It was once said that the internet would be the death of cinema. The illegal pirating and streaming of movies was going to cripple ticket sales and theatres would have to close their doors. Despite the warning the cinematic apocalypse still hasn’t arrived. But while cinema stalls remain relatively full, the world-wide-web has found another way to stick it to the movies, by giving popular cinema a continuous and sustained kicking.
Social media has given the world a voice. You don’t even need a laptop or computer anymore; the mobile phone is ever present and ever ready to add yet another opinion to wall of noise that is the internet in 2017. It’s a bum fight to be heard these days, and for some people the only way to stand out from the pack is to stir the pot. Those who shout loudest get heard and nothing stands out like a supposedly controversial opinion. Behold the Contrary Mary.
2017 was a great year for the popular movie. From January onwards there was an almost constant stream of quality blockbusters. But for every The Lego Batman Movie there was an army of internet commentators proclaiming said film was garbage. Bashing popular films and franchises became de rigueur in 2017.
There is of course nothing wrong with having your own opinion on a film; not everyone has the same tastes and what tickles one person’s fancy may leave someone else cold. But much of the criticism flung around by the internet this year was less about personal taste and more about a desperate need to be “different” and a keyboard warrior ethos to be right and prove others wrong. The films themselves started to get lost in the mire of forum tussles and comment section skirmishes.
But ignoring the deliberate doubters, there was much to enjoy across the year. The aforementioned Lego Batman proved that The Lego Movie (2014) was no fluke, and likewise Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 showed that Starlord’s first outing was no happy accident; for a film with so many laughs, “I have famously huge turds” it also provided the most poignant screen death of the year, “He may have been your father boy but he wasn’t your daddy”. Thor 2: Ragnarok borrowed much of the Guardians template (funny quips, retro soundtrack, fun cameos) to serve up the best comic book blockbuster of the year and showed that the Marvel Universe still seems unable to make a bad film.
War for the Planet of the Apes only just lost out to Guardians 2 in the tearjerker death stakes, while Andy Serkis found a fantastic sparring partner in Woody Harrelson in full-on Colonel Kurtz mode. Paddington 2 was by far the most charming film of the year and achieved the always tricky task of creating a children’s film that was also appealing to adults; most of the credit went to Hugh Grant, hamming with gusto as aging thespian Phoenix Buchanan.
Kong: Skull Island asked audiences to leave their brains at the door and in return delivered the best monster carnage seen for many a year. The Fate of the Furious was elevated from more-of-the-same status by two winning turns from Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, the latter providing the years funniest scene with an audacious baby rescue. Spider-Man: Homecoming built on Tom Holland’s fantastic Peter Parker debut with a Spiderman solo outing that finally showed the webslinger as a proper teen hero, supported by Michael Keaton on brilliant form as unlikely villain The Vulture.
Atomic Blonde gave Charlize Theron a much deserved solo-action outing, set against a tempting milieu of eastern Europe and eighties tunes. Kingsman: The Gold Circle delivered enough laughs and unlikely action to get over the fact its biggest twist was blurted out in its trailer. Keanu Reeves also provided sequel treats with John Wick: Chapter 2, building on the hitman underworld mythos so wonderfully created in the balmy first instalment, whilst also teasing a tantalising part three to come.
Away from the popcorn fare there was an equally wide array of films to enjoy. Aftermath saw Schwarzenegger further develop the elderly acting chops that surprised everyone in Maggie (2015). Detroit showed future acting stars John Boyega and Will Poulter stretch themselves with more meaty material. Logan Lucky had the oddest by most enjoyable ensemble with Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Seth MacFarlane, Katie Holmes, Hilary Swank and Sebastian Stan all being marshalled by Steven Soderbergh to great effect.
Battle of the Sexes gave us Emma Stone and Steve Carrell on continued fantastic form. Lady Macbeth scared some film fans away with thoughts of Shakespeare but delighted all who took a gamble and saw it. The Death of Stalin made the most of its eclectic cast to nab the title of best comedy of the year, while Gods Own Country, Hidden Figures, Personal Shopper, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer and The Florida Project should all see a well-deserved landslide of nominations once awards season kicks in.
