Movies don’t just reflect culture — they shape it. Not surprisingly then, they can be much more than disposable entertainment. And so, here at MEL, we typically go out of our way to attempt to absorb and digest their themes, trying to make sense of what filmmakers are telling us about the world around us (and especially, the men who inhabit it).
Below is my fairly arbitrary ranking of all 66 films that inspired MEL stories in 2017 — even if the movie didn’t come out in 2017. Most of these pieces were written by me, but my superb colleagues added their voices when inspiration hit. We interviewed documentary filmmakers (about prison, about MAGA lovers, about JonBenet Ramsey); analyzed the careers of Hollywood veterans (from Steve Guttenberg to Jim Carrey); inspected Wonder Woman from about half-a-dozen angles (including her armpit hair); and debated the merits of I Love You, Daddy (sort of the modern The Day the Clown Died).
I also finally had an excuse to watch Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS and Silent Night, Deadly Night.
66. The Room
The notoriously so-bad-its-good film was all over the culture in 2017, thanks especially to James Franco’s The Disaster Artist, which took a peek behind the scenes of the movie’s production. But back in March, staff writer John McDermott was more interested in looking at films that are the most divisive. (The Room was his inspiration as no one will ever argue about its quality — only if its awfulness makes it enjoyable.) And so, he dove into RottenTomatoes to determine the movies that were exactly split between critics who gave them a thumbs up (or “fresh” rating) and those who gave them a thumbs down (or “rotten” rating). His findings included Antichrist (which is a good movie) and Maleficent (which is not).
Yes, there was a new Flatliners this year, and Kiefer Sutherland was in it. I used that as an excuse to write about Sutherland’s career for my Misleading Men column, which looks back at actors who ruled Hollywood for one brief shining moment. The former bad boy has now become a beloved figure — although it wasn’t always clear that his career would have a happy ending.
64. Silent Night, Deadly Night
This notorious 1984 slasher film dared to depict Santa Claus as a murderous psychopath. Pulled from theaters and critically ravaged by Siskel and Ebert, Silent Night, Deadly Night has since gone on to become a bizarre holiday favorite. What happened? For answers, I turned to its unlikely star, Robert Brian Wilson. “We had no idea how much [fans] loved the film,” he told me during a lengthy interview. “They saw it as more of a comedy than anything that was scary, disgusting or deplorable. They laughed their butts off all the way through it.”
Collide was a terrible-looking thriller that got dumped into theaters in February. Why did we care? Because one of its stars was Anthony Hopkins, who since winning an Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs has often popped up in movies that didn’t seem worth his time or talent. I wrestled with that fact for a different installment of Misleading Men.
62. Daddy’s Home 2
When Will Ferrell makes a movie, he tends to have a sidekick. That’s definitely true of Daddy’s Home 2, his third film with Mark Wahlberg. But which of his comedy partners is the best? I ranked them, placing Wahlberg at №2 on the list. You can probably guess №1. If not, I have three words for you: Shake and bake.
61. Tough Guys
In April, Warner Bros. released a remake of the old-timers-go-on-a-heist comedy Going in Style. It got me thinking about another variation on this plotline: 1986’s Tough Guys, which starred Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. I hadn’t seen it in years. Needless to say, it didn’t hold up well, even in comparison to a lot of the geriatric comedies that have come since, like Last Vegas and The Bucket List. As I wrote, “While few of these subsequent films are as blatant in their backward-looking paranoia about the rise of women and minorities, their underlying message remains the same: Get off my lawn.”
60. Once Upon a Time in Venice
This forgettable Bruce Willis vehicle tapped into a trendy antihero character trait, giving his character a loyal dog. McDermott looked into storytellers’ history of pairing male characters with a pooch — starting with The Odyssey and continuing through The Wire and John Wick.
59. Justice League
Needing to hash out my feelings regarding Justice League, I offered three thoughts about this terrible superhero movie, including my confusion over what happened to Superman’s face. (Also, my colleague Miles Klee lamented just how miserable Ben Affleck seems as Batman.)
