My 2017 at the Movies, Part 2 of 2: The Year’s Least Worst

Last Jedi!

The indefatigable Rey, future head of the New Jedi Order alongside her new best pal Mara Jade. Look, we can dream, okay?

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: In 2017 I made 21 trips to the theater to see films made that same year. In Part 1 we ranked the bottom eleven. And now, the countdown concludes:

10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I suspect someday in the future I’ll come to appreciate Rian Johnson’s aggravatingly subversive counterapproach to the Joseph Campbell formula and George Lucas’ beloved tropes, once enough time has passed. The online discussions that ensued after opening weekend — some of them levelheaded — have had me reconsidering that TLJ makes more sense if viewed as Act Two of a three-act saga, where according to storytelling tradition everything’s supposed to go wrong for Our Heroes, who will in turn find their way back to competence and be totally triumphant at all the things in Act Three/Episode 9, which I have no doubt will be mollycoddling comfort food in the hands of JJ Abrams in comparison. My hindsight reevaluations, as well as a number of jaw-dropping cinematic moments worth the ticket price, don’t excuse all the issues that our family kept harping on throughout the half-hour drive home from the theater, particularly Luke Skywalker’s grand moment of “PSYCH!” I can’t really award full points for a deconstructionist take on a beloved blockbuster institution until and unless I have a better idea of what you’re reconstructing to replace it. Without knowing the ultimate destination, in parts it reads distressingly close to self-parody posing as homage, not totally unlike The Brady Bunch Movie. For now its ranking is based on our first run-through, pending a revisit with fresh eyes sometime after the Blu-ray release.

9. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Not the only film about daddy issues in the countdown. Writer/director James Gunn has turned Marvel’s formerly D-list motley crew into the Firefly of a new generation, a star-spanning saga where the “heroes” are bad guys, the bad guys are worse guys, “family” is about more than blood, and there are more wisecracks than shootouts. I’m not a fan of the pervasive bawdy humor and I have yet to accept Chris Pratt in any role outside Parks & Rec, but their combined struggles against deadbeat-dad Kurt Russell and against their own internecine squabbles nailed an ensemble chemistry achieved by few other super-team flicks. Bonus points for that fond farewell to Michael Rooker’s stepdaddy Yondu, floating away on his magic space umbrella into the sunset.

8. Blade Runner 2049. Due to distracting mishandling by the staff at our local Regal Cinemas, this one needs a retake more than The Last Jedi does. Based on my experience after I stopped grumbling, I found director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins had crafted one of the most achingly beautiful yet achingly slow films of the year. Far more was asked of Harrison Ford for his performance here than for his eight-figure The Force Awakens romp, and Ryan Gosling is more convincing here as his successor than he was as a wannabe jazz gatekeeper. The struggle for artificial lifeform rights has never been more real and in need of an uninterrupted showing, which for a three-hour runtime proved impossible to fit into my schedule a second time before year-end.

7. Spider-Man: Homecoming. Setting aside a few nighttime fight scenes rendered nearly imperceptible to my aging eyes, young director Jon Watts’ re-reboot finds its own path to a friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, sharply embodied by Tom Holland as a fast-moving joker with prodigious science smarts and an exuberant naiveté that gets him into as much trouble as it used to back in the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko/John Romita days of yore. I still think it was too soon for a do-over, which wouldn’t have been on the table in the first place if Andrew Garfield had simply been blessed with better trappings. Regardless, Spidey seems back on track and given a properly rousing kickoff with the assistance of super-pro Michael Keaton as the Vulture, an average Joe pushed over the edge by Big Government into becoming the second-scariest villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For my money their millennial-vs.-workingman feud delivered a more compelling cross-generational conflict than we got out of The Last Jedi.

Cate Blanchett IS Hela!

Good luck to Thanos to try coming anywhere near the super-villain bar that Hela just raised to the highest heavens.

6. Thor: Ragnarok. The one where the God of Thunder graduates from being the Dumb Guy of every ensemble he’s ever belonged to, into a true leader among heroes. All it took for Chris Hemsworth to headline the best film in the Thor trilogy was for director/wizard Waika Taititi to give him a brain, a heart, some courage, a way home, and a fashion upgrade, except instead of shiny red shoes it’s a less dated haircut. Toss in an industrial-strength supply of wit, ample room for improv, fantastic wallpaper-ready visuals from start to finish, and a sterling cast that includes good ol’ Loki (“I have been falling for THIRTY MINUTES!”), Karl Urban as an angry toady, Creed‘s Tessa Thompson as Twitter’s new favorite super-hero right after Black Panther, Attack of the 50-Foot Clancy Brown, Space Jeff Goldblum, and Two-Time Academy Award Winner Cate Blanchett as the scariest villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a shame that Sir Anthony Hopkins had to be wiped out in ignominious fashion for the second time in 2017 after Transformers 5, but sometimes a new generation can’t really step forward till the previous one has moved on. I didn’t mean to allude yet again to things that other films did better than The Last Jedi, but, well, um, yeah.

