5. Netflix Farmed a Super-Pig
VOD and streaming services are old news, but the summer of 2017 marked the first time that someone could use them to watch genuinely essential new films. Well, one genuinely great new film, anyway. From the moment it premiered in Competition at Cannes,“Okja” was a new breed of Netflix original movie: It was good. Very good. It was a real old-fashioned flicker show like the kind they play at them fancy picture houses. After the likes of “War Machine” and the never-ending gauntlet of Adam Sandler atrocities, Bong Joon-ho’s spirited and soulful anti-capitalist adventure was more than just a breath of fresh air, it was an overdue sign that the biggest streaming company on the planet might also be interested in being the best (crucially, Netflix also played the film in a handful of theaters, as it was meant to be seen). Sure, the company might be $20 billion in debt, but movies like “Okja” are priceless.
4. The Festival Breakouts Were Good…
Every year, it’s the same story: Some indie darling sweeps into Sundance and turns the film industry upside down only to be largely ignored by the public when it hits theaters a few years later (“Happy, Texas” is still waiting to find its cult). So when critics lost their minds for “The Big Sick” back in January and Amazon acquired the rom-com for a cool $12 million, there was no guarantee that the movie’s festival love would translate into meaningful real world success. It did. Like, it really did. Of course, it helped that “The Big Sick” is an absolute audience-slayer, and that its true-life love story about the relationship between a Muslim immigrant and a white American girl so directly repudiates the xenophobia that has been spewing out of the White House chimney for the last six months. It was a word-of-mouth hit in a hit-and-run culture. And it wasn’t alone.
David Lowery’s cosmically touching “A Ghost Story” may not have raked in the dough (though it did pretty well for a movie that hinges on a five-minute shot of Rooney Mara eating a vegan pie until she vomits), but it offered the rapturous sort of cinematic experience that could sustain you all summer long. Trey Edward Shults’ “It Comes at Night” delivered a powerfully despairing vision of a world that’s tearing itself to pieces, Gillian Robespierre’s “Landline” proved that “Obvious Child” was just the beginning of a glorious career, and “The Beguiled,” for all its controversy, underlined the fact that Sofia Coppola is one of contemporary cinema’s most evocative artists.
3. …and the Blockbusters Weren’t Bad
Just as importantly, the blockbusters were… fine. Most of them, anyway. That might carry more weight for critics than it does for civilians (who have the glorious privilege to pick and choose what they see), but the summer movie season can still be a slog, and the whole culture has to slog through it together. Even if they never make it to the multiplex, people can probably still feel the collective inertia of a country that has to weather the likes of “The Legend of Tarzan” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and “Suicide Squad” in short succession; you don’t have to know where the stench is coming from to gag on the garbage that wafts off the sidewalks of Manhattan during a hot August afternoon.
So yeah, it matters that the Marvel movies weren’t completely cynical. It matters that “War for the Planet of the Apes” stuck to its guns, and that “Alien: Covenant” goes totally insane during its second act. It matters that “Atomic Blonde” rocks a cameo from Andrei Tarkovsky, and that it’s “one-take” fight scene is such a jaw-dropper that you don’t even care how many cuts it hides. Finally, it’s worth sparing a thought for Edgar Wright’s euphoric “Baby Driver,” an over-achieving summer surprise that threaded the needle between micro-budget indies and mega-budget blockbusters, and left behind enough skid marks for Hollywood to follow in its tracks.
2. Tiffany Haddish Finally Happened
Tiffany Haddish gave the star turn of the summer in “Girls Trip,” but her breakout role could barely contain her. As memorable as she was in the movie, Haddish truly “arrived” a few days before “Girls Trip” came out, when she paid a visit to Jimmy Kimmel and relayed a story about the time she took Will and Jada Pinkett Smith out on a Groupon tour of a Louisiana swamp. The rest is history.
1. Wonder Women
It’s a tale as old as time: Superhero fare notwithstanding, the film industry tends to learn too much from its failures and not enough from its successes. This is why “director jail” is a thing, but the industry was still shocked to discover that “Girls Trip” was a monster hit (just like it was shocked to discover that “Get Out” was a monster hit, just like it was shocked to discover that “Straight Outta Compton” was a monster hit…). Hollywood is a kingdom of rules that was built on the strength of its exceptions, and the whole place is held back by a perennial inability — or unwillingness — to offset that balance. So, in the rare event when the movies reach a genuine tipping point, the sudden shift of gravity can be felt all the way down.
“Wonder Woman” wasn’t the first female-driven action movie, but — in lassoing straight through the glass ceiling of the monolithic superhero genre — Patty Jenkins’ landmark blockbuster became an undeniable signal that one of Hollywood’s most stubborn exceptions was finally becoming a rule. From the very beginning, this summer movie season made it powerfully clear that female-driven action films would no longer be regarded as outliers. And that point was hammered home by a season full of spectacles in which women assumed their power without asking for permission. “Atomic Blonde” was twice as brutal as “John Wick,” “Alien: Covenant” celebrated the strength and tenacity of its heroine until the bitter end, and “Valerian” spent 130 minutes trying to convince us that its namesake was worthy of Cara Delevingne’s time (it failed). Hell, even the Mummy was a woman!
Perhaps we shouldn’t be so proud to boast that the future of female-driven action movies is here; there’s a very real danger in using one kickass victory for representation as a smokescreen to obscure the pervasive sexism (and racism) that continues to infect the entertainment industry. Still, for all of the work that’s left to be done, it’s encouraging to see that while Wonder Woman may have changed the game, she won’t have to win it by herself.