I apologize for staying away from this blog for so long, but I have still been watching movies! To prove it, I’ve ranked almost every film I watched that was released in 2017, along with a little review for each. I’ve excluded a few documentaries and some Indian films that you may notice in my Letterboxd diary, and there are several big awards contenders that are still in limited release (Phantom Thread, I, Tonya, and The Post immediately come to mind) that I have not seen yet but would likely be in my top 10 or 20.
2017 may have been a terrible year for the world at large, but it was a great year at the movies. Just because a movie is in the bottom half of this list, doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. This list will be updated periodically throughout January to include the prestige films still in limited release.
80. THE SNOWMAN
That what is arguably the worst film of the year couldn’t be saved by my predominant male crush (and accomplished actor) Michael Fassbender only better helps to illustrate the true disaster that is The Snowman. The cinematography and atmosphere along with Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson’s performances aren’t bad when taken on their own, but terrible filmmaking decisions abound in almost every disjointed, nebulous scene (likely caused and compounded by an abbreviated shooting schedule).
78. TULIP FEVER
It is true what you have heard. Tulip Fever is a mess.
I saw this film prior to Weinsteingate and went primarily because of my awareness of this film’s famously troubled history. As many Weinstein projects famously do, this film was reportedly the subject of a lot of post-production tweaking mandated by Harvey Weinstein himself, and what I saw on screen was a disjointed mess that didn’t make any sense; a period sex drama that wasn’t sexy and half a caper film that was missing most of the important information. Bad enough to be notable, certainly not bad enough to recommend; and in today’s media climate, absolutely toxic.
77. TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT
You may want to buy a copy of this film if you have a huge new home theater system you need to show off or test, but apart from that this film has very little entertainment value. The Last Knight continues the Michael Bay franchise’s penchant for being technically ambitious but artistically careless. The fanciest cameras in the world only enable Bay, instead of saving him from himself.
76. THE MUMMY
RIP Dark Universe (2017-2017)
This film was rotten to the core, and never had a chance. The Mummy was designed to serve as a springboard into a new cinematic universe based on the Universal Monsters, and if you think that sounds ridiculous, you’re not the only one. This feels like a shallow corporate product without much of a hint of a personality, designed to hit the beats necessary to set up countless sequels that nobody will ever see. Even Tom Cruise, one of my problematic favorites, brings nothing to this.
Yes, of course Geostorm is bad. Unfortunately, its horrendous release timing in relation to 2017’s disastrous hurricane season is the most remarkably bad thing about it. Otherwise, this serves mostly as a boring knockoff of the mega-disaster films we saw so much in the 90’s and 00’s. Independence Day (or even The Day After Tomorrow) this ain’t, and what is left instead is a lot of stupid dialogue, thin plotting and useless characters, and not nearly as much geostorm-ing as you would expect. Possibly worth it for the countdown clocks liberally sprinkled throughout the final act screaming “TIME TO GEOSTORM.”
74. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES
There’s some fun to be had in watching the Pirates franchise try to one-up itself in the Rube Golbergian craziness its action sequences, but once you get past the elaborate physics gags it’s painfully obvious that this hollow franchise is about to crumble into little pieces and be swept out to sea. And eaten by a Kraken. And probably resurrected in 10 years. Alas.
73. THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD
A weird mash-up of buddy comedy and pulpy Euro-action, this film will be most notable for somehow staying at #1 at the American box office for three weeks straight. It’s a moderately entertaining paycheck movie for all involved, and not much more.
72. THE DARK TOWER
The last thing a 90-minute major summer movie should be is boring, but that’s only the first of its myriad sins. The Dark Tower represents an attempt to glom together elements from the entire breadth of Stephen King’s mammoth fantasy series and make it look like a YA movie, which is as awful and pointless as it sounds. Matthew McConaughey hamming it up as the villain and Idris Elba being Idris Elba aren’t near enough to save this confusing mess.
71. TABLE 19
Throughout my life, there have been few things I have hated more than going to weddings. I’ve always hated weddings. If there was ever a low-profile lightweight comedy that was going to land for me, it should have been this one. Unfortunately, Table 19’s cute premise centering around a table of social outcasts at an otherwise chummy wedding is not enough to buoy an entire feature; the quirky and winning cast including Anna Kendrick, Tony Revolori, Stephen Merchant and June Squibb aren’t enough to save what turns into a somewhat joyless exercise. The more bitter you are, the better shot you have at enjoying this awkward tonal clash; I’m just not sure what the point would be.
70. KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD
A very promising first few minutes (embedded above), followed by almost two more hours of predictable Guy Ritchie drudgery. This marks yet another would-be franchise starter that takes time that should be spent telling a story, and instead sets up movies that will never be made. It also reeks of post-production story changes, as a few characters exist in the film with little to nothing to do. This is on top of the fact that the medieval setting and Ritchie’s bro-ish swagger are, at best, strange bedfellows. Watch the opening sequence and continue about your day.
