My Ideal Awards Ballot

Alternatively, “The Sibleys”.

With the end of the year comes list-making, and the start of the next brings awards season, an exciting or tenuous time depending on what horse you’re betting on. Of course, there’s always something left out, I’m hesitant to say snubbed in many of these cases due to the sheer volume of releases which makes it impossible to be completely abreast of the cinematic circumstances.

As time has gone on, I’ve warmed to the idea that this is the season to celebrate as much as possible, rather than get swept up in something sweeping a ceremony, so what follows is an attempt to do exactly that. In making this, I set no explicit restrictions on myself –– i.e. there was no ‘films can only be nominated 5 times at most’ rule in play –– and there are likely some omissions, but the following lists are all made up of contenders that I genuinely believe should be on there and will happily sing the praises of long after the season has ended.

NOTE: Accompanying pictures do not indicate preferred/ideal/imagined victors, but again demonstrate an attempt to showcase images from as much as possible.

 

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BEST PICTURE

  • Call Me By Your Name
  • Dunkirk
  • Get Out
  • Lady Bird
  • Mudbound
  • Nocturama
  • Personal Shopper
  • Phantom Thread
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • The Florida Project

A mix of what the Academy went for and some I feel deserved further attention, in particular The Florida Project, which was a surprising omission from the actual nominations, much like Mudbound. As for something which had no chance of making it onto the list, Nocturama, that will live on others, most likely best of the century retrospectives, so get in on the ground floor.

The Big Sick was a film that I thought possible for the Academy’s list, but just missed the cut of theirs and mine, while A Ghost Story never gained momentum to be in with a chance with AMPAS, but was a contender for me until locking in the final ballot. I’d toyed with using the 10th slot for Wonder Woman, however its legacy and importance are already secured so it went to the 2017 blockbuster that truly wowed me.

 

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BEST DIRECTOR

  • Oliver Assayas for Personal Shopper
  • Sofia Coppola for The Beguiled
  • Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird
  • Todd Haynes for Wonderstruck
  • Jordan Peele for Get Out

Only forty percent the same as AMPAS’ list, but after her win at Cannes, Coppola deserved to be in the conversation, for a picture that was just as comic and sumptuous, if not more, than Phantom Thread. Assayas’ work is haunting beyond belief, with his camera gliding through halls in spectral fashion and Haynes is ever a master craftsman. At the same time, I could not be happier to be able to include filmmakers who made their solo debuts this year in both Gerwig and Peele.

If there were a sixth spot available, it’d be Nolan, and if I’d be rounding up to a full ten, then you’d also find Dee Rees, Spielberg, Baumbach and Guadagnino on the list.

 

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BEST ACTOR

  • Nahuel Pérez Biscayart for BPM: Beats Per Minute
  • Timothée Chalamet for Call Me By Your Name
  • Daniel Day-Lewis for Phantom Thread
  • Daniel Kaluuya for Get Out
  • Robert Pattinson for Good Time

But Matt, why isn’t Gary Oldman on here? Because it’s an embarrassing performance and any nominations it gets, much less the prospect of him winning for it, makes we want to drink heavily. Of course this is DDL’s supposed last performance, in addition to being his assured best performance under the direction of PTA, but the other four bring such an astounding physicality to each of their roles that these young performers can stand toe-to-toe with his work.

Biscayart in particular is an actor that hasn’t been getting enough credit, likely a result of his performance being found in a foreign film. Chalamet is a shifting chameleon despite only just bursting onto the scene, albeit in a major way, and both Kaluuya and Pattinson’s best work comes from their eyes; judging their surroundings in completely different manners.

As for omissions, it hurt a lot to leave out Adam Sandler (I know, right) for his best work, John Cho’s quite nature in Columbus has lingered as well and I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t wanted to put Mark Hamill on this list.

 

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BEST ACTRESS

  • Vicky Krieps for Phantom Thread
  • Rooney Mara for Song to Song
  • Florence Pugh for Lady Macbeth
  • Kristen Stewart for Personal Shopper
  • Bria Vinaite for The Florida Project

Always a difficult category, because it usually feels like there’s a greater deal of contenders when whittling down the list to just five. Three relative newcomers on the list, but much deserved for each. Krieps holds her own with Day-Lewis in a way that few have ever managed while Vinaite’s work doesn’t instantly stand out as ‘acting’, but that naturalistic aspect can be matched by few. Leaving Sean Baker off of Best Director was a tough choice, but consider this a collaboration with him and how he’s able to get captivating work out of so many, even if they haven’t been trained to act. (Also, I know that Brookylnn Prince is the inherent choice for lead, but I’d be hesitant to nominate a child if this were an actual ballot, so also consider this a substitution/switch-around/what have you) Pugh is just as commanding as both, with Lady Macbeth being a movie which she wraps around her finger from the get-go, followed by every other character.

At the same time, this is probably not the Mara performance that many will gravitate to from 2017, but she’s the perfect Malick protagonist and as amazing as it is to see her eat pie for the first time, watching her traipse around Austin is something I could’ve done for eight hours. (Release the Snyder Cut of Justice League? Nah, Terry give me the eight-hour cut!). Of course, anyone who knows me would’ve expected Stewart on this list, it really is criminal that this is the third year in a row that she hasn’t garnered any awards attention, but hopefully the Cesar from back in 2015 makes up for that.

Otherwise, Haley Lu Richardson was supremely impressive in Columbus, as was Anne Hathaway in Colossus, Zoe Kazan sadly doesn’t have enough screen-time in The Big Sick to make the cut, but her presence warms the frame and Cynthia Nixon grows into her role as Emily Dickinson in an intended way during A Quiet Passion. In the case of Streep, this is a year where she deserves to be in the conversation, but the fact she got a nomination last year makes it more difficult to readily give her a spot.

 

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Willem Dafoe for The Florida Project
  • Jason Mitchell for Mudbound
  • Ray Romano for The Big Sick
  • Michael Stuhlbarg for Call Me By Your Name
  • Tracy Letts for Lady Bird

In the brief shock that the Oscars had done pretty well with their nominations, the fact that Stuhlbarg had gone un-commended snuck under the radar only to sucker-punch me a few hours later. If I had to guess, I’d imagine it stems from being in three films thus splitting the vote. Toyed between Hedlund and Mitchell when it came to Mudbound, but the latter might end up with a spot this time next year for Mosaic, so the decision was made easier. The other three nominated are the ones that both made me laugh and cry in equal measure with incredibly sympathetic portrayals and interactions.

Another that could’ve counted in that regard: Armie Hammer, who I imagine lost out due to the Stuhlbarg hype. It also hurt to leave off Fassbender for Alien: Covenant or Song to Song, Adam Driver for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Barry Keoghan for Killing of a Sacred Deer, Pattinson for The Lost City of Z, and Ben Safdie for Good Time. Not necessarily in that order, mind.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Mary J. Blige for Mudbound
  • Tiffany Haddish for Girls Trip
  • Holly Hunter for The Big Sick
  • Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird
  • Elizabeth Olsen for Ingrid Goes West

Blige and Metcalf are givens this season and neither requires explanation as to why. Haddish and Hunter are contenders that seemed like they were in with a chance for a long period of time. In the case of Haddish, she had fan momentum and the push from a couple of critics’ circles –– honestly it was cruel to send her out there to host the nominations event considering she was a possibility –– and Hunter seemed like her film’s best opportunity for a second nomination after Adapted Screenplay. Olsen is a pick which I think many wouldn’t peg, but it’s such a precarious persona to play that could easily to fall into caricature without her finding the right tone to keep it on a level that works.

Lesley Manville was a hard omission to make, but the reason for doing so perhaps comes from how expected her greatness is compared to the surprising work of Haddish and Olsen. To list a few more: Natalie Portman for Song to Song, Grace van Patten in The Meyerowitz Stories gives an utterly heartbreaking performance just in the looks she gives Sandler while playing the piano and I will never get Riley Keough’s “The Coca-Cola 600 is the biggest race of the year” line reading from Logan Lucky out of my head nor the tenderness of her Lovesong performance.

 

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BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • Call Me By Your Name by James Ivory
  • First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung & Angelina Jolie
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi by Rian Johnson
  • The Beguiled by Sofia Coppola
  • Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Each of these five captures a particular feeling exquisitely. Of being in love and timelessness, of war and how a child can not perceive its true extent, of the Star Wars universe, of the feminine gaze and desire, of awe at the world. They extrapolate a world from text and are resultant for how the source material is translated to the screen –– in the case of Coppola’s work, even re-adjusting how that world is perceived.

Johnson’s work is likely the most surprising on here, considering there are other genre works that people have been rooting for more [read: Logan], but it really does all lock together –– yes, even Canto Bight –– for a perpetually propulsive experience that builds higher and higher as it continues to stack smaller stories on top of one another to reach the heights that it does.

Further spaces would have gone to The PostAlien: Covenant and Mudbound, although not necessarily in that order.

 

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Get Out by Jordan Peele
  • Lady Bird by Greta Gerwig
  • The Big Sick by Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
  • The Florida Project by Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch
  • The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) by Noah Baumbach

No one should have to justify the inclusion of the first two, but to be brief: Get Out is one of, if not, the most layered genre pictures of recent memory, while Gerwig’s script achieves so much in such a short space of time. She captures a year of moments, while also finding the little details to hold on for a further beat.

The Big Sick could end sooner if it weren’t a real story, but its heart is so evidently on its sleeve and Gordon and Nanjiani’s screenplay captures something which should seem stranger than fiction and impossible to buy into yet ensures the tale feels genuine. The Florida Project and The Meyerowitz Stories are on opposite ends of the subject spectrum –– about children and adults respectively –– however both have a similar tenderness. Baker and Bergoch never condescend or feel the need to sentimentalise their characters and Baumbach never lets you forget how acerbic his dialogue can be yet makes use of a softer structure that suggests he never wants to leave these characters behind.

Other contenders, though not necessarily in this order, would have included A Ghost Stor(fun fact: its script was around thirty pages in length), Ingrid Goes West which is a smarter work, particularly in its ending than I think many give it credit for, Dunkirk and Phantom Thread.

 

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BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Hoyt van Hoytema for Dunkirk
  • Sam Levy for Lady Bird
  • Emmanuel Lubezki for Song to Song
  • Rachel Morrison for Mudbound
  • Sean Price Williams for Good Time

I should probably get this out-of-the-way; no, I don’t consider this Roger Deakins’ year. The look of Blade Runner 2049 on an aesthetic level feels all wrong for that world, and while he does deserve a win, we can do better than awarding in the same way that we did DiCaprio for The Revenant.

Along similar lines, if Lubezki is going to get noticed for his work there, he should be recognised for his far superior collaborations with Malick where the freeform, detached nature of his camera is a better fit. Morrison is a welcome nomination, but it certainly shouldn’t have taken this long for a female cinematographer to receive one. Levy has been Baumbach’s DoP and working with Gerwig on Lady Bird sees him tap into something even more special, the images like a memory about to fade. While that film saw him move over to LA, Sean Price Williams stayed at home in his city; New York. He shoots it with skittish aplomb, an intense understanding of the space he’s working with, knowing how to move through it and how to get out when the time comes. And, of course Hoytema hits on something really special with his Nolan collaborations.

Phantom Thread is one of those films which would be on this list, if there had been a definitive DoP, rather than shared credit between PTA and lighting cameraman Michael Bauman. I was previously unfamiliar with Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s work, but Call Me By Your Name has given me extra incentive to catch up with the various parts of Arabian Nights. Steve Yedlin deserves a shout-out as well for the crispness of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, if only to acknowledge how far he’s come since Brick, as does Steven Soderbergh for how effortless he made Logan Lucky look.

 

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BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • Cindy Evans for Atomic Blonde
  • Holly Waddington for Lady Macbeth
  • Mark Bridges for Phantom Thread
  • Stacey Battat for The Beguiled
  • Ann Roth for The Post

Not much to say beyond pointing out how the couture of all these films is incredible, period-attuned and rich to look at and absorb. Ann Roth’s work on The Post deserves special mention, for how quickly that film was put together, but how flawless her eye remains.

 

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BEST FEATURE DOCUMENTARY

  • Faces Places
  • Five Came Back
  • Rodney King
  • Strong Island
  • Wormwood

Haven’t had chance to see the first of the list, but how could I refuse a chance to celebrate Agnes Varda? The other four come from Netflix and as much as I [deservedly] rag on their narrative film output, this is one area where they put out work that matters and means something. The four on this list need to be experienced for where they ultimately end up and how nimbly the filmmakers navigate getting there. Wormwood is not considered eligible by the Academy, but that is a serious mistake for something so lucidly intoxicating.

 

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BEST EDITING

  • Lee Smith for Dunkirk
  • Nick Houy for Lady Bird
  • Fabrice Rouaud for Nocturama
  • Bob Ducsay for Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Jennifer Lame for The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Dunkirk‘s inclusion shouldn’t be surprising because of dexterously Smith reconciles the three timelines. Upon first watch, there’s a curiosity about it can all fit together, but it makes sense very quickly. On a similar note, Nocturama has a more specific sense of place, particularly in its second half, but the restaging of events and perspectives gained from this style gives off an even more impressive vibe than that of Nolan’s film.

What I said about Star Wars: The Last Jedi‘s screenplay rings true in this instance as well, what prevents it from collapsing under its own weight is how deftly it navigates through these large-scale conflicts in order to find the more intimate interactions and moments. As Luke teaches in the film, the Force is montage and binds this film together.

Similarly, the cutting on display in Lady Bird and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) also captures the spirit of their screenplays. From Lady Bird leaving Kyle’s house, only to linger on his ill father to how Danny Meyerowitz’s shouting gets cut off by title cards, the way these films bring shots together find additional humour and tragedy in off-handed moments rather than simply being deployed to move to the next chunk of plotting.

Something which hurt to leave off the list was Good Time, edited by Robert Bronstein and Ben Safdie –– also the film’s writers and, in the case of Safdie, co-director –– an fever dream so energetic that the first twenty-or-so minutes feel like an entire film in themselves. If nothing else, they’re a particular experience like no other.

 

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BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  • A Fantastic Woman
  • BPM (Beats Per Minute)
  • First They Killed My Father
  • Loveless
  • Zama

Admittedly sixty percent of this list is sight-unseen, a result of late release dates here in the UK, so I won’t prognosticate for long, but the two that I have seen –– from Campillo and Jolie respectively –– are flooring pieces of work. Both have a certain humanistic quality to them, one is an ensemble piece, the other more character focused, but both spotlight protagonists fighting to survive in a world that seems to reject them.

 

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BEST MAKE-UP AND HAIRSTYLING

  • Paul Pattison for Atomic Blonde
  • Jacqueline Marie Knowlton and Aubrey Marie for Lady Bird
  • Peter Swords King and Neal Scanlan for Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Thi Thanh Tu Nguyen and Guilaine Tortereau for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
  • Arjen Tuiten for Wonder

While I am admittedly out of my element when it comes to this category, I simultaneously will not abide a nomination for The Darkest Hour. If you want a film about Churchill, find an actor that looks like them. Wonder’s work is far less egregious, to put it lightly, although there should be a push to try to find disabled actors that can play these roles without the need for heavy prosthetics.

A list that’s three-fifths genre fare, but deservingly so, in the case of The Last Jedi, just for Space Dern’s hair. I kid, that and Valerian both play host to vividly, vibrant worlds and an equally eclectic cast of background players that call them their homes. The deception at every twist and turn of Atomic Blonde helps it to earn a spot on the list, creating a deeper narrative from how the spies at its core twist into new identities. Finally, the work on Lady Bird doesn’t exist to airbrush the actors, but to present them as they are, with Ronan’s ache and similar blemishes across the cast being noticeable because of this decision.

 

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BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  • Bertrand Bonello for Nocturama
  • Carter Burwell for Wonderstruck
  • Jonny Greenwood for Phantom Thread
  • OPN for Good Time
  • Hans Zimmer for Dunkirk

#6 would’ve been John Williams for how his Star Wars: The Last Jedi score manages to weave together so many established motifs, really complimenting the idea that the Force is montage. Dunkirk is also the good Zimmer score, and I’m not just saying that because Blade Runner 2049 made me ill. His work is tense, drilling a ticking clock into your head without reaching for an overbearing quality. Greenwood emulates the classical style of score-making ridiculously well, much like Burwell who hits home on two distinct periods of time. OPN and Bonello’s work are stimulating and capable of getting you moving, shifting to become uncomfortable, even when heard in isolation from the images themselves.

