Brian's Top 25 Films of 2017 - #11-25


Despite a weak box office total, I found 2017 to be an excellent year for film overall. The summer movies didn’t deliver as expected, Star Wars wasn’t as well received as we’d all hoped, and there may not have been a singular all-time great movie to hang our collective hats on. But, in terms of the number of high quality films that were (mostly) available to wide audiences throughout the year, I’m not sure we could’ve asked for me. I’ve been writing about film and tracking my grades/reviews since 2004. In that time, I don’t think I’ve ever given out more than four “A+” grades in a single year. I gave out seven in 2017. In addition, there were any number of “A’s” and “A-‘s” this year, unmatched by any year in recent memory. As such, when I sat down to write my Top 10 list, I realized there were far more than 10 films that I really wanted to highlight and talk about (as if I don’t get enough time to do just that on the stupid podcast).

So, I put together a Top 25, which is both a nice, solid number and the clear line of demarcation between the films I absolutely had to talk about and the rest of the pack. Today I present to you, dear readers, numbers 11 through 25, withholding my top 10 for the podcast (recording this weekend). I’ll publish the remainder of this list next week once the podcast episode has had some time to breath. Here we go.


25. Molly’s Game – Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Michael Cera
I made a point of holding off on the writing and formation of this list until I had seen Molly’s Game and I’m glad I did. Much like Wind River (see below), this movie is the directorial debut of a noted screenwriter (Aaron Sorkin) and at times, you can see the filmmaker’s novice on display. Chastain, however, is a force to be reckoned with, right at home with Sorkin’s famously fast paced, quip-y dialogue. The sheer magnetism of her persona covers up a multitude of sins and Sorkin’s script does an excellent job of highlighting the right parts of the source material without letting it get bogged down in the more detail than absolutely necessary.

24. Wind River – Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen
Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Sicario) has made a name for himself in recent years as one of the best screenwriters in the business. Wind River is his directorial debut and while it doesn’t quite live up to the standard he’s set for his writing, I think it’s quite clear that his future behind the camera is bright. It’s dark and deathly serious but Sheridan adds just enough tension breaks to keep the movie from becoming an unbearable slog. Renner and Olsen are both excellent and the movie sheds light on shadowy subject.

23. Darkest Hour – Gary Oldman, Lily James, Ben Mendelson
The best parts of Darkest Hour (Gary Oldman, fantastic subject matter, Gary Oldman, a strong supporting cast, Gary Oldman, etc.) are top-five-movie-of-the-year good. Watching Oldman manifest himself in the form of Winston Churchill is a sight to behold. This is perhaps THE highlight of a career made up of highlights. I just wish this movie had been directed by almost anyone else. Joe Wright is, frankly, incredibly boring and his sensibilities in shot composition, musical cues, and special effects “splashes” are just as boring. The result is a good movie featuring great performances instead of being great all around.


22. LEGO Batman – Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson
It’s amazing to me that WB can get animated Batman so incredibly right while also getting live-action Batman so incredibly wrong. The opening sequence in LEGO Batman is a better plot device than anything conceived in Justice League, Suicide Squad, or Batman V Superman. How is that possible?! Arnett is a stellar Batman and re-teaming him with Cera is a stroke of genius. Most of all, though, this version of Batman has a sense of humor about himself, a welcome respite from the current live-action Batman who enjoys branding his victims.

21. American Made – Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright
You likely know this by now but I ride for Cruise all day, every day. No one cares as much as Cruise and in the history of film, I’m not sure you can find an actor who has consistently delivered on the promise of entertainment for as long as Cruise has. American Made is a highly enjoyable flick infused with life by Doug Liman’s little touches of flash throughout. It doesn’t hurt that the subject matter is very interesting and, of course, Cruise is out there doing classic Cruise things. What a fun ride.

20. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black
In a year that didn’t feature a whole lot of surprises for me, this was the outlier. I didn’t think a Jumanji sequel/reboot was necessary and the trailers didn’t do much to assuage my feelings of disinterest. So, suffice it to say, I was shocked by how smart, entertaining, and overall fun this movie turned out to be. This cast is FULLY invested in what should be a complete throw-away action comedy and the setup is far more impressive than I ever would’ve thought imaginable. Jumanji has more life to it than most of its contemporary blockbusters and I must say, I now welcome any and all sequels that are to come in this series. 

19. Brigsby Bear – Kyle Mooney, Greg Kinnear, Mark Hamill
This is by far the weirdest movie on this list. I don’t even know what to compare it to. Napoleon Dynamite with a kidnapping subplot? Brigsby is unique and strange and funny and surprisingly heartfelt. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea but it worked beautifully for me and ultimately became one of the more fun film experiences of the year.

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18. Wonder Woman – Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, David Thewlis
On first viewing, Wonder Woman was one of my five favorite films of the year. On second, third, and fourth viewing, my appreciation waned a bit. Even still, this movie is a massive accomplishment in the post-Nolan DC Cinematic Universe because, after all, I was very willing to rewatch it a second, third, and fourth times instead of swearing upon the life of my dog to never see it again like I did with Batman V Superman, Justice League, and Suicide Squad. To be sure, this is an awesome comic book movie in a year stuffed with great comic book movies. Gadot is magnificent, Pine is an awesome counterpart, and Patty Jenkins proved what a great director can do when Warner Brothers leaves her alone. And it had one of the great action scenes of the year which never hurts.

17. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson
It is difficult to write about Three Billboards without getting bogged down in the backlash against it. For the record, I understand the argument against it but feel those advocating for it are missing the point. I’ll consider it here as a film and nothing more and as a film, it’s quite excellent. Martin McDonagh is a master when it comes to creating dark and grimy characters in dark and grimy settings and in this arena, Three Billboards might be his masterpiece. The cast is utterly brilliant, not just the three mentioned above, all of whom are very likely to receive Oscar nominations (if not wins), but all the way down to the police officer with one line in the film. It’s difficult to watch and downright unpleasant at times (many times?) but McDonagh handles it with as little gratuitousness as possible and for that I am thankful.

16. War for the Planet of the Apes – Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn
The concluding chapter of the Apes trilogy, War is the best of the bunch (so, obviously, it made less money than either of its predecessors). Movies about talking monkeys really have no business being this good but Andy Serkis is a genius and his commitment to his character (we’re talking about a CGI ape here) is uncanny. Add in Woody Harrelson and Steve Zahn with a fantastic scene-stealing performance with a plot that actually feels relevant to the current climate, and you’ve got an unbelievably good movie…about a bunch of talking monkeys.


15. Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill
I did not have Star Wars as the most divisive film of the year coming in. Totally caught me by surprise. I went up and down, back and forth with The Last Jedi and eventually just accepted the very good segments of the movie (about 80-85 percent of the movie by my very scientific calculations) and chose to overlook the rougher segments. At the end of the day, I really, truly love what Rian Johnson was trying to do (and I think succeeded in doing) in the macro sense and wish the micro elements had been tightened up. I think he’s put not only this trilogy but also the next set of films (which he will helm) on the right track and in five years, Last Jedi will be far more fondly remembered by fans than it was initially received.

14. Blade Runner 2049 – Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto
I ran the gamut of emotions on this one in the months leading up to its release. On the one hand, I love the property, I love the cast, and I love the director (Denis Villeneuve). On the other, a Blade Runner sequel featuring Harrison Ford risks answering the famous question posed ambiguously by the original and thereby diluting that film. Villeneuve handled this issue beautifully just like the rest of the movie. Gosling is terrific, the movie looks AMAZING, and while the story drifts a bit here and there, overall, it’s a breathtaking film that, I think, will age extremely well (just like the original).

