A Christmas tradition, here’s the “Pakistani Playboy” Aizaz Gill’s Top 10 Films of the Year.
Let’s all collectively take a moment to appreciate Charlize Theron and her ability to play strong ass-kicking female characters such as Furiosa from Mad Max and now Lorraine Broughton in Atomic Blonde. Theron has the ability to exude toughness in these roles which cannot be appreciated enough and Atomic Blonde is a richer movie for it. Set days before the Berlin Wall falling, Atomic Blonde features a complex espionage plot but i’ts Theron’s performance which truly lifts it into the upper echelons of films that came out this year.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2
One of the most fun movies to come out of 2017, Guardians Vol 2 picks up right where its predecessor left off. Audiences, once again, find themselves rooting for the galaxy’s favorite a-holes as the Guardians are confronted by the Celestial Ego (played with relish by Kurt Russell) who claims to be the long-lost father of the crew’s leader: Star Lord. The chemistry between the cast of Guardians is almost palpable whether it’s the will they/won’t they angle between Star Lord and Gamorrah or the hilarious banter between various crew members. Writer and Director James Gunn deserves a lot of credit for what he has created with this franchise, but he has a lot of help from the talent around him as well, especially Dave Bautista who truly shines as Drax the Destroyer in his expanded role for the sequel. If the Guardians movies continue to be as fun as the first two, this may become Marvel’s most lucrative franchise.
Let me start talking about Logan Lucky by saying that Daniel Craig (Mr. Posh, James Bond himself) has a West Virginian accent in this and that alone is worth the price of admission. But, there is more, so much more. Set in West Virginia, Logan Lucky follows two brothers who are down on their luck (lots of talk about a family curse in this one) and feel down by the system.. So the two brothers, played with a lot of heart by Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, try to get even with what they feel is a rigged system by attempting a heist at a NASCAR event. There is a certain flavor to Logan Lucky and it’s decidedly West Virginian but that’s also what gives this film its rugged charm. This is a film which touches upon the forgotten men and women of America, a slice of Americana which often gets ignored. In Logan Lucky, the forgotten man, the downtrodden get their due and it’s a nice ride to accompany them on.
10. Thor: Ragnarok
The list is going to be a little superhero heavy, but in my defense Thor: Ragnarok more than earns its place on the list. This movie is just sheer fun, if you don’t walk out of Ragnarok with a smile on your face, you gotta get yourself checked out. The third Thor deals with some pretty heavy stuff (the Planet Hulk storyline and a hostile takeover of Asgard), but it somehow miraculously manages to balance that out with some humor. In fairness, I will admit that the film can be tonally insensitive yet it’s also consistent throughout. Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson and Jeff Goldblum infuse new life into the Thor franchise and Ragnarok benefits from it….Armageddon for a race full of magical beings has never been more fun.
9. 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The marketing of 3 Billboards did this film a disservice, as the trailer and subsequent commercials suggested an anti-police bias to this film. However, that’s not what 3 Billboards is about. At its core, this is a film about a grieving mother find justice for her murdered daughter while trying to come to terms with the unimaginable loss of her child. Anchored by a tour de performance by Frances McDormand, 3 Billboards does veer into social commentary but that’s to be expected from this nature. At no point does that commentary seem too preachy; instead, it’s balanced out by the film’s black humor which almost becomes therapeutic for the audience in dealing with the heavy subject matter. 3 Billboards features morally ambiguous characters making questionable decisions based off raw emotions, and that moral fallibility is part of what makes 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri so fascinating.
8. Wind River
This is the third film in the American Frontier Trilogy (Sicario and Hell or High Water being the other two) from writer Taylor Sheridan. For the conclusion to his trilogy, Sheridan goes to Wind River which is a Native American Reservation in Wyoming. The land there is vast, bleak and people living on this land have to be on the lookout from predators whether they are wild animals or humans. In this harsh unfamiliar place, a new FBI Agent Jane Banner (played by Elizabeth Olsen) finds herself investigating the murder of a young woman without many clues.
For those who have seen Sicario, there are similarities between Emily Blunt’s character and the one Elizabeth Olsen plays in Wind River as both feature female law enforcement agents who are brave, and strong yet they also have to prove their resilience in some pretty gruesome situations.
