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The Fantasy horror Midyear Movie Awards

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Posted on October 20, 2017

With half of 2017 in the rearview mirror, we’re giving out awards for the most intriguing movie happenings of the year.

We’re still months away from next year’s Oscar rush, and we have plenty of summer blockbusters left to see. But that doesn’t mean that the first few months of 2017 have been an uneventful time for movies. With plenty of good, bad, and weird in the rearview mirror, The Ringer is giving out awards for everything and anything that caught our eyes from January through June. And the winners are …

Best Fan Service: ‘Long Strange Trip

Sean Fennessey: Amir Bar-Lev’s massive portrait of the Grateful Dead isn’t so much definitive as it is definitional. There’s hardly a new insight provided by the living members of the band, and Jerry Garcia has been dead for more than two decades. And yet, Bar-Lev’s movie captures the fog that engulfed the group — the culture, the sound, the structure, and most especially the fans. “Deadheads” is the name of one of the film’s chapters, and it is a periscope up through that fog of smoke with a clear view of what compelled people to not just follow the Dead, but to commit to the group’s perceived ethic so fully. Deadheads get a bad rap — the barnacles of the baby boomers — either undermined for or underestimated due to a lackadaisical lifestyle. Neither is right; Deadheads are the priests of a religion of their own design. Every day they go to church.

Least-Hot Heartthrobs: ‘The Lost City of Z’

Ben Lindbergh: Like many movies shot in the jungle, James Gray’sThe Lost City of Z subjected its cast and crew to a litany of horrors one wouldn’t encounter on an L.A. backlot, among them malaria and dengue fever; viper bites; and beetles that burrowed into ears. But nothing the jungle threw at Gray could compare to the task he undertook willingly: making past, present, and future heartthrobs as physically unappealing as possible.

This movie buries Robert Pattinson behind a bushy beard and spectacles. It makes Tom Holland wear a wispy mustache. And it not only hides Charlie Hunnam’s beautiful face under a bushy mustache, aggressively slicked and combed hair, and (in the last leg of the story) artificial wrinkles, but confines his physique under Edwardian garb, despite his sweltering surroundings. From Platoon to First Blood, jungle settings have served as excuses for serial shirtlessness, but here Hunnam approaches the all-time Hollywood record for least flesh flashed by a beefcake. His torso got more screen time in Pacific Rim, a movie in which he wore a suit so restrictive that it initially prevented him from peeing. As a last blow to his vanity, Z forces Hunnam to play Percy Fawcett, snapping a streak of hunky character names like Jax Teller, Raleigh Becket, and Gavin Nichols.

Add jungle grime, exhaustion, sweatiness, festering sores, and significant weight loss, and The Lost City of Z sacrifices most of the sex appeal that its IMDb page promises. Obscuring its handsome stars may not have been the best strategy from a financial perspective. (The movie made only $8.5 million.) But it may have helped Gray land those stars in the first place; according to the director, Hunnam signed on partly because he “felt inadequate on a creative level” and “needed to prove himself,” presumably in a role where he couldn’t coast on his looks. On that level, Lost City thrives; it’s an acting showcase for leads who demonstrate that smoldering is only one aspect of their skill set.

Even after camouflaging the features of Hunnam, Holland, and RPatz, Gray isn’t satisfied: For his next challenge, he’ll try to make Brad Pitt look less suave in Ad Astra.

Best Reminder That Molly Shannon Should Be in More Movies: ‘The Little Hours’

Kate Knibbs: I did not know I would find a sex farce about 14th-century clergy members funny, but here I am. I loved The Little Hours. Aubrey Plaza has the showiest role as a rotten-hearted nun, and Alison Brie and Kate Micucci are terrific as her fellow foul-mouthed and horny sisters. Molly Shannon has a lot less to work with as the permanently chagrined Sister Marea, but while I initially wished that she’d been given the same sort of scenery-chomping maniac role as Plaza or Micucci, the more I think about it, the more I love Shannon’s small but precise work conveying tenderness and moral horror with just a few glances. Shannon rose to fame for her bombastic SNLcharacters, but her more recent work, on HBO’s Divorce and the excellent drama Other People, have made it clear that she’s a far more subtle and surprising actor than she’s been given credit for. She can even be the gentle center of a shambling, slapstick film. Let’s see what else she can do.

Best Ad for a Future Theme Park That I Would Actually Visit: Themyscira, ‘Wonder Woman’

Amanda Dobbins: I liked many aspects of Wonder Woman: Gal Godot, naked Chris Pine, the World War I scenes that made sense, the makeover sequence. But the opening 20 minutes — a Mediterranean-inspired island, populated only by Amazon women who can speak hundreds of languages and kill a man whenever necessary — was the highlight, and also, funnily enough, the blueprint for my next vacation. Fantasy worlds, especially in the modern blockbuster, are so often dark and vicious and ugly (in all senses of the word) places, with few women and fewer chances for them to do anything. It was a small revelation to see a place I’d actually wish to be real — and people I’d actually want to be.

Best Use of New York City Public Transportation: ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’

Robert Mays: Any truly great sequel has to feel worth it. Replicating the things that made the original great is never enough. With the world already established and the tone already set, an effective follow-up is all about building up that world and digging further into what everybody liked in the first place. That’s exactly what we got with John Wick: Chapter 2.

If the original film was all about establishing Keanu Reeves as a worthwhile bogeyman, introducing the close-quarters fighting style, and creating a new, relatively straightforward masterpiece, the successor was an attempt to dive headfirst into the staggering universe that Wick inhabited before leaving his life as a hitman. It also helps when a good chunk of that work is done with some of the most creative, enthralling fight sequences possible.

Wick 2 has plenty of memorable visuals, but none sticks with you longer than Reeves strolling through New York as he’s forced to pick off assassins of all shapes and sizes. This sequence culminates in Reeves and Common brawling on a train, a fight that lasts a good five minutes, and because it’s the MTA, it’s barely enough to get the other passengers to look up. Like everything else about the Wick franchise to date, it’s all beautifully staged and paced — ya know, delivered with actual thought — in a way action movies just aren’t anymore.

 

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