Welcome back to the Decade Decathlon, where we’re taking an extended look back at the past decade of filmmaking to see what worked, what didn’t, and what stories we can learn from the past.
With 2016 relegated to the year that no one remembers, we now enter the magical year of 2017, a year that feels out of place compared to the rest of its contemporaries. Looking back at all of the releases during 2017, the year wasn’t defined by any major studio release, but rather all of the wonderful original movies not associated with any brand. Sure, the MCU was still chugging along and Star Wars will always be Star Wars, but when I looked back at all of the movies that came out during 2017, I’m pretty sure I have more recommendations for this year than any other year in the decade.
But we live in a world defined by franchises. Unless a movie is a part of a series, it tends to fade away from the popular consciousness. Franchises became all the rage, with 2017 beginning an earnest trend to copy the success of major franchises, aka the MCU. This was the year that gave us Universal’s doomed “Dark Universe” project, a series that as of this writing only has one film released. Monster movies couldn’t work on their own in Universal’s eyes. They needed to be re-contextualized as a cinematic universe in order to succeed, rather than being good movies.
Even if 2017 had a plethora of riches to it, is that enough to be recognized? Is it enough for the average person to pay attention to the successes of the year, or just hand wave them away because they’re not a part of a franchise that they’re already familiar with?
Now let’s get ready to run.
Most Decorated Movie: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director: Martin McDonagh
Total Awards: 14
Oscar’s Best Picture Winner?: No
Three Billboards is an interesting movie to discuss not because of the quality of the film, though it is very good, but for the social impact that the movie has had. As the decade continued onward, more people became more outraged at the various problems in the world. While the first half of the decade can probably best be described as a time of contentment for some, the second half of the decade has instead been home to seeking justice for a whole host of transgressions. Three Billboards became a symbol for many of outrage what people were internalizing but not able to act out on.
If I was to point to a movie that probably contained the best performances of the decade, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri would be on the short list of nominees. The film is propelled forward by Francis McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell, all of whom deliver some of the best performances of their career. Their performances all center on one clear decision; action vs. inaction.
After her daughter was brutally raped and murdered, Francis McDormand rents three billboards to publicize not only to the town, but to the world, that the police force of Ebbing, Missouri are complacent in the death of her daughter. McDormand wants action taken and justice for her daughter. Everyone tells her the situation is more complicated than it is, but the simplification by her character illustrates that sometimes it doesn’t matter if something is complicated or not. Sometimes it’s about whether or not it’s the right thing to do and how much a person is willing to go to do the right thing, despite the subjectivity of that claim.
It’s not a surprise then that after the movie released, for several months following the release of the film, the eponymous “three billboards” have appeared at political protests across the country asking why people have taken to inaction rather than doing something about the problems of the world. It feels good to see that a movie is motivating serious discussions about how to become more politically motive, making Three Billboards one of the few movies this decade to boast that claim.
Worst Movie: The Emoji Movie
Director: Tony Leondis
Razzie Wins: 4
Were the Razzies right?: Yes
When I saw The Emoji Movie back when I was writing on a no-name blog for an audience in the double digits, I called it one of the most vacuous and downright insidious movies I’ve ever seen. It’s a movie engineered to be one giant product placement, telling children how awesome and cool their phone was and all of the wonderful things you can do with it like playing Candy Crush, going on Twitter, and downloading Soundcloud. Never before have I seen a movie with the balls to be so shameless about its goals. At least some bad movies like the Transformers: Age of Extinction are at least subtle about the messages they’re trying to get across, and even then at least those messages are detrimental to a person’s social development skills.
In case you can’t tell, The Emoji Movie is simply awful. It’s awful in nearly every context you can think of. It’s not funny, the characters are bland at best and annoying at worst, it wastes clearly talented actors, and again, the message of the movie is just rancid. It’s only saving grace is that the animation isn’t the worst thing on Earth and it doesn’t give me night terrors like Mars Needs Moms did, but in an age where every animated movie can look passable, a movie needs to do something more than just look presentable to be good. So yes, it meets the bar, but when everyone else is leaping over it with ease, doing the bare minimum just isn’t enough.
