The other half of that “last double-stop.”
Welcome back, one and all, to The 3rd Annual Callum Petch Awards. Yesterday, thanks to a tangent involving the world’s most insufferable director not named Onur Tukel, we ran long and only got through 5 of the year’s 12 awards, so let’s skedaddle through these right quick, cos then I can get on with the list that actually brings in traffic.
(Big thanks to Moosey [@MooseyMcMan on Twitter] for the header!)
Winner: Blade Runner 2049 (Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch)
The atmosphere is so thick in Denis Villenueve’s Blade Runner 2049 that even a knife isn’t sharp enough to cut it. It’s a rain-soaked, smog-filled, darkened nightmare, and somehow the excursions to locations that aren’t Greater Los Angeles are even more discomforting; cities and landscapes that are the total opposite of that iconic city and yet still feel of akin with it. 2049 is a slow, painfully-measured movie, one with minimal action that luxuriates in its world, yet it is always constantly unsettling and intense as a result of Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s all-timer of a score. Vangelis was often bleak and imposing in the original Blade Runner, but he could also locate moments of legitimate beauty in the dystopia below. Zimmer and Wallfisch do the expected homages and cribbing – original composer and frequent Villenueve collaborator Jóhann Jóhannsson was removed at the last minute supposedly for this very reason – but they take that sound a whole lot further, into a darker, more hopeless place. The sound of humanity drowning in this world, thrashing and screaming in futility for some kind of help; even the appearances of those classic-sounding synths are anything but warm and inviting. If Vangelis was synthwave, then Zimmer & Wallfisch go darkwave, and the results fit 2049 perfectly. It’s some of the finest work of both men’s storied careers.
Runners-Up: Dunkirk (Hans Zimmer), Good Time (ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER), My Life as Courgette (Sophie Hunger), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (John Williams), Thor: Ragnarok (Mark Mothersbaugh)
At a certain point during my screening of Good Time, I was struck by a profound realisation that changed everything about the film I was watching: I didn’t give a fuck about what was actually happening because nothing was going on. I’d thought that I was in some way invested and pumped up by the filmmaking on display, but by the time everybody was ruining Barkhad Abdi’s life – there’s an actor who deserves so much better than he’s gotten, HE WON A BAFTA – I realised that what reactions I was having were entirely the result of ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER’s excellent score, rather than anything to do with the film itself. At that point, I waited for the film to finish, went home, put the soundtrack on via Spotify, and then promptly forgot about everything else to do with that movie.
Winner: Baby Driver
I know, you’re shocked. Believe it or not, though, I’m not handing this out based on the quality of the soundtrack (since that’s an incredibly subjective barometer that even I won’t reach for), but rather for the way that the soundtrack was worked into the film. To take home this new award, your soundtrack has to have enhanced your movie in some way. It has to be vital to the feel of the film, it has to mix the familiar with the unexpected, it has to understand how a needle-drop works, and its particular soundtrack and choices have to be so important that if I were to remove and replace all of them with my own choices or something that’s the complete opposite of them, then the film would be genuinely poorer for it… all without detracting from the narrative and characters that we’ve turned up for, of course. So, yeah, come to think of it, of course you’re not surprised that it went to the film that’s basically a love letter to the entire concept of music, made by a director who has effectively perfected the art of movie soundtracks. Who else was I going to give the honours to? Justice League?
Runners-Up: Catfight, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, Kong: Skull Island, Logan Lucky, T2 Trainspotting
Catfight uses classical music staples the same way that Edgar Wright uses music cues that have no DNA past 1979 in them. The film is often insufferably smug, massively pretentious (since it’s clearly meant to be an allegory for something it has no interest in actually explaining or exploring), and horribly mean-spirited – even if the targets of its scorn, played by Anne Heche and Sandra Oh, are The Two Worst People in the Entire World – but, in addition to the delirious relish with which Heche & Oh tear into their roles, it is also so very inexplicably fun thanks to its masterful usage of those classical cues. Even when it reaches for easy fruit like “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” it still works like gangbusters.
Winner: Atomic Blonde (Restricted Trailer)
The debut trailer for Atomic Blonde does not fuck around. Over the course of 3 impeccable minutes, it sets out with the express purposes of telling you exactly what kind of film it is, and then getting you to sit down in the cinema on release day no matter what other plans you may have had beforehand. Every major action scene is represented, even opening on a stretch of the immediately iconic faux-one-take extraction setpiece, yet the trailer has been cut in such a way as to keep the rhythms of those sequences as they appear in-film intact, rather than trying to artificially create excitement through hyper-cuts. There’s Charlize Theron looking like an absolute motherfucking badass, and she’s freely bisexual, and there are going to be so many music cues, and James McAvoy is going to be the hammiest of all bastards, and David Leitch (and former partner Chad Stahelski) is still the most exciting name in action directing, and it has a sense of humour, and it looks super cool, and and and…
Sure, it turns out to have written cheques that the film itself can’t quite cash, but if you watched this trailer and didn’t immediately want to buy 14 tickets, then you are bereft of the capacity to feel joy and I pity you.
