Film Review: Looking back on 2017
by Angelique Jones
Jordan Peele. in Daniel Kaluuya's Get Out.
Before you revel in the glory of what 2018 is bestowing upon us in terms of films and TV (Ladybird, A Wrinkle in Time, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Phantom Thread, Macbeth, Black Panther, A Quiet Place, the second series of The Handmaid’s Tale... I could go on) let’s take a minute to reflect, look back and learn from what 2017 gave us.
There’s a lot to be excited about before a new movie is released, especially one that promises to tell a story from an original perspective. This ‘alternative’ approach is how I plan my watch list: I focus my radar on films with an enigmatic plot, a new face, the vow of a twist, a director who habitually delivers the goods or an underdog rising on the screen . Occasionally, we get all rewards in one - such as with Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning Get Out -, which is why 2017 was such a showstopper year for the film industry. And there’s no sign of it stopping, just look at the Oscars earlier this month: showcasing renowned filmmakers alongside emerging talent like Dee Rees for her Netflix hit Mudbound, this is a sign of ultimate recognition for a new generation of filmmakers, as the Awards have become the stage for some exciting socio-political movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp.
2017 has brought a diversity and richness to cinematic storytelling, encouraging us to empathise with and explore complex feelings regardless of race, sex or social status. We’ve seen auteurism take centre stage in both small-scale indies and explosive big budget blockbusters by writer-director combos. We’ve seen untold stories from lands afar, and the same old story being told through fresh new angles - a testament to the innovation of filmmakers and their ability to continually entertain, excite, illuminate and even change. I’m fascinated by the universal language of film.
So, before we indulge further in what 2018 has offered us so far, let’s sit back, maybe with a cuppa and Netflix (or a classic DVD) and give ourselves the time to re-view some of the movies that shook up the world in 2017 and take note of what lessons they may offer.
1. Get Out
An unrelenting, ingenious thriller that will entertain you, scare, enrage and fuck with you all at once
This dark comedic thriller with an original horrifying twist presents a young African-American’s first visit to his white girlfriend’s parents in a secluded country estate.
Using hypnosis to explore the effects of prejudice on the human psyche, Get Out plays on embedded cultural fears and anxieties, highlighting some cutting questions about whitewashing through an allegory on black identity in America. This small-scale film has a big agenda, and it does its job oh so sweetly: I was scared, absorbed, entertained, and found my head fully messed with, just as the protagonist’s.
To quote Seth Meyers: “You’ll know if you’re a racist when you watch this film.” What a poignant time to explore such a pervasive issue. Bravo Mr.Peele.
A haunting mystery; so edgy, so enticing, so enigmatic and so watchable
I was drawn in solely by Kristen Stewart’s captivating responses to the strange situations she finds herself in as a medium (in layman’s terms: someone who communicates with ghosts) in the midst of a quarter-century-life crisis. Struggling to come to terms with grief and loss, Maureen (Stewart), a personal shopper for a demanding celebrity in Paris, is stuck, seemingly by choice, in an obsessive search for other-wordly communication with her brother who had previously died there. I enjoyed the voyeuristic pleasures of witnessing Stewart play out some captivating and dark fantasies, and my perplexed attempts to find meaning in the avant-garde ‘French-ness’ of this movie, which lifts this film out of its contemporary context and places it in the more artsy realms of auteur experimentation.
May we let go of last year’s unhealthy obsessions and flow into the present.
A heart-tugging satirical, sci-fi approach with two opposing outlooks: corporate capitalism vs. sustainability. And no, it’s not another Cowspiracy doc
Bong’s films are notorious for highlighting the brutalism of consumer-capitalism, and this film takes no prisoners. Okja debunks the realities of the global meat industry as the demand for meat that “taste[s] fucking good” is at odds with our core values. South-Korean farm girl Mija seeks to save her lifelong best friend, a genetically modified “super pig,” Okja, from the savage agrichemical corporation that created her in response to global hunger. Ironically, Okja is eco-friendly, with a tiny carbon footprint.
As we know, extremism is dangerous- even the ideals of veganism and living 100% carbon-neutral are challenged by the Animal Liberation activist group. Can extremism, in any form, ever be sustainable?
May we seek to find balance in our lifestyles this year. And I dare you to watch some films with international directors. Go on.
A fresh take on the ‘war movie’ and one of the best films I’ve ever seen
Yes, it’s ‘another war movie’ but not as we know it. This WWII epic centres on the human fight for survival when disaster and rescue were inseparable, when “400,000 men couldn’t get home.”
Dunkirk is about resilience and hope, the small acts of kindness that make a huge difference. It’s about the universal desire to just get HOME, minus the agenda to villainize or masculinize soldiers. It touches on the human condition using a very specific, historical moment (which just so happens to involve a lot of white men). Let the war scars of 2017 be reminders of the everyday victories in our lives. And, if for nothing else, watch “Dunkirk” for the ultimate cinematic, visual and musical escapism. This is pure and authentic film craft at its finest from a director that wholly believes in the intelligence of his audience.
5. The Beguiled
A coming-of-age ticking time bomb of sexual tension.
