Sunday, March 4, 2018

OSCAR 2018 - Pre-Show Thoughts & Predictions & Rants


 OSCARS 2018 Thoughts and Predictions:

2017 was a bad year ... but it was one of the best years for movies in recent memory - arguably the best overall since 2007. So I'll preface my Oscar predictions for this year by saying ... don't get mad. We all have our favorites, but there really are no unworthy movies this year. I feel like, every year, a lot of narratives form about certain Oscar-nominated movies that are supposedly trash, and certain movies that, well, if they *don't* win, we should all be out on the street rioting. And yeah, there have been past years where I've felt that way about the nominees. But I assure you ... this is not one of those years. In fact, the Oscar slate is jam-packed with highly-deserving people and movies - including numerous nominees whose time is long overdue. So again, please, don't succumb to the hype and the melodrama. And let's also not forget that, ultimately, the Oscars only minimally matter. Most of our favorite, stand-the-test-of-time films never won or were never nominated - and years later, no one cares. Horror movies have almost *never* been nominated for Oscars. Or comedies, outside the occasional Woody Allen film and a couple of other exceptions. Great films with non-flashy direction rarely get the Best Director nom, and Best Screenplay is often the consolation prize for some of the year's best but more low-key films. A lot of times it doesn't make sense, but it is what it is. It's great to see progress made. It's great to see more women and people of color nominated. It's great to see a film like Get Out recognized - which is almost unfathomable for a horror/comedy (it would have been downright shocking were similar fare - something like a Shawn of the Dead - to have been nominated in years' past). I would love to see even more diversity going forward - both in terms of the people nominated and in terms of the kinds of films that get the spotlight. And the fact is - even in 2018 - many very deserving movies were snubbed in the Best Picture race, from The Big Sick to The Florida Project to Logan. But let's also acknowledge that all of this year's Best Picture nominees are GREAT films. So let's check our rage, and just use this time to be appreciative of amazing movies.

But hey ... speaking of movies that got ignored ... here are my Top 10 OSCAR SNUBS for this year:

1.) The Florida Project - Best Picture, Best Director (Sean Baker), Best Supporting Actor (Brooklynn Prince)

-This was my pick for the best movie of 2017, and it 100% should have been a Best Picture nominee. And Sean Baker - its visionary director - should 100% have been nominated for the amazing feat he pulled off with this film. If you haven't seen it, go watch it.

2.) The Big Sick - Best Picture

- Why wasn't The Big Sick nominated for Best Picture? Was it because it's ostensibly a comedy? Was it because its director and star (Michael Showalter and Kumail Nanjiani) are still too "indie" for the Oscars? Was it because that one "indie" slot went to Ladybird and Greta Gerwig this year? Who knows. But The Big Sick was easily one of the cinematic treasures of 2017.

3.) War For the Planet of the Apes - Best Picture, Best Actor (Andy Serkis)

- Talk about underrated. The modern Apes trilogy should rank among the all-time great epic movie franchises - with its third and final entry arguably its best yet. But still, no love for the film, its remarkable star Andy Serkis, or its director Matt Reeves. It had damn well better win for FX!

4.) Best Leading Actress - Vicky Krieps for Phantom Thread

- Phantom Thread got a lot of nominations, but somehow its co-MVP was overlooked, in the form of the remarkable Vicky Krieps. Krieps wasn't even on most people's radars prior to this film, but man, she is phenomenal in it - going toe to sadistic toe with Daniel Day Lewis and nearly stealing the film. 

5.) Best Supporting Actor - Patrick Stewart for Logan

- Patrick Stewart, is, probably, too good for the Oscars. A global treasure who we all collectively take for granted, Stewart was never quite given the award-worthy material in previous X-Men films - but man oh man was he thanks to Logan's Oscar-nominated screenplay. 

6.) Best Supporting Actor - Michael Shannon for The Shape of Water

- Sally Hawkins is the undeniable star of The Shape of Water, but what about Michael Shannon? Yeah, he's basically just doing Michael Shannon turned up to eleven, but still - he goes all-in here and creates one of the greatest, most vile movie villains in years. Rarely have I been as on the edge of my seat waiting for a bad-guy to get his just desserts. 

7.) The Beguiled - Best Director (Sophia Coppola), Best Lead Actress (Nicole Kidman), Best Supporting Actress (Kirsten Dunst)

- Didn't this movie win Best Director at Cannes? So why was it totally off the radar come Oscar season? Coppola crafted one of the year's most darkly funny and entertaining films - and it's also a movie filled with fantastic, wildly funny performances.

8.) Best Director - Edgar Wright (Baby Driver)

- Are we yet living in an era when a guy like Edgar Wright - a master purveyor of pop-art action - can get his Oscar due? Probably not quite yet - but hey, this year fellow eccentric genre maestro Guillermo Del Toro is a favorite, so perhaps Wright's time is nigh. But man, watch Baby Driver - with its kick-ass action, incredible cinematic "rhythm", and unforgettable moments - and tell me it's not at least in the conversation about Best-Directed movie of 2017.

9.) Best Screenplay - I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore

- Okay, perhaps this small-budget Netflix original has little chance of Oscar love. But also ... it was one of the most clever, interesting, and well-written movies I saw in 2017. The always-fantastic Melanie Lynskey was great, but I feel like Macon Blair's twisty, hilarious, shocking screenplay was award-worthy.

10.) Best Actor - Harry Dean Stanton (Lucky)

- And now I save the best for last. The legendary Harry Dean by-god Stanton. His final movie role. One of his best-ever movie roles. AND NO NOMINATION?! Come on, Oscar people. Lucky will go down in cinematic legend as one of the best swan-song movies ever - a funny, elegiac slice-of-life film about a 90-something year old's final days. Harry Dean was truly one of a kind - and between Lucky and his role in last year's Twin Peaks revival he went out with one hell of a bang. The consummate character actor should have gotten his due at this year's Oscars.


2018 OSCAR PICKS AND PREDICTIONS:

BEST PICTURE:

Should Win: Dunkirk

- Christopher Nolan is one of our best filmmakers, and Dunkirk is one of his most impressive achievements to date. This one floored me when I saw it in 70MM at the theater. It took a while to fully understand how the film's intersecting timelines would come together - but Nolan weaves his stories together beautifully - telling a harrowing, edge-of-your-seat story about how victory or defeat, life or death itself, can be a matter of seconds. I absolutely loved several of this year's Best Picture nominees - Shape of Water, Ladybird, Phantom Thread, Three Billboards - but Dunkirk is best-in-class in my view. Pure cinema at its finest.

