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THE BOOK OF HENRY   This movie is kind of a mess, but it's always watchable because of its star,
Naomi Watts.  As a mother of one brilliant (he prefers "precocious") pre-teen and a younger son who
knows his brother is brilliant, she's a little-bit unpredictable-even when she's doing predictable things.  
BIG SPOILER ALERT: Sorry, but I can't really address what the movie's ultimately about without
telling you that Henry dies in the first hour of the movie. Which is too bad, because the young actor
who portrays him is quite brilliant-and he looks like he could be the son of Dane de Haan. In his eleven
years on Earth, Henry ran his mother's life to the extent that he thought he needed to give her
something to do after he died to ease her through the various stages of grief. The task he gives her is
audacious, and under the circumstances outrageous-and, of course, he's planned it meticulously. The
denouement of the movie is a disappointing deus ex machina that the writers should probably be
ashamed of, but it does finally give Watts an opportunity to shine as she realizes that what a mature
adult would do isn't necessarily the same thing an eleven-year-old would do. Some people won't like
the movie because during its two-hour running time, it seems to be three or four different movies.  I
kind of liked that and recommend it to you.  (6/24/2017)

GIFTED  I always go into movies like this with at least some small sense of foreboding.  This story of
an uncle who promises his sister he'll raise her daughter as a "normal kid"--against the wishes of her
mother, who sees the child (correctly) as a math prodigy who should be raised as a MacBook
Pro--had trouble written all over it. Happily, the material is lifted considerably by three great
performances from McKenna Grace as the little girl, Chris Evans as her uncle and Lindsay Duncan as
the grandmother. Grace's performance (even if she's not actually seven-years-old) is phenomenal.
Duncan is always good, so the joker in the deck is Chris Evans. No actor in the Marvel Universe is
more closely identified with his Marvel role as Evans is to Captain America. But here, he shows that
he can play an understated Florida boat repair guy who just happened to be an associate professor of
philosophy at Boston University before taking his niece under his wing seven years earlier and moving
to St. Petersburg. All three are excellent-as is the perpetually underestimated Octavia Spencer as the
sympathetic next-door neighbor. A movie that could turn trite at any given point never does and is one
of the best movies I've seen all year.  (4/23/2017)

SPLIT  James McAvoy is the story in Split.  Much attention is being given to this movie being M.
Night Shyamalan's big comeback, and it a large extent it is. But
Split would not be getting compared
to
The Sixth Sense and Unbroken if not for the performance of Mr. McAvoy in the lead role as a
young Philadelphia man with twenty-four distinct personalities. What separates this movie from
movies with similar themes like
Sybil is that the writer (also Shyamalan) presents recent evidence
from multi-character disorders that suggests that not only do the various identities in a personality
present themselves mentally and emotionally, they also could have differing physical characteristics.
For example, one personality could present symptoms of diabetes, while others do not.  This
phenomenon presents itself in
Split as one personality being able to withstand two-point blank shotgun
blasts without injury. The famous "M. Night Twist" at the end of the movie really isn't as shocking as
earlier movies-but that's good.  But back to McAvoy, his ability to suggest different personalities by
changing only his clothing is remarkable, and it's really too bad that
Split isn't the kind of movie where
actors will receive the kind of acclaim they would receive for a more artistic (read "less commercial")
movie.  (1/22/2017)

MY COUSIN RACHEL   If you ever pay attention to my comments at all, you know that there are a
handful of people who can do no wrong, and that Rachel Weitz is one of them. In this telling of the
Daphne du Maurier novel of the same name, she's brilliant in the title role. Sam Claflin (Finnick from
The Hunger Games) is less so as Philip, the moonstruck English rube who can't wait to turn over his
mother's jewels, his estate and eventually, everything he has to her. If there's a flaw with the movie,
it's the speed with which this process occurs.  Before Rachel, the woman who married his deceased
godfather in Italy in the 18th century, turns up on his doorstep, Philip has determined that Rachel is
somehow responsible for her husband's death and decides that she is to be shunned as a guest. But
before she's been there a week, he's given her an "allowance" to sustain her. The mystery of the
movie is whether Rachel did indeed kill Philip's godfather and whether she's trying to do the same to
him now. Personally, I think the movie would have been better had Philip been less of a moonstruck
puppy who should have played a little harder to get. But that's just me. The movie is quite well done as
it is. (6/6/2017)

