Because you can, right here!
So this year I saw 240 movies, which were released in 2017 that I saw in 2017. This breaks my record from last year by a significant margin, for a few reasons: I had better access this year to both screenings and screeners, due in part to the advent of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and the Film Scribes podcast. I’m also writing in more places this year.
Also, my friends in the film publicist world, both the local Allied reps and various national folks, went the extra mile this year, which is greatly appreciated. And I’d also liked to thank the Online Film Critics Society governing council, especially Dewey Singleton, for really coming through with delivering better access this year for OFCS members.
For the purposes of this list I’m including official, Oscar-eligible 2017 releases, as well as films I saw at film festivals that do not have a specific release date in any other year, whether 2016 or 2018 (so that omits Chappaquiddick and Thoroughbreds, which you can look for on next year’s list.) You can read the 2016 version of the list here, 2015 here,
As always, you can read all of my reviews at Rotten Tomatoes and on my Splice Today author page, and you can read my expanded Top Ten list article here, and my look at the year’s top documentaries here. You can also listen to and subscribe to the podcast, and come to our event at the Prince Theater on January 9.
Thank you all, once again, for reading my reviews this year and listening to the podcast. Even after more than 20 years, I still can’t believe that I actually get to do this.
Without further ado..
The Big List 2017:
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
- Get Out
- The Florida Project
- Lady Bird
- Call Me By Your Name
- Dawson City Frozen Time
- The Post
- The Shape of Water
- Baby Driver
- Princess Cyd
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi
- Marjorie Prime
- Let’s Play Two
- Wonder Woman
- The Disaster Artist
- Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer
- Logan Lucky
- Wind River
- Alaska is a Drag
- Long Strange Trip
- The Breadwinner
- Lady Macbeth
- Get Me Roger Stone
- The Work
- BPM (Beats Per Minute)
- Battle of the Sexes
- The Big Sick
- The Beguiled
- I, Tonya
- Spider-man: Homecoming
- Thor: Ragnarok
- American Made
- The Meyerowitz Stories: New and Selected
- Last Flag Flying
- A Ghost Story
- Blade Runner 2049
- The Lego Batman Movie
- The Greatest Showman
- Atomic Blonde
- The Square
- Faces Places
- One of Us
- I Called Him Morgan
- The Little Hours
- Five Came Back
- A Gray State
- Ex Libres The New York Public Library
- Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond
- Long Shot
- Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
- May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers
- All The Queen’s Horses
- Oklahoma City
- Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent
- The Force
- Darkest Hour
- A Quiet Passion
- Girls Trip
- Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
- The Killing of a Sacred Deer
- John Wick Chapter 2
- Their Finest
- The Hero
- Beauty and the Beast
- The Blackcoat’s Daughter
- The Hitman’s Bodyguard
- Brad’s Status
- First They Killed My Father
- Rough Night
- Strong Island
- LA 92
- Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold
- Loving Vincent
- Last Men in Aleppo
- City of Ghosts
- Beauty and the Dogs
- The Wall
- Human Flow
- Brigsby Bear
- The Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis
- The Ballad of Lefty Brown
- At the Drive In
- Let It Fall: Los Angeles, 1982-1992
- Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
- Tickling Giants
- Gerald’s Game
- Personal Shopper
- All the Money in the World
- Victoria & Abdul
- Brawl in Cell Block 99
- Murder on the Orient Express
- Ingrid Goes West
- After the Storm
- The Last Laugh
- Gaga: Five Foot Two
- Cries From Syria
- The Fate of the Furious
- Crown Heights
- The Problem With Apu
- My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea
- All These Sleepless Nights
- The Women’s Balcony
- The Man Who Invented Christmas
- Megan Leavey
- The Lost City of Z
- It Comes at Night
- Contemporary Color
- In the Fade
- The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
- California Typewriter
- Philadelphia and the Invention of Movies
- Whitney: Can I Be Me
- Karl Marx City
- Alien: Covenant
- Roman J. Israel, Esq.