Will Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

- This one is VERY tough to call. There's no 100% clear favorite this year, and like I said, several more-than-worthy nominees. But I think Three Billboards might edge out the competition. And personally, I'm a big fan of the film so I won't necessarily begrudge it if it does. I'll state here that I think the controversy around its message is overblown. I think I'm typically pretty sensitive towards this kind of thing, and I also get the underlying concern about this film's handling of race. But I also think that some of that (not all, but at least some) is due to misinterpreting the film's ending as somehow being redemptive for Sam Rockwell's racist character. Martin McDonagh has said that that was not his intention, and it was not at all how I read the film. I saw it as a false sense of redemption - as a misguided, profoundly disturbed character flailing to find some sense of righteousness to justify his clearly wrongheaded actions. In any case, I honestly hope that, if Three Billboards does win Oscars, the backlash will not be too rage-filled. It's a movie with a lot of interesting ideas, some incredible performances, and layers that demand it be discussed on a deeper level than a simple tweet can manage.

BEST ACTOR:

Should Win: Tie: Daniel Day Lewis (Phantom Thread) / Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)

-After seeing Darkest Hour, I was convinced that Oldman had this one locked up. But then I saw Phantom Thread, and was like yeah ... Daniel Day Lewis tho. Oldman is one of the greatest actors of the last four decades (questionable politics aside), and he delivers an all-time great performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. He's unrecognizable under heavy makeup, but gives a totally transformative, stirring portrayal. Day Lewis, meanwhile, just destroys in Phantom Thread, saying more with an eyebrow raise or brow furrow than most actors do with an entire monologue. I mean, the guy is the G.O.A.T. - and this is one of his best-ever performances (and it supposedly might be his last!). So yeah, I'm torn.

Will Win:Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)

-This is another tough one, in that I could see things swinging towards Daniel Day Lewis per above. But Darkest Hour is also the much more accessible film of the two, with Phantom Thread a lot weirder and likely more divisive. So despite some of his questionable public behavior/comments, Oldman is likely still the favorite.

BEST ACTRESS:

Should Win: Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water)

- I am pretty torn on this one between Hawkins, McDormand for Three Billboards, and Ronan for Ladybird. BUT ... Hawkins gets the slight edge from me just because, man, she is so so good in Shape of Water and gets to play such a unique, one-of-a-kind part - the kind of part that only a Guillermo Del Toro would bring to this sort of movie. Hawkins has been a favorite of mine for a while now, but the humanity, warmth, humor, and nuance she brings to Shape of Water is career-defining. McDormand and Ronan kill it in their films, but in both cases it's a flavor of acting/character that we've seen from them before. 

Will Win: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards)

- I predict McDormand if only because she's a legend, and this is her most thunderous, memorable role since Fargo. And I cannot begrudge her for getting her well-earned due - she is a force of friggin' nature in Three Billboards.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Should and Will Win: Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)

- I feel like the entire main cast of The Florida Project should have been nominated, but if nothing else, Dafoe deserves to win here. I mean, if you've seen the film, then you know that there might have been no more memorable movie scene in 2017 than Dafoe's good-natured motel manager forcefully chasing away a probable child-molester from his property. It's crazy that in a career made on playing crazy people, Dafoe might win an Oscar for playing an exceedingly normal and level-headed person. But man, does he nail this one. Sam Rockwell might win, and is maybe the favorite. But I want to believe that Dafoe will take this one - of the nominees, his turn in The Florida Project is just on another level

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

Should and Will Win: Laurie Metcalf (Ladybird)

-I recognize that Alison Janney might win. And she was amazing and hilarious in I, Tonya. But ... I still give a slight edge to Laurie Metcalf in Ladybird. She played the mom role with such heart and with and humor and subtlety - what could have been a very one-dimensional part was instead completely memorable and heartbreaking. She and Tracy Letts were such a fantastic one-two punch. I think Metcalf should take it, and think that, just maybe, she will.

BEST DIRECTOR:

Should Win: TIE: Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk) / Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water)

- I could write paragraphs and paragraphs about both of these guys - they're two of my cinematic heroes and two of the best directors working today. Nolan delivered a stunner with Dunkirk - it's a towering directorial achievement that no one else could have made. It's sense of you-are-there intensity and scale is unmatched. Nolan has somehow remained mostly off the Oscar's radar, despite delivering some of the greatest films of the last two decades - from Memento to The Dark Knight to Inception to The Prestige. I mean, holy lord, it's about damn time Oscar. By the same token, Del Toro - a guy who's made numerous gorgeous, atmosphere-soaked films, made perhaps his most visually-stunning film yet in Shape of Water - and it's also likely his most heart-filled film to date. I am of the opinion that many of Del Toro's films have been Oscar-worthy - from Pan's Labyrinth to Crimson Peak - but I'll also state that The Shape of Water is his best film yet. It also doesn't hurt that Del Toro is pretty much the nicest, funniest guy ever and him winning will feel like a win for every nerdy film fan who's ever dreamed of monsters and magic. So yeah, I will be one happy film geek if he wins.

Will Win: Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water)

- It feels like this is Guillermo Del Toro's year. I'm not sure why the stars have aligned that way - it feels totally improbable when you think about how long Del Toro's been essentially ignored by not only the Oscars - but by most mainstream film fans in general. But hey, like I said above, I'm all for this recognition. Del Toro is a legit cinematic hero and inspiration. I might get just slightly misty-eyed if he wins.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

Should and Will Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

- This one is divisive, I get it. And there were at least a dozen screenplays from 2017 that I legit loved - from Ladybird to Get Out to The Shape of Water to The Big Sick. But in my opinion, Martin McDonagh set the bar with Three Billboards. No, this isn't how people actually talk. But it is music. The words in this film have a rhythm and a music to them that I loved. In the same tradition of some of my favorite film writers - i.e. the Coen Bros. - this is writing for the sake of writing, the love of how words flow together and interlock and dance. It's poetic and elevated. It's an amazing piece of writing - a kind that is not in vogue with many people right now but a kind I'd love to see more of. I can only say that I loved listening to McDonagh's words in this film.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

Should Win: Logan

- I would have had a much different selection of nominees here than what we got. But of the nominees, Logan was the one that most knocked my socks off. I mean, yeah, it's a Wolverine movie - and some people are not going to give it its props for that reason alone. But Logan is one of the best superhero movies ever - and one of the most well-written and well-constructed. So many of these movies feel somehow incomplete or cobbled together. Not Logan - it was a one-and-done story that delivered true dramatic heft, and arguably improved heavily on its source material.

Will Win: Call Me By Your Name

- I think this one will take it - it's the most Oscar-y of this year's nominees, and will be a token win for a very good film that likely won't get a lot of other wins this year.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:

Should and Will Win: Coco

- Coco was a classic - one of Pixar's best-ever films and a movie that genuinely packed an emotional punch. The other animated big-studio films are not in its league this year, and I don't know if the more indie nominees from 2017 have much momentum. But I don't think many will find fault with a Coco win - it's a case in point example as to why Pixar is still one of the most revered makers of movies we have.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:

Should and Will Win: War For the Planet of the Apes

- Okay, here's my one category in 2018 where I have an "if Apes doesn't win, we riot" mentality. I mean, this film almost entirely starred CGI apes, and yet I cared about Caesar and his brood more intensely than I did about most human characters this past year. Sure, Blade Runner looked cool, Star Wars was Star Wars, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 gave us awesome Kirby-esque cosmic craziness. But the Apes franchise - and in particular War - gave us true visual f/x movie magic on a scale that to date is unmatched. Hail Caesar!

