Before digging into 2017’s best and worst, let’s acknowledge the outstanding achievers in the field of leaving absolutely no lasting impression.
We did it, everybody! We have survived 2017 – barring any unfortunate last minute twists of fate which, since the spectre of Death refused to stop even for Christmas last year, could very well be in the realm of possibility! And since we’re watching the sun go down on this past year before seeing it rise again on a new dawn, that means it’s time for my annual fortnight of extensive (and arguably self-indulgent) Year in Review pieces! I’m going to be expending a tonne of words, time, and energy upon the best and worst films that 2017 had to offer and, thankfully, the year did indeed have a lot to offer in the Film department.
But what about the films that fit into neither of those designations? I mean, every year we take time out to lavish attention on the standout movies, and waste further breath on the garbage that puts the cream into sharper focus, that much is a given. But what about the films that left no impression? The ones that played to thunderous indifference, sometimes chewing up well over two hours of a life that could have been spent fighting injustice or furthering scientific advances or meeting a soulmate, and were promptly forgotten within five seconds of the end credits rolling? Well, with more films than ever before being released to the public per year, I felt that we should recognise these immediately dispensable blasts of sound and vision. After all, without them, the films that leave some kind of lasting impression, no matter what kind, wouldn’t be as notable!
Dir: Doug Liman
Star: Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, Domhnall Gleeson
Doug Liman released two films in 2017, which is something I have to keep reminding myself because neither of them were remotely memorable or interesting in any way. American Made even reunited him with Tom Cruise, the man who fronted his Edge of Tomorrow in 2014 – still one of the decade’s best blockbusters and most criminally underseen movies – and the results were such a vapid mess that my brain had checked out whilst the film was still going. Liman was either attempting to go back to his Go and Swingers youth but for a ludicrous true-ish story, or he was trying to make his own Wolf of Wall Street, and he comes up short on both accounts: the film’s narrative being so stake-less and lurching that it causes the filmmaking to feel actively haphazard, whilst the commentary on Barry Seal or Capitalism or American Exceptionalism or whatever the hell the film is supposed to be about is effectively non-existent. American Made is the War Dogs of 2017 – which was Todd Phillips’ attempt to make his own Wolf of Wall Street and came out in 2016, because you’d also forgotten that movie too.
Dir: Andy Serkis
Star: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander
The best kind of Failed Oscar Bait floats harmlessly through one’s senses for two hours (because Failed Oscar Bait is almost always two hours long) never once threatening to aim for levels higher than “mildly pleasant” and therefore not brimming with insufferable self-importance, all on its way to its natural home of a “Sunday evening BBC 2 movie when the schedule needs plugging.” So it is with Breathe, Andy Serkis’ directorial debut, a film so doggedly British that it probably pisses beer, buys The Daily Mail more than once a week, and creamed its pants over blue passports coming back. Its script is a Mad Libs of Oscar Bait, “Man Overcoming Disability with Support of Patient Wife” variant, and, other than Andrew Garfield’s awful relentless mugging, the experience of watching it is about as ephemeral as its title. Even if I hadn’t seen 36 films in the two weeks following it, I still would have needed to re-read my London Film Festival review of Breathe in order to remember anything about it.
Dir: Carlos Saldanha
Star: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Cannavale (voices)
The book that Ferdinand is based upon, The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, was incredibly controversial back upon its initial publishing in 1936, the titular bull – a peaceful soul who does not want to fight, but instead prefers to smell flowers – being interpreted as everything from a pacifist symbol, to a fascist symbol, pro-Franco, to anti-Franco, pro-communism, to a homosexual… Ferdinand, Blue Sky Studios’ animated adaptation of the classic story, is unlikely to cause any such controversy over its potential messaging, since the film is so boring and generic that anybody for whom this is not their first exposure to the movies will see all memory of it lapse before they’ve even ordered their post-film McDonalds. It’s at least willing to embrace the pacifism symbolism, but the messaging is so blunt, conflated with the done-to-death “be yourself” cliché, and the filmmaking involved is so lifeless and weirdly paced, that the effect is null. The sole memorable image that Ferdinand provides is that of a trio of German horses dabbing whilst a bull twerks to a dubstep breakdown, which… yeah.
Dir: Richie Keen
Star: Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Jillian Bell
This year, the funniest comedy that I saw, in all of these past 12 months, was a horror movie. Honestly, I’m not even that upset anymore. I’ve been ragging on the state of the American comedy for years, now – every single Bottom 10 list I have made so far has included at least one of them as a stand-in for the rest, except for 2015 when I did put basically all of them on – and I think I’ve just resigned myself to the fact that nothing’s going to change. They’re still going to pull together ultra-talented casts, many of whom keep recurring in these things, strand them in the sketch of a concept for a script, and order them to improv a film together whilst being shot and framed in the exact same empty static way. Also, they’ll be funded by New Line Cinema, who have this particular subgenre on lock. At least at time of writing, I’m not putting any of them on my Bottom 10 list this year, so they’re going on here instead. Fist Fight is the only one being named, however, because it’s the one that’s the least substantial; there’s barely enough here for a low-quality Saturday Night Live sketch.
Dirs: The Safdie Brothers
Star: Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Buddy Duress
It’s not just mainstream studio fare that can add up to a whole heap of nothing, mind you. Indie filmmakers are especially susceptible to getting so carried away with paying homage to the genre films and styles that they loved growing up, that, in their excitement, they forget to craft a movie to go with it. The otherwise dependable Safdie Brothers unfortunately ended up the latest to fall victim to this trap with Good Time, a pulsing, neon-drenched, synthwave-scored crime thriller that’s a throwback to the gritty character-driven type of the mid-70s. Yet I couldn’t find any characters to speak of in Good Time, its commentary on White Male privilege is made in the opening scene and not meaningfully expanded upon in any way afterwards, and, as its 99 minute runtime dragged ceaselessly onwards, I eventually realised that what little investment I had in the action on screen was coming entirely from ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER’s score and not the filmmaking itself. For a film that so many critics have dogpiled over themselves to name as one of the year’s best, I’m mostly confused about how immediately forgettable I found it to be.
Dir: Joel Hopkins
Star: Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Watkins
Right, err, bear with me here. According to the list I keep of cinema films released during these twelve months, I apparently saw something called Hampstead this year? On my list, it is sandwiched between Baby Driver and Gifted, both films I definitely remember seeing this year (for both good and bad reasons), and yet I could not tell you a single thing about this movie. Brendan Gleeson was in it? The poster looks like it was thrown together from a template in about 10 minutes? I guess it’s an old-person movie, perhaps a comedy or a romance of some kind? Hang on, I’m going to go and rewatch the trailer to see if that jogs my memory. Wait here!
Nope, that did nothing.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Dir: Patrick Hughes
Star: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Élodie Yung
Funny story: I have technically seen The Hitman’s Bodyguard one and a half times. The first time I was watching it, a woman fell down the cinema steps halfway through and hurt herself so badly that they had to stop the film and call an ambulance. They would finish the screening sometime later once everything was cleared up, but I wasn’t able to stay because the delay would have caused me to miss a screening of It Comes at Night, so I simply went back the following week and watched the film again from the start, this time without any interruptions, because I didn’t want to have my “no walkouts” policy violated for the first time ever on a technicality. That story was the most interesting thing I have to say about The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and I saw the first hour of that movie twice, so you’d think that some part of it would have managed to stick out if purely by repetition. But, no.
Tomorrow: the 20 best scenes of 2017.
Callie Petch needs a ball and a wall or a sledge and a hill in heavy weather.