- Phantom Thread
- Molly’s Game
- I Love You, Daddy
- Wait For Your Laugh
- The Lovers
- The Lure
- The Incredible Jessica James
- Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
- Beatriz at Dinner
- Wonder Wheel
- Mobile Homes
- The Death of Louis XIV
- Kong: Skull Island
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
- Goon: Last of the Enforcers
- England is Mine
- Kingsman: The Golden Circle
- A Bad Moms Christmas
- A Cure For Wellness
- Donald Cried
- Land of Mine
- Bright Lights: Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds
- The Final Year
- Cars 3
- Boss Baby
- Justice League
- Chasing Coral
- The Dinner
- Patti Cake$
- Carrie Pilby
- Whose Streets?
- Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
- I Don’t Feel At Home in this World Anymore
- Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House
- Holy Air
- Bloody Milk
- Everything, Everything
- Good Time
- Power Rangers
- Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
- Lost in Paris
- The Zookeeper’s Wife
- Nobody Speak: Trials of a Free Press
- Rebel in the Rye
- The Human Surge
- Beware the Slenderman
- To the Bone
- Person to Person
- All Eyez on Me
- T2: Trainspotting
- War Machine
- King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
- Despicable Me 3
- The Last Word
- The Bad Batch
- Sister of Mine
- The Glass Castle
- The Great Wall
- The Hatred
- Song to Song
- Free Fire
- Sweet Country
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul
- Pitch Perfect 3
- Fun Mom Dinner
- Most Beautiful Island
- Table 19
- The House
- Going in Style
- The Space Between Us
- Goodbye, Christopher Robin
- The Circle
- The Mummy
- Fifty Shades Darker
- The Dark Tower
- The Only Living Boy in New York
- Fist Fight
Did not see (reputedly good): Hostiles, Stronger, A Fantastic Woman, Foxtrot, Citizen Jane: Battle For the City, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Rat Film, LBJ
Did not see (reputedly bad): Transformers: The Last Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, The Emoji Movie, The Book of Henry, The Snowman, Daddy’s Home 2,
2017 was quite a year for me, as a writer. I’ve been full-time freelance for seven of the 12 months, and in that time I’ve gotten to do a lot of stuff I’ve been talking about doing for years, including starting a film critics group and podcast, and even taking steps towards putting together a book proposal. I’ve also expanding the outlets I’m writing for, with hopefully more to come in the new year. Here are some of my favorites:
- “The Many Kinds of Baseball Families: A League of Their Own at 25” (RogerEbert.com, June 12.) Roger Ebert is a formative influence on me as a writer and I probably wouldn’t be a film critic today if not for him, so it was a thrill to finally have my work on the site that bears his name- especially while writing about a film that’s always meant a lot to me.
- “Oldies.com: The Story Behind That Warehouse” (PhillyVoice.com, August 9.) Most people who live in the Philadelphia suburbs know the Oldies.com warehouse, but most don’t know the story behind it. So I looked into it and discovered the amazing, 60-year story that starts with a rock single from the 1960s.
- “Big Screen Blues” (Broad Street Review, June 5.) I’ve been complaining for a long time that there isn’t a great movie theater, or enough movie screens, in Philadelphia, so I wrote it.
- “Political Correctness is Not Killing Comedy” (Screen Rant, October 4.) Much as I hate to disagree with Mel Brooks, I once again flogged a longtime hobby horse of mine here.
- “Bruce Prichard, Wrestling’s Brother Love, Brings Show to Philly” (PhillyVoice.com, July 24.) I got to talk to the guy who played Brother Love in WWE- and now hosts one of the world’s best podcasts- before his recent live show.
- ‘Fist Fight is Ugly and Sinister” (Splice Today, February 17.) I wrote a lot of movie reviews this year, but this one, of the year’s worst movies, 8was probably the angriest.
- “Is the Mystery of Ga-ga, Everyone’s Favorite Summer Camp Game, Finally Solved?” (Tablet, August 2.) A year after I looked into the summer camp sport’s beginnings, I heard from a guy who says he invented the game himself.
- “Markelle Fultz and the Catch-22 of Playing Hurt” (NBC Sports Philadelphia, October 25.) I wrote about how insane it is to vilify athletes for not wanting to play hurt.
