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Meanwhile, back in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, director Ryan Coogler is schooling everyone on how it's supposed to be done. The Oakland-born filmmaker made waves, huge waves, right out of the gate with his feature debut, Fruitvale Station (2013), and then again with the Rocky spin-off, Creed (2015). There's a natural apprehension anytime an up-and-coming filmmaker steps in to take on a blockbuster project, but Black Panther, Coogler's first endeavor into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, defiantly puts any doubts to rest. The film successfully sets a new bar for not only comic book movies, but also action movies as a whole. Smart, stylish, and with a ton at work under the surface, Black Panther is an exhilarating addition to the MCU and one more indication that Coogler is a filmmaker worth taking note of.
The Taken series of movies allowed for Liam Neeson's transition into an action star, an idea that has only been solidified by the once-dramatic actor's collaborations with director Jaume Collet-Serra. Films like Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night have not only entertained action-craving audiences with high-octane thrills, they've established Neeson's place as one of the go-to action stars of the modern era. The latest movie to come from this filmmaker-actor collaboration, The Commuter, is an action-thriller loaded with that particular brand of Neeson badassery. Despite a clichéd and overexposed narrative that weighs it down, the film delivers precisely what fans of the newfangled, action star expect and ends up being a fun time at the movies. Yes, you will see Liam Neeson punching more than a few unfortunate souls in the face.
Another year, another stellar slate of motion pictures seeing release. Despite what others might say about it (once again) being an off year at the movies, there were definitely some true winners worth seeking out. All you had to do was find them. Films that moved us, resonated with us, and out-and-out blew us away all saw release in 2017, so much of them, in fact, that, as with previous years at the cinema, it was difficult coming up with the 10 best. Here you will find my Top 10 Films of 2017, those motion pictures that spoke to me more than others, but someone else's Top 10 could just as easily be a completely different set of movies. It's a testament to just how strong a year is for movies that the Best Of lists are so diverse (view Adam's here).
A closeup shot of Tonya Harding's skate crushing a lit cigarette serves as a visual representation of the figure skater as a whole in I, Tonya, a biography of her life and the events that led to her controversial end in the sport. Harding was a force in the skating world: unrefined, rebellious, and unapologetic but with a raw talent that world had never seen before or since. It makes sense Harding's tenure in the figure skating world ended in controversy. I, Tonya, directed by Craig Gillespie, doesn't shy from the darker turns her life took, the film's screenplay working from rumor and the unreliable narration of the people around her. It's a stunning story, dark and comical in equal turns, and the film relays the events in splendid fashion as well as giving us a star-making turn by Australian actress Margot Robbie as the eponymous character.
It doesn't take much knowledge of the horror genre to realize a final chapter hardly means anything. Just as many franchises that have had a "final chapter" have carried on with gleeful bloodletting as if nothing of finality has ever even occurred. So it's no surprise the Saw series has returned. Seven years after the series' apparent conclusion, the games are rigged back up, the unwilling participants are again in imminent peril, and the mysteries surrounding the Jigsaw killer and his legacy are at it once again. While the return of this franchise could have been used to shake things up, though, those traps and the mystery they bring offer little freshness or a sense of the new to the proceedings. Fans of the series will be happy with the franchise's return, but the Spierig Brothers' Jigsaw and its latest game won't be winning over any new contestants.
Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead are a filmmaking duo that have quietly made some of the best genre films the indie world has seen in recent memory. Their first film, Resolution, switched up the game when it came to stories about storytelling, and Spring, for all its interesting & intelligent monster movie elements, is a heartfelt and beautiful tale of love. Their latest, The Endless, goes back to a storytelling well the team dipped into with their first film, but it plays on such an elaborately greater level that it becomes a beast completely unto itself. The Endless is a horror/sci-fi film like nothing the cinematic world has seen thus far and only serves to prove Benson & Moorhead as some of the strongest voices in the world of indie cinema.
