With THOR: RAGNAROK, Marvel Is Learning, and We Are Winning

With THOR: RAGNAROK, Marvel Is Learning, and We Are Winning

Without fail, upon the release of a new Marvel movie, critical cynicism reaches a new peak. Make no mistake, Thor: Ragnarok has gotten good reviews. But even the favorable reviews seem skeptical this gigantic Marvel experiment. An otherwise positive notice at Vox notes the “current glut of superhero TV shows and movies.” The writer isn’t wrong- it feels like there’s too much of everything at this point- but the phrase is a microcosm of critical feeling about Marvel movies: there’s too many of these things, and we’re tired of watching them.

It’s an understandable feeling, but audiences don’t seem to agree. The three Marvel Cinematic Universe movies released this year (including Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming) are all in the top half of all the franchise’s opening weekend totals (17 in all), which suggests audience interest is still high. And when people see the movies, they’ve told other people they like them; all three are now in the franchise’s top ten grosses (and Ragnarok will likely rise into the top half), suggesting word of mouth continues to be strong for Marvel’s movies.

Of course, if you’re looking at my use of the movies’ popularity as an argument for their quality and about to tell me that popularity isn’t an indicator of quality, I’m way ahead of you. A lot of movies make a lot of money and are still bad movies. What I’m pointing out is the discrepancy between the appetites of audiences and critics. Critics want to be thoughtful about movies, and many people in the general populace couldn’t care less about thinking about movies.

One of the reasons it’s hard to be think critically about a Marvel movie is that many of them have been tied to setting up the next one, especially a lot of them between the first Avengers and the second. Movies that don’t stand alone don’t stand up well to critical thought. But the three Marvel movies released this year suggest Marvel may be changing its model, and critics and audiences both win as a result.

For one, Marvel appears to be relaxing its grip on the tone of its movies. Thor: Ragnarok is the most extreme example of this yet. Taika Waititi, celebrated in indie circles for What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, strikes a much lighter chord in this direction than any Marvel director yet. Even James Gunn with his Guardians movies and Peyton Reed with Ant-Man were a little more beholden than Waititi to the Marvel tone, which allows for humor but never allows it to be the point of a scene. Humor is the whole point of Thor: Ragnarok’s entirety.

That’s not to say Waititi doesn’t take these characters seriously. There are real arcs to all the main players: Thor (a Chris Hemsworth who finally gets to really let his comedy chops loose) gradually comes to accept his role as Asgard’s protector, Hulk (a manic Mark Ruffalo) finds belonging, Valkyrie (a scene-stealing Tessa Thompson) regains her purpose. These are legitimate plotlines given weight by a director who cares about these characters. But part of their growth involves flying into a wormhole named the Devil’s Anus. The humor is baked into the plot, which makes for a movie with joy and delight at its core.

Marvel also appears more willing to allow its movies to function on their own without constant callbacks to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s not to say Thor: Ragnarok is completed devoid of references to the other Avengers. But Ragnarok’s plot appears to be unconnected to the main thrust of Marvel’s current phase, allowing Waititi to tell a complete story from beginning to end. The movie’s themes are the better for it: a nation-state’s value lying in its people and not its land, a hero learning to take ownership of his fate, coming to terms with the sins of our fathers, etc. None of these would have been better served by a movie beholden to other plots outside of its own, without a true beginning or end.

Of course, if you know anything at all about the comics, it’s not hard to draw the lines from Ragnarok to the rest of the MCU. Hela (Cate Blanchett, devouring the CGI scenery), Thor’s sister, is the goddess of death, and upcoming MCU villain Thanos commits many of his most heinous acts in the comics to impress Death. Also, apparently Thanos and Hela recently made out in the comics. So the lines are there, but unlike in previous MCU installments, you aren’t forced to look at them. Ragnarok feels like a movie that shapes the MCU rather than one shaped by it.

