Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sunday Best: Catholic Skywalker Awards 2017 - BEST IN MOVIES

With 2017 coming to a close, it is time for us to choose what the best entertainment of the year was.  And just as the Academy Awards have their "Oscars", so too the Catholic Skywalker Awards have their "Kal-El's"

 I have gone through as many movies as possible this year. There were several that I missed and so was unable to place. 

Below are a list of movies that are NOT on this awards page because I had not gotten a chance to see them.

Lady Bird
The Star
The Post
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
All the Money in the World

So of the movies  I've seen this year, here are the winners:

(My appreciation and judgment of a film should not be taken as a recommendation. Choosing to watch any of these films is the reader's responsibility)



This movie came out so early in the year that I expected some other movie in the remaining months to overtake its spot at best movie of the year.

But none ever did.

Everything about this movie is different than what you commonly expect from a movie like this.  Even the title strips away everything away from the character until all you are left with is his barebones identity.

(from my film review of Logan)

There isn't another super hero movie like Logan.

This movie is sober, contemplative, visceral, and heartbreaking in a way I haven't seen in this genre before....

The most important thing to understand about this movie going into it is that it is actually less of a superhero film and more of a classic Western.  Logan is the hard-travelling hero who has lived too long and seen too much killing....

The violence in this movie is more graphic and emotional than any other X-Men film.  As someone who grew up with the comics, this is was how I always imagined Logan cutting loose.  And while it at first as the same vicarious thrill as watching Deadpool or John Wick, after a while the graphicness of the violence gets to you, which I think is part of Mangold's point.  We've reveled in Wolverine's ability to cut his enemies to shreds over the last 17 years.  Now we get to feel what that does to a person's soul.  And yet the action sequences are still enough keep you on the edge of your seat.

One of things I loved most about the film was its depiction of simple, ordinary love.  There is a moment in the movie where our three main characters spend the night with a farmer family.  Mangold fills the scenes around the dinner table with such humor and warmth that part of you wants to leave all of the violence and just settle in.  This family is depicted as faith-filled, hard-working, and trying to get by in life with larger forces arrayed against them...

[It is on this point that I want to spend a little more time.  One of the things that elevates this movie is the focus on the quiet love mentioned above.  The scenes with Logan and Charles are so touching especially upon repeat viewing  because the only thing bonding these men together is the love they have for each other.  And when all is said and done, Logan comes to learn that the only happiness in this world that can be found is through love.  That message does not come off as cheesy or overly sweet.  Instead it is the hard-fought truth underneath all the darkness.]

Logan is powerful and emotional film that has stayed with me in my mind and my heart long after watching it.  When so many movies disappear from our consciousness like smoke, the solid and strong Logan is something to treasure.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Murder on the Orient Express
Justice League
The Greatest Showman

James Mangold - Logan

(from my review of Logan)

  Director James Mangold films the movie with all of grand, deserted landscapes that you would see in a Western: wide-open vistas empty with potential.   There is significant motif regarding the movie Shane and the parallels are clear without feeling too preachy.

Mangold also gives us a story that is filled with tension and dread.  From the moment the main quest begins, a deep and pervasive sense of unease fills the movie.  Unlike most superhero movies, there tends to be excitement with little surprise.  But you get the strong sense from Logan that disaster and tragedy are lurking around every corner and our heroes may not come out on top.

Rian Johnson - Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Zack Snyder - Justice League
Patty Jenkins - Wonder Woman
Christopher Nolan - Dunkirk

Hugh Jackman - Logan

Jackman is something of a revelation in this movie.  After playing this part for 17 years, you would think that he would be on autopilot like Clint Eastwood towards the end of the Dirty Harry franchise.  But Jackman brings not only his best performance as the character and his movie performance to date.

And Jackman makes you feel every painful step of the journey with frustration and fear.  He plays Logan no longer as the hunter but the hunted, scrambling just to stay alive long enough for even his most modest dreams to come true.  We see it in every pained step and in how he wrestles with his internal pain.  Jackman doesn't waste a second of screen time in making us feel everything Logan is going through and desperately wanting him to come out of it all right.  Watching him go from the pits of despair to finding one last moment of pure joy was something I will always remember about his performance.

Andy Serkis - War for the Planet of the Apes
James McCavoy - Split
Kenneth Bragnagh - Murder on the Orient Express
Hugh Jackman - The Greatest Showman

Daisy Ridley - Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

There is a lot of debate regarding the quality of The Last Jedi.  And while I fall on the side of its supporters, that shouldn't take away from my recognition of how wonderful Ridley's performance is.  First of all, we cannot overlook the physicality needed to pull of the role believably.  She shows remarkable control and agility in this regard.

But Rey is still the lynchpin of this new trilogy and the story can only work if we are invested in her journey.  And Ridley does not take a false step in her performance.  She wrestles with bewilderment, frustration, hope, joy, despair, hatred, disappointment, and hope all with great believability.   Some have complained that the character is a Mary Sue, meaning that she is an idealized female character who never does anything wrong.  I will leave it up to my readers to decide this for themselves.  But Daisy Ridley burns with an intense fire that boils over when needed.  For me, the best moment was watching Rey confront the apparent truth about her parentage.  You can see the interior journey taking place in her eyes before she even speaks a word.  And that speaks to her excellence as a performer.

