What's Another Year?
New Year is nearly upon us, and with it comes the contractually-obligatory review of the last twelve months. If anyone cares, I thought that ten of the best (or at least most enjoyable) films of 2017 were Silence, La La Land, Power Rangers, Raw, The Founder, Lady Macbeth, Wonder Woman, The Big Sick, Wind River, and mother!.
Rather more interesting, I thought, would be a quick glance over some of the films that came out this year which didn't get the full 24LAS treatment at the time. So here they are.
Alone in Berlin: Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson engage in very-nearly-passive resistance to the Nazis in 1940. A well-intentioned adaptation of Hans Fallada's novel, though the process of adaptation strips the story of much of its atmosphere and moral complexity.
Baby Driver: Ansel Elgort's prodigious music-obsessed doesn't-mean-any-harm getaway driver falls in love and falls out with his associates in Edgar Wright's jukebox thriller. Technically as proficient as you might expect, but perhaps just a tiny bit lacking in depth.
The Beguiled: Sofia Coppola's remake of the Siegel-Eastwood psycho-western has Colin Farrell as the wounded soldier getting the inhabitants of a girls' school hot under the collar during the American Civil War. Nicely put together, but a bit redundant.
Borg vs McEnroe: The true story of events leading up to the 1980 men's Wimbledon final. Actually the international release of a Swedish movie just entitled Borg, which may give you a clue as to the focus of most of the story. Shia LaBeouf plays McEnroe, but still a competently made movie.
Colossal: Anne Hathaway moves back to small town USA to deal with her drink problem and complicated personal life; meanwhile giant monsters and robots materialise in South Korea and wreak havoc. Essentially Manchester-by-the-Sea (q.v.) meets Terror of Mechagodzilla, but much, much weirder than that.
The Death of Stalin: The feared Russian dictator dies, provoking ferocious plotting and scheming amongst his subordinates. One of the funniest comedies of the year, weird as that sounds, but also one of the darkest. Steve Buscemi plays Khrushchev with a Brooklyn accent.
The Disaster Artist: Actor-director James Franco's not-as-strange-as-reality movie concerning actor-director Tommy Wiseau and the making of his magnum opus The Room (widely hailed as one of the very worst films of the 21st century). Consistently very funny, but not without things to say about friendship and the travails of the life artistic.
Get Out: A young African-American man (Daniel Kaluuya) is taken to meet his white girlfriend's family in their lovely country home; social satire and mild grisliness result. Basically Guess Who's Coming to Stepford – not especially scary, I thought, but well-played even if the central metaphor is a little bit unclear.
John Wick: Chapter 2: Keanu Reeves' short-fused ex-hitman comes out of retirement (again) for more extravagant mayhem in various international locations. There's no way around it: this is an absurd movie, but Reeves and his colleagues give it a touch of class.
Life: Another 'peril in orbit' movie, as Martian soil samples sent to the ISS spawn a gribbly space monster which causes an awful lot of trouble for Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson, amongst others. Not exactly innovative, but very competently put together – don't turn up late or you'll miss Ryan Reynolds.
Logan: Hugh Jackman's mutant vigilante faces up to his own mortality in a gloomy near-future America. The trailer with the Johnny Cash song promised something genuinely powerful and mythic; what reached cinemas is basically just an extra-sweary, extra-violent take on the usual X-Men movie formula, lifted by Patrick Stewart's moving performance. Not to be confused with...
Logan Lucky: A somewhat hapless gang of crooks decide to knock over a racetrack in Steven Soderbergh's return to directing. One of Soderbergh's more disposable confections, but entertaining; Daniel Craig's convicted bank robber is good value.
Manchester-by-the-Sea: Casey Affleck's withdrawn loner must return to his home town and confront the demons of his past when his nephew is orphaned. Sounds intimidatingly heavy and serious on paper, but is actually very accessible and rewarding.
Mindhorn: Bizarre British comedy film in which the star of a ridiculous 1980s cop show (Julian Barratt) must play the role for real when the Isle of Man witnesses a crime spree. Looks very much like the big-screen version of a TV comedy show; none the worse for that, however.
Moonlight: Three glimpses into the life and times of a gay black crack dealer in modern America. Obviously a well-made film dealing with important issues, but I suspect its greatest posterity will come as the answer to the trivia question 'Which film won the Best Picture Oscar in the year that La La Land didn't?'
My Cousin Rachel: A young heir finds himself falling under the spell of a glamorous titular blood relation (Rachel Weisz), but who's playing games with who, here? Nicely made but all a bit Sunday night TV rather than properly cinematic.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge: Some of the names and faces are different but this is pretty much what you'd expect from a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, as a laborious plot is broken up by overblown special-effects sequences and smug comedy sketches. A franchise whose time has surely passed.
School Life: An Irish documentary from 2016 about a year at the boarding school Headfort, mostly seen through the eyes of eccentric, inspirational teachers John and Amanda Leyden. Humane, moving, often very funny, and rather thought provoking.
The Sense of an Ending: Jim Broadbent's past comes back to haunt him as he is obliged to reexamine some very poor decisions he made as a young man in this adaptation of Julian Barnes' novel. Not exactly cheerful, but well played by a good cast.
Split: M Night Shyamalan is (finally) back on form in what initially looks like a psycho-thriller about a kidnapper (James McAvoy) with multiple personality disorder. Well-played, tricksy stuff, with a jaw-dropping final moment; roll on the follow-up.
Suburbicon: Extremely smartly-plotted comedy-drama from George Clooney and the Coens. Matt Damon plays an ostensibly respectable member of a model town in 1950s America whose get-rich-quick scheme goes murderously awry. Could've been brilliant, but the mixture of jet black humour and genuine issues leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Toni Erdmann: A nearly three-hour-long German comedy film about globalisation does not sound a particularly enticing prospect, but this is a moving and hilarious story about an eccentric man's attempts to reconnect with and cheer up his grown-up daughter. God knows what the rumoured remake starring Jack Nicholson will be like; less graphic sexual content and nudity, I suspect.
Unlocked: Noomi Rapace plays a CIA agent who goes on the run from her own side in an attempt to stop a terror attack in London. Very predictable stuff done strictly by the numbers for the most part; Landy Bloom pops up as a roguish ex-marine and gives exactly the kind of performance you'd expect.
Viceroy's House: The story of the partitioning of India is told in a manner unlikely to offend anyone, cause much thought, or linger in the memory. The British film industry goes into safe mode and turns it into a rather sentimental costume drama.
xXx: The Return of Xander Cage: Vin Diesel refuses to act his age and hurls himself about for a couple of hours while the film's young and hip target audience is simultaneously patronised and exploited. Ostentatiously, knowingly stupid, but I suppose Donnie Yen's bits are not bad.