Staff 2017 Top Ten| Gene Gosewehr
This week at Reel World Theology we are featuring the top ten lists of contributors to the site. You can find all our contributor lists here, as well as links to reviews and podcasts for each movie below.
10 – mudbound
As of a week ago, War for the Planet of the Apes was in my ten spot. It was a difficult choice to replace that with Mudbound, but it ultimately boiled down to the impact of the stories. Mudbound effectively tells a personal story during one of the most difficult times in our nation’s history. On the war-front we were fighting a legitimate evil, and at home we were searching for our soul in how we treat others. Mudbound is not shy about exploring every nook and cranny of racism from broad sweeping representations that we’re all familiar with hearing about or seeing, down to details of a relationship and things taken for granted. The brotherhood between Jamie (Garrett Hudlund) and Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) is one of the best male friendships I’ve seen on screen this year.
9 – Wonder Woman
Took me a day or so to decide if this deserves a spot in the upper-echelon of superhero films. In the end any problems I had (which are very few) felt minuscule in light of the overall film. A satisfactory tone is finally reached with a DC film that fully embraces the darkness of reality, while also exalting the hope inherent in heroes like Wonder Woman or Superman. BvS, and to a lesser degree Man of Steel, drowned in the darkness, but WW always keeps the hope above water. Gadot deserves every letter of praise typed her way and Chris Pine compliments her perfectly.
The theological themes present in this were terrific, and actually quite surprising to see in a modern blockbuster. A clear narrative of creation in God’s image, temptation, fallen-ness, sin, and redemption was strung together throughout the film and crafted in such a way to be sufficiently explored, especially the sin aspect. Are men MADE to do bad things by some outside force? Or is there darkness in their hearts by nature? How does their sin impact their lives? Do they need a savior/advocate to release them from these consequences? This movie is ripe with opportunity for opening discussions on those topics, and that helped a lot in pushing it to a 4.5/5 for me. Follow these links for the RWT review & podcast.
8 – The Lost City of Z
The more I spend time thinking on this film the better my view of it. After thinking about the structure, the depth of a handful of characters, the effectiveness of the message of the film, and the acting of Charlie Hunnam in particular, my opinion slowly increased. The arc which Fawcett (Hunnam) experiences feels fully earned and, while somewhat slow in movie terms, takes every step on the way with purpose and meaning. I loved that his general desire for acclaim led to a mission and eventual desire for discovery and adventure, which revealed a very specific truth to him about humanity. An inner, subjective desire leading to an external, objective truth. Fawcett’s son, Jack (Tom Holland), and his initial anger/rebellion towards his father, then eventual companionship with him was a really nice touch to serve as a wrap-up to this film as well.
7 – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Very possibly some of the best scenes we will ever see in any Star Wars film. There was such a narrow path on which to properly execute Luke’s return and any kind of exchanges he had with Rey, and Rian Johnson hit it out of the park. This film is strongest when either Rey or Luke are on screen, and that is extremely strong. The fact that it’s nearly all dialogue between them makes it even more impressive.
Kylo’s journey in this film and the background we learn of him adds such depth to the character. Adam Driver couldn’t be more perfectly cast to display such inner turmoil and anger. Visually, no surprise, it’s stunning. The use of color in the final battle was striking, and the earthy and ancient qualities given to the island Luke was on really served his life-weary characteristic for the story. Poe’s arc was pretty well executed. Learning leadership through failure and poor decisions is something he certainly isn’t used to. I’m fully bought into this set of trilogies and can’t wait to see where the creative team takes it. Follow these links for the RWT review & podcast.
6 – Dunkirk
“Intense” doesn’t quite reach describing how the culmination of the three stories/locations and (especially) the soundtrack dove straight into my chest. My eyes were transfixed to the screen from the beginning until the end. This is a visual and audio masterpiece. The stories also hold their interest and intensity throughout the film. But what of the characters? I think a dramatic war film does its job if it can compel its viewers to consider the strength of the human spirit and the value of life (among other things). Dunkirk accomplishes that despite the lack of character depth or dialogue. The drab and silent shots of looking out onto a beach, or an empty sky, or an ocean, are intentional. So instead of asking why isn’t anyone talking, we should wonder what these scenes are asking us to think about. Follow these links for the RWT review & podcast.
