365+ reviews of 2017
I didn't start the year with the intent to review a movie a day, 365 for the 2017. It was just a couple of especially cold Minnesota weekends in a row where I was hunkered down in the apartment with a few movies on a day that by the end of January I realized I could be well on pace for a review a day on letterboxd.com for the year. My rules for myself were that it didn't matter if I had seen the movie before, as long as I hadn't reviewed it before on letterboxd and that I had to write at least one sentence either about the movie or viewing experience.
One limiting factor to this kind of schedule of movie watching was that my wife and I are expecting a baby in November and I have no expectations I will be able to schedule time to watch movies. I will say that we had a hidden theme in some of the movies watched this year that relate to the little guy's name. That isn't news I'll be breaking just now, he's still cooking in his mom's belly for just over a month. Yep, I still got well ahead of schedule.
This project was a good excuse to catch up on movies new and old that I had not seen, to watch movies from directors or genres I wanted to get more acquainted with, or to revisit old favorites I hadn't seen in a year or more. I saw westerns, horror movies, war movies, historical films, dramas, comedies, sci-fi, mysteries and crime movies, documentaries, action movies, Marvel movies and I was especially glad to start a deep dive into samurai movies.
I dove into the movies of Kurasawa, Hitchcock, Ford, Kubrick, Scorsese, Spielberg, Tarantino, Nolan, The Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson, Fincher, Terry Gilliam, Edgar Wright, Matthew Vaughn, Jeff Nichols, and Sophia Coppola. I even got into a good chunk of movies based on Stephen King's source material. I finally saw some movies from directors I was not especially familiar with but knew of their reputations like Carol Reed and Samuel Fuller. I tried to see movies from more than just the US and England and even beyond France, Italy and Japan.
Letterboxd list of all the movies here.
Here are some of the highlights with no particular organization:
I love westerns and it's kind of hard to hunt down some of the old ones like John Ford's movies, although I found a few old favorites from college like Forte Apache and Stagecoach. This was perhaps the genre that provided the most impactful pleasant surprises of the year. Hell or High Water made me realize my fandom of Taylor Sheridan as a writer and it was a lucky year to see that for the first time and to anticipate and enjoy his directorial debut film Wind River, that I also enjoyed.
I didn't know to watch Once Upon a Time in the West, I don't think I realized it was a Sergio Leone movie until renting it off of Amazon. My wife had been researching influences for the most recent Game of Thrones season and had found that "Once Upon" was one of the greatest visual references. I might have enjoyed it more than The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
One weekend I watched a trio of westerns from recent years that I missed. I didn't have especially high expectations for Bone Tomahawk, Jane Got a Gun and Slow West. The first two were enjoyable enough, but Slow West might have been one of my favorite first watch movies of the year. Similarly, I rewatched The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and was much more impressed with it this time around than when it first came out.
I didn't see all that many war movies this year, but of the new movies this year two favorites Dunkirk and Their Finest both showed very different representations of the evacuation from Dunkirk in World War II. The movies work well together, Dunkirk from a great established director, and Their Finest from an all female creative team.
I watched Gunga Din on the recommendation of a podcast (The Canon), one of many movie podcasts I've enjoyed this year and one of many recommendations from those podcasts I have also felt enriched by. I enjoyed the scale of it and have liked comparing it to movies I've seen off of Filmstruck.
Being my favorite genre did not mean I had all that many viewing from this genre over the year. The best new sci-fi movie for me was Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 and that also falls in the category of Marvel movies. The best new stand alone sci-fi movie has been Colossal, which is equal parts sci-fi/fantasy and drama/comedy about addiction and abuse.
The biggest hidden gem of the whole year was Blazing a Trail to the Stars from 1950's USSR. There are only three reviews of it on all of Letterboxd and I had heard of it from the KubrickCast podcast where it was noted as a heavy influence for 2001's visuals and practical effects.
I have a dual name for this genre because they are counted separately on Letterboxd, but they are closely related. I was reminded of greatness in a few rewatches of All the President's Men, Rear Window, The Trouble With Harry, and Zodiac. These genres also exposed me to a few new favorites in Baby Driver (probably in a crowded tie for favorite new movie of the year), Logan Lucky and Dope. I didn't have especially high expectations for Dope, but found it to be very engaging, very funny and found it to be one of my favorite surprises of movies from recent years along with Slow West.
Marie Antoinette was a rewatch inspired by The Canon that I watched in a back to back viewing with Lost in Translation. I realized I like this movie even more than Lost in Translation even though for years Lost was among my favorite films. I watched Sully recently and it was the first Clint Eastwood movie in a long time that I have enjoyed. The Canon also introduced me to Z from Greece (yeah yeah, France, too) which was captivating and looked like it could have been made this year or in 1969. It certainly looks like it was a major influence on the best films of the '70's. One great historical film from this year was The Lost City of Z (no relation) based on a book that I very much enjoyed reading just a few years ago. It didn't have much of an impact on the box office, but is a beautiful movie of adventure and ambition.
While most of the movies from this genre that I saw this year were mostly from looking into the movies of great directors, two Oscar nominees from last year jumped out at me when I finally saw them this year. Hidden Figures was a bit of a surprise to be nominated last year because it was in theaters in January and became a favorite and Lion had quite an impact even though I don't think it showed in very many theaters when it was released.