Not every film in 2017 delighted so. La La Land managed wonders with its musical numbers but saddled them with a predictable script, cliché dialogue and two central characters that weren’t particularly likeable. Alien Covenant improved on Prometheus (2012) but still fell well short of the original two Alien instalments thanks to a saggy middle section and shift in villain focus to Michael Fassbender’s David. No sooner had Wonder Woman given DC fans hope that there was life in their cinematic world, Justice League smashed all optimism with a bland CGI villain, a dull McGuffin and a story twist everyone saw coming.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter finally put the zombie series out of its misery; fans are hoping the awful Transformers: The Last Knight will do the same for Michael Bay’s robot bashing franchise. Pitch Perfect 3 also signified a film franchise well past its sell-by date. A Cure For Wellness managed to pull a The Girl On The Train by making a dull thriller out of a cracking novel, while Fifty Shades Darker continued its own trend of turning a terrible book in to an even worse film. The Great Wall arrived and was swiftly forgotten; Guy Ritchie prayed film fans would do the same with his King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword.
Beauty and the Beast offered nothing that the brilliant 1991 animated film hadn’t already delivered, except a brand new money stream for Disney; watch out for live action remakes of the entire Disney back catalogue in the years to come. T2 Trainspotting tried to recapture the magic of the original and was only partially successful, while Ghost In The Shell came nowhere near the magnificence of its animated template. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales was a slight improvement on part four but was still way off the original trilogy thanks to dull new characters, Henry Turner and Carina Smyth, and a villain that was a poor man’s Barbossa.
Power Rangers was as bad as people were expecting, and Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets was just as messy as its headache inducing trailer suggested. The Dark Tower showed once again that some of Stephen King’s works are best left on the page, while Murder On The Orient Express looked stunning but forgot the tension that all whodunit thrillers are supposed to have. All Eyez On Me tried to repeat the success of Straight Outta Compton (2015) but couldn’t reach those heights, and Baywatch, Flatliners and CHiPS tried their best to ruin viewing favourites from years gone by.
But pushing these missteps in to the bin of Hollywood history, we turn our attention to the ten high points of the year, FilmsFilmsFilms ten best movies of 2017.
It’s been a while since M. Night Shyamalan made a film that got cinephiles got excited about; Unbreakable (2000) was seventeen years ago. Taking inspiration from his last critically lauded picture, Shyamalan surprised fans with a loose follow-up to Unbreakable and the first unmissable movie of 2017. Instead of a man with hidden super strength and durability, we follow Kevin, a kidnapper suffering from multiple personality disorder. Kevin was the sort of scenery chewing role actors dream of but with twenty three different people to play in one body it needed someone with the talent to ensure the ‘acting’ didn’t overtake the story. Joaquin Phoenix was originally cast, before James McAvoy stepped in to the role. His Kevin was one of the best performances of the year, but was typically overlooked come Oscar time. Equal to McAvoy’s remarkable performance is Anna Taylor-Joy and Betty Buckley as Kevin’s kidnap victim and therapist respectively. Between them the trio create a story which never follows the obvious path; we’ve all seen the kidnap movie before but Split avoids all the usual clichés. Capping things off with a surprise post-credit scene that places Kevin in the same universe as Bruce Willis’ David Dunn from Unbreakable, Shyamalan is planning a third a final part in the trilogy entitled Glass, which will see Willis, McAvoy and Samuel L Jackson all reprise their roles.
Tasty Morsel – To maintain the secret link between Split and Unbreakable Shyamalan removed the post credits scene from test screenings and only added it back once the film was bound for cinema screens.
