2017 in Cinema : Part 10 – 20-11

The penultimate list of my ranking of films during 2017 brings me to a list of films that just missed out on the top ten, even though several of them were in there are one point during the year. As I said previously, this year has sucked for films, there have been so many bad movie, especially when compared to 2016, but anything from this point in the remaining two list was a very, very brief piece of light in this otherwise awful year.

As usual, my apologies if there are any formatting issues.

20) 20th Century Women

Cast : Annette Benning, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann and Billy Crudup

Plot : It’s 1979 in Santa Barbara and Dorothea (Benning) is concerned that her son Jamie (Zumann) is not prepared for a relationship with a woman, especially as Julie (Fanning), his best friend, has no interest in him sexually, and he has little in common with live-in maintenance man William (Crudup).

She decides to ask Julie and Abbie (Gerwig) to help teach him about what it means to be a man, and their efforts seem to work well for the most part, but then Jamie starts getting frustrated at Julie for not taking their friendship further.

Why in this position? : “20th Century Women” is a film that although I liked it, I am not entirely sure why. The film is presented in an interesting an engaging way, and I must say that I’ve never seen a film that is both a midlife crisis and a coming-of-age film at the same time. It’s quite unique in that sense and I was never bored.

That being said, the film does feel largely directionless and doesn’t really seem to have an end-goal in mind. It sort of limps towards an ending that doesn’t really feel like a satisfactory conclusion to finish off nearly two hours of run time.

That’s not to say that it’s a bad film, not at all. I really enjoyed it for the most part and the characters are well built. Elle Fanning continues to show a great range with this being her first film released in the UK since last year’s “Neon Demon”, and you couldn’t get two more different roles. Her character, Julie, is far from the best character though, and I really enjoyed Greta Gerwig’s Abbie instead.

 

 

19) Thor : Ragnarok

Cast : Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchette, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum and Anthony Hopkins

Plot : Thor (Hemsworth) returns to Asgard fully aware that his brother Loki (Hiddleston) is impersonating their father. He coaxes him out of his disguise, but this leads him to the issue of where Odin (Hopkins) actually is. He is eventually found in Norway, over-looking the ocean, he reveals to Thor and Loki that he has been holding back an evil known as Hela (Blanchette) for some time, but as he dies she is released. She reveals that she is their sister and the rightful ruler of Asgard. They resist and end up sending Hela to Asgard, all whilst Thor is transported to an unknown world.

He is quickly subdued by Valkyrie (Thompson) and imprisoned by the Grandmaster (Goldblum). Thor learns he will be forced into gladiatorial combat, but hopes that this can change when he sees Loki by the Grandmaster’s side, but he has his own plans.

Why in this position? : I’m going to get this out of the way first, I’m probably one of the few who loved both of the first two Thor films and this was the sequel I was probably looking forward to all year, probably more so than fellow Marvel movie “Guardians of the Galaxy : Volume 2” and for a change it delivered….for the most part.

“Thor : Ragnarok” is an excellently fun movie and has some great comedic moments in it. Hemsworth and Hiddleston continue to bounce off of each other exceptionally well, and each of the main characters has their own memorable section, with Blanchette offering up a decent Marvel villain, which isn’t something that can often be said. No character feels wasted and each is given time to breathe, with even Karl Urban’s Skurge given a surprising level of depth.

However, the reason that it isn’t in my top ten is that ultimately the second act DRAGS very badly. The middle act just wouldn’t end and I found it a bit tedious. That’s not to detract from an otherwise excellent movie and one that I will more than likely buy on Blu Ray when it comes out.

 

 

18) Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Cast : Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper (voice), Vin Diesel (voice), Kurt Russell, Pom Klementieff, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Elizabeth Debicki and Sean Gunn

Plot :  The Guardians have just finished battling a large alien when they go to collect their bounty from Kismet (Debicki), the leader of an arrogant race. Whilst negotiating the release of Nebula (Gillan), Rocket (Cooper) steals the batteries that they were there to protect in the first place, and it isn’t long before Kismet releases this and sends her fleet after them. They are saved by a mysterious being (Russell), who later introduces himself as Ego, Peter’s (Pratt) father.

