Celebrating the best and vilifying the worst that Hollywood offered in 2017
This has been another banner year for Hollywood, and while there have been the usual crop of mediocre and bad films that are better left ignored, there have also been a number of great films that continue to give us a reason to go to the theatres, while also setting new standards for the art of story-telling and stretching the very boundaries of cinema itself.
As we near the end of this year, the time has come to celebrate the best, and vilify the worst that 2017 has offered!
Darren Aronofsky is no stranger to exploring strange and exceedingly bewildering stories. Look no further than his enigmatic debut feature Pi or 2010’s Black Swan. But even for him, mother! is a new high in terms of sheer craziness and bewilderment.
It’s highly likely that you won’t be able to understand exactly what is going on for the majority of the run-time, and even when you do, the metaphorical side of the narrative might strike you as hokey or on-the-nose. But that doesn’t change the fact that you simply can’t turn your eyes away from what’s happening on screen. The whole thing unfolds like a nightmarish fever dream and keeps nagging at you with its constant spiralling sense of tension, till you have no choice but to submit to the madness. The claustrophobic and intense nature of the filmmaking – especially the abundance of extreme close-ups – is at times akin to a couple of walls closing in.
It doesn’t surprise me that Mother! is the most divisive film to come out this year, as some of its narrative choices are increasingly left-field and bound to offend a number of people. But it’s also hard to argue against the notion that as a pure and unadulterated experience, it is simply unforgettable, hauntingly beautiful and unmatched by anything that has come out in recent years.
4. Good Time
Anybody who knew Robert Pattinson as the stone-faced, pale-skinned vampire from the widely-maligned Twilight series got a stark reality check in the form of Good Time, the latest film from the up-and-coming sibling duo of Josh and Benny Safdie and arguably the surprise of the year for me.
Pattinson, almost unrecognisable in the scruffy goatee and bleached blonde hair, turns in the best performance of his career thus far as Connie, a man on the run who sinks deeper and deeper under the weight of his own bad decisions on a cold winter night in New York. And as the film escalates and oscillates at an increasingly unrelenting tempo, you can’t help but sit back and embrace the chaos. The entire thing moves at a break-neck pace, amplified by the fact that its gorgeous cinematography immerses you in a neon-lit New York night while the dizzying synth soundtrack keeps buzzing in your head long after the film is over.
The credit of course goes to the Safdies who directed this film with a distinct visceral edge, and perhaps even greater credit to them for writing a role for Pattinson where he is able showcase an authenticity and a range never before seen in his work.
In Hugh Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine, a role he inarguably immortalised over the span of 16 years, director James Mangold turned in the very anti-thesis of a super-hero movie with Logan, a film that not only serves as a fitting send-off for Jackman, but also doubles as a gritty and violent neo-western, envisioning a future so dark that it feels almost completely detached from the X-Men universe.
For all the blood that spills and all the flesh that gets ripped through, there is also something deeply melancholic about Logan, because Mangold is interested in exploring this story as a character study more than anything else. The fact that Logan is a shadow of his former self, surviving in what seems like a dystopian future adds to that. It’s his relationships with Dafne Keen’s Laura and Patrick Stewart’s Professor X though where the film finds its true heart and soul and infuses the narrative with a sense of hope that often seems lost on it.
It’s also worth noting that in his swansong performance as Wolverine, Jackman truly gives it his all; turning a once indestructible mutant into a battle-weary man living on the edge of mortality. If there was ever a film that broke the comic book movie mold and transcended it, this was it.
2. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
For years, Noah Baumbach has been one of the most underrated filmmakers around whose style has that terrific balance between comedic wittiness and tragedy, of which you don’t see enough of in films or filmmakers these days. With The Meyerowitz Stories, he serves up his best work yet, a film that offers a look at the dysfunctional Meyerowitz family led by the patriarch faded-artist father Harold (Dustin Hoffman), his two sons Danny (Adam Sandler) and Matthew (Ben Stiller) and his daughter Jean (Elizabeth Marvel).
The most astonishing thing for me is how mature, humane, emotional and funny this film is – sometimes simultaneously – which isn’t surprising considering this is ultimately about the abrasive influence parents can often times have on their children and the strife that it in-turn creates between siblings. It’s also worth mentioning that Sandler is absolutely brilliant in this film, stealing every scene from Stiller and Hoffman. Above all, the credit goes to Baumbach, who builds a genuinely affecting narrative that makes you embrace its imperfect characters while always giving you a reason to laugh along with a most profound sense of catharsis.
Very few films these days have the ability to redefine the very experience of watching a film on the big screen. But then again, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk isn’t just any other film; it’s a monumental cinematic achievement that simultaneously feels both grand and intimate, and immerses the viewer in every single frame. Nolan takes the famous Dunkirk evacuation of 1940 that took place during the early days of World War II, and presents an epic tale of survival against all odds set across the land, the sea and the sky.
