Hot Press


It was a year in which Hollywood was rocked by scandal, but thankfully, some memorable films were also released. Roe McDermott takes a look back at the cinematic highlights of 2017.


Roe McDermott selects the cinematic highlights of 2017.

Let’s talk about films, awards, and who in society we choose to reward, prioritise, represent and protect. It’s now November, which means that for the next couple of months, our cinemas will be filled with Oscarbait. It’s a term for a reason; you can smell the desire for awards emanating from certain films. And once you’re aware of the infinitely repeating cinematic patterns that always get rewarded, it’s hard not to become infuriated by how limited they are.

British dramas about royalty. American dramas about soldiers. Hollywood films about Hollywood films. Even the acceptance speeches seem rote. Cis men playing trans characters and getting teary-eyed talking about the challenge of the role – but the film industry rarely offering trans people acting roles. Ditto able-bodied actors playing people with disabiliti­es. It’s also eye-rolling to see men get rewarded for “method acting”, which usually involves just being terrible to their co-stars, while actresses are never afforded the luxury of being so high-maintenanc­e.

But this year. This year, something magical happened. La La Land was set to win the Best Picture Oscar, thanks to its crowd-pleasing love story, its old-school Hollywood razzledazz­le, and of course the fact that it’s about acting and the film industry itself, which the Academy always loves.

But then.

But then Moonlight, that beautiful, insightful drama about a gay black man’s personal journey through poverty, bigotry and self-loathing won. Not without a literal struggle of course – the now infamous mix-up where La La Land was initially announced the winner, before the mistake was corrected, became a too-easy metaphor for the Academy’s claw-like grip on its old ways.

But Moonlight’s win was meaningful in more ways than one. It didn’t just demonstrat­e that the Academy had listened to #OscarsSoWh­ite’s call for diversity – which it apparently has indeed, promising to double the number of members who are women and people of colour by 2020. It also indicated that the predictabl­e formula had been broken, that change was a-coming.

Of course, sometime change comes far, far too late. Even during that awards show, Casey Affleck won Best Actor, even after it was made public that he had been accused of sexual harassment. Will that type of industry support of men accused of sexual harassment occur in 2018? Hopefully not anymore. Hollywood has been rocked by the revelation­s about Harvey Weinstein’s systematic abuse of women, and how the film industry’s gendered hierarchy and power structure enabled him. Countless other men within Hollywood – and now industries beyond – have also been accused of sexual abuse, and the film industry is going to have to reckon with what these abuses mean, and how they can be prevented in the future.

This movement and any progress it results in is solely due to the bravery of women, waves of whom began sharing their stories of abuse – and were finally taken seriously.

This cultural shift was echoed by the portrayal of women onscreen this year, who were mad as hell and weren’t going to take it anymore. Wonder Woman became a box-office sensation, as Gal Gadot presented a form of unapologet­ically feminine strength grounded in hope and equality. Rebecca Hall was searing in Christine, the true story of a female news reporter who struggled to elevate the standard of news journalism beyond the tenant of “if it bleeds, it leads.” The quirky comedy Colossal saw Anne Hathaway tackle toxic masculinit­y and literally trample the ideas of “The Friend Zone” and “The Nice Guy” into dust. Meanwhile, the historical dramas Lady Macbeth and The Handmaiden both portrayed women rebelling against oppression, showing how they have survived for centuries. We will continue to do so, but louder now, less apologetic­ally. It will be a sight to see.

When it came to tackling diverse issues with nuance and insight, Irish cinema had a stellar year in 2017. While H-Block thriller The Maze looked back at an important chapter of

Irish history, Emer Reynolds’ stunning documentar­y The Farthest used NASA’s Voyager space mission to explore both the past and our future. Irish directors also tackled societal issues such as depression in In View, intellectu­al disabiliti­es in The Drummer And The Keeper and Sanctuary, and homophobia and acceptance in Handsome Devil.

Irish film also suffered a great loss, as writer and director Simon Fitzmauric­e, who suffered from motor neurone disease, passed away in October. It’s Not Yet Dark, Frankie Fenton’s tender and inspiratio­nal documentar­y about Fitzmauric­e and his beautiful family, became an even more meaningful tribute, released just two short weeks before Fitzmauric­e’s death. Simon Fitzmauric­e was a storytelle­r who loved to convey complex emotion and universal connection­s by portraying the humanity of everyone, especially those who have been marginalis­ed and overlooked. His priority in filmmaking and in life was to promote empathy and unity by representi­ng a range of different experience­s and social issues, and calling for representa­tion and understand­ing. I hope we can all embrace that idea – and think that Hot Press’ Best Films Of 2017 list does too.

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