- GET OUT
As enjoyable as the likes of Final Destination (1999) and Saw (2004) were at the turn of the millennium, their success at the box office had a disconcerting effect on horror scripts. Unless plot lines had a clever, pleased-with-itself hook or a complex, twisting storyline they were unlikely to make it across a studio executive’s desk. There was a time though when a simple horror scenario was enough. Television shows such as The Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected showed that creepy gold could be spun from the simplest of plots. With the Saw sequels and their ilk achieving lower box office takings thanks to needlessly complicated stories, the uncluttered delights of straight forward horror slowly returned, Woman In Black (2012), It Follows (2014), The Guest (2014), The Witch (2015). With a solid career as a comedic actor filling out his CV, Jordan Peele surprised many in 2017 by entering the horror genre, and writing and directing his first feature film, Get Out (2017). With significant nods to The Stepford Wives (1975) the plot follows mixed race couple Chris and Rose as they visit Rose’s parents for the first time. As an African-American, Chris has reservations as to how he will be received by Rose’s well-to-do family. The racial tensions are made clear from the off but it’s how Peele manipulates these as the story progresses which is truly masterful. For an excruciating early period the viewer is unsure whether the unusual behaviour from Rose’s family is their reaction to their daughter dating a man of colour, or whether there is something more ominous afoot. This being a fright film, it’s not difficult to guess which way the story will turn, but the plot twist which explains things is not as obvious as first thought. Coupled with the uniqueness of Peele’s villains, a modern white liberal community, and some well marshalled gore-free scares, Get Out was not only a fantastic directorial debut but a thriller film not afraid to make the most out of a compact but creepy idea.
Tasty Morsel – Eddie Murphy was originally picked for the role of Chris but Peele later changed his mind, opting for a younger actor.
Of all the comic properties to make it to the big screen none carry the weight of the X-Men. When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby put pen to paper to create them in 1963 they were responding directly to racial tensions of the time. The X-Men/mutants were different to homo-sapiens due to different genes, and they were treated like second-class citizens because of it. It was a weighty subject to take on, Prof. Xavier pitched as Martin Luther King and Magneto cast as the more militant Malcolm X. With such a deep backstory it was never difficult for the X-Men films to embrace more serious themes. But until Logan no X-Men film had been allowed to go fully ‘adult’. Director James Mangold had some making up to do after the disappointing The Wolverine (2013). So it was Mangold and Hugh Jackman plotted a tale of an aging Wolverine, struggling on in hiding as a limo driver having outlived his X-Men compatriots. It would be a final outing for Jackman in the role that made him. His only surviving friends would be an even more decrepit Charles Xavier, cleverly revealed over the course of the film to have decimated the other X-Men thanks to the onset of Alzheimers; the seizures in a brain with Xavier’s mind powers were truly devastating. Joining the trio are the sarcastic mutant tracker Caliban (the excellent Stephen Merchant) and the grown-in-a-lab mini Wolverine Laura. It’s a testament to Mangolds film that the best parts are when the group are on the road dealing with everyday issues “I have to pee”, so much so when an angry shaven headed clone of Logan turns up it feels like an escapee from a different X-movie. Logan of course gets the ending he deserves, and its heartrending in its simplicity. But with Disney buying up the rights to the X-Men one wonders whether Jackman may have held off for one last film to finally get his onscreen tussle with the Hulk.
Tasty Morsel – The last time Patrick Stewart and Richard E Grant shared the screen together was for A Christmas Carol (1999) as Scrooge and Bob Cratchet respectively.
