By Matt Birchler
Topic: movie
Posts: 15
Page 1 of 2 Older Posts

Critics vs "Real People": Rotten Tomatoes (and Letterboxd) Data Tells All

A thing I've seen crop up over the past few years has been people lamenting how film critics "just don't get it" when it comes to determining what actually is good. While I would contend that "good" and "popular" often get conflated, I wanted to look at the numbers to see a few things:

  1. Is there a dichotomy between how critics and regular people recommend movies?
  2. Has the dichotomy gotten worse recently?
  3. Unrelated, are movies getting longer?


I went through the top box office hits from 2010 through 2021 and recorded each film's critical score and audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as Letterboxd. I looked at the top 20 movies of 2010-2019, but only the top 10 in 2020 and 2021 since way fewer movies were released in theaters.

I also recorded the runtime of each film to see if the most popular movies are also getting longer.

All in, this was 220 movies tracked.

Oh, and I made a video showing how Keyboard Maestro made this way easier.

Findings on the Overall Data

This chart and graph answers my original question best and has a few takeaways.

  1. In aggregate, critics and ordinary people are usually about 5 points apart.
  2. Usually, ordinary people review the highest-grossing movies higher. This makes sense as they are voting for these movies with their wallets, not just their reviews. Critics, meanwhile, see everything, so in theory, these films are about the same as everything else for them.
  3. 2020 and 2021 have seen a major divergence in scores. Critics were consistent, while audience reviews skyrocketed to the first 90% year ever.
  4. The audience scores for movies in 2021 are absolutely ridiculous. Either this was the best year for movies ever, or there's some phenomenon going on here I can't see in just the data.
  5. 2015 was a year of peace, as the critics and the audience agreed perfectly on the quality of the top 20 movies.

Number 3 is the biggest oddity to me, as audience scores skyrocketed! While the critics' average compared to 2017 was exactly the same, audience reviews are a full 17% more positive than they were just a few years ago. Why is this? I don't actually know, but I'd love to hear some theories.

One theory I have is that recency bias means people like these films more now that they're novel, and the scores will lower over time as people see these movies in 2022 and beyond and leave reviews later.

The Outliers

Here are the specific movies that had the biggest rifts between critics and audiences.

The Last Jedi might be an anomaly because review-bombing was a thing for that film in a way I have not seen before.

And here are the films critics liked way less than audiences:

Individual Film Notables

  1. Critics are much more likely to give a really low score to a movie. While critics gave 26% of these films below 60%, whereas one 14% of films got scored that low from the audience. Basically, half of people generally like every movie released.
  2. Interestingly, critics were also more likely to give very positive reviews to a movie. 24% of films got 90% or higher from critics, but only 14% of them got it from audiences.
  3. Spider-Man: No Way Home just came out and has the highest Letterboxd rating. If we assume that is inflated due to recency bias, then Get Out is the highest rated, neck-and-neck with Coco, Interstellar, Inception, and Little Women.
  4. The Last Airbender has the lowest Letterboxd rating by a mile, at just 1.1 (our of 5).
  5. 36% of movies have a 5% or less difference between critics and audiences.
  6. I'd say 15% difference is pretty similar vibes, and 72% of movies fell into that range.
  7. 30% of all top 10 movies have been comic book superhero movies. This doesn't count Star Wars or Fast and the Furious or sci-fi/fantasy stuff. In 2021, 5 of the top 6 movies were comic book superhero films.

Are Movies Getting Longer?

According to my slice of data (popular movies over the last 12 years), the answer is yes. There's a bit of variance, but the general trend towards longer movies in the top 20 is impossible to miss.

Avengers: Endgame was the longest (and only 3 hour) movie to make the top 20 at 3 hours and 1 minute, while The Grinch was the shortest, at only 85 minutes. A Quiet Place and Gravity share the title for shortest live-action films, each at 91 minutes.


First off, don't think that you need to agree with the critics or the general audience.  These scores are guides that can help you decide what to watch, but once you've watched something, who cares what they think?

Critics and audiences come from different perspectives, but they are trying to do the same thing. Critics see tons more movies, so they have more perspective on how movies stand up compared to everything else out there. That's a different perspective from someone who goes to the movies a couple of times a year.

This is only looking at the highest-grossing movies of the year, and since this is manual work to pull the data, I'm not getting more. I focused this on the most popular movies since those are the ones I normally see people going "critics just don't get it!!!" I'd love to know what the differences are for the 21-100 top movies, but I also want to have a life, so someone else will have to get that 😉

Finally, If someone disagrees with you about a movie, don't just look at a score on an aggregator like Rotten Tomatoes, actually read some reviews to understand your differences. I try to do this when I dislike a movie, but most people/critics seem to like it. I want to hear what they liked, and sometimes it helps me see the film in a different light.

