Average Joe Movie reviews 2017 at the Movies

In Brief: 2017 had more great movies than any year I can remember in a long time. That’s the upside. The downside is the rest were awful.

Four Observations

One. Are movies losing their popularity? Movie tickets sales fell 4% to $1.26 billion in 2017. Experts say it is the lowest level since 1995. Part of the blame for the drop is competition from TV sources like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.

Another serious hit was an almost non-existent summer movie season. Normally a blockbuster or two are released. This year — says one of my movie theater sources only Stephen King’s It got much attention from moviegoers.

While the best films this year are very good most are not and are not that appealing to moviegoers. Netflix, HBO, Showtime and others are producing flicks and series with much deeper and richer content than the bad sequels and recycled plots of today’s movies. If a person is going to spend $12 to $15 or double if it’s a couple — not counting popcorn, sodas and/or candy — to see a film they want a movie experience that is pitch perfect.

Second observation. There were more great films this year than on average. My best list could — but won’t — hit 20 or more. After 28 years of doing this I either love a film or hate it so those not making the best list could easily end up on my list of the worst.

Third. I skipped more movies this year than ever. I just couldn’t make myself go to sequels like Pitch Perfect 3, Daddy’s Home 2, Smurfs: The Lost Village and My Little Pony: The Movie though my 4-year old granddaughter finally forced me to take her to the pony flick.

Equally non-appealing are remakes like Jumanji, CHIPS and Flatliners.

Last. A criticism of critics. For years I’ve seen films highly praised by critics and wondered how the hell they came to that conclusion. I now have enough gray hair and longevity to feel free to criticize those criticizing movies. Here’s my theory and it is aimed at legit critics for newspapers, magazines, radio and television and not at the growing and trendy web-based group. 

I suspect many give rave reviews to films because it is expected. To not — let’s say — love a Christopher Nolan movie might make you look like some kind of a simpleton to other critics. So praise is heaped where praise is not warranted.

It’s a theory but — talking about Nolan — how is it possible that his film Dunkirk makes a best of the year list? The historical event is fascinating but Nolan fails to capture its power and never connects you to his characters. When someone dies, it’s — eh — so what?

Nolan’s movie is paint-by-numbers filmmaking.

The same goes for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Gone is the cowboys in space fun of the first series. Replacing it is an effect-filled, predictable and — at 2:30 — tedious drama. Over 50% of viewers on Rotten Tomatoes agree with me that the film is good but not “that” good. Critics had a different take and 91% give it very high ratings.

There seems to be a disconnect.

Others? Please don’t accuse me of being a homophobe. I am not. That said I do not feel obligated to love movies with gay themes just because they’re about gay people. Call Me by Your Name is being praised as one of the year’s best if not “the” best of 2017. The 17-year old boy falling for a man pushing 30 is a long, drawn-out and boring teen angst flick.

I think many critics feel required to give the film rave reviews because of the theme. Would it be that important if the plot centered around a 17-year old girl and a 30-year old man? Screams of rape and adult manipulation of an innocent girl would likely be — or might be — among the complaints.

In the case of this movie — though it is a little more nuanced — that’s exactly what happens to the boy.

The Year’s Best

1. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri: Drama as a comedy. Best just about everything as in movie, acting, directing, screenplay.
2. The Shape of Water: A monster looking a lot like the 1954 Creature from the Black Lagoon in the year’s most unusual romance.
3. Colossal: Nobody saw this one. Too bad. One of the most original sci-fi flicks ever and features really twisted performances from Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis who normally do more ordinary roles and lame comedies.
4. Logan: The best super hero movie ever, and a dramatic and satisfying end of two of the world’s most popular super heroes.
5. I, Tonya: From trailer trash to infamous figure skater and criminal, Tonya Harding’s biopic is packed with laughs. Like Three Billboards this award-worthy from top to bottom.

Honorable mentions: The Big Sick, Molly’s Game, Beauty and the Beast, The Greatest Showman, War for Planet of the Apes, The Post

Acting

As long as I’ve criticized critics I might as well expand that criticism to the industry. If Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Daniel Day-Lewis or Helen Mirren do a movie their performance seems to automatically generate an award nomination. Added to the list of automatics this year is the always fun Octavia Spencer and the very interesting Jessica Chastain.

Are they really that good? Yes and no. All are excellent at their craft and always give better performances than the average actor or actress. There were — however — lots better female performances last year than Dench who plays Queen Victoria for the umpteenth time in Victoria & Adbul.

Elle Fanning in The Beguiled is one. The same case can be made for Elizabeth Olson’s work in Wind River. Or how about Shirley MacLaine who still can do no wrong, in The Last Word? All three are better performances than Dench or Streep. A Ghost Story’s Rooney Mara ought to be considered if only for her pie eating scene. It blew my mind.

Actors? How about Jackie Chan’s dramatic work in The Foreigner? Or — even better — Hugh Jackman’s swan song performance as Wolverine in Logan? Bryan Cranston stole the show in the Last Flag Flying. All three are much better performances than that of Washington, Hanks or Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet who star in Call Me By Your Name.