The best way Marvel shows in Thor: Ragnarok that it is learning is Tessa Thompson. Of course, there’s the fact that she’s a black actress integral to the plot, which is a nice change of pace from blockbusters in general, not to mention from the largely white, male MCU. But the comic-book character her role is based on, Valkyrie, is a blonde, blue-eyed woman from a clan filled with blonde, blue-eyed women. Seeing as all of these characters are derived from Norse mythology, their complexion and hair color makes sense. So Marvel’s decision to cast Thompson in the role feels like a deliberate statement about what they value in their characters (at least going forward), and it’s not their race.

Waititi surely had a lot to do with the decision, as did the fact that Thompson has proven herself to be among the best actresses of her generation already in multiple roles. But whoever’s decision it was, Marvel had to approve it. They also had to approve Waititi’s conscious effort to include the aboriginal people of Australia in the production crew and cast, seeing as much of the film was made there. This isn’t Marvel’s normal way of doing things, and the willingness to allow modifications to their process is encouraging.

Marvel could keep doing the same thing and would likely make a lot of people happy and continue making a lot of money. But they are gradually changing how they function as a creative organization, and it’s showing in the quality of the movies. Critical cynicism may never go away, but if Marvel continues in this direction, it will undoubtedly decline. And we will undoubtedly win.

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Tentative Top Tens of 2017

Man, looking back at last year’s tentative top ten lists, I still hadn’t seen Moonlight or La La Land. Needless to say, in between now and next September when the official Bummys are posted, these lists are going to look very different.

Nevertheless, because I must capitulate to our culture’s norms, I must release lists this December. It will ever be so.

Movies

1. Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan’s movies have always been editing marvels, but this one takes the language of movies to a whole new level, redefining bravery and honor in a language singular to cinema.
2. Get Out: Not only the breakout movie of the year, but Peele’s genre masterpiece brought social depth back to horror movies.
3. Logan:
A superhero movie only by default, a great movie by sheer, gory effort.
4. After the Storm:
Understandably, no one stateside has seen this Korean drama, but I dare anyone who considers themselves a movie fan to check it out- American movies rarely reach these heights.
5. War for the Planet of the Apes:
The unlikeliest of success stories, this franchise reaches its peak in an old-fashioned western of a finale.
6. The Big Sick:
Romantic comedies used to be a dime a dozen, but this one manages to be a rarity in the genre: wholly original.
7. It:
This movie needed only to be scary; it did not need to be an insightful look at teenage longing, but that it was.
8. Thor: Ragnarok:
Recency bias may be in effect, but this Thor is the best Marvel movie since- well, since Iron Man.
9. A Ghost Story:
One of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen, but it moved me deeply, and I won’t forget it.
10. John Wick: Chapter 2:
The original was a high octane ride, and the second somehow enriched its world without sacrificing any of the intensity.

Albums

1. Father John Misty, Pure Comedy: A surreal journey from doubting the heavens to faith in humanity, this is what I’d like to think I’d sound like if I made an album and were smarter and funnier.
2. Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Navigator: The best piece of protest art released this year is also a masterpiece of roots music that isn’t shy about its roots being Latin.
3. Joan Shelley, Joan Shelley: Shelley sings and plays in an unassuming style, but there is a world of feeling in her delivery and lyrics.
4. The War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding: More languid than its predecessor, if you can believe that possible, but just as rich in its sweep.
5. Propaganda, Crooked: At this point, Jason Petty has established himself as Christian rap’s poet laureate; Crooked is his magnum opus.
6. Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life: Terribly underrated by a criticism community conflicted on how to cover rock music, Near to the Wild Heart of Life is a continuation of the band’s pure vision of idealist rock.
7. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound: Isbell is a wonderful storyteller, but Nashville Sound‘s strength is its ideas about morality.
8. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.: If the more introspective DAMN. doesn’t end up as beloved as TPAB, it will be because its themes are more personal than communal, and not because K-Dot has lost a step, which is decidedly not the case.
9. David Ramirez, We’re Not Going Anywhere: Folk troubadours across the country should look to Ramirez as a shining example of writing personal lyrics without navel-gazing.
10. Rhiannon Giddens, Freedom Highway: Like #2 on this list, this is a piece of Americana whose roots are “non-traditional” (read: non-white) and that enriches our American story immensely.

