2017: A year in film

31st December 2017

I finished my summary of film in 2016 by saying that I was not “hugely hopeful for an explosion of quality in 2017” and in many ways I was wrong. Like last year, 2017 was a year that I visited the cinema a lot and more often than not I enjoyed myself.

The year began with the usual run of films vying for Oscars and I was pleased to see that there was a lot of diversity in this year’s nominations following last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy. Films such as Hidden Figures, Loving, Fences and Moonlight received Oscar nominations and had prominent roles for actors of colour. This was a welcome change from the usual parade of white people being nominated in the top Oscar categories.

La La Land walked away with several Oscar wins, as well as cementing Emma Stone’s position as one of the most talented people in Hollywood and Damien Chazelle’s reputation as an excellent director. Silence was a disappointing offering from Martin Scorsese, one of my favourite directors. Sadly, not even a collaboration with talented actors such as Adam Driver, Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson could make the film engaging.

The big success story this year, and every year, was Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. It has become increasingly clear that only they can create and maintain a successful cinematic universe, as this year saw the launch and quick abortion of The Dark Universe with Tom Cruise’s The Mummy.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 had the first’s combination of humour and breathtaking action scenes, but combined it with a moment of genuinely transcendent emotion at the end. Later in the year, Spider-Man: Homecoming showed that a teenaged reboot of the Spider-Man series could be funny and have one of Marvel’s best villains in the form of Michael Keaton’s Vulture, while Thor: Ragnarok took the action and humour to new heights thanks mainly to a great pairing of Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo.

Marvel’s formula for superhero movies continues to be very successful, this is evidenced by the fact that they put out three very strong movies this year. My only criticism of them is that they are sticking quite closer to a crowd pleasing, Joss Whedon-esque action plus jokes format. Undoubtedly the best Marvel adaptation of the year was Logan (distributed by 20th Century Fox not Disney), which forwent the usual Marvel format to focus intensely on the character of Wolverine/Logan later in his life to tell a really moving story. The core of this film was a career defining performance for Hugh Jackman. This was my favourite film of the year.

DC’s attempts to create a shared universe continued this year, first with Wonder Woman, which was good, and then Justice League, which was not. Wonder Woman shows that DC can make a good action film when they want to. It wasn’t struggling with the need to advertise eight other films in the DC shared universe, but instead focused on telling the story of one character very well and had a strong performance from Gal Gadot. Its success shows that DC can make good solo superhero films and raises my hopes for Aquaman next year.

Justice League was mainly empty spectacle, had a plot that was confused as best, contained a subpar Batman (who looked really out of place in what was essentially a fantasy film) and then resurrected Superman in this year’s least surprising twist. DC need to get the basics right (like plot and character) and make some more decent solo superhero movies before than they can embark on ambitious shared universe projects. The best DC adaptation this year was The Lego Batman Movie.

Other franchises performed well this year. Star Wars: The Last Jedi brought the epic action scenes that we associate with Star Wars and had some amazing directing from Rian Johnson. The long awaited Blade Runner sequel arrived and it confounded expectations to be a visual and audio masterpiece. Power Rangers started their own franchise with a film that was aggressively okay. Truly it was the midpoint of the year. All the good films were better than it and all the bad films were worse than it.

Sadly, a few franchise let us down this year. Dwayne Johnson, usually a reliable source of entertainment, failed to impress in Baywatch: The Movie, which managed to plunge below the lowest common dominator down to somewhere so low that it’s not really worth talking about. Fast 8 lacked the usual charm of the long established car chase franchise, while Alien: Covenant wasn’t as dull as Prometheus, but still fell way short of the bar set by the classic films of that franchise.

There were a lot of good British films this year. Armando Iannucci’s the Death of Stalin was darkly comic and historically accurate while Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire was stylish, funny and bloody. Prevenge, directed by Ben Wheatley collaborator Alice Lowe, managed to be bloody and darkly comic. I had low exactions for T2: Trainspotting, but was pleasantly surprised by the fact the sequel told a strong story and gave us more of some iconic characters.

The biggest surprise hit of the year was Jordan Peele’s Get Out, a horror/thriller that took a hard look at racial tensions in America. Its success, despite a low budget, was driven by word of mouth and it was one of the most interesting films that I saw this year. Another unusual hit was Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, about one woman’s search for revenge after being raped. In Verhoeven’s usual style, this film was dark, incredibly brutal and difficult to watch, but was also very affecting.

A few other high-quality films that deserve a mention were Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan’s war movie that brought the thriller back into the genre, and Stephen King adaptation It, which was creepy and emotional. There was not one, but two, stylish heist movies this year. Logan Lucky, starring Daniel Craig, Adam Driver and Channing Tatum, was hugely fun and Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver was masterfully directed and boasted the best soundtrack of the year.

Overall 2017 has been of higher quality than 2016. Maybe this is because I didn’t see some of the films that had very poor reception, such as The Emoji Movie, but none of the “must see geek blockbusters” that I watched were atrocious and many were very entertaining. This year wasn’t particularly original, with sequels and franchises dominating, but that has been the case for the last few years and looks likely to continue for the near future. If 2018’s films are as entertaining as hits from this year, such as Wonder Woman or Thor: Ragnarok, or as interesting as Dunkirk or Baby Driver, then 2018 should be a good year too.

Looking ahead to next year, the high profile films are Solo: A Star Wars Story, which could be good based on the quality of the current crop of Star Wars films, and X-Men: Dark Phoenix, which I am more dubious about. There are sequels to Jurassic World, Ant-Man, Mission Impossible, 50 Shades of Grey, Fantastic Beasts, the Maze Runner, Pacific Rim and Mary Poppins, as well as a new Avengers film. There are also remakes of Predator and Tomb Raider, along with adaptations of Ready Player One as well as the Black Panther and Aquaman comics.

A truly original year next year seems unlike, but as long as most of these films are entertaining then I will be happy. See you in the cinema.

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Moderate Fantasy Violence © Nick Bryan & Alastair JR Ball 2016