It’s been a long time since horror movie fans have had a bumper year of releases to get excited about. Apart from the odd film here and there, The Conjuring (2013), It Follows (2014), it’s been a barren few years for those that like a fright film. How gratifying then that four of FilmsFilmsFilms ten best films of 2017 have their roots in the horror genre. And even outside of these four there were horror films to enjoy, Happy Death Day, Leatherface, The Ritual, Life, The Belko Experiment, Berlin Syndrome. The most startling of this year’s fright films though was Julia Ducournau’s Raw. The writer/director’s first full length cinematic release, it caused a significant stir at Sundance in 2016, a reputation that followed it in to cinemas in early 2017. We follow Justine, a vegetarian heading to veterinarian college, who is forced to try meat for the first time as part of a hazing ritual. Despite having an allergic reaction to the reluctantly chomped rabbit’s kidney Justine starts to crave meat. Her cravings become so strong that when the finger of her college friend Alexia is cut off in a leg waxing incident Justine moves on to more taboo means to feed her meat addiction. Wrapping what is essentially a coming-of-age tale in the blanket of cannibalism was a bold move by Ducournau and certainly the boldest cinematic choice of the year. Symbolism runs riot throughout but never to the point that the plot becomes predictable. The relationship between Justine and Alexia fascinates and repulses in equal measure, with Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf giving two of the strongest performances of 2017. Though the box office take was small, just $3.1million on a $3.8million budget, Raw made such an impact on critics that Ducournau’s next project is eagerly awaited by horror and non-horror film fans alike.
Tasty Morsel – Adding to the film’s already notorious reputation, at the Toronto International Film Festival a small number of audience members were said to have required medical attention after feinting during a screening.
- BABY DRIVER
Never judge a book by its cover or a film by its trailer. When the trailer for Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver arrived it looked to be another too-cool-for-its-own-good offering with Ansel Elgort pouting his way through a Ryan Gosling / Drive (2011) impression as he wrangled expensive cars through impossible vehicle gymnastics. The opposite turned out to be true though. The car chases were crunchingly real and Elgort, as the unflatteringly names Baby, was a shy, awkward loner, totally reliant on the escapism of music to drone out tinnitus and focus on the one thing in life he’s good at, driving cars. The reason for all the driving is as financial debt Baby has with Kevin Spacey’s Doc which he pays back by being Doc’s go-to getaway driver for a number of heists. Surrounding Baby is a cast of dubious criminal characters, all of whom are sceptical of his skills until they’re in the back seat of Baby’s chosen ride. Baby finally sees a way out of his unhappy life when he meets Lily James’ Debora, a down-on-her-luck actress. The plot itself doesn’t offer up too many surprises and is typical of car chase, heist, young lovers trying to escape fare. But what elevates Baby Driver well above the norm is the melding of soundtrack and action by Wright. Baby’s I-pod becomes the driving force behind nearly all of the set-pieces, whether it’s Baby walking to the café to collect coffee or another tyre melting race down urban streets. In to this Wright placed one of the best casts of the year, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Flea, Jon Bernthal joining Spacey, James and Elgort. Such was the success of the film Wright surprised fans in December by confirming he intends to write a sequel.
Tasty Morsel – Keep an ear open for all of the gunshots in the film; each one is in time with whatever song is playing during the scene.
Of all the sub-genres in cinema the most select is the ‘Required Viewing’ category. Reserved almost exclusively for films depicting or based upon real-life events, the likes of A Night To Remember (1958), Schindler’s List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998), 12 Years A Slave (2013) and Dallas Buyers Club (2013) don’t come along very often. What they offer is an understanding of our past and ourselves to the sort of depth a textbook or lecture can only dream of. These sort of films aren’t immune from criticism; a number of films have tried to enter the genre but have failed, The Patriot (2000), U-571 (2000), Pearl Harbour (2001), The Alamo (2004), Pompeii (2014). A required viewing movie has to be accurate but also has to be a good film in its own right. The newest addition to the sub-genre is Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. With the director’s penchant for two-hour plus movies it’s a pleasant surprise that a film as epic as Dunkirk comes in at a reasonable 106 minutes; much longer than that and the viewer is likely to suffer shellshock. The film is a single extended action scene offering no respite until the officers themselves pause to draw breath in the final scene. Nolan’s other cinematic predilection, tinkering with timelines, is present as the film is chopped up in to non-lineal sections, a week with Fionn Whitehead’s Army private, a day spent with Mark Rylance’s civilian heading to Dunkirk on his private boat, and an hour in the cockpit with Tom Hardy’s spitfire pilot. How Nolan didn’t kill half his stunt crew in telling this trio of stories is a miracle, such is the stunning recreation of the dangers these men went through. Perhaps to leave the film open to a younger audience, the combat gore of lost limbs and deflated skulls so impactful in Saving Private Ryan (1998) is omitted. But the terror of war is no less horrifying here. Backed by a thumping, pressure packed Hans Zimmer soundtrack, it’s as close to being involved in the Dunkirk events as a viewer is likely to get. Nolan wisely doesn’t overdo the sentiment and lets the events pack their own punch. But it’s impossible not to have a tear or two in the eye as Hardy’s out-of-fuel fighter plane lands on the Dunkirk beaches at sundown to the stirring sound of Zimmer’s take on Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations. The sort of film which fully justifies the term ‘lest we forget’.
