Weirdly enough, Hollywood had a great year pumping out innovative, entertaining and downright rule-breaking mainstream blockbusters (Logan, Baby Driver, Wonder Woman, Thor: Ragnaraok, The Last Jedi). Not that Hollywood proper was without blame when it comes to bad movies.
The newest obsession of movie studios—going beyond the mere movie trilogy to create a movie “universe”—gave us such inane fare as The Mummy. Frankenstein would have been a better starting point for Universal’s “Dark Universe,” since this film resembled nothing so much as a badly stitched-together collection of corporate boardroom suggestions. Tom Cruise’s poorly cast role certainly didn’t leave audiences hungry for Russell Crowe as Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde or Angelina Jolie as the Bride of Frankenstein or Johnny Depp as the Invisible Man (all actually underway) or—I don’t know—Kevin Hart as the Wolfman (just as plausible as any of those, really).
Of course, The Mummy wasn’t the only film riding this year’s franchise chain to nowhere: Guy Ritchie’s ruinously hip King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was supposed to be the first in a proposed six-film series. Don’t hold your breath for the next five. After years of big talk involving multiple movies and a concurrent TV series, we got The Dark Tower, a chintzy looking mashup of random ideas from Stephen King’s popular fantasy series. Fans didn’t get what they wanted and newcomers weren’t welcomed into the series’ complex mythology.
On the other hand, Transformers: The Last Knight, the fifth film in Michael Bay’s “why won’t it go away” series, gave viewers exactly what they expected: robots, explosions and an incomprehensible story. This time around, they threw in Merlin and the Nazis to boot. Not to worry, fans, you’ll get more of the same with Transformers 6 (coming out in 2019) and the spin-off Bumblebee (hitting theaters in 2018).
The Boss Baby was honestly more confusing than the last three independent Swedish films I saw. The animated family film proved quite popular, however, raking in $175 million at the box office. It’s hard to puzzle out what audiences saw, exactly, in this positively bizarre tale of a briefcase-toting baby executive (Alec Baldwin) who gets sent from Heaven, and born of mortal woman, to stop a dastardly plot to make cute puppies more popular than cute babies—resulting in an apocalyptic population crash. Seriously, WTF? At least the sequel isn’t scheduled to arrive until 2021.
While blockbuster Hollywood films were more or less doing their jobs (with a few exceptions, of course), independent films stumbled mightily, delivering a surprising number of worn-out art house clichés. I even found Luca Guadagnino’s lavishly praised Call Me By Your Name about as exciting as staring at wallpaper. It was awfully pretty though, and observably well-
Azazel Jacobs’ The Lovers followed a passionless, entirely unsympathetic married couple (Debra Winger, Tracy Letts) as they cheated on their secret lovers by sleeping with one another again. It was one of many so-called comedy-dramas this year that forgot to include any comedy whatsoever. The dreary Sam Elliot vehicle The Hero, for example, was advertised as funny—but was just another Hollywood fantasy about an elderly asshole (Elliot as a washed-up actor) having an affair with a hot young woman (Laura Prepon). Speaking of which, The Comedian is the exact same film—just sub out Robert De Niro and Leslie Mann in the cast and make the main character a washed-up comedian instead. Paris Can Wait, the first feature from Francis Ford Coppola’s wife, was the very definition of a vanity project. Diane Lane tooled around rural France in a convertible with a lecherous French guy (Arnaud Viand) drinking wine and taking Instagram-worthy photographs of sumptuous meals. This snobby, pseudo-exotic, post-menopausal romance is exactly what you’d expect a wealthy, film-obsessed octogenarian to produce.
Heck, even renowned art house directors turned in some other the worst films of their careers in 2017. Song to Song, Terrence Malick’s exhaustingly awful musical love story, only hastened his continuing erasure from artistic relevance. Yorgos Lanthimos’ willfully obtuse horror thingamajig The Killing of a Sacred Deer made his intriguing earlier films (Dogtooth, The Lobster) seem like flukes. Darren Aronosky’s Mother! was, technically speaking, an interesting piece of cinema. But it’s very concept—a painfully pretentious retelling of the entire Bible—felt like a college faculty cocktail party joke nobody else actually understood.
But the worst of the year had to be David Lowery’s confrontationally boring A Ghost Story. Watching the barely-