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.

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One thought on “2017 in Film: A Ranking

  1. Great write-up, even if I disagree with you in a fair few places, I couldn’t imagine the work of listing everything in a year especially without some sorta notes on everything. Keep up the good work.

    Like

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