10 Best Movies of Summer 2017

The full list of 18 can be seen on The Playlist

We’re right on top of things calendar-wise, right?…
A little late to the party, but, it’s become a recurrent trend every summer for journalists to look back at the movies that were released and, well, complain. The gist of some articles would be “don’t you remember the days when they used to release great movies in the summer”? 1982 and/or 1984 are usually mentioned and, in all honesty, those were pretty great years. In fact, they’re pretty much known as the peaks of summer movie seasons. This year, AFI is running a 1982 retrospective and, of course, a whole segment focuses on that incredible summer full of cinematic treats. Just look at the films that were released between May and August of that year: “E.T,” “Blade Runner,” “Poltergeist,” “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” “John Carpenter‘s The Thing,” “An Officer and a Gentleman,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Porkys,” “Diner,” “Conan the Barbarian,” and “Tron.” Impressive.
Well, watch your back 1982 and 1984 because the summer movie season we just witnessed in 2017 will no doubt become stiff competition for your title. What’s astounding about this year’s summer movies is just how good they were despite people’s misconceptions that we are somehow living in this kind of cinematic doomsday filled with one dreadful movie after another being released on a weekly basis. Quite the contrary, almost every weekend this summer saw the release of a cinematic delight, with films by Christopher Nolan, Edgar Wright, Kathryn Bigelow, Steven Soderbergh, Sofia Coppola, the Safdie brothers, Bong Joon-Hoand Ridley Scott to name a few. So embrace it, people. Relish in the cinematic treats we got this year, it’s a just cause for celebration. The following are 18 great movies that were released between the months of May and August.
Christopher Nolan‘s piece-de-resistance is delivered to us like a full-blown symphony. It certainly is the riskiest cinematic endeavor he’s ever attempted, a 107-minute war movie that shows more than tells. The dialogue is sparse, supposedly the final screenplay he ended up shooting with was his shortest ever, at just 76 pages, and rumor has it that it came to about 10 or so pages of dialogue. “Dunkirk” and its silent film-inspired images make it feel like a close relative to Sergei Eisenstein‘s “Battleship Potemkin.” Eisenstein and Nolan’s films are both staggering, visceral cinematic treatises on image and sound. Both convey a historical event through the use of brilliantly edited images and multiple narratives happening on-screen. The lack of dialogue makes “Dunkirk” almost minimalistic in style, a rare feat in today’s blockbuster-stuffed landscape. The sheer fact that a studio would invest in such an audacious artistic statement like “Dunkirk” does bring a glimmer of hope for the future of mainstream cinema. It’s quite simply the best movie we saw all summer.
The Big Sick
All hesitations you might have had about this Judd Apatow-produced film were thrown out the window once Kumail Nanjiani appeared in Michael Showalter’s millennial romantic comedy “The Big Sick.” Najiani, known for his supporting role in HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” doesn’t need to act as much as just be himself on-screen. The film is a touching and heartfelt personal account of his real-life relationship with his wife Emily Gordon (as played beautifully by Zoe Kazan), which was initially troubled by an undisclosed illness which left her hospitalized in a coma. “The Big Sick” is one of the best romantic comedies to come around in ages, a future classic of the genre. Sometimes the movie Gods align and everything in a production ends up working; the actors, the screenplay, the director, the photography. An effortlessly great film is born in the process. This is the best Judd Apatow movie and it wasn’t even directed by Apatow.
Jin (John Cho), A Korean-born man arrives in Columbus, Indiana, one of the great architectural cities in the world, where his legendary architect father is in a coma. He meets Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) a young enthusiast of his father’s, who wishes to pursue her dreams outside of the small city but is burdened to take care of her recovering addict mother. The bond these two lost souls create in this magical city of Architectural heaven is not just touching but has a surreal aspect to it that makes the viewer feel as if they just got lost in a dream. Columbus, Indiana’s famous modern architecture is featured prominently throughout as Casey guides Jin to her favorite spots. Their corresponding conversations, filled with cigarette smoke, gradually become more detailed and more revealing. Director Kogonada, in his impressive debut, conveys emotion through site and sound. He turns out to be a master of not just visual setting, but of conversational filmmaking, and his “Columbus” might just be a masterpiece.
Baby Driver
Edgar Wright consulted with “Mad Max: Fury Road” director George Miller, the master of practical effects, for help on his car-chase movie “Baby Driver.” That tells you everything you need to know about the detail that went into making this tale of hot-rod heaven. The stunts in “Baby Driver” are INSANE. Wright filmed all of the action sequences on location, and what was on screen was 95% practical effects, with only 5% CGI for touch-ups. Because they shot in a city and working freeway, they had to rehearse on the Atlanta Motor Speedway and choreograph with Matchbox cars. The film tells the story of a talented, young getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) who’s forced to work on a heist for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey) and two for-hire crooks (Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm). The film is a candy-colored mash-up of “Drive,” The Driver” and Michael Mann’s “Thief.
