Another year has passed. Last December, I discussed how difficult it was to summarize the preceding twelve months in the world of film in a single post, and I find myself in a similar position this year, but perhaps for different reasons.
Every year, I begin this post by spending a few paragraphs trying to summarize the last twelve months in film – the major changes and developments that seemed to define how we watched and discussed movies over the year that’s ended. It’s a bit of a silly game to play most years, but after 2020, it almost seems too ridiculous to try. Major titles, too numerous to count, were pushed to 2021 and beyond. Theaters have spent a majority of the year closed for business. For many months, film productions were shut down entirely. And because the only way that a title could safely reach a large number of people was through streaming, the mere nature of what it means to “release a movie” this year became a term up for discussion: there have been more streaming-exclusive titles this year than could have ever been imagined even ten months ago, filmed stage productions, and anthologies, like Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series. Certainly, many early awards voters and critics issuing their top 10 lists have been inundated with people who seem to have inexplicably fiery opinions on what can or cannot be considered a movie – and those individuals will find little respite in my list.
To reiterate a point I made earlier this week, when discussing the year’s films on the Film Pulse podcast, what’s the point of this kind of gatekeeping? Why should we be so regimented when it comes to discussing the art that meant the most to us as individuals? And in this of all years, why should we consider this to be such a salient point? The COVID pandemic has upended every aspect of human life, and the much-anticipated “return to normal,” which may come sometime next year as vaccinations continue to roll out, will still be very different – in ways large and small – than the world of 2019. And of course, there are ways in which this could be a good thing. But perhaps these are considerations that deserve more serious discussion by more qualified people than I can offer in this annual post. I can only express my hope that we are but months away from a time when we can safely gather together again – and in the context of this particular writing, that we can go to movie theaters, and that movie theaters will still be healthy and viable.
Another year has gone by, as has another decade. While other, more seasoned critics can surely offer far more meaningful and detailed evaluations of the last ten years, it’s certainly apparent to me that the 2010s have ushered in wide transformations in how movies are made and viewed, and I will comment on one particular portion of that change in this column. But this isn’t a decade-best countdown – making a list for just one year provides me enough overthinking as it is – just a place to single out the movies of the past 12 months that have moved and impacted me the most.
You can’t say that 2018 was a particularly relaxing year. But looking at the year’s pop culture, it was certainly one that showed how better representation can wield positive results that have clear social value and make a strong mark on the cultural discussion, as movies like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians proved. Female directors and/or directors of color were at the helm for many of 2018’s most acclaimed features: from films as varied from If Beale Street Could Talk to Sorry to Bother You, and Shirkers to Madeline’s Madeline, this year took big steps in employing a wide diversity of voices and perspectives in filmmaking. Certainly more work is needed on this front, but it will be exciting to see what more progress can be made in the years to come. As Hollywood Reporter writer Rebecca Sun pointed out, diversity isn’t a passing trend or buzzword: it’s a reality that has simply been ignored for too long.And even though this year has dealt its share of dismaying setbacks for all the leaps forward made, I thought I would use this post as an opportunity to celebrate what has been accomplished on film, and what gives me hope for a brighter future.
Another twelve months have come and gone. 2017 was an active and unpredictable year, much like any other, but the speed and uncontrolled nature through which information flowed online – and into the media cycle– amplified the intensity and confusion that surrounded major events. The political turmoil and unrest that has marked prior years continued, and propelled the bickering therein.
So let’s be thankful for the power of art and creativity. Be it a TV show, book, movie, album, or something else entirely, these cultural works captured the zeitgeist, turning raw emotions into refined expressions and establishing a reference point for future generations. Whether you traveled to a theater to take in a live performance, took refuge in the air-conditioned auditoriums of your multiplex, camped out in front of your TV to binge watch the latest craze, or plugged in your headphones to listen your new favorite tunes, you participated in the pop cultural moment. And with the increased consciousness that we share when absorbing current events, your media choices carried a message in a year marked by demonstrations, movements, and calls for change the world over.
This year, I’m doing something different. Instead of counting down the top 15 movies I reviewed, I’m going to focus on 2017 titles, whether I reviewed them or not. Note that there are many titles I have yet to see, and so this list is only a snapshot of where my opinions stand as of December 31, 2017. There are four lists here: 10 favorites, 7 that I appreciated but didn’t love as much as everyone else, my 5 least favorite, and 3 “underrated” picks.
We have arrived at the end of yet another year. As many have noticed, being able to finally close out 2016 and its seemingly endless stream of death, global turmoil, and mass uncertainty, is a satisfaction far more relishing than anyone could have anticipated. One can only hope that next year will bring better fortunes, but we’ll have to wait and see. Regardless of all that happened over the past twelve months, I still find it helpful to use this space and remember all of the great movies that I reviewed this year. Films can provide catharsis, an escape, or any other imaginable emotion. The power of art is undeniable and unsinkable. Right now, that’s an especially important thing to remember.
