In honor of Oscar weekend, a few days ago I posted a piece about the nine films nominated for Best Picture 2018. I’ve seen them all this year (woo!) and offered my thoughts on each film, leading to my prediction of the winner as well as my favorite film and the one I want to win Best Picture. Today I’m looking back at the movies I personally saw at the theatres last year – presented in the order I saw them (with multiple viewing dates when appropriate) – and offering up my Best Picture nominees. If I was in charge of the Academy Awards, who would get the Best Picture trophy? And how does my list match up to Oscar’s? Well, let’s take a look and find out!
As with yesterday, I felt I should offer a short summary of each movie in case anyone reading hasn’t seen them. Again as, brevity isn’t always my strenght – to keep the piece small and focused on my thoughts/feelings for each film – I’ve taken all these summaries from the Internet Movie Database.
Also, it intrigues me how few “mainstream” movies garner Oscar nominations and how formulaic their nominations often are. Heavy historical epics and dramas abound while comedies, animated movies, and superhero/sci-fi fare (re: FUN movies) rarely make the cut – especially in the MAJOR categories. That’s not the case here! I looked back at all my ticket stubs from 2017 and chose the ten films I enjoyed the most over the past year. My criteria for consideration was a) it came out in the calendar year of 2017, b) I saw it in the theatre, and c) I really enjoyed it, in one way or another, more than all the rest. That being said, my nominees are…….
1) The LEGO Batman Movie
Written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, and John Whittington and Directed by Chris McKay
9 February, 12 March 2017
Summary: A cooler-than-ever Bruce Wayne must deal with the usual suspects as they plan to rule Gotham City, while discovering that he has accidentally adopted a teenage orphan who wishes to become his sidekick.
I LOVED The LEGO Movie. I heard the hype. I didn’t think it could live up to it. Then I saw it and it was even better than the hype said! I was initially skeptical about a Batman-centric sequel too, worried focusing on one character when you have alllllllll of LEGO to play with would water things down. Just like its predecessor, The LEGO Batman movie was a wonderfully welcome surprise. It’s fun. It’s hysterical. And – best of all – they lampooned/addressed all the ridiculously unhealthy things about Batman that have always bothered me about the character! They satirize his seriousness, the needless/ceaseless/endless darkness, and the emotional brokenness. As they did this, they managed to pay tribute to all the watershed moments in Batman’s history as well as creating a narrative that shows real emotional growth for the Batman and beautifully illustrates the importance of family and real human relationships. This is the Batman I’ll get behind! It’s also a movie I can put on whenever I’ve had an exhausting day.
Written by Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green and Directed by James Mangold
2, 5, 15 March 2017
Summary: In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X, somewhere on the Mexican border. However, Logan’s attempts to hide from the world, and his legacy, are upended when a young mutant arrives, pursued by dark forces.
….what can I even say? Logan was unlike anything I’d ever seen in a superhero movie before. It was a sobering, heartfelt look at aging and mortality, made all the more powerful by having a near-immortal mutant be the one to face his death. It explored the questions of our innermost nature (are we more than animals?) and the importance of connecting to others in and through love. It also threw aside the superhero genre’s unwillingness to end. These films go on indefinitely, always setting up sequels or fizzling out and being rebooted. But Logan was bold enough to give Wolverine – the character who ushered in the modern age of the cinematic superhero seventeen years prior – a conclusion worthy of his rich history and cultural significance. This isn’t a film I’ll watch often, as it takes a pretty heavy emotional toll. However, it is a film that left an indelible mark on my heart and mind. I’ve seen few films, superhero or otherwise, that have affected me this deeply. It was an eloquent elegy that left me crying tears of sadness and joy as the credits started to roll.
3) Get Out
Written and Directed by Jordan Peele
3 March 2017
Summary: It’s time for a young African-American to meet his white girlfriend’s parents for a weekend in their secluded estate in the woods, but before long, the friendly and polite ambience will give way to a nightmare.
Yep, Get Out made both lists! Congratulations Academy Awards, we’re on the same page here. I know, I know…you feel special. You should! As I said in the other post, there’s just so much going on here. It’s a brilliant horror film, mixing together all sorts of subsects of the horror genre in one movie for a dizzying array of creepiness that keeps you off balance the entire time. It’s also wise (or self-aware) enough to combine the horror with moments of sincerely funny humor to a) give the viewer a break from mounting unease/fear as well as b) make the movie enjoyable in a whole other way. Most impressive of all, it manages to be legitimately funny and scary and speak to the presence/threat/power of the systemic racism that plagues our country. Turning America’s original sin into the subject of a horror movie and simultaneously making the audience laugh, jump, and think is no easy feat. But it’s done brilliantly here!
4) Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2
Written and Directed by James Gunn
4, 15 May 2017; 3 June
Summary: The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage.