Best Book I Read

The Passage by Justin Cronin: I read more relevant non-fiction books (Abram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning and Michael R. Wear’s Reclaiming Hope) and more emotionally affecting fiction books (Brit Bennett’s The Mothers). But I’m a sucker for a well-written epic, and The Passage is both of those. It’s also expertly plotted around the theme of hope as the only response to hopelessness.

Best Comic I Read

The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker: I’m a big fan of several of Brubaker’s earlier series, including his run on Captain America and the Lovecraftian Fatale, so a Brubaker-written noir set in blacklist-era Hollywood could only be my new favorite title. Brubaker’s longtime illustrator, Sean Phillips, brings this macabre tale of the underbelly of the film industry to life in sobering detail.

Best TV Series I Watched

Master of None (season 2): The first season was a deft romantic comedy that dealt honestly with dating and friendship as an adult in your 30s. The second was the same but more, including a reimagining of the Italian neorealist classic The Bicycle Thief, the best Thanksgiving episode of television I’ve seen, and a reckoning with sexual assault by powerful men before the recent spate of allegations began. Also, the romance is easier to get swept up in than the one from the first season.

This David Ramirez Album Is Not About What You Think It Is About

This David Ramirez Album Is Not About What You Think It Is About

Everything is being framed in reference to Trump. We can’t get away from him. Music, movies, TV, books- writers cannot seem to find another angle from which to view pop culture right now. I understand that his election and presidency are convenient cultural touchstones, but we live in a big world. There’s no need to make his head big enough to fill it.

Even a relatively unknown folk singer like David Ramirez gets viewed through the Trump lens. According to The Independent, his new album We’re Not Going Anywhere “sees him pitch a message of defiance against Donald Trump’s America.” Outlets from Billboard to the Waco Tribune highlight Ramirez’s Mexican heritage, as if this means he would naturally address the orange elephant in the room.

One of the songs on We’re Not Going Anywhere, “Stone Age,” does function as a protest song in response to the anti-immigration rhetoric of the alt-right (read: white supremacist) movement. And opener “Twins” considers how our country has changed since 9/11, wondering if we’ve come any distance at all. But the vast majority of the album confronts feelings of loneliness and isolation that feel very personal to Ramirez. I wish I knew the context, but no one thought to ask, because they got hung up on the “relevance” of a couple songs.

The irony is that Ramirez has always had a knack for the protest song, though he was most often protesting the music business or the culture surrounding Americana music. 2013’s “The Forgiven” rails against the hypocrisy of valuing authenticity while shunning any mention of religion. 2014’s “Stone” lashes out at the music business for prioritizing fame over substance. But Ramirez’s albums are full of songs that are about what most songs are about: love, loss, and longing.

We’re Not Going Anywhere could be viewed as a protest album, in the sense that Ramirez has decided to fill his production with more synths than usual, evoking an ‘80s nostalgia that spits in the face of traditional Americana. That’s not to say this is no longer folk music. It just embraces Tunnel of Love more than Nebraska. This is to the album’s credit. Ramirez, who has always been a strong lyricist, has expanded the palette he’s using to present them.

David Ramirez doesn’t have the machinery to market him like a Sturgill Simpson, and he’s not brand-savvy the way Chris Stapleton has been since his rise to stardom. No, Ramirez is, as he puts it, a “career musician.” And whether he meant it this way or not, this phrase implies that he is most at home on the touring circuit, playing shows at intimate venues in the states surrounding his home in Austin, Texas. His music feels most at home here too, his songs too intimate for an arena, his lyrics too honest to survive long outside of a bar.

The little reporting that followed this record near its debut often highlighted that Ramirez recorded the album in an 18th-century farmhouse in Maine, as if the age of the studio space lends it wisdom or something. But maybe the remove of the location matters. Maybe it’s partly responsible for the clear-eyed way Ramirez views both our world and his own. I’d rather read too much into that farmhouse than just assume the album is about Trump.

