AMERICAN SATAN Summer Trailer (2017) Supernatural Music Thriller Movie

Take, for example, just about every big-budget franchise film released this year. With a few exceptions, they've been awful. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, ostensibly the first in a six-film series, was a major flop. The new Pirates of the Caribbean movie turned Johnny Depp's name into mud, while the latest Transformers instalment reached a 16 percent rating on RottenTomatoes. As for The Mummy, it's been a terrible advertisement for Universal's forthcoming series of monster-movie reboots. All of these non-blockbusters looked and felt exactly the same: created by committee, written for the box-office and directed by people who seemed to regret it.

On the other hand, look at Wonder Woman, a superhero movie that had a purpose — to give a female superhero her own story — and managed to be an absolute crowd-pleaser. Or take #Jordan Peele's Get Out, a horror-comedy with overt racial overtones that became a critical and popular hit. Both films made over 100 million — a first for a female-fronted superhero film, and a first for a black director's debut.

Here's my top 20 movies of 2017 — so far:

1. Wonder Woman: It isn't often that a superhero movie really knocks it out of the park — and this time, the batter happens to be female. With a riveting Gal Gadot in the title role and Patty Jenkins in the director's chair, Wonder Woman is top-notch summer entertainment that will surely kick open a few doors for women in the movies.

2. Get Out: Writer-director #Jordan Peele delivered one of the year's smartest movies with this horror-chiller about a young black man (Daniel Kaluuya) who meets his white girlfriend's (Allison Williams) parents. It's a creepy, funny, cringe-inducing look at race in America.

3. Lost City of Oz: James Gray's drama about the real-life British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is an old-fashioned epic — gorgeous costumes, lavish sets — with a modern-day sensibility about its hero. He's neither white saviour nor white devil, a nuanced approach that makes this familiar story feel fresh.

4. The Lovers: Azazel Jacobs' story of two philandering spouses who suddenly become interested in each other again is an off-kilter gem with two marvelous actors in Tracy Letts and Debra Winger. Prepare for wry comedy, brutal drama and many emotional zigzags.

5. Baby Driver: Ansel Elgort plays a hotshot getaway driver — improbably named Baby — who tries to leave his life of crime after he falls for a waitress (Lily James). It's a heist flick, a teen movie, a Pulp Fiction rip-off and almost a musical(!), yet writer-director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) makes it all work.

6. Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer: Richard Gere delivers a beautiful little performance as a Jewish fellow of no real importance who somehow fast-talks his way into the world of Israeli-American politics. It's a deceptively small film that touches on life-size issues in funny and touching ways.

7. John Wick: Chapter 2: Keanu Reeves returns as a vicious hit man living in a shadow-world of gentlemen assassins. This is the rare sequel that tops the original, with slam-bang action (from director #Chad Stahelski, a former stunt double) and an enjoyably cool villain played by Common. It's total pulp, and pure fun.

8. The Lego Batman Movie: The superhero with the brooding attitude and adjustable legs gets his own spinoff. It's a kid-friendly comedy with grown-up appeal, full of self-referential jokes and great voice-work by Will Arnett in the title role and Zach Galifianakis as The Joker.

9. My Cousin Rachel: Director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) goes dark with this Daphne du Maurier adaptation about a wealthy young gentleman (Sam Claflin) who falls for a possibly murderous beauty (Rachel Weisz). It's a classic Gothic tale, complete with ominous seaside cliffs and a grand, swelling score by Rael Jones.

10. The Fate of the Furious: Eight films in, the Fast and Furious franchise hasn't let us down yet. This one, about a super-hacker (Charlize Theron) and a nuclear submarine, is noticeably goofier than the others, but with Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham on board, fun will trump logic every time.

11. Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie: This animated film about two fourth-grade pranksters (Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch) ho turn their principal (Ed Helms) into the world's silliest superhero, maintains the gonzo spirit of Dav Pilkey's popular children's books. Even better, it adds a bit of heart.

12. Personal Shopper: Kristen Stewart reteams with filmmaker Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria) to play a fashion model's assistant who becomes involved in a supernatural murder mystery. Not for all tastes — it's cerebral, slightly spacey and very French — but compelling and suspenseful throughout.

13. T2: Trainspotting: Twenty years after the decade-defining youth film Trainspotting, director Danny Boyle and his cast (including Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller) reunite for a poignant sequel. If T2 occasionally feels like an older, weaker version of the original, well, that might be the point. A must-see for fans.

14. Split: M Night Shyamalan's best movie in years stars James McAvoy as a kidnapper who — to the confusion of his already terrified hostages — has 23 personalities. It's as funny as it is suspenseful, and Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) is compelling as a young woman who has more in common with her tormentor than either wants to admit.

15. Logan: The sun finally sets on Hugh Jackman's Wolverine franchise with a film that feels more like an old Western than a flashy Marvel movie. At its best, it's a whole new approach to the superhero genre — tough, gritty and hard-nosed.

16. The Belko Experiment: Eighty employees are trapped in a remote office building and told they must kill each other. Greg McLean's horror-thriller is a nasty little treat, thanks largely to a well-chosen cast that includes Tony Goldwyn, Michael C. Rooker and Melonie Diaz. File this one under Guilty Pleasure.

17. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2: The sequel to the 2014 smash goes even heavier on the rock music and one-liners, which sometimes feel like too much of a good thing. Still, it has its moments, and any movie that casts Kurt Russell as an immortal guy named Ego can't be all bad.

18. Smurfs: The Lost Village: It took long enough, but Smurfette (Demi Lovato) finally realises she's defined solely by her gender in this animated film, which sends her on a journey of discovery. It's still the usual kid's stuff — high jinks and dance numbers — but at least it has something on its mind.

19. Baywatch: Few movies this year got trashed as thoroughly as Baywatch. But why? Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron make a fine team as crime-fighting lifeguards in a comedy that spoofs the old TV show yet also works as an old-school action-comedy. Maybe critics wanted more 'irony.

20. Beauty and the Beast: Though no match for the 1991 animated film, Disney's live-action version has a few things going for it. Emma Watson is picture-perfect as Belle, Dan Stevens does an admirable job as The Beast and the whole shebang looks as gorgeous as a fairy-tale should.

The worst so far:

1. Fifty Shades Darker: The second adaptation of EL James' book series pretends to be S & M erotica, but it's really just the story of a woman (Dakota Johnson) who is so aroused by wealth that she's willing to take a beating for it. If these movies would just be honest about what they're selling, they might actually be interesting

2. Transformers: The Last Knight: In this episode, the Transformers fight alongside the Arthurian knights, then the Allied powers and, finally, a present-day Texan named Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) and a hot Oxford professor (Laura Haddock). This franchise has become so awful that Michael Bay won't even direct these sequels anymore.

3. Power Rangers: An abysmal remake of the kiddie TV show, with a new set of interchangeable teenagers wearing the colour-coded superhero outfits. Nothing here — from the chintzy sets to the even chintzier dialogue — is an improvement.

4. The Mummy: The first instalment of Universal Pictures' Dark Universe of classic monsters — from Frankenstein to the Invisible Man — is reportedly shaping up as a flop that could lose 95 million. Despite the star power of Tom Cruise, this Mummy appears to be dead on arrival.

5. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales: Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow may have finally worn out his welcome with this latest Pirates movie, a noxious mix of uninspired comedy, grim horror and whimsical action. Someone tell the overseas countries to stop buying tickets to these things so Hollywood will stop making them. — Newsday/TNS


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