2017 continued the previous year’s trend towards ever more polarised reactions to movies. With little room anymore for a ‘middle ground’, movies were either hailed as redefining triumphs or excoriated as blasphemy. Generally, I think I saw more great movies in 2017 than in 2016 but the average score across the 116 new releases I saw was 6.3, down slightly on the year before, reflecting that there were a lot more total duds than last year. What The Craggus Saw’s 2017 encompassed watching/ rewatching 433 movies and 219 blog posts. It saw the blog’s highest ever visitor and view count as well as a site refresh in October and a move to our own domain in November. In the multiplexes, it was a year bookended by musicals, crammed with sequels, prequels and reboots alongside the worthier fare and while Disney made a bold move to secure its dominance, the driver behind their acquisitive strategy accelerated as streaming services began to successfully bid for the distribution rights to brand new productions. As the world of cinema undergoes a seismic shift, its little wonder the studios are scrabbling for the security of a well-known franchise or two.
Here in the UK, it’s Oscars Eve which means it’s time for the traditional time-killer of the Craggus Movie Awards. For this, the awards’ 5th year, the rules have been tweaked. All nominees and winners are chosen from films which had their UK theatrical release in the relevant year and only titles Mertmas and/ or I have seen are eligible. As usual, this means some of the big beasts of tonight’s Oscar ceremony won’t be featured here and will only get their chance next year, so there’s no “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” or “The Shape Of Water”. Most categories have been expanded to six nominees but there are, this year, no new categories. And, as usual, the awards will only celebrate the best; there are no ‘worst of’ trophies here. After all, as Rose Tico said, ‘That’s how we’re going to win. Not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love’.
The other thing that hasn’t changed is that exactly like the Oscars, the nominees and winners have been chosen on the basis of personal preference and may bear no similarity to technical or artistic achievement, real or imagined. So, without further ado…on with the show! And what better way to start a show than with a show-stopper?
2017 was notable for the absence of a Disney Animation classic to provide us with a new earworm and although “Beauty And The Beast” was reimagined, among the many additions that were made, they didn’t add in any new songs. By and large, it’s a clash between the two musicals which started and ended the year. Both boast a number of songs which could easily compete on their own merits but in narrowing it down, “Another Day Of Sun” gets the nod from “La La Land” and “This Is Me” for “The Greatest Showman”. With those two in the mix, it’s an honour just to be nominated for “Friends Are Family” from “The Lego Batman Movie” and “Time To Be Awesome” from “My Little Pony: The Movie”.
WINNER: “This Is Me” (“The Greatest Showman)
Both “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman” also feature in the Soundtrack category, as you’d expect. They’re joined by John William’s magnificent mix of old and new in his score for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and Hans Zimmer’s kinetic and dramatic “Dunkirk” score, responsible for much of the movie’s power. Finally, what soundtrack category could be complete without acknowledging the two eminently playable ‘jukebox’ soundtracks of “Baby Driver” and “Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2”? The Craggus Award, though – decided by its near-constant playing and singing along to – goes to “The Greatest Showman”.
WINNER: “The Greatest Showman”
Best Visual Effects
Now that we’ve finished making a song and dance about things, let’s get down to business, and the business of movies is bums on seats. And nothing gets the public filling those theatres like special effect blockbusters. In 2017, there were plenty on offer. From the spectacular world-building fantasy of “Blade Runner 2049”, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, “Thor: Ragnarok” or even Luc Besson’s cruelly underrated “Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets” to the more grounded creation of fully realised and authentic character work of “Paddington 2” and “War For The Planet Of The Apes”, the top of the line visual effects this year were breathtaking. This year, the award goes to Matt Reeves’ masterful conclusion to the rebooted “Planet Of The Apes” prequel trilogy for its unbelievably convincing character creations.
