The year in review: from A Pure Grade Shot of Old Hollywood to Total. Fucking. Wank. in 34 films. That’s at least 4,080 minutes sitting in a darkened auditorium; over £400 in ticket stubs; £200 in popcorn. Here’s to another year of wasted Friday afternoons!
- La La Land 5/5
A pure-grade shot of Old Hollywood. Rather than relying on nostalgia, performed the rare trick of romanticising the present.
- Silence 5/5
Sombre, troubling and not an ideal date night – maybe not even an ideal Friday night – but what a masterclass in film-making. Every shot is a work of art. Not many films leave you marvelling at the editing. Likely to one day be regarded as one of Scorsese’s greats
- Toni Erdmann 5/5
The best three-hour deadpan German comedy you’ll see this year.
- Killing of a Sacred Deer 5/5
Mean-spirited, frightening and bizarre: another stone-cold classic from Yorgos Lanthimos, who is on a par with David Lynch when it comes to capturing the uncanny.
- Free Fire 4/5
Ben Wheatley’s films are usually a lot of hard work, but Free Fire was a great laugh from start to finish: his other good film, after a Field in England.
- Dunkirk 4/5
Boys, bombs and the brown noise in Christopher Nolan’s old-fashioned but stirring war drama: looked and sounded amazing on the big screen, and managed to swerve an overly jingoistic tone with its ambivalent and downbeat ending. Harry Styles was rubbish.
- The Death of Stalin 4/5
Armando Iannucci’s bracing satire was packed with uncomfortable laughs. Despite all the quipping, it’s easy to believe that the horrors of that historical moment probably did transpire in much the same fashion.
- Atomic Blonde 4/5
Lurid, noisy and sleazy, like all such thrillers should be, although its shameless skeeziness probably cost it at the box-office. In these troubled times, audiences seem to be favouring the safer, seat-belted thrills of something like Baby Driver.
- Lost City of Z 4/5
Advertised as a sort of Master-and-Commander-style period adventure, Lost City of Z turned out to be a more sombre and dreamier affair in the mould of Michael Cimino; a rare film that seemed designed for the big screen, demanding of your attention, but at the same time hardly lacking in old-school Boy’s Own excitement. I came out with a new-found desire to grow a giant moustache.
- It Comes at Night 4/5
Bleak and beautiful psychodrama, and this year’s best use of sinister tracking shots down corridors. Hard to forget (and hard to stomach) but magnificently put together.
11 – 20
- Christine 4/5
Rebecca Hall was devastating in the role of Christine Chubbuck, the troubled regional news-reported whose unfortunate legacy was to be remembered as the first person to ever shoot themselves on live TV. The film, and Hall’s mesmerising performance, re-established the humanity and the terrible sadness at the heart of a gruesome folk memory.
- Blade Runner 2049 4/5
Ryan Gosling stares at things in a series of artfully lit vistas: Only God Forgives in Space, and for the first two hours all the better for it. Fell to pieces when Harrison Ford turned up and the events of the first film had to be addressed. Ana de Amas as Gosling’s VR girlfriend was the best thing in it and their relationship was under-explored.
- Manchester By The Sea 4/5
One of those bleak festival-circuit hits the critics go mad for after too much time spent at Star Wars premieres. Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams’s intense performances elevated pretty banal material. Not a kick up the arse from those Sunday night melodramas they show on ITV.
- Elle 4/5
Paul Verhoeven returned to cinema screens after an eleven year absence with an acidic satire that, while inscrutable, was admirably unblinking in its commitment to bad taste. There’s a lack of self-consciousness to Verhoeven’s work that reflects well on him when compared to someone like Michael Haneke.
- The Founder 4/5
Ray Kroc: what a bastard. Should have been a miniseries.
- Mother! 4/5
Darren Aronofsky’s insane religious allegory/ brazen act of audience baiting was certainly hard to forget, but then so are all intensely traumatic experiences. Got all the plaudits (and the wide release) Killing of a Sacred Deer deserved.
- Moonlight 4/5
Handsomely shot and enigmatic: a deserving and Best Picture winner. Probably the most intelligent and emotionally literate film of the year.
