In a world of fake news and government threatening the free press, comes a film about real news and government threatening the fake news. Thus, announces imaginary gravelly voiced trailer man, emerges The Post, Steven Spielberg’s urgent and gripping thriller about the challenges faced by the Washington Post in 1971 over the Pentagon Papers. This extraordinary collection of documents recounted decades of deceitful activity by the US government, and the film skilfully takes the viewer through the drama that ranges from the newsroom to the White House to the homes of Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep). Spielberg opts for a mobile approach, long tracking shots mirroring the flow of news, especially through the office of the Post where typewriters clack, phones slam and noise never drops below that of a major hubbub. Within this, Bradlee is a constant source of bluster, Hanks delivering a barnstorming performance that would be intimidating and annoying were it not so heartfelt and passionate. Equally passionate but more reserved is Streep’s Graham, her calm contrasting brilliantly with Bradlee’s bombast. Graham’s is the arc of The Post, and the film smartly never overplays this feminist subtext. Minor characters often dismiss Graham because of her gender but rather than emphasising those attitudes, Spielberg concentrates on Graham, placing her narratively and visually at the centre of the drama. She often appears literally and figuratively surrounded by men, all trying to persuade her before she makes her own, carefully considered decision. In one moment after making such a decision, Graham walks through a crowd where women’s faces appear prominently, the film again expressing the significance of woman’s voice without labouring the point. The more malevolent voice of the state, here represented by Richard Nixon whose administration took the Post as well as the New York Times to court over the Pentagon Papers, appears in long shot and behind windows, the President isolated and barking orders even while alternative voices challenge him. This is a key message of The Post – all voices must be heard and neither the state nor powerful individuals can silence them. The contemporary relevance of The Post is obvious, but its strength as a piece of cinema means it is also likely to serve as a long-term reminder of the importance and power of the press.
Ridley Scott does hollow decadence like no one else. From Blade Runner to Gladiator to Prometheus, Scott crafts opulent environments that surround empty, powerful men. All The Money In The World creates this world around the real events of 1973, when J. Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) was kidnapped for ransom from his grandfather, the wealthiest man in the history of the world. Paul Getty is played by Christopher Plummer (no relation to Charlie), who replaced Kevin Spacey at very short notice, Scott reshooting and re-editing all of Getty’s scenes in ten days. The film’s greatest achievement is that the joins do not show, as Plummer fits snugly into the role of Getty, oozing charisma and greed in equal measure. Scott and DOP Dariusz Wolski create evocative locations, often with dim yet stark lighting, both in Italy and England, the opulence echoing Scott’s earlier film Hannibal. The curiously un-unified narrative strands are reminiscent of American Gangster, which cut between career criminal and honest cop in a Goodfellas meets Serpico sort of way. Here, we cut between Paul’s imprisonment, flashbacks to Getty’s history of wealth accumulation, and the emotional heart of the film, Gail Getty (Michelle Williams) as she attempts to get the ransom money from her ex-father-in-law, talks to the kidnappers with the help of the Italian police and negotiates/struggles against Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), a fixer for Getty himself. This aspect of the film works less well, because Fletcher’s role is underwritten and unclear. What is more interesting although largely left unexplored is the relationship between Paul and one of his kidnappers, Cinquanta (Romain Duris). Their scenes have a tantalising suggestion of Stockholm Syndrome and indicate the criminal infrastructure of Italy, but we only get this in passing. A further compelling yet frustrating dimension of the film Getty’s retreat into his wealth, as he describes himself as ‘vulnerable’ and holds onto his money like a bulldog. The film does not take a didactic stance on the impossibility of buying happiness, but rather displays an elevated and somewhat incomprehensible state. Getty understands finance in a way that the non-wealthy perhaps cannot, and he serves as an intriguing enigma at the centre of this compelling exploration of hollow decadence.
A little late, it’s time to re-pile stuff in front of the Christmas decorations, resume speculation about summer holidays before realising way too late that the prices have risen, and to reflect on the previous year in film. As always, there was far more I wanted to see than I was able to due to time and money constraints, with my total of 2017 releases (in the UK) coming to a grand total of 51. Even working from such a small sample, however, 2017 was a brilliant movie year, in terms of the sheer range in quality that helped me appreciate afresh just how much is out there. From Oscar upsets to Marvelous blockbusters, long-mooted sequels to alluring animation, 2017 offered much and delivered more than it disappointed. Of the 51 releases I saw, these are my top twelve, in musical form:
On the twelfth day of Christmas
The movies gave to me
Eleven Hidden Figures
Ten runs with Logan
Nine men in Moonlight
Eight Blade Runners
Seven pregnant mothers!
Manchester By The Six
Five Red Turtles
Four Wonder Women
Two Detroit riots
And escape from the beach at Dunkirk.
And now, with review tweets and full access to my archive, here are Vincent’s Views of 2017 in full.
A ruthlessly efficient, relentlessly tense, mercilessly immersive triptych on trauma, time and terror.
A harrowing, immersive, unflinching portrait of prejudice, brutality, societal tension and being the wrong colour in the wrong place at the wrong time.
An exquisite, sumptuous, erotic portrayal of an intriguing, labyrinthine tale.