WINNER: “War For The Planet Of The Apes”
Best Supporting Actress
It’s been a great year for smart, complex roles for actresses to really strut their stuff and even in the supporting roles, there’s been plenty to applaud. An utterly unsung performance is that of Karin Konoval who played Maurice the Orangutan in “War For The Planet Of The Apes”. While Serkis rightly gets the plaudits as the pre-eminent motion capture actor, Konoval’s work as Maurice is breathtakingly accomplished. Octavia Spencer delivers a wonderful tribute to the real-life NASA hero Dorothy Vaughan in “Hidden Figures” while Holly Hunter brings real-world complexity to her role in pointed race relationship comedy “The Big Sick”. Michelle Pfeiffer amply demonstrates why she’s one of the best screen actresses working today with her seductively cool and cruelly callous turn in “mother!” and Sylvia Hoeks makes a sinister lasting impression as the impassive and possibly psychotic replicant Luv in “Blade Runner 2049”. However, the award this year goes to one which was overlooked in the professional award cycle last year but provided a crucial axis for the rest of the film. Despite taking only three days to film, its a transformative performance of such power and raw emotion that I’m still surprised it lost out on the Oscar.
WINNER: Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”)
Best Supporting Actor
Another category where there’s a wealth of options to choose from. Mark Rylance bringing some much needed heart to Nolan’s harrowing and epic “Dunkirk“, Christopher Plummer infusing Scrooge with a surprising amount of menace, fear and even twisted sympathy in “The Man Who Invented Christmas“, Hugh Grant’s delightfully pantomime villainy in “Paddington 2“, Jason Isaacs scene-stealing, scenery-chewing bombast in “The Death Of Stalin” or Willem Dafoe’s deeply human performance in “The Florida Project” would all be utterly worthy winners but there was one performance that stood out for me, one that is unlikely to be adequately recognised in professional awards circles and that is Mark Hamill’s triumphantly melancholy return as Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi“. Famously used (completely unfairly) by Oliver Stone as a yardstick for ‘insincere acting’, Hamill utterly refuted the charge with a powerful, complex and nuanced performance, providing the fulcrum against which Rian Johnson sought to pivot the entire saga. A cinematic and pop culture icon, his latest performance as Luke Skywalker, some 40 years after the first, was also his finest. Hopefully, the Force willing, it wasn’t his last.
WINNER: Mark Hamill (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”)
There’s a range of budgets and distribution models at play in the Actress category this year. There are brave and ambitious Indie films, such as “A Ghost Story” which gave Rooney Mara a lyrical and poetic meditation on love and loss or “The Florida Project” which centred around a precocious and mesmerising performance from Brooklynn Prince. Netflix Originals score their first nomination for Carla Gugino virtual one-woman-show in “Gerald’s Game” while the studio system brought us Emma Stone’s Oscar-winning turn in “La La Land” and Taraji P Henson’s wonderfully absorbing portrayal of Katherine G Johnson in “Hidden Figures“. The studio system also brought us this year’s winner in the controversial and uncomfortable “mother!“, a film likely responsible for its studio’s newfound reluctance to take chances at the box office with challenging or unusual material. While I’ve often felt that Jennifer Lawrence frequently seems content to coast on past successes as an actress (and lazily phones in performances in franchise films she clearly regrets signing a long-term contract for), there’s no denying she’s at the very top of her game here as she’s put through an inhuman wringer of emotional trauma as the eternally suffering wife of the enigmatic and capricious poet.
WINNER: Jennifer Lawrence (“mother!”)
So many genre performances overlooked this year while the actors themselves were doing superb work. James McAvoy provided a one-man cast for M Night Shyamalan’s return to movie fandom’s good graces in “Split” while Hugh Jackman left everything on the screen in his passionate farewell (so far) performance as Wolverine in “Logan“. Daniel Kaluuya’s sly performance in “Get Out” does everything to sell the creeping uneasiness and terrifying revelation of the movie’s narrative while Bryan Cranston likewise shoulders much of the work in quirky and thought-provoking mid-life crisis drama “Wakefield“. Rounding off the list of nominees is Daniel Radcliffe’s astonishingly committed performance as real-life Amazonian backpacker Yossi Ghinsberg in “Jungle” but the award this year goes to Andy Serkis as long overdue recognition of the phenomenal work he does behind a digital mask. Emotive, expressive and utterly believable, his work as Caeser throughout the trilogy but especially in final chapter “War For The Planet Of The Apes” is nothing short of perfection.