Guardians Of The Galaxy was my favorite MCU film…until I saw Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2. I know they say “the sequel is never the equal” but GOTGV2 was bold enough to put character development ahead of everything else. Sure, they were facing off against a Celestial in this film, so the threat was bigger than Ronan the Accuser (par for the course in superhero movies – you always need a bigger threat). But the danger took a back seat to the emotional growth/journeys of Peter, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, lil’ Groot, Nebula, Mantis, Yondu, and Kraglin. There was no painful “the team’s broken up, but wait! they’re back together in time to save the day!” clichés. Rather, we saw a family grow closer. We saw the movement in love that makes strangers friends and friends family. Then we saw how our family can grow to include people we once saw as enemies, those who cared for us more than we ever knew, those who were once nothing more than a casual acquaintance, and those who were complete strangers. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 shows us everyone can be welcome. Everyone can belong. Ultimately, in love, we can all find a place to call home.
Written by Katie Dippold and Directed by Johnathan Levine
12, 21 May 2017
Summary: When her boyfriend dumps her before their exotic vacation, a young woman persuades her ultra-cautious mother to travel with her to paradise, with unexpected results.
This one is a surprise, isn’t it? How did this make the list? Well, first it’s pretty darn funny. And as anyone who’s ever been to the movies with me can attest, I’m a laugher. There’s nothing better than laughing! However, in addition to being a great comedy, the pairing of Goldie Hawn with Amy Schumer – as well as the endorsement Kalie and I gave it from opening night – led to a Sunday matinee movie outing with Mom, Dad, Aunt Judy, and Grandma. The last time we were all in the movies together was The Hangover Part 3 (Grandma’s choice) and I don’t know when we’ll all be at the movies together again. To have everyone there and to hear everyone laughing so much was a very real blessing. The film also had some genuinely sweet moments too :). Lastly, it gave me the chance to explain to Grandma (whose hearing (at ninety-three) isn’t always what it once was) that, due to his accent, Goldie Hawn’s character thought the man who welcomed them to the hotel said “whale cum” instead of “welcome” leading her to spit out the drink he offered her. That is a memory I’ll never forget. Nor will I forget how hard Grandma laughed :). Judge if you want, but Snatched makes the list for all of this.
6) Wonder Woman
Written by Allan Heinberg and Directed by Patty Jenkins
1, 2 June; 12, 19 August 2017
Summary: When a pilot crashes and tells of conflict in the outside world, Diana, an Amazonian warrior in training, leaves home to fight a war, discovering her full powers and true destiny.
I was in awe of Wonder Woman when I first saw it. Months later, I’m still in awe of Wonder Woman. I maintain what I said in my post about this film, Wonder Woman is an example of the comic book genre performing at it’s highest potential. It’s exciting. It honors the character. It’s fun. It delights lifelong fans while easily welcoming newbies. It’s inspiring. And it speaks to the best in human nature while calling us to emulate it. I also maintain Wonder Woman is the most important comic book movie ever made because of its heart and its message. The film illustrates how war is a toxic force which corrupts us, allowing the darkness within us to grow and, in that growth, poison all of creation. In combating this, Diana of Themyscria acts not just as a superhero but as a messianic figure showing us how to find salvation by rising above our darkness to live in the light. However, it isn’t Diana who saves the day. Sure, she battles the German forces, Dr. Maru, General Ludendorff, and Ares. But Diana affirms it isn’t she who can save the world. Rather, we have to be willing to make the right choices and rise above our darkest potential. She will fight with us, but only we can do that for ourselves. As it’s message, the film was brave enough to offer a truth of great depth and profundity…even if it’s the sort of homily that could be laughed off as naïve. Our salvation, if it is to come, will be in and through love. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT! In addition to all of this we have the HUGE cultural significance of Wonder Woman being the first superhero film to star a female character (take that Marvel!) as well as the first big budget superhero film to be helmed by a female director. We need more films like this and, as the insane (and well deserved) box office returns show, we want these sorts of movies too.
7) Rough Night
Written by Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs and Directed by Lucia Aniello
6 July 2017
Summary: Things go terribly wrong for a group of girlfriends who hire a male stripper for a bachelorette party in Miami.
I am unapologetic in my love of this film. It’s just fun. I love stupid comedies. Mom likes to tease me and ask how I can be a teacher and have a master’s degree yet still find Dumb & Dumber to be so entertaining. I like to tell her, “Because I’m a COMPLEX AND LAYERED INDIVIDUAL Mom.” But I’ve always loved stupid comedies and Rough Night is a brilliant example of all the things I adore about these films. It’s funny. It’s over-the-top. It’s inappropriate in all the fun ways. And it makes me laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh. Of all the films on this list I’ve purchased on DVD, Rough Night is the one I’ve watched the most. I’m willing to bet (with the possible exception of Wonder Woman) this will be the one I watch the most through my life too. I think this film was criminally underrated when it came out. I think it was every bit as clever and hilarious as The Hangover was. And I would happily watch Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Zöe Kravitz, Ilana Glazer, and the incomparable Kate McKinnon in a trilogy of these films including Rougher Night and Roughest Night. Let the mayhem and bad choices continue!
