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I hope you enjoyed my look back at my Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!  And now, let’s turn to my Favorite Movies of 2017

As always, there were far more great movies released this year than I had time to see.  Movies that looked great but that I missed include: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Get Out, Phantom Thread, Darkest Hour, I Tonya, Wind River, Logan Lucky, Professor Marsten and the Wonder Women, The Lost City of Z, Downsizing, Atomic Blonde, and many more.  So if you’re wondering why any of those movies aren’t on my list, now you know.

Before we begin, I should start by mentioning two incredible 2016 movies that I saw in January 2017, after I had already written my Best Movies of 2016 list:  Lion and Moonlight.  Moonlight, in particular, is a masterpiece that surely would have been in my TOP FIVE of 2016 had I seen it in time.

And now, without any further delay, let’s dive into my list of my Favorite Movies of 2017:

Honorable Mention: Logan Hugh Jackman’s swan song as Wolverine brought a satsifying close to his nearly two decades playing the character.  Throwing aside the usual look and feel of a superhero movie, director James Mangold chose instead to make a dark, grim R-rated drama that shocked me with its intensity and its violence.  I loved their choices in making a very different kind of X-Men film, one with no colorful costumes or grandiose musical themes.  This is a drama focused tightly on its characters, and both Hugh Jackman as Logan and Patrick Stewart as Professor X (in which will also likely be his final appearance in the role) give what is probably their very best performances as these characters.  Long-running series rarely get a definitive ending; when one comes, as it did here, it is very special.  (Click here for my full review.)

20. Battle of the Sexes This story of Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs’ 1973 tennis match is an enjoyable, beautifully-made recreation of the dramatic events surrounding this televised battle of the genders.  It is also a riveting, very much of this specific time and place film that has a lot to say about equality today.  I was pleasantly surprised that Battle of the Sexes was as much about the struggles of gays and lesbians to live open, free lives as it was about female liberation and the struggle for equality between the sexes.  Both Emma Stone and Steve Carrell are terrific, wonderfully portraying these famous people while also bringing true life to their performances, rather than just giving a robotic act of recreation.  I wasn’t expecting … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Ted

Ted is the live-action, feature-film directorial debut of Seth MacFarlane, the man behind Family Guy and it’s various spin-offs.  It’s a triumphant debut film, confidently made.

Ted takes a fairy tale premise, that a lonely young boy makes a wish that his teddy bear will come to life to be a real friend for him, only to find that his wish is magically granted, and asks: what happens when the boy grows up?  Thus we get John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), a 35-year-old stoner who is barely able to hold onto his low-paying job at a car-rental joint in Boston.  His best friend is still Ted, his now somewhat raggedy and far-from-innocent talking teddy bear.  He’s in a great relationship with a wonderful girl named Lori (Mila Kunis), but she’s beginning to grow tired of John’s arrested development.  Has Ted become an anchor keeping him trapped in an unending childhood?

Ted manages to take the best qualities of Family Guy — it’s uproariously raunchy humor, and bizarre pop-culture asides and digressions — and weave them into a film that has a surprisingly big heart.  There’s a gloriously gleeful, anarchic feel to the film, a bold we’ll-do-anything-that-is-funny feel that I love.  But I have often written on this site that, for me, the best comedies are ones that are ridiculously funny while also telling a real story, with real characters and real stakes.  Ted manages to do that shockingly well.  I found myself really caring about the characters and, in particular, really caring about the walking, talking, somewhat foul-mouthed little teddy bear in the title role.

The combination of incredible visual effects (I assume mostly CGI, though I don’t know that for certain) and Mr. MacFarlane’s voice acting bring Ted completely to life.  At no point in the film did I ever stop to question the character’s existence.  Ted feels totally real.  You’re not focusing on the effects, you’re just enjoying the character.  It’s an astonishing achievement, really incredible.  (I’m very much reminded of the effects in Paulclick here for my review — that brought another foul-mouthed short little fantasy character to totally believable life.)

The movie is hysterically funny.  There are some classic Family Guy style digressions and pop-culture references (John’s Airplane! fantasy memory of his first date with Lori is one of the funniest things I have seen in a movie in years) but the film thankfully doesn’t ladle them on TOO thick so as to overwhelm the story.

Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis are very enjoyable in the lead role, and their work really helps to sell the fantasy idea of a talking teddy bear being a factor in their lives.  Joel McHale is a riot as … [continued]

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Ape Management Part 6: Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2001)

My friends and I discovered the Planet of the Apes films in college.  We’d taken to visiting the local rental store, trying to fill in the gaps in our movie-watching histories.  Basically, we rented films that we felt we really SHOULD see, since we considered ourselves movie-fans.  When we realized that none of us had seen Planet of the Apes, we decided to give that a viewing.  Suffice it to say, we LOVED it, in all its silly/serious glory.  When we realized that there were actually FOUR MORE Planet of the Apes films, we decided, well, we’d better watch them all too!  We had a great deal of fun watching the entire series, and the Apes films quickly became the movies we were prone to throw on, late at night, when in need of some entertainment.

So back in 2000/2001, when we heard that there was actually going to be a NEW Planet of the Apes film, and that it was going to be a big-budget version helmed by Tim Burton (a filmmaker we all held in high esteem), we were pretty much blown away with excitement and anticipation.  Though we were well out of college by then, several of us gathered together on opening weekend, to take in this new Apes film together.

Sigh.

I don’t think any of us HATED Tim Burton’s film, but we were pretty underwhelmed by what we saw.  I had such a dim view of Mr. Burton’s movie that, despite being a huge fan of the Apes series, and despite the many times I have re-watched the original five Apes films during the subsequent decade, I have never once been driven to sit down and watch Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes film again.

But I’d been having so much fun, recently, re-watching all of the Apes films in preparation for the new Apes movie that I decided, what the heck, it’s been ten years, let’s give Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes film another go.  Maybe now, removed from all of the hype and my built-up expectations, I’d think more highly of this film.

No such luck.  Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes is pretty much exactly the dud I remembered it being.

Things get off to a bad start right a way with a lugubrious opening credits sequence in which the camera slowly floats around an ornate object extreme close-up.  Gradually the camera pulls back, and we see it’s an ape helmet.  I thought this was cool when Mr. Burton did that with the Bat-Signal during the opening credits of Batman, but here it felt boring — been there, done that.

Things pick up somewhat during the sequence that … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2010: Josh Reviews The Fighter

When I first heard about The Fighter, I thought “here we go again, yet another boxing movie.”  But then I realized that, though I could certainly list a TON of boxing movies, I haven’t actually seen that many of them.  I’m not at all interested in the “sport” of boxing, and though I definitely enjoy some dark, downbeat films, I’m not a big fan of a lot of violence or gore in movies.  All of which means that it’s rare for me to want to go see a boxing film.

But something about The Fighter sparked some interest in me.  Perhaps it was the cast, or perhaps it was the story of Mark Wahlberg’s years-long effort to bring the real-life story of boxer Micky Ward to life.  Whatever the reason, I’m glad I decided to see the film, because it is absolutely terrific.

Mark Wahlberg has turned in some strong performances over the past few years (even when he’s in films that I don’t really like, such as The Other Guys).  He was, for instance, absolutely brilliant in The Departed (click here for my review).  Born in Dorchester, MA, it’s clear that Mr. Wahlberg felt a strong connection to the scrappy fighter from Lowell, MA, and that shows through every moment of the performance.  Mr. Wahlberg is completely believable as a welterweight boxer, but he also brings an endearing gentleness to the portrayal.  His Micky is soft-spoken and desperately eager to please.  It’s fascinating to me that the film’s narrative arc rests on Micky learning to actually be a little bit selfish and make a decision that will do right for HIM, rather than for his mother, sisters, or brother.

Speaking of his brother (really his half-brother), as good as Mark Wahlberg is as Micky Ward, this movie absolutely 100% belongs to Christian Bale and his performance as Dicky Eklund.  Dicky was once a great boxer and “the pride of Lowell,” but now he’s a crack-addicted shambles of a man who’s convinced himself that training his brother to fight will be his road to a comeback.  Mr. Bale’s performance is mesmerizing.  Dicky is a whirlwind of tics and energy that threatens to fly apart any room or situation that he’s in.  We can see the echoes of his charisma that once made him a local hero, and that perhaps also explains why his loved ones tolerate his behavior.  And his smile.  Oh, his smile is devastating.  It conveys such warmth from the heart of this man-child, but it’s also devastatingly sad and pathetic as we quickly see what a self-destructive force Dicky has become.

