My Favourite Movies of 2017

Dang, it’s 2018 already. And I was just getting used to 2017…

The past year was an excellent one for movies, whatever it may have been like in other areas. I think I spent more time at the movie theatre in 2017 than in any other single year of my life, so narrowing down my favourite movies of the year to just five was a bit difficult. Here are the winners. (Spoiler alert: there are a lot of superheroes.)

5. War for the Planet of the Apes

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I’m still not entirely sure what made this movie stand out to me so much. Maybe it was the stark simplicity of its story, or the epic soundtrack, or the endearing characters, or even the cute little girl. But I think most of the credit, in the end, has to go to Andy Serkis’s magnetic performance as Caesar. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He made a movie about an ape seeking revenge against a human seem like so much more than the sum of its parts. What an emotional and thought-provoking end to a great trilogy.

4. Logan

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Speaking of magnetic performances, some of the year’s best acting made it into this final Wolverine movie. (Although I’m sure Disney will find a way to make it  less final.) Exploring the limits of what a superhero movie can do seemed to be a theme for this year’s crop of comic book movies, and Logan started things off right with a bloody, Western-style tale of growing old and passing on a legacy. It’s one of the darkest superhero movies in recent memory, but it’s also one of the most hopeful, and I felt that perspective was needed this year.

3. Wonder Woman

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Okay. Objectively speaking, I’m fully aware that Wonder Woman is not one of the year’s best movies. It overuses slow motion to an annoying degree, it has a lame villain, and its dialogue is extremely cheesy, especially towards the climax. I’m aware of those flaws, but personally, I also don’t care tuppence about them. Seeing this movie for the first time in the theatre was one of the most uplifting cinematic experiences of my life. Finally, after years of being a superhero fan, I got to watch a fun, inspiring, courageous hero on the big screen who had the same number of X chromosomes as I do. It’s been kind of a tough year for me, and I needed that little boost of encouragement even more than I realised at the time. Also, it was nice to have at least one DCEU movie that doesn’t suck.

2. Thor: Ragnarok

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The more I think about this movie, the more I become convinced that it’s actually brilliant. Director Taika Waititi took a bleak, dismal story about the end of an era for one of Marvel’s signature heroes, and turned it into one of the year’s funniest and most colourful action movies. And the truly amazing thing is that he did it without making said “end of an era” seem any less important or awe-inspiring. Horrible things happen in this movie, yes, but the hero still chooses to look on the bright side, so why shouldn’t the audience? When it comes right down to it, I’d rather laugh at the end of the world than face it with a frown.

1. Blade Runner 2049

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I didn’t give this film my highest grade when it first came out because there were things in it that bothered me. And I’m still not a huge fan of Jared Leto’s performance, and I still think the nudity hurts the movie’s cause in many ways. But this movie made me think–hard–about why those aspects bothered me so much, while I found other aspects so powerful. It challenged my expectations and assumptions about sci-fi movies in general. Blade Runner 2049 stayed with me long after I left the theatre, and it kept drawing me back. It’s easily one of the most gorgeous films I’ve ever seen, but more importantly, it has some of the most imaginative and original (yes, even though it’s a sequel) storytelling I’ve ever seen. And the main theme of its story is so risky, so counter-cultural, that I don’t expect to see it in a mainstream blockbuster again in my lifetime. Blade Runner 2049 dares to tell its audience of middle-class, advertisement-saturated Westerners: “You’re not special. And that’s okay.” That’s just one layer, of course–there are enough complex themes in this movie to fill an entire film studies course–but it’s what I needed to hear at this point in my mid-20s life, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Everything about this work, from the visuals to the music to the message, feels surprising and fresh to me, and I think it’s the 2017 movie that will stay with me the longest. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

There are plenty of runners-up, of course: Dunkirk, The LEGO Batman Movie, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, etc., but these five movies were the ones that made me feel the most…hopeful. To me, that’s one of the best things a movie can do.

Of course, because of my limited budget and current living situation in Nowheresville, USA, I was only able to see this year’s biggest blockbusters in the theatre. During the next few months, I’m hoping to discover some of the more obscure, indie flicks that I missed in 2017. I’m also hoping to try a few new things with this blog. Hopefully some of them will be worth reading.

Here’s to another great year of wizarding and watching the clicks!

 

 

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Blade Runner 2049

At the beginning of the year, I said I wasn’t going to review any sequels (except superhero-related ones). Well, I already broke that rule with War for the Planet of the Apes, and I’m about to break it again, because I can’t not talk about this movie.

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Blade Runner 2049
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Hampton Fancher and Michael Green
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas
Music by: Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer
Rated R

If you’ve seen the original Blade Runner, you know the setup. (If you haven’t seen the original Blade Runner, I’d highly recommend watching it before the sequel.) Thirty more years into the alternate future imagined there, Los Angeles is just as polluted, overcrowded, and full of the incredibly lifelike androids known as replicants. Ryan Gosling plays a blade runner named K, whose job description is the same as Deckard’s in the first movie: hunt down and kill–erm, excuse me, “retire”–rogue replicants. His job is a little easier, though, because only a few long-lived older replicants are still willing to rebel against their human masters. The newer models, the movie’s opening text tells us, are programmed to be more obedient. But during a run-of-the-mill investigation, K uncovers a secret that leads to a much bigger mystery, and ultimately causes him to question his own identity.

