Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Devlin's Domain - Delights and Angers: Best of 2017

2017 is coming to a close and as I suspected this time last year, we're all still here and everything's mostly fine. While many people spent the year setting their hair on fire over one bit of rubbish or another, I immersed myself in loads of entertainment as I waited for this whole thing to blow over. Looks like I'll be waiting a while, so I'll continue that practice through 2018 as well. On this edition of Devlin's Domain I'll be making my picks for my favorite releases in various categories. I spent a lot of the year catching up on older films that have been getting great bluray releases, so the past few weeks I've had to catch up on the new stuff. I missed a few things that I just wasn't able to get to before the year's end. I'll make a note of things I missed while running down my favorites just so you don't have to wonder why they didn't make the list.

I thought this year had gone by rapidly until I started digging up material for this article. There were films that I came across and thought, "I thought that came out last year". Now my 2016 review was pretty comprehensive. I covered Comics, TV, Movies, and Pro Wrestling. This year I don't believe I've read one single comic book. Part of the reason is that I got burned out from keeping up with so many titles. The other reason is that, aside from some good indie books, the stories weren't keeping me interested. DC's Rebirth event had me hooked last year, but I got tired of waiting for the pay off and felt like I was just reading filler. Marvel hasn't been interesting to me since Secret Wars. Point is, there will be no comic categories this go round. I can still talk about everything else though, so let's get started.

Pro Wrestling

Best Manager: "The Advocate" Paul Heyman

Last year I had stated that I wouldn't count part-timers in this category, but this year I don't have much of a choice. Before taking leave, Maryse had sort of blended into the background with the Miztourage. Bob Backlund has disappeared without a trace. Titus O'Neil has started his own stable of great wrestlers who are booked poorly and is mostly a joke. The Singh Brothers are more like bodyguards than managers. Paul Ellering is rarely seen in NXT. So the only logical option is Paul Heyman. Heyman is the type of manager that could convincingly take the title of Best Manager any year. He's instrumental in selling a lot of matches that people may not have interest in otherwise. I actually cared about Lesnar vs Goldberg thanks to Heyman. Hell, before it was cancelled, I was interested in Jinder Mahal vs Lesnar. He's a master of the promo and knows how to put butts in seats, get people over, and bury people. Heyman is one of the best managers ever and I hope he sticks around for a long time.

Best Tag Team: The Young Bucks

I looked through the WWE tag team roster and saw a lot of great teams that aren't used at all or are used poorly. It's pretty depressing to see talent going to waste like it does in the WWE tag division. On the Raw side, 2 makeshift teams are overshadowing the existing teams. Sheamus and Cesaro have finally evolved into a legit tag team, but Rollins and Ambrose still just feel like 2 singles guys teaming up. Smackdown has good teams in The Usos and The New Day, but they spent the year in the spotlight while every other team was either unused or left to backstage skits. For this reason I had to look outside the WWE bubble and see what team was making waves in the wrestling world. I've always enjoyed the Young  Bucks' spot monkey style in PWG, ROH, TNA, New Japan and elsewhere. They've always been fun to watch, but now they've really put themselves on the map. When you've got shirts being sold at Hot Topic stores in malls across the country, it's a good sign that you've done something right. Their style may not be to everyone's taste, but they're winning titles everywhere and making good money doing it.

Best Cruiserweight Wrestler: Enzo Amore

It really pains me to name Enzo as the best Cruiserweight wrestler. It pains me to call him a Cruiserweight in general. The numbers don't lie though. Enzo gets ratings and that's really what it's all about. I was hoping this spot would go to the greatness that is Neville. I had also considered Rich Swann, Cedric Alexander, Drew Gulak, and Jack Gallagher. For all the athleticism and in ring talent that the rest of the Cruiserweight roster possesses, they lack the one thing Enzo has. He's the "smacktalker skywalker", " the realest guy in the room", and he can talk circles around the whole locker room. He's the guy you tune in every week for hoping he gets his ass kicked. I'd prefer to see him teaming with Cass than burying Cruiserweight guys that are supposed to offer an alternative to the main WWE programming. It is what it is though and he's getting himself over in the position he's been given. That's more than a lot of them can say.