Covering the music business is hard, and I am glad it is not my job. There are so many records and so many artists and so many platforms; where do you even start? But artists like David Ramirez deserve to be presented accurately. Ramirez is a great musician, and he has a distinct perspective that is worthy to be praised. Shoehorning him into a narrative does no one any favors- except maybe Donald Trump.

Quick Take: The Big Sick

If we have to keep watching Judd Apatow movies, I pray he continues embracing a diversity of voices. Trainwreck wasn’t much more than that, but at least it wasn’t a schlubby, white, male comedian telling the same story Apatow has been telling since The 40-Year-Old Virgin- essentially a romantic comedy from the perspective of a child stuck in the body of a man. Some of those have been worthwhile (Virgin, Knocked Up) and others have been not (Funny People).

The Big Sick, from Pakistani-American comedian and Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani, has more ground to cover than a man who can’t get his life together in time to hold on to the right girl (in this case, played by Zoe Kazan, who kind of runs away with the movie). Kumail is afraid his family will disown him if he commits to a white girl rather than one of the Pakistani girls his mother keeps trying to set him up with. Oh, and that white girl goes into a coma after a rare condition exacerbates an infection.

The movie is always more than its conceit. Meaning, it’s never just “that rom-com where the girl goes into a coma.” This is probably because the story is based on Nanjiani’s real-life relationship with his real-life wife and co-screenwriter, Emily V. Gordon. There are a lot of laughs, especially once Emily’s parents (played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, both pitch perfect) show up. But it’s the drama, not the comedy, that sticks with you. Like most romantic comedies, you’re never unsure of how it will end, especially since Kumail and Emily are still married. But unlike most romantic comedies, The Big Sick fills out its edges with who these characters really are. And, equally as rare, the movie uncovers some truths about the messy relationship between time, healing, and love.

TL;DR: Worthy of the upcoming sequel, The Big Sick 2: Bigger and Sicker (unconfirmed).

The Battle of the Sexes Honors Billie Jean King, but Not Enough

The Battle of the Sexes Honors Billie Jean King, but Not Enough

On a road trip through Austin a couple of weeks ago, my wife and I went to see The Battle of the Sexes at an Alamo Drafthouse with some friends. While we were visiting them, we talked a lot about popularity versus quality. My Austinite friend, who shall remain unnamed lest you choose to judge him for what I am about to tell you, is a contrarian. If something is popular, he is 90% guaranteed not to like it, or at least to be very skeptical of it. I’ll give him some credit here; there are popular things that he likes. However, he may be ashamed of that.

At any rate, while I cannot call myself a contrarian, I think he has a worthy perspective. People as a whole are often wrong about things. How else do we explain Imagine Dragons? This is especially true if you have a low view of human nature. I imagine that if John Calvin lived in the Age of Netflix, he too would be a contrarian. But I like a lot of popular things, and if we believe in the imago dei, we have to accept that sometimes people get things right. How else do we explain Beyoncé?

This is really the only framework within which to understand the fact that The Battle of the Sexes exists as a movie. The actual Battle of the Sexes was a tennis match between washed up Grand Slam winner, Bobby Riggs, and the best player in women’s tennis at the time, Billie Jean King, who made huge strides for equal pay in the tennis world and has furthered AIDS activism around the globe. The Battle of the Sexes was like a circus; King entered on a litter carried by oiled-up male models, and Riggs was accompanied by scantily clad women. Of all the ways to pay respect and homage to the life of an American pioneer like Billie Jean King, they focus on one of the most gimmicky sporting events of all time?

The most obvious explanation for this is the fact that 90 million people watched the event on television worldwide. It was a sideshow, but an extremely popular sideshow. This means we have to remember it in the history books, but do we need a movie about it? In the movie, the filming of the match itself is pretty exciting. But I’m not convinced the Battle of the Sexes was significant beyond its high ratings, even though the movie sure wants me to be.