The Lord of the Rings in 4K HDR is Unbelievable

The Lord of the Rings in 4K HDR is Unbelievable

I’ve spent the last 2 weekends watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy again (it’s been at least a decade since I saw them last), I’ve got the third one next weekend, and to say I’m enjoying them is a massive understatement. Not only are the movies themselves wonderful, but the new masters are remarkable achievements worth the relatively high price tag of the set.

In short, the original films were shot on film and have been re-scanned at 4K (real 4K!) using modern tech and the special effects were upscaled with some unnamed A.I. tool. They were re-colored to be true to the original intent, and they got the HDR treatment while they were at it. Audio was remixed if you’ve got the hardware for it, and it was all done under supervision by Peter Jackson. This release has the theatrical and extended editions spread across 9 discs, and there are zero special features, this release is all about the new masters of the films.

That’s the gist, but The Digital Bits has a detailed review with a few choice quotes I wanted to share. It gets off to a fairly positive start:

I’ve been reviewing Blu-ray and DVD quality professionally now for twenty-three years on The Digital Bits, and 4K Ultra HD quality for the last four of those years. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 4K remaster that made quite this much of a difference over a previous Blu-ray release before.

If you’re wondering if this new version is any better than the existing Blu Ray version that existed for years…

From an image standpoint, the result is nothing short of remarkable. After having watched all of The Fellowship of the Ring: Extended Edition in 4K with HDR, I went back to look at the previous Blu-ray release. The new 4K image is an order of magnitude better.

“They didn’t go an George Lucas these with new effects and story changes, did they?” may come to mind as well.

I’m also pleased to add that there does not appear to have been any attempt to “upgrade” or “redo” the VFX in this film with newer, revised CG effects (in some kind of Star Wars: Special Edition effort).

There’s tons more in there, and I’d suggest reading the rest of the review before running to either buy it immediately or throw it on a holiday gift list. If you love The Lord of the Rings, I really think you’ll love these new masters of the films. Or as put in the review…

Watching Fellowship of the Ring now via this new 4K master with HDR is like seeing the film for the first time again.

Nomadland Reminded Me Why I Love Film

Nomadland Reminded Me Why I Love Film

I watched Nomadland this weekend, and while it wasn’t my favorite movie of all time, it really drove home for me why I love film as an art form. TV is the new hotness, and even if it’s not on broadcast anymore, the television format lives on in the streaming world. There’s nothing wrong with TV, and I’d of course agree that it has gone through a renaissance over the past couple decades to become far more respected and compelling and it had ever been before.

That said, I don’t think the TV format is a good fit for all stories, and Nomadland drove that point home for me. Nomadland does not have 13 episodes’ worth of content, nor does it have natural cliffhangers to convince you to keep watching “just one more episode”.

It’s a singular story with no expanded universe, merch, or multiple seasons of content. It’s a story with a start, middle, and end, and that’s it.

TV is great, and I love plenty of shows, but to me it’s a compliment to film, not a replacement.

Seven, Eight, and Nine

Seven, Eight, and Nine

This article includes spoilers for all 3 films in the latest Star Wars trilogy. Also maybe Episodes 1-6, so just read this if you have seen all 9 mainline Star Wars movies. Cool? Cool.

The Force Awakens

There was a lot of apprehension about Star Wars in the years leading up to The Force Awakens. By most accounts, there had not been a good star wars movie in 30 years, and the recent sale of the Star Wars brand to Disney created a combination of excitement and concern of what that would mean for the series. On the one hand, Lucas was clearly not making the types of films most people wanted from Star Wars, so people were happy to see someone, anyone else get a shot at it. On the other hand, we had no idea what Disney would do with the license. We hoped they would do better things with it, but there was always the chance the franchise could sink lower.

In a way, all The Force Awakens had to do was prove to audiences that a good Star Wars movie was still possible. They didn’t need to hit a home run, they just needed to get on base. By that measure I think The Force Awakens was a massive success. Yes, it was very similar to A New Hope, and yes it leaned relatively hard into nostalgia, but it was a good movie that laid out tons of new characters, worlds, and storylines at the same time. It created the foundation for the last two films to build on, and I think it did that really well.

And that foundation set up by The Force Awakens was really solid. Rey is a great heroic lead, BB-8 is a revelation, Poe and Finn are both fun and fascinating, Maz is mysterious, Hux is a fun bad guy, Kylo Ren is the complex villain I wanted, Snoke is Emperor-esque…the list goes on and on. Abrams also did a good job of including Han, Leia, and Luke in ways that did not take the attention off of the new series leads.

Yes, this film leaned on nostalgia, but moments like Han telling Chewie, “we’re home” when re-entering the Falcon played very well, and are cinematic moments that I won’t soon forget. Yes, Starkiller Base is a clear stand-in for the Death Star, and it’s something I’d complain about if the rest of the story didn’t hit home for me, but it did, so I forgive it.

