Who goes to the cinema anymore? Pretentious cinephile wankers who make end of the year top 10 lists. That’s who.
Hi, my name is Charlie. Happy new year to you. I’m posting this on the last day of 2017 and although I haven’t seen every single film released in 2017, I believe I have enough to form a personal definitive top 10 list. I’m looking at my sidebars in WordPress as I hit publish, I’m 3600 words long, my SEO is okay – my readability needs improvement. Strap yourselves in, here we go.
The end of the year is here and as always now is the time to reflect on the important things in life. Family, friends, the dwindling state of the big scary world and the weekly escape from all those things into shiny big screens within darkened halls. If I was to pick a theme for this list, it would be that most of these movies that make the top 10 are kinda fucked – but in a good way. A kind of ‘I can’t believe what I just saw, but I’ll take it’ kind of vibe. I guess in a year when the whole world seems fucked and encircling faster round the sinkhole, it really must take something for works of fiction to make me think a comparable feeling of fucked.
I’m going to run from 20-10 as a way to include honourable mentions.
20. Baby Driver: To be honest, I think I was expecting something a bit more from Baby Driver. Indeed it has a great soundtrack, a great cast, Edgar Wright’s snappy cine-literate style and Jon Hamm playing the violent psychopath we’ve always wanted him to be. It’s a great Saturday night kind of movie.
19. Kong Skull Island/War for the Planet of the Apes: I had to include the movie about the big ape and the movie about the smaller apes as a tie. One is a big gloriously stupid monster movie that appealed gleefully to my inner 10 year old, the other was a fantastic closer to one of the most fascinating big movie franchises of recent years. If we could all take some time to kneel before Andy Serkis and give thanks to what he has done for movies in the last decade.
18. Lady Macbeth: Girls just want to have fun even the one’s labelled as literature’s quintessential villainess archetype.
17. Logan Lucky: Time has not been kind to my evaluation of Ocean’s Eleven. I think it’s because of a gradual allergy I’ve developed for George Clooney and Matt Damon. Can’t explain it. They’re just so god damned confident about themselves all the time even when the former is bumbling around like an idiot. What a fake… Logan Lucky is Steven Soderberg going back to do a heist film though set in North Carolina with blue collar bank robbers. This state may have voted for Trump but the film never really depicts them negatively as rednecks, just some people who have been hard done by who want to hit back at the faceless 1%.
16. The Big Sick: Is there a place for small rom coms anymore? There is for this one, I can’t quite believe the guy who plays Dinesh in Silicon Valley can appear so charming and dare I say it dashing…
15. Thor Ragnorak/Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: It’s a tie between the two best Marvel movies. Guardians 2 got close to losing it during it’s climatic fight but stuck the landing with an extremely emotional ending. You will believe a talking – gun toting racoon will cry real tears. Thor Ragnorak on the other hand is a deliriously entertaining romp through the same pulp sci-fi world made even greater by Led Zeppelin and the appearance of one Jeff Goldblum. I also liked how for once in a Marvel movie – the whole city gets destroyed by the overwhelming power these superhero types are conventionally supposed to find some way to stop.
14. La La Land: I see nothing but animosity for La La Land lately from folks who I think miss the point. It’s a film that lures you in with an old fashioned romance done with golden age song and dance and then snaps you completely out of it and says ‘dream bigger’. It’s characters may never be happy in the ways they dream, but you yourself will probably never be happy in the ways you dream – you’ve just got to make a good go of it.
13. Wonder Woman: It’s been a good year for superhero movies. At the start of the year Logan brought a stabby close to Hugh Jackman’s 17 year run playing Wolverine. Whilst I did appreciate the change of tone of Logan, it made me awfully depressed. Wonder Woman, on the other hand picked me up in the way I want superhero movies to. It does get messy towards the end, but as far as superhero movies go, Gal Gadot has achieved Chris Reeve level status. She can of course go off to make a movie as bad as Superman 3, and she did with Justice League but she’s still god darn Wonder Woman.
12. Manchester By The Sea: Casey Affleck starts off being something of a dislikable character, but the way in which the film goes back to gradually peel back the layers and years of trauma draws is utterly encapsulating. It’s on Amazon Prime now, so go watch it now!
