Let’s get this out of the way right out the gate.
The Best Films of 2017 are “Dunkirk,” “The Florida Project,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “Lady Bird” and “Brad’s Status.” Yeah, “The Disaster Artist” can be in that conversation, “The Post,” “Darkest Hour” too.
Many of those films are at least in the chatter right now. “Only the Brave” should be. “Brad’s Status” too. “Stronger” I’d throw in, for the perfection of the performances,
But not all of them are, and many are being swamped in “buzz” for a lot of late-season “The Best movie of the Year, THIS week” swooning by critics and critics’ groups and whatever the hell the National Board of Review and Hollywood Foreign Press Association actually are.
For all the box office woes of this year — holes not totally filled by “Wonder Woman,” “Thor,” “The Last Jedi,” “Coco” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Logan” — reading reviews, you’d swear we’ve entered a new gilded age.
Based mainly on Rottentomatoes scores (with a few inflated Metacritic ratings backing this up), we should be talking about the movies listed below — “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Blade Runner: 2049,” “Wonder Woman,” “Logan” the Sundance-hyped “Mudbound,” with acting Oscars locked up for “Last Flag Flying,” “Battle of the Sexes,” etc., as the “real” Oscar contenders.
Audiences, and Hollywood insiders (who pick the best work in their respective guilds) are saying otherwise. Tickets aren’t being sold, movies praised to the high heavens are being forgotten — especially by the nimrods who took the vapors praising them to high heaven back when they were released and who hope nobody remembers their misguided raves.
Wherever you stand on what a “critically-acclaimed” movie ought to be, whatever you think the Oscars SHOULD stand for, no matter what your stance on “a reviewer writes for the audience, a critic writes for the ages/the artist,” a 3-4 star review should be for a movie somebody/ANYbody recalls two months after its left theaters.
A lot of 2.5/3-star movies have been lifted onto this or that week’s ephemeral pantheon of Great Pictures. “Get Out?” Get real. A good genre pic that has the smarts of darkly-comic satire going for it, not much else. Is there a performance in that you remember? Brian Williams is excused from that question.
What’s going on? There’s a generation of established Big Media critics who fret too much over seeming irrelevant. You pan a movie everybody goes to see, your editor realizes how out of touch you are. That’s the fearful thinking, anyway. This has been a guiding light in the ongoing accident that is Peter Travers’ career at Rolling Stone, in my opinion. And he’s not alone. Not by a long shot.
A generation of critics and reviewers were culled from the ranks by the Great Layoff of 2005-2015, legacy magazine and newspaper critics by the scores disappeared.
Who’s replacing this fading-forgotten Boomer/Buster legion of opionators? Fangirls, fanboys, and a pretty callow crew, over all. Whatever stand-out voices this new guard has produced, they are drowned out by short term short-timers who haven’t put the time in to see, develop and defend an opinion on genres, directors, screenwriters and classic films. Most won’t stick with this vocation or avocation long enough to get good.
Their handiwork is evident every weekend — junk, derivative horror, sci-fi and fanboy favorite directors, screenwriters and actors praised to the hilt, good to great work undervalued based on the flimsiest grudges, with “logic” and critical judgement and defensible fact-based opinions rarely figuring into it. SXSW, Sundance, Cannes and Toronto groupthink sets in. That’s one thing film festivals are good at — pack mentality reviewing.
Some of this is just a generational sea change, of course, older critics grousing about “What the KIDs love these days,” etc. But take away the gatekeepers who used to ordain who was good enough at the craft of reviewing — debating, using evidence in arguments, etc — and this is where we are.
Most of these movies weren’t BAD, per se. Just indifferent, forgettable. Below, let us remember the forgotten, the middling movies that were the best thing since sliced-bread, according to some (MANY) — for a week, a month, or a summer — and have disappeared, with extreme prejudice — now that “Awards’ season” is upon us.
“Blade Runner 2049” — No Ridley Scott, no “Blade Runner.” Not Rutger Hauer? No pathos. If audiences had trouble embracing a movie in which hardboiled Harrison Ford falls for a replicant who looks the way Sean Young used to look, how can we warm to an over-hyped sequel with Ryan Gosling as a replicant we’re supposed to root for in a future where love, sex, etc. is digital, simulated, VR? Beautiful, chilly and heartless.
“Colossal” — There was a huge run on Depends when this dull, dim limited release reached fanboydom back in the spring. “Hey you guys, it’s a KAIJU movie! With Anne Hathaway! And that Sudeikis guy playing another douche!” And you thought “Pacific Rim” was unworthy.
“Mudbound” — Granted, the Sundance Film Festival comes very early in the year. And the films are screened at…high altitude. So breathless praise for flawed features comes with every year’s festival. Here’s a USA Today headline — “‘Mudbound’ could bring historic diversity to 2018 Oscar race.” A well-intentioned but murky, over-boiled, meekly-directed, badly-edited obvious and misshapen melodrama, it’s still getting some Oscar buzz for Mary J. Blige, who is pretty good at playing an Depression Era archetype. She plays grinding poverty, in scene after scene (not all), in stylish period sunglasses. Sharecropping paid better than you thought.