After the group is separated Peter becomes starry-eyed (quite literally at one point) and doesn’t get the same feeling that the rest of the Guardians do, the feeling that something is not quite right, especially as Ego’s aid/pet Mantis (Klementieff) keeps hinting that Ego isn’t all he appears to be.

Meanwhile, Rocket, Nebula and Groot (Diesel) get captured by the mutinous crew of Yondu (Rooker), who also has some horror stories to share about Ego.

Why in this position? I’m going to get this out of the way now, this is not as good as the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” film. The soundtrack isn’t as enjoyable, and that was one of the key aspects of the original film.

Whilst it takes the time to develop some of the smaller characters from the first film, such as Yondu and Nebula, it fails to really give Groot or Drax anything meaningful to do. Groot, as adorable as he is, does precisely sod all during the film that is noteworthy, nor does Drax, who only really contributes by befriending Mantis. In all honesty you could take both of the film all together and nothing major would change, and give that they’re two of the five main characters, that isn’t a good thing.

That’s not to say that it is a poor film by any stretch. The development of some of the smaller characters is excellent, and they even add to the back stories of a few of the main characters well, and I love the character and universe building, but unfortunately the film just isn’t as fun as it could have been.

That being said, it’s better than most of the other MCU films.

 

 

17) The Death of Stalin

Cast : Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs and Adrian McLoughlin

Plot : Joseph Stalin (McLoughlin) is still in power several years after the war when he suddenly suffers an aneurysm. He eventually dies from this and Beria (Beale) immediately starts to plot to take charge of the country, even though the policy clearly puts Malenkov (Tambor) at the head of the committee that will lead them.

As time goes on Khrushchev (Buscemi) becomes highly suspicious of his motives, especially when he has the private army take over protecting the city from the national army, much to the anger of the brash Zhukov (Isaac), and he decides to aid a plan to tip the balance of power in Khrushchev’s favour.

Why in this position? : “Death of Stalin” is a very clever and witty comedy that amused me quite a lot, which is made even better when you consider that comedy is not my preferred genre. The dialogue between characters is fresh, sharp and engaging.

Each actor owns their role superbly, with Jason Isaac’s being particularly enjoyable. It’s just a shame he had a very minor role that lasts only a few minutes in total. Buscemi is his ever unusual (in a good way) self and I found Beale as Beria remarkably engaging given that I have never been actively aware of him as an actor (Ive seen films with him in, but he never stood out).

There was a moment when I was considering this for the top ten, but it lasts slightly too long and that is what pushed it out of the top ten for me. Also, much like Isaacs, if you’re going in expecting Olga Kurylenko or Paddy Considine to play big roles because of their high billing (Kurylenko is billed third on Wikipedia) then lower those expectations. Neither are in it for long, maybe a combined total of five minutes, if that.

 

 

16) The Disaster Artist

Cast : James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen and Josh Hutcherson

Plot : Gregg (Dave) is a shy actor, often choking when it comes to his classes, but one evening he is inspired by a seemingly fearless man by the name of Tommy (Franco). Tommy’s unusual nature is only amplified by his confidence and after neither successfully make it into Hollywood, Gregg suggests that they should make their own movie, prompting Tommy to write a movie known as “The Room”.

With seemingly no expenses spared and a bottomless pit of money, the pair hire a large staff, equipment and studio in order to achieve the visions, but things soon start to go sour when questions start to be asked. Tommy’s behaviour becomes unpredictable and even Gregg, his biggest ally, is struggling to deal with him.

Why in this position? : “The Disaster Artist” was arguably my most anticipated movie going into December. I had been hooked on the idea of seeing it from the first moment that I saw the trailer, and it largely delivered.