COLOSSAL   There's panic in the streets of Seoul as the giant reptile terrorizes the city, and
it's...it's...wait for it...Anne Hathaway!  Is this
Devil Wears Prada II: Miranda vs. Godzilla?  No, but
it's close. Clearly some studio had zero faith in this movie. It's got stars out the wazoo--Hathaway,
Jason Sudekis, Dan Stevens (who knows something about portraying beasts in movies), but
apparently, it couldn't get released. Which is too bad. Hathaway is a millennial slacker in New York
who finally gets dumped by by boyfriend when she shows up once too often well after the sun has
risen in the morning. She runs away to her hometown (which could be anywhere) and stumbles upon
elementary school friend Sudekis. Due to one of those
Freaky Friday-style transfers that can only
happen in the movies, Hathaway discovers that if she shows up at the school playground at exactly
8:05 a.m., a terrifying monster will stalk the streets of Seoul at the same time and mimic whatever
she's doing in the sandbox-the difference being that while she's merely stumbling through a sandpile,
the monster is crushing people, cars and buildings.  And that's just the first half-hour.  According to
Rotten Tomatoes, it's an action-comedy-drama, and I suppose they're right.  Surprisingly, the critics
and fans like it a lot-which makes me wonder why more people aren't hearing about it.  But I'm sure
it'll be on Netflix soon, so be on the lookout for it.  (5/4/17)

ATOMIC BLONDE  has more plot twists than it needs to be credible, but that's a minor complaint
about a pretty terrific movie. The "good" Charlize Theron is in this one, and she plays a kick-ass spy
in 1989. She's on a master-spy mission in Berlin during the week the Wall came down, but as the
movie itself tells you, "this is not that story." It's stylish, smart and funny-and the soundtrack includes
80's standards like "Der Kommissar" and "99 Luftballoons." It's not "mindless trash"--but it probably
wouldn't mind if you call it that. (7/31/2017)

ELLA BRENNAN: COMMANDING THE TABLE  Whenever I'm asked, I always say that the best
meal I've ever eaten was a salt-encrusted redfish served by Chef Jamie Shannon at the Chef's Table at
Commander's Palace back in the 90's. When I tell people about it, they look at me like it's something
I've made up. At last, I have material to refute. This superb documentary about the life of Ella Brennan
has a thirty-second clip of Mr. Shannon preparing a redfish in this manner and serving at the Chef's
Table-although not to me, of course. Ostensibly an
homage to the grande dame of New Orleans
cuisine, this movie is really the story of New Orleans cuisine-and for that matter, American cuisine
over the past sixty years. When Ella and her siblings opened the original Brennan's Vieux Carre
restaurant in the 1950's, New Orleans was described by one food critic as "a city of 500 restaurants
and five recipes." Making a name for herself and her restaurant first with innovative egg dishes, Ella
and her family eventually morphed into the juggernaut that is Commander's Palace, which was in the
vanguard of the Cajun and Creole revolution under chef Paul Prudhomme, the "nouvelle cuisine" fad
(which I loathed) when Emeril Lagasse ran the show and the whole farm-to-table movement under
Jamie Shannon. It's a remarkable story, and the film makers here tell it well. It's on Netflix starting in
May, so I suggest you check it out.  (4/22/2017)

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI   There's lots of buzz about the fine
performances in this film by Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson, and while I don't want to
take anything away from them, they are but two in a fine cast of characters, all of whom are at the
top of their game. I tend to like Sam Rockwell in almost everything, so it's no surprise that I think he's
terrific here. I've never liked Peter Dinklage in ANYTHING, but I thought he did a fine job. Lucas
Hedges is a young actor who seems to be having a moment, and he was great as McDormand's son
who suddenly finds himself thrust into the role of the grown-up in the family. In case you missed any
of the trailers that have been playing for the past three years, the thrust of the plot is that
McDormand's daughter was raped and murdered, and the police were unable to turn up a lead for
seven months, leading a grieving and guilt-stricken McDormand to rent three billboards near her house
to castigate the police for their ineffectiveness. The moral of the movie (and how refreshing it is to
find a movie that has one) is that anger escalates until people start behaving like grown-ups.
Three
Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri
, is a treat (although not for children), and I think you'll thank
me for recommending it to you. (12/4/2017)

