I ended 2016 with an assessment of Nollywood (Nigeria’s film industry) as an adult that “must learn to accept criticism”. I wrote that “by moving out of the ‘home video’ cage and out into the wild jungle (of cinema distribution), Nollywood is sending a message that it is ready to take things up a notch and ready to match the cinematic standards of more developed film industries”. I added that “Bad movies will be called out for being bad and good movies will be praised for being good.”

In 2017, the Nigerian film industry did step things up. I saw more Nollywood movies in the cinema last year than I’d ever done before and the quality of visuals improved greatly. Some of these movies I saw and thought they represented the forward movement that the industry had made. I put them in a basket and tagged them ‘the best of Nollywood in 2017’. But I also saw movies that made me cringe, movies that were just a disappointing throwback to the days of haphazard writing and trifling plotlines. I call them ‘the worst of Nollywood in 2017’.

The Best

The Wedding Party

The Wedding Party

‘The Wedding Party’ is the highest grossing Nigerian movie ever, the first to surpass the 400 million naira ($1.3 million) mark. And while it was released in late 2016 (December), the movie took flight and soared in 2017, giving the filmmakers the idea of a sequel.

‘The Wedding Party’ is a well-written romantic comedy that plays into the Nigerian wedding party culture, a culture that fuels the wedding industry’s million-dollar status. Through Sola Sobowale and a solid cast, it gave us some of the strongest performances we have had in a comedy film in decades. ‘The Wedding Party’ was fun to watch (I saw it four times and laughed out loud every time) and it highlighted the strength of female artists in director Kemi Adetiba, Ireti Doyle, Adesua Etomi, Sola Sobowale, and Somkele Idhalama, who all put in solid shifts.

Isoken

Young Nigerians are becoming increasingly socially conscious and Isoken is a pointer to that. In Jadesola Osiberu’s first feature film, we witness feminism explicitly in a way we haven’t seen in Nollywood before. It is about a 34-year-old (going on 35) spinster, Isoken Osayande (played wonderfully well by Dakore Akande) whose family is worried about her singleness and constantly pressures her to bring home a man. While Isoken is praised for its picture quality, comedy and a great collection of soundtracks, it tells a familiar story, one that several Nigerian women can relate with.

In Nigeria, women are pressured into marriage by their family and society once they approach a certain age, any woman who is above 30 and is unmarried usually carries a stigma about her. ‘Isoken’ attacks this stigma head on and does a good job of standing up for itself (as does the lead character). ‘Isoken’ was easily my favourite Nollywood movie of the year, collecting the baton from Izu Ojukwu’s ‘76’.

Picture Perfect

Nollywood filmmakers are obsessed with passing across messages in their movies to the point of becoming preachy. It is a Nigerian thing, the desire to always pass a message or teach life lessons, but it has become tiring. This preacherly tendency weighs down films. Fortunately, it is absent (or at least not conspicuous) from Mary Njoku’s ‘Picture Perfect’.

As Wilfred Okiche, one of my favourite Nollywood critics, writes, “‘Picture Perfect’ rallies with the realistic tone of the screenplay and with conscious attempts to adopt a lazy fairytale approach to the storytelling.” While the movie is riddled with continuity flaws and a slow first act, it picks up eventually and blesses us with a wonderful performance from Bolanle Ninalowo. It does not take the traditional romantic comedy route it was marketed with and adequately portrays the real-life complications that accompany certain human relationships.

Ojukokoro (Greed)

In his directorial debut, Dare Olaitan channels his inner Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino to create one of Nollywood’s most daring (and experimental) movies ever. It was always going to find it tough at the box office, given that it is not the sort of film Nigerians are used to from their countrymen. Despite its box office shortcomings, ‘Ojukokoro’ delivers in dialogue and action.

The movie is one of Nollywood’s better-paced productions, taking the audience along on its journey of light-hearted and ludicrous comedy and blood-splattered violence. Through ‘Ojukokoro’, Dare Olaitan has set a standard for himself and other young, aspiring Nigerian film directors. It sets a precedent for what can be ventured and what cinematic experiments can be performed, something we will with more Nollywood movies in the near future.

The Worst

The Wedding Party 2: Destination Dubai

How do you make a solid sequel to one of the most successful Nollywood movies ever? Certainly not by using Dubai as a prop for awful comedy. And that is exactly what the producers of The Wedding Party 2 did. The script writing was bad, as was the plot development. ‘The Wedding Party 2’ direly lacked the charm and charisma of its predecessor with its lame attempts at tiring dialogue and aimless comedy.

The reviews have not been positive, but that has not deterred the movie’s box office success, perhaps proof of high expectations that spilt over from the prequel or maybe the strength of Nigeria’s wedding party culture.

10 Days in Sun City

If a method has worked twice, do you really need to change it? Ayo ‘AY’ Makun doesn’t think so. He released ‘30 Days in Atlanta’ in 2014 and it was a box office success, smashing and setting records. So he followed it up with ‘A Trip to Jamaica’ in 2016. It, too, raked in millions of naira. In 2017, he went at it again with ‘10 Days in Sun City’. As expected, it found a ready audience and willing pockets. But what none of these three movies is is great, maybe a case could be made for ‘30 Days in Atlanta’ as largely enjoyable.

In ‘10 Days in Sun City’, AY Makun reuses his formula from the previous two movies, the same comedy template and wonky plot development to entertain the audience, and some of them really are entertained, but only in the way old Nollywood comedy entertained its audience — without proper plot direction and with a lot of seemingly impromptu quips from the actors.

Both ‘The Wedding Party 2’ and ‘10 Days in Sun City’ represent what should be left behind by Nollywood, comedy that attempts to exploit the audience, not respecting their time and intellectual maturity. There is a way to write comedy, it doesn’t have to be meaningless and full of weak laughter prompts. ‘The Wedding Party’ certainly wasn’t this way.

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