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The Movies/TV 8 Ball: The Top 8 Films of 2017 (So Far)

July 11, 2017 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas

Top 8 Films of 2017 (So Far)

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!

The 8 Ball Mid-Year in Review concludes this week, as we finish our look at the best and worst films released since the New Year. While last week showed us some of the worst movies to be put out in 2017 so far, there have been no shortage of great films as well. Innovative horror films and long-awaited sequels take their place alongside some of the biggest franchise entries to hit big screens in the past six months. This week we’re examining which movies have set the bar for cinema since January.

Caveat: If the film had its domestic theatrical release this year, it was eligible. I have yet to seen everything that’s been released to date in 2017 and some of the films I’ve yet to see that may have potentially made the list include It Comes At Night, The Founder, The Big Sick and The Lost City of Z. Now, it is worth noting that I am well-aware this list is blockbuster-heavy. This will drastically change by the end of the year; that is simply the nature of release schedules that the best smaller-budget films are typically saved to the end of the year in order to allow them to be fresh in peoples’ minds for award season. By July, the summer movie season has been in play a while and most of the more enjoyable and higher-caliber films have been built as massive money-makers. This isn’t to say that the only good films to come out have been blockbusters, only that it is Hollywood’s focus through the first part of the year.

And for those keeping track, I’m now up to sixty-six films from 2017 thus far, which puts me only slightly behind the sixty-eight I had seen at this point in 2016.

Just Missing the Cut

Split
Spider-Man: Homecoming
The Lego Batman Movie
The Fate of the Furious
The Belko Experiment

#8: T2 Trainspotting

First up on our list is perhaps the most surprising, because it was a film I never thought we needed. Trainspotting was the film that put Danny Boyle, Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle and Jonny Lee Miller on the map, entrancing audiences with its crime capers and tale of five friends who were navigating addiction and life in 1990s Edinburgh. It is a great film and still stands up as such to this day, flipping its nose at commercial culture and the materialism of the 1980s and early 1990s, but despite the fact that a sequel novel was written, it never felt like a movie that needed follow-up. Trainspotting tells a complete story and any attempt to continue that tale carried a severe risk of seeming like a cash-in.

Fortunately, that’s not the case with T2 Trainspotting. With elements and characters taken from the sequel book Porno, John Hodge’s script follows as a natural continuation of Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begby’s story while still staying relevant to the current times. Boyle walks a very careful line between nostalgia for the original film and finding a new tone for the new film; it still has a lot of frenetic energy but feels more mature, like some of the characters. McGregor, Carlyle, Miller and Ewen Bremner fit comfortably back in their roles and have the same chemistry this time around, with plenty of good returns and the addition of some great characters like Anjela Nedyalkova as Sick Boy’s girlfriend Veronika. The film functions not only as an effective finale for the characters, but also as a well-done self-contained story in its own right. T2 may not be as indisputably great as its predecessor but if all revivals could be as good as this one, I’d be perfectly fine with Hollywood’s obsession with revisiting its past successes.

#7: Colossal

Many of the more eye-catching films of the last several years have featured giant monsters of one kind or another reigning destruction on a city around the world. Perhaps the most interesting film of 2017 thus far follows that trend, but far from a blockbuster or an action film. Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal features a battle between a kaiju and a giant robot in South Korea as one of its primary plot points. But instead of that being the point of the film, the sci-fi dramedy uses that conflict as a parallel for the true themes of the movie. Anne Hathaway delivers a fantastic performance as a woman named Gloria who, reveling in a drinking problem, loses her boyfriend and comes back to her hometown to reunite with a childhood friend. That trip home connects strangely to the appearance of a giant monster in South Korea, and Gloria is forced to uncover the connection between her and the monster as well as resolve some very ugly truths about herself and her connection to the people in her life.

If that synopsis seems vague, that’s because I meant it to be. This is a film where the plot points are best discovered on your own but suffice it to say that Vigalondo’s script uses the kaiju aspects to tell a dark and resonant but sometimes quite funny about abusive relationships, addiction and taking responsibility for yourself. Hathaway is often at her best when playing morally-flawed characters and this film is no exception. It helps that she’s surrounded with an able cast including Jason Sudeikis, who goes against type as her childhood friend all grown up, and Dan Stevens as her ex-boyfriend. Vigalondo never tries to make the metaphors of the plot subtle, but this film doesn’t need subtlety to soar. It’s rare that you can find a film that knows how far it needs to lean into genre elements without going all the way and still manages to hit serious themes, but Colossal is that kind of film and it’s very well worth seeing.