Note that for a film to be eligible for inclusion on this list, it needs to be a movie reviewed by me in 2016 (either here or at filmpulse.net, the other site where my writing appears.) This means that movies released before 2016 are eligible, and if I didn’t review a particular film, even if it came out in 2016, it doesn’t count. I’ve done my due diligence this year and made sure to write reviews of all of the best movies I’ve seen in the past twelve months, so they’re all pretty much eligible.
One thing that I noticed this year is that I’ve given out far fewer three-and-a-half star ratings than I normally do. While four-star films are a rare occurrence, and there was only one this year, I usually don’t have much trouble with the classification right below it. I’m not sure if this was because I was a tougher critic than normal (which I don’t think was the case), or maybe that I just didn’t see as many movies that outright wowed me. Nevertheless, I’m still satisfied with this list, and would encourage you to check out any of the titles which catch your eye. Let’s get started.
This better list contains the same disclaimer as the previous: this is my list, and my list only. I do not attempt to create charades of factual statements by ranking films on a numbered sheet.
Here is the start of the top 10 list of movies I reviewed in 2013 (not necessarily 2013 movies, for I’ve only seen eleven in theaters, and only one made the final 10 here), which is really more of a top 15 list, since I will include (but not elaborate on) five honorable mentions.
What a terrifically made film! Christopher Nolan, a name you’ll hear a couple more times on this list (I am a horrible fanboy), has crafted three movies that not only transcend the bounds of the “comic book genre”, but can be viewed as solid action dramas in their own right. The Dark Knight features an absolutely marvelous performance from the late Heath Ledger.
Many viewers (and many critics) sometimes have an aversion to documentaries, seeing them as boring or unfantastical. Hoop Dreams contains far more exciting tension and involving events than many fictional films, also a prime example of good editing, taking hundreds of hours of footage and whittling it down to an immersive 171 minute experience.
Everybody knows and loves Forrest Gump. It’s a crowd pleaser. Some would argue that it’s a fault of the picture, but I think it’s one of its best assets. It’s hard not to be swept away in its grand and epic existence, stretching over decades, wars, and continents.
Most movies that can be billed as “romantic comedies” send a majority of men (and a good number of women) to a state of near insanity due to a number of recurring clichés and eye-rolling lines. (500) Days of Summer can be considered a deity within the otherwise trashed genre – it’s a how-to when making this certain type of film; the leads have great chemistry, it’s told in a fresh, unconventional way, there are good legitimate jokes, and it does not restrict itself to genre boundaries or one way of storytelling.
Some films leave you rolling in the aisles, some films leave you refreshed and recharged, some films leave you with a need to sleep with the lights on, but there are a select few movies that leave you floored and emotionally drained; however, you’re glad you saw it. The Hours is such a picture. Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, and Nicole Kidman give excellent performances of varying screentime in this wonderfully interwoven story around one novel (Mrs Dalloway).
Dreams. We all have them, we all wonder what they mean (the answer is still largely unknown). This great and inventive movie is ample evidence that there is a rare breed known as the intelligent blockbuster. Combine that with some absolutely amazing visual effects and you have a solid entry to my top 10 list.
Pardon me for including Mr. Nolan once again. It is an unpopular opinion, but I see The Dark Knight Rises as the best entry in the most recent Batman trilogy, superior to both its predecessors due to a great and operatic scope, filled with a sense of completion and achievement.
Ninety minutes pass instantly in this terrifying, compelling, and unforgettable thriller. Sandra Bullock gives an amazing performance as Dr. Ryan Stone, an astronaut on a first mission that leaves her without a ship in the dangerous wide nothingness of space. Chalk this one up as another smart big budget adventure.
Considered by many to be the first true feature length sci-fi film, it still proves dazzling 86 years later. With a clear-but-unintrusive message and great visuals which leave an enormous legacy, Metropolis, now with 148 of its 153 original minutes available, is a movie that is not to be missed. The recent Blu-ray by Kino Lorber does this classic great justice.
And before we close the book completely on 2013, I’ll bore you with some stats collected from Microsoft Excel:
I reviewed 85 movies in 2013. The first review was written on January 8 and the last review on December 27.
64% (55) of the reviews written this year were positive (3 stars and above). 25% (21) were mixed (2 and 2½ stars) and 11% (9) were negative (1½ stars and below).
My least active month was January, where I wrote five reviews. My most active months were March and July, with nine reviews written in both.
I gave out three four-star reviews.
I gave out no zero-star reviews.
I reviewed fourteen movies this year that were released in 2013. Two were available on and viewed on DVD when I got around to them.
And there it is. The best 10 movies I reviewed in 2013.