- Hacksaw Ridge 4/5
Characteristic work of insanity from Mel Gibson, a mad bastard whose idea of restraint is to include a scene of harikiri but not dwell too long on the decapitation. Entertainingly brash counterpoint to Christopher Nolan’s restrained and stately Dunkirk.
- Baby Driver 3/5
Fun in its candy coloured way, and the best musical of the year after La La Land, but verged on the naff in its very vanilla, self-consciously ‘nice’ take on the thriller genre. Hipster getaway drivers don’t listen to Queen.
- Raw 3/5
A French art-house schlocker that was as enjoyably gross but no different from all the other French art-house schlockers that justify their excesses with faint suggestions of political subversiveness. Bonus marks, however, for a soundtrack that featured Ma Che Freddo Fa by Nada.
21 – 28
- Hidden Figures 3/5
The edges had been well and truly filed off this biopic of Katherine Johnson and her black contemporaries’ struggles to be accepted into the institutionally white, male and bigoted offices of Nasa in the 1960s. Kevin Costner’s character in particular seemed to be afforded more credit than he might necessarily deserve. Nevertheless, anyone whose heart had failed to be thoroughly warmed by the end could only be a bastard.
- The Handmaiden 3/5
Hitchcockian, lurid, steamy; a little bit boring. God help anyone who paid to sit through the extended version.
- Get Out 3/5
A pointed but not that pointed horror satire; the ending in particular was a bit of a cop-out. Still arguably the funniest if not the scariest film this year. Daniel Kaluuya, who is fantastic in everything, was fantastic in this too.
- A Ghost Story 3/5
An Instagram photograph masquerading as an art film. An uninterrupted shot of a woman eating a pie for twenty minutes does not make you Michelangelo Antonioni.
- Logan Lucky 3/5
Amusing and totally forgettable romp which just about elevated itself above complete hooey via Daniel Craig’s spirited performance as a bleach-blonde hick explosives expert.
- The Beguiled 3/5
Complete horseshit, but with lovely gauzy visuals, like Barry Lyndon. As with a lot of recent films, it seemed constrained by a desire to remain tasteful despite working with tasteless material.
- Patriots Day 3/5
Mark Whatsisface did his usual workaday schlub thing in this account of the Boston Marathon bombing. Compelling in its way, but destined for obscurity on one of those Movie Mix style channels high up the Freeview EPG.
- Fences 3/5
A classy but over-literal transfer of August Wilson’s play in which Denzel Washington, Viola Davis and Jovan Adepo got a lot of acting done, but watching monologues take place in only one or two locations for the best part of three hours made for a pretty enervating experience overall.
- Mindhorn 2/5
A couple of decent laughs but it was all a bit first-draft, which is a shame as the premise was great.
- My Cousin Rachel 2/5
Once you’ve seen one pot-boiler about posh people in the Victorian countryside you’ve seen them all.
- Logan 2/5
Like their comic-book counterparts, superhero films have developed from kid-friendly escapism through over-involved crossovers into maudlin snooze-fests that mistake graphic violence for maturity. Anyway, here’s all you need to know about Logan: it’s fourteen hours long; it’s boring as fuck; the fights and killings are quite good.
- Lion 2/5
Had its moments but once the action moved to Australia it swam too far into the waters of melodrama. Really good: the little kid; Really bad: Nicole Kidman. Based on fact, the story would probably have been better served by a documentary.
- Jackie 2/5
Boring Hallmark-channel biopic dressed up in pretty photography and a dead-eyed impression from Natalie Portman. The only decent thing about it was Mica Levi’s incongruous score.
- T2 Trainspotting 1/5
The most meta sequel since Gremlins 2. Stepping out of the first film, Pirandello-like, the character of Renton returns to Edinburgh in 2017. His only awareness of his previous existence being extreme distaste for the Iggy Pop song Lust for Life. For ninety minutes he watches Rubber Bandits videos with the other returning cast members and makes winking references to 90s pop culture for his target audience of middle-aged walking Paul Weller haircuts. At the end it’s revealed that it was Spud and not Irvine Welsh who wrote the original novel. Total. Fucking. Wank.