58. Good Will Hunting
Seriously, why are dudes still so hung up on this movie? McDermott talked to men in Australia, Canada and Pakistan to find the answer. I’m clearly not — as evidenced by that fact I’ve placed it behind…
57. The Boss Baby
How exactly did Alec Baldwin go from Hunt for Red October hunk to the voice star of this spring’s animated hit The Boss Baby? I did my best to connect those dots by looking back at the life and career of everyone’s favorite Baldwin brother.
56. The Fate of the Furious
Another year, another Fast/Furious movie. In honor of The Fate of the Furious, the eighth film in the franchise, I spotlighted other long-running series — each of which has at least 10 installments. Also: Check out Jesse Graff on how the franchise went from silly to a cultural touchstone. And if that’s not enough Fate of the Furious content, assistant editor Andrew Fiouzi broke down Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel’s beef — and how it compares to other behind-the-scenes actor feuds.
55. The Hitman’s Bodyguard
In the action-thriller The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds played bitter rivals who have to work together to stay alive. In other words, it’s a mismatched buddy movie. Brian VanHooker explored how these types of films are really coded rom-coms for male friendship. VanHooker describes his research process: “In the name of science, we reached out to a guy with a PhD in film studies, a psychologist and a social worker and then binge-watched a shitload of Mismatched Buddy Movies (but not Cop Out) to try to uncover what makes them so endearing.”
54. The Mountain Between Us
In this disposable romantic drama, starring Kate Winslet and Idris Elba, perfect strangers have to survive in the mountains after their plane crashes. But lots of people were more concerned about the safety of a dog that accompanies them on their journey. That got me wondering: Why do audiences value animal lives over human lives at the movies? I wrote about this strange phenomenon, concluding, “The world can be a horrible place, but we don’t want that horribleness to be visited upon the dogs, cats, pigs or geese in our fictional stories.”
53. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Few bothered showing up for the latest spin on Camelot, but it did inspire me to look back at the history of cinematic King Arthurs. Readers weren’t happy I was so mean to Excalibur.
52. Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS
In 1975, a Nazi exploitation film arrived called Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. Reviled and adored in equal measure, the movie featured a Nazi commandant named Ilsa who runs a concentration camp that specializes in orgies, torture, sexual humiliation and castration. I’d never seen it and was intrigued by its cultural staying power — especially at a time when the alt-right movement seemed to be all around us. So I investigated Ilsa’s strange history and surprising resilience, even speaking to a woman who recently programmed the movie at a Brooklyn revival theater and argues that it’s actually a deeply feminist film.
51. Beauty and the Beast
The live-action Beauty and the Beast devoured the box office this spring, stirring nostalgic feelings for the 1991 animated classic. McDermott used the new film as an opportunity to examine the universal appeal of Gaston, the muscle-bound jerk who tries to court Belle. As McDermott puts it, “Somehow, the biggest douchebag in the entire Disney universe has become a charming meme.”
Bryan Cranston is still best known for playing Walter White, but in Wakefield he portrayed a different kind of regular-guy sociopath. In the character drama, he’s a mild-mannered lawyer who, one day, decides not to come home to his family — instead hiding out in the garage so he can watch what his absence does to his wife (Jennifer Garner). Some of the similarities between Wakefield and White are chilling.
49. I Love You, Daddy
I saw the Louis C.K. movie at its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. My colleagues Alana Hope Levinson and C. Brian Smith saw it more recently — long after the New York Times piece was published about C.K.’s sexual misconduct. How did our experiences match up? We had a thoughtful Slack chat about I Love You, Daddy, its intentions, its failings and what the film suggests about gender inequality in Hollywood.
48. Band Aid
“Ask any successful married couple how they’ve made their relationship work, and they’ll probably tell you that among the other important attributes — love, commitment, trust, a sense of humor about the whole thing — it’s crucial to be able to argue well. That’s not to say couples need to argue a lot to make a marriage last. But when difficulties pop up, as they inevitably will, the two people need to be able to arrive at some kind of shared language to articulate their frustrations, anxieties and disappointments.” That’s how I introduced my piece on Band Aid, an insightful Sundance comedy-drama about a feuding couple (Adam Pally and writer-director Zoe Lister-Jones) who learn to work through their problems by forming a band.