Tasty Morsel – The off-camera voice of Spitfire pilot ‘Fortis Leader’ is Michael Caine, in tribute to the actor’s role in Battle of Britain (1969).
- AMERICAN MADE
While Tom Cruise still mines the action hero vein with the likes Oblivion (2013), Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015), and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016), most film fans much prefer Cruise in his less gallant roles. Cashing in on his slick-willy, scientology tinged persona, Cruise is the actor it’s hard not to love but love from arm’s length. His best performances have been those that have lent on these traits, Collateral (2004), Tropic Thunder (2008), Rock of Ages (2012), Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and the latest in this line is Doug Liman’s American Made. Cruise plays Barry Seal, a one-time commercial airline pilot who started flying intel missions for the CIA, before being enticed in to smuggling drugs in to the United States for Pablo Escobar. Cruise is tailor made to play the wide-smiling, survive on luck alone Seal. His story is fascinating enough on its own, but in the hands of Liman and Cruise it comes alive with laughs, action, twists and turns. Though some artistic licence was taken with Seal’s story, Seal denied in court ever working for the CIA, some tweaks to the truth can be forgiven when the film is this much fun. Taking $134million on a $36million budget, the Cruise and Liman partnership are looking to make it third time lucky with a sequel to their Edge of Tomorrow, the tentatively titled Live Die Repeat and Repeat.
Tasty Morsel - Combined with The Mummy this film marks the first time since 1999 (Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia) that Tom Cruise has had two leading roles in one year.
As the poor performance of The Dark Tower (2017) showed, Stephen King’s lengthier classics have always proved difficult to translate to the big screen. Condensing the richness of King’s characterisation in to a manageable ninety minutes has tripped up many a filmmaker. King’s much beloved 1986 one thousand-plus page epic It had to settle for a two part 1990 made-for-television outing. And whilst Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown won much deserved plaudits, the adaptation ran out of steam as it stumbled to a disappointing end mired by a climatic ‘beast’ that looked like it cost all of twenty dollars to make. The novel cutting back and forth between the central gang of seven as children and adults battling an evil entity that ‘feeds’ on the occupants of the small town of Derry, director Andy Muschietti and his writers wisely chose to cleave the story neatly in two. It, revealed in its closing credits as Chapter One, focuses on the stories heroes as children. Capitalising on the current trend for eighties set drama with a few nods to main instigator Stranger Things (2016), the child's story is moved from its 1958 setting in the novel to 1988. Muschietti also dispensed with other unnecessaries to streamline his plot; the entity no longer appears as various classic horror monsters and takes the form of Pennywise more often, and the villainous Bower gang are decreased in number. Wisely the disturbing group sex scene between the adolescent heroes as they struggle to make it out of Pennywise’s sewer lair is also jettisoned. The result is a blend of The Goonies (1985) and Phantasm (1979), a rare central cast of child actors all delivering compelling performances. The threats outside of It, such as the violent Bower gang and Bev’s abusive father, are often as terrifying as the titular evil, but its Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise that leaves the biggest impression. A triumph of character design production and acting, Skarsgard delivers the best collection of jump scares in recent cinema, fittingly creating the best movie fairground ghost train ride since Poltergeist (1982).