Best Female Wrestler: Alexa Bliss

I've been crushing on Alexa Bliss for a while now and I'm happy to say she has surpassed everyone in her division. Charlotte is still awesome and was a close 2nd this year, but Alexa has impressed me more. She has a fiery attitude that feels genuine and her heel persona is totally believable. Her in ring work has improved quite a bit over the past year as well. I'm a big fan of Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, and Bayley's work, but I feel they haven't been booked in a position to shine this year. They may be buried further down on the card with Nia Jax being so dominant, the arrival of new female factions, and of course the undefeated Asuka coming to the main roster. Asuka is another name I was teasing for the top spot this year, but Alexa is the champ on the flagship show and has leverage over Asuka when it comes to promo work. I'm going to make a wild guess that 2018 is the year of Asuka and she will be in this spot next December. I'm hoping that with the influx of new female talent on the main roster and the upcoming Women's Royal Rumble, that this eventually leads to the female competitor's getting their own show on the WWE Network.

Best Male Wrestler: AJ Styles

To no one's surprise, AJ Styles is the best male wrestler for the second year in a row. He made his debut last year and ended it on top of the Smackdown brand. He later lost that title at the beginning of 2017, but is back on top to end the year. He managed to have a great match against a non-wrestler, Shane McMahon, at WrestleMania. It seemed like a waste of his talent on the biggest show of the year, but he made the best of it. He spent some time in the mid-card with a U.S. Title run and a feud with Kevin Owens (another potential wrestler of the year). He also saved the Survivor Series PPV by dethroning Jinder Mahal as WWE Champion (and made him look good) and going head to head with Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar, at the event. Weeks of hype packages got flushed down the toilet when management realized that Brock Lesnar's opponent should be hot shit in a champagne glass instead of cold diarrhea in a Dixie cup. I had also considered New Japan Pro Wrestling's Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada for the top spot, but I've only seen a handful of their matches this year and they don't have quite the star power that Styles does with WWE behind him.

Best Pay-Per-View/Network Special: NXT Takeover War Games

There were a lot of great shows this year and I have to say that most of them came from the NXT brand. Raw and Smackdown may have had more great matches in 2017, just due to the fact that they have longer shows with more wrestlers and more events throughout the year. But for top to bottom quality there's nothing like an NXT Takeover special.. It's 2 hours of nonstop, in your face, exciting action. They take their time building up the matches on their 1 hour weekly program and it really feels like the matches mean something once you make it to Takeover. It was really hard to just pick one event to call the best. I may have picked a different one had this been another day. Takeover War Games is fresh on my mind though, it being the last one of the year. Man, did they end it with a bang too. There wasn't a bad match on the card. There were 2 matches that would be considered match of the year candidates. One of those was the revival of one of my favorite gimmick matches of all time, War Games : The Match Beyond. It wasn't the bloodbath that I came to love as a kid, but they did a great job updating the match to the current style and I loved it.

Best Match: Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne (NXT Takeover Chicago)

Picking the best match is even more difficult than picking the best show. Again, this position could go to any number of matches depending on what day it is. Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada set the bar at the beginning of the year with a "6 star match", which is unheard of. It was just a 5 star match in my opinion, but I heard they topped it in a rematch later in the year. I haven't seen it, so it doesn't get ranked. If it was anything like what I heard it would be taking the top spot though. AJ Styles vs. John Cena from the Royal Rumble was another 5 star classic. The Hardys vs The Young Bucks Ladder Match from ROH Supercard of Honor was stellar. Asuka vs. Ember Moon was one of the best women's matches of the year. Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg was a short, but explosive spectacle. The Usos vs. The New Day in a Tag Team Hell In A Cell was creative, dangerous, and awesome. Sheamus and Cesaro have had great matches against Ambrose and Rollins and an Iron Man Match against The Hardys. Of course there was the close runner up of Velveteen Dream vs Aleister Black from Takeover War Games. The one I'm picking this year though, is a match that wasn't even all that hyped up. The UK tournament happened early in the year and Tyler Bate bested Pete Dunne in a spectacular match in the finals to become the first UK champion. After that the UK guys would pop up randomly here and there, but really weren't used much. This match was thrown onto the Takeover Chicago special to fill out the card and keep these guys relevant while we wait in the launch of the UK programming. This match did much more than it was supposed to. It was an insane bout with edge of your seat action the whole time. Chicago was exploding over 2 guys who they don't know that well and are wrestling a match with very little build to it. It was amazing and they blew the roof off of that place. They recently had another match on NXT TV that was also a glorious contest, but just fell short of the quality their Takeover match had. If you haven't seen this one you need to seek it out.


