Pop Culture to Look Forward to in 2017

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New year, new hopes?

While 2016 was a catastrophic shit-show, and 2017 doesn’t promise to be much better thanks to a certain tiny-handed tangerine getting into the highest office in the world, it’s important to note the glimmers of joy and escape the year will bring. In terms of pop culture, last year had some incredible moments (just not all the dying).

This list is a grab-bag of things we’re excited for over the coming months. You’ll notice it’s primarily film and TV over books. This is really because it’s easier to track those projects and their release dates than it is with literature, and with the latter, half the fun is in stumbling across the unexpected that you didn’t even know had been released. There’s probably a bunch we missed out but even if this is all we get this year, it’ll be one hell of a year.

FILMS:

T2: Trainspotting 2.

It’s easy to downplay the levels of anticipation for this film, the much-awaited sequel to the lauded Irvine Welsh adaptation, in Scotland. The movie that defined a generation of film and a new sensibility of Scottish culture retains a major popularity and influence here to this day, and its presence remains notable in the city of Edinburgh, where Renton and his gang of junkie friends resided. While Danny Boyle and the cast, including Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle, have gone onto bigger and brighter things since the film’s 1996 release (including an Oscar and triumphant term as the Olympics opening ceremony director for Boyle), there’s an undeniable thrill in seeing the gang back together, older but no wiser. The trailer hit a number of familiar beats – the Choose Life remix for the 2010s age fell flat but the visuals kept their visceral impact – and there will be questions as to whether the film can succeed separate from the urge to pander to nostalgia, but if there’s a team capable of pulling it off, it’s the group that made it happen in the first place.

Beauty and the Beast.

Disney, in between dominating the worldwide box office with their shiny new Marvel and Star Wars properties, have been making a pretty penny by revisiting the well of their beloved classics and offering them a live action sheen. Both Cinderella and The Jungle Book surprised doubters and brought in hefty grosses, and if this latest offering, based on arguably their most critically beloved property, doesn’t bring in a billion dollars, I’ll be stunned. There’s much to be weary about – the trailers suggest CGI-heavy fare, Dan Stevens’s Beast seems to be an effects work in progress, and Emma Watson’s acting range remains ahem… limited – but Disney know how to look after their brand, and even though this is a guaranteed review-proof printer of money, one hopes this will bring something more substantial than mere nostalgic satisfaction.

Get Out.

The end to Key and Peele’s stellar comedy sketch show may have disappointed many, but the pair have appeared in a great number of films since then, but none have created as much intrigue amongst film fans as Jordan Peele’s latest directorial effort.

Daniel Kaluuya plays a young African American man who accompanies his white girlfriend on a visit to her family’s luxurious estate, where he quickly notices that many of the area’s black residents are acting very odd. When one frantically tells him to ‘get out’, he discovers the horrific secrets behind the picture-perfect veneer. Peele has described the film as a satirical horror on race with shades of The Stepford Wives, and it’s something of a surprise to me that no film-maker has tried the premise before. It’s always fascinating to see comedic creators make a shift towards more serious fare, but rare to see that switch towards horror, so hopes are high for this.

The Beguiled.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Matteo Prandoni/BFA/REX/Shutterstock (5893890dw)
Sofia Coppola
Cartier Fifth Avenue Mansion Reopening Party, New York, USA – 07 Sep 2016

As one of the most celebrated directors of her generation – and one of a few female directors who casual film fans can name when prompted –  Sofia Coppola has a lot of expectations to live up to, with or without the prestige of her family name. Few filmmakers are as precise in their explorations of the limitations of gender roles and the smothering expectations the world puts on women. Her upcoming film reunites her with Kirsten Dunst, as well as newcomers to her ensemble Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell, and is adapted from a novel and Clint Eastwood movie set in an all-girls boarding school in rural Mississippi during the Civil War. Think Southern Gothic meets claustrophobic battle of the sexes.

Thor: Ragnarok.

