A long time ago, in a brick double-wide a mere 40 meters outside the city of Cincinnati boundary, I first saw The Empire Strikes Back with limited commercial interruption on Fox 19 while Dad slept on the couch (his Sunday tradition). The pew-pews of the blasters, the swagger of Lando’s cape, the unrelated advertisements for McCluskey Automotives. I was hooked from that moment. I would go on to break several plastic lightsabers and overplay two Lego Star Wars games before reaching adulthood, all while taking in each movie with enough repeat viewings and overdue library VHS charges to constitute parental concern for childhood mediocrity. To even try to rank them is so hard, if only because I legitimately enjoy all but one of them (foreshadowing). Still, each one up the list just barely edges out the others in a cinematic podrace of funky sci-fi films.
Listen, I know a Marvel list might seem a little overdone at this point, but we swear, this is the most definitive, objective list Joe could come up with. Which is to say, it's still pretty personal and opinionated. Either way, have fun!
*WARNING: Minor Spoilers and Personal Opinions Ahead. Proceed with Caution*
Special effects have come along way since the Windows 98 screensavers, but damn it if they don’t stick with me. The Maze, with its subtle ambiguity, challenging you to keep watching in case there really is an end to the never ending search. Or The Ocean Floor, serving as a little slice of life with unique fish just living out their days in a Gateway monitor. Most of my time on the old desktop in the basement might have been spent on the Shrek 2 game I found at a thrift store, but when the mouse laid to rest for the night and the keys got a break from my Cheetos-encrusted fingers, I would just watch those magical screensavers until my eyes grew weary.
Annihilation is the Windows 98 screensaver for present-day Me. Directed and written for the screen by Alex Garland, Annihilation follows Lena (Natalie Portman), a professor of biology at Johns Hopkins. Her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) is a soldier sent to investigate altered land dubbed “The Shimmer”, where anyone sent it doesn’t come back. When Kane comes back and Lena notices he isn’t the same, she volunteers to accompany the group of scientists assigned to enter “The Shimmer” and find out what the hell is going on.
On the surface, this is pretty standard Sci-Fi fare. Meteor hits Earth. Meteor carries alien qualities. Alien qualities start changing the Earth. Humans like the Earth the way it is. Humans try and stop it. And yet, the film fills every possible blank in that formula with a far weirder species of cinema. Garland’s script feels written with big intentions of displaying the grandest visuals possible. The film calls for the viewer’s full vision as it swings from refracted barriers to the gnarliest of DNA-revamped creatures. It’s an illustrated feast that purposefully indulges too far, bringing on the tense nightmares that await our not-so-merry band of researchers. While the script occasionally falls short in its dialogue, the main cast of scientists (including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, and Natalie Portman’s Lena) bring intense, driven performances that all have just enough personal identity to stand distinct and impactful.
While everyone is bringing their A-game, Natalie Portman is the star of the show. Her character’s arc somehow touches on self destruction, lost love, and genetically changed alligators without skipping a beat. Lena’s path is painful and arresting. Alex Garland is able to amplify this performance with an eerie, restive atmosphere that builds into a haunting piece of Sci Fi.
Annihilation is a film I can’t shake, my heart still panting from the horrors of The Shimmer. I can’t decide if this movie is as good as Garland’s last, Ex Machina, but his most recent work brings on more striking visuals that have taken over the Windows 98 screensaver hole in my heart, and that’s a heavy feat.
Annihilation gets a soft 8 out of 10.
*pours glass of bourbon*
*opens bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos*
Here we go.
I gotta come right out and say it: Last year was a rough one. But bad years also tend to bring out the best in our films. Well that, and a fifth Transformers movie. I tried to see everything I could, but as it turns out, the Midwest doesn’t exactly attract the limited screenings and opening premieres that Hollywood has (but we have a crap ton of corn and religious billboards, so that’s something). Still, I tried my darndest to catch what I could, and I even tried ranking them. I’m a bonafide, broke AF movie blogger, y’all (FOR THE LOVE OF TOM CRUISE, PLEASE SUPPORT OUR PATREON).
With all that in mind, let’s get ready to disagree in the comments. Let the list begin!
Should’ve, Could’ve, Would’ve
I really wanted to see these, but couldn’t get around to it in time for the Oscars. I’m sure they’re super dope, but I’ll just have to catch them later.
Ingrid Goes West
The Florida Project
The Darkest Hour
I figured I’d go for the classic “Top 10” structure, but that means a few films were the real deal without making it.