(The extraordinary high esteem in which I held Christian Bale’s performance as … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Other Guys

September 3rd, 2010
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In this summer of bad movies, I suppose The Other Guys must be considered a great comedic success — and, I will freely admit, there is a lot of fun to be had in this film — but it’s not quite the home run I’d been hoping for from a cast and filmmakers of this pedigree.

Will Ferrell plays Allen Gamble, a quiet, bookish police officer who is more accountant than cop.  He’s been partnered with Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), a tough guy who’s been demoted and humiliated after accidentally shooting Derek Jeter during the World Series.  The two men both must live and work under the shadow of super-celebrity cops Highsmith and Danson (the perfectly cast Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson).  While those two Lethal Weapon-type cops get all the glory (no matter how much chaos, violence, and property damage they might cause in their movie-style city-wide chases), when compared to them, Gamble and Hoitz are just “the other guys.”  But when Gamble’s eye for details notices some discrepancies in the financial reporting of Wall Street big-wig David Ershon (Steve Coogan), Hoitz sees a chance for glory if they can successfully make the big bust.

The Other Guys has a great cast.  I love the pairing of Ferrell and Wahlberg — that’s an inspired team-up, and watching the two of them bounce off one another is the greatest pleasure of the film.  There are some wonderful digressions over the course of the film (particularly during the first half) in which the story takes a back-seat for a minute for the two to engage in some sort of ridiculous debate, and those scenes are hysterical.  Steve Coogan is all smarm as the surprisingly pathetic Ershon, and he can wring a laugh out of a flummoxed look like nobody’s business.  I also really enjoyed seeing Michael Keaton as the put-upon police captain.  Mr. Keaton hasn’t had a lot of strong roles in the last decade or so, but the man is a riot.  It’s nice to see that he can still bring the funny when well-used in a film.

For the first hour, I was really loving The Other Guys.  The film was filled with zany scene after zany scene, but it was all anchored by a believable story about two good cops having to live in the shadow of the showboating super-stars of their department.  I’m not sure quite what went wrong, then, in the film’s second half, but in my opinion things seemed to peter out.  It might be that the story doesn’t seem to really go anywhere.  As an example, I felt that the momentum of the film grinds to a halt during … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: The Departed

As with Charlie Wilson’s War (which I wrote about on Wednesday), The Departed is a movie whose DVD has been sitting on my shelf for a while now, waiting for me to revisit it (after really enjoying my first viewing when I saw it in theatres).  I am pleased to say I enjoyed the film during its second viewing as much as I did during its first.

The Departed is a sprawling film that focuses on two young men who are, in many ways, the mirror opposites of one another.  Leonardo DiCaprio plays Billy Costigan, a state cop assigned to infiltrate the mob run by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), while Matt Damon plays Colin Sullivan, one of Costello’s men who is assigned to infiltrate the state police.  The film deftly follows their two stories, as each one works to make a name for himself in his new world, all the while scrambling to stay one step ahead of discovery.  William Monahan’s script is taut and smart, giving DiCaprio and Damon plenty of great character material to work with, while also fashioning a throughly entertaining, twisty narrative.  (I am becoming an enormous fan of Mr. Monahan’s writing, by the way.  In addition to his work in The Departed, I thoroughly enjoyed his script for Ridley Scott’s criminally-underrated Kingdom of Heaven.)

As good as Damon and DiCaprio are, though, they almost have the movie stolen right out from under them by Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg, who are both absolutely magnificent playing two gleefully profane Boston detectives.  Martin Sheen is a great father figure as Police Captain Queenan, and Jack Nicholson — well, he’s Jack!  Completely over-the-top but somehow still believable as the dangerous Costello.

Having lived in both Providence and Boston, I really enjoyed the film’s focus on the distinct flavors of those two great cities.  I love movies that dig into a particular subculture, whether that’s a documentary such as Spellbound or Wordplay, or a movie like Adventureland (which I reviewed here) that captures the life of kids working a summer job at an amusement park.  So it’s no great surprise that I was tickled by The Departed‘s focus on life in Providence and Boston, two cities that are both quite different than, say, New York.  Now, I can’t really vouch for the veracity of the depiction of the crime families of those two towns, but I can say that I think Mr. Scorsese and his collaborators really captured the unique FEEL of those two cities.  

This is a big story being told, taking place over many years and with a lot of characters and a lot of narrative twists and turns.  It is … [continued]