Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Top Ten Movies of 2017

Wow, just wow. 2017 was a phenomenal year for cinema but I doubt you need me to tell you that. I think what made this year seem particularly brilliant is the plethora of new and fresh talent that burst onto the movie scene. Filmmakers who have either reached the culmination of their careers until this point or just beginning to forge their paths with bold entries in the cinematic landscape. Make no mistake, the filmmakers who broke out in 2017 are the future of the film industry, having already garnered praise for their breakout hits and have left me excited for what they will bring forth next. We saw socially relevant, emotionally enthralling and technically flawless pieces of cinema, and now it’s finally time to go through the very best (and by “best” I mean my specific opinion that someone will likely disagree with).

But as ever, there are plenty of honourable mentions to name. If you had told me halfway through 2017 that there wouldn’t be room in my top ten for ‘Logan’, a movie that added such mythic weight and meaning to the superhero story that marks it as a classic of the genre, I wouldn’t have believed you because of…well because of all that stuff I just said. Speaking of super heroes though, ‘Wonder Woman’ is worth mentioning not just for its quality and entertainment but also for being a major cultural touchstone that in a way (especially considering certain revelations this year) transcended movies altogether. It may not be a superhero movie by genre, but ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ is everything a fan of exciting and action oriented cinema could ever hope for.

It was great to see Rian Johnson take his unique sensibilities and apply them to the biggest franchise in the galaxy as he helmed ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’. A piece of blockbuster filmmaking that, despite some flaws, is bold and complex enough to leave quite an impression. Then on the other end of the scale, though it may not be complex, Edgar Wright’s ‘Baby Driver’ was a thrilling and masterfully executed ride from start to finish. ‘Free Fire’ was Ben Wheatly at his most playful and anarchistic. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V Gordon turned their remarkable life story into one of the best romantic comedies in years with ‘The Big Sick’. ‘The Disaster Artist’ was a hilarious, endearing and overall brilliant insight into the story of the worst movie ever made.

There were also plenty of bitingly satirical movies that held a lens up to our societies, an outlook that felt especially cathartic this year. ‘I, Tonya’ is a biopic that makes its message just as much about our judgement of a real life story than the event itself. ‘Ingrid Goes West’ shines a darkly comedic light on obsession in our modern, social media driven culture. Michael Haneke’s ‘Happy End’ showed such a keen understanding of its own subject that it feels like something audiences have been asking for. Also, though it’s more intimate than satirical, Sean Baker wasn’t afraid to address the larger social issues as well as the deeply humane side of the story in ‘The Florida Project’.

If all of that sounds too delightful though then never fear, as there were plenty of bleak, depressing and disturbing dramas for your viewing pleasure this year as well. Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Beguiled’ took the director back to the sensibilities of her roots, but underpinned them with the attitude only an experienced storyteller could possess. Taylor Sheridan made a striking directorial debut with ‘Wind River’ while Trey Edward Shults’ second feature ‘It Comes at Night’ was a shockingly bleak tale of dystopian paranoia. Yorgos Lathinmos’ ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ was terrifying on a visceral and existential level. But when it comes to despair, none of these match the sheer insanity that ‘Mother!’ Darren Aronofsky’s twisted tale is probably the closest cinema has come to capturing an actual nightmare on film.

10: Lady Bird
I love a good coming of age movie, but few have shown as much empathy towards their characters and their environment as Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut. Her script shows such a deep affection for not its titular character as she navigates the complex world that is adolescence, but also every supporting player she interacts with. The film never paints its characters in broad strokes either, but rather conveys them with nuance and subtly as they grapple with several conflicting emotions and motivations. It instils a deep understanding of every character and the way they relate to one another, as well as the environment in which this story takes place. That it turn only makes this journey of self-discovery even more fulfilling. The dialogue is intricate and genuine, as are the performances which never break the illusion of these people being real and fully formed. ‘Lady Bird’ is a coming of age movie that captures adolescence in its full spectrum, from humour to heartbreak and everything in between.    

