Or at least, the best ones I managed to see
The movies outlined range from very good to outstanding, though most were genre led and unoriginal in style and script. Too many are praised by London critics and reviewers as classics in the making, when in fact they were no more than above average.
Steven Soderberg back from self-enforced retirement gives us a slice of redneck life and characters around a somewhat implausible heist on a ticket office at a car race track. Notable for Daniel Craig doing his best not to be a psycho James Bond (again). An enjoyable heist story at least for attempting to be fresh.
The Disaster Artist
Unlovable, expect to young female fans, trying hard to be James Dean, James Franco finally manages to create art by showing us bad art, the true story of how non-talents made their own film The Room (2006) the worst film every made. Move aside Ed Wood. Lost count of films made about the making of films.
A highly sensitive dissection of racial attitudes and segregation in post-war Mississippi Delta from emerging talent Dee Rees. Sad, bleak, but also an affirmation on the human spirit, snapped up by the increasingly smart Netflix empire.
The Death of Stalin
Our own home educated satirist Armando Iannucci fictionalises the last days of Stalin’s rule to show how buttock clenching fear still stalked his colleagues and henchmen. Very clever start to finish, but could have been universal if Soviet Union was not the subject. I’m looking forward to Iannucci’s follow-up on Trump … maybe.
A good crime yarn from the Safdie Brothers: Robert Pattison plays a street wise New York hustler doing his best to survive in the urban jungle. Lacks the emotional punch of Midnight Cowboy, but still a slice of life that rings true.
The Florida Project
Only one professional actor, Willem Dafoe, model and singer Bria Vinaite, and a gift from the gods in little Brooklyn Prince – “When I heard I was gonna say those bad words I was like, “YeeeHAW!” Co-writer and director Sean Baker gives us a slice of American life struggling to keep body and soul together and losing. Five stars.
Kathryn Bigelow’s gut wrenching fictionalisation of what happened to black protestors locked in an hotel during the Detroit riots, harassed and beaten by psychotic police, was often difficult to watch. It got lots of press coverage but ignored by British cinemagoers.
Murder on the Orient Express
Not as memorable as the original mainly because director-star Kenneth Branagh dominates every scene; not even the locomotive gets a look in. An impressive piece of work still in a few cinemas, sure to be pushed out by multi-showings of Last of the Jedi.
An erotic thriller of the first order from the imagination of Park Chan-Wook, a story unlike any other with brilliant twists and turns, and femme fatales to die for, indeed a few men do exactly that. The original novel was set in London, Chan moves it to Korea of the 1930s and raises it to a masterly vision. Stays in the mind a long time.
While pleasant to see the gang again, I dithered over including Trainspotting’s revisit of our much loved reprobates and haunts. There are laughs, but aspects of our anti-heroes’ adulthood are psychologically improbable. Self-indulgent, too nostalgic, a commercial merging of two books. We’ve more important stories to tell than repeating close scrapes in low-life schemies. Anyhow, The Florida Project tells a tale of poverty and hope ten times better.
An odd year
The worst film among many bad films was Scarlet Johansson’s Ghost in the Shell. At times this western remake of a Manga cartoon strip was embarrassingly bad. However, I didn’t see German born, Ireland educated, Michael Fassbender’s universally ridiculed (by its director too) The Snowman. Fassbender is a fine actor. He had his version of MacBeth doing the rounds to make amends. A good film was Get Out, a sly politically incorrect look at white attitudes to black aspirations wrapped up in a thriller.
My work schedule meant I missed a lot of good European films showing in my local art house cinemas, but while on the subject of Europe and Germany, I can recommend the weird and wonderful Toni Erdman. This is an extraordinary study of a father-daughter relationship, neither liking the other, and of their loneliness, (it’s all in King Lear!) proof positive Germans have a great sense of humour.
For the avoidance
I avoided anything with cars that transform into destructive robots. I didn’t manage to avoid war movies. British ones were average fare, mostly obsessed with nostalgia for Blighty’s misfortunes in the Second World War. Christopher Nolan’s homage to Dunkirk was an exercise in old-fashioned filmmaking where Englishmen displayed resolve and a stiff upper lip, Scots were less than supportive of English colleagues, and no Indian or Pakistani fought against Nazism.
The media loves war nostalgia, seamless reams on radio and television, as if ramping up patriotic fervour for the next territorial folly. Chief among the lickspittle looking for elevation is a certain Dan Snow, like the shallow Neil Oliver, full of quick study history anecdotes while telling the rest of us to forego plans for a nation of independent means. Let’s rely on millionaire landowners helping us out in times of need. That’ll do it.
Of British war films, Their Finest was the weakest; others masqueraded as science fiction. In the habit that is dumb Hollywood, if one studio is shooting a film about Churchill another studio lost for ideas will order a script written about Churchill. We got two, weeks apart. Both were vehicles for actors who can impersonate the boozy colonial, but that’s all they were, impersonations of Churchill. We know from the aftermath and court trials, in times of war men do mad things. In peacetime men make crappy war films.
If this year marked any trend it was the one that favoured impersonation, impersonating politicians, painters and Hollywood celebrities among the actor’s favourite roles. It’s acting of a sort, but not really as clever as creating a whole character from words alone.
As for me, there was a lot of pacing, pondering and hesitation about advising friends to apply to the new film fund set-up of Creative Scotland. The bureaucracy is horrendous, and the older you get the worse it becomes.