Emma Watson - Beauty and the Beast
Gal Gadot - Wonder Woman
Charlize Theron - Atomic Blonde
Anya Taylor Joy - Split

Mark Hamill - Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

(from my review of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi)

In terms of the performances, they are fantastic.  Hamill's turn here as Luke might be the best acting performance given in any Star Wars movie.  He is layered in pain, regret, and cynicism, but they have not completely removed the hopeful hero underneath.  At times he comes off as wise as Yoda and then as wide-eyed and lost as he was in the originals.  I couldn't help but feel a kindred connection as I have grown into an adult and at times I feel like I've learned from the lessons of my years but I still sometimes feel as lost as a child.  Hamill adds layers of depth to everything he does and I would not be surprised if he received an Oscar nomination for his effort.

(end quote)

And to me one of the most iconic moments for Luke Skywalker will be that simple shoulder brush.  Some found it cheesy. But the way Hamill did it you could see that it was part of a performance by Luke.  It was done to play into the legend that he had been trying to escape.  This was not the act of a braggart but the act of a seasoned master goading his immature opponent.  All of this done without a word and done with great depth in Hamill's performance.

Patrick Stewart - Logan
Ezra Miller - Justice League
Michael Keaton - Spider-Man: Homecoming
Fynn Wolfhard - IT

Dafne Keen - Logan

Even on multiple viewings I am amazed at the performance that Keen gives.  It is almost terrifying and monstrous how she is able to embody the rage of the tiny terror she plays.  And at the same time her moments of child-like innocence do not feel at all false.  She is a young girl who wants to be a hero but whose temper tantrums could end up killing someone.

(from my review of Logan)

Keen is amazing as Laura.  Most child actors get a bit of a pass from me because they are young and should not be held to the same standards as fully trained adults.  But Keene is mesmerizing in her role.  Every look, every action, every pose conveys so much emotion and character that she seems to be someone three times her age. 

Zendaya - The Greatest Showman
Kaya Scodelero - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Daisy Ridley - Murder on the Orient Express
Michelle Williams - The Greatest Showman

Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunga, and Gary Dauberman – IT

Some people think that adapting a screenplay from a book is much easier than coming up with an original story.  While there is some truth to that, there are also some horribly difficult hurdles that an adapter must overcome.  And with a book like IT, which has a main ensemble of seven young characters who navigate hundreds of pages of horror and adventures, it must have seemed like a Herculean effort to cut that down to a manageable size and still maintain strong characters and the structural core of Stephen King's book.

And these writers did it.  They were able to capture quickly and effectively the essence of each of the characters and what narrative space they would fill in the story while making sure the movie did not get too bogged down and episodic.  They were able to balance the nostalgia factor along with making the story seem fresh and new.  And most importantly, they seemed to capture the essence of horror and discovery that children of that time felt as they faced the monstrousness of adulthood.

Rian Johnson - Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
James Mangold and Scott Frank - Logan
Michael Green - Murder on the Orient Express
Emily V. Gordon and Jumail Nanjiani - The Big Sick

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Tbe Last Jedi is a wonderful technical achievement and no one does alien creatures like the Star Wars universe.

Thor: Ragnarok
Justice League


Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Justice League almost got this award, but the poor CGI on the main villain gave The Last Jedi the slight edge.  Compare the work on Steppenwolf in Justice League to the work on Snoke in The Last Jedi and you will see what I mean.  The ethos of this new trilogy has been to rely on practical effects when possible.  But when they use CGI, as they did with Snoke, it looked amazing.

Thor: Ragnarok
Justice League
Beauty and the Beast

Danny Elfman - Justice League

This may be the first year that John Williams was nominated for this award and did not win.  What gave Elfman the edge was his use of classic superhero scores from previous films.  If he had merely aped them for Justice League, then it would not have been a big deal.  But Elfman was able to twist and manipulate the scores to take them to new emotional places.  And for that blending of originality with tradition, Elfman gets this award.

Mark Mothersbaugh - Thor: Ragnarok
John Williams - Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Justin Paul and Benj Pasek - The Greatest Showman
Benjamin Wallfisch - IT


"The Greatest Show" - The Greatest Showman

There are so many songs from this movie that I wish I could award.  There isn't a bad song in the bunch.  But the one I found myself singing after the lights came up was this opening and closing song.  And the way they use it in that opening and closing to complete the narrative and thematic loop... genius.


Justice League

Zack Snyder understands that superheroes need super costumes.  They need something that is big bold and muscular that will give us the impression of an idealized heroic figure.  And not only did he bring those over with him from his previous films but he gave us knew, unique costumes in Flash and Aquman and many others.

Thor: Ragnarok
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
The Greatest Showman

Below are the list of all the films of 2017 that I have seen, ranked in order of excellence:

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