8) Happy Death Day
Written by Scott Lobdell and Directed by Christopher Landon
12 November 2017
Summary: A college student must relive the day of her murder over and over again, in a loop that will end only when she discovers her killer’s identity.
This one is probably a surprise too, right? Here’s the thing though. As horror movies go, Happy Death Day was cute, fun, funny, and it had a surprisingly warm message to it. Yes, it’s (yet another) knock off of Groundhog Day but it was self-aware enough to make that joke explicitly several times and in several different ways through the film. Given its overall message, it wasn’t just following Groundhog Day in plot but in the challenge for us to live our best selves too. Blumhouse movies normally make me jump and involuntarily scream profanities in public due to fear. This one had a lot more substance and light to it. And for that, it makes the list. Also, also Tree (the protagonist)’s best friend was named Lori Spengler which HAS TO BE an intentional reference to Egon Spengler from the Ghostbusters who was played by Harold Ramis who wrote and directed Groundhog Day. BOOM. I love it!
9) Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Written by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, and Jeff Pinkner and Directed by Jake Kasdan
2, 16 January 2018
Summary: Four teenagers are sucked into a magical video game, and the only way they can escape is to work together to finish the game.
In my opinion, this was the perfect way to do a sequel to a classic film (based, of course, on an even more classic children’s book). It was tangentially connected…but far enough removed from the original that it wasn’t an uncomfortable mirror/re-hashing. There’s a perfect nod to Robin Williams (awwwww! yes!) but no attempt to do more than that. This was its own thing. The whole sucked-in-a-video-game premise allowed it to be a surprisingly original idea for a sequel too. I loved, loved, loved, loved seeing Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, and – especially – Karen Gillan and Jack Black play so against type. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was delightful and adorable and hilarious and I loved it and I couldn’t wait to see it again after I got out of the theatre the first time! It was easily the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a long, long time. Also, it’s reminded me of the power of utilizing my inherent smoldering intensity…something I’ve been practicing, off and on, since seeing the film. While I’m not as good at it as the Rock, I think I’m coming along!
10) Lady Bird
Written and Directed by Greta Gerwig
28 January 2018
Summary: In 2002, an artistically inclined seventeen-year-old girl comes of age in Sacramento California.
Alright, okay, here’s the thing. I get that I couldn’t see this until the 28th of January this year but it still fits my criteria because a) it came out in 2017, b) it was at Tinseltown during it’s first run, and c) I just couldn’t see it until now because it wasn’t at Tinseltown long enough for me to catch it the first time through. Anyway, as I talked about in the other post, watching Lady Bird is an experience of sheer joy. It’s one of those films where, after I’ve seen it, I can feel happiness shining through my heart and my soul. I was smiling all day after I saw this! How could I not celebrate this?? It looks at life, love, growth, pain, and human connections – especially with our families – with an honesty that encompasses both pain and levity. I laughed. I cried. I loved it. ALSO this is another one where I find I have the same tastes as the Academy Awards. Congrats Oscars! I’ve validated another of your selections. You’re welcome.
Astute readers may’ve noticed the absence of Thor: Ragnarök, The Last Jedi, and Spider-Man: Homecoming from this list. The reason is simple. While they’re all entertaining films, there was nothing special about them for me. The MCU has long passed the point where everything they do blows my mind. I enjoy them all, to varying degrees, but with two to three movies a year for ten years now, I’ve gotten used to them. It doesn’t mean they aren’t fun. It doesn’t mean I don’t count down to them, am in first in line for opening night, buy the DVD, and watch them multiple times. It just means they have to do more than exist to really stand out now. Under Disney’s stewardship, Star Wars has taken a similar turn. Come May, when Disney releases their Solo: A Star Wars Story, it will be their fourth Star Wars movie. That means from December of 2015 to May of 2018 Disney’s released four different Star Wars movies. It took George Lucas from May of 1977 until May of 1999 to do the same. Star Wars was special. Now it’s commonplace. It’s still really fun but, like the MCU, it’s now just a regular part of going to the movies.
With that being said, what’s MY pick for the Best Picture of 2018?!? Really, it wasn’t a difficult choice at all. As I walked out of the theatre after seeing this film for the first time I doubted anything else could even come close.
MY Best Picture 2018: Wonder Woman – how could it not be?? Every so often a film comes along that changes everything. That’s Wonder Woman. Like The Dark Knight before it and Black Panther after it, Wonder Woman showed us the superhero genre can do SO MUCH MORE than we ever thought possible. It’s also an important film from a social justice angle and that can’t be ignored either. It also happened to be a mind-blowingly incredible superhero film that spoke to millions of people in universal and deeply and uniquely personal ways. It’s perfect and I can’t imagine ever tiring of watching it.
And that wraps up the writing portion of my little Oscar weekend celebration. Now, I think I’m going to go watch a movie. I think you should treat yourself to the same! C’mon, do it. You deserve it :).