A heist-style drama about genius high school students and their task to pull off the ultimate, cheating scam on behalf of dozens of wealthy peers doesn't quite sound like the nail-biter Bad Genius ends up pulling off, but here we are. The Thai film we do get, which is directed by the very talented Nattawut Poonpiriya, not only brings with it a whip-smart screenplay, it's an incredibly intense caper loaded with crackling dialogue and impressive performances that ranks up there with recent, instant classics like Moneyball and The Social Network. Poonpiriya keeps your attention from beginning to end and ends up delivering one of the tautest thrillers (without really being a thriller) to come along in some time.
Sometimes when transferring a novel to a film, the best way to go is a straight, no-frills adaptation. The author has said all that needs to be said on the subject, and the job the filmmaker undertakes is simply bringing that source material to life through visual representation. With so many adaptations of the works of Stephen King already made - and many more just on the horizon - it's refreshing to see a film based on his works sticking so closely to the book. Enter Gerald's Game, based on the 1992 novel, directed by Oculus and Hush director Mike Flanagan. A streamlined adaptation, the film hits with surprising intensity and delivers ample amounts of atmosphere and scares. It also boasts a career-best performance from Carla Gugino, who aids in raising Gerald's Game to the levels of some of the very best Stephen King adaptations.
Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos is quickly becoming the master of the subtle, upsetting burn. He first cocked heads with 2009's Dogtooth and brought the same level of weirdness and dry, uncomfortable humor in 2015's The Lobster. His latest, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, is his most accomplished work to date, a tale of the question of morality in a seemingly peaceful, domestic setting and with a rather large dose of that dry humor he gleefully uses against his own audience. Lanthimos' films don't hand deliver answers, instead forcing the viewer to figure it out along the way all the while asking themselves the very same questions playing out on screen. Sacred Deer is no exception and could go down as the filmmaker's masterpiece.
Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier is an artist whose works are always delivered with a healthy dose of message. With Oslo, August 31st (2011) and Louder than Bombs (2015), the filmmaker broke onto the scene ready to force the viewers of his films into deep reflection and meticulous thought. It's no surprise that Trier's latest film, Thelma, comes with that same level of analysis but with an increasingly engaging, sci-fi/horror tale to go along with it. Thelma is a slow burn film, but what starts out as a low simmer eventually builds into a rolling boil, all of which is presented to the viewer with outstanding execution. It's the kind of horror story that keeps the viewer's skills of dissection at work long after the film is over.
There is as much bad as there is good in The Hitman's Bodyguard, the latest in the recent slew of buddy action-comedies that have been barreling down the pike. Thank you for that, Shane Black. While that appreciation is genuine, there is a certain lull this particular sub-genre has quickly slid into, and there are definitely prerequisites an entry into this sub-genre appear to have to meet to satisfy some audiences. The Hitman's Bodyguard has no problem meeting all those prerequisites, but, while the buddies at play here (Samuel L. Jackson as the hitman and Ryan Reynolds as the bodyguard) seem to be having a blast with their back-and-forth verbal spars, the overall cheapness and familiarity of the film leaves plenty of room for improvement. At the very least, rest assured that Jackson drops a plethora of "motherfuckers".
When it comes to telling a story about war, the filmmaking game has been hitting many of the same strides for a couple of decades now. Ever since 1998's Saving Private Ryan and the opening scene set on Omaha Beach, war movies, especially those set during World War II, have been satisfied retreading that same water, rolling with similar tides, giving us much of what we've already seen before. It takes a true craftsman in the game to deliver something fresh but still maintain a sense of scope, compassion, and intensity. That craftsman, apparently, is Christopher Nolan, who has been reshaping genres and defying expectations since his 2000 thriller, Memento, floored audiences with its disjointed structure. Nolan is the craftsman, and Dunkirk, a WWII movie unlike any seen or experienced before, is the stunning result of his craft.