Watch closely: an atmospheric and stylish feminine take on an old antebellum era novel where women fear not only the male sexual desire but also their own.
Coppola’s decision to remove the novel’s original slave character, Mattie, was intended as a gesture of respect and sensitivity towards a subject that she felt needed more focus rather than a mere skimming over in a token role.
Is it more damaging to perpetuate the marginalised representations of objectified characters in film? Perhaps it’s time to stop preserving the slave role for African Americans, and instead write contemporary roles. It’s time to break up with the past, people.
The legacy continues in a galaxy far, far away where women actually have the Force and villains have more than one side!
Episode VIII digs deep into the personal and collective power struggles inherent in human nature. I was invested in the villain, Kylo-Ren, as much as I was in the heroine, Rey. Characters are no longer 2D holograms of good or bad (I mean, some of them are just holograms), but they are (almost) real people dealing with real issues: identity crises, fighting in hope, and inner peace, of course!
The on-screen diversity is exciting for future mainstream films; it transcends gender, race, age, sex, placing previous ‘minorities’ as authoritative, action facilitators. Here’s to the beginning of multicultural role models for the kids of today. May this Force be with you.
7. Wonder Woman
A massive badass hit, but still battling with male weapons
For me, the best part of this film is the opening: we see a whole new world where women are brave warriors, rulers and not afraid to kick each others’ asses. But this doesn’t last long. Their Amazonian paradise is bombarded by phallocentric westernisation in the shape of Chris Pine.
With all guns (and penises) blazing, these ‘unconquerable’ warriors don’t stand a chance against the contemporary world of men. Their sheltered existence is all but a Utopian escapism: they are fucked in the ‘real world.’
This is undoubtedly an enjoyable blockbuster - I’d just like to see more of the hard work of the women involved shine for longer in the next film. Does our Wonder Woman really need the help of 3 (2 of which are incompetent) men to save the world?
The Disney classic with a 21st century, ethnically diverse and gay-friendly twist that will make you feel all warm inside
It’s certainly not a guilty pleasure to enjoy this tale as old as time with a refreshing, political twist. The Beast is not simply a beast but a child corrupted by a destructive father/son relationship, only able to break the spell once he learns to ask for nothing in return. Characters are given a second chance and villains are not born villains but are a product of society. Belle refuses to succumb to pressures to dumb herself down; she is allowed to be both smart and beautiful. Like Belle, we all want “something more” than the conventions passed down through outdated systems, from whitewashing to gender stereotyping. (Plus, if you’re like me, you’ll enjoy cringing during Emma Watson’s singing.)
9. La La Land:
The musical for non-musical lovers. I genuinely cried through this entire film. It struck a chord. The pastiche to retro Hollywood glamour (expressed in the choreographic direction and theatrical cinematography) and the hopeless romanticism of “having it all,” for me, is a farewell to old Hollywood and audience’s need for a ‘happy ending.
So in a sense, this film does break up with the past. Yet, it still demonstrates unrealistic portraits of struggling artists and fails to represent the real diversity of LA. The jazz snobbery from Seb’s privileged position as a white artist whom feels his entitlement so unapologetically patronises the black experience, of which jazz is so fundamentally grounded. It’s ode to the traditions of the ‘golden age’ of Hollywood also perpetuates them - unintentionally i’m sure.
But, credit to director Damien Chazelle for a film that fluidly weaves together some of the best theatrical tropes in a playful blend of theatre meets cinema meets contemporary. Using non-musical actors to perform the role is a nod to the potentiality in all of us (if you can ignore their white middle-classness). May we all go confidently in the direction of our dreams this year, and bid adieu to any bastards who tell us we can’t.
10. Baby Driver
A stylish and playful take on the carsploitation film with a soundtrack to keep you bopping into 2018.
The idea of opening a film with a six-minute car chase would usually have had me looking for the nearest fire exit. Instead, I fastened my seat belt and embraced the fast-paced energy of this stylishly smooth ride. We hear life through the headphones of getaway driver, Baby (Ansel Elgort), who listens to loud (killer) music to block out the hum of tinnitus.
The soundtrack and editing are so utterly inseparable that it becomes a genre of its own: a musical car chase, entirely in-sync with every beat. Will the soundtrack to your 2018 be in-sync?
If 2017 was year that shit truly hit the fan, then let 2018 be the year that we clean it up and open our arms to what the mess has begun! Let’s hope to see more diversity on and off-screen and celebrate the truths and communities previously buried underneath cookie-cutter blockbusters and mainstream balderdash. You could start with something like Black Panther - praised for its acting, cinematography, costumes, originality, and already leading the box-office this year. Oh, and it has an entirely black leading cast. Yes Bob Dylan, times they are a changin’ indeed. Thank goodness for that.
Amongst all of the films hitting the big screen this year, I’m excited about the small-scale debuts, because these are the ones that have more experimental power and the ability to shed light on real stories, the ones that can’t always afford to make it to the “masses.”
If I’ve taken anything from the films of 2017 and the ones that scored this Awards season, it’s that the universal feelings, specifically of love will always triumph (I’m thinking about Call Me By Your Name as I say this, and it’s beautiful capacity to make you feel).
Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name.