BEST FILM EDITING:

- Should and Will Win: Dunkirk

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:

- Should and Will Win: Dunkirk

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN:

- Should and Will Win: The Shape of Water

BEST ANIMATED FILM SHORT:

- Should Win: ?
- Will Win: Garden Party

BEST DOCUMENTARY:

- Should Win: unfortunately, have not seen enough in this category this year to have a fully-formed opinion
- Will Win: Icarus

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT:

- Should Win: ?
- Will Win: Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT:

- Should Win: ?
- Will Win: The Silent Child

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

- Should Win: The Square
- Will Win: Fantastic Woman

BEST COSTUME DESIGN:

- Should and Will Win: The Shape of Water

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING:

- Should and Will Win: Darkest Hour

BEST SOUND MIXING:

- Should and Will Win: Dunkirk

BEST SOUND EDITING:

- Should and Will Win: Dunkirk

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:

- Should and Will Win: The Shape of Water

BEST ORIGINAL SONG:

Should and Will Win: “This Is Me,” The Greatest Showman

Alright, there it is. This is a very tough Oscars to predict, and like I said, there are a ridiculous number of very deserving nominees this year. In my younger days, I would get pretty upset about the nominees - and yeah, the various snubs still annoy me. But hey, let's just celebrate great films - and the differences of opinions we have about them. And if your favorite movie wasn't nominated or doesn't win - you can still be an evangelist for it. Tell your friends to watch it. Invite people over for a viewing. That, ultimately - and not the Oscars - is how films become legendary.

Friday, December 29, 2017

THE BEST OF 2017 - The Best MOVIES Of The Year

Image result for the florida project movie

THE YEAR IN MOVIES - 2017

- 2017 was one of the best years for movies in a long time - maybe the best overall since 2007. And thank god, because this was a year in which we really, really needed great films. We needed them to help us reflect on and make sense of the world around us. We needed them to escape. We needed them to get inspired, to get motivated. And we needed them to remind us that there can still be great art that gives us hope, even in occasionally hopeless-seeming times. 


Some of the best movies of the year were not just great movies, but urgent and hyper-relevant commentaries on the world we live in today. Films like The Florida Project, The Big Sick, and Get Out held up a mirror to our present-day reality. These films shed light on sometimes harsh truths - exposing an America that struggles with poverty, racism, and bigotry. But these films weren't just preaching at us - they wove complex themes into incredibly well-realized narratives, and they did so with humor, horror, and heart. At the same time, films like The Post, Darkest Hour, and Mudbound used history to reflect back on today - showing us times in the recent past where politicians, leaders, and ordinary people faced similar challenges as we do today. They warned us of the dangers of repeating history, and inspired us that change is possible - that the arc of time bends towards justice, or so we hope. And then there were the big, epic, blockbusters - some of the best ever. War For the Planet of the Apes concluded one of the best trilogies in modern cinematic history with an action-packed, at times heart-wrenching finale filled with biblical overtones. Logan was one of the best superhero movies ever, period. A dark, intense, brutal odyssey that finally gave us the Wolverine movie we've always wanted. Wonder Woman finally brought some much-needed light to the DC cinematic universe - reminding us why Wonder Woman is an icon that's lasted 75 years and counting, and inspiring women, girls, and really, all of us to aspire to the never-give-up ideals of Diana of Themyscara. Finally, there was Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Like Wonder Woman, it felt like a movie that we needed in 2017 - a surprisingly layered and complex re-tweaking of the Star Wars mythology for a new era. No longer was Star Wars the story of a single, messianic "chosen one." Rian Johnson wisely molded the saga into a story about how The Force is in all of us - about how each of us must channel that Force to rise up and resist. As I think about how these blockbusters collectively - sometimes overtly, sometimes less so - told the story of 2017, I keep coming back to the ending sequence of The Florida Project - probably the most powerful moment of any movie this year. No spoilers, but the sequence, to me, was all about how fantasy can lift us up out of ruts, gives us hope even when there is none, gives us a dream to aspire to.  

Like I said ... thank god for the movies. 

DANNY'S BEST MOVIES OF 2017:

1.) The Florida Project

- I'm not sure how to talk about The Florida Project, except to say that no other 2017 movie left me as breathless, as floored, as moved as this one did. Director Sean Baker crafts a film that feels like a documentary, but he knowingly subverts the film's aesthetics at key moments in ways that surprise and exhilarate. The film tells the story of a young mother and her precocious daughter who live on the outskirts of Disney World in Florida. They are part of a sort of tribe of impoverished, barely-scraping-by people who live off the local tourism trade - always living in the shadow of the just-out-of-reach theme park wonderland that fuels their well-being. Willem Dafoe, in an amazing turn, plays the owner of one of the area's gaudily-colored motels, who takes in and cares for the various vagrants who nomadically wander from block to block, each day worrying about where they'll spend the night. The Florida Project is a quintessentially American story, and one that particularly resonated in 2017. It's about the juxtaposition of artifice with reality, of poverty with middle class consumerism, of hopelessness with hope. Kid actor Brooklynn Prince is amazing in this film - hilarious and scary and sad and tragic all at once. Bria Vinaite who plays her mother is similarly amazing - this doesn't even feel like acting, it feels like we're peering in on a real person's life. Sean Baker accomplishes something remarkable with this film.


2.) Dunkirk

- Dunkirk is disorienting at first. It's hard to wrap your brain around the film's various timelines, events, and characters. And the movie's breakneck pace and constant you-are-there intensity doesn't help. But by the time the credits roll, it's clear that we were in good hands all along. Christopher Nolan weaves together the various threads of the film brilliantly, and when all is said and done what we're left with is an absolute marvel of immersive, visceral, unforgettable filmmaking. This is Nolan re-asserting that he's one of the most talented directors on the planet. In Dunkirk, he puts you in the heat of battle - you'll feel like you've been through hell by movie's end, and feel all the better for it. Because Dunkirk is intense-as-hell, sure - but it also puts you squarely in the middle of one of history's most remarkable battles - in which the under-siege British forces escape annihilation by the skin of their teeth (and thanks to the last-minute aide of a legion of civilians who helped to evacuate soldiers). Seen in glorious 70MM IMAX, Dunkirk was an unparalleled movie-watching experience.


3.) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

-Writer/Director Martin McDonagh has a way with words that few others working in film can match. His third film, Three Billboards, is not just a pleasure to watch, but a pleasure to listen to. Every word its characters utter feels deliberate and carefully chosen. And McDonagh uses his skill as a playwright to make this film into something truly special - a smart, witty, darkly comedic look at small-town America and the struggles of people who have been hurt, been screwed, been forgotten. It's a film about their anger and their pain, but also about their grit and determination and persistence. Frances McDormand absolutely kills in this one, in an all-timer performance. And she's surrounded by an all-star cast doing their best work - led by a great Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson, supported by the likes of Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Clarke Peters, and more. This one floored me.