 

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BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  • “Genius Girl” from The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) by Adam Sandler, Grace van Patten and Noah Baumbach
  • “Mighty River” from Mudbound by Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson
  • “Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name by Sufjan Stevens
  • “Remember Me” from Coco by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
  • “Visions of Gideon” from Call Me By Your Name by Sufjan Stevens

Delighted to be able to put two Sufjan Stevens songs on here, as did the Academy, even if it does run the risk of splitting the vote because they spark such a swell of emotion in me just from hearing a fragment of them. Coco’s contribution may not have me cry, but its power cannot be denied much like Sandler and van Patten’s duet which creates such a rich connection between the pair so early on into the film.

 

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BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • Dennis Gassner and Alessandra Querzola for Blade Runner 2049
  • David J. Bomba for Mudbound
  • Paul Denham Austerberry, Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin for The Shape of Water
  • Mark Friedberg and Debra Schutt for Wonderstruck
  • Aline Bonetto and Anna Lynch-Robinson for Wonder Woman

The sole nomination that I’m willing to give Blade Runner 2049. While I disagree with how the world was captured on-screen, there’s no denying the work that went into making it. The remaining four go to period pieces with exquisite attention to detail, but serving markedly different locations. The New York’s of Wonderstruck feel so distinct from one another, and the Baltimore-set The Shape of Water‘s aesthetic is striking, even if you don’t find yourself taken by the central narrative. Mudbound‘s Mississippi locates squalor and hardship without being overcome by the sense while the more globe-trotting Wonder Woman ensures each stage of the journey is unique, from the cobbled streets of London, to the battlefield, to the sheer (ahem) wonder of Themyscira.

 

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BEST SOUND EDITING

  • Julian Slater for Baby Driver
  • Richard King and Alex Gibson for Dunkirk
  • Nicolas Cantin, Andreas Hildebrandt and Robert Keilbar for Nocturama
  • Malte Bieler, Andrew Bock, P.K. Hooker, Will Patterson and Jesse Rosenman for Song to Song
  • Matthew Wood and Ren Klyce for Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 

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BEST SOUND MIXING

  • Jean-Pierre Laforce for BPM: Beats Per Minute
  • Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker and Gary A. Rizzo for Dunkirk
  • Jean-Pierre Laforce for Nocturama
  • Ethan Andrus and Greg Armstrong for Song to Song
  • David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Stuart Wilson for Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I have to google each of these two terms each time I think about them, so I won’t dare ramble about them further.

 

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BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner and Dan Sudick for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  • Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza and Mike Meinardus for Kong: Skull Island
  • Jeon Hyoung Lee and Erik De Boer for Okja
  • Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould for Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Philippe Rebours, David Fox and Gretchen Libby for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

All works of genre, primarily science-fiction and I guess that comes from it being far easier to notice them on display here than in more grounded fare. While I don’t care for a couple of these films (coughcoughthefirsttwocoughcough) on the whole, what does work from them comes down to how astutely their worlds have been realised.

In the case of the last two, it should be apparent from any promotional material, let alone the films themselves, how wide-reaching their canvases feel as a result of the effects, while Okja‘s are more focused on a single element; the beloved super-pig that gives the film its title. Okja is such a wonderful creation that taps into the same vein of awe that Spielberg struck back on Jurassic Park, creating a tangible relationship with An Seo Hyun’s Mija despite being intangible.

If Paddington 2 had been given a 2017 theatrical run in the US, that would be on here.

 

Going to abstain from BEST ANIMATED FEATURE because I haven’t seen enough to create a full slate, but I will say that Coco and The LEGO Batman Movie would have both been on there.

Neither are there choices for any of the BEST SHORT categories (animated, documentary, live-action) as they are major blindspots for me, but I’m going to take this final space to say that it is absolutely criminal that World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts never made the Academy’s shortlist.

 

And there we have it, nominations and reasoning for almost every category. It can be stressful to lock down a category and not feel like you’re forgetting something, but seeing it all laid out as above is a good feeling. To those on letterboxd and following me –– if not then: https://letterboxd.com/Matt_Sibley/ –– you’ll see how much I avoided just giving spots on these lists to films at the very top. I’m sure that years down the line I’ll look at this and realise someone was missed off, but as of now, just a couple of weeks to go until the big awards, I feel pretty content with my choices. Thanks if you looked at them all.

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On The Record

Miscellaneous Lists for Future Reference.

I unfortunately don’t have any time to write these up in full, but wanted to post them all the same, for my own later recollection and for the (what I imagine is very few) people who care about lists sans detailed explanation.

 

FILMS OF 2016 (REDUX)

Got to March of this year before realising how dire my list was, so consider this a do-over –– 16 for ’16 –– in a particular Boxing Day moment, including films that weren’t distributed in the UK until 2017 in addition to ones that I missed in 2016 or didn’t pay the correct amount of attention, that I’ll still probably want to fine-tune after hitting publish.

 

16. A Bigger Splash

15. Cameraperson

14. Hail, Caesar!

13. I Am Not Your Negro

12. The Neon Demon

11. 20th Century Women

10. Certain Women

9. The Love Witch

8. La La Land

7. The Fits

6. Lemonade

5. Jackie

4. Moonlight

3. Toni Erdmann

2. O.J.: Made in America

1. Paterson

 

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TOP 25 TV SHOWS OF 2017

Had a very strong notion of what my top 10 would be since October even if the order was never locked in for certain –– case in point: I held off on placing The Girlfriend Experience until the final pair of episodes aired. #11-25 were more impulsive choices, driven by a [rather long] short-list kept throughout the year and having to finally make a judgement call about whether disappointing seasons of shows such as The Americans S5 and You’re the Worst S4 would even place on an extended list such as this.

 

25. Runaways

24. Master of None

23. Feud: Betty and Joan

22. The Trip

21. Alias Grace

20. Fargo

19. The Tick

18. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

17. Brooklyn Nine-Nine

16. Wormwood

15. Difficult People

14. The Deuce

13. One Day at a Time

12. Insecure

11. The Good Place

10. The Handmaid’s Tale

9. Big Little Lies

8. Legion

7. Top of the Lake: China Girl

6. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

5. Better Things

4. Halt and Catch Fire

3. The Leftovers

2. The Girlfriend Experience

1. Twin Peaks: The Return

 

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TOP 10 TV EPISODES OF 2017

Capping this at 10 to help avoid certain shows overwhelming the list in addition to ensuring I myself am not overwhelmed by having to create a list of this nature that’s 25 entries long. [read: if this went to 25. I’d have no idea how to place other shows around Twin Peaks parts]

 

10. Saturday Night Live – Kristen Stewart/Alessia Cara

9. Difficult People – Strike Rat

8. The Handmaid’s Tale – Late

7. Better Things – Graduation

6. Legion – Chapter 4

5. The Good Place – Michael’s Gambit

4. The Girlfriend Experience – Relapse

3. Halt and Catch Fire – Who Needs a Guy

2. The Leftovers – The Book of Nora

1. Twin Peak: The Return – Part 8

 

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TOP COMICS OF 2017

5 of each, including an honourable mention, because in some cases a series may: have ended earlier in the year, changed creative teams and saw subsequent decline or have released just a single issue.

 

DC

HM: Wonder Woman – specifically the runs of: Greg Rucka et al + Shea Fontana et al

5. The Flintstones

4. Superwoman

3. Deathstroke

2. Batman

1. Mister Miracle

 

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MARVEL

HM: Scarlet Witch #14 + #15

5. Runaways

4. Jessica Jones

3. Black Bolt

2. Hawkeye

1. Generation X

 

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OTHER

HM: Casanova: Acedia #8 (Image)

5. Kill Them All /Rock Candy Mountain(Oni/Image)

4. Glitterbomb: The Fame Game (Image)

3. 4 Kids Walk into a Bank (Black Mask)

2. Giant Days (Boom)

1. The Wicked + The Divine (Image)

 

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THE CHRIS POWER RANKING

You know this is true.

 

4. Pratt

3. Pine

2. Hemsworth

1. Evans

 

THE ONLY MUSIC THAT MATTERS

something something Poptimism something something

 

3. Haim – Want You Back

2. Carly Rae Jepsen – Cut to the Feeling

1. Lorde – Melodrama

 

(Doesn’t fit with the joke, but you should also check out Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s album. One of the most relaxing listening experiences of the year)

 

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See you sometime in 2018, hopefully sooner rather than later, uni-work and Newsarama-commitments willing.

2017 in Film: A Ranking

Hot Takes! We got hot takes! In list format!

 

I saw a lot of movies this year, as evidenced by my media diary in general, with a good chunk of them being 2017 releases. More new releases that I’ve usually gotten around to in any year prior.

Rather than let this just purely be a set of qualitative data, I wanted to offer thoughts on all of them, in addition to links to any writing I’ve done about them during the year already. So, from worst to best:

 

  • The Book of Henry

Maybe the worst film I’ve had the displeasure of seeing, but a free ticket was available and it had already flopped so there was no real fear of making it seem as if I was encouraging Colin Trevorrow. I could talk about how Naomi Watts plays the ukulele and later explains that “we are not killing the police commissioner”, or how the film treats a victim of abuse as a mere prop, but you’d be much better off just listening to the Blank Check episode about it as David and Griffin try to parse why on earth Trevorrow chose to take this script off the shelf, dust it off and somehow make it worse.

[And of course it earns Schadenfreude points for being a contributing factor to Trevorrow being kicked off Episode 9]

 

  • Bright

The thirty minutes I spent hate-watching this before tapping out would have been better spent watching the Bright Trashfire –– seriously a thing, search for it ––, instead of the trashfire, Bright.

Last year, I spent a similar amount of time watching Suicide Squad with a couple of friends after it got a home media release. The intent was to spend the night ripping the hell out of it like a MST3K episode because me and one other had seen it during the theatrical run, and been unable to do so at the time.

After 30 minutes, we realised this wasn’t going to be possible. It was just us in a dark room, sitting in silence, suffering through a David Ayer film. This time, it was just me, catching a glimpse of my reflection on the laptop screen and realising it wasn’t worth it.

 

  • Catfight

This is just plain unpleasant to me, maybe as a short it would work, but as a feature it feels stretched way too thin, stuffing what plot in can into the space between the fights to suggest a coherent narrative, but only serves to make it more repulsive.

 

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  • Justice League

What if BvS’ email scene, but feature-length?

 

  • Blade Runner 2049

Cosmic-brain level awful from one of the worst in the game. Even I, an assured Villeneuve hater didn’t think he’d be able to make something as big, dumb and bad as Incendies again, but he’s gone and proved me wrong, making his worst film yet – a heck of a task considering how awful his filmography is sans Arrival (although I’m now 99% convinced it works in spite of his input and really because of Adams and Heisserer).

Still, almost everything about this movie is horrendous (the way he uses flashbacks should be grounds enough to get him removed from Dune), and everyone in it is wasted, not in the least because the role of women in this is painstakingly retrograde; even for him. It’s particularly frustrating to see Harrison Ford giving a shit, only for Jared Leto to then be given the most important monologue of the film and squander it in only the way he can, and it being all for nought

For once, Villeneuve can’t hide behind the lensing of Deakins (who, if he finally wins this year, it will be as non-representative of his career as Leo’s was), as every image he crafts stands for, and means nothing, offering hollow imitations of ideas fully manifested prior, in the service of trying to make it look cool.  So instead he lays on Zimmer’s score thick, but that too is dreadful; the worst he’s composed since lord knows when.

And most importantly: How👏Dare👏He👏Waste👏MacKenzie👏Davis👏And👏Her👏Cool👏Hat

 

  • Mindhorn

As a comedy running just 88 minutes, you’d hope that Mindhorn avoids the issue of not knowing how to end. Instead it is one you wish never started, too slight to really be anything. They could’ve made a far more entertaining film about the fictitious spy of the title.

 

  • The Bad Batch

As a preface, I only made it thirty minutes in. Didn’t hate what I saw, but it felt like such an empty experiment in minimalism that I expected I would, had I sat through the rest.

 

  • Gerald’s Game

Same thought process occurred for this as The Bad Batch, but decided to tap out after twenty minutes when it clicked for me what ‘degloving’ meant, having heard people talk about that scene.

 

  • The Most Hated Woman in America/iBoy/Girlfriend’s Day/Burning Sands/Sand Castle/Shimmer Lake/Before I Fall

While the occasional Netflix Original movie ends up being something substantial –– read on and you’ll see –– many are just average and these are even worse. If there’s proof that their film division needs to put in more work this clumping together of titles hopefully illustrates that.

 

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  • Spider-Man: Homecoming

The most damning thing I can say is that I’d like to go back to the Amazing Spider-Man series, at least they had some kind of texture as a result of their messes. The second worst Spider-Man movie, this is below sub-par, an extreme over-correction in the wake of ASM2 that’s resulted in the most anonymously directed Marvel film yet, any possible distinct kinks sanded down in the aid of being affably likable.

For what it’s worth, Tom Holland showed himself capable in Civil War last year, but he’s not helped here by the overly frenetic editing that suggests it’s attempting to be akin to Deadpool. The saving grace is Zendaya, who would be a bona-fide star if she were given more than ten lines, though she makes them all count and gets the truest laughs of the film.

 

  • Land of Mine

Made it to forty minutes in, the first explosion scene, and realised it wasn’t for me. Felt like it wanted to have things both ways, by depicting German POW’s in a bind, but without committing to a nihilistic enough vibe for nastiness. As it stands, these characters were thinly sketched, but Zandvilet’s admittedly harrowing depiction seemed to ask for sympathy.

Also: someone made a meal of a title instead of one that should just roll of the tongue.

 

  • War Machine

10% better than Sand Castle, due to Lakeith Stanfield and Tilda Swinton’s brief roles, but the rest is a disappointingly inert. I’ll admit that I’m not really a David Michod fan based on Animal Kingdom, but even to his more ardent fans, it’s got to be a mystery as to why he, and anyone else involved in the decision, thought he should shoot something satirical. If you must watch this, then do so only to try to work out exactly what Brad Pitt thinks he’s doing with any part of his performance.

 

  • Dave Chappelle: Deep in the Heart of Texas/The Age of Spin

These specials do spotlight a Chappelle that’s getting back in the saddle so to speak. While it’s not so evident in how he delivers the material, there’s a natural confidence that shines through and is the same kind that made him such a talent previously, it is clear in the material itself. Jokes and stories are #problematic in a way that feels retrograde, as if he locked in his set months before hand and then neglected to give it the once-over.

 

  • Deidra and Laney Rob a Train

Charming enough, with a delightfully energetic cast and inventive flourishes in places, such as the opening titles, but simplistic in many others. An overall work that didn’t do much beyond pass time one evening.

 

  • Kong: Skull Island

Will happily (although perhaps that should be shamefully) admit that in March, I’d grossly overrated this on account of 2016 being such an awful year for blockbusters. Now, my opinion of it has dipped into the negative, but there’s a movie lurking at the edges which I’m interested in, a R-rated version of this where the Cannibal Holocaust references are even harder-edged. Doubt I’ll ever see it again, but can’t deny I wasn’t impressed at the beats that managed to sneak through under the general PG-13 aesthetic.

 

  • War for the Planet of the Apes

Out of this and Kong: Skull Island, it’s certainly the better of the two films out this year looking to be Ape-ocalypse Now, that doesn’t mean a whole lot for this cap to the trilogy which can’t hold a candle to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes nor rise to meet the acceptability of Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

The technical achievement is still startling (minus the backdrops in the final twenty minutes), but it’s an oddly passive movie. Characters are more reactive than active, but to a single early set piece, not a narrative that builds in any meaningful way –– Matt Reeves should leave writing to others. A degree of poignancy can be found in the trilogy’s conclusion, but far more emotional capability would have been attainable if this wasn’t just a retread of the second film in the trilogy with the notion of meaningful subtext.

 

  • Split

Some things should have stayed subplots, huh?

Not going to reveal the twist, although I imagine everyone interested in Shyamalan’s latest was either going to see the film regardless or heard about the twist and that compelled them to see it. (And everyone who didn’t saw the announcement of what he’s working on next). The claustrophobia of his visual grammar is intense, but in the expanding of this material, from a subplot to a feature encompassing its own subplots, it loses something every time it steps outside the small space that James McAvoy possesses.

The sympathy of the film however is something that’s near impossible to begrudge and it’s pleasant to have something which can be a genre exercise on one level, but a deeply empowering film to those who truly connect with it – I know at least a couple who did, and I’d wager we all do.

 

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  • The Discovery

A puzzle box of a movie whose somber tone in conjunction with its willingness to dawdle towards the final answers and utter wasting of the supporting cast, namely Rooney Mara and Riley Keough, leads only to disappointment in the end*. It can be interesting to see Jason Segel do dramatic work after spending so long on How I Met Your Mother, but his performance is someone taking the term mumblecore at face value.