“Logan Lucky” — A lack of Southern film critics in this new generation of big city hobbyist reviewers and unworldly appointees (I think NPR gives movie passes to interns, and lets them call themselves “critics.”) meant that this limp, stereotype-stuffed rube comedy from Steven Soderbergh earned plaudits worthy of Soderbergh’s best, and not the notices a cut-rate, cleverly-negotiated NASCAR caper comedy deserved.
“Logan” — A gritty, fitting send-off to The Wolverine. Jackman was as good as he’s always been in these movies, Patrick Stewart plays the hell of out facing one’s mortality. Brutally violent, clumsily-plotted, fulfilling to the fans. A great movie? No. A solid 2.5/3 star movie.
“Wonder Woman” — No, Patty Jenkins isn’t being unjustly dismissed because she’s the WOMAN who directed one of the year’s biggest hits. She’s being ignored because there’s little to this that constitutes directing, not a lot of originality to this distaff “Captain America” riff with vivid cut cut-rate World War I battle recreations, and a passably fierce Gal Gadot in the title role made this a perfectly serviceable, admirable in its empowerment aims, comic book movie. Nothing more. Jenkins’ best work, on Charlize Theron’s Oscar-winning “Monster,” was “directed.” Not “WW.” It was “produced.”
“The Meyerwitz Stories” — Netflix is being painted as a major player this awards season, with “Mudbound,” Angelina Jolie’s passable foreign language film, “First They Killed My Father,” and this bit of Noah Baumbach directed Adam Sandler re-invention. Not hardly. It was a mediocre talkathon long before everybody realized what a sexist heel Dustin Hoffman has been. For decades. Insular, dull and pre-digested.
“Call Me by My Name” — I’ve reviewed and endorsed a lot of queer cinema over the decades, enjoyed the langorous scripts of James Ivory (“Remain of the Day,” “A Room with a View”) as much as anybody. But what inspired the NYC Critics and LA Critics to soil their knickers over this turgid, slow, leaden, gay apologia (older man, teen boy romance) melodrama escapes me. Did they all come out of the closet in the same Scarsdale or Van Nuys synagogue?
“It” — Hollywood wore out Stephen King’s welcome back in the last millennium, repetitive hack-work horror with usually just one really good idea per book as that book became a film. This dark ode to lost childhood wasn’t bad. It wasn’t “Psycho,” either. Splitting it into two movies makes the upcoming sequel, really just the second half of a story told as a single piece, seems an act of greed, not narrative thrift. Reviewers seemed grateful it wasn’t any worse than the decades-old TV version. So?
“Alien: Covenant” — No Ridley Scott, no “Alien?” Wasting Scott’s last vital years as a director on this movie got “Covenant,” a dank stinker in this long, wildly uneven series, graded on the curve. Step away from the chest-busters, Ridley.
“Red Turtle” — Not every animated film to pop out of Studio Ghibli is a masterpiece. This certainly wasn’t, though you’d never know it from the reviews.
“Thor: Ragnorak” — Cute. Fun. Meh. Hemsworth should have played Gaston in the live-action “Beauty and the Beast” remake. Self-aware, muscle-bound and silly when he wants to be. The movie’s a forgettable exercise in fights and effects and inside Marvel jokes. Will anybody be watching this five years down the road? How about six months down the road?
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” — A tidal wave of effusive reviews (not mine), a sea of black ink at the box office, and a tidal wave of irritated “fan” reviews — on IMDb, on Rottentomatoes, on reddit, comments on my review. It’s gutless, heartless corporate piffle, a middling yet shiny bauble for the faithful, who appear to be losing faith.
“The Shape of Water” — An Oscar contender? Why, exactly? Guillermo del Toro’s derivative little sci-fi romantic fantasy has a look, a very good cast which was parked in roles so on-the-nose as to be eye-rollable (Sally Hawkins as the lonelorn, lovelorn mute? She’s so much better in “Maudie.” Michael Shannon as a psychotic technocrat? Richard Jenkins as a sad, lonely closeted gay neighbor, Michael Stuhlbarg as a Rosenberg-ish traitor?). I found it a tad dull, a touch “icky.” And it’s seemingly derived/ripped-off from a widely circulated student film from the Netherlands of a few years back. Let it contend. Will anybody remember it otherwise?
“Last Flag Flying” — Whatever debt we owe veterans in this country, what we don’t owe them is this vapid, criminally over-praised “Last Detail” road dramedy about old men paying a debt to a misused comrade. Bryan Cranston brought the holiday ham out early for this one.
Interesting post, and I agree with most on your list, especially on Logan Lucky, Wonder Woman, Thor: Ragnorak, and on Alien: Covenant.
I kind of disagree with The Red Turtle’s assessment. I thought it was refreshingly different and well-deserving of its praise. The Red Turtle has already been nominated for an Oscar, and although the director there, Michaël Dudok de Wit, used Studio Ghibli, it was all mostly his own vision and not the Studio’s.