What’s that? You mean that there are people who don’t want to see a fun and stylish-looking heist movie starring a collection of awesome women whose mere screen presence oozes cool and charisma, solely because it might upset the integrity and good name of the Ocean’s series? Well, that’s their loss, because this looks ace. Can I just BE Cate Blanchett, please?
The Alison Pill Award (Deserves Better)
Winner: The Battle of the Sexes
Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton’s Battle of the Sexes does sometimes work, enough to be considered an enjoyable time at the movies, but only ever in spite of itself. It utilises the Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in 1973 to tell 3 separate stories – a romantic drama between King and her hairdresser Marilyn that she can’t act on for all manner of reasons, an examination of the American cultural and social atmospheres leading up to and surrounding the match, and finally a sports movie about the match itself. However, the romance only works because Emma Stone and Andrea Riseborough are phenomenally good at their jobs, the cultural examination can’t decide whether it wants to buy into the inherent artificiality of the whole thing and trumpet it as a landmark achievement in the battle for feminism or if it wants to critique the chaotic carnival sideshow of promotional hustling that it often represented, and Faris and Dayton are so blatantly repulsed by the notion of having to make a sports movie that they avoid doing so for as long as possible before eventually depicting the match via alternating between cameras filming from Outer Space and clunky insert shots.
It’s not bad, but it is an absolute mess and, even if I land more on the critique side than the landmark side of things, I feel that this is a story that deserved far better. Far better than Simon Beaufoy’s confused script, and far better than Faris & Dayton’s passionless and faintly-embarrassed direction.
Runners-Up: Elle Fanning, Erotica as a whole, Julianne Moore, Loving Vincent’s technical achievement
Yes, it is a feat of absolutely remarkable achievement of artistry that a massive team of incredibly talented artists and animators managed to create a feature-length animated film entirely through oil paintings. No, it does not make their relentlessly boring and repetitive movie that romanticises suicide any less of a chore to slog through. This once-in-a-lifetime achievement deserved a far better movie to be saddled with.
Winner: Sony Pictures Animation
If I were some kind of hack Internet writer looking for easy gags, I’d throw out a “YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE” parody or embed here and call it a day, but the sentiment does still ring true. I had such high hopes for Sony Pictures Animation. They signed the right deals (Aardman made two films with them), they brought in big names and let them work on passion projects (Genndy Tartakovsky and Lauren Faust), they made some decent films that hinted at potential that could be soon realised (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Hotel Transylvania), they started bringing back squash-and-stretch animation but in CGI… and then they proceeded line all of those things in a nice little row and SMASHY SMASH SMASH!! After a 2016 with no new films – they only animated The Angry Birds Movie, like they did for Warner Bros. Animation’s Storks, they did not make it – but major negative press over cancelling those aforementioned passion projects and haemorrhaging talent, the studio returned with 3 features where the best of them was “a headache-inducing relic from the mid-2000s” and the worst was… well, we’ll get to that.
Next year, they’re making a third Hotel Transylvania – although Genndy is co-writing that one, so I will continue to hope in the face of the inevitable – helping out on a Goosebumps sequel that can’t seem to decide if it’s going to feature Jack Black or not and we otherwise have heard nothing about, and WHAT THE FUCK HAVE YOU DONE TO PETER RABBIT, YOU MONSTERS! YOU ABSOLUTE MONSTERS!! YOU FUCKING CRETINS! HOW DARE YOU! HOW ACTUALLY DARE YOU!! LOOK AT THIS SHIT! LOOK AT THIS SUB-HOP SHIT!
Yeah, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse looks amazing, but it is going to take so much more than that to fix the damage that 2017 has caused to Sony Pictures Animation, and that’s assuming that Peter Rabbit doesn’t finish them off completely. Look, guys, I did not ask for somebody to come along and make Illumination Entertainment look like mid-2000s Pixar by comparison, so please stop this and try harder. You can start by cancelling Peter Rabbit. It’s not too late. Seriously, please, pull that thing and hide it away forever, I am begging you!
Runners-Up: Comedy, DC Cinematic Universe, Disney, Illumination Entertainment, Ridley Scott
Oh, we are going to come to you, Disney. Give it a few days, and we’ll deal with you. Because I care.
