2017 Review

9 Jan

2017 Review

by Tanner Smith

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year—the critics’ year-end reviews! Some reviewers do it at the end of the year, while others (like me) wait until the year is over and the New Year has begun. I’ve had this blog since 2013, and I’ve done these year-end reviews since 2014…and I’m still not paid to do this sort of thing yet. (But hey, it could still happen…maybe.) Nonetheless, this is the time when I look back at the films I saw and pat myself on the back for acting like a true film critic.

This was a very surprising year for cinema, particularly mass-market entertainment. I think I enjoyed more blockbusters this past year than any other year—and I’m not kidding, wait until you see what’s on my list if you don’t believe me…or haven’t seen many movies in your local multiplex.

BUT before we get to the pleasant surprises, I of course have to begin this review with my least favorite films of the year. And because I’m still not getting paid to review movies yet, I wasn’t obligated to see the new Transformers movie or “The Mummy” or “The Emoji Movie” or insert-popularly-bad-movie-here. (Side-note: it’s not my intention to undermine those who do get paid to see every movie possible and review them, whether they be good or bad. I appreciate your devotion to your work.)

So, what DID I see that underwhelmed me severely?

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Rings—I had a little bit of hope for this unnecessary, late sequel to “The Ring,” a 2002 horror film I genuinely like. It acted like the dreadful “The Ring Two” didn’t exist; I’m hooked already. And it had a neat idea within the “story”: a college professor and his students find the cursed videotape and attempt to study it. But what’s done with it? Nada. A boring young couple watch the tape, try to find out about it, and find out stuff that…we already learned from “The Ring Two!” Well, isn’t that nice. The scares are weak, the conflict is uninteresting, and the ending—what the hell?

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Friend Request—I like “Unfriended.” This is not “Unfriended.” This is a supernatural cyber-thriller that is so unaware of itself that its “commentary” is made superficial when our main character’s Facebook Friend count drops in between scenes. I’m not even kidding; the Friend count pops up every now and then, to show that she’s being Unfriended. Because as we all know, that’s what’s important…right?

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Don’t Hang Up—The premise sounds fun; some dumb teens delight in prank-calling people, only to end up in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a devious caller that wants revenge for one of their pranks. But come on—there must have been a better way to handle it than with simple “scare” techniques, seemingly-magical killer’s intuition, and some of the more boring teenage characters you can find in a boring teen horror film.

I only truly disliked those three movies. But there are three other movies that made me feel…um, indifferent.

Beauty and the Beast—If you saw my “Top 100 Favorite Movies” post, you know I truly adore the Disney animated film “Beauty and the Beast.” This live-action version just seemed pointless, and while it certainly looked good, all I kept wondering is why I didn’t just watch the animated film again.

Cult of Chucky—Well, I will say that I enjoyed this Chucky movie more than many of the previous Chucky movies. But truth be told, I don’t find Chucky that interesting anymore. He’s just kind of a bore. He likes killing and he has an attitude…OK. At least he encounters some of his more interesting previous victims.

A Ghost Story—I just didn’t get it. I know many critics are praising this film as one of the best of the year, and I admire what director David Lowery attempted to do with this untraditional “ghost story.” But it just didn’t do anything for me, except cause me to wonder, “I hope Rooney Mara truly enjoyed that pie.” But I dunno, maybe I need to see it again…

Goodbye, Christopher Robin—The story of the creation of Winnie the Pooh is an interesting one, and to be fair, this film gets some aspects right. But due to some awkward performances and an unsteady tone, “Goodbye. Christopher Robin” just didn’t grab me overall.

In Dubious Battle—I forgot I even watched this one, directed by James Franco. Thank God Franco delivered a much better film this year that made people take him seriously as a director.

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As with every year-end review on Smith’s Verdict, I’m going to mention the well-received films that I missed in 2017. But before I do that, I’m going to take a look at the films I missed in 2016 that I caught up with in 2017. They are: The Edge of Seventeen, A Monster Calls, Moonlight, and Pete’s Dragon. (Unfortunately, there are still about 8 other relevant 2016 films I still need to see, including the Oscar-nominated “Fences” and “Hidden Figures.” And for the record, both Moonlight and A Monster Calls would’ve made my Top-15-of-2016 list, as would have 20th Century Women and Southside With You, which just slipped by me until way later. Oops.)

