This year I made a genuine effort to see as many movies as I can for the benefit of my thetenderlysaltybanana.com. I’d like to think I did at least an admirable job. But the movies were able to make this venture worth it, as I believe this to have been a rather strong year for movies. Looking back at my reviews for the films this year, I can honestly say it’s going to be a lot more challenging to develop a 10 Best than it will to develop a 10 Worst.
Unfortunately, and is the plight with most film critics, I did not see all the movies I possibly could to generate the ultimate objective Top 10 list. Some movies I missed include The Post, Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri, Call Me By Your Name, The Florida Project, and a stream of others that I either did not get around to or did not make it to the Buffalo neck of the woods soon enough.
However, the movies you will see on this list are worthy enough to make any Top 10 list for the year. Just as well, I hope my word can turn you all on to a world of movies you perhaps have not heard of but are certainly worth captivating you for two hours.
10. Kong: Skull Island
Surprises will be the motif of this year’s Top 10. Each movie on this list surprised me in a certain way that captivated my attention for the more-or-less two hours that is every film. Kong: Skull Island may have been the first movie that really surprised me this year. Although the movie was short on characters, I wasn’t bothered by that as the intent of the movie was certainly not a character-focused drama. Instead, we got a big spectacle of a movie, one that I was proud to see on the big screen and can’t imagine seeing anywhere else. What I thought was going to be yet another interpretation on the famed King Kong story turned out to be it’s own world-building event. Both Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reily seemed to be having the time of their lives here in a story focused on the giant ape and Jordan Vogt-Roberts certainly picked the right influence of Apocalypse Now to create this new interpretation of Kong. This movie should provide enough satisfaction to Kong fans as well as those who have yet to be persuaded by the likes of a giant monkey. One thing is definitely for sure, Vogt-Roberts knows that those giant ape hands never cease to entertain.
9. The Big Sick
As someone who is just starting his standup career, I look forward to the day I get heckled by someone beautiful in the audience and manage to turn that into a relationship. Kumail Nanjiani’s true-life story about how he met his current wife, Emily Gordon, as one friend put it “hit me right in the feels.” Their story is a unique premise that serves as a solid take on the beaten-to-death rom-com genre, as the movie does not shy away from topics that it needs to tackle, such as family, culture, race, and love. Michael Showalter puts together probably his best movie of his career, but it’s hard to think of another director who would have done better with this personal of a script. Ray Romano, Holly Hunter, and Zoe Kazan all are solid in crafting their characters to believable levels, which is something your really hope you get in a movie that is this personal to it’s two screenwriters. If you see it, it’ll probably hit you right in the feels, too.
8. Thor: Ragnarok
A lot of long and careful consideration was taken into the crafting of this list and I genuinely tried to avoid the usual critic trope of putting an entry in their top 10 that satisfies the minds that enjoy purely Blockbuster fare. However, Marvel has consistently challenged this convention by putting out content that is worthy of critical consideration. After nearly ten years of getting used to more or less the same type of Marvel movie, Taika Waititi gives us Thor: Ragnarok, arguably the most original and enjoyable movie in Marvel canon, but definitely the most of both in the Thor universe. Waititi shoves gritty character drama aside for uproarious humor and intense action. For more than two hours, Thor: Ragnarok was one of the funnest movies I’ve seen this year. Waititi also captures something that no other director has realized in the longest time: merely putting Jeff Goldblum in front of the camera equals cinematic gold.
7. The Lost City of Z
These next 7 movies might as well be in any order, as they all were equally impressive. I did not think that back in April when I saw Lost City of Z, a movie I walked out of saying to myself “this is best movie I have seen this year.” It’s usually a good indicator of the movies to come when one of the best movies of the year comes out four months into a new year. James Gray is certainly a talent that doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. His The Immigrant made it on my unwritten Top 10 list of 2013 as it was also an intense character piece centered on someone’s travels to an unknown world. But whereas The Immigrant was about hope in survival, The Lost City of Z is about dreams. Charlie Hunman’s Percy Fawcett presumes to have found an ancient civilization on a mapping quest and it encapsulates his entire life when he comes back to a society that refuses to believe him. Gray’s influences are deeply rooted in the British adventure films that depict colonialism and imperialism of the 1930s like Gunga Din. In my review, I wrote that they don’t make these movies anymore, and they certainly do not. Based on The Lost City of Z, I wouldn’t hate it if they did.
What surprised me the most about Dunkirk was the sound. The sound of gunfire is frightening and deafening for anyone, let alone 300,000 soldiers stranded on a beach, waiting to be rescued by the Air Force, Navy, or anyone who owns a boat. Christopher Nolan’s film is not based on a certain story about the time spent on the beach. Instead, Nolan takes an interesting approach in the framing of this now-famous World War II event. We have the story of a week, the story of a day, and the story of an hour, all coming together in satisfying ways. But the sounds of the attacking German planes firing bullets at these sitting ducks of soldiers really makes you feel the horror that these men felt just sitting an waiting. I’ve had it out for Nolan ever since The Dark Knight Rises, but maybe I should give it up considering he has created two wonderful films after that: Interstellar and now Dunkirk.