Winner: Girls Trip
In terms of expectations relative to outcome, I did not expect Girls Trip to be good at all, let alone as riotously hysterical as it often ended up being. Comedy, as I have frequently mentioned, has been in a rut for years, and the Hangover wannabes have been uniformly torturing to sit through, with Girls Trip looking like it would be no different. Except that Girls Trip had two secret weapons. The first was a defiantly black female-centric viewpoint (even if its creative team was largely male) that instantly freshened up the tired beats of the “bros partying” subgenre by immersing it in a different culture and viewpoint properly – instead of being “The Hangover but with Black Women,” this was full-on its own thing and only went to the touchstones of that subgenre every so often. The second and arguably most powerful, was its refusal to ever give anything less than 140% towards everything. It’s more sentimental than other comedies like it, it’s longer than other comedies like it, it’s FAR raunchier than other comedies like it… it goes full-bore about EVERYTHING, and if that makes it a mess and kind of exhausting (hence why it was only an Honourable Mention on my Top 20 for the year), it also leads to some of the most fun I’ve had in a cinema all year and some of the biggest laughs I’ve had from a film all year. Plus, Tiffany Haddish. So, yeah, nicest surprise, definitely.
Runners-Up: A Cure for Wellness, Mudbound, My Cousin Rachel, Only the Brave, xXx: Return of Xander Cage
I am the absolute furthest thing from an easy lay when it comes to Based on a True Story weepies about heroic manly men bonding together like bros and then sacrificing themselves in a noble fashion, but dammit all if I wasn’t won over by Joseph Kosinski’s firefighter movie, even having a few tears yanked from me by the climax. I look forward to it sweeping this year’s prestigious Man Tears Awards ceremony.
Detroit is a film made for those people who don’t believe that institutional racism in the police force is a real thing and will be resultantly shocked to find out that such is indeed the case. Whilst I have no doubt that there will be people who may watch Detroit and come away shocked and horrified to their core over this knowledge with a resolute vow to change, I also can’t help but feel like that’s not enough. Kathryn Bigelow and (her regular writer) Mark Boal have evidently gone into this film with the best of intentions, and it is still an intense and engaging watch because Bigelow does not know the meaning of the phrase “half-assed,” but the results betray their limited perspectives on the situation. Detroit is a film that wants to be a powerful, searing, and relevant documentation of an important stretch of American history in order to demonstrate how little has changed… except that it doesn’t have anything new to say on the matter, and Bigelow’s-directing it like a war movie also inadvertently pushes Detroit into the established history of films about Black suffering that fetishize that stuff.
Better writers far more qualified than me can list you the reasons why Detroit, despite the best of intentions, fails to do its subject justice – most especially Angelica Jade Bastien in her review over at RogerEbert.com, that’s vital reading. What I personally can tell you is that, for a good 10 minutes of film, I got the distinct impression that Bigelow’s sympathies lay more with the two White girls caught up in the Algiers Motel incident than any of the Black men being tortured and, whilst that eventually turned out to be somewhat untrue, that was ultimately indicative of how Bigelow missed the mark and how somebody else needed to tell this story.
Runners-Up: Despicable Me 3, Happy End, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, The Fate of the Furious, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Right, I don’t know what exactly it is that’s going on over at the Fast & Furious household, but it needs to stop right now! You’re supposed to be a beacon of positivity in this ever-shittening world! Remember? You’re not friends, you’re “Family,” dammit! Quit your egotistical flexing, it’s starting to bleed over into your films! Fate is still a tonne of fun, and its eventual James Bond finale is deliriously awesome, but F. Gary Gray is a bad fit for this franchise, and the next one of these needs to find a new centre to replace the Dom/Brian hole that has unfortunately made itself known.
It’s been a long year, and a tough one for me, as I outlined a few days ago. A lot of films were released over those 365 days, a lot of damn great ones too, and that means that some films can become overshadowed and recede so far into one’s memory that, even if you really liked them, you find that you’ve largely forgotten about them come list-making time. Sometimes I find the time to revisit them, it’s for this exact reason why Logan ended up in my Top 20 at all, and other times the deadline looms and you miss the chance altogether. Here, then, are a few of the films that I might have talked more about had I the time to revisit them during the mad hellscape that was my December.
The Films I Missed
To close: 136 eligible films is a whole heck of a lot (although the lowest amount since I started doing these lists), but it is still not all of the films, particularly nowadays, and a lot of them, both good and bad, can slip through the cracks based on time and location. So, to head off any complaints at the pass before we get into the Bottom 10 list, here are the biggest names I was unable to notch into my bedpost this year. Don’t think too hard about that metaphor, I certainly didn’t.
Split, The Space Between Us, Personal Shopper, The Void, First They Killed My Father, The Mummy, Song to Song, The Belko Experiment, England is Mine, Patti Cake$, On the Road (Wolf Alice), The Snowman, Happy Death Day, Call Me By Your Name, Victoria & Abdul, Stronger, The Greatest Showman
Tomorrow: The Bottom 10 Films of 2017 list begins.
Callum Petch read yr gap year blog.