J.J. Abrams and team had one job when making The Force Awakens: bring back Star Wars in a way that appeases old and new fans, and above all else proves that Star Wars can be great again. I think they pulled it off wonderfully, and the critics and fans generally agreed. The faults in the movie bugged some people more than others, but I don’t remember finding many people who hated the film (assholes who didn’t like a female lead or a black stormtrooper aside).

The Last Jedi

That unified enthusiasm didn’t last long, huh? The Last Jedi came out in December 2017 and ever since then we have been living in a bifurcated Star Wars fan base. And this has not been a friendly disagreement, but rather a toxic hellstew of “conversation.”

But this isn’t about what the rest of the world thinks, it’s about what I think, so let’s leave that behind.

I fucking love The Last Jedi. It was my 10th favorite movie of the decade and I think I’ve enjoyed it more each time I’ve watched it since. I think that much like The Force Awakens had a very clear benchmark it needed to hit, The Last Jedi had to show that Star Wars could do things new and interesting again. By that measure I think the film was a massive success. The fact it’s also the most beautiful Star Wars movie by a long shot, is the funniest film in the series, and has emotional climaxes that hit me harder than anything else in the 9 film saga were just icing on top.

Luke’s now famous line “this isn’t going to go the way you think” holds true for more than Rey’s story, it’s true for effectively everyone’s tale in this chapter. Luke is not who Rey or we the audience think he will be. Rey is not from the royal family she and we think (more on this later, of course). Holdo is not the ignorant leader Poe believes she is. Rose and Finn’s elaborate plans to get New Order intel does not go at all how they expect.

In large part, this is a story about failure as well. Many of these storylines do not go according to plan because the characters fail, sometimes miserably, at achieving their goals. It’s a movie that has our heroes fail because of very human things: pride and ignorance lead to failure after failure in this film, and it’s damn relatable.

This is also the story where we get the pay off for who Rey’s parents are. This has been a question since very early in The Force Awakens, and there were tons of fan theories about who they were. In a crushing moment, Kylo bluntly tells Rey her parents were “no one.” They were, in fact, nobodies from a far off planet no one cared about. She had no birth right to be important in this tale, but she was. Here’s a clip from Binge Mode Star Wars on this:

It fully subverts the expectations of Rey being a Skywalker, a Kenobi, a Palpatine, a Snoke, some bold-faced impactful Star Wars name. And crucially, taps into an absolutely essential elemental fantasy idea that anyone can be special. And as core as that is to the fantasy story experience, not every story actually has the courage to make that choice. Anyone can make a difference, it doesn’t matter who you were born, it matters who you become. And Rey being no one, and becoming someone, is not a slight on the Skywalker name or the Skywalker saga, it is a reminder that anyone can go from farmer to savior.

I adored this plot choice and it tied so much of what The Last Jedi was all about together. The past is important, but not perfect. Learn from the past, but look forward. What you do today is more important than what you did long ago or what family you come from.

And did I mention how god damned gorgeous this movie is?

Yeah, it’s a looker.

The Rise of Skywalker

The internet seems to think you either need to be on Team J.J. or Team Johnson, so many people knew how they were “supposed” to feel about this movie going into it. As someone who truly adored what both writer/directors had done with the last two movies, I was totally on board to enjoy this film. Sadly, while I don’t think this movie falls into prequel territory, I would not say I enjoyed this movie.

I walked out of The Force Awakens saying “oh my god, Star Wars is awesome again!”

I walked out of The Last Jedi saying “Star Wars can still surprise us and add so much depth to characters we know and love!”

I walked out of The Rise of Skywalker saying “well, I guess that’s how it ends.”

I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t feel moved by it. I felt as though the events on screen were whizzing by me and I wished that I felt something, but nothing really landed.

My biggest feeling coming out of this film was that wow, they really leaned into nostalgia on this one. The fan service was strong, as unlike The Last Jedi, which gave our new characters a chance to really take over, this movie was more like “let’s give you Lando, more Chewie, more R2-D2, how about the same bad guy in all the other movies even though he has not been set up at all and just is kinda…here?” This felt too much like a greatest hits record, not something new.

I also thought this movie tried to do way too much. The first hour of this movie feels like it’s constantly moving a mile per minute and you only half understand what’s going on, and you definitely don’t have time to “live” in any of these spaces. There’s just so much exposition done at the start of this movie that it really seems like this would have been better served in two movies rather than one (more on this below). A prime example of this are the Knights of Ren, who are created in this opening and look menacing, but ultimately don’t do anything interesting in the film besides look cool.

I didn’t like how new characters from The Last Jedi were basically cast aside (namely Rose) so we could go back to the same arrangements we had before. Not to mention that The Resistance was down to about 40 people in a cave who no one would come to help at the end of The Last Jedi, but at the opening of this movie they seem…totally fine again. Why? What happened?