5 – The Greatest Showman
I remember at one point not long after the first act thinking to myself…. “okay, movie, you’ve done real well so far and kept me excited and touched the surface of some solid themes. Now, can you reach any depth?” Well, it certainly did! From the theater critic who can’t find joy in the theater (meta-commentary on film critics today??), to the intricacies of class warfare and covetous tendencies it brings about, to the more primary theme of discrimination by race/physical features. Freakism? All those items enjoy their own dedicated moments and time to be fleshed out with particular emphasis on how they affect our characters personally. In that way none of it came across as preachy or high-browed, but rather it all felt close to home and personally meaningful.
Hugh Jackman is predictably perfect in this musical. His physicality and broad talents are on full display. The songs are terrific and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if this got multiple nominations in song/score categories this awards season. Excellent film, very inspiring, very moving, and very fun.
4 – The Big Sick
My initial Letterboxd review said only this, “That was so GREAT! All the feels, so many funnies, this movie has everything. Really great one from Amazon.” I must have been in a hurry at the time because there is so much to this film to unpack and enjoy. This is the best I’ve seen Ray Romano since some of his early episodes on Parenthood, and the dynamic on screen between Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan provides a visual image of a cute, tragic, funny, and complex relationship all in one package. This is another film this year that has some excellent conversations about interracial relationship, but moreso in this it was about culture. To put it simplistically, this movie explores all the difficulties involved in breaking news to your family that you’re dating someone you know they’ll disapprove of for one reason or another. Because of that it becomes one of the most sympathetic films of the year, while also being one of the funniest. Follow these links for the RWT review & podcast.
3 – Blade Runner 2049
If not for a few moments of this film trying to imbue meaning onto a scene just by making it last longer, this would’ve been my favorite film of the year. I don’t know if there exists a more perfect actor for this lead than Gosling. I kept seeing a mix between the staunchness he showed in DRIVE, and the built-in tragic likability from PLACE BEYOND THE PINES. He succeeds in every facet with this role. Ana de Armas (Joi) and Sylvia Hoeks (Luv) are an impressive contrast of ‘types’ of artificial intelligence as they represent each end of the pendulum of the desire to please/satisfy their human pairings, K and Wallace. Leto does really well as the Tyrian equivalent, though the stuff with his eyes is a bit on the nose. For a fairly slow-paced, 2+ hour movie this kept my attention 99% of the time. This has been the case for me every time with Villenueve films. The way he begins films and the subtle suspense he is able to build pull me in every time. Follow these links for the RWT review & podcast.
2 – Logan
Yes! This is to a Marvel character what the Dark Knight was to a DC character. The team behind creating this obviously poured their soul into it and explored every inch of potential with an ill and aging Logan. I wondered if I might miss the supporting cast that Hugh Jackman is used to in this role. Not even a little. Patrick Stewart is beautifully tragic, but other than him this is squarely on Hugh Jackman’s shoulders, and he carries it every inch of the way. I cannot imagine a more perfect and emotionally deep conclusion to wolverine. Follow these links for the RWT review & podcast.
1 – Only the Brave
I would put money on being the only person alive with this as their number one film. This movie is incredibly moving and extremely well done. I have not seen Jennifer Connelly this emotionally driven in years, and Josh Brolin is playing off her so well while owning his own character. I cannot recall a movie that executed the depiction of a disaster and loss of life to the perfection that this has done. It is a little longer than you might expect, but it uses every moment to build characters and develop the bond between the Granite Mountain Hotshot brotherhood. If this were merely a firefighter action movie it probably goes no higher than a 4 for me. But this was so much more.
The depth and history of the relationship between Connelly and Brolin’s characters adds a personal element that I was not expecting. The toll taken on families of wildfire fighters was shown to a meaningful degree and went way beyond paying lip service to them. The metaphors used to depict addiction and how relationships impact people were very strong. I just can’t say enough good about it. Do yourself a favor and read nothing about this crew of firefighters beforehand. This was my experience and I was overwhelmed by their story and how personal this film chose to be. Excellent! Follow this link for the RWT podcast.