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Aaron’s Top Ten Films of Summer 2017 & More

Looking back through 2017’s Summer movie season, it is hard not to see it as a success. There’s plenty of talk of how box office totals were down, but absent a major August release that took over the charts (think Guardians of the Galaxy or Suicide Squad) and a couple of whiffs from franchises people are fairly tired of (think Transformers), the decline is easy to comprehend. The real thing to note is the quality of films both large and small. As opposed to last summer, where the number of successes was overwhelmed by the number of disappointments, this season featured plenty of well-liked movies. Thoughts on general movie goers and critics aside, people from all sides mostly enjoyed the movies they were able to see. Here’s my list of films I most favored this summer, along with some other notes on the season. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments as well!

10. The Trip to Spain

Learning a third entry in Michael Winterbottom’s Trip series was arriving this summer had me excited. Featuring dry humor, broad impressions and just enough pathos, this latest entry in a series starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as best friends/foils, did plenty to continue delivering the goods. It also happens to be the best shot film yet, as the areas seen in Spain are wonderfully captured. With an emphasis put back on Steve’s struggles, there is a lot of fun to be found in this sad clown’s attempts to re-trace the steps he once took through Spain as a younger man, while continuing to get into various arguments and riff-offs with Rob. The result is a film that entertains quite easily and provides some notes on where to vacation.

 

9. Spider-Man: Homecoming

There were three major superhero films released this Summer and while the other two have plenty of merits (Guardians has style in spades and plenty of soundtrack joy; Wonder Woman has the benefit of not being another sub-par DCEU film and a lead character driven by earnest hope and empathy), perhaps it’s just my general fondness for Spider-Man that puts this one at the head of the pack. Thanks to whatever work was put in by Marvel Studios and Sony to make this happen, the webhead got his very own MCU movie, and it was a joy. Tom Holland’s work as Peter Parker led to plenty of fun ways to explore how a high school kid handles being on the short list for becoming an Avenger. Michael Keaton got to flex some of his villain muscles. Aside from a thrilling scene at the Washington Monument, the action may have felt pretty standard, but as a high school comedy set in a superhero world, this was a fun, new direction for Spider-Man.

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8. It Comes At Night

Understandably, here’s a film that could not connect to audiences on a wider level. Strangely, though, the film was found to be confusing in being labeled as horror. Working as a cross between Night of the Living Dead and The Road, Trey Edward Shults’ psychological thriller did plenty of effective work to build a mood that was unsettling. It also happens to be a well-acted character study that was less concerned with obvious world-building and more settled on the stress of paranoia and survival-based motivations. Add to that its incredible filmmaking, which uses darkness and negative space as a means to unnerve the audience through unknown terror and you have a real horror show designed to intrigue and challenge the mind, granted you’re in the mood for such a deliberately paced, chilling film.

 

7. Brigsby Bear

At the exact opposite end of something as bleak as It Comes at Night is Brigsby Bear. By all means, these films could work side by side, where the tone any different. Telling the story about a man emerging from sheltered upbringing and continuing to focus on his obsession could easily take things down a path similar to Room. However, this is a quirky story that embraces a sense of optimism and kindness. Star Kyle Mooney, who developed this story, does plenty create a socially awkward character whom you can’t help but want to follow along with and see succeed. The film is careful to never make fun of him, which is easily the right choice, by adding other characters that either immediately joins in his quest or find themselves eventually seeing his side of things. It may sidestep some of the darker implications of certain characters, but that’s not the point. Instead, it tells a strange story that finds ways to please. Additional note: Greg Kinnear has a supporting role that is absolutely deserving of awards consideration.

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6. The Big Sick

There is a good chance this film would find itself even higher on the list if thinking back on it at the end of the year, but it also speaks to how much I like these next several films. The Big Sick is a story I’ve heard star/co-writer Kumail Nanjiani tell at comedy shows, but seeing an actual film dramatizing the events of his relationship between him and Emily V. Gordon could not have worked out better. Thanks to a sharp script that combines the story of an unconventional romantic comedy and the challenges of how culture and family can direct one’s life, this is a film that has plenty of emotion to go along with its big laughs. There’s great work from the whole cast, along with enough right decisions to help in making another long Judd Apatow-produced film feel worth the time. I was happy to see The Big Sick find so much success in theaters, following its purchase at Sundance. It’s a film that deserves the win.

