Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Top 10 Movies of 2018!

We're in the era where everyone makes lists (almost all of the ranking of Star Wars are Originals, New ones, then Prequels...) but I am proud to say that this is the 10th annual edition of this list. I'm not big into resolutions but this year seems like it might actually be the one where I finish editing and publishing the several blog posts I have in my drafts that I claim I "don't have time to finish." I'm finally done with school, I'm still waiting to see where God leads us job-wise so I'm probably out of good excuses not to write more often.

I do have thoughts other than what movies I'm looking forward to, I promise!

Until then, here are those movie thoughts:

1. Avengers: Infinity War (May 4)

I grew up as a fan of Batman and Spider-man so I'm not a Marvel-only sort of person but when it comes to the movies, Marvel has a huge advantage: patience. In a lot of ways this movie is the culmination of 10 years of movies all building into one major showdown. DC, on the other hand, tried to recreate this dynamic on the quick and ended up with Batman v Superman (aka one of the few movies I've ever had to force myself to finish.) This movie is overloaded with characters but they've characters that you've gotten a chance to know and so there's payoff when a character is put in danger: you actually care what happens.

2. The Incredibles 2 (June 15)

Pixar has made many great movies but arguably one of its best was The Incredibles. It's a superhero movie without relying on any knowledge of who the characters are coming into the story and ends up with a really interesting discussion about family and what the actual ramifications would be of the damage that superheros tend to leave while battling supervillians. Brad Bird hasn't made a bad movie (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, even Tomorrowland) so there's good reason fans have been clamoring for a sequel since the original debuted 14 years ago.

3. Solo: A Star Wars Story (May 25)

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This movie has had more problems than most. Lucasfilm hired the directors of The Lego Movie but then fired them after they'd finished most of their filming. Enter Ron Howard. Ron Howard has made some great movies (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man) and some bad movies (most of the Da Vinci Code movies.) I can't say that I particularly cared where Han Solo came from since the beauty of finding him in A New Hope is that he's an established scoundrel. What I am interested in is catching the joy and the wonder of the original trilogy. If Ron Howard has one thing going for him, it's that he's been a fan of Star Wars from the beginning, even going to the point of defending Jake Lloyd's performance in The Phantom Menace. (While Jake wasn't great, he didn't write the script of that movie.)

4. Mary Poppins Returns (December 25)

Mary Poppins is a classic. The story of how they made that movie (Saving Mr. Banks) was an intriguing movie on its own. While this movie will have the difficult task of trying to hold up to that classic without Julie Andrews in the role, it will have the fantastic talent of Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, Moana) taking the Dick Van Dyke-type role in this sequel as well as contributing to the music. I love going to the movies on Christmas Day and I have a strong feeling that this will be a great trip to the movies next year.

5. Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-it Ralph 2 (November 21)
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Wreck-it Ralph is probably underrated when it comes to animated classics from the past few years. It's heart-warming, funny and original. It's not surprising that they decided to make a sequel that takes Ralph out of the arcade and into the internet. The jokes of the original movie felt fresh without being gimmicky and I'm hopeful that the same can be said after watching this one.

6. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald (November 16)

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After 8 movies, it seemed like there would always be a Harry Potter movie coming out every few years. The first Fantastic Beasts movie did a good job of feeling like it was part of that world without feeling like a Harry Potter movie. It felt much darker, actually. I'm actually hoping that they take a move toward the tone of the Potter series as they introduce Jude Law as a young Dumbledore and a strange looking Johnny Depp as the main non-Voldemort foe of the wizard world: Grindlewald.

7. Black Panther (February 16)

Thor: Ragnarok paid off this year by letting itself be something different from the majority of the Marvel films and I think that Black Panther might be able to do the same with its own tone and vision. Black Panther was one of the highlights of Captain America: Civil War and it'll be fun to see him take center stage as well as see the return of Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis from CA: CW as well.

8. Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6)

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I waited for the Redbox release of the original Ant-man movie as I wanted to keep up with the overall story of the Marvel films but did not have a strong interest in a movie about a hero who could shrink to the size of ants and ride them around. What I found after watching the movie was that it was hilarious and that Paul Rudd was the superhero I never knew I needed to see. As a fan of LOST, it was great to see Evangeline Lilly in that film and I'm looking forward to her getting her chance to join the world of superheroes herself.

9. Christopher Robin (August 3)
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This is a live-action movie starring Ewan McGregor as an adult Christopher Robin who is confronted by his friends from the Hundred Acre Woods to reconnect to the magic of his childhood. I love Winnie-the-Pooh and think that the series of animated films are some of the wittiest that Disney has produced. I'm not sure how this will translate to a live-action movie but I was skeptical of the live-action adaptations of The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast and those were fairly entertaining. It seems like they're taking a risk with the story line so there's a chance they could produce something that rises above being "another live-action remake" of a Disney classic.

10. Ready Player One (March 30)

I read this book awhile back and didn't really like it. If you enjoy movies from the 1980s (I do) then you'll find plenty of references and callbacks. The main problem with the book is that it felt like there wasn't much left besides the references and callbacks. What this movie does have going for it is the king of the 1980s movies himself: Steven Spielberg. The trailers haven't made me feel like there is much there besides what was in the books but if anyone can elevate this above the book, it's Spielberg. Finally, they have the DeLorean from Back to the Future so it'll always have that going for it.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Top 10* Movies of 2017!

As much as many of us wanted to get out of 2016, there were some pretty good movies last year. I only saw 7 out of my 10 list for 2016 but most of the ones I didn't see were on the bottom of the list anyway. Captain America: Civil War and Rogue One were pretty darn good times at the movie theater and a few movies (Zootopia, Jungle Book) turned out to be even better than I was expecting.

