January is traditionally a slow month in terms of new releases. The limited release Oscar-hopefuls from the previous month are just going into wider distribution and the summer blockbuster season – which now seems to start in April for some reason – is still months away. As cinephiles work at catching up on the films they may have initially missed from the past year, here are the ones in no particular order except alphabetical we think they should make the time for.
There is just not enough to say about this film! What are you in the mood for, heist film, action film, romance film; let’s watch Baby Driver. This movie has something for everyone. It’s touching, comedic, intense, and musical. Speaking of the music, the soundtrack is astounding! Using the songs of the Commedores, T-Rex, Golden Earring, The Damned, Barry White, and of course with film named Baby Driver, you need to include the Simon and Garfunkle song of the same name. This movie is centered around a man named Baby, a young getaway driver for bank robbers who lives with his deaf and mute foster father, and has a budding romance with a local waitress. What makes him so special is that he had an accident when he was a kid, and has a disorder called Tinnitus which is a ringing or buzzing noise in your ears that is often associated with hearing loss. He listens to music to drown it out, and creates his own soundtrack for his daily life; timing everything to the music. The latter portion of the statement is shown even in how it was filmed. Each beat is in time with each shot. Also the music influences the style. You can tell the movie is modern, but also has an air of the 70s to it. And Edgar Wright’s direction brings a refreshing story into the Hollywood circuit. Wright is known for his comedy films that are seeped into other genres. Shaun of the Dead was horror, Hot Fuzz was cop films, The World’s End brought us sci-fi, and now we get heist film. But with this film we just see something that was apparent in any of the others, seriousness. Wright’s previous films didn’t take themselves too serious, and we knew that going in. But it also came as a shock that this one shifted the gears on what we knew from the past. This is the ultimate original blockbuster of the year! It’s perfect for almost every occasion, and that’s what makes it timeless. – Natasha Bogutzki
Beauty and the Beast
Disney’s business plan of redoing its animated slate of films as live-action ones is a risky prospect, After all, they are remaking classics, making the bar for success for the new films incredibly high. They have to be as good as the originals yet bring something new to the concept.
Beauty and the Beast can not match the magic and spectacle of the original, but it makes up for it in other ways. The characters are more fully developed. We get a look at both Belle and Beast’s backstories, which introduces elements into the story that make their whirlwind romance more believable. All this adds up to a stronger story this time around.
This version might not be as special as the first one, or go down in history as much as a classic as the original, it was one of the best films to come out in 2017. – William Gatevackes
The Big Sick
Movies based on true stories generally involve characters and situations that make an impact on the culture or the zeitgeist of the moment. On that scale, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon’s story of how they met and weathered a dire health emergency while on the path to falling in love may seem like small potatoes, but that small personal scope carries as much dramatic and emotional heft as any other “based on real events” films released this year such as I, Tonya or The Post. Nanjiani stars as basically himself from a decade ago, a struggling LA comic making ends meet as an Uber driver and whose Pakistani family is pressuring him into what they consider a more traditional life, complete with pre-arranged wife. But when Emily (Zoe Kazan) falls ill and lapses into a coma at a rocky point in their budding relationship, Kumail is left to deal with her parents – Ray Romano and Holly Hunter in beautifully naturalistic performances. A rare romantic comedy that evokes actual emotions, The Big Sick stands out in a field of the year’s best that is predominately dominated by big spectacle and drama. – Rich Drees
Blade Runner 2049
This film is a work of art. Place this alongside the original 1982 film and it fits together seamlessly. Surprisingly the temptation to turn this neo-noir into a action film was avoided. Yes, it is missing some of noir’s classic tropes, but the overall style of the genre is prevalent. Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford are Blade Runners (specialized police officers) who are searching for a replicant (artificially made humans) who was born, not made. Two elements of this film made it standout amongst the others; the score and the cinematography. The score, done by composers Hans Zimmer and Bejamin Wallifisch closely mirrored that of Vangelis’ from the original 1982 film in it’s style, but it wasn’t one that could easily be forgotten after hearing it. As for cinematography, again it also mirrored the original, yet brought something new to it, particularly in the color palette. Darker tones were a statement of the original film, it felt like eternal night. This film took that idea and built on it, showing that it’s only like that in the city. Outside that, the blackish blues and neon colors that built the city were in sharp contrast with the yellows and rust colors displayed. – NB
Pixar is the cinematic equivalent of pizza–when it’s bad, it’s good. But when they are good, they are simply phenomenal.
