The drift of one year into the next means it’s time to reflect on the films that grabbed my attention in 2017. I saw 115 films last year, 35 of which were classics or repeat screenings, leaving 80 to compete in the Golden Stans.
As is tradition, I shall start with the Cone of Shame: I was tempted to offer up the Warner Bros studio exec who approved Blade Runner 2049’s run time (two hours and 43 minutes FFS!), or Zack Snyder & co for the limp Justice League (in extreme contrast to the success of Wonder Woman), but I’ve opted to direct my ire at Alexander Payne. I really enjoyed Election, Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska but Downsizing was very disappointing indeed, a promising premise and cast utterly wasted. The essential plot device (shrinking people down to only a few centimetres high) could have made a thought-provoking slice of sc-fi in Alex Garland’s hands, but Payne and his regular co-writer graft on a Capra-esque journey of self-discovery and a rom-com, neither of which convince. And the characterisation of Hong Chau’s cleaner and inspiration for the hero’s journey is, as some of my friends would say, a bit ‘racist’.
That’s the negativity done with: on with the positives. The shortlist for Best Score features three outstanding pieces of work: Ola Flottum’s themes emphasised the weirdness and unknown at the heart of Thelma; Erik Friedlander took a leaf out of the original Planet of the Apes for his rhythmic soundscapes in Thoroughbreds; and Carter Bulwell helped leave me in a blubbery mess by the end Wonderstruck. However, the Golden Stan goes to Rupert Gregson-Williams for his stirring themes in Wonder Woman, in particular during the set piece in No Man’s Land.
Staying with sound, Darren Aronofsky’s mother! was notable for spatial deployment of sound effects, and thus Paula Fairfield & co secure a special nod.
Aronosky’s biblical parable also features on the shortlist for Best Editing:
- Andrew Weisblum for mother!
- Tania Galis for Erase and Forget
The shortlist for the Golden Stan for Best Cinematography reflects some diverse approaches:
- Benji Bakshi for Brawl In Cell Block 99
- Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049
- Matthew Libatique for mother!
- Giles Nuttgens for Grain
- Aleksei Rodionov for The Party
- Lyle Vincent for Thoroughbreds
- Ari Wegner for Lady Macbeth
It’s almost too obvious to give the award to Deakins, so the Golden Stan goes to Aleksei Rodionov for The Party, each frame a beautifully conceived work of art in itself.
Here’s the shortlist for Best Adapted Screenplay:
- Park Chan-wook and Chung Seo-kyung for The Handmaiden
- Scott Frank, James Mangold and Michael Green for Logan
- Paul King and Simon Farnaby for Paddington 2
Paul King and Simon Farnaby almost pulled off the impossible, delivering a sequel almost equal to the first Paddington.
However, Frank, Mangold and Green take the award for distilling the essence of Mark Millar’s celebrated Old Man Logan comic, crafting on huge chunks of Unforgiven and creating a treatise on the effects of violence that pulls no punches, offering no easy answers and an utterly unheroic super hero.
The Best Original Screenplay shortlist features four distinct voices – all of them writer/directors:
- Julia Ducournau for Raw
- Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird
- Jordan Peele for Get Out
- Taylor Sheridan for Wind River
Peele’s Get Out script was a rare example of medium and message combining perfectly.
Gerwig’s not-so-autobiographical script gave plenty of space for its key characters to breathe, gently subverting coming-of-age tropes as it went.
But the Golden Stan goes to Julia Ducournau for Raw: similar to Peele, she doesn’t allow her use of symbolism and desire to get a message across to cheapen the utterly believable characters.
On to the acting categories, and first up, it’s Best Supporting Actor:
- Maged El Kedwany for Sheikh Jackson
- Cillian Murphy for The Party
- Dev Patel for Lion
- Simon Russell Beale for The Death of Stalin
- Adam Sandler for The Meyerowitz Stories
- Timothy Spall for The Party
Spall and Murphy expectedly make the most of their small roles in The Party, while Russell Beale spits out every line to comedic perfection in Stalin.
