by Travis Trombley
As we look ahead to 2018’s exciting slate of films, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the cinema of the previous year. Ideally Hollywood filmmakers are doing the same thing in order build on worked well and learn from what didn’t. For our purposes, though, I wanted to reflect on the most important films of the year - those that made the most impact thematically, those that best represent us as elements of a mythology.
In that spirit, here is HeroMonitor’s list of seven films to remember from 2017. We will rank our top 6, then name 1 major disappointment - 6 good movies plus one not-so-good movie equals 7. Yay for math. Now, this is not an exhaustive list, as it only pertains to the films discussed on this site throughout the year. Nor is a film's absence from this list indicative of a negative evaluation (hint - I really loved Spider-Man). These are just the films most meritous of discussion. Of course, if you agree or disagree, sound off in the comments.
#6 - It
An astute adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, It is about evil and about fear, but the film expands those themes beyond the simple presence of a demonic, child-eating clown. Rather, this nostalgic blockbuster's cultural importance rests in its depiction of the inclination to see evil done and to do nothing about it - the inclination towards indifference and complacency - and how such tendencies can be overcome.
For more on It, check out our essay on the moral psychology of the film, as well as the film's use of irony.
#5 - Blade Runner 2049
A sequel 35 years in the making, this October hit expands the original’s interrogation of what it means to be human by exploring the importance of memory, intimacy, reproduction, and the place of personal narrative. It’s two and a half hours psychological and philosophical rumination disguised as a detective story with razor-sharp action sequences and absolutely captivating cinematography - science fiction storytelling at its very best.
Check out Rich Morgan's piece on the film's effectiveness as a sequel.
#4 - Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Praised by critics but bashed by fans, Rian Johnson’s Last Jedi succeeded at exactly what it set out to do: kill the past. Despite a slow second act and a few odd plot choices, it deserves recognition for maturing the saga. In addition to overtly breaking from a few Star Wars traditions and plot points, Last Jedi spurns reckless heroism and the idea that blowing stuff up can solve the galaxy's problems, and it adds nuance to the previously categorical nature of the Force. Heroes don't necessarily stay heroes, and a good leader is more valuable than a light saber. These are pertinent lessons for a culture inculcated by the pervasive violence, celebrity worship, and tribalism.
Read our review of Last Jedi to see what Mr. Johnson learned from the failures of the franchise's past.
#3 - Wonder Woman
Diana’s debut solo film isn’t perfect. An overly comic bookish villain and final fight break what is otherwise moral argument. However, the film still injected some much-needed life into the DCEU, and it offers some of the most "cheer-worthy" moments in all of superhero cinema. But what really sets Wonder Woman is its sincerity. Whereas Dawn of Justice took the cynical approach to deconstructing the genre, Patty Jenkins' Diana is uncompromisingly moral and compassionate. She's the ideal superhero. But she's also naive, and thus the film becomes a coming of age tale as she develops a more mature, complex view of human nature, a process that mirrors many of our own.
Check out our review for more on what worked and what didn't, and be sure to read our essay on how the film used the context of WWI for philosophical complexity.
#2 - Logan
Logan blends the superhero genre with its predecessor: the western. Part Unforgiven, part Children of Men, the Logan is a road film that tweaks the epic standard by tackling issues like old age, failing health, and parenting. It features powerful characterization, fiercely violent action sequences, and a moving conclusion that’s both emotionally resonant and thematically significant. An answer to Deadpool, Logan proves that a superhero film can be bloody and gritty and successful without having to rely on sarcasm and cynicism. In short, Logan proves that superhero movies are at their best when they have a heart.
#1 - War for the Planet of the Apes
Whereas Dawn of the Planet of the Apes took a grander scope in regards to both political themes and grand action sequences, the final installment of this fantastic prequel trilogy provides a more intimate exploration of leadership, dehumanization, prejudice, and personal resilience. Replete with visual and narrative allusions to the Bible and the Civil Rights era, the film evokes strong emotions and heavy thoughts with ease, building on established cultural narratives to say something new...or maybe something old in a new way... A masterful collaboration of director, actors, and special effects artists, War’s thoughtful and impressive blend of spectacle, thoughtful imagery, historical awareness, subtle humor, and thematic grounding provides an irrefutable argument for the power of blockbusters.
...And then there's Justice League, our #1 disappointment
Despite the momentum garnered from Wonder Woman, Justice League abandoned all that made Diana’s debut so good. The film is visually boring (the epitome of what happens when CG spectacle replaces thoughtful choreography), narratively familiar, and thematically flat. Rather than addressing the issues in the broken but ambitious Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. opted for a watchable but ultimately forgettable version of Suicide Squad. Justice League makes this list as a warning. With a budget of 300 million and a roster of some of the most culturally iconic characters in the world, the critical and financial failure of this film is a testament to the importance of a quality script and thoughtful production.