a separate dimension from their own.
Would it be a cop-out if I were to concede and say that there were simply too many exceptional films this past year? So many, in fact, that even ranking a top 10 is quite near impossible for me? Because in forming this list (which you’re likely eagerly scrolling through to the bottom only to see my number one choice), I’ve had to not only sacrifice a number of extraordinary films, but have also infinitely gone back and forth on where each of these movies fit into the order. Really, in a year with less competition, each of my top six choices could have easily sat atop a year-end list at the number one spot.
As always, I wasn’t able to catch every film that I wanted to — although I did make it out to theaters over 50 times this past year. And it’s because of that that I can safely say that 2017 was the best year for film in recent memory; I was consistently amazed week after week by the incredible work reaching into theaters and beyond. Before we get to the official list, I have included a handful of honorable mentions as well.
Netflix’s first big foray into blockbuster filmmaking, Bright, comes courtesy of End of Watch director David Ayer, Chronicle scribe Max Landis, and prominently stars the Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith. I’ve previously enjoyed the works of these three men, but haven’t felt quite right in recent years regarding each of their respective output in the industry. I mean, Ayer was also responsible for the absolutely reprehensible Suicide Squad from last year, Landis is now potentially (and perhaps unsurprisingly) a piece of human garbage, and Will Smith hasn’t made a truly good film since The Pursuit of Happyness all the way back in 2006 (I Am Legend is alright too, but that’s also 10 years old now). After viewing Bright, I may have to reconsider the quickly fading fandom I have for any of the people responsible in the making of this movie (except in regards to Landis, because if what is coming out about him is actually true, then there will be no reconsidering — only regret). What I’m trying to tell you, is that Bright really is as bad as all of the critics are saying it is.
But let’s start with the little that Bright does get right, shall we? Well, the film actually introduces a compelling enough premise; one in which the lore in fantasy stories like The Lord of the Rings aren’t only relegated to the Middle Ages, and have instead been fast-forwarded to a present-day Los Angeles that’s not too dissimilar to our very own version. Of course, what makes the film stand out is that this world inhabits humans among orcs, elves, and fairies, as well as the magic that come with them. In one of the film’s only noteworthy pieces of dialogue, we are even presented with the idea of a great, millennia-old war having been fought between the humans and the mythological creatures that still live beside them today. When you realize that this single, seemingly throwaway line is among the only notable pieces of dialogue in this thing — outside of the many quotable bad ones — you can truly begin to understand why Bright is as awful as it is.
Over the course of two weeks in the summer of 2003, an indie film called The Room made an almost nonexistent splash when it screened at only two theaters in the heart of Los Angeles, returning a mere $1,800 on an apparent $6 million budget. The film should have likely disappeared from the annals of pop culture altogether, but The Room is one of those so-bad-it’s-good kind of movies — one commonly (and deservedly) referred to as “the greatest worst movie of all time.” Its destiny would be to soon become a beloved cult-classic of larger-than-life proportions, with many of its biggest proprietors among Hollywood’s most well-known stars — one of which is James Franco, whose latest endeavor is based on the film’s ludicrous production.
Directly inspired by a 2013 novel of the same name and written by The Room co-star Greg Sestero, James Franco’s The Disaster Artist is Ed Wood for the millennial generation. Like the infamous film it is based on, James Franco directs, produces, and stars in The Disaster Artist, and is unbelievably brilliant in his portrayal of the film’s notorious creator, Tommy Wiseau. Franco absolutely nails every aspect of the man from his accent to his mannerisms — almost to the point that it seems he was quite obsessed with Wiseau. His co-stars are similarly wonderful, with his A-list friends and frequent collaborators making up many of the supporting roles (including Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, and Josh Hutcherson).
The newest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic whodunit novel, Murder on the Orient Express, wishes it was a film from an older, simpler time, when a central mystery as lacking as the one it presents would have likely been enough to satisfy its viewers. But in 2017, with there being a large catalog of murder-mystery films that offer grander puzzles of suspense with far superior payoffs, this lavishly produced remake loses steam long before it arrives at its underwhelming destination. The film isn’t without any merit, as its graceful cinematography highlights gorgeous period-appropriate set and costume design, and the ensemble cast of both old and new A-listers (including Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Penélope Cruz, and Willem Dafoe) do formidable work, even with the lackluster material they’ve been handed. Ultimately, though, director Kenneth Branagh’s attempt at remaking this nearly century-old story is absent of any fresh additions or twists, leaving its savvier viewers with an unsatisfying mystery to solve.
Branagh also serves as the story’s mustached lead and famed hero detective, Hercule Poirot. In the winter of 1934, Poirot boards the Orient Express from Istanbul on his way home to help solve yet another case, hoping that the short train ride itself will provide some sort of relaxation. But, of course, it’s never that simple. Poirot becomes sidetracked when a particularly shady passenger aboard the train, Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp), asks to buy his protection after receiving an increasingly alarming amount of threatening letters. Poirot refuses, and the following morning, awakens to find that Ratchett has been brutally murdered in his sleep only a few cabins down, with 12 erratic stab wounds and minimal evidence hampering his insight on who done it. Along with this, an avalanche has resulted in the train’s derailing, stranding its anxious passengers while they wait upon a rescue crew.