While my superhero fatigue remains strong, I’m always excited for something that promises to break from their sturdy, if formulaic, mould, and the Thor movies, while generally entertaining, have never felt as crucial to the wider cinematic narrative than, say, the Captain America trilogy. That could change with Thor: Ragnarok, which carries the name of director Taika Waititi, the New Zealander behind some of my favourite movies of recent years, What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. His comedic sensibility, skills in juggling multiple seemingly incompatible tones, top choice of actors (including Cate Blanchett, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum) and promise of higher stakes have raised even my cynical brow. The recently revealed plot promises more consequential material for Asgard’s finest, as well as Bruce Banner. Now if only they could drop Cumberbatch from the proceedings.

Wonder Woman.

No, I have basically no hopes for this film. Sorry, I refuse to be taken in by yet another well put together DC movie trailer that masks incompetent catastrophes seemingly made by committee. Suicide Squad may be the single worst movie I have ever seen, and I continue to be flabbergasted that DC allowed Zacki Snyder to irrevocably define their multi-billion dollar franchise as a muddy colored misery porn-fest that borders on My Immortal levels of hackwork. But here’s the thing – I love Wonder Woman, and I know that Patty Jenkins’s adaptation will be judged in a way male-helmed films are not. Call me pessimistic but sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is because otherwise you may not get a chance to do so in the future.

And also I like Chris Pine. The best Chris.

You Were Never Really Here.

 

The industry has different standards for male and female directors. While scrappy upstart men in baseball caps are rewarded with big money, producer support and more than a few chances should they stumble on their way, women are more likely to languish in director jail after a box office disappointment or unfortunate altercation with their bosses. After Lynne Ramsay walked off the set of Jane Got a Gun on day one, many feared she’d never work again, but never fear because she is back.

Amazon fought off stiff competition at Cannes last year to fund her adaptation of a novella by Jonathan Ames that follows a disturbed former marine who works in extracting trafficked women from brothels. The Taxi Driver inspired story will star Joaquin Phoenix, and if it’s anything like the interesting if flimsy novella, it could be a hell of a one man show for the actor to show off his immeasurable talents. This one doesn’t have a release date yet but Ramsay is a Cannes favourite and Amazon are keen to muscle into the prestige market so keep your eyes peeled for this year’s festival line-up.

Dunkirk.

Hey, how can Christopher Nolan finally make a film free of those pesky women he seems to use solely to service the emotional arcs of men? Set it during World War Two!

Snark aside – and I have plenty regarding the beloved director’s penchant for fridging his female characters – seeing arguably the only major director capable of getting multi-million-dollar passion projects made with little to no studio interference turn his camera to one of the most famous battles of the 20th century holds immense promise. Clearly Warner Brothers see the epic as a safe bet, with Nolan’s $20m personal salary for the project the highest deal for a director since Peter Jackson took on King Kong. With an illustrious cast including Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy and Harry Styles (don’t worry, his hair still looks picture perfect), all in service of a prominent Summer release, this could be one of the biggest hits of the year. That in and of itself would be a welcome contrast from a top 10 box office gross list that’s been dominated by established properties and franchises for the past few years. Could it be the much coveted holy grail of films that brings both financial success and a hefty awards bounty? Time will tell.

Annihilation.

Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy dominated science-fiction circles upon its release, garnering critical acclaim by the boatload, while screenwriter Alex Garland’s directorial debut Ex Machina achieved similar levels of praise. The pair seem like the ideal team to bring the series, which follows a group of four women who go on an expedition to an uninhabitable zone known as Area X, to the big screen. Expect stunning visuals and incredible work from a cast to die for (Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oscar Isaac, Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson).

The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos has quickly established himself as a director with a distinctly dry style – bizarre dialogue delivered straight-faced; societies with convoluted rules that represent the absurdities of our world; often shocking bursts of violence amidst laugh out loud humour. The Lobster brought him to an English speaking audience to much critical acclaim, and his next effort, starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman (2017 promises to be a banner year for her) has a suitably vague synopsis for now – a surgeon forms a bond with an odd teenage boy, with disastrous results – and distributor A24, currently dominating the indie scene with a slate of incredible movies, will helm this one’s US release.

Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Film.

It’s a Paul Thomas Anderson film, set in 1950s Paris, centred on a fashion designed played by Paul Thomas Anderson. Need I say more? Anderson, who remains one of my favourite directors, is a must see for whatever he makes, and the further into his career he goes, the more his work feels like a demonstration of his own skill rather than a reflection of his influences. Inherent Vice divided critics but I was thoroughly thrilled by its melancholic oddness, and Anderson’s willingness to keep his audience at arm’s length to allow its hallucinogenic haze to take hold. Little is known about his next film other than the aforementioned basics, but that was enough to get a bidding war going that saw Focus pick up worldwide rights for the project.

The Changeover.

If you aren’t familiar with Margaret Mahy, she is the queen of New Zealand children’s literature, writing everything from picture books to YA novels, and renowned for wearing a rainbow wig. She’s had a few adaptations of her work made over the years – two TV films in the 80s, the TV miniseries Kaitangata Twitch in 2010, and also wrote the book adaptation of her TV series Maddigan’s Quest (which starred iZombie’s Rose McIver). But the news that her 1984 novel The Changeover (one of two novels she won the Carnegie Award – one of only seven authors to do so) was going to get a big screen adaptation was huge. Especially when word that Lucy Lawless and Melanie Lynskey were cast, and that Timothy Spall would be playing the villain.

Updated so it is now set in a post-earthquake Christchurch, The Changeover is about a Maori girl, Laura Chant, who to rescue her younger brother from a supernatural entity, undergoes a “changeover” to become a witch. While my personal favourite Mahy YA novel is The Tricksters, I am super excited for The Changeover because the world deserves to know how amazing our YA fiction is – and hopefully that will lead to even more readers, books and adaptations.

BOOKS:

Difficult Women and Hunger (Roxane Gay).

Image from the Guardian.

Few contemporary writers have as discomfiting and precise a focus on the troubles of modern womanhood quite like Roxane Gay. Between her now defining essay collection Bad Feminist and her achingly brutal debut novel An Untamed State, Gay has hoards of fans waiting for every new work. Her debut collection of short stories has already garnered praise from critics and fans, while her long awaited memoir on her difficult relationship with food and her body promises more of her trademark candor and vibrancy.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter (Scaachi Koul) & Too Much and Not in the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose.

Boy, is there a paid of titles that better encapsulates the post-2016 mood? Buzzfeed writer Koul’s first essay collection has attracted much buzz for reasons beyond its title. Her debut has already been compared to the likes of Mindy Kaling and Jenny Lawson for her irreverent take on her experiences as the daughter of Indian immigrants in Canada. Chew-Bose, a critic and essayist who wrote one of my favourite pieces on the sadly defunct Grantland, finds inspiration in Virginia Woolf with her lyrical prose-meets-poetry-meets-criticism style with shades of Maggie Nelson.

Sharp (Michelle Dean).

Dean, former literary editor of Gawker, turns her pen to the history of women critics. Not much is known about the book, which comes out towards the end of 2017, but this is a fascinating topic that remains criminally underexplored, so it will be refreshing to see women in criticism receive the historical lineage they deserve.

Killers of the Flower Moon (David Grann).

True crime is an eternal fascination for some, but it’s a topic that’s gained mainstream attention over the past few years thanks to the successes of Serial and Making a Murderer. Now a whole host of networks and people are jumping on that bandwagon, with podcasts, TV shows and documentaries filling in every available gap. This is something that doesn’t seem to be running out of fuel any time soon – which is fine by me – but it’s also an issue that requires some introspection. After all, it’s mining entertainment from the suffering of others to the extreme.

David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z (the adaptation of which is another film I’m excited for), returns to covering the intersections of history and crime with his latest book, focusing on the Osage murders of the 1920s and the newly created FBI’s attempts to uncover the sinister conspiracy.