We live in an age defined by technology. My generation is weird insomuch as we grew up before the proliferation of the internet, where as a kid I grew up playing outside with only dial-up connection on my parent’s one computer, but when I got to high school I was able to use my first laptop and phone to do nearly all of my work. Technology has now become a part of our lives, for better or worse, and it needs to be used properly, especially in regards to children. How many times have you seen parents plop their kids in front of an Ipad and use that as a babysitter instead of actively engaging with them.
The Emoji Movie is disgustingly cynical in saying that our phones are the most important part of a kids life. Phones are fun and magical places full of magical programs, coincidentally forgetting that some of these programs cost money and can lead to problems later on in a child’s life. Put aside the universal negative reception that the movie received, and rightly so, after its release. The Emoji Movie ranks as being one of the worst movies of the decade not just because it’s bad, but it could be actively detrimental to a child’s development. And that is inexcusable.
Highest Grossing Movie: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Director: Rian Johnson
Total Gross: $1,332,539,889
Deep breaths Jesse, deep breaths. Don’t let the internet murder you over this…
Back when I first saw The Last Jedi, I had a debate between the three other friends on whether or not we liked the movie. We were polarized immediately after watching it and tried to work through our own thoughts. Some of our thoughts were nitpicks, like there suddenly being gravity in space, while other were major problems we had, like disregarding several major characters and plot-threads that were introduced and set up as major pieces back in The Force Awakens. Since then, I have not seen The Last Jedi, only watching it for the second time just last week, and I was pretty surprised how my thoughts shifted over the past few years.
I enjoyed The Last Jedi, or at least I enjoyed it more than I did back in 2017. Coming off of the emotional high of The Force Awakens, all eyes were rightfully on The Last Jedi to see if lightning could strike twice, and while I thought that while it wasn’t as impactful as the last movie, it still was a pretty fun movie. It was probably the most in depth we got into looking at the teaching of the Jedi order in decades and a real exploration of exactly what The Force was. From that approach, The Last Jedi was a fascinating examination of the established lore of the franchise.
But that isn’t what people wanted to talk about or even expected from the movie. The Last Jedi was more interested in deconstructing the idea of what a Star Wars movie was, but fans were more eager to see the story continue in meaningful ways. On that front, The Last Jedi does take some major stumbles. The main trio of Rey, Poe, and Finn are hardly together for the movie. Snoke felt like an afterthought after being built up so much in The Force Awakens. The new characters Rose and Vice Admiral Holdo were poorly written and had several leaps in logic. Luke’s character was ruined (whatever that means), and Leia, a character who only had mild Force awareness, could suddenly fly in the vacuum of space and not immediately die from, you know, being in the vacuum of space. As a story, The Last Jedi is at its weakest.
That was enough though for fans. After The Last Jedi’s release, the fanbase was immediately changed in a way that it hasn’t really recovered from. Toxicity roamed free as actors involved with the production of the movie were targeted and harassed on social media to a relentless degree. Civility was thrown out the window because the sanctity of Star Wars, a franchise beloved by millions, was perceived as being under threat. So now that we can look at it from two years of hindsight, what exactly was the threat? Was it Rian Johnson for subverting the fans? Kathleen Kennedy for changing the direction of the series? Disney for milking it? Women for daring to have a presence in the movie? What was the threat that “fans” were trying to protect the franchise from?
Shock of all shocks, there was no threat. Star Wars wasn’t in danger. It was never in danger. In my opinion, this vitriol was a snowball effect of a very vocal minority of “fans,” fearing a repeat of the prequel trilogy, trying to “protect” their beloved franchise. But Star Wars doesn’t need protecting. Star Wars means something to everyone, so there is no one interpretation of what Star Wars is. To some it is a saga of familial drama featuring space wizards. To others, it’s a story about the balance needed between light and darkness in order to live a fulfilling life. Both are right, none are wrong. What is wrong is to rabidly attack people for daring to critique a movie franchise.