Oh, and Rey’s lineage? Strike everything great I said about making her a nobody-to-somebody story from the last movie, she has royal blood and was always going to be special. This was a punch in the face, as far as I was concerned, and was the equivalent of someone in Return of the Jedi telling Luke that Darth Vader actually wasn’t his father. Either (a) Abrams undid that plot point from The Last Jedi or (b) this was the plan all along, but either way I like the series as a whole less because of this decision.

This all pains me because there are pieces here that I could see turning into a truly amazing moviegoing experience for me. The ending scene where Rey chooses the name Skywalker despite not technically being one is something that works for me in theory, but the execution didn’t hit home. Also the moment when Kylo Ren pulls himself out from the hole he fell down and uses his last bit of power to bring Rey back to life. This was set up earlier in the movie and the moment is objectively a great moment of sacrifice and redemption, but subjectively I didn’t care about what I was seeing.

What hurts me the most about this ending to the series is that everything is cranked to 11 here. There is a desire in this film to do everything bigger than we’ve ever seen before. You’ve seen a few star destroyers at once, sure, but have you seen 10,000 star destroyers at once? You’ve seen one planet destroying laser at a time, but what about if we strapped one of those to all 10,000 of those star destroyers? You liked a little nostalgia, so how about unending heaps on nostalgia?

It didn’t have to be this way. The Last Jedi was a big, epic movie, but the dramatic elements of it’s story were smaller and more complex. By killing Snoke, effectively the Darth Sideous of this trilogy, Johnson left the conflict between Rey and Ren in a place that was more interesting to me than “the bad guy is the actual embodiment of evil” thing that Sideous does. I like me some Darth Sideous, but I think there are more stories to tell than this same guy keeps coming back to do the same thing.

But that’s not the ending that Abrams wanted to tell, and he went bigger and more explosive. I think that’s fine, and obviously many people will like this decision, but for me it was not what I was looking for and it felt shoehorned in. In the next section I’ll get into why I think this was the case.

I really think this movie would have been a lot better if there was going to be an Episode 10 in 2021 and everything could breathe a bit more. If these story elements had some more room to breathe, I think I would have enjoyed this story a lot more. Like I said, the elements of something I’d love are here, but they felt like someone was like “okay, I only have a few minutes to tell you this story, so let’s go fast.”

How the Sausage Got Made

My understanding of the way this trilogy was produced is that there was no overarching story from the start and each writer was able to do basically whatever they wanted with the story. So when Episode 7 came out, there was not a plan for Episode 8, and Episode 9 was not mapped out until after Episode 8 was complete. I’m sure producers and studio folks made sure some things stayed within certain bounds, but based on everything I’ve read, it seems like J.J. and Johnson had a shocking amount of autonomy over the stories they told.

In retrospect, I think that was a major creative mistake by Disney. It feels like Episode 7 laid a foundation, Episode 8 built on that foundation and developed the characters, but it didn’t set up Episode 9 in a way that J.J. felt he could finish things up how he wanted. Did Abrams and Johnson have different visions for what they wanted the series to be? Maybe…probably. So if that was the case, why hire both of them to do films in the series? And if you wanted them both, why let them go in different directions and not build towards an agreed upon destination?

I’ll also note here that Colin Trevorrow was originally slated to take on Episode 9 before getting replaced by Abrams. I was always anxious about this choice because I really did not enjoy Jurassic World, but one wonders if he and Johnson were more on the same page and he would have used the pieces given to him more than Abrams did. We will never know for sure.

I know many will blame Rian Johnson for “ruining Star Wars”. I don’t think those saying this believe Johnson to be a terrible filmmaker, and I suspect many of them will cite Looper, Brick, and this year’s excellent Knives Out as wonderful films, but I think that the real culprit is the studio navigating all of this. I really think they should have had a singular creative force behind this whole trilogy. While Lucas didn’t direct Empire or Return of the Jedi, he wrote all of the first 6 episodes and though the quality varies wildly, the vision is consistent throughout; that is unquestionably Lucas’s story.

I don’t know why Disney chose to separate the duties for this trilogy to different people. Maybe they could not get one person they liked enough so they split it among their favorite options. Maybe they didn’t think any one person could pull it off so they spread out the responsibilities to hedge their bets. The result I think is more of a studio who says “we have this license and we want to use it” rather than a creative person saying “I have an amazing vision for a third Star Wars trilogy.”

And again, I thought the first two parts of this new trilogy were amazing pieces of art that brought be incredible joy. It’s just that when we got to the end, no one was ready to take it over the finish line. If you’ll permit me one more sports (volleyball) metaphor, Johnson set the ball up for Abrams to spike it, it just wasn’t on the side of the count Abrams wanted.

My 10 Favorite Movies of the Decade

As you get older, it’s harder for movies to have the same impact on you that they did when you were younger. That said, the past decade has had some of the best movies I have ever seen, and some of them have impacted me more than I ever thought they would. Looking at this list now, I see myself strongly favoring films by writer/directors, and if the film had different people in those roles, it was most likely a David Fincher joint.