TV:

American Gods.

Hannibal may have ended – boo – and Bryan Fuller’s reign as new Star Trek showrunner ended before it really began – double boo – but never fear because he will still bring us American Gods. The award-winning Neil Gaiman novel of gods old and young converging to do battle to the backdrop of crumbling Americana has been in pre-production hell for many years, and many feared it would never make it to the small screen. Starz fortunately picked up the slack and Fuller and co-creator Michael Green have assembled a cast to die for – Ricky Whittle, Emily Browning, Pablo Schreiber, Crispin Glover, Gillian Anderson, Peter Stromare, Kristen Chenoweth, Cloris Leachman, and, in what may be the most perfect piece of casting in recent memory, Ian MacShane as Mr Wednesday. The novel is not big on plot – the real joy is in meeting this crew of old gods forgotten and new ones powered by humanity’s obsessions – so the challenge for Fuller and company will be to construct an overarching story that potentially carry the show for many seasons. I’m not biased or anything, but I’m sure this will be the greatest show ever.

Attack on Titan.

True story. I was bored one day and decided to check out an episode of this anime I’d heard some positive rumblings about. I ended up mainlining every available episode in just under two days, then screaming at my ever patient co-blogger as to why she’d never told me about this show before. She had. I don’t listen very well.

Anyway, it’s easy to flail over Attack on Titan, a thrilling show that’s frequently emotionally devastating as well as occasionally terrifying. The story of the remnants of humanity’s battles against the human-esque giants known as Titans is deceptive in its apparent simplicity. What seems to be a standards tale, common in the medium, is really sophisticated in its storytelling, characterization and mystery. Waiting for new episodes has been quite a slog but the end will finally be here in a few months time! Even if you don’t like anime, I’d heartily recommend this to you.

Feud.

Ryan Murphy is a staggeringly inconsistent show-runner who seems to get bored with his own material at a speedy rate. Glee started as a pitch-black comedy about realizing your dreams will never come true and morphed into a saccharine jukebox engineered to pump out cheap morals and iTunes albums. Each season of American Horror Story starts with the right balance of horror, style and camp, but quickly descends into chaos as the show seems unable of really putting its colourful ensembles in any danger. Fortunately, when bound by the constrictions of real life, he can be truly stellar, as evidenced by last year’s surprise hit American Crime Story: The People Versus OJ Simpson. Now, he’s found a story that gives him enough leeway to demonstrate his particular brand of bubblegum pornography – the infamous feud between Hollywood divas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, which came to a reportedly explosive climax on the set of their film Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? It’s the stuff of Hollywood lore and drag queen specials, so it’s tailor-made for Murphy, and will hopefully allow Susan Sarandon and his sometime muse Jessica Lange the opportunity to truly let it rip.

The Handmaid’s Tale.

Honestly, there’s part of me – a significant part – that’s utterly dreading this show. I adore the book and think, now more than ever, its prescient message is crucial to see in a new medium, but that’s the problem. This may hit a tad too close to home for some, given the descending political situation of America, but Margaret Atwood’s classic tale of an oppressive totalitarian state that strips women of their autonomy and forces them into roles of childbearing servitude, is depressingly relevant most of the time. Still, this is an age that desperately needs such stories, and this book has long deserved a proper adaptation (the film is pretty bad).

Mindhunter.

Netflix owe much to David Fincher. As executive producer of the American remake of House of Cards, he helped to bring critical and commercial legitimacy to the streaming service when it made the move into original programming. Now, he returns to the fold with fellow executive producer Charlize Theron and the true story of the FBI’s elite serial crime unit in the 1970s. Jonathan Groff (King George in Hamilton) will play a special agent who interviews imprisoned killers for help with ongoing crimes. How very Hannibal, so obviously I’m in. While this will be a less hallucinogenic take on the genre than the fancy cannibal show, Fincher’s trademark precision and control was put to excellent use in the true crime genre with his masterpiece Zodiac, so more of the same would be highly welcoming.

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