Best New Series: American Gods

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite comic book writers. He's the author of the amazing Sandman series under DC Comics' Vertigo line. He's also written several novels, which I haven't given as much attention to. I did read a bit of American Gods and was super excited to hear that it was in development as a television series. So far it has not disappointed. The casting is great, the imagery is fantastic and dreamy, and it's pretty loyal to the source material from what I can tell. I have missed out on several shows this year, but I imagine this would still be my pick if I'd seen The Deuce or Taboo. I still plan on getting to those, but Neil Gaiman's work takes priority.

Best Comic Book Hero Series: The Punisher

I was hoping The Defenders would be in this spot, but that ended up not being what I hoped it would be. It wasn't bad by any means, but it was a little disappointing. I've slacked off on the CW shows, but from what I've seen in advertisements lately, it has me curious to catch back up on them.  Agents of Shield is still a chore to watch, Inhumans was pretty lame, and Iron Fist fell short of expecations, although I liked it more than some people. Surprisingly, Fox's X-Men themed series were some of my favorites this year. The Gifted is a pretty interesting look at young mutants on the run from xenophobic government bureaus. Legion is a weird and trippy series focusing on the son of Charles Xavier. Legion was my top pick fro the year until Punisher happened. Punisher was badass and Jon Bernthal delivers my favorite portrayal of the character. The series offers more to his origin and the long form storytelling allows more character development than the films ever did. The Punisher is a damaged, broken, violent, vengeful, psychotic, mess of a man and the series let's you see every bit of it.

Best Ongoing Series: Preacher

Game of Thrones was my pick last year, and even though I loved it this year, it feels like their rushing to an end. There's been so much build up to winter coming and it's going to be over before we know it. Maybe I'm just sad to see it end, but it was not my favorite this year. I've been a defender of The Walking Dead for the past couple years. People craving zombie carnage have given up on the show. People who can't handle a juicy head bashing have fled the show. Now it's just patient wanks like me watching. This year has been pretty lackluster for the show unfortunately and I'm really questioning their latest choices.  I'll probably stick with it because I've come this far, but it's not making the top of the list. The show I was super excited for last year, that ended up losing out to West World, has made it this year. I'd say Garth Ennis' Preacher is tied with Neil Gaiman's Sandman as my 2 favorite comic series ever. I felt the first season of the show was great, but more restrained than I had wanted. I think the material is best suited for HBO or Starz , but I've cozied up to the show being on AMC a lot more this year. They're doing justice to the source material, while also doing things their own way. The casting for Herr Star and Cassidy are some of the most comic accurate choices I've ever seen. They're skipping around the original timeline from the books, so I'm really curious to see where they're taking the story. They've even added things, like Hitler, that weren't even in the books. I was nervous about whether the series would continue and they finally announced a third season. I hope the show starts to collect a larger audience, because I would really hate to see them pull the plug on this one.


Best Actor: Hugh Jackman

When I heard that Old Man Logan was being adapted to film I had mixed reaction. As awesome as it seemed to have that story realized on screen, it was also unappealing considering the track record the Wolverine movies have had. Wolverine Origins sucked and The Wolverine was slightly better. I've enjoyed Hugh Jackman's portrayal of Wolverine over the years, but his solo films have gone in an unfortunate direction. X-Men continuity is a huge mess where nothing makes much sense and that's another issue this film would have to face. The continuity was damaged even more with the release of Logan, but it was a great Wolverine movie. It was actually a great comic book movie overall. This was Jackman's last time playing the character after so many years and they really did him justice. He delivered his best performance in the role and went out with some dignity. The corrupted continuity kept the film from scoring my best comic film title, but this dark, R rated take is definitely the style I like to see my comic films in. Javier Bardem and Ed Harris from mother! could've taken the best actor title this year. Casey Afleck was great as well and acted his ass of through a sheet in Ghost Story, but I had to give the love to Logan. 

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence

I never expected to name Jennifer Lawrence as best actress any year, but here I am. Michelle Pfeiffer was amazing in mother! as well, but Jennifer Lawrence was absolutely destroyed on screen over the course of that film. She went through so many emotions, mostly negative ones, and dragged me along with her through her hell. I was extremely impressed by her commitment to the role. It was the best performance I'd seen from her since Winter's Bone and it blew that performance away. Off the top of my head I can't think of any other actress who came close to touching this performance. As a matter of fact I'd say it was the performance of the year, regardless of gender. 