Without further ado, here are my 10 favorite movies of the decade!

1. Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Scott Pilgrim vs The World is my favorite movie of the decade because it is the one movie where no matter what time it is, how I’m feeling, or how recently I’ve seen it, if you ask me if I’ll watch this film, I absolutely will. It’s funny and exciting in equal parts, and it speaks to fundamental human emotions in a truly unique way. Oh, and the visuals are inventive and unlike anything I’ve seen before or after. This is a true masterpiece.

2. The Shape of Water

You may go “ugh, isn’t that the movie where a lady ****s a fish?” but that sells this wonderful story woefully short. This is the story of several flawed outcasts who find each other, bringing meaning and love to each others’ lives. It’s the most beautiful movie I may have ever seen and I hope more people take the time to enjoy this film.

3. The Social Network

Not a documentary, but a dramatic retelling of the early days of Facebook, The Social Network is a film that has just gotten better with time. When it came out in 2010 Facebook was far from the disaster it is today, and as the public’s view of the company has changed in the past decade, this movie has aged well right along with those perceptions. Fincher’s direction, Sorkin’s writing, and Rezner’s music come together for a thrilling story that’s mostly people talking about code and legal documents.

4. Inside Out

I’m a huge Pixar fan, and while this decade had quite a few sequels come from the studio, their original films are always where I’m most interested. Much like Scott Pilgrim, Inside Out is a beautifully realized, specific vision that could have gone so wrong, but ticks every single landing as it goes. It culminates in a film that speaks well about emotional health to children, and maybe even more strongly to adults.

5. Black Swan

BlackSwan feels like a two hour nightmare that you don’t want to wake up from. Darren Aronofsky is on my short list of favorite all-time directors, and Black Swan is my favorite of his films. It’s weird and unsettling and unforgettable.

6. Baby Driver

Edgar Wright’s second film on my list, Baby Driver is a delightful ballet of motion and music. The film is precisely directed and choreographed to pair perfectly with a killer soundtrack. I said at the time that this is exactly what summer blockbusters should be like, and I still feel that way. It’s a rush, it’s fun, but it’s not dumb entertainment.

7. Blade Runner 2049

The most boring shot in Blade Runner 2049 would be the best shot in basically every other movie this decade. The movie is great, and the story is impeccable, but the visuals in this movie push it into the upper tier of films for me. I was in awe for this whole film, both from a visual perspective and from amazement that they not only lived up to the Blade Runner name, they made a better film than the original.

8. Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse

“I can’t believe this movie exists,” is the first thing I said at the end of this movie. I was absolutely floored by this masterpiece of animation and I loved that it had a story to back up the incredible visuals. It’s simply a remarkable film that I still can not believe anyone was able to pull off.

9. Gone Girl

My second Fincher movie of the bunch, Gone Girl is compelling from start to finish. Gillian Flynn adapts her book to the screen perfectly, and with the help of a cast firing on all cylinders, peels an onion of a plot that gets more interested the further it goes.

10. The Last Jedi

I know some people didn’t like it at all, but The Last Jedi has some of the best character work and most compelling story beats in the series. I loved The Force Awakens, but The Last Jedi pushed the series forward in ways that TFA didn’t attempt, and it got weird with things in a way that turned some people off, but I adored.

My Favorite Movies of 2018

The Oscars are tonight, which means it’s time for me to put together my list of the best movies I saw in 2018. Below are my top 10, and at the bottom I have a lit of everything I saw this year and what I still want to see.

1. Annihilation

Annihilation is an exploration of depression and loss in the guise of science fiction. This movie feels similar to 2017’s Mother (which I also loved) in that it starts relatively normal and slowly devolves into madness. It’s a completely different movie by the end, and I love that about it.

Natalie Portman gives another excellent performance that reveals layers of emotion without a big, showy performance, and the entire supporting cast does fantastic work to flesh out the world. The script is tight, and managed to speak to me in a very specific way that connected with me hard.

And finally, I can’t talk about this movie without talking about the cinematography. This movie had more memorable visuals than the other 9 movies on this list combined. The movie was shot by Rob Hardy, who doesn’t have many feature film credits, but did Mission: Impossible - Fallout this year as well. This guy has a bright future.


Below are one sentence teasers for the rest of the films on my top 10 and why they beat out the competition.

2. BlacKkKlansman was a roaring good time that comments on the current political and racial climate without directly talking about the current day…until it does.

3. Won't You Be My Neighbor hit me in all the ways I prayed this film would, and made me appreciate Fred Rodgers’ contribution to the world more than I did already.

4. Black Panther is a Marvel superhero film with tons of style and substance that broke me out of the superhero movie slump I’d been in for the last several years.

