James Rosario is a writer, filmmaker, and musician based in the Asheville, NC area. His record label, Bigger Boat Records, releases...
2017 was a big year for movies. A scary year for just about everything else, but a big year for movies. Between huge studios merging, to small ones kicking ass, to a major house cleaning that I hope goes on and on until all the assholes are gone, a lot has happened. Awards season may look quite a bit different than it has in the past, and I can’t wait. 2017 was also the first full year I spent writing reviews. I went out the movies more times in 2017 than I ever had before, but still managed to miss several films that likely would have made it onto this list. Hopefully I’ll get to them all soon, but an unpaid film critic with a family and a day job can only sneak away so many times. I’m not complaining, though. At the moment, I’m watching Toy Story for the one-millionth time with my three-year-old daughter, and I’m totally fine with that. I have no plans on slowing down in 2018. I’ve found myself with a growing audience, and I'm eager to keep on doing what I'm doing.
I’d like to start with a short list of what I’ve reluctantly missed in 2017, and offer a promise to get them viewed and reviewed as soon as possible. Here goes, in no particular order: The Big Sick, Call Me by Your Name, The Florida Project, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Ladybird, Phantom Thread, The Shape of Water, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri are the short list of notable 2017 misses (a few of them I’m really bummed I missed). You can’t see everything, but you can do your best. With that in mind, here’s what I saw, and loved, that played in Asheville in 2017:
Logan is the best superhero movie ever made. Hands down, end of story. It’s got the necessary action, yes, but it also has something few movies in the genre have: heart. At its core, this is a drama about growing old, and how one copes with the knowledge that they won’t be around forever. A truly remarkable feat for a film that lies in the same category as “insert name of any superhero movie ever.” This, coupled with Thor, show us that these types of films can possess more than property just property damage and franchise tie-ins. They can have real emotions, and be genuinely smart and different. More please. READ MY ORIGINAL REVIEW.
2. The Last Jedi
You can pan The Last Jedi for all the superficial or meaningless reasons you want, but at the end of the day, it’s better than most Star Wars films, and better than most action-based sci-fi in general. Disney has basically promised us a new Star Wars film every year until the end of time, so I say it’s high time to start subverting genres and seeing just what this franchise is capable of beyond its established tropes (tropes that have been lifted from several other genres, by the way). We all love the influence Star Wars has had on our lives and childhoods, but the same thing over and over again would get very tiresome indeed. If The Last Jedi is an indication of what’s to come, I’m a happy camper indeed. READ MY ORIGINAL REVIEW.
There’s not a lot of middle ground when it comes to Darren Aronofsky’s latest effort. I loved it, even if I didn’t particularly enjoy it. It’s loaded with allegory and symbolism—of both the subtle and hammered in variety—and trying to interpret what it’s trying to say is half the fun. I understand why large sections of viewers may not have liked it, it’s not an easy film to watch (it made me squeamish on several occasions), but mother! Isn’t easily forgotten, and will most likely remain polarizing for the foreseeable future. If you like weird shit like I do (Lynch, Jodorowsky, Tarkovsky, Buñuel, Marker, etc.) then you’re in for a treat. If not, proceed with caution. READ MY ORIGINAL REVIEW.
I grew up watching war films, and I have no problem with that. With its minimal dialogue and fractured timeline, Dunkirk is an exceptional entry into the category, and one any fan of the genre should consider among the best. There’s a lot of cinephiles out there who love to categorize Christopher Nolan and his fans as pedestrian, but they’re wrong. With a few exceptions, Nolan has made some of the best films to come out of the Hollywood system in recent decades. They’re imaginative, unique, and entertaining, and I count myself as a fan. Dunkirk may be his best film yet (although I really love The Prestige). This film is on par with the best the genre has to offer—putting it up there with some pretty heavy hitters. READ MY ORIGINAL REVIEW.
