Movies with Dave: Top 10

 

Well this weekend ended up being a bit more eventful than I had originally expected, at least as far as movies go.

At first I thought I’d only have one new film to talk about with “Winchester” being the only movie brave enough to open on Super Bowl weekend.

Then I discovered that “The Florida Project” was available to stream on Amazon’s video service.

It was a film that came out last year to critical acclaim, including landing Willem Dafoe a Oscar nomination, yet the movie never received a wide release.

So I thought I’d review those two films, list my favorite movies of last year like I promised last week, and call it good.

Then “The Cloverfield Paradox” happened.

I’ve been hearing rumors that Paramount Pictures would forgo a traditional theatrical release for this third film in J. J. Abrams’ Cloverfield franchise, and instead give the distribution rights to Netflix.

But it was still a huge surprise for me when a trailer for “The Cloverfield Paradox” made an appearance during the Super Bowl, not only announcing that the film would indeed release on Netflix, but that it would be available to stream right after the game.

Most studios would spend months generating hype for their release, but here Netflix just does a single TV spot and unleashes their movie for the entire world to see.

It’s a pretty crazy move, but honestly it fits with the Cloverfield series and their previous viral marketing campaigns. Plus it’s just like Netflix to buck convention and release an entire feature film out of nowhere.

Regardless though, I have a bit more writing to do than I originally expected this week.

But before I cover this week’s films, let me finally talk about last year and my favorite films of 2017.

***

  1. That’s the grand total of movies I saw for 2017.

Of those 161 films, I reviewed 146 of them starting late February of last year, plus one review of a 2016 release for those counting at home.

I honestly I can’t believe I’ve stuck with this movie reviewing gig for almost a whole year, especially considering I practically had zero writing experience before starting this whole thing.

I’ve had the opportunity to see a huge range of films from just about every genre. Many were good, some were aggressively terrible, and a fair few were flat out fantastic.

In fact there were so many genuinely great films last year, that I had a hard time whittling down my favorites to a top 10 list.

I did though, but before I share my list I have one quick note.

This is my personal favorite films of 2017. I’m not saying these are objectively the best movies of 2017 period, I’m not saying my opinion is the only correct one, these are just the films that resonated with me the most.

If you happened to have enjoyed other 2017 movies more, or for some reason absolutely despise everything I liked, more power to you.

So with that out of the way, here’s my top 10 movies of 2017.

  1. Thor: Ragnarok

Despite releasing multiple films every year, Marvel Studios manages to keep coming out with constantly entertaining movies and this latest one was one of their best yet.

Everything from the characters, locations, music, and especially the writing, are all fantastic.

It’s not only one of the best superhero movies of the year, it’s also one of its funniest, thanks to the movie’s director Taika Waititi and a hilarious performance from Chris Hemsworth.

All that easily earns this film a spot on my favorites from last year.

  1. Stronger

This movie following Jeff Bauman, a man who lost his legs during the 2013 Boston Marathon, was truly heart wrenching.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany both delivered powerful performances filled with so much raw emotion that at times it was hard to watch.

But despite all the tragedy, this movie also manages to inject some much needed humor.

Round it all out with a cast of characters you just can’t help but love, an uplifting story that succeeds in avoiding the typical inspirational drama clichés, and you have a touching film that’s well worth seeking out.

  1. Detroit

This film could not have been released at a more perfect time for me.

At the time I was reading a book that briefly covered all the race riots that came about during the 1960s and this movie did a wonderful job bringing the horrors of those events to life.

This is not an easy film to watch. It’s violent, brutal, and doesn’t pull a single punch.

Even so it tells a powerful story, showing the dangers of what happens when two sides are backed into a corner and the massive tragedy that can occur from a few bad actors escalating already tense situations.

It’s not a pleasant movie, but it’s an important one. If you have the nerve, and the stomach, I highly recommend checking it out.

  1. Blade Runner 2049

I was very nervous going into this movie. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect especially considering that the original “Blade Runner” never really resonated with me.

But my worries were all for naught. This film was quite the sight to behold.