Inspired by Hugh Jackman’s final Wolverine film, I saluted cinema’s hairiest characters. If you’re seeking a more thoughtful take on Logan, I refer you to McDermott, who loved the film far more than I did. He wrote about why the film struck such a chord for him: “Logan isn’t about Wolverine (finally!) learning to love himself and others, and redeeming his life of grumpy loneliness — it’s about fulfilling a boyhood dream to watch Wolverine rip some bad dudes to shreds, in the goriest, most violent way possible.”
46. Mrs. Doubtfire
Conservatives are wrong about a lot of things — including pop culture. Klee takes but one example: Why does at least one White House official think Mrs. Doubtfire is about gentrification?
Revered character actor and musician Harry Dean Stanton died this year at the age of 91, leaving behind an acclaimed starring role in the indie drama Lucky. Staff writer C. Brian Smith wrote about the Stanton he knew: “Harry loved harmonizing and liked that I could take the high part. ‘I’m a top,’ I’d joke. He’d never laugh.”
44. Last Flag Flying
Richard Linklater’s latest film, a sequel to The Last Detail, is like a lot of Iraq war movies in that you don’t see the battlefield at all. Why is that? As I argued, it’s because Iraq is a military conflict Americans are trying to put out of their mind.
43. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Spider-Man fans were thrilled that, at long last, their web-slinging hero got to be part of the Avengers universe. But McDermott wasn’t happy with one element of Spider-Man: Homecoming. “[T]he suit is a piece of space-age technology that rivals [Tony] Stark’s Iron Man getup,” he writes. “It comes with its own A.I. personal assistant that informs Spider-Man how best to use his myriad web-slinging maneuvers, as well as additional gadgets — such as a parachute and surveillance drone — that are sure to make Batman jealous. And this sucks.” (Meanwhile, I looked back at the best big-screen Spidey–Tobey Maguire.)
Filmmaker Tao Ruspoli’s parents split up when he was eight. His marriage to Olivia Wilde ended in divorce. Are some people simply not suited for monogamy? That question led Ruspoli to make the personal documentary Monogamish, which examines our culture’s sometimes stifling emphasis on committed, monogamous relationships. For MEL, writer Jennifer Swann interviewed Ruspoli and asked will he ever get married again? “I’m radically open to all possibilities, including a monogamous marriage,” he says.
41. Get Me Roger Stone
Movies don’t usually elicit violent physical responses from me. But most movies aren’t Get Me Roger Stone, the Netflix documentary about the scumbag right-wing strategist that made me want to throw my laptop out the window. I tried my best to explain precisely why he’s such a loathsome bastard.
40. The Lego Batman Movie
For generations, dudes have loved Batman for how dark he is — he’s the brooding crime-fighter who can never get over the fact that he watched his parents be gunned down right in front of him. But can the Caped Crusader ever change? Could he ever — gasp! — learn to love? McDermott really dug The Lego Batman Movie specifically because it argued that, yes, he can. As he puts it, “[S]acrificing all personal relationships to pursue a goal doesn’t necessarily make a person noble. Often, it means they’re a coward.”
39. Back to School
Rodney Dangerfield’s 1986 star vehicle is a classic college comedy, so it was perfect that Los Angeles City College hosted a live reading of the film back in September. Smith attended the event and then went on to interview several people involved with the film to provide the definitive Back to School oral history.
38. Battle of the Sexes
In the early 1970s, has-been tennis star Bobby Riggs took on women’s champion Billie Jean King in a much-hyped televised event. That contest formed the heart of Battle of the Sexes, which made me curious to learn more about Riggs. So I read his 1973 memoir Court Hustler, discovering an opportunist who capitalized on society’s sexism to promote himself. “Sounds a lot like Trump,” a few people told me after my piece was published. I was thinking the same thing.