But what films did I miss in 2017 that I will see sometime soon in 2018? I’m not including The Post or Phantom Thread, as those haven’t even been released near me yet. Instead, I’ll mention Battle of the Sexes, Blade Runner 2049, Brad’s Status, Call Me By Your Name, Detroit, Downsizing, The Florida Project, Gifted, Good Time, Molly’s Game, mother!, The Shape of Water, Thor: Ragnarok, Wind River.

As I’m writing this, half of these are already available on DVD and Blu-Ray, so I’ll make sure I check them out sooner or later.

Last year, I had two TV/VOD miniseries to talk about and give mentions as special as my favorite films of the year. This year, I’m glad to say that I’ve seen 5 miniseries/series-seasons that I believe deserve mention. So, here is my list of my Top 5 Favorite TV Series of 2017!

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5. A Series of Unfortunate Events—This 8-episode Netflix series based on the first four books of Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” children’s book series was just a ton of fun. Neil Patrick Harris made for an entertaining Count Olaf, I enjoyed watching the young actors, and I especially laughed at how much it kidded itself with its style and humor even more so than the 2004 film adaptation starring Jim Carrey.

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4. Marvel’s The Defenders—It’s the Netflix answer to “The Avengers!” With Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist teaming up to put a stop to something twisted, “Marvel’s The Defenders” is a sometimes messy but overall entertaining action-adventure with likable characters. I’d even say I enjoyed Iron Fist more in this series than I did his own series.

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3. Stranger Things 2—One of the most anticipated entertainments of the year, and for me, it had only one disappointment: the much-berated Episode 7. It still had intriguing mystery, our favorite characters were back with some fresh, developing relationships, and once again, it had a neat callback to the ‘80s. I just hope that “Stranger Things 3” takes it easy on poor Will; he’s suffered more than enough already.

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2. Mr. Mercedes—Surprise! A show that isn’t on Netflix! I caught this 10-episode-long Stephen King adaptation on The Audience Channel and it riveted me from one episode to the other. It’s based on the first of a trilogy of King’s works surrounding a detective character named Bill Hodges, brilliantly played in the series by Brendan Gleeson. We also get a nice chilling turn from Harry Treadaway as the psychotic Brady Hartsfield, who challenges Hodges to figure out the clues to his sick games. Maybe someday, I’ll write a review for this by itself, because the more I write about it, the more I look forward to the sequel series (based on the continuing King book “Finders Keepers”).

And my favorite TV season of 2017 is…

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  1. Nirvanna the Band the Show—I already reviewed this hilarious Viceland series in detail, so you can read about my thoughts if you want to know more about it. Matt Johnson is one of my favorite filmmakers working today, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. He seems to have found his niche with this and his movies, and it’s a trademark that will do him well for future projects as well.

Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2017/05/26/nirvanna-the-band-the-show-viceland-series/

And now, we come to my personal favorite films of 2017. But first, here are some honorable mentions: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Lego Batman Movie, Gerald’s Game, Super Dark Times, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, Psych: The Movie

Might As Well Mention These Too: The Devil’s Candy, Sleight, The Babysitter, Different Flowers, I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, Power Rangers, Alien: Covenant, Ridge Runners, Creep 2, Kong: Skull Island

Oh, and I Liked These Too: Okja, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, To the Bone, Burning Sands, 1922, Annabelle: Creation, XX

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One more mention I want to give is to a film called Big Sonia. This is a documentary about one of the last remaining Nazi Holocaust survivors, named Sonia, who goes to schools, radio stations and even prisons to tell the story of her imprisonment, her survival and the lessons it taught her in order to go through the rest of her life. It’s a heartwarming film that moved me deeply. (And because I saw it just recently, I’m not so sure where to place in the Top 20.)

And now, without any more ado, here are My Top 20 Favorite Films of 2017!

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  1. Wonder Woman—I mentioned that 2017 was a great year for mass-market entertainment, and “Wonder Woman” was definitely smarter and more amusing than I ever would have expected. I think DC finally understands that they don’t have to imitate Marvel in order to make a fun movie. They just needed to make a fun movie.

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  1. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)—No one makes dysfunctional family comedy-dramas quite like Noah Baumbach, and this one, available on Netflix, is on par with his most well-known film “The Squid and the Whale.” Adam Sandler deserves Best Supporting Actor consideration for his role in this film.

Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2017/11/20/the-meyerowitz-stories-new-and-selected-2017/

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  1. Wonder—This movie pleasantly surprised me. I thought it would be a standard, feel-good, after-school-special type of film that preaches to kids that they should look on the inside rather than judge by appearance. “Wonder” found a way to teach that lesson very effectively, by showing what nearly all of the characters go through instead of focus on one particular child. By doing that, the message is clearer than ever: there is no “ordinary.”

Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2017/11/20/wonder-2017/

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  1. Coco—Not a great year for animation, but Disney/PIXAR has given us another winner the equally funny/heartfelt “Coco,” an enjoyable look at the Land of the Dead. The emotional climax of this film got me a little teary-eyed.

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  1. Logan—The Wolverine movie I was waiting for! This gritty, nasty, R-rated journey involving Hugh Jackman as the aging Wolverine and Patrick Stewart as the ailing Xavier had me riveted from beginning to end, for its action and for its drama. This is supposedly Hugh Jackman’s final appearance as the Marvel anti-hero; I’d say it’s a great swan song.

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  1. Dunkirk—Seeing this brutally intense WWII film on the biggest screen with the best surround-sound was quite an unforgettable experience. Director Christopher Nolan takes a step away from analytical dialogue for once and just proves with a powerful visual storyteller he can be.

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  1. Stronger—One of the most pleasant surprises of the year was David Gordon Green’s “Stronger,” a film starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a Boston Marathon Bombing victim that loses his legs and is hailed as a hero for identifying one of the bombers. The newfound fame overwhelms him, making it difficult for him to live his life. Gyllenhaal deserves Oscar consideration, as does Tatiana Maslany as his girlfriend that is hurting inside just seeing him hurt.

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  1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri—A few critics are already hailing this as the best film of the year. I admire it, I like it…I don’t like it as much as they do. But I see where the praise is coming from—the comedy and drama are very well-connected (when the characters aren’t merely spouting trigger words), the conflicts are strong and heavy, the character arcs are surprisingly complex, there are no easy answers, and Frances McDormand gives one of the best performances of her career.

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  1. Split—M. Night Shyamalan is back, baby! It’s the twist ending that kept me coming back to this film, made me look at the film in a whole new way, and made me like the film more and more with each viewing (and I’ve seen it about five times now). I’m still not going to give away the twist for those who still don’t know…but I will say I am excited to see Shyamalan’s next film. “Split” is scary, intriguing, chilling, well-made, and with a tremendous performance from James McAvoy, who sadly will be forgotten by the Academy this month.

Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2017/01/20/split-2017/

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  1. Baby Driver—Director Edgar Wright continues to do what he does best with “Baby Driver”: have fun with conventions, mix comedy and action together, and give us a hell of a good time. His trademarks continued with “Baby Driver,” a compelling, amusing action-adventure with a kick-ass soundtrack, a series of thrilling car chases, and probably one of the best (and most-deserved) death scenes I’ve seen in a long time.

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  1. Last Flag Flying—This one caught me totally off-guard. I didn’t know Richard Linklater, one of my favorite directors, even made a “spiritual sequel” to “The Last Detail,” one of my favorite films. But I saw it in a theater, and it is wonderful. It’s not a direct sequel to “The Last Detail” (though you can see similarities in characters from each film); it’s just more like a nice little road-trip with interesting people (in this case, they’re played by Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne and Steve Carell as Vietnam War vets questioning the Iraq conflict in 2003 while burying Carell’s son who died in battle) talking about interesting topics. As a film on its own, it’s gripping.

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  1. Spider-Man: Homecoming—While most critics consider “Logan,” “Wonder Woman,” or “Thor: Ragnarok” as the best superhero film of 2017 (see, I told you 2017 was a great year for blockbusters), I immensely enjoyed the new “Spider-Man” reboot as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tom Holland is an immensely likable Peter Parker/Spider-Man, he’s given funny quips and situations to partake in, and the film is like the Spider-Man movie I was waiting for: a superhero movie about a boy struggling to maintain a social life while thinking he can handle bigger things outside of school. And if you read my review, you also know that I think this presents a great development for Iron Man too, as he becomes mentor to a kid who would otherwise be like him.

Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2017/11/20/spider-man-homecoming-2017/

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  1. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi—Fans are hating on it, and let them hate all they want; they’re not gonna get the movie they play in their heads. Instead, they’re gonna get something that’s as challenging as it is entertaining, and I admire this film for being just that. It’s this “Star Wars” movie that reminds me of why we need “Star Wars.”