Tasty Morsel - The cast of the "Losers Club" were asked whom they wanted to play their adult parts; Finn Wolfhard (Richie Tozier) said Bill Hader, Sophia Lillis (Beverly Marsh) said Jessica Chastain, Chosen Jacobs (Mike Hanlon) said Chadwick Boseman, Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie Kaspbrak) said Jake Gyllenhaal, Wyatt Oleff (Stanley Uris) said Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ben Hanscom) said Chris Pratt and Jaeden Lieberher (Bill Denbrough) said Christian Bale.
- BLADE RUNNER 2049
With almost every mainstream movie getting at least a sprinkle of CGI it’s easy to become blasé about the visual spectacle of cinema. Knowing that the vistas in front of us aren’t actually there and were concocted in a computer it’s rare these days to find yourself staring at the screen in amazement at the picture before us. It’s therefore doubly astounding that Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 joins Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) as one of the most visually brilliant of all time, with nary a sniff of CGI fatigue in sight. Of all the sequels in the Hollywood pipeline, Blade Runner 2049 had fans the most nervous. Its title wasn’t particularly inspiring, its trailer revealed very little, and there really wasn’t much more to say about Rick Deckard’s story that Scott’s original hadn’t already said; any further revelations threatened to spoil what had gone before. Veteran producer and screenwriter Hampton Fancher took up story duties, having co-written the original, and when Scott stepped back from directing duties Villeneuve, off the back of considerable success with Sicario (2015) and Arrival (2016), took over the director’s chair. Deckard returned but not in the way fans were expecting, and Villeneuve wisely made 2049 Ryan Gosling’s movie. There’s no is-he-isn’t-he question around Gosling’s nature, he’s a replicant “Blade Runner” working for the LAPD retiring his fellow artificial humans gone rogue. There are numerous small tributes to Scott’s original but not so obvious that 2049 becomes pastiche, and the expansion of Scott’s future Los Angeles matches the very best sequels of all time; like Alien to Aliens and Terminator to Terminator 2, 2049 expands, builds upon and compliments Scott’s superb original. 2049 therefore finds itself in that very rare movie genre of sequels that can match their brilliant part one.
Tasty Morsel – Villeneuve originally wanted David Bowie for the role of Wallace, but when Bowie passed away the director looked to Jared Leto for the part.
- STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
No film in 2017 fired up the internet like Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Being so popular, the Star Wars franchise has become the Faberge Egg of cinema, so delicate and complex you can barely handle the thing without giving thousands of fans a heart attack. What many of these fans have forgotten is that Star Wars is just an adventure film series, and The Last Jedi is just a sci-fi action film. Rather than sit back and enjoy what’s on screen, some fans dug so deep in to every corner of the film they forgot to enjoy themselves. And there was so much to enjoy. No Star Wars film has combined laughs and tears as well as The Last Jedi; it is both the funniest film and the most emotional instalment to date. The laughs aren’t overbearing or slapstick, but subtle moments that fit the story, and the poignant moments are destined to become classics of the series, “I know what you’re gonna say, I changed my hair”. Johnson was bold with his story choices; there were very little twists he could have included that hadn’t already been second-guessed by fans. It’s a minor miracle then that most of the plot turns surprised just about everyone who saw them. Most of the criticisms levelled at The Last Jedi could also be thrown at the Star Wars Holy Grail The Empire Strikes Back (1980); we don’t know who Supreme Leader Snoke is, but we didn’t know who the Emperor was after Empire, and Luke has always hovered on the thin line between the dark and the light side of the force, so no change there. If some fans were a lot less precious about their beloved movie franchise they could have the same level of enjoyment the rest of us got from the best action blockbuster, not just of 2017, but of recent years.
Tasty Morsel – With the passing of Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels as C3PO is now the only actor to appear in all of the official Star Wars films.