There were only two documentaries that I saw for the first time that made great impacts on me. Icarus and American Anarchist. Icarus investigates performance enhancing drugs in sports and uncovers a greater story. American Anarchist finds the writer of the Anarchist Cookbook, shows the impact of the book on humanity and psychological connection the writer has with his book through youthful frustration and aggression, ignorance and regret.
This was a big year for horror movies. I finally caught up with It Follows which was haunting, saw Get Out and It (again, no relation) in the theater, realized I had missed out waiting to see Jaws for the first time, and laughed my ass off with Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. The Enter The Void podcast from the KubrickCast guys introduced me to Last Year at Marienbad where I learned about a whole other kind of unsettling horror.
The Big Sick gave me one of the best comedy in a crowded theater experiences I've ever had. That movie had the biggest laugh I've heard in a theater, if you've seen it, it's exactly the joke you think it is. I caught up with Everybody Wants Some which was also the best baseball movie I saw all year, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople that ended up being my favorite or second favorite movie that came out in 2016.
This was a great year for action. It has been a great movie for new movies this year and some of the best have been action. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a fun continuation of the Kingsman series and its release inspired me to catch up on a several old James Bond movies. Some of those Bond movies I realized I hadn't actually seen them after all. Wonder Woman was one of the most fun movies of the year in a year of a lot of good films from female directors. It is a worthy jumping off point into the movies of the Coppola mother and daughter (Eleanor and Sophia) directed movies, a new well regarded Kathryn Bigelow movie, and my favorite sleeper Their Finest.
Kong: Skull Island is one of the most fun, most visually interesting movies of the year. Unfortunately it has some of the worst dialogue, on the whole. It's not all bad, I think it got a lot of studio notes about exposition that dumbed the movie down, but it's still a very fun, visually innovative movie.
Oh boy. I didn't realize how much of a samurai movie fan I was until late last year and this year I really made up for lost time. The majority of the ones I watched are directed by Kurosawa, but I did get to see a few movies from other Japanese directors. Whether they were movies of great spectacle, skilled kendo fighting, or great acting all of these movies brought something new to my eyes despite their age. Ran, Three Outlaw Samurai, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, The Sword of Doom, Throne of Blood, and The Hidden Fortress were all very enjoyable viewings. I know I have a few more I have waiting on my watch list that I'm looking forward to.
I mostly caught up on the X-Men side of the Marvel. Logan is another great action movie from this year, and I also enjoyed the black and white Logan Noir version of the movie. X-Men Days of Future Past is a movie that is better than I had remembered, and even more interesting in the Rogue Cut that expands on the story and includes more characters. Spider-Man: Homecoming is one of the most fun movies of the year and reminded me of the energy (but not edge) of Dope. I also had fun rewatching a few Marvel favorites: The Avengers, Iron Man, Thor and X-Men First Class.
I caught up on one of my favorite newer directors, Jeff Nichols. This year I logged reviews of first viewings of Mud, Loving and Shotgun Stories and rewatched Take Shelter for my 366th review. Each time I see a Nichols movie I am floored by his sense of imagery and thought provoking storytelling. He should be considered one of the best directors today.
Watching the hypnotic Dunkirk in the theater had me going back to see Memento, The Prestige and Insomnia. Insomnia is a bit of an anomaly for Christopher Nolan because it doesn't feel all that innovative. I finally saw Following (not related to either It Follows or It), which felt like a spiritual relative to Memento and was better as a first feature for Nolan than I had expected.
I revisited a few Spielberg movies like Lincoln and War Horse, but I took advantage of the opportunity to catch up on a couple classics that I never got around to seeing in their entirety. I very much enjoyed Jaws much more than expected, however Close Encounters of the Third Kind had so many problems with the main character that it was hard to get fully on board with it.
I'd never really dived into a bunch of King movies close in time, I'm not one really into scary movies. King doesn't only make scary movies, I revisited The Shawshank Redemption and saw Stand By Me for the first time. I saw those, It, 1408 and The Mist in close succession and picked up on a lot of the themes he uses like bullies, groups of kids, complicated father figures, dead older brothers etc. I hadn't ever seen The Dead Zone and was pleasantly surprised by how I enjoyed it.
I took a bit of a deep dive into Scorsese movies by watching Casino and Silence for the first time and rewatching The King of Comedy, Hugo, The Last Temptation of Christ, Gangs of New York, Taxi Driver, The Departed, Shutter Island, The Aviator and Bringing Out the Dead. For the most part, seeing most of these movies in close succession had me realize how many themes Scorsese likes to use when making movies like messiah figures, historical biographies or working with either Robert De Niro or Leonardo DiCaprio. I came away from seeing these movies with more of an appreciation for how great of a director he is.
This wouldn't be any kind of movie viewing challenge without watching a lot of Hitchcock movies. It helps that he made a lot of them, and it helps that they are like comfort food of movie watching for me. I watched Family Plot, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Dial M For Murder and Psycho. I found that Family Plot is a pretty fun movie, one that I hadn't seen beforehand. Rear Window and The Trouble With Harry remain two of my all-time favorite older movies.
This was a fun exercise that I don't expect to have a chance to do again for a while, although it has made me more interested in watching movies over catching up with TV shows as often. If I were to pick top movies from this year for an enjoyable viewing I would say: Hidden Fortress, Mud, Jaws, The Trouble with Harry and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.