69. THE GREAT WALL
All films are, to some extent or another, a product of commerce. As 2017’s rocky box office performance has indicated, with more options than ever audiences are more fickle and use quality as more of a determinant of how their entertainment dollars will be spent. This paradigm rewards good work, but the sort of high-dollar, CG-heavy, explosion-y by-the-numbers corporate-product blockbusters that Hollywood has been churning out for the past decade or two are not the sure bets they once were. Case in point: The Great Wall.
The premise of this Chinese-American coproduction sounds straight out of an international corporate conference call – Matt Damon, along with a few other recognizable Westerners like Willem Dafoe – go to the Great Wall of China and mostly stand at the sidelines as the might of an ancient Chinese army attempts to hold off an invasion of weird alien dog things. Does that sound generic? Don’t worry, different parts of the Chinese army are decked out in matching primary colors! The Great Wall perhaps stands closest in form and content to the later Transformers or Fast & Furious movies – designed to play as broadly as possible to the widest available international audience – but it’s so broad that it lacks any soul of its own.
68. THE BOSS BABY
Poor Matt Damon. He stars in the two most tone-deaf, misjudged movies of the year: Suburbicon, a 50’s-set black comedy about crime in the suburbs that was awkwardly saddled with a B-plot about racism that should have stayed on the cutting room floor. Downsizing is equally uncomfortable, but it has just enough self-awareness to make the discordant tone both more bothersome and harder to pin down.
The societal allegory is obvious: in the future, people can shrink themselves down to a tiny fraction of their normal size; this is ostensibly to help the environment, but in reality it is because wealth is magnified at that size and a middle-class schlub can suddenly afford a tiny mansion. This premise is explored a fair bit in the opening act, but once the film quickly jettisons Damon’s downsized everyman from new wealth to a familiarly drab existence, the gear switch to societal commentary is botched terribly and the film stumbles along for another hour and a half with no clear sense of purpose; its big ideas are squandered. Damon plays a character so useless and frustrating he brings the whole film. The film doesn’t even bother making many jokes about scale, a clear missed opportunity.
66. GOING IN STYLE
Going in Style serves as a great way to get Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine in the same place and riffing off each other. While this in itself is delightful, it’s not enough to sustain this lightweight comedy that feels tailor-made for your next Delta flight.
65. THE BELKO EXPERIMENT
This one’s for the midnight horror crowd only. If a take on Battle Royale in an office building sounds appealing to you, this movie will probably appeal to you. If you’re on the fence, there is nothing in this movie that will win you over. It’s bloody, ugly, morally bankrupt and, in a bit of a surprise considering the screenplay was written by James Gunn – it’s not even particularly funny. Make the decision that’s best for you, here.
64. JUSTICE LEAGUE
If nothing else, I will grant Justice League this: it could have come out much, much worse.
This film’s fate was likely sealed as soon as Zack Snyder’s name was attached, and several turbulent years, a new director and reportedly $250-300 million later it has crossed the finish line damaged and smoking but somehow intact. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Justice League is a good movie, but it at least manages to introduce a bunch of characters, throws in a few jokes, come in at two hours and still make sense, and doesn’t take many egregious missteps.
Justice League crossed a low bar, but maybe I should be thankful that it at least did that. The DCEU films that aren’t Wonder Woman all come from a compromised position, and we can only hope that this film serves as the uncomfortable but necessary corrective. Had DC played their cards right from the beginning, Justice League could have been a huge event. Instead, it’s something a little more complicated and less satisfying.
63. THE GREATEST SHOWMAN
I’m pretty sure I asked myself, “what the fuck am I watching?” more during The Greatest Showman than any other film this year. This movie is bonkers- an original film musical, a period piece with modern music that sounds like it was written for a theme park with messaging that sounds like it was cooked up in a corporate boardroom, and a glistening vehicle for the shining beacon of humanity that is Hugh Jackman. The musical sequences are sort of worth seeing, and everything in between is disposable mush. Even though this is new material, the film is nonsensical and feels like a three-hour production shoehorned into a 100-minute movie. I was both entertained and bewildered.
62. THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS
One of my most gaping cinematic blind spots is the back portion of the ‘Fast & Furious’ film franchise. I’ve seen the first three installments (The Fast… 2 Fast… Tokyo Drift). but from what I’ve heard, the rest that I skipped are the good ones. Perhaps I went into the eighth chapter in Universal’s cash-machine franchise underserved by not having a better knowledge of the franchise’s convoluted soap-opera plot or what it looks like when the action is really firing on all cylinders. Maybe I wasn’t in the right headspace, but I never connected with this film.
I used to work at theme parks, and 8 Fast 8 Furious reminds me a lot of the rides and shows you see there: very loud, very obvious; everything and everyone is playing big and broad and to the back of the room for the biggest possible (global) audience. This broad aim is what makes the franchise financially successful, but it’s also what makes it so impersonal: the F&F series is the wedding DJ of the movie world.
I normally like to give points for ambition, but Suburbicon should have aimed a little lower. Originating as a long-shelved Coen Brothers script, in the hands of George Clooney it has arrived in the world as a snarling, two-headed Frankenmovie; the Coens story of a suburban family falling apart at the seams competes with a side story about racial unrest that effectively derails the film with its obliviousness. These stories might have had a chance as separate films, but awkwardly mashed together they don’t amount to much of anything besides a tonal disaster.