Skip to content

A Savagely Partial Look At The Films Of 2017

December 30, 2017

Hello! Welcome to a round-up of all the films released in 2017 that I, a man very busy touring with John Legend’s electric jazz band, have had time to see. This is the eighth year running that I’ve done one of these, and get excited as I tell you that never have I been more aware of so many films that consist of nothing cascading weightlessly down upon nothing, while nothing hangs in the balance. Or don’t! This is happening anyway.


La La LandJanuary is traditionally Oscar-hopeful clearout season in the UK, which this year meant not watching Manchester By The Sea because it seems unlikely I’ll ever enjoy Casey Affleck again. It also meant watching Casey’s brother Ben in Live By Night and not so much wishing I hadn’t as struggling to form any kind of opinion about it at all – it was a movie, it happened, it had hats. La La Land was much better, a film which understood the potency of weaponised jazz-liking but also delivered a technically dazzling, emotionally literate look at putting work before love, and that being OK. Assassin’s Creed was not OK, partly because the video game itself rests on a single and essentially stupid idea (a guild of assassins ensuring humanity’s freedom through the underutilised political mechanism of stabbing people in the neck) and partly because, once detached from its forgivably moronic video game moorings, the libertarian fuckspeak of the Creed itself – “Nothing is real, everything is permitted” – is downright alarming. Lads, it was a bad fucking year to release the first GamerGate blockbuster. The rest of the month brought us Split, Jason Blum’s super-economical production formula finally making a virtue of M Night Shyamalan’s unshirkable pulpiness, T2: Trainspotting, which felt a bit like going to a ‘90s revival night in that our younger, cooler selves would be mortified by the whole thing but everyone seems to be having a nice time all the same, and Hacksaw Ridge, which was billed as a redemption project for Mel Gibson but plays more like an Evangelical cable channel’s Movie Of The Week, bearing the auteur’s mark of glib moralising washed down with a sea of stage blood.


FebruaryFebruary brought a more comfortable video game adaptation in the shape of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, a series which has become one of that new and indomitable breed that gain box office momentum as they shed meaning, and in which logic and plotting matter far less than the repeated exhibition of familiar stars and situations. It was rubbish. Then there was John Wick: Chapter 2, which is a lot like a video game adaptation of a game that hasn’t been made yet, a mechanical procession of killing with a blank protagonist that I’m happy exists because Keanu Reeves seems like a really nice guy, but which I’m also happy to never think about again starting… now. Also entirely disposable was The Lego Batman Movie, a film which followed up the gloriously-creative-and-anti-corporate-against-all-odds routine of the first Lego Movie with a child-catching net of available Warner licenses and an appearance from Apple’s Siri as Batman’s sickeningly infantilised ‘Puter. Jesus Nasdaq-fucking Christ. Thankfully the rest of the month was filled with good things – the deadpan laughs of Prevenge, which delivered a sense of the routine horror of pregnancy through its easy transitions from violence to comedy and back again, and Melanie Lynskey being fantastic in I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, which was authentically Coens-ish in the idiosyncrasies of its characters, and the haphazard finality of its violence. Hidden Figures felt extraordinarily timely a year after OscarsSoWhite, telling its own story of redressing representational imbalances, and Moonlight was a worthy Best Picture winner, a quietly radical film about the importance, rarity and difficulty of black masculine tenderness.


MarchMarch brought with it Logan, the best superhero film for ages and one that not coincidentally rejects all but a passing connection with other superhero films, refocusing on the humanity, rather than the powers, of its characters. The month featured two very different stories about venturing into the unknown: Kong: Skull island, which is basically like a really angry monkey tearing a poster of Apocalypse Now to pieces, and The Lost City Of Z, which elegantly but in the end emptily walks a path worn by earlier films, mostly starring Klaus Kinski, sometimes with a raft of monkeys. Get Out was my favourite film of the year, Jordan Peele nudging the laser-precision of his and Keegan-Michael Key’s best sketches into a horror setting, providing a viewing experience that, for this white middle-class viewer, made me want to climb out of my own soul in rigid mortification. Other March horrors fared less well: Life had ten times Get Out’s budget and none of its guile, a grim ET slasher which understood Alien exactly to the point of knowing it should include a cool-looking spaceship and no further, while The Void used scant budget to muster up impressive creature effects, only to show too much of them too soon (let’s keep our unknowable Lovecraftian abysses unknowable, yeah?) Free Fire felt like more of an exercise than a story, a continuous and meticulously choreographed volley of fire that wasn’t aimed at any target in particular, and Ghost In The Shell had enough style and imagination to present an arresting take on a future it feels like we’ve already lived a dozen times before.