5. Susperia is a weird-ass movie and I can absolutely see why some people would make it their worst movie of 2018, but this isn’t their list, it’s mine :)

6. A Star is Born is an achievement for any director, let alone first time director Bradley Cooper, who made me feel invested in a story about musicians more than maybe any music-based movie ever.

7. Avengers: Infinity War is the second Marvel movie on this list, which again is not something I would have expected a year ago, and now “I don’t feel so good.”

8. The Favourite is another weird ass movie and it comes together better than it has any right to.

9. Game Night is flat out the funniest movie I saw all year and is good fun for basically everyone.

10. Crazy Rich Asians got its hooks in me somehow and never let me go…those are indeed some very, very, crazy rich Asians.

Everything Else I Saw in 2018

  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • Isle of Dogs
  • Ready Player One
  • Blockers
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story
  • Ocean's 8
  • Incredibles 2
  • Mission Impossible Fallout
  • Juliet, Naked
  • A Simple Favor
  • Searching
  • The Girl in the Spider's Web
  • Vice

What I Missed but Want to See

  • You Were Never Really Here
  • First Reformed
  • Ant Man and the Wasp
  • Bad Times at the El Royale
  • Halloween
  • Widows
  • Ralph Breaks the Internet
  • Roma
  • Shoplifters
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

My Favorite (and least favorite) Movies of 2017

This list is slightly late, but considering how back-loaded the year tends to be when it comes film, it’s hard for normal people like myself to get out there and see everything by New Year’s Day. A full month into 2018, I think I have seen most of the movies I will have seen from 2017, with a few notable exceptions1 I have seen what I was dying to see, and with the Oscar nominations already out, I figured now was the time.

Honorable Mentions

I chose my 6 favorite and 2 least favorite movies of the year, but there are a number of films that didn’t quite make the cut either way.

  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi was a marvelous film, but I feel like I need to see it at least once more before rendering a “final” verdict on it. If I had a top 10 list, it would be number 7.
  • Coco is an amazing film, and one that devastated me. If this wasn’t a Pixar film, I may have placed it higher, but since it was not one of my top 5 Pixar movies of all time, it felt weird to have it on my top list.
  • Battle of the Sexes hit me harder than I expected. I went from “this movie is fine” to “whoa, 😢” near the end.
  • Lady Bird was just really good, but didn’t connect with me enough to crack this list.
  • Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King was without a doubt, the best stand up special I saw all year. Hasan Minhaj tells his life story in equal parts comedy and tragedy, and the brilliant segues between these tones is what made this special rise above the rest. I can’t remember another stand up performance that took me from tears of laughter to emotional gut punch and back to uproarious laughter with such frequency and finesse.

The Best Movies of 2017

Baby Driver

Edgar Wright really has me pegged. Shawn on the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, and Scott Pilgrim vs the World all have solidified Wright as my favorite working director. Baby Driver is everything we wish summer action movies would be: fun without being dumb and exciting without being predictable. And oh boy, was this a thrilling ride! From the opening scene onward, this movie is a thrill ride.

Oh, and the way this movie blends music and on-screen action is unrivaled in modern cinema. The amount of work that went into making every shot in this film match exactly with the soundtrack is enormous. Bravo.

Blade Runner 2049

I was never a huge fan of the original Blade Runner, which I always felt like I should like more than I actually liked. The sequel leaves me with no conflicting feelings at all: this is a masterpiece.

Ryan Gosling gives what I think is the best performance of his career, and the supporting cast of Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Dave Bautista, Sylvia Hoeks, Harrison Ford, and Jared Leto round out a great ensemble performance. Sylvia Hoeks in poarticular stood out to me as a fantastic villain, and I hope to see her in more movies soon.

The story this film tells is deep without being complicated. K’s (Gosling) journey is easy to follow, but the themes addressed raise tons of questions in the viewer.

If nothing else, this movie is worth seeing for the visual alone. The cinematography on display is simply astounding, with each and every shot looking like it would be the best, most memorable shot in almost any other film. When the credits rolled and I saw Roger Deakins credited as the cinematographer, I both nodded my head in understanding, but also found myself applauding a veteran like Deakins being able to still create unique and interesting worlds.


Nothing I can say here will get anyone to change their mind on this divisive film, so I will just say that this movie was not what I expected at all. Darren Aronofsky is another one of my favorite directors working today, and he delivered a film that starts out normal-ish, turns weird, and then turns into the most insane piece of cinema I’ve possibly ever witnessed. This movie needs to be seen to be believed.

Get Out

Credit to this movie for coming out in February and still being a film I think about on a regular basis. Jordan Peele delivered a debut film (which he wrote and directed) that feels more like a 3rd or 4th effort. I knew Peele’s comedic work, and really liked him, but I was not expecting this film to be as good as it was.

Get Out explores a host of different issues and does so with a deft hand, all the while delivering an original horror film with a distinct voice of its own.