- “The Final Fall of Pete Rose” (Splice Today, August 11.) I wrote about how Jim Gray was right: Pete Rose has been his own worst enemy, and continues to be.
- “The Documentaries of 2017: When Best Laid Plans Go Beautifully Awry” (Living Life Fearless, December 6.) I looked into why most of the year’s best documentaries ended up much differently from how they were originally planned.
- “How the NFL Anthem Controversy (Mostly) Missed Pennsylvania” (50 States of Blue, December 8.) My first big essay for the political site at which I’m now Pennsylvania correspondent.
- “Where Do the Muppets Go From Here?” (Screen Rant, July 27.) After the firing of Steve Whitmire as Kermit, I looked at what comes next for the Muppets franchise.
- “Johnny From Dirty Dancing Pops the Question to State Mate” (Philly Voice, May 23.) My wife and I went to see the “Dirty Dancing” stage musical for our 10th anniversary- and after show, the actor playing Johnny proposed to the actress playing Penny . She said yes, and I interviewed both of them a few days later.
- “The Case For Casting Kyle MacLachlan” (Living Life Fearless, October 6.) I made the case why “Twin Peaks: The Return” should mean renewed stardom for its leading man.
- “Philly Geek Awards Celebrate Nerds Far and Wide” (PhillyVoice.com, August 28.) I was happy to cover the Philly Geek Awards for the first time, as it honored everyone from hackers to doctors to political activists.
- “Has Game of Thrones Been Foreshadowing Daenerys’ Death?” (Screen Rant, September 11.) I tried my hand at Game of Thrones speculation, in pointing out a whole bunch of random references to a single arrow striking Khaleesi.
- “The Chappaquiddick Film Couldn’t be More Timely- So Why the Delay?” (Living Life Fearless, November 28.) I covered the Philadelphia Film Festival for four different publications, and this one dealt with a film that hasn’t been released it- so I wrote about why.
- “Three Billboards, Lady Bird Among the Best of the Philadelphia Film Festival” (Splice Today, October 31.) I also looked at some of the best films of the festival (and the year.)
- “SuiteWorld 2017 Highlights Part 1 and Part 2 (Andersonfrank.com, April.) At my former day job, I returned to my CES roots and covered a big tech event in Las Vegas.
- “Lessons From the Wonder Woman Wars” (Screen Rant, June 30.) I look at the many controversies- feminist, political, Israeli- related to the release of Wonder Woman.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the good fortune to interview Craig Finn, longtime frontman of The Hold Steady, about his new album and upcoming solo show. The interview was published the other day on PhillyVoice; you can read that here.
Naturally, I had some questions for Finn about our shared Minnesota heritage, and about the Twins, that wouldn’t fit in a Philadelphia publication; so I’ve added that below:
SS: On the Minnesota thing, I was happy to hear references to Edina and snowbanks and things like that- “the North Stars went South,” that was a good lyric to hear. What do you think about the legacy of Minnesota music? I know Prince passed on last year and there was a lot of talk about that. How do you feel about that, and your place in it?
CF: It’s always a tricky thing, just because I’ve been in New York since 2000 and The Hold Steady started in New York and I kind of got a lot of my notoriety but I continued to sing about Minneapolis, so it confuses some people on some level.
Minneapolis is my hometown, and even though I’ve been in New York 16 years now I still feel not so much like a New Yorker but like someone who grew up in Minneapolis who’s living here. I mean, the music scene in Minneapolis is really strong, and continues to be, especially for a city of its size. Growing up, I was fortunate to catch a time where I saw sort of the trinity of rock bands, The Replacements, Husker Du and Soul Asylum, all at smaller places. So, that was very influential on me. So it seems like now it continues to be a home for great music, and obviously the hip-hop scene in Minneapolis has become a huge thing there and it continues to evolve. I don’t feel as in touch with it as I used to but I continue to be impressed when I do plug in.
SS: I always tell people that all that stuff was going on with The Replacements and Husker Du a few miles from my house when I was growing up but I was like five years old so I didn’t know anything about it. I don’t think I discovered The Replacements’ music until I was in my 20s and living in New York.
