Marvel movies tend to be well-assembled entertainment that’s fun in the moment and fades soon after, but Guardians 2 has a very special lasting effect. It earns my vote as the best blockbuster sequel in years by taking everything that worked so endearingly in the first movie and amplifying it, multiplying the humour and upping the emotional stakes by using protagonist Peter’s beloved late mother as the dramatic tipping point in a tale of fathers and son. Family is a theme that connects every character here and James Gunn explores the emotional epicentre of the franchise while maintaining a riotous sense of comic cosmic mayhem. The whole cast is in top form, but it’s Michael Rooker that steals the show, nailing his main moments that instantly rank among the funniest and most touching in the expansive Marvel universe.
James Gray always seems to have one foot set in the past, but his latest feature, a biopic of sorts about soldier-turned-jungle explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), feels like a poignant plea for the present. Early in the twentieth century, Fawcett embarked on a perilous voyage into the Amazon for cartography purposes, but instead stumbled upon evidence of an ancient advanced civilization that he then became obsessed with fully discovering. The warm photography, lush locations, and Gray’s signature throwback style all make for a sumptuous adventure, but what really clicks here is Fawcett’s passion for protecting the Other, for fighting hard to prove that those who are foreign to us deserve respect instead of ridicule. While that’s an obvious message in many ways, it feels like a particularly important time for a beautiful reminder.
Ten years after his ingenious thriller Timecrimes put him on the genre map, Nacho Vigalondo is back with his wildest, most ambitious movie yet, an oddball comedy about the strange link between a just-dumped alcoholic (Anne Hathaway) and a giant monster terrorizing Seoul. Seeing Vigalondo unearth all the surprising dramatic potential buried inside his peculiar premise is fascinating enough, but it’s the movie’s coy commentary on the dangerous toxicity of male privilege that is both boldly brilliant and, coincidentally, an eerie encapsulation of where Hollywood ended up in 2017.
Swordplay has rarely been so visually vibrant and aurally astonishing as it is here in Xu Haofeng’s exciting epic about several generations of a small walnut-farming family whose tranquil lives are upended with violence and vengeance in the wake of WWII. The Shaw Bros. influence and rich cultural identity allow for a balletic blend of awesome action and unpredictable plotting. This is modern martial arts cinema at its finest.
Yorgos Lanthimos wants to share his dark displeasure about the digital age with us, so naturally, he does so by telling a cold, clinical story of a surgeon whose straight-faced adolescent pal slowly turns the surgeon’s family members into invalids, only offering an end if the surgeon opts instead to murder one of them. With each cast member playing their role like a confused robot, the experience is as deliciously zany as it sounds, exuding an uncomfortable hilarity that only Lanthimos can (or is willing to) conjure, but it’s the themes roiling beneath the surface that make this such an intriguing experience. As the victims become trapped in their hospital beds, Lanthimos teases that this is just a medically mysterious case of couch potato-itis. In true Lanthimos fashion, this isn’t a cautionary tale so much as a supremely sardonic slap across the face.
This trim tragedy about a defiant young woman sold into a loathsome, loveless marriage in mid-19th century England offers a meticulous, mesmerizing look at the thick lines of privilege drawn between class and gender. Director William Oldroyd assembles every image with poetic precision and makes every piece of the visual experience, from framing to costumes to locations, an absolutely exquisite feast for the eyes. But it’s the story that works an even more impactful magic, charting a dark descent with increasingly horrific consequences and making a devastating statement about societal hierarchies that’s as concise as it is chilling.
Christopher Nolan continues his ambitious crusade to preserve the purity of the big screen cinematic experience with this astonishingly immersive action movie that observes the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation from land, sea, and air. The entire experience is overwhelmingly intense, but it’s the latter of the three perspectives that makes the movie really soar. The aerial photography, much of it done with IMAX cameras affixed to plane wings, is truly jaw-dropping and one of Nolan’s most impressive achievements yet. The movie moves at a breakneck pace, chronicling the harrowing survival efforts of various soldiers without the burden of backstory and letting us see the hellish horrors through their eyes. The only goal is to get home and Nolan boils the battle down to its barest elements, crafting an honest ode to to those kids that bravely risked it all.
This is a cheating pick, but I’m a lifelong Godzilla fan and this is the best Godzilla movie ever made, so who cares if it’s a 2016 movie that barely got any theatrical release in my area and only hit home video this year? Regardless of its release year, this is truly Toho’s finest hour, a modern reboot that retains the immediacy and importance of the original’s well-founded fears and reconfigures the franchise’s disaster elements into an epically detailed examination of the bureaucratic red tape that accompanies such a catastrophic event. It’s the kind of meaningfully realistic approach that made the original 1954 movie strike such a chord.
In a year crying out for satire, Jordan Peele skewered America’s racial conscience with this brilliant horror/comedy hybrid that plays like a malevolent mix of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and The Stepford Wives. Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris journeys to the tranquil countryside to meet his white girlfriend’s parents and is nervous about what they’ll make of the mixed race relationship, only to discover that the parents are incredibly friendly and totally not racist at all. Still, the uneasiness persists and what follows is one of cinema’s sharpest examinations of how America’s views on race have changed over time, but still haven’t really evolved. Peele laces every inch of his tight, terrifying story with simmering subtext that speaks volumes.
No 2017 movie moved me more than Sean Baker’s sympathetic, unsentimental, perfectly rendered snapshot of motel-dwelling single parents struggling to get by and raise their free-roaming kids against the glittering backdrop of Walt Disney World. The juxtaposition is clever and eventually used to elating effect, but it’s the humanity and honesty with which Baker attends to his tale of poverty and fantasy that creates such a beautifully endearing experience. Brooklynn Prince delivers a child performance for the ages as adventurous Moonee and Bria Vinaite is incredible as Moonee’s live wire mom. Willem Dafoe’s fatherly motel manager is a warm delight. Everyone here bears the scars of their past, but Baker lets us and Moonee dream of a healing future. While the harsh reality remains, Baker reveals a humanism and, by extension, an optimism that lingers lovingly long after the credits roll.