 

*and a verbal exclamation of “fuck you” from me as the final story beat became clear.

 

  • City of Ghosts

An ode to journalism that’d probably be far better served if reported as such over being a documentary. Part of which is because it doesn’t take time to establish context for everything, and as a film about the actions of ISIS, is a developing story.

 

  • mother!

We all know that Paramount Pictures is capable of pedestrian blockbusters, what mother! presupposes is… what if they could do the same, but with art films?

Thinking subtlety to be dead, Aronofsky goes for broke more than he usually does, with this landing with the same impact as the majority of his filmography (read: nowhere near the greatness of both Black Swan or The Fountain, still the outliers rather than the expectation). Michelle Pfeiffer handles the tone delightfully, but no one else seems to inhabit the space like Portman, Kunis or Cassel did, particularly Lawrence, who’s not nearly pointed enough early on.

For all the talk about its insanity and visceral reactions invoked in response, its exhausting not for what it puts on-screen, but the lengths it takes to get there; demonstrating a callous disregard for dimensions of space and time and the imagery it looks to put in the frame.

Still, everybody should probably see it at least once.

 

  • I Am Jane Doe/Nobody Speaks: Trials of the Free Press

Two documentaries about highly important topics, both available via Netflix, that I’m not sure tell their stories in the right way. The latter of the two in particular helps establish nuance in a timeline about an event that quickly outgrew it, but the traditional formalist slant of the documentary feels all too pedestrian.

 

  • Imperial Dreams

A movie from Sundance past that spent years on the shelf before materialising on Netflix early on in the year. Not unexciting in parts, but the main draw is seeing John Boyega away from sci-fi.

 

  • What Happened to Monday

Home to seven roles played by Noomi Rapace –– each of which she imbues with their own personality, way of talking and manner of moving –– and some action with a pulse, but the story being told feels truncated, stemming from the kind of concept that would have benefited from a longer running time or more radical narrative structure.

 

  • It Comes at Night

But did it though?

 

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  • Wind River

Thoughts on this become less favourable the longer it sits with me and not just because it squanders Elizabeth Olsen in a thankless role. Essentially an extended episode of CSI: Wyoming, that lack of balance between her and Jeremy Renner is exemplary of the film as a whole. That, and how it throws emotional nuance to the side in order to up the ante throughout. And that Renner’s character probably shouldn’t have been the lead/focus.

 

  • Stronger

Turns out the rotten stench in the air is half-baked biopic topped with Jake G’s Oscar desperation; which disperses each time he gives a line reading. We may need to give him a consolation prize of any sorts –– maybe just a ribbon –– before he’s too far gone.

Thank goodness for the film’s MVP, Tatiana Maslany for bringing some gravitas to the whole affair. By all means under-serviced by the film, at least her scenes with characters that aren’t a part of the Bauman family are salvageable/worth something.

(Also maybe home to the worst ADR of the year sans what The Snowman did to regarding Val Kilmer)

 

  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

You might have found yourself hard pressed to pick a defining song for the first Guardians, for how many hits vie for your choice and provide a vivid collection of the scenes they accompany. Here it’s easier. It’s ‘Brandy You’re a Fine Girl’, which Kurt Russell performs during the movie. Like Russell’s attempt, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is something we know, but coming from someone who’s a performer, playing it up for the crowd, and as such, is just slightly out of tune, enough for us to wish that it’d pick up the pace and get back in line with the melody.

Without Nicola Perlman’s sense of narrative structure, it ambles along as soon as Russell shows up on the scene and loses all sense of drive for at least an hour of its running time. Ultimately a shame because Gunn’s love for the characters and concepts he introduces is evident, even if it’s masked by the more acerbic tone each character seems to have with one another compared to the first. With a real DoP in tow, it generally looks stunning, but I can’t say I want to watch it again more than I want to occasionally see screenshots.

 

  • Mr. Roosevelt

We’ll come back to this in a little bit.

 

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  • Gaga: Five Foot Two

A personal look at a mysterious star in the process of birthing a new identity. Able to dig into the skin being shed, but impossible to truly get a handle on Gaga; though maybe that’s the point.

 

  • Our Souls at Night

Trite on a conceptual level, the type of pitch which seems like it’s escaped from a Lifetime movie outline, but elevated by Robert Redford and Jane Fonda’s natural charm and easy rapport into watchable material. The kind of film you can watch when grandparents are around, and you need to find one quick; lest you scroll through Netflix for an hour.

 

  • My Life as a Courgette

Stuck in a frustrating middle ground, running longer than an afternoon special would yet not long enough to be a traditional feature without a suitable amount of material for either, in addition to struggling to balance its serious themes with moments of brevity. Moves too much in fits and starts to really find a rhythm, instead swinging back and forth between crude and erudite. Animation is capable of handling big ideas, as are children. They deserve better than this.

 

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  • Thor Ragnarok

Perfunctory to a fault, and not in the way intended, Ragnarok’s a Thor movie for the world that didn’t realise The Dark World was a rapturous romp that had the decency to be done in 100 minutes. Somehow never truly gets going and never has anywhere to be, but without the way its previous entry darted through plot and asides alike.

A shame because where this wants to go should be the logical endpoint following Age of Ultron – that after a film so steeped in creation, destruction and evolution (while also having a voice that wants to speak those asides), it’s only natural that someone seeks to alter the cycle steeped in the sins of the father.

The only true touch of Taika comes from the character he plays not his direction, it does irreparably wrong by Natalie Portman and doesn’t even let Blanchett have a go at doing panto, much less taking to 11 as she so rightfully deserved in a role such as this. (Am I the only one who felt everyone, but especially her, were toned down drastically in comparison to the trailers.)

Maybe one of these post-Ultron movies will eventually be worth a damn, but it’s looking less and less likely as Phase 3 progresses.

 

  • The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography/Joan Didion: The Centre Will Not Hold

Both Dorfman and Didion are close to the respective filmmakers. In the case of the former, Errol Morris is her neighbour, Griffin Dunne is the latter’s nephew. This closeness translates on-screen as both are willing to discuss and entertain with anecdotes, even if the final works feel light in the grand scheme of things. At times, like being in the room and hearing these conversations directly, and in others, a reminder that actually being in the room would be a more rewarding experience.

 

  • Casting JonBenet/Batman & Bill

Casting JonBenet documents a casting process for a fictional film about the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. Batman & Bill is far more straightforward, telling the story of Bill Finger, who was until recently, detatched from the history of Batman’s creation, but not by choice. Marc Tyler Nobleman put the work into telling this story online, but in this documentary format, it has to contend with it becoming the story of him and doesn’t manage to evade that sentiment completely. Likewise the former has a bravura concept behind it, but it’s such an experimental idea that it unintentionally becomes the most important factor.

 

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  • Baby Driver

Wrote about this at the time of seeing, since then my opinion has decreased somewhat, primarily in how none of the third act of it works for me looking back, but I’m also likely to agree with points suggesting Wright thinks this is cool when it’s not, especially with Elgort in the lead. Despite these issues, the opening heist is an all-timer, the first two acts do have material I still look back on fondly and it’s remarkable that it holds together for as long as it does.

https://streamedconsciousnesssite.wordpress.com/2017/06/20/baby-driver-puts-the-pedal-to-the-metal-and-forgets-about-the-cruise-control/

 

  • Chasing Coral

Looking at this solely from a visual standpoint, the coral reef photography is stunning. But therein lies the tragedy of the film, which looks to warn all who watch about how easily it could be gone and how there’s no solid explanation as to why. The world is made up of such beauty, let’s hope this won’t be the only way future generations get to see what it was like.

 

  • Icarus

While Icarus begins like Batman & Bill, opting to use the documentarian themselves as the subject, it becomes far more as it moves into its second half, as his connections start to become entangled in a Russian doping scandal that breaks concurrently. Like last year’s Tickled, it’s worth pushing through the potentially alienating early events in order to understand where the roller-coaster ride ends up.

 

  • Tokyo Project

Plays like a more mainstream version of Lost in Translation, crammed into thirty minutes, and is basically an advertisement by the Tokyo Tourist Board, but I can’t claim it didn’t have my attention while it was playing, even if little has lingered since then.

 

  • Logan

I wrote about Logan earlier this year here: https://streamedconsciousnesssite.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/logans-heroes/

 

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  • David Lynch: The Art Life

It’s no De Palma, as very few things are, but is a film fitting for its subject – never offering real answers, but giving audiences pieces of information about Lynch’s life to let them build the puzzle how they want.

 

  • The Incredible Jessica James

With anyone else in front of the camera, this would play like the platonic ideal of a Sundance indie, but the magnificently electric performance of Jessica Williams makes it one heck of a demo reel for her moving forward, demonstrating how capable she is for so many possible roles.

Noël Wells stars in the film as Tasha, Jessica’s best friend, a coincidence as she’s also the writer-director and star of the aforementioned Mr. Roosevelt, which is unfortunately less delightful. Despite a remarkably hilarious opening scene and how the film suggests that it’ll be bending the rules enough to wind up in a new direction, it repeatedly snaps back into place. Would have been better served if it made greater use of the low-budget aesthetic it occasionally demonstrates.

 

  • To The Bone

Identifiable as both something out of Sundance and what could’ve been a premise pilot for television, To The Bone stands above most of the crop given those labels, through the level of care in Marti Noxon’s script. It crafts vulnerability without relying purely on a sense of sadism to extract all the possible drama from each story.

When working with the full group, there’s an interplay reminiscent of Buffy and of course, it’s carried by Lily Collins whose performance here feels in the style of a young Natalie Portman.

 

  • Una

Padded out version of the play. Flashbacks work in an ominous sense, but the present-day subplot involving the factory is a cheap source of dramatic tension, even if it means that Riz Ahmed got a payday. Reason for this is that Mara and Mendelsohn are wonderfully matched and Benedict Andrews could have just put the camera in the room with them and let each play off the other as even when arguing in hushed tones, the rooms shake and the locks rattle.

 

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  • Strong Island

Semi-startling a first-time filmmaker could make a documentary this quietly powerful, even if they’ve produced them for a living, yet Yance Ford has been harbouring the ideas on display for a long time. Their brother William was killed, his killer walked free and Ford uses this film to not only memorialise the former, but detail the events and systems that led to the latter’s actions going without significant consequence.

Formal conventions of documentary crop up, going so far as to provide recurrent inter-titles for certain talking heads, but often breaks away from these and taps into something deeper. Like the extreme close-ups on Ford, the seething simmering under the surface of their eyes. Some of these ideas were detailed in last year’s 13th, but Ford is able to funnel these into a personal avenue without becoming the subject of the story at hand, which is no small feat, and coupled with the story being told, warrants attention.

 

  • Patton Oswalt: Annihilation

“It’s chaos, be kind”

The pop culture material that makes up the first half of this special doesn’t seem as well observed as usual. Then the second half hits, an intently more personal one about his process in the wake of his wife’s death and it all starts to click together. Oswalt doesn’t present his experiences as a life coach or motivational speaker would, he still assumes the stand-up persona, but there are glimpses into the man he was before he stepped out onto the stage to perform and it stands as a testament that it’s possible to get through the awful.

 

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  • Murder on the Orient Express

Truth be told, there’s no reason for this to exist. There’s nothing about the Lumet version nor the TV equivalent staring David Suchet that warrants another go. Yet its Michael Green’s second best script of the year that stirs enough of a sense of melancholy to overlook the added lengths it takes to get onto the train. Anytime the camera includes what’s outside the window, the shots don’t look great, but working as director and lead actor, Brannagh knows the space, and the scenes are marvelously blocked with regards to the actors themselves.

The penultimate tracking shot of the film sees the camera bob as it passes through the train. Indicative of the film’s endearingly clumsiness, or perhaps the cameraman succumbing to the weight of shooting on film. But the shot also seems to pulsate. Like a beating heart.

That’s not nothing.

(And yes, I cropped out Depp)

 

  • Detroit

Three quarters of the way to being Katheryn Bigelow’s own Battle of Algiers, but that other fourth is made up of how Mark Boal’s way into the story is frustratingly diffuse in trying to connect to the Algiers Hotel set-piece.

Bigelow’s camera is less of a fly-on-the-wall and more of a bodycam – capturing images which flirt with sadism through Boal not connecting tissue in advance, knitting together at the end when the damage is already done. Sure to make people angry, but likely for different reasons on where they find themselves in the situation, it is high time we start having the conversations proposed instead of perpetually starting them.

 

  • The LEGO Batman Movie

I guess that if Steven Mnuchin must finance a billionaire, I’d prefer that it was Bruce Wayne. A return to the father/son well, and without half as good a third act as The LEGO Movie, but a deconstruction of the Dark Knight that doesn’t purely riff on jokes made casually in conversation over the past twenty-years plus. Much of which comes from Will Arnett’s representation of the character which is able to lean into the more absurd moments without becoming pure parody. Much better than Deadpool and more wholesome to boot.

 

  • Get Me Roger Stone

A portrait of an enraging figure that’s aggravating in the long run for how it seems like Roger Stone knows far more than he’s letting on and who knows when the truth about Trump will finally come spilling out. Perhaps the only movie where I’ve considered while watching if I’d be okay with the main focus’ dog dying.

 

  • Long Strange Trip

Having no prior knowledge of The Grateful Dead, this is an extensive deep-dive into who and what makes up the band, but that lack of familiarity with the subjects makes this a work to admire more than one to adore or pour over for further insight.

 

  • Their Finest

Doesn’t move with enough of a pace to handle its various tone switches with complete ease, but utterly delightful when primarily involved with the process of filmmaking and the relationships occurring as a result of the production. Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy are treasures of the highest order.

 

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  • I Don’t Feel At Home in this World Anymore

A promising debut from Macon Blair, evidently having learnt the base craft from Saulnier over their time working together, that doesn’t quite have its own personality – instead being more of a riff on his frequent collaborator’s style. A joy to see Melanie Lynskey get something substantial to work with, much like it is to see Elijah Wood be funny.

 

  • Win it All

A minor work from Joe Swanberg, but evidence that he can contend with actual plotting. Jake Johnson gives the performance of his career; it’d be interesting to see what someone like Soderbergh could do with him.

 

  • The Red Turtle

An ode to minimalism, a near-wordless version of Cast Away that’s astounding to look at, and eventually heartfelt in a way that’s sure to creep up on you.

 

  • The Death of Stalin

First as tragedy, then as farce; ultimately best operating as a screwball comedy where every character is in the same room and colliding off one another’s presence, trading barbs and insults that could only come from a satirist like Armando Iannucci. Doesn’t handle the various tone changes as effortlessly as it could, and while it’d be unfair to compare it to the tightness that TV allowed The Thick of It, it does feel noticeably thinner than In the Loop. We don’t deserve Jason Isaacs.

 

  • Rodney King

A phenomenal piece of performance art that must be seen to be believed.

 

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  • Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

Some of the most touching material to be screened this year, offering warmth in light of tragedy that was terrible and all too sudden. (I won’t say anymore because it’d be far too boorish of me to think I could eulogise Fisher or Reynolds, let alone both)

 

  • Aquarius

The story of a woman fighting to save the building she lives in by refusing to leave could easily be a tale that focuses purely on the events. An underdog story that’d be nothing surprising, but rousing all the same. Aquarius is far more interesting on account of Sonia Braga’s phenomenal performance and director Kleber Mendonça Filho’s interest in the character’s interior life within this interior space. Sprawling, but Braga’s character of Clara is an anchor point through the lengthy run-time and it’s ultimately fascinating to see this kind of story portrayed through a different cultural lens.

 

  • Manifesto

The final film seen at London Film Fest, my thoughts on it can be found in this dispatch I wrote up shortly after (CTRL+F for Manifesto to take you the specific section)

https://streamedconsciousnesssite.wordpress.com/2017/10/10/dispatch-from-the-front-lines-of-the-back-rows-at-london-film-festival-2017/

 

  • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

City of a Thousand Planets, Galaxy of a Million Stories, with a good many of them taking place in this. A stunning and ludicrously lavish passion project that fills the frame with what’s needed for the story at hand, but has the daring to throw another couple of tales into the background.

Everything unfolds with a surprising amount of normality, making it all the more disappointing when Besson has to explain some of it rather than just letting it unfold. Still he can’t abide making the movie that boring for too long, always onto the next idea, a bustling would-be utopian hive being his playground.

