Lets be honest, most of the best movies of the year are released in the last three months of the year. The fall/winter season is awards season and studios hold back the movies they're most confident in for that end of the year push towards the Oscars. The early months of any given year are typically a dumping ground and then once the weather warms up its time for the blockbusters to start rolling in. The best you can hope for is that a few of the dozens of big budget movies will actually be good and maybe a few surprises on the indie side of things. That is certainly the case for me this year as you'll see and in 2016 where only four of my top 15 at the end of the year were released before July 1st. To be fair I haven't seen everything that has been released in 2017 but I have seen 22 of them. Notable absences include 'Baby Driver', 'Alien: Covenant', 'Free Fire', and 'John Wick: Chapter 2'.
- It Comes At Night
I might be alone in this one, I certainly was as I was leaving the theater, so don't take my word for it but I loved this atmospheric, realistic take on a post apocalyptic world. Its being advertised as a horror movie and insinuating a world filled with zombies but its really just a psychological thriller that has the tension of a horror movie at times. The movie opens with an old man being exterminated for coming down with whatever plague has wiped out a lot of civilization. It turns out that was the grandfather in our protagonists family and from there we learn a bit about how they survive on a day to day basis. Eventually there is an intruder and they have to decide how to proceed from there. Much like 'The Walking Dead' attempts to get at we see that the biggest issue is trust in these situations and its a slippery slope. Unlike TWD, this film is beautifully shot, very well acted, and emotionally affecting. You may love it or hate it but I think its at least a movie worth checking out.
- Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2
Probably my most anticipated movie being released in the first half of 2017 the sequel to my favorite film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe didn't disappoint. Everyone is back, its still very funny, and still has a great soundtrack. The death of Groot in the original begets Baby Groot who is a stand out here. The opening scene of the movie focuses on the young shrub as he dances to “Mr. Blue Sky” while the rest of the Guardians try to kill a giant alien monster. The fun starts immediately and it continues throughout the film. Kurt Russell is introduced as Ego, Peter Quill's long lost father, and he brings Mantis along with him who is an empathetic punching bag for Drax's hilarious insults. Yondu returns for a bigger role this time out, as does Nebula. While GotG2 doesn't disappoint and may even be funnier than the first installment it also isn't doing anything new either. Its more of the same, it just so happens that more of a good thing is still good.
- Get Out
Easily the biggest surprise of the year so far, this horror movie directorial debut from the comedic mind of Jordan Peele ('Key and Peele') blew up at the box office making over $250 million on a $4.5 million budget. Critics loved it along with audiences as it is currently the fourth best reviewed movie of all time on Rotten Tomatoes with a 99% rating. That last bit is over the top and shines light on the limitations of a binary rating system like that but the movie is excellent. Very much of today's issues the movie follows Chris, a black man who is going to visit his white girlfriend's family for the weekend. Its part 'Guess Who's Coming To Dinner' and part 'The Stepford Wives'. The film puts a spin on what we typically see in horror movies in many ways and gives us a different perspective to approach it from. Whats great is that while it speaks to specific fears it also allows everyone to relate to what the protagonist is going through in a general sense. Everybody has been in or can think of a situation where they're going to be surrounded by people they don't know, whether its meeting your significant other's family or going to a party where you only know the person you went with and the worst case scenarios that you make up in your head. Great performances all around here including a believable turn from Allison Williams as Chris' girlfriend and Lil Rel Howery as his buddy Rod.
- Wonder Woman
The hype is real strong with 'Wonder Woman', the fourth film in the DCEU following 'Man of Steel', 'Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice', and 'Suicide Squad'. Gal Gadot was a stand out in the otherwise dreadful 'BvS:DoJ' and she got the origin treatment to great effect. All the DCEU movies made money but WW is the first one to be critically praised. One might 'wonder' if part of that is because the movie is the first female directed superhero movie from a studio and the first female led superhero movie since... 'Electra'? Both of those stats are pretty sad but I'm here to say there's more to it than that. This is just a very good movie. Along the same lines as 'Captain America: The First Avenger', another movie I enjoyed greatly, this is a flash back to Diana Prince as a child and into World War I. The opening in Themyscira is really cool, Chris Pine enters as a comedic and charismatic supporting character, and the action scenes are a lot of fun. It looks great visually and it doesn't take itself too seriously while at the same time having emotional heft. The final act is a bit of a letdown following the originality of the first two segments but its far from enough to detract from a great time at the movies.
- I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore
It didn't take long for those interested to get to see this Grand Jury Prize winner from January's Sundance Film Festival. Netflix bought the film and released it a little more than a month later on February 24th. Its the directorial debut of Macon Blair who was the lead in 'Blue Ruin' and played a role in last year's 'Green Room'. He borrowed a lot from the director of those movies, Jeremy Saulnier, in his comedy thriller about a woman (Melanie Lynskey) who recruits her neighbor (Elijah Wood) to help her in a journey of revenge following her home being burglarized. Its not as good as Saulnier's last two movies but he does well with that style mixing brutal violence with some off beat comedy. There is one scene in particular late in the film that was a highlight in that regard. The performances are all really good and its easy to access thanks to Netflix so I would recommend anyone give it a shot. Another thing in its favor is a short run time of 96 minutes, it gets in and gets out without wasting much time.