LADY BIRD Saoirse Ronan was twelve when she appeared in Atonement a decade ago. Now, she's
23, and still playing high school students. Not that it matters because she knocks her role out of the
park in
Lady Bird. (It was kind of distracting for the first few minutes as you sat and wondered how
old she really is, but of course, it could have been worse. Stockard Channing was 34 when she played
high school bad girl Rizzo in
Grease. But I digress.) I had also heard wonderful things about Laurie
Metcalf's performance as her mother, but I have to say that although I generally love Laurie Metcalf in
almost anything, I really don't think this role was her best work. Lady Bird tells the story of a high
school senior in Sacramento in 2002 with a lot more humanity, humor, pathos and reason than almost
anything you'll see in a movie or on television.  You keep expecting something stupid to happen that
will take these characters out of themselves, but nothing ever does, and as result, we get a story of
some fairly sane people going through a bad patch as their teenager daughter is dealing with going
through her senior year of high school. Being a high school girl, we expect Lady Bird to befriend the
wrong people, belittle her true friends and remain generally unconscious of any traumatic life events
her family might be experiencing, but in Lady Bird, those activities are seen as a normal part of
growing up.
Lady Bird is an interesting slice of life about a particular family at a particular time (2002)
in a particular place (Sacramento).  It's terrific.  Check it out. (12/2/2017)

WIND RIVER  Considering the junk I've seen this summer and the Coming Attractions I've seen for
the rest of the year, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this will be one of my three favorite
movies of the year. Perhaps that's not a surprise since Taylor Sheridan who directed this movie also
directed
Sicario, my favorite movie from a couple of years ago. (See inset left.) I have a friend in
Wyoming who says it's "important." Maybe, but I doubt it.
Wind River starts by telling you that it is
"based on actual events," and ends with a caption that "nobody knows" how many Native American
women go missing each year because nobody keeps track of missing women on Native American
reservations. That's troubling, but frankly, I'm not sure that
Wind River is a movie that illustrates that
point particularly well. But like I said, it's a really good movie. I can barely stand to watch Jeremy
Renner in
anything (except Hansel and Gretl, Witch Hunters-weird), but here, he's quite good as some
sort of ranger whose job it is to keep animals safe on federal lands. While tracking mountain lions one
day, he finds the body of a girl who'd been raped before walking six miles over ice and snow and
eventually dying. He helps a novice FBI agent from Fort Lauderdale, who is literally out of her element
in a cruel Wyoming winter and with no help from the local law enforcement community. Elizabeth
Olson from
Godzilla and other movies, plays the agent with the right mix of confusion, irritation and
determination.
Wind River is excellent, but not for everybody.  Its violence isn't just physical, and it
really leaves you thinking that some people are just lost. (9/17/2017)

(UPDATE:
Wind River, a production of The Weinstein Company, is almost certain to get skunked at
the Academy Awards for reasons that have nothing to do with the movie itself. Sad.)



So that's that.  Right?  Of course not.  Of course there were stinkers in 2017-lots of them.  Maybe not
enough for a "Bottom Ten", but there were some movies that were either such money grabs that they
thought moviegoers would watch anything, or movies that just--well, missed.

Here are five of them.

BOO 2 and A BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS  Dear Friends, Something is wrong. I don't know if it's
the movies, or it's me. If my comments about six of the last nine movies didn't give it away, I've seen
some really, really awful movies over the past four months. If it weren't for
Atomic Blonde and Wind
River
, which I loved over that same period, I'd wonder if I were even capable of enjoying movies
anymore. But
Boo 2 and A Bad Mom's Christmas are so bad, they're actually offensive. In the past,
I've given a pass to every Madea movie ever made--until
Boo, which I hoped was an anomaly. And
just last year, I thought I'd bust a gut at the tackiness of
Bad Moms. I don't think I've changed, but
these two crap sandwiches are inexplicable. Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, et al have been in funny movies
before.  They had to know that this wasn't going to be one.  Was there just too much money involved
for someone (maybe executive produce Kunis) to step back and say, "This really sucks. Let's take
some time and get it right." Maybe that's it. Maybe Boo and Bad Moms just made so much money that
there was nothing to do about them but short the market.  In any event, they both stink. Let's hope
better days are ahead. (11/15/2017)