I could forgive the movie for this if the rest of it was more interesting. The cast is very game. Steve Carell, as Riggs, captures both the clownish exterior he showed the people around him as well as the increasingly desperate man inside. Emma Stone plays King as determined in the face of a changing world, one that was still not accepting of who she truly was. But a game cast can only do so much if the game is paint-by-numbers.

For a sports movie making some attempt at historical significance, The Battle of the Sexes is fairly entertaining. It also has moments that are moving and genuinely inspiring. The incomparable Alan Cumming, who plays the stylist for the women’s tennis tour, has the movie’s best line. After King beats Riggs, she is overwhelmed by the moment, and Cumming’s character, Ted Tinling, takes her aside. Addressing both the moment and her fears at being outed as a lesbian, Tinling tells her, “Times change. You should know; you just changed them.” It’s a humane moment in a movie that didn’t try hard enough to be full of them.

The bulk of the non-tennis parts of the movie are centered around King’s blossoming understanding of her sexuality, which is helped along by a hairdresser, Marilyn Barnett, played by Andrea Riseborough. King’s husband, Larry (Austin Stowell), discovers their affair and is strangely stoic about it. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) may have chosen to explore this, but the movie makes the choice early on to be about the upcoming match between King and Riggs and little else. When you hear King talk about this time in her life, it’s clear it was far more complicated than the movie portrays.

And this is what the movie is lacking: complication of any sort. There is conflict, to be sure, but no complexity. It all comes back to the notion of this match between King and Riggs being the focal point of the story. In the movie’s match, King defeats Riggs and sexism while gaining confidence in her sexuality. In real life, Barnett ended up suing King for alimony, and Larry ended up becoming the godfather to King’s children with her future partner. There’s no room for life’s nuances in a circus. And when you make your movie about a circus, there’s little room for life.

Blade Runner 2049, the Art-House Movie Trying to Be a Blockbuster

Blade Runner 2049, the Art-House Movie Trying to Be a Blockbuster

The headlines surrounding the Blade Runner sequel right now are about how it bombed at the box office. Blade Runner 2049 made about $9 million less than it was expected to, which wouldn’t be a big deal, except that a $31 million opening doesn’t bode well for its chances to recoup its $150 million budget. I don’t think anyone outside of the studio that released it was surprised. It baffled me that they were treating a sequel to an uber-genre box office bomb from 1982 as if it were going to be a blockbuster. Sure, the original Blade Runner became a cult hit after a long history of LaserDisc success, director’s cuts, and retrospective critical acclaim. But they’re called cult hits for a reason, and it’s not because everyone wants to be in the cult.

Though Blade Runner 2049 may be mimicking its predecessor in box office non-success, its critical success upon release is far outpacing the original’s. When the original came out, critics hated the voiceover that the studio forced director Ridley Scott to add after they decided audiences needed to identify more with Harrison Ford’s Deckard. In contrast, 2049 has an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes and a Metascore of 81. Critics have especially high praise for Roger Deakins’s cinematography and the way director Denis Villenueve expands on the original’s themes of identity and reality.

Make no mistake, Blade Runner 2049 is often breathtaking to look at, and its themes are thoughtfully presented in the screenplay and the movie’s visuals. The original focused on Ford’s detective and his hunt for escaped replicants (what this world calls its androids), while leaving it up in the air through the end of the movie whether or not Deckard is himself a replicant. 2049, on the other hand, erases any ambiguity from the beginning by establishing in the first scene that Ryan Gosling’s detective, K, is a replicant. The audience knowing K’s status allows Villenueve to expand on the original’s themes rather than simply replicate them.

If you don’t like science fiction or if you don’t like slow movies, Blade Runner 2049 probably isn’t going to do it for you. It’s beautifully shot, and there are some compelling moments of action, but this is an art movie disguised by blockbuster marketing. I love genre movies and films that take their time, so it would seem that Blade Runner 2049 was tailor-made for me. And I liked it. But as much as the first movie is sewn into the seams of 2049, the new ultimately suffers from comparison to the old.

