When everything bubbled over at the end of 2016, countless people tried to find comfort in the idea that some of the best art in decades would blossom from the destruction that was (is) our political climate in America. There’s a lot to unpack from the escapism in that platitude, but at the end of the day, 2017 really did bring it when it comes to movies that inspire. Yes, I understand how movies are made, and that most of these films already had scripts well before shit started hitting the fan, but the injustices we’ve seen brought to the forefront in 2017 aren’t new. They’re just a lot more obvious than they were before.
Not everything that made my top ten is from the inspirational well. Some of it’s just plain fun, because it turns out that’s important too when everything seems to be going to hell. Since I’m more of the Pop Culture girl ‘round these parts, you’ll find that my list might be a little less nuanced than some of the rest of the gang, but you can check out the rest of the teams' lists here.
Blade of the Immortal (w. Tetsuya Oishi d. Takashi Miike)
Takashi Miike’s 100th film would have been a lot higher up on this list if it weren’t so damn long. It’s two and a half hour runtime aside, what a fun ride! The plot revolves around Manji, an immortal samurai who reluctantly agrees to help a young girl (Rin) avenge her family. Manji gets stabbed a whole hell of a lot for a samurai who’s been around for ages, but in his quest to honor his dead sister’s memory and help Rin, the grumpy samurai finds his heart again. Yes that sentence is grossly trite, and is also one hundred percent true. Watch the movie! Blade of the Immortal is filled with exceptional action and a ton of snarky humor. Give it a shot if you have a three hour block to spare.
Crisis on Earth-X
Crisis on Earth-X is very clearly not a film, but this is my list and I make the rules. If you’re unfamiliar with DCTV’s annual crossover event, it takes all the shows from their universe (Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow) and throws a big-ass crossover party right before midseason finales hit. That’s almost four hours of television, and I’m here to tell you that this year’s event was infinitely better than anything Justice League could ever hope to be. Unlike film, scripts for television aren’t written years in advance, and this year’s event really was written with today's America in mind.
In it, the DCTV heroes have to take on their Nazi counterparts in order to save their world, and help the resistance on Earth-X take their planet back after decades of Nazi rule. The story focuses heavily on its Jewish and gay protagonists, taking time to illustrate what all of this means for them, and what they have to lose. It’s even got a sprinkling of white privilege (that does get called out in a later episode), and the little dashes of humor we’ve come to expect from the Arrowverse. Turns out watching your favorite superheroes beat the shit out of Nazis is deeply cathartic, and I highly recommend it even if you don’t’ watch the shows regularly. Full reviews of the crossover event are here.
The Last Jedi (w. Rian Johnson d. Same dude)
“This is how we win. Not by fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love,” is a line that will stick with me forever. It’s such a simple idea. One that all of us should know in the back of our minds, but that’s easily forgotten when it feels like you’re fighting a losing battle. The Last Jedi takes the time to teach so many lessons, whether it be that even the strongest of us lose hope sometimes, or that even our heroes can by misogynistic twits, or cowards that run to deserted islands when the Resistance needs them more than ever. There’s been a lot of lost hope and increased bitterness over the past year, but pop culture, for all of its flaws, has a way of reminding us of certain things when we need it most. The Last Jedi is a powerful reminder of hope and perseverance when we need all of the reminders that we can get.
Kong: Skull Island (w. Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein d. Jordan Vogt-Roberts)
Monster movies have always been my jam, and Kong: Skull Island sings that song in the most perfect of ways. It takes the King Kong story out of New York and puts us in his territory while playing with a group of humans you find yourself genuinely caring for. As with most monster movies, the overarching plot plays with the hubris of man and his willingness to invade and conquer whatever he finds. Skull Island also takes the time to capture some beautiful moments both in cinematography and plot. There are a few genuinely stunning frames in the film that play with bright colors and ridiculous monsters, and takes the time to illustrate that when the chips are down, even the fiercest of enemies can become allies and even friends.
xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (w. Rich Wilkes and F. Scott Frazier d. D.J. Caruso)
When I got my screening invite to this film, I thought my eyes were going to pop out of my head I rolled them so hard. The first two were supremely not my thing and play with a lot of themes that other “spy” movies do while somehow managing to make them more annoying from a feminist lens. So, you can imagine my surprise when I walked out absolutely loving this pile of hot nonsense. Donnie Yen steals the show, Deepika Padukone and Ruby Rose absolutely slay, and there is a dude whose superpower is that he’s a DJ and he distracts people. There’s another whose sole purpose is to crash into things. The Return of Xander Cage is ridiculous in all of the best ways possible. More messes like this in 2018!