5. War for the Planet of the Apes. The thought-provoking pro-animal rights antiwar trilogy concludes with, of course, more animal murder and lots more warring, but with a slight twist for the human soldiers as Woody Harrelson reveals that some conflicts have more than one side, and some generals have deeper motives for what they do than a debased craving for napalm fragrance. Andy Serkis and his merry MOCAP-ers are bound and determined to earn acting awards for emotionally complex CG creations infused with three-dimensional souls, but in this day and age our entertainment media’s self-appointed awarderati may not be ready to grant those privileges to CG creations. In that sense, awards committees are like Blade Runner bad guys — a bunch of rich, self-important Jared Letos more than happy to enjoy and praise artificially enhanced beings, but stodgy and old-fashioned in their refusal to treat them as equals.

4. Wonder Woman. The best DC super-hero film since Superman: The Movie, and one of the Top 5 super-hero films ever. Gal Gadot’s take on Princess Diana as an unstoppable force of nature filled with hope and teeming with inspiration is every bit the hero we need in a climate where too many proud, morally deficient adults have declared their role models dead and appointed themselves their own gods. I’d rank this at #1 if it weren’t for a minor stumble when the final boss is revealed as an oddly cheesy Ares who’d be more at home in an inferior Thor sequel. Everything else about director Patty Jenkins’ feat is, well, wondrous to behold. The upper tiers of my annual movie lists are reserved for those precious few acts of cinema that elicit visible emotional reactions in me; here, the forceful climax between WW and the small-town sniper’s nest was one of this year’s most stunning moments of “WHOA” and neatly encapsulates Our Hero’s impact on the state of our entertainment world.

Lady Bird Mural!

Lady Bird just chilling in Sacramento on her 18th birthday. As you do.

3. Lady Bird. Unless the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences makes some pretty left-field choices, Greta Gerwig’s charming, deftly edited, perfectly assembled mother-loves daughter/mother-vs.-daughter coming-of-age drama will probably be the only Best Picture nominee I’ll already have seen before the nominations are announced. Between this and last year’s Brooklyn, Saoirse Ronan has pretty well claimed ownership of the “universal experience of trying to make a new life far from home” indie-film subgenre. Any future ingenues who attempt to follow in her footsteps should study both films in-depth and then owe her royalties. The biggest standout in a crowd of excellence is Laurie Metcalf as her mom, reliving the parenting wins and failures of a lot of us out here and, in one of the most affecting scenes, putting a lump in the throat of anyone who’s ever had a chance to say goodbye but did it wrong to their extended regret.

2. Logan. Director James Mangold returned to helm the best Wolverine solo movie of all (jarring F-bombs notwithstanding) and gift us with Hugh Jackman’s finest performance in all the X-Men Cinematic Universe to date. More than a top-notch action epic, Jackman’s swan song delves into a complicated future where a dying Logan and a senile yet dangerous Professor X face the possible extinction of mutantkind, further complicated when our decrepit heroes become couriers for a tiny, lethal whirlwind of a MacGuffin who’ll grow up to be either an accomplished mass murderer or the herald of a new generation, assuming the old guard can keep her in one piece and teach her how to survive the mutant apocalypse without losing her soul. It’s Grumpy Old Men meets Driving Miss Daisy meets Bruce Dern in Nebraska meets Lone Wolf and Cub in a bloodthirsty yet tear-jerking contemplation on personal endtimes and the importance of passing on legacies and keeping dreams alive. As savage li’l antihero X-23, Dafne Keen is surely just a harbinger of new X-Men casts and reboots to come, but if Fox were to pull the plug and never make another X-film, Logan would stand even taller as the definitive end of an era.


“Hey, Mama Coco! Watch me rehearse my Best Animated Feature Oscar dance!”

1. Coco. Pixar wins again. Mexico’s Day of the Dead and a vivid, rules-bound afterlife are the scintillating backdrop for one boy’s dual quests to become a famous musician and to stay alive after a metaphysical mishap puts him on the wrong side of the living/dead border. What could’ve been a silly skeleton parade in the hands of other, shallower animation studios transforms into an emotionally wrought meditation on the damage that one terrible misunderstanding can inflict on future generations, how our loved ones can live on through our memories, the transcendent power of cherished mementos, the lament of squandered talent, reunions, forgiveness, deadbeat dads, and the importance of preserving and passing on creative legacies. If you choked up at the end of Inside Out or at the beginning of Up or at any Toy Story ending in general, Coco‘s climactic duet will leave you devastated and joyous in the same struggling breaths.

…and that was my 2017 at the movies. Check back with us in the months ahead and see how many times I can be cajoled out of my comfy living room for two hours of cinematic splendor out in the wild with other humans!

Fun addendum for longtime MCC readers: my wife Anne, who is extremely selective about when she’ll join us at the movies for a variety of reasons, would rank the eight 2017 films she saw as follows:

1. Wonder Woman, the best she’s been since Lynda Carter let go of the magic lasso

2. Spider-Man: Homecoming, for getting Spidey right without trying to make it all about the action figures

3. Thor: Ragnarok, for being tremendous fun

4. Justice League, for not being Dawn of Justice

5. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which wasn’t her idea but she was game to tag along for family’s sake

6. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, because raunchy dialogue bothers her ten times more than it does me, and it does bother me

7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi, because do not even get her started

8. Dunkirk, which — in her eyes as a lifelong, phenomenally intensive student of World War II — “took the Miracle at Dunkirk and made it BORING.” Direct quote, emphasis entirely hers. She hasn’t been that royally ticked off at something she’s watched since the season 1 finale of AMC’s The Killing.

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