When writing about movies, I often use the term “cinematic.” Movies are obviously cinematic, but sometimes a film takes an idea or a moment and pushes it to the fore. It can capitalize on the experience of the film, or transcend the film entirely where it becomes the thing audiences rave about. I live for these moments. 2017 was chock full of them and I’ve handpicked ten that entertained and enraptured me. This may or may not be an indicator of what will end up on my upcoming best film list. While I am still busy catching up on the movies I’ve missed, here are my favorite movie moments of 2017.
Director Steven Soderbergh hasn’t missed a step since coming back from retirement (though let’s be honest, he didn’t really go anywhere). Logan Lucky tells the charmingly odd story of the cursed and downtrodden Logan family. The siblings try their hand at a new cash flow alternative by robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway, enlisting the help of convicted safecracker Joe Bang (a refreshing change of pace for Daniel Craig). The job requires a ruse at the prison, providing a distraction from Bang’s escape, and the convicts stage a riot by holding the staff hostage until the warden agrees to, and I’m not making this up, add copies of the last 2 Game of Thrones novels, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring to the prison library (Dwight Yoakam does an extended bit explaining how George R.R. Martin fell behind on his writing schedule). Pop culture references are basically throwaway, but Soderbergh takes advantage of a cultural obsession and turns it into a flat-out hilarious punchline of a scene. Logan Lucky is a cinematic treat and this scene was the cherries on top.
Many will reference the opening sewer scene (warranted, given how unnerving it is), but for me the best scene comes about halfway through. The Losers welcome Mike, the final member of the group, their narratives merging for an uproarious moment when they unite to face the town’s bullies (we don’t need a dialogue of Mike’s acceptance in the group; they all share the same tormentors). It’s a scene that parallels exactly how they’ll take down Pennywise. The proverbial underdog status of the Losers already points to their inevitable triumph, yet director Andy Muschietti eschews a bit of fun here. Because finding the courage to stand up to a torrential bully is just plain metal. Finn Wolfhard screaming “Rock war!” already had me hollering, but him taking one to the face as Anthrax’s “Antisocial” came roaring, I was a goner. IT is a special kind of horror movie and this moment is a gem.
Car chase movies aren’t nearly as colorful or kinetic as Baby Driver. The self-serious Fast & Furious movies admittedly have taken the fun out of the subgenre. Edgar Wright’s full-fledged American feature injects the kind of verve and mayhem that other films have traded in for overblown CG-hysteria. Baby Driver is the technical cure and answer. Right away, Edgar Wright pokes fun at the seriousness of “the heist.” Each character in the opening sequence sports shades, emitting plenty of existential cool. And right when the seriousness threatens to pour over, Baby breaks out into a charmingly exuberant dance in car. Wright seems to relish these tropes and delights in conveying the spirit of his title character within the confines of the genre. “Bellbottoms” is tailor-made for this kind of joyriding extravaganza. After the 2-minute build and Baby pulls an epic reverse 180 – a shot so expertly executed I nearly got whiplash – I was hooked. Baby Driver is the La La Land of car chase movies and the opening heist best exemplifies Wright’s genre ambitions.
I suppose this is cheating considering the film uses this song twice, but every time Led Zepplin came blasting through the speakers, I got giddy. Director Taiki Waititi uses the bumbling rhythms of a classic and its appropriately-themed lyrics to lend both context and atmosphere to a supercharged moment. Ragnarok gets to do it twice, once in the opener, and second in the film’s climactic battle (where we finally bear witness to Thor in all is thunderous glory), nonetheless providing a suitably epic backdrop for a superhero who has finally realized his cinematic potential. Waititi gets away with plenty in Ragnarok, but the fact that he gets to use Zepplin’s track as a bookend is pure genius: The hammer of the gods/We’ll drive our ships to new lands/To fight the horde, and sing and cry/Valhalla, I am coming. Damn straight.
Get Out has some pretty remarkable close-ups, from Katherine Keener to Daniel Kaluuya to Lakeith Stanfield, but Betty Gabriel’s is uniquely unsettling. Chris retreats to Rose’s room after a barrage of passive racism, his camera essentially a tool and shield to observe this behavior (as cameras often are in so many police brutality cases). Camera down and alone, Chris is vulnerable in more ways than one. Georgina appears out of nowhere to apologize for accidentally unplugging his phone. Her mannerisms and choice of language in the scene are exceedingly bizarre. Peele zooms in on the strangeness of the scenario, putting his camera too close for comfort and at a keen low angle for Gabriel’s expressions to take on a movie monster-sized horror. Her lone tear plus the slight creak of her head as she repeatedly says no is completely and utterly disturbing. It’s gonna be tough erasing this image from memory and for that, Jordan Peele, I thank you.