15. Baby Driver / Logan Lucky (tie)
14. The Big Sick
13. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
11. The Killing of the Sacred Deer
10. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
I know, I know. It’s another dopey Marvel movie. But damn, can James Gunn make a solid, emotional rollercoaster. This film packs in gorgeous visuals, a killer soundtrack, and even some impactful character arcs. Is this a perfect movie? No. There are points where the film feels overstuffed and underserves a few characters. Normally, I don’t know if it would’ve made my top list, but there is a weird combination of factors that left me teary-eyed by the end. The film follows a fatherhood storyline, and I am a sucker for fatherhood storylines. That said, it’s not an uncommon trope. You wanna know what really got the water works flowing? The pairing of soundtrack and story. My own father introduced me to Electric Light Orchestra and Cat Stevens, so “hell yeah” I’m gonna cry when they play “Father and Son” at an emotional moment. This movie felt made for me, and that gives it the oomph it needed for my Top 10. It’s a very personal pick, but one I would make again and again.
9. Blade Runner 2049
Holy crap, is this movie pretty. If Blade Runner 2049 was made for the desktop backgrounds alone, I would’ve paid full price all over again. But, just like a classic American car that I totally know all the stats about, it’s what’s the hood that matters. Ryan Gosling soaks up the scenery with his quiet, tense performance (think Drive, but with more furry coats), and Harrison Ford makes a triumphant return to a film franchise he actually liked. Meanwhile, director Denis Villeneuve brings forth a slow burn of a story that left some bored, but Joe entranced. I wanted to live in every moment of this world, this story. It felt so real and assured, and the score makes each scene that much more dense. I left the theater feeling like I had just digested a space car, and just like digesting a space car, this movie stuck with me.
8. The Shape of Water
You love movies? Of course you love movies. You know who else loves movies? Guillermo del Toro loves movies. Then del Toro went ahead and made a movie that’s in love with movies. And now I love this movie that loves movies from the guy who also loves movies. There’s a whole lot of love going around here, and this movie feels like a big ol’ hug from that crush you just found out likes you back. There’s also something to be said of Sally Hawkins’ performance, who knocks it out of the park in a complex, vulnerable role. Does it feel a little too Oscar-y? Yeah, at times. But there is an earnestness that seeps through every scene that makes it all okay. We can only hope that the fish beast from this movie doesn’t inspire a cultural spin off to furries.
Holy crap. Holy flippity crap, Hugh Jackman. How do you get to look that good, make chest hair sexy, and deliver one of the greatest performances of the year? It’s just not fair. Logan doesn’t just deliver the killer Wolverine performance, but also a powerful neo-western superhero pic that takes the right amount of advantage towards Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s legacy. This doesn’t feel like a superhero movie, and yet brings out the best that comic books have had to offer. Gorgeous visuals, a solid plot, and an old British dude who can do stuff with his mind. Logan knows what it is, and executes it perfectly.
6. A Ghost Story
Okay, this one is weird. Like, “Rooney Mara eats a whole pie in one take for 7 minutes and then throws it up” kinda weird. This movie is peak arthouse, but damn, is it affecting. The moving, long-reaching narrative makes everything around us feel so big and so small, all at once. Think of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life but with only enough budget for a bed sheet and eye holes. Still, director David Lowery moved me in ways I wasn’t prepared to be moved, all while introducing me to Daniel Hart’s powerful music.
5. Call Me By Your Name
The fact that Michael Stuhlbarg didn’t get nominated for Best Supporting Actor for this performance is a load of [CENSORED] on top of a [WHO EVEN TALKS LIKE THAT???]. Woah. This got a little away from me, there. Where was I? Oh, that’s right. I was in beautiful 1980s Italy having my heartstrings played by Cupid, the entire cast and director, and Sufjan Stevens’ melodic voice. This movie made me want to never leave these characters’ lives. I want disappointing sequels, spin offs, and branded cereal boxes. I loved this film so much, I’ll gladly settle for inferior dilutions of it. Besides, who doesn’t love a good cereal promo?
4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Controversy time! People loved, loathed, or despised this movie, and its subject matter seems to aim for that. On a front, it's a story about a woman making peace with the death of her daughter, but director/writer Martin McDonagh surrounds the plot with complicated, sometimes despicable characters. While I understand contention with the sympathizing of morally wrong people, this film made me reflect on my own actions. I had to ask myself why it is so hard to forgive those unworthy of it. This movie weighs on me, and makes me question a lot. This is complemented by fantastic acting, humor, and the rare touching moment.
3. Get Out
I mean, come on! It's Get Out. THE Get Out. Rarely has a film felt so special or so unique. And yet, despite its niche appearance, this film spoke to a nation, and it spoke to me. Jordan Peele has crafted a smart, pointed, and scary piece of art. The acting is superb, the camera work is stellar, and the writing sticks with you longer than a clingy ex. Jordan did the near impossible in making a film that matters, while also making it incredibly rewatchable. Lastly, Lil Rel Howery deserves the Oscar for Best Comic Relief. I know that’s not an award yet, but sign my change.org petition and maybe we can make this a reality.
2. The Lost City of Z
If The Shape of Water makes you love movies because it loves movies, then The Lost City of Z just makes you love movies, period. James Gray has brought forward an enthralling tale of obsession and discovery, perfectly paired with gorgeous scenery and fantastic acting. Every moment of this film is a feast for the eyes and the soul. James Gray might not be a household name in the film industry, but damn if he isn’t one of the best after this one.