And for as much as Dehann tries to come across as a serious actor –– instead coming across as a puppy trying to be John Wick –– Cara makes being a movie star look effortless (which is quite the shock considering we’re just one year past the release of Suicide Squad), taking what should be robotic and turning it electric, playing off both the digital (effects) and the wooden (Dehann). This is her movie and it’s a crying shame that her character is erased from the title.

You could claim that Besson is trying too hard to dazzle, but the more substantial claim is that everyone else bar the James’, Cameron & Gunn, haven’t been trying hard enough.

 

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  • Free Fire

Lots thought this should be compared to the work of Tarantino, namely Reservoir Dogs, but the high-intensity masculine posturing plays more like Mamet with loaded guns. Essentially a one-location shootout, it could have run out of ammo quickly, and while it does start to run dry near the end, the cast assembled makes the film bouncy enough to be a riot. Maybe the best Sharlto Copley has been since District 9.

 

  • I Called Him Morgan

Loose without running on, this is a jazz documentary. A story that carries with it an air of melancholy and not just because the snow is falling outside the window. The tale of Lee Morgan, a trumpeter, and his wife Helen More who saved him from drugs, but eventually murdered him. And the recording of More, made by Larry Reni Thomas, who came to know her is the centerpiece. Director Kasper Collins establishes a mood remarkably well through interviews and archival footage, but it’s that recording, which could be the equivalent of an audio-drama, that marks the reason this is as special as it is.

 

  • A Quiet Passion/The Lost City of Z

See, this is a list that goes from A to Z.

But seriously, these films from Terrence Davies and James Gray respectively might function as the Rosetta Stone for understanding their directors. Might being the operative word here, as until [at least] a second viewing of each, their exact natures might not be clear.

While they are both period pieces and character studies, the lengths to which Gray travels seems like a world away from Davies’ more intimate chamber-drama about the reclusive Emily Dickinson. Compared to Gray’s journey with Percy Fawcett into the depths of South America, it could seem static, but Dickinson is the master of the verbal retort so it cracks like a whip at least twice a minute, only to snap to attention when the more harrowing details comes into play.

Gray has always been a director in search of reclaiming that classical style of filmmaking, that produced such epics as Lawrence of Arabia, and he might not make it all the way there –– although the final twenty minutes is one of the purest examples of kinesthesia in quite some time –– but what would humanity be if our reach did not exceed our grasp?

 

  • John Wick: Chapter Two

Absolutely bonkers how in the space of a film, this franchise went from B-grade B-movie to something far more substantial without really revamping anything. Instead its more a refinement of what came before, a chance to dig deeper –– done so by going international without becoming jet-setting –– and push Keanu Reeves to even further limits.

He reaches all them with ease and still has energy to spare; an action star performance that can only come from someone who’s truly put the time in, working with a team like 87Eleven that also wants to get as much out of themselves as possible.

 

  • Five Came Back

Whatever you may think about his Twitter account, Mark Harris had done his research in this area. Narrated by Meryl Streep, this documentary examines the intersection of war and film, likely to appeal to historians and cinephiles in equal measure. Focused on five directors –– John Ford, John Huston, Frank Capra, William Wyler, and George Stevens –– it relays their actions as World War 2 grew bigger and what they did once the guns fell silent while also covering a variety of social issues.

And as an added bonus, it features a prestigious line-up of talking heads –– Paul Greengrass, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo Del Toro, Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan –– each discussing one of the prior directors to provide their insights on their filmmaking and the real-life events being laid out. There’s a startling amount of information to process over the three hours, but rarely, if at all, does the material feel unwieldy, a result of how much space the material has been given.

(Its release also saw Netflix add a lot of the five’s relevant work, so bonus points for that)

 

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  • The Killing of a Sacred Deer

The spectre of death has come-a-callin’ –– looming over and tracking characters as they chart a course through a sterile hospital –– and they won’t hang [it] up until someone accepts the charges.

Yorgos Lanthimos continually zooms in and out of the bigger picture he’s created with longtime collaborator Efthymis Filippou, giving access to pieces (some would say too much) and withholding select ones until the end, so its twisted end only reveals itself in the moment – an uncomfortably glee-bound nod to Haneke. A film of pure text, but precise delivery which heightens everything to a piercing extreme – Barry Keoghan in particular showcases how well this tone can be pulled off when you have someone who can hit it just right.

And of course I’m 100% here for slow push-ins on Colin Farrell’s beautifully bearded face.

 

  • Lovesong
  1. Quiet and Intimate.
  2. Akin to the road-trip taken in Carol.
  3. Starring Riley Keough.

A film that is extremely My Shit™. Also starring Jena Malone, a film of two parts. First about two friends who take a day trip, the second set three years later about people who are evidently more than just friends. So-yong Kim showcases how people can drift together and apart without saying out loud, sometimes it just happens and can do so at the worst possible moments. There’s a poignant pain packed into every sentence that goes unsaid and every glance stolen.

 

  • Get Out

The kind of directorial debut that’s maddening on account of how layered it is. Written and directed by Jordan Peele, a social thriller which announces Peele’s voice as one in cinema that’s got a lot to say. Riffing on The Stepford Wives, Peele takes the collective’s cultural familiarity with that film’s twists and turns to made a work rich with subtext, indebted to writers like W.E. DuBois, James Baldwin and Ta-Neishi Coates and directors such as Hitchcock, but also one that’s rip-roaringly and frequently funny.

Better writers than I have delved into what makes this film so rich, so I’d encourage you to seek out criticism written near the time of release. All I can add is further confirmation that seeing this late at night, in a reasonably packed screening, is one of the most phenomenal cinema-going experiences anyone could have. It is a major regret, cinematically speaking, that I didn’t get time to see it again in 2017.

 

  • Okja/Mudbound/First They Killed My Father

Three next to each other; look I do like some Netflix features. And only Mudbound was an acquisition following its premiere at Sundance 2017, the other two were produced in-house.

To start with Okja, it manages to be a source of whimsy and wonder while also harbouring a deeper message and manages to keep the balls in the air for most of the run-time. Okja, the super pig, is one of the most remarkable effects of the year and Ahn Seo-hyun delivers a tremendous, heartfelt performance despite having to play mostly against a creature that wasn’t there. (Also: the sooner we stop acknowledging Jake Gyllenhall in this, the better). Bong Joon-ho has such a handle on his narrative, with the first chase sequence being one of the best captured set-pieces of the decade with many other scenes of carnage playing out with a similar level of control. The best movie Spielberg never made.

Mudbound, on the other hand, is far more sprawling. While Dee Rees’ previous pictures have been more contained affairs, (singular) character pieces, none of that intimacy gets lost in this literary adaptation. That is strong enough thread to weave it all together into a wide-scale tapestry of perspective –– its narration darting between two groups of three characters –– on race, class, PTSD and gender in a Jim Crow state as the world attempts to move forward in the wake of WW2, a period where people had seemed more willing to come together. There’s a lot crammed in (I’ll confess to having not read Hilary Jordan’s original text), but Rees’ eye is focused and composed. It’d be interesting to see what she would do if given a miniseries of her own in the future

To be blunt: First They Killed My Father is the movie that Beasts of No Nation wishes it was. I know, I’m just as surprised that a film capable of making that claim comes from Angelina Jolie, whose previous directorial endeavors have been less than successful. About Cambodia at the time of Pol Pot, Jolie tells the story of Loung Ung who was seven at the time, survived and went on to write a memoir about the experience as well as co-writing this screenplay with Jolie. An initial title card may set off some warning bells, but they quickly move beyond this format of storytelling, instead getting as close to the ground as Ung, observing from that level mostly, understanding it all as best as she can. Genuine, tense and heartfelt in equal measure with a distinct visual language, it manages to convey this tale far better than anyone would expect and its impossible to deny exactly how wonderful it is to see Jolie finally convey her humanitarian efforts on-screen.

 

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  • Wonder Woman

Wrote about it here: https://streamedconsciousnesssite.wordpress.com/2017/06/03/the-elegant-simplicity-of-wonder-woman/

 

  • 120 Beats Per Minute

A [b]racing portrait of the HIV/AIDS-crisis in France during the 1990’s as the Parisian ACT-UP branch campaigns for the disease to be given the level of attention it requires in a time where most just want to look the other way, some not even wanting to acknowledge posters making the case for the cause. As genius as its multi-meaning title suggests, 120 BPM also surveys the landscape, showcasing a set of characters with different orientations, beliefs, aims and reasons to be acknowledged, eventually zeroing in on Nahuel Pérez Biscayart’s Sean. Through this, director Robin Campillo expertly demonstrates how, for the marginalised, the personal is political and vice versa because how can it not when lives are at stake. Through a combination of club scenes, ones of demonstration and others of discussion, the activists fight for their lives in the day, live them at night and love with them in the time between.

 

  • The Big Sick

The truth can hurt, but can also eventually lead to one of the most joyful and heartfelt romantic comedies in years. Written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, it’s the story of, well, their early courtship, break-up and the time Kumail spent in the hospital with Emily’s parents after she was put into a medically induced coma. Nanjiani plays himself, Zoe Kazan steps into the role of Emily while Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are the parents.

Directed by Michael Showalter, the true strength of the film is how lived-in the performances feel. The second is how funny it is because everyone in the core cast are naturally funny people which prevents an air of hospital-set grimness setting in. All in all, it’s probably twenty minutes longer than it needs to be – if not based on a true story, there’s a truly jaw-dropping moment one could end on as the hospital story comes to a close, but the heartwarming quality is overpowering, bolstered by how backstory builds it into a truly layered picture.

 

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  • Columbus

The first film seen at London Film Fest, my thoughts on it can be found in this dispatch I wrote up shortly after (CTRL+F for Columbus to take you the specific section)

https://streamedconsciousnesssite.wordpress.com/2017/10/10/dispatch-from-the-front-lines-of-the-back-rows-at-london-film-festival-2017/

 

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  • Oh, Hello: On Broadway

The minor miracle of Nick Kroll and John Mulaney’s bravura stage-play is that its specificity, so astutely attuned to Jewish New York sensibilities, becomes capable of being universally understood through their sheer commitment to every beat. From a fake game-show called “Too Much Tuna” to Kroll’s Gil Faizon confiding in Mulaney’s George St. Geegland that he’s fallen in love with a racoon, no part of it feels half-assed and thrown in to fill time, instead it all flows; right from the mandatory pre-show cold-open of the Netflix specials.

From there, it weaves through audience interaction, a breakdown of theatre techniques that will later be given narrative purpose, a heartfelt story about Faizon and St. Geegland’s relationship and so much more –– in fact, it takes about a third of the run time before that story really begins, but it moves with such a rhythm and cadence that the following two-thirds feel like a whole all on their own. I’ll profess to having no prior knowledge of the characters, but it’s evident Kroll and Mulaney took the pair and just kept refining, fully earning their right to do this on a Broadway stage.

 

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  • Colossal

2018 will mark the 10th anniversary of Rachel Getting Married, home to Anne Hathaway’s finest performance to date. Contained within Colossal is her second best, one of a similarly fractured character that would pair well as a double feature with Demme’s film. One of the cinematic joys of 2017 has been telling people about this film from Nacho Vigalondo: Hathaway plays an alcoholic who moves back to her home town after breaking up with her boyfriend and encounters a former friend once she does…

…and a kaiju shows up in South Korea. Yes, the two stories are related, intrinsically so. Beyond that, I’m hesitant to say much because a further feather in Colossal’s cap is how it becomes a metaphorical monster movie and it’s far more interesting to see when people clock what it’s really about. This lends the movie some gravitas to ground a rather audacious premise, but almost every performer involved is able to hit both the drama and comedy at any given point.

 

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  • Ingrid Goes West

The second film seen at London Film Fest, my thoughts on it can be found in this dispatch I wrote up shortly after (CTRL+F for Ingrid Goes West to take you the specific section)

https://streamedconsciousnesssite.wordpress.com/2017/10/10/dispatch-from-the-front-lines-of-the-back-rows-at-london-film-festival-2017/

 

 

 

 

  • Paddington 2/The Florida Project

In the case of Paul King’s animated sequel, anyone who’s seen a movie before will likely anticipate where the narrative heads and ultimately winds up, in addition to punchlines landed and when certain side characters are brought back into the fold. Yet there’s so much more beyond this that warrants delight and makes it so much more than purely ‘kids fare’. For starters, everyone involved gives it their all, not a whiff of someone doing it for a paycheck alone.

Secondly, it’s stuffed with grace notes that feel carefully composed in the script. A moment in the climax of the film, where someone takes a look outside their window only to get a full view of the chaos taking place, could be seen as a staple of animated movie cheap jokes. An ‘oh look, they’re bemused for a beat and –– oh yes, they’ve fainted. Great. Now back to the action’. But here, it’s a recurrent character and helps to tie it all together. Finally, King has a remarkable eye for composition, letting comedic beats play out in the frame like Billy Wilder would, and his camera moves with a wonderful sense of rhythm; a storybook sequence has momentum greater than just a page being turned.

That same kind of charm is on display in Sean Baker’s The Florida Project. A near plot-less experience that focuses on Moonie, played by Brooklyn Prince in a naturalistic manner that results in one of the all-time great child performances. She ‘lives’ with her mother Hailey –– played by Bria Vinaite, an equally tremendous discovery –– at the motel which is managed by Willem Dafoe’s Bobby, who struggles with both keeping the place going and keeping the kids under control as they spend their restless days.

A world captured with a low-down Steadicam and with a palette mix of neon and pastel, Baker knows this isn’t enough to show a child’s perspective. So he propels it along with the energy and enthusiasm of his child actors, as their characters explore, spit on cars, raise money to buy ice-cream, eat waffles, sell perfume and so on. Around every corner is another possible adventure.

Under each additional layer of the film is further information to for the audience to re-contextualise what’s come before, even if it doesn’t click for Moonie. The direction in which Baker takes what could have been purely playful is further illustrative of his understanding about class, and the intense sympathy he has for those struggling. But he also knows how it can look to a child who lacks the mental capacity to grasp economic downturn.

For example:  Three kids sneak into a long-since abandoned condo. To anyone else, that would be clear from the graffiti and general disarray. To them though? It’s a chance to chatter with enthusiasm about how they’d make it better.

 

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  • Wormwood

True Crime? That’s the question which Errol Morris has always questioned, going back to The Thin Blue Line. As such, his style and approach seem perfect for something released via Netflix (although a cut was available theatrically). Running 6 parts, it’s a tad too long to truly stick the landing, but the lucidity of the full work is something which cannot be denied. There are traditional talking-head interviews, primarily with Eric Olsen, the son of a CIA employee who died under mysterious circumstances, that never moved past it, but Morris gets the chance in this format to flesh out his recreations.

These scripted sequences play like that of a prestige drama. In some ways, it’d be interesting for these to be cut into their own episode, but Morris deploys them throughout the documentary format, letting them drift from one state to another. Coupled with the fact he shot with numerous cameras, the portent of the scripted segments transposes across, in the search for the real story.

 

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  • Logan Lucky

He’s back.

If Ocean’s Eleven was Steven Soderbergh at the point he was most integrated into Hollywood, Logan Lucky is just as representational of him today, looking to carve a niche between low-budget and franchise filmmaking with an amalgam of actors and movie stars existent in the same space. The Logan family, made up of Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Riley Keough, or: a movie star, an actor and someone who can be both is illustrative of this.

Ever economical in how he tells his story, but also capping off a trilogy –– see: The Girlfriend Experience and Magic Mike –– about the economy explicity and its effects on the people most affected by the recession; the working-class who Soderbergh treats with the utmost compassion and ‘Rebecca Blunt’ devotes a plan, smarter than Ocean’s, to.

It’s no Magic Mike XXL –– lord, what is –– but its post-narrative leanings have rubbed off on Soderbergh and result in a relaxed plot, still within the heist genre, but letting the expected heist-within-a-heist come spooling out far later in the game, taking what’s typically a marveling, joyous third-act beat and letting be a marveling, joyous, empathetic third act.

Nearly four years after the fact of his “retirement”, it’s evident that he was never really going to be gone, but now he’s officially back with Channing and Keough in it for the long haul, his multi-purpose muses, and without having missed a beat.

Thank goodness he is.

 

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  • Atomic Blonde

Should probably be compared to the work of Soderbergh, namely Haywire and Magic Mike/XXL, than the Wick’s – a film about a professional in their element, who can only be themselves under the neon over the harsher blue lighting.

Willing to have fun with its genre, taking the source material and Le Carre sensibilities and smashing them together with lashings of style –– and what style it is –– with an end result that’s just delightful to sit back and watch, a true summer delight from its lack of restraint. If we are comparing it to the Wick’s, then Leitch is a weaker director than Stahelski, but Charlize is more adept than Keanu with no time for others to play their part in the dance.