Another horror movie! I am not a huge fan of horror films, but the combination of Get Out and It likely makes 2017 the best year for horror in my opinion. It did not scare me a ton, but it was incredibly entertaining. The opening sequence has played in my head endlessly since watching this, and the rest of the film is full of moments I will remember for a long time.

Bill Skarsgård plays Pennywise here and has one of the most underrated performances of the year. He transforms perfectly into the role, creating a version of Pennywise that I feel eclipses the already impressive performance of Tim Curry in the 1990 TV movie.

The Big Sick

The Big Sick tells the “based on a true story” tale of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon’s early relationship. It’s a love story comedy all the way through, but it doesn’t feel like a romantic comedy. As you likely already know, Emily spends much of the movie in a coma, and the drama comes from Kumail getting to know and understand her parents. Emily’s parents are played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, both who steal the movie, each delivering powerful performances. I don’t know what it’s like top be married for 30 years, but their relationship felt very real and not at all like roles created just to fit the narrative structure of this film.

Critics will point out the areas that this movie strays from the real story of their relationship (they weren’t broken up at the time of the coma, Kumail’s mom didn’t disown him, etc.) but I didn’t know those details going in, and even if I did, the changes were made to make the story more compelling for the big screen.

The Worst Movies of 2017

I thankfully didn’t see that many movies this year that I outright disliked, but 2 films distinguished themselves: Murder on the Orient Express and Ingrid Goes West.

I would describe both of these films as, “People I don’t like, doing things I don’t care for, in a style I don’t enjoy.” None of the films really gave me anyone to root for. In the case of Ingrid Goes West, that’s the intent, as main character Ingrid is an anti-hero, but that film gave me no one else to grab onto and root for. For Murder on the Orient Express, I simply didn’t care for anything in the film, least of which were the characters.

And while Ingrid Goes West had me looking at my watch every few minutes hoping it would be over soon, Murder on the Orient Express was (pardon the pun) a train wreck. The opening scene has the least compelling and more overly contrived “courtroom” scene I may have ever seen on film, and the movie doesn’t get better from there. It’s just one flacid scene after the next, with little drama, and minimal intrigue. It also has the slowest foot chase I have seen in a long time put to film.

And it’s a shame too, as the story this movie was recreating is quite compelling and the cast was very classy. Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp2, Josh Gadd, Penélope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, and Kenneth Branagh at the helm as lead actor and director. This should have been so much more than the mess it ended up being.

  1. The Shape of Water is the biggest one I still haven’t seen, but also Phantom Thread, Columbus, Three Billboards, and The Florida Project. 
  2. Ok, maybe not all of them are classy. 

Oh Great, I Have an UltraViolet Code

I walked into Best Buy this Black Friday and I wanted to pick up some movies on deep discount. There were a few films that were marked down to less than $10 on Blu Ray that I really wanted to add to my collection, and figured enduring the mass of people shopping that day was worth it.

The trip proved to be fruitful, as I was able to get 5 movies that I really loved on Blu Ray for less than $30 total. Even better, all 5 films came with a digital copy, which is how I really would prefer to watch. Sweet!

Now I have always preferred digital copies that I can redeem through iTunes, but that seems to have fallen out of favor with movie studios (besides Disney), and now everything comes with one of these UltraViolet copies. Well, I thought to myself, maybe this is just what the norm is these days and I should just go with it. I remember people talking shit about this service when it launched in 2013.

Oh boy, was I wrong.

No UltraViolet redemption went smoothly (2 of them still haven't worked), but I have to single out Ghostbusters from Sony Pictures for having the absolutely worst redemption process I have ever experienced.

Redeeming Ghostbusters

Total time: 45 minutes

We want to watch this on the TV in the living room, but can't use the Blu Ray because my in-laws don't have a Blu Ray player. No problem, I tell them. I'll redeem the digital copy and we can use one of the many devices in the house to get it on the TV. UltraViolet is the industry standard, so given the multitude of phones, tablets, and streaming devices in the house we'll be able to get it up and running in no time.

This was my first UltraViolet code, and this is where the shit show begins. I went to the URL listed in the box, entered my code, and was then informed that I would have to sign into my Sony account to redeem this code. Okay, no big deal, I have a Sony account that I use on my PlayStation every day, so I'll sign in with that.

Oh no! That will not do, as I need to have a Sony Rewards account. Something I have no interest in having, but I guess I need to redeem what I have already paid for. I create the account, and get the confirmation email that tells me I need to answer a few questions before my Rewards account is fully activated. The questionnaire they present me has no less than 50(!) questions on it about what devices I own, what movie genres I like, what games I play, and what my annual household income is. I can not skip questions, and have to answer page after page of questions completely randomly.

At this point, I'm sitting in the living room at my in-laws' house, cursing at my computer while I try to get this damn digital code redeemed so that we can all watch Ghostbusters. Their good-hearted jabs make me laugh, but inside I'm screaming at Sony to just give me the fucking movie!