IT (w. Chase Palmer and Cary Fukunaga d. Andy Muschietti)
Despite a deep fear of clowns, It has remained one of my favorite novels throughout my life. I’ve read it twice, once when I was about twelve (yes, the reaction to that scene was about what you’d expect), and again right before the release of Andy Muschietti’s remake. Though it didn’t make me as big a fan of King’s writings as Wampler, it did give me a deep love for these kids and the world King created for them to play in. Tommy Lee Wallace’s old iteration missed the mark for me, but Muschietti’s hit me right in my core.
It’s the bond between these kids that eventually takes the monster down (spoiler alert?), and this version of the story plays into that so heavily. It wasn’t just scary. It was funny, and charming, and uncomfortable in all of the right ways. The story makes you believe in the bond the Losers form in a way that leaves you on the edge of your seat for the second half of the story.
Get Out (w. Jordan Peele d. Same dude)
Jordan Peele's directorial debut was a smash hit in damn near every way it could have been. Watching Get Out was a gift that many of us granted ourselves earlier in the year, but man was watching it as a white woman fascinating (preemptive note that my experience wasn’t more important than anyone else’s). I like to think of myself as a mostly progressive person, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t stick with Rose until the very end. It’s further commentary on us as a species (and, specifically, white folks) that people continued to try to come to her defense well after seeing the film. Get Out is brimming with cultural commentary while still being terrifying and interesting at every level.
John Wick: Chapter Two (w. Derek Kolstad d. Chad Stahelski)
I came into the John Wick game late, but that meant I didn’t have to wait as long between Chapter One and Chapter Two. While the revenge over the puppy was the drive behind my love during the movie, it was the mythos of the universe that held my attention after. Chapter Two delving deeper into that mythos basically made it a shoo-in for this list. The fact that the action somehow managed to step up its game as the plot takes things in a completely new direction for Chapter Three is icing on the cake.
Wonder Woman (w. Allan Heinberg d. Patty Jenkins)
I fully acknowledge that this film is so high up on my list because of bias. I found Wonder Woman to be both messy and wonderful, and that’s part of why I love it. It’s beautiful, strong, and flawed, just like Diana. That may not have been intentional. In fact, it probably wasn’t, but I don’t know that there will ever be a scene that makes me feel the same way No Man’s Land did, so it will always have my adoration.
So many turn their noses up at superheroes and their messages, but these are times when those messages mean the most. A little girl sat in the theater this year and met her hero. She learned that it’s okay to be both fierce and frightened, and that she can acknowledge the darkness of the world while still choosing to save it. Wonder Woman is messy, but so is man. Diana is fictional, but the heroes she helped inspire now and in the future are very real.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (w. Angela Robinson d. Same lady)
"Professor Marston and the Wonder Women may tell a story that took place 75 years ago, but it ties into the present in more ways than one. It’s heartbreaking to acknowledge that women are still fighting for equality and that people in Poly relationships are still shunned in most circles. There’s been progress, sure, but it’s hard to look at fights that have been going on for so long and acknowledge that there’s still so much further to go.” This is a direct excerpt from my review out of Fantastic Fest, and it covers most of what has kept me hung up on this film since September.
William Moulton Marston, Elizabeth Marston, and Olive Byrne faced impossible odds. They may have lost to them in the end, but they still had each other. Marston believed that Olive and Elizabeth combined created the perfect woman. The film illustrates all of the inspiration Marston pulled from them to create Diana Prince so perfectly. Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman didn’t get the love it deserved in theaters, but I encourage you to seek it out now. Angela Robinson told a story that deserves to be told, and is still alarmingly relevant in 2017.