WHY WOULD YOU EVEN TRY TO BRING CORN TO SPACE, MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY?? HUMANS DON’T EVEN DIGEST IT PROPERLY!!
What? It’s not Interstellar? It’s that new one with Harry Styles? Oh, drat.
Christopher Nolan’s films have awed me and sometimes frustrated me, but even Inception couldn’t knock me off my feet the way Dunkirk did. This is a war movie unlike any other war movie. Hell, this is a movie unlike a lot of movies. Barely a word is spoken throughout this piece. There are no ragtag bands of soldiers hanging out in abandoned churches talking about their girlfriends back home. This film feels like the best of auteur filmmaking with a blockbuster budget. I imagine Dunkirk is similar to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling: The greatest ideas being given the biggest budgets. I want to buy the best speakers just so I can come close to recreating the experience I had in the theater. Unfortunately, my student loans keep my sound quality down to a phone speaker. Until then, I can at least enjoy the memories I had for Dunkirk, and for 2017.
*Licks Cheetos dust off fingers*
Bonus! Joe’s Favorite Albums of 2017
1 Pure Comedy - Father John Misty
2 The Underside of Power - Algiers
3 Saturation - Brockhampton
4 No Shape - Perfume Genius
5 Turn Out The Lights - Julien Baker
6 What Now - Sylvan Esso
7 Hot Thoughts - Spoon
8 Drunk - Thundercat
9 Distraction Sickness - Dark Rooms
10 Flower Boy - Tyler, The Creator
This year was a rough one. The country felt more and more divided, Disney made moves towards becoming the New World Order, and Hollywood heroes became twisted villains. Grappling with the gross mutations of a messed up world was difficult for me, because I feel like I’m just about to join it.
Don’t be alarmed: I’m not some alien who just now decided to descend from my spaceship and join humanity. I’ve been a member of this world society since birth, but with graduation from college just around the corner, I feel uneasy in taking my full-time position as “Adult Person” in today’s climate. 2017 rattled me, with my love for politics being tested. I couldn’t help but find myself being angry at everyone for not being ideal people. I also began to notice all of my shortcomings, and feared that I wouldn’t be good enough when I ditch the water wings and go out on my own into the world. The irony that an objectively icky year lined up with my own personal year of reckoning is not lost on me. Just as the world is changing, so are my own receptors to it, which is why 2017 somehow has me saying, “Thank you, world, for country music.”
I never much liked country. I grew up surrounded by Christian Rock and Dive Bar Twang, which might be seen as a deep layer of hell for music snobs. When puberty hit and I began listening to other bad music (Hello, pop punk phase!), I left country behind for good, or so I thought.
Fast forward to college, and every tailgate is blaring songs about stomping cowboy boots and being a little too forward with women at the bar. It felt badly written and unrelatable, so I rejected the genre with even more gusto. But country proved to be even more stubborn and adaptable. 2016 gave the world a new album from Sturgill Simpson, a country rebel who doesn’t care what Nashville thinks of him. Intrigued by the story and strong reviews, I gave it a listen and BAM! I fell in love.
After Sturgill’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, I decided to dig a little deeper for those rhinestones in the rough. I found Kacey Musgraves, whose classic sound matched forward thinking while still letting good times roll. Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Allman Brothers, John Prine, and Glen Campbell showed me the deeper roots of this twangy sound. All of a sudden, I was invested in something I once despised.
This year challenged everybody. The nation rushed to either side of political spectrum and I felt abandoned somewhere in between. A lot of people did. I was prepared for inner conflict, but I wasn’t prepared for its solution. Country music, or at least some of its up-and-coming artists, responded in their own ways in 2017. In a genre I used to associate with Red Solo Cups and shallow partying, I found convictions and deeper emotions. The issues I grappled with were brought to light, songs were sung that let me escape these troubled times for a while, and I didn’t feel so alone. Country wasn’t the only genre to tackle personal identity and the current climate in America. We saw glimpses into the embattled minds of legends like Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z. This also wasn’t country music’s first year in the politics game, which they’ve been a part of since day one. What this year saw was me being a little late to the party. I was ignorant to the beauty of the genre, and 2017 changed that.
Hi, country music. It’s me, Joe. I’m sorry I was so closed-minded to you for so long, and thank you for accepting me anyway. We will miss Glen Campbell, who died this year, as well as Butch Trucks, whose name was as country as the sound he influenced. I hope you change as I change, growing together to be more aware and accepting. Also, Darius Rucker’s Wagon Wheel will forever be inferior to the original version by Old Crow Medicine Show, and I will not back down from this.
Your New Friend Joe
Joe’s 2017 Country Top Picks
From a Room: Vol. 1 and 2, Chris Stapleton
Purgatory, Tyler Childers
Colter Wall, Colter Wall
All American Made, Margo Price
The Nashville Sound, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Joe Brueggemeyer hosts and edits The Marquee podcast with Logan, and has an unhealthy obsession with baking.