WINNER: Andy Serkis (“War For The Planet Of The Apes”)
Best Animated Movie
I know there wasn’t a lot to choose from in 2017 when it came to animated fare, but the fact that “The Boss Baby” snagged an Oscar nomination is right up there with the fact we have to call “Suicide Squad” an Academy Award-winning film. Sheesh. I consulted both Mertmas and the Littlest Craggling to gather make-weights for this category where, for me, only two titles merited a place: the unfairly Oscar-snubbed “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” and “My Life As A Courgette“. They did suggest “The Boss Baby” but eventually we agreed to include “The Lego Batman Movie” and the adequate but worthy of recognition for not being insufferable “My Little Pony: The Movie”
WINNER: “My Life As A Courgette”
Ain’t no-one got time for separating out adapted and original screenplays, so I’ve combined it into one writing category. “Get Out” is an obvious contender here thanks to its deliciously twisted narrative and sharp satire while “Dunkirk” earns its spot thanks to its intricate chronology which deftly rachets up the tension across three different but connected timelines. “The Big Sick” wears it heart and its intelligence on its sleeve while under-rated “Borg vs McEnroe” manages to take well known personalities and events and weave a compelling and tense tale of sporting excellence, rivalry and triumph. Rian Johnson’s initially disconcerting and divisive take on the “Star Wars” mythos becomes better and better the more you dig into it (having already blogged about it twice, I think I’ve got one more in me before I find ‘closure’ with that movie) but the award this year goes to “Brigsby Bear” by Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello. In an era tarnished by the toxic tribalism of fandom, “Brigsby Bear” is a clear-eyed, sincere and uplifting paean to the positive side of fandom, the sense of community and companionship that sharing your passions can bring. It’s a great big bear hug of a movie.
WINNER: Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello (“Brigsby Bear”)
Each one of the Best Director nominations this year brought something unique and personal to their movies, elevating them from great to amazing. Damian Chazelle delivered a love letter to Hollywood musicals with “La La Land“, Barry Jenkins took us on an astonishing coming of age journey in “Moonlight” while Jordan Peele and Darren Aronofsky peeled back the superficial civility of life, revealing the bizarre darkness beneath in “Get Out” and “mother!” respectively. Denis Villeneuve (notching up his second Craggus nomination in as many years) revived a cinephile classic, bringing new life and even more spectacular visuals to the grimdark future of “Blade Runner 2049” but, for me, it was Sean Baker who impressed the most, capturing the almost Dickensian juxtaposition of crushing poverty next to indulgent fantasy in the candy-coloured heartbreaking childhood drama and nurturing the phenomenal performances which bring “The Florida Project” to vivid life.
WINNER: Sean Baker (“The Florida Project”)
Now the rules of the Craggus Award for Best Film do not allow for nominations. Instead, any movie which is scored a 10/10 automatically is eligible for the main prize. In 2017, a total of eleven films scored the coveted maximum points:
In all honesty, from the moment I saw it, I thought “Brigsby Bear” was a dead cert for this but then, just as the year ended, we saw “The Greatest Showman“. Discussing it with the Craggus Clan, it was clear there was no other choice and even if I continued to push hard for “Brigsby Bear”, I was going to be outvoted 3-1 (and possibly even 4-0). “The Greatest Showman” might not be the most accomplished, technically perfect, edifying and/ or important movie of 2017 but it is the one that packs more of the true magic of the movies into every single frame than anything else that came out this year. Critically dismissed, but popularly adored, it deserves all of its success and is a worthy winner of the Craggus Award for Best Film.
WINNER: “The Greatest Showman”
The final movie award of the night – as far as The Craggus is concerned, I believe the Academy have a few tokens to hand out later – is The Mertie Award for Best Film of 2017. This year Mertmas could only arrow it down to seven movies, and even then only after some deliveration with The Littlest Craggling chipping in her thoughts. Once they’d narrowed it down, the list of nominees looked like this:
But the winner was chosen unanimously and without hesitation and for the first time in the Awards’ history the same movie has scooped the Craggus Award for Best Film and The Mertmas Award for Best Film:
WINNER: “The Greatest Showman”
So, there we have it. The 2017 Craggus Movie Awards. Good decisions? Travesties? Who did I snub? Who did I over-praise? What the hell was I thinking? Let me know in the comments! And enjoy the Oscars!