5. Blade Runner 2049
Considered a flop by box office standards, visually and conceptually Blade Runner 2049 was anything but. Beautifully shot and executed, its poor returns are a blow to us nerds who want to see more films like this. What a shame! I’m a big fan of the sci-fi genre. It’s probably my favorite, if I was to really get down to it. I like smart, dark sci-fi, with twists of unreality and shit that doesn’t always have to make sense. I like visuals, and science fiction often offers the best (when done right, anyway). Blade Runner does it right—don’t sleep on it. You’re really missing out on something special if you pass this one up. READ MY ORIGINAL REVIEW.
6. The Transfiguration
What a great surprise the The Transfiguration was! A vampire (sort of) movie that exists within a world in which all previous vampire movies also exist. There’s so much to say about The Transfiguration—it’s part psychological exploration, part character study, and part horror, but it’s also so much more. There’s an overabundance of vampire stories that attempt to make their villains into lonely, tragic heroes, but The Transfiguration succeeds where others fail—all while completely subverting the genre into something new. It’s an extremely smart look at the genre, and a truly tragic study of kid who’s fallen through the cracks. READ MY ORIGINAL REVIEW.
Small is the name of the game here. Columbus is probably the quietest film on my list, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack a punch or have something to say. What struck me so much about this one is that it never falls into any sort of trope. It exists wholly in reality, making it a unique and welcomed change to your typical melodrama. I believe in these characters. I’m rooting for them to be happy and reach their potential. Columbus takes such a simple approach, you can’t help but be drawn into the lives of its inhabitants, and more importantly, care about them. READ MY ORIGINAL REVIEW.
8. The Lost City of Z
I love a good David Lean-esque epic, and The Lost City of Z certainly fits that bill. For fans of Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Dr. Zhivago James Gray’s tale of explorer Percy Fawcetts’ travels through the Amazon is as exciting as it is compelling. You just don’t see movies like this anymore—epics that span multiple decades, with determined heroes that will stop at nothing to get to the truth, even if it kills them. You don’t necessarily feel sorry for these singularly minded chaps, but they do pique a certain curiosity, as the mystery of their lives and deaths will likely never be solved. It has a few modern updates, but Z is essentially an old school picture that could have been made in the 1960s, and comes with a full recommendation. READ MY ORIGINAL REVIEW.
9. After the Storm
Another quiet film in a list of (in hindsight) mostly actioners. Similar to Columbus in tone and scope, After the Storm is a drama that manages to get to the heart of not-so-functional families. It’s a Japanese film, but don’t let that scare you. The simple humanity of After the Storm is universal. More comedic than tragic (unlike director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s other film I absolutely loved, Nobody Knows), it tells the simple story of a down on his luck father who simply wants to be the best dad he can. He’s a bit of a screw-up and nothing ever seems to go his way, but he’s more relatable than most characters you’re likely to find—regardless of its country of origin. After the Storm made me smile. A big, true, warm-hearted smile. READ MY ORIGINAL REVIEW.
10. Thor: Ragnarok
I never in a million years would have thought that a Thor movie would make my year end top ten list. And it never would have if not for its director, Taika Waititi. I love everything this man touches. He has, without a doubt, the best sense of humor in Hollywood, and he knows how to use it. My wife and I hadn’t had that much fun at the movies together since, well, I’m not sure when (we tend to disagree on what constitutes a quality cinematic experience). Thor is the funniest movie I saw all year, and Waititi’s fingerprints are all over it. Two superhero films bookend my top ten list, but the two films couldn’t be any more different. Where Logan’s heart lies in its emotional depth and grim outlook, Thor’s lies in its fresh look at how a film of this genre can be approached, and how there’s room for so much more than we’re used to getting. It’s downright whimsical (ugh, I think I hate that word, but there it is). Thor has a certain intangible magic to it that you simply don’t see often enough (especially for this genre). As I said with Logan: more please. READ MY ORIGINAL REVIEW.
There you have it. If there's anything I missed that you think I need to see, please drop me a line via my blog, The Daily Orca, and let me know.
For more film reviews, plus record reviews, podcasts, and more, please visit THE DAILY ORCA.