#6: Get Out

It’s a neat trick to create a horror film that has a socially-relevant message. Sure, everyone points to films like Romero’s first three Living Dead movies, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The People Under the Stairs as examples of where it worked, but hundreds more have tried to speak to important themes under the scares and have failed hard at one of the two parts. But hitting both sides of the fright/commentary equation is just one of the things that makes Get Out one of the best films of the year. Jordan Peele’s Stepford Wives-inspired tale of a black man who meets his white girlfriend’s parents and gets drawn into something terrifying is not only a film with a lot to say and a lot of nerves to hit, but it’s also told in a way that honors the genre’s past while paving the way for an exciting future.

Most of the film’s success, of course, comes from Peele who immediately stamps his name on the list of some of the most exciting voices working behind the camera here. Peele’s script taps into several sociocultural topics have been important for a long time, but tackles how they’ve changed today. With Daniel Kaluuya providing a very good performance as lead character Chris and the likes of Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones and more playing the white liberals, whose own prejudices are obvious in their dismissive progressivist attitudes, Peele has plenty to work with and he makes a film that is uncomfortable in all the right ways for just about everyone. It helps, of course, that the movie maintains its dark sense of humor throughout; this isn’t a preachy activist film and can easily be enjoyed just as a straight-up horror-thriller. Peele knows the horror genre quite well and brings plenty of technical skill to that aspect, while knowingly playing off of and honoring well-known horror films of the past. It’s easy to make a film full of jump scares; it’s much harder to make a movie that genuinely unnerves most while still playing to mainstream audiences. Peele makes it happen, and that is what elevates Get Out to the top of the horror pile for the first half of the year.

#5: John Wick: Chapter 2

I’ve said this before and it remains true: John Wick remains one of the best cinematic surprises of the past few years. Keanu Reeves made his comeback in the October 2014 action flick, a fun, exciting and take-no-prisoners shoot-em-up that captured moviegoers’ attention despite very little promoting until the last couple weeks before its release. The film became a nice little hit for Lionsgate and made directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch into hot properties with their directorial debut. It wasn’t a surprise that a sequel to the film was scheduled soon after, but there was an entirely logical question to be asked: could they possibly replicating the success in another chapter?

As it turns out, the answer was a resounding “Yes.” John Wick: Chapter Two sees Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, along with writer Derek Kolstad, expand the shadowy assassin’s world established in the first film to great effect. The titular character is one of Reeves’ best roles and he gets tested in new ways thanks to the film’s innovative creation of set pieces. The cast of characters is more colorful this time around, with Common and Ruby Rose providing memorable antagonists to John and Laurence Fishburne and Lance Reddick joining John Leguizamo and Ian McShane as the people that the protagonist relies upon. The action is as thrilling as ever, with the battle in an art gallery topping pretty much everything that happened in the first film in terms of stylish action. This is exactly the kind of film that fans of the original were asking for and I have little doubt that the planned third film will deliver as well.

#4: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Speaking of films that had high expectations to deliver…I don’t think any sequel had as high a bar to clear this year so far than Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The first film in the space-faring Marvel Cinematic Universe series is counted as many fans’ favorite entry in the entire MCU to date, and for good reason. James Gunn created the most purely fun space epic in a very long time, bringing the characters of Star-Lord, Groot, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and the rest to life and hitting the right combination of action, humor and drama for a real popcorn entertainment movie with staying power. Of course, this being Marvel there were always going to be plans for another film with Star-Lord and his crew, and even with Gunn back at the helm it would be completely forgivable to wonder if he could do it again.

Luckily, Gunn and his cast delivers by knowing where the delicate balance is between hitting the first film’s high notes and going its own way. Guardians Vol. 2 can aptly be called a remix of sorts of the first film. While it’s similar in form and theme to the first movie, it does so in a way that shakes it all up and puts them through a different permutation of those themes. That goes for everything from the music-laden action sequence (this time hilariously more glimpsed than seen as Groot is the focus) to the shift of the filial theme to fathers and sisters. Kurt Russell does fine work as Peter Quill’s father Ego the Living Planet, yet another improbable cosmic Marvel character given life, while Gamora and Nebula’s hostile relationship gets plenty of room to shine. Michael Rooker steals plenty more scenes as Yondu and the main cast play off each other amazingly. While some of the MCU films have sagged their second time out, Guardians is still going quite strong.

#3: Wonder Woman

Last week’s “Worst Of” list contained a lengthy debate in the comments about Wonder Woman being overrated, so I know this pick is going to have some people rolling their eyes. And you’re welcome to do that. The DC Extended Universe film is certainly one of the biggest conversation-makers of the summer movie season and is currently being hailed as the film that has turned things around for the DC Extended Universe. I’m not 100% certain that the latter statement is true; after all, one movie won’t save a whole film universe and if Justice League sucks, this films’ success may be for naught. But for my money, Wonder Woman is not only the best DCEU film by a long shot, it sits in the upper echelon of superhero movies overall.