Best Horror Movie: A Dark Song

For the record, I haven't seen It, Killing of a Sacred Deer, Leatherface, or Jigsaw. Just in case you're wondering why your favorite isn't winning. Get Out is another fan favorite from the year, but I didn't think it was nearly as good as people have made out. Netflix released some quality horror with Gerald's Game, 1922, and The Babysitter. I enjoyed all those, but Gerald's Game felt too much like a Lifetime movie, The Babysitter was more fun than horror, and 1922 wasn't all that interesting to me. I found my favorite horror films were from overseas ( no surprise there). Hounds of Love was an excellent telling of a true story about a kidnapping and imprisonment. The Ghoul was a total mindfuck that had my gears turning well after I had finished watching. The Untamed was a really bizarre family drama that revolved around a tentacle sex monster. Raw was a new and interesting take on cannibalism and doubled as a coming of age story. My runner up was The Void, which was a hell of a film that took inspiration from HP Lovecraft, Lucio Fulci, and Clive Barker. The stand out for me though was A Dark Song. Much like my top horror pick from last year, The Witch, this film relies on atmosphere to deliver the chills. It's a slow burn story about occult rituals, the afterlife, demons, and angels. Some people were turned off by the lack of action in the first half of the film. Some were turned off by the "corny" supernatural sequences toward the end of the film. I just happened to appreciate the whole thing from beginning to end. A very unique approach to horror that I'd like to see more of.

Best Sci-Fi Movie: Kong: Skull Island

I really enjoyed the last Godzilla film despite other's complaints of not seeing enough of the monster. With this next entry into the Monsterverse they went the opposite direction. You see Kong and numerous other monsters all throughout this movie. I have to say that this was a lot more entertaining than Godzilla. It's a little worrying when I compare the two films. They are so different in tone, with Godzilla being dark and serious and Kong being a fun, slightly comedic, action flick. Godzilla 2 is coming soon and we'll get a better idea of how all this is going to come together. In case you haven't realized it yet, this beat out Star Wars. I did not expect that at all. I'm not one of the Last Jedi haters, but I'm certainly not a super fan of it either. I enjoyed Alien Covenant, but it was a flawed sequel that I felt jumped the gun on reintroducing the Xenomorphs. War of the Planet of the Apes was a nice way to wrap up what's been a decent retelling of the Planet of the Apes story. Unfortunately I wasn't able to see Bladerunner 2049 before the end of the year or else it would've likely won this spot.

Best Comedy Movie: The Disaster Artist

I'm not much of a comedy guy, but I am a huge fan of The Room. A film that's so bad it's great and has somehow managed to receive a Hollywood treatment chronicling it's creation. I saw very few comedies this year, unless you count Marvel and Star Wars movies, so The Disaster Artist doen't have a whole lot of competition. James Franco was hilarious as the eccentric and puzzling Tommy Wiseau. The film really shines a light on how something so bad can be given life with the right amount of talentless ambition and of course millions of dollars.

Best Action Movie: John Wick 2

I haven't spent much time on non-SciFi Action films, but of the few I have seen, John Wick 2 was the most enjoyable. Baby Driver was a pretty good one as well, but John Wick 2 delivered some absolutely insane action sequences. It's uncommon for sequels to top the originals, but somehow they managed to do it with John Wick. It even ended on an insane note where you can't wait to see how the hell they plan on topping it in part 3. Brawl In Cell Block 99 was a hell of a movie too, but was more drama than action. I missed out on Kingsman and the Golden Circle, Blade of the Immortal, and Villainess. The outcome may have been different otherwise. 

Best Drama Movie: Dunkirk

This is yet another genre I've neglected this year. This pick could have fallen under action as well, but I consider it a war drama. I haven't seen a Christopher Nolan film yet that I haven't liked. I was a little skeptical about this one though. I'm not a huge fan of war films, although some of my favorites are war films. Nolan proved with Dunkirk that he is indeed a versatile director and can tell a compelling story in any setting. I watched this in IMAX and it looked magnificent. I wouldn't say I enjoyed it more than Platoon or Full Metal Jacket, but it's definitely one of the better war pictures I've seen. Totally worth your time if you haven't seen it.