Coco is their latest triumph. The story of a Mexican boy trying to work out family issues while trapped in the land of the dead is Pixar firing on all cylinders. The production design is first rate, the songs are catchy and help move the plot along, and the themes of the power of music, the grandeur of family and the sacrifices one must make to follow their dreams are all but guaranteed to pull on your heart strings.
The film might suffer in some peoples eyes as being released after the similarly-themed The Book of Life, but Coco has more wit, more heart and more spirit than that film. It probably will be a lock for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It should be one for Best Picture, too. – WG
What to say about this film that you haven’t already heard? Is it a satire, yes. Does it give some brilliant performances, yes. Is there comic relief in film that could be rooted almost in a horror genre, hell yes! If you need to see a film that isn’t centered around the sequels, remakes, and superhero movies that the Hollywood has been whipped into making for money making purposes, than this is high up on the recommendation scale. It’s fresh. What seems to be a romantic film about an interracial couple meeting the girls parents, quickly turns terrifying, as the parent’s try to brainwash and sell off their daughter’s beaux because of so-called superior physical attributes that his race carries. And in the middle of all this craziness you have Daniel Kaluuya giving a stunning performance of the persecuted man. But writer/ director Jordan Peele does the impossible, bringing all these element together to make on hell of a film. – NB
Margot Robbie has slowly been carving out a career that belies her start in Australian soaps, with everything leading up to her bravura performance as the infamous figure skating star Tonya Harding. A sly dark comedy, the film itself plays with the idea that none of the accounts from the various participants related to Harding’s career and the attack on skating rival Nancy Kerrigan reconcile themselves with one another; a Rashomon of a biopic if you will. At times self-aware of its own status as a narrative being told from multiple viewpoints, the film draws comedy from the friction between the differing accounts, a frission that makes the film one of the more honest biopics made. Look for Allison Janey to be making a number of speeches during the upcoming awards season for her work as Harding’s no nonsense mother. – RD
This has been a very good year for serious, thoughtful takes on genre films – be it thrillers like Get Out, creature features like The Shape Of Water or romcoms like The Big Sick. Add to that list the coming-of-age story Lady Bird, an interesting and unexpected companion piece to this year’s Wonder Woman. Actress-turned-first time writer/director Greta Gerwig has crafted a well observed, wry story about a seventeen-year-old girl in the process of trying to define herself on her own terms and not by any arbitrary standards set forth by her family, peers or teachers. The relationship between Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) and her mother (Laurie Metcalf) is perhaps one of the most honest portrayals of a parent-child bond seen this or any other recent year. – RD
The LEGO Batman Movie
It is hard to believe that the best representation of Batman on the silver screen would not be a giant big-budget tentpole extravaganza, but an animated film based off a children’s building toy, but there you go. At its story’s core is the prime elements of the classic comic book character – a guy driven to fight crime by the memory of his parents being killed in a random robbery denying to himself that what he really needs is to let others into his life. Fairly complex emotional stuff for what could have been just a quickie, cash-in children’s film. A joyous celebration of the character’s nearly eight decades existence, sharp-eyed fans will catch numerous references both visual and in dialogue, to the may different eras of the character, from his pulp-informed vigilante origins to the campiness of his 1950s comic incarnation to the grittiness of the 1980s Frank Miller comic reimagining. It may not be the Batman movie we deserve, but it is the Batman movie we need. – RD
The Shape Of Water
It would be easy to say that The Shape Of Water is director Guillermo del Toro’s reinterpretation of the 1950s monster classic The Creature From The Black Lagoon and nothing more. But this film is so much more than that. With more than a little influence of classic fairy tales, specifically “Beauty & The Beast,” The Shape Of Water finds a grace and dignity in its cast of outcast heroes (Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins) as they find the humanity in a creature during a time – the 1960s and the height of the Cold War – when finding common ground with those who are different was not part of the national agenda. Del Toro’s best work has often been his most dream-like and The Shape Of Water is a stunning adult fantasia of a film. – RD
The third time was the charm. Spider-Man finally comes into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with his third incarnation in 20 years with a fresh take that hews close to the comic book version of the character while taking him in new and undiscovered directions.