The relationship between Gregg and Tommy feels genuine and this is greatly helped by the fact that they are played by brothers. James Franco is exceptionally believable as Tommy, and Dave is genuinely likeable as Gregg, neither of them put a foot wrong and because they are brothers, the chemistry between them is amongst the strongest from two leads that I saw during the year.

It does unfortunately miss out on the top ten though as whilst genuinely amusing and has fascinating characters, there are moments that seem to have no pay off, such as random cameos from well known actors.

 

 

15) Borg vs McEnroe

Full Review

Cast : Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LeBeouf and Stellan Skarsgård

Plot : Approaching the Wimbledon tennis tournament of 1980, Björn Borg (Gudnason) is having a crisis of confidence ahead of his attempt to make it five wins in a row, especially as his coach Lennart (Skarsgård) is seemingly keener to win than he is. This is down to a number of factors, including the rapidly rising John McEnroe (LaBeouf), who is far more volatile and receives heavy booing from the crowds.

Björn struggles through the early rounds, although does see them off and the inevitable clash of the two isn’t possible until the final. John is desperate to make win a first ever Wimbledon crown after pressure from his family to do well in school, but his desperation alienates many of his fellow players and friends.

They inevitably both make it to the final, but who will win?

Why in this position? : This is a character study of how two very different men from differing backgrounds cope with the pressure. You see Björn being very meticulous in his preparations, whereas John is far more laid back about everything. What was more interesting was how they got from certain points in their youth to this point, although the vast majority of the flashback scenes focus on Björn. I’d say there are ten or so flashbacks to their respective youths, but only two are for John and neither last very long.

The acting is excellent from all concerned and the cinematography is exceptional in places. It grips you for the majority, which is made more impressive given that Borg and McEnroe barely interact during the runtime of the film, sharing just two conversations.

It certainly isn’t a perfect film and does drag on occasions, but the thing that makes it a success for me is that it made me want to actually watch the actual match, which given the opening paragraph in this section should tell you all that you need to know.

 

 

14) Happy Death Day

Cast : Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken and Rob Mello

Plot : Theresa (Rothe) wakes up on her birthday to a phone call from her dad, but also in the room of Carter (Broussard), who she barely knows. She goes about her day as normal before making her way across campus for a party, but as she goes she is trapped in the tunnel by a masked figure and is killed. Despite that she again wakes up and it is her birthday. She figures that it was simply just a dream and goes about her day again, but notices that everything just repeats in much the same way.

Again getting murdered, Theresa tries everything she can to solve who her murderer is over the next few retakes of the day, but each time she seems to make progress she falls a step back, and this isn’t helped by injuries sustained carrying a shadow-effect into the next iteration of the day.

Why in this position? : One of the surprises of the year for me was this delightfully fun horror movie that even references in the concluding conversation that it seems like a basic rip off of the movie “Groundhog Day”.

Whilst not a completely unique premise, this was certainly a breath of fresh air in terms of horror as you’re never entirely sure who the killer is, you find out as Teresa does. Which makes the ending even more interesting as just when you think it is one person, who it turns out to be is someone different and somewhat surprising given how they are portrayed.

Jessica Rothe is also very likeable in the role and offers many quirks that make her a compelling watch. Broussard also plays the bumbling sub-protagonist pleasantly.

The only reason that this doesn’t feature higher in the list is the simple lack of originality, but for the most part it is a fun horror that also offers a satire of American college life.

 

 

13) The Founder

Cast : Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, BJ Novak, Patrick Wilson and Laura Dern

Plot : Ray (Keaton) is an out-of-luck milkshake salesman in 1950s America that has finally got a deal with the Dick (Offerman) and Mac (Lynch) at the McDonalds burger stand an San Bernadino. His interest is immediately sparked when he gets his food instantly, rather than the usual 30 minute wait. He immediately gets shown around by Dick and Mac who reveal their system and Ray becomes hooked.