13. A Ghost Story – Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara
I had this in my top 10 for most of the winter and it pained me to drop it out. Ultimately, it lost a place or two because I don’t know that I’ll ever watch it again and it’s a hard one to recommend to a broad audience. For a one-time viewing, however, A Ghost Story is a triumph of filmmaking and a movie that stuck with me for weeks after I saw it. David Lowery is a name you may not recognize now but you will soon, following the critical success of this movie and his previous film, Pete’s Dragon (also fantastic). He’s the type of guy a studio should hand all of the money to and allow him to do whatever he wants. Affleck and Mara are both excellent, expressing more with head nods and mannerisms than most actors can convey with actual dialogue. Touching, beautiful, and, if you’ll forgive the wording, haunting.

12. The Disaster Artist – James Franco, Dave Franco, Allison Brie
As with Three Billboards, for the purpose of this list, I’ll only look at this as a movie and set aside the cultural conversation regarding its star. I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy this movie nearly as much as I did. I expected it to be overly dark and uncomfortable given what I know about The Room and its bizarre leading man, Tommy Wiseau. At almost every opportunity, however, Franco (as writer and director) displayed a shocking lack of cynicism in regard to Tommy. In doing so, The Disaster Artist essentially mocked the product without mocking the man and ultimately made the movie something enjoyable instead of something to get through.


11. Spider-Man: Homecoming – Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei
I’ve seen Homecoming more times than any other film on this list. My kid LOVES this movie. I love that he loves this movie. I also love that his love for this movie means Spider-Man 3 (which was his favorite Spider-Man movie before Homecoming) has gone unwatched for months, praise the Lord. Marvel truly nailed it with this one, finally giving us a Spider-Man worth investing in long-term. Holland embodies both Peter Parker AND his superhero alter ego (something neither of the previous iterations could do) and has an awful lot of fun in the process. The John Hughes-ian screenplay and direction doesn’t hurt in this regard, either. It is Keaton, however, who gives Homecoming its gravitas and provides the perfect antagonist for Parker/Spidey. I loved this movie, I think it’ll hold up incredibly well moving forward, and I truly can’t wait to return to its universe.

Fighting the Marvel Villains


Anytime a new Marvel Cinematic Universe movie heads our way (Thor: Ragnarok opens today in case you’ve somehow missed the ads, trailers, and general cultural presence), it brings with it an opportunity to interact. I’ve written about Marvel in the past, including a full-on ranking of all the films within the universe. This time around I wanted to focus on the villains (often the fly in the Marvel ointment) and started with a simple prompt: If I had to fight one MCU villain, who would it be? I’m talking me, a normal, mortal, five-foot-nine-ish dude with no super powers, super tech, or even any real training, up against the various Marvel villains in all their glory. How would I fare and what strategies would I employ against each of them? I went through the MCU films, thought about their respective villains, and broke them down into four groups ranked from easiest to defeat to most difficult. Also, this is very silly.  

Editor's Note: A previous version of this piece described Malekith as a frost giant instead of a dark elf. I'd apologize for this gaff but Thor the Dark World is awful and therefore I've given it as little thought as humanely possible. 


16. Malekith, Thor the Dark World
I live in Texas. There is a zero percent chance that a dark elf from a sunless, frozen world could even begin to handle the heat in Texas, let alone the humidity. Malekith would melt and I would soak him up into a water bottle and leave him on display for the rest of time.

15. Colonel Zemo, Captain America: Civil War
This guy has literally no super powers and I’m not convinced he’s even all that smart. His entire strategy is based on fooling superheroes into fighting each other. Since I am not a super hero, I would not fall for this and I feel confident I could at least restrain Daniel Bruhl until the authorities arrived.


14. Ronan, Guardians of the Galaxy
In theory, Ronan is a formidable opponent. He looks intimidating, he appears to be very physically gifted, and he has a super cool weapon. However, he must suffer from a paralyzing case of ADD as he is extremely easy to distract through dance and would be no match for my devastating dance moves.

13. Red Skull, Captain America: First Avenger
As with Ronan, Red Skull appears to be unbeatable. However, there is no evidence that his super powers come with immortality and as such, in 2017, he would be at least 100 years old, if not dead, and I’m pretty confident I can defeat a corpse.