We got a younger, more inexperienced Spider-Man this time around, played to perfection by Tom Holland. He is still learning how to be a hero, but that doesn’t stop him from getting in over his head. Robert Downey, Jr. is there to give Peter some guidance and tough love along the way.
With comic book films, the movie is only as good as its villain, and this film has one of the better ones in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. The character is vicious but with a relatable motivation and is one of the best, well-defined bad guys in film history. The scene between Keaton and Holland in the car to the homecoming dance is especially chilling and one new viewers should look out for. – WG.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The Last Jedi is quite possibly the best directed of all the Star Wars films. That’s a low hurdle to leap over, considering that four of the twelve announced films of the franchise were directed by George Lucas. But Rian Johnson has created one of the most stimulating, visually interesting films in the franchise. Johnson has also wrote one of the most challenging and interesting scripts in the franchise’s history.
The film is a sweeping epic that delves into the themes of what it takes to be a hero, how to deal with making catastrophic mistakes, and, more importantly considering the franchise it is in, the power of hope.
Fanboys are rankled because they didn’t get everything they wanted out of the film. All I wanted was a good story. That is what we all got. – WG
“Choose Life”. After all these years, it’s good to know that the motto of our favourite Edinburgh heroin user has not changed. Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Scotland after he absconded with 16,000£ 20 years ago to face his friends, Sick Boy, Spud , and Begbie. Sick Boy is blackmailing people and using the money to open a brothel. Spud is trying to become a useful member of society, but after losing his family retreats back into the drugs. Begbie has escaped from prison and is now out for blood. Director Danny Boyle and the entirety of the original cast returns, making this the reunion we’ve been waiting for. Unfortunately because of its limited release, this film went unnoticed by most of the masses. And considering the popularity of the original film, the publicity of its sequel ought to have been greater. – NB
War For The Planet of the Apes
“Apes together, strong.” Yes, but not without compassion. The final installment of this film cements just how underappreciated the work of Andy Serkis truly is. Yes, he is a pop culture legend, but that doesn’t mean that his motion capture performances recieve the recognition that they should. Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes are pulled into a conflict with the humans, by a merciless Colonel (played by the always great Woody Harrelson). The capture and treatment of the apes by the humans hits home could in it’s own way symbolizes animal abuse. But the apes are not animals. They are equal to humans because of the intelligence, compassion, and manners. But at the center of the film, in which these two hard headed leaders face off, there is a ray of hope in the character of a mute human girl. She is the light in the growing darkness, and brings Caesar back from the brink of despair, particularly after the loss of is family. She gives him a reason to keep fighting, even when Caesar begins to believe all is lost. This is a fitting end to the trilogy, as well as wonderful send off to Serkis, providing his character with a sacrifice to preserve and save his people! Thank you, Caesar. – NB
One of comic book’s most iconic characters deserved a great film. And, thank the fates, she got one.
That wasn’t a gimme by any standards. Warner Brothers was coming off screwing up Superman and Batman. But the studio got everything right this time. Director Patty Jenkins brought the Amazing Amazon to the big screen in an epic story that was an excellent balance of heart, humor and action. Gal Gadot built on the charm she showed in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice to inhabit the character better than any actress outside of Lynda Carter. Even the World War I setting worked in the film’s favor and the character’s origin.
The world was wondering when Warners would make a great comic book film. With Wonder Woman, the didn’t just do that, they made one of the best films of 2017 as well. – WG