It’s the last day of 2017, all the “best of the year” lists have been compiled, read and discarded, yet a few hours remain for me to champion a last-minute highlight, silently shuffled off to an online-only premiere in the UK after touring American art houses to strong notices. Stephen Cone’s Princess Cyd (on iTunes and Amazon) is a soft-treading beauty, warm, light and perceptive on fragile questions of feminine sexuality, gender identity and finding your place in your skin.
It’s a coming-of-age story, though the two women on whom it focuses – motherless, 16-year-old Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) and her middle-aged writer aunt, Miranda (Rebecca Spence) – are equally undefined in certain ways: what exact number does “coming of age” refer to anyway?
When Cyd arrives to stay with Miranda in Chicago for the summer, eight years have passed since their last encounter. Adult and near-adult are new and somewhat strange to each other. Cone’s film delicately traces the fresh terms of their family bond, their contrasting spiritual and psychological viewpoints and the gently expansive effect they have on each other’s daily lives. More sexually active and curious than her aunt, Cyd has a dalliance with a mohawked lesbian barista, though she’s breezy in her approach to bisexuality.
Miranda is emboldened in her romantic endeavours too, but the women’s relationship, played with blithe tenderness by the leads, remains squarely the focus here. It’s a character diptych, shot in airy pastels, which deepens in colour the longer you sit with it. Last year I championed Cone’s similarly lovely Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party, a straight-to-Netflix release here. He deserves a higher profile next time round.
While we’re still in best-of-2017 mode, there were some bigger, richer, more ambitious films released in multiplexes this year, but none that gave me a purer shot of pleasure than Logan Lucky (Studiocanal, 12), Steven Soderbergh’s relish-laden hotdog of a cinematic comeback after his mercifully short-lived “retirement”. It’s a frolicky, southern-fried crime caper that bounds along with a grin on its face and a gallon of Coors Light in its belly, led by Channing Tatum at his most goofily charismatic as a redneck construction worker turned elaborate heist leader by economic desperation. There’s a sharp, sore socioeconomic undertow to the high jinks if you care to see it. But it works just dandily as fluff too, buoyed by Soderbergh’s lickety-split craft and hot, seedy sense of place and a fine cast clicking happily into place. If even Daniel Craig is having fun, chances are you will too.
Tom Cruise never quite looks like he’s having fun – he tends to bring a clenched, tight-jawed determination even to his bounciest outings. That works better than usual, however, in American Made (Universal, 15), Doug Liman’s enjoyably busy, smart-arsed study of a cocky airline pilot who crosses over to the dark, dollar-strewn side of Colombian drug smuggling and CIA arms trading. It’s billed as a biopic of the late Barry Seal, though you wouldn’t know it to watch Cruise, who treats Seal’s story as a showcase for his own full-strength, glossy-fanged, highly particular star power. And a star he remains, for all the palpable effort he puts into being one. Where a Cary Grant could wear his charisma like a silk scarf, it’s Cruise’s constant hard sell of his own gung-ho persona that makes him riveting to watch – and carries this gaudily macho diversion along with it.
American Made looks like Love Actually, however, next to Brawl in Cell Block 99 (Universal, 18), a film so bone-crunchingly, spine-shakingly violent it positively makes the eyeballs ache. But it’s a pretty spectacular obscenity, one that confirms S Craig Zahler, the demented director also behind the ace western horror Bone Tomahawk, as the most vigorous new B-movie craftsman in American film. These days at least, he’s beating Tarantino at the grindhouse game. A prison-break thriller where the objective – for reasons of single-minded vengeance – is to get further in rather than out, led by a chrome-domed Vince Vaughn with hulking, purposeful swagger, it’s elemental, stunningly choreographed fight cinema that many viewers shouldn’t attempt to stomach. But it’s tasty steak tartare for those who can keep it down, over a slightly excessive 127 minutes.
Finally, for chilly, silly New Year’s Eve viewing, you could do worse than The Limehouse Golem (Lionsgate, 15), Juan Carlos Medina and Jane Goldman’s lavishly decorated, precariously plotted adaptation of Peter Ackroyd’s heftier historical novel into a Victorian spook-house trifle. It creaks in most of the right places, the wind whistling through its ornately decayed production design, and a few wrong ones. Bill Nighy’s splendidly lugubrious wit as a performer goes a long way towards dignifying its loopier impulses and it pulls off enough old-school scares to see the year out with a bang and a whimper.