12. Loki, Thor
Loki from Avengers is a serious opponent (see below) but Loki from Thor? Please. Loki seems very emotionally fragile. I would blare some Phil Collins at Loki, watch him collapse into a Feelings Puddle and snatch his staff. This isn’t even hard.

11. Obadiah Sane, Iron Man
Obadiah is a question mark for sure but I’m relying on his lack of familiarity with his janky Iron Man suit technology and potentially limited battery power to wear him down eventually, at which point I’m just facing off against a bald Jeff Bridges. I want no part of a long-haired Jeff Bridges but the bald version can catch these hands.


10. Kaecilius, Doctor Strange
Kaecilius is very powerful and moreover, he is quite dedicated to bringing the world to an end. Hey, we all have those days, I get it. I am no match for his magical powers but, hear me out on this; has Kaecilius ever seen Parks and Recreation? I doubt it. He seems like the kind of guy who never really watched much TV. If I could engage Kaecilius’s inquisitive mind and convince him to watch a season of Parks and Recreation (probably season four or five, something he could understand without much backstory), I think I could show him there is good in the world and also, while he’s wrapped up in the Leslie Knope-Ben Wyatt relationship, I could bash his head and take his ring.

9. Mandarin, Iron Man 3
The hierarchy of powers within Iron Man 3 is VERY difficult to ascertain, to be sure, so I may be underrating the fightability of Mandarin. I do feel like, however, I could rope-a-dope him into literally imploding as he doesn’t seem particularly stable, either physically or mentally.

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8. Darren Cross/Yellowjacket, Ant-Man
My prospects are beginning to get dicey at this point. Cross is legitimately evil and Yellowjacket is formidable. My goal here would be to get him to follow me to an offseason lake town where I would rig every bug zapper I could find to one trailer and fry him.


7. Ultron, The Avengers: Age of Ultron
On the surface, Ultron seems unbeatable for a lowly normal such as myself. If you dig a little deeper, however, you discover that his strategies are flawed (why, of all the places on earth you could attack, would you start with Zokovia, idiot?), he’s very bad at picking allies, and he’s a bit egotistical. If I can just avoid him for a while, I imagine he makes a mistake, at which point I pounce. (Though, to be fair, I have no idea what to do once I pounce. I’ll wing it.)

6. Adrian Toomes/Vulture, Spider-Man Homecoming
He may not have super powers but his technology more than makes up for what he’s lacking. Moreover, Toomes is out there fighting for his family’s livelihood. This strangely makes him much more difficult to contend with than some of the “bigger” villains. I would probably try to Jaws him and shoot his jetpack and hope for the best.


5. Loki, The Avengers
In this scenario, I imagine Loki would show up and, buoyed by my previous success against Loki, I would smirk and reach for my iPod, assuming my Phil Collins strategy would work again, at which point Loki, now less a mopey teenager and more a powerful warlock, would probably cut out my eye. Maybe “Against All Odds” tugs on his heartstrings, though, and he relents before actually killing me.


3-4. Emil Blonsky/Abomination, The Incredible Hulk and Ivan Vanko/Whiplash, Iron Man 2
I have almost no strategy against Abomination. He’s an ultra-powerful monster and even if he powers down, he’s still Tim Roth. I don’t like my chances against Tim Roth even without powers. Similarly, while Whiplash is a marginal villain, if I somehow manage to relieve him of his whips and Iron Man suits, I still have to contend with what I can only assume would be a very angry Mickey Rourke. *Shudders*


2. Ego, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2
Ego is both a planet AND Kurt Russell. How do you even begin to fight against that combination? I have no bomb in my backpack, I don’t even have duct tape for the Death Button; I am virtually useless. If I sang “Cat’s in the Cradle” at the top of my lungs would that cause Ego some emotional distress, allowing me to escape? I don’t know, maybe, but that’s really all I have going for me.

