Peaks and valleys at the multiplex in 2017

December 30, 2017

There were unexpected peaks and valleys at the multiplex this year, and even though ink was spilled over the diminished box office returns in 2017, there was a wealth of quality releases ... you just had to know where to look.

Instead of merely listing the "best" and the "worst," I'd like to travel along this year's winding road and provide points of interest along the way ... a cinematic sightseeing tour, if you will.

So crank up the radio, roll down the windows and let's take a ride, shall we?

When taking any journey, it's best to begin by mapping out the places you wish to avoid, so here are some cinematic potholes that you may wish to steer clear of:

Most Likely Edited with Safety Scissors: The Snowman. A best-selling novel, Michael Fassbender as the lead, an acclaimed director, and Thelma Schoonmaker as editor, and this one still managed to fail on every possible level. In its native Norwegian, the lead detective's name is pronounced like Olé, but here it's pronounced like it's spelled: Hole. And his first name is Harry. And yet, the lead's unfortunate name is perhaps the least of its issues.

Biggest Step Back: Justice League. Despite earning our goodwill with "Wonder Woman," DC once again gave us more mundane muscled misanthropes, adding a Crossfit fish stick as Aquaman and a "Big Bang Theory" reject as The Flash.

Most Noticeable Unraveling: The Mummy. Universal announced it was going to build a monster "universe" of films (a la Marvel). Then this Tom Cruise dud came out. The announcers have since realized that idea was more terrifying than any film they could make, and have abandoned that decision.

As Loud as it is Boring: Transformers: The Last Knight. As the dearly departed Dean Wormer so famously said in "Animal House": "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life." Yet, the "Transformer" films seem to thrive in that state. I am fairly certain "What a bitchin' ride!" will not go on Sir Anthony Hopkins' (who must have paid off a pool by appearing here) clip reel.

Steepest Fall: The Book of Henry. Colin Trevorrow parlayed his indie cred into a gig directing the blockbuster "Jurassic World." He blew it quickly with this story of a child savant who dies early on and leaves behind instructions for his mom (poor, poor Naomi Watts) to become a vigilante assassin and murder her neighbor. Will no doubt contend with "The Room" for its unintentional comedy.

Most Obnoxious Cash-grab: The Emoji Movie. We have utterly failed as a society.

Most Unwanted Nostalgia: Baywatch/CHiPs. Riding the "21 Jump Street" wave, these films decided to give their television source material a naughty update. Thanks, but I will wait for the big-screen releases of "Too Close for Comfort" and "What's Happening?"

Most Aptly Named: Ghost in the Shell. Hollow and soulless, this live-action, Scarlett Johansson take on the popular comic was the anti-"Blade Runner."

Sequel We Only Thought We Wanted: Alien: Covenant. Director Ridley Scott hinted at something bigger with his franchise with "Prometheus," only to throw it all out the window and rehash his oft-copied original with diminished returns.

And now it's time to revisit the cinematic landmarks throughout the year. These left lasting memories for all the right reasons.

Most Unexpected Surprise: Get Out. If I were to do a favorite film of 2017, "Get Out" would take the prize. Unexpectedly deep, funny, timely and crafted with obvious affection for the genre, the directorial debut of Jordan Peele will resonate for years to come.

Most Welcomed Return: Logan Lucky. Steven Soderbergh announced his "retirement" in 2013. If this is what retirement looks like, I am going to start cashing in my 401K now. The ensemble of Daniel Craig, Adam Driver and Channing Tatum as seemingly simpleton NASCAR thieves left many 2017 comedies in its dust.

Most Deft Touch: Dunkirk. While perhaps not the peak of director Christopher Nolan's canon, the film is certainly a crash course in show-don't-tell filmmaking, including some of the most stunning sequences filmed all year.

Yes, They Make Them Like They Used To: Lost City of Z. Deliberately paced and lavishly filmed, the journey into the unknown is a throwback to older adventure films in the best possible ways.

Weird and Wonderful: Okja. This Netflix original deftly balances its tone between pitch-black satire, childhood wonder and touching drama that would crumble to dust in the hands of a lesser director.

Sequel We Never Knew We Wanted: Blade Runner 2049. Without original director Ridley Scott at the helm, this 35-years-later sequel is thoughtful, meditative and gorgeous, expanding the universe that shaped the modern cinematic sci-fi we have today.

Most Timely: The Florida Project. Perhaps it's the toxic political climate in which we now live, perhaps it's the lack of connectedness we now display, "Florida" beats with an empathy for others that we only wish we could exhibit more of as a society.

Best Crowd-Pleasing Action: Kong: Skull Island. Casting aside all laborious "origin" shackles, Kong leaves quite a mark. Funny, weird and wild, "Skull Island" knows exactly what it is, and doesn't monkey around by taking itself too seriously.

Will Age Like Wine: Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Though nerds are divided, this will come to be respected as one of the franchise's best, passing its legacy to a new breed of Jedi.

Making the Grimm Brothers Proud: The Shape of Water. Imagine "Beauty and the Beast" with gills. And a conjugal visit. Guillermo del Toro knows how to make fractured fables for adults ("Pan's Labyrinth"), and he immerses us in his world with surprising humanity thanks to its strong cast.

There were a number of other films released this year, that, while perhaps not technically the "best," were far better than they had any right to be. They included: Life, Coco, 47 Meters Down, Brad's Status, Lady Bird, and Happy Death Day.

  • Rob is the head of the English and Communications Department at Delaware Technical Community College, where he teaches film. He is also one of the founders of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society and is lead entertainment writer for Influx Magazine. Email him at