To be clear, like pretty much every film on this list Wonder Woman isn’t a flawless film. Very few movies are. This one’s flaws lie in yet another somewhat CG-laden climax and a villain reveal that is perhaps too telegraphed for my tastes. But everything else about this movie is more or less spot-on. Gal Gadot nails everything about Diana here, proving that the praise for her in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice wasn’t unjustified. Gadot nails both the naivety and optimism of the Amazonian heroine, but also her willpower and determination to do what is right. Patty Jenkins is stellar at the helm here, directing what may just be the most anti-war action film in the past few decades. Jenkins never shies away from showing us the horror of World War I, nor is it lost on Diana as she is faced with the atrocity of both chemical and trench warfare. She literally fights the very idea of war itself and, unlike several other recent comic book actionfests, doesn’t just add her own sizable bill of destruction to the damage (one or two buildings aside). Chris Pine is wonderful as Steve Trevor, handling much of the film’s humor, and while Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock aren’t given huge backstories they come off as far more than one-note supporting characters. Wonder Woman is a triumph for DC in just about every way and makes for one of my favorite superhero films of the year.

#2: Baby Driver

Baby Driver is Edgar Wright’s most original film yet, without a doubt. Wright is a favorite of many cinephiles because like Quentin Tarantino, he is a fan of movies first and his loves are similar to our loves as moviegoers. Those loves are what made Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and The World’s End become such adored movies by many students of the art of filmmaking. With his latest film, Wright takes his love and seeks to reinvent the heist film, a genre that has just as many tropes as zombie, buddy cop, alien invasion and video game movies. And he pulls it off with ease.

Heist films often have a tendency to try and find the balance between style and cool on one side, and plot logic and narrative credibility on the other. That’s something that lesser entries often fail to make work. In Baby Driver, Wright makes the style, music and cool factor everything about the film, but in the best possible way. With Ansel Elgort providing an A-List turn as the titular getaway driver Baby, Wright surrounds him with a cast of incredibly slick actors playing instantly memorable characters. Jon Bernthal and Jamie Foxx play intimidating to the hilt as the two robbers who aren’t quite on board with Baby’s eccentricities, Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez are the epitome of cool as a Bonnie and Clyde-esque duo and Kevin Spacey guides the whole thing ably as the mastermind behind the robberies. Lily James has plenty of sparks with Elgort as Debora, a young waitress who inspires Baby to want to get away from the business. Baby Driver is about more than just the characters though; it’s about style in everything. Wright runs through a score to die for any uses it to assemble an immaculate sound design, while the action scenes are as much fun as films with twice its budget and explosions. Baby Driver is well aware of how awesome it is and that may turn some off, but for everyone else this is a surefire winner and stands among the absolute best films of the first half of 2017.

#1: Logan

Last year, I couldn’t believe that a Fast & Furious film had me exiting a theater with a bit of a misty feeling in my eyes. This year, it was Logan that captured such an honor. People always talk about how superhero films aren’t really art; they’re just highly choreographed popcorn fest designed to bring in huge profits for the studios. And sure, there’s some truth to that statement — and there’s also nothing wrong with a film that is just out to entertain — but then every now and then a film comes along to completely shut those arguments down and make the case that a superhero film can absolutely be art at its best. Logan is a classic example of that film. There are a lot of reasons that Logan was poised for greatness before it ever got released. Hugh Jackman has always been most strongly associated with the role that turned him into a worldwide phenomenon in 2000’s X-Men, and fans have always appreciated that the actor was a genuine fan of the character. But of course, that didn’t stop X-Men Origins: Wolverine from being a disaster. It took more than just a star who cared to make the Wolverine films great; it took the right script and the right director to come on board.

Those elements came from Michael Green as the writer and James Mangold as the director. The latter helped redeem the film series with his work in making The Wolverine miles ahead of X-Men Origins, and when the former came on board it was a match made in heaven. Green, Mangold and Jackman helped to craft a film that not only delivers plenty of thrills (and with an R rating, nonetheless) but also touched on some serious themes of guilt, loss and redemption that have long been a core part of Logan as a character. Jackman’s world-weary performance in the title role is his best work yet, with Patrick Stewart having a blast as a bitter old Charles Xavier. Dafne Keen is of course the real revelation here; as young Laura, she is a force of nature and captures the ferocity and vulnerability required in a surprisingly difficult role. I’m still not entirely sure if Fox won’t eventually convince Jackman to return by backing up a money-filled truck of truly epic size to his driveway, but if this truly is Jackman’s swan song than he ended on the highest note he possibly could. To me, there’s little question that Logan is the best film of 2017…so far, anyway.

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.