I am a fan of the original Blade Runner–up to a point. When I first watched the Final Cut (there are, like, five different versions of the movie, but that’s the only one I’ve seen), I fell in love with its bleak yet beautiful vision of the future, its neo-noir atmosphere, and its haunting soundtrack. It’s the movie that got me hooked on cyberpunk. But I felt the story left a lot to be desired. I didn’t care about any of the characters (not even Harrison Ford’s–and I love Harrison Ford), and the plot was a pretty basic detective story that, while entertaining, didn’t really seem to warrant all the philosophising and faux symbolism piled on top of it.

So I’m pleased to say that 2049 is better.First of all, as gorgeous as the first movie was, the sequel blows it away in terms of cinematography. With its rich colours, its desolate city landscapes and its shiny futuristic tech, it’s easily one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. Every shot feels like a work of art all by itself. And while the soundtrack isn’t quite as imaginative as the original, it still has plenty of lovely, synth-heavy melodies to add to the atmosphere.

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Radioactive wastelands have never looked better.

But more importantly, this movie has what the original lacked: a heart. Unlike his predecessor, K is a very sympathetic character despite his morally questionable job.  He’s a calm, stoic guy who seems to accept his role as a small cog in the big machine that preserves what passes for “order” in his society, but as the movie goes on, we find out that a part of him longs for a greater purpose in his life. In a world where human beings can be manufactured as easily as toilet seats (and get about the same amount of respect), K wants to be special, to feel that his life has meaning. It’s a desire most of us can relate to. And K’s not alone in this movie’s universe. His girlfriend, Joi, is also looking for more substance in her life, although her motives are a bit of a puzzle. Even the villains want to make their world a less artificial place–for their own twisted purposes, of course.  Even Deckard, when he shows up this time around, lets his gruff attitude slip often enough to reveal that he, too, longs for a genuine relationship with someone else. As one character says, “We’re all looking out for something real.” Between the excellent acting and the greatly improved story, I ended up caring deeply about most of the people in this movie–human, replicant and other. The original Blade Runner made me think, which is good; but this one made me feel.

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“You’ve never seen a miracle.”

You don’t have to be a film expert to tell this movie is a masterpiece of visual storytelling. But, like its predecessor, it’s a flawed masterpiece. A lot of people will probably balk at its length, which is close to three hours. I grew up on The Lord of the Rings extended editions and marathons of BBC miniseries, though, so the length really didn’t bother me. It’s somewhat slow-paced for a big blockbuster, but that’s because it needs to be in order to fully develop its characters and themes. And it has plenty of fist fights and explosions for those patient enough to wait for them. That being said, there are a couple of scenes I could have done without–mainly those involving Jared Leto as one of the main villains. Something about the way he talks just makes it hard for me to take the guy seriously. He came off a bit too much like a pop star trying to be “edgy,” rather than the evil genius he was supposed to be.

Speaking of scenes I could have done without…I did not go into this movie with high expectations regarding its representation of women. After all, in the original Blade Runner, the only female characters were literal sex objects, and the “romance” that drove much of the plot was questionably consensual at best. 2049 is a bit better in that area–in fact, it arguably has more plot-relevant female characters than male ones. But it also has  a giant hologram of a naked woman strutting through L.A. as an advertisement for a virtual girlfriend who is “Everything You Want to See” and “Everything You Want to Hear.” So…there’s that.

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And I thought Victoria’s Secret ads were bad.

To be fair, I’m pretty sure imagery like that (which occurs frequently throughout the film) is meant to highlight the shallowness and debauchery of this dystopian society, with its tendency to treat living, thinking beings like disposable objects. But here’s the thing about working in a visual medium: you can’t criticise the objectification of women and parade CGI-manipulated images of naked women through your movie at the same time. That’s contributing to the problem, not solving it. And while it may not be surprising in a Blade Runner sequel, it is pretty disappointing coming from the director behind a wonderful female-driven sci-fi film like Arrival.

But just because I disagree with some of the execution, that doesn’t mean 2049 has nothing to say worth listening to. Quite the contrary.

Many essays could be written–and will be, no doubt–about the many implications of this movie’s premise on issues like racism, classism, the ethics of A.I. and the mysteries of reproduction, just to name a few prominent themes. There’s no doubt that, despite the flying cars and highly advanced robots, the Blade Runner universe is bleak and miserable in ways that sometimes feel uncomfortably familiar.  The climate’s a wreck, whole cities have been turned into literal trash heaps or nuclear wastes, and a large section of the population is treated as sub-human slave labour…but at least those omnipresent hologram ads are still there to distract us with Coke, Sony products, and virtual girlfriends. ‘Murica?

But for me, the heart of this story is in K’s search for identity and purpose. He lives in a world so artificial it’s difficult to tell whether anything is real–even the characters’ own memories–and one of his main goals throughout the movie is to find out how much of his own life is genuine. And while he does get answers by the end of the film, it’s still up to him to decide how those answers will affect his identity. 2049, like its predecessor, spends a lot of time exploring what it means to be human, and it takes a much more definitive stance on the subject by the end. Without giving too much away, I think I can reveal one message I took away from this movie: you don’t have to be “special” in order to make a difference in the world. You just have to do the right thing.

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And sometimes you get your nose broken along the way.

There’s a lot more I could say, but to avoid spoilers and to give my typing fingers a rest, I’ll stop there. This is a movie that sticks in the brain, one that demands multiple viewings to fully unpack all its themes and character arcs. It may be bombing at the box office right now, just like its predecessor (you couldn’t ask for a more faithful sequel, honestly), but I have a feeling people will be talking about Blade Runner 2049 for many years to come.

And did I mention how pretty it is? ‘Cause it’s really pretty.

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SO PRETTY.

Grade: A-

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