GOING IN STYLE  is a remake of an equally awful movie from 1979 starring Art Carney, George
Burns and Lee Strasberg. But having said that, doesn't it feel like this same movie has been made
seven or eight times in the past few years with these same people? You had the
RED movies, that
misbegotten mess that was filmed in New Orleans with Arnold Scharzenegger and Sylvester Stallone,
Thick as Thieves--you get the idea. I'm happy that older actors are getting roles that require something
of them other than being somebody's grandfather, but the roles they're getting are getting kind of stale.
Throughout this movie, I kept telling myself I'd stay another five minutes unless it got too awful.
While it never became awful enough to walk out of, it was never good enough to enjoy. You get the
idea, but before I wrap up these comments, I do want to give props to the movie for giving us a few
glorious minutes with the unsinkable Ann-Margret. The woman is a treasure. She looks great and she
still have the effortless charm that made us all fall in love with her sixty years ago. All I can say is that
she deserves better. (4/8/2017)

LANDLINE   The blurbs that this movie uses to describe itself in its advertising include descriptions
like "warm, family comedy," "deeply felt" and "hilarious". All I can say is that if
Landlines is any of
those things, I must have wandered into the wrong theater. Feckless husband and useless father John
Turturro, Edie Falco as the Hillary clone who made him that way, and their two daughters haunt the
Upper West Side in the 1990's. I almost said that the couple had "adult" daughters, but one is either
out of college or never went, and the younger one doesn't let the fact that she's still in high school get
in the way of going clubbing every night and otherwise doing whatever the hell she wants to do
knowing that her parents won't do a thing about it. At the risk of sounding like the old man yelling at
kids to get off his lawn, my intense dislike of all these people left me caring not one whit about how
miserable they chose to make themselves. I gave up the search for "warm" and "hilarious" early on,
and by the end of the movie, I was kind of hoping they'd all find some reason to be at the World
Trade Center on the morning of September 11th.   (8/6/2017)

NOLA CIRCUS  desperately wants to be a cross between Do The Right Thing and Diva.  It wants to
marry social relevance with a sense of boho whimsy. But it's neither. It's just a mess. Imagine if you
will: rival barbershops on either side of a street on Algiers Point in New Orleans. Neither proprietor is
someone who should not be entrusted with sharp tools. Both are surrounded by family and friends
who are bat-crap crazy. Among the crowd is Nola, sister to one of the barbers, who hasn't had a
coherent thought in years. Out on the periphery somewhere are some Italian-American stereotypes
who make Sal in
Do the Right Thing look like King Lear. The plot is nonsensical and the tone of the
movie is offensive in all its particulars. Except for an exceptional score and music, it offends me to
think that the State of Louisiana provided the tax credits which got the thing made in the first place.
(4/22/2017)
2017 may go down as the year that some kind of line was crossed.  

This may have been the first year that I saw more movies online than I saw in a movie theater. Sorry to say, I've just about had it
going to theaters and wondering if the dolt who will come in late and sit next to me will be the one who will be much more fascinated
by whatever's on his or her phone than he or she is in whatever's on the big screen that they paid eleven bucks to see. It is also
perhaps instructive that 2017 will go down as the year when the number of tickets sold at the movies returned to 1995 levels.

In 2017, I spent hours and hours screening films for a couple of film festivals, and there were easily ten movies I saw online that
were better than I saw in a theater.

So how to judge?  Just to have a common line for comparison, I'm only going to include the ten movies I saw in theaters that I liked
best. With any luck, you folks can see some of the movies I saw online in a theater near you in 2018.

Taking only the movies I saw in theaters this year, the pickings would seem to be slim, but as I did see over fifty movies in theaters,
there had to be ten I liked better than others.

Here they are-and don't be surprised that you won't see several of these movies on any other Top 10 list!
Top 10 Movies of 2017
All 2017 Movie Comments