4.) The Shape of Water

- How can one not love Guillermo Del Toro? The man bleeds passion for film. He's a walking encyclopedia - an expert on fantasy, folklore, myths, and monsters. And he makes movies that radiate that passion - his films, always, are lovingly crafted, visually rich, and rife with imagination. I always look forward to a new Del Toro movie - but the man has truly outdone himself with The Shape of Water - a film I'd dare say might be his best movie yet. It's got his trademark visual splendor, but it's also got a huge heart - it's a monstrous love story in the classic horror tradition, but also a story that's uniquely Del Toro. Sally Hawkins is phenomenal here. Michael Shannon plays the year's best movie villain. And Doug Jones (not the politician) is his usual awesomeness as the mysterious sea creature at the center of the film's plot. Absolutely loved this film.


5.) The Big Sick

- Kumail Nanjiani is one of those people whose career I've followed to the point where he almost seems like a personal friend. I became a fan of his years ago via the podcast he and his wife used to record weekly - The Indoor Kids. Each week, Kumail and Emily Gordon talked video games, movies, TV, and pop-culture. They were the cool, hilarious friends that everyone wants to have - the ideal couple who everyone aspires to be like. But in listening to the podcast, you'd get bits and pieces of their backstory and realize that their story had its share of heartache and challenge. And that story was amazingly, wonderfully told in The Big Sick. The movie is slice-of-life, but it's a slice that everyone, everywhere, can relate to in some way. It deals with complicated issues like religion and intolerance with hilarity and nuance and self-aware humor. It gives its characters humanity and depth, but isn't afraid to show their flaws, or to show them at their worst. It's super funny and it's a great comedy, but it's also one of the most important films of 2017.


6.) Lady Bird

- It's about time that Greta Gerwig got her due. Not only is Gerwig a fantastic actress, but she's helped create some of the best indie comedies of the last several years - having written Frances Ha and Mistress America. Now she's outdone herself with the amazingly realized, brilliantly written Lady Bird - which Gerwig also directed. Lady Bird is one of those great small movies that tackles the big issues. It's a coming-of-age story that's one of the best films in recent memory about finding one's place in the world while temporarily trapped by the expectations of where you were born and what you were born into. Saoirse Ronan - who's quietly been one of the best actresses of the last few years - does maybe her best ever work here. She brings humor and a boatload of depth to the titular character.


7.) Phantom Thread

-We know that director Paul Thomas Anderson and actor Daniel Day-Lewis make for a potent combo - their previous collaboration, There Will Be Blood, still stands as one of the great films of the last twenty years. And their latest (and supposedly Day-Lewis' swan song - let's hope not!) does not disappoint. Phantom Thread is a gorgeously-directed, impeccably acted gothic romance/thriller that is, in a word, mesmerizing. It's a movie that's best to go in cold, so I won't say too much about the plot. But I will say that Daniel Day-Lewis crafts another iconic character - and he's so good here that it's next-level. And I will say that leading lady Vicky Krieps is equally astounding - giving us a character who surprises us with her hidden layers. This is just such a spellbinding, intense, unpredictable film. You're never quite sure where it's going - but you know that you're in good hands with PTA at the helm.


8.) Logan

- Logan doesn't quite fit into any broader narrative about the films of 2017, so perhaps that's why it feels like it's not being praised quite as much as it should be. But the fact remains: Logan is pretty incredible - a gritty, badass, brutal symphony of violence that ranks as one of the greatest superhero films ever made. The funny thing is, until this year, I never actually loved Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. But Jackman has now aged into the role, and he's aged even further in Logan, playing a grizzled version of Wolverine that easily trumps every previous cinematic incarnation. This, finally, is the character done right. This is not just Jackman's best performance as Logan, but maybe his best performance ever. The film gives Patrick Stewart his best showcase to date in the X-films as well. And what can be said about Dafne Keen - the young actress who kicks ass seven ways to Sunday as the berzerker-in-training X-23. Director James Mangold really outdoes himself as well. In a year that saw several excellent comic book movies, Logan reigns supreme.

9.) War For The Planet of the Apes

- In a perfect world, the Apes films would be perennial Oscar favorites and star Andy Serkis would have a closet full of trophies for his genius portrayal of Caesar, king of the apes. And so too would these modern Planet of the Apes films be heralded as the new classics that they are. In any case, War made for an epic finale to the trilogy - as good of an ending and as profound of a conclusion as anyone could have hoped for. Director Matthew Reeves really needs to be commended for what he did with these last two Apes films - they look incredible, both in terms of overall aesthetics and in terms of the way in which Caesar and his simian ilk are brought to life. Credit to Serkis for being the master of mo-cap acting. And credit to Woody Harrelson (between this and Three Billboards he had a hell of a year), for being a great final villain in Caesar's saga. What I love about this series is that it takes big narrative swings. This one isn't playing franchise paint-by-numbers - it's making art. So for the last time: hail, Caesar!


10.) Star Wars: The Last Jedi

- It's always difficult to know how to rank big franchise blockbusters like Star Wars. By their nature, these kinds of movies tend to be imperfect beasts - forced to be more than just movies, they've also got to tie up loose ends from previous films, set the stage for subsequent chapters, and please corporate overlords who have their own particular agendas. But that makes what Rian Johnson accomplished here all the more impressive. Rather than just give us the obvious next chapter following JJ Abrams' The Force Awakens, Johnson recognized the need to shake things up. JJ painted the franchise into several hard-to-escape narrative corners, and Johnson saw that and decided to make necessity the mother of invention. With humor, wit, and infinite cleverness, Johnson coalesced the scattered, only-hinted-at thematic threads of The Force Awakens into a retooled and refocused film - and in doing so he reshaped the entire Star Wars saga. He doubled down on the idea that Rey comes from nothing, yet has within her the power to be something special. He expanded on that theme, to show that The Force is not just for a select few that are chosen, but for anyone willing to tap into their own latent potential. The Force can and will be strong in those ready to fight the good fight, to rebel, to resist. And so, The Last Jedi arrived as the most thematically rich and deeply textured Star Wars film to date. At the same time, it gave us enough genuine holy-$&%& moments that stand among the year's best cinematic geek-outs. The Last Jedi didn't just give us a Luke Skywalker cameo for a bit of nostalgia - it gave us a whole new Luke Skywalker story, with a complete arc of failure and redemption. And gave us Luke's epic final battle that was not at all what I expected yet more than I could have hoped for. It raised the stakes of the Rey / Kylo Ren rivalry, giving it a surprisingly charged and personal dynamic. It gave a fitting send-off for Carrie Fisher, whose Leia got to have the last word, and in so doing bid farewell to the old guard and welcomed the next generation. The Last Jedi was not just a repetition of familiar Star Wars tropes, but the introduction of a whole new vocabulary to the franchise. And that made it one of the year's most exciting, riveting, and yes - thought-provoking! - films. 