Every element in the film feels like it’s there for a reason; exposition and dialogue aren’t needed so they are almost completely dispensed with in favour of immersive aesthetics and Hans Zimmer’s phenomenal original soundtrack, which almost feels like a character of its own. And while the actors all turn in impressive performances, it’s important to note that the characters they play are there to showcase a sense of feeling that defines the very nature of war. Courage, fear, benevolence, sacrifice, cowardice, grit, terror can all be seen on faces of the soldiers in this film.
It’s somewhat remarkable how a film attempting to channel something so elemental can end up achieving something so epic, but that’s exactly what Nolan manages to achieve with Dunkirk. You simply cannot escape its energy or evade its unyielding force. It’s cinema at its purest, and unquestionably the best film of 2017.
5. Transformers: The Last Knight
Five movies in, and the Transformers franchise is just as bad as it was 10 years ago. Transformers: The Last Knight is more of the same of something that needs little description. Once again, we have a contrived plot stretched to a testing run-time, an endless number of incoherent action sequences, and the usual dose of random noises, terrible dialogue and bad jokes. You could literally walk out of this movie for 30 minutes and return to the sound of two robots laying a beat down on each other that’s akin to hearing two trash cans collide.
Nothing really makes much sense. There’s a great chunk of the story that the screenwriters try to connect with King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable and Anthony Hopkins turns up for just enough time to pick up the check for his new vacation house and utter the line: “What a b******’ ride” (yes, I’m talking about that Hopkins, of Silence of the Lambs and Westworld). For the most part, it’s just the same overlong, overstuffed and empty spectacle our eyes have already had the displeasure of seeing.
4. Power Rangers
Even though it’s a major plus point that the new Power Rangers reboot managed to move past the rubber monsters and dollar store look of the 90’s series, it can’t make up for the fact that with a budget of $105 million, all they’ve managed to dish out is a part angsty teen melodrama, part glossy, glitzy CGI-borefest. The greatest hits of a modern day super hero reboot are all there – the obligatory origin story, the cartoonish villain, the weightless action sequences and the big, flashy finale that throws everything at the screen while making sure the heroes manage to destroy a city or at the very least, a small town.
Who this film was made for remains a mystery, considering the people who saw the show back in the 90’s either saw it purely for the camp factor or were too young and stupid to realise exactly how bad it was. If it’s any consolation, the fact that it bombed at the box office might at least cancel out any chances of a sequel.
If being a cheap knock-off of Alien and Gravity wasn’t bad enough, Life makes sure it bores you for the first half of its run-time with clichéd technical dialogue revolving around space jargon between its characters, whom it would be a compliment to call one-dimensional at best. In its second half, though, it gets aggressively bad, unfolding like a cheap slasher movie in space where all the characters make dumb decisions and get picked off one by one by a grotesque jelly fish-like space monster.
All this is particularly disappointing considering the film is written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the writing duo behind Deadpool and Zombieland, while the talent involved – the likes of Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson – is left completely squandered.
It’s never a good sign when the sequel to a reasonably successful horror film turns up 15 years later without any of the major stars, writer or the director of the original involved. It also doesn’t bode well when the said film conveniently ignores the events of a previous sequel that tried to do something similar rather unsuccessfully (see: The Ring Two). So I guess in many ways, you could say Rings was pretty much dead on arrival. But that still didn’t stop the producers from trying their best to milk out an easy buck from its franchise name, nor from putting it on cinema screens when it clearly didn’t even deserve a direct-to-video release.
Everything about Rings feels hopelessly outdated, even though it desperately tries to keep up with the times, replacing video tapes with smartphones and laptops as the central plot-device and needlessly dishing out exposition related to the events of the first film just to remind you that both are totally set in the same universe. But none of that is worse than the fact that Rings simply fails as a horror film. It is a dull, lifeless and toothless rehash devoid of any real scares.
There’s really not much to say about Geostorm, other than the fact that it’s atrocious in every possible way. I have a soft spot for disaster movies and find them enjoyable, but this isn’t even a disaster movie! Heck, most of it even takes place in space, and features Gerard Butler trying another horrible American accent, while playing a scientist who is responsible for inventing what can best be described as a weather-controlling space station to limit the effect of global warming.
It’s the kind of film where the final act conflict is derived from a computer screen giving a geo-storm alert, followed by a 90-minute countdown of when the geo-storm will occur. It’s filled with an endless amount of implausible scenes that make absolutely no sense, and always find a way to insult your intelligence by disguising terrible dialogue with technical jargon. It is a film devoid of even a single redeeming quality that’s drowning in a cesspool of tediousness and its own self-seriousness.
This has clearly been both a great and a terrible year for Hollywood films, with an honourable mention to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Post and Phantom Thread in the great category. Here’s hoping 2018 will present equally great films to balance out the terrible ones!
Happy New Year!
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.