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  1. War for the Planet of the Apes—Talk about a film I didn’t expect to like so much! As much as I admired “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” I was somewhat cynical about “War for the Planet of the Apes,” because I didn’t think it would go anywhere I wouldn’t see coming. But man, was I wrong. This is a great movie! It’s a powerful, emotional, gripping action-drama that denied conventions and provided plenty more substance than I would’ve ever expected. This “Planet of the Apes” prequel/reboot saved the best for last. And will somebody give Andy Serkis the Oscar recognition he deserves already?!

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  1. The Big Sick—My favorite romantic comedy to come out in a long time. I’ve often said in this blog that something more important than a comedy that can make you laugh is a comedy that can make you feel. “The Big Sick” both made me laugh and gave the feels, and the balance of comedy and drama works perfectly. This may be a career breakthrough for Kumail Nanjiani as well.

Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2017/11/20/the-big-sick-2017/

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  1. Lady Bird—If I were to make a list of the Best films of 2017, Greta Gerwig’s excellent directorial debut “Lady Bird” would’ve made the #2 slot. As my favorites, I put it at #5. But my appreciation for the film still exists, as a coming-of-age comedy-drama involving a Catholic schoolgirl just going through the ups and downs of senior year while dealing with a stressful home life… You know, I tried to explain this film to a friend soon after I saw it, and it sounded nothing like the film I saw. That’s because, while the film does have certain conventional elements in it, they’re treated in a way that seems like we haven’t seen them before. And I highly applaud Gerwig for that. A great performance by lead actress Saoirse Ronan deserves Oscar recognition, as does the editing, which is the best I’ve seen in any film all year.

Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2017/11/20/lady-bird-2017/

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  1. It—Stephen King had a banner year for his film adaptations (“Mr. Mercedes,” “Gerald’s Game,” “1922,” the much-maligned “Dark Tower” movie), and his most successful (in terms of critics and box-office numbers) is my favorite of the year, “It.” Very rarely do the scares work as effectively as the coming-of-age aspects in the same movie. Additionally, the young actors are all excellent as a group of kids terrorized by a shapeshifting clown that knows their deepest fears. This was labeled as “Chapter One”; I can’t wait for “Chapter Two.”

Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2017/09/08/it-2017/

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  1. Spielberg—This HBO-released documentary about the life and career of my favorite filmmaker Steven Spielberg. I learned more about this man in a two-and-a-half-hour movie than I ever expected to after being a fan of his for years. This is the second year in a row in which I included a documentary about a filmmaker in my best-of list (the other being 2016’s “De Palma”); I wonder if there will be a “Scorsese” or a “Lucas” or a “Coppola” coming in 2018…

Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2017/12/26/spielberg-2017/

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  1. The Disaster Artist—One of the best movies about moviemaking I’ve ever seen, and coming from an unlikely source: the making of one of the most laughably bad movies ever made, Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room.” James Franco directs the film and stars as Wiseau in a brilliant performance that shows us an enigmatic man with feelings and passion, even if some people just don’t get what he’s thinking (actually, a lot of people don’t know what he’s thinking). I had a blast watching this passionate, hilarious and even moving portrait about an attempt to make a name in show business.

And my favorite film of 2017 is…

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  1. Get Out—Most of you probably already knew this was coming, as I already included it in my “Top 100 Favorite Movies” post. I saw this in February, when it was released, and no other film came close to topping my list of 2017. I love “Get Out.” I love the mystery, I love the suspense, I love the comedy, I love the commentary, I love the drama, I love the script, I love the story, I love Jordan Peele’s direction, I love that I can learn something new each time I watch it (and I’ve watched it numerous times this year). If I thought 2016 was a great year for horror, I hadn’t seen anything yet. “Get Out” is better than every solid 2016 horror film combined (and there were some pretty great ones!). You get it already—I love “Get Out.” It’s everything I look for in suspenseful entertainment, and more. Nothing was going to come close to the experience I had watching it in a theater for the first time. And no other film made me more excited to learn more about it with subsequent viewings. And for all those reasons, “Get Out” was my favorite film of 2017 and is one of my top 100 favorite movies, period.

Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2017/02/24/get-out-2017/

Man, I love movies. I look forward to seeing what surprises come to theaters (or on Netflix) in 2018! Will there be a film I like more than “Get Out?” We shall see…

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