War For the Planet of the Apes
What Matt Reeves has done in “War For the Planet of the Apes” is quite an accomplishment. The third, and presumably final, chapter in the ‘Apes’ series is one of the most entertaining movies of the year. The miraculous thing about it is that it barely has any dialogue. Sure, there are lines uttered here and there, but the fact that 99% of the apes can’t speak and the main human character, a teenage girl, is deaf, results in a film that relies heavily on visuals to tell its story. There’s no excess fat here, just pure unadulterated thrills that rely on the audience’s smarts to pull through. This is action, gloriously displayed on an epic scale, with a thrilling and groundbreaking blend of CGI and kinesthesism, especially in its breathtaking finale. Reeves has found a way to bring back expressionism and make “silent cinema” hip again this summer. Who’d a thunk it?
Good Time
A botched bank robbery starts off the madcap lunacy of the Safdie Brothers’ “Good Time.” Constantine Nikas’ (Robert Pattinson) brother lands in jail and, to try and find bail money, he embarks on the darkest and most surreal of Odysseys in New York’s underworld. Think a much more desperate version of Scorsese’s “After Hours” on speed and coke. The adrenaline-filled night is rife with madness and the most disturbing of violent actions. This is a richly textured genre exercise that is packed with one unforgettable scene after another, many of which may not have worked in any other director’s hands. The Safdies have created their most fully realized movie by making their most cinematic one, and yet still maintain the docu-style realism that has always been at the forefront of their singular vision. Pattinson is an enthralling lead, building up his character through facial expressions and bottled-up anger from the deepest, most bottomless pits of his soul. “Good Time” is high-class “gutter poetry.”
Ingrid Goes West
Matt Spicer‘s “Ingrid Goes West” dealt with our craze for social media in the most intelligent and assured of ways. The film has a career-making performance from Aubrey Plaza as an emotionally unbalanced, celebrity obsessed millennial who decides to head out west and stalk an Instagram celebrity (a pitch-perfect Elizabeth Olsen) to the brink of martyrdom. It’s one of the best dark comedies to come around in ages and smartly updates the stalker genre for the social media generation. It also captures a part of L.A. that as screenwriter and friend Matthew Wilder told me make it’s not just “a wacky satire but a documentary portrait of an L.A. with girls reading Joan Didion’s “The White Album” and sipping on their green cappuccino at Urrth Cafe, which has the spiritual mantra of “Another day, another avocado toast.” ‘Ingrid’ could become a defining movie of the current generation of click-bait, photo snapping millennials.
In the last 10 years,Kathryn Bigelow has set a gold standard for us to judge her work by. Sure, her latest, “Detroit,” might not belong next to landmarks such as “The Hurt Locker,” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” but taken on its own merits, this is staggering and visceral filmmaking. The cushion of “Detroit,” when it really hits its stride, is when it deals with the infamous incident at the Algiers motel, where there young African-American men were assaulted and some murdered by Detroit cops. That’s when her movie is at its most gripping and unsettling. Officer Krauss, the main white cop who orchestrates all of this evil, as played by Will Poulter, is a man with no moral compass and it makes for some hard-to-watch brutality. It’s not hard for Bigelow to involve you in the story, but it is up to the viewer to decide if this is well-intentioned filmmaking or, as its detractors seem to be saying, manipulative coarsening. We’ll leave it up to you to decide, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Bigelow meant to provoke us and cause discussion and with that she certainly did.
You have never seen a movie quite like Joshua Weinstein‘s “Menashe.” Shot by Weinstein on a low-budget, in near cinema-verite style, deep in the heart of New York City’s Hasidic community, it’s even presented in Yiddish with English subtitles. Talk about a gamble even for an indie production. The film chronicles the trials and tribulations of recently widowed Hasidic Jew Menashe (Menashe Lustig in his big-screen debut) whose community forces his son to be raised by his openly contemptuous brother in-law. Menashe’s endeavor to regain custody of his son is at the heart of the film’s narrative. This is a quiet drama that stitches together an ordinary life faced with impossibly tasked religious restrictions, yet Menashe persists. Weinstein’s film is a slice of America that you’ve rarely seen before on screen, a world that largely remains foreign to the mainstream, but one that Weinstein shows us a bird’s eye view of here.
City of Ghosts
A documentary about the ISIS stronghold in Raqqa, Syria, Matthew Heineman‘s “City of Ghosts” might be the definitive document thus far about the Syrian civil war.  Heineman received frontline access to the citizen journalist collective of “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently,” a group which tries to defy threats against their lives by the terrorist organization and has as a goal to fight the misinformation and indoctrination of their people at the hands of this radical evil.  The deeply humane stories being told here are numerous and will no doubt cast a human perspective on this vast and infuriating war which is, underreported on a daily basis by the world media. The film’s final image, that of a journalist with a bounty on his head trembling in fear for his life, will haunt you for days.