2017: The Year In Film


As Oscars’ night punctuates the end of the year in film for the industry, our blog traditionally releases its annual recap of the surprises and trends that have shaped the last twelve months of cinema, as well as our list of favourites.

2017 has been a good year for films; yet rather than for its cinematic crop it will certainly be remembered for the seismic shifts it brought in cultural and social forces, prompting a significant change across all areas in our industry. The choir of voices calling for more diversity, equality and inclusiveness had been growing for a few years, but perhaps triggered by that ice storm of ultra conservative policies in Trump’s America; feminist movements, ethnic minorities and LGBT communities have joined their efforts, as they did during the 1960’s, in order to facilitate those changes.

From the beginning of the year, films such as Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out,’ a horror film inspired in the black community’s anxieties about the way they are being used by their white counterparts, or Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, which broke the usual tropes depicting homosexuality as a guilt-ridden source of personal drama, to portray instead a luminous and enjoyable summer romance, were the toast of Sundance, set the tone going all the way to become favourites of the Awards Season. In the second half, the controversial #MeToo movement stole the show and its narratives, creating shock waves around the world when stars who had been victim of sexual abuse began making their stories public. The consequences have been enormous, and there are more still to come. It put an end to Harvey Weinstein’s sleazy empire and has affected a rapidly growing number of professionals from all the corners of the industry. Its impact on this year’s awards season has been unprecedented, from perennial Academy favourites such as Woody Allen forced to cancel the red carpet for the premiere his latest work, ‘Wonder Wheel’, to Ridley Scott’s dramatic reshoot of ‘All The Money In The World’ replacing Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer. Now consolidated as Time’s Up, a platform to help victims of all sort of harassment, the #Metoo initiative was dismissed by the few who dared questioning it as a witch hunt which was at risk of hurting the reputations of many without allowing them their right to a fair legal procedure.

Perhaps moved by guilt or for a need to compensate for decades of breeding, or at least looking the other way at, such a culture of abuse, the mainstream and their institutions have this year favoured those projects that championed the values of diverse representation and gender equality, from Greta Gerwig’s personal account of her teenage years in ‘Lady Bird’ to Sebastián Lelio’s tale of the difficulties faced by transgender people in their ordinary lives, ‘A Fantastic Woman,’ the favourite for this year Foreign Language Academy Award.

The Chilean director’s film premiered at the Berlinale, which gave clear signs of 2017 as an excellent year for world cinema, despite the alarmingly increasing difficulties it faces for its international distribution -one of our favourite films of the year, Cristi Puiu’s family funeral dramedy ‘Sieranevada’, remains unreleased in the UK. This edition’s Golden Bear winner, Polish filmmaker Ildikó Enyedi’s ‘On Body And Soul,’ joined the latest offerings by French-Senegalese Alain Gomis (Felicité); South Korean Hong Sang-Soo (On A Beach At Night Alone) Finnish Aki Kaurismäki’s’ return (The Other Side Of Hope) or the awarded first feature by Catalonian director Carla Simón (Summer 1993.) as standouts of the festival’s very strong international programme.

Shortly afterwards, back at the Oscars, the infamous best picture gaffe may have dented a bit the impact of ‘Moonlight’ as the first gay-themed film winning cinema’s biggest accolade, but that could not stop the fact that LGBT stories seem to be not only accepted, but almost embraced as a way to catch the attention of part of the general public. Some of the most brilliant works of 2017, from the drama based on the beginnings of French Aids activist collective Act-Up, ‘120 BPM,’ to the British realism of the farmers’ romance ‘God’s Own Country’, are gay themed movies that have conquered critics and audiences alike.

During the year stories about diversity and representation have somehow overshadowed the attention given to the work of the most established auteurs. This was made particularly clear at Cannes, where despite an impressive line-up, we were left with the impression that the biggest arthouse legends during 2017 mostly were to deliver works that would not match their previous achievements. The latest by Polanski, Baumback, Hazanavicius, Haynes, Ozon; Joon-ho were some good examples. And perhaps to a lesser extent, Haneke; Lanthimos; Zvyagintsev or even the Palme D’Or winner, Ruben Östlund’s ‘The Square,’ were perfectly fine works that in different degrees struggled to live up to high expectations. Cannes however delivered our two favourite films of the year: Robin Campillo’s already mentioned ‘120 BPM’ and, as part of the Director’s Fortnight, Sean Baker’s vibrant but achingly thought-provoking examination of the lives of the American underclass’ children in ‘The Florida Project.’

Cannes gave also the red light, by premiering David Lynch’s puzzling ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ and Jane Campion’s ‘Top Of The Lake,’ second series, for the ultimate acceptance, after years of obvious evidence, of TV series as another form of cinema. By the end of the year, the Bibles of film criticism chose David Lynch’s television comeback and The Handmaid’s Tale among their best-of picks, a fact used by some, rather exaggeratedly, to reflect about the decadence of cinema as we know it in the digital era.

The blockbuster season brought some small hopes after years of reaching new lows, caused in part by the courting of the massive Chinese audience, which have time and again rescued from financial disaster some of the most shameful flops the studios have produced in recent times. Christopher Nolan kicked-in with his immersive and extraordinary reconstruction of ‘Dunkirk’ WWII events, offering as much spectacle as little concession to the multiplex audiences which still went and watch it in troves. Superhero fatigue found some relief on the same wave of equality and representation prevailing in less commercial fare. No film benefited more from this new approach than ‘Wonder Woman’, whose marketing heavily insisted on its almost all-female cast and director (Patty Jenkins), as well as the way it provides a portrait of strong women for young girls to identify with, heralding a new era of feminine role models in these otherwise lacking types of film. Whether you think those self-proclaimed merits are justified or question if Superheroes made the best role models for children of any gender, this narrative help the film becoming one of the year’s box-office sensations. Elsewhere, Hugh Jackman’s farewell to his role as Wolverine was given the serious treatment and directed by a veteran filmmaker, James Mangold, which dealt with it as an old-fashioned Western and took it all the way to the Oscars for its screenplay. Despite our reluctance to sequels and reboots, and the fear about creating an unnecessary continuation to such a sci-fi classic, Denis Villeneuve did a great job with ‘Blade Runner 2046,’ And the second instalment of Star Wars’ hugely successful third trilogy was also a triumph, despite taking some risks with its narratives -in particular with Luke Skywalker’s character- which provoked irate reactions among the saga’s hardcore fandom.

Almost working as an antidote to Hollywood fanfare, smaller or high-concept genre films had also an excellent year. Julia Ducurnau’s visceral metaphor on sexual awakening through a vegan teenager that tries meat for the first time in ‘Raw’; Benny & Josh Safdie’s fluorescent-coloured; kinetic chase thriller ‘Good Time;’ Joachim Trier’s paranormal drama ‘Thelma’ or Paco Plaza’s social realist look at a real case of ghost appearances in 1980’s Madrid, ‘Veronica,’ were some of its most accomplished exponents.

The festival season opened strong with Guillermo del Toro’s adult fairytale ‘The Shape Of Water’ winning in Venice and Martin McDonagh’s ‘Three Billboards…’ conquering Toronto’s audiences, both positioning themselves as the strongest contenders for awards recognition. David Lowery (‘A Ghost Story’); Kogonada (‘Columbus’) and Eliza Hittman (‘Beach Rats’) kept the flame of the best US indie spirit alive, whereas Latin American cinema kept on booming. From Lucrecia Martel’s long awaited ‘Zama’, hailed as a masterpiece, to Tatiana Huezo’s hypnotic documentary about victims of illegal imprisonment in Mexico; the expanding filmographies of many a Latin country covered a wide range of genres and styles, which could proudly rival, at least in qualitative terms, the production anywhere else in the world. Brazil had a particularly strong year with films such as Kleber Mendonça Filho’s ‘Aquarius’ or Joâo Dumans & Affonso Uchoa ‘Araby’ being two of its most acclaimed offerings. Amat Escalante continued to shock, and awe, by mixing social realism with the most outrageous of genre elements in ‘The Untamed’ and from Venezuela Jorge Thielen Armand presented an allegory of his country’s decay by coming back to the mansion he grew up in as a child in ‘La Soledad.’

Documentaries keep on enjoying their golden era with outstanding works of some its most renowned, high profile practitioner.: Agnes Varda trip through the French countryside in the company of graphic artist JR, printing enormous portraits of villagers they encounter in order to decorate their properties’ facades made for another career standout for the veteran nouvelle vague director in ‘Faces Places’. Archive film expert Bill Morrison delivered the fascinating reconstruction of ‘Dawson City: Frozen Town’ from a treasure trove of material accidentally recovered. Fred Wiseman completed a trilogy of Public Buildings with The New York Public Library in ‘Ex-Libris’ and, our favourite of them all, Raoul Peck’s extraordinary reconstruction of the life and work of black writer and activist James Baldwin in ‘I Am Not Your Negro.’ On the flip side of the documentary coin, smaller in scope but equal in influence, the rise of the documentary hybrid, expanding the format in multiple and very rewarding ways. Eduardo Williams ‘The Human Surge’ and Kiro Russo’s ‘Dark Skull’ were just two of the most imaginative ones.

Among the year’s most unique and innovative works, in Portugal Pedro Pinho returned to political cinema of the first order with ‘The Nothing Factory’ and Joâo Pedro Rodrigues delivered a symbolic and surreal LGBT drama with ‘The Ornithologist.’Still unreleased in the UK, Lynne Ramsay crafted a superb, narratively minimal psychological thriller with ‘You Were Never Really Here;’ Darren Aronofsky promised us more ‘Black Swan’ but delivered more ‘Noah’ in the otherwise jaw-dropping, ecological allegory ‘Mother!;’Spanish actor Gustavo Salmerón depicted the personal rags to riches and back to rags story of his own family, told against the backdrop of the financial crisis, in ‘Lots of Kids, A Monkey and a Castle’ and last, but not least, Paul Thomas Anderson with ‘Phantom Thread’ wisely mixed elements of period drama with indie film-making to unanymous critical acclaim.

Despite the difficulties for some of those titles to find an international audience, as well as the financing challenges posed by the digital era; altogether these films have shaped a solid and eclectic year for cinemagoers which, regardless of the changing habits of consumption, could be cautiously read as at least a symptom of the good health enjoyed by the seventh art in the XXI century.

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