In my professional opinion, it would be an honor to be killed by her.

 

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  • Dunkirk

I’ll be honest. Before July, I was of the opinion that Christopher Nolan had been on a gradual decline over the course of this decade and that this would be hollow, but ornate. (Of course, this is before I realised that The Dark Knight Rises is the best of the trilogy for how bat-shit it is). I was wrong because Dunkirk could be Nolan’s masterpiece. It’s this or The Prestige.

An indescribably tense affair that follows the ethos of last year’s Tower by not showing the enemy outside of a few brief shots. Instead, it’s focused on those in need of help and the ones willing to provide it, while still letting Nolan play around with temporal pacing. Three timelines converge on one another –– a week, a day, an hour ––  with scenes sometimes playing out from different perspectives to further them all. One of the great war movies, a fact that you’ll realise when you become aware of how hard you’re gripping the seat, or when it occurs to you that you’re crying tears of relief for the soldiers that make it out of a particularly grueling scene.

(I was the latter)

 

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  • Good Time

Run through the [concrete] jungle.

Look. It’s long since the world should have collectively decided that Twilight was a force for good –– it gave us Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson; two of the finest actors working today –– but this is the best and most accessible opportunity anyone has to get with that program.

Powered by the manic of early Scorcese and Mann, an urge to keep on moving, Good Time hums along relentlessly without treading the streets the world has come to recognise, content to take a shortcut through the alleyways – perhaps the most quintessential New York movie (at least in terms, of being a story about the space it inhabits) since Margaret. That it accomplishes this while also being one of the most clever films about class in quite some time is no small feat.

I’m still marveling at how this owns Pattinson’s persona as a heart-throb, weaponising his allure –– as a character who can charm anyone into doing what he wishes without them realising how they’re being played –– while the Safdie brothers simultaneously weaponise his character’s whiteness (and privilege that comes attached) for a sweat-wrenching ride that’s all in the eyes.

Connie’s are all jittery, looking for the exits, working on the macro, while the Safdie’s keep it locked in, focused on the micro.

 

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  • Alien: Covenant

Intentionally infected with Alien DNA, a marvelous hybrid of Ridley’s prior work in this sandbox, with him as Creator, painstakingly remixing with Blade Runner and Gothic horror, and virulently angry at that. Post-human like Godzilla, with a depraved sickness towards its characters, audience and their expectations that makes it all the more gleeful. Hubris will eventually befall the human race, but I doubt it’ll be as enjoyable as it is here.

Which of course is in part to how it treats the original Alien and Xenomorph as a skinsuit to be put on or shed as and when it pleases, but mainly because Ridley loves to light Fassbender[s] and let them go at it (in all definitions of the phrase) and have it actually mean something for how metatextual it all is.

A concoction a studio will never be able to make in a lab, think tank or writer’s room, it’s got to come from the artist. Fox’s very own Age of Ultron (a one-for-me-and-them), Ridley might not share Whedon’s intrinsic care for humanity –– the exact opposite in fact –– but knows how to take this and bake it into every tenet of the piece.

Prometheus was already good, this is made great through the distillation of anger towards the former included. Imagine how triumphant the cap to the trilogy is going to be.

 

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  • The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

While this sees Noah Baumbach return to ground he’d previously covered with The Squid and The Whale –– dysfunctional families situated in the arts –– he comes to it with a kindness, forged as a result of his collaboration and relationship with Greta Gerwig. She only makes a small voice cameo, as the wife of Ben Stiller’s Matthew, but her presence is felt throughout.

Matthew is the product of Harold Meyerowitz’s (Dustin Hoffman) third marriage and the half-brother to Elizabeth Marvel’s Jean and Adam Sandler’s Danny, born of Harold’s second. He’s currently married to Maureen (Emma Thompson), his fourth wife. While pre-faced with a gentle typeset title-card, the first sound is of Adam Sandler screaming, trying to park. Much has been made of Sandler’s performance –– it is truly great, integrating his sensibilities into a work he can function in –– but near everyone involved give career-best-contender performances.

It’s simply a delight to see them all thrust into a room in various combinations to bounce off one another, and later when Harold falls ill and ends up in the hospital, try to keep going together. There’s even warmth to be found in the editing of Jennifer Lame, who starts with jarring splits, cutting characters off mid-dialogue, and progresses to softer fades in and out, as if no-one involved in producing the film wants to leave this family behind.

Many scenes warrant laughter or lodge memorable dialogue in your brain, the scene that sticks the most is one involving Danny and his daughter Eliza (Grace van Patten) playing the piano. It’s one of Baumbach’s best crafted, simple by design and directorially, but is illustrative that he’s grown so much as a filmmaker over his career.

 

 

 

 

  • Lady Macbeth/The Beguiled

Together, this pair of female-focused films become an even-greater whole for how they complement one another. Examining what the other chooses not. Coppola’s is a wickedly acerbic tale of repression and suppression, including that of oppression, set in the South during the Civil War, that drew criticism at the time of release for being set in a time of slavery without dealing that facet of the time beyond a throwaway line. The women of the school, including Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning are isolated from their people, as is the Union’s John McBurney, played by Colin Farrell who is brought into the school to recover from an injury. There are no rules of engagements for encounters of this nature, so the school fast becomes the battleground for a war of attrition where no-one wants to commit to anything, but they’re all happy to play with the tension of the situation.

Conversely, Lady Macbeth –– also a literary adaptation, but from William Oldroyd –– is luridly ostentatious, giving into the thrill of it all. A narrative built around having your cake and eating it, but also denying the audience the satisfaction of either and accomplishes this without endorsing the protagonist’s action. It’s a tightrope of trickiness, but Oldroyd and the miraculous Florence Pugh cross it with ease, then hop back on in order to show off.

Both studies of white womanhood in period settings, Coppola relies on the build and release of tension to derive humour, the masterstroke being a beat where Farrell hurls a turtle across the room. Lady Macbeth makes better use of gobsmacked revelation as its lead twists situations and exploits her[‘s and lack of other’s] privilege. Bon appétit.

 

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  • Tramps

A slice of New York that’s best served as comfort food while also being: an ode to New Hollywood-filmmaking, a chance to discover Grace van Patten’s ability as an actress and further proof that Adam Leon is one of the most exciting voices in filmmaking today. To the point where I’d kill to see what he could do in a non-narrative space. Here he combines a farce about crime and a misplaced briefcase with a heart-swelling romance that’s an outright charm offensive impossible to not be won over by.

Leon evidently cares more about the latter and so he should as it’s far more compelling to see Calum Turner and van Patten dance around each through the streets of New York than it is to occasionally switch over to the gangsters awaiting cash; one of which is played by Mike Birbiglia. Everyone you pass on a street has a story, here’s hoping that Leon realises he’s good enough to tell them through character interaction without a need for overt plotting.

 

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  • Wonderstruck

The third film seen at London Film Fest, my thoughts on it can be found in this dispatch I wrote up shortly after (CTRL+F for Wonderstruck to take you the specific section)

https://streamedconsciousnesssite.wordpress.com/2017/10/10/dispatch-from-the-front-lines-of-the-back-rows-at-london-film-festival-2017/

 

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  • A Ghost Story

A meditative tone poem about the passage of time starring a man with a bed-sheet draped over him who at one point observes Rooney Mara eat a pie shouldn’t work, let alone be one of the best of the year, but it does. Remarkably so.

Filmed in secret, and in good time, David Lowery reunites with Mara and Casey Affleck to deal with the insecurities of moving on. mining the location of a house for every bit of emotional depth he can in eighty-seven minutes. Working from roughly a thirty page script, there’s not a great deal of movement, a lot of scenes are shot statically in Academy ratio, blocked so everything can play out in that one frame. But in an instant days, or even years, can pass. In the blink of an eye.

 

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  • Song to Song (+ Valentine)

Since The Tree of Life, Malick’s output has increased considerably, but the obtuse nature of the work has led some to believe that’s he’s lost his way. Now the trilogy (consisting of To The Wonder, Knight of Cups and this) is complete, that may have been the point as Song to Song is about an Adam and Eve-type couple, played by Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara, tempted by the devil a.k.a Michael Fassbender.

With those analogues, this is the start of something new, yet it’s in keeping with the style of the trilogy. Scenes cut without warning, flashbacks only reveal themselves as such when a character’s hair looks ever so slightly different. First forty-five minutes are outright perfect and while the rest of the film isn’t up to this level, it does involve a blonde Natalie Portman, soulful performances from Patti Smith and Holly Hunter and introduces the world to Lykke Li. Mara herself gives the best performance in a new-wave Malick, topping her grief-stricken M in A Ghost Story. Malick makes movies which represent how we can feel. Not emotionally, but spiritually and having found an altar in the stage, he takes us to church.

(Apologies to Baby Driver, but this is the best film of the year involving an iPod Classic and starring Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.)

N.B. No offense to Phantom Thread (which won’t be released here until February), but that makes Valentine the PTA film of the year.

 

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  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The best one.

 

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  • Call Me By Your Name
Three Observations:
– On the most pivotal day of Elio’s (Timothee Chalamet) young life –– most pivotal *so far*, more are on their way in quick succession –– he’s wearing a Talking Heads t-shirt. Said band was the subject of Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense, ostensibly a concert film, but one that captured the thrill of feeling and a meta-narrative; of David Byrne, his repeatedly larger suit and his subsequent coming out of his shell on stage. Even if unintentional, that shirt’s existence is some of the most powerful iconography in years.
– Set “somewhere in Northern Italy” for a period of time mentioned only in passing, but one known all too well by near-everyone. Summer, capable of bleeding hours into days into weeks into the entire time. It gets hazy, the film’s true form only revealing itself halfway through its runtime, who knows how long through their summer. And who cares? It doesn’t matter when it happened. Only that it did.
– What is it? It’s perfect.

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  • Nocturama

“We should’ve exploded Facebook”

It takes a certain level of gall to make a movie about terrorism, a greater level to approach it from the terrorists’ perspective and an even further one to repeatedly stage the explosive set-pieces. Bertrand Bonello aspires to this level, focusing on a multi-cultural group of radicalised young people who commit an attack across Paris.

Its opening half, focused on the hours before the bombs goes off, runs counterpoint to its second, where the group hides out in a shopping mall after-hours, placing them in the heart of the consumerist, capitalist culture they’d hoped to make a dent in as they come to understand that was already the case out in Paris at large.

Terrorism by way of The Bling Ring, Bonello approaches this story in an apolitical manner, tantalising glimpses of the planning are given in small measure, revealing little about what’s to come, why the group are doing so and what’s led them to, thus allowing him to present these events with an ideal of objectivity.

An exercise in tension, Bonello’s re-staging of events, sometimes from difference angles, gives rise to surprise first, suspense second and third and so on, never losing the visceral, in-the-moment quality that springs forth from the first. The first fifty minutes might be the ones involving explosives, but it’s the latter eighty, when the world goes quiet, where the film truly comes alive, the most thrilling sequences coming as a result of “Whip my Hair” and “My Way”. Evoking many, including Kubrick and Romero, along the way, this repetition and reflection makes the inevitable all the more shocking.

 

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  • World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts

I have no words. Despite having written about the original film for an essay just last month, I legitimately have no idea how to detail how phenomenal and bold this is.

 

Film Review Personal Shopper

  • Personal Shopper (+ Come Swim)

Wrote about this the day after I saw it: https://streamedconsciousnesssite.wordpress.com/2017/03/16/the-grief-of-personal-shopper/

and held off on seeing it again until just short of six months after. In retrospect: lol at me thinking I needed to suggest that this didn’t all work, because reader, it absolutely does.

Kristen Stewart also proved herself quite a director this year with her short, Come Swim. Her writing is admittedly shakier, but she has an inherent eye for images –– the first half is particularly striking and would even better without the second –– and overall makes use of some of the most distinct sound design this year.

 

So there you have it. There are still 2017 releases that haven’t been released here, and that’s before you take into consideration the ones I didn’t have chance to get to, so to see this list as changes occur, please check out my letterboxd:

(https://letterboxd.com/Matt_Sibley/)

where I intend to write small capsules for each new release in the future, saving these end of year posts for a smaller range, a top 10 or 20.

Because, reader, you have no idea how long it took to proof this. And add the pictures. And ensure it’s laid out. And then second guess my design sense. And then second guess my list order. And… well, you get the idea. Seriously, if you read this all or just a fragment, then thank you.

2017: A Media Diary

Evidence I may require a pop culture intervention

 

Started out as a purely personal experiment to log how much pop culture I got to over the course of the year, decided I would publish it as recorded.

So, without further pre-amble:

 

COMICS

NOTE: In alphabetical order, and divided by publisher, for convenience.

 

Older Comics

Dark Horse: Dept. H Volume 1, The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story

DC: American Alien, Batgirl of Burnside Volumes 1+2, Batgirl: Stephanie Brown Volume 1, Batman: Year One, Dark Night: A True Batman Story, Gotham Academy + Second Semester Volume 1, Grayson, Johns’ Justice League Volume 6, Morrison’s Batman, New Suicide Squad Volume 4, Ostrander’s Suicide Squad Volumes 2-6, Prez: Corndog-in-Chief, Rucka’s Wonder Woman Volume 1+2, Snyder’s Batman Volume 7, Starman Omnibii 5+6, Superman: Secret Identity, The Legend of Wonder Woman

Image: Black Magick Volume 1, Casanova: Luxuria, Gula, Avaritia & Acedia, East of West Year Two and #30, Prince of Cats, Sexcastle, The Other Side

Marvel: Alias, Avengers: Rage of Ultron, Avengers: Vision and the Scarlet Witch, Cain’s Mockingbird, Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men until #139, Edmondson’s Black Widow, Infinity Gauntlet, Iron Man: Extremis, Remender’s Uncanny Avengers, Robinson’s Scarlet Witch, Silver Surfer: Requiem, Spurrier’s X-Men Legacy, Stephenson’s Runaways, Vaughn’s Runaways

Oni: Heartthrob Season One, Sixth Gun Deluxes 2+3, The Coldest City, The Coldest Winter

Vertigo: Morrison’s Doom Patrol, Scalped Volumes 4-5

 

2017 Comics

NOTE: Always a chance I forgot to log something. Any curious omissions – feel free to ask.

 

Action Lab: Spencer & Locke

Archie: Riverdale (first two issues)

Black Mask: 4 Kids Walk into a Bank, Beautiful Canvas, Calexit, Last Song, There’s Nothing There

Boom Studios: Eugenic (first issue), Fence (first issue), Giant Days, Godshaper, Grass Kings (first arc), Hi-Fi Fight Club, Jane, Judas, Klaus and the Crisis in Xmasville, Mech Cadet Yu, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers + Pink, Namesake, Planet of the Apes/Green Lantern, War for the Planet of the Apes

Dark Horse: Ether, Mr Higgins Comes Home, Serenity: No Power in the ‘Verse

DC: Batman, Batman: Creature of the Night, Batman/Elmer Fudd, Batman/The Shadow, Batwoman, Booster Gold/The Flintstones, Black Racer Special, Bug, Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye, Darkseid Special, Dark Days: The Forge + The Casting, Dark Knights: Metal (+ one-shots & tie-ins), Detective Comics, Deathstroke, Doomsday Clock, Doom Patrol, Flash (for The Button), Holiday Special, Kamandi Challenge (first four issues), Justice League (Fontana’s issue, Priest’s run) Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, JLA (until issue seven) + Assorted One-Shots, Manhunter Special, Mister Miracle, Mother Panic, Mystik U, New Gods Special, New Super-Man, New Talent Showcase, Nightwing, Nightwing: The New Order, Shade the Changing Girl, Supergirl, Supergirl: Being Super, Superman (+Action Comics for Reborn + The Oz Effect), Superwoman, Super Sons, Teen Titans, The Flintstones, The Hellblazer (from start of Seeley’s run) The Wild Storm, Titans, Trinity, Wonder Woman

Image: Afar, Angelic (first issue) Black Cloud, Black Magick, Black Monday Murders, Casanova: Acedia, Crosswind, Curse Words (first arc), East of West, Generation Gone, Glitterbomb: The Fame Game, God Country, Gravediggers Union (first issue), Green Valley, Kill or be Killed, Loose Ends, Moonstone (first issue), Motor Crush, Paper Girls (until issue fifteen), Reborn, Redlands, Rock Candy Mountain, Royal City (first arc), Savage Town, Seven to Infinity (until issue eight) Solid State, Southern Bastards, The Dying and the Dead, The Few (first two issues), The Gravediggers Union (first issue), The Old Guard, The Wicked + The Divine, Violent Love, Winnebago Graveyard

Marvel: All-New Guardians of the Galaxy, All-New Wolverine, America, Astonishing X-Men, Avengers (+.1 issues), Black Bolt, Black Panther + World of Wakanda + The Crew, Black Widow, Bullseye, Cable (first three issues of Robinson’s), Captain America, Captain America: Sam Wilson, Captain America: Steve Rogers, Champions (first six issues), Defenders, Doctor Strange, Falcon (first two issues) Gamora, Generations (one-shots), Generation X, Ghost Rider, Hawkeye, Hulk, Iceman, Infamous Iron Man, Inhumans: Once and Future Kings, Inhumans: Prime, Inhumans vs. X-Men, Invincible Iron Man, Iron Fist (first two issues), Jean Grey, Jessica Jones, Karnak, Kingpin, Legacy (one-shot), Luke Cage, Man-Thing (first two issues), Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, Nick Fury, Old Man Logan, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, Phoenix: Resurrection, Power Man and Iron-Fist, Punisher (Rosenberg’s run), Royals, Runaways, Scarlet Witch, Secret Empire, Secret Warriors, Spider-Woman, Star Wars, Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, Star Wars: Darth Maul, Star Wars: Darth Vader, The Mighty Captain Marvel, U.S. Avengers, Ultimates^2, Uncanny Avengers (Zub’s issues post-Secret Empire) Unworthy Thor, Unstoppable Wasp, Weapon X (first two issues), X-Men: Blue, X-Men: Gold, X-Men: Grand Design, X-Men: Prime

Oni: Kill Them All

Titan: The Death of Stalin

Valiant: Secret Weapons

 

FILMS

NOTE: I now have a letterboxd account (https://letterboxd.com/Matt_Sibley/) , thought about signing up earlier, but wanted to start one come the new year.

 

Older Movies

Hell or High Water, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Neon Demon, The Nice Guys, Whiplash, Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, The Woman in the Window, Drinking Buddies, Green Room, In the Mood for Love, The Big Sleep, Happy Christmas, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Sing Street, Margaret, Permanent Vacation, Metropolis, Run Lola Run, Once, Attack the Block, Stranger than Paradise, Adventureland, Clouds of Sils Maria, M (1931), The Sixth Sense, Red Road, Everybody Wants Some, Source Code, Wiener Dog, High-Rise, Carol, Down by Law, Mystery Train, Only God Forgives, Being Again, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Night on Earth, Black Swan, Moonrise Kingdom, Dead Man, Only Lovers Left Alive, Submarine, Beginners, O.J.: Made in America, Fury (1936), Shane, Man Hunt, Rashomon, All About Eve, Life, Animated, Day of Wrath, What We Do in the Shadows, Blue Jasmine, Godzilla, The Bling Ring, A Bigger Splash, Macbeth (2015), Knight of Cups, Lost in Translation, The Graduate, Sleepless in Seattle, Carol (again), The Wrestler, Requiem For a Dream, Paterson, The Big Heat, Happiness, Her Girl Friday, Zombieland, Kill List, The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, Tickled, The Battle of Midway, Hail, Caesar!, John Wick, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Mistress America, Blade Runner (Final Cut), Wonder Woman (2009), Carlos the Jackal, Drive, 13th (+ A Conversation with Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay), Justice League: The New Frontier, Dear White People, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Still Alice, The Raid: Redemption, Lost in Translation (again), Searching for Sugar Man, Ex Machina, Prometheus, Broken Flowers, The Raid 2: Berendal, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Amanda Knox, The Virgin Suicides, Wild, Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids, A Single Man, Carol again, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Three Colours: Blue, White, Red, Hell or High Water (again), Looper, Mustang, While We’re Young, Margot at the Wedding, De Palma, Marie Antoinette, Westworld, Somewhere, Heat, The Bling Ring, Side Effects, Gimme the Loot, Under the Skin, You Can Count on Me, Something Wild, Bonnie and Clyde, Anomalisa, Manhattan, The Edge of Seventeen, The Big Short, Frances Ha, Animal Kingdom, The Duke of Burgundy, O Brother, Where Art Thou, In Your Eyes, Days of Heaven, The Breakfast Club, Network, Girlhood, Fish Tank, The Great Dictator, Blue Jay, The Place Beyond the Pines, Haywire, Contagion, Interstellar, The Informant!, Behind the Candelabra, Ocean’s Eleven, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Ocean’s Twelve, The Mermaid, Ocean’s Thirteen, In the Valley of Elah, Spy, Inherent Vice, Hard Eight, 50/50, The Hateful Eight, Arrival, Michael Clayton, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Brooklyn, Magic Mike, Jack Reacher, Paterson (again), Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (again), Young Frankenstein, Seven Psychopaths, On the Waterfront, Edge of Tomorrow, Swiss Army Man (first forty minutes), Blue Velvet, Blue Velvet (again), Son of Saul, Mean Streets, Sully, The Dark Knight Rises, Rachel Getting Married, Magic Mike XXL, A Most Violent Year, The Big Lebowski, Nebraska, Selma, Prisoners, Cinema Paradiso, The Squid and the Whale, Captain Phillips, I, Daniel Blake, The One I Love, Listen Up Philip, Greenberg, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Ricki and the Flash, Little Miss Sunshine, Kicking and Screaming, Married to the Mob, Kill Bill: Volume 1, The Manchurian Candidate, Kill Bill: Volume 2, Pulp Fiction, The Great Beauty, Django Unchained, Alps, Modern Times, Coffee and Cigarettes, Thor: The Dark World, Hunger, Shame, Iron Man 3, Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Following, Near Dark, Insomnia, Seven, Iron Man, Avengers, The Girlfriend Experience, Chinatown, A Separation, Incendies, Polytechnique, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, I’m Not There, Far From Heaven, Carol again, Enemy, Zodiac, Blade Runner (Final Cut [again]), Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War, Dumbo, Velvet Goldmine, Safe, Hell or High Water again, A Scanner Darkly, Waking Life, The Limey, Solaris (2002), Live Flesh, Thor, Thief, Panic Room, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Incredible Hulk, Julieta, The Good German, Badlands, Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man 2, In the Loop, Captain America: The First Avenger, sex, lies, and videotape, Erin Brockovich, Results, Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Stop Making Sense, Punch-Drunk Love, Reservoir Dogs, Zero Dark Thirty, Avengers: Age of Ultron (again), Take Shelter, Inside Out, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avengers: Age of Ultron again (for note-taking purposes), Rushmore, When Harry Met Sally, Traffic, Black Hawk Down, Paprika, There Will Be Blood, Dune, She’s Gotta Have It, The Deep Blue Sea, Waltz with Bashir, Munich, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Wild Tales, The Aviator, Frances Ha (again), Mistress America (again), The Squid and The Whale (again), Listen Up Philip (again), World of Tomorrow, Melvin and Howard, Magnolia, The Last of the Mohicans, In Bruges, Monsters, Love and Friendship, Mary and Max, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Serenity, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Man from UNCLE, Carol again (in 35mm), Spring Breakers, Room 237, American Graffiti, Miami Vice, Bridesmaids, Jurassic World, Casino Royale (from poker game on), John Wick (again)

 

(Weirdest Viewing Experience of the Year: Majority of the class laughing at the final moments of The Graduate. Honourable Mention: Realising that my family were enjoying the hollow nihilism of Jurassic World)

(Best Viewing Experience of the Year: seeing Carol in 35mm, my first time with the format as far as I’m aware. Honourable Mention: seeing it for the first time and realising exactly how much I adored it)

 

2017 Movies

NOTE: Includes movies whose American release dates were pre-2017, but were released here this year.

 

La La Land, La La Land (again), Jackie, Imperial Dreams, Manchester by the Sea, 20th Century Women, Silence, The Lego Batman Movie, I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore, Moonlight, Logan, Kong: Skull Island, Personal Shopper, Elle, Diedra and Laney Rob a Train, Burning Sands, Dave Chappelle: Deep in the Heart of Texas, Dave Chappelle: The Age of Spin, Get Out, Toni Erdmann, The Most Hated Woman in America, Free Fire, Five Came Back, The Discovery, The Fits, Girlfriend’s Day, iBoy, Win it All, Tower, Certain Women, Tramps, Sand Castle, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Rodney King, Casting JonBenet, Get Me Roger Stone, Alien: Covenant, Colossal, War Machine, Wonder Woman, The Big Sick, A Ghost Story, Jackie (again), Shimmer Lake, Catfight, Oh, Hello: On Broadway, Logan (again), I Am Jane Doe, I Am Not Your Negro, The Salesman, John Wick: Chapter 2, Baby Driver, Long Strange Trip, Nobody Speaks: Trials of the Free Press, La La Land again, The Book of Henry, Batman & Bill, Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, Okja, 20th Century Women (again), Lovesong, Lion, The Love Witch, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Before I Fall, Song to Song, Aquarius, War for the Planet of the Apes, Chasing Coral, The Beguiled, To the Bone, Dunkirk, The Incredible Jessica James, Free Fire (again), Hidden Figures, Icarus, Detroit, Atomic Blonde, I Called Him Morgan, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Wind River, Atomic Blonde (again), Oh Hello, On Broadway (again), Split, Logan Lucky (sans opening twenty-five), The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography, Lady Macbeth, What Happened to Monday, Logan Lucky (again; in full this time), Nocturama, Personal Shopper (again), First They Killed My Father, mother!, Alien: Covenant (again), David Lynch: The Art Life, The Handmaiden, Una, Valentine, Gaga: Five Foot Two, The Bad Batch (first thirty minutes), Logan Lucky again, Gerald’s Game (first twenty minutes), Our Souls at Night, Blade Runner 2049, Columbus, Ingrid Goes West, Wonderstruck, Manifesto, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Song to Song (again), Beats Per Minute, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (again), The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected [again]), The Death of Stalin, Thor: Ragnarok, Their Finest, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Tokyo Project, Patton Oswalt: Annihilation, Joan Didion: The Centre Will Not Hold, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) again, Come Swim, Call Me By Your Name, My Life as a Courgette, It Comes at Night, Good Time, Mudbound, Justice League, City of Ghosts, Murder on the Orient Express, The Big Sick (again), The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) again (uni-work related), Paddington 2, The Lost City of Z, The Florida Project, Strong Island, A Quiet Passion, Mindhorn, Stronger, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Wormwood, Atomic Blonde again, Land of Mine (first 40 minutes), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (again), Bright (first thirty minutes), Alien: Covenant again, The Red Turtle, Mr. Roosevelt, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) again, World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts.

 

(Unfortunately didn’t get to these releases –– Neruda, My Cousin Rachel, Girls Trip, God’s Own Country, I Am Not a Witch, Marjorie Prime, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Kedi, Beach Rats, Happy End, The Disaster Artist, Menashe, Mountains May Depart –– as a result of lack of time mostly, but some also didn’t play nearby enough for me to catch a screening)

 

TV

 

Older TV

NOTE: Unlike comics, these are in chronological order as I made sure not to try and catch up with more than one show simultaneously.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency S1, Please Like Me, The Leftovers S1-2, The Trip S1-2, O.J.: Made in America, Halt and Catch Fire S1-3, The Girlfriend Experience S1, Mr. Robot S1-2×03, Mad Men 3×13, 4×07, 7×07, Top of the Lake, One Mississippi S1, The Thick of It, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, Difficult People S1+2, Freaks and Geeks 1×01-1×02, Battlestar Galactica 1×01, 3×03-3×04

 

2017 TV

Sherlock, Taboo, One Day at a Time, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Star Wars Rebels, The Good Place, Agents of Shield, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Saturday Night Live (42×11-42×21), Supergirl, Sneaky Pete, Riverdale (1×01-2×01), San Clarita Diet, Legion, Crashing, Big Little Lies, Catastrophe, Feud, The Americans, Love, Iron Fist (pilot + 25% of 1×02), Review, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (pilot), The Flash (3×16), Five Came Back, 13 Reasons Why, Rick and Morty (3×01), Samurai Gourmet, iZombie, Brockmire (1×01-1×03), Archer(8×01-8×03), Better Call Saul, Brooklyn Nine Nine, The Leftovers, Fargo, Bill Nye Saves the World (first season), The Trip, Underground 2×06, The Handmaid’s Tale, Dear White People, I Love Dick, Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Twin Peaks, F is for Family (2×01-2×02), Long Strange Trip, GLOW, American Gods, Gypsy (pilot), Castlevania, Tour de Pharmacy, Friends from College (pilot), Insecure, Ozark (1×01-1×02), The Last Tycoon (pilot), Top of the Lake: China Girl, Room 104, Rick & Morty, Atypical, Comrade Detective, The Defenders, Halt and Catch Fire, The Tick, You’re the Worst, Bojack Horseman, The Deuce, One Mississippi, Better Things, American Vandal, Great News, The Last Tycoon, Transparent, Star Trek Discovery, Inhumans (1×01-02; later 03-1×08 for podcast), The Gifted, Mindhunter, Big Mouth, Stranger Things (2×01-03), Alias Grace, The Girlfriend Experience, Lady Dynamite, The Punisher (1×01), Runaways, Godless (1×01), She’s Gotta Have It, Patriot (25% of 1×01), Difficult People, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Easy (2×01-2×03), Wormwood, Black Mirror (USS Callister)

 

(As with cinema, there are always blindspots, primarily due to the sheer volume being released. Notable ones –– that I kept intending to get to at some point before 2018 –– The Young Pope, American Crime, The Carmichael Show, Queen Sugar)

 

 

 

BOOKS

NOTE: Still the area of the arts I’m most likely to neglect. Trying to stop doing this, likely never will; even if I try.

 

Older Books

A Once Crowded Sky, Call Me By Your Name, Carol/The Price of Salt, One Kick, The Revolution was Televised

 

2017 Books

Star Wars: Aftermath – Empire’s End, From a Certain Point of View, We Were Eight Years in Power

 

BONUS CONTENT

Just a peak behind the curtain at the TV-specific shortlists I kept over the course of the year. Each entry was included, not because I assumed they’d be within the end of year conversation, but because I wanted to mark them as and when they aired instead of running greater risk at glossing over something had I waited until, say November, to start thinking about these things.

 

Shows in Contention for Top 10: One Day at a Time, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Good Place, Agents of Shield, Legion, The Americans, Love, Big Little Lies, Review, Girls, Five Came Back, Better Call Saul, The Leftovers, Fargo, The Trip, The Handmaid’s Tale, I Love Dick, Master of None, Twin Peaks, GLOW, Insecure, Top of the Lake: China Girl, Comrade Detective, Halt and Catch Fire, The Tick, You’re the Worst, The Deuce, Better Things, America Vandal, Alias Grace, The Girlfriend Experience, Runaways, Difficult People, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Wormwood.

 

(As of November: Twin Peaks, The Leftovers, The Girlfriend Experience, Halt and Catch Fire, Better Things, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Top of the Lake: China Girl, Legion, Big Little Lies, The Handmaid’s Tale)

 

Episodes in Contention for Top 10: The Good Place 1×13, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 2×13, One Day at a Time (honestly any episode onwards from the fourth), Kristen Stewart’s SNL, Legion 1×01, Riverdale 1×03, Agents of Shield 4×15, Girls 6×03, Legion 1×04, Love 2×05, Big Little Lies 1×05, Legion 1×07, Review 3×02, Review 3×03, Big Little Lies 1×07, Feud 1×05, Girls 6×09, Underground 2×06 Leftovers 3×02, Feud 1×08, The Handmaid’s Tale 1×01, 1×03, Dear White People 1×05, Better Call Saul 3×05, iZombie 3×06 I Love Dick 1×05. 1×07, Master of None 2×04, 2×06, 2×08, Leftovers 3×06, Twin Peaks The Return Part 3, Fargo 3×06, Leftovers 3×07, Leftovers 3×08, Fargo 3×08, GLOW 1×08, Twin Peaks The Return Part 8, American Gods 1×04, iZombie 3×13, Twin Peaks The Return Part 14, Rick and Morty 3×04, Room 104 1×04, Halt and Catch Fire 4×01-4×02, Twin Peaks The Return Part 15, Insecure 2×05, The Tick 1×05, Room 104 1×05, Halt and Catch Fire 4×03, Twin Peaks The Return Parts 16-18, You’re the Worst 4×01-4×02, The Good Place 2×03, Halt and Catch Fire 4×07-10, You’re the Worst 4×06, Better Things 2×06, Big Mouth 1×08, Star Trek Discovery 1×07, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 3×06-07 Better Things 2×09-2×10, She’s Gotta Have It 1×06, Difficult People 3×02,3×08,3×10, Runaways 1×04, The Girlfriend Experience 2×09, Brooklyn Nine-Nine 5×09, Search Party 2×07, Wormwood Part 4, The Girlfriend Experience 2×11, The Girlfriend Experience 2×14

 

 

 

 

Dispatch: From the Front Lines of the Back Rows at London Film Festival 2017

An on-the-ground account of a whirlwind weekend in the cinemas of the country’s capital.

IIIIIIFestivals can seem like illustrious affairs from the outside. The ones that become known and ingrained in the public consciousness, like Cannes and Sundance, seem like hubs of glitz and glamour, a place to watch film secluded from ordinary society. This largely comes from the people who attend, stars and creative talent behind the projects in competition who walk the red carpets in the sunny French Riviera on the cusp of summer or hurry along the one in Utah’s Park City as winter comes to a close, attending press conferences, after-parties and galas.

Of course, these are not exclusive to the aforementioned pair of festivals, they comprise a key part of most, if not all. As do the press and industry screenings which constitute their own schedule, often running prior to other screenings, in order to give critics the chance to see as much as they can possibly can without running into as many timetabled clashes. And, there is a third type of festival experience, part and parcel with festivals like TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) and London Film Festival. That of the general public.

I’ll confess, much of that description is drawn from other’s examples, following festival buzz will eventually lead you down the rabbit hole of hearing about how the sausage gets made, so to speak, with regards to a critic’s experience. The London Film Festival, which runs from the 4th to the 15th of October this year, is the kind of festival that’s open to anyone that purchases tickets to a ludicrous number of screenings across the city –– 242 features plus shorts  –– though largely situated in the West End. It’s far easier to travel into London than it is to find accommodation, let alone make it to Cannes or Park City and a large part of the appeal is that it’s so close to home from many, offering the chance to see numerous releases; some out shortly, others still waiting on a UK release date. Earlier this year, I attended London Sundance –– in order to catch The Big Sick and A Ghost Story –– but that was solely situated at Picturehouse Central, my time there only encompassed an afternoon and the air was tense, a result of the attack that occurred the previous night.

While my experience with London Film Fest this year did primarily involve the same cinema, two of the four screenings I attended with a friend were based there, the fact they were spread out over the course of a weekend and a 36-hour period allowed to the opportunity to branch out a little more, wander and take in the sights of the surrounding area without the nagging need to linger in the lobby because it’s only an hour until the next screening. Upon arrival to Leicester Square on Saturday afternoon, it was clear to anyone that the festival was well underway, due to the numerous signs that adorned the surrounding area, not to mention the booth nearby and a red carpet that ran the length of the entrance to the Odeon, that I understand saw the premiere of Battle of the Sexes later that night.

 

IIIIIIThe first screening on the docket took place a short distance away, at the Prince Charles Cinema, an unassuming building from the outside, that was even more so due to the faulty directions we received that resulted in us passing by the unassuming back entrance. It’s more of a repertory cinema, the kind that’s prevalent in New York and Los Angeles, but sadly lacking in areas outside of England’s capital; the kind that I wish I could attend more frequently following this first-time visit.

Speaking of first times, we were there to see Columbus, the feature-film debut of Kogonada, a highly accomplished video essayist (http://kogonada.com) who has produced visual studies of the work of Terrence Malick and Wes Anderson, the neorealist movement and musings on the cinema of Richard Linklater and its relation to time. Deriving its title from its setting, the city in Indiana, Kogonada’s film is quiet and languid, meditative about its surroundings, ruminating on the architecture of the city and the nature of hanging around such a place. Having also written the film, it is the story of Jin, played by John Cho, a translator of literature in Korea, and of Casey, who never went to college, instead sticking around in order to care for her mother. She’s the kind of girl who’s described, by another character in the film in fact, as “bookish” – she works in a library and is clear on calling them “films” rather than movies. Jin comes to the city because his father has fallen into a coma, the result of a fall portrayed in the film’s opening. There’s a sense of what’s become Sofia Coppola-patent ennui, but it’s been applied within the framework of a Jim Jarmusch film, ever so slightly esoteric. Fans of last year’s Paterson are bound to find some small-town charms in this.

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Much like Lost in Translation, Jin arrives, but he’s unsure exactly what to do now he’s here –– he and his father never really got along. After deciding the first port of call should be the hospital where his father is recovering, he winds up at a restaurant with Parker Posey, in a magnificent supporting turn, as Eleanor and it’s here where the film really starts to crackle. The pair find that low-key gear that’s most appropriate for the conversation they’re having, one where they’ve had a couple of drinks and true feelings about the situation start to slip out as if they were casual small talk, pulling us in as we realise we want more morsels of information. And from there, it really comes alive. Jin shortly comes across Casey and over the course of numerous days, the pair walk to, and discuss various pieces of architecture in the city; though their conversations are frequently about more as the events in their personal lives develop. It should be said that these conversations are engaging on that architectural level, largely a result of Casey’s detailing avoiding a tour-guide vibe.

One observation, that a building’s front is adorned with an asymmetrical cross, has greater relation to the film’s form as well. Kogonada’s video essay about Anderson demonstrates he understands what goes into composing a symmetrical frame, but Columbus illustrates that he knows how to eschew this. Casey and Jin’s first meeting is filmed from a slight angle, when they start walking, Jin becomes briefly obscured by each post they pass. Just as the geography of Columbus has intense thought poured into it, the geography of Columbus has as well and it results in a tight formal grammar and allows from flourishes to spring forth. One conversation between Jin and Eleanor is relayed to us through a mirror and when it comes to a close, it does so on that and another mirror, each on different planes. This kind of shot doesn’t draw attention to itself, but it is breathtaking to see a debut from someone who has that assured confidence and control over their frame, not solely the themes that interest them.

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Said cinematography, the work of Elisha Christian, is subtly brilliant throughout, and bolstered by Kogonada’s editing, the pair working together to establish spatial dimensions first and foremost, scenes which exist in a real space, but temporal ones as well, particularly in the way that conversations are cross-cut together –– there’s an example early on, of which the artistry behind it will become clear once you’ve seen it. Casey and Jin have similar, but diametrically opposed problems. She doesn’t know when, or even if, she’s leaving while he has no idea whether he’s staying, but the pair find a register that suggests kinship in accordance to these ideas. The acceptance of stumbling across someone else also dazed by the suffocating smallness of the surrounding area.

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Cho has never really had chance to capitalise on his ability as a leading man, but front and center here, demonstrates exactly how good he can be, slipping into the vibe that Columbus demands even if his character can’t. Richardson had a supporting role in last year’s The Edge of Seventeen where she wowed, like much of the cast, but this is more of a knockout showcase, getting to play slightly older with a similar mix of comedy and drama. At first glance, the opening minutes of Columbus play out with a diffuse and elliptical nature, but on further examination go to show that if you prove willing to push through the haze, true instances of beauty on display will reveal themselves.

 

IIIIIIWhile discussing actors that have rarely been given a chance to showcase their full potential, one of the most noted examples of current times is Elizabeth Olsen who hit the big time with Martha Marcy May Marlene, but since then has largely been caught up in the franchise machine, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Scarlet Witch. Outside of that she’s been a part of such films as: the post-human Godzilla, a Josh Radnor movie which I won’t dare type the name of –– for fear that you will think to seek it out –– and this year’s Wind River where she falls prey to Taylor Sheridan’s inability to craft a female law enforcement agent that exists to do anything other than be woefully unprepared for the situation at hand.

(I should confess that prior to this weekend, I considered Avengers: Age of Ultron the location of her second best performance, although not by default, as the lynchpin of the film she’s phenomenal. It’s my favourite to come from the MCU)

Luckily, Ingrid Goes West is spectacular proof of what she can really do when given a substantial role and how well she can play against type, playing a social media influencer that’s outwardly bursting with energy and more akin to the socialite lifestyle of her sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley than the quieter persona she usually projects.

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Olsen’s character, Taylor, finds herself the subject of Aubrey Plaza’s Ingrid. Ingrid is not in a good spot. Her mother recently passed away following a period of sickness and shortly after she wound up in a mental facility, a result of gatecrashing someone’s wedding and macing the bride because she was not invited. After her release, Ingrid reacclimatises herself to the world through the phone which doesn’t leave her side, catching up through social media, namely Instagram. As she scrolls through, pausing briefly and frequently to double tap each post, she encounters Taylor’s profile and by the time the montage of posts is over, Ingrid has herself a new fascination. What follows involves her moving to Los Angeles, making use of the money bequeathed to her by her mother, in the hopes of brokering a friendship with Taylor.

For some, Ingrid Goes West will feel like a personal attack, a result of how astutely it understands the millennial relation to not only social media, but technology itself –– one scene stresses the agony of crafting the perfect ‘haha’ response –– but it’s also deeply hilarious as a dark comedy. Contrasted against beats of seriousness, scenes which play out without jokes that prevent someone from forgetting that Ingrid is not well mentally. As much as the film, directed and co-written by Matt Spicer, plays for laughs, it avoids making Ingrid’s condition itself, which goes un-diagnosed, fair game to be mocked. However, as it is set in sunny LA, there’s no shortage of alternative targets to satirise: from Instagram culture to the world of socialites and socialite desirees to struggling artists –– Taylor’s husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell) and Ingrid’s landlord Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) are a pop artist and aspiring screenwriter respectively.

At the centre of it all, of course, is Plaza herself, whom I’m certain is in every scene. Anyone who’s seen Legion is aware of exactly how multi-faceted her performances can be while still maintaining an air of eccentricity that gives the work a zippy pace. Here, she gets the chance to throw herself into a character who’s uneasily sympathetic a la Rachel in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but not a mere shadow of that role as she’s looking for a platonic relationship rather than a romantic one; a key difference. Plaza’s a great physical performer, whether she’s trying to be inconspicuous and unintentionally causing a scene, gradually adopting the mannerisms of the LA lifestyle or marching somewhere, making readily apparent that she’s on the warpath. And she has a delightful interplay with Olsen once they finally meet, one that’s packed to give them both lots to do despite the film running a taut 97-minutes.

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The script, co-written by David Branson Smith, is deceptively simple, calculating yet that runs as an undercurrent rather than as defining trait. While never rushing from scene to scene to burn through plot, the decisions for where the characters will go feel astute and in service of the wider film, stemming from their personalities and thematically relevant rather than from the need to push the narrative along. Even what seem like throwaway details at first glance feed back into the narrative later on and give it propulsion. The ending is not as sharp as the situation could allow for, but to say that Smith and Spicer run out of things to say would be inaccurate, letting it all come full circle while moving to an adjacent idea. Plaza’s performance is absolutely one of note, and that’ll be hard to shake for the impending future, but Olsen and Jackson Jr. shouldn’t be forgotten either. It’s probably impossible for Olsen to earn a supporting actress nod, although less so than Plaza for best actress, but it is absolutely the kind of performance that is so startling, it makes you furious that no-one had necessarily realised she was capable of that before.

To speak briefly to the screening itself, this was held at Picturehouse Central, and was in fact the UK premiere of the film. As such, it meant that the press were there for a photo-op, as Spicer, Plaza and Billy Magnussen, who plays Taylor’s brother Nicky, were in attendance as well. There were some behind the scenes complications, and the film started late although it is unbeknownst to me what the nature of this issue was. So we had to skip the Q&A that followed in order to make it back home. Something which we’d anticipated regardless due to the extent of our travel, but became certain as the film’s start time drew past the intended 21:00. While the delay certainly put a damper on the evening in a sense, if you’ve been to any post-screening Q&A’s, you know how they can devolve into what is essentially vamping a question into a comment, so maybe it was for the best. And so ended Saturday.

 

IIIIIISunday was similar, in the sense that the screenings we’d booked for were in the afternoon, but the first was at Hackney Picturehouse and so we had to set out in the middle of the morning to ensure that we’d be there on time. Luckily we were, and with enough chance to sit down in their cafe/restaurant. Despite being part of the same chain, there’s a difference between this and Picturehouse Central, if only because it seems out-of-the-way of the hubbub. Not empty by any means, but situated in such a place that it was possible to have a conversation without having to compete with so many people passing through.

We were here to see Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck, written by Brian Selznick adapting his own novel. I’m a new fan of Haynes, truth be told, having found Carol and then worked my way through his back catalogue in the past few weeks, in a way creating a retrospective of his work in preparation for this. I was unsure how hard I’d fall for this one, but twenty minutes in, I realised that tears were streaming down my face and the fact they didn’t really stop is the best evidence I can provide that it got me good.

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Another period piece from Haynes, albeit dual-period as it seeks to coalesce two stories into one whole. The closest to our current time takes place in 1977, where Oakes Fegley’s Ben has not only lost his mother, portrayed oh so briefly by a comforting Michelle Williams, but he’s suffered an accident of his own that has left him bereft of his hearing. After finding some heirlooms concerning his family’s past, he becomes determined to find his father somewhere in the vast expanses of New York and sets off in search of him, leaving his Minnesotan town.

The second piece is set 90-years ago, in 1927, and features another deaf protagonist – Rose. Played by Millicent Simmonds, she too runs away from her home, although her’s is in New Jersey where she lived with her father, in search of Lillian Mayhew, an actress she takes every chance possible to see on the big screen and portrayed by Julianne Moore, who also has a part to play in the 1977-set section. Eventually both of these children find their way to the American Natural History Museum which serves as an anchoring point between the two periods, with some physical holdovers and connections creating a link between them before the narrative properly interlinks. I imagine you’ve got an inkling of how they do, but that feels right for this as a piece of Haynes’ oeuvre. With his work comes an inevitability, because of his focus on souls lost in the world; “girl[s] flung out of space”. They normally have little choice of where to go in life, but the interest comes from them finding where they fit.

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Much of this film rests on the shoulders of Fegley and Simmonds –– as much as Moore and Williams are key, they are supporting roles all the same –– and while much of Simmonds’ story sees her traipsing around alone, Fegley gets a screen partner in Jaden Michael’s Jamie, another kid and one who shows him exactly how magical the museum can be. While Haynes’ work until now has been primarily for an older audience, this will likely play well to a younger crowd and their families, the central mystery of Ben’s father having a tremendous and heart-warming payoff as the puzzle pieces that were previously missing snap into place.

This doesn’t mean that Haynes has turned into a workmanlike studio man however, as it’s still a remarkable rich and warm piece of work from one of the best in the game today. With Rose’s story comes a chance for directorial playfulness as he opts to portray this in the style of a silent film. As Far From Heaven proved, Haynes is a director indebted to the impeccable sense of visual storytelling of directors like Douglas Sirk. Even with the fact he’s operating in a Black and White world here, his frames are still crisp, working with frequent collaborator Edward Lachman, whose lensing is just incredible; both masters of any period setting thrown at them.

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With this playfulness comes a risk of drawing attention to oneself, but their work is anything but purely referential. Ostensibly lived-in, the pair are dedicated to crafting rich worlds with this applying to both sections of the whole. Both Ben and Rose’s arrivals to New York are a sight to behold for entirely different reasons and filmed with wholly different approaches. Now admittedly Fegley’s character and performance can be characterised as twerpy. He, is of course, a kid who not had chance to come to terms with the normal world, much less one without his mother and sound. Yet there is majesty to be witnessed throughout his exploration of the city. To set a story within a museum and not see what it contains would be a waste, and Haynes doesn’t squander the location, filling the tale with a startling amount of detail in every shot. That type of aesthetic quality is expectedly finessed, more than solely a ‘kid’s movie’ while still capturing a wide-eyed wonder –– not solely for the characters as they find a place in a world they were unaware existed, but also the audience getting to see it unfurl before them. For my money, it feels like his third best. Haynes at his most accessible while still working within his traditional framework. And for many children, it could easily be their favourite film, for very good reason.

 

IIIIIIAnd so, later that evening, came a return to Picturehouse Central for the final film of the festival for me. Well I say film, but that’s not necessarily what Manifesto is. A collaboration between Julian Rosefeldt and Cate Blanchett that was originally intended as an art installation. What Rosefeldt has done is appropriate various manifestos of the world, ranging from the writing of Karl Marx to that of Jim Jarmusch and Lars von Trier, turning them into extensive monologues for Blanchett to deliver as a variety of characters. By my count, there are 13 distinct characters that she plays on-screen, perhaps more dependent on the nature of the voice-overs that intermittently play over the footage of the surround area captured by Rosefeldt’s glacially panning camera.

Now as we all know, one Blanchett is great, if there are two then you’re likely watching Coffee and Cigarettes and presumably 13 would provide a new definition of pure cinema, but there is something missing from the work. I haven’t had the chance to experience the art installation this project was originally intended as, but I imagine that something has been lost in translation. The sequences have been truncated from what I understand about the original segments, part of which includes a chanting in each that creates an echo chamber as it plays simultaneously against 11 other chants. The idea of the segments playing all around you sounds like a more involving idea.

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A confrontational piece of work, but one of contradiction as well. The various sequences spill into one another, calling bullshit on what was stated not five minutes ago, only to have the same happen to them. Starting with one character that I’ll affectionately call Homeless Man with a Dog and Bullhorn (seen above) who is trudging through a disused and abandoned stretch of land, the film eventually segues into an eulogy being given at a funeral and another of a conservative mother saying grace before dinner. It’s clear that Blanchett’s having fun with each and every performance, relishing in the self-reflexivity, most evident when she plays both anchorwoman and weather reporter on the scene and they converse about minimalism.

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Of course it’s fun to hear her rant about Dadaism surrounded by people mourning. Almost as much as seeing her deliver the principles of Dogme 95 to children who are might not be old enough to count that high. It is certainly an experience, though whether it’s a grueling one will ultimately depend on whether the idea of it alone is enough to put you off. If the absurdity of the experiment sounds intriguing, that might be enough for it to win you over, leaning into the insanity. In a way, I don’t feel I’m doing it justice, it bombards the mind like a 90-minute college crash course on a full syllabus and likely requires a type of criticism more commonplace to the world of art as opposed to the world of cinema, despite also defying traditional criticism. Regardless, it is one heck of a showcase for Blanchett’s capabilities as an actress, some of the best proof that she’s the best working today and even the original form is lost in translation, it’s a bold kind of art that I’ll happily welcome more of across more screens.

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With that, my LFF 2017 has come to a close. The start of a new week saw my return to uni, travelling back across London and beyond. This weekend was an absurdly great time, the kind that makes you enviable of everyone who lives close enough to attend more over both weeks of the festival. Only a few hours away from it all, I’ll profess to missing it already, to the point where I scoured St. Pancras in search of a copy of Little White Lies, there being a great difference to the relative silence of a commute and the simmering buzz of being around people as devoted to film, also having conversations about the merits of what they’ve seen.

Still there’s always next year.

 

Baby Driver Puts the Pedal to the Metal and Forgets About the Cruise Control

Edgar Wright’s new vehicle is by all accounts slick, but might have a little too much going on under the hood.

Making a mixtape is a labour of love, or so I assume –– I don’t think anyone’s made one since the creation of the iPod, but that means we’ve made playlists instead. We create one for every occasion: the gym, work, house parties etc. and it’s still just as meticulous a process. Ensuring one song flows to the next, creating a connective tissue running through, much like the artists themselves do when making an album.

Behind Baby Driver is Edgar Wright, a writer-director whose rightfully seen as an artist, one with a particular sound –– his voice, distinct and recogniseable after the success of The Cornetto Trilogy and his other work. In Baby Driver, Wright has attempted to make more than just a mere playlist of hits to belt out, instead swinging for the fences and creating a concept album, the film’s DNA being the music itself.

If your primary complaint about La La Land involved a lack of music, then consider your problem solved as this is stuffed with tunes;  Baby’s (Ansel Engort) numerous iPods providing the film’s needle drops. By all means a musical, but one that takes existing tunes and arranges them to tell a story over the story giving way for songs, Wright rarely lets the music let up and it feels near constant as a result. The first act seems unrelenting in that way, but avoids Suicide Squad-level of tedium due to Wright avoiding the easy songs, springing for the deep cuts from a wide array of artists: Queen, Simon & Garfunkel, Run the Jewels and many more.

Just as important to this film as the score are the scores that the criminal cast are looking to attain from the variety of heists they pull off. While many sequences are choreographed to the music playing in Baby’s eardrums –– from an early long take where he glides through the streets of Atlanta on a coffee run to more simple flourishes like Doc (Kevin Spacey) splitting up the crew’s cut of the cash –– these crimes are more elaborate, the set-pieces of the film and most thrilling sequences.

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Other movies in the crime genre, like Heat, take us inside the location being robbed, but Wright sticks with Baby and the getaway car. Sequences like that early long take demonstrate Engort’s adeptness at moving less like Robert De Niro and more like Fred Astaire and that flow extends to when Baby’s behind the wheel. The cars he drives weave through Atlanta, and its commuters, with his foot on gas, there’s no time to slow down as he looks to evade the cops. John Wick: Chapter 2 might engage in car-fu, treating the vehicles as other fighters, but here stunt coordinator and driver Jeremy Fry, who worked on both Wick chapters, moves from martial arts to music in order to deliver spectacle that’s just as graceful as the bullet ballet.

Baby’s cut from the same cloth as Ryan Gosling in Drive, a stoic character that’s content to cut the chatter. This changes when he meets a waitress, Debora (Lily James), their interactions light-hearted as the pair dance around the other verbally. The blossoming relationship provides the emotional through-line of the piece, but Wright incorporates some prior tragedy, the layers of which are gradually pulled back before being revealed in full. With a concept like this –– a getaway driver suffers from tinnitus and listens to music to drown it out –– it’s somewhat necessary to explain that, especially when aiming for a degree of realism like Wright is.

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As such, it engages with ideas from other crime movies, most notably Walter Hill’s The Driver, but includes more general ideas like a shipment of weapons and a sense of uneasiness when it comes to who the characters can trust. The film doesn’t slow down, running just shy of two hours and so feels filled to the brim with ideas. Wright layers these in a way you’d expect. While Mad Max: Fury Road went for a simpler narrative (in basic terms –– Point A to B and back) which allowed for maximum insanity, Baby Driver proceeds in a more traditional fashion, building through cause and effect, as that central crime narrative finds itself entwined with Baby and Debora’s relationship, among others. On the first watch, it doesn’t seem as well structured as the Cornetto trilogy, in terms of early foreshadowing, but there’s a chance that a more silent protagonist allowed Wright to leave the set-up of various elements unsaid, and this will become more apparent when re-watched.

Baby serves as the film’s protagonist, doing what he does for Doc to ensure everything goes off without a hitch or casualty, but he’s part of a cast of criminals run by Doc and made up of Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza González), Bats (Jamie Foxx) and other bit players. Wright plays with the tension derived from this crew without making too knotted of a web –– Buddy and Darling are a couple –– partly due to how fast the film moves. It’s nowhere close to the near-three hour run-time of Heat, more in line with modern-day action movies and shorter than most superhero fare, there’s no real wiggle room to really delve into the rest of the crew’s interior lives.

Even with small glimpses, they shine. Foxx plays a wildcard and relishes the opportunity to go further over the top than the rest of the cast, González avoids the over the top quality other actresses may have gone for with this Bonnie (of & Clyde) character, commanding a mutual respect from everyone else, not least Hamm who with Spacey play the straight men in this enterprise, although Hamm’s walks a more precarious line, with that stern seemingly papering over rage. James plays the purest part, a respite from a far murkier picture that I think most are expecting, her chemistry with Engort allowing for a lighter mood –– one that might cause you to grin, but not necessarily laugh out loud. It should be said at this point that everyone here is phenomenal when it comes to how they use the space, hitting the musical beats with ease, a fact highlighted by how rarely Wright has to cut in closer from a wider shot to mask a mistake.

baby-driver-image-3His visual style remains, evident with the little things, like button presses and there’s some wider visual flourishes  –– one transition involves moving from a close up of Baby in shades to his car roaming the streets which Wright does with a gentle push in –– coming from another collaboration with cinematographer Bill Pope. Wright is clearly in control of the look of his film, while it may not utilise center framing like Mad Max: Fury Road, the action rarely gets muddled, even as the cuts get more frequent, down to the guiding hand of the soundtrack. Sound editing is just as key to Baby Driver and there’s at no point does someone seem to be a beat behind, making this a very rewarding experience if you know the songs.

While it’ll certainly play well with a crowd, Wright’s also looking to provide a unique, singular experience. A thin whine runs through scenes, because of Baby’s tinnitus, which shows how Wright is looking to focalise this movie through Baby’s head, putting the audience in there without relying purely on POV shots. For the most part, Baby spends the film with both earbuds in and the music booms. When inside a building, it’s by no means as overwhelming and gets even fainter when an earbud is removed. As a result of this near-constant soundtrack, not to mention the dialogue and other aural aspects, the sound mixing has a lot to contend with. In the moments where no-one’s barreling through the streets over the speed limit, the balance sounds good, but when Baby’s foot’s on the floor, there are moments where it feels like too much, as if you’ve found yourself right in front of a band performing live, but without earplugs.

ansel-elgort-in-baby-driverBlockbusters have a tendency to slip up in the third act, but that’s not strictly the case here. Instead it feels like it could have afforded to go a little further in its climax, but I’m willing to bet they couldn’t afford to from a financial perspective. Wright remembers the relationships built up over the course of the film lending it the necessary emotional weight, which demonstrates the strength of this film’s second act, its peak which goes far enough in developing those relationships. There’s one decision I’m not completely on-board with, but upon reflection is likely to be less of conflicting with prior actions and more because of the relative brevity of the film making it seem sudden.

That brevity results in a tightness in the script that makes it hard to simply point at Heat‘s runtime and ask for it to be closer to that. The film is meticulously crafted around a very precise soundtrack and timing that doesn’t allow for an additional scene to just be inserted midway through the run-time and alleviate all concerns, especially when it can be argued the ending has to string together more scenes than it should in order to provide a satisfying point to leave off.

Despite these final act issues, there isn’t a point where I didn’t enjoy myself and that may be the real strength of the film. For a while now, I’ve found myself liking blockbusters and tent-poles less than people I know and the initial consensus that forms online. Wright’s sheer devotion to the concept, never backing off from the initial idea that makes the film feel gutsy in a way that’s hard not to admire. Even the beat that didn’t gel with me is one I enjoyed seeing play out because instances like that make it clear this film has a far more complicated morality to it than expected and instances like that allow for debate.

It’s this kind of ambitious filmmaking that doesn’t just aim to shoot straight down the middle and win over everyone with the lowest amount of effort, instead going for something vastly different, where the passion and craft are clear. This results in likability and enjoyability being ideas which aren’t directly proportional –– it’s possible to like it without loving it, while still loving the time you spent with it. Wright has made a mixtape, a concept album, one which I admittedly didn’t love every track on it, but is one that I want to listen to again, now knowing the sound and feel to expect, looking to see how it all links together.

The Elegant Simplicity of Wonder Woman

DC’s latest works not only because it’s fine with being a superhero film, but because it is unashamedly so.

The most striking distinction, the one that separates Wonder Woman from the rest of the DC Extended Universe, is unusually that despite the film’s title, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is not referred to by that title within the film. Lest we forger that prior to their 2017 summer tent-pole, this was a universe that saw both Batman and Superman undergo periods of uncertainty, with the weight of the world thrown at them, in order to question if they ‘be worthy’ enough to protect their cities on opposite sides of the bay.

Not only that, but just ten months ago, this universe revealed itself to be one where the alleged supervillains (and believe me, we were told they were bad guys many times) appear to have been more willing to save a city, one that none of them come from, from an unquestionable evil. Wonder Woman does not trade on the moral queries of the previous entries or this franchise, or at least it doesn’t when it comes to its protagonist. Instead, Diana is Wonder Woman and this is not up for debate.

This simplicity can be seen in individual story beats, like when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) steals the notebook of Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya). He simply sees it and goes for it. As a whole, the movie trades on this kind of simplicity when it comes to plot –– It does not try to intertwine four/five plot-lines like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, nor does it appear to being going where the wind and mood takes it a la Suicide SquadHowever, I don’t want to imply that this film is basic by any means.

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It’s smart, not in a Whedon-kind of way where the words ‘mewling quim’ end up in the finished product, but in regards to gender roles and the subversion of those within a blockbuster. This should be clear from the fact that Steve Trevor, despite being the romantic interest, is granted a great deal more to do than his respective female counterparts, but it applies to other scenes. Written by Allan Heinberg, there are points, such as when Diana walks in on Steve exiting the bath or later when they depart for London and discuss sleeping, where you might anticipate where these scenes will go, based on similar versions across many other pieces of media. This is primarily due to the dialogue, leaning on low-hanging fruit for these scenarios which can be played as cutesy-awkward, but under the lens of Patty Jenkins, an air of earnestness comes across.

Andrew Sarris considered this to be ‘Interior Meaning’, or the conflict between the text the director works from, and the text that they create. As a result, the joke isn’t on Diana. It might be played as humorous, but not for laughs directed at her because Jenkins understands there’s difference between being a fish-out-of-water and naivety writ large. A similar notion applies to Sammy, Charlie and Chief, played by Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock respectively. They might be stereotypes, a symptom of the script adopting a brisker pace upon arriving in Man’s World, but the qualities that come with these rough character outlines aren’t why they’re funny.

This notion of ‘interior meaning’ was demonstrated last year in Batman v. Superman, when Gadot ad-libbed her smile during the Doomsday fight, before she rejoined the brawl. With the focus now on year, she shines even more brightly than she did there. Present in the actresses that portray a younger Diana, Gadot demonstrates a determination in all of her actions and decisions throughout the film, and as a fish-out-of-water, she plays confusion without an air of vapidity –– the moment in which she becomes enamoured by a baby sees her tap into the same compassion and care for life that takes across No Man’s Land in the second act, the film’s most inspiring and flowing sequence.

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With Chris Pine, the pair demonstrate a chemistry that runs as an undercurrent in most if not all of their scenes even when it is not the focus and without either of them needing to say anything about it. Jenkins’ has a clear talent for non-verbal moments like this, the reason the wonders of the first act shine despite the heavy exposition about the mythology of the Amazons and gods. When dealing with scenes that are explicitly about the duo’s relationship, Jenkins focus on the pair and avoids cutting away to show reactions of others. This is about what they have together and that unity makes them best comic book pairing since Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter, a comparison that would be made regardless, but is ultimately welcome.

If anything, this goes to show that a lot of the film’s problems exist on a script level. in fact the issues present in the film –– exposition, underwritten supporting cast, a third act that forgets some themes previously considered, bad CGI –– are ones present in most superhero films (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War and Suicide Squad to offer just one possible assortment to fit this particular bill). It’s to the credit of Jenkins that the first two acts, the second most of all, are so strong, that these issues don’t weigh the film down further. In this lead-up to Wonder Woman‘s release, there was a worry that it would seem to similar to Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor, but instead it feels fresh, in the way that Deadpool captured the zeitgeist and that’s a matter of new perspective.

Of course a disconnect from the wider DCEU helps with that. In fact, we don’t receive a definitive answer as to why Diana left Man’s World and the film would be better served without a framing sequence possibly reminding reviews of that. As with those moments mentioned previously with regards to ‘Interior Meaning’, this sense of hopefulness hasn’t been seen in this universe before (even if select viewers found it in Man of Steel) and the sheer desire to do good is frankly awe-inspiring, hopefully a point of refocusing for this franchise.

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With any luck this refocusing will shift away from fights set against green-screens involving all manner of flames and explosions. This is where the film becomes messiest, the bad CGI more noticeable now taking center stage, not helped by the editing. Despite this, Gadot remains a constant, continuing to show that she demonstrates this character in a way that even fans of her previous appearance likely couldn’t have anticipated. Through this it becomes clear that it’s never been Gadot’s acting that’s been flat, but instead that it seems this way when what’s around her, background and elements in the scene, are.

By and large, I think we’d like comic book movies to be something more, which is why so many latched onto Logan because it wasn’t a comic book movie played straight in its first half. At the same time, we have to also recognise that when one wants to be a comic book movie where good stops evil and then goes on to do that exceptionally well then that’s as equally deserving of praise.

Thankfully, Wonder Woman did not end up being a rehash of movies that Marvel made six years ago, but instead a refreshing and joyful experience because of how it subverts those, fighting against the traditions of the genre for as long as it can hold out, and at 140-minutes, it does so for near-two hours. It grants Steve an arc rather than relegating him to the role of romantic interest alone, a lesson which needs to be universally applied to the genre, blockbusters and film at large. When Jenkins is able to place the camera further back, a benefit of filming in real-world locations, and shoot action wide over the industry-standard proximity, the phenomenal blocking and choreography gets shown off, most prominently on Themyscira. It does not get lost in the weeds of what it means to be a hero, postulating if Diana can wield the lasso like they wondered if Steve could with the shield.

Instead, she simply does.