CF: I hit right at the right time.
SS: I like to tell people that when I lived in New York in the early 2000s a friend from Minneapolis visited me, we were walking around the Lower East Side and he said “I recognize all these street signs from Lou Reed lyrics.” Then I heard you guys’ music and I heard all the stuff about 494 and Lyndale and all that stuff.
CF: I think a lot of people have told me when they visited Minneapolis for the first time they were like “wow, I already know all these names.”
SS: So what about the Twins? And optimism about this year?
CF: I think they’ll lose less than 103 games. That would be going in the right direction. So that’s about as much optimism… I mean, they haven’t really made any moves, and they don’t seem to be able to deal Dozier. So, I don’t know that we can expect a great turnaround. I think… 90? We just aren’t that good, and I don’t know why we think we’ll be better this year.
SS: Well, they seem to have put smart people in charge, so that’s a step in the right direction.
CF: Smart people have to make some moves, though!
SS: So what do you do to follow the Twins from the road, or even from New York?
CF: The MLB, the app. I’m a pretty big fan of just turning on the audio, the radio. I used, in better years, I got the package, if I was going to be home a lot in the summer, but I don’t know, there’s just no need to plug in to watch them lose this much. I’d rather just listen to the radio if they’re gonna lose all the time.
SS: Do you have any blogs or podcasts you use to follow them?
CF: I read Aaron Gleeman, and I do the Star Trib, those are the big ones. They used to have a good one, I can’t remember her name, she was a woman… I think it was Batgirl.
SS:: Yea, it was Anne Ursu, Batgirl.
CF: Yea, she was great.
SS:: She did the thing with the Legos.
CF: Yea, I remember she was showing Pat Neshek’s delivery with a lego setup.
SS: Yea, I think Pat Neshek signed with the Phillies.
CF: I think he follows me on Twitter.
Note: As you can see in the thankfully restored archives of TechnologyTell, I wrote back in July 2012 about my thoughts on Minnesota music; apologies for using a couple of the same anecdotes both times.
The following post appeared on TechnologyTell’s Entertainment section on December 7, 2012. With Hanukkah a day away, and due to much of the TechnologyTell archive appearing to have disappeared from the Internet in the last couple of days, I reproduce it here:
Saturday marks the first night of Hanukkah. After eating latkes, lighting candles and giving the kids their presents, I plan to sit down in the living room with my family to watch a classic Hanukkah movie.
Except that last part is impossible. Because there aren’t any.
Yes, that’s right. Despite Jewish people not exactly being underrepresented among the ranks of Hollywood decision-makers in the last hundred years or so, there is not a single classic movie associated with Hanukkah. And that really needs to change.
This list of the top ten Hanukkah movies is comprised mostly of obscure TV specials and forgettable direct-to-video affairs. The only ones that were released in theaters are “The Hebrew Hammer”- which is only partially about Hanukkah- and Adam Sandler’s “Eight Crazy Nights,” a little-seen animated movie adaptation of Sandler’s famous “Hanukkah Song.” Neither is anything close to a holiday classic.
While it’s not the most religiously significant holiday on the Jewish calendar, the Hanukkah story is one of heroism, adventure and miracles- just about the most cinematic thing I can imagine. However, cinema has been slow to embrace the Maccabees.
Why not a Maccabees movie? Steven Spielberg never felt like this was a project worth pursuing? Harvey Weinstein has been running movie studios for more than two decades- why didn’t he ever make a Maccabees/Hanukkah film? It would fit right in with the recent “Munich”/”Defiance”/”Inglorious Basterds” mini-genre of “Jews kicking ass.”
Such a film would also become a point of cultural pride for young Jews the world over, while also serving as a holiday television staple. After all, the last time Hollywood made an epic motion picture about the biblical origin of a Jewish holiday- 1956’s “The Ten Commandments”- it remained a TV staple for six decades.