Looking at the ever-expanding list of main players within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s clear that my least favorite has always been Thor. At least, that’s what I thought before I saw the third and latest installment in the character’s solo film series, Thor: Ragnarok. Having skipped his previous two outings, I wasn’t particularly excited by Ragnarok’s announcement, especially with its release date stranded in between this summer’s awesome Spider-Man:Homecoming and next year’s potential-filled Black Panther.
However, given the spectacularly colorful and surprisingly humorous advertising, the film had gained my attention. Still, it was only upon learning that the film was being helmed by esteemed indie director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) that I was definitely in. While Ragnarok is far from being the best that the MCU has ever delivered, it provides enough entertaining sequences and funny one-liners that it ultimately overcomes its underwhelming and somewhat boring plot.
While I had hoped that Ragnarok would’ve simply been a super big-budget version of a Waititi film, it’s more just a standard Marvel affair that’s merely afforded a helpful boost by the director’s unique charm. This will probably please the bulk of the superhero moviegoing audience, as Waititi’s quirky comedic style isn’t necessarily the mainstream norm, but it was also a sort of disappointing realization on my part. Still, Thor is in good hands here, and the character’s inclination on being the self-centered airhead within the ranks of the Avengers works. There’s a number of great supporting characters surrounding the hero as well, but I also found the film lacking a substantial driving force.
Attributing any more praise to the excellent first season of Netflix’s Stranger Things is basically impossible for me. When I originally wrote about it late last summer — following a binge in which I devoured it in its entirety within a 24-hour period — I declared the show “the best television [I’d] watched all year.” Since, I’ve only grown to better appreciate and love that original season over re-watches and discussions, but even more so now in light of the very recent release of its lackluster follow-up. While the new, monstrously-anticipated sequel is dubbed Stranger Things 2,perhaps a more accurate title would be Stranger Things 1.5.
To be fair, I still managed to consume Stranger Things 1.5’sStranger Things 2’s nine episodes within a day, and I was never disinterested in seeing it through to its underwhelming conclusion. Perhaps my increasing inclination to browse social media during the season’s second half is most succinctly indicative of my feelings on Stranger Things 2 as a whole. The first half is fine, good even, effectively unfolding a genuinely interesting narrative over its first few episodes with the same lovable cast as before, adding a number of potentially engaging side characters into the mix at the start.
The latter episodes, however, have nearly soured me on the entire experience. The original season was almost entirely derivative of fan-favorite 80s films to its own benefit. Being 80s kids themselves, The Duffer Brothers plucked out the best concepts and characters ranging from King’s horror novels to Carpenter’s sci-fi flicks to Hughes’ teen movies, all in order to construct their own story that’s nearly on par with the best the 80s had to offer. In comparison, Stranger Things 2 outright fails in this regard, barely becoming more than just a monotonous retread of its predecessor without building upon its countless inspirations.
It almost seems that Netflix was well aware that the new film adaptation of Stephen King’s IT would be the massive success that it has come to be, amassing over $600 million worldwide and becoming the second-most successful horror film ever made. With Gerald’s Game and 1922, Netflix has adapted two lesser-known King stories on modest budgets, releasing them both in the aftermath of IT’s box-office reign, likely in hopes to cash in on the writer’s name when it’s especially hot (that’s as if it is ever cold, mind you). While I cannot yet speak for 1922, Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game is mostly a great success, presenting a horrifying scenario and highlighting tremendous output from its veteran stars.
Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood co-star as an aging couple seeking the needle to stitch the love that’s been slowly slipping, before they become another forgotten percentage added into the U.S. Census Bureau’s rising divorce statistics. Gugino plays Jess, who’s a handful of years younger than Greenwood’s titular Gerald — although not technically “young” herself — and is particularly unenthused about their blatantly failing marriage and unsure whether they can recover. Gerald, on the other hand, gets the idea to bring the two of them out to a secluded lake house for a weekend getaway; a sort of last-ditch effort to hopefully turn things back to how they were at the beginning. The beautiful house is stocked with expensive wines, no-joke Kobe beef steaks, and two legit pairs of handcuffs.
I dare you to try and find a film more bizarre than Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 haunted-house horror-comedy — and adequately titled Japanese production — House. While the synopsis of the plot is rather straightforward, what transpires in this absolutely bonkers 88-minute roller coaster of gores and goofs is anything but ordinary, and barely even comprehensible. However, this is what makes House such a one-of-a-kind experience that deserves to be seen and (hopefully) adored by a larger audience. Merely describing the overview of House does it no favors, nor would it necessarily make you want to watch it. It’s a fairly simple set-up, after all. What makes House so watchable, so unique, and ultimately so great, is its unbelievably kooky execution and intentional surrealism.
I truly have never seen a film as weird as this one.