It may be long, and perhaps a bit slow pacing wise, but I never felt bored thanks to the movie’s breathtaking visuals, amazing world building, fantastic score, and gripping narrative that kept me guessing up until the very end.

It’s probably not for everyone considering the lack of action, but fans of high concept sci-fi will find a lot to love here.

  1. The Florida Project

This movie’s a bit of a late addition considering I only saw it this weekend, but after watching it I couldn’t help but add it to my top 10 of the year.

I’ll go into more detail in my review further down, but know that this is a beautifully shot film with some of the best child acting you’ll see anywhere.

This was surprisingly one of the few films I’ve seen where the kids actually act like children, instead of precocious brats who are too smart for their own good.

Kids acting like kids. What a concept. These performances alone make this a film worth checking out.

  1. Lady Bird

Much like “The Florida Project,” this movie’s strengths lie in its authenticity.

On the surface the film’s story doesn’t seem very eventful. Essentially it’s just a movie following a teenage girl and her struggles in growing up.

But it’s the performances and the film’s writer/director, Greta Gerwig, that really set this movie, this experience apart.

It felt less like watching a film and more like just being a fly on the wall seeing this family deal with their various issues and day to day drama up close and personal.

Combine that with some near perfect pacing and you have a movie going experience that’s well worth your time.

  1. The Disaster Artist

Right off the bat, I’m going to say that this movie won’t be for everyone.

For those unfamiliar with Tommy Wiseau and his cult hit “The Room,” a film widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made, this film will probably come across as a bit odd.

But for me, as someone who’s been inundated with Wiseau and the odd cult following surrounding his film due to its popularity online, this movie was something truly special.

James Franco completely captures the odd and somewhat incoherent spirit of Wiseau. It was equal parts hilarious and fascinating to watch Franco pull off this unusual role.

I loved seeing the production of this strange film, I loved the shockingly detailed recreations of scenes from Wiseau’s original movie, but most of all I loved the bizarre yet endearing relationship between Tommy and his friend Greg (Dave Franco).

All together it made for an experience I adored, one that I couldn’t help but laugh the entire way through.

  1. Logan

Things are going to be a little tricky from here on for me. I struggled to rank these last three films and thought long and hard about which order to put them in.

Honestly any of these last three movies could have been my favorite of the year.

I loved all of them.

But since I’m putting things in a numerical order I guess I’ll settle with “Logan” at number three.

This film is the send off for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, and boy did he go out on a high note.

I couldn’t have hoped for a better final film for the character.

Jackman is amazing, heck the entire cast is fantastic. Most notably Patrick Stewart and newcomer Dafne Keen, who delivers an unbelievable good performance especially considering her age and the fact that she doesn’t even speak for nearly the entire film.

Despite featuring characters straight out of a comic book, this film feels less like a superhero movie and more like a western, thanks to its setting and overall story.

This movie truly shows the potential of the comic book genre. It’s hard to say, but this might be my favorite superhero film of all time.

Regardless, this is easily one of my favorites from last year.

  1. The Shape of Water

This movie is absolutely gorgeous.

I loved everything about this film’s aesthetic, from the colors, to the Cold War setting, to the mysterious yet romantic music.

I have never seen a film make something as simple as water look this beautiful.

All that doesn’t even touch on Sally Hawkins’ amazing performance as a mute woman or the shockingly sweet romance between her and a fish person.

I still can’t get over how ridiculous that sounds, but believe me when I say the story here not only works, but it manages to be the best romantic film of last year.

This movie’s director/writer, Guillermo del Toro, has truly outdone himself with this film.

I loved everything about this movie. As far as looks goes, no other film last year came even close to being this stunning.

***

And now my number one film of 2017, but first a couple honorable mentions.

I really wish I could have fit “Get Out” and “Coco” somewhere in my top 10, considering one was my favorite horror film of last year and the other was clearly the best animated movie as far as I’m concerned.

Sadly they didn’t quite make the cut, but they’re still fantastic films well worth your time.

With that out of the way, here’s my favorite movie of 2017.