1. Hydra, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Hydra is far too sprawling an organization for one normal human such as myself to take down. Without Cap’s shield or Falcon’s wings or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s…whatever Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has going for it, I’m powerless. I would probably just run from trusted celebrity to trusted celebrity, blabbing about Hydra only to find out they, too, are Hydra agents. I’ll give you Robert Redford and Bill Paxton, but Garry Shandling?! Garry Shandling is a Hydra agent?! I can’t win this war. I give up.

Top 5 TV Pilots to Maybe Watch

You guys excited for Pilot Season?! I can’t hear you! I said, are you guys excited for Pilot Season?! Oh. You’re…you’re not? Like, you’re not just being chill, you’re really not excited? Ah. Well…this is awkward then. Can I tell you a little secret between friends? Neither am I. Pilot Season used to be one of my favorite things to look forward to on the pop culture calendar but, ironically, as the TV landscape expands, my interest in this time of year has waned significantly. Still, though, there’s a tradition to this time of year I respect and appreciate and thus, I’m trying to get myself pumped up for the new offerings the Almighty TV will bring my way this year.

I won’t lie to you, dear readers, 2017 might be the bleakest Pilot Season I’ve ever seen. It seems like most of the new shows are headed for immediate cancellation and many of the ones that will “succeed” hold little interest for me. When I sent the pilots list out to Kent and Richard, I honestly though Richard might punch me. It’s rough out there, y’all. So I’ve tried to find five shows (literally five out of 25+) that might have a chance of making my DVR rotation. Let’s see if I can talk you into any of them.

NOTE: I didn't include The Deuce because HBO is virtually immune to the pilot process and it feels like a cheat. And if I had written this piece a few weeks ago, The Orville would’ve been featured heavily. Having seen the early buzz, however…yeesh. That’s not what you want, Seth McFarlane. Carry on.


Stat Trek Discovery, CBS
Summary: “Ten years before Captain Kirk helms the bridge of the Enterprise, the USS Discovery boldly goes where no man has gone before.”

I’m of the opinion that there should always be a Star Trek show on TV and it’s been far too long (12 years) since such a show existed. The trailers for Discovery are excellent, the cast is stacked, and I love the concept. The biggest issue is CBS’s foolish decision to keep the show off terrestrial TV and relegated to their streaming platform which I think will fail miserably. Hopefully, the powers that be bring Discovery back to their standard programming by season two.


The Tick, Amazon
Summary: “A mild-mannered accountant joins forces with a dim-witted superhero in this reboot of the cult classic.”

The first six episodes of The Tick have been available on Amazon Prime for a few weeks now but I haven’t had a chance to watch them yet. I’ve heard nothing but good things. The Tick has always been a fun property that just couldn’t find enough of an audience to stay alive in any of its forms but Amazon is the ideal home. I love, too, the choice of Peter Serafinowicz in the titular role.


 Ghosted, FOX
Summary: “A skeptic and a true believer pair up to investigate paranormal occurrences.”

I like the idea of an X-Files satire, though I’m a little concerned this is going to veer closer to a poor man’s Ghostbusters instead. The concept is solid, however, and while Craig Robinson has been hit or miss in his post-Office career, Adam Scott always delivers for me.


 The Mayor, ABC
Summary: “A struggling hip-hop artist runs for mayor of his hometown as a publicity stunt.”

Of all these choices, I feel like this one has the highest rate of variance. If it’s handled with the right tone and can take on political and social commentary without losing its comedic roots, I think it could be a major success. If it lacks either bite or humor, however, The Mayor will struggle to push through its bad title (seriously, ABC, you’ve got to get this title thing figured out).  


 The Gifted, FOX
Summary: “A secret agency investigates mutant-related incidents within the X-Men universe.”

This is the new show I’m most excited about this season. I love the X-Men with all of my being and I love that we’re getting more of these explorations into the wider universe that happens outside of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Legion proved this ground to be fertile earlier this year and Matt Nix (Burn Notice) is, I think, a perfect showrunner to bring this property to network TV.