Cinema Eclectica’s 2017 Preview

Forecasting the year ahead in cinema releases has always been a bit tricky thanks to the disparity between blockbuster releases announced years in advance and smaller films which squeeze in wherever they can.  Over recent years, the divide has deepened, with the major studios apparently announcing release dates before they’ve worked out exactly what they’re making (hope you’re all looking forward to Untitled Disney Fairy Tale 3, pencilled in for March 29th 2019!).  On the other hand, smaller films now have so many different release options that they can be launched as a complete surprise, with Ava DuVernay and Adam Curtis releasing best-of-2016 contenders (on Netflix and iPlayer, respectively) before most people knew they were even in development.

What I’m saying is this; not only do I expect my list of favourite UK releases of 2017 not to line up with these predictions, I’m actually hoping for it.  The possibility for a late game-changer has never been higher, particularly once festival season starts up.  On that note, three big talking points from Cannes 2016 are opening in Britain this winter, with Maren Ade’s epic comedy Toni Erdmann landing in February and Aquarius and Personal Shopper following in March.  The former is Kleber Mendonça Filho’s follow-up to his chilling debut Neighbouring Sounds, the latter is an Olivier Assayas-helmed, Kristen Stewart-starring ghost story whose mix of art-house minimalism and genre shocks might make it this year’s Neon Demon-style horror-fan argument starter.

Speaking of horror, there’s also Jordan Peele’s Get Out (March 17th), a disturbing, racially charged tale which could form an interesting double bill with Barry Jenkins’s haunting tale of African-American adolescence, Moonlight (February 17th).  A couple of very unusual genre prospects are awaiting a definite British release.  Ana Lily Aminpour’s The Bad Batch, described as a cannibal love story whose moral is “never play with your food”, should easily find a distributor on the strength of its bizarrely eclectic cast (Keanu Reeves!  Jim Carrey!  Diego Luna!).  Similarly flush with talent is Guillermo del Toro’s latest monstrous romance The Shape of Water, which has Sally Hawkins as a 1950s-era woman in love with a strange water creature, as well as Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg and Michael Shannon.

Dunkirk (Dir. Christopher Nolan)

Watching what Michael Shannon is doing with his time is a good way to fill out your watchlist.  As well as working with del Toro he’s re-teaming with Werner Herzog for his volcanic thriller Salt and Fire, and he also has a role in his regular collaborator Jeff Nichols’s Loving, released on February 3rd.  The story of the famous Loving v Virginia court case that legalised interracial marriage in America, Loving has lost a little of its Oscar frontrunner status since it premiered in Cannes.  This might be a good thing; it’s doubtless more interesting to consider it not as one of the year’s Important Movies, but as another addition to Nichols’s cohesive yet diverse collection of atmospheric, taut tales of small-town America.

Loving’s Oscar heat seems, at the time of writing, to have transferred onto La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s gloriously retro follow-up to Whiplash starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.  January’s clutch of prestige releases is as heavy as ever, kicked off by Martin Scorsese’s passion project Silence on New Year’s Day, then followed by Kenneth Lonergan (the best American director you’ve never heard of) with Manchester-by-the-Sea and rounded off by Mel Gibson’s well-received directorial comeback Hacksaw Ridge, described by the AV Club as the goriest, most violent call for peace you’ll ever see.

Hacksaw Ridge has plenty of action, but for a true blockbuster war movie you’ll have to wait until 21st July for Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.  Reteaming him with Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy, Dunkirk has received a lot of attention for its casting of Harry Styles; personally, we’re more interested in how Nolan weds the more immersive, less story-driven style of Interstellar with the war genre.  A rather more unorthodox war movie comes on March 10th with Kong: Skull Island.  The latest King Kong reboot is styled almost like a Vietnam War film – judging by the seriously impressive trailer and cast (Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Samuel L Jackson and more), it could be the year’s best blockbuster.

Get Out (Dir. Jordan Peele)

That’s unless you prefer superhero movies, which are debuting some surprise new moves to combat audience fatigue.  Logan (March 3rd) takes the forever-young X-Men breakout and turns him into an elderly burn-out in a dystopian near-future, while Wonder Woman (June 2nd) goes in the opposite direction, rooting its legendary heroine in World War One.  Wonder Woman will be Patty Jenkins’ first film since Monster, unbelievably; a similarly canny choice of helmer is at the centre of our anticipation for Thor: Ragnarok (27th October), Taika Waititi’s unexpected follow-up to this year’s Little Movie That Could, Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Thor: Ragnarok also has a splendid guest cast including Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum, something that also holds true for Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7th).  The extraordinarily eclectic cast includes Donald Glover, Marisa Tomei, Hannibal Buress and The Nice Guys’ breakout star Angourie Rice.  Not every superhero movie is trying something new, though.  Trailers for Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (28th April) have promised more of the same, only weirder and with more Kurt Russell.  We’re completely happy with that.

There’s a new Pirates of the Caribbean movie out on 26th May, but original trilogy director Gore Verbinski has moved on to stranger terrain with his incredibly stylish-looking medical chiller A Cure for Wellness (March 24th).  That’s one of two big releases Dane DeHaan has lined up – he’s also toplining Luc Besson’s return to Fifth Element space-opera territory, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (4th August).

Okja (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)

That’s enough America – what about South Korea?  Out of the directors who’ve made an international splash in recent years, only Bong Joon-Ho is sticking with international co-production.  His all-star monster movie Okja (release TBC) has Tilda Swinton dressed as Theresa May, Jake Gyllenhaal as a Steve Irwin-style wildlife presenter, and journalist Jon Ronson on script duties.  Back on home turf, Kim Jee-Woon and Chan-Wook Park have received excellent notices for their new films.  Jee-Woon’s The Age of Shadows (March 10th) is a tense 1920s-set spy film, while Park’s The Handmaiden (17th February) has a British connection – it’s based on Sarah Waters’s novel Fingersmith.

Elsewhere, British directors are making waves all over the world.  Baby Driver (18th August) takes Edgar Wright to America for a music-packed heist movie, while Ben Wheatley is also in America for the Scorsese-produced Free Fire (31st March).  Annihilation (release TBC), meanwhile, takes Ex Machina’s Alex Garland right off the map in a jungle-set, female-powered philosophical science fiction freak-out.  At least you can rely on comedians to stay put; Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby co-write and star in SF spoof Mindhorn (May 5th), and Alice Lowe’s Prevenge (10th February) has the Sightseers star hearing voices telling her to kill – from her unborn baby.

The year will end, as every year will do until the end of time, with a Star Wars movie.  Episode VIII (15th December) has Benicio del Toro and Laura Dern joining the cast and Rian Johnson, intriguingly, as the director.  Returning stars John Boyega and Daisy Ridley both have interesting films out earlier in the year; Boyega in paranoid tech drama The Circle (release TBC) and Ridley in Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express (November 24th).  It’s part of a big November, with Zack Snyder’s Justice League preceding it on November 17th.  The true returning hero, though, is Paddington Bear, whose sequel comes out on 10th November.  Will it be film of the year?  Personally, I’m hoping for something completely off the radar.

Mindhorn (Dir. Sean Foley)

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