A Brief History
On March 4, 2018, we eagerly await the 8 pm EST opening of the 90th Academy Awards show tonight in which the Oscars honoring the best films and performances on film of 2017 will be awarded. Hosted by late night host Jimmy Kimmel, the show will come from the Dolby Theater in Hollywood. Kimmel is the first host to host the show in back to back years since 1997-1998 (Billy Crystal). As you know by our frequent reviews of motion pictures, we are movie enthusiasts. Today we list our favorite films of 2017, showing of course our obvious bias toward those types of films we like, and yes, we know our categories do not match those used by the Academy Awards folks.
1. War Movie: Dunkirk
Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, this gritty war film is about the best war movie since Saving Private Ryan. Managing to avoid an R rating by eliminating gratuitous gore, the use of real vintage airplanes instead of CGI made for a fantastic movie experience. The film captures the terror and extreme desire for survival among those caught up in war, not just the fairy tale chivalry and altruism often showcased on film. Visually stunning, great acting, and based on a real life drama that mattered a lot to the fortunes of World War II, this historical drama puts the audience right in the middle of the war, an emotional experience. Our pick for Best Picture.
2. Horror Movie: It
The first adaptation of Stephen King’s horror opus was the made for television mini-series in 1990, a monster of a success and a classic in its own right. The big screen effort of 2017 brings the story to a more manageable time frame but retains the back story and manages to convey the entire tale rather well. The child actors are excellent, but the real star is Pennywise, the evil clown dark entity played to perfection by Bill Skarsgard in the role made classic by Tim Curry in the mini-series. Perhaps the biggest anticipation about the film was whether or not Skarsgard could pull off a performance worthy of succeeding Curry in the Pennywise role, and the answer is a resounding YES! (Those familiar with the epic novel will note the absence of the pubescent gang bang near the end, but in today’s world of sexual sensibilities any such depiction of minors having sex is untenable public relations if not legally troublesome.)
3. Comedy: The Disaster Artist
Wow, is this movie different! To think the film is a quite realistic depiction of actual people and actual events is stunning, considering the goofy events and goofier people involved. A wonderful touch is the end of the movie showing the real people and those that portray them in the movie, as well as scenes from the original film, The Room (2003) that is the basis of the film. If James Franco does not win the Academy Award for Best Actor it will be a travesty. Oh, he is not even nominated??? Ridiculous! In our book, Franco’s performance is one of the all time great acting performances of all time.
4. Superhero: Wonder Woman
This pick was quite hard for us considering the tough competition from Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok, both of which we liked immensely. Gal Gadot was stunning as the exotic island princess descended from the Gods, and the action scenes were exceptionally good. Incredibly, despite the fantastic eye candy provided by all three of these Superhero films, none were nominated for any major Academy Awards. Of course, the movie going public says differently, as the films were box office smashes.
5. Space Fantasy: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
A certain number of critics will pick this film apart, but in the context of the Star Wars universe it fits right in and rather well at that. Getting the last performance of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia makes the movie special, and Mark Hamill reprises his Luke Skywalker role, making this film a must see for fans of the franchise. The enormous budget of $200 million was well spent, as the fantastic special effects are apparent and of the highest quality. The investment was worth the cost, as the film has grossed a box office of over $1.3 billion so far, the highest grossing film of 2017, a fact probably more important to investors than any awards, though it is nominated for 4 Academy Awards.
6. Romance: The Shape of Water
Another really different movie, the viewer is treated to a complex web of relationships between the main character, a mute (but not deaf) cleaning woman at a secret government facility vis a vis her friendly co-worker, her boss, and her best friend, the gay artist next door. The other major character is a movie monster often compared to “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” an aquatic mer-man type of thing capable of savagely ripping people apart, but highly receptive to the friendly advances of the star, Sally Hawkins as Elisa. The film is set in 1962, and has appropriate Cold War implications, including Soviet efforts to capture the creature from the Americans or at least the data compiled by the American scientists. Sally Hawkins puts on a magical performance, certainly worthy of strong consideration as Best Actress, and in fact she is so nominated. Our prediction is that Sally will handily win the Oscar. The Shape of Water has 13 Academy Award nominations, more than any other film, if that tells you anything. It is another truly different film and worth seeing by both fans of sci-fi/horror and fans of romance.
7. Space Sci Fi: Alien: Covenant
Although this installment in the Alien franchise does not include Sigourney Weaver as Ridley, it is in our opinion one of the best in the entire series. Although not nominated for any Academy Awards, the acting is quite good and the directing and cinematography excellent. The tension is terrifying and palpable, and the audience is drawn into the desperation of the crew as they battle for survival. A nice twist at the end caps off a worthy film worth seeing by all fans of sci-fi and space related movies. Have you noticed how some movies are providing cautionary tales about making androids “too” smart? We wonder if scientists are paying attention…
8. Monster Movie: Kong: Skull Island
Not just another remake of the 1931 classic, King Kong, Skull Island puts a whole new take on the story, making it a virtually new story altogether. It combines timely humor with pure terror, tension, diametrically opposed personalities and motivations, and the most realistic appearing King Kong yet. The dino-monsters are entirely a new take on the type, a nice, but terrifying difference. The “natives” of Skull Island are not the bloodthirsty savages of the other films, either, another refreshing difference. The only Academy Award nomination is for Best Visual Effects, a particularly tough category this year. (Honorable mention to War for Planet of the Apes.)
This intense film scooped up 7 Academy Award nominations, including Best Actress for Frances McDormand and incredibly both Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell for Best Supporting Actor. Showcasing the desperation of the mother of a slain teen girl and the frustration with local law enforcement for failing to solve the crime, Billboards is not your usual cup of tea, another strikingly different movie of 2017, a year in which movie makers seem to have found new inspiration. The transformation of the Harrelson and Rockwell characters in the opinion of the audience during the movie is profound, extremely well done, and exceptionally acted (hence the nominations for the Oscar).
Question for students (and subscribers): Feel free to tell us what films your favorites of 2017 were in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Kinn, Gail. Academy Awards®: The Complete Unofficial History — Revised and Up-To-Date. Black Dog & Leventhal, 2014.
Turner Classic Movies. TCM Classic Movie Trivia: Featuring More Than 4,000 Questions to Test Your Trivia Smarts. Chronicle Books, 2011.