The original movie, by keeping Deckard’s identity a mystery, mirrored real-life questions about human origin. Rutger Hauer’s replicant villain, Roy Batty, provides the movie’s climax with his death and his breathless description of the miraculous sights he had seen in space. This is one of the great scenes in all of cinematic science fiction, Batty clearly articulating why being designed doesn’t mean he deserves to live any less than a human, all while Scott lights Hauer almost as if he were an angel. And this, after he saves Deckard’s life, knowing he will die regardless. But the movie continues after that and ends without Deckard discovering what he is, a human or an android. He runs off anyway with the replicant he loves (Sean Young). There are no easy answers regarding our existence, but that’s no reason to forego living life.

2049, by making his identity clear from the beginning, there is ultimately no mystery about K’s origins. His purpose is up in the air for much of the movie, but 2049 does not leave this ambiguous the way the original did with Deckard. The ending is purposely similar to the 1982 ending, but the wonder is gone. Instead, everything is cold, pragmatic, full of purpose rather than spirit.

That’s not to say the movie is heartless; I was quite moved. But where Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner raised its eyes to the heavens in the end, Denis Villenueve’s remains grounded. I like Villenueve’s; but I’d honestly rather look up.

Movie Bummys: Best Movies of 2016

Movie Bummys: Best Movies of 2016

Top Ten

10. Hell or High Water: I saw someone write last year that Hell or High Water was a movie about “Trump country”, which is one of the more annoying phrases you could include in a thinkpiece. Their point was that the movie is about the sufferings of flyover country, which is fair, but Trump doesn’t come to mind when I watch this. Obviously there are people with big names that have screwed over a lot of people, but watching the taut filmmaking and intimate story of Hell or High Water is a reminder that corruption runs from the top of the totem pole all the way down.

9. Everybody Wants Some!!: Everybody Wants Some!!, Richard Linklater’s spiritual sequel to his 1993 classic Dazed and Confused, is more of a college movie than a baseball movie, but both aspects are crucial to appreciating it. As a college movie, Everybody is rambling and aimless, in a good way; as a baseball movie, Everybody captures the looming uncertainty of a prospect’s future. The combination of the two manages to concoct a rare formula of haphazard poignancy.

8. La La Land: At this point, I’ve mostly forgotten what the backlash was even about. I mostly just remember how wrecked I was after the final scene, one of the most effective endings to a mainstream movie in recent memory. And I mostly just want to watch La La Land again as soon as possible and lets its musical and visual beauty just wash over me.

7. Kubo and the Two Strings: There are franchises and sequels in the honorable mention section of this post, but it’s telling that the Top Ten is made of up of original movies. Kubo and the Two Strings, a fable from the stop-motion masters at Laika, may be the most original of them all. Kubo, a young boy with a musical gift, must team up with a snow monkey and a giant beetle to confront his grandfather (the moon) and his aunts to retrieve his left eye and avenge his- listen, it’s good, I promise.

6. Green Room: Sadly, Green Room ended up being more relevant than I’m sure director Jeremy Saulnier wanted. Featuring an eerie Patrick Stewart performance and the best work of the late Anton Yelchin’s career, Green Room is scary as hell, and not just because it’s a horror movie where white supremacists are the monsters. It also includes some of the most suspenseful scenes of the year with a soundtrack that ratchets up the intensity.

5. Jackie: Jackie is not a traditional biopic. Directed by Chilean director Pablo Larraín, Jackie gives us a truly intimate portrait of the former First Lady by showing us days following the death of her husband. One could be frustrated with not seeing more of her life, but biopics that attempt to show the subject’s whole life often try to do too much. By showing us only a small glimpse of Jackie Kennedy at her most vulnerable time, Larraín and star Natalie Portman paint a complex picture of a woman who also happened to be an icon. Jackie contains multitudes.

4. Arrival: Science fiction does not have to dabble in the realm of ideas. Cool lasers and aliens are often enough to satisfy me. Yet the genre lends itself so well to the exploration of the themes of discovery and progress, it is hard to find a science fiction movie that does not touch on them. Arrival may surpass them all. With a simple conceit, but a remarkably intricate inner structure, Arrival hits on all levels intellectual and emotional.