Biggest Bomb: Monster Trucks
Director: Chris Wedge
Budget: $125 million
Gross: $64 million
Okay, so here’s a weird one. Technically, Monster Trucks wasn’t the biggest bomb of 2017. In actuality, the biggest bomb of 2017 was King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, a boring, forgettable action movie about King Arthur that majorly underperformed. So why am I breaking my rule to talk about Monster Trucks, a just a forgettable family movie releasing in the void that is January? Because I feel like there’s a valuable lesson to learn from Monster Trucks rather than Legend of the Sword. It’s no secret that movies based on Arthurian lore are duds at the box office. One just needs to look at this year’s The Kid Who Would Be King to learn that lesson. But Monster Trucks is a strange story that spans the majority of the decade before landing with a complete thud.
Monster Trucks is one of those cinematic anomalies that doesn’t exactly fit into any clean narrative as to why it failed. We’ve seen franchises fail to start with The Lone Ranger and Gods of Egypt and we’ve seen mismanaged budgets thanks to Legends of Oz, but Monster Trucks didn’t fail for those reasons. Rather, it failed because of its constant rescheduling. The movie went into production around 2013 and was slated to release on May 29, 2015, but it was delayed multiple times until landing in 2017. It would be delayed two more times before coming out, moving each time, one would assume, because of competition during each period. When it was delayed the first time to Christmas Day 2015, its competition was Star Wars. There would be no hope for Monster Trucks.
Yet I can’t figure out for the life of me why the movie was delayed. The movie isn’t anything special, mostly surrounding a boy befriending a monster that decides to live in his truck with a very prominent environmental message. Due to the constant delays as well as the ever expanding marketing costs, the budget for the movie eventually ballooned to $125 million, which is so much more than we actually see on screen. One has to assume that the costs primarily went into marketing and publicizing the movie over the course of a year and a half to accommodate its various new release dates.
But even if the movie was some kind of diamond in the rough, it’s just merely okay, it released during the most decrepit and vacuous month of the year, the legendary time that is January. Historically, January has been the month where movies go to die. It’s populated with movies that studios know are going to bomb if they release it during any other time, so they try to release them in January to recoup some money before the actual good movies come out. January 2017 was a fairly quiet month, mostly noteworthy for having one of the surprises of the year, Split, releasing only one week later. That movie went on to gross nearly $300 million, killing any and all hope for Monster Trucks to succeed. It could have been a contender, but bad decision after bad decision made it one of the most notable flops of the year.
Most Underrated: Logan Lucky
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Soderbergh is no strange to high octane heist movies. The man’s library is very well regarded, most notably for reviving the Ocean’s franchise and making it one of the more profitable franchises of the 2000’s. Now a decade after Ocean’s 13 graced screens, here comes Soderbergh with his latest heist movie, one that feels pretty distinct from most other releases during 2017.
Logan Lucky is a very understated kind of heist movie. There’s a lot of gears at play with a lot of plates to keep up, but it never makes a big deal out of it. The cast assembled all do wonderful jobs, whether it be Channing Tatum’s disgruntled construction worker, Adam Driver’s veteran turned bartender, or the genius demolition man Joe Bang, played perfectly by Daniel Craig who should exclusively play Southern characters until the end of time. The heist itself is slick and is a real treat to watch, mostly centering on how the crew of non-educated Southerners attempt to rob one of the biggest race in NASCAR, the Coca-Cola 600. Soderbergh is the man who created the modern heist movie so if there’s going to be someone to do it right, it’s him. Thankfully, he does.
The most charming thing personally about Logan Lucky isn’t really the heist itself, but the aftermath of it and just how smart everyone involved is despite how they shouldn’t be. This is a movie that plays on your stigmas and societal expectations on how the main characters can and should function. The media eventually calls them the “Redneck Robbers,” which most of the crew finds insulting. Even though the term “redneck” doesn’t hold much significance, the implications behind it make the team seem dumb, uneducated, and lucky, when the opposite is true. Their plan, as complicated as it may be, required months of effort to orchestrate and goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its cover. It doesn’t matter what a person’s perceived intelligence is, because it doesn’t matter where a person grows up or what they sound like. What matters is anyone is capable of anything, even being able to successfully rob one fo the biggest races in NASCAR history.