9: Raw
Allegory is a difficult thing in cinema, you risk being either too heavy handed or too simplistic. Yet Julia Ducournau’s film about identity and taboos strikes a brilliant tonal balance. There’s an elegance to the way it handles its shocking subject, and is so visually stimulating that you can’t help but be transfixed even when every primal urge is telling you to look away. It’s an unsettling movie not for its gore but for its psychologically driven character study that applies to anyone. You don’t have to have cannibalistic urges to empathise with the protagonist (but it helps...I guess?), you just need to understand what it’s like to fight against an urge you harbour, or to discover things about yourself that unsettle you. To say the film is unique is an understatement, not just conceptually but also in execution as Ducournau makes great use of provocative compositions and vivid colour to evoke a sense of unease. Despite being meditative and restrained, ‘Raw’ loses none of its brutality.

8: Dunkirk
I’d be hard pressed to think of a film that elicits such a genuine and constant sense of tension of Christopher Nolan’s masterfully assembled war film. It’s a movie that sidesteps contrived character clich├ęs in favour of creating a purely cinematic experience, one that is never fails to create a sense of awe in how brilliant its execution is. Nolan’s technical prowess has never been more on point as he recreates the beaches of Dunkirk and scenes of war more acutely that any way film in recent memory. Hans Zimmer’s score is mesmerising in its consistent and engaging motifs, its ensemble cast are phenomenal and use nuanced moves to give the film an emotional centre. The sweeping cinematography is both beautiful and terrifying. But at the end of it all I still can’t help but be most impressed by Nolan himself, who grapples with the existential dread of war just as much as the visceral side. No other war movie has made me feel as close to the event itself as ‘Dunkirk’. As a viewer you aren’t just watching the conflict, you’re living it.

7: Get Out
Though it’s not my favourite film of the year, if I had to single out any movie that I could say with confidence would still be relevant and talked about in 10 or even 20 years’ time, it would be Jordan Peele’s masterful ‘Get Out’. I spoke earlier in this list about allegory, and Peele’s film doesn’t just find that same balance, it makes it an integral part of the movie itself. Its message is never simplified but rather made experientially more complex and satirical. It uses social criticism to great effect as well as unrestrained emotional resonance to tell its story. But when puts aside the extensive cultural commentary, ‘Get Out’ is still a brilliant piece of horror cinema. Peele’s pure directorial talents evoke such a sense of tension and unease throughout the movie, culminating in a gloriously cathartic third act. There’s also an offbeat sense of humour that makes the film all the more watchable, and he gives his actors fantastic direction that allows the likes of Daniel Kaluuya to bring forth brilliant performances. ‘Get Out’ represents the horror genre doing what it does best, playing to out societal fears as well as the supernatural ones.

6: Call Me By Your Name
There are two ways of describing Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Call Me By Your Name’. There’s the plot, which in essence is just two people falling in love, and then there’s the way that plot is executed. There’s a dreamlike quality to the movie that is completely encapsulating, feeling so free and yet so focussed simultaneously. It’s elegant and meditative as we just watch these emotions spring forth over the course of a few weeks, and revel in how well these talented actors convey them. Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer are intimately brilliant, but the biggest emotional punch may come from Michael Stuhlbarg’s performance which culminates in a scene of such emotional rawness that it sends chills down my spine. Guadagnino’s directions brings a deep richness to the movie, one that is content to shower itself in the intimate details that make a location or a character feel thoroughly real, so much so that to the viewer it may almost feel like a memory they themselves lived.

5: The Shape of Water
There’s unique, and then there’s Guillermo Del Toro. What’s so admirable about Del Toro’s artistry is that it feels so exclusive to himself. ‘The Shape of Water’ is the kind of movie only Del Toro could make, for all his offbeat sensibilities that balance the darkest of fantasies with the most sincere of emotions. On the one hand it’s a love story, but the other it’s also a movie about people whose environments are inhospitable to them. Whether it’s through their physicality, gender, sexuality or race, ‘The Shape of Water’ seeks to give a voice to everyone and does so in the most endearing way possible. The movie is visually stunning, with every shot being masterfully composed and coloured. Then there’s the magnificent score and evocative cinematography, as well as the great performances by its ensemble cast that includes Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon. It’s a movie that defies any and all categorisation, something that must be experienced for its boldness and wonder.