- Last Jedi – Throne Room
Last Jedi accomplishes plenty long before the lightsabers dazzle us. Writer-director Rian Johnson is aware of our giddy anticipation and exercises surprising restraint. The Throne Room is where it all goes down. It deceptively resembles the climactic fight in Return of the Jedi while echoing the big reveal of Empire Strikes Back (Last Jedi ventures across the thematic terrain of the original trilogy). Like Rey, we go in believing Kylo will be redeemed. The ensuing showdown is an opera of Shakespearean twists and turns. It is Kylo who kills Snoke. We assume he’s turned to the light and his team-up with Rey as they fend off hordes of Praetorian guards is spectacularly-staged. Yet, Rian Johnson pulls a double blind as Kylo then assumes the mantle of Supreme Leader. He, too, believes Rey will turn and cites her unimportant parentage as reason to join him when instead it reinforces the greatness she’s discovered within (whereas Kylo’s potential was inherited through lineage). Destinies, in the end, are fulfilled. The Throne Room is a symphony of orchestrated chaos, one that subverts and satisfies our expectations. It doesn’t just sizzle, it sings.
No other film set a tone right off the bat like Logan. We find Logan passed out in his car – aged, rotting, long past his glory days. His car’s being jacked and Logan can’t even intimidate the robbers (his claws don’t come out the same either). We know what Wolverine would do: he’d say, “You picked the wrong car, bub,” all before an efficient takedown. That’s exactly the point of this opener. This is not a reintroduction for Wolverine, but an introduction to Logan. It’s a three-minute scene, the violence happening for a staggering 20-seconds, but those 20-seconds are brutal. If the X-Men films glorified Wolverine’s body count, Logan does the opposite. Violence has devastating consequences (the skirmish essentially puts Logan on Donald Pierce’s radar). And as the violence increases in magnitude, so do the consequences. It’s almost too bittersweet, finally getting the R-rated Wolverine we’ve been clamoring for, yet it being the final outing for the character. Director James Mangold, thankfully, saved the best for last.
For a cold movie about androids, Blade Runner 2049 is overwhelmingly emotional. Officer K, a replicant, is in love. Though it’s complicated because his girlfriend is a hologram named Joi. You’d be mistaken because he treats her as if she were otherwise “real.” This reveal threatens to derail any potential for a genuine romance (the implication alone is discomforting). But like Spike Jonze’s Her, the romance that unfolds is uniquely spellbinding. Joi may be programmed to satisfy the emotional requirements of companionship, but it’s not reciprocation she desires; it’s a validation of her existence. She yearns to be a real girl. She, after all, can only go so far as her console bandwidth will allow. With an emanator (an anniversary gift from K), Joi is free to roam beyond their apartment, her affection for K expanding along with it. Even more complicating, is it love or is it programming? “Wanna go for a ride?” K asks – words never before exchanged between them. It’s this precise moment when Joi accompanies K even when she’s not needed that demonstrates what she means to him. Replicants are bioengineered vessels perceived as otherwise empty, yet K and Joi desire each other’s company like the rest of us. Hans Zimmer’s ethereal score punctuates this achingly magnetic moment.
Christopher Nolan loves immersing the viewer and his latest is an experience to behold. He traps us on that beach, confines us below decks, jams us in a cockpit. It’s the immersion of an RAF pilot that struck me the most. Farrier (played by yet another masked Tom Hardy) carries onward despite it being a one-way trip, though we are constantly left to wonder whether he’ll make it to Dunkirk in time. Never before has a fuel gauge given me anxiety. He makes it, but we know very well he’s doomed to be captured. Yet, Nolan finds triumph in the kind of subdued heroics of a character like Farrier, one of many unnamed heroes in times of war and worth celebrating all the same. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema captures the landing beautifully, a gorgeous moment further emphasized by Hans Zimmer’s chill-inducing score once again. The Spitfire burning would otherwise be a cynical end result given Farrier’s fate, but through Nolan it’s a catharsis felt every which way.
No other moment in film this past year is so powerfully symbolic. An astounding showstopper of a scene, Rupert Gregson-Williams’ momentous score evokes Wonder Woman’s reveal with sheer emotional impact (you can almost feel the superhero genre shifting on its axis). A great moment, of course, is only as good as its buildup. The entire time Steve Trevor and his crew tell Diana no, that she can’t, she shouldn’t. They cut her down despite knowing what she’s capable of (because if men can’t do it, a woman surely can’t). Toxic masculinity – a villain she cannot physically fight. Diana may be a super-strong, but one of her defining traits is something all women have – the ability to endure (her superpower, then, is to absorb and deflect). She endures. Over and over again, Diana endures, and it’s her steadfastness that triumphs over the mouth-breathing and the mansplaining. If your theater wasn’t anywhere near this level of hype then you seriously missed out. Cinematic moments such as this one have to be earned and let me tell you, Wonder Woman fucking earned it.