Sheridan, who is also making his directorial debut in Wind River, continues to play with the morality of his heroes daring the audience to question his protagonist’s actions despite those actions being in violation of modern civilization and the code of conduct we are expected to adhere to. Furthermore, the rebellious streak in Sheridan’s work extends to the film itself as well. If you are walking into Wind River expecting some cookie cutter Hollywood procedural, you are in for a disappointment, there are no happy endings or cathartic closures to be found. However, you are guaranteed a damn good film. It’s part of what makes the American Frontier Trilogy a series of neo-Westerns which are well worth your time and Taylor Sheridan one of the freshest voices in Hollywood.
7. Wonder Woman
In the year 2017, it’s only appropriate that Wonder Woman appear on this list. The success of WW is tremendous and it’s amazing to consider once contextualized with the overall failure of expanded DC film universe. The minds behind that universe can’t seem to make an appealing Batman or Superman movie yet they succeed in capturing the character and spirit of Wonder Woman which is much tougher to begin with. One of the few things critics and audiences agreed upon in the much maligned (unfairly, I might add) Batman vs. Superman was that the introduction of Wonder Woman being handled well. The solo Wonder Woman builds on that introduction and goes into a WWI set origin story for the Amazonian Princess. The idealism of Wonder Woman (fighting for a world that’s not hers) and heroism in the face of man’s sin is a testament of the titular heroine’s character. The film is also helped by the crackling chemistry between its two leads: Chris Pine and Gal Gadot. Say what you will about the expanded DC film universe, but they get Wonder Woman right and it maybe their greatest accomplishment.
Raise your hand if you want to sit through a 3 + hour movie about Jesuit priests, in the 17th century, traveling to Japan to locate their mentor who is rumored to have committed apostasy and spread Catholicism in a country whose government is hell bent on denying Catholicism a foothold in their nation…Look I get it, that doesn’t exactly sound like a fun viewing experience. However, Martin Scorcese’s latest effort is one of those films which has to be seen in order to be believed. Silence is a meditation (no pun intended) on the power of faith, the feats you become capable of enduring because of it and what you are willing to sacrifice for it. Andrew Garfield turns in the performance of a lifetime as he carries a film which seems intent on testing the limits of its characters and audience. The result is a spell-binding film which grabs your attention and insists that you keep it on the screen for the film’s run time. Silence may not have the box office appeal of some other great Scorcese films, but it does show the filmmaker has still got what it takes to craft a mesmerizing experience.
5. The Lego Batman Movie
For all the years I have been making a list of best movies of year, I can’t recall pitting an animated feature on there. The streak is over with Lego Batman: Not only is it absolutely hilarious (especially if you are a Batman fan), but it tells a phenomenal story about Batman himself which is something the other major film featuring Batman released this year (Justice League) absolutely failed to do. Despite being a film for kids, Lego Batman treated its titular character with reverence, filling the film with nods to every Batman of years past, and literal laugh out loud moments. This pop culture extravaganza was a joy to watch.
4. The Shape of Water
Director Guillermo Del Toro is known for making films which are beautiful and based on premises which are “out there” (see Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, etc.) and I mean that in a complimentary way. The Shape of Water is no exception as Del Toro decides to tell a love story set in the Cold War. Amidst a backdrop of tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, this is of course no ordinary love story. It features Eliza (a mute woman) who stumbles upon an “asset” of the U.S. government which in reality is an amphibious bipedal creature being experimented upon in cruel ways for research purposes. Feeling a connection with the creature which seems more and more human in every interaction, Eliza concocts a daring rebellion. Like other Del Toro films, The Shape of Water is beautiful, but there is an ethereal quality to to the film which sucks you right into this dream like film. Sally Hawkins turns in an astounding performance without much dialogue making it all the more powerful.