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5. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Even after a year of knowing this movie would most likely bomb at the domestic box office (and sadly not doing much better worldwide), it was still disheartening to see such a wonderfully inventive and original (sure, it’s based on a comic, but an old, obscure French one) not manage to connect with a larger audience. Luc Besson went back into Fifth Element territory by adapting the story that inspired that film and came out with something wildly enjoyable. So much imagination was on display here, which was seen right away in what has to be one of the best opening sequences of the year (rivaling Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and another film on this list). The alien worlds created in Valerian, along with the visual effects used to make them work, were enough to fuel several movies, but it all still worked in this packed film. This was the one film this summer that had me wanting more of what it was before it had even ended.

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4. Good Time

Not having kept up with all the features seen at the Cannes Film Festival, Good Time came as something of a surprise. The Safdie Brothers have already been making strides as indie directors with a unique voice (check out the disturbing drama Heaven Knows What), but here they find themselves creating a kinetic odyssey set mostly during one crazy night in Queens, New York. The Safdie’s also have the benefit of a big name actor cutting loose with a role that finds him at his best. Robert Pattinson gives one of the best performances of the year as a crook doing everything he can to get the money he needs to bust his brother out of jail. It leads to a film shot in a way that makes me wonder if I already saw the best Blade Runner redo of the year, given the atmosphere, visuals and score. Good Time also happens to be compelling, darkly humorous and wonderfully frantic.

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3. Baby Driver

 

A new Edgar Wright film has me assuming it will wind up on a top ten list, but it’s just a matter of how high. Baby Driver is a near-perfect summer movie. It takes a high concept (a getaway driver sets car chases to his iPod playlists) and adds a great cast and fantastic filmmaking. We get a heroic lead (an impressive Ansel Elgort) and some memorable villain performances (great work from Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx). The soundtrack is phenomenal (multiple discs, as one couldn’t cover it). Plus, the direction is top notch. It would be one thing to put a spotlight on the fantastic car chases, particularly the opening, but there is so much on display as far as how we see this film scored to all the music that continually factors into scenes. All of this helps in making Baby Driver an exciting crime thriller, action film, and even a comedy of sorts, with a touch of romance.


2. Dunkirk

Many of the films seen this summer show what a joy it is to watch movies in the theater, but leave it to Christopher Nolan to make it his mission to assure theaters are your only option. Dunkirk ended up being less of a war movie and more of a thriller, and it worked out tremendously. Thanks to the plot structure that felt like a spiral of ideas that eventually formed into one incredible journey, the constant tension and precision found throughout this film made for a fantastic, visceral experience. All of that in mind, along with some great performances and the heroism of Tom Hardy continuing to make him an actor to admire, the film also has its 70mm IMAX presentation. Nolan paints with a vast canvas once again to give audiences his most ambitious film yet regarding the visual enormity on display. Between the escalating drama embodied by simple expressions seen in Mark Rylance to the sheer thrill of the marvelous dog fight sequences, Dunkirk found Nolan firing on all cylinders.

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1. Detroit

Coming at a time where race relations continues to be a topic explored on many fronts, director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal took their approach to matters by way of a historical docudrama that doubles as a tense thriller, with aspects of horror. Detroit begins by painting a large portrait of how the 1967 riots began and what was going on, before focusing in on a little-known true story about the severe beatings (and a few murders) several white police officers gave to several innocent black men and two white women in a hotel during one long night. This is by no means an easy film to watch, but it’s hard not to admire the work that went into creating something like this. There’s also the overriding themes being presented and the unflinching approach taken to shed light on a particular situation and help continue to create conversations that should be had about American’s history and where to go to maybe put us in a better place. While Detroit had trouble finding a bigger audience in theaters, it’s a film that left an impact.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Logan Lucky, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonder Woman

There are many other movies I also enjoyed this summer, but I will spotlight these three for having plenty to offer for audiences looking for something unique in theaters. I’ve already remarked on what helped Wonder Woman excel, but Logan Lucky was also the sort of film I wish excelled more with audiences that could use a movie like this to have them appreciate a caper film featuring some good ol’ boys. War for the Planet of the Apes didn’t quite achieve the same high level as Dawn, but it is also worth noting for being a mature sci-fi feature that did plenty by way of special effects and emotional catharsis for the inspired reboot series.