4: Good Time
A movie so stylistically refreshing that it elevates the story to transcendent heights, ‘Good Time’ is a taught thriller that also acts as a deeply involving character study. That character in question is Connie Nikas, played by Robert Pattinson in the actors best ever performance. It’s a role of such uncompromising courage in portraying such a deeply flawed and seemingly irredeemable character that you can’t but applaud it for that alone. Directors Josh and Ben Safdie bring such a palpable sense of energy to the film in the way they compose and edit each shot together. Their directorial choices create a highly atmospheric movie that is always moving and always suspenseful. Through their masterful use of long takes and intense close ups, there’s never a moment when you don’t feel the ever ticking clock that the characters are aware of or the mounting pressure being placed upon them. The colours are vivid and striking, the soundtrack is emotive and meaningful, and all the while we find ourselves engrossed in these deeply flawed characters and their terrible choices.

3: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Martin McDonough’s career as a director may be brief, but it has been masterful so far and his third feature is his best yet. ‘Three Billboards’ is a movie driven entirely by characters and what brilliant characters they are. They are both wonderfully distinct and amazingly complex, painfully flawed and immensely endearing, and the way they interact and evolve throughout the movie is nothing short of masterful. They are also superbly brought to life by the film’s immensely talented cast, with Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell all delivering great performances. It never shies away from the brutal aspects of its story, but also takes time to dwell in the poetic and emotional moments that elevate the movie to greater heights. McDonagh never treats as characters as caricatures, but rather as living entities whom he clearly has great sympathy for. The humour is dark and challenging at times, but also gives the film a unique voice from which to address a number of societal issues that give it a reach beyond the edges of a cinema screen.

2: Phantom Thread
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work. With each new film he brings forth his distinctive voice to convey a story with deep reaching themes, compelling character studies and masterful filmmaking, with ‘Phantom Thread’ being no different. The movie is elegant and intricate on the surface, but also deeply unsettling and provocative psychologically. It portrays a battle of wills between two distinctly drawn characters, and offer commentary on themes of obsession, artistry and empowerment. But this depth doesn’t stop ‘Phantom Thread’ from being a subtly comedic film at times, which only serves to make the experience as a whole even richer. Daniel Day Lewis gives an engrossing performance alongside Leslie Manville and Vicky Krieps. The way the film draws you into its all-consuming atmosphere is nothing short of astounding to a point where its runtime simply flies by. Its narrative contains many twists and turns but they come about not by sudden revelation, but through brilliantly nuanced realisations that creep up on the viewer. PTA has crafted many masterpieces over the course of his career, and ‘Phantom Thread’ stands as being equal to his best work.

1: Blade Runner 2049
I would have thought it impossible that any director could hope to live up to the legacy of Ridley Scott’s 1982 science fiction masterwork. But not only did Denis Villeneuve match every expectation with this long awaited sequel, he exceeded them. ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is a masterpiece, a detailed and complex study of what it means to be human, a poetic character study, a nightmarish vision of the future, an emotional powerhouse that builds upon the foundations of its predecessor while taking the conversation even further. It is cinema at its purest but also at its most versatile. To say it’s visually stunning does not even begin to describe the magnificence of Roger Deakins cinematography. It is technically flawless with phenomenal sound design and a stunning soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. The cast are amazing across the board, with Ryan Gosling finding emotion through solidarity and Harrison Ford displaying a kind of vulnerability I have never seen from him before. It’s less of a blockbuster and more of a $150 million arthouse movie, a testament to what a filmmaker can achieve when given the resources to fully realise their bold, provocative and awe inspiring vision. It’s a worthy successor to ‘Blade Runner’ and from me praise doesn’t get much higher than that.  

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