Bryan Fogel had a clever idea. He wanted to make a documentary about doping in cycling, envisioning his film as a Super Size Me-like stunt in which he’d take illegal drugs to improve his race times while avoiding detection from anti-doping labs. From such humble origins came Icarus, which ended up being on the frontlines of Russia’s massive anti-doping conspiracy and put the lives of some of Fogel’s subjects in jeopardy. I interviewed Fogel, who told me what it was like to be on steroids and whether he feared for his own safety while making the documentary.
36. Oklahoma City
In 1995, Timothy McVeigh set off a bomb in downtown Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, including 19 children. This year, documentarian Barak Goodman looked back at the incident, connecting it to the rising alt-right movement in this country that helped elect Donald Trump. I interviewed Goodman to talk about his film and the lessons that can be learned from that violent tragedy. “It’s hard to get our arms around the idea that people who live among us, look like us and supposedly share our national values could do something like this,” he told me. “But the evidence proves the opposite — it proves that they can, and do, and have, and will in the future.”
Writer-director Justin Chon was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for this dramatization of the 1992 L.A. riots. But for contributing writer Eddie Kim, Gook was a powerhouse beyond its historical subject matter. “Made for less than a million dollars and distributed via a limited summer theatrical run, Gook wasn’t a film many people saw, pulling in just $250,000 at the box office,” Kim wrote. “What intrigued me, though, was that Gook takes on the riots from the perspective of young Korean-Americans, a rare approach and a relatable one for me — a late-20s Korean-American and the kid of immigrant parents.” Kim’s personal essay makes the case for Gook as an Asian-American film, a black film and an American film — not to mention a very timely one.
34. War for the Planet of the Apes
Sure, Caesar is a pretty great movie ape. But which one is the greatest? The MEL staff spent a few days debating each other to determine the identity of the ultimate movie primate. Spoiler alert: It is not Dunston.
33. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
So wait — are Ferris and his sister Jeanie twins? McDermott decided to look into it.
32. Tom of Finland
After returning from World War II, Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen decided to follow his muse and draw homoerotic art. Contributing Writer Tierney Finster took a look at Tom of Finland, a new biopic about Laaksonen. “The film is moving, elucidating the struggle of one man who wanted to be accepted by the country he went to war for, a powerful scenario that still rings true today for LGBTQ Americans who know that the degree to which they serve certain institutions isn’t always met with reciprocal support,” she writes. “But in the end, Tom’s fetish becomes the impetus for his success, part and parcel of the international aesthetic of gay liberation.”
31. Boys for Sale
This summer, Outfest premiered Boys for Sale, a documentary that intrigued Smith. I’ll let Smith explain the premise: “The film follows 10 urisen — mostly straight Japanese boys who sell sex to men — as they discuss their working conditions, how they ended up making money this way and what it’s like having sex with 70-year-olds — some of whom piss, spit and shit on you — when you’re not even gay.” He interviewed Boys for Sale executive producer Ian Thomas Ash about the inspiration behind making the film — and Japan’s cultural acceptance of prostitution.
30. The Meyerowitz Stories
Adam Sandler defenders always point to his brilliant performance in Punch-Drunk Love as proof that, when properly motivated, he can be a great actor. The problem, of course, is that he’s rarely properly motivated. That’s why I was so pleased to see The Meyerowitz Stories, the new Noah Baumbach movie in which he believably plays a beaten-down regular guy bullied by his demanding father (Dustin Hoffman). It’s a Sandler we haven’t seen before, and I hope we see more of him in the future.
29. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Colin Farrell is in the midst of a career renaissance — something we’ve definitely heard before when it comes to the Killing of a Sacred Deer star. I wrote about why we keep hoping with such fervor that he’ll be the big success we think he should be.
28. Coming to America
Remember the McDonald’s parody McDowell’s in Coming to America? Well, in October, Hollywood eatery Fat Sal’s Deli dressed itself up as McDowell’s for Halloween. Smith decided to take a visit and wrote about the crazy scene there.