11. Moonlight: Totally deserved of the Oscar for best picture, it’s tender and sensual with great performances and absolutely mesmerising visuals but just misses out on my personal top 10. Mainly because the Americans would say ‘but it’s a 2016 film’.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Jennifer Lawrence. I feel that she can do the basics very well, sometimes better than the film context she is appearing in. She can act terrified, or confused, she can lose her rag completely shouting at people which always looks good in the trailers/oscar clips. Give her a couple of years and I’m sure she’ll be ranting and raving with the best of them. Her role as Mother in Mother! has her in shot for most of the film and it’s business as usual. She acts confused as all these strangers enter her house, she acts angry when they won’t leave and becomes terrified by the end, as with the audience. Coming out in early September, Darren Aronofsky’s new film divided movie goers like marmite before disappearing from cinema screens as quickly as it arrived. The film was marketed desperately to mainstream audiences as a straight up horror movie, even though Aronofsky’s involvement meant we never would be getting a conventional movie in any sense of the word. I’m not really sure how this film got made in the first place to be perfectly honest. I would love to have been a fly-on-the-wall during the initial pitch. Aronofsy is quite blatant when he says it’s about religion. If his last movie Noah was an epic retelling of genesis, Mother is the rest of the bible condensed to its most fundamental. The symbolism is pretty obvious but when the setup itself is so simple you find the metaphors take you to lots of interesting places. I read it more as a discussion of the relationship between the artist and the muse. How the artist both needs the love of his muse but also crave the love of an audience. It’s a selfish, one way flow of love. A dangerous kind of love. I think there’s also a very blatant viewing of this movie as being a commentary of art in the social media age where everyone feels entitled to. All I can really say is that Mother! made me feel uneasy and disorientated from the start before leaving me speechless towards the end. I spent the entire credits reel rocking back and forth in my seat, contemplating what I had just seen and it’s been a while since a movie has done that to me.
We all watch movies for different reasons. Sometimes for comfort and escapism, sometimes for terror and shock, I think wherever you fall on this line at the end of the day, sometimes you just want to see shit you’d never see in your everyday life. And Mother! is most definitely that.
Whilst I cannot say great things about all of Netflix’s original programming. I just recently saw Bright and… have to concentrate really hard not to rant how rubbish that movie was. I do appreciate that the company is taking risks with it’s productions. It means we get movies like Okja, a weird movie from Korean film-maker Bong Joon Ho who previously made The Host, which was a dope-ass monster movie about a mutated newt terrorising the river banks of Seoul. Bong Joon Ho always presents us movies with myriad tones that are usually at war with each other and the film itself, scenes of horror can be succeeded by scenes of immense sadness that for some reason start taking on a really goofy humourous tone. Okja starts off innocently enough, an idyllic Disney/Ghibli esque life in the hillsides of South Korea but turns into this grand Odyssey across the world that ends up descending into the inner rings of slaughter-house hell and going to some very very dark and troubling places indeed. For this reason, Okja won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but then neither is meat these days. There’s an all star cast, Tilda Swinton is great as the face of this corporation, trying to maintain a squeaky clean public image. My boy, Jake Gyllenhaal appears as this totally weird freakazoid celebrity persona designed to present this corporate endeavour. A performance that is meant to alienate us and leave us feeling “is that what us Westerners are supposed to look like from the perspective of other cultures?”
Okja certainly makes me think twice about frying up that rasher of bacon for breakfast.
8. The Handmaiden
Lesbian love scenes. The Handmaiden has those. They are beautifully lit and choreographed love scenes but they are there. Park Chan Wook’s latest is a tale of forbidden romance between two women, one of upper class social standings, one of lowlier servant status. The former as it seems is destined to be married off to a rich suitor. If only the pair could find some way to break free of their patriarchal shackles and live happily ever after, far far away. If this story sounds familiar, this is merely the setup. Park Chan Wook isn’t showing you everything, choosing to gradually peel back the layers of story from different perspectives in a masterful way, building up to the bigger picture by the time the credits roll. There is a lot going on, The Handmaiden is a labyrinthine exploration of the relationships between men and women and human perversion as a whole. To say any more would ruin the experience that you should just see yourself.
7. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Star Wars is a religion. I always jokingly believed that. After seeing The Last Jedi and witnessing the reaction from fans, I believe this more than ever.