Dev Patel really proved himself in Lion (I think the physical bulking up for the role genuinely improved his screen presence), but the Golden Stan goes to Maged El Kedwany for his conflicted father, a character and performance that suggests there could be light at the end of the tunnel for Egypt.
Here’s the shortlist for Best Supporting Actress:
- Patricia Clarkson for The Party
- Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird
- Julianne Moore for Wonderstruck
- Kristin Scott-Thomas for The Party
- Sarah Silverman for Battle of the Sexes
Sarah Silverman dealt her one-liners with panache and not a little venom in Battle, while Moore was heart-breaking in the heart-breaking Wonderstruck.
However, the Golden Stan goes to Laurie Metcalf for her loving but vexed mum in Lady Bird.
The shortlist for Best Actor is short, highlighting a dearth of great roles and performances in 2017:
- Timothee Chalamet for Call Me By Your Name
- Steve Carrell for Battle of the Sexes
- Ahmad El-Fishawy for Sheikh Jackson
- Hugh Jackman for Logan
- Rolf Lassgard for A Man Called Ove
- James McAvoy for Split
- Charlie Plummer for Lean On Pete
- Vince Vaughn for Brawl In Cell Block 99
Vaughn and McAvoy both enjoyed a mini-renaissance (for the record, I always thought Vaughn was good but just hadn’t found enough of the right roles): they’re astonishingly effective in their respective roles.
Rolf Lassgard, as the titular Ove, had much to sink his teeth into and did so without falling into an obviously comedic-tragic performance.
But the Golden Stan goes to teenager Charlie Plummer: he is the entire focus of Lean On Pete, and while surrounded by some of the best character actors Hollywood has to offer, his performance has to carry the film – and carry it he does, with assured aplomb. One to watch in the future.
Given the year Hollywood has had, it’s pleasing to report that there were so many great performances by actresses (noticeably more so than for the men), such that my shortlist for Best Actress is not very short:
- Emily Beecham for Daphne
- Carla Gugino for Gerald’s Game
- Sandra Huller for Toni Erdmann
- Jennifer Lawrence for mother!
- Garance Marillier for Raw
- Aubrey Plaza for Ingrid Goes West
- Florence Pugh for Lady Macbeth
- Samantha Robinson for The Love Witch
- Saoirse Ronan for On Chesil Beach, and Lady Bird
- Anya Taylor-Joy for Split, and Thoroughbreds
Other British actresses also had a field day: Florence Pugh was an utterly compelling screen presence in Lady Macbeth; Saoirse Ronan walked fine lines of comedy, drama and tragedy in her two coming-of-age roles; and Anya Taylor-Joy showcased resilience in Split and was delightfully disaffected in Thoroughbreds.
Aubrey Plaza gave a nuanced and clearly deeply thought-out performance as the titular Ingrid.
Samantha Robinson’s deliberately blank and affected performance helped hold Love Witch together.
Carla Gugino pulled out all the stops as the [spoilers – redacted] tied to the bed for the vast majority of the Gerald’s Game. Similarly, J-Law had to go for it in Aronofsky’s mother!
Sandra Huller was brilliant in Toni Erdmann as the daughter with significant daddy issues, and in any other year, she would probably win the award, however the Golden Stan for Best Actress goes to Garance Marillier. She was completely convincing as the first-time cannibal at the heart of Raw: I can’t think of a more fully realised character in 2017 than hers.
This is the shortlist for Best Director:
- Darren Aronofsky for mother!
- Julia Ducournau for Raw
- Andrew Haig for Lean On Pete
- Todd Haynes for Wonderstruck
- James Mangold for Logan
- Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk
- Edgar Wright for Baby Driver
- S Craig Zahler for Brawl In Cell Block 99
Impassioned grasps of technique were also showcased by Wright and Nolan – it will be interesting to see if any of the old guard learn lessons from these two or try to ape them.