 

JUST MISSED THE CUT:


11.)  Ingrid Goes West

- A pitch-black social satire, Ingrid Goes West looks long and hard at our obsession with social media and shows us the consequences of going too far down the online rabbit hole. Audrey Plaza is fantastic in this one as an unhinged stalker - and man, what a year it's been for her (she also killed it weekly on Legion). O'Shea Jackson Jr. also kills it as Plaza's smitten accomplice. This one flew under a lot of people's radars, so check it asap if you've yet to watch it.


12.) IT

- It was such a perfectly-executed, insanely fun horror film. The movie felt more like quintessential Stephen King than any other King adaptation ever. The kid actors were all fantastic, Bill Skarsgard was iconic as Pennywise the Clown, and director Andy Muschietti 100% nailed it - giving the film equal measures of horror and adventure - and giving IT some of the most audience-pleasing, applause-worthy moments of any movie this year. Bring on Part 2. 


13.) Baby Driver

- Edgar Wright gave us the coolest action movie of the year in Baby Driver - a breakneck, amped-up, kinetic movie that also had the year's best soundtrack. Wright has long been a master at delivering genre-bending, high-concept, pop-culture savvy films - but he outdoes himself here. He gets out of his comfort zone and gives us some of the best car chases ever put to film, a unique protagonist in Baby, and a memorable cadre of villains led by Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx - in their best movie roles in years.


14.) Coco

- Pixar stumbled earlier in the year with the meandering Cars 3 - but man, what a rebound in the form of Coco - a masterful animated film that will make even the most hardened of hearts leave the theater with a tear in their eye. Coco is a visual stunner, bringing Day of the Dead aesthetics to colorful, eye-popping life. It's also a moving story about death and legacy that pulls very few punches in the name of being kid-friendly. And it's exactly that kind of sophistication and respect for an audience's emotional intelligence that tends to make Pixar films a cut above. Coco is one of their best. 


15.) The Post

- The Post is a movie that I can imagine being used as a teaching tool in classrooms for years to come. And I mean that in the best way possible. Steven Spielberg's latest is just that vital - an urgent reminder about a democracy's need for a free press that holds all institutions, including our own government, accountable for its actions. Spielberg directs this one with soaring aplomb - and he's aided by a triumphant John Williams score, a crackling screenplay, and awards-worthy turns from Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. Americans and people around the world need to see this movie, and need to heed its lessons.


THE NEXT BEST:

16.) I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore

- Blue Ruin star Macon Blair makes his writing and directorial debut with this Netflix original film, and the result is one of the year's best and most badass (and darkly funny) movies. Melanie Lynskey is fantastic as an ordinary women driven to take extreme measures when her home is robbed, and Elijah Wood is hilarious as her would-be sidekick.


17.) Get Out

- What a brilliant directorial debut from Jordan Peele. As a longtime Key and Peele fan, I was primed and ready for Peele's first film - but the end result far exceeded my expectations. Get Out is an instant-classic horror-comedy that is one of the sharpest, funniest, scariest, and most spot-on social commentaries on race that I've ever seen on film. Aside from that, it's just a flat-out great horror movie. Can't wait to see what Peele does next. 


18.) I, Tonya

-  A darkly funny, in-your-face roundhouse kick of a movie, this one hits hard from the outset and never lets up. Director Craig Gillespie, he of Lars and the Real Girl fame, gives us a tragicomic look at disgraced figure skater and tabloid news punching bag Tonya Harding - and makes us empathize with this woman who lived a hard-knock life and fell from grace just as she was nearing the top of the mountain. It's a cautionary tale that will stick with you, and Margot Robbie is fantastic in the lead role.

19.) Lucky

- Lucky is, sadly, the final role for the late great Harry Dean Stanton. But man, what a showcase for the consummate character actor and his unique and inimitable presence. Harry Dean looks every bit his 90 years in the film, but then again, he was never the embodiment of youthfulness. But it was his sunken eyes, craggy face, and cantankerous attitude that made Harry Dean such a beloved, iconic actor - and Lucky is a fitting swan-song. It's a sad, funny, moving look at one man coming to terms with his own mortality. It's a great hang-out movie, a thought-provoking film with a lot of big ideas, and a story that will leave you with a smile on your face and a tear in your eye. RIP Harry Dean.


20.) Darkest Hour

-Gary Oldman - unrecognizable under layers of prosthetics - delivers an acting masterclass in Joe Wright's stirring drama. Wright gives a sense of epic theatricality and gravitas to this fascinating look at Winston Churchill's tumultuous early days as Prime Minister - during which he was faced with the choice of a truce with Nazi Germany or continued hostility in a war they might very well lose. It's a thrilling history lesson and a wonderful character study. It's also a rousing call to action - at a moment when our President calls Nazis "very fine people," Darkest Hour is a reminder of a time when a Prime Minister had to rally a country to fight against the evils of Nazism, despite of the high cost to do so.


21.) Colossal

- Director Nacho Vigalondo is one to keep an eye on. With Colossal, he's crafted a unique film that's one part giant monster movie, one part dark comedy, and one part character study about a women struggling not to fall off the wagon. Anne Hathaway surprised me in this one - she's fantastic, playing against type as a down-on-her-luck everywoman trying to overcome her demons. Such an interesting, original film. We need more like this.


22.) Brawl In Cell Block 99

- Pure badassery, plain and simple. I was a huge fan of writer/director S. Craig Zahler's previous film, the horror-western mash-up Bone Tomahawk. But he matches that movie's awesomeness with Brawl - another pulpy, slow-burn grindhouse flick that feels like it's channeling the nihilistic spirit of John Carpenter. And who knew that Vince Vaughn could be so good at playing a badass hero? He destroys here - in my opinion it's his best role ever. This movie is just so brutal and shocking. It's got some stuff that will leave even the most jaded action fan's jaw on the floor.


23.) Logan Lucky

- Here was one of the year's more underrated films - a frequently hilarious heist film from Steven Soderbergh that, to me, hit higher highs than the director's more celebrated Oceans movies. I loved Logan Lucky because it had great, endlessly quotable dialogue, some of the year's most laugh-out-loud moments (that Game of Thrones joke ... amazing!), a top-notch cast (Channing Tatum doing best-ever work), and unexpected levels of heart.


24.) Okja

- Let's face it, it's going to be tough for director Bong Joon-Ho to ever top the out and out insanity that was Snowpiercer. But he comes close with Okja, his Netflix original film (one of many great ones in 2017) that again combined high-concept sci-fi with dark humor, frantic action, and inspired lunacy to make for a fairly unforgettable film. No one else makes movies quite like Bong Joon Ho, and I hope we get many more of them.


25.) mother!

- Darren Aronofsky's latest was probably the year's most divisive film - and to be honest, I'm still not 100% sure how I feel about it. Part of me wonders if it has a point. Part of me wonders if it crosses the line into pretentiousness. But part of me also acknowledges that of all the movies I saw in 2017, mother! stuck with me more so than most, and found its way into my dreams and nightmares. This is a profoundly disturbing, uniquely unnerving film that had me on the edge of my seat for its entire running time. I don't know what it all means - and it might very well mean nothing! - but man, watching this one was an experience. Aronofsky remains one our most interesting, risk-taking filmmakers.


MORE GREAT FILMS OF 2017:

26.) Wonder Woman

- Powerful and inspiring, Wonder Woman gave new life to the DC cinematic universe and was a legit star-making turn for Gal Gadot. The already-legendary "No Man's Land" sequence is, I think, among the best moments yet out on film in any superhero movie.


27.) Thor: Ragnarok

- A complete blast from start to finish, Thor: Ragnarok paid loving homage to the cosmic acid-trip aesthetic of the late great Jack Kirby, while also staying true to director Taika Waititi's uniquely quirky sense of humor. One of the best, most fun Marvel movies to date. Definitely the funniest.

28.) The Disaster Artist

- Oh, hai! The Room has fascinated me for many years now, and so too has its iconoclastic and enigmatic creator Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau is parodied to hilarious effect in James Franco's look at his life and his most famous creation. But the film is also an at-times poignant look at how legit creative spark can make even the most misguided art have value. It's also a cautionary tale about hitching your wagon to the wrong person. Most of all though, it's a celebration of one of the all-time best worst movies.


29.) Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

All hail James Gunn, and the sense of fun, imagination, and subversive humor he brings to Marvel's infectiously entertaining cosmic odyssey franchise. Vol. 2 upped the ante with cooler visuals, memorable new characters, and Kurt freaking Russell as Peter Quill's mysterious long-lost dad. I had a blast with this one.

30.) The Beguiled

- Sophia Coppola directs the hell out of this new take on the classic Clint Eastwood film. I loved her darkly funny take on the material, and firmly believe that this one is deserving of more big-awards love than it's getting. I mean, the entire cast is fantastic, with Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning killing it as the movie's warring "vengeful bitches," and Colin Farrell in top form as their object of desire-slash-vengeance. 


31.) John Wick: Chapter Two

- While it didn't wow me quite as much as Part 1, the second John Wick movie still delivered some of the year's most kick-ass action. And the world of John Wick is still cool, slick, and full of ruthless assassins eager to make their next kill. Keanu is so great in these films too - I wouldn't mind of this series just continues ad infinitum.


32.) Brigsby Bear

- This is a quirky, oddball gem of a film - a wonderfully weird movie from SNL's Kyle Kinane. It's about a guy kidnapped at birth and raised in isolation in a bunker, whose oddly endearing kidnappers (hello, Mark Hamill!) force him to watch a kids' TV show called Brigsby Bear, which ... okay, nevermind, I'm not going to explain the whole plot. Just trust me on this one - it's well worth a watch, and it's an amazing, oddly affecting ode to the creative spirit and the way in which our favorite stories can shape our lives.

33.) Alien: Covenant

- And here is my pick for the year's most unfairly-criticized film. I'm not sure why critics were so harsh on Ridley Scott's latest Alien installment. To me, it was a vast improvement over Prometheus - matching that movie's awe-inspiring visuals while giving us a much tighter script that focused on character-driven moments rather than go-nowhere mystery boxes. Scott gave the movie some great action and some memorable horror beats. And Michael Fassbender owned, doing double duty as identical androids David and Walter. Here's hoping we get one more film to close out the franchise.

34.) Blade Runner 2049

- Yet another highly divisive 2017 movie. The original Blade Runner is one of my favorite films of all time, so I was highly excited yet highly nervous for this thirty-five-years-in-the-making sequel. In many ways, BR2049 was a stunner. It was maybe the year's most visually impressive movie - with eye-popping direction from Denis Villeneuve, and jaw-dropping cinematography from the legendary Roger Deakins. The movie had so many cool moments and interesting ideas. It had a great central performance from Ryan Gosling, and a motivated Harrison Ford, back as Deckard, bringing his A-game. That said, I did feel disappointed by just how self-serious the movie was. Ridley Scott relishes sci-fi pulp (think of Rutger Hauer's insanely over-the-top, eminently quotable villain in the original), whereas Villeneuve deals primarily in dour, somber, humorless tonality. I wanted a movie that had dialogue to match the original's "tears in rain" soliloquy. And I didn't quite get that. But what we did get is one of the most interesting and discussion-provoking sci-fi films in a long while. We'll be talking about this movie and debating its merits for a long time to come.

35.) Mudbound

- This Netflix original was directed by Dee Rees, who impressed me a few years back with her debut film Pariah. This one is a big change for her - while Pariah was focused and personal, Mudbound is a sprawling, years-spanning epic that tells the story of two families and how their relationship embodies the racial struggles and conflicts of post-WWII America. It's a movie filled with great performances and layered characters. It's not subtle and can get a bit melodramatic at times, but the film at its best is powerful, affecting, and tells a story that's sadly felt all too relevant in 2017.


36.) Roman J. Israel, Esq.

- Many critics panned this one, but I really dug the latest from Nightcrawler director Dan Gilroy. Based on the marketing, I expected a traditional feel-good film about an unlikely success story. But what I got was a super-dark neo-noir about a man who trades in his ideals to achieve success, only to find that it can all just as quickly come crashing down. Denzel Washington is terrific here - he's over-the-top, sure, but so is the movie as a whole. It's a heightened morality tale. I really dug it.

37.) It Comes At Night

- 2017 didn't have quite as many great indie horror films as the previous couple of years, but one real standout was It Comes At Night - a post-apocalyptic paranoid thriller that's just a great genre exercise in tension and creepy atmosphere. Joel Edgerton leads a strong cast, and the film keeps you guessing right up until the end. If you dig a horror movie with a great premise, be sure to seek this one out.

38.) The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

- Noah Baumbach's latest is yet another standout Netflix original that launched on the streaming service in 2017. I've long been a fan of Baumbach, but I'll admit that my favorite movies of his have been his collaborations with Greta Gerwig. Obviously Gerwig had a breakout year with the success of Lady Bird, but Baumbach's new film was no slouch either. The Meyerowitz Stories is a funny, affecting tale of a fractured family coming together again after their father falls ill. It's got some great acting - Dustin Hoffman is particularly great as the family patriarch, and Adam Sandler turns in his best acting in many years.

39.) The Foreigner

- This is one of those movies that, while not a new classic or anything, is exactly what the doctor ordered if you're in the mood for an old-fashioned action/thriller with an extra helping of badassery. Basically, this is Jackie Chan's Taken, with the added bonus of an ultra-hammy Pierce Brosnan as the main antagonist. The movie has Chan play a very meek-seeming dude who looks over-the-hill and by no means superheroic - which makes it all the more exciting when Chan does finally get to kick ass and show glimpses of the legendary martial arts wunderkind of old. It's all done in a supremely fun and satisfying way. This is the year's best "watch it on a rainy Sunday afternoon" sort of movie.

40.) Happy Death Day

- I wanted to include Happy Death Day somewhere on my list because, for me, it was one of the year's most pleasant surprises. I went in with minimal expectations, and left with a big ol' dumb smile plastered across my face. Because, as it turns out, Happy Death Day is a ridiculously fun, deceptively clever, slyly subversive horror-comedy that's legitimately funny and that actually makes great use of its Groundhog Day-meets-Scream premise. A great audience movie, I can see this one being a midnight movie favorite for a long time to come.