AprilIn April City Of Tiny Lights got me very excited for the idea of Riz Ahmed as a classic hardboiled detective working the angles through London’s backstreets, and while it only half-delivered it’s the kind of half you hold firm in lieu of the whole. I Am Not Your Negro was a rush through an unfinished James Baldwin manuscript, smartly done but only really alive during footage of the agile and acerbic Baldwin himself. The month was seen out by clunky sequels, which put me in mind of my favourite Yoda quote – “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter” – which I always thought was at least partly about cinema itself, stories told in the medium of light. Films like The Fate Of The Furious, though, are like a rat king of muscled bodies, a senseless, writhing thing that accumulates mass as it flexes its way to nowhere, a revolving cast of villains becoming heroes becoming villains, and driving cars. I didn’t enjoy Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 much better, a film that insisted on being about everybody’s fucking dad when I just wanted to have fun in space.


MayFor my birthday in May I got Mindhorn – Julian Barratt in his pomposity-lancing element as a fading star given the chance to relive the tragic glamour of his TV detective heyday – and a load of stuff I sort of hated. Alien: Covenant was an extraordinarily bleak film, not so much about sleek space monsters as about the emptiness of creation and the blackness of existence (thanks, Ridley!) King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword was Guy Ritchie’s attempt to Lock, Stock the Round Table and – fuck a living duck – it almost worked, hamstrung only by Charlie Hunnam’s inability to do any accent including, I’m pretty sure, his own, and a self-consuming stylistic tic whereby bits of the film would happen as they were being planned, as though the movie were composed of several trailers for bits of itself that never actually appear. Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge was – like Resident Evil, like The Fast And Furious – a dread thing of money, momentum and faces, while Baywatch was a clear attempt to launch another of the same, glistening bodies attached to an idea we vaguely remember and action that needn’t have happened. And speaking of not needing to have happened, Snatched was a comedy misfire I really wanted to like but that only made me laugh once, thanks to Goldie Hawn’s still dead-on timing.


JuneIn June Wonder Woman arrived and – cor! – instantly became the best of the recent DC movies, although the fact it also – honestly,  shot for shot – featured the same action climax as Mindhorn suggests it was still quite rubbish. Not as rubbish as Transformers: The Last Knight, which was arguably the first truly Trumpian blockbuster, an impatient noise which insists on a reality defined by whatever it happens to be saying right now, happy not only to jettison the past but hold your attachment to it in contempt, and hungering, ultimately, for us just to pay it attention for a little while longer. In contrast I had rather a soft spot for The Mummy, which was a naked and probably failed attempt to launch another meaning-proof cinematic saga, but was at least quite a good Tom Cruise film even if it wasn’t really a horror film of any kind. In altogether happier news, I put Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s Bellbottoms on the first mix tape I ever made for my wife, so I was predisposed to enjoy Baby Driver from its first moments and I did, as an irresistibly rhythmic tribute to the secret soundtracks by which everyone lives their inner lives.


JulyIn July Spider-Man: Homecoming was a charming, knowing, beat-hitting success, which nevertheless left me feeling, as a man who’s now lived through three separate big screen Spider-Men, a weird sense of loss and encroaching irrelevance. War For The Planet Of The Apes (or: Merry Christmas, Mr Caesar) was at best a skirmish, and therefore consistent with a series that promised to showcase A BATTLE FOR EARTH ITSELF if only it wasn’t always taking place somewhere off-screen. Speaking of war movies, The Wall was a tight drama of isolated soldiers under sniper fire, satisfyingly tied together by process and practicalities, and Dunkirk was an odd tangle – made with a sense of masterful control and capable of orchestrating extraordinary moments of tension, but also cleverer than it needed to be, bombastic about an event that requires no inflation, and stuck telling a story of British brilliance at a time when we feel anything but. Cars 3 was a fitting end to Pixar’s least-delightful series, one that fumbled its potentially grand romantic take on America’s fascination with the automobile but managed to give Lightning McQueen a barely-credible number of livery changes with laser-eyed merchandising efficiency. And finally, the best thing about The Hangover series is, obviously, that it seems to have ended, but also that it’s carved out a generic niche in which other people get to be idiots – like everyone in Girls Trip, which was, you know, fine.


AugustI was excited for Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets in August but I shouldn’t have been as it turned out to be beautiful and charismaless – a lot like The Dark Tower, which is apparently what happens if you squeeze several Stephen King novels together really hard and cast Idris Elba in the pulpy remains. Atomic Blonde had the cold war flavour of Bourne with an added dash of period styling – basically, it featured both David Bowie, and Charlize Theron beating people up, so I liked it – while The Hitman’s Bodyguard was further proof that Ryan Reynolds is disproportionately watchable in absolutely anything, including completely OK odd couple hitman comedies (although FUCK THIS MOVIE for having Reynolds’ ‘my life is shit now’ symbol be my actual car down to the year and model). Detroit was an unflinching look at the city’s 1967 race riots, at its best when integrating archive footage into a city-wide survey of the protests, but unable to support the dramatic weight of its brutal central sequence, while Logan Lucky didn’t really have any dramatic weight at all, a characteristically evaporative bit of Soderbergh sleight of hand that was fun while it lasted and left a echo of John Denver in its wake. Which is more than can be said for Rough Night, another bawdy Hangover-only-with-women comedy that managed the not inconsiderable feat of being more generic than Girls Trip.