Of course, there was a plan in place, just last spring in fact, for a movie about the Maccabees, from a director who’s an Oscar winner, a proven box office draw, and even had directed a previous religious epic. But unfortunately, I’m not sure such a film would become the point of Jewish pride I have in mind, were Mel Gibson’s name attached to it.
Then again, the news of Gibson’s departure from the Maccabees project led to both a memorable Ebook from collaborator Joe Eszterhas and to one of the best tweets of the year, from Doran Simmons:
So come on, Hollywood, get on this. Imagine the tie-in opportunities: Commemorative dreidels! Hannukkah gelt! A video game, in which the goal is to make the oil burn for eight days!
My two boys’ gentile friends will always have “A Christmas Story.” I want my kids to have a constantly looping holiday classic of their own.
A personal ranking of my favorite published writings this year:
1. “The Ga-ga Saga”- Tablet. A piece 30 years in the making, as I trace the question of where, exactly, the summer camp sport of Ga-ga came from.
2. “Phillies Fans Cheered Chase Utley- and There’s Nothing Soft About It”– CSNPhilly. I defend the majority of Philly fans against the sports radio hordes who demanded they boo longtime a longtime Phillies hero when he came back to town with the Dodgers.
3. “Sam Hinkie is Gone- But the Hinkie Wars Rage On” (The Cauldron)– My overview of the Hinkie wars, post-Sam Hinkie- and I still can’t believe my byline appeared on SI.com.
4. “Protesting Clinton’s Crime Record” (Splice Today) My report from the campaign rally when former President Bill Clinton and an activist yelled at each other- the coverage of which led to the back and side of my head appearing on multiple network newscasts as well as Ava Duvernay’s acclaimed documentary 13th.
5. “Brandeis University Hosts Historic Lenny Bruce Conference” (Tablet) I returned to my alma mater to report on the most cursing-and-Yiddish-filled academic conference in recent history.
6. “Bernie or Bust at the DNC” (Splice Today) On a ridiculously hot day I reported from the streets outside the Democratic National Convention, where I saw everything from a 90-foot joint to a Christian cult that chased Bernie Sanders into the Philadelphia Convention Center, and also met Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.
7. “Politicalfest DNC Exhibitions” (Broad Street Review) Also at the DNC, I reported on a series of political exhibits, and drew from them a valuable lesson about the meaning of politics.
8. “PC Isn’t Strangling Comedy” (Splice Today). I reviewed the anti-PC documentary Can We Take a Joke, and objected in full its premise.
9. “It’s Always Sunny in La La Land” (Broad Street Review). I reviewed my favorite movie of the year, as it opened the Philadelphia Film Festival.
10. “Kimmel Center in Talks For Philly Run of Hamilton” (Philly Voice) In my first Philly Voice piece I broke the story that everyone’s favorite revolutionary musical may be heading to town.
11. “20 Years a Critic” (this blog) My commemoration of my 20th anniversary as a film critic
12. “My Family’s Bridge to Brooklyn” (Tablet) I tell the story of my family’s decades-long relationship with the long-defunct TV series Brooklyn Bridge; for this story I interviewed Happy Days’ Marion Ross.
13. “No, Tim Kaine Did Not Hold a Rally With Only 30 People” (Blasting News.) I wrote a lot of debunkings of silly campaign stories this year; this was probably the one that the most people read.
14. “Batman v. Superman is a Disaster” (Splice Today) I went all the way to San Francisco to see one of the worst superhero movies ever made.
15. “Fans Petition to Shut Down Rotten Tomatoes Over DC Movie Reviews” (Screenrant) And not because I’m on the take from Disney or Marvel…
16. “Midnight For Midtown II: Scenes From a Restaurant’s Final Day” (The Lightning Strike) I reported from the final day in business for Philadelphia’s Midtown II Diner.
17. “A New Low: The Gross Tabloid Attack on Malia Obama” (Blasting News.) Defending the right of the First Daughter to go to Lollapalooza.
18. “No, Jon Stewart Couldn’t Have Stopped Donald Trump” (Medium) There were lot of bad conservative talking points this year; here’s a rebuttal to a pretty dumb liberal one
19. “Pederson Will Be Eagles Coach” (Fox29) There’s not a lot about my brief, unhappy tenure in local TV news that I look back on with pride, but I did help the station become the first in town with the news of the new Eagles coach.