What a great year for horror movies. Get Out, Annabelle: Creation, and IT were a trifecta of solid, creative, and terrifying pictures to see this year. Each creating terror and suspense in their own ways. However, there was one film this year that was not a horror movie but played out exactly the way a horror movie should: Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit. This movie came out to little fanfare, and undeservedly so. It was one of the best reviewed movies of the summer, but got lost in the hodgepodge of money-losers of an uncharacteristic summer movie season. But if you can find it, it may have been one of my favorite movie-going experiences this year. Bigelow does a wonderful job making you feel what these kids are going through, making her direction as claustrophobic as the house these unfortunate kids sat in for hours while they were held at gunpoint by Detroit cops and National Guardsmen keen on making examples of themselves. The outcome of the entire situation is enough to incite a riot evocative of Do the Right Thing. Many films of the past couple years have dealt with historical racism and tried to relate it to today’s issues. However, none of have made me feel angry or bitter about their outcome. Special consideration should be given to Will Poulter, who has already stacked up an eclectic acting resume, as a Detroit cop blinded by a bad decision and given no way to escape except for the unfortunate inevitable. His performance is terrifying and one of the best you will see this year.
4. The Disaster Artist
Is it bias when you are a fan of the source material a movie is based on? Probably not when it comes to James Franco’s The Disaster Artist, a movie that is not so much about it’s source material than it is about two guys with big dreams, one of which will never reach it unless he concocts his own masterplan. This man and his masterplan? Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 anti-art masterpiece, The Room. A movie that is special in it’s own right, but get’s better when you consider it’s own incoherent mythos. But, again, The Disaster Artist is not so much about the making of The Room than it is about Tommy Wiseau’s and best friend/ co-star Greg Sestero’s relationship. Much like The Lost City of Z, it is about one man’s dream and how he decides to see the world and how he creates his own world. When I write it like that, it sounds like one of the most existential movies ever made. But nobody would ever be foolish enough to ascribe philosophic principles to a man like Tommy Wiseau. Franco knocks it out of the park with his performance as the aforementioned Wiseau and crafts his film with care and poignancy to the point where he even remakes key scenes from The Room with very meticulous detail. Much of the fun in the movie comes with the reenactments and who is doing them. It is a fun time for anyone who is a fan of the film but also enjoyable for those who have yet to see The Room. Franco’s performance, alone, should warrant Oscar consideration.
3. Lady Bird
Again, surprises. What surprised me most about Lady Bird, a movie about a senior in high school girl growing up in Sacramento, California, was how much I related to it. Me, a boy who grew up in Coral Springs, Florida. I didn’t realize this until Lady Bird’s ending, one of the most touching I’ve seen in recent years. Saorise Ronan nails her performance as the titular Lady Bird and her mother, played by Laurie Metcalf, provides a worthy foil as a matriarch who is conflicted between wanting the best for her daughter while asserting her authority as a parent. No matter what, Lady Bird is disposed to hate her mother by mere virtue of being at that point in her life. I felt Lady Bird’s plight about wanting to break away from her hometown and feeling as though there was nothing left to learn in this world except for new experiences that we are all bound to have in college. Lady Bird was most notable for being the movie that, for a time, broke the Rotten Tomatoes record for the best reviewed movie of all time. After seeing Lady Bird, I was not surprised by that achievement. I don’t want to end this blurb without mentioning how this was Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut with a script of her own. I’ve followed Gerwig’s career since I declared Frances Ha the best movie of 2013. I doubt that this movie is the best she has to offer, which is saying dividends.
2. Logan Lucky
No movie surprised me more than Logan Lucky. The trailers certainly made it look like an enjoyable film and I had serious doubt that Steven Soderbergh lost any of his directorial touch with retirement. But I did not foresee just how wonderful this film would be. With a top-notch screenplay by Rebecca Blunt (rumored to be actually Soderbergh’s wife), Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and a virtuoso Daniel Craig pull off an impossible heist at a NASCAR race in the most improbable of ways. Each impossibly funny scene gives way to another. Soderbergh and the screenplay both invest you in these characters so deceptively that you believe that there is no way these boobs can pull off something like this, the ending makes you appreciate the past two hours more than most movie endings have ever done. I really did think this would be the best movie to be released this year when I saw it back in August. Unfortunately, and rather unluckily, I saw a movie that just topped it.
1. I, Tonya
Reading early reviews of I, Tonya, I found it hard to believe that a movie about figure-skating villain, Tonya Harding, could be so effective. When I finally got the chance to view it, I was mesmerized to say the very least. The screenplay by Steven Rogers may be the best and most original of the year, using 4 narrators who tell the same story in 4 different ways, we never know who to trust. It’s the perfect screenplay to set up one of the most memorable sports moments of the past 25 years. Margot Robbie simply knocks it out of the park as the titular Tonya, but the real gem of the film is Allison Janney playing Harding’s mother, LaVona. The surprise of the film is not just how it depicts Tonya Harding as a tragic figure, only guilty of fate and circumstance (she would love this line considering how little responsibility she claims for anything), but how self-aware it is. Take, for example, a scene where Harding’s husband, Jeff Gillooly, claims Harding fired a gun at him during the first couple months of their marriage. It depicts the scene as he describes it, but ends with Harding turning to the camera and claiming that it’s all and lie and never happened. Movies this original and fun are rare to come by. Tonya Harding may never have won the gold medal at the Olympics, but her movie got first place on my list of best movies of the year.