Mangold and Zahler crafted meaningful art out of their pulpy scenarios, and drew career-best performances from their respective leads.
Lean On Pete was unmistakeably an Andrew Haigh film, with the director successfully relocating his sensibilities to backwater America.
Todd Haynes’ touch was delicate but firm on Wonderstruck, teasing the narrative and emotional twists and turns to a controlled crescendo.
But the Golden Stan for Best Director goes to Julia Ducournau: Raw is perfectly crafted, every frame and performance a delight.
Now it’s time for the final award, the big one, the Golden Stan for Best Film. There are some noticeable omissions (Toni Erdmann was too long and too slow; I only saw Blade Runner 2049 once and need to see it again to come to a reasoned opinion, but again too long and too slow). Here, in the order I saw them, are the films that affected me most in 2017:
- The Love Witch: a delicious concoction that should have made Samantha Robinson the next big thing.
- Logan: one of the most interesting (and certainly the bleakest) comic book movies since the genre became a thing with the X-Men in 2000; more than $600m worldwide box office proved Mangold and Jackman right – there is a market for R-rated comic book movies.
- Get Out: electric audience reaction made this a film that absolutely had to be seen in a cinema.
- Raw: a detailed examination of one of the last great taboos; sometimes hard to watch, but I couldn’t look away. Shades of Cronenberg and Fincher here.
- The Handmaiden: a deliciously decadent concoction; perversely, the standard cut is better than the Director’s Cut.
- Clash: gripping Egyptian action drama set inside a police van during a citywide riot.
- Split: M Night Shyamalan crafted a strange beast, almost imperceptibly ratcheting up the tension; can’t wait for January 2019 when he unleashes Glass.
- Wonder Woman: Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot & co delivered the second-best super hero movie of the year, but it was the mostimportant super hero movie of the year; featured the most stirring moment of the year in the No Man’s Land sequence.
- A Man Called Ove: this could have been ‘just’ an extended episode of One Foot In The Grave, but the love and tragedy at its heart lift it beyond that; I was in bits at the end. It managed to deliver a gag that made me cry both because it was both funny and sad.
- Baby Driver: Edgar Wright’s response to Mad Max: Fury Road? This arthouse action movie delivered in spades, especially the music video-style intro.
- Dunkirk: masterpiece of pure cinema from a modern master. A film made for IMAX, delivering total immersion for the audience. Particular mention should go to Zimmer for that score and the inclusion of Nimrod.
- Wind River: compelling neo-Western with one of the tensest scenes of the year. I can’t wait to see what Taylor Sheridan directs next.
- Wonderstruck: ridiculously moving children’s fairy tale for adults; deserves to each a wide audience.
- Lean On Pete: not at the same level as 45 Years, but this modern horse opera/road movie crossover was deeply affecting; what a performance from Charlie Plummer.
- Erase And Forget: this headlong dive into the life and times of Bo Gritz, the Vietnam vet who served as the inspiration for John Rambo, is timely and never less than astonishing, touching on many hot topics (gun control, the lingering damage of Vietnam on the US psyche, the space where myth becomes fact and vice versa).
- Small Town Crime: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; this neo-Western features a great turn by John Hawkes as a wasted cop who loses his badge; notable support from Robert Forster.
- Brawl In Cell Block 99: when you absolutely, positively need to crush someone’s head, best call Vince Vaughn. Unrelenting brutality, Shakespearean tragedy. Hard to watch, but I want to watch it again and again.
- Lady Bird: greater than the sum of its parts and substantially better than the trailer makes it look. An absolute delight.
- 78/52: cracking documentary about the shower scene in Psycho; a must-see for any film fan.
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi: it had its issues, but brave of Disney and Lucas Film to allow Rian Johnson to use a franchise film to explore the importance of failure and to debate the power and dangers of myth, both textually and subtextually.