2017 was an odd year for all of us. Outside, the world seems more divided than it ever has, though I can’t say I’ve felt that at home. People are still people — sometimes they do things I agree with, sometimes they don’t, but we all seem to get along pretty well here on the Kenai Peninsula.
It’s been an interesting year for movies, even locally, which isn’t something we can say that often. This year of our two theaters, the major, nationally owned theater sold out to another chain, though one much smaller and based a little closer to home. That change has been interesting, though it hasn’t seem to have solved the problem of the same movie being shown at both theaters at the same time. In fact, it might have even made it worse. We’re such a small community, it seems like the two theaters could work out a release schedule that works for everyone. There’re enough big budget films to spread around allowing room for smaller, less obvious choices. It seems to me that it is to neither theater’s advantage to play a game of chicken with every major film release, even if one theater believes it could run the other out of business by doing so.
If we want to continue to have plenty of choices here on the Peninsula, we have to support the theater that gives us unique options and hope that these competing businesses are able to work together instead of butting heads.
This is the point in the review where I typically lament the fact that smaller films never come here, but this year even some of the bigger ones haven’t arrived. “The Post,” “All the Money in the World” and “The Shape of Water” are all awards contenders and money-makers, but are no where to be found on our screens. Those films, in addition to “The Disaster Artist,” “Hostiles” and “I, Tonya” all look great, but won’t be found on the following list, unfortunately.
That’s not to say, however, that this was a bad year for movies. In fact, when going over my list, I realized I had twice as many films that I loved as hated, and the list of films that didn’t make the top ten included movies like “Dunkirk” and “War for the Planet of the Apes” — great, just not my favorites. This year’s Best includes 11 entries, and the Worst only nine. That certainly says something.
Edgar Wright’s propulsive car chase music video is ridiculously entertaining. Ansel Elgort is perfect as Baby and Lily James will make you fall in love. Wright is a perfect director for a film like this, where so much of the action has to synchronize with the music, keeping the action barreling along. I loved this movie, and will remember it, if for nothing else, as the last movie starring Kevin Spacey before everyone figured out what a despicable creep he apparently is. To be fair, a disturbingly large number of people apparently already were intimately aware of his creepiness.
“The Big Sick”
Kumail Nanjiani’s autobiographical romantic comedy was one I avoided for a while, mostly because I didn’t like the title. My loss, because it turns out this is one of the sweetest, funniest, and most honest movies I watched all year. Nanjiani is a real talent and his chemistry with Zoe Kazan is absolutely perfect. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano turn in beautiful performances as well, a nice surprise since I didn’t even know they were in it.
“Blade Runner 2049”
Who would have guessed that a sequel to a 35-year-old movie that only became popular years after its initial release would be something anyone would want to watch. With the amazing team of director Denis Villeneuve, actors Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, and Robin Wright, and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, this film turned out to be an edge of your seat, emotional thriller. A special shout out to relative newcomer Ana de Armas for bringing heartbreaking life to personal companion app Joi.
Can we just give Pixar and Disney all the money and have them make all the animated movies from here on out? No — I guess not. Laika did fabulous things with “Kubo” last year, and other studios do their best, but after seeing this fantastic phantasmagoric spectacle I was blown away. So funny, so sweet, and such an interesting, if well-worn, tale. I think my favorite part was seeing Frida Kahlo stage managing the ultimate afterlife extravaganza, starring dozens of versions of herself. Don’t miss this incredible film.
Jordan Peele’s full-length directoral debut is nothing short of brilliant. A horror film that both subtly skewers the underlying racism extant in society, and then proceeds to overtly skewer standard horror movie tropes at the same time. Daniel Kaluuya is excellent and Bradley Whitford, Allison Williams, and Catherine Keener are perfect. The movie is both scary and funny, without ever sacrificing either genre.
OK, this is a bit of a cheat. There were some great superhero films this year, and since I’m a sucker for these movies, I snuck a few in one category. “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” is one of those rare sequels that outshines the original, and I thought they found a really interesting use for icon Kurt Russel. “Thor: Ragnarok” was so funny. Director Taika Waititi dove headlong into the Marvel universe and proved he was more than a match. Jeff Goldblum was a great addition. And last, but not least, “Wonder Woman” was a blast. It showed that the DC universe is not a total waste of time — that with a great director, star, and script, the audience will come.
“Kong: Skull Island”
I thought this movie looked fun, but I had no idea how ridiculously entertaining it would be. The movie dives right into the action and never stops. Samuel L. Jackson makes for a tough but relatable villain and John C. Reilly brings a welcome dose of comic relief. Makes the Peter Jackson “Kong” movie look like it’s standing still.
What a surprise! I generally like heist movies, but would not have guessed that Channing Tatum teaming up with Adam Driver and Daniel Craig to rob a motor speedway would have been so touching. The movie is sharply written, perfectly balancing the comedy with the heart. Steven Soderbergh is a real master.
“Murder on the Orient Express”
This movie got middling reviews, but I bet few critics are including on their best of lists. I, however, appreciated director/star Kenneth Branagh’s attempt at good old fashioned old fashioned filmmaking. There is nothing ironic or winking about the straightforward approach to this classic tale, and it works marvelously. I can’t wait for “Death on the Nile.”
This was by far my favorite superhero movie of the year. It is a close contender for one of my favorite superhero movies ever. Effortlessly blending the John Hughes high-school comedy and the traditional Marvel action flick, director Jon Watts has come up with a movie that is pure fun. Tom Holland as Peter Parker is perfect.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
Don’t let the weird anti-hype fool you. This is a great “Star Wars” movie. Director Rian Johnson has given us something new — an entry in the series that feels somewhat unique, bearing the author’s stamp, while still staying true to the whole. Mark Hamill is excellent as is the rest of the extended cast, and Carrie Fisher actually got to do a little something with her last on-screen performance. And if nothing else, my kids absolutely love the Porgs.
I told you this was a particularly good year for movies. I couldn’t get out without mentioning both “Wind River” and “Logan.” “River” was a riveting mystery/thriller that offered up a nuanced look at reservation life and Jeremy Renner’s best performance to date. “Logan,” Hugh Jackman’s last portrayal of his iconic Wolverine character, is both blood-soaked and heartbreakingly sad. This is the most mature telling of a comic book character I’ve seen, and if it weren’t for a few scenes that simply go overboard, I would have put this much higher on the list.
“The Great Wall”
This hasn’t really been Matt Damon’s year. Both of his high concept, end-of-year prestige movies, “Downsizing” and “Suburbicon” got terrible reviews, and his big budget fantasy picture, “The Great Wall,” which finds him fighting lizard monsters in ancient China was a bust. The movie isn’t horrible, but maybe if he’d read the above synopsis, he could have avoided the embarrassment.
“The Fate of the Furious”
This was a like a big ol’ brake on what had been a high-octane out of control thrill fest. The eighth entry into the series found Dom sulking more than ever, Charlize Theron as a villain with absolutely nothing to do, and our heroes buddying around with people that had done nothing but murder and abuse them up until this point. I know these movies aren’t supposed to be high art, but they could at least make sense.
“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul”
It seems a little pointless to beat up on a kiddie movie that few people saw anyway, but I need to mention it because a.) the books are hilarious, b.) the previous films in the series are surprisingly sweet, and c.) both of my kids love them. Your kids may love these books and films as well, so be warned. This is dumb, often offensively so. My family did not enjoy this at all.
Like “The Great Wall,” this wasn’t an awful movie — it just wasn’t a good one. I feel kind of bad because Universal was obviously swinging for the fences with this film. They had an entire shared universe planned including The Bride of Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and even The Invisible Man. It’s not a bad idea, but this movie was so poorly written it’s embarrassing that a star as influential as Tom Cruise let it get as far as it did. Needless to say, the entire “Dark Universe” was shuttered shortly after this movie tanked.
“The Dark Tower”
So many Stephen King fans were surprised when this movie turned out to be an unwatchable mess, but I wasn’t. The book series it picks and chooses is a nearly unreadable mess, at least near the end. Some of the books are brilliant, but when an author writes himself into the story as a random side-character, you know things have gone off the rails.
“The Hitman’s Bodyguard”
I don’t know why I disliked this movie so much. Maybe it’s because both Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson are capable of so much more than this lazy, typical action comedy routine. This movie was so played, that I felt like I’d already seen it while I was watching it and now can’t even remember what exactly it was about — like my brain couldn’t be bothered to even take notes.
“Brawl in Cell Block 99” and “It Comes at Night” are both well-executed, well-acted and well-written. They are on this list because, despite all their positive attributes, they are insufferable downers. “Cell Block” is a dizzying spiral of violence as Vince Vaughn has to descend deeper and deeper into hell in order to rescue his girlfriend from an evil drug dealer. Vaughn’s performance is stellar, but I never want to watch it again. “It Comes at Night” is a post-apocalyptic thriller starring Joel Edgerton as a family man who lets strangers into his house with chilling consequences. Again — well put-together, but I guessed a short way into the film where it was going, and, to my dismay, it went there. Not for me.
This movie was OK — but for the hype and attention it’s drawn throughout the last few years, I was really disappointed. Affleck is OK as Batman, and Gal Gadot brings serious charm and skill as Wonder Woman. But AquaBro and the sulking Cyborg didn’t really do it for me, and this series proves once again that it doesn’t know what to do with Superman. At least Ezra Miller succeeds in bringing both laughs and humanity to The Flash. If this movie could have offered an even slightly better villain, it might have made the mediocre list.
Last but not least is “Ferdinand,” a movie critics hate and fans - at least those in my family, love. I, alas am a critic, but I kind of wish I could have watched this blatant attempt at creating a line of toys with unjaundiced eyes. There are funny parts, but it’s such a bizarre and convoluted departure from the book, that I just couldn’t stand it.
So there you have it — 2017 in a nutshell. Who knows what 2018 will bring, or who it will bring down. Let’s just hope that there are some good movies coming — if nothing else.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.