The Year’s Best (So Far)
Note: These do not include films I would have loved to see but didn’t come anywhere near me and whose names I have forgotten. Also movies like “Get Out” which got excellent reviews but which I have yet to catch up on, and ones like “Post” and “The Darkest Hour,” which sound like surefire Oscar-bait but have yet to open where I live.
1. Lady Bird – In Greta Gerwig’s autobiographical coming-of-age film, Saouise Ronan (likely) completes her trilogy of Oscar nominations. Portraying a Catholic high school senior and reluctant resident of Sacramento, Calif., Saouise spends the movie sparring with her mother, Laurie Metcalf, who is juggling financial worries, a full-time job and a depressed husband (Tracy Letts), as she learns the same life lessons most onscreen teens learn but in an unexpectedly fresh way. (Note to Oscar presenter – it rhymes with inertia.)
2. The Big Sick – In Kumail Nanjiani’s and wife’s Emily Gordon’s autobiographical film of how they met, fell in love, and then had their relationship tested by a twist that involves a hospital – and seems too bizarre to be true. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter play the parents of Zoe Kazan’s character (the girlfriend) and also do a great job.
3. It (2017) – You’ll float, too in this remake of Stephen King’s horror novel – but first you’ll get the pants scared off of you, as you watch Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) gleefully terrorize the small town of Derry, with only a band of brave young “losers” to foil him. With a sequel to come to do full justice to this tome.
4. Dunkirk – In my review, I struggled to come up with a verb that appropriately described my viewing experience. “Enjoyed” and “rewarding” seemed tasteless. “Grueling but worthwhile” is closer to watching this two hour plus film about how Belgian, France and British soldiers are rescued from seemingly inevitable disaster by the Germans in World War II.
5. Patriots Day – Great retelling of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, starring Boston native Mark Wahlberg, and a good cast, including J.K. Simmons as a police officer seeking justice.
6. Good Time – Uneven but deserves full marks for originality. Robert Pattinson plays a lowlife criminal who drags his mentally challenged adult brother (Benny Safdie) along on a robbery – then proceeds to make a stunning array of wrong decisions that might have worked anyway in a Hollywood movie, but sadly not this one.
7. Hidden Figures – Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae play a real life trio of African American women who made a crucial difference in the American space race and smashed some glass ceilings at NASA in the sixties. Wholesome enough for the whole family to watch. (“I like her digits,” is not a pickup line.)
8. The Promise – Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale play a love triangle in the film set in the last days of the Ottoman Empire. Moving and suspenseful depiction of the Turkish Armenian genocide.
9. Marshall – Josh Gad plays a lawyer who is forced into teaming up with Thurgood Marshall (at the start of his career), played by Chadwick Boseman, in order to take the case of a black chauffeur accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. Textbook courtroom drama, but it holds your attention from start to finish.
10. Battle of the Sexes – Emma Stone plays Billie Jean King in this depiction of the titular tennis match with Steve Carell. An unexpectedly large portion is devoted to Emma’s relationship with the tour’s hairdresser, but there’s still plenty of tennis. Since Carell’s take is more goofy than sinister, Bill Pullman does the honors as a textbook sexist villain.
And the Year’s Worst (So Far)
Note: These do not include films I actively went out of my way this year not to go anywhere near including “The Emoji Movie,” “The Book of Henry” and the film version of “Baywatch,” most of which I’m sure would have easily made this list had I done so. Again, there’s no significance to the numerical listings. I’ll stop at six to avoid depression.
1. It Comes At Night – After a black-humored Monty Python reference to kick off the film, the movie’s pace turns sludgy, as Joel Edgerton, playing a father trying to protect his family during a dystopian plague, is reduced to haranguing his unexpected guests to never open the Chamber of Secrets.
2. The Circle – Emma Watson plays a cipher in the future who is at first thrilled to get a job at the high-tech “Circle” but – amazingly enough comes to realize that Something Sinister is going on which May Impact Society Negatively as a Whole. Unlike say, the Harry Potter series, her book character (based on the Dave Eggers bestseller) is not fleshed out at all, perhaps handicapping the concept from the start.
3. Just Getting Started – Not so much blatantly bad as simply a failure to launch and a colossal waste of all cast members (including Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones and Rene Russo). Scenes follow one after the other without much tying them together or with a genuine payoff, in this film about a man in the Witness Protection Program who discovers that his new rival at a retirement community may be involved in the Mob.
4. The House – Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler must have done something awful in a previous life to be trapped in this film about parents running a casino to fund their child’s educaton, although they (and their onscreen daughter, Ryan Simpkins) deserve full marks for executing this movie without once looking as if they were considering firing their agents.
5. The Dark Tower – I’m sure this looked awesome on paper. A popular novella from the pen of Stephen King; Idris Elba and Jude Law facing off against each other in an epic battle between Good and Evil, plus a sympathetic young hero (Tom Taylor) – oh well. There’s always “It” to come.
6. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – Charlie Hunnam plays the young king in this movie which totally bypasses the more familiar “Sword in the Stone” narrative in favor of lots of brawling, modern language, and special effects. Including a facial mask of glowing coals because – why not? Plays like a cinematic version of mediocre fanfiction.
It might seem that Hollywood has a long way to go before surpassing these films in sheer badness, but there’s always 2018 to meet this challenge. Cheers!