HONORABLE MENTIONS - OTHER HIGHLY RECOMMENDED MOVIES FROM THIS YEAR:


Battle of the Sexes
Gerald's Game
1922
Atomic Blonde

Raw
All The Money In the World

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage
Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Power Rangers
The Little Hours
The LEGO Batman Movie
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
The Fate of the Furious
American Made
I Do ... Until I Don't
Murder on the Orient Express
Split
The Great Wall

INDIVIDUAL 2017 AWARDS:

BEST LEAD ACTOR:

1.) Daniel Day-Lewis - Phantom Thread
2.) Gary Oldman - Darkest Hour
3.) Kumail Nanjiani - The Big Sick
4.) Hugh Jackman - Logan
5.) Harry Dean Stanton - Lucky

BEST LEADING ACTRESS:

1.) Sally Hawkins - The Shape of Water

2.) Frances McDormand - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
3.) Saoirse Ronan - Lady Bird
4.) Vicky Krieps[ - Phantom Thread
5.) TIE: Bria Vinaite - The Florida Project, Margot Robbie - I, Tonya

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

1.) Willem Dafoe - The Florida Project
2.) Sam Rockwell - 
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
3.) Mark Rylance - Dunkirk
4.) Patrick Stewart - Logan
5.) Michael Shannon - The Shape of Water

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

1.) Laurie Metcalf - Lady Bird
2.) Helen Hunt - The Big Sick
3.) Nicole Kidman - The Beguiled
4.) Kirsten Dunst - The Beguiled
5.) Alison Janney - I, Tonya

BEST DIRECTOR:

1.) Sean Baker - The Florida Project
2.) Christopher Nolan - Dunkirk
3.) Guillermo Del Toro - The Shape of Water
4.) Paul Thomas Anderson - Phantom Thread

5.) Edgar Wright - Baby Driver

BEST SCREENPLAY:

1.) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
2.) Lady Bird
3.) The Big Sick
4.) The Florida Project
5.) The Shape of Water
6.) Get Out
7.) Darkest Hour
8.) I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore
9.) The Post
10.) Ingrid Goes West

  
And there you have it. It was fun writing about movies a long break. Hopefully you discover some new films from this list, and hopefully there are many more great films to come in 2018.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

THE BEST OF 2017 - The Best GAMES Of The Year


THE BEST GAMES OF 2017:

- This was an amazing year for games, any way you slice it. There were a multitude of great, instant-classic games this year - games that were not just high quality, but games that actively got me excited about the medium as a whole. And I get that, on one hand, there is reason to be cynical about the direction the industry is headed in. This year felt like the culmination of a growing trend that, increasingly, saw too many games become bloated "experiences" that were overly complicated, overly long, artificially sprawling, and, worst of all, became about offering paid "service" to players in the form of obnoxious microtransactions. This came to a head with the Star Wars Battlefront II debacle, in which major publisher EA was forced - due to a vocal backlash - to remove planned microtransactions from its (very high profile) game at the last minute. And yeah, that sort of thing gives reason to be cynical. And yet ...

... for every example of a game that represented the worst in terms of where the industry is going, there were many more that represented gaming at its best. There was exciting new IP, like Sony's seminal Horizon Zero Dawn. There was a continued surge of interesting, innovative indie games - games that pioneered new ways of interactive storytelling, that paid homage to the classics, that provided the sort of simple and classic gameplay that is often missing from the bigger budget titles. And then there was Nintendo and the runaway success of The Switch. Now, I've been cynical about Nintendo for many years now. I turned away from Nintendo consoles as a teenager, when Sony won me over with its 3D-capable Playstation, which stole away key third party franchises like Final Fantasy, Street Fighter, Castlevania, and Metal Gear. I never owned an N64, a Gamecube, a Wii, or a Wii U. But I bought a Switch - my first non-DS Nintendo console since the Super Nintendo. What changed? Well, partially it's me being older and having the ability to own multiple consoles should I choose to. But more so, I'd boil it down to four things:

a.) The Switch gave us multiple AAA titles - a new Mario and a new Zelda - in year one of release. That's unheard of. Sure, Nintendo console owners could usually count on a Mario and Zelda over a couple year span. But both right out of the gate? That's hard to resist. 

b.) All the good Indie games are coming to Switch. The rise in indie gaming is Nintendo's stealth secret weapon this go-round. While the underpowered Switch is still going to be a red-headed step-child when it comes to Day 1, high-quality ports of AAA titles - indie titles are another story. You can already get some of the best recent indie games on Switch - Stardew Valley, Rocket League, Steamworld Dig, etc. And with Switch, you can play them on the go - a huge bonus.

c.) More big games are coming from Nintendo. Nintendo's first-party output slowed to a crawl with the Wii U. But the Switch already has Mario and Zelda, which now frees up Nintendo to pump out the kinds of games they should have been making all along. We know a new Metroid is on the way. And that may just be the tip of the iceberg. 

d.) Portability. This Thanksgiving, I took the same Mario and Zelda games I'd started playing at home on my TV, and continued playing them on my flights back east. That's pretty awesome.

Now, if I had to choose one console and one console only, I'd still go with Playstation - no question. The Sony line-up of first and third party games is just too good and too plentiful to pass up (plus Sony still has the best controller!). 2017 saw huge Sony exclusives like Horizon and Uncharted: Lost Legacy - and in 2018 you've got Spider-Man, God of War, and beyond that The Last of Us 2. But competition is good - gaming always takes a nosedive when any one company's got a monopoly. Alas for poor Microsoft, their well seems to have mostly run dry this year. My sole regret about not owning an XBOX One is my inability to play Cuphead - so here's hoping that 2018 brings a PS4 port. 

I'll also mention that my actual favorite game I played in 2017 may have been a game that first released a few years ago, but that I finally caught up on in recent months. That game was LIFE IS STRANGE, and it sort of blew me away. As someone who loves great stories in any and all media, Life Is Strange wowed me in that it felt like one of the best examples of interactive storytelling I've yet seen. It told a story that felt wholly original, with a unique vibe and tone that mixed teen angst with time-travel sci-fi to deliver something that, to me, was one of the best and most involving serialized stories of the last few years, period. Working in entertainment, I always hear people unfamilar with the games industry talk up some new piece of tech as being the next big thing. And I always shake my head, because it's ALWAYS about the content, not the tech. The tech is just the delivery mechanism, but it's nothing without great content. And while it's easy to get caught up in buzzwords and next-big-things, games like Life Is Strange reaffirm that what's really game-changing is simply a game that delivers a great new experience - be that an innovative play mechanic, a fully-realized new world to explore, or just a good, old-fashioned, really well-told story. 

