by Will Mann
Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Meryl Streep working together proves to be a match made in Heaven. This stirring true-life biopic is as needed now as what it portrays was needed 45 years ago. Depicting the tension at The Washington Post around the time of the publishing of the infamous “Pentagon Papers” critical of US involvement in the Vietnam War, The Post is a great tribute to that time and to the idea of a free press, much needed in the era of Trump. Starring Hanks as Post executive editor Ben Bradlee and Streep as Post publisher Katharine Graham, this film is sure to remind you of the great journalism-themed movies of the past, including All the President’s Men (which The Post kinda-sorta serves as a prequel to?) and Spotlight. Inspirational, engaging and carrying an important message, The Post is this year’s Hidden Figures, and deserves to be seen.
The Big Sick
If you love actor/comedian Kumail Nanjiani (of Silicon Valley fame) as much as I do, you’ll be delighted by one of the most charming rom-coms of recent years. Nanjiani plays himself in a semi-autobiographical story about his falling for a white woman (in the movie played by Zoe Kazan, in real life it was Emily Gordon, with whom Nanjiani co-wrote the film’s screenplay) right before she falls into a coma. Ray Romano and particularly Holly Hunter (I love the way she pronounces “Kumail”) both shine as Emily’s parents. The Big Sick has the dry observational wit of Woody Allen mixed with the ethnic “hey, my family’s ideas about romance/marriage are WEIRD” humor of Nia Vardalos mixed with the inherent optimism of the rom-com genre that would make the ghost of Nora Ephron jump for joy. The Big Sick couldn’t break into my top 10 of the year, but is still very easily worth your time and attention.
War for the Planet of the Apes
The new, rebooted Planet of the Apes trilogy have been some of the most dependable blockbusters of recent times, and luckily they saved the best for (supposedly) last. Matt Reeves brings the eye he developed for Cloverfield and Let Me In to this (supposedly) final chapter in Ceasar’s (Andy Serkis) arc, giving us some memorable action and incredible special effects work. Intense, spectacular and ultimately quite moving, War for the Planet of the Apes is the new high-water mark for success in this franchise, and I don’t believe we’ll be seeing its equal any time soon.
It’s poppy, cute, and sweet. Tom Holland is the first actor to nail both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. (Only because Tobey Maguire was a great Peter Parker and an okay Spider-Man, whereas Andrew Garfield was a great Spider-Man and a tolerable Peter Parker. You know I’m right!) It embraces the teenaged, warts-and-all aspect of Spider-Man that the other movies have typically shied away from. It reminds you of the inherent goodness of the Spider-Man character. You’ll feel the need to revisit it just because it’s so gosh-darn fun. A Spider-Man movie that ends in a Ramones song has got to be worth something, amirite? All that being said, it’s still only the third-best superhero movie in what might admittedly be one of the best years for superhero movies ever.
Once in a while, a mainstream movie breaks out in a significant enough way to give you hope. For me this year, that movie was It. Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of Stephen King’s infamously terrifying novel about Pennywise the Dancing Clown, an ancient demon-alien-thing (just go with it) that takes the form of a clown to terrorize small children in a small town in Maine, is a winner. The scares are legitimately heart-pounding, and Bill Skarsgard makes a great Pennywise (but is he as great as Tim Curry was? I’m still weighing my answer, ask me again in a year or two). For me, the thing I actually liked best were the Losers Club, the main cast of kids. They curse, are inappropriate, and generally act like the little hellions everyone not in middle school knows middle-schoolers to be. They are the Sex Pistols to the kids-from-Stranger-Things’ Beatles. (Don’t worry, Finn Wolfhard, you can be both.) That’s surprisingly refreshing to see in a mainstream blockbuster. Whether it’s to see surprisingly realistic middle-schooler characters, or, ya know, to see a clown tear a kid’s arm off with his giant piranha teeth, It has something for everyone and is worth checking out.
The rise and fall of infamous figure skater Tonya Harding is chronicled in one of the year’s most fascinating movies. Harding, who, alongside her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) was involved in a conspiracy that left her skating rival Nancy Kerrigan injured, was a divisive figure in American sports. Margot Robbie excels as Harding, capturing her blue collar roots and desire to be the best. However, the best performance in the film is easily Allison Janney (a true national treasure in every sense of the phrase) as Harding’s scornful, abusive mother LaVona Fay Golden. Janney absolutely steals the show with mere minutes of screentime. While critic Bob Chipman said that he believes that the film is supposed to make you feel guilty about making Harding the butt of a national joke from the early 90s, I actually think that the film is more interested in portraying Harding warts-and-all, and allowing you to come to your own conclusions. This is helped by the film trying to show different perspectives of the events through the lens of the various characters, Rashomon-style. I, Tonya is worth the price of admission for Allison Janney alone, but you get a good movie to go along with it as a free gift-with-purchase.
And some friendly advice for Ridley Scott
Dear Ridley Scott,
Please. Just stop. Look, bro, I got nothing but love for you. Blade Runner and Alien are two of my favorite movies ever, and I really credit them for not just enhancing my love of science fiction, but of film generally. Your filmography includes everything from big epics like Gladiator or Black Hawk Down to smaller, more intimate movies that I really love, like Matchstick Men. Even your perceived misfires like Legend are, at the very least, visually interesting. You’re up there with Spielberg as one of the best and best-known mainstream Hollywood directors still working today.
But then came Prometheus, a movie that annoys me so much that just saying its name might make my blood start to boil. Much like George Lucas, you ruined the franchise YOU created by giving us a prequel that wasn’t just unnecessary, but insulting. (You literally ruined the Alien, ya know, the titular figure of this franchise by suggesting that it was created when a robot put goo in wine for no reason, and then a guy drank that wine, AND THEN had… ya know what, now is neither the time nor the place to talk about all of my problems with Prometheus.) But then, as if you were on your apology tour, you gave us The Martian, a really great movie! It felt like the ol’ Sir Ridley was finally back! When you said that your next movie would be a follow-up to Prometheus, I was cautiously optimistic (emphasis on “cautiously”). You had made one bad Alien prequel, but it seemed like you learned from your mistakes and wanted to make right what was not done well the first time around.
But… nooooo. Just… no. This movie encapsulates so many of your worst habits as a filmmaker, like over explaining everything to death or going for a gut-punch rather than, ya know, emotional stakes? The one good thing about this movie is that Michael Fassbender is, like, kinda interesting? (But, contrary to what you’ve heard, no, he/his characters are not enough to “save” the movie.) But, oh no, his character could’ve been great, but hey, here’s that ol’ “let’s not explore his character so we can make a sexual innuendo joke instead” Sir Ridley magic again! Bland, forgettable, and somehow more-or-less comparable to that FIRST awful Alien-prequel-misfire you made 5 years ago, Alien: Covenant is one of the worst things to come out of 2017, and considering… everything that happened in 2017, that is REALLY saying something. Slashfilm.com declared this to be the most underrated movie of the year (http://www.slashfilm.com/the-most-underrated-movies-of-2017/3/), which is a bit like declaring Donald Trump the most underrated president of the year: no, no, hell no, shut the hell up, and please stop giving bad things any more attention than they deserve. All of that being said, you’re still one of my favorite directors. I continue to keep faith that maybe you have another really great movie left in you. But please, in regards to the Alien franchise, to quote Elsa from Frozen: “Let it GOOOOO!!! LET IT GOOOOOO!!!!!!”