27. Blade Runner
A long-awaited sequel to Blade Runner came out in the fall, but Klee was more interested in all the ways that fanboys have tried over the years to get women to care about the original — with very little luck. As he writes, “If everyone is to be permitted their problematic pop culture faves, they might also be allowed to despise (or ignore!) the stuff other people love. Trouble is, Blade Runner’s neckbeard fanbase won’t take ‘not my cup of tea’ for an answer. It is perhaps the platonic ideal of a movie that dudes try to force on their girlfriends, desperate to spark adulation or to pass it on.”
26. Wonder Woman
One of the summer’s happiest stories was the success of Wonder Woman, which proved definitively that audiences will see superhero movies featuring female characters. (Shockingly, this was something that was up for debate.) Among the film’s most subversive elements, however, was how it cast Chris Pine to be the typical damsel-in-distress character. As I wrote at the time of the movie’s release, “Wonder Woman flips the script, boasting a female main character in a genre usually dominated by men. As a result, for once, it’s the guy who’s the arm candy. And the filmmakers couldn’t have made a better pick for the job than Pine.” (If you want more Wonder Woman, check out McDermott’s exploration of whether or not Pine’s character has a large penis. Or read Jessica P. Ogilvie’s interview with porn actresses who play superhero characters. Or enjoy Staff Writer Tracy Moore’s thoughts on Wonder Woman’s armpit hair and why a triumphant feminist film doesn’t have to be perfect to be great.)
Richard Gere gives one of his best performances as Norman Oppenheimer in Norman, about a hopeless New York wheeler-dealer who finds his life changed after he befriends the future Israeli prime minister. I wrote about Gere’s decades-long career, arguing that he really doesn’t have that signature role that defines his unique appeal.
Documentary filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe devoted an entire movie to Psycho’s shower scene, which left me thinking about the history of sexual violence at the movies. 78/52 only scratches the surface of the topic, so I dove into the legacy of slasher films and everything else Psycho wrought.
23. Thor: Ragnarok
Thor is very blond. And so, upon the release of Ragnarok, writer Nemo McCay highlighted other very blond movie people. Turns out, there are many.
22. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The mega-successful sequel to the 2014 original bolstered its already-large cast with several big names, including Kurt Russell. That gave me an excuse to salute the career of a star who has rarely been given his due. “For more than a decade, he was a reliable on-screen presence, playing either badasses or bozos in movies that never got nominated for awards,” I wrote of Russell. “[But] at 66, he’s finally respectable.” (On a totally separate note, we’d like to remind you: Don’t text during movies.)
21. Wedding Crashers
Early this summer, my editors laid out a proposition: Would I be interested in doing an oral history of Wedding Crashers? A month later I published MEL’s longest piece ever, speaking to director David Dobkin, Jane Seymour and others about the iconic, R-rated comedy. Their stories were almost as fun as the film itself.
20. A River Below
“The new documentary A River Below was never meant to be just about saving the Amazon’s pink river dolphins,” Finster explains. “Director Mark Grieco also intended it to be a portrait of those who dedicated their work and lives to the cause — people like Colombian biologist Fernando Trujillo and Richard Rasmussen, a media personality and activist known as Brazil’s Steve Irwin. In the end, though, the film isn’t exactly that, either. Instead, it powerfully reveals the unexamined aspects of creating and consuming media in this politically charged age of alternative facts and fake news.” Finster interviewed Grieco about his fascinating, ethically troubling film.
Stephen King has written many successful books. Hollywood has made many terrible movies based on those books. In honor of It, which was actually good, the MEL staff selected the King movies they hate the most. Shade was thrown at Pet Sematary, The Running Man, Dreamcatcher… and The Shawshank Redemption. (Oh, and if you want more specific It content, check out McDermott’s investigation into what professional clowns think of the movie.)