JJ Abrams kickstarted the Star Wars wagon with The Force Awakens in 2015 and whilst it was largely successful in tapping into the spirit of Star Wars it did feel like a retread through old material. As he always does with his mystery box approach to story telling, Abrams introduced and teased several elements, elements that fans expected Rian Johnson to answer. As the second movie of the trilogy, expectations ran high with The Last Jedi. Perhaps, no one was expecting Episode 8 to play it fast and lose with the fundamental conventions of Star Wars as we know it. If The Force Awakens was the New Hope styled setup of this new trilogy, The Last Jedi is The Empire Strikes Back styled turn and that turn just so happens to be on the Star Wars mythos itself. A mythos, as evidenced by the fan backlash, that had been treated as gospel. I don’t have time to get into the backlash properly, but to all those condemning it SJW propaganda: aren’t all Star Wars heroes some form of social justice warrior?
For me, I loved how Episode VIII wasn’t afraid to literally tear down the masks of legend. I loved how so rooted to characters that ultimately had to empathise with other characters, good or bad, wrong or right. I loved how the film’s version of a wretched hive of scum and villainy is space Monte Carlo populated by the rich who are propheting over the endless cycle of star wars. I love how it challenged the age old adiom with Star Wars of ‘blowing shit up’. Yet at the same time, I loved the big scene when they do actually blow something up in such an awe inspiring way. I loved how together both movies have already given us Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I loved Mark Hamill reprise the role of Luke Skywalker in such an interesting and emotionally devastating way. I loved how the whole movie played as a beautiful tribute to Carrie Fisher. I love Porgs! Put simply, The Last Jedi is everything I wanted in a modern Star Wars film and more. Epic, emotional, empathetic, and not afraid to defy and challenge traditional expectations.
I can’t put words to the feeling of being in that audience watching it for the first time, hearing people collectively laugh and cheer as well as gasp in wonder at the onscreen spectacle. I’m still processing the film after two viewings, but some moments hit me very hard which made me reflect on my own personal relationship with the series, which in turn is mixed right in there with my own personal relationship with family and friends – memories I haven’t thought about in years. Being a kid and loving Star Wars to being an adult loving Star Wars. Surely this is what going to the movies is all about.
The Last Jedi is brilliant. To all the naysayers, expecting the return of Luke Skywalker to be the second coming, nobody knew what to make of Empire when it was first released either.
6. Get Out
This year has been a particularly good year for horror. The recent remake of Stephen King’s It became the highest grossing horror of all time and then there is Get Out, a movie which came out early in the year and became that rare thing in modern times – a sleeper hit – hitting the cultural and political zeitgeist with a bullseye. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut toes the line between comedy and horror – The Stepford Wives meets Uncle Tom. A young black man travels to upstate New York to meet his white girlfriend’s parents. The catch being, she hasn’t revealed to her parents that her boyfriend is black. Despite the parents appearing like the most progressive liberal minded people in the world, something just doesn’t feel right. Peele nails this feeling of paranoia as Chris the boyfriend enters this cloistered community, before descending deep into the character’s own insecurities. I felt as if the ending was only going to go one way. Then it doesn’t and everyone in the cinema applauded. It’s been such a good year for cinema…
Get Out makes my top 10 list easy. But then, I would say that.
During the 2017 award season, Mel Gibson stepped back into the limelight with his war movie Hacksaw Ridge. Though it was a perfectly decent as a war movie, it was another depiction of World War 2 we had already seen in the convention of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Hacksaw Ridge was based on the true story of Desmond Doss, a soldier who chose to go into war without wielding a weapon. Whilst the story is based on an amazing outlying story of WW2 and indicative of the great hero generation who fought that war. The prospect of Christopher Nolan doing a war movie was always an enticing one and he does it in the most Christopher Nolan style – by strapping an Imax camera into a spitfire. Dunkirk is a lean 90 minute bloodless trial of the old fortitude powered as ever by a truly riveting score from Hans Zimmer. It doesn’t particularly delve into the heroism or background of any one of it’s soldiers. It’s not a war movie that focuses on the heroism of that generation. It depicts them as cold and desperate, men young and old facing grave loss and an impenetrable German onslaught. It’s a war movie in which you never really see the enemy except for a few bullets and Stuka dive bombers. Nolan is often criticised for being to cold and emotionless, but I defy any British person not to be somehow affected by the sight of a lone Spitfire gliding over the beaches of Dunkirk to slowed. God save the Queen and all!