He eventually convinces the brothers to franchise into other locations. The trio sign contracts and Ray starts work to build other restaurants, although Ray has to re-mortgage his house to finance the first. He is regularly building new restaurants but it isn’t helping him financially so he demands the contract be renegotiated, but the brothers refuse and this starts off a chain of events that they will regret.

Why in this position? : “The Founder” is basically “The Social Network” but for McDonalds rather than Facebook. Whilst it is different in terms of presentation and style, there are big similarities between the two, mainly the main character.

Ray is a dislikeable character in many ways but you understand his point of view. He is in a deal with the McDonald brothers in which he gets a poor return for his efforts, but he does work damn hard to make sure that the company expands, including making all of the financial risks. This compares to the brothers that are only focused on their own branch.

Presented in an entertaining way, “The Founder” is an enjoyable romp and look at the hardship encountered when trying to be successful. It is clever, engaging and well presented.

 

 

12) Life

Cast : Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Barake, Olga Dihovichnaya and Ryan Reynolds

Plot : The crew of the international space station are delighted when their samples of rock from Mars prove that life exists outside of Earth. This is from the single celled organism that exists within, and after replicating Mars’ atmosphere in a test lab they revive the organism. It starts to grow very slowly, turning into a multi-celled organism, but a leak causes the lifeform, which the crew have named Calvin, to die. Desperate to get it alive again, Hugh (Barake) uses an electric rod, but at the third attempt Calvin springs into life and attaches itself to his hand, breaking it several moments later.

Calvin manages to break out of the testing area and tries to search for a way out, killing a rat in the process and using it’s DNA and mass to increase its own. Whilst it does that the crew tries to rescue Hugh, but Rory (Reynolds) is then trapped in the room when Calvin attaches to his leg. Eventually Calvin makes it into Rory’s mouth and into his body, slowly absorbing him from within and emerging as a creature that is ten times the size it was before. A fire caused by Rory opens up the suppression system, allowing Calvin to escape and putting the rest of the crew in danger.

Why in this position? “Life” was a film that could have very easily fit into the “Alien” franchise as it has a similar tone to several films in that. It takes time to build the characters well, meaning that as they’re slowly picked off one by one, the deaths actually mean something. It is incredibly tense and I loved it for the majority of the film. There was a time that I was even thinking that this would be a top ten contender.

However, the ending of the film completely withdrew me from that as it felt like it was simply setting up for a sequel, rather than actually trying to come up with a satisfying ending. I won’t go too much into it but when you watch it, try not to see that there is a potential sequel coming.

Up until that point I was thoroughly enjoying it, and unfortunately that changed it for me somewhat.

 

 

11) Churchill

Cast : Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, James Purefoy, Julian Wadham and Danny Webb

Plot : During World War II British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Cox) is desperate to avoid further loss of life ahead of D-Day. Churchill is desperate to avoid making a repeated mistake and he isn’t keen on the planned large scale campaign. He is being pressured from all sides to authorise it, but he struggles to get his point of view across.

Although his wife (Richardson) is supportive, his pleas for saving lives are largely derided by all concerned.

Why in this position? Let me start off by saying the main reason that this is this high up this list, Brian Cox is absolutely brilliant as Churchill. Cox is one of those actors that is regularly a supporting player in films, common residing in an antagonists role, so it good to see him be the central point of a movie, and to use an American saying, he knocks it out of the park. Cox is exceptional and I hope (although I seriously doubt that there will be) there is an Oscar nomination heading his way.

This film didn’t get as much attention as it deserved and I think the reason for this is because it was seen as very much an older generation film, and there is very little in there to attract younger audience members. If I wasn’t working in a cinema and getting them for free then chances are that I wouldn’t have seen it. If you go in expecting a lot of action and war then you’d going to be disappointed as the movie is pretty much all talking.

I found the film engaging, it drew me in and I was loving it. It’s a very understated movie in which you get why each character is doing what they’re doing. There are no useless characters and none there purely for the sake of having another character. They all have purpose.

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