18. Strong Island
Filmmaker Yance Ford’s despairing Strong Island grapples with the still-unsolved 1992 murder of her brother William. Finster interviewed Ford, who talked about the experience of learning how each of her family members’ impressions of William was different: “My mom, my sister and my brother’s friends each intersected with William at different points in time, so each brought an understanding of who William was to the table.”
17. The Force
Documentary filmmaker Peter Nicks spent two years embedded in the Oakland Police Department, chronicling a scandalized institution that was trying to rebuild its image. The result was The Force. I spoke to Nicks about Black Lives Matter, toxic masculinity and how difficult it was for him, as a mixed-race filmmaker, to reconcile the police department’s racism with its sincere attempts at reform.
16. The Big Sick
At Sundance, I got to see Kumail Nanjiani’s very charming, autobiographical romantic comedy about a Chicago stand-up (played by Nanjiani) who meets cute with Emily (Zoe Kazan) — only to have cultural divides threaten their relationship. Oh, and there’s also the coma she slips into about halfway through the film. At the time, I wrote that The Big Sick flipped the familiar meet-the-parents storyline on its head, forcing Kumail to spend some anxious days and nights with his girlfriend’s parents (played beautifully by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) as they try to decide what to do about Emily. The movie was a feel-good sensation at the festival and ended up being one of the summer’s biggest indie hits.
French filmmaker Julia Ducournau’s feature debut was a gripping psychological horror movie about a young vegetarian (Garance Marillier) who inexplicably gets a craving for human flesh. At the 2016 Toronto Film Festival, Raw caused a couple audience members to faint, putting the movie in a select class of pop-culture properties to inspire strong physical reactions. That inspired me to talk to two different psychologists about what’s going on internally that causes us to vomit, pass out or even have a heart attack because of a movie we’re watching.
14. Rachel Getting Married
Beloved director Jonathan Demme died in April at the age of 73. In his honor, I recommended a movie of his that wasn’t his Oscar-winning The Silence of the Lambs. If you haven’t seen Rachel Getting Married, you really should.
13. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The latest Star Wars movie is a nice reminder of how critical Mark Hamill has been to the world’s love affair with this franchise. I wrote about Hamill’s connection to Star Wars — and the challenges he’s faced escaping Luke Skywalker’s shadow.
Jerry Seinfeld put out a Netflix stand-up special in September, Jerry Before Seinfeld, which traced his comedy origins. For my money, I’ll stick with Comedian, his terrific 2002 documentary, which followed him as he developed a new set of stand-up material after saying goodbye to Seinfeld. I explained why Comedian remains “one of the great recent documentaries about comedy, writing, struggle and work ethic.”
11. Casting JonBenet
JonBenet Ramsey was murdered around Christmas 1996. Who was behind her killing? People still speculate, which inspired director Kitty Green to make Casting JonBenet, a documentary that consists of interviews with people auditioning for a Ramsey biopic. But Green is less interested in the crime than in these individuals’ theories — and why they’re still obsessed with this crime decades later. I interviewed Green about her fascinating, troubling and surprisingly moving film. “I went to film school, and I love the control you have in fiction filmmaking,” she told me. “But the thing that’s so powerful about documentary is how raw, real and heartbreaking it can be — and how emotional and human it is.”
10. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond
In 1999, Jim Carrey was at the height of his celebrity when he starred in a movie about his hero Andy Kaufman. The resulting film, Man on the Moon, was a commercial disappointment, but it might contain his finest, most revealing performance. A new documentary, Jim & Andy, interviews Carrey about the experience. I found the movie to be as fascinating as the one that inspired it — for a lot of the same reasons.
9. Marjorie Prime
What if in the future your loved ones who died could be cloned? They’d just be holograms that you could talk to whenever you want. Would that be a dream come true or a nightmare? These are the questions at the heart of Marjorie Prime, which stars Jon Hamm as a replica of the dead husband that Marjorie (Lois Smith) dearly misses. But as I wrote when the movie opened in August, there’s something deeply sinister and self-centered about the movie’s premise: “We don’t want to connect with the departed — we just want them to keep saying they love us.”