This list can seem trivial but I want to take a second and talk about the impact that movies can make. For some people 2016 was a great year, for others it was a year of disappointment. A trip to the movies can be an opportunity to escape to another world. I don't think we should watch movies with our brains turned off or not have standards for the content that we're consuming, but a chance to see truth, love, human nature and heroism played out before us is not something we should take for granted. I often think of the scene with Sam and Frodo in The Two Towers as a scene of heroism and virtue on display. These trips to escape shouldn't make us deny that the world we live in is still as messy when we leave the movies as it was when we went in but they can remind us that there is something better remaining.

Without further ado, the 9th Annual list of the 10 ten movies I'm looking forward to next year:

1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (December 15th)

I put The Force Awakens on the top of the 2015 in the hope that it could possibly live up to my expectations. Although it's become passé to call it a great movie, I felt like it was the necessary framework to set up a new trilogy. Regardless of what people say now, they did a great job of creating new characters that I want to know more about without making it feel like the "Next Generation." When you combine that with a chance to see Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia one last time, there's no way that any other movie could top The Last Jedi for the top of this list.

2. Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7th)

There's been one thing that has been on my "things I hope happen but am not counting on" list for the last several years and it's a chance to have Spider-man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I loved the first 3 Spider-man movies and probably counted Spider-man along with Batman and The Flash as my favorite childhood superheroes growing up but the most recent two Spider-man movies were largely forgettable. Well acted but seemed to lack a reason for existing. Enter 2016 where Spider-man is finally allowed to crossover to the MCU and I'd argue he easily stole the show in Captain America: Civil War. I'm excited to see what they can do with a Peter Parker who feels like he's in high school and one who knows and works with The Avengers.

3. Dunkirk (July 21st)

Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Interstellar, The Prestige, etc.) Enough said.

Just kidding, Nolan directing is enough for most movies to reach my top 5 and although I'm not the biggest fan of war films, this looks beautifully captured and focuses on a piece of history that I would know about if I'd seen the 1958 film but I haven't so I can go in not knowing exactly what to expect. A Christopher Nolan film is like a painting and in the world of sequels and spin-offs, it's a treat to be able to watch.

4. Beauty and the Beast (March 17th)

This would normally make the list on its own but having Emma Watson (Hermonie from the Harry Potter series), Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey), Ian McKellen (Gandalf from Lord of the Rings), Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi from the Star Wars prequel trilogy) and several others make this a potentially better movie than it has a right to be. There are people who groan every time that Disney announces another live-action version of one of their animated films (they're seriously doing every single one of them) but Cinderella and to an even greater degree Jungle Book were able to come at a familiar story with fresh eyes so I don't think being an adaptation is enough to scare me away from this one.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5th)

I wanted to see the first one on the basis of enjoying the aforementioned MCU (see Spider-man), it looking a little like a Star Wars movie and the fact that it starred Chris Pratt (Andy from Parks and Rec.) While it isn't the style of movie for everybody, I was pleasantly surprised at how fun it was and the fact that it was a movie with a talking raccoon and a semi-talking tree. All signs point to this sequel being just as fun this time around.

6. The LEGO Batman Movie (February 10th)

In case it look like the only comic book movies I enjoy are Marvel, DC made the list! Batman was the scene-stealer in The Lego Movie and this movie looks hilarious as well. The Lego Movie blew away expectations by knowing how to not take itself too seriously while at the same time having a story that you actually cared about. This movie may live up to that or it might feel like a little Lego Batman goes a long way but it's worth checking out.

7. Thor: Ragnarok (November 3rd)

Thor might be a character that works better with The Avengers than he does on his own but the first Thor movie introduced a world that is so dramatically different from Iron Man, Captain America and the Hulk. Combined with the fact that we finally get to see what The Hulk has been up to since the end of the second Avengers movie and I can say that it'll be worth watching.

8. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (May 26th)

The first POTC was awesome. It was such a huge event that it seemed like you couldn't escape seeing it wherever you went. The 2nd one was a little over-the-top but still fun. The 3rd one seemed like it had a hard time sticking the landing of the trilogy. I seem to remember the 4th one being fun but only saw it the one time I went to the theaters to see it. It's been 6 years since then and I have hope that they can recapture what made the 1st movie so great.

9. Jumanji (December 22nd)

Speaking of a large time gap between movies, the original Jumanji came out in 1995 and starred the late, great Robin Williams, Cubs fan Bonnie Hunt, future Spider-man alumna Kirsten Dunst and David Alan Grier. This time around we've got Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black. I'm biased toward anything connected to Grand Rapids-native Chris Van Allsburg (The Polar Express is a must-see at Christmas) so I'll give this one a shot as well.

10. Cars 3/Despicable Me 3 (June 16th/30th)

This list ends in a tie. I really enjoyed the first two Despicable Me movies but bad reviews kept me away from the spin-off Minions. The first two Cars movies are probably my least favorite Pixar movies but kids love them. For DM3, Steve Carell as Gru is reason enough to go see it. For Cars 3, at least it has Randy Newman back doing the music...

Movie that I saw in 2016 but is opening nation-wide this Friday (January 6th) that you should not miss:

I had never heard about this movie until the end of 2016 but had a chance to see it at one of the few theaters that released this in 2016 in order to qualify for the award shows. If you love history, space or a combination of the two this movie is for you. We saw this on Christmas and I would put this on the list of "important" films to see. It was an entertaining drama but it told a story that we need to know. If there was one thing that 2016 showed us its that if we desire to get out of our echo chambers and bubbles, it's important to see movies that show us what life is like for people that are not entirely like us. I'm glad that life for everyone is much different now but this movie reminds us that it's important to learn and grow from things that happened in history rather than trying to ignore that they happened.

And since there isn't a Star Wars Episode VIII trailer yet, enjoy this instead: