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October 14, 2017 | by  | in Arts Film |
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A Few of the Best Films of 2017

There were too many good films this year to write a concise list, but it certainly helps that I’ve already written GLOWING reviews for mother!, My Life As A Courgette and IT. The list below is not exhaustive. Further recommendations are Raw and Get Out for some alternative horror fun; Logan and Split for violent thrills; Things To Come and The Passion of Augustine for international tales; and Una, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Beguiled for some truly unconventional (and at times disturbing) stories. 

I list the following in alphabetical order.

 

*

A Ghost Story — David Lowery

Quietly yet overwhelmingly philosophical, this film combines the sweetest, smallest moments of indie drama with the universal scale of Terrence Malick’s later films. Set in one house across multiple decades, we follow C’s ghost (Casey Affleck) as M (Rooney Mara) copes with his passing. At its largest the film ponders the weight of eternity and insignificance, but at its smallest it rests on the pop song that M listens to, trying to remember C.

It’s beautiful to watch a film dedicate a lot of time to the tiny moments that other films would otherwise glaze over, or cut. The film addresses its audience saying “this couple lying in bed, this is the most important part of life. This cake that M eats, this is the most important part of life.” The point the film presents is that life and time are immeasurable, and in the wake of that, you have two choices. The first is to let life pass by, something C does both in life and as a ghost, and the second is treat everything as significant and keep moving forward, as M does, and as the film wants you to do. If you want something purely cinematic, but straight from the heart, look no further.

 

Blade Runner 2049 — Denis Villeneuve

This will go down in cinema history as one of the biggest pop culture bulls-eyes a filmmaker has ever achieved. First of all there’s the rebooting of an ’80s cult hit, most of which are sketchy at best, and then there’s the monumental themes from the original that this film managed to build on so elegantly and emotionally. I mean for God’s sake, Sony gave an art-house director $150 million with no creative pressure and said “go for your life, go follow up Blade Runner” — and it actually paid off.

The film far bolder than a blockbuster would ever have been able to be be under any other director. Denis Villeneuve has gone from being one of my favourite filmmakers to be my favourite. He dabbles in genres (sci-fi for Arrival and Blade Runner; thriller for Prisoners and Sicario) but he is always laser focused on the human dilemma at the heart of each story, and each film finds catharsis against its respective challenges in ways that are unconventional and beautiful.

In Blade Runner 2049 the “respective challenges” are not just physical baddies to punch through, they are the oppressive landscapes that are even less bright and appealing than Ridley Scott’s 1982 vision. Everything in this world falls under scrutiny from drone warfare, to sex, to relationships with media, to creation. And let’s not forget the themes that weigh heavily on both the story and Ryan Gosling’s character — the themes of purpose, and of personhood. It’s dire and bleak, but also enthralling. Please go see it, preferably at the Embassy where Roger Deakin’s cinematography will looks its best, and the score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch  will resonate to its utmost.

 

Dunkirk — Christopher Nolan

The film has already been awash with critical and financial success, and it still baffles me how successful it is. You could go as far as to call the film minimalist, with the small amount of dialogue, characters who (realistically) never meet, and a story which never shows England or the Germans. But I hardly think Nolan set out to make a minimalist film, and neither will anyone who has seen it. Nolan and his cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema told such an emotional story with their images, all which come together with barely a hint of CGI. There really is no substitute for reality as they used real Spitfires and also had (apparently) the biggest naval unit ever for a film. What they also managed to do was tell a very different kind of war story, with the clever interweaving between its three narratives, plus the knife edge editing throughout made for an uninterrupted thrill. Nolan may have have his fan boys, but this time round he deserved it. Go see it with the best screen and sound system you can find.

 

Good Time — Ben Safdie and Josh Safdie

This film is pure punk — not just in aesthetic, but in sheer will. Shot on film, handheld, close, and in impossibly low light levels, the film has an unforgiving pace and is a career high. Everything feels real and gritty, as two brothers (Robert Pattinson and Ben Safdie) try and evade capture after robbing a bank, descending into a rabbit hole of crime and depravity. The film goes places you don’t want it to go, and offers very little in the way of resolution, but its raw emotion comes from the intense brotherly love that underpins every desperate action. Hats off to Ben who directed the film along with his brother Josh, while also starring alongside Patterson and allegedly operated boom for the scenes he wasn’t in. Everything feels suitably tenacious, and it feels like a mash up of Catch Me If You Can and Nicolas Winding Refn’s first Pusher film, in that no matter the reprehensibility of the protagonists, you follow them everywhere, and in a weird way start to hope for their salvation.

 

War For the Planet of the Apes — Matt Reeves

A handful of films took me to an emotional place this year, but this series finale brought me to tears. Truly one of the best final chapters in one of the best trilogies that has ever been made, Matt Reeve’s directorial effort reminded me how a film with a blockbuster budget can be beautifully told and provide cutting allegory on the nature of war and humanity. Every turn of this film challenges its characters, and for a third chapter that is exactly what needs to happen. Andy Serkis’ Caesar is put through the philosophical and physical wringer on multiple occasions, and his malicious human adversary The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) is also given a thorough treatment and complex characterisation. In the characters are outstanding, all the images are beautiful, the story takes more than its share of risks (all of which pay off), and Serkis has reached a peak for both his acting and motion capture technology. Between him and director/writer Reeves, they’ve succeeded in turning Caesar into a lasting, rich character whose story it has been a privilege to follow through the Apes franchise revitalisation.

 

Wind River — Taylor Sheridan

It was so satisfying to see Taylor Sheridan’s unofficial trilogy dubbed the “The Frontiers of America” (or as I call it, the “America is Fucked” trilogy) rounded out with a directorial turn for the writer, whose previous two entries (Sicario and Hell Or High Water) were so unflinching and politically biting. All in all, the three films now represent a crucial chapter in neo-noirs and politically focused thrillers. Sicario focused on the lawless and immoral nature of border conflict between America and Mexico; Hell Or High Water highlighted the economic depravity that leads to crime; Wind River finds its focus in the violence committed as a result of prejudice, between people who live next door to each other.

Set on a Native American reservation and frozen Wyoming a handful of law enforcement come together to solve the brutal death of a young Native American woman. What is unearthed is heartbreaking, and Sheridan follows the events in a documentary-like manner, with handheld cameras and glimpses at a culture which has been driven out of the people by repression, trauma, and the unforgiving elements of the land. The cast are all round incredible, as is the writing, and I’m excited to see what Sheridan does next.

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