Favorite Movie: Baby Driver
Director: Edgar Wright
Why?: Wild genre bending
I’m not the first person to fawn over Baby Driver and I most certainly won’t be the last, but movies like Baby Driver aren’t made every day. Edgar Wright once again graces my #1 slot due to just how distinct and impressive each of his movies are. All I need to do is watch a trailer to one of his movies and I understand exactly what mindset he was in when he created it and just how much style will ooze out from the final picture. Some may disagree, but for as much as I love Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Baby Driver is Wright firing at all cylinders.
The movie is a strange hybrid between multiple genres that shouldn’t work. The premise involves a young man named Baby who has been conscripted for most of his life to be a driver for a crime boss, played by Kevin Spacey just before he lost all of his good will. The car chases are fantastic with some very impressive stunt work, but the movie gets more complicated by adding an in depth romance to the equation. Then it dies up the action in the second half, but not before reverse engineering itself as a musical. While it’s not a musical in the traditional sense, Baby Driver is defined by its soundtrack and how the music influences the actors and the story surrounding it.
From the first heist where we see Baby jamming out to “Bellbottoms” by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, to an epic chase set to “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, to a climatic showdown in a parking garage to Queen’s “Brighton Rock,” the soundtrack defines Baby Driver in a way that’s wonderful. Not only did Wright manage to choose the perfect songs for each situation in the film, but edit them in such a way that shows off just how wonderful of an auteur he is. The “Harlem Shuffle” sequence alone, where the lyrics casually appear in the streets of Atlanta while Baby goes about his morning routine should have won all of the awards its so well done.
There has been some pushback in recent years to Baby Driver’s success with most opponents (coughMattcough) calling it relatively basic and simple in its premise and execution. And I agree with that. This isn’t some grand epic morality tale about trying to do the right thing in a world that’s gone six ways south. All of its components are easy to understand but they’re combined and remixed in such a way that makes them feel fresh and different. Most importantly, Wright’s presentation is so good that he’s able to elevate simple plot lines and stories into something with a much greater sense of purpose and authenticity. He’s just able to make good movies better. He’s all about the style, but when he has the passion to match it, working on the movie for nearly two decades in one form or the other, there’s no topping him.
Was 2017 a good year for movies?
Of course it was. Outside of a few movies that were atrociously bad, 2017 had an embarrassing amount of good movies in it. Oscar darlings received notable mainstream appeal and weren’t just movies for film snobs. Acclaimed directors like Steven Soderbergh, Edgar Wright, Guillermo del Toro, Christopher Nolan, Greta Gerwig, and Denis Villeneuve all released wonderful movies during 2017. If you were a film fan, there was a brilliant movie coming out almost every week. And yet we don’t talk about them outside of a capacity of “man, that sure was good,” or “man, why didn’t we see this???”
Reading up on 2017 made me realize just how dominant franchises had become in Hollywood over the decade. While nearly every box office record holder this past decade was from some franchise, there were at least a small handful of movies that become landmark titles because of their quality rather than their association with a particular brand. Nearly a decade later and people are still talking about the technical marvels of Gravity, or the psychological thrills of Black Swan. People are familiar with these titles not necessarily because of their box office successes, but because they’re just good movies.
I posit the while 2016 was the year that we wanted to forget, 2017 was the year that we unintentionally forgot. It had so many great movies, yet they weren’t cinematic masterpieces. They were great, but outside of maybe one or two movies, they didn’t capture the public’s attention like other movies. To add onto that, because there were just so many good movies vying for attention, not every movie could receive all of the love it deserved. So yes, 2017 was a good year for movies, but perhaps it was too good for its own good.
Movies from 2017 you should still see: Split, The Lego Batman Movie, John Wick: Chapter 2, Get Out, Logan, Your Name, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, A Ghost Story, Dunkirk, Brigsby Bear, Darkest Hour, Lady Bird, It, I, Tonya, mother!, Blade Runner 2049, The Shape of Water, The Disaster Artist, Phantom Thread
Past Years Completed: