Usually at this time of year I’m all over awards season. I’m one of those film nerds who actually finds the political aspect of the Oscars cool and entertaining. But this year, something has held me back from watching the nominees. There’s a lot of darkness in the world. Kids are being shot in our schools. Communities still draw racial lines to keep “the other” out. The political landscape is becoming more and more radicalized. Day jobs suck. You can’t buy Dunkaroos anymore. And someone got paid to make an Emoji Movie. A lot of the films nominated this year reflect the darkness we see in the news. Political corruption is blandly highlighted in The Post. Racism gets a sci-fi critique in The Shape of Water. High fashion becomes an analogy for toxic relationships in The Phantom Thread. These movies are, by and large, fine – but there’s nothing that catches my imagination enough to get me into the theater.
I blame The Greatest Showman. I went one night before Christmas and it ruined me for Oscar season. You see, The Greatest Showman is about joy, which is a really unexpected theme in the cynical world we’re living in. It’s about working for your dreams and how important it is for kids to see you doing just that. It’s about believing you can accomplish the improbable and the hope that belief brings those who have nothing. The idea that we can make the world a better place, even if it’s just one person at a time, is a breath of fresh air amid tweet storms and wildfires.
It’s easy to write off the Oscars as just a vapid awards show, and even easier to dismiss the films we consume on a daily or weekly basis as mindless entertainment. But they are not. What we choose to watch has a measurable impact on us. Watching movies filled with joy and hope in turn fills us with joy and hope. The prime example this year has been Black Panther, which was not only an international box office smash, but has sparked dreams in people of color across the world.
With that in mind this is my top ten list of joyful movies from 2017. These selections are sometimes silly, sometimes ridiculous, but have the ingredients to leave you grinning from ear to ear.
#10 – Baby Driver: Brought to you by the director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz comes a riveting mystery reminiscent of old noir films. A young getaway driver decides that he wants out of the heist game after falling in love with a girl. It’s always a girl in these stories, isn’t it? The soundtrack is as much a character as any of the actors, and that’s saying something considering the cast includes Jon Hamm, Lily James, and Kevin Spacey. It’s the perfect movie for when you just need an escape.
#9 – Baywatch: Hear me out on this one. Yes, its The Rock. Yes, its Zac Efron. Yes… its Baywatch. But this reboot fully embraces how ridiculous that sounds – revels in it, in slow motion. The story is a decent little mystery, punctuated by Efron repeatedly pointing out how absurd it is to have lifeguards investigating a criminal conspiracy. For you satire lovers out there, trust me: just watch it.
#8 – Beauty and the Beast: I actually hated this movie on a visceral level. You can’t take one of the greatest musicals ever and then cast an actress who can’t even sing with the help of auto-tune. Even if she is Emma Watson. Everything wrong with the movie can actually be summed up in this costumer’s analysis of the famous Golden Gown. However, in the interest of fairness, everything but Watson’s Belle was wonderful. The film is well worth at least one watch, especially if you have little girls who love princesses and music.
#7 – Spider-Man: Homecoming: This current version of Spider-Man is definitely my favorite. He’s young and hopeful, not broody and angsty. Homecoming also takes the Marvel universe to a smaller scale, focusing not on a diabolical plot to end the world, but on hometown crime that threatens people that Peter Parker loves. At its core, it’s a movie about the difference between just being a hero and actually making an impact. And of course there’s great action and witty dialogue enough to make me wish the next one was coming out sooner than 2019.
#6 – Coco: Coco is a surprisingly important movie for those interested in building bridges rather than walls. Director Lee Unkrich calls it “a love letter to Mexico.” We have all come to have high hopes every time Pixar comes out with a new film. Coco delivers a vibrant, musical adventure and a poignant journey through Mexico’s beautiful traditions. It’s a romp that will leave you singing and maybe give you parents a new alternative to the Moana soundtrack.
#5 – Thor: Ragnarok: I liked the first two Thor movies, but there was a glaring problem. They couldn’t decide if they were superhero movies or modern mashups of Shakespeare and Beowulf. Thor was just kind of a larger than life, mythic hero who was trapped in a fish-out-of-water storyline. Ragnarok finally embraces the absurdity of that combo and lets Thor play. He’s a hair less noble and a bunch more dush – the family resemblance between him and Loki finally comes out. And you know, it works. We don’t go to Thor movies to see a perfect hero (that’s what Capitan America is for). We go to Thor movies to see the freaking God of Thunder smash things with his hammer. Oh, and did I mention that the most badass Marvel villain yet is also their first female villain? If nothing else, you owe it to yourself to see the movie for Cate Blanchett as Hela.
#4 – The LEGO Batman Movie: By far the best of all the Batman movies. It will entertain any audience, but those of you who love Batman and know the movies, TV shows, and comic books will find it downright priceless. I was skeptical going in because The LEGO Movie was such a strong film and I wasn’t sure they’d be able to follow it up well with a spin-off. LEGO Batman lives up to those high standards and then some. The story primarily revolves around Batman and his aversion to human connection. It’s everything you would expect when taking the world’s greatest detective, and the best dark broody-brooder in comics, and putting him into an imaginative universe based on a beloved children’s toy.
#3 – Jumanji: For all you gaming nerds out there, this is your movie. It’s a reboot without being too heavy-handed about it. Where the original film was a great, campy adventure, this one doubles down on nerd culture and gamers in particular. I’d say the most striking feature of Chris McKenna’s script is the deft way they take blatant stereotypes and play them exactly opposite what you expect. The casting helps in a big way. I cannot imagine more perfect picks than Dwayne Johnson as the mousy nerd, Kevin Hart as the massive jock, and Jack Black as the insta-famous prom queen. You have not lived until you hear Jack Black insist that he “just can’t even!”
#2 – Wonder Woman: After She-ra, Princess of Power, Wonder Woman was my superhero idol as a precocious four-year-old. The one and only comic book I had as a kid was a Wonder Woman book that I pored over countless times. The Amazons, the lasso of truth, her invisible plane… every wonderful piece of imagination sparked my own. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that the same stories had touched and inspired my grandmother in the same way. Every little girl – and little boy – needs to see this movie. Not only is it one of the best superhero movies yet, it connects generations of women in their dreams of making a difference, and bringing a piece of hope to a world torn by wars and hurt. And it does so without being anti-men. Wonder Woman is really just pro-wonder.
#1 – The Greatest Showman: I was pretty skeptical when I heard that Wolverine was making a musical about the circus. But this movie is truly one of the most wonderful, joy-filled films I’ve ever seen. While it plays fast and loose with the historical subject matter, everything from the script, to the cast, to the music, to the choreography blend together to make a magical experience all about the importance of dreaming big. That’s a message that everyone needs to hear these days. Be warned, though: if you do watch it, you’d better make sure you have time for multiple screenings. Trust me.