Thanks for reading, everyone!
Last week, when the tape surfaced from 2005 of Donald Trump bragging to Billy Bush in rather disgusting terms about his behavior with women- from pursuing married women to sharing his tendency to “grab them by the pussy,” much was made of a couple of things: One, it’s probably the killshot that ends Trump’s presidential campaign. And two, many, many people couldn’t interpret Trump’s comments in any way other than pointing out that they have daughters.
A whole lot of denouncements of Trump included the phrase “as the father of daughters,” while many others described potential victims of the crotch grabbing, or sex crimes in general, as “somebody’s daughter,” or “somebody’s sister” or “somebody’s wife.” The more accurate description, I’d say, is simply “somebody.” That such a thing was actually pointed out, on television and other prominent media outlets, by many people is perhaps a sign that political correctness has done more good than harm.
I was as disgusted by Trump’s comments as everyone else, albeit not especially surprised; this isn’t exactly one of those caught-on-tape scandals that exposes someone as the opposite of what they otherwise claimed to be. Trump’s raging misogyny is been glaringly obvious not only since the start of his campaign, but really for his entire 40-some-odd years as a public figure. No one backing away from Trump only after the Billy Bush tapes has any excuse for not realizing that until now.
In reacting to Trump, I’m not able to play the “as the father of daughters” card, as I only have sons. But I have noticed I’ve been paying attention to, and thinking about, issues related to gender, sexism and feminism a whole lot more in the last few years than I ever did before.
Part of the reason is that these issues are out there at the forefront culturally a whole lot in past 4 or 5 years, and part of it is what I’ve been choosing to read. Some of it is the presidential race between a raving woman-hater and the probable first female president of the United States. But a lot of it also has to do with thinking a lot about my sons, and what type of men I wish and hope for them to one day become.
All of this has led me to notice a lot of things that I probably should have a long time earlier: That a lot of things I know and love in life, from the NFL to the movie criticism world to politics, have huge, endemic problems related to toxic masculinity. That way, way too many people in the world tend to reduce everything from sports to business to political campaigns down to who is a “real man” and “tough” and who is “soft” and “a pussy.” And that women go through and deal with things in life on an everyday basis- from workplace sexual harassment to strange men telling them to smile to serious pressures related to weight and body image- that men in most cases have the luxury of not even needing to think about.
Not to be that faux-woke guy who falsely quotes his precocious kids on Twitter, but I have said to my children, on more than one occasion, to watch the behavior of Donald Trump and always do the exact opposite. I know they’re young, and I know there will be many, many discussions in the future about many more difficult issues than that, but it’s a start. And good advice for us all: Don’t act anything like Donald Trump. And don’t vote for him, either.
On to the links, and a big one this week: My first-ever piece for SI.com’s The Cauldron, about the state of the Philadelphia 76ers’ Process Wars, following the departure of Sam Hinkie.
For Farmdog.tv, I previewed some local screenings of Robert Altman’s The Player.
Virtual reality is coming to The Simpsons.
Tony Almeida will return on the 24 spinoff.
Christopher Nolan is Hollywood’s highest-paid director.
Netflix makes a deal to help with Oscar eligibility of its films.
Game of Thrones location news.
… and some casting.
They’re already working on a John Wick 3.
And a Bad Moms spinoff called Bad Dads.
And a movie that sounds like a remake of Oz: The Great and Powerful.
And at Blasting News:
On topic of the above: Why Donald Trump’s viciousness towards women will be his undoing.
If you’re voting for Trump because you think he’ll “put a stop to” your pet peeves, don’t.
SNL may be off to a great start this year, but they won’t “take down” Trump on their own.
Thoughts on the second presidential debate.
No, Kim Kardashian did not fake her robbery.
On the “Junket Censorship Crisis.”
Why it’s wrong to use Jose Fernandez’s death against Colin Kaepernick.
Shanah tovah to those celebrating, and as always, follow me on Twitter at @StephenSilver.