A dynamic, inventive, witty and diverse superhero adventure of duty, will, evil and love.
A beautiful, haunting folk tale of survival, solitude and transcendence.
A beautifully composed, exquisitely painful, warm, witty and moving portrait of family, grief and community.
An exquisitely unhinged, utterly delirious, relentlessly deranged, headlong charge into unmitigated chaos.
A spellbinding, suffusive, mind expanding exploration of identity, humanity and mediation.
A haunting, soulful, beautiful, exquisitely balanced exploration of identity, sexuality and belonging.
A brutal, melancholic and intimately violent portrayal of running from and living with your past.
An enlightening, compelling and inspiring story of mathematics, race, technology and history.
A colourful, eclectic, highly Antipodean adventure of friendship, memory and powers old and new.
A crisp, clockwork lattice of motives, suspects, histories and ethics, engineered into a probing investigation of morality and balance.
A whipsmart high school action comedy of superpowered growing pains.
A beautifully composed, exquisitely restrained portrait of devastating disruption.
A wonderfully wacky and dizzily dazzling space opera of wit, warmth, adventure, family and reconciliation.
A subtle, enveloping, achingly sad tale of grief, isolation and the experience of time.
An overlong but still thrilling multi-stranded space chase of divination, intuition, legends, legacies and lightsabres.
A thrilling ride through the wild side that reminds us of our place in nature.
A ripe, sumptuous Gothic romance of obsession, ambiguity and multiple planes.
An atmospheric and genuinely scary tale of fear(s), friendship, nostalgia and growing pains.
A gleefully absurd, riotously funny, thrillingly immersive action adventure of nostalgia, identity, growing pains and working together.
A ripe, grisly period murder mystery of roles both social and theatrical.
A overly portentous but visceral and at times orgiastically violent film of faith and courage under fire.
A vibrant, colourful medley of nostalgia and dreams both lost and won.
A coldly beautiful, brilliantly realised and unrelentingly grim epic of grief, revenge, cruelty and compassion.
An atmospheric, muscular and very cold thriller of borderlands both geographical and societal.
A gripping, twisting and enthralling journey through corridors of power and landscapes of laws, ethics and conscience.
An achingly 80s, super slick and stylistically bravura period spy thriller of crunchy action, double-crossing and neon.
A compelling if inconsistent collation of coherence and chaos within community.
A somewhat unbalanced yet stylish, witty and punchy super smackdown of power, fear, courage and the strength of unity.
A gripping, thrilling and disturbing horror of racial attitudes and oppression.
A visceral, enthralling exploration of mind, body and the cinematic space.
A slick, funky heist thriller with musical flow albeit an imbalance of grit and sentiment.
A gorgeous, moving drama of family and class, and the most compelling film you may ever see about golf.
A twisting, gripping and gritty espionage thriller that just avoids collapsing under its own contrivance.
A cine-literate, thrilling and suitably grisly space body horror.
A grand, visceral and sometimes witty monster movie with plenty of bang if lacking in awe.
A beautifully transnational, intense yet never melodramatic portrayal of youth, sexuality and awakenings.
A baggy, overly referential and yet surprisingly funny buddy comedy of sun, sand and silliness.
A sometimes moving but ultimately uneven Holocaust drama of compassion and cruelty towards our own and other species.
A handsomely mounted if somewhat repetitive home front political drama.
A sometimes sweeping if rather disjointed musical fantasy romance.
A somewhat stage-bound domestic drama of family and racial tensions, elevated by powerhouse performances.
A visually arresting if narratively cumbersome sci-fi thriller of memory, identity and technology.
An over-determined, clumsily directed and ultimately anemic cosmopolitan drama of loss.
A handsome but hollow period gangster film.
A gory, sumptuous but overly panicked sci-fi horror of ambition and hubris.
An underwhelming, painfully obvious franchise set-up that suffers from being literally too dark.
A limp, lifeless, messy squandering of great potential.
- The Snowman
A ham-fisted and mechanically clichéd thriller that is more creaky than creepy.
If you’re of a certain age, you will likely have memories of Jumanji from 1995, in which Robin Williams had to deal with various animals erupting from a board game. Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle pulls off the impressive feat of acknowledging the original film while also stamping out its own identity. This is partly due to the reversal that Jake Kasdan’s sequel/relaunch performs, in which the central characters are sucked into the video game version of Jumanji. Jungle japes ensue, to very funny effect, as animals attack and game challenges present themselves. The film also delivers on the character front, as the four protagonists are a Breakfast Club type collection of high school archetypes, yet written with enough care and affection that they develop in unexpected and effectively human ways. The central performers are a great bunch, in each case playing against type in ways that are not only funny and dramatic, but also raise interesting questions about the nature of identity. Highlights include Spencer (Dwayne Johnson) ‘smouldering’, as well as Bethany (Jack Black, yes, really!) teaching Martha (Karen Gillan) to flirt. Parts of their characteristics are programmed by the game, but the central fours also maintain their teenage identities and sense of self. This creates intriguing tensions: how much of who you are is constituted by your body, how much by your experience and how much by your social role? By posing these questions but never allowing them to overwhelm the adventure, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle is the most enjoyable type of blockbuster – one with brains and heart to match its thrills and spills.