***

  1. I, Tonya

I thought about it quite a bit. “Logan and “The Shape of Water” were both fantastic films, but for me I think this movie beats them just barely.

“I, Tonya” may not be as gorgeous as “The Shape of Water” or have the iconic childhood superhero like “Logan,” but what it lacks there is more than made up for in this film’s storytelling and fantastic cast of characters.

Everyone in this movie is horribly flawed in the most interesting ways possible.

And at the center of it all is an absolutely perfect performance from Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding.

She nailed everything about her. She has the look, the attitude, the gut wrenching emotion, and most importantly to me, the humor.

This movie is surprisingly funny and easily getting the most laughs throughout the film is Allison Janney as Tonya’s horribly abusive mother.

You wouldn’t think a woman with that kind of reputation would be funny, but somehow the filmmakers manage to strike the perfect tone for her character, along with perfect tone for the entire film.

But the most fascinating part of this movie, and the thing that puts it at the very top is it’s style of storytelling.

Many facts in Tonya’s life are unverifiable, or have conflicting tellings of events.

But instead of the filmmakers sitting down and determining a concrete narrative for the entire film, they decided to tell this story from everyone’s point of view and let the audience decide for themselves who to believe.

It’s a fascinating way to tell a story and I loved every second of it.

All that and more makes “I, Tonya” my favorite film of 2017.

***

Alright, now that I’ve gotten last year out of the way, here’s what I saw this week.

***

First up is “Winchester.”

Inspired by true events, this film follows Eric Price (Jason Clarke) a doctor hired by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to determine if the company’s majority owner, Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren), is mentally fit to remain in charge of the famous firearms manufacturer.

Seeking to determine the woman’s sanity, Price travels to the infamous Winchester Mansion, a sprawling home filled with hundreds of rooms. A house that Mrs. Winchester believes is haunted by the souls of those killed by the company’s rifle.

What a waste of potential.

In more competent hands I think the story of Sarah Winchester and her legendary home could have made for an interesting movie. Heck, the house itself is so notorious for its alleged paranormal nature, guests still flock to it to this day.

And while there are some interesting aspects to the story, the movie is so overloaded with lazy horror and remarkably dumb jumpscares, it makes the whole experience an aggravating mess.

Almost every single attempted scare was either some kind of inanimate object shaking around wildly or a random spooky face popping up out of nowhere followed by a loud noise.

It was like watching one of those screaming creepy face prank videos on repeat. Sure, you might get me to jump the first time around, but after the fourth or fifth go-round it just becomes annoying.

And that’s pretty much all this film has to offer.

It’s like the studio had to hit some kind of horror movie checklist.

Let’s see, we got the loud noises and dumb jump scares. Check.

A story “based on true events” but loosely set in reality. Check.

Gotta throw in a creepy kid singing so we can inject something eerie to the trailer since the movie’s attempted scares are garbage.

And the film just has to end with a jumble of horrible looking visual effects. That’s just a given at this point.

This movie is the horror genre at it’s laziest.

There’s a reason the film’s studio buried this movie on Super Bowl weekend.

It’s like even they knew everyone would be better off not seeing this garbage fire of a horror film.

“Winchester” is rated PG-13.

***

Next is “The Florida Project.”

Set over the course of one summer, this film follows six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her ragtag group of friends whose summer break is filled with childhood wonder, while the adults around them, including Moonee’s mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) and the manager of their motel (Willem Dafoe), struggle with with the harshness of reality.

If you read my list of top 10 films of 2017, you already know this was one of favorite movies of last year.

Like I already said, this movie has some of the best, most genuine performances that I’ve ever seen from children period.

Shockingly all the kids just act like kids. They’re silly, goofy, they like to talk in funny voices, and randomly start shouting for seemingly no reason. Just like regular kids.

It was honestly kind of astonishing. Throughout the film I just kept seeing glimpses of children I know in real life from these characters.

The dialogue is pitch perfect. Even little things like the way the kids composed sentences felt amazingly natural.