Honorable Mentions: Logan, Okja, The Lost City of Z, Colossal, Split
Television is much more balanced when it comes to the release schedule of the best shows over the course of a year, or at least more unpredictable with so many outlets producing high quality content. Netflix seemingly drops a new show every week, Hulu and Amazon have been upping their game of late, not to mention cable networks such as HBO, FX, and AMC always coming out with new shows and returning favorites. Despite 'Game of Thrones' being pushed back into July this year its been such a great year for TV that I think my list of shows from the past six months could compete with my list from all of 2016. Of course with so much programming to watch I haven't seen it all. There are plenty of acclaimed shows that I've just never gotten into so if your favorite is missing from this list, most likely I didn't see it or it just missed the cut.
- The Leftovers
It was a 'Miracle' that HBO gave Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta a third season after season two's ratings sunk even lower than the already low season one numbers. That just speaks to the quality of the show. Season one was a very good start for a show that found its footing as it went along, introducing viewers to characters who had survived an unexplained incident where 2% of the population just disappeared all at once. Season two came back with a new theme song, a new setting, and new characters. By the end of it I was convinced it was the best season of television I'd ever seen. And I stand by that but season three is still up there. While it doesn't have the consistency of the previous season it is provoking and incredibly interesting throughout and then ends with one of my favorite episodes of television ever followed by perhaps the best series finale of all time. The entire series is only 28 episodes and while it is heavy, dark stuff I would highly recommend it to anyone. Maybe it'll end up in your Mount Rushmore of TV like it did for me.
- 13 Reasons Why
I didn't even know what this new Netflix show was until it was released on the platform. This year's 'Stranger Things' came out of nowhere to take the zeitgeist by storm and deservingly so. The story follows a high school by named Clay as he receives cassette tapes recorded by a girl named Hannah, who he had worked and gone to school with, after she committed suicide. Each tape constitutes an episode of the show and also explains the role someone played in leading her down the tragic path she took. It took me awhile to get into the show mostly because it felt very young adult novel and I was expecting it to have some kind of twist. Instead the second half of the season is a powerful look at bullying, rape, and depression. It pulls no punches in a setting that is usually glossed over and played for laughs. They've announced a season two due to the popularity of the show which I'm not sure will work. But as a stand alone its a must watch for anyone that can handle it.
- Master of None
I recently reviewed season two of 'Master of None' on the Screen Verdict podcast and on there we talk all about how Aziz Ansari improved on the format he established in season one with a show that manages to be both funny and tackle some bigger issues. Right out of the gate season two opens up with its best episode, a black and white play on the classic 1948 Italian film 'The Bicycle Thief' that is both hilarious and heart breaking. Thats not to say the rest of the season drops off. There are other stand out episodes such as 'First Date' where Dev (Ansari's character) goes on a series of first dates to very mixed results, 'New York, I Love You' which seamlessly transitions between multiple New York residents and the problems they deal with on a daily basis, and 'Thanksgiving' a mini epic involving Dev's friend Denise as she slowly comes out to her family over the course of many Thanksgivings. Its a rare show that gives you a look at life from many different perspectives than we're used to seeing on TV. And it does it in an honest way that everyone can enjoy.
- Better Call Saul
This might be the best made show on TV. From a film making perspective it doesn't get much better. Great cinematography, long scenes without dialogue that allow the viewer to figure out whats going on, a great score. Season three of the 'Breaking Bad' spin-off is the best yet. Its still a show that has a hard time juggling the screen time between the two main protagonists Jimmy and Mike but this season leaned more into the Jimmy/Saul side of things and introduced a familiar face into the mix. The first half of the season was stronger than the second culminating in the series best episode, 'Chicanery', at the mid-point. Still, the second half gave us some great stuff with a new focus on Nacho and his dealings with Hector Salamanca. The final episode ended on a huge cliffhanger that no matter how it turns out should have season four opening with a bang.
- Big Little Lies
This HBO mini-series focused on a young single mom who moves into a rich neighborhood and the drama that ensues between the women of the community was another pleasant surprise. In the first episode of the show you are presented with a murder investigation but it isn't revealed who was killed or who the killer was until the final episode. I was worried that would come across as gimmicky and for the most part it was but the performances of Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, and Shailene Woodley more than made up for it. Its a soapy drama with all sorts of twists and turns but it also does some things similarly to '13 Reasons Why' when it comes to domestic abuse. Its all really well done and effective despite being fairly easy to predict the outcome. There were rumblings of a season two shortly after the shows conclusion but I haven't heard anything since.
Honorable Mentions: The Handmaid's Tale, Fargo, GLOW, Sneaky Pete, Orange is the New Black