Just want to begin by saying that for this year’s favorites list, I’m going to get away from numerical or other arbitrary values (same way I won’t give ‘thumbs up’ or 1-5 star ratings, etc). So unlike last year’s list, I’m not going to do rankings. Just a list.
I also recognize that there are many fine 2017 films I haven’t seen yet (“Ladybird” “The Post”), and I hope to see them this year, but this year’s list is based on only what I’ve seen personally.
* The blue highlights indicate links to prior blog posts *
Favorite movies (in NO order of preference).
Timely (especially in the age of Trump), and very smartly written & directed by Jordan Peele. This film could be “The Twilight Zone” movie for the 21st century (one feature-length film instead of four vignettes). I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Jordan Peele is going to tackle a redux of TZ (he’d be my pick for it, that’s for sure). The changing face of racism (from race loathing to race envy) is at the core of the the film, and the result is a creepy-as-hell masterpiece of social discomfort, racial paranoia, gallows’ humor and true horror. It’s a more sardonic, witty and terrifying twist on 1967’s “Look Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Not to be missed.
Arguably director/writer Guillermo del Toro’s best film. A de facto sequel to “The Creature of the Black Lagoon” (and a darker take on 1984’s “Splash”) with a ‘gill-man’ creature from the Amazon captured and brought to a top-secret Area-51 style government lab (in early ‘60s Baltimore) for possible weaponization. The stylized, early 1960s look and period reminded me of some of the best of the early Tim Burton movies, but with del Toro’s slightly more gruesome touches as well. The romantic core of the story revolves around a very nontraditional ‘femme fatale’ (a scrappy, mute cleaning lady who works in the lab) falls in love for the creature (instead of the usual other way around) in a very moving but unconventional love story. And no, the creature does not turn into Chris Hemsworth after one kiss, either…
One of Pixar’s best (and that’s a bold statement, I realize). A multigenerational tale told within the context of the Mexican “Dia de lost Muertos” (Day of the Dead) holiday, the movie is beautiful, warm and truly moving. The story has young Miguel bucking the traditions and wishes of his family by aspiring to be a musician. His family of dedicated shoemakers has a very specific loathing of musicians (for a reason that goes back a few generations). Miguel seemingly uncovers the truth of a deliberately forgotten ancestor who may hold the key, and accidentally crosses into the vibrant and richly realized Land of the Dead. Oh, and if the song “Remember Me” doesn’t bring a tear to your eye? Then congratulations; you’re a robot.
A sequel to the cult classic 1982 film that I originally objected to turned out to be one of the biggest surprise sequels since “The Empire Strikes Back.” Enhancing the dystopian world of the original (elegantly maintaining its retro-future look & feel) while also greatly expanding upon its central theme of what it truly means to be human. Ryan Gosling plays a replicant Blade Runner “K” (a synthetic hunting other synthetics) who learns of a secret child that may bridge the gap between the replicants and humans (or do they?). Harrison Ford returns as a now-retired, off-the-grid Deckard, and despite his shorter screen time, Ford delivers a far more interesting performance this time around. Like “Empire…” this movie so enriches the Blade Runner universe that the original now feels more like a detailed sketch compared to BR2049’s richer tableau. And despite its two and a half hour running time, it is never boring. Saw this one in theatrical release twice. Totally worth it, too.
A movie that I was also initially ambivalent toward turned out to be a surprisingly fun take on DC superhero movies. Ditching much of recent DC movie’s angst and embracing a kind of old-style, heroic optimism not seen much since 1978’s “Superman: The Movie,” Wonder Woman was a lot of fun from start to finish. Gal Gadot takes charge with equal parts strength, courage and a charming naivete. Chris Pine is also very memorable as Steve Trevor, the WW1 spy who enters Diana’s isolated isle of female warriors and draws Diana into ‘the world of men’; a dismal, grayer world enshrouded in war, death and misery. Diana vows to stop it all, and, for a moment, you almost believe that she could. My wife and I saw this one twice in theaters as well.
Takes the X-Men franchise into possible Academy Award territory (for acting, not FX). Sir Patrick Stewart is Oscar-nomination worthy in his finest outing as Prof. Xavier, and perhaps his best onscreen role since 1995’s “Jeffrey.” Hugh Jackman and wunderkind Dafne Keen round out a perfect trio. Only detriment; it’s a harder pill to swallow than most superhero movies. More “Mad Max” than Marvel.
* “War for the Planet of the Apes”
Damn-near perfect conclusion to the smartly done “Planet of the Apes” reboot trilogy. Andy Serkis takes the character of “Caesar” to a darker place, and is nothing short of magnificent. Steve Zahn (“Bad Ape”) provides welcome comic relief in what is essentially a POTA-version of “Stalag 17” (and dare I say it, even a bit of “Schindler’s List”). Despite this being a movie centered around talking CGI apes, there are performances that are as profound and heartfelt as anything done in Oscar nominated live-action. The day the Academy recognizes this, the sooner Andy Serkis will get his much-deserved Oscar. Like “Logan,” its a bit more brutal to watch than the previous two in the trilogy.