With that said ... it's going to be fascinating to follow where the industry goes in 2018. A lot of companies have a strong investment in seeing VR still succeed ... but it's still very unclear what possible killer app is going to finally push VR into the mainstream. I'm sure there are great minds at Sony, Occulus, and Facebook working on it as we speak ... but no doubt VR is a tough nut to crack. In terms of the ongoing console war, we know a lot about Sony's 2018 slate, but not as much about Nintendo or Microsoft. What is clear though is that Nintendo is back, and is going to likely be a sales juggernaut through 2018. How will third-parties react? TBD. 

Without a doubt, I felt more invested in games and more excited about games this year than I have in a long while. And a lot of it was due to the titles below.


DANNY'S BEST GAMES OF THE YEAR:

1.) Super Mario Odyssey


- As a kid, there was nothing more exciting to me than a new Mario game. The series was, after all, the gold standard of videogames. I still remember the feeling of waking up one early morning to find my new Super Nintendo all set up with Super Mario World ready to play, to explore, to discover. But it's been many a year since I've played a new Mario game. I was out of the Nintendo loop. I'd moved on to less primary-colored pastures. But man, playing through Super Mario Odyssey has been some of the most fun I've had with any game in quite some time. Odyssey has its share of nostalgic moments, but it also presents an all-new primary gameplay mechanic, in the form of Mario's sentient hat, Cappy, who can be tossed at any enemy either as a combat technique or as a means to possess them and utilize each enemy's unique abilities. It's simple, but as implemented, it's sheer genius. Odyssey is just filled with delightful moments, with fun challenges, and tons of stuff to discover. It's also, by coincidence, the perfect antidote to all the overstuffed open world games out there - this is just pure gameplay - all killer, no filler.  

2.) Horizon Zero Dawn 

- Whether one prefers Horizon or Zelda is a matter of individual taste, but I give Sony's big new franchise the slight edge. Both games are phenomenal, but Horizon wins in my book because it does a couple of things better than Zelda. One is story - Horizon's got a top-notch, uber-intriguing narrative that slowly reveals itself as you play - brought to life by fantastic voice acting (Ashly Burch, who I became a fan of via Life Is Strange, voices main character Aloy). The characters are cool, there's a kick-ass female lead in Aloy, and the world is unique and looks amazing. Which brings me to point two - absolutely killer graphics. Horizon is, arguably, the best looking game ever made, and that's not nothing. This is a game that will cause you to just stop and stare at the awe-inspiring visuals that bleed out from the screen. Finally, this game controls like a dream - you can run and jump like you're in Uncharted, but there's also finely-tuned combat with a strong element of strategy. Going into this one, I was skeptical about yet another massive open-world behemoth. But Horizon really raises the bar. 

3.) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

- And then there's Zelda. Breath of the Wild is very clearly Nintendo doing its take on the Skyrim-style open-world RPG. But what Nintendo does so well is distill down the mechanics to their essence, simplifying things and guiding the player through action rather than endless text or tutorials. Zelda is also Zelda, so of course there's all kinds of amazingly-designed puzzles. And Zelda being Zelda, the overall production value is top notch - the game looks phenomenal despite the limitations of the Switch - the art direction is fantastic, the character animation is gorgeous, and the world is impeccably designed and rife for exploration. Another new classic from Nintendo for the Switch. 

4.) Nier: Automata

- Japanese games continued to make a comeback in 2017, and Nier: Automata was case in point. This Playstation-exclusive action/RPG, from enigmatic game designer Yoko Taro and the Platinum Games studio, is a concentrated burst of hyper-stylized weirdness. It combines the frantic action of a Devil May Cry or Bayonetta with sprawling open-world levels, RPG elements, and an out-there sci-fi anime story about a dead universe now populated solely by robots. And, oh yeah, the camera and gameplay style will flip on a dime, suddenly shifting gear into an overhead scrolling shooter or a 2D platformer. This game is flat-out insane. It's bursting with creativity and strange ideas, but it's got a rock-solid action core. 

5.) Injustice 2


- The first Injustice was a very pleasant surprise, especially for a major DC Comics fanboy like myself. Not only did it have extremely fun fighting mechanics, but the single-player story mode told an incredibly-epic superhero story that tops anything seen recently in DC movies or TV shows. Luckily, the sequel kept the momentum going. The story mode was again excellent. But even better, the gameplay felt much more finely-tuned and balanced, with tighter control and more intuitive special moves. The traditionalist in me still very much disapproves of how reliant on DLC this and other fighting games now are, but that aside, Injustice 2 was a real winner.

6.) Tekken 7

- Meanwhile, Tekken 7 helped make 2017 an awesome year for fighters (now featured on televised ESPN e-sports competitions - this is big business now!). I've always loved the Tekken games, and had been jonesing for a PS4 iteration. Tekken 7 did not disappoint. While the core Tekken gameplay remains relatively intact, the addition of Injustice-style super moves changed things up just a bit. But where this game really wowed me was with its huge character lineup, with a mix of old favorites and a plethora of fun (oftentimes fairly insane) newly-added characters. The best Tekken game yet.

7.) Uncharted: Lost Legacy

- Uncharted is perhaps my favorite current videogame franchise - but I'll admit that recent entries, while great, have felt a bit bloated and overlong at times. Enter Lost Legacy, a streamlined, budget-priced Uncharted spin-off that pound for pound, is as good as any game in the series to date. It simply cuts out a lot of the fat and focuses on quicker chapters and a more fast-moving storyline. I approve. It's also cool to see the focus shift to two leading ladies - Chloe and Nadine. While their in-game banter is not quite up to Nathan Drake levels, it's cool to have a new story and character dynamic at play. And developer Naughty Dog doesn't rest on their laurels when it comes to gameplay, either - while there are many segments that feel like old hat to the Uncharted faithful, there are some interesting new mechanics introduced as well. A worthy entry in the series, and a new direction that I wouldn't mind seeing more of - for this series and others.

8.)  Resident Evil 7

- As a longtime Resident Evil fan, I was reluctant to see it go first-person. But Resident Evil 7 succeeds by shifting the series' focus back to horror, after recent entries had gone too far into all-out action territory. Yes, I'll always prefer third-person, but I'll also give RE props for getting back to survival horror basics. The game is creepy af. And while it gives a new spin to the series, it still feels like Resident Evil at its core.

9.) Thimbleweed Park 

- Thanks to developers like Telltale, the last several years have seen a full-on revival of the graphic adventure genre. But now, the OG masterminds behind games like Monkey Island have returned to show everyone else how it's done. Thimbleweed Park is a classic point-and-click adventure, with the trademark sense of quirky, self-aware humor found in the old Lucasarts PC classics. It's got a great story, and is the perfect game to get on the Switch to play on the go.

10.) Steamworld Dig 2 

- Another big trend of the last few years has been the indie-space revival of the "Metroidvania" genre that was popularized in the 16 and 32-bit eras (by, as the name implies, the Metroid and Castlevania series). We've seen new games take classic 2D gameplay into the next generation. One of the best examples of this Metroidvania new-wave yet comes in the form of Steamworld Dig 2 - a game filled with clever mechanics (you can essentially dig your own path through the various levels) and eye-popping art and animation. Another indie game perfect for the Switch and it's ever-handy portability.