It’s finally time for me to reveal my Top Ten Movies of 2017 here on Plot and Theme. I know, everyone settle down. Now, in previous years this piece has come out sometime around the middle of January, as I hastily throw together a Top Ten list ASAP. Usually, this means that a few films that graced the coastal elites in the latter half of December don’t get consideration because they don’t show in whatever Podunk I am currently populating. By waiting a few months into the next year, I get to add more sweet flicks to my list, plus I was able to watch some of the older films a few more times. It should turn out well.
Most years have a few high-quality genre pieces to offer, some years see the release of a genre-defining film and a solid collection of supporting movies, and every now and then there are collisions where two absolute classics are released side-by-side (see: 1968, 1977, and 1982). But, there’s nothing quite like what happened 20 years ago. Eleven science fiction films of note were released in 1997, spanning all subgenres. This piece will discuss each of these films, heralding 1997 as a seminal year for cinematic science fiction.
The Terminator (1984) is a better film than Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). The three other movies in the franchise are utter garbage and will not be discussed further. And, if you’ll lower your pitchforks for long enough, this piece will provide several arguments asserting the superiority of The Terminator. I’ll compare three aspects of the films and explain how The Terminator bests Terminator 2 in each: 1.) The overall plot-theme of the story, 2.) The structure, pacing, and the effectiveness of the storytelling, and 3.) The characters and their respective arcs. I will show that the first film showcases a stronger and more original plot, streamlined structure, and more interesting characters. After remarking on the sequel’s deserved accolades, the stark verdict will follow: Terminator 2 is exemplary, but The Terminator is the greater film.
It can be incredibly difficult to get a feel for the “critical consensus” for a new film, if there even is such a thing. But, online review aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic do their best to provide their readers with a general idea of the quality of a film, which I have discussed at length before. Today, I’d like to show a crystal clear example of why another metric, the User Ratings from IMDB.com, borders on absolute uselessness. Put bluntly, the site does not require that a person giving a rating has even seen the movie. The result is blatant vote-brigading, either artificially elevating a substandard film through the sheer size of the fanbase of its underlying intellectual property, or unjustly punishing a film for its perceived transgressions that are unrelated to the quality of the filmmaking. In the former case, we’ll look at Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and in the later, the more recent A Dog’s Purpose.
Elle Fanning isn’t exactly a new kid on the block. In fact, her first film was a full 15 years ago, when she was the two-year-old version of Lucy Diamond Dawson in I am Sam. Since then, Fanning has often portrayed younger versions of her older sister Dakota, but her filmography extends well beyond playing second-fiddle. Her breakout role was likely her turn as Alice Dainard in J.J. Abram’s Super 8, which I enjoyed just fine. But, it is her most recent work that augurs greatness. Maleficent was a strong performance, and she also managed to be the second best actor in Trumbo, behind the Oscar-nominated Bryan Cranston. Then there was The Neon Demon. After gushing about this film, I decided to look more closely at the career of Fanning, and I was surprised to find her starring in seven films between now and the end of 2017!
You know the feeling when someone claims to have a super-cool list of the best-of-the-best-of-the-best, sir! (with honors!), and all you can think about is what your list would look like? When it is me, I immediately start composing my very own list before even reading the original. It’s partly for comparison, and partly just to get a feel for exactly how challenging putting together these kinds of lists can be. Imagine my delight when I heard that the BBC had crafted a list of the Greatest 100 Movies of the 21st Century! By compiling the rankings of 117 critics from around the world, the BBC came to a “consensus” of what kinds of films would be seen as “modern classics” in a few decades from now. It was with that spirit that I set down with a few sheets of paper and my own personal Google machine and attempted my own version of the list, truncated to a mere 21 films (because that’s the century it is currently).
A semi / biannual tradition begins here at Plot and Theme as I decide it is time to rank movies again according to my very own standards. My opposition to lazy list-style articles notwithstanding, every now and then taking a glimpse of the best trees in the forest offers potentially interesting observations. That is certainly true in this case, as I will not only briefly summarize and recount my favorite ten movies that I’ve seen released in 2016, but also discuss the relatively poor output of the big blockbuster landscape for this year. I’ll also predict whether there are any saviors on the horizon, or if 2016 is doomed to be remembered as a year of flops, both critically and commercially.
One attractive quality of documentaries is that you can seek out the films on subjects that interest you. This being Plot and Theme, a blog on film, I am often drawn to documentaries about film making. Many different aspects of film making interest me, but a subgenre has emerged in force over the last few years: the stories of films that fail to get made. Documentaries focusing on the strife behind camera have existed for decades, perhaps most notably in Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991), which details the struggles behind the making of Apocalypse Now. Similar docs portray the difficulty in making such films as Citizen Kane, Fitzcarraldo, and even The Boondocks Saints. But, at the end of the days, these films all got made according to the director’s vision, however compromised. The documentaries I am interested in showcase a different kind of film: ones that don’t make it to completion whatsoever.
“The quality of any creative endeavor tends to approach the level of taste of whoever is in charge.”
Ask fans of horror films how they feel about the current state of the genre, and you’re almost guaranteed to get a bunch of different answers. One group will point to the recent string of powerful Indie horror movies that have been released and conclude that it has never been a better time to get scared at the movie theatre, especially with the recent release of The VVitch. Another group may point to the existence of middling Hollywood horror with generic names like The Boy or The Forest and say that there is little of value out there from the big studios. You may even get some incredibly frustrated people who are fed up with manipulative garbage leaning on jump-scares and thin concepts (Ouija, anyone?). So, what the hell is happening out there? This fragmentation is the result of particular market forces which have dictated that films in the horror genre do not need to be of good quality to be wildly successful. As a result, the impetus towards quality comes from the aesthetic pride of the creators. Lacking that, studios are completely comfortable with churning out garbage for financial gain. Continue reading “Horror by the Numbers”