Best Comic Book Movie: Wonder Woman

Last year I expected to be naming Justice League as the best comic film of the year, but unfortunately it wasn't quite that. It was a victim of too many cooks in the kitchen. I would've preferred to see Zack Snyder's cut of the film, but I enjoyed it quite a bit for what it was. I wish they didn't feel the need to inject countless jokes into every comic book film. Logan was the only one this year that took itself seriously. Some I can understand, but Justice League is a movie that I felt could get by without so many jokes. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Spider-Man Homecoming were 2 films that I felt could use the comedy. Spider-Man Homecoming was probably the best Spider-Man film so far. Guardians 2 was very entertaining, but I felt the story was rushed and I was not a fan of Baby Groot. Thor Ragnarok was good fun, but this is one film I thought went overboard with the jokes. Some jokes hit, some missed, some were out of place, and some were out of character. Wonder Woman was the film that I thought had a good balance with jokes and seriousness. It was better structurally than Justice League and it was great seeing Diana Prince in her first solo feature film. It was definitely a great year for comic book movies and next year looks to be even better.

Best Overall Movie: mother!

This is one film that I believe the majority either hates or hasn't seen. Critics and audiences alike have shot this movie down for various reasons. I think the most common reason is that they didn't understand it and it made them uncomfortable. The first time I saw it in the theater it was a small audience. I actually had high expectations due to being a fan of Darren Aronofsky. I was enjoying the strange events unfolding before me even though I wasn't all that sure what the hell was going on. After I had gotten about halfway through the film a scene occurred that slapped me in the brain and I suddenly realized what I was seeing. The film was still moving forward so I had no time to reflect back on previous scenes. The film wasn't just moving forward either, it was spiraling into chaos that was making me feel more anxiety than I have ever felt from a film. I don't typically feel anything when watching movies, so this was very strange for me. I was utterly exhausted by the end of the film, much like the lead actress. While driving home I couldn't stop thinking about the movie. It was a kind of puzzle, where once you realize one thing the rest starts to come together around it. I was so impressed with the cryptic storytelling that I had to see it again, and this time with a new understanding. I was able to dissect every scene upon my return to the theater. It was empty this time and the cashier even tried to talk me out of seeing it due to bad reviews. Of course the only review that really counts to me is my own. I enjoyed it just the same the second time, but I didn't feel quite so uncomfortable since I knew what to expect. I'm sure being raised in a strict religious family contributed to my being able to catch on to this eccentric tale. But I'm sure even some Christians didn't go into this prepared to have to decode a hidden meaning. It was marketed as a horror film, which is likely another reason it was rejected so widely. This is certainly not a horror film, despite having some pretty horrific sequences. It's actually pretty hard to categorize this one under any genre. Luckily it just so happened I was able to categorize under Best Overall film of the entire year. It's a film that has stayed with me since I watched it and I imagine it will be cult status within a few years. More people need to give this one a chance. I recommend going in spoiler free, and if you don't get it then just Google it. I'm sure there are plenty of places where you can get the full rundown. I'm sure there are a lot of fan theories that will develop out of this as well. 

And that about wraps up my Best of 2017 list. I'm sure I missed a thing or two, but most of what I enjoyed is listed here. 2018 is sure to bring even more excitement. The Avengers Infinity War will begin soon. The first ever Black Panther film is just around the corner. If DC gets their shit together, we will have an amazing Aquaman movie by the end of the year. If that fails then maybe the Han Solo film will deliver the goods next December. This is my last post for 2017 so I hope everyone has a Happy New Year. Visit me again in 2018 at Devlin's Domain.

About Me: I have a couple of different aliases, but for this column I will use my middle name. I am Devlin and I currently reside in Atlanta, GA. 33 years of age and still feeling immortal. Former Rockstar, current Pro Wrestler and hell, I'm still a Rockstar at heart. I got my first taste of obscure cinema when I was about 8 years old. My Dad would take us to the video store every weekend to stock up on classic horror films to watch on his projector. They were mostly harmless, PG-rated horror films like the great Universal monster movies. Then one night he rented a movie for himself to watch after we had gone to bed. I was so intrigued by this film that I wasn't allowed to see. I begged and begged and he eventually caved. That night I was exposed to a film unlike anything I had seen before. Ever since that night I wanted to find more films that gave me that same sensation. I wanted to feel shock and disgust. I found my place in the Horror aisle. The film I watched was Faces of Death. Thanks Dad.  

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