This is the only movie I’ve seen that’s directed by Sean Baker, but after seeing this film I already have a massive respect for the filmmaker.

It takes a great director to get solid performances out of children. For Sean Baker to get performances this natural and this authentic from kids, when so many other filmmakers fail, truly speaks to this man’s talent for directing.

The adults here do a fantastic job as well.

Despite Halley’s harsh and frankly trashy behavior, she still manages to be sympathetic, especially considering her circumstances.

But it’s Willem Dafoe who really shines here.

There’s something so relatable about his character.

He can be tough on Moonee and her friends to be sure, in fact he finds them downright annoying at times, but he also really cares about them. It’s almost like he’s guardian to everyone living in this rundown crappy looking motel he manages.

I love Dafoe’s performance here. I definitely see why he earned an Oscar nomination for it.

Also, despite the film’s run down setting, this movie still somehow manages to be beautiful.

I loved the way it was shot. Many scenes are filmed from the kid’s perspective making it almost feel like you’re following them along on their adventures.

Objectively these children live in a trashy neighborhood, but through their eyes, it all somehow seems magical.

Sadly even a child’s sense of wonderment can’t hide the poverty they’re objected to and the second half the film ended up hitting me like a slap to the face.

It’s heartbreaking to see kids live in these circumstances, but what’s even sadder is this is a reality for many children.

I’m so glad I ended up watching this movie.

I could see some people finding the story lacking. The narrative isn’t as well defined or clear cut as you usually see in most high budget films.

Also if you find children annoying this is definitely not the film for you.

For me though, I loved every second of it and hope to see more from this fantastic filmmaker very soon.

“The Florida Project” is rated R.

***

Last this week is “The Cloverfield Paradox.”

Hoping to solve the world’s impending energy crisis, a group of scientists in a space station orbiting Earth run experiments with a particle accelerator in an attempt to discover a new source of power for the energy starved planet.

But when their experiment fails in a unexpected and catastrophic way, the researchers are forced to fight for survival and attempt to undo the damage they’ve done.

I never know what to expect from this series. Honestly, I’m not sure anyone does.

The first one was a found footage monster movie, which thanks to an ingenious marketing campaign, was wildly successful.

You’d think the studio behind the film would immediately throw together a sequel, but for whatever reason they sat on the Cloverfield name for over 8 years.

Then, out of nowhere “10 Cloverfield Lane” is announced and subsequently released to the adoration of critics, including myself, and mixed reviews from fans of the original since it wasn’t even vaguely related to the first one beyond the name and a couple obscure references.

With this latest movie though, “The Cloverfield Paradox” is advertised as more of a direct continuation of the original story or at least it promises to unveil more secrets behind the mystery of the first film.

So is this the film fans have been hoping to see for nearly a decade?

I’d guess probably not. I had a fair amount of fun while watching it though.

I definitely like the idea of the story they try to tell. It’s like all the conspiracy theories surrounding the Large Hadron Collider, the giant atom smasher near Geneva, Switzerland, come to life.

It’s a fun concept to play with, and with it all taking place on this confined, tightly cramped space station, the stakes end up going through the roof very quickly.

The characters themselves weren’t really anything to write home about, but they held the story together well enough. I wouldn’t say any of the performances were bad, but none of them were particularly great either.

I enjoyed watching the mystery unfold and seeing this crew piece together what was happening to them.

After a while though the horrible things happening to these poor people just seemed random or only to service the plot with no actual set up.

With most stories you at least get some kind of pattern, some kind of explanation why things are going wrong. Here though, they just wave their hands, say “other dimensions” and call it good.

It ended up feeling slightly arbitrary on who lived and who died. I know that’s how real life is, but it’s pretty unsatisfying in reality too.

Overall I’d say I enjoyed this movie. It doesn’t even come close to being as good as the other two Cloverfield films, especially not “10 Cloverfield Lane,” but it makes for a solid two hour distraction.

Regardless though it’s on Netflix. It’s not like you’re wasting money on a ticket to go see it anyway.

“The Cloverfield Paradox” is rated TV-MA.

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