Wind RiverI saw exactly one good thing in September and it was Wind River, a remote Wyoming thriller which is best in its silent moments in the snow, of which there are thankfully quite a few. I really fucking hated Kingsman: The Golden Circle, a series built on the virtues of elitism, made by a private schoolboy, and featuring a working class protagionst hero-worshipping the establishment – all the sequel adds are Trumpist overtones to its already deeply distasteful Brexit outlook. Fuck this awful film, and fuck its hard-on for privilege and tittering misogyny. Also fuck Mother! which – can you believe it?! – Darren Aronofsky wrote in just five days. Yes, I fucking can – it’s excruciating auto-piloted self-indulgence, man as creative godhead, woman as suffering muse, and me as the guy who can’t fucking believe this thin-as-fuck metaphor was supposed to impress anybody. Oh, and I also saw IT, which was fine – like Stranger Things with a clown, and not as good.


OctI’m still not really sure what I thought about Blade Runner 2049. I liked the bits where the ‘music’ went “WWWWOOOOOOAARRRRGGGGHHHHH” and when the robot man did competitive recitations of Nabokov, and OK I liked the exploration of a thinking torch lady being as legitimate a consciousness as a Nabokovian robot man, and the bit where they went to Las Vegas and it was like Ballard’s Hello America (I mean, just like it). But there was a point where I thought, while watching, that between holograms and replicants the film and its soul were so far away from anything human that I didn’t understand why I should care, which is a problem the original deals with much more elegantly. The Death Of Stalin was not only very funny but struck me as a useful way to approach history – refusing to give unearned dignity or purpose to the power hungry, and understanding that humans were just as venal and short-sighted then as they are now. Meanwhile it’s very difficult to dislike Thor: Ragnarok, another Marvel movie about everyone’s fucking dad, but one that refuses to take itself seriously, to the point of transforming itself into an ‘80s hair metal opera and letting Jeff Goldblum do whatever he likes. And then there was The Brawl In Cell Block 99, a film which from star Vince Vaughn’s perspective seems to be about a mid-career pivot to Taken-style action films, and from everyone else’s perspective seems to be about getting punched in the face by Vince Vaughn.


NovThe only film I saw in November was Justice League, which I watched while trying to swallow inedible caramelised popcorn at the AMC theatre in Downtown Disney. It is, from the moment Superman appears in a found-footage prologue with his unreal upper lip, a wounded thing struggling to reconcile the disparate realities and registers of its central cast – a grumpy, grounded Batman, Flash from a movie I’d actually like to see, Superman delivering Whedon one-liners with the grace of a black hole – and never really succeeding. There are many “What ifs” with the DC movies, but my favourite one is “What if we never watched any of these films again?”


DecDecember, then. Jackie Chan’s The Foreigner makes total sense until you watch it, director Martin Campbell – who has made real films that weren’t deranged – deciding now is the time to embed Chan’s ability to slap five men at once into the ever-precarious tinderbox of Irish politics. It had nothing on Bright, though, Netflix’s Will Smith-starring contemporary fantasy thriller about orcs and elves in LA that might give you a new perspective on racism if you have literally never thought about racism before. Then, finally, Star Wars: The Last Jedi arrived and wasn’t everything I wanted. I reject completely the entitled tantruming of hectoring fans, which makes expressing disappointment at something I’d rather have loved even more difficult. Change can be hard. Star Wars and I both want this to work. We thank you for respecting our privacy at this challenging time.


And that’s everything. Other great things I saw at the cinema this year include the re-release of Blood Simple – which would top my favourites if it was a new movie – taking my son to see The Crying Game, and watching previews of the brutal, ghostly You Were Never Really Here and the excellent-because-of-Frances-McDormand Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Last year in this space I wrote that the best thing I’d seen on television was “Stranger Things, the same as everybody else who watched Stranger Things, and fuck you and your superior backlash bullshit if you disagree” which I would like to repeat again this year, louder this time in the face of the “You didn’t like this as much as you thought”-flavoured wave that welcomed season two. Oh, man, and there was the return of Twin Peaks, about which I have complicated feelings which basically boil down to being happy there is more David Lynch in the world, and sure that at least five hours of that new Lynch are authentically good, and furious that he made us watch 13 hours of a great icon of hope and decency mugging in an oversized green jacket. If there was a year that needed real Coop, it was 2017.


No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: