While 2016 was a year full of disappointment politically (see Brexit and the United States presidential election) and socially (see the uprise in hate crime following those two events), it produced a number of very good films. There was a decent selection genre-wise, from Deadpool providing a satirical take on the superhero narrative to Zootropolis giving a wonderful, fun and family-friendly treatment to the concept of xenophobia, to The Witch proving that fear can be successfully created through devotion and well-meaning ignorance. Outside United States such works as the Tehran-set horror Under the Shadow and the Hungarian drama Son of Saul attracted admiration of both critics and audience.
I still have a few 2016 films on my to-watch list (Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!, a spiritual sequel to the 1993 comedy Dazed and Confused, and Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon, among others), and those works shall undoubtedly be reviewed on Chance & Physics in near future — I live for sharing my questionable opinions.
Personally, 2017 is shaping up to be a continued exploration of cinema classics (starting with Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours and most of Kubrick’s legacy) and film noir. On January 24th the Oscar nominations will be announced, and so the interested parties will have until February 26th to catch up on the most prominent works of last year. I am especially looking forward to the Best Foreign Film titles since those often serve as an introduction to a previously unfamiliar cinematic tradition.
The awards season aside, late 2017 will bring a sequel to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), titled Blade Runner 2049 and directed by Denis Villeneuve whose sci-fi drama Arrival is currently a hit with the box office and critics. The film stars Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling, and its teaser trailer is already available.
There is also the inevitable Christmas Star Wars installation (Episode VIII, the last work of Carrie Fisher) and a new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Crooked House coming out in October. For the next couple of months though, this is my list:
La La Land
Officially released in the UK on January 13th, this musical comedy-drama has enough charm to please audiences and score nominations for Best Everything at the 2017 Golden Globes. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are great together, as proven by their previous work on Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) and Gangster Squad (2013) — although neither of those films are stellar, the chemistry between their leads is palpable. Stone and Gosling have been referred to as ‘the Bogart and Bacall of our days’ in press, and that might be a premature, yet not unwarranted comparison.
In other words, I have got tickets to watch a preview of La La Land this Sunday; that thought makes me happier than singing in the rain, and I pity any girl who isn’t me on January 8th.
Other early releases include A Monster Calls and Silence. The former is an adaptation of the low fantasy novel by Patrick Ness, with the film script written by Ness himself. The original work is an ingenious, painful, grasping story full of grey between the black and the white. That novel made me cry and it made me think, and so I am cautious about the film version, should it not live up to the brilliance of the original. That said, A Monster Calls is probably the best family feature currently at the cinema.
Silence is a new film by Martin Scorsese, his previous release being The Wolf of Wall Street in 2013. Silence is a reading of the 1966 novel by Shūsaku Endō, previously adapted for the big screen in 1971. Set in 17th century Nagasaki, the film follows the journey of two Jesuit monks (played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) searching for their mentor (Liam Neeson). Started as a project over 25 years ago, Silence experienced an entire change of cast, with Daniel Day-Lewis, Benicio del Toro, and Gael García Bernal involved in the initial negotiations. A film with a difficult production history and a relatively modest budget ($50 million, in comparison to the $100–150 million for The Wolf of Wall Street), Silence is very much a big title for this season. I fully expect it to appear on the Academy lists.
Mention: Live by Night
My second visit to a cinema theatre this year will be to see Live by Night at Phoenix Picturehouse. The showing in question is free; otherwise, I would probably pick a different production. Live by Night has Ben Affleck as its writer, director, producer, and leading actor. When your involvement with a film is the same as that of Tommy Wiseau with The Room, the phrase ‘vanity project’ inevitably appears on the horizon.
Ben Affleck has earned credibility as a director with The Town (2010) and Argo (2012), but his performance in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) is more recent in memory. And if we want to dig deeper, there is always Gigli (2003).
The trailer for Live by Night leaves an impression of a loud, melodramatic, and pompous film. I look forward to being proven wrong, but I would rather see the latest production involving Ben Affleck’s younger brother Casey all the same. Manchester by the Sea is released in Britain on January 13th and is supposed be one of the saddest and best films made in 2016.
Set in the aftermath of the assassination of J. F. Kennedy on November 22nd, 1963, Jackie is a biographical drama focused on Jacqueline Kennedy, the First Lady of the United States in 1961–63. The titular character is played by Natalie Portman whose performance has earned her a Golden Globe nomination, amongst many others.
Jackie premieres at British cinema theatres on January 20th and looks like an intriguing take on the life behind the very famous facade. Portman has, certainly, approached her research with the thoroughness of a Harvard graduate, and at least the same level of authority has been exhibited in the recreation of the setting and historical circumstances. If Live by the Night (see above) seems to be a pastiche of the 1930s, Jackie is presented with the detail and authenticity of a memoir.
Two other films centered around strong female characters are to be released in early 2017: 20th Century Women and Hidden Figures. The first stars Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, and Elle Fanning and is a semi-biographical drama about growing up in the 1970s Santa Barbara. The second is the story of the three Black women at NASA who calculated flight trajectories for spacecraft in 1960s. The main parts are performed by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe (whose film career had started so recently, I had no idea there was one). Both films seem to be examples of a traditional storytelling approach applied to stories which have not been told.
Split is described as ‘a psychological horror terror film’ but one can get a better idea of the picture from just the mention of its director’s name: M. Night Shyamalan. Where do I begin? It is something of an Internet custom, to assemble behind the glowing screens every once in a while and to pinpoint exactly how the quality of Shyamalan’s films has been declining throughout his career. To quote one website, ‘With most any other director, you’d put this list “worst to best.” With M. Night Shyamalan, you order it “best to worst.”’ There is also this helpful little graph.
That said, the trailer for Split actually looks promising. James McAvoy is delightful and creepy in turns, and it is the question of writing and sustained performance which will determine how good (or how bad) the film is. Action starts when McAvoy’s character kidnaps three teenage girls, possibly mistaking them for part-time Asos models, and his captives need to negotiate their freedom with his multiple personalities. Of which there are at least 23, but are there?.. Twist, twist, nudge,nudge.
Split can be seen at cinemas from January 20th and is guaranteed to either delight or upset the viewers.
Mention: The Founder
It might be due to the fact that McDonald’s was introduced to Russia as late as 1990 and I spent my childhood convinced that eating there was the coolest thing, especially on birthdays. Or it might because McDonald’s was the second-favourite lunch choice when I studied at the University of Helsinki (a cheeseburger for €1!) — or, perhaps, because I spent a couple of years combining McDonald’s takeaway meals with Harry Potter films on weekends. Whatever the reason, I’m lovin’ it and am consequently interested in related films, be they directed by Morgan Spurlock or not.
The Founder is a biographical drama about Ray Croc who had co-operated with McDonald’s founders Richard and Maurice McDonald enough to subsequently swindle them out of business. The script was written by Robert D. Siegel (The Wrestler) and developed into a film under director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side). Michael Keaton stars in the main part, supported by Nick Offerman (also known as Ron Swanson) and John Carroll Lynch (Fargo).
According to the trailer, there is more drama in McNuggets than we know. The film seems to be mostly praised for Keaton’s performance (He was Batman, he was Birdman, now he is… Burgerman!), but is also curious as a glimpse into a staple of modern culture. The Founder is a greasy version of the American dream that, as a narrative device, only ever works when there is something not so wholesome about it (see The Great Gatsby, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Requiem for a Dream).
The saga of the most famous fast food chain hits British screens on February 17th and, arguably, should be enjoyed alongside French fries and Coca-Cola.
In addition to aforementioned Blade Runner 2049, this year will see a sequel to another cult classic. In 1996 Scottish cinema was changed forever, having produced an enfant terrible, Trainspotting by Danny Boyle. Based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting followed the misadventures of a group of friends for whom the basis of their friendship was heroin addiction.
The film featured a perfect soundtrack, strong performances, and a visionary approach by its director. You do not tell an non-traditional story using traditional means, and Boyle utilised techniques which would be familiar from the 1990s music videos but were not common in realist cinema. Trainspotting was brilliant and rude and open and honest. Shot on a tiny budget (£1.5 million) over the course of seven weeks, with most scenes done in a single take, the film was there to blow your mind. In 2004 it was voted the best Scottish film of all time — that is some expectations to live up to.
T2 Trainspotting features the original cast of the 1996 film: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, and Robert Carlyle. It is set twenty years after the previous picture and is a loose adaptation of Welsh’s novel Porno. The sequel was produced through mutual effort of the people involved with the original production, and so I remain hopeful about the forthcoming picture. Irvine Welsh himself said in a newspaper interview, ‘We’re all protective of the Trainspotting legacy and we want to make a film that adds to that legacy and doesn’t take away from it.’
Whether that worked out or not, can be seen on big screen from January 27th.
The Lego Batman Movie
This season Walt Disney Animation Studios set the plank high with Moana, a feature that takes the traditional ‘Disney Princess’ approach in a new direction. Instead of using elements of a European fairy-tale (Tangled, Brave, Frozen) and having marriage as an important plot element (because of course), Moana borrows from Polynesian tradition and is centered on adventure as opposed to romance. It has been extremely well-received and continues to smash the box office.
Illumination Entertainment, the studio responsible for Despicable Me and The Secret Life of Pets, is releasing a different animated feature: Sing. A crossover between X-Factor and Zootropolis, Sing is a story of a singing competition in a world of anthropomorphic animals. Including ‘more than 60 classic songs from famous artists’ the film has the potential to be monotone and has been described as ‘undemanding entertainment’.
Against that backdrop, from February 10th Warner Animation Group will present The Lego Batman Movie. A spin-off of the immensely successful The Lego Movie (2014), the new picture focuses on the adventures of Not Bruce Wayne in a way that sends us back to the 1960s TV show, rather than the later darker versions of either Burton or Nolan, or, for that matter, Batman: The Animated Series.
In the words of Lego Batman himself (voiced by Will Arnett), ‘It’s kind of like the original Lego movie, only vastly superior because it revolves entirely around me.’ This picture looks like visually immersive fun that is entirely aware of itself and the slab of popular culture that had produced it. It is a promising title that might just see one through the time when most films are going to revolve around hearts and the colour pink. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with either — after all, yay, Unikitty!
Current album: Teenage Fanclub, Here
Current book: Phoebe Gloeckner, The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures
Current TV series: Planet Earth II, Series 1 (2016)