(and no, I didn’t forget Star Wars’ “The Last Jedi”. I had serious storytelling issues with that film that prevented me from including it a favorites list, as it was deeply unsatisfying to me personally. Hope to revisit that one more fully in a near-future post…)
Favorite Television (in no order of preference):
* Better Call Saul (Fox)
Season 3 amped everything up, and the friction between rival brothers Jimmy (future Saul Goodman) and Chuck McGill heads to a climactic courtroom showdown, which leads to a nail-biting finale. I adore the relationship with Jimmy and his long-suffering soulmate Kim. I’m almost afraid to see how it (ultimately) ends, since Kim is clearly not in “Breaking Bad.” Speaking of “Breaking Bad”, Giancarlo Esposito’s Gus Fring is back as well. This is a rare example of a prequel TV series done right. All-around kudos to stars Bob Odenkirk (Jimmy), Michael McKean (Chuck) and the too-often overlooked Rhea Seehorn.
* Doctor Who (BBC)
Despite a somewhat uneven year in storytelling, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and Pearl Mackie’s Bill were always highlights. And though I had issues with Bill’s somewhat premature (and brutal) exit, I was relieved that she got chance to amend it a bit in what was arguably the best Christmas Special of the series to date. “Twice Upon a Time” was a sentimental, Two-Doctor story (well, three if you count the brief appearance of Jodie Whittaker’s new female Doctor at the end) that jettisoned a lot of the robot Santa-type trappings nonsense and reminded us that, most importantly, the holiday was once a season of peace. Well done, Doctor. In a turbulent and divisive 2017, we really needed that…
Yes, the new CBS-All Access Trek series finally arrived…and, as all new Treks do, it brought many controversies as well. The first year was a little uneven in storytelling, and the characters took a bit of time finding their voices. But as an old man who remembered similar birthing pains with The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine , I was more than willing to give this new series a chance. And some of the characters have really started to click, particularly the wonderfully shady Capt. Lorca (Jason Isaacs), the brilliant Lt. Stamets (Anthony Rapp), the always-apprehensive Exec Saru (Doug Jones) and Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman). Series’ lead Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is coming along, but seems to function better as part of the ensemble IMO. This series takes great advantage of its higher production values and looks gorgeously cinematic.
* HUMANS (AMC in the US)
Once again, this is the little A.I. series from across the pond that could (which, itself, is based on a Swedish series). Much less esoteric and artsy than its more expensive American cousin Westworld, HUMANS’ 2nd year brought on the revolution hinted at in year 1 and delivered on multiple fronts; from advancing its own mythology of the synthetics, to adding new human characters, such as an American cybernetics genius (played by Carrie-Anne Moss) who deals with the loss of her daughter by using an artificial imprint of the girl’s mind in her OS. This series is much scrappier and quicker on its feet than the competition, but no less deep or philosophical. It asks many of the same big questions, but also delivers more answers. More people on this continent need to keep an eye on this show…
* The Exorcist (Fox)
Finally moving away from the story threads of the 1973 classic movie in S1, the second year begins fresh with the defrocked priest Marcus (Ben Daniels) and prodigal exorcist-in-training Father Tomas (Alfonso Herrera) on the run, literally performing an exorcism in the back of a stolen pickup truck (!) to eventually finding a demonic infestation in a single-parented foster home led by a magnificent, Emmy-worthy John Cho as Andy Kim (cast against type, but no less than brilliant). Season 2 is far more engaging than the slower burning S1, and amps up both the scares and the dramatic fireworks. If I had one criticism of this otherwise excellent horror series, it’s the increasingly X-Files-ish Vatican subplot. I wish the series would keep to its own simpler mission statement rather than go off on a Quixote-ish quest to save Catholicism itself. But that’s a minor nit in an otherwise excellent and rewarding horror series.
* Netflix’s “Stranger Things”
Season 2 of this Netflix series is still that same, wonderful hybrid of ‘80s Steven Spielberg and Stephen King, with many newer influences as well (including 1973’s “The Exorcist,” 1986’s “ALIENS” and even a bit of the Brat Pack movies). With all of these influences, you’d think it’d be tough for such a show to find its own voice, but the Duffer Bros. creation surefootedly maintains its own mythology as well. Not an easy balancing act, but “Stranger Things” does so with confidence and a charming young cast (arguably the best youthful ensemble since 1986’s “Stand By Me”). Can’t wait for season 3…
* “The Expanse”
From its painfully bleak beginnings in S1, kicks into high gear in S2 with faster-paced storytelling and fascinating new characters, including a conflicted Martian marine named Frankie Adams (Roberta Draper) who defects to Earth and offers everything she knows to the wonderfully complicated UN Secretary Christen Avasarala (an ever-brilliant Shohreh Aghdashloo, arguably the eternally gray moral compass of this complex series). The core ensemble aboard the rogue ship Rocinante (named after Don Quixote’s horse, appropriately) have also become an even stronger and tighter-knit group than before. Too bad I got into the show relatively late, (via Netflix’s DVD-rental wing, Discflix) but I plan to watch it in broadcast religiously when it returns for S3. The season finale “Caliban’s War” was simply amazing…
That ‘other’ Star Trek series, from Seth McFarlane and company. Started off a bit rocky, but stabilized along the way to end its inaugural season as a must-see TV show for me. Have to admit, some of the puerile, shoehorned-in jokes & one-liners do the series no favors, but the intelligent science fiction storytelling and glory-days-of-Star-Trek nostalgia go a long way. Nice to have a more ‘90s-friendly alternative to Star Trek Discovery…
That’s my list from 2017.
I know I’ve missed many great movies and series, but sadly, I’m only one guy with one set of eyes and ears, and can only see/hear so much. Ah, the limitations of the flesh…
But if you have any personal recommendations of your own? Feel free to add them in the comments section of this blog, or send me an email via the Contact section.
Here’s to 2018!