4. The Red Turtle
I went into The Red Turtle knowing relatively nothing about it. I came out absolutely knocked out. A largely wordless film, whose story is told through music and animation, that is part Studio Ghibli and Herge’s Tintin. It is the kind of movie that can appeal universally to anyone. To say anything more would spoil it. It’s just a profoundly magical and transcendental mediation on life and death.
3. Bladerunner 2049
Nobody asked for a sequel to Blade Runner. It’s with immense trepidation that you go ahead and make a sequel to that particular film. After Ridley Scott’s attempts to revisit Alien with both Prometheus and this year’s Alien Covenant. His involvement in a second Blade Runner was met with an immense sense of dread. Luckily once the involvement of Denis Villeneuve was announced, it looked as if we would be getting a sequel worthy of the original. And then the film came out and all fears were put to rest. Blade Runner 2049 is both a fantastic sequel to the original cult classic, but as with The Last Jedi, it’s not afraid to go off in it’s own direction, to challenge what you thought you knew as gospel and find some new nuance in the story of men and androids.
Though 2049 is perhaps not as noirishly murky as the first movie, it is grander in it’s scope both in the treatment of its visuals and ideas. Ryan Gosling simmers as Agent K, effortlessly channelling his trademark stillness for a replicant lost in the world trying to find some meaning to his artificial existence. I wonder truly if Deckard was needed in the grand scheme of things but Harrison Ford is able to inject some gruff dramatic weight to old Deckard, even though this character is perhaps out of synch with the problematic younger man of the first movie. It has a slower pace that is out of synch with other movies of it’s scale, scenes are allowed to linger, characters are able to get under your skin and the visuals draw you in with every shot demanding to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
It’s a shame 2049 didn’t do better at the box office. It’s sad that so many people missed out on the opportunity to see it at cinema screens. Movies of this size, within this cultural landscape of reboots or nostalgia pandering sequels made years after the fact, are simply not made like this with such confidence and precision. It is such a crying shame, that we probably won’t get another movie like it, but then the original Blade Runner never took off commercially either.
2. Florida Project
The Disney monolith grows each day. In the last few weeks it just acquired Fox meaning that it effectively owns over 40% of the entertainment market, which is scary. Disney owns the Alien franchise… What the heck does a Disney Alien movie look like? Are they going to start selling xenomorph mugs from the Disney store? Cuddly face huggers? Colonial Marine pijamas? I guess in time we will see how it all pans out. The Florida Project is a small movie dealing with people who very literally live in the shadow of the House of Mouse. Specifically a community of people living in a motel painted purple located not far from the Orlando and the Disney World Resorts. It’s directed by Sean Baker, who’s last movie Tangerine was shot completely on 3x Iphone 5s. The film focuses on a group of kids, they live in poverty not that the film chooses to dwell in despair at least not until the very end. The way Baker is able to capture such natural performances form the children will take any adult back to their own childhood – when everything was fascinating and everything was fair game.
Raw is another movie I went into knowing relatively nothing about. It’s a French/Belgium film that is the directorial debut of Julia Ducournau. It’s been labelled as a horror movie and whilst are some absolutely terrifying moments and visuals that will probably stay with you for a long long time, I see Raw as more of a coming of age tale. Justine is off to her first year of veterinarian school, joining her sister second year student Alexia. Veterinarian school means that there are animal carcasses lying around and lots of gross stuff. Grosser still however is the hundreds of students packed on top of each other into these dormitories where all first year students are subjected to brutal first year hazing rituals and non-stop partying (shout out to the Long Blondes single Giddy Stratopshere – I remember that from my first year of uni). It’s a depiction of studendom as a kind of slaughter house. It’s a stressful situation at this monumental time in any person’s life, and during this time there is an awakening within Justine for a certain type of meat that, lets just say, proves very problematic.
It’s gross, fucked and savage, but also kind of tender and sweet. It captures that moment of coming of age in such a unique way and by the end, it left me stunned and gibbering in my cinema seat.