Will someone finally give this man his due and heap Oscars, Golden Globes and other awards on him. Sam Rockwell makes every movie he’s in better and his supporting work in Three Billboards the best acting this year by anyone male or female.

Francis McDormand shared screen time with Rockwell in the film and is my pick as the year’s best actress though I also loved the work of Sally Hawkins for The Shape of Water and Margot Robbie in I, Tonya. Not far from the top is Hong Chau whose larger than life performance in Downsizing is the only upside to the movie.

The Year’s Best Feel-Good Flicks

Gifted: No one saw it. Too bad. Chris Evans proves he’s a great actor and can do more than just Captain America.
Wonder: Coulda been a little bit darker and been more effective. Should be required viewing and a required class for all kids sixth grade to eighth.
The Shack: The best Christian movie EVER.

Worst of the Year. So many to choose from but I always pick blockbusters and those that are supposed to be great films but fail — at least in my eyes — to make the grade.

1. Dunkirk: I know, I’m in the minority but it is the year’s biggest disappointment.
2. Call Me By Your Name: Already made my NOT homophobic comments.
3. The Zookeeper’s Wife: A subject this deep and important deserves a better movie
4. Fifty Shades Darker: Pointless softcore porn. Period.
5. The Snowman: Melted into a mess rather quickly.

Honorable mentions: Victoria & Abdul, Downsizing, Transformers: The Last Knight, Cars 3, Woodshock, Beatriz at Dinner, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Wish Upon

2017’s Biggest Disappointments

Some I’ve already commented upon. The list is short but notable.

1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi: What happened to cowboy’s in space and all that humor?
2. Dunkirk: Already listed the reasons.
3. Downsizing: The concept shrinks people, then almost pretends they’re life-sized and ignores the potential fun of large vs. small.
4. Blade Runner 2045: Boring. Takes too long to get anywhere.
5. Last Flag Flying: Where’s the emotional payoff?

Honorable mentions: All the Money in the World, Roman J. Israel, Esquire, The Florida Project, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, The Hero

Super Heroes: They Finally Got Spider-Man Right

Spider-Man: Homecoming: Third time is the charm. Tom Holland does Spider-Man as the smart aleck I remember from the comic books in the early 1960s.

Other super hero flicks that got it right? Logan is one of the year’s best films. Thor: Ragnarok has a ton of laughs and D.C. Comics improved its super hero lot with Wonder Woman and in spite of the deadly dull Batman and Superman done by Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill, with a short Justice League.

Surprise, Surprise

Some I’ve mentioned already. Colossal, The Big Sick, The Foreigner and Wonder.

Probably the biggest surprise of the year is the horror movie hit Get Out. This is a great piece of work with lots of nasty twists and turns.

Others:

Baby Driver and Good Time: Most excellent and dark crime dramas and Good Time has Robert Pattinson desperately distancing himself even more from Twilight’s vampire Edward.
The Book of Henry: Fun twists in this one and great kid performances.
Rebel in the Rye: The story of J.D. Salinger and his classic book is riveting.
Table 19: One of those great character study flicks that no one sees.
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie: The funniest animated flick in years. I laughed so hard I almost cried.

2017’s Best Guilty Pleasure

The Hitman’s Bodyguard: Suspend disbelief and enjoy.
Baywatch: Tongue-in-cheeky fun.
T2: Trainspotting: Bombed and not sure why.
I Do… Until I Don’t: I love Lake Bell’s writing and directing and have interviewed her twice. She loves doing voiceovers and is a student of the human voice. I did radio for 20-years and have the same love. Both conversations with her were absolutely a blast and we both agree Sam Elliott has the best voice ever.

Oh, her movie. Yes, it’s a nice comedy that explores marriage from the angle of maybe it isn’t that important after all. She — however — agrees it is.

The Last Word: The last word goes to Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried who both shine in this bonding flick. This one is one of my favorites this year.

Awful & Not a Surprise

It
Mother!
Alien: Covenant
Breathe
The Dark Tower
Life
The Mummy
Fist Fight
xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The Space Between Us
Everything, Everything
The Only Living Boy in New York
A Dog’s Purpose
Snatched

Weird

A Ghost Story: A ghost with absolutely nothing to do haunts a house in a sheet like kids used to wear on Halloween in the 1950s and 1960s. That’s about it.
It Comes at Night: We never do find out what “it” is.

Movies I Couldn’t Make Myself See and the Titles Make it Obvious.

Daddy’s Home 2
Jumanji
Pitch Perfect 3
The Mountain Between Us
Flatliners
CHIPS
Brad’s Status
Only the Brave
Smurfs: The Lost Village
My Little Pony: The Movie
The Case for Christ
Undercover Grandpa

Gary Wolcott has been a movie consultant for KXL since 2014. A lifelong fan of film, he’s been a film critic in radio, television and newspaper for 25-years. Wolcott catches a couple of hundred movies a year and he sees a great many of them so you don’t have to.

Got a movie suggestion or comment? Click here to email him.

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