8. Brad’s Status
Does anyone need to see another movie about a middle-aged white guy going through an identity crisis? You do if it’s Brad’s Status, a remarkably nuanced and self-critical dramedy that starred Ben Stiller as a neurotic, competitive father who spends time with his college-bound son. Rather than bonding, though, he just goes down the rabbit hole of his own insecurities. “What’s important to keep in mind is that Brad’s Status never bothers convincing us that Brad is justified in his low self-esteem,” I wrote in September. “One of the movie’s strokes of genius is that it’s all told from Brad’s perspective, never allowing us any way to verify how pathetic his life actually is or how amazing everyone else’s is. [Writer-director Mike] White brilliantly taps into the horse-blinders trap that ensnares people once they start going down the self-loathing spiral.”
7. Good Time
An exhilarating, harrowing ride, Good Time takes place over one insane night as a two-bit criminal (played by Robert Pattinson) tries to stay ahead of the law while scheming how to free his brother from jail. It got me thinking about other movies with a similar one-crazy-night premise, inspiring this movie marathon that included After Hours and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.
6. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Over Labor Day weekend, this Steven Spielberg classic was rereleased in theaters, which made me think about Richard Dreyfuss, who was a massive star at the time. “I think I have the finest body of work of any American actor,” he said somewhat recently. “It truly reflects my principles. But I am perceived as someone who has fallen. That I was a big hoo-ha in the 1970s and fell away. I see it as I didn’t want to be top of the top, because none of them leave their homes or have a normal life. I was given the chance to get up there, and I turned it down.” I dug into that assertion for Misleading Men.
5. Get Out
Jordan Peele’s audacious horror film looks like a strong Oscar contender. When it came out in February, I noted that it was merely the latest film that expressed a deeply bitter perspective on White America, as seen through the eyes of a black artist. “With its references to Black Lives Matter, [Get Out] continually challenges its white audience to understand how everyday life — not some fantastical weirdo like Freddy Krueger — can be frightening enough,” I wrote. Some have described the movie as a comedy; Peele has made clear that he doesn’t see anything funny about his film.
4. The Work
Who’s ready for a good cry? In the documentary The Work, director Jairus McLeary takes us inside a unique Folsom Prison group-therapy program in which prisoners and civilians talk through their problems together. Although the film was shot in 2009, The Work couldn’t be timelier in its depiction of how men struggle to express their emotions and confront their worst tendencies. “You can’t open your laptop and look at the news without seeing men being embroiled in bad conduct and dishonesty and using their power to take advantage of people,” McLeary told me. “Unfortunately, I think the timing is perfect, because every time we go to one of these screenings, this is already in the air in the conversation. … Dudes need to work together to raise their level of awareness about their behavior. And if these guys can do it inside a prison — in one of the harshest environments — I don’t think men out here have any excuse.”
3. A Ghost Story
A married man dies in a car crash. His heartbroken wife grieves for him. Little does she know that he’s still in their house, silently and invisibly watching over her. That’s the premise of the syrupy Ghost, but it was also the plot of this year’s terrific A Ghost Story, which starred Casey Affleck as the man and Rooney Mara as the woman. I wrote about the film’s devastating conceit: Our lives are just tiny specks in the grand sweep of the cosmos, so we’d better savor our time on Earth as best we can.
2. Toy Story
Pixar’s first triumph remains a beloved film more than 20 years after its release, inspiring all types of devotion and weird arguments. McDermott looked into one of the great mysteries of Toy Story: Is Andy’s dad dead or what?
The year’s best movie — visionary and thrilling — is just the latest installment in one of Hollywood’s most popular genres: the World War II film. I took a deep dive into the movies that best define the genre, charting how the World War II movie has evolved over the years, speaking to what was going on politically in America but also what was happening in the film industry at the time. This was one of my favorite pieces I researched in 2017 — fitting that it’s in honor of a film that blew me away. (For more Dunkirk, take a peek at McDermott’s smack down of Christopher Nolan fans who try to mansplain how best to watch the film.)