I finally prove my worth and get through the Sony Rewards gauntlet. My account is set up and I have earned 45 rewards points, something that I promise you I will never use. But fine, I'm ready, so what do I do now?

The Sony Rewards page tells me that I have redeemed my movie code successfully, but I can not watch it in Sony's website or app, I need to connect my Sony Rewards account to my UltraViolet account. I do this, and now my accounts are linked.

But is my copy of Ghostbusters now in my library? Nope, of course it fucking isn't.

Now I need to choose which UltraViolet service I want to redeem the code through. I can choose from VUDU, Flixster, and some other service that I can't even fucking remember at this point. I don't know those are the services because UltraViolet displayed them nicely to me, no, the UltraViolet site was using bad image links, so the 3 services were shown and white squares with radio buttons next to them. I had to view the page source to see what those links were supposed to be to in order to see what each one way.

I'm about to put my fist through a wall.

After cleverly outsmarting the UltraViolet site, I find that I don't have any of these, so I open a new tab and create a VUDU account, because who the fuck cares?

To be clear, at this point I have needed to have accounts with Sony Rewards, UltraViolet, and VUDU in order to redeem this simple digital copy of a movie I've already paid for.

With new shiny VUDU account in hand, I go back to the UltraViolet site, choose VUDU as my redemption source, and hit next. It works! I am taken to my VUDU account and Ghostbusters is in there!

Alright, final step: I need this to play on the TV for the family.

My wife's parents have an Amazon Fire Stick, which I hear has everything I could ever want to watch stuff on TV. We search their app store for "UltraViolet": no results. No bother, they probably want you to use one of their partners' apps. I just set up a VUDU account, and I've heard about VUDU before so they must have an app. We search for "VUDU" and again are greeted with no results. We try "Flixster" and "CinemaNow" as well and the results are always the same: there are none.

So I've gone through all this time and work only to find out that none of the ways you can watch UltraViolet are available on one of the biggest streaming boxes on the market.

We've got one more shot. My wife and I have our Apple TV with us and plug it into the TV and figure there must be an UltraViolet, VUDU, Flixster, or CinemaNow app on the Apple TV App Store.


I collapse in defeat and my wife runs down to the Red Box a few blocks away to rent the DVD for $1.

Epilogue: In the literally 3 minutes it took my wife to pick up and return with the DVD, I was able to redeem The Grand Budapest Hotel through the Google Play Store and have time left over to make myself a nice Thanksgiving leftovers snack.

Thoughts on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Timothy Huneycutt nails it:

In many ways, this movie feels like elaborate scene setting instead of a proper first installment to a new franchise.

I really, really liked Fantastic Beasts, but the above line is right on point. It's a beautiful film with great character work, but the plot itself left me wanting more.

There is almost too much going on in this story, and it makes it hard to grasp onto any particular thread. There are at least 3 stories going on in concert, but they weave in and out of each other in a way that just felt muddled to me. Each story is good on it's own and the actors do great work, but it just doesn't gel the way you'd like a great movie to come together.

I was happy to jump back into the Harry Potter world, and it was wonderful to see another film in this same universe, but with zero returning characters or locations. The Harry Potter films created one of the most delicious movie universes of our time, and Fantastic Beasts continues that legacy well. Everything is familiar, but distinct. It's exactly what you want from a "universe" story, and that's what Fantastic beasts nails.

Chris Columbus's first 2 Harry Potter films were not great, but they had amazing bones; actors, world design, music (my god, the music!). The first Fantastic Beast film is better than either of those first 2 Harry Potter films, but I think it accomplishes the same basic goal. It's a starting point that future films will build off of, and I think it's only going to get better.

Inside Out, You Have To See This Pixar Gem

Almost all of Pixar's films are about growing up in one way or another. Some films hit this more on the head than others, and those tend to be my favorites. Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, and Toy Story each come to mind as standouts. Inside Out follows in these films' footsteps, and is an amazing film of which Pixar should be very proud.

I love the Toy Story movies, but it kind of kills me that Toy Story 4 is happening. When your original films are this good, why or why do they need to bring back that series? Money, I know, but Inside Out made $90 million domestically in its opening weekend. And not just any weekend, it was going up against Jurassic World, which has had the biggest opening couple weeks of all time! It was the second biggest Pixar weekend ever, and is getting marvelous reviews. The fact that Pixar could make a weird movie about emotions, has a female protagonist (a couple female leads, actually), and doesn't rely on crude cartoon humor to win over kids and adults is amazing.

If you have not seen Inside Out, you should go see it. If you don't like the trailers and think it looks boring, you should go see it. If you have even a sliver of a memory of childhood left, you should go see this film. If you have a kid and need to explain their emotions, go see this film. It's not PIXAR'S GREATEST FILM EVER, but it holds up very nicely against the studio's very best work, and of course is required viewing if you are a fan of their work.

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