3. American Honey: When I first saw director Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, I tweeted that it was the best American indie movie I’d seen since 2008’s Chop Shop, which was clearly not true, even at the time, since I had already seen the two movies above American Honey on this list. What American Honey and Chop Shop do have in common is that they both personify the fight to survive in the midst of the American dream. Sasha Lane’s character in Honey, Star, joins up with a traveling magazine sales team partly because she needs to make some money. Jake (Shia LeBeouf), the man who recruits her, is a part of the team because he thinks he will hustle his way to prosperity. Everyone on the team is either forgotten by society or used by others as a foothold to a future they will never see, but Arnold finds triumph in the life they build anyway.

2. The Witch: There are three horror movies that have created a ripple in the structure of my Christian faith. I don’t mean to say that they shook my faith, only caused me to think differently about my God and His will. The first was The Exorcist, which is so effective in its terrifying portrayal of the random corruption of innocence that I was forced to consider what the existence of demons truly means. The second was The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which is not a particularly good movie, but which so directly faces the idea that God allows awful things to happen to the people who love Him. The third is The Witch, which deals with the seductive power of the devil in the face of a cold, godless world. The Witch was marketed as a horror movie, and it is certainly creepy and suspenseful, but it is not a traditional horror movie in the slightest. It is horrifying, but more for its ideas than for its jump scares. The ending alone would place The Witch among the horror movie greats, but it’s the slowly unraveling journey there that gives the ending its power and ultimately makes The Witch among the best movies of the year.

1. Moonlight: In the Oscars’ entire 89-year history, there had never been a mistake like the one at the 2017 Academy Awards. Moonlight will always be associated with everything surrounding that error: Warren Beatty’s confusion, the grace and pain of the La La Land producers, the wild applause that greeted Moonlight’s announcement, and the revelation later that one of the accountants messed up because he was trying to get a freaking selfie with Emma Stone. It truly was a historic moment, so if Moonlight forever brings up that memory, that’s okay.

But its win was historic for other reasons too: the least expensive Best Picture winner (by far), the first with all African-American actors in its starring roles, the first with an explicitly LGBTQ character as its main character (you could count 1969’s Midnight Cowboy, but because that film basically treats Jon Voight’s character’s sexuality as a pathology, I don’t think you should).

Even if Moonlight was not a historic Best Picture winner, it would have deserved to be remembered. I find myself wanting to tell people they should see it, that they have to see it, even if they don’t care about movies or awards or the red carpet. My Bible Belt, Oklahoma world often rejects people like Moonlight’s main character, Chiron, both for his blackness and his homosexuality. And if we don’t reject him, we pigeonhole him, we have low expectations for him, we forget about him, or maybe we feel sorry for him. What Moonlight does so well, is that it asks its actors not to be black or gay, but to be human. And when a movie presents actual people to us rather than characters, it’s a must-see.

 Another Fifteen

13th
Captain America: Civil War
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
The Fits
Hail, Caesar!
I Am Not Your Negro
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea
Moana
Paterson
Pete’s Dragon
Silence
Sunset Song
Tower
Zootopia

Past Top Tens

2015

Mad Max: Fury Road
Inside Out
The Look of Silence
It Follows
Creed
Ex Machina
Phoenix
The Big Short
Sicario
Spotlight

2014

Selma
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Whiplash
Inherent Vice
Two Days, One Night
Boyhood
Guardians of the Galaxy
Ida
Snowpiercer
Blue Ruin

2013

12 Years a Slave
Before Midnight
Her
Inside Llewyn Davis
Gravity
Captain Phillips
The World’s End
Short Term 12
American Hustle
The Past

2012

Zero Dark Thirty
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Dark Knight Rises
Silver Linings Playbook
Amour
Chronicle
Django Unchained
Moonrise Kingdom
Holy Motors
Life of Pi

2011

Rango
Take Shelter
Kinyarwanda
The Tree of Life
The Artist
A Separation
Warrior
Battle Royale
Drive
Super 8