Best Movie That Wasn’t Quite For Me:

A Ghost Story

I’ve seen a lot of appreciation for David Lowery’s (literally) haunting look at the grieving process and how one handles death. Unfortunately, it was not a film I felt as taken in by. I’ve not forgotten about it and greatly admire a lot of the visual poetry on display, but all the artfulness of A Ghost Story did not quite leave me thinking I just saw one of the best cinematic features of the year. It has its place, but I’m happy to have seen it all the same.

 

Best Movie To Debut On A Streaming Service:

Okja

I should note that The Incredible Jessica James earns its place as a strong second pick, but Bong Joon-ho’s trippy Spielberg-ian adventure satire had a lot going for it simply because it was Bong Joon-ho making a new movie. He delivers, and while it may not have been as solid as his last few features, seeing the story of a young girl and her large, genetically modified pet proved to be full of heart and excitement. There’s also all the weird that comes with a film by this director, most clearly inhabited this time around by Jake Gyllenhaal’s character. If you have Netflix, Okja’s not a movie to miss.

 

The Actual Best Movies of the Summer:

Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Close Encounters of the Third Kind

If I wanted to go by everything I saw in theaters this summer, it would be the two re-releases that would technically be the best movies I saw. James Cameron re-released his action epic, Terminator 2 in 3D and while the extra dimension was a nice touch, it was the restored video that made this a thrill to continue seeing. Equally, Steven Spielberg’s classic sci-fi adventure drama continues to stand the test of time, as it displays that sense of wonder that came from placing ordinary people in incredible situations. Both movies are amazing and there’s plenty to admire in their big screen presentations.

 

Worst Movies of the Summer:

5. War Machine

4. Death Note

3. The Mummy

2. The Only Living Boy in New York

1. Transformers: The Last Knight

Given how much I put into highlighting what Michael Bay tends to do well, it was a surprising disappointment to honestly not get what I usually see in a bombastic Transformers film. Similar to why The Mummy faired so poorly (in addition to other reasons), The Last Knight found itself caught up in establishing ideas for the cinematic universe that is supposed to begin with this 5th entry in the alien robot series. Sadly, that meant holding back the genuine fun I do tend to find in the amount of energy Bay puts into these films. For the first time, it felt like Bay was holding back from even his worst tendencies (not all of them) to conform to studio plans. It’s a shame. Not for nothing, the other films here also did little to excite or entertain. From two Netflix releases that fell completely flat to an indie dramedy that had nothing to offer. I didn’t have much dismay in too many releases this summer, but this pack of films didn’t help.

 

What’s Next:

A lot of high profile releases are still headed our way. Big blockbusters such as Thor: Ragnarok, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Justice League, and obviously Star Wars: The Last Jedi are ready to entertain many. Blade Runner 2049 will be an interesting one to watch, as I’m very curious if it has anything to say as a story. There is something great about the all-star cast featured in Murder on the Orient Express. Martin McDonagh returns with the wonderfully dark-looking comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I have plenty of faith in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water. Clooney, Coens and Damon are all here for Suburbicon. I haven’t even gotten started, but just stay tuned, as a lot of good seem to be heading to theaters very soon.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

3 Responses to “Aaron’s Top Ten Films of Summer 2017 & More”


  1. Brian White

    Whoa! Dunkirk over Baby Driver! Has Edgar seen this list?!!

  2. Ulises

    Great list, WW should be higher or instead Homecoming but really good compilation

  3. Brian White

    I agree with you too, Ulises