3. John Wick Chapter 2
Keanu Reeves has seen a career resurgence thanks to the amazingly fun and brutally violent John Wick franchise. The concept behind this series of films is pretty simple. Reeves plays a retired assassin with a fearsome reputation (his nickname is Baba Yagga which is Russian for Boogeyman) who just wants to live out his life in peace and solitude. Unfortunately, for the assassin formerly known as Baba Yagga, his past refuses to let go. It’s a trope that’s used often in both and films and TV but the brilliance for the Wick franchise lies in the execution. Chapter 1 told a fairly self contained story but the sequel ups the stakes as John Wick goes international with his killing spree. Along for the cinematic ride, the audience learns that there is an entire economy, governing system to this society of assassins – Hell, it’s practically a whole different world just lying and thriving beneath our own society. It’s a whole lotta fun exploring that world as John WIck up a kill count that’s higher than the defense budget of Costa Rica while giving absolutely Zero fucks. The action is sleek, the violence is beautifully choreographed and the audience walks away a winner.
Seventeen years ago, Hugh Jackman first put on the claws to play Wolverine, who is one of the most iconic characters in comic mythos. In 2017, he (allegedly) is walking away from a role that he has almost become synonymous with. If this is indeed Jackman’s swan song, he went out with a proverbial bang. Logan is one of the most powerful movies you will have the fortune if seeing this year. Not only is its message politically relevant but it has redefined what a superhero movie is capable of. Logan doesn’t have the sunny optimism of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s films, it’s not funny like Deadpool and there ain’t a whole lot of redemption to be found. In fact, the nihilist existentialism Logan starts off with is more likely to be found in a philosophy class featuring Friedrich Nietzsche’a teachings.
What Logan does offer (and it excels at) is a no-punches (adamantium claws in this case)-pulled approach to filmmaking as Director James Mangold tells a visceral tale about the worst humanity has to offer and those trying to fight against that tide. Logan challenges the audience’s expectations and twists them on its way to breaking the mold of superhero films and transcending an entire genre.
1. Blade Runner 2049
I have seen Blade Runner 2049 three times already and I can easily watch this masterpiece another seven times. From the jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring cinematography (from the neon filled and grimy streets of 2049 Los Angeles to a wasteland in Las Vegas, it’s all breathtaking) from the superb Roger Deakins to the brilliant exploration of complex philosophical concepts in a $200+ million, Blade Runner 2049 is the closest to film perfection that we got in 2017.
If you have read through this entire list – first let me thank you, and second, please allow me several hundred words to explain just why I picked Blade Runner 2049 as the best film of the year.
In the Blade Runner world, there is a child somewhere out there who is the result of Replicant woman giving birth. For a world which is already struggling with lines blurred – if Replicants have the ability to reproduce, how are they any different than the humans who use them for slave labor and can take their free will away. It’s the kind of universe altering revelation changes the balance of power. That proves doubly alarming once you consider that Replicants can give birth to children who cannot in any way be programmed by their human masters. Needless to say the hunt begins with various parties trying to find this miracle child. Caught in this entire situation is K (our main character) who now discovers that his own murky origins may have something to do with the very case, he’s investigating.
The brilliance of Blade Runner 2049 is that whether you look at it from a micro level (one love story between K and JOI) or on the macro level (Replicants being able to reproduce) the questions are always the same…What makes a human?
Is it the physical act of giving birth instead of being “created” as the Replicants were? Is it the emotions we experience for ourselves (K’s desire to be special) or our feelings for others (JOI’s love for K) – are those the things which give us a soul? Can it be finding purpose for your existence? After all, it’s something K struggles with. Perhaps, it’s something else – Could it be the Free Will afforded to humans? Because throughout the film, we see “artificial” creations making choices which their human programmers didn’t want or expect.
Movies like Blade Runner 2049 rarely get made, it’s even less likely that they turn out to be this good. If you are one of the people who didn’t go see it in movie theatres (looking at the anemic box office numbers, not many of you did) do yourself a favor and go see it. A run time of 2 hours and 43 minutes may scare some viewers away but I’m here to say that everyone one of those minutes was satisfying. Not because you receive answers to all your questions but because this is a movie which will cause you to ask questions.
It’s the kind of ballsy Sci-Fi that Hollywood rarely makes. It’s totally weird. Hell, I’m still trying to get over some of the scenes I saw. But, it’s also unlike anything else you will see at the movies this year. It demands and holds your attention. Hollywood is notorious for making unnecessary sequels filled with mindless action but they broke the mold with Blade Runner 2049, this is a sequel which surpasses the original. It’s visionary filmmaking which deserves to be applauded and if you are on the fence, I hope you give this great piece of art a chance.